The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery. — Winston Churchill

With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin




Onward into Winter

"So yez didn't climb the Grand Peak, after all," Tom Dougherty once more queried.

"We climbed far enough. As I told you before, nothin' on two legs or on twice two legs will ever climb that Grand Peak," John Brown answered. "Only an eagle can fly there. We were above the clouds, with naught to eat and little to breathe; and yon was the Grand Peak itself, as high again."

The men were wearied, but not yet wearied of hearing about the try for the Grand Peak.

"You're right. It's beyond the reach o' lungs and legs," said Sergeant Meek. "For the cap'n and the doctor measured it to-day with their instruments, from a good sight of it. Ten thousand, five hundred and eighty-one feet above ground they make it out to be, or a good two miles into the air. And allowing for the fact that we're nigh eight thousand feet up, right where we be, though you might not think it, that peak rises more'n eighteen thousand feet above sea level. The cap'n says it's close to being the highest mountain in the world."

Corporal Jerry Jackson came in, from changing guard, and stood warming himself by the fire. "By jiminy, those hosses are being eaten alive," said. "I do pity 'em. I'd hate to be a hoss, on a trip like this."

"Yes; a man can understand an' grin an' bear it; but a hoss hasn't any sense o' the why an' wherefore."

"Those pesky magpies are still at 'em, are they?" asked the sergeant.

"A man to a hoss couldn't keep the things off with a club."

"They even try to take the meat out a fellow's hands," quoth Freegift Stout.

For the hungry magpies—bold birds of black-and-white, with long tails—hovered over the unsaddled and unpacked horses, lighted and pecked their raw backs until the blood flowed afresh. The horses, poor weak, thin creatures, kicked and whinneyed in vain. The magpies stuck fast and rode upon them, pecking. And as Freegift declared, swooped at the men also and grabbed for the meat in their hands.

"Have Roy and Gordon come in sight yet?" Sergeant Meek asked.

"We thought we could see 'em away out," replied Corporal Jerry.

"I don't wish 'em frozen feet. We've got enough of such in camp."

"Yes, and one pair too many, speaking for myself," groaned Jake Carter.

This was the fourth day since leaving the stockade, and a bitter cold day, albeit warmer, according to the lieutenant's instrument, than yesterday. The thermometer stood at only three degrees below freezing; yesterday it had been at seventeen below.

The lieutenant had marched them out of the stockade, in a heavy snowstorm, on the morning after the return from the climb. The route was westward, again, up the south side of the Arkansaw. Just why he was so impatient to go on, snow or no snow, none of the men knew. Maybe he was in hopes of finding the Ietans or Comanches, yet; but Stub himself was quite certain that the Ietans wintered farther south. Or if he wished to discover the head of the Arkansaw and of the Red River, then the men wondered why he didn't build warm quarters, and lay in meat, and make fur clothing, so as to explore safely.

"Sure, sometimes I think that what he's aimin' at is to foller this here Spanish trail cl'ar into New Mexico, an' fetch up, with all of us, at Santy Fe, even as prisoners to them Spanish." John Sparks hazarded. "We can swear we made a mistake, not knowin' the country; an' when we get back home again we'll have a nice lot o' news about them people an' the trail in, for the Government."

"That'll do," Sergeant Meek rebuked. "'Tis for him to lead and for us to follow; and he'll do the thinking."

They had marched fifteen miles, the first day, through the storm, with all on foot because the horses were getting unable to carry anything but the packs. In fact, for some days past it had been more comfortable to walk than to ride.

All that night it had snowed, and was still snowing in the morning. The men had slept under one blanket or robe apiece, in the snow. The little tent for the lieutenant and the doctor and Stub sagged with the weight.

"My gracious, but this is hard on the horses," Baroney said. "They paw and paw, to find one mouthful—and on their backs the ravens take many mouthfuls."

This day there was no marching. The men had all they could do to keep the fires going, and not freeze. John Sparks, who was a hunter, went out, but saw nothing. By evening the snow was a foot deep on the level—pretty tough for bare feet exposed in gaping shoes, and even for damp moccasins.

During the bitter night the sky cleared. It was to be the seventeen-below morning. On the march one old buffalo bull was sighted, across the river. John Sparks and Hugh Menaugh mounted and went after him. They had to swim their horses through the ice-covered current, but they got the bull. Then, only two miles farther, everybody was ordered to cross, because a steep ridge barred the way.

In wading and breaking the ice, all were drenched waist high, and their wet clothing froze instantly. The lieutenant was wearing only thin cotton overalls, like most of the men, but he seemed not to feel the cold. He sent back help for John and Hugh, and set the other men at work building a fire. When John and Hugh arrived, with the meat, their feet had been frozen and they had to be lifted from their horses.

After they had been thawed out by snow and rubbing, and clothes had been partially dried, the march was continued, over a very rough, hilly country, up the north side of the swiftly flowing river. Then one of the pack-horses, driven crazy by the magpies and by hunger, ran off, back down the trail.

Jake Carter, Terry Miller and Pat Smith had pursued him on foot. By dusk, when camp was made at the end of thirteen miles, they were not in sight. The lieutenant grew worried.

"It's foolhardy for them to try to stay out all night, with no food or blankets," he said; and the doctor nodded gravely.

"They're likely to perish, on that open prairie," he agreed. "But what's to be done? To search for them would be a fruitless risk, lieutenant."

The lieutenant sat up late, waiting for word from them. This morning they had appeared, Jake Carter with his feet, also, frozen. It had been a terrible night, for them. They had found the horse, but could not bring him in.

So the lieutenant had directed Alex Roy and William Gordon to ride and get the horse (which was almost frozen, itself, the other men had reported); and he and the doctor, with Stub and John Sparks, went out to scout. The lieutenant and the doctor measured the height of the Grand Peak, from a distance; they and John killed two buffalo-bulls, for moccasins for the camp, and took after a cow but didn't get it.

The gritty John Sparks stayed, to kill a cow if he might; the other three returned to camp with the bull hides.

Now the men, with numbed fingers, were busy making moccasins, around the fire, and not envying John the buffalo-hunter.

Alex Roy and Bill Gordon came in, with the strayed horse in tow, but at dusk John had not appeared.

"He's still after his cow, and won't quit till he fetches meat. That's him! Well, he has a buffalo-robe and his flint and steel, so we'll see him in the morning."

They didn't worry about John. He was a good hunter and could take care of himself.

The lieutenant had decided not to wait for him, but to pick him up on the way. The next morning, which was the fifth morning, he broke camp at five o'clock, long before daylight; and sure enough, before they had marched far they found John. He rode in on them, with a load of cow meat. To-day they marched twenty miles, afoot and ahorse; killed two more buffalo and six wild turkeys; and what with the new moccasins and plenty of meat they thought themselves well fixed.

The country steadily grew rougher and the march led higher, but the soil was gravelly and the snow less than below. Pretty soon the Spanish trail was lost again. From camp everybody went out, searching for it, on both sides of the river.

"Come along wid us, lad," invited Tom Dougherty, of Stub; and afoot Stub ascended the south side of the river with Tom, and John Sparks, and John Mountjoy. It was a good squad. Tom was scarcely more than a boy, himself: a young warrior of twenty years.

Presently they struck a broad horse-trail, pointing up-river.

"We'll see where it goes to," said John Sparks. They followed it as rapidly as they could. The river flowed down shallow and rippling and ice-bordered, among reddish, bare, rounded hills sprinkled with cedar and with snow patches. Far northward they saw, every now and then, the glistening Grand Peak. It was hard to lose this Grand Peak.

About noon they emerged from the long valley of the river into a broadening, with snow peaks shimmering in the distances, and a line of high flat-topped hills crossing the route before.

"Hist! There be Injuns or them Spanish, likely!" Tom warned, pointing ahead.

They halted and peered.

"No. I take it they're some of our own men," said John Mountjoy.

"What do ye say, Stub?" John Sparks queried. Stub nodded. His eyes were true eyes.

"No Injuns. Our men," he asserted.

So they went on, toward the flat-topped hills, and met the parties of Sergeant Meek and Baroney.

"Hello to you," John Sparks greeted. "What luck?"

"There's no good your going much further up this side," answered Sergeant Meek. "The trail ends, and you'll get nowhere."

"Why?

"You see where those flat-tops lie? The river comes out the mountains there, and comes a-whooping. We followed it up, till the valley got narrower and narrower; and right soon the river was nothing but a brook in width, boiling out something tremendous from betwixt cliffs half a mile high, leaving no space for man or beast. Nothing gets through there, except the water. We're thinking the trail must cross the river this side the gap, and turn off north'ard to round it."

"Yes, it doesn't tackle that gap, anyhow," the men all declared.

"Suppose we might as well ford at a good spot, an' scout about a bit," proffered John Sparks.

So ford they all did, wading and splashing through, and slipping on the rounded stones of the bottom. The trail was found indeed, farther up, on the north side, where it left the river and bore northwestward through a dry valley or bottom, as if seeking a pass.

"Now, whether to call this the trail o' the Spaniards, ag'in, or an Injun trail, I dunno," mused

John Sparks, as they all grouped, examining. "It's a hoss trail, plain enough," uttered Bill Gordon.

"'Tis hard to read, that's a fact," Sergeant Meek said. "But it leads somewheres, and like as not to the Red River that the cap'n's looking for, in Comanche country. Anyhow, we've done all we can, for to-day; and it's time we went back down and reported."

"Sure, he'll have no excuse for takin' us through betwixt them high cliffs," declared Alex Roy. "We'd be drowneded, hosses an' all. 'Tis a tough-lookin' hole, with no end in sight, an' the rocks covered with ice."

"Come on, boys," bade the sergeant, "or we'll be late for supper."

They turned and marched back, down river, to camp. This evening the lieutenant talked the report over with the doctor. They decided to proceed up the river, to the dry valley, and follow the trail.

The dry valley, below where the river gushed out of the break in the cliff bars ier, was reached in one day's march. Camp was made in it at nightfall. This, according to the doctor, was the evening of the tenth day of December. The horses were watered with melted snow, and given one pint of precious corn, each, brought this far from the Osage and the Republican Pawnee towns. For the camp there was plenty of deer meat, killed on the way, and one buffalo. It was to be the last big meal, through some days.

The Spanish trail had been weak, upon entering the valley. The lieutenant had rather feared that the sign was only that of a small scouting party. But farther in it had strengthened. Now at the camp it appeared to be a fairly well-trodden road, leading on northwest and probably over the next range of hills.

"The road to the Red River—hooray!" cheered Tom Dougherty. "Then down the Red River we'll go, out o' this cruel cowld, an' belike we'll be to Natchitoches an' the blessed war-rmth o' Louisiany long before spring."