THE BUFFALO HUNTER

“I’D LIKE to look at a rifle,” said Guy to the gunsmith, who came up
behind the counter to attend to his wants.

“Something pretty nice?” asked the man.

“No, sir. I can’t afford anything fancy.”

“You want a squirrel-rifle, I suppose?”

“No, I don’t,” replied Guy. “I don’t waste time on such small game. I
want one carrying a ball large enough to knock over a buffalo or a
grizzly bear.”

“Oh!” said the gunsmith. He looked curiously at Guy for a moment, and
then opening a glass door behind him, took out a plainly finished rifle,
and handed it over the counter. “There’s one carrying fifty to the
pound,” said he, “and I’ll warrant it to shoot two hundred yards with
accuracy. Only fifteen dollars.”

Guy took the weapon, and it was so much heavier than he expected to find
it that he came very near dropping it on the floor.

The gunsmith said it weighed twelve pounds, but his customer thought he
meant to say forty, for when he lifted it to his shoulder and glanced
along the barrel as if he were taking aim at something, it was all he
could do to hold it, and the muzzle “wobbled” about so violently that it
was doubtful if he could have hit the side of a barn at twenty paces. He
noticed, too, that the weapon was provided with two triggers and two
sights, and he did not see what use they could possibly be; but of
course he could not ask questions without showing his ignorance.

“I want something I can depend upon in any emergency,” said Guy after he
had looked the rifle over with an air of profound wisdom. “A man who
follows the business of a hunter sometimes finds himself in a tight
place.”

“Why, I thought you were a sailor,” said the gunsmith. “You look like
one.”

“A sailor!” repeated Guy contemptuously. “Well, I have been, that’s a
fact,” he added, suddenly recollecting that he had not yet donned his
coonskin cap and suit of buckskin; “but I’m a hunter now. Did you never
hear of the Wild Rough Riders of the Rocky Mountains?”

This was the name Guy intended to give to his band when he got it
organized, and he thought he might as well begin to let people hear of
it.

“No,” said the man, looking at Guy as if he were on the point of
laughing outright, “I never did.”

“Well, I am one of them, and I want a good rifle.”

“This is a weapon I can recommend,” said the gunsmith. “Here are the
molds that go with it. You can see that it carries a large ball. If a
bear gets one of them in his head, it will be the last of him.”

“I’ll take it,” said Guy. “Now I want some other things to go with it.”

The gunsmith, who was all attention, handed out the other articles as
Guy called for them—a game-bag, a powder-horn (which he filled with
rifle-powder), a box of caps, a hunting-knife, two pounds of bullets to
fit the rifle, as many pounds of bar lead and a ladle to melt it in, and
also a poncho and a Mexican blanket, which he tied up in a bundle so
that Guy could carry them over his shoulder. The trading was all done in
twenty minutes, and when Guy walked out of the store he had thirty-five
dollars less in his purse, and his first hunter’s outfit on his back.

“Now I begin to feel like somebody,” thought the boy, as he lifted his
rifle to his shoulder and hurried down the road. “Mr. Schwartz has laid
a rope’s end over my back for the last time. Don’t I wish I could see
him just now? I’d show him how we rough riders are going to clean out
the Indians. I’ll turn into the first hotel I find, get a square meal,
and go to bed, knowing that there’ll be no one to awaken me with, ‘All
you port watch, ahoy! Roll out lively, Thomas, or I’ll be down there
after you.’ But after to-night I shall live in the open air altogether.
I wish I had a horse. Those mountains seem a long way off. I shall find
my first hunting-grounds among them.”

Guy trudged along the dusty road for the next two hours indulging in
such thoughts as these, and very pleasant traveling companions he found
them. Now and then he would be aroused by the sound of wheels, when he
would wake up long enough to step out of the way of some passing
vehicle, and then he would go on with his dreaming again.

At last he found what he was in search of—a hotel, the existence of
which was made known to him by a faded sign swinging from the top of a
high post, and which conveyed to those who passed that way the
information that entertainment for man and beast was there furnished by
Tom Davis. The hotel itself was a weather-beaten, tumble-down sort of a
building, and was better calculated to repel than to attract customers;
but Guy did not stop to look at it. If it could furnish him with plenty
to eat and a bed to sleep in, that was all he cared for.

Attracted by the sound of voices, he turned the corner of the building
where the principal entrance seemed to be, and found himself in the
presence of a dozen or more men who were congregated on the porch, some
lounging on benches, and others sitting with their chairs tipped back
against the side of the house and their feet elevated on the rounds.
They were all taking loudly, and the appearance and actions of some of
them indicated that they had had something besides water to drink. They
raised their eyes as the boy appeared among them, and after giving him a
good looking over, went on with their conversation.

The landlord was among them, and he made himself known to Guy by
pointing with his thumb over his shoulder toward the open door—an
invitation for him to enter and make himself at home. At any rate Guy
took it as such and acted upon it. In the bar-room he found another
rough-looking individual, who relieved him of his rifle and pack and
asked what he could do for him.

“I want a room and something to eat,” said Guy.

“I don’t know how it’ll be about a room,” replied the man. “We’re pretty
full—we always are—but I can give you a shake-down somewhere. Grub is
plenty, and you look as though you needed a good tuck-out.”

“So I do,” said Guy. “I am almost starved to death. I haven’t eaten
anything but salt horse and hard-tack for the last seven months.”

The man showed some curiosity to know where Guy had been that he was
obliged to live on such fare, and the latter told him as much of his
history as he cared to have him know. He did not tell him, however,
where he was going and what he intended to do, for fear the man might
laugh at him. He had a suspicion that the gunsmith laughed at him when
he was buying his outfit. Indeed, everybody who knew that he wanted to
be a hunter thought the notion a wild one—they looked it if they did not
say it—and Guy could not bear to have his grand idea made sport of.

Guy passed a comfortable night at the hotel in spite of its unpromising
exterior, enjoyed a good sleep, which was something he really needed,
ate a hearty breakfast the next morning, and felt more like himself than
he had felt for many a long day. Having settled his bill he stood for a
moment on the porch with his rifle in his hand and his pack over his
shoulder, looking down the long, straight road before him and wondering
how many steps it would take to bring him to his hunting-grounds, when
he was accosted by one of the guests of the house who sat on a heavily
loaded wagon with his whip and reins in his hand.

“I say, stranger, if you’re travelin’ my way, you might as well get up
an’ ride,” said he.

“Are you going to the mountains?” asked Guy.

“Wal, I’m goin’ down to the San Joaquin.”

“Is there any hunting there?”

“Huntin’! Now you’re talkin’. Thar’s bars an’ antelope till you can’t
rest.”

“Then that’s the place I’m looking for, and I’ll ride.”

So saying Guy handed up his rifle and pack and mounted beside the man,
who cracked his whip and drove off.

Mr. Wilson, for that was the man’s name, was an old miner, having
immigrated in ’49. Like many others of his class, he believed that
California was completely “petered out,” now that the placer diggings
had failed, and he had taken to farming, not because he liked it or it
was a profitable business, but because he had to do something for a
living, and nothing else offered. He did not own an acre of land, but he
raised any number of fine horses and cattle for market, and had one of
the best paying stores in the San Joaquin valley. He had been to ’Frisco
for supplies, and was now on his way home.

Guy learned this much from two hours’ conversation with his new
acquaintance, and during that same time Mr. Wilson had heard all about
Guy’s history and intentions. He must have had a high opinion of the
boy, too, if he believed all he said, for Guy, like everybody else who
tries to make himself appear something better than he really is, was a
great boaster. The stories he told of the wonderful feats he had
performed with his rifle, and his skill in catching and breaking wild
horses, were enough to make one open his eyes.

Guy should have known better than this. He had received a lesson that
ought to have broken him of his propensity to boast. He had induced
Smith, the shipping agent, to rate him on the articles as an able
seaman, and that one act, performed in five minutes’ time, had brought
him seven long months of hazing. But Guy never thought of it now. The
privations he had undergone, and the cruel treatment he had received
while he was on board the Santa Maria, seemed to him like a troubled
dream. Besides, Mr. Wilson would never have an opportunity to catch him
in any of his falsehoods, for in a few days Guy expected to leave him,
never to meet him again.

“So you’re a hunter,” said the ranchman at length. “You don’t look to me
like you was made of the right kind of stuff fur that business. It takes
them who has been born in it to foller it. I don’t know nobody about
here who makes a livin’ at it. Even the Injuns don’t.”

“They don’t?” exclaimed Guy. “How do they make a living then?”

“Why, they work on the ranches—herd cattle an’ sheep, an’ raise garden
truck. If I was goin’ to be a hunter I’d go at it right.”

“That’s just what I intend to do,” said Guy. “I am going to hunt about
here till I get a horse and find a companion, and then I’m going to
strike for the plains.”

“Then my man Zeke is jest the feller you want to see,” said the
ranchman. “He’s a reg’lar hunter, an’ you’d know it the minute you sot
eyes onto him, fur you have to get a tree in line with him when he’s
movin’ to see if he’s goin’ ahead any. He’s the laziest man I ever see,
an’ I’ve seed a heap. He b’longs out on the prairy, kills buffaler fur a
livin’. Last season he shot two thousand an’ better. Got a dollar apiece
fur the hides, an’ come down to ’Frisco to see the elephant. He seed
him, too, I reckon, fur when I found him he was flat busted, an’ as
hungry as a wolf. He’s herdin’ cattle fur me now to get a hoss an’ a new
outfit, an’ when he gets ’em he’s goin’ back to the plains.”

“Did you say he was working for a horse?” asked Guy.

“Wal, he’s arned the hoss already, an’ now he’s workin’ fur a kit—a
rifle, blankets an’ so on. He takes ’em outen my store, you know.”

“Have you any other horse you’d like to sell?”

“Wal, I dunno,” said the ranchman with a smile.

“I’ve got a matter of six or seven hundred, mebbe, an’ might spar’ one
more.”

“What do you ask for them?”

“All prices—twenty-five to seventy-five dollars.”

“I should like to get one,” said Guy, “and I am willing to work for it.”

“Wal, I’ve got plenty that you can do—I never yet heard that work was
scarce in this country—an’ if you’ve a mind to set in with me, I’ll give
you twenty dollars a month an’ find you.”

“Find me?” repeated Guy. “Am I going to get lost?”

“Eh? Lost! No. I mean I’ll give you twenty dollars a month an’ all the
grub you want to eat an’ all the hosses you need to ride. I give Zeke
thirty dollars, but you don’t know nothin’ about herdin’ cattle. You
talk like a high larnt boy. Did you ever have any schoolin’?”

“Oh, yes,” said Guy. “I’ve been to school all my life—that is almost all
my life. I’ve been a hunter five years, you know.”

“Then mebbe you’re jest the feller I want to tend store fur me. Did you
ever do anything of the kind?”

It would not be safe to boast now, for there a was a chance of being
found out, so Guy gave a truthful answer.

“No, I never did,” said he, “but I know I could learn.”

“Sartin you could. It’s easy larnt. Now I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If
you’re a mind to work about the ranch on week days an’ tend store on
Sundays, I’ll give you what I told you an’ let you have your pick of my
hosses, an’ I’ve got some good ones, too. Only you must promise one
thing—if you want to leave me you must give me a month’s notice, so that
I can get somebody to fill your place. I make that bargain with all my
hands.”

“All right,” said Guy, “I’ll do it.”

And so the matter was settled. Guy had found a way to get the horse he
so much needed, and he was in ecstasies over it.

The journey to Mr. Wilson’s ranch occupied nearly a week, and during
that time Guy learned something of the outdoor life he expected to lead
all the rest of his days. The change from the close, cramped forecastle
of the Santa Maria to the freedom of the country was a most agreeable
one, and he thoroughly enjoyed his liberty. He talked to Mr. Wilson
every day about Zeke, and made up his mind that he should like him. If
he only proved to be a genial, talkative companion and as good a hunter
as Flint was a sailor, Guy would ask nothing more of him. Every day he
grew more and more impatient to meet him, and was glad indeed when Mr.
Wilson pointed out a house in advance of them and informed him that when
they reached it they would be at their journey’s end.

“All this land you see here,” said the ranchman, waving his whip toward
the broad, level plain which stretched away on both sides of the road,
“used to be Congress land. When I first squatted here I had it all to
myself, but other fellers kept comin’ in all the while with their hosses
an’ cattle an’ locatin’ their farms right in the best part of my
pastur’, an’ at last they got to crowdin’ me so heavy that I had to send
Zeke with the most of my stock about forty miles farther down the
valley. I’m goin’ to send you down to him to-morrer with some supplies.”

“But what if I should get lost?” said Guy. “You must remember that I
don’t know the country yet.”

“You can foller a plain trail, can’t you?”

“Yes, I can do that.”

“Then you needn’t get lost unless you’re a mind to, ’cause the road’s as
plain as daylight. Besides, I’ll put the pack on the ole clay-bank, an’
she knows every step of the way.”

So saying, Mr. Wilson cracked his whip, and urging his tired horses into
a trot brought his heavy wagon up before the door of the rancho in fine
style.

The rancho was a roomy, rambling structure built of unplaned boards, and
like the hotel at which Guy had stopped in San Francisco, gave promise
of anything but comfortable accommodations. The inside proved on closer
acquaintance to be quite as cheerless as the exterior. There was no
stove, no fire-place, no chairs, not even a bedstead in the house that
Guy could discover. It looked perfectly poverty-stricken. But
nevertheless the rancho, and its occupants, too, were as clean as new
pins. The earthen floor had evidently just been swept; the table and the
benches which served in lieu of the chairs were as white as sand and
water could make them; the Mexican wife of the proprietor was neatly
dressed, and the children, who crowded about him as he jumped down from
the wagon, had just received a thorough scrubbing in anticipation of
their sire’s return.

Guy carried his rifle and pack into the house, and during the next
half-hour worked hard enough to get up a splendid appetite for supper,
although an unpleasant incident that happened drove it all away again.

The first thing Mr. Wilson did was to take a key from a nail under the
porch, and open a door leading into a small room adjoining the main
building. This proved to be the store of which he had spoken. Here the
ranchman kept a variety of useful and salable articles; among the latter
tobacco and grape brandy, which, as he told Guy, formed his principal
stock in trade. He further informed his new hand that although the
rancho was dull enough on week days, it was the very reverse on Sundays,
for then it was the headquarters of all the ranchmen and Indians for
fifteen miles around, who congregated there to drink, shoot, and run
horses. Mr. Wilson liked to join in these sports, and he wanted somebody
to take care of the store, so that he could give his undivided attention
to them.

After the wagon had been unloaded and the contents stowed away in the
store, Guy assisted Mr. Wilson in taking care of the horses. This was
done in a very few minutes, for all that was necessary was to unharness
them and turn them loose on the prairie.

“Are you not afraid they will stray away?” asked Guy.

“I don’t care if they do,” replied the ranchman. “I’ve got plenty more.”

“But you might lose them altogether.”

“No fear of that. They’ve got my brand on ’em, an’ everybody knows it.
Now,” he added, throwing the harness into the wagon, and leading the way
toward a small corral into which twenty or thirty horses had just been
driven by an Indian vaquero, “I’ll show you the hoss I’m going to sell
you. You can try him now an’ see how you like him, an’ to-morrer you can
ride him down to Zeke.”

If there was any part of his hunter life on which Guy, during his
day-dreaming, had dwelt with more satisfaction than another, it was that
which he expected to spend in the saddle. Although he had never mounted
a horse in his life, he had somehow got it into his head, along with his
other foolish notions, that he had in him the qualities of which
accomplished and fearless riders are made. He would render himself
famous, not only by shooting grizzly bears and Indians, but by riding
horses that nobody else dared to mount. He hoped during his wanderings
to meet that celebrated white pacer, which, according to a certain cheap
novel he had read, had often been captured by strategy but never ridden.
This famous horse always threw those who attempted to mount him,
trampled them to death, and then made off, fairly distancing the
fleetest nags that could be brought in pursuit of him.

Guy believed in the existence of this animal as firmly as he believed in
the existence of the boy trappers, and hoped some day to own and subdue
him; but now that he had a chance to begin his career as a rough rider,
he felt very much like backing out. He found that there is a vast
difference between thinking about things and doing them. The actions of
the horses in the corral frightened him. They were such restless
fellows! They danced and curveted, reared, flourished their heels in the
air, and dashed about the inclosure like veritable wild horses.

The vaquero, in obedience to his master’s order, entered the corral,
lasso in hand, and in a few minutes came out again leading a small,
clean-limbed horse, which seemed very much averse to leaving his
companions, and showed his disapproval of the whole proceeding by
furious kicks and plunges.

“Thar he is!” exclaimed the ranchman. “Twenty-five dollars fur him, an’
that’s dog cheap. Gentle as a kitten, as anybody can see.”

“No,” said Guy, “_I_ can’t see it.”

“Oh, he’s lively, of course. He hain’t been doin’ nothing fur three or
four months, you know, an’ never had a saddle on him but two or three
times. If he hain’t the next thing to a lightnin’ express train, you
jest take my hat an’ say no more about it. Purty as a red wagon wheel,
too, he is. Jump? I should say he could. _And_ last! You can’t tire him
down. He’s made of iron. Thar he is. Jump on him an’ put him through his
paces.”

While this conversation was going on, the vaquero had with wonderful
dexterity slipped a bridle over the horse’s head, strapped a deep
Spanish saddle on his back, and now stood holding him in readiness for
Guy to mount.

GUY HEARD scarcely a word of Mr. Wilson’s glowing description of the
merits of his horse, for his mind was busy with something else. He was
trying to think up some good excuse for declining to mount the animal.
He made one praiseworthy resolution then and there, and that was that he
would never again indulge in boasting. He had never done it yet without
being exposed.

“Thar he is!” repeated the ranchman. “Jump on! an’ if he don’t take you
through San Joaquin a leetle trifle faster than you ever traveled afore
on hoss-back I’ll give him to you for nothing. Hand us your foot an’
I’ll throw you on.”

Guy’s pride was stronger than his fear. He could see no way to get out
of the difficulty into which he had brought himself by his reckless
boasting except by a frank confession, and that, of course, was not to
be thought of. He noticed that the animal became quieter since the bit
was put into his mouth, and consoling himself with the hope that perhaps
he was not so bad after all, Guy seized the horn of the saddle, gave his
foot to Mr. Wilson, and in a twinkling was seated on the animal’s back.

The horse seemed astonished at his presumption. He turned his head first
one way and then the other, looking at Guy over each shoulder, while the
ranchman and his vaquero begun to back away, as if in anticipation of
something that was about to happen.

“Put your feet in the stirrups,” said Mr. Wilson, “an’ I’ll give him a
good send off.”

[Illustration: “‘Put your feet in the stirrups,’ said Mr. Wilson, ‘an’
I’ll give him a good send off.’”]

Before Guy could obey the horse begun his antics. He put his head down
between his knees, humped up his back, brought his four feet together,
and bounded from the ground, coming down as solid as a rock, and with a
concussion that was terrific. Guy arose in the air about a foot and a
half, and then settled into the saddle again with a jar that fairly made
his teeth chatter.

“Ha, ha!” laughed the ranchman, who appeared to be as highly delighted
as he would have been over an exhibition of fancy riding in a circus;
“that was well done! He bucks beautiful, don’t he?”

“Ye—yes,” said Guy, who had not the least idea what Mr. Wilson meant.
“But why don’t he go ahead? Get up here!”

The horse did get up—this time higher than before—and he executed the
movement with a vigor and viciousness which showed that he meant
business. He made a most terrific stiff-legged jump—a “buck,” Mr. Wilson
called it—and when he came down, Guy, with his arms and legs flying
wildly about, went up like a rocket, hung suspended in the air for a
moment, and then whirled over and came down on his head and shoulders
with a crushing force.

“Wal, I declar! he got you off’n him that time, didn’t he?” exclaimed
the ranchman, hastening to Guy’s assistance. “Now I’ll try him, an’ if
you will keep an eye on me I’ll larn you how to ride a buck-jumper.”

Guy was too nearly senseless to keep an eye on anything. He could not
stand without holding fast to something. Mr. Wilson leaned him up,
against the side of the corral as if he had been a stick of wood, and
then addressed an order in Spanish to his vaquero, who hurried off to
the house, presently returning with a pair of huge Mexican spurs. These,
with the assistance of the Indian, the ranchman quickly fastened to his
feet, and walking up to the horse, which had scarcely moved from his
tracks since he rid himself of Guy, placed one hand on his back, and
with a quick bound, sprung into the saddle. No sooner was he fairly
seated than he brought his armed heels against the sides of the animal,
which sprung away at the top of his speed, and the last Guy saw of him,
he was making rapid headway across the plain, while his rider was urging
him to greater efforts by merciless applications of his persuaders.

When the ranchman returned, at the end of a quarter of an hour, he found
his new hand stretched out on the porch, suffering from a severe
headache, and in no humor to listen to his description of the manner in
which he had conquered the buck-jumper.

Guy had been hungry a few minutes before, but he did not want any supper
now. The tortillas, beans and beef, with which the table was loaded, had
no attraction for him; he simply drank a cup of coffee, without any milk
(ranchmen in California raise cattle for the hides and meat, and not for
the sake of milk and butter), and intimated to Mr. Wilson that he would
be glad to be shown to his room.

“Eh?” exclaimed the ranchman, as if he did not quite understand his
request.

“I say I should like to go to my room,” repeated Guy. “I want to see if
I can’t sleep off this headache.”

“Oh, you want to go to bed, do you? All right.”

As Mr. Wilson said this, he walked out into the yard to light his pipe
at the fire over which the supper had been cooked, and when he came back
he carried over his shoulder a saddle, which he placed at one end of the
porch. Then he went into the house and brought out Guy’s blanket and
poncho; and when he had spread them beside the saddle, the bed was made.

“Thar you are,” said he, “an’ you can tumble down as soon as you
please.”

Guy was astonished. The porch was the only room he was to occupy while
he remained in that house, and his saddle and blankets were to form, his
bed. This was rather a primitive way of living, but it was the style at
Mr. Wilson’s rancho, as he found when the rest of the family were ready
to retire. The farmer’s wife and children stowed themselves away
somewhere in the house, but the man himself made his bed a short
distance from Guy’s, while two Indian herdsmen found sleeping apartments
at the opposite end of the porch.

The first part of the night Guy passed in anything but an agreeable
manner. The saddle proved to be a hard, uncomfortable pillow for an
aching head and, moreover, one of the small army of dogs, which Mr.
Wilson kept about the house, insisted on occupying a portion of his bed,
and showed a disposition to be snappish if the boy happened to crowd him
as he tossed uneasily about. Guy stood the imposition for a while, but
becoming angry at last, he kicked the dog off the porch, rearranged his
bed, folded his jacket and spread it over the saddle, and then lay down
again and slept soundly until he was awakened by footsteps and the
continued murmur of conversation.

He opened his eyes to find that it was broad daylight, and that
preparations were being made to start him off on his journey. There was
the “old clay-bank,” a cream-colored mare, which was to carry the
supplies to Zeke, the buffalo hunter, and act as Guy’s guide at the same
time. A large pack-saddle was strapped on her back, and if one might
judge by the appearance of it, it was well filled. The buck-jumper was
there, too, standing quietly by the horse-trough, saddled and bridled,
and waiting for his rider. Guy’s rifle leaned against the wall at the
head of his bed, with his powder-horn, game-bag, a pair of spurs, and a
long rawhide hanging from the muzzle.

“Halloo! you’re awake at last, are you?” exclaimed the ranchman, who
just then stepped out of the house to arouse Guy. “I thought that seein’
you had the headache I’d let you sleep this mornin’, but it’s time to
get up now.”

Guy scrambled to his feet, looking none the worse for his accident of
the night before, and when he had dipped his head in the horse-trough a
few times, he felt as sprightly and vigorous as though he had never told
a lie, and received in consequence the hardest fall of his life.

The morning was fresh and glorious, as mornings always are in California
at that season of the year, the air was exhilarating—every breath of it
seemed to infuse new life into him—and Guy was elated with the prospect
of a pleasant journey and an interview with the buffalo hunter, who was
the very man he most wished to see. He could have looked forward to a
day of uninterrupted enjoyment but for one thing, and that was the
presence of the buck-jumper. It had a depressing effect upon him. He did
not see why the ranchman should give him that horse to ride when he had
so nearly dashed his brains out the night before.

“Come in an’ get some coffee an’ slapjacks,” said Mr. Wilson, at the
same time tossing Guy a piece of a gunny sack on which to wipe his hands
and face.

The boy’s appetite having come back to him by this time, he made a
hearty breakfast, and while he was eating it, listened to his employer’s
advice and instructions concerning the journey he was about to
undertake.

“Zeke is forty miles away, as I told you,” said the ranchman, “an’ as
your trail, part of the way, leads over the mountains, you won’t be able
to travel very fast; but the ole clay-bank is a right smart walker, an’
if you have no bad luck you had oughter be in Zeke’s camp by four this
arternoon. About midday you’ll cross Deer Run, an’ thar the mar’ will
want to stop an’ pick about a bit, an’ while she’s doin’ it, you can set
down under a tree an’ eat your dinner. You’ll see plenty of antelope
thar, an’ you’ll have no sort of trouble in knockin’ over one fur your
dinner, if you know how to hunt ’em; but fur fear you don’t. I’ve put a
leetle something in your game-bag. You’d best kill an antelope,
howsomever, if you get the chance, ’cause mebbe it’ll help you to make
friends with Zeke.”

“How shall I know him when I see him?” asked Guy.

“Know him!” said the ranchman. “The mar’ll know him, an’ he’ll know the
mar. The fust question he’ll ask you will be, ‘You got any tobacker in
that thar pack-saddle?’ When you see a man who says that to you, tell
him ‘hallo.’ ’cause that’s Zeke. He’ll be a leetle trifle cross an’ ugly
at fust, ’cause he’s been outen tobacker now three or four days; but a
chaw or two will set him all right, an’ you’ll find him a mighty
palaverin’ sort o’ feller. I want you back by to-morrer night so that
you can take your fust lesson in the store on Sunday.”

“I should be much more eager to undertake the journey if I had a gentler
horse to ride,” said Guy.

“A gentler hoss!” repeated the ranchman, opening his eyes in amazement.
“It can’t be found on this farm nor in Californy nuther, a gentler hoss
than that thar hoss can’t. Why, a baby could ride him.”

“But I am out of practice, you know,” said Guy meekly.

“Yes, I seed that; but you won’t have no trouble while the ole clay-bank
is with him. He’ll go along like an old cow.”

Guy’s fears were by no means set at rest by this assurance, but he
raised no further objections to the horse, and having satisfied his
appetite, he arose from his chair and begun preparations for his
journey, in which he was assisted by the ranchman. His poncho and
blanket were rolled up and strapped behind his saddle; the game-bag
containing his dinner was suspended from the pommel; his spurs were
adjusted; the long rawhide, which was intended as a persuader for the
clay-bank, was tied to his wrist by a thong of buckskin; and when Guy,
after the display of a great deal of awkwardness, had managed to seat
himself in the saddle, the farmer handed him his rifle and spoke to the
mare, which set off at a rapid walk, the buck-jumper following quietly
at her heels.

Guy ought to have been supremely happy now, for he was in the very
situation he had so often dreamed of and longed for. He had a “good
horse under him,” a “trusty rifle on his shoulder,” and everything that
was necessary to set him up in business as a hunter. But still things
were not just to his liking—there were always some drawbacks.

In the first place horseback-riding was by no means the easy, agreeable
way of getting over the ground that he had imagined it to be,
particularly to one who was entirely unaccustomed to it and who did not
know how to sit in a saddle.

The buck-jumper may have been very fleet, but he was an uncommon hard
traveler, especially when he found it necessary to quicken his pace in
order to keep up with the fast-walking old clay-bank. On these occasions
he exhibited a style of progression peculiarly his own, and which was
perfect torture to his rider, who was churned up and down, jerked
backward and forward, and jolted from side to side in a way that was
quite alarming.

Then, too, the horse showed by the way he sometimes arched his back and
looked over his shoulder at Guy that there was plenty of mischief in him
still, and every few minutes he would further exhibit it by making a
jump to one side or the other, and doing it so quickly that Guy would
certainly have been thrown to the ground had he not clung with all his
strength to the horn of the saddle. The reason for this was that Guy,
forgetting he had spurs on, kept his heels close to the animal’s side in
order to secure a firm seat, and thus the rowels were pricking him
continually.

Another thing that severely tested his patience and endurance was his
rifle. If it weighed twelve pounds when he left the rancho, it weighed a
hundred before he had gone a quarter of a mile, judging by the way it
pressed into his shoulders and made his arms ache.

Guy felt a good deal of satisfaction in carrying the weapon about with
him, for it was the first thing of the kind he had ever owned; but at
the end of a mile he wished most heartily that he had left it at the
rancho.

At the end of two miles he told himself that if he were ever required to
make this journey again, he would leave his horse at home and follow the
clay-bank on foot. At the end of three he came to the conclusion that he
had mistaken his calling; and by the time he had put four miles between
himself and Mr. Wilson’s rancho, he wished from the bottom of his heart
that he was back on board the Santa Maria.

At last, when Guy could endure it no longer, he set himself at work to
find some way to alleviate his misery. He saw hanging from the horn of
his saddle a lariat with which the thoughtful ranchman had provided him,
so that he might stake out his horse when he went into camp. With this
he formed a sling for his rifle, and tied the weapon securely to his
saddle. This eased his arms and shoulders, and to relieve the rest of
his tired muscles he jumped down and walked a mile or two; and so, by
alternate riding and walking, finally reached Deer Run, where he was to
stop and rest while the clay-bank was “picking about.”

Following the instructions of his employer, he staked out his own horse,
leaving the mare to do as she pleased, and, too tired to eat or do
anything else with comfort, threw himself on the grass under the
spreading branches of a live oak, and heartily wished himself among
civilized people once more. He thought of the antelope which the
ranchman had told him he would here find in abundance, but was much too
dispirited to make any effort to secure one. Besides, his rifle was
empty, and he did not know how to load it.

“And if it was loaded I would not know how to shoot it,” thought Guy;
“and neither do I know how to hunt antelope. I’ve heard that it takes
one who understands their nature and habits to hunt them successfully,
so I guess I won’t bother with them. I’d rather rest. I believe Mr.
Wilson told the truth when he said that I hadn’t the right sort of stuff
in me to make a hunter or trapper. They must be made of something
besides flesh and blood if they can stand such a jolting as I have had
to-day.”

Guy rolled restlessly about under the oak while the clay-bank was
cropping the grass, and when she had eaten her fill she gave him notice
of the fact by slaking her thirst at the run and setting off on her
journey again of her own accord. With a groan of despair Guy mounted his
horse and followed her.

The tortures he had already experienced were aggravated ten-fold during
the afternoon; for the trail, which had hitherto led him over a level
plain, now crossed a range of hills almost high enough to be called
mountains, and the traveling was rough indeed. The sudden springs and
lunges which his horse made in going up the steep ascent racked him in
every muscle. Only once did he dismount to walk, and then he was glad to
scramble back into his saddle again, for the tireless horses went ahead
at such a rate that he could not keep pace with them. Up hill and down
he went, through a wilderness which seemed to have no end; and when at
last he became so exhausted that it was only by a strong exercise of
will that he could keep himself in his saddle, he was electrified by the
appearance of an apparition in greasy buckskin, who came before him so
suddenly that it frightened him.

“Say, you!” it exclaimed, “you brought any tobacker?”

Guy had reached his journey’s end at last.

AS GUY straightened up in his saddle he took a good look at the man who
had so suddenly appeared before him. There was no need that he should
ask who he was, for he knew, by his words of greeting, that he could be
none other than Zeke, the buffalo hunter. He was the first hunter Guy
had ever seen, and of course he gazed at him with no little interest.

He was not very favorably impressed with the man’s appearance, for he
was certainly the roughest and most repulsive specimen of humanity that
Guy had ever put eyes on. He could form no idea of the expression of his
features, for his face was so effectually concealed by thick, bushy
whiskers that nothing but a pair of eyes and a low, retreating forehead
could be seen. His hair, coarse and matted, hung down upon his
shoulders, and his hands were terribly soiled and begrimed. He would
have been a tall man if he had stood erect, but he walked almost
half-bent, in an attitude similar to that a wild beast might assume when
about to spring upon its prey, and moved along in a shambling,
loose-jointed manner, as if he had scarcely energy enough to keep
himself from falling to pieces. His garments were a strange mixture of
the civilized and savage, and Guy thought they ought long ago to have
been replaced by better ones. He wore a tattered slouch hat on his head,
held a rifle in his hand, and carried a powder-horn and bullet-pouch
over his shoulder. Taken altogether, he was very unlike Guy’s _beau
ideal_ of a hunter.

“Say, you!” repeated Zeke impatiently; “you got any tobacker? That’s
what I want ter know.”

“Plenty of it,” replied Guy. “You’ll find it in the pack-saddle. Mr.
Wilson thought you would want a good supply.”

“Then why didn’t he send it afore?” growled the hunter.

“He sent it as soon as he could. He came from Frisco only yesterday.”

Zeke leaned his rifle against the nearest tree, plunged his hands into
the pack-saddle, and while he was searching for the tobacco, repeatedly
ran his eyes over the face and figure of the boy, who seemed to be a
great curiosity to him.

He said nothing, however, until he had found a plug of the coveted weed,
and thrust a good portion of it into his cheek. After he had chewed on
it a while the effects became perceptible. The discontented, almost
savage, look his face had worn, gave place to an expression a trifle
more amiable, and when he spoke his voice sounded more like a human
being’s, and less like the growl of an angry bear.

“Who be you?” he demanded. “I never seed you in these parts afore.”

“No,” said Guy, “you never did. My name is Harris, and I used to be a
sailor; but I’m a hunter now.”

“You!” exclaimed Zeke, with undisguised contempt in his tones and looks.
“What do you hunt—squirrels?”

“Well, I have never hunted anything yet,” said Guy, who thought it best
to tell the truth; “but I want to be a buffalo hunter like you; so I
hope that we shall be fast friends, and that you will teach me all you
know. Will you?”

“Humph!” grunted Zeke. “Let’s go to camp.”

“How far is it from here?” asked Guy.

“A matter of five mile, mebbe. I got tired of waitin’, an’ come up to
see if thar was anybody goin’ to fetch me any tobacker.”

“Five miles?” echoed Guy. “I am almost tired out with riding, and should
be glad to walk if the horses did not go so fast.”

“Let ’em go,” said Zeke. “I’ll walk with you. The mar’ knows the way,
an’ the other’ll foller.”

Guy was glad to act upon this suggestion. While he was dismounting, the
hunter picked up his rifle and examined it with a critical eye. Guy was
astonished at the ease with which he drew it up to his face, and the
steadiness with which he held it while glancing along the barrel.

“This your’n?” asked Zeke.

“Yes; I bought it in Frisco—paid fifteen dollars for it, and haven’t had
time to shoot it yet. Suppose you try it, and see if it is a good one.
Here are the bullets, powder and caps in my game-bag. It carries a ball
large enough to kill a buffalo—doesn’t it?”

“Sartin.”

“Well, I hope you will give me a chance to try it on one some day, will
you?”

“Humph!” was the answer Zeke deigned to give.

In accordance with Guy’s request the hunter proceeded to load the rifle,
and as the boy knew that it was one of the first things he must learn,
he kept a close watch of his movements.

Zeke first took from the game-bag a bullet, which he placed in the palm
of his hand, and then from the horn poured powder enough on it to cover
it. This done he put the bullet into his mouth, and after pouring the
powder down the barrel and hitting the weapon a knock or two on the
ground to drive it into the tube, begun searching in Guy’s game-bag for
something.

Failing to find the article, whatever it was, he took from the string
which hung suspended from his button-hole, a small piece of thick cloth,
which Guy saw was greased on one side. This the hunter placed over the
muzzle of the rifle—the greased side down—put the bullet upon it, and
drove it home with the ramrod. It was all done then except putting on
the cap, and that occupied scarcely more than a second’s time.

Taken altogether it was a complicated operation, Guy thought, and he did
not know whether he could remember all the details or not. He found that
he had forgotten one thing, and that was the cloth which the hunter
wrapped around the bullet. No doubt that was the “patching” he had often
read about.

When the rifle was loaded the hunter raised it to his shoulder and
started down the trail, Guy following with his game-bag in one hand and
Zeke’s rifle in the other. He was anything but pleased at the manner in
which his advances had been received, but still he was not disheartened
by it.

No doubt the hunter was wearied with his day’s work—Guy knew that he had
been in the saddle ever since sunrise watching the cattle under his
charge—and perhaps after the tobacco had had time to have its full
effect, and Zeke had taken a good supper and smoked a pipe, he would be
better-natured. Then Guy could make another effort to work his way into
his good graces.

While on the way to the valley in which Zeke’s camp was located, Guy had
frequent opportunities to witness his companion’s skill with the rifle.
Squirrels were abundant, and the hunter, without leaving the trail,
succeeded in bringing down a dozen or more, and every one of them shot
through the head. This was Guy’s first lesson in hunting, and he watched
every move Zeke made. He now saw how the man came by that stealthy,
crouching style of progression which he had noticed. He had practiced it
so often while in pursuit of game that it had become a part of his
nature.

At the foot of the mountains the woods terminated, and of course there
were no squirrels to be found on the open plain. By the time they
reached this point the tobacco, aided perhaps by the fine shooting he
had enjoyed, was beginning to tell upon the hunter, who showed a
disposition to throw off his reserve altogether. He found his way to
Guy’s heart by assuring him that his rifle was as “fine a we’pon as he
had ever drawed to his face,” and followed it up by inquiring very
particularly into the boy’s history. And Guy was quite willing to tell
him everything he wanted to know. He told him how long he had been away
from home, why he had left it, what he had done since he had been adrift
in the world, and what he wanted to do next. Being anxious to make a
friend of the hunter he concealed nothing, not even the fact that he had
twenty-five dollars in money, which he was willing to turn over to Zeke
to be expended in any way the latter saw fit, so long as it benefited
them both.

The hunter became more and more interested as Guy proceeded, and the
mention of the money and the sight of the purse the boy carried about
his neck broke down the last barrier between them. Suddenly stopping and
facing Guy, he extended to him one of his huge, dirty paws.

“Put it thar, pard,” said he. “I’ll take you.”

“Will you, really?” exclaimed Guy, almost beside himself with excitement
and delight.

“Sartin I will. I’ve been a-lookin’ an’ a-waitin’ fur two years in hopes
some feller would come along who would do fur a chum, an’ here he is,
come at last. You’re just the chap fur me. I’ll make you the best
buffaler hunter that Kansas ever seed. I’ll larn you to ride an’ shoot,
an’ make a man of you.”

“And will you teach me how to fight Indians and catch wild horses?”
asked Guy.

“In course I will.”

“How far is Kansas from here?”

“Wal, it’s a right smart piece.”

“Shall we go there on horseback?”

“Sartin.”

“And camp out on the way?”

“In course.”

“When shall we start?”

“We’ll be on our way to-morrow night.”

“To-morrow night!” repeated Guy. “Why, Mr. Wilson told me that he never
hired a man without making him promise to give at least a month’s notice
when he wanted to quit.”

“What do I care for Wilson?” asked Zeke contemptuously. “A free hunter
does what he likes. I can trust you, I reckon.”

“Certainly you can.”

“Cause if I can’t, I don’t want anything to do with you,” said Zeke.

“Oh, you can trust me, I assure you,” declared Guy earnestly, fearing
that the hunter was about to go back from his promise. “What do you want
me to do?”

“I’ll tell you arter supper. I’ve got an idee in my head an’ want to put
on my thinkin’ cap an’ think it out; so don’t say nothin’ to me till I
speak. Let’s go an’ eat some of them squirrels. In a few days from now
we’ll be livin’ on buffaler hump an’ marrer bones, an that’s livin’, I
tell you! I say agin, you’re jest the feller I’ve been a-lookin’ fur.”

The hunter relapsed into silence, and so did Guy, who marched along by
his side, and although he carried a ponderous rifle on his shoulder and
a heavy string of squirrels in his hand, he walked as if he were
treading on air. He forgot that he had that day ridden forty miles on a
rough-going horse. He did not bestow a thought upon his weary body, for
his mind was too fully occupied with the future. In a few hours more, he
kept saying to himself, his bright dreams would all be realized. He had
got on the right side of the hunter at last—there could be no doubt of
that. Zeke was as cordial as one could possibly be—more so, in fact,
than any man he had ever before met. Perhaps if Guy had been more
experienced in the ways of the world, this would have aroused his
suspicions and made him a little more guarded in his intercourse with
his new friend. That caution was necessary, we can see by following Zeke
for a moment in his meditations.

“If I hain’t found a way outer this diffikilty now, I’m a buffaler
myself,” thought the hunter. “This onsuspectin’ leetle cub wouldn’t
a-been more welcome to my camp if he’d been a hangel loaded down with
pipes an’ tobacker enough to do me all my life. I’m monstrous tired of
herdin’ cattle, ’cause it’s too hard work. I’ve done it fur a hull
month, an’ all I’ve got to show fur it is my hoss. The rifle I used, the
powder, lead, an’ blankets, all b’long to Wilson, an’ has got to be paid
fur. It’ll take me two months longer to ’arn everything I need, an’ I
had oughter be on my way to the prairy now. I had kinder thought that
mebbe I’d steal the hull kit an’ put out with it, but I’m a’most afeard
to do it. Wilson, he’s lightnin’ on wheels when his dander’s riz, an’
he’d have all the settlers in the valley arter me so quick that it would
make a feller’s head swim; an’ if they ketched me——”

Here Zeke threw his head over on his right shoulder and made a motion
with his hand as if he were winding a rope about his neck and hauling
himself up with it—a proceeding which made Guy look at him in great
surprise.

“I didn’t say nothin’,” said the hunter.

“I know it,” said Guy, “and I didn’t say anything either.”

Zeke shifted Guy’s rifle to his other shoulder and went on with his
soliloquy.

“Now this cub has got a good fittin’ out, a fine rifle, huntin’-knife,
blankets, an’ powder’n lead enough to last me as fur as Laramie anyways.
When I get thar the twenty-five dollars he’s got will buy me more
powder’n lead, an’ the traders will advance the other things I want. I
can steal everything he’s got an’ put out as easy as failin’ off a log.
He can’t foller me up an’ ketch me, an’ he ain’t got no friends to do it
fur him. I would be off this very night, only I must first make things
squar’ with Wilson, to keep him off’n my trail. Now how am I goin’ to do
it? That’s what I put my thinkin’ cap on fur, an’ that’s what I want to
think out.”

While Zeke was turning this problem over in his mind he and his young
companion arrived at his camp, which was located under an oak tree near
the middle of a beautiful valley. Guy would not have known when he
reached it had he not seen his own horse and the mare grazing near a
third which was picketed a short distance from the tree, for there was
but little to indicate the existence of a camp—nothing, in fact, but a
pair of blankets, a small piece of beef hanging from one of the branches
of the oak, and a few embers and ashes which marked the spot where a
fire had once been kindled.

The hunter at once took possession of the blankets, where he lay gazing
intently into the branches above his head, and Guy set about putting the
camp in order. It was novel business to him, but he liked to do it, and
Zeke, being too lazy to lift a finger unless it was absolutely
necessary, was perfectly willing that he should.

Guy first led the mare to the tree, and begun the work of unloading the
pack-saddle. The supplies, consisting for the most part of coffee, tea,
sugar, flour, and tobacco, were piled about the roots of the tree and
covered with branches, as a slight protection from the weather and any
prowling beast that might happen along during the hunter’s absence.

Then he relieved the mare of the pack-saddle, removed the saddle and
bridle from his own horse, and after staking out both the animals and
arranging his bed, proceeded to kindle a fire and make ready his supper.

After a thorough search of the camp he found something which had
evidently done duty as a coffee-pot, and when he had filled it with
water and set it on the coals, he stopped, not knowing what else to do.
Tortillas he could not make, and he had not yet learned the art of
skinning squirrels and cooking them before the fire on spits. However,
he could get on without the squirrels. He had a supply of eatables in
his game-bag, and the cold bread and meat, with the addition of a cup of
hot coffee, would make him a good supper. If the hunter wanted anything
he could get up and cook it himself.

Guy, having arranged his table to his satisfaction, poured some of the
coffee into a cup which the ranchman had been thoughtful enough to put
into his game-bag with luncheon, and settled back on his elbow,
believing that he could do full justice to the meal, not having tasted a
mouthful since leaving the rancho shortly after daylight.

All these movements had been closely watched by Zeke, who was by no
means so fully occupied with his meditations as he pretended to be.
Seeing that Guy was eating the bread and meat with evident relish, he
crawled slowly off his bed and joined him at his meal.

The supper disappeared rapidly after that, Zeke using both hands to
crowd the food into his mouth, and emptying Guy’s cup at a draught
whenever he was thirsty. In a very short space of time the last of the
bread and meat was out of sight and the coffee-pot emptied.

Zeke gave a grunt of satisfaction, but had nothing to say until he had
filled his pipe and lighted it with a brand from the fire. Then, between
his long, deliberate puffs, he managed to utter the words:

“I’ve got it.”

“Got what?” asked the boy.

“I know what we’ll do. I’ve thought my plans out.”

“All right, pard,” said Guy, who believed that if he was going to be a
hunter he might as well begin to use the language of one. “What are
they? Spit ’em out.”

“I can do that,” said Zeke, “an’ it won’t take me long, nuther. In the
fust place, I s’pose Wilson told you to go back to-morrow, didn’t he? I
thought so. Wal, you go back ’cordin’ to orders, but instead of ta-kin’
your own gun an’ huntin’ rig with you, take mine an’ leave your’n.
Understand? You see, the rifle an’ things b’longin’ to it that I’ve got
here ain’t mine; they’re Wilson’s. I took ’em outen the store agreein’
to work fur ’em an’ the other things I need to take me back to the other
side of the mountains whar I b’long an’ whar I’ll stay if I onct git
thar agin, I bet you. But if I stop to ’arn everything I want it will
take me two months more, an’ by that time we must be among the buffaler,
if we’re goin’ to get any hides this season. You’ve got things enough
and money enough to last us till we get to Laramie, an’ thar I can get
what else we want from the traders. One rifle an’ one blanket will last
us till then.”

“Will one horse be enough?” asked Guy.

“No; we must have a hoss apiece, an’ I’ve got ’em—that one that I ’arned
from Wilson, an’ I’ve bought another from a feller livin’ up the
valley.”

It occurred to Guy right here to ask how Zeke could have bought another
horse, seeing that he had no money and had been working for Mr. Wilson
ever since he had been in that part of the country, but before he could
speak the hunter went on;

“Now you go back to-morrow mornin’, like I was tellin’ you, an’ take the
rifle an’ all the other things that b’longs to Wilson, an’ give ’em to
him an’ tell him thar’s his things—I don’t want ’em—an’ he must send a
man down here to onct to take care of these yere cattle, ’cause I hain’t
goin’ to stay no longer. You needn’t say nothin’ else to him,
howsomever. Don’t tell him of the bargain me an’ you has made, but when
it comes dark you slip away from the house an’ meet me at the
water-tank. You know whar that spoutin’ well is, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Guy, “I saw it last night.”

“Wal, you come thar as soon as it comes dark, an’ I’ll be on hand with
two hosses—this one an’ another, an’ all we’ll have to do will be to put
off. Understand?”

“Yes,” replied Guy, “I understand it all.”

“Arter you leave here in the mornin’ I’ll go an’ get my other hoss that
I was a tellin’ you of,” continued Zeke. “You see the reason why I am
leavin’ Wilson in this way, an’ without sayin’ nuthin’ to him, is ’cause
I agreed to give him notice when I wanted to quit, but I can’t afford to
waste a month’s time layin’ around here doin’ nothin’, when the buffaler
is comin’ in by thousands an’ waitin’ to be shot. Understand, don’t
you?”

Yes, Guy was sure he understood the hunter’s plans and intentions
perfectly, and Zeke was equally certain he did not, and so he repeated
them again and again, until the boy knew them by heart. After that he
launched off into glowing descriptions of buffalo hunts and told of
fights with Indians and bears, and adventures with wild horses, until
Guy was almost beside himself with excitement and impatience. Then Zeke
said he was tired, and crawled back to his blankets, but Guy tended the
fire and sat by it for two hours longer, thinking of the future; and
when he went to sleep it was to dream over the thrilling scenes the
hunter had just described to him.

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