Read CHAPTER VI - BUCKSKIN ON GUARD of The Saddle Boys in the Grand Canyon / The Hermit of the Cave, free online book, by James Carson, on ReadCentral.com.

“A good day’s ride, all right, Bob!”

“You never said truer words, Frank. And now, with night setting in, how far do you think we’ve covered since the start this morning?”

The Kentucky boy sat in his saddle with a slight show of weariness, which was not to be wondered at, considering the steadiness with which they had kept on the move, hour after hour, heading in a general Westerly direction.

The satin skin of Domino was flecked with foam. Even the tough little Buckskin mount of Frank showed signs of weariness; though ready to keep on if his master gave the word.

“That would be hard to tell,” replied the rancher’s son; “but it must be all of sixty-five miles, I reckon.”

“Then that beats my record some,” declared the other.

“But it was a glorious gallop all the way through,” asserted Frank.

“That’s what; and more to follow to-morrow,” his chum hastened to remark.

“But a different kind of travel, the chances are, Bob. To-day it happened that we were crossing the great mesa, and it was like a floor for being level. Over yonder, ahead, you can see the mountains we must cross. Then there are rivers to ford or swim. Yes, variety is the spice of life; and unless I miss my guess we’re due for a big change to-morrow.”

“Think we can make Flagstaff by to-morrow night?” asked the Kentucky lad, who, at a time like this, seemed to depend very much upon the superior knowledge of his chum, who had been brought up on the plains.

“We’re going to make a try; that’s as far as I’ve got,” laughed Frank. “But what about camping here?”

“As good as anywhere,” answered Bob. “Fact is, I’m admitting to being ready to drop down in any old place, so long as I can stretch my legs, and roll. No wonder a horse likes to turn over as soon as you take the saddle off. Shall we call it a go, Frank?”

The other jumped to the ground. Bob thought he heard him give a little grunt in doing so; but just then he was interested in repressing his own feelings.

However, when they had moved about somewhat, both boys confessed to feeling considerably better. As for the horses, there was no danger of their straying after that gallop of many hours in the hot sun. They took their roll, and then began hunting for stray tufts of grass among the buffalo berry bushes.

The sun had already set, and twilight told of the coming night. Around them lay the mesa, with the mountains cropping up like a crust along the edge. It was a familiar scene, to Frank in particular, and one of which he never tired.

“I noticed some jack rabbits as we came along,” remarked Bob, “and as they always come out of their burrows about dusk to play, suppose I try and knock over a couple right now.”

“Wouldn’t object myself to a good dinner of rabbit, after that ride,” Frank admitted, as he proceeded to get the little tent in position, a task that was only a pleasure to a boy fond of all outdoors.

So Bob immediately sauntered off toward the spot where he had noticed the long-eared animals, calculated to make a good meal for hungry campers.

“I heard gophers whistling,” called out Frank, “and that means there’s a village somewhere close by. Keep your eyes out for the rattlers; they are always found where prairie dogs live.”

“I never forget that, Frank,” came back from the disappearing hunter.

Frank went on with his preparations. A fire would be necessary, if they expected to cook fresh meat; and it is not always an easy thing to have such when out on the open plain or mesa. But Frank had already sighted a supply of fuel sufficient for their needs and it was indeed next door to a miracle to find the dead branch of a pine tree here, far away from the mountains, where the nearest trees seemed to grow.

“I reckon it was just lifted up in some little tornado, and carried through the air, just to land where we needed it,” he remarked, as he dragged the log closer to where he had quickly put up the tent; and then began chopping at it with his little camp hatchet.

As he worked there came a quick report from a point not far away.

“That means one jack,” he remarked, raising his head to listen; but to his surprise no second shot followed.

“Well, if he hopes to get a pair, he’ll have to hurry up his cakes,” Frank went on; “because the night’s settling down on us fast. But then one will give us a taste all around, and help out.”

It was some little time before he heard Bob coming, and then the Kentuckian seemed to be walking rather unsteadily. Frank jumped to his feet, with the suspicion that possibly after all Bob had met with a misfortune. In the minute of time that he was waiting for his chum to appear, a number of things flashed through his head to give him uneasiness.

Had Bob been unlucky enough to run across one of those aggressive little prairie rattlesnakes after all? Could he have wounded himself in any way when he fired his repeating rifle? Neither of these might prove to be the case; and yet Bob was certainly staggering as he came along.

Now he could be seen by the light of the little fire. Frank stared, for his chum was certainly bending over, as though bearing a load. He had heard no outcry that would signify the presence of others in the neighborhood. Ah! surely those were the long slender legs of an antelope which Bob gripped in front of him.

“Bully for you!” exclaimed Frank. “Where under the sun did you run across that fine game? Say, you sure take the cake, stepping out just to knock over a couple of long-ears; and then coming back ten minutes later with a fine antelope on your back. How did you do it, Bob?”

“I don’t know,” laughed the other. “Happened to start up against the wind, and was creeping up behind some buffalo berry bushes to see if there were any jack rabbits beyond, when this little fellow jumped to his feet. Why he didn’t light out when we came along, I never could tell you.”

“Oh! he just knew we wanted a good supper, I reckon,” Frank remarked. “And now to get busy.”

It did not take them long to cut some choice bits from the antelope, which they began to cook at the fire, thrusting the meat through with long splinters of wood, which in turn were held in a slanting position in the ground. When one part gave evidence of being browned the novel spit was turned until all sides had been equally served.

“Remember the way Old Hank showed us how to toll antelope for a shot, when you can’t find cover to get near enough?” asked Frank, as they sat there, disposing of their supper, with the satisfaction hunger always brings in its train.

“You mean with the red handkerchief waved over the top of a bush?” Bob went on. “Hank said there never was a more curious little beast than an antelope. If he didn’t have a red rag a white one would do. Once he said he just lay down on his back and kicked his heels in the air. The game ran away, but came back; and each time just a little bit closer, till Hank could fire, and get his supper. I’ve done something the same for ducks, in a marsh back home, trying to draw their attention to the decoys I had out.”

A small stream ran near by, at which the boys and horses had quenched their thirst. Sometimes its gentle murmur floated to their ears as they sat there, chatting, and wondering whether their mission to the Grand Canyon was destined to bear fruit or not.

“I can get the smell of some late wild roses,” remarked Frank. “And it isn’t often that you find such things up on one of these high mesas, or table lands. Do you know, I rather imagine this used to be a favorite stamping ground for buffalo in those good old days when herds of tens of thousands could be met with, rolling like the waves of a sea over the plains.”

“What makes you think so?” asked Bob, always seeking information.

“The grass, for one thing,” came the reply. “Then I noticed quite a few old sun-burned remnants of skulls as we came along. The bone hunter didn’t gather his crop in this region, that means. Besides, didn’t you see all those queer little indentations that looked as though they might have been pools away back years ago?”

“Sure, I did; and wondered whatever could have made them,” Bob admitted.

“I may be wrong,” Frank continued; “but somehow I’ve got an idea that those must be what they used to call buffalo wallows. Anyhow, that doesn’t matter to us. We’ve made a good day of it; found a jim-dandy place for a camp; got some juicy fresh meat; and to-morrow we hope to land in Flagstaff.”

“And what then?” queried Bob.

“We’ll decide that while we ride along to-morrow,” Frank answered. “Perhaps it may seem better that we leave our horses there, and take the train for the Grand Canyon; though I’m inclined to make another day of it, and follow the old wagon trail over the mesa, and through the pine forest past Red Butte, to Grand View.”

“Listen to Buckskin snorting; what d’ye suppose ails him?” asked Bob, as his chum stopped speaking.

“I was just going to say that myself,” remarked Frank, putting out his hand for his rifle; and at the same time scattering the brands of the dying fire so that darkness quickly fell upon the spot.

“Too late, I’m afraid,” muttered Bob.

“Seems like it, because the horses are sure coming straight for us,” said Frank; “but there are many people moving around in this section, and perhaps some tenderfeet from the East have lost themselves, and would be glad of a chance to sit by our blaze and taste antelope meat, fresh where it is grown. Step back, Bob, and let’s wait to see what turns up!”