Superstition Trail

We did not make thirty-five miles that day, nor yet twenty-five, for he had let me sleep. We made an early camp and tried some unsuccessful fishing, over which he was cheerful, promising trout to-morrow when we should be higher among the mountains. He never again touched or came near the subject that was on his mind, but while I sat writing my diary, he went off to his horse Monte, and I could hear that he occasionally talked to that friend.

Next day we swung southward from what is known to many as the Conant trail, and headed for that short cut through the Tetons which is known to but a few. Bitch Creek was the name of the stream we now followed, and here there was such good fishing that we idled; and the horses and I at least enjoyed ourselves. For they found fresh pastures and shade in the now plentiful woods; and the mountain odors and the mountain heights were enough for me when the fish refused to rise. This road of ours now became the road which the pursuit had taken before the capture. Going along, I noticed the footprints of many hoofs, rain-blurred but recent, and these were the tracks of the people I had met in the stable.

“You can notice Monte’s,” said the Virginian. “He is the only one that has his hind feet shod. There’s several trails from this point down to where we have come from.” We mounted now over a long slant of rock, smooth and of wide extent Above us it went up easily into a little side canyon, but ahead, where our way was, it grew so steep that we got off and led our horses. This brought us to the next higher level of the mountain, a space of sagebrush more open, where the rain-washed tracks appeared again in the softer ground.

“Some one has been here since the rain,” I called to the Virginian, who was still on the rock, walking up behind the packhorses.

“Since the rain!” he exclaimed. “That’s not two days yet.” He came and examined the footprints. “A man and a hawss,” he said, frowning. “Going the same way we are. How did he come to pass us, and us not see him?” “One of the other trails,” I reminded him.

“Yes, but there’s not many that knows them. They are pretty rough trails.” “Worse than this one we’re taking?” “Not much; only how does he come to know any of them? And why don’t he take the Conant trail that’s open and easy and not much longer? One man and a hawss. I don’t see who he is or what he wants here.” “Probably a prospector,” I suggested.

“Only one outfit of prospectors has ever been here, and they claimed there was no mineral-bearing rock in these parts.” We got back into our saddles with the mystery unsolved. To the Virginian it was a greater one, apparently, than to me; why should one have to account for every stray traveller in the mountains?

“That’s queer, too,” said the Virginian. He was now riding in front of me, and he stopped, looking down at the trail. “Don’t you notice?” It did not strike me.

“Why, he keeps walking beside his hawss; he don’t get on him.” Now we, of course, had mounted at the beginning of the better trail after the steep rock, and that was quite half a mile back. Still, I had a natural explanation. “He’s leading a packhorse. He’s a poor trapper, and walks.” “Packhorses ain’t usually shod before and behind,” said the Virginian; and sliding to the ground he touched the footprints. “They are not four hours old,” said he. “This bank’s in shadow by one o’clock, and the sun has not cooked them dusty.” We continued on our way; and although it seemed no very particular thing to me that a man should choose to walk and lead his horse for a while,--I often did so to limber my muscles,--nevertheless I began to catch the Virginian’s uncertain feeling about this traveller whose steps had appeared on our path in mid-journey, as if he had alighted from the mid-air, and to remind myself that he had come over the great face of rock from another trail and thus joined us, and that indigent trappers are to be found owning but a single horse and leading him with their belongings through the deepest solitudes of the mountains-- none of this quite brought back to me the comfort which had been mine since we left the cottonwoods out of sight down in the plain. Hence I called out sharply, “What’s the matter now?” when the Virginian suddenly stopped his horse again.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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