With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin

Is it Found at Last?

"The Red River, men! Three cheers! We think we've found it at last!"

It was the evening of the second day's march into the southwest. The doctor and the lieutenant had gone out from camp, to survey about, as usual. The first line of mountains had been crossed and already every eye was eager and every heart was keen for the traces of the shifty Red River.

Matters looked promising, too. Noon camp to-day had been made at a little spring, the unfrozen waters of which flowed trickling and formed a small stream wending southeast for the bottom of the valley.

"The beginnings of the Red River—do you reckon it might be the beginnings of the Red River, cap'n?" the men queried.

But the lieutenant smiled and shook his head.

"I wouldn't dare say so, lads, and disappoint you. We may be a long way yet from the real Red River."

Still, some of the men did not believe him, until they had left the valley and the spring behind, and in a narrow pass of the next ridge had come upon another spring and another stream, larger. Among so many springs and streams, who might tell which was the source of the Red River?

They followed the stream part way through the pass, and encamped there in a snowstorm. The snow, sifting thickly, shut off the view before; it was glum weather for a hungry camp; the men crouched close, snow-covered, around the fire, or moved hobbling, at their various jobs; the gaunt, sore-backed horses cropped desperately, pawing into the snow, or hunched, coughing and groaning, in the scant shelter of the low cedars and spruces.

The horses of the lieutenant and the doctor, and Stub's yellow pony, had been turned into pack animals, to lessen the loads of the other animals. Everybody was marching on foot.

"Did you say that the cap'n an' the doctor thought likely we'd have to go cl'ar back south'ard, fur as the Great White Mountains yonder, so's to strike the river?" John Sparks asked, of Stub.

"Mebbe there, mebbe sooner," Stub nodded.

"If we ketch 'em, I hope he won't be axin' us to climb 'em," spoke John Brown.

"Got to ketch 'em, first," laughed somebody.

"We might as well be chasing a mountain as a river," said Terry Miller.

"Oui," agreed Baroney. "Ma foi, the mountains are there, in sight; but the river—it's nowhere."

"Never mind, never mind, lads," Sergeant Meek put in. "Not a man of us works as hard as him and the doctor; they're always breaking the trail, and they're always out whilst we're resting a bit. Look at 'em now, scouting in the snow without a bite to eat. Sure, we ought to be proud to keep a stiff upper lip and follow 'em as fur as they'll go, whether that's to Canady or Mexico or the Pacific Ocean. Ain't we soldiers?"

"We'll follow. You bet we will," the men chorused. "There's no harm meant in our talk, but we got to talk about somethin' besides our feet an' our bellies."

Now here came the lieutenant and the doctor—trudging fast, panting, snowy, their beards plastered white, but their thin faces lighted with smiles. The doctor gleefully flourished his fur cap, and hailed them.

"The Red River, men! Three cheers! We think we've found it at last!"

"Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!" The steep sides of the narrow pass echoed, and the miserable horses half pricked their ears, dumbly questioning.

The two came directly to the fire. They were out of breath. The circle respectfully opened for them.

"Did we hear right? Is it true, then, sir? Ye found the Red River?" eagerly inquired Sergeant Meek, of the lieutenant.

"Yes, sergeant." And the lieutenant beat his red cap and stamped, to dislodge some of his snow. "That is, the signs are the most hopeful for many a day, and we all have good reason to be inspired of success. Listen, men. The facts are these: Doctor Robinson and I advanced about four miles, out of this defile and into a prairie that lies beyond. There we discovered a fine stream, with all the characteristics of a river. It is some twenty-five yards wide, very swift, in a clearly marked rocky channel, and the general direction of its flow is southeast."


"The creek we are now encamped beside evidently joins it. This is all I have to say at present. To-morrow, or as soon as marching conditions warrant, we will proceed, examine the ground more thoroughly, and demonstrate whether or not we may consider ourselves actually at the source of the Red River."

"News like that takes the chill off the air," laughed Freegift Stout, when the lieutenant and the doctor had gone into their tent, for a rubdown.

"B'gorry, we been tellin' 'em that the Red River was surely hereabouts," asserted Tom Dougherty. "Wan spring, an' then another, an' then a crick, an' then the river itself—an' nixt, out o' the mountains we'll be an' wid iv'ry mile gettin' closer to war-rmth an' people."

"What do you want o' people?" Corporal Jerry demanded. "They may be the Spanish, or the Pawnees again, or worse."

"Come wan, come all," Toni retorted. "Sure, I wouldn't object to a bit of a fight, for a change, man to man. But fightin' these mountains is uphill work." And he laughed at his joke.

"Well, I hope with all my heart the cap'n's struck the right trail," said Sergeant Meek. "And he's pretty certain, or he wouldn't have said so much. He's no man to make a brag, as you know. For the first time since we entered the mountains he's looking sort o' content. He deserves a turn o' luck. 'Tis always of his country he's thinking, and of us, and never of himself; and though in matter of muscle he's the smallest man amongst us, he picks the hardest jobs."

In the morning the snow was falling faster than ever. They all were anxious to reach the river, but the pass was so clogged with drifts and their horses were so weak that the march took them only out to the edge of the bottom-land.

It was the fifth day without sight of game. The lieutenant ordered a hunt, before dark; but not even a rabbit was found. There was nothing but snow, snow, snow.

"My belt's twice around me already, an' is startin' on the third lap," declared Alex Roy.

However, the horses were in luck, at last—and they needed it. John Sparks and Tom Dougherty reported a fine big patch of long grass down near the river. In the morning the lieutenant sent Baroney and Stub, with the wretched animals, to set them to grazing and herd them—and a long cold task this proved to be.

Still, as Baroney said, as he and Stub trudged about or squatted with their backs to the squalls:

"If we cannot eat, ourselves, it is a great pleasure to watch the horses eat; hein?

Late in the afternoon Corporal Jerry Jackson came down.

"You're to fetch the horses in with you, at dusk," he said. "Never a trace of game, all day, so we'll pull out in the mornin'."

"Down the Red River, mebbe, Jerry?" Stub asked

"I dunno, but somewhere. The cap'n knows—an' he knows we're on short rations of only a few mouthfuls to a man."

The doctor and Baroney were to start out'early, down river, hunting. The lieutenant and two or three men were to explore up stream and see where the river began, if they could. The rest of the men were to march down river with the baggage, until they killed enough game so that they might camp and wait.

"Miller and Mountjoy, 'tis you with the cap'n," ordered Sergeant Meek.

"I go, too, Bill?" pleaded Stub.

"Sure, that's for him to say. I've only my orders, lad," Sergeant Bill answered.

So Stub appealed to Lieutenant Pike himself. "I go with you, please?"

But the lieutenant gravely shook his head.

"Not this time, my boy. You'd best go down river with the others, where there's more chance of finding game. Up stream it's a rough country, and the three of us are likely to be hard put for meat. We'll only explore for a day or two; you stay with the party."

As anybody might have foretold, the lieutenant again had taken the heaviest work.

"I go with the doctor, then, please," Stub proposed. "Down river."

"He and Baroney will be hunting. You have no weapon. But you can do your duty like a soldier by tending the horses."

Stub mournfully thought upon his bow, broken several days ago. Hugh Menaugh spoke up, saluting.

"Beggin' your pardon, cap'n—he's a plucky lad an' if you say for him to go wid the doctor he can have one o' the pistols you loaned to me. Belike he'll fare as well wid the doctor as wid us, an' mebbe bring him luck. An' we've all been boys, ourselves, oneasy for doin' things."

"You've a kind heart, my man," answered the lieutenant, smiling. "If the doctor is agreeable to having his company, all right. You may settle it between you."

Settled it was, right speedily, for Doctor Robinson had a kind heart, too.

"Here's your pistol, then," Hugh bade. "Wid wan load. Be sure ye get a buff'lo, now."

Stub nodded, and carefully stowed the long dragoon pistol in under his belt. The curved handle crossed his stomach.

"I see him, I get him, Hugh."

He and the doctor and Baroney set out, first.

"Down river; we'll meet you down the Red River, Baroney, old hoss," called the men. "Here's wishin' you fat meat, doctor, sir—an' the same for the rest of us."

"I'll follow the main trail in two days and catch up," the lieutenant had promised. "But nobody is to wait for me until meat has been secured. Do your best, doctor. There are rations for only forty-eight hours."

It was another lean day. Although the three did do their best, scouting in advance from the river to the hills, and exploring the side draws, oftentimes waist deep in the snow, they stirred never a hoof nor paw, and rarely a feather. That was discouraging.

Now and again they saw the main party, who had crossed the river and were toiling along, down the other flank of its winding course.

"Not a thing sighted by us, and not a gunshot heard from those other fellows," the doctor sighed, at evening. "Well, we'd better go over and join them, for camp, and try again in the morning."

They made for the fire that was twinkling, below and beyond; crossed the river upon the ice, and arrived.

"Any luck, sir?" queried Sergeant Meek, of the doctor.

"None to-day sergeant; but we have hopes for to-morrow."

"Yes, sir. The same here, sir."

"So ye didn't fetch in a buffler with that big pistol?" John Sparks bantered, of Stub. "To-morrow," answered weary Stub.

"To-morrow is a grand time," said Baroney.

"If there wasn't any to-morrow, I don't know what we'd do."

The supper to-night was a scant meal, for all: just a few mouthfuls of dried meat and a handful of parched corn. In the morning the doctor decided briskly. "You've rations for only to-day, sergeant?"

"Yes, sir; and scarce that, but we can make 'em do."

"I feel sure that Baroney and the boy and I will find game before night. If we do, we'll come in with it. But you keep on, as Lieutenant Pike ordered, until you kill meat or until he joins you, and never mind our whereabouts. We'll take care of ourselves somehow, and I don't propose to come in unless loaded."

"You'll likely stay out, in the hills, sir, you mean?"

"That depends on the day's luck," smiled the doctor. "But even if we do, we'll be no worse off than Lieutenant Pike and Miller and Mountjoy. We're all rationed the same, and there's little to choose between camping together and camping separately."

But even Stub felt the seriousness of it when again he followed the doctor and Baroney, for the second day's hunt. If nothing was killed to-day, then to-morrow they would begin to starve; pretty soon they would be eating the horses, and next their moccasins, and without horses and moccasins they would die before getting out of the mountains.