“She’s gone,” he said.
Very soon she lay inert and lifeless. Then we sat beside her without a word, and we could hardly for the moment have been more stunned and heartbroken if it had been the tragic death of one of our kind. In that wild environment, obsessed by the desire to capture those beautiful cats alive, the fateful ending of the successful chase was felt out of all proportion.
“Shore she’s dead,” said Jim. “And wasn’t she a beauty? What was wrong?”
“The heat and lack of water,” replied Jones. “She choked. What idiots we were! Why didn’t we think to give her a drink.”
So we passionately protested against our want of fore-thought, and looked again and again with the hope that she might come to. But death had stilled the wild heart. We gave up presently, still did not move on. We were exhausted, and all the while the hounds lay panting on the rocks, the bees hummed, the flies buzzed. The red colors of the upper walls and the purple shades of the lower darkened silently.
“Shore we can’t set here all night,” said Jim. “Let’s skin the lion an’ feed the hounds.”
The most astonishing thing in our eventful day was the amount of meat stowed away by the dogs. Lion flesh appealed to their appetites. If hungry Moze had an ounce of meat, he had ten pounds. It seemed a good opportunity to see how much the old gladiator could eat; and Jim and I cut chunks of meat as fast as possible. Moze gulped them with absolute unconcern of such a thing as mastication. At length he reached his limit, possibly for the first time in his life, and looking longingly at a juicy red strip Jim held out, he refused it with manifest shame. Then he wobbled and fell down.
We called to him as we started to climb the slope, but he did not come. Then the business of conquering that ascent of sliding stone absorbed all our faculties and strength. Little headway could we have made had it not been for the brush. We toiled up a few feet only to slide back and so it went on until we were weary of life.
When one by one we at last gained the rim and sat there to recover breath, the sun was a half globe of fire burning over the western ramparts. A red sunset bathed the canyon in crimson, painting the walls, tinting the shadows to resemble dropping mists of blood. It was beautiful and enthralling to my eyes, but I turned away because it wore the mantle of tragedy.
Dispirited and worn out, we trooped into camp to find Emett and a steaming supper. Between bites the three of us related the story of the red lioness. Emett whistled long and low and then expressed his regret in no light terms.
“Roping wild steers and mustangs is play to this work,” he said in conclusion.
I was too tired to tease our captive lions that evening; even the glowing camp-fire tempted me in vain, and I crawled into my bed with eyes already glued shut.