The Game Butchers

: The Man From The Bitter Roots

"Ain't this an awful world!" By this observation Uncle Bill Griswold,

standing on a narrow shelf of rock, with the sheep's hind quarters on

his back, meant merely to convey the opinion that there was a great deal

of it.

The panting sportsman did not answer. T. Victor Sprudell was looking for

some place to put his toe.

"There's a hundred square miles over there that I reckon there never was
a white man's foot on, and they say that the West has been went over

with a fine-tooth comb. Wouldn't it make you laugh?"

Mr. Sprudell looked far from laughter as, by placing a foot directly in

front of the other, he advanced a few inches at a time until he reached

the side of his guide. It was an awful world, and the swift glance he

had of it as he raised his eyes from the toes of his boots and looked

off across the ocean of peaks gave him the feeling that he was about to

fall over the edge of it. His pink, cherubic face turned saffron, and he

shrank back against the wall. He had been in perilous places before, but

this was the worst yet.

"There might be somethin' good over yonder if 'twas looked into right,"

went on Uncle Bill easily, as he stood with the ball of his feet hanging

over a precipice, staring speculatively. "But it'll be like to stay

there for a while, with these young bucks doin' all their prospectin'

around some sheet-iron stove. There's nobody around the camps these

days that ain't afraid of work, of gittin' lost, of sleepin' out of

their beds of nights. Prospectin' in underbrush and down timber is no

cinch, but it never stopped me when I was a young feller around sixty or

sixty-five." A dry, clicking sound as Sprudell swallowed made the old

man look around. "Hey--what's the matter? Aire you dizzy?"

Dizzy! Sprudell felt he was going to die. If his shaking knees should

suddenly give way beneath him he could see, by craning his neck

slightly, the exact spot where he was going to land. His chest, plump

and high like a woman's, rose and fell quickly with his hard breathing,

and the barrel of his rifle where he clasped it was damp with nervous

perspiration. His small mouth, with its full, red lips shaped like the

traditional cupid's bow, was colorless, and there was abject terror in

his infantile blue eyes. Yet superficially, T. Victor Sprudell was a

brave figure--picturesque as the drawing for a gunpowder "ad," a man of

fifty, yet excellently well preserved.

A plaid cap with a visor fore and aft matched his roomy knickerbockers,

and canvas leggings encased his rounded calves. His hob-nailed shoes were

the latest thing in "field boots," and his hunting coat was a credit to

the sporting house that had turned it out. His cartridge belt was new

and squeaky, and he had the last patents in waterproof match safes and

skinning knives. That goneness at his stomach, and the strange

sensations up and down his spine, seemed incongruous in such valorous

trappings. But he had them unmistakably, and they kept him cringing

close against the wall as though he had been glued.

It was not entirely the thought of standing there that paralyzed him; it

was the thought of going on. If accidentally he should step on a

rolling rock what a gap there would be in the social, financial, and

political life of Bartlesville, Indiana! It was at this point in his

vision of the things that might happen to him that he had gulped.

"Don't look down; look up; look acrost," Uncle Bill advised. "You're

liable to bounce off this hill if you don't take care. Hello," he said

to himself, staring at the river which lay like a great, green snake at

the base of the mountains, "must be some feller down there placerin'.

That's a new cabin, and there's a rocker--looks like."

"Gold?" Sprudell's eyes became a shade less infantile.

"Gold a-plenty; but it takes a lard can full to make a cent and there's

no way to get water on the ground."

Uncle Bill stood conjecturing as to who it might be, as though it were

of importance that he should know before he left. Interest in his

neighbor and his neighbor's business is a strong characteristic of the

miner and prospector in these, our United States, and Uncle Bill

Griswold in this respect was no exception. It troubled him for hours

that he could not guess who was placering below.

"Looks like it's gittin' ready for a storm," he said finally. "We'd

better sift along. Foller clost to me and keep a-comin', for we don't

want to get caught out 'way off from camp. We've stayed too long in the

mountains for that matter, with the little grub that's left. We'll pull

out to-morrow."

"Which way you going?" Sprudell asked plaintively.

"We gotta work our way around this mountain to that ridge." Uncle Bill

shifted the meat to the other shoulder, and travelled along the steep

side with the sure-footed swiftness of a venerable mountain goat.

Sprudell shut his trembling lips together and followed as best he could.

He was paying high, he felt, for the privilege of entertaining the

Bartlesville Commercial Club with stories of his prowess. He doubted if

he would get over the nervous strain in months, for, after all, Sprudell

was fifty, and such experiences told. Never--never, he said to himself

when a rolling rock started by his feet bounded from point to point to

remind him how easily he could do the same, never would he take such

chances again! It wasn't worth it. His life was too valuable. Inwardly

he was furious that Uncle Bill should have brought him by such a way.

His heart turned over and lay down with a flop when he saw that person

stop and heard him say:

"Here's kind of a bad place; you'd better let me take your gun."

Kind of a bad place! When he'd been frisking on the edge of eternity.

Uncle Bill waited near a bank of slide rock that extended from the

mountain top to a third of the way down the side, after which it went

off sheer.

"'Tain't no picnic, crossin' slide rock, but I reckon if I kin make it

with a gun and half a sheep on my back you can make it empty-handed.

Step easy, and don't start it slippin' or you'll slide to kingdom come.

Watch me!"

Sprudell watched with all his eyes. The little old man, who boasted that

he weighed only one hundred and thirty with his winter tallow on,

skimmed the surface like a water spider, scarcely jarring loose a rock.

Sprudell knew that he could never get across like that. Fear would make

him heavy-footed if nothing else.

"Hurry up!" the old man shouted impatiently. "We've no time to lose.

Dark's goin' to ketch us sure as shootin', and it's blowin' up plumb


Sprudell nerved himself and started, stepping as gingerly as he could;

but in spite of his best efforts his feet came down like pile drivers,

disturbing rocks each time he moved.

Griswold watched him anxiously, and finally called:

"You're makin' more fuss than a cow elk! Step easy er you're goin' to

start the whole darn works. Onct it gits to movin', half that bank'll


Sprudell was nearly a third of the way across when the shale began to

move, slowly at first, with a gentle rattle, then faster. He gave a

shout of terror and floundered, panic-stricken, where he stood.

The old man danced in frenzy:

"Job in your heels and run like hell!"

But the mass had started, and was moving faster. Sprudell's feet went

from under him, and he collapsed in a limp heap. Then he turned over and

scrabbled madly with hands and feet for something that would hold.

Everything loosened at his touch and joined the sliding bank of shale.

He could as easily have stopped his progress down a steep slate roof.

"Oh, Lord! There goes my dude!" Uncle Bill wrung his hands and swore.

Sprudell felt faint, nauseated, and his neck seemed unable to hold his

heavy head. He laid his cheek on the cold shale, and, with his arms and

legs outstretched like a giant starfish, he weakly slid. His body,

moving slower than the mass, acted as a kind of wedge, his head serving

as a separator to divide the moving bank. He was conscious, too, of a

curious sensation in his spine--a feeling as though some invisible power

were pulling backward, backward until it hurt. He wanted to scream, to

hear his own voice once more, but his vocal cords would not respond; he

could not make a sound.

Griswold was shouting something; it did not matter what. He heard it

faintly above the clatter of the rocks. He must be close to the edge

now--Bartlesville--the Commercial Club--Abe Cone--and then Mr. Sprudell

hit something with a bump! He had a sensation as of a hatpin--many

hatpins--penetrating his tender flesh, but that was nothing compared to

the fact that he had stopped, while the slide of shale was rushing by.

He was not dead! but he was too astonished and relieved to immediately

wonder why.

Then he weakly raised his head and looked cautiously over his shoulder

lest the slightest movement start him travelling again. What miracle had

saved his life? The answer was before him. When he came down the slide

in the fortunate attitude of a clothespin, the Fates, who had other

plans for him, it seemed, steered him for a small tree of the stout

mountain mahogany, which has a way of pushing up in most surprising


"Don't move!" called Griswold. "I'll come and get ye!"

Unnecessary admonition. Although Sprudell was impaled on the thick,

sharp thorns like a naturalist's captive butterfly, he scarcely

breathed, much less attempted to get up.

"Bill, I was near the gates," said Sprudell solemnly when Griswold, at

no small risk to himself, had snaked him back to solid ground. "Fortuna

audaces juvat!"

"If that's Siwash for 'close squeak,' it were; and," with an anxious

glance at the ominous sky, "'tain't over."