The SUN GAZER
CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS
Author of “The Kindred of the Wild,’’ “Watchers of the Trails,” etc.
EDITOR'S Note—Charles G. D Roberts is one of the best known of Canadian authors, lie is famous, particularly, for his stories of the wild. “7he Sun Gazer” is the first Roberts story to appear in MACLEAN’S, and it is fortunate that it has been possible to obtain the co-operation of Arthur Heming, Canadas animal artist.
TO Jim Horner it seemed as if the great, whiteheaded eagle was in some way the uttered word of the mountain and the lake—of the lofty, solitary, granite-crested peak, and of the deep, solitary water at its base. As his canoe raced down the last mad rapid, and seemed to snatch breath again as it floated out upon the still water of the lake, Jim would rest his paddle across the gunwales and look up expectantly. First his keen, far-sighted gray eyes would sweep the blue arc of sky in search of the slow circling of wide, motionless wings. Then, if the blue were empty of this far shape, his glance would range at once to a dead pine standing sole on a naked and splintered shoulder of the mountain—which he knew as “Old Baldy.” There he was almost sure to see the great bird sitting, motionless and majestic, staring at the sun. Floating idly and smoking, resting after his long battle with the rapids, he would watch, till the immensity and the solitude would creep in upon his spirit, and oppress him. Then, at last, a shrill yelp, far-off, and faint, but sinister, would come from the pine-top; and the eagle, launching himself on open wings from his perch, would either wheel upward into the blue, or flap away7 over the serried fir-tops to some ravine in the cliffs that hid his nest.
One day, when Jim came down the river and stopped, as usual, to look for the great bird, he scanned in vain both sky7 and cliffside. At last he gave up the search, and paddled on down the lake with a sense of loss. Something had vanished from the splendor of the solitude. But presently7 he heard, close overhead, the beat and whistle of vast wings; and looking up he saw the eagle passing above him, flying so low that he could catch the hard, unwinking, tameless stare of its black and golden ey'es as they looked down upon him with a sort of inscrutable challenge. He noted also a peculiarity7 which he had never seen in any7 other eagle. This one had a streak of almost black feathers immediately7 over its left eye, giving it a heavy and sinister eyebrow. The bird carried in the clutch of its talons a big, glistening lake-trout, probably snatched from the fish-hawk; and Jim was able to take note of the very set of its pinion-feathers as the wind hummed in their tense webs. Flying with a massive power quite unlike the ease of his soaring, the eagle mounted gradually up the steep, passed the rocky shoulder with its watch-tower pine, and disappeared over the edge of a ledge which looked to Horner like a mere scratch across the face of the high mountains.
“That’s where his nest is, sure!” muttered Horner to himself. And remembering that cold challenge in the bird’s yellow stare, he suddenly decided that he w7anted to see the eagle’s nest. He had plenty of time. He was in no particular hurry to get back to the settlement and the gossip of the cross-roads store. He turned his canoe to land, lifted her out and hid her in the bushes, and struck back straight for the face of “Old Baldy.”
nPHE lower slope was difficult to climb; a tangle of tumbled boulders and fallen trunks, mantled in the soundless gloom of the fir-forest. Skilled woodsman though he was, Horner’s progress was so slow, and the windless heat became so oppressive to his impatience, that he was beginning to think of giving up the idle venture, when suddenly he came face to face with a perpendicular and impassable wall of cliff. This curt arrest to his progress was just what was needed to stiffen his wavering resolution. He understood the defiance which his ready fancy had read in the stare of the eagle. Well he had accepted the challenge. He would not be baffled by a rock. If he could not climb over it, he would go round it; but he would find the nest.
With an obstinate look in his eyes, Horner began to work his way along the foot of the cliff, toward the
right. Taking advantage of every inch of ascent that he could gain, he at last found, to his satisfaction, that he had made sufficient height to clear the gloom of the woods. As he looked out over their tops a light breeze cooled his wet forehead, and he pressed on with fresh vigor. Presently the slope grew a trifle easier, the foothold surer, and he mounted more rapidly7. The steely lake, and the rough-ridged black-green sea of the fir-tops began to unroll below him.
At last he rounded an elbow of the steep; and thei'e, before him, upthrust perhaps a hundred feet above his head, stood the outlying shoulder of rock, crowned with its dead pine, on w7hich he was accustomed to see the eagle sitting. Even as he looked motionless, there came a rushing of great wings; and suddenly, there was the eagle himself, erect on his high perch, and staring, as it seemed to Horner, straight into the sun.
When Horner resumed his climbing, the great bird turned his head, and gazed down upon him with an ironic fixity which betrayed neither dread nor wonder. Concluding that the nest would be lying somewhere w'ithin view of its owner’s watchtower, Horner now turned his efforts towards reaching the dead pine.
With infinite difficulty7, and with a few *bruises to arm and leg, he managed to cross the jagged crevice which partly separated the jutting rock-pier from the main face of the cliff. Then, laboriously and doggedly, he dragged himself up the splintered slope, still being forced around to the right, till there fell away below him a gulf into which it was not good for the nervous to look. Feeling that a fate very7 different from that of Lot’s wife might be his if he should let himself look back too indiscreetly, he kept his eyes upon the lofty goal and pressed on upwards with a haste that now grew a trifle feverish. It began to seem to him that the irony of the eagle’s changeless stare might perhaps not be unjustified.
Not till Horner had conquered the steep and, panting but elated, gained the very foot of the pine, did the eagle stir. Then, spreading his wings with a slow disdain, as if not dread but aversion to this unbidden visitor bade him go, he launched himself on a long, splendid sweep over the gulf, and then mounted on a spacious spiral to his inaccessible outlook in the blue. Leaning against the bleached and scarred trunk of the pine, Horner watched this majestic departure for some minutes, recovering his breath and drinking deep the cool and vibrant air. Then he turned, and scanned the face of the mountain.
' I 'HERE it lay, in full view—the nest which he had -*■ climbed so far to find. It was not more than a hundred yards away. Yet, at first sight, it seemed hopelessly out of reach. The chasm separating the ledge on which it clung from the outlying rock of the pine was not more than twenty feet across; but its bottom was apparently somewhere in the roots of the mountain. There was no way7 of passing it at this point. But Horner had a faith that there was a way to be found over or around every7 obstacle in the world, !f only one kept on looking for it resolutely enough.
To keep on looking for a path to the eagle’s nest, he struggled onward, arcund the outer slope of the buttress, down a ragged incline, and across a narrow and dizzy “saddle-back,” which brought him presently upon another angle of the steep, facing south-east. Clinging with his toes and one hand, while he wiped his dripping forehead with his sleeve, he looked up, and saw the whole height of the mountain, unbroken and daunting, stretched skyward above him.
But to Horner the solemn sight was not daunting in the least.
“Gee!” he exclaimed, grinning with satisfaction. “I hev’ circumvented that there crevice, sure’s shootin’!”
Of the world below he now had a view7 that was almost overpoweringl.v unrestricted; but of the mountain, and his scene of operations, he could see only the stretch directly above him. A little calculation convinced him, however, that all he had to do was to keep straight on up for perhaps a hundred and fifty7 feet, then, as soon as the slope would permit, work around to his left, and descend upon the nest from above. Incidentally he made up his mind that his return journey should be made by7 another face of the mountain—any other, rather than that by which he had rashly elected to come.
It seemed to Horner like a mile, that last hundred and fifty7 yards, but at last he calculated that he had gained enough in height. At the same time he felt the slope grow easier. Making his way toward the left, he came upon a narrow ledge, along which he
could move easily sidewise, by clinging to the rock. Presently it widened to a path by which he could walk almost at ease, with the wide, wild solitude, dark-green laced with silver water-courses, spread like a stupendous amphitheatre far below him. It was the wilderness which he knew so Avell in detail, yet had never before seen as a whole ; and the sight, for a few moments, held him in a kind of awed surprise. When he tore his gaze free from the majestic spectacle—there, some ten or twelve yards below his feet, he saw the object of his quest.
It was nothing much to boast of in the way of architecture, this nest of the King of the Air—a mere cart-load of sticks and bark and coarse grass, apparently tumbled at haphazard upon the narrow ledge. But, in fact, its foundations were so skilfully wedged into the crevices of the rock, its structure was so cunningly interwoven, that the fiercest winds which scourged that lofty seat were powerless against it. It was a secure throne, no matter what tempests might rage around it.
Sitting half erect on the nest were two eaglets, almost full grown, and so nearly full feathered that Horner wondered why they did not take wing at his approach. He did not know that the period of helplessness with these younglings of royal birth lasted even after they looked as big and well able to take care of themselves as their parents. It was a surprise to him, also, to see that they were quite unlike their parents in color, being black all over from head to tail, instead of a rich brown with snow-white head, neck, and tail. As he stared, he slowly realized that the mystery of the rare “black eagle” was explained. He had seen one, once, flying heavily just above the treetops, and imagined it a discovery of his own. But now he reached the just conclusion that it had been merely a youngster in its first plumage.
As he stared, the two young birds returned his gaze with interest, watching him with steady, yellow, undaunted eyes from under their flat, fierce brows. With high-shouldered wings half raised, they appeared quite ready to resent any familiarity which the strange intruder might be contemplating.
T T ORNER lay face downward on
-*■ his ledge, and studied the perpendicular rock below him for a way to reach the next. He had no very definite idea what he wanted to do when he got there; possibly, if the undertaking seemed feasible, he might carry off one of the royal brood and amuse himself with trying to domesticate it. But, at any rate, he hoped to add something, by a closer inspection, to his rather inadequate knowledge of eagles.
And this hope, indeed, as he learned the next moment, was not unjustified. Cautiously he was lowering himself over the edge, feeling for the scanty and elusive foothold, when all at once the air was filled with a rush of mighty wings, which seemed about to overwhelm him. A rigid wing-tip buffeted him so sharply that he lost his hold on the ledge. With a yell of consternation, which caused his assailant to veer off, startled, he fell backwards, and plunged down straight upon the nest.
It was the nest only that saved him from instant death. Tough and elastic, it broke his fall; but at the same time its elasticity threw him off, and on the rebound he went rolling and bumping on down the steep slopes below the ledge, with the screaming of the eagles in his ears, and a sickening sense in his heart that the sunlit world tumbling and turning somersaults before his blurred sight was his last view of life. Then, to his dim surprise, he was brought up with a thump; and clutching desperately at a bush which scraped his face, he lay still.
At the same moment a flapping
mass of feathers and fierce claws landed on top of him, but only to scramble off again as swiftly as possible with a hoarse squawk. He had struck one of the young eagles in his fall, hurled it from the nest, and brought it down with him to this lower ledge which had given him so timely a refuge.
For several minutes, perhaps, he lay clutching the bush desperately and staring straight upwards. There
he saw both parent eagles whirling excitedly, screaming, and staring down at him ; and then the edge of the nest, somewhat dilapidated by his strange assault, overhanging the ledge about thirty feet above him. At length his wits came back to him, and he cautiously turned his head to see if he was in danger of falling if he should relax his hold on the bush. He was in bewildering pain, which seemed distributed all over him; but in spite of it he laughed aloud, to find that the bush, to which he hung so desperately, was in a little hollow on a spacious ledge, from which he could not have fallen by any chance. At that strange, uncomprehended sound of human laughter the eagles ceased their screaming for a few moments, and whirled further aloof.
With great difficulty and anguish, Horner raised himself to a sitting position, and tried to find out how seriously he was hurt. One leg wras quite helpless. He felt it all over, and came to the conclusion that it was not actually broken, but for all the uses of a leg, for the present at least, it might as well have been putty, except for the fact that it pained him abominably. His left arm and shoulder, too, seemed to be little more than useless incumbrances, and he wondered how so many bruises and sprains could find place on one place on one human body of no more than average size. However, having assured himself, with infinite relief, that there were no bones broken, he set his teeth grimly and looked about to take account of the situation.
npHE ledge on which he had found refuge was ap-*■ parently an isolated one, about fifty or sixty feet in length and vanishing with the face of the sheer cliff at either end. It had a width of perhaps twenty-five feet; and its surface, fairly level, held some soil in its rocky hollows. Two or three dark-green seedling firs, and a slim young silver birch, a patch or two of windbeaten grass, and some clumps of harebells, azure as the clear sky overhead, softened the bareness of this tiny, high-flung terrace. In one spot, at the back, a
spread of intense green and a hand-breath of moisture on the rock showed where a tiny spring oozed from a crevice to keep this lonely oasis in the granite alive and fresh.
At the farthest edge of the shelf and eyeing him with savage dread, sat the young eagle, which had fallen with him. Horner noticed, with a kind of sympathy, that even the bird, for all his wings, had
not come out of the affair without some damage; for one of its black wings was not held up so snugly as the other. He hoped it was not broken. As he mused vaguely upon this unimportant question his pain so exhausted him that he sank back, and lay once more staring up at the eagles, who were still wheeling excitedly over the nest. In an exhaustion that was partly sleep and partly coma his eyes closed. When he opened them again the sun was hours lower and far advanced toward the west, so that the ledge was in shadow. His head was not perfectly clear; and his first thought was of getting himself back to the canoe. With excruciating effort he dragged himself to the edge of the terrace and looked down. The descent, at this point, was all but perpendicular for perhaps a hundred feet. In full possession of his powers, he would find it difficult enough. In his present state, he saw' clearly that he might just as well throw himself over as attempt it.
Not yet disheartened, however, he dragged himself slowly toward the other end of the terrace, where the young eagle sat watching him. As he approached, the bird lifted its wings, as if about to launch himself over and dare the element which he had not yet learned to master. But one wing dropped, as if injured, and he knew the attempt would be fatal. Opening his beak angrily, he hopped away to the other end of the terrace. But Horner was paying no heed to birds at that moment. He was staring down the steep, and realizing that this ledge, which had proved his refuge, was now his prison, and not unlikely to become also his tomb.
Sinking back against a rock, and grinding his teeth with pain, he strove to concentrate his attention upon the problem that confronted him. Was he to die of hunger on this high solitude before he could recover sufficiently to climb down? The thought stirred all his dogged determination. He would keep alive, and that was all there wyas about it. He would get well; and then the climbing down would be no great matter. This point settled, he dismissed it from his consideration, and turned his thoughts to ways and means. After all,
there was that little thread of a spring, trickling from the rock. He would have enough to drink. And as for food—how much worse it would have been had the ledge been a bare piece of rock? Here he had some grass, and the roots of herbs and brushes. A man could keep himself alive on such things, if he had will enough. And, as a last resort, there was the young eagle! This idea, however, was anything but attractive to him; and it was with eyes of good-will rather than of appetite that he glanced at his fellow prisoner sitting motionless at the other extremity of the ledge.
“It’ll be hard lines, pardner, ef I should hev’ to eat you, after all!” he muttered with a twisted kind of grin. “We’re both of us in a hole, sure enough; an’ I’ll play fair as long’s I kin !”
AS he mused, a great shadow passed over his head, and looking up he saw one of the eagles hovering low above the ledge. It was the male, his old acquaintance, staring down at him from under that strange, black brow. He carried a large fish in his talons, and was plainly anxious to feed his captive young, but not quite ready to .approach this mysterious mancreature who had been able to invade his eyrie as if with wings. Horner lay as still as a stone, watching through half-closed lids. The young eagle, seeing food so near, opened its beak wide and croaked eagerly; while the mother bird, larger but wilder and less resolute than her mate, circled aloof with sharp cries of warning. At last, unable any longer to resist the appeals of his hungry youngster,
the great bird swooped down over him, dropped the fish fairly into his clutches, and slanted away with a hurried flapping which betrayed his nervousness.
As the youngster fell ravenously upon his meal, tearing and gulping the fragments, Horner drew a deep breath.
“That’s where I come in, pardner,” he explained.
Continued on page 67
The Sun Gazer
Continued from paye 31
“When I kin git up an appetite for that sort of vittles, I’ll go shares with you, ef y’ aint got no objection!”
Having conceived this idea, Horner was seized with a fear that the captive might presently gain the power of flight and get away. This was a thought under which he could not lie still. In his pocket he always carried a bunch of stout salmon-twine and a bit of copper rabbit-wire, apt to be needed in a hundred forest emergencies. He resolved to catch the young eagle and tether it to a bush.
His first impulse was to set about this enterprise at once. With excruciating effort he managed to pull off his heavy woollen hunting-shirt, intending to use it as the toreador uses his mantle, to entangle the dangerous weapons of his adversary. Then he dragged himself across to the other end of the ledge, and attempted to corner the captive. For this he was not quite quick enough, however. With a flop and a squawk the bird eluded bim; and he realized that he had better postpone the undertaking till the morrow. Crawling back to his hollow by the bush he sank down utterly exhausted. Not till the sharp chill which comes with sunset warned him of its necessity, was he able to grapple with the long, painful problem of getting his shirt on again.
Through the night he got some broken sleep, though the hardness of his bed aggravated every hurt he had suffered. On the edge of dawn he saw the male eagle come again, this time more confidently and deliberately, to feed the captive. After he was gone, Horner tried to move, but found himself now, from the night’s chill and the austerity of his bed, altogether helpless. Not till the sun was high enough to warm him through and through, and not till he had manipulated his legs and arms assiduously for more than an hour, did his body feel as if it could ever again be of any service to him. Then, he once more got off his shirt, and addressed himself to the catching of the indignant bird whom he had elected to be his preserver.
Though the anguish caused by every movement was no less intense than it had been the afternoon before, he was stronger now and more in possession of his faculties. Before starting the chase, he cut a strip from his shirt to wind around the leg of the young eagle, in order that he might be able to tether it tightly without cutting the flesh. The bird had suddenly becorhe most precious to him!
Very warily he made his approaches, sidling down the ledge so as to give his quarry the least possible room for escape. ° As he drew near the bird turned arid faced him, its one uninjured wing! lifted menacingly and its formidable beak wide open. Holding the heavy shirt ready to throw, Horner crept up cautiously* so intent now upon the game that the ¡spiguish in the leg which he dragged, stiffly behind him was almost forgotten. , The young bird, meanwhile, waited, ïppfîonless and vigilant, its savage eye» Thard as glass.
AT Ta^t,'1 a faint quiver and shrinking in bird’s form, an involuntary
contracting of the feathers, gave warning to Horner’s experienced eye that it was about to spring aside. On the instant hé flung the shirt, keeping hold of it by ithe sleeve. By a singular piece of luck, upon which he had not counted at all, it opened as he threw it, and settled right over the bird’s neck and disabled wing, blinding and baffling it completely: With a muffled squawk it
bouneéd-into the air, both talons outspread and clawing madly; but in a second Homer had it by the other wing, pulling it down, and rolling himself over upon it so as to smother those dangerous claws. He felt them sink once into his injured leg, but that was already anguishing so vehemently that a little more orless did not matter. In a few moments he had his captive bundled up with helplessness, and was dragging it to a sturdy bush near the middle of the terrace. Here, without much further trouble, he wrapped one of its legs with the strip of flannel from his shirt,
twisted on a hand-length of wire, and then tethered it safely with a couple of yards of his double and twisted cord.
Just as he had accomplished this to his satisfaction, and was about to undo the imprisoning shirt, it flashed across his mind that it was lucky the old eagles had not been on hand to interfere. He glanced upward, and saw a dark form dropping like a thunder-bolt out of the blue. He had just time to fling himself over on his back, lifting his arm to shield his face and his foot to receive the attack, when the hiss of that lightning descent filled his ears. Involuntarily he half closed his eyes. But no shock came, except a great buffet of air on his face. Not quite daring to grapple with that ready defense, the eagle had opened its wings when within a few feet of the ledge, and sw’erved upward again, where it hung hovering and screaming. Horner saw that it was the female, and shook his fist at her in defiance. Had it been his old acquaintance and challenger, the male, he felt sure that he would not have got off so easily.
Puzzled and alarmed, the mother now perched herself beside the other eaglet, on the edge of the nest. Then, keeping a careful eye upon her, lest she should return to the attack, Horner dexterously unrolled the shirt, and drew back just in time to avoid a vicious slash from the talons of his indignant prisoner. The latter, after some violent tugging and flopping at his tether and fierce biting at the wire, suddenly seemed to conclude that such futile efforts were undignified. He settled himself like a rock, and stared unwinkingly at his captor.
It was perhaps an hour after this, when the sun had grown hot, and Horner, having slaked his thirst at the spring in the rock, had tried rather ineffectually to satisfy his hunger on grass-roots, that the male eagle reappeared, winging heavily from the farthest end of the lake. From his talons dangled a limp form, which Horner presently made out to be a duck.
“Good!” he muttered to himself. “I always did like fowl better’n fish.”
When the eagle arrived, he seemed to notice something different in the situation, for he wheeled slowly overhead for some minutes, uttering sharp yelps of interrogation. But the appeals of the youngster at last brought him down, and he delivered up the prize. The moment he was gone Horner crept up to where the youngster was already tearing the warm body to pieces. Angry and hungry, the bird made a show of fighting for his rights; but his late experience with his invincible conqueror had daunted him. Sullenly he hopped away, the full length of his tether; and Horner picked up the mangled victim. But his appetite was gone by this time. He was not yet equal to a diet of raw flesh. Tossing the prize back to its rightful owner, he withdrew painfully to grub for some more grass roots.
AFTER this the eagle came regularly every three or four hours with food for the prisoner. Sometimes it was a fish—trout, or brown sucker, or silvery chub; sometimes a duck or a grouse, sometimes a rabbit or a muskrat. Always it was the male, with that grim black streak across the side of his white face, who came. Always Horner made a point of taking the prize at once from the angry youngster, and then throwing it back to him, unable to stomach the idea of the raw flesh. At last, on the afternoon of the third day of his imprisonment, he suddenly found that it was not the raw flesh, but the grassroots, which he loathed. While examining a fine lake-trout, he remembered that he had read of raw fish being excellent food under the right conditions. This was surely one of those right conditions. Picking somewhat fastidiously, he nevertheless managed to make so good a meal off that big trout that there was little but head and tail to toss back to his captor.
“Never mind, pardner!” he said seriously. “I’ll divide fair nex’ time. But you know you’ve been havin’ more’n your share lately.”
But the bird was so outraged that for a long time he would not look at these remnants, and only consented to devour them, at last, when Horner was not looking.
After this Horner found it easy enough to partake of his prisoner’s meals, whether they were of fish, flesh, or fowl ; and with the ice-cold water from the little spring, and an occasional mouthful of leaves or roots, he fared well enough to make progress toward recovery. The male eagle grew so accustomed to his presence that he would alight beside the prisoner and threaten Horner with that old, cold stare of challenge, and frequently Horner had to drive him off in order to save his share of the feast from the rapacity of the eaglet. But as for the female, she remained incurably suspicious and protesting. From the upper ledge, where she devoted her care to the other nestling, she would yelp down her threats and execrations; but she never ventured any nearer approach.
For a whole week the naked hours of day and dark had rolled over the peak before Horner began to think himself well enough to try the descent. His arm and shoulder were almost well, but his leg, in spite of ceaseless rubbing and applications of moist earth, remained practically helpless. He could not bear his weight on it for a second. His first attempt at lowering himself showed him that he must not be in too great haste.
It was nearly a week more before he could feel assured, after experiments at scaling the steep above him, that he was fit to face the terrible steep below. Then he thought of the eaglet, his unwilling and outraged preserver! After a sharp struggle, of which both his arms and legs bore the marks for months, he caught the bird once more, and examined the injured wing. It was not broken ; and he saw that its owner would be able to fly all right in time, perhaps as soon as his more fortunate brother in the nest above. Satisfied on this point, he loosed all the bonds, and jumped back to avoid the indomitable youngster’s retort of beak and claws. Unamazed by his sudden freedom, the young eagle flopped angrily away to the farther end of the ledge; and Horner, having resumed his useful shirt, started to climb down the mountain, whose ascent he had so heedlessly adventured nearly two weeks before. As he lowered himself over the dizzy brink, he glanced up, to see the male eagle circling slowly above him, gazing down at him with the old challenge in his unwinking golden eyes.
“I reckon you win!” said Horner, waving the imperturbable bird a grave salutation. “You’re a gentleman, an’ I thank you fer your kind hospitality.”
It was still early morning when Horner started down the mountain. It was dusk when he reached the lake, and flung himself down, prostrated with fatigue and pain and strain of nerve, beside his canoe. From moment to moment, through spells of reeling faintness and spasmodic exhaustion, the silent gulfs of space had clutched at him, as if the powers of the solitude and the peak had but spared him so long to crush him inexorably in the end. At last, more through the sheer indomitableness of the human spirit than anything else, he had won. But never afterwards could he think of that awful descent without a sinking of the heart. For three days more he made his camp by the lake, recovering strength and nerve before resuming his journey down the wild river to the settlements. And many times a day his salutations would be waved upward to that great, snowy-headed, indifferent bird, wheeling in the far blue, or gazing at the sun from his high-set watch-tower of the pine.
TWO or three years later, it fell in Horner’s way to visit a great city, many hundreds of miles from the gray peak of “Old Baldy.” He was in charge of an exhibit of canoes, snowshoes, and other typical products of his forest-loving countrymen. In his first morning of leisure, his feet turned almost instinctively to the wooded gardens, wherein the city kept strange captives, untamed exiles of the wilderness, irreconcilable aliens of fur and hide and feather, for the crowds to gape at through their iron bars.
It was the cages of the great cats to which Horner first found his way,
whether padding restlessly to and fro, or staring past him with far, enigmatic eyes, neither the lions nor the tigers excited his sympathy. He was impartially interested in them, as a child might be. They were too remote to touch him. The leopard he did not regard so impersonally. It aroused his antagonism at once, by staring, not past or through him, but straight into his eyes with a sort of vigilant malevolence which trusted that its time might come. But the pacing gray wolf touched him with a kind of fellow feeling. He had no love for wolves; but this fellow, with his grim, sad, hating eyes, was in some sort a kinsman, though an enemy, and had once had the freedom of his own harsh but beautiful North. He would have trapped or shot the fierce marauder with unmitigated satisfaction in the wilderness; but here he felt almost friendly to him.
From the wolf-cage he wandered aimlessly past some grotesque, goatish-looking deer, which did not interest him, and came suddenly upon a paddock containing a bull moose, two cows, and a yearling calf. The calf looked ungainly, and quite content with his surroundings.
The cows were faded and moth-eaten, but well fed. He had no concern for them at all. But the bull, a splendid, black-shouldered, heavy-muffled fellow, with the new antlers just beginning to knob out from his massive forehead, appealed to him strongly. The splendid, sullen-looking beast stood among his family, but towered over and seemed unconscious of them. His long, sensitive muzzle was held high to catch a breeze which drew coolly down from the north, and his half-shut eyes, in Horner’s fancy, saw not the wires of his fence.
but the cool, black-green fir-thickets of the North, the gray rampikes of the windy barrens, the broad lily-leaves afloat in the sheltered cove, the wide, low-shored lake-waters gleaming rosered in the sunset.
“It’s a dax-n shame,” growled Horner, “to keep a critter like that shut up in a 7x9 chicken pen!” And he moved on,
feeling as if he were himself a prisoner, and suddenly homesick for a smell of the spruce-woods.
IT was in this mood that he came upon the great, dome-roofed cage containing the hawks and eagles. It was a disheveled, dirty place, with a few uncanny-looking dead trees stuck up in it to persuade the prisoners that they were free. Horner gave a hasty glance, and then hurried past, enraged at the sight of these strong-winged adventurers of the sky doomed to so tame a nxonotoxxy of days. But just as he got abreast of the farther extremity of the cage, he stopped, with a queer little tug at his heart-strings. He had caught sight of a great, white-headed eagle, sitting erect and still on a dead limb close to the bars, and gazing through them steadily, not at him,* but straight into the eye of the sun.
“Shucks! It ain’t possible! There’s millions o’ bald eagles in the world!” muttered Horner, discontentedly.
It was the right side of the bird’s head that was turned toward him, and that, of course, was snowy white. Equally, of course it was, as Horner told himself, the height of absurdity to think that this grave, immobile prisoner gazing out through the bars at the sun, could be his old friend of the naked peak. Nevertheless, something within his heart insisted it was so. If only the bird would turn his head! At last Horner put two fingers between his mouth, and blew a whistle so piercing that everyone stared rebukingly, and a policeman caxxxe strolling along casually to see if anyone had signaled for help. But Horner was all unconscious of the interest which he had excited. In response to his shrill summons the eagle had slowly, very deliberately, turned his head, and looked him steadily in the eyes. There was the strange black bar above the right eye ; and there, unbroken by defeat and captivity, was the old look of imperturbable challenge !
Horner could almost have cried, from pity and homesick sympathy. Those long days on the peak, fierce with pain, blinding bright with sun, windswept and solitary, through which this great, still
bird had kept him alive, seemed to rush over his spirit altogether.
“Gee, old pardner!” he murmured, leaning as far over the railing as he could, “but aint you got the grit? I’d like to know who it was served this trick on you. But don’t you fret. I’ll git you out o’ this ef it takes a year’s arnin’s to do it! You wait an’ see!”
And with his jaws set resolutely he turned and strode from the gardens. That bird should not stay in there another night if he could help it.
Horner’s will was set, but he did not understand the difficulties he had to face. i ;
At first, he was confronted, as by a stone wall, by the simple and unanswerable fact that the bird was not for sale, at any price. And he went to bed that night raging with disappointment and baffled purpose. But in the course of his efforts and angry protestations he had let out a portion of his story, and this, as a matter of interest, was carried to the president of the society who controlled the gardens.
To this man, who was a true naturalist and not a mere dry-as-dust catalogue of bones and teeth, the story made a strong appeal ; and before Horner had quite made up his mind whether to get out a writ of habeas corpus for his imprisoned friend or commit a burglary on the cage, there came a note inviting him to an interview at the president’s office. The result of this interview was that Horner came away radiant, convinced at last that there was heart and understanding in the city as well as in the country. He had agreed to pay the society simply what it might cost to replace the captive by another specimen of his kind; and he carried in his pocket an order for immediate delivery of the eagle into his eager hands.
To the practical backwoodsman there was now no fuss or ceremony to be gone through. He admired the expeditious fashion in which the keeper of the birdhouse handled his dangerous charge, coming out of the brief tussle without a scratch. Trussed up as ignominiously as a turkey—proud head hooded, savage talons muffled, and skying wings bound fast—the splendid bird was given up to his rescuer, who rolled him in a blanket without regard to his dignity,
and carried him off under his arms, like a bundle of old clothes.
Beyond the outskirts of the city Horner had observed a high, rocky, desolate hill, which seemed suited to his purpose. He took a street car, and travelled for an hour with the bundle on his knees. Little his fellow passengers guessed of the wealth of romance, loyalty, freedom, and spacious memory hidden in that common-looking bundle on his knees of the gaunt-faced, gray-eyed man. At the foot of the hill, at a space of bare and ragged common, Horner got off. By rough paths, frequented by goats, he made his way up the rocky slope, through bare ravines and over broken ridges, and came at last to a steep rock in a solitude, whence only far-off roofs could be seen, and masts, and bridges, and the sharp gleam of the sea in the distance.
THIS place satisfied him. On the highest point of the rock he carefully unfastened the bonds of his prisoner, loosed him, and jumped back with respect and discretion. The great bird sat up very straight, half raised and lowered his wings as if to regain his poise, looked Horner dauntlessly in the eye, then stared slowly about him and above, as if to make sure that there were really no bars for him to beat his wings against. For perhaps a full minute he sat there. Then, having betrayed no unkingly haste, he spread his wings to their full splendid width, and launched himself from the brink. For a few seconds he flapped heavily, as if his wings had grown unused to their function. Then he got his rhythm, and swung into a wide, mounting spiral, which Horner watched with sympathetic joy. At last, when he was but a wheeling speck in the pale blue dome, he suddenly turned, and sailed off straight toward the north-east, with a speed which carried him out of sight in a moment.
Horner drew a long breath, half wistful, half glad.
“Them golden eyes of yourn kin see a thunderin’ long ways off, pardner,” he muttered, “but I reckon even you can’t make out the top of ‘Old Baldy’ at this distance. It’s the eyes o’ your heart ye must have seen it with, to make for it so straight!”