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When Buffalo Ran by  George Bird Grinnell

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A GROWN MAN

[73] THAT summer my uncle gave me a gun, and now I was beginning to feel that I was really a man, and I hunted constantly, and had good luck, killing deer and elk, and other game.

One day the next year, with a friend, I was hunting a two days' journey from the camp. We had killed nothing until this day, when we got a deer, and toward evening stopped to cook and eat. The country was broken with many hills and ravines, and before we went down to the stream to build our fire I had looked from the top of a little hill, to see whether anything could be seen. My friend was building a fire to cook food, and I had gone down to the fire and spread my robe on the ground, and was lying on it, resting, while our horses were feeding near by, when suddenly I had a strange feeling. I seemed to feel that I was in great danger, and as if I must get away from this place. I was frightened. I felt there was danger; that something bad was going to happen. I did not know what it was, nor why I felt so, but I was afraid. I seemed to turn to water inside of me. I had never felt so before. I sat up and looked about; nothing was to be seen. My friend was cutting some meat to cook over the little fire, and just beyond him the horses were feeding. My friend was singing to himself a little war song, as he worked.

[74] My feelings grew worse instead of better. I stood up, took my gun, and walked toward a little hill not far from where we were, and my friend called out to me, "Where are you going? I thought you wished to rest." I said to him, "I will go to the top of that little hill, and look over it." When I got there I looked about; I could see nothing. It was early summer, and the grass was green. The soil was soft and sandy. For a long time I looked about in all directions, but could see nothing, but then I could not see far, for there were other little hills, nearly as high, close to me.

Presently I looked at the ground a few steps before me, and I thought I saw where something had stepped. It was hard for me to make up my mind to walk to this place, but at length I did so. When I got there I saw where a horse had stood—a fresh horse track. Near it were two tracks made by a man, an enemy. I could see where he had stood, with one foot advanced before the other. When I saw these tracks I knew what had happened; an enemy had stood there looking over at us, and when he saw me with my gun start toward the top of the hill he had gone away. Standing where he had stood, I looked back toward our horses; I could hardly see their backs, but a man taller than I could have seen more of them, and the heads of the two men. I turned to follow the tracks a little way, and as I walked, it did not seem to me that my bones were stiff enough to support my body; I seemed to sway from side to side, and felt as if I should fall down. I was frightened.

[75] I saw where the man had led his horse a little way back from the hill, and then had jumped on it and ridden off as hard as he could gallop. A little further on was the place where another horse had stood; it, too, had turned and gone off fast; its rider had not dismounted. One of the men had said to the other: "You wait here, and I will go up and take a look. If these people sleep here we will attack them when it is dark, and kill them and take their horses."

I cannot tell you how much I wanted to run back to my friend and tell him what I had seen; but I had courage enough to walk. I felt angry at myself for being so frightened. I said to myself: "Come, you are a man; you belong to brave people; your uncle and your father did not fear things that they could not see. Be brave. Be strong." It was no use for me to say this; I was so frightened I could hardly control myself. I felt as if I must run away.

I walked until I was close to my friend. He was cooking meat, and was still singing to himself. When I was pretty near to him I said, "Friend, put the saddle on your horse, and I will saddle mine, and we will go away from here." He turned and looked at me, and in a moment he had dropped the meat that he was cooking, and was saddling up. He told me the next day that my face had changed so that he hardly knew me; my face was like that of one dead. I said to him, "Do you go ahead, and go fast, but do not gallop." He started off without a word, and I followed him. It was now growing dark, but you [76] could still see a long way. As I rode I seemed to have three heads, I looked in so many different directions. We traveled fast. My courage did not come back to me. I was still miserable.

About the middle of the night I said to my friend, "Let us stop here, so that the horses may eat." We stopped and took off our saddles, and held the ropes of our horses in our hands, and lay down on the ground together, looking back over the trail that we had come. My friend's horse was eating, but mine stood with his head high, and his ears pricked, and kept looking back toward where we had come from. Every now and then he would snort, as if frightened. Sometimes he would take a bite or two of grass, and then would again stand with his head up, looking and snorting. This made me more afraid than ever; and now my friend was as badly frightened as I.

At last I could stand it no longer, and I said to him, "Let us turn off the trail, and go along a divide where no one is likely to follow us." We started, loping. After we had gone some distance we stopped, took off our bridles, and again lay down, looking back over the way we had come. The night was dark, but we could see a little, and we watched and listened. Still my horse would not eat, but kept looking back over the trail. Suddenly, my friend said, "There he is. Do you see?" I looked, and looked, but could see nothing. "Where is it?" said I. With my head close to the ground I looked in the direction in which he pointed, but could see nothing. My friend saw it [77] move, however. I said to him, "Here, let us change places;" and I moved to his place, and he to mine. Then I looked, and in a moment I saw just in front of my face a weed-stalk, and when I moved my head the stalk moved. This was what he had seen.

For the first time since this feeling had come over me in the afternoon I laughed, and with a rush my courage came back to me. I felt as brave and cheerful as ever. All through the evening I had not wished to smoke, and if I had wished to, I should have been afraid to light my pipe. Now I filled my pipe, lighted it, and we smoked. When I laughed my friend's courage came back too. We lay down and slept, and the next day went on to the village.


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