(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Arthur Bridges, dreaming that he was caught in a blizzard in the Sierra Nevadas, could hear a loved one cry out to him, but he could not recognize the voice. He was afraid to move for fear he would fall off an icy cliff. He realized dimly that his left hand was bare and cold. As he put it in the pocket of his red and white cowhide parka, he felt the half-finished carving of a mountain lion that he was making for Joe Sam. Every year, he carved a cat for Joe Sam because the old Indian believed a black cat brought death with the first snow unless he could make medicine against it. This year the first snow had come early in October, and the carved cat was not finished. The black cat must be stalking some prey through the stormy night. As Arthur heard the scream again, he tried to get off the cliff. Falling, he screamed and woke himself up.

Finding himself in the bunk room of the ranch house, Arthur listened for a sound in the wind. When he heard it, he awoke his brothers, Curt and Harold. Curt thought Arthur was only dreaming until he also heard the scream of cattle being attacked somewhere in the storm. He rushed into his clothes to go out to the cattle.

The mother, having heard the screams, was making breakfast by the time the boys were dressed. Since it was dark and they could not see what was attacking, they ate while they made plans. Harold, the youngest, was to stay at home. Curt, always the boss, would take charge, but he would take Arthur along because he had dreamed that a black painter was at the cattle.

Arthur got out his whittling as they waited. Harold told him that Joe Sam had been up to his tricks that night. When something worried Joe Sam, he was likely to fall into a trance and go without eating or sleeping for days. Joe Sam always made medicine to his gods before the first snow and carried one of Arthur’s carvings of a mountain lion in a little bag under his chin. The black cat was, to him, the height of evil. Bullets went through it so that it could never be killed. It was as big as a horse. It made no tracks; but it could kill viciously. The early October storm had caught them all unawares, with Joe Sam’s cat still unfinished.

The mother had also dreamed something which she would not tell. She wanted Curt to take Harold with him instead of Arthur. But Harold’s girl, Gwen Williams, had come to visit the night before, and Arthur thought Harold should stay with her. When the mother asked Harold his plans for marrying Gwen, he claimed that he had not gone that far. Arthur figured the valley could hold more stock out of which Harold could take a yearly cut. They all realized that Curt would object if he did not get his own way or if he saw money going outside of the immediate family, even if it were to a brother’s family. Harold said he would arrange the matter with Curt when Gwen went home. They all knew the father, who lived now only to drink, would have no say in the matter.

Before Curt and...

(The entire section is 1215 words.)