Adventures in the Far West, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is rather a short book but it is prolifically illustrated with no less than 29 pictures, most of very great interest, but in none of which can one make out the artist's signature. The picture of the visit of the witch doctor to the sick man is very memorable, and the poor man was probably frightened to death, rather than revived.
A group of tough young Brits make their way to the west of North America, where there are numerous hazards, in the form of grizzly bears, wolves, and a few tribes of Indians who definitely did not want them there. For much of the book they are with a tribe that is very friendly, and thus we are able to learn much of the ways of these people. But towards the end of the book our heroes take part in rescuing a wagon-train of emigrants that had been attacked by a hostile tribe, and a beautiful young lady seized and ridden away with.
Mr Kingston's style is as excellent as ever, and we do recommend that you read this book, or make an audiobook from it.
ADVENTURES IN THE FAR WEST, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
"I say, didn't you hear a cry?" exclaimed Charley Fielding, starting up from the camp fire at which we were seated discussing our evening meal of venison, the result of our day's hunting. He leaned forward in the attitude of listening. "I'm sure I heard it! There it is again, but whether uttered by Redskin or four-footed beast is more than I can say."
We all listened, but our ears were not as sharp as Charley's, for we could hear nothing.
"Sit down, Charley, my boy, and finish your supper. It was probably fancy, or maybe the hoot of an owl to its mate," said our jovial companion, Dick Buntin, who never allowed any matter to disturb him, if he could help it, while engaged in stowing away his food.
Dick had been a lieutenant in the navy, and had knocked about the world in all climes, and seen no small amount of service. He had lately joined our party with Charley Fielding, a fatherless lad whom he had taken under his wing.
We, that is Jack Story and myself, Tom Rushforth, had come out from England together to the far west, to enjoy a few months' buffalo hunting, deer stalking, grizzly and panther shooting, and beaver trapping, not to speak of the chances of an occasional brush with the Redskins, parties of whom were said to be on the war-path across the regions it was our intention to traverse, though none of us were inclined to be turned aside by the warnings we had received to that effect from our friends down east.
We had been pushing on further and further west, gaining experience, and becoming inured to the fatigues and dangers of a hunter's life. Having traversed Missouri and Kansas, though we had hitherto met with no adventures worthy of note, we had that evening pitched our camp in the neighbourhood of Smoky-hill fork, the waters of which, falling into the Arkansas, were destined ultimately to reach the far-off Mississippi.
We had furnished ourselves with a stout horse apiece, and four mules to carry our stores, consisting of salt pork, beans, biscuit, coffee, and a few other necessaries, besides our spare guns, ammunition, and the meat and skins of the animals we might kill.
Having, a little before sunset, fixed on a spot for our camp, with a stream on one side, and on the other a wood, which would afford us fuel and shelter from the keen night air which blew off the distant mountains, we had unsaddled and unpacked our horses and mules, the packs being placed so as to form a circular enclosure about eight paces in diameter.
Our first care had been to water and hobble our animals, and then to turn them loose to graze, when we considered ourselves at liberty to attend to our own wants. Having collected a quantity of dry sticks, we had lighted our fire in the centre of the circle, filled our water-kettle, and put on our meat to cook. Our next care had been to arrange our sleeping places. For this purpose we cut a quantity of willows which grew on the banks of the stream hard by, and we each formed a semi-circular hut, by sticking the extremities of the osier twigs into the ground, and bending them over so as to form a succession of arches. These were further secured by weaving a few flexible twigs along the top and sides of the framework, thus giving it sufficient stability to support the saddle-cloths and skins with which we covered them. By placing our buffalo-robes within, we had thus a comfortable and warm bed-place apiece, and were better protected from the fiercest storm raging without than we should have been inside a tent or ordinary hut.
Though this was our usual custom when materials were to be found, when not, we were content to wrap ourselves in our buffalo-robes, with our saddles for pillows.
All arrangements having been made, we sat down with keen appetites, our backs to our respective huts, to discuss the viands which had been cooking during the operations I have described. Dick Buntin, who generally performed the office of cook, had concocted a pot of coffee, having first roasted the berries in the lid of our saucepan, and then, wrapping them in a piece of deer-skin, had pounded them on a log with the head of a hatchet. Dick was about to serve out the smoking-hot coffee when Charley's exclamation made him stop to reply while he held the pot in his hand.
"I am sure I did hear a strange sound, and it was no owl's hoot, of that I am convinced," said Charley, still standing up, and peering out over the dark prairie. "Just keep silence for a few minutes, and you'll hear it too before long."
I listened, and almost directly afterwards a low mournful wail, wafted on the breeze, struck my ear. Dick and Story also acknowledged that they heard the sound.
"I knew I was not mistaken," said Charley; "what can it be?"
"An owl, or some other night-bird, as I at first thought," said Buntin. "Come, hand me your mugs, or I shall have to boil up the coffee again."
Charley resumed his seat, and we continued the pleasant occupation in which we were engaged. Supper over, we crept into our sleeping-places, leaving our fire blazing, not having considered it necessary as yet to keep watch at night.
We were generally, directly after we had stretched ourselves on the ground, fast asleep, for we rose at break of day, and sometimes even before it; but ere I had closed my eyes, I again heard, apparently coming from far off, the same sound which had attracted Charley's notice. It appeared to me more like the howl of a wolf than the cry of a night-bird, but I was too sleepy to pay any attention to it.
How long I had been in a state of unconsciousness I could not tell, when I was aroused by a chorus of howls and yelps, and, starting up, I saw a number of animals with glaring eyes almost in our very midst.
"Wolves, wolves!" I cried, calling to my companions at the top of my voice.
Before I could draw my rifle out of the hut, where I had placed it by my side, one of the brutes had seized on a large piece of venison, suspended at the end of a stick to keep it off the ground, and had darted off with it, while the depredators were searching round for other articles into which they could fix their fangs.
Our appearance greatly disconcerted them, as we shouted in chorus, and turning tail they began to decamp as fast as their legs would carry them.
"Bring down that fellow with the venison," I cried out.
Charley, who had been most on the alert, had his rifle ready, and, firing, brought down the thief. Another of the pack instantly seized the meat and made off with it in spite of the shouts we sent after him. The wolves lost three of their number, but the rest got off with the venison in triumph. It was a lesson to us to keep a watch at night, and more carefully to secure our venison. We had, however, a portion remaining to serve us for breakfast next morning.
We took good care not to let the wolves get into our camp again, but we heard the brutes howling around and quarrelling over the carcase of one of their companions, who had been shot but had not immediately dropped. Having driven off our unwelcome visitors, Charley and I went in search of our horses, as we were afraid they might have been attacked. They were, however, well able to take care of themselves and had made their way to the border of the stream, where we found them safe.
In the meantime Buntin and Story dragged the carcases of the wolves we had killed to a distance from the camp, as their skins were not worth preserving. We all then met round the camp fire, but we soon found that to sleep was impossible, for the wolves, having despatched their wounded companions, came back to feast on the others we had shot. We might have killed numbers while so employed, but that would have only detained them longer in our neighbourhood, and we hoped when they had picked the bones of their friends that they would go away and leave us in peace.
We all wished to be off as soon as possible, so while it was still dark we caught and watered our horses; and, having cast off their hobbles and loaded the pack animals, we were in the saddle by sunrise. We rode on for several hours, and then encamped for breakfast, allowing our horses to graze while we went on foot in search of game. We succeeded in killing a couple of deer and a turkey, so that we were again amply supplied with food. Our baggage-mules being slow but sure-going animals we were unable to make more than twenty miles a day, though at a pinch we could accomplish thirty. We had again mounted and were moving forward. The country was covered with tall grass, five and sometimes eight feet in height, over which we could scarcely look even when on horseback. We had ridden about a couple of miles from our last camping-place, when Story, the tallest of our party, exclaimed—
"I see some objects moving to the northward. They look to me like mounted men, and are apparently coming in this direction."
He unslung his glass, while we all pulled up and took a look in the direction he pointed.
"Yes, I thought so," he exclaimed; "they are Indians, though, as there are not many of them, they are not likely to attack us; but we must be on our guard, notwithstanding."
We consulted what was best to be done.
"Ride steadily in the direction we are going," said Dick; "and, by showing that we are not afraid of them, when they see our rifles they will probably sheer off, whatever may be their present intentions. But keep together, my lads, and let nothing tempt us to separate."
We followed Dick's advice; indeed, although we had no ostensible leader, he always took the post on an emergency.
The strangers approached, moving considerably faster than we were doing. As they drew nearer, Story, who took another view of them through his glass, announced that there were two white men of the party, thus dispelling all fears we might have entertained of an encounter. We therefore pulled up to wait their arrival. As they got still nearer to us, one of the white men rode forward. He was followed by several dogs. Suddenly Dick, who had been regarding him attentively, exclaimed—
"What, Harry Armitage, my dear fellow! What has brought you here?"
"A question much easier asked than answered, and I'll put the same to you," said the stranger, shaking hands.
"I came out for a change of scene, and to get further from the ocean than I have ever before been in my life; and now let me introduce you to my friends," said Dick. The usual forms were gone through. Mr Armitage then introduced his companion as Pierre Buffet, one of the best hunters and trappers throughout the continent. The Indians, he said, had been engaged by Pierre and himself to act as guides and scouts, and to take care of the horses and baggage-mules. As our objects were the same, before we had ridden very far we agreed to continue together, as we should thus, in passing through territories infested by hostile Indians, be the better able to defend ourselves.
We had reason, before long, to be thankful that our party had thus been strengthened. We encamped as usual; and, not forgetting the lesson we had lately received, we set a watch so that we should not be surprised, either by wolves or Redskins. Though the former were heard howling in the distance, we were not otherwise disturbed by them, and at dawn we were once more in our saddles traversing the wide extending prairie, our new associates and we exchanging accounts of the various adventures we had met with. Armitage was not very talkative, but Dick managed to draw him out more than could any of the rest of the party. Buffet, in his broken English, talked away sufficiently to make ample amends for his employer's taciturnity. Our midday halt was over, and we did not again intend to encamp until nightfall, at a spot described by Buffet on the banks of a stream which ran round a rocky height on the borders of the prairie. It was, however, some distance off, and we did not expect to reach it until later in the day than usual.
We were riding on, when I saw one of the Indians standing up in his stirrups and looking to the northeast. Presently he called to Buntin and pointed in the same direction. The words uttered were such as to cause us no little anxiety. The prairie was on fire. The sharp eyes of the Indian had distinguished the wreaths of smoke which rose above the tall grass, and which I should have taken for a thick mist or cloud gathering in the horizon. The wind blew from the same quarter.
"Messieurs, we must put our horses to their best speed," exclaimed Pierre. "If the wind gets up, that fire will come on faster than we can go, and we shall all be burnt into cinders if once overtaken."
"How far off is it?" asked Dick. "Maybe eight or ten miles, but that is as nothing. It will travel five or six miles in the hour, even with this wind blowing—and twice as fast before a gale. On, on, messieurs, there is no time to talk about the matter, for between us and where the flames now rage, there is nothing to stop their progress."
We needed no further urging, but driving on the mules with shouts and blows—as we had no wish to abandon them if it could be avoided—we dashed on. Every now and then I looked back to observe the progress of the conflagration. Dark wreaths were rising higher and higher in the sky, and below them forked flames ever and anon darted up as the fire caught the more combustible vegetation. Borne by the wind, light powdery ashes fell around us, while we were sensible of a strong odour of burning, which made it appear as if the enemy was already close at our heels. The grass on every side was too tall and dry to enable us— as is frequently done under such circumstances, by setting fire to the herbage—to clear a space in which we could remain while the conflagration passed by.
Our only chance of escaping was by pushing forward. On neither side did Pierre or the Indians know of any spot where we could take refuge nearer than the one ahead. Every instant the smoke grew thicker, and we could hear the roaring, crackling, rushing sound of the flames, though still, happily for us, far away. Prairie-hens, owls, and other birds would flit by, presently followed by numerous deer and buffalo; while whole packs of wolves rushed on regardless of each other and of us, prompted by instinct to make their escape from the apprehended danger. Now a bear who had been foraging on the plain ran by, eager to seek his mountain home; and I caught sight of two or more panthers springing over the ground at a speed which would secure their safety. Here and there small game scampered along, frequently meeting the death they were trying to avoid, from the feet of the larger animals; snakes went wriggling among the grass, owls hooted, wolves yelped, and other animals added their cries to the terror-prompted chorus. Our chance of escaping with our baggage-mules seemed small indeed. The hot air struck our cheeks, as we turned round every now and then to see how near the fire had approached. The dogs kept up bravely at the feet of their masters' horse.
"If we are to save our own skins, we must abandon our mules," cried out Dick Buntin in a voice such as that with which he was wont to hail the main-top.
"No help for it, I fear," answered Armitage; "what do you say, Pierre?"
"Let the beasts go. Sauve qui peut!" answered the Canadian.
There was no time to stop and unload the poor brutes. To have done so would have afforded them a better chance of preserving their lives, though we must still lose our luggage.
The word was given, the halters by which we had been dragging the animals on were cast off; and, putting spurs into the flanks of our steeds, we galloped forward. Our horses seemed to know their danger as well as we did. I was just thinking of the serious consequences of a fall, when down came Dick, who was leading just ahead of me with Charley by his side. His horse had put its foot into a prairie-dog's hole.
"Are you hurt?" I cried out.
"No, no; go on; don't wait for me," he answered. But neither Charley nor I was inclined to do that.
Dick was soon on his feet again, while we assisted him, in spite of what he had said, to get up his horse. The animal's leg did not appear to be strained, and Dick quickly again climbed into the saddle.
"Thank you, my dear boys," he exclaimed, "it must not happen again; I am a heavy weight for my brute, and, if he comes down, you must go on and let me shift for myself."
We made no reply, for neither Charley nor I was inclined to desert our brave friend. The rest of the party had dashed by, scarcely observing what had taken place, the Indians taking the lead. It was impossible to calculate how many miles we had gone. Night was coming on, making the glare to the eastward appear brighter and more terrific. The mules were still instinctively following us, but we were distancing them fast, though we could distinguish their shrieks of terror amid the general uproar.
The hill for which we were making rose up before us, covered, as it appeared, by shrubs and grasses. It seemed doubtful whether it would afford us the safety we sought. We could scarcely hope that our horses would carry us beyond it, for already they were giving signs of becoming exhausted. We might be preserved by taking up a position in the centre of the stream, should it be sufficiently shallow to enable us to stand in it; but that was on the other side of the hill, and the fire might surround us before we could gain its banks. We could barely see the dark outline of the hill ahead, the darkness being increased by the contrast of the lurid flames raging behind us. We dashed across the more open space, where the grass was for some reason of less height than in her parts. Here many of the animals which had passed us, paralysed by fear, had halted as if expecting that they would be safe from the flames. Deer and wolves, bison, and even a huge bear—not a grizzly, however—and many smaller creatures were lying down or running round and round.
I thought Pierre would advise our stopping here, but he shouted, "On, on! This is no place for us; de beasts soon get up and run away too!"
We accordingly dashed forward, but every moment the heat and smell of the fire was increasing. The smoke, which blew around us in thick wreaths driven by the wind, was almost overpowering. This made the conflagration appear even nearer than it really was. At length, Pierre shouted out:
"Dis way, messieurs, dis way!" and I found that we had reached the foot of a rocky hill which rose abruptly out of the plain. He led us round its base until we arrived at a part up which we could manage to drag our horses. Still it seemed very doubtful if we should be safe, for grass covered the lower parts, and, as far as I could judge, shrubs and trees the upper: still there was nothing else to be done. Throwing ourselves from our horses, we continued to drag them up the height, Pierre's shouts guiding us. I was the last but one, Dick insisting on taking the post of danger in the rear and sending Charley and me before him. The horses were as eager to get up as we were, their instinct showing them that safety was to be found near human beings. Our only fear was that the other animals would follow, and that we should have more companions than we desired. The top was soon gained, when we lost no time in setting to work to clear a space in which we could remain, by cutting down the grass immediately surrounding us, and then firing the rest on the side of the hill towards which the conflagration was approaching. We next beat down the flames we had kindled, with our blankets—a hot occupation during which we were nearly smothered by the smoke rushing in our faces. The fire burnt but slowly against the wind, which was so far an advantage.
"We are safe now, messieurs!" exclaimed Pierre at last; and we all, in one sense, began to breathe more freely, although the feeling of suffocation from the smoke was trying in the extreme.
We could now watch, more calmly than before, the progress of the fire as it rushed across the country, stretching far on either side of us, and lighting up the hills to the north and south, and the groves which grew near them. We often speak of the scarlet line of the British troops advancing on the foe, and such in appearance was the fire; for we could see it from the heights where we stood, forming a line of a width which it seemed possible to leap over, or at all events to dash through without injury. Now it divided, as it passed some rocky spot or marshy ground. Now it again united, and the flames were seen licking up the grass which they had previously spared.
Our poor baggage-animals caused us much anxiety. Had they escaped or fallen victims to the flames with our property, and the most valuable portion of it—the ammunition? Charley declared that he heard some ominous reports, and the Indians nodded as they listened to what he said, and made signs to signify that the baggage had been blown up. For some minutes we were surrounded by a sea of flame, and had to employ ourselves actively in rushing here and there and extinguishing the portions which advanced close upon us, our horses in the meantime standing perfectly still and trembling in every limb, fully alive to their dangerous position. At length, after a few anxious hours, the fire began to die out; but here we were on the top of a rock, without food or water, and with only so much powder and shot as each man carried in his pouch. Still, we had saved our lives and our horses, and had reason to be thankful. The spot was a bleak one to camp in, but we had no choice. To protect ourselves from the wind, we built up a hedge of brushwood, and lighted a fire. Food we could not hope to obtain until the morning, but Pierre and one of the Indians volunteered to go down to the river, and to bring some water in a leathern bottle which the Canadian carried at his saddle-bow. He had also saved a tin cup, but the whole of our camp equipage had shared the fate of the mules, whatever that might be. The sky was overcast, and, as we looked out from our height over the prairie, one vast mass of blackness alone could be seen.
After quenching the thirst produced by the smoke and heat with the water brought by Pierre and his companion, we lay down to sleep.
At daylight we were on foot. The first thing to be done was to ascertain the fate of the mules, and the next to obtain some game to satisfy the cravings of hunger. Pierre and the Indians descended into the plain for both purposes. Charley and I started off in one direction, and Armitage and Story in another, with our guns, along the rocky heights which extended away to the northward, while Dick volunteered to look after the horses and keep our fire burning.
We went on for some distance without falling in with any large game, and we were unwilling to expend our powder on small birds. Charley at last proposed that we should descend into the plain in the hopes of finding some animals killed by the fire.
"Very little chance of that," I remarked, "for by this time the wolves have eaten them up. We are more likely, if we keep on, to fall in with deer on the opposite side, where the fire has not reached."
We accordingly crossed the ridge, and were making our way to the westward, when we heard Armitage's dog giving tongue in the distance.
"They have found deer, at all events, and perhaps we may be in time to pick off one or two of the herd," I exclaimed.
We scrambled along over the rocks, until we reached the brink of a low precipice, looking over which we caught sight of a magnificent buck with a single dog at his heels. Just then the stag stopped, and, wheeling suddenly round, faced its pursuer. Near was a small pool which served to protect the stag from the attack of the hound in the rear. It appeared to us that it would have gone hard with the dog, for at any moment the antlers of the stag might have pinned it to the ground. We concluded, from not hearing the other dogs, that they had gone off in a different direction, leaving this bold fellow—Lion, by name—to follow his chase alone.
We crept along the rocks, keeping ourselves concealed until we had got near enough to take a steady aim at the stag. I agreed to fire first, and, should I miss, Charley was to try his skill. In the meantime the dog kept advancing and retreating, seeking for an opportunity to fly at the stag's throat; but even then, should he succeed in fixing his fangs in the animal, he would run great risk of being knelt upon. The deer was as watchful as the dog, and the moment the latter approached, down again went its formidable antlers. Fearing that the deer might by some chance escape, taking a steady aim I fired. To my delight, over it rolled, when we both sprang down the rocks and ran towards it.
While I reloaded, Charley, having beaten off the dog, examined the deer to ascertain that it was really dead. We then set to work to cut up our prize, intending to carry back the best portions to the camp.
While thus employed, we heard a shout and saw our companions approaching with their dogs. They had missed the remainder of the herd, and were too happy in any way to obtain the deer to be jealous of our success.
Laden with the meat, the whole of which we carried with us, we returned to the camp, where we found Dick ready with spits for roasting it. In a short time Pierre and the Indians returned with the report that they had found the mules dead, and already almost devoured by the coyotes, while their cargoes had been blown up, as we feared would be the case, with the powder they contained. They brought the spare, guns—the stocks of which, however, were sadly damaged by the fire. Our camp equipage, which was very welcome, was uninjured, together with a few knives and other articles of iron.
So serious was our loss, that it became absolutely necessary to return to the nearest settlement to obtain fresh pack-animals and a supply of powder.
By the loss of our baggage, we were reduced to hard fare. We had no coffee, no corn meal, no salt or pepper; but our greatest want was powder. Should the ammunition in our pouches hold out, we hoped to obtain food enough to keep us from starving till we could reach the nearest settlement of Tillydrone. Before commencing our return journey, however, it would be necessary, we agreed, to obtain a supply of meat, as we should find but little game in the region we had to cross. We must push on through it, therefore, as fast as our horses could carry us; but after their hard gallop on the previous day, it would be necessary to give them several hours rest, and it was settled that we should remain encamped where we were until the following morning. The locality had many advantages: it was high and dry, while, commanding as it did an extensive view over the prairie, we could see any hostile Indians approaching, and could defend ourselves should they venture to attack us.
As soon as breakfast was over, and we had rested from the fatigues of the morning, we again set out on foot with our guns. Charley and I, as before, kept together. The rest divided into two parties, each hoping to add a good supply of meat to the common stock. We had entered into an agreement not to fire a shot, unless sure of our aim, as every charge, to us, was worth its weight in gold. A spot had been fixed on, where we were to meet, about a couple of miles from the camp, in the centre of the ridge. Charley and I had gone on for an hour or more, but had met with no game, when what was our delight to see a herd of a dozen large deer feeding in a glade below us; and, although too far off to risk a shot, we hoped that by making a wide circuit we should be able to creep up to them on the lee side.
Taking the proposed direction, we observed a large clump of rose-bushes, which grew in great profusion in that region. Near them also were two or three trees, behind which we expected to be able to conceal ourselves while we took aim at the deer. Keeping as much under cover as possible, we reached the rose-bushes, when we began to creep along on hands and knees, trailing our guns after us. To our delight we found that the deer were still feeding quietly, unsuspicious of danger. I managed to reach one of the trees, Charley another. The two nearest animals were a stag and a doe. I agreed to shoot the former, Charley the latter.
He waited until I gave the signal, when our guns went off at the same instant. As the smoke cleared away, we saw that both our shot had taken effect. It had been settled that, in case the animals should attempt to get up, we were to rush out and despatch them with our hunting-knives. I ran towards the stag, which made an effort to escape, but rolled over and died just as I reached it. Turning round to ascertain how it fared with Charley, I saw the doe rise to her feet, though bleeding from a wound in the neck. I instantly reloaded to be ready to fire, knowing that under such circumstances even a doe might prove a dangerous antagonist. It was fortunate that I did so, for the animal, throwing herself upon her haunches, began to strike out fiercely with her fore-feet, a blow from which would have fractured my friend's skull. Seeing his hat fall to the ground, I was afraid that he had been struck. Holding his rifle, which he had unfortunately forgotten to reload, before him in the fashion of a single-stick, he attempted to defend himself; but one of the animal's hoofs, striking his shoulder, brought him to the ground, so that he was unable to spring back out of harm's way. For a moment the deer retreated, but then again came on with her fore-feet in the air, intent on mischief. Now was the moment to fire, as the next Charley might be struck lifeless to the ground. I pulled the trigger, aiming at the head of the doe; for, had I attempted to shoot her in the breast, I might have hit my companion. As the smoke cleared away I saw the deer spring into the air and fall lifeless to the ground. The bullet had struck her in the very spot I intended. Charley rose to his feet, and I ran forward, anxious to ascertain if he was injured. Providentially, his ramrod alone was broken, and, except a bruise on the shoulder which caused him some pain, he had escaped without damage.
We lost no time in skinning and cutting up the deer, which having done, we formed two packages of as much of the meat as we could carry, while we suspended the remainder to the bough of a neighbouring tree, to return for it before night-fall. Our companions were nearly as successful, each party having killed a deer, the whole of which they brought into camp. We left them all employed in cutting the chief portion into strips to dry in the sun, so that it could be transported more easily than in a fresh state. As we approached the spot where we had left the venison, a loud yelping which reached our ears told us that the coyotes had found it out. The brutes were not worth powder and shot, so getting some thick sticks, we rushed in among them and drove them off to a distance. They returned, however, as soon as we had got down the venison and were employed in packing it up, and we had to make several onslaughts, during which we killed three or four of the wolves, who were instantly devoured by their companions. While they were thus employed, we had time to pack up our game, but the rapacious creatures followed howling at our heels until we reached the camp. All night long also they continued their unpleasant chorus.
In the morning, having breakfasted on fresh venison, we started, each man carrying a load of the dried meat. Our object was to push on as fast as possible, only halting when necessary to rest our horses, or to kill some buffalo or deer, should any be seen. Pierre especially advised that we should otherwise make no delay, saying that he had observed the trails of Indians, who were probably out on the warpath, and that, at all events, it would be necessary to be on our guard against them.
We crossed the burnt prairie, our horses' hoofs stirring up the ashes as we scampered along. Frequently we came upon the bodies of small animals which had failed to escape from the fire. We saw also numbers of snakes, some burnt to death, others only scorched and still managing to make their way over the ground. We were thankful when, having crossed a stream, we got into a more cheerful tract of country. Here Pierre advised that we should be doubly on our guard, as in all probability the Indians themselves had fired the grass, either to burn us, or to deprive us of our beasts of burden, as they succeeded in doing, that we might the more easily fall into their hands, but that such was the case it was difficult to say. Perhaps, when they found us strongly posted, they had considered it prudent not to attack us.
We had started before day-break, and proposed halting for a couple of hours to breakfast and rest our beasts, when, just as the rich glow which ushers in the rising sun had suffused the sky, one of the Indians, addressing Pierre, pointed to the south-west.
"What is it he says?" I asked.
"Indians!" answered Pierre, "on foot and on horseback, and no small number of them. We must be prepared for them, messieurs; for, if I mistake not, they are Coomanches, and they are difficult customers to deal with in the open. If we were within a stockade, we should quickly send them to the right about, though, as they stand in awe of our rifles, it is a question whether they will attack us as long as we show a bold front."
"It is of little use to show a bold front in the centre of a wild prairie, with a hundred howling savages galloping about one," I thought to myself.
However, none of our party were men to flinch. By Pierre's advice we rode steadily forward. There was a slight elevation at some distance, with a small lake beyond it. Buntin, who took the lead, proposed that we should try to gain it, as it would give us an advantage over our nimble foes, as, while they were ascending its steep sides, we could shoot them down without difficulty. On we rode therefore as fast as we could venture to go, for it was important not to blow our horses, lest we should have to come to an encounter with the Redskins.
We had got to within a quarter of a mile or so from the height, when we saw that the Indians had divined our intention, a party of them, who must have made a wide circuit, having already taken possession of it.
"Never mind, boys," said Dick in a cheery voice—"we can fight them if they are in a fighting mood just as well on the plains as on the top of yonder hill. They probably think that all our powder is lost, and expect to gain an easy victory."
"It will be wise to dismount, messieurs," said Pierre. "Each man must take post behind his horse, and when the savages come on we must wait until they get near enough to afford us a sure mark."
"We will follow Pierre's advice," said Dick, "but we will wait to ascertain whether they have hostile intentions or not. Our best plan is to proceed steadily on as if we were not conscious of their presence."
We continued, therefore, riding forward, so as to pass the hill about the eighth of a mile on our right, keeping a careful watch on the Redskins. Suddenly there was a movement among them, and out dashed several horsemen. Sweeping around the hill, they approached us. We lost not a moment, and, placing ourselves as arranged, we stood with our rifles ready to receive them. On they came, shrieking at the top of their voices and uttering their war-cries, until they got almost within shot. Seeing this we presented our rifles, but, just at the moment that we were about to fire, the warriors threw themselves over on the opposite side of their horses, and, sweeping by like a whirlwind, discharged their guns.
Although it was a fine exhibition of horsemanship, the fellows, evidently afraid of us, had kept too far off for their object, and the bullets fell short. At the same moment Armitage, Story, and Pierre fired. Armitage's bullet struck the horse of the leading brave, which however still galloped on. Story wounded the next warrior, who turning tail rejoined his companions, while the third—who had lifted up his head to take better aim—got a bullet through it from Pierre's unerring rifle. He fell to the ground, along which he was dragged by his horse, which followed the one immediately before it.
Seeing what had befallen their leaders, the other Indians, who were riding furiously towards us, reined in their steeds, considering discretion the better part of valour.
"We must not trust to the fellows," cried Dick; "we must hold our ground until they move off."
It was fortunate we did so, for in a short time the whole troop, gaining courage and hoping to frighten us with war-whoops, came sweeping down upon us. Fortunately but few had fire-arms, and their powder was none of the best. Their arrows fell short, while their bullets, which struck our saddles, failed to pierce them. I got a slight graze on my cheek, and a piece of lead went through Charley's cap.
Our rifles in the meantime returned the salute in good earnest. Three of us only fired at a time, and three Indians were hit—one of whom was killed outright, though his companions managed to drag off his body. Still the odds were greatly against us. Had we been well supplied with ammunition we should have had no fear as to the result of the encounter, but we dared not fire a shot more than was absolutely necessary.
Notwithstanding the way we had handled them, the Indians did not appear inclined to give up the contest, but, after wheeling out of reach of our rifles, again halted.
"They have had enough of it, I should think," observed Story.
"I'm not so sure of that," answered Dick, "our scalps, our horses, and our fire-arms, are too tempting prizes to allow the rascals to let us escape if they fancy that they can get possession of them. See, here they come again!"
As he spoke the whole troop, giving utterance to a terrific war-whoop, passed ahead of us, and then, wheeling round, dashed forward at full speed to attack us on the opposite side. As they got within range, half our number, as before, fired. Three more of them appeared to be hit, and one, evidently a chief, fell from his saddle.
The Redskins had had enough of it, and the rest, crawling round the chief, bore him off. Away they went fleet as the wind. I felt very much inclined to follow. Dick advised us to remain where we were to see what they would do. At length we were satisfied that they had received a lesson by which they were likely to profit, and that they would not again venture to attack us, unless they could take us by surprise. We now found the advantage of not having over-exhausted our horses.
"Mount, and push forward!" cried Dick. "But I say, lads, while those fellows are watching us we'll move at a steady pace."
After we had ridden for a couple of miles or so, Dick advised that we should put our horses to their full speed, so as to place as wide a distance between us and our enemies as possible, before we halted for breakfast.
No sooner was the word given than away we went. Pierre proved an excellent guide, and took us across the most easy country, so that by noon it was considered that we might halt without fear of interruption from the same band, though it would be necessary to keep a sharp look out lest another troop of savages might be scouring the country in search of us.
We were by this time desperately sharp set, and while our steeds cropped the grass around, we quickly lighted our fire and put on our venison to cook. Pierre and the Indians did not wait for that operation, but ate the dried venison raw, and I was tempted to chew the end of a strip to stop the gnawings of hunger.
After a couple of hours' rest, which our horses absolutely required, we again pushed on, anxious to find a safe camping-place for the night. Pierre led us to a spot which appeared as secure as we could desire, by the side of a broad stream of sufficient depth to afford us protection on that side, while a high knoll, with a bluff, would conceal our fire on the one side, and a thick wood on the other, leaving thus only one side towards the prairie. Thus, at all events, we had all the requirements for camping—wood, water, and grass.
The night passed quietly, and the following day we did not fall in with any Indians, so that we ventured to camp at an earlier hour, on a spot very similar to that we had chosen on the previous night. We were getting somewhat tired of our dry venison, and Armitage proposing to go out in search of a deer, I volunteered to accompany him, hoping to find one coming down to drink at the stream. We accordingly kept along its banks, taking with us one of the spare horses, that we might bring home any game we might shoot; but as I wished to give mine a rest I went on foot.
Armitage was some little way in advance, I following close along the borders of the stream, when I heard him fire. Pushing forward I saw him bending over the body of a fine deer. I was making my way through the bushes to assist him, when what was my dismay to catch sight of a huge bear, which Armitage had not perceived, coming along the edge of the stream from the opposite direction.
I shouted to him, to warn him of his danger. He rose to his feet, holding the rein of his horse; for the animal, conscious of the presence of the bear, showed a strong inclination to bolt. The bear, which had, apparently, not before perceived Armitage, came cantering slowly on, until within twenty paces of him. I shouted at the top of my voice for the purpose of distracting the bear's attention; but Bruin, intent on mischief, took no notice. I was too far off to have any hope of mortally wounding the bear should I fire, and the undergrowth was so thick that I could only slowly make my way through it. Already the bear was scarcely more than a dozen paces off from Armitage, who with his gun levelled stood ready to receive his formidable antagonist. The bear raised itself on its hind legs, giving a roaring grunt, and balancing itself, as bears are wont to do, before making its fatal spring. Should Armitage miss, it seemed impossible that he could escape with his life. I struggled desperately to make my way through the brushwood to go to his assistance.
Again the bear roared, and stretched out its paws, evidently showing that it was about to spring, when my friend fired.
Great was my relief when I saw the bear roll over, floundering about for a few seconds in a vain endeavour to rise and renew the combat; but the bullet had been surely aimed, and before I reached the scene of the encounter the animal's struggles were over.
We walked round and round the monster, surveying its vast proportions, and then set to work to remove its hide and cut off the most delicate portions of the meat. This occupied us some time. I suggested that the skin might be left behind, but, as the bear was of unusual size, Armitage declared his intention of preserving it if he could. At length we succeeded in strapping it on the back of the horse, and set off to return to the camp.
We walked leisurely along, leading the horse, well satisfied with the result of our short expedition; for bear's flesh, though not equal to venison, is superior to that of the lean deer we often shot. We found our friends anxious about us; for two of the Indians who had gone out scouting reported that they had fallen in with a suspicious trail, and they warned us that we should very likely be again attacked before we could reach the settlement.
"Let them come on then!" cried Dick, "we'll treat them as we did the others."
I have said but little about the Indians accompanying Armitage. They were fine fellows, armed with spears and bows and arrows, as well as with carbines, while they carried in their belts the usual scalping-knives and tomahawks, so that they were likely to prove formidable opponents to our foes.
Having set a double watch, one man to look after the horses, and another the camp, we lay down to obtain the rest we so much needed.
Daybreak found us moving forward and already a couple of miles from our last resting-place. We hoped thus to keep ahead of our enemies, who, our Indian allies calculated, had camped some distance to the northward. We thought it probable also, should they have discovered our whereabouts, that they might have intended to attack us before we started in the morning. They would know that we should keep careful watch during the night, but they were very likely to fancy that while breakfasting we should be off our guard, and that they might then take us by surprise. If so, they were disappointed. We rode steadily on, we Whites keeping together, while the Indians on their active mustangs, scouted on either side, their keen eyes searching every thicket and bush for a concealed enemy.
"Can they be trusted?" asked Dick of Armitage.
"They will lose the reward I engaged to give them, should they prove treacherous," was the answer, "and Pierre considers them honest."
"I cannot help suspecting that they are very sure no enemy is near, by the way they are showing off," observed Story.
"They behaved as well as men could do, when we were last attacked," remarked Charley, who way always ready to stick up for the Indians, of whom he had a great admiration. I agreed with Jack, but at the same time I did not wish to disparage our gallant-looking allies.
While we were speaking two of them came up and addressed Pierre in their own language which he understood thoroughly.
"They say that they have caught sight of a mounted war-party, who are, they think, trying to steal upon us round yonder wood, and take us by surprise," said Pierre.
"We'll be prepared for them then, my friends!" exclaimed Dick; "but we'll ride on as we have been going, and not dismount until they show themselves; we shall then be able to turn the tables on them. You all know what you have to do; but remember again, our powder is running short; don't throw a shot away."
"Ay, ay, captain," was the reply from all of us, for we had given Dick a title he well deserved although the Lords of the Admiralty had not thus favoured him.
Our scouts on the left flank now drew in closer to us, they having made up their minds that we should be attacked on that side. Almost ahead— or, as Dick called it, on our starboard bow—was a clump of trees, backed by rocky ground. It would assist at all events to protect us, on one side. We accordingly directed our course towards it. Anyone seeing us riding along would not have supposed that we were well aware of a powerful body of enemies being close to us, as we might have been seen laughing and joking, one of the party occasionally breaking out into a jovial song.
Our behaviour encouraged our allies, and should the enemy have perceived us, it would have made them suppose that we were quite unconscious of their presence.
We had almost gained the clump of trees I have mentioned, when from the end of the wood about half a mile away, appeared the head of a column of mounted warriors. The moment they showed themselves, with fierce yells and shrieks they dashed on towards us. "Forward, my friends, and let us take up the post I proposed," cried Dick; and, urging our horses into a gallop, we reached the clump just in time to dismount and arrange our horses before the Indians got within range of our rifles. We were thus better able to defend ourselves than we had been on the previous occasion. The Coomanches came on bravely enough at first, shrieking and hooting at the top of their voices, but we were prepared to receive them in a way they did not expect. Before they began to wheel and throw themselves over on the sides of their horses, Armitage, Story and I, who were considered the best shots of the party, each singled out a man. We fired, and three warriors dropped to the ground. At the same moment, our brave allies dashed forward, with lances in rest, and charged boldly at the advancing foe, who were discharging a shower of arrows at us. One of the Coomanches threw himself on the side of his horse and shot an arrow which pierced our friend's shoulder, but he was himself the next instant thrust through by his opponent's lance, his horse galloping off, however, with his dead body. This bold manoeuvre gave us time to reload. We were able to fire a volley as the rest of the party came sweeping by. Two more saddles were emptied, and another warrior was wounded. The latter, however, managed to regain his seat so as to wheel round and rejoin his companions.
Had we been a more numerous party, and armed with swords and lances, we might have mounted and pursued the enemy; but as we possessed only our rifles, it was far more prudent to remain on foot, whence we could take a steady aim.
It was surprising to see the way our persevering assailants came on, and threw themselves over the sides of their horses. It was not until we had an opportunity of examining their trappings, that we discovered how they managed to do so. We found attached to the mane of each horse a strong halter composed of horse-hair, which being passed under the animal's neck, was firmly plaited into the mane, thus leaving a loop hanging under its neck. When about to fire, the warrior drops into this loop, and he manages to sustain the weight of his body by the upper part of the bent arm. In this way, both his arms are at liberty, either to use his bow or his spear. In his left hand he grasps a dozen arrows, together with his bow, and is not compelled to apply his hand to his quiver, which hangs with his shield at his back, while his long spear being supported by the bend of the elbow he can use it at any moment.
Our allies, on this occasion, rendered us essential service by distracting the attention of our active foes, thus preventing them from shooting with as much accuracy as usual. Their arrows came flying about us, many sticking in the trees behind our backs; but happily only two of our people and one of our horses were slightly wounded, although one of our Indian allies fell to the ground, and before any of his companions could rescue him, a Coomanche, who had ridden up, leaning over his horse, took his scalp and rejoined the main body.
The steady fire we kept up, prevented the Indians from coming close to us; still they were evidently unwilling to abandon, the attempt, in spite of the numbers they had already lost. As far as we could judge, the party which had before attacked us had been increased by many fresh warriors, eager to distinguish themselves. Could they obtain the white men's scalps, they would be able to boast of their achievement to the end of their days.
We had no intention, could we help it, of giving them this satisfaction. One thing was remarkable—the regular way in which they came on and retreated, like any civilised people engaging in warfare. Our allies, after our first attack, had rejoined us, and waited close at hand to dash forward again, should they see a favourable opportunity. At length the Coomanches, having swept round out of rifle-shot, disappeared behind, the wood from which they had emerged. No sooner had they gone, than our allies threw themselves from their horses and dashed forward towards the bodies of the slain. In vain Dick shouted to Pierre to tell them to let the carcases alone. Never did I witness a more horrid sight; with their scalp-knives in their hands, they sprang forward, and in an instant had passed the sharp blades round the heads of two of them. A third, though badly wounded, both by one of our bullets and an arrow in his side, raised himself up, and fiercely regarding his advancing foe, mocked and derided him as an ally of the whites.
The Indian advanced, and springing on the prostrate man, without waiting to give him the merciful blow, whipped off his scalp, and left him still bleeding on the ground. On seeing this, Pierre, who seemed rather ashamed of his friends, sent a bullet into the poor wretch's head, and put him out of his misery.
The knife of one of the others must have been blunt, for finding that the scalp did not come off as quickly as he wished, seating himself on the ground with his feet against the dead man's shoulders, he pulled it away by main force. So far we had been more successful than we had expected; but our enemies might rally, and, hovering in the neighbourhood, keep us constantly in a state of anxiety. We were unwilling to leave our secure position until we could ascertain whether the Indians had retreated. To learn this, it was necessary to get to the other side of the wood, which hid them from view. For this purpose, one of our allies volunteered to ride forward and ascertain where they were. The risk, however, was great, for should he be pursued, and overtaken, his death was certain. Still, the advantage to us would be so great, that Armitage consented to his going. Instead of making directly towards the wood, however, he rode first to the east and then suddenly turning his course northward, galloped along at full speed, until he got a good view of the north side of the wood which was a mere belt of trees, scarcely thick enough to conceal a large body of horsemen.
We watched him anxiously. At any moment his enemies might sally out and attack him. At length we saw him turn his horse's head, when he came riding leisurely back. Perceiving this we forthwith mounted and continued our journey, leaving the bodies of the Indians to be devoured by the prairie wolves, for we had no time, even had we wished it, to bury them.
We of course kept a bright look out behind us as well as on either side, for as Pierre observed, "It never does to trust those varmints of Redskins; they come like the wind, and are off again with as many scalps as they can lift before a man who has shut his eyes for a moment has time to open them."
I confess that I heartily hoped we should in future be left alone; for, although I had no objection to an occasional brush with the red men, I had no fancy to be constantly harassed by them, and to be compelled to remain in camp without the chance of a shot at a deer or buffalo for fear of losing one's scalp. I thought, however, that we had now done with them and should the next night be able to sleep in peace. Again we continued on until it was nearly dark, when we formed camp in as sheltered a position as we could find.
Of course our trail would show the way we had taken, and, should the Indians be so disposed, they might follow us. The only question was whether they could or could not take us by surprise. We had, fortunately, enough meat for supper, but we agreed that it would be necessary to hunt the next day at all risks. When, however, we came to examine our powder horns, we found that we had scarcely more than a couple of charges each. It would be impossible therefore to defend ourselves, should we be again attacked, and a difficult task to obtain game sufficient to last us to the end of the journey. We had fortunately a good supply of bear's meat, which, as Dick observed, "went a long way;" but our Indian friends were voracious feeders and it was necessary to give them as much as they wanted. Our chief hope now of obtaining food was that we might come across some buffalo which our Indians would be able to shoot with their bows and arrows: at all events, having already escaped so many dangers, we determined to keep up our spirits and not to be cast down by the difficulties in the way.
As our Indians had been on the watch the previous night, we undertook to keep guard this night, two at a time. Charley and I were to be together.
What the captain called "the middle watch" was over, when we mounted guard, Charley on the horses, I on the camp. Just then the moon, in its last quarter, rose above the horizon, shedding a pale light over the prairie. We had been on foot a couple of hours and I was hoping that it would soon be time to rouse up my companions and commence the day's march, when Charley came to me.
"Look there!" he said, "I fancy that I can make out some objects in the distance, but whether they are prairie wolves or men I am not quite certain. If they are Indians, the sooner we secure the horses the better. If they are wolves they can do us no great harm. We will awaken our friends, at all events!"
I quickly, in a low voice, called up all hands; and each man, without standing on his feet, crept towards his horse. In a few seconds we had secured the whole of them.
"Now!" cried Dick, "mount and away." No sooner were the words uttered, than we sprang into our saddles. As we did so a loud shout saluted our ears, followed by the whistling of arrows; and, turning round, we saw fifty dark forms scampering after us. Had we possessed ammunition, we should not have dreamed of taking to flight; but, without the means of defending ourselves, it was the only safe thing to be done. The arrows came fast and thick.
"Keep together lads," cried Dick, "never mind those bodkins, we shall soon distance our pursuers."
I heard a sharp cry from Charley and turning round I saw an arrow sticking in his side. The captain had already been wounded, but he did not betray the fact of his being hurt.
Our horses, seeming to understand our dangerous position, stretched out at their greatest speed. I turned round and could still see the Indians coming on and discharging their arrows; but we were now beyond their range, and, provided our horses kept their feet, we had no fear of being overtaken. It was very trying to have to run away from foes whom we had twice defeated, for we had no doubt that they were the same band of Redskins we had before encountered and who now hoped, by approaching on foot, to take us by surprise. Had not Charley's quick sight detected them indeed, we should probably have lost our horses and have been murdered into the bargain. On we galloped, yet for a long time we could hear the shrieks and shouts of our distant foes. Their horses were not likely to be far off, and we knew that they would probably return for them and again pursue us. We must, therefore, put a considerable distance between ourselves and them. Fortunately, not having tired our steeds, we should be able to go on without pulling rein for the whole day; we must, however, camp to feed them, but not for a moment longer than would be absolutely necessary for the purpose. I asked Charley how he felt.
"Never mind me," he answered, "the arrow hurts somewhat, but I would not have our party stop to attend to me. If I feel worse I'll tell you, lest I should drop from my horse."
The captain said not a word of his wound, nor did anyone else complain of being hurt; though, as daylight increased, I observed blood streaming from the leg of one of the Indians, and another with a pierced coat through which an arrow had gone. At length our steeds gave signs of being tired, and we ourselves had become very hungry. We agreed, therefore, to pull up near a stream, with a knoll close to it, from which we could obtain, through our spy-glasses, a wide view across the prairie, so that we could see our enemies before they could discover us. To light a fire and cook our bear's flesh while our horses were turned loose to feed, occupied but little time. We had saved a couple of tin mugs with which we brought water from the stream; but our kettle, and several other articles, in the hurry of our flight, had been left behind. Our first care was to see to Charley's wound. He heroically bore the operation of cutting off the head of the arrow, which had to be done before the shaft of the arrow could be drawn out. We then, with a handkerchief, bound up the wound. Dick was less seriously hurt, an arrow having, however, torn its way through his shoulder. The Indian made light of his wound which was very similar to that Charley had received. His companions doctored him, we supplying them with a handkerchief which they bound round his wounded limb. I was still resting when Story, who had taken his post on the knoll, spy-glass in hand, shouted out—
"I have just caught sight of the heads of the Redskins, over the grass, so the sooner we are away the better."
Saying this he hurried down the hill. We, having caught the horses and packed up the remainder of our meat, mounted and rode on. Both Charley and Dick declared they did not feel much the worse for their wounds, the blood they had lost probably preventing inflammation. Though the Indians could not see us, they must have discovered our trail; and they would soon ascertain, by the remains of our fire, that we were not far ahead. This might encourage them to pursue us; but our horses being better than theirs, we might still, should no accident happen, keep well ahead of them.
We galloped on until dark and then we were once more compelled to camp. Only half our party lay down at a time, the remainder keeping by the horses while they fed, to be ready to bring them in at a moment's notice. Our pursuers would also have to stop to feed their horses, and as they had not come up to us during the first watch, we hoped that they would leave us in quiet for the remainder of the night.
We were not disturbed; and before daybreak, jumping into our saddles, we pushed on. I must pass over the two following days. As yet we had met with no signs of civilisation, when we saw a wreath of smoke rising above the trees in the far distance. It might come from a backwoodsman's hut, or it might be simply that of a camp fire. It was not likely to rise from the camp of Indians, so Pierre thought, as they do not generally venture so far east. However, to run no risk of falling among foes, we sent forward one of our scouts, while we proceeded at the pace we had before been going. We felt most anxious to get some shelter, where we could sleep in security and obtain food, for our bear's flesh was well-nigh exhausted, and we had not hitherto fallen in with buffalo; while both our wounded men required more care than we could give them in the camp, with the chance of having to mount and ride for our lives at any moment.
After riding some distance we heard a shot.
"All's not right," cried Dick; "we may have either to fight, or run for it."
In a short time we saw an Indian riding at full speed towards us.
"What's the matter?" asked Pierre as he came near.
He pointed to the wood, when presently two white men appeared with rifles in their hands. As soon as they caught sight of us, they shouted out and made signs of friendship to us, while they grounded their arms. We were soon up to them.
"Sorry to have shot at your Redskin friend, but we took him for an enemy, that's a fact," said one of them; "however, as the bit of lead missed his head, he's none the worse for it."
Dick assured him we had no wish to complain, and asked whether we could find any shelter in the neighbourhood.
"You are welcome to our hut, friends," answered the other man, "it's big enough for all hands except the Indians, and they can put up wigwams for themselves. Come along, for there's a storm brewing, I guess; and you'll be better under cover than in the open air."
We gladly accepted the invitation, and guided by our new acquaintances, we soon found ourselves in a clearing, with a good-sized log-hut and a couple of shanties at the rear of it. The rain had already begun to fall; so speedily taking off the bridles and saddles of our steeds, we hobbled them and turned them loose; we then hurried under cover, our Indian guides taking possession of one of the shanties.
Our hosts, Mark and Simon Praeger, told us that they and their brothers had built the log-hut the previous winter. They had already a good-sized field fenced in and under cultivation and had besides a herd of cattle, the intention of the family being to move west in a few months.
On hearing of the loss of our provisions and stores, they at once set to work to get supper ready; and, as they had killed a deer that morning and had a good supply of flour, coffee and other articles, they soon placed an abundant meal smoking on the table. We at once discovered that they were superior to the general run of backwoodsmen, having a fair education, at the same time that they were hardy persevering fellows, and bold buffalo and deer hunters, who held the Redskins in supreme contempt. Their family, they told us, resided somewhere about a hundred miles away to the eastward. They had pushed thus far into the wilderness to form a home for themselves, both young men intending to marry shortly and set up house. Their father's farm was close to the very settlement for which we were bound, and the nearest where we were likely to get our wants amply supplied. They were sure, they said, that their father would be happy to receive us and assist us in obtaining all we required. We thanked them and gladly accepted their kind offer.
Supper being over, we lay down in our buffalo robes; and I need scarcely say that, having no longer the fear of being aroused by finding an Indian's scalping-knife running round my head, I was quickly fast asleep, fully expecting to have a good night's rest.
My sleep, however, at length became troubled. I dreamed that I heard the Indian war-whoops, and saw a whole band of savages spring out of the darkness and rush with uplifted tomahawks towards me while I lay helpless on the ground. Presently the cries increased, and I awoke with a start to hear a terrific growling sound. It was that of a bear, I was convinced. I saw that Mark Praeger, having got up and struck a light, had taken down his rifle from the wall and was going towards the door. I jumped up, as did Armitage and Story, and followed him. As he threw open the door, we saw, not a dozen paces from the hut, a huge bear squatting on his hindquarters and apparently taking a leisurely survey of the hut.
Mark, as soon as he caught sight of his visitor, lifted his rifle and fired, but the cap failed to go off. It would have been a fine opportunity for Bruin to have made a rush upon us; when he might, by dashing into the hut, have taken possession and killed us all one after the other, or driven us out. Instead of doing so, alarmed by the shouts we raised, uttering a low growl, he turned round and broke away through the brushwood on one side of the hut.
"On lads!" cried Mark, "we must get that fellow for the sake of the meat and skin."
As he spoke he replaced the copper cap and dashed forward in pursuit of the intruder. As we had no wish to go bear-hunting unarmed, we hurried back to obtain our rifles and some powder and bullets from Simon. By the time we were supplied, the rest of the party who had been aroused by our shouts, were on foot and preparing to accompany us. On returning to the door, we could nowhere see Mark; but Simon taking the lead we followed him. The moon had got up, so that we managed to see our way with tolerable clearness, by a path leading down to a stream, with precipitous banks, rising in some places into cliffs of considerable height. We had gone some distance when we heard a shot fired.
"Mark has brought Master Bruin to bay," cried Simon; "I wish he had waited until we had come up."
I heard the sound of footsteps behind us, and looking round saw that our Indian allies had followed, as eager as we were to get the bear's meat. Just then we saw Mark bending over the bear which he had shot; but what was our horror the next moment to observe another huge monster rush out from behind a rock and lifting itself on its haunches make a spring at him, before he could even turn round to defend himself. His death seemed certain. In attempting to shoot the bear, we should too probably kill him. No one therefore dared to fire. In vain he endeavoured to escape from the claws of the creature who held him in a fast embrace. His brother and Armitage, who were leading, dashed forward, the one drawing a long knife, the other armed with an axe which he had caught up as we left the hut. I held my gun ready, waiting to fire should I be able to do so without running the risk of shooting one of my friends.
It was a fearful moment. It seemed scarcely possible, even should we kill the bear, that poor Mark would escape destruction. Simon, springing close to the monster, dealt it a tremendous blow with his axe, hoping to draw its attention on himself; while Armitage, with his uplifted knife, dashed forward, and as he did so plunged his weapon behind the bear's shoulder. The monster turned round on feeling the wound, and I thought would have bitten Mark's head. Simon again plied the brute with his axe. The huge jaws relaxed, the head sank down, Armitage had driven his knife home to the beast's heart.
With shouts, indicative of their satisfaction, the Indians now hurried up and assisted us in dragging off the body from our fallen friend who was by this time nearly senseless. The bear's claws had torn him fearfully about the breast and shoulders, besides having given him a tremendous hug, but had, we hoped, injured no vital part. He was unable, however, to speak or stand. We at once, therefore, formed a litter with poles speedily cut from the banks of the stream, on which we bore him back to the hut, leaving the Indians under the command of Pierre to cut up the bears and bring in their flesh and skins, an occupation to which they applied themselves with evident delight.
On arriving at the hut with our almost inanimate burden, we found the captain and Charlie in a state of great anxiety to know what had happened; for they had, I should have said, been undressed, and placed in our hosts' beds, their wounds preventing them from putting on their clothes. The captain insisted on turning out when he saw the sad condition of Mark; and he moreover undertook to doctor him as well as he was able. It appeared evident, however, that as soon as possible Mark and Charley should be removed to the settlement, where they could obtain surgical aid. Mark in a short time revived. From the captain's report, we had hopes that, on account of his fine constitution, he would escape inflammation, which was chiefly, under his circumstances, to be feared.
The Praegers had a light wagon, into which, soon after breakfast was over the next morning, we put our three wounded companions, and leaving Pierre and the Indians with Simon Praeger, we set off for Tillydrone. We would gladly have had another day's rest, but the impossibility of obtaining medical assistance for poor Mark and Charley made us willing to undergo the fatigue.
The country was tolerably level, there being a fine open prairie, across which we rattled at a good speed, though the unavoidable jolting must have greatly tried our poor friends within. I was very thankful when Mark, looking out of the wagon, told us that we were approaching his father's house. Our cavalcade must have been seen, for in a short time two horsemen came galloping up to us: the elder, a fine-looking, middle-aged man, Mark saluted as his father; the other as brother Peter. A few words explained what had happened. Mr Praeger immediately invited us all to his house, while Peter started off as fast as he could go to summon the doctor.
The house to which we were conducted was a picturesque, comfortable-looking building, constructed of wood, with a low pitched roof, and wide long verandah, up to which a flight of broad steps led us. We found a matronly-looking dame, with a bevy of young ones, standing in the verandah, evidently wondering at the number of guests Mr Praeger was bringing to the house. They were all activity on hearing the state of the occupants of the wagon, and hurried down the steps to assist in lifting in our wounded companions, for neither Charley nor Mark were able to walk. The captain, however, got up the steps by merely leaning on Mr Praeger's arm.
In a few minutes all three were placed in bed, Mrs Praeger declaring that it was the only place fit for either of them, though her son was certainly the most hurt.
The young ladies were so busy during the evening, flitting about here and there, that I could scarcely tell how many there were of them. I remarked, however, that one was taller than the others, very fair, and with a graceful figure. When Armitage—who had remained out of sight, looking after the horses—came in, she was not in the room, and it was some time before she returned. When she did so, he rose to his feet, and regarded her earnestly, while the colour mounted to his cheek and brow; then he bowed, and stood apparently irresolute whether to advance or retreat. She started on seeing him and then put out her hand. He sprang across the room and took it.
"I little expected to have the happiness of seeing you, Miss Hargrave," he said.
"Is it a happiness?" she asked, in a calm tone.
"Indeed it is," he replied. "I heard that you had left England, but could not ascertain to what part of the world you had gone."
What further passed between our friend and the young lady I cannot tell, as they lowered their voices, while they retired to a window at the other end of the room, Armitage forgetting all about his supper.
The ladies of the family, I should say, did not sit down to table, as they had already taken their evening meal, and insisted on waiting upon us.
Peter Praeger returned sooner than was expected with the doctor, whom he found on a visit to a family five or six miles off.
He gave a more favourable report of Dick and Charley than I expected, but young Mark, he said, would require the greatest possible care; a good constitution, however, he hoped, would enable him to pull through, though his hurts were of a most serious description.
I had no opportunity of speaking to Armitage before turning in, so I was unable to ascertain more about the young lady he had so unexpectedly met. The rest of the family were very nice and pretty girls, their manners much superior to what I had reasonably supposed would be found in the "Far West."
Soon after breakfast the next morning, I saw Armitage and Miss Hargrave walking out together, he having asked her to show him a beautiful view she had spoken of at the other end of the estate. The rest of the young ladies being occupied, Story and I lit our pipes, and were sitting smoking them in the verandah, when we were joined by Mr Praeger.
"Your companion appears to be an old friend of my young relative," he observed, as if apparently wishing to learn something about Armitage.
I replied that he was well known to Lieutenant Buntin, who spoke highly of him; and that he was evidently a man of some means, as we judged from his outfit and the number of his attendants, while we had found him a most excellent fellow in every respect.
"I'm glad to hear it, for the sake of my wife's young cousin Ellen," he answered. "She came out to us a few months ago, having lost her parents, and having no relatives for whom she cared in England. She had, however, very little idea of the rough style of life we are compelled to lead; but she at once got into our ways, though I observed what I could not account for, that she was often more melancholy than was consistent with her disposition. Now, however, I suspect the cause."
I fully agreed with our out-spoken host. I soon found that we were not likely to learn anything of the interesting subject from Armitage himself, for he was remarkably reticent, and I saw that it would not do to banter him, or allude in any way to it.
I must pass over several days, during which the doctor as well as the ladies of the family were unremitting in their attentions to the wounded men. The captain was soon himself again, though still too weak to travel; but Charley's wound took much longer to heal, and Mark was not likely to be on foot again for three or four weeks at soonest. In the meantime, Story and I, with our constant companion, Peter, rode over to the settlement to obtain the stores we required for our journey, as well as to replace our baggage mules.
While thus engaged, we found an old trapper also making purchases at the stores. He was tall and gaunt, his countenance weather beaten and sunburnt, of a ruddy brown hue, his hair—which hung over his shoulders—being only slightly grizzled, while his chin and face were smooth shaved. He was dressed in a hunting-frock of buckskin, and pantaloons of the same material ornamented down the seams with long fringes. On his feet he wore mocassins of Indian make; his head was covered by a neatly-made cap of beaver; an unusually large powder-horn was slung over his shoulders, together with a rifle, carefully covered up; while in his belt, in addition to a knife and tomahawk, he carried a brace of pistols with long barrels, showing that he was accustomed to travel amongst enemies, and was prepared to make a stout fight if he was attacked. On seeing us, he enquired who we were, where we had come from, and in what direction we were going.
We told him without hesitation.
"I guess the old hoss will go with you some of the way," he said. "Tell Master Praeger that Ben Folkard will pay him a visit before long, I can't say when. He knows me, and he knows when I say I'll do a thing I intend to do it."
We promised to give old Folkard's message, and soon afterwards we parted from him. Peter told us that he had heard his father speak of Ben Folkard as one of the most noted and skilful trappers of the Rocky Mountains, and that he never turned up without a large supply of skins and peltries.
We were fortunate in obtaining some fine Mexican mules and all the articles we required, though we had to pay somewhat highly for them. Well satisfied, we set off to return to Mr Praeger's. The houses and the stores were few and far between, the intermediate country being still in a state of nature. As our laden mules could not travel fast, we had to camp on the way. We chose a grassy spot near a wood, offering sufficient attractions to our animals to prevent them from straying, though of course we hobbled them as an additional security.
While Peter remained in camp, Story and I took our guns to get a turkey, or any other game which might come in our way. We had not gone far when
Story called my attention to an animal standing on the fallen trunk of a tree, and told me to keep back the dogs, which would be sure to suffer if they were to attack it. I was about to fire, when I caught sight of another animal of similar size with a long, thin body and sharp nose, which I at once recognised as a marten. It had apparently been watching the porcupine, who, unconscious of its approach, remained perfectly still, its spines scarcely visible. The marten was intent on taking its enemy by surprise; and, stealing up, threw itself on the unsuspicious porcupine before it had time even to raise its spines. The moment it felt itself seized, it began to lash its tail about and throw out its quills in all directions; but the marten, by its wonderful agility, escaped the blows aimed at it. In a short time it gained the victory, and was already sucking the blood of its victim when Story fired and hit it in the head. As the skin was of considerable value, we quickly flayed it, and with a couple of turkeys which we were fortunate enough to shoot, returned to camp, where, to our surprise, we found old Folkard seated smoking his pipe.
"I'm going along with you, boys," he said. "Good company isn't always to be got, and it's not always safe, while the Redskins are on the war-path, to travel through the country alone. You can help me and I can help you, so that we shall be quits."
We, of course, told the trapper that we should be very happy to have the benefit of his experience.
We passed the night quietly enough; but the next morning, to our excessive disgust, half the mules were missing. In spite of their hobbles, they had managed to get away. Peter and I with two men at once set off in search of them; but it was not until late in the day that we found the runaways. As soon as we had brought them back we started, but of course could make but a short distance. On camping, with the assistance of the old trapper we hobbled them more securely than on the previous night, and by his advice a watch was set, we all taking the duty in turns. Old Ben, however, excused himself from watching, declaring that his mules never ran away and that as he should have to keep wide awake during most nights by and by, he should prefer a sound sleep while he could get it.
To this we made no objection. We placed the packs on one side of our camp-fire, near which, having taken our suppers, the old trapper, Peter, and Story lay down to sleep; while I, with my rifle in my hand, walked off to look after the horses and mules. I kept walking up and down, keeping my eyes open, and when any of the animals appeared inclined to head off from the rest turned them back. The night was fine and the stars shone out brightly, but it was otherwise somewhat dark. At last I began to yawn and to wish heartily that Story would come and relieve me. Once or twice I heard cries in the distance very similar to those which had disturbed us when further to the west, but here, so near the settled districts, I thought nothing of the matter. I suspected that the cunning mules were watching me, for when I turned towards the camp to call Story, off one or two of them bolted. They had played me this trick two or three times, and at last one of them led me so long a chase that when I caught him I determined to punish the brute by securing him to a tree. Having done so I turned towards the camp, but the fire had burnt so low that I could scarcely see the spot. There was light enough, however, to enable me to distinguish several objects moving over the ground. Can they be Indians? I thought, as I ran forward hoping to arouse my companions in time to defend themselves. Before I got up to the camp, however, I saw what I at once knew to be a pack of wolves. On they came without bark or yelp, making straight for our baggage. Among the provisions we had purchased was a quantity of pemmican placed on the top. I really believe that the wolves, cunning as foxes, had surveyed our camp and knew exactly what to go in for. I shouted loudly, hoping to frighten them off and awaken my friends; but even old Ben was sleeping so soundly that for some time no one heard my voice, while I was afraid to fire at the wolves for fear—in the uncertain light—of hitting one of my sleeping companions. At length up sprang Story and Peter, and their cries aroused the old trapper. It was too late, however, to prevent the wolves making an onslaught on our baggage. Each seized something in his mouth, but our cries prevented them from remaining and devouring the whole of our provisions, which they undoubtedly otherwise would have done. Off they went, several of the rascals carrying bags of pemmican or of flour, or packages of hams in their mouths. I fired and stopped the career of one of them, while my companions, imitating my example, shot three others. We then, having reloaded, made chase and brought down two or three more.
We should have regained the whole of our provisions, but, in several instances, the moment a wolf was shot another brute seized his prize and made off with it. Under other circumstances we should not have expended powder on the brutes. We fired away, however, as long as any remained within shot, and on searching for the booty we recovered nearly the whole of it. Our chief loss was in our flour, as the animals, while grabbing the bags from each other, had well nigh torn them to pieces and let the contents run out.
Old Ben took matters very coolly, but Story and Peter were so vexed that they undertook to ride back and replace our loss, if we would consent to move on slowly with the rest of the animals. This we gladly did, the old trapper managing them with perfect ease. He said that he had seldom known a pack of wolves to come so far east, and advised that in future we should keep a sharp look-out lest we might encounter others.
Our friends overtook us the next day, and in the evening we reached Mr Praeger's. We found Dick quite recovered and ready to set off again; but it seemed doubtful whether Armitage would continue his expedition. It struck me that although Mr Praeger was very civil, he would be glad to have us go. To say the least, we occupied a great deal of the attention of the ladies of the family, and Charley hinted that honest Dick was somewhat spoony on one of them. Story had also been warm in his praises of another, and it struck me that the young lady's colour heightened and her eyes brightened when he spoke to her.
Mr Praeger seemed less contented with his location than I should have thought. He had evidently been captivated by the accounts of the wealth of California, and he made his "woman kind" somewhat uneasy by talking of travelling across the country, bag and baggage, to settle in the new Eldorado. They evidently had no wish to move; which was but natural, as they appeared to me to have everything they could desire, besides being free from the risk of Indian raids to which the settlers farther west were constantly exposed. Dick, Story and I now made active preparations for our departure; and, to my surprise, and much to our satisfaction, Armitage expressed his intention of accompanying us.
I thought that Ellen's countenance and those of some of the other young ladies had a shade of sadness on them as they saw us engaged in doing up our packs and trying our newly-bought mules. Dick and I each purchased a strong, active horse from Mr Praeger, for which we gave him long prices as some return for his hospitality; and we then presented him with our own steeds, which were likely to pick up muscle and flesh on his rich pastures.
Though he was as courteous as ever, he did not press us to stay, and at length, all our traps being prepared, we set off, accompanied by old Folkard, who did not even ask whether we wished for his society or not. Armitage remained behind, so I did not witness his parting with Miss Hargrave, but he soon galloped after us. Peter accompanied us as far as his brother's, to take the place of poor Mark, who was still unfit for work, though in a fair way of recovery. We spent a day with the young backwoodsmen, whose hearts were delighted with a present of a first-rate Joe Manton. Our intention was to push on for the base of the Rocky Mountains to a region where deer and buffalo and big-horns abounded. We shot several deer, but as we had come across no buffalo, the larger herds had, we supposed, moved northward. We had encamped one afternoon earlier than usual, being tempted to halt by a wide stream and a wood near at hand. Our fire being lighted and our meat put on to roast and stew, Armitage, Story, and I took our guns to go out in search of turkeys or other small game, should we be unable to find deer. Armitage took two of his dogs, though they often gave us more trouble than assistance in hunting. We had, however, been tolerably successful, and shot three fine gobblers and some smaller birds, when, as we were returning towards camp, the dogs gave tongue and started off to the right, refusing to return at their master's call.
We hurried on as fast as the rough nature of the ground would allow us. We were on the top of some low cliffs which had formed at some time or other of the world's history the side of a torrent now dried up and overgrown with trees. Presently we heard a cry of—
"Here, boys, help, help!"
At the same time one of the dogs leaped over the cliff, and we saw a short distance from us Charley struggling with a brown bear, providentially not a grizzly, which with great courage he had grasped by the throat so as to prevent the brute from biting him; but he was brought on his knees, his cap had fallen off, and his gun lay on the ground beside him. In another instant the bear would have seized his head, when the dog leaped down on the creature's back and caused a diversion in his favour. To fire would have been dangerous, for had we tried to kill the bear we should have run a fearful risk of shooting Charley. We therefore trusted to the assistance of the dogs, the other, following its companion, having fixed its teeth well into the bear. Charley manfully continued the contest, but was afraid of releasing his hold of the bear's throat lest it should bite him.
We shouted and shrieked, hoping to frighten Bruin, as we scrambled over the rocks. At length Charley, still holding the bear's throat with one hand, managed to get hold of his knife with the other, and in spite of the creature's claws round his waist, using all his strength he struck the weapon into its breast. The bear opened its paws as it felt the knife entering, and Charley, having driven the weapon home, sprang back, when the creature rolled over, almost crushing one of the dogs in its convulsive struggles. Before we could get up to the scene of the contest it was dead, and most thankful were we to find Charley wonderfully little injured, though his clothes were somewhat torn. Our young friend showed indeed remarkable nerve, for he scarcely even trembled, though his cheek was somewhat paler than usual from the desperate exertions he had made.
On examining the bear we found that it was an old one, and somewhat thin from want of food; its claws also were blunted from old age, which circumstance accounted for Charley's almost miraculous escape, for had it possessed its full strength a single hug would have pressed the life out of his body.
We congratulated him heartily on his preservation, and complimented him on the courage he had exhibited.
"Let us have the skin, at all events," he said. "I would sooner carry it on my own shoulders into camp than leave it behind."
"We'll not disappoint you, my boy," said Story; and he immediately began to flay the animal; but as its flesh was likely to prove tough, we left the carcase for the benefit of the prairie wolves.
While Story and I carried the skin between us, Armitage assisted Charley, who was less able to walk than he had at first supposed. A man cannot get even a moderate hug from a bear without suffering.
At the camp we found two strange Indians, who seemed disposed to be very friendly, and invited us to pay them a visit at their lodges only an hour's march off. One of them was a fine young fellow, dressed in a leathern jacket and leggings richly ornamented, while on his head he wore a circlet of feathers. He appeared to be greatly struck with Charley on hearing of his exploit with the bear, and putting out his hand, declared that they must henceforth be brothers.
Dick, though greatly delighted at hearing of Charley's behaviour, was much concerned on seeing the injuries he had received, which were more serious than we had at first supposed. He insisted on his turning into a hut which old Folkard and Pierre immediately set to work to construct.
Our guests begged that he might be conveyed to their wigwams, saying that their squaws would doctor him and soon restore his strength.
"They may be honest—those Shianees—but they may be rogues like many other Redskins," observed old Ben. "Better not trust them."
We therefore thanked our guests, but declined their offer for the present, saying that our young companion was unfit to be moved, though we hoped to pay them a visit on the following day.
They, nothing abashed, continued to squat round the fire, smoking tobacco and quaffing with evident pleasure the small glasses of usquebaugh which Dick bestowed upon them. Armitage objected, however, to the captain's giving them liquor.
"Let them take as much as they've a fancy to," said Ben. "It won't do them any harm once in a way, and it will let us know what they are thinking about."
Our guests having drunk the whisky, showed the same friendly disposition as at first, nor did they complain when Dick refused to give them any more.