Dick Onslow; or The Adventures of Dick Onslow among the Redskins, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This story takes place mainly in or near the Rocky Mountains of North America, as we follow the adventures of a member of an emigrant party during their move to California.
Rattle-snakes, bears, rock-slides, avalanches, steep descents, and many other hazards, to say nothing of numerous attacks by unfriendly tribes of Red Indians, fill the pages of this book with terrifying and perilous situations. Not a long book, but very good value.
DICK ONSLOW; or THE ADVENTURES OF DICK ONSLOW AMONG THE REDSKINS, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
MY FRIENDS THE RAGGETS—OUR PROPOSED MIGRATION—JOURNEY COMMENCED— ATTACK OF THE INDIANS—A SHOT THROUGH MY LEG—HORRIBLE ANTICIPATIONS— HIDE IN A BUSH—CLIMB A TREE—MY THOUGHTS IN MY CONCEALMENT—LISTEN IN EXPECTATION OF AN ATTACK—STARVING IN THE MIDST OF PLENTY—SOME ONE APPROACHES—I PREPARE TO FIRE.
In few countries can more exciting adventures be met with than in Mexico and the southern and western portions of North America; in consequence of the constantly disturbed state of the country, the savage disposition of the Red Indians, and the numbers of wild animals, buffaloes, bears, wolves, panthers, jaguars, not to speak of alligators, rattlesnakes, and a few other creatures of like gentle nature. My old school-fellow, Dick Onslow, has just come back from those regions; and among numerous incidents by flood and field sufficient to make a timid man's hair stand on end for the rest of his days, he recounted to me the following:—
After spending some time among those ill-conditioned cut-throat fellows, the Mexicans, I returned to the States. Having run over all the settled parts, of which I got a tolerable bird's-eye view, I took it into my head that I should like to see something of real backwoodsman's life. Soon getting beyond railways, I pushed right through the State of Missouri till I took up my abode on the very outskirts of civilisation, in a log-house, with a rough honest settler, Laban Ragget by name. He had a wife and several daughters and small children, and five tall sons, Simri, Joab, Othni, Elihu, and Obed, besides two sisters of his wife's and a brother of his own, Edom Ragget by name. I never met a finer set of people, both men and women. It was a pleasure to see the lads walk up to a forest, and a wonder to watch how the tall trees went down like corn stalks before the blows of their gleaming axes. They had no idea I was a gentleman by birth. They thought I was the son of a blacksmith, and they liked me the better for it.
Some months passed away; I had learned to use my axe as well as any of them, and a fine large clearing had been made, when the newspapers, of which we occasionally had one, told us all about the wonderful gold-diggings in California. At last we talked of little else as we sat round the big fire in the stone chimney during the evenings of winter. Neighbours dropped in and talked over the matter also. There was no doubt money was to be made, and quickly too, by men with strong arms and iron constitutions. We all agreed that if any men were fit for the work, we were. I was the weakest of the party, do ye see? (Dick stands five feet ten in his shoes, and is as broad-shouldered as a dray man.)
Just then, an oldish man with only two stout sons and a small family drove into the forest with a light wagon and a strong team of horses, to look about him, as he said, for a location. He came to our house, and Laban and he had a long talk.
"Well, stranger," said Laban, "I guess you couldn't do better than take my farm, and give me your team and three hundred dollars; I've a mind to go further westward."
The offer was too good to be refused. The bargain was struck, and in two days, several other settlers having got rid of their farms, a large party of us were on our way to cross the Rocky Mountains for California. The women, children, and stuff were in Laban's two wagons. Other settlers had their wagons also. The older men rode; I, with the younger, walked, with our rifles at our backs, and our axes and knives in our belts. I had, besides, a trusty revolver, which had often stood me in good stead.
We were not over-delicate when we started, and we soon got accustomed to the hard life we had to lead, till camping-out became a real pleasure rather than an inconvenience. We had skin tents for the older men, and plenty of provisions, and as we kept along the banks of the rivers, we had abundance of grass and water for the horses. At last we had to leave the forks of the Missouri river, and to follow a track across the desolate Nebraska country, over which the wild Pawnees, Dacotahs, Omahas, and many other tribes of red men rove in considerable numbers. We little feared them, however, and thought much more of the herds of wild buffaloes we expected soon to have the pleasure both of shooting and eating.
We had encamped one night close to a wood near Little Bear Creek, which runs into the Nebraska river. The following morning broke with wet and foggy weather. It would have been pleasant to have remained in camp, but the season was advancing, and it was necessary to push on. All the other families had packed up and were on the move; Laban's, for a wonder, was the last. The women and children were already seated in the lighter wagon, and Obed Ragget and I were lifting the last load into the other, and looking round to see that nothing was left behind, when our ears were saluted with the wildest and most unearthly shrieks and shouts, and a shower of arrows came whistling about our ears. "Shove on! shove on!" we shouted to Simri and Joab, who were at the horses' heads; "never mind the tent." They lashed the horses with their whips. The animals plunged forward with terror and pain, for all of them were more or less wounded. We were sweeping round close to the edge of the wood, and for a moment lost sight of the rest of the party. Then, in another instant, I saw them again surrounded by Indian warriors, with plumes of feathers, uplifted hatchets, and red paint, looking very terrible. The women were standing up in the wagon with axes in their hands, defending themselves bravely. A savage had seized one of the children and was dragging it off, when Mrs Ragget struck with all her might at the red-skin's arm, and cut it clean through; the savage drew back howling with pain and rage. Old Laban in the meantime, with his brother and two others, kept in front, firing away as fast as they could load while they ran on: for they saw if once the redskins could get hold of the horses' heads, they would be completely in their power. All this time several of the things were tumbling out of the wagon, but we could not stop to pick them up. Why the rest of the party, who were ahead, did not come back to our assistance, I could not tell. I thought that they also were probably attacked. We four ran on for some way, keeping the Indians at a respectful distance, for they are cowardly rascals— notwithstanding all the praise bestowed on them—if courageously opposed. I was loading my rifle, and then taking aim at four mounted Indians who appeared on the right with rifles in their hands. They fired, but missed me, as I meantime was dodging them behind the wagon. During this, I did not see where Obed was. I hit one of them, and either Simri or Joab, who fired at the same time, hit another. The other two wheeled round, and with some companions, hovered about us at some little distance. Just then, not hearing Obed's voice, I looked round. He was nowhere to be seen. I was shouting to his brothers to stop and go back with me to look for him, when half-a-dozen more Indians, joining the others, galloped up at the same moment to attack the headmost wagon. Simri and Joab, lashing their horses, rushed on to the assistance of their family. The savages fired. I was springing on when I felt myself brought to the ground, grasping my rifle, which was loaded. A shot had gone right through both my legs. I tried with desperate struggles to get up, but could not lift myself from the ground. All the horror of my condition crowded into my mind. To be killed and scalped was the best fate I could expect. Just as I was about to give way to despair, I thought I would make an attempt to save my life. From my companions I could expect no help, for even if they succeeded in preserving their own lives they would scarcely be in a condition to come back and rescue me. Poor Obed I felt pretty sure must have been killed. A small stream with some bushes growing on its banks was near at hand. I dragged myself towards it, and found a pretty close place of concealment behind one of the bushes. Thence I could look out. The wagons were still driving along furiously across the prairie with the Indians hovering about them on either side, evidently waiting for a favourable moment to renew the attack. Thus the whole party, friends and foes, vanished from my sight in the fog. To stay where I was would only lead to my certain destruction, for when the Indians returned, as I knew they would, to carry off my scalp, the trail to my hiding-place would at once be discovered. I felt, too, that if I allowed my wounds to grow stiff, I might not be able to move at all. Suffering intense agony, therefore, I dragged myself down into the stream. It was barely deep enough to allow me to swim had I had strength for the purpose, and crawl I thought I could not. So I threw myself on my back, and holding my rifle, my powder-flask, and revolver above my breast, floated down till I reached the wood we had just passed. The branches of the trees hung over the stream. I seized one which I judged would bear my weight, and lifting myself up by immense exertion, of which, had it not been for the cooling effects of the water, I should not have been capable, I crawled along the bough. I had carefully avoided as much as possible disturbing the leaves, lest the redskins should discover my retreat. I worked my way up, holding my rifle in my teeth, to the fork of the branch, and then up to where several of the higher boughs branched off and formed a nest where I could remain without fear of falling off. I was completely concealed by the thickness of the leaves from being seen by any one passing below, and I trusted, from the precautions I had taken, that the Indians would not discover my trail. Still, such cunning rogues are they, that it is almost impossible to deceive them. My great hope was that they might not find out that I had fallen, and so would not come to look for me. As I lay in my nest, I listened attentively, and thought that I could still hear distant shots, as if my friends had at all events not given in. Still it might only have been fancy. My wounds, when I had time to think about them, were very painful. I bound them up as well as I could—the water had washed away the blood and tended to stop inflammation. The sun rose high in the heavens. Not a sound was heard except the wild cry of the eagle or kite, blending with the song of the thrush and the mocking-bird, interrupted every now and then by the impudent observation of a stray parrot and the ominous rattle of a huge snake as it wound its way among the leaves. Every moment I expected to hear the grunts and cries of the redskins, as with tomahawk in hand they came eagerly searching about for me. I durst not move to look around. They might come talking carelessly, or they might steal about in dead silence, if they suspected that I was still alive.
I thus passed the day. I did sometimes think that I should have been wiser had I remained within the bounds of civilisation, instead of wandering about the world without any adequate motive. The reflection, too, that the end of my days was approaching, came suddenly upon me with painful force. How had I spent those days? I asked myself. What good had I done in the world? How had I employed the talents committed to me? I remembered a great many things I had been told as a child by my mother, and which had never occurred to me since. The more I thought, the more painful, the more full of regrets, grew my thoughts. I am bound to tell you all this. I am not ashamed of my feelings. I believe those thoughts did me a great deal of good. I blessed my mother for all she had taught me, and I prayed as I had never prayed before. After this I felt much comforted and better prepared for death than I had been till then. The day passed slowly away. Darkness came on. I grew very hungry and faint, for I had no food in my pocket, and had taken nothing since the morning. Had I not been wounded, that would have been a trifle; I had often gone a whole day without eating, with, perhaps, a lap of water every now and then from a cool stream. I could not sleep a wink during the whole night. At times I hoped that if my friends were victorious they might return to learn what had become of poor Obed and me. In vain was the hope. The night wore on, the dawn returned. I tried to stretch my legs; I found that I could not move them.
The hours of the next day passed slowly by; I thought I heard the cries and shrieks of the redskins in the distance—they seemed to draw nearer and nearer—they were entering the wood—yes, I was certain of it—they got close up to my tree—as I looked down, I saw their hideous, malicious faces gazing up at me, eager for my destruction. Then suddenly I became aware that they were only creatures of my imagination, conjured up through weakness and hunger. All was again silent. "If this state of things continues, I shall certainly drop from my hold," I thought. Then suddenly I remembered that I had some tobacco in my pocket. Edom Ragget had handed it to me to cut up for him. I put a piece in my mouth, and chewed away at it. I felt much better. The evening came; my apprehensions about the Indians decreased. Still I knew that if I once got down the tree, I might not be able to ascend it again, and might become a prey to wild beasts or rattlesnakes, as I felt that I could not stand for a moment, much less walk a yard. Having fastened my rifle to a branch, I secured one of my arms round another, that I might not drop off, and at last fell into a deep sleep. Next morning I awoke, feeling much better, though very hungry. As I lay without moving, I observed a racoon playing about a branch close to me. "Although there may be a hundred red-skins in the neighbourhood, I must have that fellow for my breakfast," I said to myself. I released my rifle and fired. Down fell the racoon at the foot of the tree. "He is of no use to me unless I can get hold of him, and even could I pick him up, I must eat him raw, as I have no means of lighting a fire where I am," said I to myself. While this thought passed rapidly through my mind, I heard a sound at some distance. It was, I felt sure, that of a human voice. I quickly reloaded my rifle, and, with my finger on the trigger, sat in readiness for whatever might occur.
A FRIEND IN NEED—HOW TWO PEOPLE MAY LIVE WHILE ONE WILL STARVE—OBED GOES IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURES, AND I AWAKE TO FIND A RATTLESNAKE CLOSE TO MY NOSE—I AM SAVED—OBED RETURNS, BUT FOLLOWED BY A GENTLEMAN WHOSE ROOM WOULD BE MORE PLEASANT THAN HIS COMPANY—OBED CANNOT FIRE, AND I CANNOT RUN, BUT I SAVE HIM BY SITTING STILL—WE ANTICIPATE THE PLEASURE OF DINING ON BEAR'S FLESH—OBED FETCHES AND CARRIES LIKE A DOG, AND WE FARE SUMPTUOUSLY—I TAKE TO CRUTCHES—WE COLLECT STORES AND MAKE A TENT—A RED-SKIN VISITOR.
I kept, as I was saying, my finger on the trigger, and my eye along the barrel of my rifle, fully expecting to see a Pawnee's red visage appear through the bushes. I knew that the dead racoon would betray me; so I resolved to fight it out to the last, and to sell my life dearly. I heard footsteps approaching—slowly and watchfully I thought: I peered down out of my leafy cover; the branches of the surrounding shrubs were pushed aside, and there, instead of the feathers and red face of an Indian, I saw the honest countenance of young Obed Ragget, looking cautiously about him on every side.
"Obed! Obed! I am here," I sung out; "come and help me, lad." He sprang on when he heard my voice.
"What, Dick! is that you? Well, I am glad you have escaped, that I am," he exclaimed, looking up into the tree.
"So am I to see you," I cried; "but help me down, lad, for I cannot help myself, I fear."
"That is more than I can do," said he. "Look; the red-skins have shot me through both arms, and I can no more use them than I can fly."
I now observed that he looked very pale and weak, and that both his arms hung down uselessly by his side. One thing also I saw, that as he could not manage to get up to me, I must contrive to descend the tree to meet him. Tearing, therefore, a neck-kerchief up into strips, I lowered my gun and pistols down by it, and then prepared to descend myself. I made it secure, as close to the trunk as I could, and grasping the short boughs which grew out from the trunk, I threw my chief weight upon them, while I steadied myself with the line I had made; keeping my useless legs stretched out, lest I should fall on them, I gradually lowered myself to the foot of the tree. We could not shake hands, but we greeted each other most warmly. Obed complained bitterly of thirst, for he had not moved out of the first shelter into which he had crawled, and did not know how near the stream was. I accordingly put my hat into his mouth, and told him to stoop down where the stream was deepest, and to ladle up some water. This he did, and then kneeling down I held the hat to his mouth, while he drank. I took a draught myself, and never have I enjoyed so much the choicest beverage in my father's house as I did that cool draught.—I now pointed to the racoon, and asked him if he was hungry.
"Very," was his answer; "I could eat that brute raw."
"No need of that," said I; "just collect materials, and we will quickly have a fire." Obed understood me, and with his feet soon kicked together a pile of sticks and leaves sufficient to make a good fire. I had a flint and steel, and we speedily had the bacon spitted and roasting on some forked sticks before it in proper woodman's style. The food revived us both, and restored our spirits. We neither of us were inclined to despondency; still we could not help thinking, with sad feelings, of what might have befallen our friends, and what might too probably be our own fate. As Obed could not help himself, he had to sit down close to me while I fed him; and when we had done, he assisted me to remove myself away from the fire. I then dressed his wounds as well as I could, bathing them freely in cold water. Some sinews were cut through, I suspected, which prevented him from moving his arms, but no bones were broken; and, in consequence of his fine constitution and temperate habits, I trusted that he would recover the use of them. I was in a worse condition, for both my legs were so much hurt that I could not hope to walk on them for many weeks to come. However, my upper limbs were in good case; and we agreed that, with a pair of strong arms and stout legs between us, we might both get on very well. Obed had left his gun in the thicket into which he had dragged it when he fell. It was discharged, and so he went for it, bringing it to me in his teeth, that I might clean and reload it. As he could not use it, he left it by my side; and we had now our two rifles, and his and my revolver pistols; so that I felt, with my back to a tree, cripple as I was, I might prove a formidable adversary either to man or beast. While Obed and I sat near the fire, talking over our prospects, we remembered that a number of things had dropped from the wagons; so he volunteered to set out in order to discover whether they had been carried off by the Indians.
"Farewell, Dick," said he, as he rose to go. "If I don't come back you'll know those varmint redskins have got my scalp; but though I can't use my arms, they'll find I can use my legs before they catch me."
With many misgivings I saw him make his way out from the thicket. When he was gone I lay back with my head on my arm, thinking over many of the events of my past life, and contrasting them with my present condition, till at length my eyes closed, and I forgot all recent events in sleep. I believe that I slept very soundly without stirring my legs or arms. At last my eyes slowly opened, and horrible indeed was the spectacle which met them. The embers of the fire were before me, and close to it, as if to enjoy its warmth, lay coiled up a huge rattlesnake not two yards from me. In an instant of time I felt that its deadly fangs might be fixed in my throat. What use to me now were my fire-arms? I dared not move my hand to reach my revolver. I knew that I must not wink even an eyelid, or the deadly spring might be made. The snake was, I dare say, nearly six feet long. It had a body almost as thick as my leg—of a yellowish-brown colour, with some dark-brown spots reaching from one end to the other; and oh, that head, as it slowly raised it with its vicious eyes to have a look at me! It was of large size, flat, and covered with scales. I gazed at the rattlesnake, and the rattlesnake gazed at me. What he thought of me I do not know; I thought him a most hideous monster, and wished him anywhere but where he was. It seemed an age that I thus lay, not daring even to draw a breath. I felt at last that I must give up the contest. I prayed for mercy. The oppression on my chest became almost insupportable. Still I dared not move. The deadly reptile stretched out its head—slowly it began to uncoil itself—the dread sound of its rattle struck my ear. I felt that now I must muster all my nerve and resolution, or be lost; the huge reptile stretched itself out and slowly crawled on—oh, horror!—it passed directly over my wounded legs! Not a muscle quivered. I dared not look up to ascertain whether it was gone. A minute must have elapsed—it seemed to me a much longer time—and then, and not till then, a shout reached my ear. It was the voice of Obed. Probably the snake had heard it, and it was that, I have no doubt, which made him move away under the belief that I was a dead person, who at all events could do him no harm. My first impulse was to look round to discover what had become of the snake. He was nowhere to be seen! My next was to turn my eyes in the direction whence the shouting proceeded. There I saw Obed rushing along as fast as his legs could carry him among the trees.
"Be ready with your rifle, Dick," he shouted out at the top of his voice; "not a moment to lose, man."
I fully expected to see half a dozen red-skins following close at his heels, and resolved to defend him to the last, and to sell my own life dearly, although I had to fight on my stumps, when the boughs of the trees were torn away behind him, and a huge bear appeared, grinning horribly, in a great rage, and evidently prepared to do mischief to somebody or something. Had Obed been able to use his arms, he was the last person to have placed another in danger for the sake of trying to save himself. Now, however, he had no choice but to run behind me and the fire. Bruin trotted on, growling angrily. He was one of those long-headed, small-eyed fellows, with pointed nose, clumsy body, and smooth, glossy, black hair, which have a fancy for pork and ham, and will put their paws into a corn bin if they find it open. When he got near, as he reared up on his hind paws ready for a fight, and came on towards me, I grasped my rifle and aimed at his head. If I missed him, I should scarcely have had time, I feared, to seize Obed's rifle before he would have been upon me. I knew that his body was so encased with fat that it would be difficult to wound him vitally through that. I fired: the bullet hit him in the head, but still he came on, gnashing his teeth. I lifted my second rifle. I could not well have missed him had I been standing up or kneeling, but sitting, as I was, it was difficult to take a steady aim. He was about ten paces off: again I fired. I felt sure that I had not missed, but with a terrific growl he bounded on towards me. I had barely time to grasp a revolver when he was close up to me. Already I felt his hot breath in my face; his huge claws had hold of my limbs; he was trying to clasp me round the body: his muzzle, with its sharp teeth, touched on my shoulder. Poor Obed, who was standing behind me, unable to render me assistance, literally shrieked with fear, not for himself, but for me. In another moment I felt that I must be torn to pieces. I mustered all my nerve. It was much wanted. I waited a moment till I could aim steadily at his head. I fired. He gave me a terrific hug. It was his death grapple. As it was, it very nearly squeezed the breath out of my body. Then he rolled over and lay motionless. I did not roll after him, but lest he should only be shamming 'coon, I dragged myself as far-off as I could to reload my weapons.
"No fear, Dick, he's dead," cried Obed joyfully. "Well, you're a friend at a pinch, as I always thought you."
It would not have been in his way to express his thanks by more than this, still I knew by his looks that he was grateful to me. In reality I had only fought in self-defence, so I do not know that he had anything to thank me for.
"Old Bruin will afford us many a good dinner, at all events, I hope," said I. "And do you know, Obed, you and the bear saved my life just now between you." And then I told him how his shouts had, I believed, scared away the rattlesnake. "So you see, old fellow, we are quits."
Obed having ascertained by a hearty kick that Bruin was really dead, I attached my rope to his waist and then to the bear, and by its means we dragged the carcass a little way from our camping-ground. He then came back and helped me along that I might cut some steaks for our supper. We cooked them in the same way we had done the racoon. While the operation was going forward he gave me an account of his adventures. He had found a number of things which had fallen from the wagon, and, wonderful to relate, they were untouched. There was the skin tent which we had not put into the wagon, and a cask of flour and one of beef, and, what we thought of still more value, a bag of bullets and some small shot, and a keg of powder, besides another rifle and an axe; while farther on, he said that there were several other smaller articles along the road the wagon had gone. It was close to the cask of flour he had encountered Bruin, who had undoubtedly been attracted to the spot with the hope of appropriating it. One prize Obed brought in his mouth; it was a tin saucepan, and very valuable we found it. Our difficulty was now to collect all these things. Obed offered to try and drag them together to one spot, if he could but manage to hook himself on to them. That day we could do nothing; so that after he had collected a large supply of firewood, we placed our backs to a tree and commended ourselves to the care of that great God who had so mercifully preserved our lives. We agreed that one should watch while the other slept, and most faithfully did we keep our pledge to each other. Several days passed without any great variation in our mode of proceeding. We cut the bear up into thin slices, and dried them in the sun. Obed also went round about the wood and drove in the wild turkeys, racoons, squirrels, and other small game, which I shot. We were thus supplied with meat. There were also plenty of herbs, the nature of which both he and I knew, and which, though not of delicate flavour, were wholesome, and helped to keep us in health. The weather also was very fine, and thus several days passed away. At last I bethought me that if I could make a pair of crutches, I might, with Obed's help, get over the ground. Two young saplings, towards which I dragged myself, were soon cut down, and in a couple of days I was once more upright. I could only at first move very slowly, and with great dread of falling; but by constant practice, in the course of a week I thought I might venture out of the wood. Obed's arms were also gaining strength, and one of them he could already use a little, and was thus enabled to help me. I slung the rifles over his back, and, sticking the revolvers in my belt, off we set together. We moved slowly, but still we went ahead. At last we reached the tent. It struck us at once that it would be well to pitch it where it lay on our old camping-ground. Wherever we might be Indians would find us out, so that it would make no difference whether we were in or out of the wood, and we might see either emigrants to California moving west, or the post to one of the forts, and thus obtain assistance. Obed and I soon got up the tent. I sat down, and he made his shoulders serve as a prop while I stuck in the pole, and thus in a few minutes we had a comfortable roof over our heads.
While we were at work, it struck me that if I could make a sort of sleigh, it would facilitate the operation of bringing in our goods. I set to work immediately, and in the course of two days, manufactured a machine which answered our purpose. The season was advancing, the nights were getting cold, and there was no time to be lost in collecting the articles which we might require to preserve our lives through the winter, should no one, before it set in, pass that way to rescue us. Accordingly, we once more proceeded on our expedition. Sometimes I walked on my crutches, and at others Obed dragged me along on the sleigh. Certainly we were a notable example of the advantage of two people working in concert. Alone we must have perished; together, though injured so severely, we were able to live and comfort each other. We never had even the slightest dispute; and though surrounded by difficulties and dangers, and anxious about our friends, we were far from unhappy. I have often thought that if people who are living in the midst of all sorts luxuries and advantages would but follow the example of Obed Ragget and me, they would be very much the happier.
Our first care was to get the kegs of powder and shot, for our stock was almost exhausted; and with those, and a bundle of blankets, we returned to our tent.
To make a long story short, in the course of a week we had collected everything to be seen; and had settled ourselves very comfortably in our new home. We also surrounded our tent with stacks of firewood, which would serve as a barricade should we be attacked, at any time, by the red-skins.
The exertion we went through, however, had fatigued us excessively, and opened our wounds afresh; so that for some days we were unable to quit the precincts of our tent. We had made ourselves beds by placing sticks close together on the ground, and covering them with leaves, over which we spread our blankets; and we agreed, as we lay stretched out on them, that we were much better off than many poor fellows who had not beds to lie on. I crawled out occasionally to light the fire, and to cook our food, while Obed had to go to the river to get water. To prevent the necessity of doing this so frequently, after we were both a little rested, we emptied our beef cask, and carried it down on the sleigh to the river, that we might fill it with water. This being done, we found that we had over-calculated our strength, and had once more to take to our beds. Several days more passed away, during which we scarcely moved. Obed, too, had become very silent. I saw that something was passing in his mind. After a time I asked him what it was.
"Why, Dick," said he, "I'm thinking that though we seem to have a good supply of food, it won't last two hungry fellows all the winter, even if we were to put ourselves on half allowance. Now my arms will soon be well, and if I could make my way to one of the forts, I might bring you assistance. I'll take a supply of powder and shot, and keep my eyes open to look out for the red-skins. What do you say to it?"
I told him that I did not like the idea of his running so great a risk for my sake.
"Oh, don't fear for me," he replied; "it's right that it should be done, I'm certain of that, so I'll do it."
I said nothing more. I knew when Obed thus expressed himself, he was in earnest. Several more days rolled slowly by. We slept a good deal in the daytime; perhaps under our circumstances it was the best thing we could do. One afternoon I had been asleep some time, and Obed was snoring away on the other side of the tent, when I opened my eyes, and then I saw, glaring at me through the doorway of the tent, the hideous countenance of a red-skin warrior, horribly covered with paint and decked with coloured feathers. While with his left hand he lifted up the curtain, in his right he grasped his tomahawk, which quivered with his eagerness to take possession of our scalps.
THE RED-SKIN PROVES TO BE A FRIEND—HE AND OBED LEAVE ME ALONE IN MY GLORY—I FORTIFY MYSELF FOR THE WINTER—VISITED BY WOLVES—A TERRIFIC STORM—THE WOLVES MY NIGHTLY VISITORS—I KILL SOME AND EAT THEN, BUT FIND THEM O'ER TEUCH—AN OBJECT MOVING IN THE DISTANCE—RED-SKINS AND ENEMIES—I PREPARE FOR THEIR RECEPTION—I KILL ONE OF THEM—A FEARFUL STRUGGLE—I ENDEAVOUR TO OBLITERATE THE SIGNS OF THIS VISIT—MY TERRIBLE SOLITUDE—MORE WOLVES AND MORE INDIANS—I PREPARE A BANQUET FOR THEM— THE SUSPICIONS OF MY GUESTS AROUSED—THE UNPLEASANT TERMINATION TO OUR FEAST.
Obed and I were not easily taken by surprise. Our hands instinctively clutched our rifles, and in a moment the breast of the Indian was covered by their muzzles. The eye of the red-skin did not quail—not a limb trembled. He gazed on us calmly, and his hand continued to hold aside the skin which formed the door of our tent, while he spoke a few words in a low, quiet voice. I did not understand them, but Obed did.
"Don't fire, Dick," said Obed; "he is a Delaware, a friend to the white men. Come in, friend Delaware, take your seat by our fire, and tell us what has brought you here," continued Obed, addressing the Indian.
The Delaware, letting drop the skin door, came in, and, stirring up the embers of our almost extinguished fire, sat himself down on a log of wood placed before it. He spoke a jargon which he thought was English, and which both Obed and I understood, but which I cannot now repeat, any more than I could convey an idea of the deep guttural tones of his voice. They seemed to come from the very depths of his inside.
"I travel alone," said the red-skin. "I have a long journey to perform, to carry a letter I have undertaken to deliver at Fort Grattan. I was beginning to despair of accomplishing it, for my powder has been destroyed, and thus food was difficult to obtain. When I first saw the smoke of your fire, I thought it might come from the wigwams of some Pawnees, and my heart bounded when I saw from its appearance that your tent must belong to white men." From this hint given, Obed at once placed a supply of food before the Indian, who did ample justice to it. We then lighted our pipes, and all three sat smoking over the fire. The Delaware urgently advised us not to attempt to spend the approaching winter in that place, but to accompany him to the fort. I saw the soundness of his council, but assured him that I could not attempt to walk half a dozen miles, much less could I hope to make so long a journey.
"Then it is better that one should come and bring back succour to the other than that both should perish," urged the Delaware. To this I agreed, and told Obed he must go. He had been ready to go alone when the risk was greater; but now he did not like to leave me. I met all his arguments, and telling him that if he wished to save my life, as well as his own, he must go. I ultimately made him consent to accompany the Indians. Before starting, they took every means to increase my comforts. They filled the water-casks, collected a quantity of herbs, and a supply of firewood, and shot as much game as I could consume while it was fresh. The Delaware lay down to sleep that night in our tent. I was convinced from his manner and mode of speaking that he was honest. I never saw a man sleep more soundly—not a limb stirred the whole night through; he looked more like a dead person, or a lay figure, than a being with life. Suddenly, as the morning light broke through the tent, he sprang up, and, shaking himself, in a moment was all energy and activity. "Ugh! I have not slept so soundly for many a night, and may not sleep so soundly for many a night more!" he exclaimed, in his peculiar dialect. We lighted our fire, boiled our kettle, and then all three sat down to a hearty breakfast. It was the last I should probably take in company for many a weary day; still I resolved not to be down-hearted, and especially to preserve a serene and contented countenance.
The Delaware replenished his powder-flask, and taking a small supply of provisions, he and Obed bade me farewell. I could only wring the latter's hand; I don't think we exchanged a word at parting. I watched them as their figures grew less and less, and finally disappeared in the distance, and then indeed I felt very lonely. Perhaps there was not a human being within a hundred miles of me except the two who had just gone away; or should there be, he was very likely to prove an enemy. The idea of being thus alone in a wilderness was grand, but it was somewhat appalling and trying to the nerves. How long would Obed be absent? I thought to myself. Three weeks or a month at shortest. Could I manage to preserve existence for that length of time? I was still weak and ill, and could scarcely crawl about, so I spent the greater portion of my time on my couch. I placed my firearms close at hand around me, so that I might seize them in a moment. My fire-place was a hole in the middle of the tent, almost within reach of my skin-covered couch; there were no linen sheets to catch fire; my tub of water was near it, and my stock of provisions hung overhead. The sky I saw when I looked out had for some days been giving indications of a snow-storm. It came at last, and winter set in. The drifting snow quickly found its way through the minutest hole in the tent skins. To prevent this, I beat it down firmly all round the edge, stopping every crevice, and I raised a pile of logs before the door. "I don't think I should mind a fight with a dozen red-skins," I thought to myself; "but those wolves—I don't like them." The wolves I dreaded (and not without reason) found me out at last. The wind was roaring and whistling among the leafless trees, the snow was beating against my tent, and the night was as dark as Erebus, when a low, distant howl saluted my ears—heard even above the tempest. It continued increasing, till it broke into a wild chorus of hideous shrieks. I had no dread of ghostly visitors. I would rather have faced a whole array of the most monstrous hobgoblins, than have felt that I was surrounded, as I knew I was, by a herd of those brutes—the wolves.
Till almost morning they continued their ugly concert; but they have a natural fear of man, and it is only when pressed by hunger that they will attack him. The ground, however, was now completely covered with snow, and I knew that they would find but little food. As I could not venture out, most of the day passed away in a half-unconscious dreamy state; part of it I slept. The next night I was awoke soon after dark by the wolfish chorus; it was much nearer than before. The sounds formed themselves into words to my disordered senses. "We'll eat you up; we'll eat you up ere long," they appeared to say. A third night came. The pack seemed increased in numbers, as if they had been collecting from every quarter. I fancied that I could hear their feet crackling on the crisp snow as they scampered round and round the tent. That night they brought their circle closer and closer, till I fully expected that they would commence their attack. Still they held off, and with the morning light took their departure. I watched the next night setting in with a nervous dread. As soon as darkness spread over the snow-covered face of the country, on the horrid pack came, scampering up from all quarters.
Nearer and nearer approached the cries and howls. They commenced as before, scampering round the tent, and every time it seemed narrowing the circle. I knew that they must be closer to me. I stirred up my fire with a long stick I kept by me for that purpose, and I felt sure I saw the impression of their noses as, having smelled me out, they pressed them against the sides of the tent in their endeavours to find an entrance. I looked for the biggest bump, and took aim with my revolver. There was a loud snarl and cry, and then a shrieking and howling as the horrid pack scampered off into the distance. I had to get up and patch the hole made by my bullet, but I did not look out to see what had become of the wolf I had hit. I heard the animals howling away the livelong night in the distance. They did not, however, venture back again that night.
I had now been ten days alone, as I knew by a small bag I kept, into which I every day, when I awoke, put a bean. I should completely have lost all count of time without some such contrivance. The cold was becoming very bitter; still my health was improving, and I felt myself stronger than I had been since I was wounded. The perfect rest had tended to cure me. I thought that I would get up and walk about, to recover more completely the use of my limbs. It was necessary to replenish my stock of water before the stream was completely frozen over, as snow-water is not considered wholesome for a continuance. I had plenty of clothes and skins, and I required them, for a piercing wind blew across the wild prairie, which, unless thus protected, I could not have faced. The exercise did me good. I now went out every day, constantly returning to feed my fire and to warm myself. I replenished my stock of water, and got a further supply of wood, that I might not run short of that necessary article. I was most concerned about my provisions, which were diminishing sadly. I therefore always took my rifle out with me, in the hopes of getting a shot at a stray buffalo or deer going south, but all had gone; none passed near me. The woods, too, were now deserted; not a bird was to be seen; even the snakes and the 'coons had hid themselves in their winter habitations. A dead silence reigned over the whole country during the day. I wish it had equally reigned during the night. Daylight and the smoke of my fire kept the wolves away, but night after night they came back and howled as before. I used at last to sleep some hours every day, and sit up all night with my pistols by my side, ready to shoot them. Now and then the grinning jaws of one of them would force its way in at the entrance of the tent. I seldom passed a night without killing one or two of these intruders. I every morning cut off what I thought would prove the tenderest portion, and dragged the rest of the carcass away. I would not, however, advise anybody to feed upon wolf's flesh if they can get anything better. More tough and nauseous morsels I never attempted to swallow; but it was necessary to economise the rest of my provisions.
I one day went out as usual to exercise my limbs and look for a chance shot. There was a fine clear sky overhead, not a breath of air was stirring, and my blood was soon in circulation. I felt more up to anything than I had done for a long time. I reached the only elevation in the neighbourhood, near the bank of the creek, when, turning my glance round on every side, I saw in the far distance towards the north-west, two specks on the surface of the dazzling expanse of white spread out before me. I watched—the specks were moving, they might be deer, or they might be wolves, but from the way they progressed I had little doubt they were men. They came from a quarter I did not like, inhabited by Dacotahs and Pawnees—treacherous, thievish rascals, who will take the scalp of an old woman if they can catch her asleep, and make as much boast of it as if they had killed a warrior in open fight. Still it was necessary to be on my guard against them. I waited till I ascertained without doubt that they were human beings, and then hastened back to my tent, made up my fire so that the smoke might be seen coming out at the top, put a buffalo robe inside my bed to personate myself, and loaded myself with all my fire-arms. I then carefully closed the entrance of the tent, and stepped back over the marks I had previously made, till I reached the bank of the stream, where I found ample shelter behind a clump of thick bushes. I there lay between two heaps of snow with my rifle ready, perfectly concealed, but having a clear view of my tent and the country beyond. If the strangers should prove to be friends, as the precautions had given me but little trouble it was wiser to take them, but if enemies they were very necessary. When they were still a long way off, I made out that the strangers were red-skins. Their costume showed me that they belonged to the tribes I have mentioned, and I had no doubt that they had come with hostile intent. They stopped, and I saw by their gestures that they were forming their plan of proceeding. One was an oldish man, the other was a tall, active lad; either would give me considerable difficulty to manage if it came to a hand-to-hand struggle.
They were armed only with bows and arrows and spears. They pointed to the smoke, and the elder signified that I was asleep within, or cooking my dinner. He then fixed an arrow in his bow, and by his gestures I suspected that he was saying he would shoot me through the tent covering before I had time to seize my fire-arms or see my enemies. "I'm much obliged to you for your good intentions, but I will try and frustrate them, my friends," said I to myself. The elder of the two red-skins now approached the tent with his bow drawn, ready to send an arrow into the inmate should he appear at the entrance; the other searched carefully round the tent, and examined the traces of my feet in the snow. He seemed apparently satisfied that the owner had gone to the stream and returned, and was within. The two now got still nearer to the tent, with their bows drawn; so cautiously did they tread that not a sound could be heard. They stopped, and eagerly shot several arrows through the covering, one after the other, as rapidly as they could fix them to the strings of their bows. "And so you think that you have killed your prey," said I to myself; but at the same time a sickening sensation came over my heart. I had never shot at a human being with the intention of taking away life; I must do so now or become the victim myself. The savages listened. Of course no sound from within reached their ears. The elder stooped forward to draw aside the curtain to look in, while the other stood ready with his spear to transfix the person who they might expect would attempt to spring out if he had not been killed. Now I thought I must fire. I took aim at the older Indian. In doing so the barrel of my rifle touched a twig. The younger savage in a moment detected the sound; he turned round full on me. His quick eye caught sight of my rifle as I instantly brought it to bear on him. He uttered an exclamation of astonishment. It was his last. I fired, and he fell with his face forward. His companion sprang up, and was about to rush towards me, but I pulled the trigger of my second barrel, and he too fell writhing in agony on the snow. Oh! how wretched I felt at what stern necessity had compelled me to do. How must Cain have felt when he had killed his brother? I rushed up to my tent. The younger savage was quite dead: the elder glared at me fiercely. Though badly wounded, still he might live. I leaned over him, and made signs that I would take him into my tent and try and heal him. A gleam of satisfaction came over his countenance—I thought it was from gratitude at my mercy. I was preparing to drag him into the tent, and to place him on my own couch. I felt that I was doing what was right. I should gain a companion in my solitude, perhaps make a friend, who would enable me to escape from my perilous position. His eye followed me as I moved about making the necessary preparations. He beckoned me to come and lift him up. I was putting my arm behind him, when his right hand drew a long knife with a flash from his belt, and before I could spring back he had struck twice with all his force at my breast, wounding me severely. It was not his fault that he did not pierce me to the heart. So firm a grasp did his other hand retain of my collar that I could not escape him. I had my own hunting-knife beneath my buffalo robe, my fingers clutched it, and, as catching his right arm I pressed it to the ground, I struck two or three blows with all my might at his throat and chest; I felt his fingers relaxing; his arm fell back—he too was dead. I would rather not dwell on that awful moment. The horrors of my solitude were increased ten-fold. Still. I was obliged to rouse myself to action. I knew not how many of the tribe to which the dead men belonged might be in the neighbourhood.
That evening, however, I could do nothing. Night was coming on, and the blood which trickled down my breast reminded me that I must attend to my own wounds. If my former nights had been full of horrors, this was far more dreadful. The wolves howled louder than ever, and came round me in great numbers, and though I was continually firing my pistols out into the darkness, I could scarcely keep them at bay. I will not dwell on that dreadful time. The morning did come at last. The first thing I did was to drag the bodies of the savages down to the river, and to force them through a hole in the ice whence I had been accustomed to draw water. The current quickly carried them down into far-off regions. Then I made a fire over the spot where their blood had been spilt, and, happily, during the day a heavy fall of snow coming on obliterated all the remaining traces of their fatal visit to my tent. Still for many a day I could not drive the picture of their hideous countenances out of my head, as they lay stark and stiff on the ground, killed by my hand— yet never was homicide more justifiable. I had, as I believed, got rid of all the traces of the savages outside the tent. When I found the arrows sticking inside it in my bed, it did not occur to me that it would be equally necessary to get rid of them. The whim seized me of keeping them as a memorial of my escape. Instead, however, of concealing them under the bed, I arranged them in the form of a star on the tent covering just above my head, and every time I looked at them I felt grateful that they were not sticking in my body. I have a dislike to dwell on the horrible sensations which came over me during those long winter nights and scarcely less dreary days. Had I possessed any books they would have served me as companions, and helped me to pass the time; but I had none.
My own thoughts and feelings were my only associates, and they often were far from pleasant ones. I had a great temptation also, which, had I given way to it, would have made matters worse.
Among the articles which had fallen from the wagon, and which Obed and I afterwards picked up, was a small cask of brandy. We were both of us very abstemious, or we should not have been the strong, hearty fellows we were. The cask, therefore, had not even been broached. The tempter, however, now came suggesting to me that I might soon forget all my miseries if I would but occasionally take a taste of the fire-water. I resisted him, however. I knew that if I once began I might go on, and not know when to stop. I was sure that I was better and stronger without liquor of any sort, so I let the cask remain as it was in a corner of the tent. I had a pipe and a small quantity of tobacco, which I mixed with sumach leaves and willow bark to make it go further. Smoking this was my greatest animal pleasure. My usual dinner, eked out with fried wolf's flesh, indeed required a smoke to make it digest properly. After this adventure with the Indians, I found my nerves much shaken. I stayed in bed for a couple of days, but whenever I dropped asleep I found myself acting the whole scene over and over again. At night I had, as usual, to sit up, wrapped in my buffalo robes, with my feet at the fire, and my pistols in my hands, keeping the wolves at bay. Oh, how I wished they would cease their horrid serenade. The old year passed away, and the new year began, but there was no change in my condition. I was growing seriously alarmed about Obed. He ought to have been back by this time, I thought. I was afraid some accident might have befallen him, for I was very certain that he would not have deserted me. By degrees I recovered my composure, and took my exercise with my rifle in my hand as usual. My tent also, by being almost covered up with snow, had become a very warm and comparatively comfortable habitation, as I could always keep up a good fire within it. When I returned from my walks I had a cup of warm tea ready, which tended to keep up the circulation which the exercise had established. Thus I soon got into very good health again.
My chief occupation when out was looking for game. What was my delight one morning to see a flight of prairie-hens sitting on some boughs not far from my tent. I stopped like a pointer. I knew that the slightest movement might scare them away; and lifting my rifle to my shoulder, I selected a fine cock. I fired, and over he tumbled. I ran forward, and securing him to my belt, I marked where the others settled, and followed them up. Thus I went on. I had killed three, I think, which would prove a most satisfactory addition to my larder. When I looked about me I found that I had got a long way from my tent. I walked briskly back. When I got to the top of the bank near the river, what was my dismay, on looking northward, to see several persons approaching my tent! They could not have failed to have discovered me. I watched them with intense interest. They were red-skins—Dacotahs probably; I could not possibly avoid encountering them. I felt that my only prospect of safety was to put a bold face on the matter, and go and meet them frankly.
Hurrying to my tent, I loaded myself with all my fire-arms, resolving to sell my life dearly, and then walked forward towards them. I counted the strangers. There were ten of them, all painted and dressed for war; and a very ferocious set they looked. They seemed very much astonished and puzzled at seeing me. In an instant they all had their arrows fixed in their bows, and, forming a line, they thus advanced slowly and cautiously, keeping an eye on the tent, and evidently expecting to see a number of people emerge from it. Their demonstrations were so hostile that I now began to repent that I had not made an attempt to defend myself; at the same time I felt that a contest with ten cunning savages would have been a very hopeless one. Flight, too, over the snow, with little knowledge of the country, was not to be thought of. As the savages advanced I retreated, resolving to make a stand at my tent door. At the same time I tried to show by signs that I could, if I liked, kill two or three of them, but that I was ready for peace if they were. At last I lowered my rifle from my shoulder, and they unstrung their bows and advanced with outstretched hands towards me. Knowing their treacherous character, however, of course I could not depend on them. I bethought me that the best way to win their friendship was to offer them food, as is practised in civilised communities with some success; so I showed them the birds I had just killed, and intimated that I was going to dress them for their entertainment. I produced several other dainties, and my dried wolf's flesh. I also brought out some of my mixed tobacco, though it was with intense reluctance I parted with it. They expressed their satisfaction by several loud grunts, and then squatted round in a circle outside the door of my tent. I made up my fire, and soon had the prairie-hens and several pieces of meat roasting on sticks before it, and a savoury stew cooking in my pot. I trusted that I might be able to replenish my scanty stock of provisions, but I knew, that, had I not given them with a good grace, my guests would probably have taken them by force. I had begun to serve the banquet, at which the red-skins were smacking their lips, and they were casting approving and kindly glances at me, when I remembered my cask of brandy. I knew that this would completely cement our friendship, but I intended to give them only a little at a time to run no risk of intoxicating them. I retired, therefore, to the back of the tent for the purpose of drawing off a little in a bottle. While I was thus employed, one of them put his head into the tent to see what I was about. As he did so, his eye fell on the star of arrows over the head of my couch. A loud exclamation made me turn round. I saw where his glance was directed. My folly and want of forethought in a moment flashed across my mind. All was lost, I perceived. The savages sprang up, and seizing me, pointed to the arrows. I had nothing to say. Perhaps the expression of my countenance betrayed me. Several held me tight while the others spoke. Though I did not understand a word of their language, I could not fail to comprehend the tenor of their speeches. Their action, the intonation of their voices, their angry glances, showed it. "Our friends came here, and this man killed them. We came to look for them, and by the same arts with which he destroyed them he had endeavoured to destroy us. There are the proofs of his guilt. How else did he become possessed of those arrows?" Such, I have no doubt, is a very concise abridgment of their harangues.
They continued speaking for an hour or more, till they worked each other up into a perfect fury. Their eyes gleamed at me with malignant hatred. They foamed at the mouth; they gnashed their teeth at me. I thought they would have torn me limb from limb; but they were reserving me for a far more refined system of torture. Having condemned me to death, they lashed my hands behind me, and my feet together, and placed me in a sitting position on my bed, there to await my doom, while they all crouched down round the fire, where, stern and grim, they finished the repast I had prepared for them in horrible silence.
THE INDIANS PROPOSE TO KILL ME—I AM BOUND READY FOR THE TORTURE—MY GUESTS FIND THE FIRE-WATER, AND I FIND THE ADVANTAGE OF HAVING ABSTAINED FROM IT—A FEARFUL CONFERENCE—A TOMAHAWK SENT AT MY HEAD—THE SPIRITS TAKE EFFECT—I WORK MY LIMBS FREE—SHALL I KILL MY ENEMIES?—I FLY—A RUN FOR LIFE—MY TERRIBLE JOURNEY—I SINK EXHAUSTED—A FRIENDLY INDIAN— A KIND RECEPTION—I HAVE CAUSE TO REJOICE THAT I DID NOT REDDEN MY HANDS WITH BLOOD.
The Indians sat round the fire, devouring with dreadful composure the remainder of my scanty stock of provisions. I could not withdraw my eyes from them. I felt as if I was in a horrid dream, and yet I was too certain of the reality of what had occurred to doubt it. "Even were they to spare my life, I must starve," I thought to myself, "so it matters little what they do to me." They ate up all their own food and all mine, till nothing remained. The Red man, although he can go a long time without food, is a complete glutton when he gets a quantity, and is utterly regardless of what may be his future exigencies. When they had eaten up all the food exposed to view, they began to hunt about the tent for more. I watched them anxiously, for I was afraid that they would get hold of the gunpowder, and still more did I dread their finding the brandy. The chief, a villainous-looking old warrior, was the most active in the search. He went round and round the tent, poking his fingers into every package, and sniffing up with his nose, till at last his keen scent enabled him to discover the existence of the spirit cask, which I had already broached. With a grunt of satisfaction, in which the whole party joined, he dragged it forward, and made signs to his followers that all should share in the much-prized fire-water. I trembled at what would be the consequences. "They would have treated me badly enough while they were sober, but with all their evil passions inflamed by liquor, they will be perfect demons," I thought to myself. "How wrong I was not to have let the dangerous spirit run out long ago." How brightly their eyes glared, how eagerly they pressed forward to get a share of the coveted fire-water, which the old chief was serving out. I observed that he took care to help himself more largely than he did anybody else. Scarcely had they drunk off what was first distributed to them than they put forward their leathern drinking-cups to ask for more. The old chief having helped himself, gave some to his followers. Then their eyes began to glitter; the calm, sedate bearing of the Indian was thrown off; they talked rapidly and vehemently, and laughed loudly, and their fingers began to play with the handles of their tomahawks and scalping-knives in a way that made my blood run cold. The red-skins, when they take a captive for whom for any reason they have an especial hatred, generally wait two or three days, that they may have the satisfaction of tormenting him before they commence actually to torture him to death. As I watched them, however, I felt that any moment they might spring up and begin to torture me.
It is difficult to describe the horrible ingenuity they exhibit in tormenting their victims. Talk of the virtues of the savage—I do not believe in them. He may have some good qualities, but he is generally the cruel, remorseless monster sin has made him. Civilisation has its vices—I know that full well—and bad enough they are, but they are mild compared to those of the true unadulterated savage, who prides himself on his art in making his victims writhe under his tortures, and kills merely that he may boast of the number of those he has slaughtered, and may exhibit their scalps as trophies of his victories. It is a convincing proof to me that the same spirit of evil, influenced by the most intense hatred to the human race, is going continually about to incite men to crime. The Dyak of Borneo, the Fijian of the Pacific, and the red savage of North America, are much alike; and identically the same change is wrought in all when the light of truth is brought among them, and the Christian's faith sheds its softening influence over their hearts. Many such ideas as those I have alluded to passed through my mind as I sat, unable to move, watching the proceedings of the savages, and I felt with a pang of intense remorse how utterly I had neglected doing anything towards sending the gospel of salvation in which I believed and thought I trusted, to them or any other of the heathen nations of the world.
The red-skins went on talking fast and furiously; then they put out their hands, and called on the old chief to serve them out further draughts of their loved fire-water. He dared not deny them. He helped himself, and his eyes began to roll round and round with a frightful glare, and every now and then they turned upon me, and I thought my last moment had come; but one of his companions, in a tone which had lost all respect for him, called off his attention for a moment, and I had a reprieve. It was but for a few minutes. I became once more the subject of conversation. Again the cups were filled and quaffed. I sat as motionless as a statue. A sign of fear, or even of consciousness, would only tend to enrage my captors. The countenance of the old chief grew more terrific. He grasped his deadly tomahawk, and, drawing it from his belt, lifted his arm to hurl it at my head. I expected that instant to feel the horrible crash as the sharp weapon entered my skull. I, notwithstanding, fixed my eye steadily on him. He bent back his arm; the tomahawk flew across the tent, but the spirits he had swallowed had unnerved his limbs and confused his sight, and, unconscious apparently of what he had done, he rolled over on his side. His companions were too far gone to take notice of his state. They rather seemed to rejoice at it, that now they could help themselves to as much liquor as was to be got. As the savages went on drinking, and I saw the condition to which they were reducing themselves, hope once more revived in my breast. I might work my way out of the leather thongs which bound me, and get clear of my captors; but then where was I to go? I was again tolerably strong, and I could run some miles, but in what direction should I bend my steps? I could scrape together a little food from that left by the Indians; but had I any chance of reaching any fort or settlement in the depth of winter? I should, too probably, be frozen to death, or be devoured by wolves, or be scalped by hostile Indians. The prospect was not cheering. Still all risks were far preferable to being tormented to death by my present captors. I was beginning to indulge in a prospect of escaping, remote though it might be, when two more of the Indians all of a sudden took it into their heads to hurl their hatchets at me. It was the last effort of expiring intelligence, and they both fell back overpowered by liquor. In a very short time, one by one, the rest of their companions yielded to its influences, and the whole band of Indians lay perfectly drunk and helpless at my feet.
No time was to be lost; how long they might continue in that state I could not tell. At all events it was important to get a long start of them. I found that I might in time gnaw away the thongs which bound my wrists. I set to work; they were very tough, but by perseverance I got through one, and then the other, and my hands were free. Still I had a tough thong round my neck, secured to one of the posts of the bed, and another round my ankles fastened to another below me. If I attempted to stoop down, I tightened the thong round my neck, nor could I draw my feet up to meet my hands. The savages had taken my own knife from me. I struggled, and pulled, and tugged, to get my feet clear, till I almost cut through my ankles to the bone. At last I thought of the tomahawks the savages had thrown at me. I leaned back and felt about behind me. To my great joy my fingers clutched the handle of one, the blade of which was sticking deep into the frame of the bed. I dragged it out, and very soon cut through the thong round my neck. To clear my feet was a work of less trouble: I was free. I can scarcely describe my sensations as I stood among my now helpless enemies. My first thought was to make preparations for my flight. I collected all the food of every description and packed it away in a bag, which I fastened round my waist. I took my rifle and filled my powder-flask, with a further supply in a leathern case which had been Obed's, and all the percussion-caps, and as much shot as I could carry. I took the precaution also of collecting all the bows and arrows, and other weapons, of the Indians, and of piling them upon the fire, where they were quickly consumed. Then I threw over my shoulder my buffalo-skin coat, and stood prepared for flight. "Whither shall I fly? How can I escape from my swift-heeled enemies with all this weight of things to carry? Need I fly?" A dreadful thought came into my head. "They intended to kill me. There they lie utterly helpless. A few well-directed blows from one of their own tomahawks which they hurled at my head, and not one of them can harm me more. I may dispose of them as I disposed of their two brethren who tried to kill me. I have a right to do so. Surely I have a right to destroy them." If I did not say, I thought all these things. Whence did the suggestion come? "Oh, may I be guided to do what is right," I mentally ejaculated. I gazed at the helpless beings scattered around. "They are human. 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.' What does that mean?" I asked myself. "Oh, no, I dare not injure them. Never mind what the rough backwoodsman would say to my conduct. I am sure it is braver to refrain than to kill. Certainly, as a Christian, I cannot kill them—I dare not. To His guidance and protection who formed the world and all living creatures, I commit myself." With these words, not daring to look behind me, I rushed from the tent.
I took a westerly course, for I thought that I should more likely fall in with Obed in that direction, should he have reached a fort in safety, and succeeded in obtaining help to come and rescue me. On I went as fast as I could move, but my limbs were stiff, and the weight I carried was considerable. I tried to turn my thoughts from the savages, but I could not help calculating how long they might continue in their state of stupor. There was still some brandy left in the cask; when they recovered their senses, rather than pursue me they might be tempted to drink again. It was a question which was the strongest passion, whether the love of drink or the desire for revenge would prevail. On I went, the snow was now tolerably hard, so I made pretty good progress, yet the red-skins would go twice as fast when once they began to pursue me.
I went a mile before I stopped. Then, on reaching an elevation, whence I could have a clear view over the white glittering plain, I looked back at the spot where I had spent so many days and nights of pain and suffering, and where also I owned that I had been most mercifully preserved from so many dangers. The tent stood where it had been for many months, the smoke was curling out of the top into the calm sky, and all around looked so unchanged that I could scarcely persuade myself that in the interior was collected a band of malignant foes, who would rejoice in my destruction. I looked but a few seconds, and then away I went on my course. I walked on, sometimes breaking into a run where the snow was harder and would allow it, till sunset, and then the stars came out brightly in the firmament of heaven, and I was able to steer my course with greater certainty even than in the daytime. I could not think very much; but I did feel thankful that I had not yielded to the temptation of drinking the spirits myself, when I had felt low and almost hopeless. Had I done so, I should have destroyed the very means presented for my deliverance. I got over the plain with tolerable ease, for the sun had at times melted the snow, which when it froze again had become hard and rough. As I ran on, however, I was trying to devise some plan by which the Indians might be turned off my track. To obliterate it, however, was hopeless, unless a heavy fall of snow should come on, and even then the cunning rascals, by scraping away the snow at intervals, were very likely to find me out.
It was nearly midnight, I calculated, when I felt that I must stop to rest and take some food. I sat down on what I took to be a mound of earth covered with snow. I ate a handful of rice and a little biscuit, and chewed a piece of wolf's flesh, and felt somewhat revived. I should have liked to have gone to sleep, but I dared not, even for a moment. It would have been, had I given way to the feeling, the sleep of death. I scarcely know why, but as I sat on the heap I struck the butt-end of my rifle into the snow; it gave way. I found there was something beneath it. With eager haste, for I remembered that every moment was precious, I threw off the snow. The body of a man lay beneath. A dreadful sensation came over me. It must be that of Obed, slaughtered, perhaps, on his way to succour me; the idea almost overcame me; I resisted, however, the feeling of despair, and roused myself up. I threw off more of the snow; I could see, by the faint light of the moon, that little more than a skeleton remained; the dress, however, was there; it was that of a backwoodsman. With horrible eagerness, yet with loathing, I examined the tattered clothes. I felt sure that they where those Obed had worn. In my search my hand struck against something; I took it up, it was an old silver watch; such a one Obed had not got, but often had I seen it in the hands of his brother Joab.
Poor Joab, then, had been killed on the first attack of the red-skins. What had become of the rest of the party? I dreaded lest I should find their remains as I had that of Joab. Taking the watch, I secured it about me to restore to his family should I ever meet them. I hunted about for his rifle; it was nowhere to be found. It had been carried off, I concluded, by the Indians. With a heavy heart I ran on, after my brief rest, expecting every instant to come on more of the remains of my old friends, but I saw no indications of them, and there was no time to carry on the search.
I went on after this for some time without halting even for a moment. I had now been several hours on foot. Had I enjoyed my usual strength, such as I possessed before being wounded, I should have made light of the fatigue. I was, however, again obliged to sit down. I reckoned on having a long start of the red-skins. I hoped to retain my strength so as to redouble my speed when I thought they would be pressing after me. I had deprived them of their arms, and they had no food; so that, could I contrive to keep beyond their reach for two or three days, they must be delayed to obtain it, if they attempted to follow me. Unless also their lodges were in the neighbourhood, and they could go and get arms, I possessed another very great advantage over them. Of course if pursued I would not hesitate for a moment about shooting them down. These ideas occurred to me as I ran on, and I began to feel that my case was not so hopeless as I at first considered it. My great dread was of the wolves. As yet I had not heard any of those cries which make night hideous in the desert regions; but I knew that if a pack once scented me out and gave chase, I should have little chance of escaping them, unless I could find a tree, up which I might climb out of their way.
I ran on all night, keeping nearly due west, and daylight found me pursuing my way with unflagging speed. At last I struck what I took to be a branch of the Nebraska river. A wood was not far-off on the other side. "I'll try if a white man cannot manage to deceive the acuteness even of a red-skin," I thought to myself. The wind had blown the snow completely off the ice on the river. I crossed the river and made towards the wood. I stirred up the snow in a way which I knew would puzzle the Indians, and then treading backwards on my footmarks, I once more reached the river.
Then away I went up the stream over the smooth ice as hard as I could run. Now and then I tumbled down, but I quickly picked myself up again, and was off as fast as ever. When a man believes that a body of red-skins or a pack of wolves are at his heels, he is likely to run pretty fast. I sat down once for breakfast for five minutes, and once at noon for dinner of raw rice and wolves' ribs, and away I went again. At last I found that the river was making so many bends that it would be necessary to land, which I did on the north shore. Night came on, but I did not relax my speed; the stars came out and guided me as before. I was beginning, however, to feel much distressed. I bore up as well as I could, but I fancied that I could not continue my course much beyond the morning, even if I could go through the night. I came to some bushes growing above the snow; they would afford me shelter from the wind, and I might, I thought, venture to rest for half an hour or so. I should have wished to light a fire, but I dared not, lest the smoke might betray me.
I sat down and began searching in my bag for some food, when a distant and faint cry struck my ear. I listened; again I heard it. I knew too well what it was. The cry of a pack of wolves. Could they have gained scent of me and be following in my rack? The bare thought of such a thing made me start up, and again set forth at full speed. For what I knew to the contrary, I had both wolves and Indians following me. The wolves were gaining on me, that was certain. I could distinguish the yelps and barks through the still midnight. They might yet be some way off. I tried to pierce through the gloom ahead in the hopes of seeing some clump of trees rising out of the snowy plain in which I might take shelter. On I ran. It, at all events, would not do to stay where I was. The sound of those horrid yelps, if anything had been required to make me exert myself would have added fleetness to my feet. I longed for day; I thought they would be less likely to attack me. For a whole hour I ran on, I believe. It seemed more like three or four with those dreadful sounds ringing in my ears. I thought they were coming nearer and nearer. At last I saw some object rising up before me in the darkness. It might be a distant hill, or it might be the outline of the wished-for wood.
"But if I succeed in reaching it and climbing a tree, will not the delay enable the Indians to overtake me?" I thought. "I will keep outside the wood till the near approach of the brutes compels me to climb a tree to get out of their way." I kept to this resolution. It proved to be a wood that I had seen. I skirted it as I continued my course. All the time I kept listening with a feeling of horror to the hideous chorus of the wolves.
Suddenly I was conscious that the sounds were growing fainter. In another twenty minutes I was certain of it. They were in pursuit of some wild beast or other, perhaps of some unfortunate Indian traversing the prairie. How thankful I felt when the sounds altogether ceased. This circumstance gave me fresh courage. I pursued my course steadily onward. I stopped even five minutes to rest and take a little food. The sun rose, still I was going on, but I began to feel that nature would not hold out much longer. I felt a dizziness in my eyes, and my knees began to tremble, and I drew my breath with difficulty. I was again in a vast plain. The sun was behind me; I followed my own shadow. Sometimes I could distinguish nothing before me, then the giddiness went away.
Suddenly, as I looked up, I saw before me eight or ten figures moving in a line across my path. Could they be the Pawnees who had lost my track, and were thus making a circuit in the expectation of coming on it? If they were, I would defend myself to the last. I felt for my rifle, and tried to get it ready to fire, but I had miscalculated my strength. The agitation was too much for me; I stumbled blindly forward a few paces, and then sank down helplessly in the snow. I tried to rise—to move—I could not, so I gave myself up for lost, and prepared for death. I was not afraid, I was not unhappy; indeed, I had no very acute feelings whatever, and very soon lost all consciousness. I was aroused by a human voice.
"Why, stranger, where have you dropped from? You seem to be in a sad plight!"
I looked up to discover whence the voice came, and there, instead of a white face, as I expected, I saw a tall Indian, as he seemed by his dress, though perhaps he was rather fairer than his people usually are, bending over me. I could not reply, but, with a sort of hysterical laugh, I made signs that I had come from the eastward, and that some one was in pursuit of me.
"Well, never mind talking now; we must first set you on your feet again," he said in a kind voice. "My companions will be here presently. You want food and rest, and then you can tell us what has happened."
"Food, food," I whispered.
"Yes, poor fellow, you shall have it," he answered, in a tone of commiseration, taking from his wallet some pemmican, which I ate with a keen relish.
The food revived me, and I felt much better by the time my new friend's companions came up. They stood round me while I continued eating, with looks of pity and wonder on their expressive countenances. I saw by their dress and appearance that they were Ottoes, a tribe dwelling to the south of the Nebraska, and always friendly to the whites. My friend was the only one who could speak English, which he did perfectly. He saw me examining his countenance.
"I am half an Englishman," he observed. "I am called John Pipestick. My father came from Kent, in the old country, I have often heard him say; the garden of England he called it. A poor place for buffaloes and wild turkeys, I should think, so it would not suit me. He sometimes talked of going to have a look at the hop fields and a taste of its ale, but he was killed by the Pawnees, who carried of his scalp. I've not left him unavenged, though. My mother was a red-skin, and belonged to this tribe, and I have no wish to quit them. But come, friend, you have done eating, and a man who can eat is not in a very bad way. Lean on us, and we will take you to our tents. They are not more than three miles off."
Supported in the arms of the kind Ottoes, I walked along with tolerable ease. They were very fine fellows. One was fully six feet six inches in height, and proportionably strong limbed. The rest were not much his inferiors. John Pipestick was shorter, but very strong. As I walked along I found my tongue loosed, and I gave a succinct account of what had occurred. John interpreted. The Indians pricked up their ears, and had an animated discussion among themselves. We reached at length what is called a cedar swamp in the States. The cedar trees form a dense, tangled thicket, perfectly impervious to the wind, and in winter, when the moist ground is frozen hard below, such a locality is perfectly healthy. Woe betide the unfortunate wretch who has to take up his quarters within one in the summer time, when mosquitoes and rattlesnakes abound. He will wish himself well out of it before the morning.
Drawing aside a few boughs, the Ottoes led the way by a narrow path towards the centre of the thicket, and we soon found ourselves in an open space, in which were pitched a couple of tents. Several women and three or four men came out to greet us, and warmly shook my hands. I felt truly, as John Pipestick had called me, a brother among them. They placed me in a tent before a fire, and gave me warm food, and chafed my limbs, and then covered me up with a buffalo robe. I quickly fell asleep, and never have I slept so soundly in my life, or with a sense of more perfect security. At last I awoke; I had not stirred for fourteen hours. It was night, but the Indians were sitting up round the fire cleaning their arms. They seemed highly pleased when I awoke.
"We have been waiting for you to start on an expedition," exclaimed John Pipestick. "How do you feel? Are you able, think you, to walk?"
I got up and stretched my limbs. They felt a little stiff, and pained me slightly, but I thought, I said, that exercise would take that off.
"No fear then," said John; "take some food. Our people are anxious to start. I'll tell you all about it as we go along."
I lost no time in putting on my moccasins and in getting ready for a start, after I had partaken of some pemmican and a warm broth, of which a wild turkey formed the chief ingredient. I found a party of ten Indians besides Pipestick, all armed with rifles, besides hatchets and knives, and some had likewise bows and quivers of arrows at their backs. In their buffalo-skin coats they looked very like a troop of bears. The remainder of the party were preparing to follow with a light wagon, in which they carried their tents and provisions, and four shaggy little ponies to drag it. I saw that we were taking an easterly course. I asked where we were going.