Over the Rocky Mountains, by R.M. Ballantyne.
This is one of the short but interesting books that Ballantyne wrote with the less well-off members of his readership in mind. All of these were of about 120 pages, and quite small books, that could be sold for only a shilling or two. The hero of many of them is a character called Will Osten, or Wandering Will. In this book he returns from a long trip away, during which his father had died, so his mother was very pleased to see him. But just before he died his father had been left a property in California—it was the time of the Gold Rush. Will gathered some of his friends, and off they went to have a look at this property. So what the book is really about is the life of the miners in the Gold Rush.
Surprise, surprise! A young lady whom Will had met on one of his previous adventures appeared on the scene, on her way back to England. Will is determined to see more of her, but he has no money to pay the exorbitant sum demanded for his fare back to England, so he finds a very quick agent, who finds a very quick lawyer, so that his estate can be sold, and the money raised for the fare. He catches the boat by the skin of his teeth. Of course we will go with him on some more of his wanderings.
OVER THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
Note: Plan of this Miscellany.
There is a vast amount of interesting information, on almost all subjects, which many people, especially the young, cannot attain to because of the expense, and, in some instances, the rarity of the books in which it is contained.
To place some of this information, in an attractive form, within the reach of those who cannot afford to purchase expensive books, is the principal object of this Miscellany.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but fiction is a valuable assistant in the development of truth. Both, therefore, shall be used in these volumes. Care will be taken to insure, as far as is possible, that the facts stated shall be true, and that the impressions given shall be truthful.
As all classes, in every age, have proved that tales and stories, are the most popular style of literature, each volume of the series (with, perhaps, one or two exceptions) will contain a complete tale, the heroes and actors in which, together with the combination of circumstances in which they move, shall be more or less fictitious.
In writing these volumes, the author has earnestly endeavoured to keep in view the glory of God and the good of man.
DESCRIBES HOME-COMING, AND SHOWS THAT MATTERS WHISPERED IN THE DRAWING-ROOM ARE SOMETIMES LOUDLY PROCLAIMED BELOW-STAIRS.
It was late on a winter evening when our hero, William Osten, arrived in England, in company with his two friends and former messmates, Bunco and Larry O'Hale.
When a youth returns to his native land, after a long absence which commenced with his running away to sea, he may perhaps experience some anxieties on nearing the old home; but our hero was not thus troubled, because, his father having died during his absence, and his mother having always been tender-hearted and forgiving, he felt sure of a warm reception.
Our hero was so anxious to see his mother, that he resolved to travel by the night-coach to his native town of B—, leaving his companions to follow by the mail in the morning. Railways, although in use throughout the country, had not at that time cut their way to the town of B—. Travellers who undertook to visit that part of the land did so with feelings somewhat akin to those of discoverers about to set out on a distant voyage. They laid in a stock of provisions for the journey, and provided great supply of wraps for all weathers. When Will Osten reached the coach-office, he found that all the inside places were taken.
"You'll have to go aloft, sir," said the coachman, a stout and somewhat facetiously inclined individual, who, observing something of the sailor in Will's costume and gait, suited his language to his supposed character; "there's only one berth left vacant, on the fogs'l 'longside o' myself."
"Well, I'll take it," said Will.
Five minutes afterwards the guard shouted "all right," and they set off.
"Do you happen to know many of the people in the town of B—?" said Will to the coachman, as they emerged from the suburbs and dashed out upon a long tract of moorland.
"Know many of 'em, sir," said the man, tipping the off-leader on the flank by way of keeping his hand in; "I should 'ope I does; it's two year, this very day, since I came to this 'ere part o' the country, and I've got married in B— to a 'ooman as knows everythink and everybody, so, of course, I knows everythink and everybody, too."
"Then you have heard of a Mrs Osten, no doubt, a widow lady?" said Will.
"Wot, the widder o' that grumpy old gen'lman as died last year, leavin', they say, a big estate in furrin parts?"
Will felt a tendency to seize the man by the throat, and tumble him off his box into the road, but on second thoughts he restrained himself and said—
"She is the widow of a gentleman with whom I was intimately acquainted. I did not know anything about his having estates abroad."
"I axe your pardon, sir," said the man, a little abashed by Will's grave manner; "didn't know they wos friends of yours. No offence, I 'ope. The old lady is raither low since her husband's death—for it wos somewhat sudden—an' they do say she's never got over the runnin' away of her only son—at least so my wife says, an' she ought to know, for she's bin intimate with the family for many years, an' knows the ooman as nussed the boy—"
"What, Maryann?" exclaimed Will.
"The same. You seems to know 'em all, sir."
"Yes, I know them well. Is Maryann still with my—with Mrs Osten?"
"Yes, sir, she is, an' wot's more, she aint likely to quit in a 'urry. W'y, sir, that 'ooman 'as 'ad no fewer than six hoffers of marriage, an' 'as refused 'em all for love of the old lady. My wife, she says to me the other night, when she wos a-washin' of the baby in the big bread can—you see, sir, the washin' tub's gone and sprung a leak, an' so we're redoosed to the bread can—Well, as I wos a-sayin', my wife says to me—'Richards,' says she, 'it's my belief that Marryhann will never marry, for her 'art an' soul is set upon Mrs Osten, an' she's got a strange feelin' of sartinty that Master Will, as she calls the runaway boy, will come back to comfort 'is mother an' look arter the furrin estates. No, Richards, mark my words, Maryhann will never marry.'"
"'It may be so, Jemimar,' says I,—Did you speak, sir?" said the coachman, turning sharp round on hearing Will utter an exclamation of surprise.
"Is your wife's name Jemima?"
"Yes, it is; d'you 'appen to know her, too?"
"Well, I think I do, if she is the same person who used to attend upon Mrs Osten—a tall and—thin—and and—somewhat—"
"Stiff sort of woman—hout with it, sir, you'll not 'urt my feelins. I didn't marry Jemimar for her beauty, no, nor yet for her money nor her youth, for she aint young, sir—older than myself a long way. I took her for her worth, sir, her sterlin' qualities. You know, sir, as well as I do, that it aint the fattest an' youngest 'osses as is the best. Jemimar is a trump, sir, without any nonsense about her. Her capacity for fryin' 'am, sir, an' bilin' potatoes is marvellous, an' the way she do dress up the baby (we've only got one, sir) is the hadmiration of the neighbour'ood."
"You said something just now about the deceased Mr Osten's estate. Can you tell me how he came by it?"
"No, sir, I can't. That's the only thing that my wife 'as failed to fathom. There's somethink mysterious about it, I think, for Missis Hosten she won't speak to Marryhann on the subjec', an' all she knows about it is that the lawyer says there's an estate somewheres in furrin parts as needs lookin' arter. The lawyer didn't say that to Maryhann, sir, of course, but she's got a 'abit of hairin' 'er ears at key'oles an' over'ears things now an' then."
Further conversation on this point was here stopped by the arrival of the coach at the end of a stage, and when the journey was resumed with fresh horses, Will felt inclined to sleep. He therefore buttoned up his coat tight to the chin, fixed his hat well down on his brows, and put himself into one of those numerous attitudes of torture with which "outsides" were wont to beguile the weary hours of night in coaching days. When the sun rose next morning, Will was still in that state of semi-somnolence which causes the expression of the countenance to become idiotic and the eyes owlish. At last the chimneys of his native town became visible, and in a short time he found himself standing before the well-remembered house tapping at the old door, whose panels—especially near the foot—still bore the deep marks of his own juvenile toes.
It is not necessary to drag the reader through the affecting scene of meeting between mother and son. Two days after his arrival we find them both seated at tea in the old drawing-room drinking out of the old mug, with the name "William" emblazoned on it, in which, in days gone by, he was wont to dip his infantine lips and nose. Not that he had selected this vessel of his own free will, but his mother, who was a romantic old lady, insisted on his using it, in order to bring back to her more vividly the days of his childhood, and Will, in the fulness of his heart, said he would be glad to drink tea out of the coal-scuttle if that would give her pleasure. The good lady even sent to the lumber-room for the old arm-chair of his babyhood, but as neither ingenuity nor perseverance could enable him to squeeze his stout person into that, he was fain to content himself with an ordinary chair.
"Now, dear mother," said Will, commencing the fifth slice of toast, under pressure (having eaten the fourth with difficulty), "you have not yet told me about this wonderful estate which everybody seems to know of except myself."
"Ah! darling Will," sighed Mrs Osten, "I have avoided the subject as long as possible, for I know it is to be the cause of our being separated again. But there is no help for it, because I promised your dear father when he was dying that I would tell you his wishes in regard to it, and that I would not attempt to dissuade you from doing your duty. Well, you remember uncle Edward, I suppose?"
"His name—yes," said Will, "but I never knew anything else about him. I had nothing to remember or to forget, except, indeed, that he got the name of being a wild scapegrace, something like myself!"
"Like yourself, darling," exclaimed the old lady, with a look of indignation—"no indeed! Have not you repented and come back, like a good prodigal son; and didn't the dear beautiful letter that you wrote from that awful island—what's its name—where you were all but eaten alive—"
"The coral island," suggested Will.
"Yes, the coral island—didn't that dear letter give more delight to your beloved father than any letter he ever received in his life, and more than made up to him for your running away, and cheered him to his last hour, whereas uncle Edward was wicked to the last—at least so it is said, but I don't know, and it's not right to speak ill of the dead. Well, as I was going to say, uncle Edward died in some outlandish place in North America, I never can remember the name, but it's in the papers, so you'll see it—somewhere on the other side of the something mountains—I forget—"
"Yes, that's it, the Rocky Mountains, and I wish they were not so rocky, for your sake, darling, for you've got to go there and take possession (or serve yourself heir to, or something of that sort) of the property. Not that it's large, so they say (I wish with all my heart it did not exist at all), but they tell me there is gold on it, though whether it is lying on the fields or down in holes I'm sure I don't know, and oh dear, I don't care, for it entails your going away again, my darling boy."
Here the poor old lady broke down, and, throwing her arms round Will's neck—regardless of the fact that in so doing she upset and broke one of her best china tea-cups—wept upon his bosom.
Such was the manner of the announcement of the news in the drawing-room.
In the kitchen the same subject was being discussed by a select party, consisting of Maryann, Mr Richards the coachman, his spouse Jemima— formerly Scrubbins—the baby Richards—who has already been referred to as being reduced in the matter of his ablutions to a bread can—and Larry O'Hale with his faithful Indian friend Bunco.
"To think," said Maryann, with a quiet laugh, as she handed a cup of tea to Bunco—"to think that I should ever come for to sit at tea with a live red Indian from Ameriky—not that he's red either, for I'm sure that hany one with eyes in their 'ead could see that he's only brown."
"Ah, my dear, that's 'cause he's changed colour," said Larry, pushing in his cup for more tea. "He wasn't always like that. Sure, when I first know'd Bunco he was scarlet—pure scarlet, only he took a fancy one day, when he was in a wild mood, to run his canoe over the falls of Niagara for a wager, an', faix, when he came up out o' the wather after it he was turned brown, an's bin that same ever since."
"Gammon," exclaimed Maryann.
"Sure ye don't misdoubt me word, Maryann," said Larry reproachfully; "isn't it true, Bunco?"
"Yoos a norribable liar, Larry," answered Bunco with a broad grin.
Richards the coachman, who had been for some minutes too busy with the buttered toast and bacon to do more than listen and chuckle, here burst into a loud guffaw and choked himself partially. Jemima and Maryann also laughed, whereupon the baby, not to be outdone, broke suddenly into a tremendous crow, and waved its fat arms so furiously that it overturned a tea-cup and sent the contents into Bunco's lap. This created a momentary confusion, and when calm was restored, Mrs Richards asked Maryann "if hanythink noo 'ad turned up in regard to the estate?" which she seemed to know so much about, but in regard to which she was, apparently, so unwilling to be communicative.
"Not so, Jemimar," said Maryann, with a look of offended dignity, "unwillin' to speak I am not, though unable I may be—at least I was so until yesterday, but I have come to know a little more about it since Master Will came 'ome while I chanced to be near—"
Maryann hesitated a moment, and Richards, through a mouthful of toast, muttered "the keyhole."
"Did you speak, sir?" said Maryann, bridling.
"No, oh! no, not by no means," replied Richards, "only the crust o' this 'ere toast is rayther 'ard, and I'm apt to growl w'en that's so."
"If the crust is 'ard, Mr Richards, your teeth is 'arder, so you ought to scrunch 'em without growling."
"Brayvo, my dear," exclaimed Larry, coming to the rescue; "you're more nor match for him, so be marciful, like a good sowl, an' let's hear about this estate, for it seems to me, from what I've heard, it must be somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bunco's native place."
Maryann, darting a look of mingled defiance and triumph at Richards, who became more than ever devoted to the toast and bacon, proceeded—
"Well, as I was a-sayin', I 'eard Mrs Osten say to Master Will that his uncle Edward—as was a scape somethin' or other—had died an' left a small estate behind the Rocky Mountains in Ameriky or Afriky, I aint sure which."
"Ameriky, my dear," observed Larry.
"An' she said as 'ow they 'ad discovered gold on it, which could be picked up in 'andfuls, an' it was somewhere near a place called Kally somethin'—"
"Calliforny?" cried Larry.
"Yes, that was it."
"I towld ye that, Bunco!" exclaimed the Irishman, becoming excited; "go on, dear."
"Well, it seems there's some difficulties in the matter, wich I'm sure don't surprise me, for I never 'eard of things as 'ad to do with estates and law as didn't create difficulties, and I'm thankful as I've got nothin' to do with none of such things. Well, the end of it all is that, w'en master was dyin', he made missis swear as she'd urge Master Will to go to see after things hisself, an' missis, poor dear, she would rather let the estate and all the gold go, if she could only keep the dear boy at 'ome, but she's faithful to her promise, an' advises him to go—the sooner the better—because that would let him come back to her all the quicker. Master Will, he vowed at first that he would never more leave her, and I b'lieve he was in earnest, but when she spoke of his father's wish, he gave in an' said he would go, if she thought it his dooty so for to do."
"Hooray!" shouted Larry, jumping up at this point, and performing a species of war-dance for a few moments, and then sitting down and demanding another supply of tea. "Didn't I tell ye, Bunco, that the order would soon be up anchor an' away again! It's Wanderin' Will he's been named, an' Wanderin' Will he'll remain, that's as plain as the nose on me face."
"No doubt the nose on your face is very plain—the plainest I ever did see," said Maryann sharply,—"but you're quite wrong about Master Will, for he's very anxious to get married, I can tell you, an' wants to settle down at 'ome, like a sensible man, though it does grieve my 'eart to think of the creetur as has took him in in furrin parts."
"Get married!" exclaimed Larry, Jemima, and Richards in the same breath.
"Yes, get married," replied Maryann, very full of the importance of her keyhole discoveries, and not willing to make them known too readily.
"How did you come to know that, Maryhann?" asked Jemima; "are you sure of it?"
"How I came for to know it," replied the other, "is nobody's business (she paused a moment and looked sternly at Richards, but that sensible man continued to gaze steadfastly at his plate and to 'scrunch' crusts with grave abstraction), and, as to its bein' true, all I can say is I had it from his own lips. Master Will has no objection to my knowing what he tells his mother—as no more he shouldn't, for Jemimar, you can bear me witness that I've been a second mother to him, an' used to love him as if he were my own—though he was a aggrawatin' hinfant, an' used to bump his 'ead, an' skin his knees, an' tear his clothes, an' wet his feet, in a way that often distracted me, though I did my very best to prevent it; but nothink's of any use tryin' of w'en you can't do it; as my 'usband, as was in the mutton-pie line, said to the doctor the night afore he died—my 'eart used to be quite broke about him, so it did; but that's all past an' gone—well, as I was a-sayin', Master Will he told his mother as 'ow there was a young lady (so he called her) as 'ad won his 'art, an' she was a cannibal as lived on a coal island in the Paphysic Ocean. Then he told her some stories about the coal island as made my blood run cold, and said his Flora behaved like a heroine in the midst of it all."
At this point Larry and Bunco exchanged meaning glances, and the former gave vent to a soft whistle, which he accompanied with a wink.
"I'm sure," continued Maryann, "it's past my comprehension; for instead of being dreadfully shocked, as I had expected, Mrs Osten threw her arms round Master Will's neck and blessed him and the cannibal, too, and said she hoped to be spared to see 'em united, though she wouldn't like them to remain on the coal island in the Paphysic. I do assure you, Jemimar," continued Maryann, putting the corner of her apron to her eyes, "it quite gave me a turn, and I was nearly took bad w'en I 'eard it. Master Will, he made his mother promise to keep it to herself, as, he said, not a soul in the world knew of it but him and her—"
Mr Richards coughed at this point, and appeared to be engaged in a severe conflict with an untractable crust, which caused Maryann to stop suddenly and look at him. But Larry again came to the rescue by saying—
"Why, Maryann, my dear, ye've bin an' mistook a good deal of what you've heard, intirely. This Flora Westwood is no cannibal, but wan o' the purtiest bit craturs I iver had the good luck to set eyes on; as white as a lily, wid cheeks like the rose, not to spake of a smile an' a timper of an angel. She's a parson's daughter, too, an' lives on a coral island in the Pacific Ocean, where the people is cannibals, no doubt, as I've good raison to know, for they ait up a lot o' me shipmates, and it was by good luck they didn't ait up myself and Master Will too—though I do belaive they'd have found me so tough that I'd have blunted their teeth an' soured on their stummicks, bad luck to them. But it's surprised that I am to hear about this. Ah, then, Master Will, but ye're a sly dog—more cunnin' than I took ye for. Ye threw dust in the eyes of Larry O'Hale, anyhow."
Poor Maryann appeared much relieved by this explanation, although she felt it to be consistent with her dignity that she should throw considerable doubt on Larry's statement, cross-question him pretty severely, and allow herself to be convinced only after the accumulation of an amount of evidence that could not be resisted.
"Well, now, that accounts for the way in which his mother received the news," said Maryann.
"It is a strange story," remarked Jemima.
"Uncommon," observed Richards.
Bunco said nothing, but he grinned from ear to ear.
At that moment, as if it were aware of the climax at which the party had arrived, the baby, without a single note of warning, set up a hideous howl, in the midst of which the bell rang, and Maryann rose to answer it.
"Master Will wants to speak to you, Mr Hale, and to Mr Bunco, too," she said on returning.
"Come along, Mister Bunco," said Larry, "that'll be the order to trip our anchors."
"My friends," said Will Osten, when the two were seated on the corners of their respective chairs in the drawing-room, "I sent for you to say that circumstances have occurred which render it necessary that I should visit California. Do you feel inclined to join me in this trip, or do you prefer to remain in England?"
"I'm yer man," said Larry.
"So's me," added Bunco.
"I thought so," said Will, smiling; "we have been comrades together too long to part yet. But I must start without delay, and mean to go by the plains and across the Rocky Mountains. Are you ready to set off on short notice?"
"In half an hour av ye plaze, sur," said Larry.
Bunco grinned and nodded his head.
"The end of the week will do," said Will, laughing; "so be off and make your preparations for a long and rough trip."
In pursuance of this plan, Will Osten and his two staunch followers, soon after the date of the above conversation, crossed the Atlantic, traversed the great Lakes of Canada to the centre of North America, purchased, at the town of Saint Pauls, horses, guns, provisions, powder, shot, etcetera, for a long journey, and found themselves, one beautiful summer evening, galloping gaily over those wide prairies that roll beyond the last of the backwood settlements, away into the wild recesses of the Western Wilderness.
DESCRIBES A BURST OVER THE WESTERN PRAIRIE, AND INTRODUCES A NEW CHARACTER, ALSO A HUNT, AND A GREAT FEAST.
Wandering Will and his companions laid the reins on the necks of their half-tamed horses and galloped wildly away over the western prairie. Perhaps it was the feeling of absolute freedom from human restraints that excited them to the galloping and shouting condition of maniacs; perhaps it was the idea of sweeping over unbounded space in these interminable plains, or the influence of the fresh air around, the sunny blue sky overhead, and the flower-speckled sward underfoot—perhaps it was all these put together, but, whatever the cause, our three travellers commenced their journey at a pace that would have rendered them incapable of further progress in a few hours had they kept it up. Their state of mind was aptly expressed, at the end of one of these wild flights, by Larry, who exclaimed, as he reined in—
"Ah, then, it's flyin' I'll be in a minit. Sure av I only had a pair o' wings no bigger than a sparrow's, I cud do it aisy."
"Yoo's a goose, Larry," observed Bunco.
"Faix if I was it's mesilf as would fly away an' lave you to waller on the dirty earth ye belongs to," retorted the other.
"Dirty earth!" echoed Will Osten, gazing round on the plains of bright green grass that waved in the soft air with something like the gentle heavings of the sea. "Come, let's have another!"
They stretched out again at full gallop and swept away like the wind itself.
"Hooroo!" shouted Larry O'Hale, wildly throwing out both arms and rising in his stirrups; "look here, Bunco, I'm goin' to fly, boy!"
Larry didn't mean to do so, but he did fly! His horse put its foot in a badger-hole at that moment and fell. The rider, flying over its head, alighted on his back, and remained in that position quite motionless, while his alarmed comrades reined up hastily and dismounted.
"Not hurt, I hope," said Will, anxiously.
"Och! ha! gintly, doctor, take me up tinderly," gasped the poor man as they raised him to the perpendicular position, in which he stood for nearly a minute making very wry faces and slowly moving his shoulders and limbs to ascertain whether any bones were fractured.
"I do belave I'm all right," he said at length with a sigh of relief; "have a care, Bunco, kape yer paws off, but take a squint at the nape o' me neck an' see if me back-bone is stickin' up through me shirt-collar."
"Me no can see him," said the sympathetic Bunco.
"That's a blissin' anyhow. I only wish ye cud feel him, Bunco. Doctor, dear, did ye iver see stars in the day-time?"
"Then ye'd better make a scientific note of it in yer book, for I see 'em at this good minit dancin' about like will-o'-the-wisps in a bog of Ould Ireland. There, help me on to the back o' the baste—bad luck to the badgers, say I."
Thus muttering to himself and his comrades, half exasperated by the stunning effects of his fall, yet rather thankful to find that no real damage was done, Larry remounted, and all three continued their journey with not much less enjoyment, but with abated energy.
Thus much for the beginning. Availing ourselves of an author's privilege to annihilate time and space at pleasure, we change the scene. The three travellers are still riding over the same prairie, but at the distance of a hundred miles or so from the spot where the accident above described took place.
It was evening. The sun was gradually sinking in the west—far beyond that "far west" to which they had penetrated. The wanderers looked travel-stained, and appeared somewhat fatigued, while their horses advanced with slow steps and drooping heads. Two pack-horses, which had been procured by them with an additional supply of necessaries at a solitary fort belonging to the fur-traders of that region, were driven by Larry, whose voice and action seemed to indicate that he and they were actuated by different sentiments and desires.
"Of all the lazy bastes," he exclaimed, giving one of the horses a tremendous cut over the flank that startled it into temporary life, "I iver did see—but, och! what's the use—there's niver a dhrop o' wather in this wilderness. We may as well lie down an' die at wance."
"Hush, Larry," said Will Osten, "don't talk lightly of dying."
"Lightly is it? Well, now, there's nothin' light about me from the sole o' me fut to the top o' the tallest hair on me head, an' the heaviest part about me is the heart, which feels like lead intirely. But cheer up, Larry, yer owld grandmother always said ye was born to be hanged, so of coorse ye can't be starved—that's a comfort, anyhow!"
"What think you, Bunco," said Will Osten, turning to his dark-skinned companion, "shall we encamp on this arid part of the plain and go waterless as well as supperless to rest, or shall we push on? I fear the horses will break down if we try to force them much further."
"Water not be far-off," said Bunco curtly.
"Very well, we shall hold on."
In silence they continued to advance until the sun was descending towards the horizon, when there suddenly appeared, on the brow of an eminence, the figure of a solitary horseman. Sharply defined as he was against the bright sky, this horseman appeared to be of supernaturally huge proportions—insomuch that the three travellers pulled up by tacit consent, and glanced inquiringly at each other.
"It's a ghost at last!" muttered the superstitious Irishman, whose expression of countenance showed that he was not by any means in a jesting humour.
"Ghost or not, we must be prepared to meet him," said Will, loosening a large hunting-knife in its sheath and examining the priming of his rifle.
The strange horseman had evidently observed the party, for he presently descended the rising ground and rode slowly towards them. In doing so he passed out of the strong light, and consequently assumed more ordinary proportions, but still when he drew near, it was evident that he was a man of immense size. He rode a black steed of the largest and most powerful description; was clad in the leathern hunting-shirt, belt, leggings, moccasins, etcetera, peculiar to the western hunter, and carried a short rifle in the hollow of his right arm.
"Good-evening, strangers," he said, in a tone that savoured of the Yankee, but with an easy manner and good-humoured gravity that seemed to indicate English extraction. "Goin' far?"
"To California," said Will, smiling at the abrupt commencement of the conversation.
"H'm, a longish bit. Come far?"
"H'm, a longish bit, too. Lost and starvin', I see."
"Not exactly, but pretty nearly so," said Will. "I had entertained the belief, presumptuous if you will, that I could find my way in any part of the wilderness by means of a sextant and pocket compass, and, to say truth, I don't feel quite sure that I should have failed, but before I had a sufficient opportunity of testing my powers, one of our baggage horses rolled down the bank of a creek and broke my sextant. In trying to save him I rolled down along with him and smashed my compass, so I have resigned the position of guide in favour of my friend here, who, being a native, seems to possess a mysterious power in the matter of finding his way."
"From the other side of the mountains?" asked the strange horseman, glancing at Bunco.
"Yoo's right," said Bunco, with a grin.
There was a slight touch of humour in the grave stern countenance of the stranger as he replied in a language which was quite unintelligible to Will and Larry, but which appeared to create wonderful sensations in the breast of Bunco, who for some minutes continued to talk with much volubility and eagerness.
"You appear to be old friends?" said Will, inquiringly, to the stranger.
"Not 'xactly," he replied, "but I've trapped on the west side o' the mountains, and the Redskin is excited a bit at meetin' with a man who knows his nation and his name. I've heard of him before. He was thought a brave warrior by his tribe, but it is so long since he disappeared from the face o' the 'arth that they've given him up for dead. His wife was alive last fall. I saw her myself, and she has steadily refused to marry any of the young braves—at least she had refused so to do up to the time I left; but there's no calc'latin' what these Redskins will do. However, I've comforted this one wi' the news."
"With your leave, Mister Trapper," said Larry, breaking in impatiently at this point, "may I suggest that when you're quite done talkin' we should continue our sarch for grub an' wather, for at present our stummicks is empty an' our mouths is dry!"
"Have you no food?" asked the trapper.
"None," answered Will; "we finished our last scrap of meat yesterday morning, and have been hoping and expecting to fall in with buffalo ever since, for the signs around show that they cannot be far distant."
"You are right; I am even now followin' their trail, for, like yourselves, I'm well-nigh starvin'. Not had a bite for three days."
"Ye don't look like it!" said Larry, gazing at the man in some surprise.
"Perhaps not, nevertheless it's a fact, so we'll push on an' try to find 'em before sundown."
Saying this, the stalwart trapper gave the rein to his stead and galloped away over the plains, followed as close as possible by the wearied travellers.
The pace was hard on the horses, but there was need for haste, because the sun was close on the horizon, and as far as the eye could reach no buffalo were to be seen. Ere long the character of the prairie changed, the arid ground gave place to more fertile land, here and there clumps of willows and even a few small trees appeared, while, in the far distance, a line of low bushes ran across the country.
"Water dere," said Bunco.
"The Redskin's right," observed the trapper, slackening his speed a little; "'tis his natur' to know the signs o' the wilderness. Does his hawk-eye see nothing more?"
"Bufflo!" exclaimed Bunco, as he drew up and gazed intently at a particular spot in the wilderness.
"Ay, lad, it is buffalo an' no mistake. I know'd I should find 'em there," said the trapper, with a quiet chuckle, as he examined the priming of his rifle. "Now, friends, we'll have to approach them quietly. You'd better catch up the halters o' your pack-horses, Mister Irishman—"
"Larry O'Hale at your sarvice, Mister Trapper."
"Benjamin Hicks at yours, Mister O'Hale, but I'm better known as Big Ben! And now," he continued, "keep well in rear, all of you, an' follow me down in the bottom there, between the ridges. Don't out o' cooriosity go exposin' yourselves to the buffalo. In the meantime keep quiet, and let your mouths water at the thought o' fat steaks and marrow-bones."
Benjamin Hicks galloped along the bottom of the hollow for a considerable distance; then, dismounting, hobbled his horse by tying its two fore feet together with a piece of rope. Thus hampered, it could hop about in an awkward fashion and feed, while its master advanced on foot. With rapid strides he proceeded some distance further along the bottom, and then ascended the ridge in a stooping position. On nearing the summit he crept on hands and knees, and, on gaining it, he sank like a phantom into the grass and disappeared.
The party who followed him stopped on reaching the spot where the horse had been left, and for some time waited in excited and silent expectation, listening for the report of the hunter's rifle. Despite the caution given them, however, they could not long refrain from attempting to see what was going on. After waiting a few minutes, Will Osten hobbled his horse and crept up the side of the ridge, which might be more correctly described as an undulating prairie-wave. Bunco and Larry followed his example. When they all lay flat among the grass on the summit and raised their heads cautiously, the sight that met their eyes sent a thrill of delight to their hearts.
It was still the boundless prairie, indeed, but its uniform flatness was broken by innumerable knolls and hillocks, of varied extent, which looked like islands in a green sea. Some were covered with clusters of white pines, others with low bushes. Rich grass waved gently in the evening breeze, giving to the whole scene an air of quiet motion. Not far distant flowed the little stream already referred to, and as this reflected the gorgeous golden clouds that were lit up by the setting sun, it appeared like a stream of liquid fire meandering over the plains, while, far, far away on the hazy and glowing horizon—so far that it seemed as if a whole world lay between—a soft blue line was faintly visible. It might have been mistaken for the distant sea, or a long low cloud of azure blue, but Will Osten knew that, however unlike to them it might appear, this was in reality the first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains! The pleasantest sight of all, however, was a group of ten or a dozen buffalo, which grazed, in all the lazy ease of fancied security, at the side of a knoll not more than three hundred yards distant. As our travellers lay, with bated breath and beating hearts, gazing at these animals, dreaming of feasting on fat things, and waiting for a shot, they became aware of a low murmuring sound somewhat resembling distant thunder, but softer and more continuous. On scanning the plains more intently they perceived that here and there were other scattered groups of buffalo, more or less concealed by knolls, while in the extreme distance a black line, which they had at first mistaken for bushes, proved to be an immense herd of living creatures, whose pawings and bellowings reached them like a faint murmur.
Suddenly the animals close to them sprang into the air as if they had received an electric shock. At the same instant a white cloudlet of smoke rose above the grass, and a few seconds later the sharp crack of the trapper's rifle broke on their ears. The huge ungainly brutes bounded away, leaving one of their number behind. He writhed violently, and then lay gently down. A moment of suspense followed, for he might rise again and run beyond pursuit, as buffalo often do under a deadly wound! But no! he curled his tail, gasped once or twice, and rolled over on his side.
Knives were out in a moment, and the whole party rushed like wolves upon the prey. First, they rolled the animal upon his brisket, slit his hide along the spine, peeled it down one side, and cut off a piece large enough to form a wrapper for the meat. Next the flesh on each side of the spine was pared off, and the tongue cut out. The axe was then applied to his ribs—the heart, the fat, the tender loins and other parts were taken out; then the great marrow-bones were cut from his legs, and the whole being wrapped in the green hide, was slung on a pole, and carried by Will Osten and the trapper to the nearest suitable camping ground. This was on the edge of a grove of white pine by the side of the clear rivulet under the shade of a woody hill. Here, before darkness had completely set in, Will and his new friend kindled a great fire and prepared supper, while Larry and Bunco went off to fetch and tether the horses.
Now, reader, you must understand that it was no light duty which lay before the wanderers that evening. They had to make up for a good many missed meals. The word "ravenous" scarcely indicates their condition! They were too hungry to lose time, too tired to speak. Everything, therefore, was done with quiet vigour. Steaks were impaled on pieces of stick, and stuck up before the fire to roast. When one side of a steak was partially done, pieces of it were cut off and devoured while the other was cooking. At the expense of a little burning of the lips, and a good deal of roasting of the face, the severe pangs of hunger were thus slightly allayed, then each man sat down before the blaze with his back against a tree, his hunting-knife in one hand, a huge rib or steak in the other, and quietly but steadily and continuously devoured beef!
"Och! when did I iver ait so much before?" exclaimed Larry, dropping a peeled rib.
"What! not goin' to give in yet?" said Big Ben, setting up another rib to roast; "why, that'll never do. You must eat till daylight, if you would be fit to travel in the prairie. Our wild meat never pains one. You may eat as much as you can hold. That's always the way we do in the far west. Sometimes we starve for six or eight days at a time, and then when we get plenty, we lay in good store and pack it well down, always beginnin' wi' the best pieces first, for fear that some skulkin' Redskin should kill us before we've had time to enjoy them. See here, you've only had the first course; rest a bit while I prepare the second."
While he spoke, Ben was breaking up the marrow-bones with his hatchet, and laying bare the beautiful rolls of "trappers' butter" within. Having extracted about a pound of marrow, he put it into a gallon of water, and, mixing along with it a quantity of the buffalo's blood and a little salt, set it on the fire to boil. In a short time this savoury soup was ready. Turn not up your noses at it, "ye gentlemen of England, who live at home at ease," (though, by the way, we doubt the reality of that "ease," which causes so much dyspepsia amongst you that good food becomes unpalatable and strong food nauseous), but believe us when we tell you that the soup was super-excellent.
"Musha!" exclaimed Larry, when he tasted the first spoonful, "I feel exactly as if I had ait nothin' at all yit—only goin' to begin!" And with that he and his comrades attacked and consumed the soup until their faces shone again with grease and gladness.
"That'll do now," said Larry in a decided tone, as he rose and stretched himself, preparatory to filling his beloved pipe—"not a dhrop nor a bite more on any account."
"Is you stuffed full?" asked Bunco.
"Pretty nigh," replied Larry, glancing at his friend with an inquiring look; "seems to me that you have overdone it."
"Me is pretty tight," said Bunco languidly.
"Come, come," cried the trapper, "don't shirk your victuals. There's one more course, and then you can rest if you have a mind to."
So saying, the indefatigable man took up the intestines of the buffalo, which had been properly prepared for the purpose, turned them inside out, and proceeded to stuff them with strips of tender loin well salted and peppered. The long sausage thus hastily made was hung in festoons before the fire, and roasted until it was thoroughly browned. Portions were then cut off and set down before the company. When each thought of beginning he felt as though the swallowing of a single bite were utterly impossible, but when each had actually begun he could not stop, but continued eating until all was finished, and then wished for more, while Benjamin Hicks chuckled heartily to witness the success of his cookery and the extent of his friends' powers.
Ah, it is all very well, reader, for you to say "Humph! nonsense," but go you and wander for a year or two among the Rocky Mountains, acquire the muscles of a trapper and the digestion of an ostrich, then starve yourself for a few days, and get the chance of a "feed" such as we have feebly described, and see whether you won't come home (if you ever come home) saying, "Well, after all, truth is strange, stranger than fiction!"
It need scarcely be said that the solace of the pipe was sought immediately after the meal was concluded by Will, Larry, and Bunco; but Big Ben did not join them. He had starved longer than they, and intended, as he said, to eat all night!
"Well," observed Larry, as he extended himself at full length before the blaze, and resting his right elbow on the ground and his head on his hand, smoked in calm felicity; "I've often found that there's nothin' like tiredness to make a man enjoy rest, but, faix, it's this night I've larned, as I niver did before, that there's nothin' like starvation to mak wan enjoy his victuals."
"Eight, Larry," said Will Osten with a laugh; "upon my word I think it would be worth while to live always on the plan of missing our meals each alternate day, in order to enjoy them more thoroughly on the other days."
"If city men would go on that plan," observed the trapper, gravely tearing the flesh from a rib with his teeth, and speaking at the same time, "there would be no use for doctors."
"Ah, then, think of that now; wouldn't it be a rail hard case for the poor doctors?" said Larry, with a sly glance at Will.
Bunco grinned at this, and observed that it was "time for hims be go sleep." Whereupon he rolled his blanket about him and lay down with his feet to the fire. Will Osten also lay down and fell asleep almost immediately. Larry, too, stretched himself out in repose, leaving Big Ben still engaged with the buffalo beef.
The night was rather cold. In course of time Will Osten awoke, and called to the trapper to mend the fire, which he did, and then resumed his former occupation. Once or twice after that, one and another of the slumberers awoke, and, looking up sleepily for a few seconds, beheld the enduring man still hard at work. The last to lift his head that night was Larry. The puzzled Irishman gazed in mute amazement during the unusually long period of half a minute, for Benjamin Hicks still sat there, glittering in the light of the camp-fire, grave as a Redskin, and busy as ever with the bones!
RELATES HOW BIG BEN BECAME A TRAVELLING COMPANION, AND HOW A BIG BEAR WAS CAPTURED—DISCUSSIONS AND MISFORTUNES.
To the great satisfaction of Will Osten and his friends, it was discovered that Benjamin Hicks was a wandering trapper, whose avocations led him to whatever part of the wilderness was most likely to produce furs, and who had no particular objection to take a trip across the mountains with our adventurers. Indeed Big Ben thought no more of a ride of several hundreds of miles than most men do of an afternoon walk, and, if particular business did not prevent him, he was always ready to undertake a "venture" so long as it was, in his opinion, justifiable and likely to pay.
"You see, sir," he said, as he and Will cantered together along the base of a low hill one evening, "it's not that I'm of an unsettled natur', but I've bin born to this sort o' life, an' it would be no manner o' use in me tryin' to change it. Once upon a time I used to think o' settlin' in one of the back settlements—that was when my poor old mother was alive. I used to live with her and take care of her after my father's death. Then I married and thought I was fairly fixed down for life, but one night when I chanced to be out looking after my traps, a war-party o' Injuns attacked the village and killed every soul in it. At least so it was said at the time, but afterwards I met a lad who had escaped, an' he told me that he had seen my mother and wife killed, but that a few of the men escaped as well as him."
The trapper's voice deepened as he spoke, and he paused.
"Was it long ago?" asked Will, in a tone of sympathy.
"Ten years now," answered Ben, sadly—"though it seems to me but yesterday. For many a day after that I tried to find the trail o' the Redskins that did it, but never succeeded, thank God. If I had, it would only have ended in the spillin' of more blood, without any good comin' of it. It is long now since I left off thirstin' for revenge, but I suppose I'll never cease wishin' that—that—well, well, God's will be done," he added, as if rousing himself out of a sad reverie, "I'm not used to speak about this, but somehow whenever I meet with white men o' the right sort in the plains or mountains, I always feel a kind o' longin' to let my tongue wag raither too free. However, as I was goin' to say, I've been a wanderer since then, goin' where I think I can be o' use to myself or others; and so, as you don't appear to be overly knowin' about the trail across the mountains, I'll go with 'ee a bit o' the way an' pint it out, if you have no objections."
"No objections!" echoed Will; "I'll be delighted to have your company, and would be only too glad if you could go all the way."
"Who knows but I might be willin' to go if I was asked," said the trapper, with a slight approach to a smile.
"Are you in earnest?" asked Will Big Ben not only admitted that he was in earnest, but said that he was quite ready to start at once, if they would only consent to diverge from their route about thirty miles to a small outpost belonging to the fur-traders, where he had deposited a lot of peltries, which he wished to convert into supplies for the journey. This was readily agreed to, and, accordingly, next day about noon, they came in sight of Rocky Mountain Fort—so-called because of its being situated in a somewhat wild glen, near the verge of one of the eastern spurs of the Rocky Mountains.
While the fort was still far distant, though in sight, Larry O'Hale uttered a sudden exclamation, and pointed to a black spot lying on the side of one of the numerous mounds with which the country was diversified.
"A black bear," said the trapper, quietly.
"Have at ye then!" shouted Larry, as he drove his heels against the ribs of his steed and went off at full gallop.
"Stay, Bunco, let him have all the glory to himself," cried Will, laughing.
Bunco, who had started to follow, reined up, and all three cantered to the top of a neighbouring height, whence they could clearly see the country for many miles in all directions.
Meanwhile the enthusiastic Larry had descended into a hollow, to leeward of the bear. Along this he trotted smartly, following its windings and keeping carefully out of sight, until he judged himself to be nearly opposite to the spot where the bear lay, then breaking into a gallop he turned at right angles to his former course, bounded over the ridge that had concealed him, and rushed furiously on his victim. The bear was a young one, but nearly full grown. On beholding the horseman it rose on its hind legs and showed all its formidable teeth.
"Och! is it laughin' ye are?" exclaimed Larry, bringing forward the muzzle of his gun, "it's cryin' ye'll be before long."
As he spoke the piece exploded. Whether it was that his finger had pressed the trigger too soon, or that the aim, owing to the pace, was unsteady, we know not, but Larry missed; the ball hit the ground just in front of the bear, and drove such a quantity of earth into his facs, eyes, and mouth, that he shook his head with a spluttering cough which ended in a savage growl, but, on beholding the wild Irishman charging down on him with the ferocity and thunder of a squadron of heavy dragoons, he dropt on his fore-legs, turned tail, and fled. Larry tried to re-load while pursuing, but, owing to the uneven nature of the ground, which required him to devote earnest attention to the badger-holes, he could not manage this. Without knowing very well what to do, he continued the chase, meditating as to whether it were better to try to ride over the bear, or to attempt the breaking of its skull with the butt end of his gun. As, however, it was all he could do to keep pace with the brute, he found either alternative impossible.
"Ochone! what'll I do wid ye?" cried the perplexed man, in despair.
The bear, as if in reply, glanced aside at him and grinned horribly.
"I do belaive it's laughin' again at me! Git on, ye baist," (to his horse), "sure ye're four times as big, an' ought to run faster."
Larry forgot to do his steed the justice to add that it carried fourteen stone weight on its back. The poor man tried hard to overtake the bear, but failed to gain an inch on him. To make matters worse, he observed that the brute was edging towards a wood which lay on his right. Seeing this he diverged a little, and, by making a dive into a hollow, he managed to cut off its retreat in that direction. Rocky Mountain Fort, which lay on his left, was now within half a mile of him, and he could see some of its inhabitants, who had observed the party coming from the plains, standing at the gate of the fort watching the chase with much interest. A glance over his shoulder showed him that his travelling companions were in view behind. Keenly alive to the fact that he should be overwhelmed with ridicule if he failed, the now desperate man conceived the bold idea of driving the bear into the fort! He felt that this feat was not beyond the bounds of possibility, for the bear was beginning to flag a little, while his hardy steed was still in good wind. He therefore applied the whip with greater energy, and soon came alongside of the bear, which attempted to turn to the right, but Paddy had become a good and alert horseman by that time, and was on his other side in an instant. Again the bear tried to double, and again his enemy checked him and urged him on. Thus they progressed until they drew near to the gate of the fort. This was now deserted, for the fur-traders soon understood the game that the wild horseman was playing, and made way for the entrance of the stranger. At last the bear came so close to the walls of the fort that it observed the open gateway. A way of escape was here—it evidently imagined—so it went through at full gallop! It was immediately met by a house. Turning quickly round, it was met by another house. Dashing aside, it was brought up by a wall. As a last resource it ran behind a pile of cut firewood and stuck its head into a hole, just as Larry O'Hale bounded through the gateway with a wild cheer of triumph. Will Osten, Big Ben, and Bunco quickly followed, and the gates were shut by the men of the fort.
But the victory was by no means completed. The question still remained, How was the enemy to be made prisoner? One of the fur-traders seized it by the tail and tried to draw it out. He failed to do more than draw forth a tremendous growl. Another fur-trader, aided by Larry, came to the assistance of the first, and, by their united power, plucked Bruin out of the hole like a cork out of a bottle. He turned with fury on his enemies, two of whom sprang back, overturning Larry in the act. At that moment one of the fur-traders, a stalwart Canadian, leaped upon the bear, grasped him by the throat, and tried to strangle him. One of the others, seeing this, caught at the brute's legs and tumbled him on his side, for which he was rewarded with a scratch which tore his right arm open from the elbow to the wrist. The hands of the stout Canadian were at the same time severely lacerated by the brute's claws. During the brief moments in which this struggle lasted, Big Ben had leaped from his steed; detached the stout line which always hung at his saddle-bow; made a noose as deftly as if he had been a British tar or a hangman, and passed it quickly over the bear's muzzle. Drawing it tight he took a turn round its neck, another round its fore-legs, and a third round the body. After this the work of subjugation was easy, and Bruin was finally reduced to slavery.
We know not, good reader, what you may think of this incident, but we beg to assure you that, in its essence, it is a fact, and that that bear was afterwards sent to England to suck its paws in a menagerie, and delight the eyes and imaginations of an admiring public.
Again we change the scene to the heart of the Rocky Mountains, in which, after many days of toil and trouble, heat and cold, hunger and thirst, difficulty and danger, our travellers found themselves at the close of a bright and beautiful day.
"I think," said Will Osten, reining up by the side of a copse which crowned the brow of an eminence, "that this seems a good camping place."
"There is not a better within ten mile of us," said Big Ben, dismounting. "This is the spot I have been pushing on for all day, so let us to work without delay. We have a hard day before us to-morrow, and that necessitates a hard feed an' a sound sleep to-night. Them's the trapper's cure for all ills."
"They cure many ills, doubtless," observed Will, as he removed the saddle from his jaded steed.
Larry, whose duty it was to cut firewood, remarked, as he administered his first powerful blow to a dead tree, that "grub and slumber at night was the chief joys o' life, and the only thing that could be compared to 'em was, slumber and grub in the mornin'!" To which sentiment Bunco grinned hearty assent, as he unloaded and hobbled the pack-horses.
Soon the camp was made. The fire roared grandly up among the branches of the trees. The kettle sent forth savoury smells and clouds of steam. The tired steeds munched the surrounding herbage in quiet felicity, and the travellers lay stretched upon a soft pile of brushwood, loading their pipes and enjoying supper by anticipation. The howling of a wolf, and the croaking of some bird of prey, formed an appropriate duet, to which the trickling of a clear rill of ice-cold water, near by, constituted a sweet accompaniment, while through the stems of the trees they could scan—as an eagle does from his eyrie high up on the cliffs— one of the grandest mountain scenes in the world, bathed in the soft light of the moon in its first quarter.
"'Tis a splendid view of God's handiwork," said the trapper, observing the gaze of rapt admiration with which Will Osten surveyed it.
"It is indeed most glorious," responded Will, "a scene that inclines one to ask the question, If earth be so fair, what must heaven be?"
"It aint easy to answer that," said the trapper gravely, and with a slight touch of perplexity in a countenance which usually wore that expression of calm self-reliance peculiar to men who have thorough confidence in themselves. "Seems to me that there's a screw loose in men's thoughts when they come to talk of heaven. The Redskins, now, think it's a splendid country where the weather is always fine, the sun always shining, and the game plentiful. Then the men of the settlement seem to have but a hazy notion about its bein' a place of happiness, but they can't tell why or wherefore in a very comprehensible sort o' way, and, as far as I can see, they're in no hurry to get there. It seems in a muddle somehow, an' that's a thing that surprises me, for the works o' the Almighty—hereaway in the mountains—are plain and onderstandable, so as a child might read 'em; but man's brains don't seem to be such perfect work, for, when he comes to talk o' God and heaven, they appear to me to work as if they wor out o' jint."
The trapper was a naturally earnest, matter-of-fact man, but knew little or nothing of the Christian religion, except what he had heard of it from the lips of men who, having neither knowledge of it nor regard for it themselves, gave a false report both of its blessed truths and its workings. He glanced inquiringly at our hero when he ceased to speak.
"What is your own opinion about heaven?" asked Will Big Ben looked earnestly at his companion for a few seconds and said—
"Young man, I never was asked that question before, an' so, of course, never made a straightforward reply to it. Nevertheless, I think I have a sort of notion on the pint, an' can state it, too, though I can't boast of havin' much larnin'. Seems to me that the notion of the men of the settlements isn't worth much, for few o' them can tell ye what they think or why they think it, except in a ramblin' way, an' they don't agree among themselves. Then, as for the Redskins, I can't believe that it's likely there will be such work as shootin' an' fishin' in heaven. So I'm inclined to think that we know nothin' about it at all, and that heaven will be nothin' more nor less than bein' with God, who, bein' the Maker of the soul an' body, knows what's best for both, and will show us that at the proper time. But there are mysteries about it that puzzle me. I know that the Almighty must be right in all He does, yet He permits men to murder each other, and do worse than that."
"I agree with you, Ben," said Will Osten, after a moment's reflection. "That everything in heaven will be perfect is certain. That we don't at present see how this is to be is equally certain, and the most certain thing of all is, that the very essence of heaven will consist in being 'for ever with the Lord.' I don't wonder at your being puzzled by mysteries. It would be strange indeed were it otherwise, but I have a book here which explains many of these mysteries, and shows us how we ought to regard those which it does not explain."
Here Will Osten drew a small volume from the breast-pocket of his coat.
"The Bible?" said the trapper.
"Part of it at all events," said Will. "It is the New Testament. Come, let us examine it a little."
The youth and the trapper sat down and began to read the New Testament together, and to discuss its contents while supper was being prepared by their comrades. After supper, they returned to it, and continued for several hours to bend earnestly over the Word of God.
In the wild remote part of the Rocky Mountains where their camp was made, neither trappers nor Indians were wont to ramble. Even wild beasts were not so numerous there as elsewhere, so that it was deemed unnecessary to keep watch during the night. But a war-party of Indians, out on an expedition against another tribe with whom they were at deadly feud, chanced to traverse the unfrequented pass at that time in order to make a short cut, and descend from an unusual quarter, and so take their enemies by surprise.
Towards midnight—when the rocky crags and beetling cliffs frowned like dark clouds over the spot where the travellers lay in deepest shade, with only a few red embers of the camp-fire to throw a faint lurid light on their slumbering forms—a tall savage emerged from the surrounding gloom, so stealthily, so noiselessly, and by such slow degrees, that he appeared more like a vision than a reality. At first his painted visage only and the whites of his glittering eyes came into view as he raised his head above the surrounding brushwood and stretched his neck in order to obtain a better view of the camp. Then slowly, inch by inch, almost with imperceptible motion, he crept forward until the whole of his gaunt form was revealed. A scalping-knife gleamed in his right hand. The camp was strewn with twigs, but these he removed one by one, carefully clearing each spot before he ventured to rest a knee upon it. While the savage was thus engaged, Larry O'Hale, who was nearest to him, sighed deeply in his sleep and turned round. The Indian at once sank so flat among the grass that scarcely any part of him was visible. Big Ben, who slept very lightly, was awakened by Larry's motions, but having been aroused several times already by the same restless individual, he merely glanced at his sleeping comrade and shut his eyes again.
Well aware that in such a camp there must assuredly be at least one who was acquainted with the ways and dangers of the wilderness, and who, therefore, would be watchful, the savage lay perfectly still for more than a quarter of an hour; then he raised his head, and, by degrees, his body, until he kneeled once more by the side of the unconscious Irishman. As he raised himself a small twig snapt under his weight. The face of the savage underwent a sudden spasmodic twitch, and his dark eye glanced sharply from one to another of the sleepers, while his fingers tightened on the hilt of his knife, but the rest of his body remained as rigid as a statue. There was no evidence that the sound had been heard. All remained as still and motionless as before, while the savage bent over the form of Larry O'Hale and gazed into his face.
But the snapping of that little twig had not been unobserved. The trapper's eyes were open, and his senses wide awake on the instant. Yet, so tutored was he in the ways and warfare of the wilderness that no muscle of his huge frame moved, and his eyes were closed again so quickly that the glance of the savage, sharp though it was, failed to detect the fact of his having awakened. The busy mind of Big Ben was active, however, while he lay there. He saw that the savage was armed, but the knife was not yet raised to strike. He saw, also, that this man was in his war paint, and knew that others were certainly around him, perhaps close to his own back, yet he did not dare to look round or to make the slightest movement. His spirit was on fire with excitement, but his body lay motionless as if dead, while he rapidly considered what was to be done. Presently the savage removed a corner of the blanket which covered Larry's broad chest and then raised his knife. In another moment the trapper's rifle sent forth its deadly contents, and the Indian fell across the Irishman in the agonies of death.
Instantly the other sleepers sprang to their feet and seized their arms, but before they had time to use them they were surrounded by the whole band of savages, and, amid a hurricane of whoops and yells, were overpowered and pinioned. Larry, with the fiery zeal of his countrymen, struggled like a madman, until one of the savages gave him a blow on the head with the flat of his tomahawk to quiet him, but the others, who knew that to struggle against overpowering odds would only make matters worse, at once surrendered.
"It is all over with us now," exclaimed Will Osten, bitterly; "if we had only had the chance of a good fight beforehand, it would have been some comfort!"
"When you have lived longer in the wilderness, lad," said Big Ben, "you'll not give way to despair so easily."
These remarks were made as they sat on the grass while the Indians were engaged in catching and saddling the horses. Soon after our travellers were assisted to mount, having their wrists tied behind their backs; and thus, with armed savages around them, they were led away prisoners—they knew not whither.
SHOWS THAT THE TABLES ARE TURNED, AND THAT GOOD AND BAD FORTUNE CONTINUE TO COMMINGLE.
One fortunate circumstance attending the capture of Wandering Will and his friends was that the Indians happened to follow the route which they had been pursuing, so that, whatever might be their ultimate fate, in the meantime they were advancing on their journey.
Big Ben took occasion to point this out to his comrades the next night, when, after a severe day's ride, they were allowed to sit down and eat a scanty meal surrounded by the Indian warriors. No fire was lighted, for the savages knew they were now approaching their enemies' country. Their food, which consisted of dried buffalo meat, was eaten cold. In order to enable the captives to feed themselves, their hands had been loosed and refastened in front instead of behind them, but this did not in any degree improve their chance of escape, for they were guarded with extreme vigilance.
"You see, Mr Osten," said Big Ben, in a low tone, "it's a piece of good luck that they've brought us this way, 'cause when we leave them we have nought to do but continue our journey."
"Leave them!" exclaimed Will in surprise. "How shall we manage to leave them?"
"By escapin'," answered the trapper. "How it is to be gone about no man can tell, for man is only mortal an' don't know nothin' about the futur', but we'll find that out in good time."
"I hope we may," returned Will sadly, as he gazed round on the stern faces of the savages, who ate their frugal meal in solemn silence; "but it seems to me that our case is hopeless."
"Faix, that's what meself thinks too," muttered Larry between his teeth, "for these cords on me wrists would howld a small frigate, an' there's a black thief just forenint me, who has never tuk his eyes off me since we wos catched. Ah, then, if I wor free I would make ye wink, ye ugly rascal. But how comes it, Mister Trapper, that ye seem to be so sure o' escapin'?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm hopeful," replied Big Ben, with a smile.
"Hopeful!" repeated the other, "it's disapinted ye'll be then. Haven't ye often towld me that thim blackguards roast an' tear and torture prisoners nowadays just as bad as they ever did?"
"Well,—d'ye think them Redskins look as if they would let us off, seein' that we've shot wan of them already?"
"Sure, then, yer hope stands on a bad foundation, an' the sooner we make up our minds to be skivered the better, for sartin am I that our doom is fixed. Don't 'ee think so, Bunco?"
The worthy appealed to was busily engaged in tearing to pieces and devouring a mass of dried buffalo meat, but he looked up, grinned, and nodded his head, as if to say that he believed Larry was right, and that in his opinion being roasted, torn, tortured, and skivered was rather a pleasant prospect than otherwise.
"I have two reasons for bein' hopeful," observed Big Ben, after a short silence. "One is that I never got into a scrape in my life that I didn't get out of somehow or another, and the other reason is that I have observed signs on the trees that tell me the enemies, for whom the Redskins are seeking, are aware of their bein' on the trail and will give them a warm reception, perhaps sooner than they expect."
"What signs do you refer to?" asked Will Osten. "I see no sign of man having been here."
"Perhaps not, and by good luck neither do the Injuns, for why, they can't read handwritin' as is not meant for 'em, but I know somethin' of the tribe they are after, an' one or two small marks on the trees tell me that they are not far distant. No doubt they will attack the camp at night."
"Ochone!" groaned Larry, "an' won't they brain an' scalp us wid the rest, an' our hands tied so that we can't do nothin' to help ourselves?"
"It is possible they may," returned the trapper; "and if they do we can't help it, but let me warn you all, comrades, if we are attacked suddenly, let each man drop flat on the grass where he sits or stands. It is our only chance."
Poor Larry O'Hale was so overcome by the gloomy prospects before him that he dropped flat on his back then and there, and gave vent to a grievous sigh, after which he lay perfectly still, gazing up at the stars and thinking of "Ould Ireland." Being possessed of that happy temperament which can dismiss care at the shortest possible notice, and being also somewhat fatigued, he soon fell sound asleep. His companions were about to follow his example when they heard a whizzing sound which induced them suddenly to sink down among the grass. At the same moment an appalling shriek rudely broke the silence of the night, and two of the sentinels fell, transfixed with arrows. One of these lay dead where he fell, but the other sprang up and ran quickly, with staggering gait, after his comrades, who at the first alarm had leaped up and bounded into the nearest underwood, followed by a shower of arrows. That these deadly messengers had not been sent after them in vain was evinced by the yells which succeeded their discharge. A moment after, several dark and naked forms glided swiftly over the camp in pursuit. One of these, pausing for one moment beside the dead Indian, seized him by the hair, passed his knife swiftly round the head so as to cut the skin all round, tore off the scalp, and stuck it under his girdle as he leaped on in pursuit.
Fortunately the prisoners were not observed. Larry on being awakened by the yell had half raised himself, but, recollecting Big Ben's caution, dropped down again and remained perfectly still. The attacking party had, of course, seen the sentinels fall and the rest of the warriors spring up and dart away, and naturally supposing, doubtless, that no one would be so foolish as to remain in the camp, they had passed on without discovering the prisoners. When they had all passed, and the sounds of the fight were at a little distance, Big Ben leaped up and exclaimed:—
"Comrades, look sharp, moments are golden. They'll be back like a shot! Here, Larry, grip this in yer hand an' stick the point of it agin' that tree."
While he spoke in a cool, calm, almost jocular tone, the trapper acted with a degree of rapidity and vigour which showed that he thought the crisis a momentous one. With his fettered hands he plucked the knife from the girdle of the dead Indian and gave it to Larry O'Hale, who at once seized it with his right hand, and, as directed, thrust the point against the stem of a neighbouring tree. The trapper applied the stout cords that bound him to its edge, and, after a few seconds of energetic sawing, was free. He instantly liberated his companions.
"Now, lads," said he, "down the stream and into the water as fast as you can."
Our hero and Larry, being utterly ignorant of the manners and habits of the people amongst whom they were thrown, obeyed with the docility of little children—showing themselves, thereby, to be real men! Bunco, before darting away, seized an Indian gun, powder-horn, and shot-belt which had been left behind. The attack had been so sudden and unexpected that many of the savages had found it as much as they could do to save themselves, leaving their arms behind them. Of course, therefore, no one had thought of encumbering himself with the weapons of the prisoners. Big Ben had thought of all this. His wits had long been sharpened by practice. He also knew that his white comrades would think only of escaping, and that there was no time to waste in telling them to look after their weapons. Giving them, therefore, the general direction to rush down the banks of the stream and get into the water, he quietly but quickly seized his own piece and the guns of our hero and the Irishman, together with one of the large powder-horns and bullet-pouches of the war-party; also two smaller horns and pouches. The securing of these cost him only a few seconds. When Will Osten and Larry had run at full speed for several hundred yards down the stream which flowed near to the spot where the war-party had encamped, they stopped to take breath and receive further instructions. The active trapper and Bunco were at their heels in a moment.
"You forgot your guns," said the trapper, with a quiet chuckle, handing one to Larry and the other to Will.
"What nixt?" asked Larry, with a strange mixture of determination and uncertainty in his tone—the former being founded on his character, the latter on his ignorance.
"Follow me. Don't touch a twig or a blade o' grass on the banks, an' make as little noise as you can. Running water leaves no trail."
Saying this, Big Ben stepped into the stream, which was a small shallow one, and flowed for nearly half a mile through a sort of meadow among the mountains. Down this they all waded, carefully avoiding the banks, until they reached a narrow part where the stream tumbled over a precipice. Here the trapper paused, and was about to give some directions to his comrades, when the sound of constrained breathing was heard near to him. With a sudden demonstration of being about to fire, he turned and cocked his gun. The sharp click was no sooner heard than three Indians burst out from beneath the bushes which overhung the water, and, springing up the bank, fled for their lives. The trapper could not refrain from chuckling.
"These," said he, "are some of the rascals that caught us, making their escape by the same way that we are, but they don't know the ground as well as I do, and apparently have got perplexed at the top o' the fall. 'Tis well. If the Redskins pursue, they will find the trail here as clear as a king's highway—see what a gap in the bushes they have made in their fright at the sound o' my lock! Well, well, it's not many men that have pluck to keep quiet wi' that sound in their ears, and the muzzle pointed at their heads! All we have to do now is to descend the precipice without disturbing the shrubs, and then—"
A sound of horses galloping arrested him.
"Hist! don't move!"
At that moment about a dozen of the horses belonging to the war-party came thundering down along the banks of the stream. They had broken loose, and were flying from the Indians who had attempted to catch them. On nearing the precipice, over which the stream leaped with noisy petulance, the snorting steeds drew up in alarm, as if undecided which way to turn.
"A rare chance!" cried the trapper. "Every man for himself—keep well up the hill, comrades? an' hem them in."
Saying this, he ran up the bank, the others followed, and, in a few minutes, they drove the steeds into a corner, from which they made a sudden rush, but as the long halter of each was trailing at its side, no difficulty was experienced in securing several of them as they passed by. Next moment the fugitives were mounted and hastening away from the scene of their late adventure as fast as the rugged nature of the ground would permit.
It is not necessary that we should follow our adventurers in all their windings through the mighty fastnesses of the far West. Suffice it to say that they made good their escape from the Indians, and that, for many days, they travelled through scenes so beautiful and varied that they have been spoken of by those who know them well as a perfect paradise. Every description of lovely prospect met their admiring eyes in endless succession, but so wary were the lower animals, and so few the human inhabitants, that those realms were to all appearance absolute solitudes—created, apparently, for no end or purpose. Nevertheless, there was enough there to tell the Christian philosopher that God had made the deserts for the enjoyment of His creatures, for, although not always visible or audible, myriads of living beings were there—from the huge buffalo and grizzly bear to the sand-fly and mosquito—which rejoiced in the green pastures and luxuriated beside the sweet waters of the land.
One afternoon the travellers came upon a small plain, which reminded them somewhat of the prairies. The first glance showed them that it was crowded with buffalos. Instantly a sensation of wild excitement passed through their frames, and showed itself in various ways. The Irishman uttered a shout of delight, and suggested an immediate onslaught; but it is due to his wisdom to say that the shout was a subdued one, and the suggestion was humbly made. Our hero became restless and flushed, while the eyes of Bunco and Big Ben alone served as outlets to the fire which burned within. The plain was surrounded by low wooded hills, and had a lake on one side winding with many an inlet amongst the hills and into the plain, while here and there a tiny promontory, richly clothed with pines and aspens, stretched out into the water. Among the bluffs, or wooded islets of the plain, were to be seen several herds of bulls feeding about a mile off, and other bands in the distance.
"Tighten your girths," said Big Ben, dismounting. The horse which the trapper had secured, though not his own, was almost equal to it in point of size and strength. He eyed it with evident satisfaction as he tightened the girth, saying that if it wasn't for the difference in colour he would have thought it was the old one. The others having also seen to their harness mounted, and the cavalcade advanced at a walking pace into the plain. When they arrived within quarter of a mile of the largest band, the buffalo began to move slowly off. The scattered groups, seeing the horsemen, drew together, and, soon forming a large band, went off at a slow lumbering canter. The trapper, breaking into a trot, led the way, taking care to increase his speed gently, so as to gain on them insensibly, until he had got within about two hundred yards of the nearest, when he went off at full speed with a wild hurrah! The others followed, brandishing their arms and cheering in the excitement of the moment, while they hammered the horses' ribs violently with their unarmed heels. As they closed with them, the herd broke into separate bands, and each man, selecting the animal nearest to him, pursued it with reckless indifference to badger-holes. Fortunately for the riders, the horses, being accustomed to the work, knew the danger, and kept a sharp look-out on their own account. Soon several shots told that the slaughter had begun, but each hunter was quickly separated from the other, and none knew aught of the success of the rest until the pun was over.
There was something particularly ludicrous in the appearance of the bulls as they lumbered along in their heavy gallop; their small hindquarters, covered with short hair, being absurdly disproportioned to the enormous front with its hump and shaggy main. As they galloped along, their fringed dewlaps and long beards swayed from side to side, and their little eyes glanced viciously as they peeped from out a forest of hair at the pursuing foe. One of the bulls suddenly took it into his head to do more than peep! He raised his tail stiff in the air—a sign of wicked intentions—turned round, and received Larry's horse on his forehead. Larry described the segment of a pretty large circle in the air, and fell flat on his back; but he jumped up unhurt, caught his horse, which was only a little stunned, and, remounting, continued the pursuit of the bull and killed it. He then pulled up, and looked round to see how it fared with his companions. Ben and Bunco were not in sight, but he observed Will Osten in hot pursuit of a large wolf. With a wild cheer, he made after him, and, by making a detour, came in front of the wolf, and turned it. Will fired at it quite close, but missed. Larry, who had reloaded, also fired and missed. Then they loaded and fired again, without success; so they endeavoured to ride over the animal, which they succeeded in doing, as well as in running against each other violently more than once, but without hurting the wolf, which dodged between the horses' legs, snarling viciously. This game went on until the horses began to get exhausted. Then the wolf made straight off over the plain, and gained the mountains, still hotly followed, however, until it became evident to the pursuers that their steeds were blown, and that the wolf was distancing them at every stride.
When they at length unwillingly pulled up, the shades of evening were beginning to descend on the scene, and neither buffalo nor comrades were within range of their vision.
"Humph! we've got lost because of that rascal," grumbled Will Osten.
"Bad luck to it!" exclaimed his companion.
"Have you any idea of the way back?" asked Will, with a look of perplexity.
"Not in the laste," said Larry; "it's always the way, when a man goes on a wild-goose chase he's sure to come to grief, an' a wild-wolf chase seems to belong to the same family."
Will was too much vexed to reply, so he urged his steed to a gallop, and tried to retrace his way to the little plain, but the more they wandered the deeper did they appear to stray into the mountains.
Meanwhile, the trapper and Bunco, having cut off the best parts of the animals they had killed, made their encampment on the highest bluff they could find near the lake, and prepared supper; looking out now and then for their absent comrades. As the evening wore on they became anxious, and went out to search for them, but it was not till the following morning that they were discovered, almost falling out of their saddles from exhaustion, and wandering about they scarce knew whither. Conducting them to the camp, the trapper and Bunco gave them food, and then allowed them to sleep until the sun was high, after which, with recruited energies and spirits, they resumed their journey.
Thus they travelled for many a day—now scaling rugged mountain passes where it seemed doubtful whether the horses would be able to clamber, anon traversing rich meadows, and frequently meeting with and shooting deer, bears, Rocky Mountain goats, and the other wild inhabitants of the region. But, in course of time, they reached a particularly barren part of the mountains, to travel through which was a matter of extreme difficulty, while, to add to their hardships, game became very scarce.
One evening they met with an adventure of a rather warm description, through the carelessness of Larry, which well-nigh cost them their lives. They had reached a forest of small pines, through which they proceeded several miles, and then, finding that the trees grew so close together as to render progress very difficult, they resolved to encamp where they were, and, accordingly, cut down a clear space, in one part of which they fastened the horses, and at the other end made the camp. The weather had for a considerable time been hot and dry, and mosquitoes and gadflies were very troublesome. They therefore lighted a fire for the horses as well as for themselves, in order to let the poor creatures get the benefit of the smoke which, as long as it lasted, effectually cleared away the flies. It was Larry's duty that night to hobble and secure the horses, but Larry was fatigued, and particularly anxious to commence supper with as little delay as possible. He therefore fastened the horses so insecurely that one of them got loose, and, without being perceived, kicked about some of the blazing embers in his anxiety to get into the thickest of the smoke, and so find relief from his tormentors. These embers set fire to the dry moss. While the travellers were busy with supper, they were startled by a loud, crackling sound. Before any of them could jump up, they heard a roar, which was followed by a mighty illumination. One of the neighbouring pines had caught fire, and blazed up as if it had been gun-cotton. The moment was critical. The little wind there was blew from the burning tree towards the spot where they sat. They had scarcely realised what had occurred when another and another of the trees flashed up, for, although green, they burned like the driest timber. To unloose and drive the horses out of danger, and carry off their camp equipage in time, was impossible. Big Ben, seeing this at a glance, seized his axe and shouted to the others to assist. He sprang at the intervening trees, and, exerting his enormous strength to the uttermost, cut them down as if they had been willow-wands— fortunately they were small; some of them were lopped through with a single crashing blow. Our hero was not slow to emulate Ben, and, although not so expert, he did such good execution that in a few minutes there was a wide gap between the camp and the burning trees.
But the horses, meanwhile, were in danger of being suffocated, and the dry moss under foot was burning so fiercely that the fire threatened to spread in spite of their exertions. Seeing this, Bunco and Larry—first casting loose the horses—ran with their kettles and mugs to a neighbouring stream for water, which they poured on the moss. By this time they were nearly surrounded by fire and smoke; the flames roared with appalling fury; the horse that had done all the mischief got burnt about the legs, threw himself down in the very midst of the fire and rolled in agony. Axes and kettles were instantly dropped, and all sprang to the rescue; grasped the creature by the head and tail, but could not drag him out. In desperation, Larry seized a stick, and so belaboured him that he leaped up and rushed out of the smoke and flames, terribly singed, indeed, but not much hurt otherwise. After this the fire was again attacked, and gradually its progress was cut off, so that our travellers were ultimately enabled to remove to a place of safety. But the flames had only been checked; they soon spread again, and, away to leeward of them, set the whole region on fire. From their new encampment that night, they could see rolling clouds of smoke mingling with tongues of flame which shot up, ever and anon, above the trees, and brought out in strong relief, or cast into deep shadow, the crags, gorges, and caverns of the mountains—presenting a scene of terrible devastation and indescribable sublimity.
DESCRIBES A QUIET NOOK, AND SHOWS HOW LARRY CAME BY A DOUBLE LOSS, BESIDES TELLING OF WONDERFUL DISCOVERIES OF MORE KINDS THAN ONE.
We must guard the reader, at this point, from supposing that our adventurers were always tumbling out of frying-pans into fires, or that they never enjoyed repose. By no means. The duty which lies upon us, to recount the most piquant and stirring of the incidents in their journeying, necessitates the omission of much that is deeply interesting, though unexciting and peaceful.
For instance,—on one occasion, Larry and Bunco were deputed to fish for trout, while our hero and the trapper went after deer. The place selected by the anglers was a clear quiet pool in a small but deep rivulet, which flowed down the gentle slope of a wooded hill. The distant surroundings no doubt were wild enough, but the immediate spot to which we refer might have been a scene in bonnie Scotland, and would have gladdened the heart of a painter as being his beau ideal, perhaps, of a "quiet nook." The day was quiet too; the little birds, apparently, were very happy, and the sun was very bright—so bright that it shone through the mirror-like surface of the pool right down to the bottom, and there revealed several large fat trout, which were teazed and tempted and even exhorted to meet their fate, by the earnest Larry. The converse on the occasion, too, was quiet and peaceful. It was what we may style a lazy sort of day, and the anglers felt lazy, and so did the fish, for, although they saw the baits which were held temptingly before their noses, they refused to bite. Trout in those regions are not timid. We speak from personal experience. They saw Larry and Bunco sitting astride the trunk of a fallen tree, with their toes in the water, bending earnestly over the pool, just as distinctly as these worthies saw the fish; but they cared not a drop of water for them! Larry, therefore, sought to beguile the time and entertain his friend by giving him glowing accounts of men and manners in the Green Isle. So this pleasant peaceful day passed by, and Pat's heart had reached a state of sweet tranquillity, when, happening to bend a little too far over the pool, in order to see a peculiarly large trout which was looking at him, he lost his balance and fell into it, head first, with a heavy plunge, which scattered its occupants right and left! Bunco chuckled immensely as he assisted to haul him out, and even ventured to chaff him a little.
"Yoo's good for dive, me tink."
"True for ye, lad," said Larry, smiling benignantly, as he resumed his seat on the tree-trunk, and squeezed the water out of his garments. "I was always good at that an' it's so hot here that I took a sudden fancy to spaik to the fishes, but the dirty spalpeens are too quick for me. I do belaive they're comin' back! Look there at that wan—six pound av he's an ounce."
Not only did the six-pounder return to the pool almost immediately after Larry left it, but a large number of his brethren bore him company, and took up their former position as if nothing had happened. Nay, more, the surprise had apparently so far stirred them up and awakened them to a perception of their opportunities, that the six-pounder languidly swallowed Bunco's hook and was in a moment whisked out of his native pool and landed on the bank,—for the anglers fished with stout cord and unbending rods!
"Musha! but ye've got 'im," exclaimed Larry.
"Yoos better take noder dive," suggested his friend.
"Hooroo!" shouted Larry, as he whipped another large fish out of the pool.
This, however, was the last for some time. The trout, ere long, appeared to have settled down into their former lazy condition, and the anglers' hopes were sinking, when it suddenly occurred to the Irishman, that if the fish were stirred up with a pole they might be again roused to an appreciation of their advantages. Accordingly a pole was cut, the trout were judiciously stirred up, and several of them actually took the bait in the course of the afternoon—whether under the influence of the unwonted excitement we do not pretend to say, but certain it is that before sunset an excellent dish was secured for supper!
Equally peaceful and pleasant were the experiences of our hero and the trapper on that tranquil day. They wandered about in a state of silent happiness all the forenoon; then they shot a grizzly bear, the claws and teeth of which were claimed by Will, as he had drawn first blood. After that a deer chanced to come within range of the trapper, who brought it down, cut off the best parts of the meat, and, kindling a fire on the spot, sat down with his companion to a fat venison steak and a pipe.
"This sort o' life is what I calls happiness," said Big Ben, puffing out a cloud, through the hazy curls of which he gazed at a sunny landscape of unrivalled beauty.
"So it is," assented Will Osten, with enthusiasm.
"An' yet," pursued Big Ben, thoughtfully, "when I come to think on't, this sort o' life would be no happiness to an old man, or to a weak one."
"No, nor to a woman," added Will.
"Not so sure o' that," said the trapper; "I've know'd Injun women as was about as good hunters as their husbands, an' enjoyed it quite as much."
"That may be so, Ben, but women of the civilised world would scarcely think this a happy sort of life."
"P'raps not," returned Ben. "Happiness is a queer thing, after all. I've often thought that it's neither huntin' nor farmin', nor fair weather nor foul, that brings it about in the heart o' man or woman, but that it comes nat'ral to man, woman, and child, when they does what is best suited to their minds and bodies, and when they does it in the right way."
"Which is very much like saying," observed Will, "that happiness consists in obeying the laws of God, both natural and revealed."
"Just so," assented the trapper, after a few moments' consideration, "though I never quite thought of it in that light before."
Thus they conversed—or, rather, in somewhat similar strains they chatted, for they did not pursue any subject long, but allowed their minds to rove where fancy led—until evening began to close; then they carried their meat into camp and closed the day with a sumptuous feast of fish, flesh, and fowl, round a blazing fire, while the stream, which formed their beverage, warbled sweet music in their ears.
This, reader, is a specimen of one of their quiet days, and many such they had; but as these days of peace bore no proportion to the days of toil and trouble, we must beg you to be content with the account of this one as a fair sample of the rest, while we carry you over the Rocky Mountains and bear you down their western slopes towards the Pacific Ocean.
The mountains being crossed, the future course of our travellers was down hill, but in some respects it was more toilsome than their uphill journey had been. The scenery changed considerably in respect of the character of its vegetation, and was even more rugged than heretofore, while the trees were larger and the underwood more dense. Many a narrow escape had Will and his friends during the weeks that followed, and many a wild adventure, all of which, however, terminated happily—except one, to which we now request attention.