"Fire, fire," he shouted, dropping on his knees almost under the bear. Mrs Bruin had sense enough to know that the consequence of a fall to her would be very unpleasant, and she was as unwilling as Sam to fall into the ravine. She therefore instinctively drew back. That instant one ball entered her head, and another her shoulder. The former from my rifle staggered her. It prevented her from seizing Short with her teeth; but what was our terror to see the snow give way under our companion's feet, and to all appearance inevitable destruction awaiting him. He struggled violently to save himself, and just as the greater part of his body was over he caught hold of one of the hind paws of the bear, who had fallen on her back, and lay kicking furiously in an attempt to rise. Sam, however, held on with all his might. It seemed his only chance of safety. I was afraid lest the bear in her struggles should slip over also.
Neither Obed nor I had been idle while watching the scene. We both loaded our rifles, and now stood ready once more to fire. By moving a little on one side, we saw that we could get a good shot at her without hitting Short. Not a moment was to be lost. Running on I fired, Obed followed my example. The bear's struggles grew less violent, and Sam began to try and haul himself up by her leg. It was a dangerous proceeding; there being an inclined plane at the edge, his weight appeared to move the body of the bear on. She could not rise, but she turned round and dug her sharp claws into the snow to save herself. Now, instead of wishing her to die, we were anxious that she might survive till the rest of the party could get up to her. Her growls became more and more feeble. She could scarcely hold on another minute. Poor Sam! We trembled for his fate. We shouted to the rest of the party to hasten on. They had had a difficult place to cross in single file at the head of the gully. Now they came on, hurrying over the snow. The bear gave two or three convulsive struggles. I wished that I could have leaped across the chasm to poor Sam's help. I thought that the bear was slipping down again. If she had got any way on her, as sailors say, it was evident that the united strength of the party could not stop her. They sprang on, and just as I felt sure the bear would have slipped over the precipice, they seized her by the fore-paws. She was not dead, however, for in return for the act of kindness she made some desperate attempts to bite them.
"Haul away, haul away," sang out Sam, and they did haul with all their might. Though they could not move the bear, they prevented her from slipping down. She gave several severe kicks with her hind foot. Sam clung on to it, and by the most violent efforts managed to drag himself up by her shaggy coat till two of the party caught hold of his collar and hauled away till they got him up from the edge and placed him in rather a safer position, but still not one free from danger. For the first time for some minutes I breathed freely, and as we could do no more where we were, Obed and I hurried round to help the rest. When we arrived the bear had received her quietus, but it was astonishing how many shot and what terrific blows she had received before she was killed. We were congratulating ourselves on the additional supply of hams and steaks she would afford us when a crack appeared in the snow just below our feet, and to our horror we found that the whole mass, carrying us and the carcase of the bear with it, was slipping off over the precipice.
WE FEEL AS IF WE WERE GOING OVER THE FALLS OF NIAGARA—SMOTHERED BY SNOW—WE APPEAR BY DEGREES—OBED MISSING—WE GIVE HIM A WARM BATH INSIDE THE BEAR—OUR DANGEROUS PREDICAMENT—HOW TO GET OUT OF THE RAVINE—SAM APPEARS ABOVE US—WE CLIMB OUT WITH NO LITTLE DIFFICULTY—THE BEAR'S CAVE—HAVING HAD ENOUGH BEAR-HUNTING WE RETURN HOME—FIND A NATIVE VISITOR, WHO INFORMS US THAT WE MAY EXPECT SOON AN ATTACK FROM AN OVERWHELMING FORCE OF RED-SKINS.
We were all standing round the carcase of the huge she-bear, when it and the surrounding mass of snow began perceptibly to glide onwards over the edge of the terrific precipice. I have seen a poor fellow sitting in a boat, utterly beyond his control, gliding rapidly down the rapids towards the falls of Niagara. Quicker and quicker it has moved, till, reaching the edge, it has seemed to hover for a moment, as if unwilling to make the fatal plunge, and then over it has leaped with the rapidity of lightning, and it and its hapless occupant have been for ever hid from human sight. I felt at the moment very much the same sort of sensations which I can fancy the occupant of the boat must have experienced, as the mass of snow, increasing in speed, rapidly neared the precipice. From where I was, I had not the slightest power to leap off it. I fancied that all my companions were in a similar condition.
There is an eastern story, in which a man puts his head into a basin of water, and during the few seconds he holds it there, he finds that he has gone through the adventures of a lifetime. I do not think that many seconds could have passed from the moment that the snow began to move, till Short and I, and the rest, found ourselves, with the body of the bear, rolling over and over, and bounding from rock to rock, amid confusing heaps of snow, down into the bottom of the glen. How I am alive to tell the tale I do not know, and that fact makes people listen to me with no small amount of incredulity. I was more blinded, stunned, and confused than I had ever been in my life before, and each bound I made I thought would knock the breath out of me; but as for reaching the bottom, I never expected to do that—at all events alive. Now I got a kick from one of my companions in misfortune; now I was knocked against the hairy carcase of the bear; now I was almost suffocated with the overwhelming masses of snow which were showered around me. One thing I own—I did not just then think much about anybody else; I could not help anybody, and I knew that no mortal could help me. Down I went, as I was saying, bounding away, snow above, below, and round me. At last I was quiet. I opened my eyes—I was under the snow—I felt a suffocating sensation.
"After having got thus far without broken limbs, it won't do to have the breath squeezed out of my body for want of exertion," said I to myself, working away with arms and shoulders, till, as a chicken cracks the shell of its egg, I broke through the covering of snow which was above me, and once more I popped my head into daylight. I was in the midst of a sea of snow, the hind paw of the big bear was close to me, so I hoped that friend Short was not far-off, while I could make out several of my other companions struggling up through the snow around us. High above us towered the cliffs, and it seemed indeed wonderful that any of us could come down such a height alive.
There is a Greek fable I remember reading as a boy at school, of the ground being sown with teeth, and out of it coming armed men. I cannot help thinking that we must have looked very much like those ready-made heroes, as I and my companions struggled up out of the snow. Elihu Ragget was the first who joined me. Sam Short did not appear; I told Elihu that I thought he must be near—probably under the bear, and that if not released, he would certainly be smothered. So, without a word we set to work with our hands, shovelling out the snow as well as we could. We thought, as we worked away, that we heard a groan. This made us redouble our exertions to release our friend. We had not been a minute at work, when a shout reached our ears, and on our looking up, there appeared the very man we were in search of, standing on a ledge of rocks, high above our heads. He seemed unhurt, and he was shouting to us to ask how we were. We thought, therefore, that we must have been mistaken as to the groan, when some one asked, "Where is Obed Ragget?"
"Oh, lads, help me!" cried Elihu; the thought that his young brother lay buried beneath our feet, and that he had not missed him, striking him with shame.
"Ay, ay," was the answer, as we all set to with even more energy than before. We dug and dug away round the bear, till at length a man's leg appeared, and then his body, and in a few seconds the snow was cleared away, and my friend Obed Ragget was drawn up out of the snow. But we gazed at him with sorrow, for not a spark of life appeared in him. The rest were going to give him up as dead, but I entreated them not to despair. I examined him, and found that, as far as I could judge, there was not a bone broken, and when I put my mouth down to his, I felt sure that he still breathed.
"What he wants is warmth," said I, just then recollecting that the body of the bear would still afford it. No sooner thought of than done. It was a desperate, and not altogether a pleasant remedy. We cut a huge slit in the body of the bear, and stripping off Obed's outer garments, we clapped him in, keeping only his head outside, while all of us stood round to assist in giving him warmth. We watched anxiously for the result. First one eye opened, then another; then he sighed heavily; and at last he sang out, and asked where he was. In a little time he laughed quietly.
"Don't call me a cub," said he, "that's all; I think that I am wonderfully better. I am much obliged to you and the bear, but now I would just as soon come out into the world again."
After this we had no longer any anxiety about him, and certainly our remedy had a very wonderful effect in restoring him to animation. Now came our difficulty as to how to get out of the gully into which we had fallen. There was an outlet, but the way to it was evidently almost impracticable, and where it might lead we could not tell. Besides this, there was Sam Short, perched like an eagle above our heads; only Sam, not having wings like an eagle, could not get down to us, nor, as far as we could see, could we get up to the top of the cliff above him. We shouted, but we could not make each other hear.
"If the big bear was up at the top, we should not be long before we would be up to him," observed Obed; "Sam would soon cut her hide up into strips and haul us up."
We looked about; as to climbing up, that was out of the question. For fifty feet above our heads there was a perpendicular wall of rock. Above that there were numerous ledges or platforms, and the cliff seemed comparatively easy to climb. While we were looking about and discussing the matter, we saw Sam attempting to climb up the cliff. After many attempts he succeeded in reaching the top, and disappeared from our sight. He was absent for some time, and when he was again seen, he had a coil of something or other, we could not exactly make out what, round his neck. We now saw him, after carefully examining the cliff below him, begin to descend. We watched him anxiously, for our very existence depended on his success. He reached at last the place where he had before stood, then he cautiously commenced descending still lower.
"What donkeys we have been!" suddenly exclaimed Elihu; "the coil of stuff he has got won't drag any of us up, we must make a rope for ourselves."
We quickly had our knives going, and soon had Bruin completely flayed, and his hide cut up into short strips joined together. All the time we were at work, we every now and then looked up to see how Sam was getting on. The fear was that he might slip on the frozen rock, and come toppling down unable to save himself. Just as we had finished our rope, a shout from him proclaimed to us that he had reached the lowest ledge he could hope to gain. Without a moment's delay he began to unwind his line. It was a very thin one, and had numerous knots and joints in it. As we watched it, we were in doubt whether the end would reach us; it just came down above our heads. By leaping up we could touch it; but as to making a rope fast to the end, that was out of the question. Sam soon discovered our difficulty. The rope was drawn up a little, and then down it came, so that we could make fast to it the end of our newly formed bear's-skin rope. "Haul away!" we sang out, and up it went.
There was a doubt, however, whether that would be long enough. We watched it anxiously as it drew near the end, and then up, up, up it went, far beyond our reach. We went back and shouted to Sam. What he said in return, we could not make out. Here was a bitter disappointment indeed. Our labour had been fruitless; our hope of escape well-nigh vanished. Presently we saw the end of the rope descending till it came easily within our reach. Short, directly afterwards, appeared at the edge of the cliff.
"What will you do? Shall I haul you up, or will you climb up?" he asked.
We were unanimously of opinion, that it would be safer to climb up, as we might help ourselves a little by placing our feet on the inequalities in the side of the cliff, and there would be less chance of the rope chafing and breaking. We drew lots who should go up first. The lot fell on Obed.
"Stand from under if I come down," he said, laughing, and seizing the rope.
Up he began to mount. He was very active and muscular in proportion to his weight. Still it was no light undertaking to have to ascend such a height. For his sake, as well as our own, we watched him with intense anxiety. Up, up he went. Now he swung off from the cliff, now his feet were planted on a ledge of rock, and he stood there to rest. Then again on he went. The fresh hide stretched fearfully, and it seemed as if to a certainty it would give way. There was no turning back, however. Now he came to a part of the cliff where he had to trust entirely to the rope. With hands, and knees, and feet, he worked away. None but a seaman or a backwoodsman could have accomplished the undertaking so rapidly, if at all. He was almost at the top. Sam reached over to help him. We held our breath. Now seemed the critical moment. How was he to scramble up over the edge of the cliff, exhausted as he must be with his exertions? Sam seized him by the collar and throwing himself back, dragged him up by main force. Now we all uttered a loud shout of congratulation, for thus far Obed was safe. Three or four of the other men followed. The last, having more friends to help them over the edge of the cliff, found it easier than Obed had done.
My turn came at last. Only Elihu and another man had to follow. My arms ached as I got half-way up, and the sickening idea came over me that the bear's hide was chafed, and would break with me just as I got up to the most critical part. I rested for a moment on the last spot which afforded space for my feet, and then swung off into mid-air. I now knew the sensations which my companions must have experienced. They were very like those which one has occasionally in a nightmare sort of dream; to feel that one ought to be climbing up, and yet scarcely to have strength to lift one's arms. It must be remembered that we were all clad to keep out extreme cold, and that a buffalo coat is a pretty heavy weight to have on one's shoulders even under ordinary circumstances. My great consolation was, that the snow was pretty soft, and that if I did fall, I might possibly, having once taken the tumble, escape without breaking my neck.
To make a long story short, I did reach the ledge at last, and so did the rest of my companions; and then we hauled up the bear's hide, and commenced our still more perilous ascent to the top of the cliff. By the bye, Elihu and the other man had bethought them that we might be hungry after our exertions, and had brought up a supply of bear steaks, which added not a little to their weight. I doubt if one man alone could have succeeded in scaling that height, for it must be remembered that Sam Short had only gone up the higher part. Still, with a number together, all heartily assisting each other, we found the task comparatively easy. When we came to a difficult place, we shoved the lighter ones up first, and then they let down a rope, and the rest hauled themselves up by it.
At length we all stood on the top of the cliff, not far from the bear's cave, and when we looked down into the valley we were indeed surprised that we had escaped with our lives, and I hope that we all felt truly thankful for our preservation. Short now told us that he had, when he had before gone up to the top, caught and killed one of the young bears, and had cut up its hide to make a line, but that one or more still remained. I had a great fancy for a young bear, so Obed and I resolved to try and capture one. Accordingly, while the rest of the party were cutting some wood to light a fire for the sake of cooking the bear steaks, Obed and I started away with part of our rope towards the cave.
"I suppose there are no more big bears inside there," said Obed; "they are mighty ugly customers to beard anywhere, but especially in their own den."
"No fear," I answered; "if one had been in there, he would have appeared long ago. We shall only find a cub or two, and there will not be much difficulty in capturing them." I ought to have said that most of the party had recovered their fire-arms. Obed and I had left our rifles far back, away from the snow which had slipped with us over the cliff, so that we had them now uninjured. The cave was large, and for some distance there was light enough to enable us to see our way, but it at length became so dark, that we could not see ahead. All we could do was therefore to feel our way with our rifles.
"I think we must be near the end," said I at last. We had a tinder-box: Obed struck a light. The blue glare of the match showed us two hairy bundles rolled up near the the wall of the cave. While he lighted another match, I rushed up to one of the bundles, which I found, by receiving a sharp bite, was a little bear. I soon, however, had the young gentleman's fore-paws bound tightly together, and was dragging him out towards the mouth of the cave. Obed seized the other, while the match was still burning on the ground, and we thus had them both captives. We brought them in triumph to our friends, who were feasting on their mother. We did not offer them any of the poor brute, and I dare say they thought us very greedy for not doing so, not probably entering into our delicate feelings on the subject.
Having refreshed ourselves, all hands agreeing that we had had quite enough bear-hunting for the day, we set off on our return to camp. We had no little difficulty in getting our young bears to move along. Poor little things! they did not like the cold, and of course missed their mother. Still, by dint of poking and pulling, we made them keep up with the rest of the party. Now the excitement was over, I must say that I never felt so tired in my life. Still I would not relinquish my captive. Indeed it would have been barbarous for us to have done so, as it would have died of cold and starvation. At last, at nightfall, we did get in. We found all the camp in a great state of agitation, very much on our account, and not a little on their own. When we inquired what was the matter, they took us into the general sitting-room, and pointed to an Indian, habited in the full-dress warrior costume of winter, who was squatting down before the fire. He looked pleased when he saw us, and counted our numbers. "Good!" he exclaimed, in the deep-toned voice of his people. "Now fight well; drive away bad man." The English vocabulary of our guest was very small, and no one in the camp had been able to comprehend exactly the information he came to give, except that an attack might be expected, at some time or other, from a large tribe or tribes, hostile to the white man. Short, however, who understood several of the Indian dialects, now came in to act as interpreter. The information he elicited was still more alarming. It was to the effect that before long we might expect to be attacked by overwhelming numbers of red-skin warriors, from whom, if they took us by surprise, we should have very little chance of escaping.
SHORT AND NOGGIN ACT AS INTERPRETERS—WE PREPARE TO MOVE ONWARD—THE WHITE DOG—WE GUARD AGAINST SURPRISE—I GO OUT AS A SCOUT—PURSUED BY RED-SKINS—RETURN TO THE CAMP—MORE VISITORS—WE SUSPECT TREACHERY— WHITE DOG WARNS US THAT THEY ARE ENEMIES—WE PREPARE FOR A START WHILE NOGGIN HOLDS A PALAVER WITH THE INDIANS—THEY ARE ALLOWED TO ENTER— THEIR CHIEF'S TREACHEROUS ATTEMPT TO KILL LABAN, BUT GETS KILLED HIMSELF—WE SEIZE THE REST—NOGGIN'S REGRET THAT WE DO NOT KILL THEM—WE START ON OUR JOURNEY—WHITE DOG ACCOMPANIES US—WE PUSH ON—OUR FIRST ENCAMPMENT—A FRESH ALARM.
The report brought by the Indian warrior of the intended attack of the red-skins on our camp soon collected all the party together in the common hail. Our men had pretty well strung nerves, and the women, old and young, were in no ways given to fainting; so, although the latter listened with the greatest attention, and the former spoke gravely and deliberately, there was not much excitement, and no great amount of anxiety perceptible on their countenances. Our feather-bedecked, skin-clothed visitor was not much addicted to giving forth long-winded speeches as are some of his countrymen. Short and Noggin were his chief interrogators, as they understood his dialect, and they translated his answers for the benefit of those who did not. He was asked how it was he became acquainted with the information he had brought us.
"Can you say, O white-skins, how the blossoms come on the trees? how the mist fills the air? how the snow melts on the ground?" was his reply. "I heard it; I speak the truth; enough."
"But when, friend, are they coming?" asked Short.
"Can you say when the thunderbolt will fall? when the tempest is about to burst? where the prairie-fire will break forth?" he replied.
Short and Noggin seemed perfectly satisfied with his answers. But that was more than I felt, when he replied to the questions put him as to their numbers.
"Can you count the flakes which fall in early winter? do you know the number of the stars in the blue canopy above our heads? can you reckon the buffaloes as they scamper across the plains in a stampedo?"
Noggin on this got up, and bowing to the old chief who was squatting on his hams by his side, in a most polite way, observed—"All this rigmarole, which this old red-skin here has been telling to us, comes to this, as far as I can make out. He has heard the plot of those thieving, varmint red-skins through his wife, or some friend or other. When they will come he does not exactly know, but it will be about the time that the snow begins to melt, and travelling is pretty heavy work, and then they'll come down upon us in no small numbers, enough, I guess, to make us look pretty foolish if we don't keep our powder dry, and our eyes wide awake around us. The question now is, shall we stay here and fight the varmints, or shall we strike tents, and push away over the mountains?"
Various opinions were given on this point. If we remained where we were the red-skins would attack us, and though we might beat them off, they would probably surround us, and come again and again till they starved us out, or compelled us to retreat at a disadvantage. The moving our provisions and baggage was our great difficulty. Still, the general opinion was, that it would be better to move on at once. Laban Ragget at last stood up, and gave the casting vote.
"You see, friends," said he, "where there's a will there's a way. That's been my notion through life. Where I've had the will to do, mind you, what ought to be done, I've never failed to find the way. I've fought the red-skins often, and I'd fight them again, if need be, with pleasure; but I don't want to expose the women and children to the chances of a battle with them; and so I say we'll move on. We'll put runners to the wagons, and make snowshoes for ourselves, and by to-morrow evening we'll be ready for a start. Then we'll lie down and rest, and by early dawn we'll be on foot and away. Meantime, some of the young men will keep a lookout round the camp, to watch that we are not taken by surprise."
I give Laban's speech entire, because his proposals were carried out to the letter. All agreed and, literally, I do not believe that a minute had passed before everybody was busily engaged in preparing for our departure. Some were making snow-shoes; others runners for the sleighs; others packing our goods and provisions in small, light parcels easily carried; the women were as active as the men, and several were cooking and preparing the flesh of the bear we had killed the night before, by making it into pemmican. Mrs Noggin was very useful in making show-shoes, and so was the old Indian. His name, by the bye, was Wabassem-mung, or the White Dog, and to prove his title to the name, he would set up a barking, which no one could have supposed was from the voice of a human being. He had only about twenty followers, all the rest of his tribe having been treacherously murdered by the Flintheads, against whom he had now come to warn us. He wore a white mantle, as appropriate to his name, or, probably, he obtained his name from his fancy for wearing a white mantle; at least, one that was white by courtesy, for it had become so smoke-dried and stained, that its original purity was considerably damaged. Our venerable friend assured us that there was no chance of the Flintheads attacking us that night, and that we might, therefore, sleep in peace, because his own people were on the watch, and would give us timely notice. This was satisfactory, for, after our bear-hunting expedition, I, for one, was very glad to get some rest. Few people have ever slept sounder than I did on that night for a few hours, notwithstanding all the bustle and noise going on in the camp.
By the evening, as Laban had promised, everything was ready for our departure. This night it was judged prudent that scouts should be sent out to watch for an enemy, and Obed, Elihu, Sam, Noggin, and I, with a few others, were appointed to that duty by Laban. He had been chosen leader and dictator, and we were all bound implicitly to obey him. We scouts, with our rifles in hand, started away together, two and two. Obed was with me. With the snow on the ground, and a clear sky in those regions, it is never dark, and our difficulty, as we advanced, was to conceal ourselves from any lurking foe. Still we worked our way on, taking advantage of every mound, or the tops of trees, or bushes appearing above the white smooth plain. It had been agreed that, as soon as we should see an enemy, we were to retreat at full speed to the camp. If we were discovered, we were to fire off our rifles as a warning to our friends, but if not, we were to reserve our bullets for the bodies of our foes. We each had on tight snow-shoes, with which we could walk well enough, but running with such machines is altogether a very different affair to running in a thin pair of pumps. Having proceeded about, as we judged, three miles from the camp, we began to circle round it, for it was just as likely that the cunning redskins would approach from the east or south, as from the north. They, wiser than white men, never commit the fault of despising their enemies, but take every advantage which stratagem or treachery can afford them to gain their ends.
Obed and I began to think at last that it must be near dawn, and turned our eyes eastward, in the expectation of seeing the pale red and yellow streaks which usher in the rich glow, the harbinger of the rising sun. That was my idea, not friend Obed's. He remarked, "Daylight will soon be on, I guess, and it is time we were back at camp to get some breakfast, before we begin our trudge over the mountains, for I'm mighty hungry, I calkilate; ain't you, Dick?"
I agreed with him; but just before we turned our faces campward, I climbed up the south side of a rocky mound, above which I allowed only my head to appear, that I might take a leisurely survey of the country beyond where we then were. Obed followed my example. We gazed through the shades of night for some time.
"I'm main hungry, Dick," said Obed, "let us be going."
Still something kept me there. Just as I was getting up, I thought I saw some dark shadows moving along over the white sheet of snow.
"Look, Obed," said I, "what are those out there?"
His eyes were even sharper generally than mine.
"Indjens, red-skins," whispered Obed. "It's time that we cut. They are not far-off."
We first, before moving, satisfied ourselves that we were not mistaken; there were a dozen or more people, probably the advance guard. We then slipped down from our height, and began striding towards the camp as fast as our legs and snowshoes would carry us. It was a satisfaction to feel that there was a high mound between us and the Indians, or our scalps would not have felt comfortable on our heads. We did not turn our eyes to the right hand or the left, but looked straight on, keeping our legs going with a curious movement, between sliding and running, and skating and kicking. It was fatiguing, but we got on rapidly, and we had an idea that our enemies were not advancing nearly so fast. It was a race for life or death. Strange to say, I rather liked the excitement.
I always prefer having an object when I walk; now I had got one. We knew that if the Indians crossed our trail, they would instantly find us out and give chase, but then it was a satisfaction to know that they could not go faster than we were going. We had got almost within sight of the camp, when we heard a shout from behind us. I was unwilling to stop to look back, but if I did not stop, and attempted to look over my shoulder, I should very likely, I knew, topple down on my head. On we went again. There was another shout. We could just see the tops of the huts. I turned my head round, and there I saw a dozen or more red-skin warriors scampering like mad creatures over the snow, and flourishing their tomahawks. Fast as we were going, they were going faster. Still we might reach the camp before them, but it was necessary to warn our friends. As I ran, I unslung my rifle, not to fire at them, for that would have been useless, but to discharge it in the air as a signal. I did so, but by some means, by this act, I lost my balance, and toppling over, down I came at full length. I tried to rise, but that on soft snow is no easy matter to do at the speed circumstances demanded; and then, what was my horror to find that I had broken one of my snow-shoes! I gave myself up for lost, and entreated Obed to fly and save his life.
"Fly, Dick!" he exclaimed indignantly; "that ain't the way of the Raggets, boy. No; if the redskins want your scalp, they must have mine first, and I'll have a fight for both of them, depend on't."
While he was saying this, he was helping me to rise, and as one snow-shoe would be worse than useless, I cast them both off, and then did what was the next best thing, loaded my rifle; and turning our faces to our approaching foes, we stood ready to receive them. When they saw us stop, they came on more leisurely. As they got nearer, I counted about a dozen of them only. On this my heart began to beat more regularly.
"I say, Dick, my scalp sits pleasanter, like, on my head," observed Obed.
In a short time the Indians got near enough to us to hail. "What are they saying?" I asked of Obed.
"Why, Dick, as far as I can make out, that they are friends," he answered; "but, you know, these red-skin varmints are so treacherous, that we mustn't trust them on no account. They may be old White Dog's friends, or they may be some of the Flintheads. If they are the last, they'll scalp us in another minute, or maybe they'll try and get into the camp, and then play us some scurvy trick."
These surmises were not pleasant. Still, we could not hope to cope with twelve well-armed Indians, with any chance of success, and we must therefore, we saw, attempt only pacific measures. In another minute they were up with us. They held out their hands in a friendly manner, and we observed that their general appearance was very similar to that of old White Dog. In a friendly manner, therefore, we proceeded towards the camp. When we got near, we made signs that we would go and prepare our friends for their reception. They made no objection to this, but, letting us go, squatted down on the snow about two hundred yards from the camp. Immediately we got in, we told Noggin, who interpreted our report to White Dog.
"Tell him not to show himself," said Laban.
The old chief was, however, far too wide awake to do that. Covering himself up with one of our cloaks, so that even the sharp eyes of an Indian could not discover him, he crept to the north of the hut, and looked through the stockade. Noggin accompanied him.
"Flintheads," whispered Noggin. "He says they are not his people. They are up to some deep treachery. They, of course, don't know that old White Dog is here, and that we are warned of their intentions. What is to be done? I wish Short and the rest were here."
Laban, after Noggin had spoken, stood for a minute or two in an attitude of reflection. I believe that if a great gun had been let off at his ear he would not have heard it just then. At length he said—"Wait till they come, and then we will let the red-skins enter the encampment. As they do so we must seize every mother's son of them, and bind them all to the posts of the huts. We won't brain them, as they would have brained us, and maybe the lesson we thus give them will teach them that the religion of the white-faces is better than that of the red-skins."
We eagerly looked out for the return of the other scouts, for we were afraid that they might have been picked off by some prowling bands of Flintheads. Soon after daylight, however, they came in, without having seen any one. Our arrangements were speedily made. The women were to keep out of the way, and to pretend to be nursing the children. As we far outnumbered the Indians, two of us were told off to take charge of one of them, the rest were to act as a party of reserve to seize any who might escape. The instant they entered the camp they were to be seized, as, seeing us prepared to move, of course their suspicions would be aroused. Noggin, who best knew their ways, undertook to tell them that they might come in.
"The varmints, knowing their own treacherous ways, are so suspicious, that if we show that we are too willing to let them come, they'll fancy that we've some plot in hand, and will be off to their friends."
The gate of our stockade being opened, Noggin carelessly sauntered out and squatted himself down before the Indians, as if prepared for a regular palaver. Not to lose time, the rest of us got our breakfasts, harnessed the horses, and prepared for an immediate start. I must say I never bolted my food at such a rate as I did that morning. At last Noggin got up, and he and the Indians came towards the stockade. My heart beat in a curious way. We watched Noggin. He looked glum, and made no signal that we were to alter our tactics. The Indians all trooped in one after the other, looking sedate and quiet enough, but their dark eyes rolled furtively about, and there was a scowl on their brows, which showed that they were not altogether at their ease.
We waited for Laban to give the expected signal. It was to be the instant the chief of the party reached him and held out his hand, as we knew he would. Slowly, a tall athletic warrior, with a very malignant countenance, however, advanced, casting his suspicious glances on every side, till he was close up to Laban. Obed and I were to seize the same man, but I could not help following the leader, and I felt sure that his hand was stealing down towards his tomahawk. Laban must have thought so too. In an instant the tall warrior's weapon was in his hand, and was descending on Laban's head, when a shot from behind a hut struck him on the forehead, and he fell forward dead at our friend's feet. At the same moment we all threw ourselves on his followers; but many of us received some severe cuts in our attempts to secure them, for all of them, prompted by the same feeling, had grasped their axes, with the intention of fighting their way again out of the camp. We had a severe struggle with them before we had them all secured; scowling and vindictive glances enough they cast on us when we had them fast. Old White Dog had, we found, saved the life of Laban Ragget by taking that of the chief. Never had a more treacherous plot to murder a whole party been more mercifully counteracted. Still neither the Raggets nor I would consent to kill our captives. Our proposal was simply to deprive them of their arms, and having fed them, to leave them bound, knowing that the rest of the tribe would, before long, visit the spot and release them. This plan, however did not at all suit old White Dog's or Noggin's notions on the matter.
"The treacherous red-skin varmints! you don't suppose they'll thank you for letting 'em live?" exclaimed the latter. "They will be after us, and follow us up like bloodhounds the moment they are free, that they will."
"Never mind, friend Noggin," replied Laban calmly. "Right is right all the world over. It would be wrong to kill a prisoner, do you see, and so I guess it's right to let these people live. I'll stand the consequences, come what may."
Noggin said no more; and now everybody was busily engaged in preparing to start. The sleighs were loaded, the horses were put to, and in a long line we filed out of the fort. All the women walked, and carried the children; there were not many of the latter, for it was a rough life we were leading at the bush, and not fitted for such delicate beings. Many of the men also had to drag hand sleighs, and, as it was, they were obliged to leave behind them some of the heavier baggage. Old White Dog volunteered to accompany us. He had been looking for the arrival of the small remnant of his tribe, and as they had not appeared he began to fear that they had fallen into the hands of their enemies. When all the party had gone out, and proceeded some hundred yards, Obed and I went back, by the directions of Laban, and put some food within reach of our captives' mouths.
"They won't take a very pleasant meal, but they won't starve," observed Obed, as we left them.
Laban, meantime, had undertaken to watch the old Indian and Noggin, whom he suspected of an intention of going back and scalping our captives. We, however, watched them so narrowly that they could not accomplish their object. We now pushed on as rapidly as we could towards the mountains, as it was most important that we should gain a secure position at a considerable height before night. At first, where the snow was beaten down, we went on merrily enough, but when the ascent of the mountain really began, it was very heavy work for man and beast. Our horses were not in good condition, as they had had nothing but dry prairie grass and very little corn all the winter, but they were very little animals, all bone and muscle, and had no weight of their own to carry, at all events.
As we proceeded, we kept a very bright lookout behind us, both to the north and south, to ascertain that we were not pursued.
At length we entered the pass in the mountains for which we had been making, and here our difficulties began. High black cliffs towered above our heads on each side to the height of many hundred feet, while before us were masses of the wildest and most rugged mountains, over and between which lay the path we had to pursue. Short, who had crossed the mountains at this place two or three times, acted as our guide. Frequently one party had to go ahead with spades and clear the way, and we had also often to take out the horses, and drag on one sleigh, and then come back and get the next. We had reason to be thankful that on this occasion we had no enemy to molest us. Old White Dog was very much astonished to see the men work as we did, and hinted that if he had the direction of affairs, he should make the women labour as those of his people are compelled to do, while he sat still in dignified idleness. He did not gain many friends by his remarks, among the gentler sex of our party. A sheltered platform, surrounded by rocks on the mountain side, had been described by Short, and fixed on for our resting-place.
Up, up, up, we worked our way. At last we reached it, pretty well worn-out. I never felt my legs ache so much before. It had not a very inviting aspect when we were there. It had, however, a great advantage, as from its position it might easily be defended, should we be pursued and attacked by the Flintheads. Having driven our sleighs on to it, we set about the business of encamping. As usual, we placed the sleighs in a circle, so as to form a breastwork, with the cattle inside it. The side of the mountain was covered with pine trees. We cut down a number of these, at least, so much of them as appeared above the snow, and having beaten hard a large circle in the centre of the camp, by walking over it with our snow-shoes, we placed them side by side so as to form a large platform. On this we piled up all the branches and logs we could collect dry and green, and set the mass on fire. The platform, it will be understood, served as our hearthstone, and kept the burning embers off the snow. Otherwise, they would quickly have burned out a cavern, into which they would have sunk and disappeared. We required, as may be supposed, a large fire for so numerous a party, and it was a curious sight to watch the different countenances of the travellers, as we sat round it eagerly discussing our evening meal. We did not neglect the usual precautions to prevent a surprise, and two of the young men at a time took post as sentinels a little way down the mountain, to give timely notice of the approach of a foe. After supper, all the party sang a hymn, led by Laban Ragget, and very sweet and solemn were the notes as they burst through the night air, and echoed among those rocks, never before, too probably, awakened to sounds of praise and thanksgiving.
"It's an old custom of mine," said Laban to me, "when I cannot expound to my family, or hold forth in prayer as usual. If, Dick, we didn't keep up our religious customs very strictly in the back settlements, we should soon, as many do, become no better than heathens."
As I had been on my legs for the best part of the last two days and nights, I was excused doing sentry's duty, and no sooner had I wrapped myself in my buffalo robe, with my feet towards the fire, and my head on a pine log, which served me as a pillow, than I was fast asleep. How long I had slept I could not tell, (it was, I afterwards found, some hours), when I was awoke by the most unearthly shrieks and cries, which seemed to come directly from under the very spot on which I lay.
A SUDDEN ALARM—WHITE DOG NEARLY ROASTED—CONTINUE OUR MARCH—MY YOUNG FRIENDS GOG AND MAGOG—DISAPPEARANCE OF SHORT AND OBED—I DESCEND TO SEARCH FOR THEM—A MAGNIFICENT ICE CAVERN—CROSS A FROZEN LAKE—INDIANS AHEAD—FRIENDS—A SCENE IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS—CAMP, AND FORTIFY OURSELVES—APPROACH OF FLINTHEADS—DESPERATE CONFLICT—AN AVALANCHE COMES THUNDERING DOWN ON US.
I was describing how I was fast asleep in our first night's encampment on our winter's journey across the Rocky mountains, when I was awoke by the most terrific cries, whence proceeding I could not tell. I thought a whole host of the Flintheads were upon us, and, seizing my rifle, sprang to my feet. When I was really awake, however, I found that the sounds came from under the platform, and a large hole near me soon showed what had happened. I had left our friendly old chief, Wabassem-Mung, or the White dog, fast asleep there. He had selected it from being the warmest place and nearest the fire. The consequence was that the snow had there melted more rapidly, and a deep chasm of seven or eight feet having been formed, he had glided into it, and only awoke when he found the hot ashes coming showering down on his head and burning the tip of his long nose. For once, in his astonishment and fright, he forgot his dignity, and shrieked out as heartily as any paleface. Laban and I and Short, who were nearest, stooping down, soon dragged him out of his uncomfortable position, and except that his nose was a little burned, and his feathers were singed, and his cloak was a hue or two darker, he was not much the worse for his adventure. He took it very good-naturedly, and seemed somewhat ashamed of having expressed his terror in the noisy way he had done.
Even before dawn we were on foot, and, having taken our morning meal, harnessed the horses and began our march. Our great object was to get to a certain elevation, to which we knew the Indians of the plain could never attempt to mount, even for the sake of glutting their revenge on us. We hoped also, should they attempt to follow us, to be better able to defend ourselves in the mountain passes than, from the smallness of our numbers, we could in the more open ground. In the hurry of describing more stirring events, I forgot to mention my two young bears. I did not like to desert them, as I might not have an opportunity of capturing any others.
Laban at first objected to my dragging them along with me; but at length he consented, observing, "Well, you know, Dick, if we get hungry, we'll eat 'em."
Of course I could not but consent to this arrangement. Although the full-grown grizzly bear is the most ferocious of the ursine race, these little creatures in a few hours became comparatively tame and contented with their lot. They trotted alongside of me very willingly, and at night lay coiled up together like a ball of wool, to keep each other warm. I gave them a small piece of fat and a little meal porridge, and that was all they seemed to want, besides sucking their paws, which they did as babies do their fists when they are hungry. Poor little things! they seemed to know that they had nobody else but me to look to as their friend. My friends, the Raggets and their companions, were very kind people, but they had a decidedly practical turn, and would have eaten my pets forthwith if I would have let them. I called one Gog and the other Magog, names about which the honest backwoodsmen, who had never heard even of Guildhall, knew nothing.
In appearance there was very little difference between them, but there was a considerable amount in their characters. Gog became much sooner tame, and was of a more affectionate, gentle, and peaceable disposition. Magog would sit and growl over any thing given him to play with, and run off with it away from his brother, while Gog would frisk about and seem to take pleasure in getting the other to join in his sports. Of course Gog became the favourite with all hands, and even the children were not afraid of playing with him, whereas Magog would snap at them, and very often tumbled them over and hurt them.
"I say, Dick," said Obed to me, "if we want food, we'll eat that Magog of yours up first."
That is what Magog got for his surliness and ill-temper.
We continued to push on over the mountain-range. It was not all ascent. Sometimes we came to a level on a wide open space where there was not much snow, and then we got on rapidly. Our only passage through one part of the route was up the bed of a torrent frozen hard and covered with snow. It was very heavy work, but Short assured us that it would not last long, so we pushed on.
Obed, Short, and I, with others, were clearing the way with our spades, when suddenly, without the slightest warning, the two first, who were ahead of me, went right through the ice and disappeared. Horror almost overcame me, for I knew that the torrent would have the power of sweeping them down in an instant far out of our sight. Obed was my greatest friend. Short's loss to all the party was irreparable. The three other men with me and I shouted to our friends, several of whom had long poles to assist their progress, to hasten to our aid. Fastening four of these together, two and two, I secured a rope round my body, which the others held, and then worked myself forward till I was over the hole. Another rope was made fast to the poles; by this I descended. I was surprised to find the chasm so deep, for I thought that I should see the water rushing down a little below the surface. Instead of that, there was below the hole a hard, very nearly smooth, floor, I lowered myself gently, and found it perfectly firm and strong; but, alas! neither Obed nor Short were to be seen.
Under other circumstances I should have been delighted with the appearance of the place in which I found myself. It was like a magnificent cavern of the purest white marble, ornamented with glass stalactites of the most brilliant rainbow hues. I should call it rather a gallery, because it extended up and down to an indefinite distance. No work of art could be more light or graceful.
But my thoughts were with my friends, and all the beauty which surrounded me seemed only to mock my anxiety for their fate. I heard those above, Laban Ragget and his sons, asking eagerly if I had found them, and I had to answer mournfully, "No." Still I saw that they could not have gone through the ice into the stream itself, for that everywhere appeared unbroken. Then it struck me that, as the floor was an inclined plane, they had probably slipped down over the smooth surface without meeting anything to stop them. This was a solution of the problem of the cause of their disappearance, but it did not relieve my anxiety as to their fate. I sung out to my friends above to lengthen the rope as far as they could, for I had no inclination to proceed without it, and slid down to as great a distance as its length would allow me to move. I shouted and shouted, but there was no answer. I began truly to despair. "Poor fellows, they must be gone," I thought. "It will be a sad report I must take to Laban."
I began to ascend to get under the hole again. I found that I could easily crawl up the incline on hands and knees. I turned to rest for an instant, and thought that I would give one shout more. There was a roaring, rumbling noise of the water underneath, which made it necessary to sing out very sharply to be heard at any distance. I therefore shrieked out this time at the very top of my voice.
A few instants passed while the echoes died away, and then a faint cry came up from far, far down the long ice gallery. It was repeated. There could be no doubt that it was from my friends. I waited to consider whether I should return and get others to come down with more ropes, so that should Short and Obed have fallen into an ice-pit, we might help them out; or whether it was best to wait and see if they were working their own way up, as I found from experience they might be able to do. It was while thus waiting for them that I was able to admire the beauty of the scene. The floor was dark blue, the sides were white, and the ceiling was of every variety of green and red and yellow, and in some places so transparent that it seemed surprising that any person, much less a horse or sleigh, could have passed over it without breaking through; then there were in the distance arches and columns, and whole buildings and statues, of every grotesque form imaginable, at least so my imagination carved out the excrescences and masses of ice I saw piled up in a long vista before me. I did not stay long without shouting again, and once more the voices of my friends assured me that they were drawing near. My heart was now much lighter, and at length I caught sight of their heads as they crawled up like two four-footed creatures in the distance. I was truly glad when they got up to me; they had been, they owned, not slightly alarmed, and were, they showed, very tired and out of breath.
On breaking through the ice, the impetus they got sent them sliding down the sloping floor at so great a rate that they could not stop themselves. On, on they went, not knowing when their journey would end; but dreading that it might be into some deep hole, or perhaps the torrent itself. They were well pleased, therefore, when they were brought up suddenly against a mass of rock which rose out of the bed of the stream; and doubly grateful were they when, on looking beyond it, they saw that on the other side there was a deep fall, through which the water itself was forcing its way.
We were all soon dragged up again to the surface, and though I described the magnificence of the icy gallery, no one seemed inclined to pay it a visit. We had now to drag our sleighs up a steep bank, and to proceed with the greatest caution, our progress being very slow. At last we once more got on level ground, and soon reached a long narrow lake, out of which the torrent descended. This accounted for there being water under the ice. Many of the torrents we came to were frozen completely through.
It may seem in theory very pleasant work walking in snow-shoes over the smooth surface of the snow, often high up among the boughs of trees, and level with the roofs of cottages; but when a person is not accustomed to the proceeding, it becomes painful in the extreme.
Snow-shoes are frames of light wood from four to six feet long, pointed at both ends like a boat. The intermediate space is filled up with network. They are secured to the feet by leathern thongs, and there is a hole in which the heel works. From their shape and size they present a very wide surface to the snow, and prevent the walker from sinking in.
Great care is required in fastening the thongs, which must be tight; but if they are too tight, when they get wet, as they frequently do, and shrink, they cut into the ankles and cause serious injury. Often the feet are so benumbed with the cold that, at the time, no pain is felt, and it is only when the sufferer comes to take off his shoes, that he finds the thongs have disappeared in a mass of swelling. We had no fears as to the ice on the lake bearing us, so we merrily slid on to it, and proceeded faster than we had done since we left the camp. The horses especially seemed to enjoy the ease, with which they dragged on the loads which had before seemed so heavy, while the rest of us, taking off our snowshoes, glided over the smooth surface as rapidly as they did. Fortunately, but little snow had fallen in this region, and the wind had blown it off the ice. This was the first, and indeed only, advantage we gained by travelling before the frost broke up. Had we not begun our journey as we were now doing, we should have had to wait several weeks longer, till the snows had melted from the mountain-tops, and the streams had subsided to their usual level. Still we could not conceal from ourselves that we had many dangers to encounter, even should we not be pursued by the red-skins.
I was generally in the van with Obed and Short and my two bears. I did not venture to let the Masters Bruin go loose, but yoked them together, and had a rope fastened to them besides. Thus united they waddled on; not lovingly, for very often they grumbled and growled, and seemed to be making far from pleasant remarks to each other. They kept on all fours, it must be understood. Bears only stand on their hind legs when they have learned to dance, or are going to eat a man, or at all events are standing at bay. On reaching the end of the lake we found that a considerable portion of the day had been spent, but still we had some distance to go before we could reach the spot proposed for our camping-ground. However, it was thought advisable to push on. I suggested to Short that it might have been better to camp on the shore of the lake.
"So it would, Dick, if we hadn't to guard against these cunning red-skins. But old White Dog has heard, and I believe that he is right, that there is another path over the mountains, which leads to the very spot near where we propose camping; at least a little to this side of it. Now, if our enemies know of this, and it's not likely they'll be ignorant, and they make chase after us, some of the cunning varmints will take that path to cut us off, depend on't. We haven't told the women of it, nor the men generally, because there's no use making them anxious till the time comes; and then there's no fear but that they'll all behave as they ought."
I could not but admire the calm self-possession of my friends, who, in expectation of so fearful an event, could show so little concern, and at the same time placed such implicit confidence in the nerve courage of their companions. I must own that I felt very anxious, and carefully examined the lock of my rifle, and assured myself that I had properly loaded it. Soon after this we entered a broad defile with high broken rocks on either side of us, beyond which towered up to the sky the white masses of mountain-tops. The defile as we advanced gradually narrowed, till I found that we were approaching a narrow gorge with cliffs rising on each side almost perpendicularly above it. Just then I thought that I saw something moving among the rocks before us. I asked short. His quick eye had detected the movement.
"Indjens!" he exclaimed. "Oh! the treacherous varmints."
Scarcely had he uttered the word than from behind the rocks in our front up sprang a numerous band of Indians in war-paint and feathers, uttering the most terrific shrieks and cries, and dancing and leaping about in the most extraordinary manner. Our rifles were in a moment in our hands. I was on the point of firing at an Indian whom I had covered, when old White Dog rushed to the front, exclaiming what Short interpreted to mean, "Don't fire; they are friends, my people."
This was satisfactory information, for, however pleasant fighting may be to some people, in our case it would not bring either honour or plunder. The fact was that, posted as they were, they might, had they been enemies, have picked us off, supposing they had rifles, without our being able in any way to get at them, except by climbing up the rocks, when, of course, they would have picked us off in detail. After White Dog's followers had amused themselves sufficiently with dancing and shrieking, they came down from their position, and paid their respects to their chief, who inquired how it was they happened to be where we had found them. They all seemed to be very eager to tell him, but he selected one as the spokesman, and told him to narrate what had occurred. It appeared that after their chief had left them they got notice that the Flintheads purposed to attack their lodges and destroy them. To avoid this result they had packed up their goods and fled from the spot, merely leaving some scouts to watch the proceedings of their enemies. They had not to wait long before they observed a party of warriors approaching. This party seemed very much disappointed at finding their lodges deserted. Having set fire to everything that would burn, they continued their route towards our camp, followed closely by the scouts. When these saw them enter within the intrenchments, they instantly set off back to their companions. A council was then held, when it was agreed that it was their duty to set off to help their chief, who might be in danger.
Old White Dog had, I found, left directions outside our camp, which they would clearly understand, telling them to follow him. On reaching the camp they found that we had deserted it, but before going on, they very naturally took a glance round inside. There they found the unfortunate Flintheads whom we had left bound.
"I hope, Short," said I, "that they respected our intentions, and left them there unhurt."
"They left them there, you may be sure, Dick," answered Sam quietly. "But you may be equally sure that they cut the throats of every mother's son of them."
"Cruel, murderous wretches!" I exclaimed.
"It's their way of doing things," said Sam. "As they are taught in their youth, so they act now they've grown up. If you had been taught to scalp your enemies when you were a boy, you'd do the same with pleasure now, whenever you had a chance!"
I could not deny that this would too probably have been the case, and therefore made no further remarks on the subject, only feeling thankful that I had been born in a Christian land, and brought up with Christian principles.
The meeting with these Indians caused another short delay, and they and their wives, and children, and dogs, falling into the rear of our party, we all proceeded together. The women and children, I ought to have said, had been hid away among the rocks, and were only produced at the last moment, as we were moving on. We could not object to White Dog's tribe accompanying us, but as they came but scantily furnished with provisions, we were under some considerable apprehension that they would create a famine in our camp.
A strong party of us, consisting of Short and Noggin, and some of the Raggets, and myself, with old White Dog and several of his tribe, now pushed on to occupy the pass which led into the one through which we were travelling. We soon reached it, and, climbing up the surrounding heights, looked around. As far as the eye could range, not a moving obstacle was visible; all was silent and solitary. We had purposely concealed ourselves in case an enemy should be approaching, and as I stood on that mountain height looking out into the distance over interminable snow-covered ranges of rock, I was more sensible than I had ever before been of the sensation of solitude; never before had I remarked silence so perfect. Truly it seemed as if Nature was asleep. So she was: it was the sleep of winter.
In England, where birds are constantly flying about, and often insects humming, even at Christmas, we have no conception of the utter want of all appearance of life in the mountain regions in which I was now travelling. We waited on the watch till the main body of our party came up, and then, seeing no enemies, pushed on to our camping-ground. I must say that I was very glad to get there without meeting with the Flintheads. I felt sure that as soon as they found out the fate of their friends, they would track us, and, if they could, not leave one of our party alive. Probably Laban and others thought the same, but wisely kept their thoughts to themselves.
We fortified ourselves as usual, and kept a strict watch during the night. The weather was much less cold than it had been; indeed, there were evident signs of the coming of spring, and it became more than ever evident that we must push on before the frozen-up torrents should again burst forth, and render many spots impassable. After a hurried breakfast, we were once more on our way; we marched in true military order, with an advanced and a rear guard; the first carried spades, and acted as a pioneer corps. This morning I was in the rear guard, with Obed and Short, and all the Indians with their old chief. We had marched about a mile, and had just entered one of the defiles I have spoken of, with lofty cliffs on each side, and the mountains rising, it seemed, sheer up above our heads for thousands of feet, when I saw the Indians prick up their ears; then they stopped and bent down to the ground as if to listen. There was a great talking among them, and old White Dog called to Short: and Short announced to us the unpleasant information that we were pursued by a large body of Flintheads. They could not have overtaken our party in a position more advantageous to us; for, from the narrowness of the pass, even should they be very superior in numbers, we could show as good a front as they could. While our main body moved on with the women and children and goods, I and about a dozen young men remained with the Indians to defend the pass, and to drive back, if we could, our enemies.
"There's one thing we may look for," observed Sam Short; "they'll fight to the last gasp, rather than lose the chance of their revenge; only don't let any of us get into their hands alive, that's all; they'd try our nerves in a way we should not like, depend on that."
Every man among us looked to his rifle, and felt that his hunting-knife was ready to his hand in his belt. We advanced a little farther, and then halted at a spot where it seemed impossible that the Indians could scale the heights to get at us. We had not long to wait. Suddenly before us appeared a band of Indians just turning an angle of the pass. On they came at a rapid pace till the whole road, as far as the eye could reach, seemed full of them. As soon as they perceived us, they set up the most terrific yells, and rushed frantically forward. We waited for them steadily, but I feared, by the very force of their charge, that our people would be overthrown and driven back.
"Now, lads," exclaimed Laban, as they came on, "be steady. Wait till I give the word. Fire low. Don't let the bullets fly over their heads. Bring down the leading men. Now ready—Fire!"
All obeyed our brave leader, and several in the front ranks of the enemy fell. Yet it did not stop the rest, but rushing on with the fiercest shrieks, they threw themselves madly upon our party. The White Dog's followers bore the brunt of the charge, and very gallantly did they behave. Again and again the Flintheads were driven back, and again and again they came on. They seemed resolved to conquer or die. There must have been nearly a hundred warriors among them. The air was at times darkened with their arrows, besides which a number had rifles. Four or five of our Indian allies had been killed, as had one of our people, and numbers had been wounded. We kept up at them a hot fire all the time, and many of them fell. Still, in proportion to our numbers, we had lost more men than they had. Once more the whole column rushed on together. I fully thought that we were lost, when, as I glanced my eye upward, I saw what I fancied was the mountain-top bend forward. Yes, I was not mistaken! Down it came with a wild, rushing noise directly towards us, shaking the very ground on which we stood. The Indians saw it too, but it did not stop them, as with headlong speed they were rushing towards us, about to make another onslaught. They and White Dog's people met, and the last I saw of them they were dashing their tomahawks into each other's brains.
I shouted frantically to Laban and the rest to retreat. It was a mighty avalanche, a vast mass of snow and ice. As it descended it increased in size, gathering fresh speed. As one mast of a ship drags another in its fall, so did one mountain-top seem to lay hold of the one next to it, and bring it downwards into the valley. Down, down came the mountains of snow, thundering, roaring, rushing. My brain seemed to partake of the wild commotion. I cannot attempt to describe the effect. I was leaping, running, springing back from the enemy, with every muscle exerted to the utmost, in the direction the women and baggage had gone. Laban and his sons were near me, I believed, but already dense showers of snow, or rather solid masses, the avant-coureurs of the avalanche, were falling down on us and preventing me seeing anything many feet from where I was. Unearthly shrieks and cries of terror and despair reached my ears; a mass of snow struck me, and brought me to the ground deprived of consciousness.
I FIND MYSELF UNDER THE SNOW—MY ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE APPEAR TO BE VAIN— STRUGGLE ON—AM FREE, BUT FIND MYSELF ALONE AMONG THE MOUNTAINS—PUSH ON—ENCOUNTER A GRIZZLY BEAR—A FIGHT—WILL HE EAT ME, OR SHALL I EAT HIM?—THE PLEASANTEST ALTERNATIVE OCCURS, AND BRUIN SAVES MY LIFE—I HURRY ON IN THE HOPES OF OVERTAKING MY FRIENDS—TAKE UP MY LODGING FOR THE NIGHT IN A CAVERN.
When I saw the avalanche come thundering down towards me, although I used my utmost exertions to escape, I in reality had completely given myself up for lost. My feelings were very bitter, but they were of short duration, when I was brought stunned to the ground. I came to myself at last, or I should not be writing this; but where I was, or what had occurred, it was some time before I could recollect. At last a dim consciousness came over me that something terrific had happened, and I opened my eyes and looked about; I was under the snow, or rather under a mass of ice in a space ten or twelve feet long, and about three high, being rather wider at the base. This was a very respectable sized tomb, and such I feared that it would prove to me, unless I could work my way out of it. Of course I knew that I might be released when the snow melted, but I should inevitably be starved long before that event could take place, not to speak of dying of chill, and damp, and rheumatism.
My principle has always been never to say die; if it had been otherwise I should not be again in Old England. My rifle lay on the ground close to me where I had fallen; my hand still grasped the long pike I always carried, and the ever constant weapon of the backwoodsman, my hatchet, was in my belt. I crawled along to one end of the icy cavern, tapping the roof to ascertain if there was any crack through which I may work my way, but it was one solid sheet of ice; the end was blocked up also by a solid mass, through which, after making several attempts, I found it impossible to bore. Finding all my efforts useless at this end, I went to the other. Appearances were not promising; still I would not allow myself to believe that by some means or other I might not work my way out of my icy prison. Not a moment was to be lost; my friends might go away and suppose I had perished, or I might be starved or exhausted before I could reach the open air. It was a great thing having a little space to start from, though it was little enough. I set to work at once, therefore, with my axe, and began chopping away at the ice. My idea was to cut myself out a circular shaft, and thus, like a mole, work my way up. I chopped and chopped away, and when I had cut a couple of feet out of the mass, I carried the chips to the farther end of the cave; my object in doing this was to obtain sufficient air to breathe, for I found that I very soon consumed what there was in the cave, and that the heat of my body had already begun to melt the ice above me. I suffered, therefore, rather from heat than from cold; I went chopping on till I had space enough in which to stand upright. This was a very great advantage; I felt most encouraged, and could now work with far greater ease than at first, when I had to be on my back, and to chop away above me. I felt very thankful that I was not a miner, either in a coal, iron, or lead mine.
Sometimes as I was working away I fancied that I head the voices of my friends calling to me, but when I stopped there was again a perfect silence. On I went again, but still it appeared as if I was as far as ever from getting out of my prison. I had now cut my shaft as high as I could reach, so I had to make steps in the walls on which I could stand while I worked upwards. This I did till I had got up a dozen feet or more. It showed me the great thickness of the block of ice which had fallen above me, and how mercifully I had been preserved, for had it come upon me, it would have crushed me as thin as a pancake. I was now exposed to a new danger: should I fall as I was tunnelling away, I should break my legs. I already had removed, as I said, a considerable portion of the ice I had cut out to the other end of the cavern. I now saw that it would be better not to remove any more; so, securing my rifle at my back, and taking my pike in my left hand, which indeed I found very useful in keeping me firm, I determined not again to descend, but to continue working upwards as long as I had strength left.
To decrease the risk of falling down, I contracted the diameter of my shaft, and thus got on also faster. At length, as I gave a blow above my head, what was my satisfaction to feel that my axe had entered a mass of snow. Ask an engineer if he would rather bore under a river with a rocky, or a sandy and muddy bed, and he will tell you that the rock he can manage, but that the sand or mud is very likely to baffle him. So I found with regard to the snow; I got on rapidly through the ice, but as I worked up through the snow, I had reason to dread every instant that the superincumbent mass would fall in and smother me. I found that I made the most progress by scraping it down and beating it hard under my feet, forming a rude stair as I went on. I had got up ten feet or so through it, when either my foot had slipped, or a mass of snow had come down upon me, I could not then tell; but I know, to my horror, that I felt myself sent toppling down, heels over head, as I feared, to the bottom of the shaft. I began to give myself up for lost, and would have shrieked out; perhaps I did so, in very grief and disappointment more than through actual fear, when I found that I was brought up by my pike, which had become fixed across the shaft. I held on for some time till the snow had ceased sliding down below me, and I looked up, and there to my delight I saw, far above me, through a narrow aperture, the clear blue sky. I now could have shouted for joy; but my emancipation was not yet complete, the smooth side of the funnel was to be scaled.
Having secured my pike, I set about it. I tried to run up and gain the height by a dash. That would not do, I quickly found, for the snow slid down with my feet as fast as I could lift them, and that made still more come sliding towards me. The only way to gain the top was by slow and patient progress, I discovered, after many experiments. I therefore carefully made step above step, beating each one down hard as I progressed, and with infinite satisfaction I found that I was again making an upward progress. At last my perseverance was rewarded with success, and I found myself standing on a vast mass of snow, which blocked up the whole of the valley for a considerable distance on the eastern side and for some way on the west, so far, indeed, that my first delight at my own deliverance was very much damped by the fears which seized me for the safety of my friends and companions. There I stood, in the most silent and complete solitude, amid a heaving ocean, as it were, of snow, with the dark granite peaks rising up here and there out of it, and increasing the appearance of bleakness and desolation which reigned around. I shouted again and again, in the hopes that possibly some of my companions might be within hearing; but my voice sounded faint, and indeed, almost inaudible, it seemed, while no echoes reached me from the surrounding rocks.
I did not, however, waste much time in hallooing, for instant action was what was required. I felt very hungry, and that fact made me suppose that I must have been some time in my icy cavern before I returned to a state of consciousness. I took out my watch; it had stopped. It was early in the morning when the Indians had attacked us. The sun had not now risen any considerable height in the eastern sky. This made me feel sure that one whole day, if not more, had passed since the catastrophe, and that if I would preserve my life I must push on to overtake the travellers. I had left my snow-shoes in the camp, so that I had great difficulty often in making my way over the snow in some of the spots where it lay most loosely. More than once I sank up to my shoulders, and had it not been for my pike I should have had great difficulty in scrambling out again. I had got on some way, and was congratulating myself on having got over the worst of it, when I felt the snow giving way under my feet. I tried to spring forward, but that only made me sink down faster; down, down, I went in a huge drift. I had sunk to my middle; then the snowy mass rose to my shoulders, and, to my horror, I found it closing over my head. Though I knew if I went lower I might struggle on for some time, yet that death would be equally certain in the end. My feelings were painful in the extreme. I could not get my pole across above me, but I succeeded in shoving it down below my feet, and, to my infinite relief, after I had made several plunges, it struck the point of a rock, or a piece of ice. I kept it fixed there with all the strength I could command, and pressing myself upwards got sufficiently high to throw myself flat on the snow and to scramble forward. This I did for some distance, holding my staff with both hands before me. It was not a pleasant way of making progress, but it was the only safe one.
At length I got into the main pass, where the snow lay at its usual depth, and where it was beaten down by the passage of men, and wagons, and horses. This gave me renewed spirits, though, on examining the traces, I discovered that they were at least a day old, perhaps older. My chief immediate wish was to have something to stop the cravings of hunger. I felt in my pockets. I had not a particle of food; nor had I a scrap of tobacco, which might have answered the purpose for a short time. I tried chewing a lump of snow—that was cold comfort; so all I could do was to put my best foot forward, and to try and overtake my friends as soon as possible. I might have walked on for three or four hours engaged in the somewhat difficult endeavour to forget how hungry I was, and to occupy my mind with pleasing fancies, (I suspect few people would have succeeded under the circumstances better than I did), when I heard a loud growl, and on looking round to my right, I saw, sitting at the mouth of a cavern formed in a rock in a side valley of the main pass along which I was travelling, a huge grizzly bear. There he sat, rubbing his nose with his paws, putting me very much in mind of pictures I have seen of hermits of old counting their beads; nor was he, I suspect, much less profitably employed.
I stopped the moment I heard him growl, and looked firmly at the grizzly. I knew that it would not do to turn and run. Had I done so, he would have been after me in a moment, and made mincemeat of my carcass. I do not know what he thought of me: I do know that I thought him a very ugly customer. I bethought me of my rifle. The last shot I had fired had been at the Indians; I had not since loaded it. I dreaded lest, before I could do so, he might commence his attack, which I guessed he was meditating. He had probably only just roused up from his winter nap, and was rubbing his eyes and snout as a person does, on waking out of sleep, to recover his senses, and consider what he should do. To this circumstance I owed, I suspected, my present freedom from attack. I, meantime, loaded my rifle as fast as I could, and felt much lighter of heart when I once more lifted it ready for use to my shoulder, with a good ounce of lead in the barrel.
"Now, master Grizzly," said I to myself, "come on, I am ready for you."
Bruin, however, was either not quite awake, or wished to consider the best means of making a prize of me. The truth was that both of us were hungry. He wanted to eat me, and I wanted to eat him: that is to say, I determined to do so if I could, should he attack me. If he left me unmolested to pursue my journey—I felt that discretion would be in this instance the best part of valour—that it would be wisest to leave him alone in his glory; for a grizzly, as all hunters know, even with a rifle bullet in his ribs, is a very awkward antagonist. He was so long rubbing his nose, that I at last lost patience, and began to move on. I had not taken a dozen steps when his warning growl again reached my ears. I stopped, and he went on rubbing his nose as before.
"This is all nonsense, old fellow," I exclaimed. "Growl as much as you like. I am not going to stop for you any longer."
So, putting my best foot forward, as I had need of doing, I stepped quickly out. I very naturally could not help turning my head over my shoulder, to see what Bruin was about, and, as I did so, a growl louder than the previous one reached my ear, and I saw him moving on at a swinging trot after me. This I knew meant mischief. Flight was totally out of the question. I must fight the battle like a man. It must be literally victory or death.
Strange as it may seem, my heart felt more buoyant when I had made up my mind for the struggle, independent of certain anticipations of the pleasure I should derive from the bear steaks I had in contemplation, should I be successful. I speak, perhaps, too lightly of the matter now, because I do not want to make more of my deeds than they deserve; but it was in reality very serious work, and I have cause to be deeply thankful that I did not become the victim of that savage beast. Let this be remembered, that I was then, and I am now even more so, most grateful; yet not grateful enough; that I also feel for the merciful way in which I was brought through all the perils to which I was exposed. This being clearly understood, I shall consider myself exonerated from the frequent introduction of expressions to show that I was not a heartless, careless mortal, without a sense of the superintending providence of a most merciful Creator. I do feel, and I have always felt, that there is no civilised being so odious among all the races of man as a person of that description.
Well, on came the huge bear. I knelt down and took my pike, as a rest for my rifle. This was a great advantage. Growling and gnashing his teeth, the enemy advanced. I prayed that my arm might be nerved, that my hand might not tremble, and that my rifle might not miss fire. Thus I waited till the brute got within six yards of me. Had I let him get nearer, even in his death struggles, he might have grappled me. I aimed at his eye. I fired, and the moment I had done so, I sprang back, and did not stop till I had placed twenty paces between myself and the bear, scarcely looking to see the effect of my shot. When the smoke cleared off, I saw the monster struggling on, with the aim, it seemed, of catching me. I was thankful that I had been impelled to spring back as I had done, for I certainly had not previously intended doing so. I knew how hard the old grizzlies often die, and so I put some dozen or more yards between me and him. He fell, then got up once, and made towards me again, and then rolled over, and I had great hope life was extinct. I had meantime reloaded my rifle, and approached him with due caution, for bears are, I had heard, cunning fellows, and sometimes sham death to catch the unwary hunter. When I got near enough I poked at him with my pike, and tickled him in several places, and as he did not move, I got round to his head, and gave him a blow with my axe, which would have settled him had he been shamming ever so cleverly.
Without loss of time I cut out his tongue and as many steaks as I could conveniently carry, and stringing them together with a piece of his hide threw them over my back, and hurried on till I could find a sufficient collection of wood or lichens, or other substance that would burn, to make a fire for cooking them. I need not dwell on what I did do, but the fact was I was ravenously hungry; and let any one, with the gnawings of the stomach I was enduring, find his nose within a few inches of some fresh wholesome bear's meat, and he will probably do what I did—eat a piece of it raw. I was very glad that I did, for I felt my strength much recruited by my savage meal, especially as I only ate a small piece, very leisurely chewing it as I hurried on my road.
It was a satisfaction to believe that I was going much faster than the women and vehicles could progress, and so I hoped to overtake them in a day or two at furthest; still, as long as there was daylight, I did not like to stop, and so on I tramped, till just before it grew dark I reached a broader part of the pass, where, in a nook in the mountain side, I discovered the remains of the camp formed by my friends, and left, I had little doubt, that very morning. There was wood enough about, with a little more, which I set to work to collect, to keep a fire burning all night. While thus engaged I found in the side of the rock a cave of good depth. I explored it at once, while there was light, to ascertain that it was not the abode of another grizzly. Having assured myself that the lodgings were unoccupied, though no signboard announced that they were to be let, I piled my wood up in front, and collected all the branches of fir trees and moss which I could find, to form a bed for myself inside. These arrangements being made, I lighted my fire and sat down with considerable appetite to cook and eat my bear steaks. My adventures for the night were not over.
A NIGHT IN A CAVE—I FORTIFY MYSELF, AND GO TO SLEEP—UNWELCOME VISITORS—MY BATTLE WITH THE WOLVES—I DRIVE THEM OFF, AND AGAIN GO TO SLEEP—CONTINUE MY JOURNEY—NIGHT AGAIN OVERTAKES ME—I BUILD A CASTLE FOR MY RESTING-PLACE—VOICES OF FRIENDS SOUND PLEASANTLY—ESCAPE OF MY COMPANIONS—FATE OF SURLY MAGOG—REACH THE CAMP—THE SUMMIT OF THE PASS—COMMENCE OUR DESCENT—AN IRISHMAN'S NOTION OF THE BEST WAY TO GO DOWN THE MOUNTAIN.
I soon got up a good fire, which threw its ruddy glare on all the rough points and salient angles of the cavern, but cast the hollows and recesses into the deepest shade. I glanced my eyes round, however, on every side, and having satisfied myself that it had no previous occupant in the shape of a grizzly and her hopeful family, I proceeded with my culinary operations. Having skewered a supply of bits of bear's flesh sufficient to satisfy my appetite, on as many thin willow twigs, I cut out a number of forked sticks and stuck them round the fire. On these, spit-fashion I placed my skewers, and turned them round and round till they were roasted on every side. A few, to satisfy the immediate cravings of my appetite, I placed very close to the fire, but they got rather more burned than a French chef would have admired.
After that, as I had nothing else to do, I could afford to take my time, and to cook them to perfection. I should have liked to have had a little pepper and salt to eat with them, and something more comfortable than melted snow to wash them down. I could not afford to expend my gunpowder, otherwise the nitre in it affords a certain amount of flavour, counterbalanced, to be sure, in the opinion of some people, by the sulphur and charcoal. I don't think, however, any one need fear being blown up by partaking of such a condiment. After I had finished my supper, I sang a little to amuse myself and any bats which might have been hanging on by their claws to the roof of the inner part of the cave, and then, having no book to read or anything else to do, I prepared my bed and made up my fire for the night. In other words, I collected a bundle of sticks and fastened them together to form a pillow, and scraped into a heap all the dry earth I could find to make myself a mattress. This a backwoodsman would have considered great effeminacy; and though I always adopted their ways when with them, I must own that, when left to myself, I could not help indulging in some such approximation, as I have described, to the luxurious habits of my college life. It was pleasant to recall my arm-chair and slippers, my cheery coal fire, my table covered with books, and a cup of coffee, or perhaps a bottle of port and a plate of biscuits, to apply to in case, after my mental exertions, my physical being should require some slight renovation. Some lazy fellows might rather think that I had not changed for the better.
I was on the point of stretching myself on the aforesaid luxurious couch, when I bethought me that it would be more prudent to erect a barrier of some sort between my dormitory and the entrance of the cavern, that, should any uninvited visitors intrude, I might have time for taking measures to protect myself. It, by the way, also occurred to me that a wall might guard me from the cold wind which blew in at the mouth of the cavern. I, therefore, shaking off my drowsiness by an impulse I can scarcely now account for, built a wall of all the stones and earth and bits of wood I could heap together, nearly two feet high, reaching from the fire to one side of the cavern. I then carefully examined my rifle, and placing it by my side, lay down alongside my wall with my feet towards the fire. Why I did this, I repeat, I cannot say. The idea that such a precaution might be necessary had not till that very moment crossed my mind. The additional exertion somewhat wearied me, and not a minute after I placed my head on the pillow, and like a hen had worked myself a hole to fit my body in the sand, I was fast asleep. I don't know what occurred after that, till I awoke by finding my feet very cold, which was no wonder, for the fire had almost gone out, and the thermometer was down to zero. I lifted myself up on my elbow while I was recovering my senses after my sleep, when not five paces on the other side of the wall I saw what looked like at least a dozen sparks of light in a row, reaching across the mouth of the cave, while farther off appeared several other small fiery orbs. I looked and looked again.
"Fireflies," said I to myself, half dreaming. "Bosh! fireflies in midwinter on the top of a mountain!" I rubbed my eyes. "Sparks from my fire?" Several peculiar low snarling growls made me start up, wide awake with a vengeance. "Wolves!" I said to myself; "there is no doubt about it." The brutes had smelt me out, and with their usual caution, they were making this advance to commence an attack.
How many there were I could not tell, but there must have been a flock of them—parents and children, the biggest and fiercest as usual in the van. I concluded that they had not yet seen me in the dark, but I knew that they would find me out as soon as I moved. I felt quietly for my rifle, and got that ready to fire when it was required. Then I lay watching the brutes as slowly they crept on, one foot before the other, just as a pointer advances towards where the covey lies hid. In another instant they might spring upon me. It struck me that they probably did not like the embers of the fire, so I took my long pole, and beat or stirred up the ashes with it, making them send forth showers of sparks. I fancied that the wolves were retreating, so I jumped up, and threw the bundle of sticks which had served me for a pillow, as well as all others on which I could lay my hands, upon the ashes. This act exposed me to the view of the hungry brutes, who instantly, with loud growls, rushed back towards me. Just then the dry sticks, aided by a puff of wind, ignited, and blazing up exhibited the whole savage troop to me. It was a highly picturesque scene I doubt not, the fire blazing up, and the dark rugged walls of the cavern, and my figure brought into strong light, with my gleaming brand pointed towards my savage assailants; but I don't mean to say I thought about that just then. All I saw were the fierce glaring eyes, the shaggy coats, and the hungry-looking fangs of the brutes, as they licked their jaws in anticipation of the feast they hoped to enjoy off me. I did not, however, like to throw away a shot among them, which could only have killed one, so I waited to see what they would do. In my late combat with the bear, I had the anticipation of a meal off my foe, should. I prove the victor, but on this occasion I had not that incitement to exertion, for a man must be very hard up for food who could complacently dine of the flesh of a gaunt wolf at the end of winter; and even the cubs, though probably not quite such tough morsels as their parents, had already far too much muscular development to afford satisfactory employment to the jaws. Though, however, I did not want to eat the wolves, they wanted to eat me, which was quite sufficient reason to make me excessively anxious to gain the victory.
After baying at me for some time, the brutes in the front line once more stealthily advanced, followed by those in the rear, whose forms appeared less and less distinct, till all I could make out of them were their fierce eyes, glaring like hot coals through the darkness. By this time a good portion of the sticks had caught fire. As the wolves got nearer, the scent of the remainder of the bear steaks, which I had put aside for my breakfast, filled their nostrils; their eagerness increased, and, with a loud howl, they in a body sprang towards me. I must conquer gloriously, or die and be eaten ignominiously; so, seizing a bundle of the burning sticks, I threw them in among the advancing ranks, and then, with loud shouts, grasping my pole, sprang out towards my foes, and belaboured them with might and main about their heads. They snarled and bit fiercely at the pole, but did not advance. Still they would not take to flight, and as it was very evident I should have a disturbed night's rest if they remained in the neighbourhood, I was very anxious to make them decamp. I got together, therefore, an additional supply of burning sticks. These I put in readiness for use. Then I levelled my rifle at one of the foremost and biggest wolves, and knocking him over, brandished my pole in one hand, and hurling the burning sticks among them with the other, I made a second furious onslaught on the wolves.
With unearthly howls and cries away they fled, leaping and scrambling over each other like an affrighted flock of sheep, and in complacent triumph I returned to my sandy couch, expecting to enjoy a quiet and comfortable night's rest. A heap of stones served me now for a pillow. Some of my readers may say, if you had had a downy couch or a feather-stuffed pillow, in a nice room with curtains, and a good fire, you might have had some reason for your hopes; but let me assure them that our ideas of comfort arise from comparison. The first night I slept in a feather bed after my camp life I caught the worst cold I ever had. Well, leaving the dead body of the wolf where he had fallen, I took the precaution to make up the fire with the remaining sticks I had collected, and lay down once more to enjoy the sweets of repose. Can it be believed! I had not been ten minutes wrapped in the arms of Morpheus, when I was again roused out of them by a terrific snarling and barking and growling. I looked up. There, as I expected, were the wolves, unnatural brutes, tearing away at the carcass of their ancient kinsman, and quarrelling over his limbs. "If that is what you are about, my boys, you are welcome to your sport, only let me alone," said I to myself; and leaning back I was immediately fast asleep again. The truth is, not having had a comfortable night's rest for some time, I was very sleepy, which will account for my apparent indifference to the near neighbourhood of such unsatisfactory gentry.
In spite of snarling, and barking, and howling, and growling, and every other variety of noise which the genus canis, whether in a tame or wild state, is capable of making, I slept on. To be sure I could not help dreaming about them; sometimes that they were running off with my ten toes, then with my fingers; then that a big fellow had got an awkward grip at my nose. The last dream, which was so particularly unpleasant, made me lift up my hand to ascertain whether that ornament of the human visage was in its proper place, when I felt several hot puffs of air blow on my cheek, and opening my eyes I beheld the glaring orbs of half a dozen wolves gazing down upon me over my barricade. Had not my dream given me warning, in another instant they would have been upon me. As it was, they seemed inclined to make a spring and to finish the drama by eating me up, which I calculated they would have done in ten minutes, when, seizing my spear, I swept it round, and as I knocked one off after the other the loud yelling they made showed the force of the blows I had, in my desperation, dealt on them.
I then got up, and scraping a portion of the fire within reach of my hands, I kept the ends of a number of sticks burning in it, and as soon as the wolves came back, which they did not fail to do, I hove one at their noses. This made them wary. They must have taken me for a Salamander or some fire-spitting monster; at all events, although some of the bolder ones every now and then came and had a look at me, licking their jaws and wishing they could eat me up, the singeing I gave their whiskers quickly drove them away, while the greater number kept at a respectful distance. At last when morning light returned, I started up, and uttering shouts and shrieks with the most hearty good-will, fired again at the foremost, and, as before, laying about me with my pole, put the remainder to an ignominious flight. I had not enjoyed a quiet night certainly, but I was much warmer than I should have been had my fire gone out.
"It's an ill wind that blows no one good."
"Good may be got out of everything," I say.
So the wolves said, when they supped of their old grandsire instead of me. Having also enjoyed a warm breakfast, I shouldered my rifle and pushed on as fast as my legs could carry me to overtake my friends. I was extremely anxious to get up with them before they descended into the plains; for as I supposed that the snow would be melting there, I knew that I might have great difficulty in following their traces. I pushed on till noon, and then stopped but ten minutes to dine, or rather to rest and chew a bit of bear's flesh. That done, on again I went as fast as before. I did not at all like the notion of having to camp out by myself, for I was so sleepy that I fancied I might be torn limb from limb by wolves or a bear without awaking; and certainly I might have been frozen to death. The evening came, the sun set, and though I was on the track of my friends, I could see nothing of them. Still I pushed on, because I might overtake them before dark; but at length the shades of night crept up the mountain's sides, and for what I could tell I still might be many hours distant from them. I could see very little way ahead; but I had arrived at a part of the mountain-range where there were some very ugly-looking precipices on either side of the pass, and I thought it more than likely, should I push on, that I might slip down one of them, when very probably I should not be brought up till I had had a jump of a couple of thousand feet or so.