I need not record the adventures of each day. I suffered so much from my feet that my progress was of necessity slow. My fish were gone, I had found no other friendly stream; but I hoped to come across one before long. I had dried the remnant of my powder. I had enough for one full charge and a little over. I loaded my rifle, still wishing, if possible, to keep it for my defence. This was early one morning. I had had no breakfast. As the day advanced I grew very hungry. A small animal, like a hare or rabbit, came near me. I seized a stone at my foot and hit the creature on the leg, and broke it. Away it went limping, still at a rapid pace. I made chase as fast as my sore feet would let me. I was gaining on the creature, but was afraid that, after all, it might get into some hole and escape me. This made me exert myself still more, when I caught sight of a burrow ahead, for which I suspected it was making. I sprang on, hunger giving an impetus to my feet, and not a yard from the spot I threw myself forward and caught it, as it was about to spring into the hole.
The poor creature turned an imploring look at me; but like a savage, as I felt, I speedily squeezed the life out of it, and in another ten minutes I had it skinned and roasting away before a fire of sticks, which I had in the meantime collected. I felt, as I ate the creature, what reason I had to trust in the care of Providence, for each time, when most in want, I had been amply supplied with food, and I doubt not that, had I possessed some botanical knowledge, I should have found a still larger store of provisions in the productions of the earth. The creature was rather lean, so that the best half of him only served me for a meal, and I finished the remainder at night.
The next day I was less fortunate. Towards the evening, as I was proceeding along an elevated ridge, I saw in the valley below me a black spot, as if a fire had been there. I hurried down to the place; I was not mistaken. There were the charred embers of sticks, and round it were scattered the half-picked bones of grouse, partridges, and ducks, as if a numerous party had camped there. I looked about, but could find nothing to indicate that they were my friends, hunger made me do what I should not otherwise have fancied. I collected all the bones, and with a pile of sticks, left by my predecessors on the spot, I made a fire, at which I speedily cooked them. As there was plenty of birch-bark about, I then built a wigwam and formed a comfortable couch within it, in which I might pass the night.
These bones were all the food I got that day. Several deer had on the previous day come skipping around me, fearless of the approach of man. The next day again hunger assailed me. I had been wishing that some more deer would come, when a herd came racing by, and when they saw me they all stopped staring at me, as if to ask why I had come there.
The pangs of hunger just then made me very uncomfortable. Here was an opportunity of supplying myself with food for a week to come. A fat buck stood in the centre; I fired. The whole herd were in full flight, but the buck was wounded, I saw by the drops of blood which marked his track; I hurried after him. What was my delight to see him stop, then stagger and fall! I ran on. He rose and sprang forward, but it was a last effort, and the next moment he rolled over on the ground. I could have shouted for joy. I had now got food in abundance, and what was of great consequence to my ultimate preservation, the means of covering my feet. I finished the poor animal with a blow of my hatchet, and then set to work to skin him and cut him up.
I had one drawback to my satisfaction. There was no wood or water near. I therefore cut off as much of the hide as would serve me for moccasins and leggings, loaded myself with all the flesh I could carry, and struck away towards the west. I had been unable to follow up the tracks which led from my last sleeping-place, and this convinced me that the camp had been formed by Indians. Whether they would prove friends or foes, should I fall in with them, was a question. At all events, I felt rather an inclination to avoid than to find them out.
At length I came to a wood, through which ran a stream of pure water. Sticks were quickly collected, a fire was lit, and some of my deer was roasting away. While it was cooking, I ran down to the stream to take a draught of water and to wash my feet, and then hurried back to enjoy my repast. I did enjoy it; and as there were still two hours more of daylight, and I felt my strength increased, I hurried onward.
Scarcely had I got again into the open country than I came on some recent tracks of horses. Could my friends be ahead? There were no wheel tracks, though. A beaten track appeared. It must lead somewhere. I had not gone half a mile when I fancied that I heard the neighing of a horse. My heart thumped away in my breast. I listened with breathless attention. Again a horse neighed loudly. I could not be mistaken, and hurrying on I saw across a rapid stream, which passed at the base of the hill on which I found myself, a whole herd of those noble animals frisking about in a wide rich meadow spread out before me. I hurried down the hill, and by the aid of my pole, though not without difficulty, hurried across the stream. One of the horses as soon as I landed, came trotting up to me; but seeing that I was a stranger, and rather an odd-looking one too, off he went again. I thought how satisfactory it would be if I could catch one of them to make it carry me the rest of the journey. I remembered, however, that the animals must belong to some one. Perhaps, however, the owner might lend one to me. Crossing the meadow, I saw before me a wreath of smoke gracefully curling up among the trees. It must proceed from some human habitation. Was it from the hut of a white man or from the temporary encampment of Indians? If the latter, would they prove friends or foes? Knowing the necessity for precaution, I hid myself behind every bush and tree, till I got into the wood, and then I advanced with equal care, looking out ahead before I left my shelter, and stooping down in Indian fashion, trailing my rifle and stick after me as I made my onward way.
I soon came to an open glade, in one corner of which appeared a skin-covered wigwam, before the entrance to which sat two squaws busily engaged in some culinary occupation. If found looking about I might naturally have been suspected of treacherous intentions, so slinging my rifle, and grasping my pole and fishing-rod in one hand, I advanced, holding out the other. The old woman looked up, and uttered a few grunts, but seemed in no way alarmed. What they took me for I do not know. I must have seemed to them rather a strange character. I had advanced a few paces, when two men sprang out of the hut. This was a trying moment. Greatly to my satisfaction, they stretched out their hands in a friendly way as I hobbled on towards them. Though they had painted faces, and were dressed in skins, I saw by the kind expression on their countenances that they commiserated my condition. Blood was even then streaming from my feet. At once they lifted me up in their arms and carried me into the hut, where they placed me on a couch of skins, and the old woman brought water from the river which flowed close by, and washed my feet, and bound them up with salves. The pain from which I had so long been suffering quickly disappeared.
They then brought me a piece of salmon, which I thought delicious, and some soup, which, under other circumstances, I might have thought suspicious. This, with some roots which they roasted, made up a repast more refreshing than I had eaten for a long time.
I could not speak a word of their language, nor did they understand English, but I tried by signs to make them comprehend that I had parted from my companions, and that I wished to get to them. At last they appeared to fancy that they comprehended me, for they nodded and smiled, and uttered the same sounds of satisfaction over and over again. They signified, however, by their gestures, that I must sleep in the hut that night, but that on the following morning, as soon as the sun rose, we would set off on our journey.
I offered them the deer's flesh which I had slung about me, and which they seemed to value. Just before dark, however, they brought me in another salmon, which I preferred to the somewhat high flavoured meat. I cannot describe how I enjoyed that night's rest. I had perfect confidence in my hosts, and I had no longer the dread of being visited by a wandering bear or prowling wolf. I felt like a new being when, next morning, the good-natured Indian roused me from my slumbers. The rushing sound of waters invited me to take a bath, and going down to the river, I stretched my limbs with a pleasant swim, and then returned to enjoy a hearty breakfast on salmon, roots, and some decoction which served the purpose of tea. My hosts, too, had provided some new moccasins in which to shield my feet.
It was a completely patriarchal establishment. There was an old father and four sons, with an old mother, and another old woman and the wives of the younger men, and eight or ten children. The skin-covered huts of the younger couples were close at hand, under the trees. The old man and his eldest son now brought up three horses, they mounted me on one, and they leaped on the others. A deerskin served as a saddle, and rough thongs of leather as a bridle.
I wished all the family a hearty good-bye, resolved in future to think better of Indians than I had done, and off we set. How delightful it was to move along over the prairie at the rate of eight or ten miles an hour, instead of creeping along with suffering feet, as I had been so long doing. I travelled on two whole days on a westerly course with my Indian friends. I could not hold much conversation with my guides, except by signs, but we soon appeared to understand each other perfectly well.
I made out that we were approaching the camp of my old companions, and as I drew nearer my eagerness increased to be once more among them. After a time I saw wreaths of white smoke curling up from a valley below us. They must proceed from a considerable encampment. The Indians and I rode on in silence, till I heard voices, which I judged came from the spot where I had seen the smoke ascending. Presently a boy, whom I recognised as one of the emigrant children, ran back, shouting out, "Injins—Injins!" His cries brought out the Raggets, and a number of my friends with rifles in their hands, ready to do battle in case of necessity. They saw that we were peaceably disposed; but they did not recognise me till I was in the middle of them, and had addressed them by name.
I was cordially welcomed. In truth, most of them had given me up for lost. They showed that they placed some value on me by loading my Indian friends with presents.
I am sorry to say that I must bring my adventures in the Far West to a conclusion. We struck our tents next morning, and continued our journey. After a variety of adventures we reached California, and at once proceeded to the gold-diggings. Most of the party separated and worked for themselves. The Raggets kept together, and were the only family who succeeded in securing an independence. For myself I will say nothing, but that I was thankful to find myself back in old England, if not a richer, I hope at all events a wiser man, than when I left its deservedly well-loved shores.