Winnemak was all this time keeping a look-out on every side; while several of his men were acting as scouts, so as to give us timely notice of danger.
At night we encamped as before, keeping a strict watch; while the prisoner was bound in a way which would have rendered it difficult for him to escape even had he possessed strength enough to run off. Our camp being pitched in a sheltered position, we lighted a fire, which even at that time of the year was pleasant, if not absolutely necessary; and there was but slight risk of its position betraying our presence to any passing foe.
The next morning we proceeded as before; and I was thankful when at length, just as evening was approaching, the chief told me that we were not far from the camp. I looked out eagerly ahead for the first sight of it, for I hoped to meet Clarice and Uncle Jeff there, and to have my anxiety at last set at rest.
The sun was just tinging the southern side of the snowy mountains on our left, ere it sank below them, when I caught sight of the wigwams of the Kaskaskias, on the slopes of a pine-covered hill. The camp as we drew near did not present a very attractive appearance. The wigwams were such as are only used in summer—a few poles, covered with buffalo hides, or deer skins, more to afford shelter from the heat of the sun, or from a downfall of rain, than protection from the cold. A number of squaws were seated about, some inside the tents nursing pappooses, others tending large pots of broth boiling over fires. A few braves were standing about, and others looking after the horses of the tribe, which they had apparently just driven in from pasture; while a pack of dogs, the most ill-favoured of mongrels ever seen, were squatted about, watching for the offal which might be thrown to them, or ready to rush in and seize any of the meat which might for a moment be left unguarded.
The women, continued at their various employments, but the braves, as we approached, advanced to meet us. The chief halted and addressed them, but I could not follow him. I judged, however, by the intonations of his voice, that he was telling them of his defeat, and the loss of so many of their people. Meantime, I was looking about eagerly for signs of Clarice, Uncle Jeff, and Manley, but nowhere could I see any. Still, I knew it would be contrary to Indian etiquette to interrupt the chief by inquiring for them.
On hearing of the various disasters which had occurred, the men showed but little emotion. The chief, I observed, now pointed to his prisoner, by which I feared the worst for poor Piomingo.
As soon as I could venture to address the braves, I inquired for Clarice and the officer; and great was my dismay to find that they had not arrived at the camp, nor had Uncle Jeff appeared.
The chief now asked for his daughter.
Maysotta had gone out hunting with her favourite dog Keokuk. There was no danger of any harm befalling her while she had so good an attendant, as Keokuk knew when a foe was within a mile or so, and would give her ample warning; as he would were deer, buffalo, bears, or wolves within the same distance.
The chief, seeing my disappointment, endeavoured to console me by saying that perhaps my friends had missed the camp altogether, and had gone on, and that probably we should soon hear of them; a party of his braves were still out on an expedition, and they perhaps had fallen in with Clarice or Uncle Jeff.
No news was received during the night, but, in spite of my anxiety, I was glad to lie down in a corner of the chief's tent and obtain some rest, of which I stood greatly in need. During our journey, when we might at any moment have been attacked by an enemy, I had only slept at intervals.
I had been for some hours, I fancy, fast asleep, when I was awakened by a movement made by the chief, who had been lying near by me, wrapped in his buffalo robe. By the light of the moon, which streamed in through the unclosed entrance, I saw him get up and leave the tent.
Influenced by a motive for which I cannot now account, I rose and followed him. My belief is that I was scarcely awake; indeed, I walked along like a person in a dream. He at once left the camp, and took the way down to the lower and open ground. I was at some distance behind him, so he did not hear my footsteps.
After walking for a quarter of an hour or more, I found myself in the midst of an Indian burial-ground, which I recognized by the number of small platforms, raised on posts and thatched over, rising in all directions. Besides the platforms, I observed several strange-looking figures fixed to the top of tall poles, and composed, as far as I could judge, of bits of coloured rags and skins, which fluttered in a weird fashion in the night breeze.
The chief stopped before a couple of these fantastic-looking objects, and, with folded arms, gazed up at them, uttering some words which I was too far off to hear distinctly, though the sound of his voice reached my ears. He was praying,—of that I could have no doubt,—and these trumpery scarecrows were his idols. I could not have supposed that a man of good sense, as he appeared to be, could be the victim of a superstition so gross and contemptible.
He continued standing for some time, making various signs, and uttering words as before.
Unwilling to be discovered, now that I was fully awake, I was on the point of retreating, when the sound of my footfall reached his ears, and turning round he saw me. I did not wish that he should fancy I was afraid of encountering him, so I at once advanced, and told him frankly how I came to follow him. I assured him, also, that I had had no intention of acting as a spy on his movements. As he appeared to be in no way displeased, I asked him, while we were walking back to the camp, whether he had really been worshipping the figures I had seen.
"Why not?" he inquired in a serious tone. "The times are full of danger and difficulty, and I wished to obtain the protection and support of the guardian spirits of our people. If I did not ask them, how could I expect them to grant me what I want? While I was staying at Roaring Water, I heard your uncle pray to your gods; and I suppose that you expected them to give you what you asked for."
I tried to explain to him that there is but one God, the Great Spirit of whom his people knew, though they were sadly ignorant of his character; and that we never prayed to inferior beings, as our God would not allow us to do so. Much more I said, though at the time with little effect; indeed, the chief was as deeply sunk in the grossest superstition as are the Indian tribes among whom the gospel light has not yet shone.
On reaching his tent, he bade me lie down again, observing that he would talk over the matter another day.
The next morning I was surprised to find that Maysotta had not returned. Still, her father appeared to feel no anxiety about her.
The sun had been up a couple of hours or so when I heard shouts in the camp, and the chief with all his braves hurried out. They went to welcome the return of a party of their warriors, who marched in singing and shouting,—the leading men having three or four scalps at the end of their spears, while among them were dragged three or four unfortunate Arrapahas, whom they had captured, and who were, according to the Indian custom, to be put to death. Among them, to my surprise and horror, was a young squaw, who, if not beautiful according to my taste, was certainly interesting-looking. She bore herself with as much fortitude, apparently, as the men, although she knew that her fate would be the same as theirs.
The chief had said nothing to me about Piomingo, and I now felt satisfied that it was the intention of his people to sacrifice him with the rest of the prisoners. I resolved, however, to plead for him, as well as for them, and make special endeavours to save the life of the young squaw. According to the savage Indian custom, she would be barbarously tortured before being put to death. It seems strange that human beings can take a pleasure in thus treating their fellow-creatures; it shows how debased, how diabolically cruel, men can become when they have once gone away from God. At present, however, the braves were too much occupied in recounting their deeds of valour to think of their prisoners, who were left bound, and guarded with lynx-eyed watchfulness by some of the old squaws.
I found that this was only one of the parties of braves, and that another was expected shortly with more prisoners. As far as I could understand, these prisoners were said to be white men; but I concluded that they were some of the Mexican outlaws who had accompanied the Arrapahas on their marauding expedition.
While looking out for them, I saw a solitary figure, rifle in hand, approaching the camp, whom I recognized as Maysotta, accompanied by her dog Keokuk. I hastened to meet her, and told her of my anxiety at the non-appearance of Clarice.
"If they do not come, I will go in search of them," she said.
She had killed a deer, so she sent off some of her people, under the guidance of Keokuk, to bring it in. Her dog would, she said, lead them to the spot.
Shortly afterwards, the second band, who were expected, made their appearance in the distance, and, as before, the warriors hurried out to meet them.
I was still talking to Maysotta, when I saw her look towards the approaching party, and an expression of astonishment take possession of her countenance.
"What have our braves been doing?" she said. "They have made a prisoner of our friend the young white chief."
As she spoke, I looked in the same direction, and I too was greatly astonished, and also much alarmed, at seeing Lieutenant Broadstreet, with his arms tied behind him, in the midst of the warriors—his two troopers following, closely guarded.
"What can have happened?" I exclaimed. "What can have become of Clarice and Rachel? My dear sister! some accident must have befallen her."
"I will learn what has happened," said Maysotta.
I hurried to Winnemak, and explained that his people had made prisoners of those who were on their way to visit his camp.
He thought I was mistaken; but I assured him that I was not, and that his daughter would corroborate my statement. On hearing this he ordered the prisoners to be brought forward, when, at once recognizing the lieutenant and the two troopers, he ordered them to be set at liberty.
Hurrying up to my friend, I eagerly inquired for Clarice and her attendant.
His emotion would scarcely allow him to reply. He seemed dreadfully cast down, as well as weak and faint from want of food.
"We had encamped two nights ago," he said, "in a secure spot, as I supposed, and were in hopes the next day of reaching our destination, when just at dusk I saw a band of Indians approaching. To prevent them coming near, I ordered my men to mount and ride forward, while your sister and Rachel remained, as I hoped, concealed from view. The Indians retreated to some distance, and I was induced to follow. They then halted and made signs of friendship, which tempted me to go still nearer. Suddenly, however, as I was about to inquire who they were, and where they were going, they set upon me and my men, without the slightest warning, and before we could even draw our swords or pistols we were dragged from our horses, and our arms bound behind us. At first I thought that our captors must be Arrapahas; but looking again at their costume, I was sure that they were Kaskaskias, belonging to a friendly tribe. In vain I expostulated, and tried to explain who we were; but they did not understand me, mistaking us, I believe, for some of the Mexicans who had accompanied the Arrapahas; at all events, we were dragged ignominiously along, neither food nor water being given us."
I at once told the chief what the lieutenant had said. He was very indignant with his people, but explained that the whole had happened by mistake.
Our first thought, of course, was to discover Clarice and Rachel. The lieutenant himself was eager to start immediately, but he was evidently too weak for the undertaking, and was at once led to the chief's tent, where Maysotta hurried to attend on him, while some of the older squaws took care of his two troopers.
Maysotta immediately brought him food and water. "Eat," she said; "the 'Fair Lily' is my friend as well as yours; I am as anxious as you are to find her. As soon as you are rested we will set out. Were you to go now, you would faint by the way."
I was standing outside the entrance to the tent while Maysotta was speaking to the lieutenant, and it struck me, from her looks and tone of voice, that she felt a warm interest in the young lieutenant, which might, I feared, prove inconvenient, if it had not worse consequences.
I was watching the Indians, who, having lost their white prisoners, had now brought forward their Redskin captives, and were dancing a horrible war-dance round them. Their appearance on ordinary occasions was somewhat savage, but they looked ten times more savage now, as they shrieked, and leaped, and tossed their arms and legs about, and went round and round, flourishing their tomahawks, and jeering at the unfortunate people in their midst. The latter, knowing that they would not yet be sacrificed, sat in perfect silence, without exhibiting any emotion, and bearing patiently the insults heaped upon them.
I had not abandoned my idea of pleading for the unhappy prisoners, but at this time I was thinking more of Clarice, and the means of recovering her; still, should I go away, I feared that the prisoners might be put to death during my absence. Having seen that the horses of my white friends were turned out on a pasture close at hand, where they could get abundance of grass, I went to the chief and asked him whether he wished to be on friendly terms with the Palefaces?
He said that he certainly did—it was his greatest ambition.
"Then," I replied, "you must live as they do, and imitate their customs. I have told you before, that we do not torture or otherwise injure our prisoners, and that it is our duty to forgive our enemies, and to do them good. Now I want you to promise me that no one shall suffer while I am away."
The chief could not make up his mind to yield, but I urged him again and again, and at last I hoped, from what he said, that he would do as I wished.
The lieutenant was now sufficiently recovered to mount his horse, and, followed by his two troopers, he and I set off in search of Clarice. None of the Indians, however, offered to accompany us, nor did Maysotta, as I thought she would have done; but I found that she had left the camp with her dog and rifle before we started. It was her custom, I discovered, to act in a very independent manner on all occasions, her father never interfering with her.
We pushed forward at as rapid a rate as we could make our horses move; but the ground was at first too rough to allow us to proceed as fast as we wished. When we got to the plain we gave our steeds the rein.
Judging from the report of Winnemak's people who last came in, we had not much risk of encountering any of our foes; indeed, our whole thoughts were entirely occupied by Clarice and Rachel. Had they waited quietly the return of their escort; or had any hostile Indians discovered them, and carried them off as captives? The idea of such an occurrence as that was too horrible to be contemplated. Perhaps they might have caught and mounted their horses, and set off to try and find their way to the camp. In that case we might possibly meet them, and as we rode along we kept a strict look-out on every side.
"Can they possibly have passed us?" I inquired of my companions.
"I do not see how that can be, unless they should have gone very much out of their way; and I remember having pointed out to your sister the position of the Indian camp, so that she would know how to direct her course," answered Manley. "The peculiar form of the mountains above it would be sufficient to guide her."
After all, we felt that there was but little use in talking about the matter, or in surmising what might have happened—though, of course, we did talk on without ceasing.
We at last approached the spot where Manley had left Clarice and her companion. Should we not find them there, we must endeavour to follow their trail; and when I thought of the possibility of having to do this, I regretted not having endeavoured to induce an Indian to accompany us.
"There is the place," said Manley, at length; "but I see no smoke, and had they remained they would certainly have kept up a fire."
We rode forward eagerly; but our fears were realized. The ashes of the fire at the camp were there, but the fire itself had long been extinguished.
Clarice and Rachel must have left the spot some time before!
We searched about in every direction, but could find no traces of their having been there lately, and our eyes were not sufficiently sharp to distinguish the signs which would have enabled an Indian to say in what direction they had gone. We next looked out for their horses, but they were nowhere within sight.
Some time was thus spent, and the day was drawing to a close. Should we not find them before nightfall, we must wait until the next morning. To have to do this was trying in the extreme, but we had to submit, as it was so dark that we could with difficulty see our way as we returned to the deserted camp. My poor friend Manley was dreadfully out of spirits, but I assured him that he had no reason to blame himself. He had acted for the best, and no man could do more.
The next morning we resumed our search; but without success. We were both of us in despair.
"They must have taken their horses and ridden off towards the mountains; it is useless searching for them here any longer," I said.
Manley agreed with me, and, believing that they must have gone on to the camp by a different route from the one we had taken, he was eager to return.
He and his men had pushed ahead through the forest while I stopped to tighten the girths of my saddle; and when I rode forward, expecting immediately to overtake them, I found that I had followed a different direction from that which they had taken.
It is no easy matter, in a thick forest, to regain the right path, or to get up with those who have once been lost sight of. I found it to be so in the present instance. I was sure that I could not be going very far wrong, and expected as soon as I reached the edge of the forest to see my friends, although they might have got some little way ahead on the open ground.
As I was riding on, I fancied that I heard the bark of a dog. I listened, and again heard the same sound. I was now certain that the animal was not far off. To whom could it belong? The dog was not likely to be wandering by itself in the forest. I rode in the direction from whence the sound proceeded, and in a short time reached a somewhat more open part of the forest. Great was my surprise and joy to see my dear little sister Clarice, leaning on the arm of Maysotta, who carried her rifle in her hand, while Keokuk ran beside her.
Leaping from my horse, I sprang towards Clarice, who threw her arms round my neck, exclaiming, "O Ralph, I am so thankful to see you! I have been in a dreadful state of alarm and anxiety, thinking that Manley—I mean Lieutenant Broadstreet—and his men had been killed. Maysotta has somewhat relieved my mind. But where is he? Has he been unable to come and look for me?"
The assurance I gave that Manley was well, and not far off, soon restored Clarice to her usual composure.
Having no longer any fears about Manley's safety, she was able to answer the questions I put to her. After telling me how the lieutenant and his men had ridden off to meet the Indians, she continued:—
"We were sitting before the fire awaiting their return, when what was our dismay to see two huge wolves approaching the camp, followed by a number of cubs! Our first impulse was to fly; and while the wolves stopped to eat up our provisions, we were able to escape to a distance. We took refuge in the hollow of a tree, which afforded us sufficient shelter, and the aperture being some way up, we felt sure the wolves could not make their way in. But Maysotta has been telling me that something dreadful has happened, though I cannot make out what she means."
"I will tell you all about that by-and-by," I answered; "but I am eager to know how Maysotta managed to find you."
"As soon as we thought that the wolves had gone from our camp, Rachel went to see if anything had been left; but the savage creatures had carried off everything, and at the same time frightened away our horses and mules, and they were nowhere to be seen. We remained in the tree for some time, and I do not think anybody would have found us. Then Rachel went away to try and get some berries and roots. She had not been long absent when I heard a dog barking, and looking out through a small hole in the hollow trunk, I saw Maysotta approaching. I therefore stepped out of my place of concealment; and Maysotta, who was delighted to find me, said that she had come out expressly to search for us, and would take us immediately to the camp. Of course, I could not go without Rachel, and we are now on our way to look for her, as she cannot be far off."
"Keokuk will find her," said Maysotta, patting her dog on the head, and saying a few words to him.
Away he started, and in a short time we heard him barking loudly. Maysotta, leaving Clarice with me, hurried on, and in a few minutes we saw her approach, guiding Rachel towards us.
Rachel's joy on seeing me was so demonstrative, that I scarcely liked to tell her or my sister of the destruction of the farm. However, it had to be done, and I related all that had taken place. As I proceeded, Rachel gave full vent to her grief, whilst my sister betrayed the sorrow she felt by her tearful and troubled countenance. Rachel wrung her hands and burst into tears, which her own previous perilous position had not been able to draw from her.
"De farm burned!" she exclaimed; "oh dear! oh dear! And what become of Jenny, Nancy, Polly, and all de oder cows, and de pigs and de poultry? And Uncle Jeff, what he do; and Bartle and Gideon?"
I consoled her somewhat by saying that I thought it possible all three had escaped, and that even the cows and pigs might have got away, either into the woods or among the hills.
On hearing this she became somewhat more tranquil, and was able to chat away in her usual style.
We now prepared to set out for the camp. I thought it probable, on account of the delay, that we might not overtake Manley, although I specially wished to do so, in order to put an end to his anxiety. It was, of course, important to recover the horses and baggage-mules, and Maysotta proposed that she should conduct us to the edge of the forest, where we could remain while she, with Keokuk, searched for the animals,—expressing, at the same time, her confidence of success.
Having placed Clarice on my horse, I led the animal by the rein till we reached the spot proposed. We looked out to the westward for Manley and his troopers, and were greatly disappointed at not seeing them. So, I suspect, was Clarice. We had not, however, waited long until I caught sight of three horsemen. They came rapidly on, and to my great satisfaction I distinguished our friends. On observing us they put spurs to their horses, and the lieutenant galloped forward.
Clarice met him with a sweet smile.
"I felt very sure that you had not willingly deserted us," she answered, when, in an agitated voice, Manley told her of the anguish of his mind at finding himself a prisoner in the hands of the Indians, leaving her unprotected in the forest.
As we could not tell how long Maysotta might be absent, we lighted a fire and cooked some provisions, of which both Clarice and Rachel stood greatly in need. The Indian damsel, however, had been so confident about finding the horses, that I was not surprised to see Keokuk driving them towards us, a short time before sunset.
Maysotta expressed her satisfaction at finding the young white chief, as she called Manley, and his men with us. "As it is now too late to set off to-night," she said, "we must remain here. There are water and grass near at hand; and if your men will do as I direct them, we will quickly put up a wigwam for Clarice, the black woman, and me."
Manley and I offered to act under her directions; but, except that we cut some rough sticks, and transported some bark, she really gave us very little to do,—performing nearly the whole of the architectural operations with her own hands.
I was thankful that Clarice would thus have shelter, and be able to obtain the rest which she so much required.
Maysotta had shot several small animals, and these, with the provisions we had brought, afforded us an abundant supper.
The night was passed without any interruption, and early the next morning we set off for Winnemak's camp. I offered to take Maysotta on my horse, but she declined, saying that she would proceed on foot, as she hoped to shoot some deer by the way.
We rode as fast as we could; indeed, I was most anxious to get back, both on account of the unhappy captives, and because I hoped to hear news of Uncle Jeff.
As we got into the neighbourhood of the camp, we caught sight, on the summit of a slight elevation, of a single horseman, who sat his steed without moving, apparently unable to make out who we were, as, lifting his hand to his brow, he peered at us from under it. We had got within speaking distance before I recognized our host Winnemak. His whole appearance and bearing were totally changed. With a magnificent crown of feathers on his head, a jacket of rich fur handsomely trimmed, glittering bracelets and earrings, a spear in his hand and a shield at his back, as he firmly sat his strongly-built mustang, he looked every inch a warrior chief.
"I did not know you at first, but I do now," he said, smiling; "and the White Lily is truly welcome to my tents."
Clarice thanked him, and we rode to the camp together. He told us that he purposed visiting the chiefs of all the neighbouring tribes and forming a confederation, in order to resist effectually any future invasion of our common enemies the Arrapahas. "For such a purpose a chief must be habited as becomes a chief," he added, to account to us for the change in his costume.
I scarcely listened to him, however, as I was eagerly waiting to inquire if Uncle Jeff had arrived at the camp; and I was much disappointed to find that nothing had been seen or heard of him.
I SEEK OUT PIOMINGO—A STRONG DESIRE TO SAVE HIS LIFE—I PLEAD WITH THE CHIEF, AND GAIN MY POINT—I OFFER THE YOUNG BRAVE MY HORSE AND ARMS—KINDNESS REQUITED—THE INDIAN'S ESCAPE—A DARING ACT, AND A KIND DEED—WE SEEK PROTECTION FROM THE INDIANS—RETURN OF UNCLE JEFF AND MAYSOTTA—AN ADDRESS TO THE BRAVES—HOW IT SUCCEEDED—UNCLE JEFF'S STORY—THE LIEUTENANT ABOUT TO LEAVE US—HIS PLANS—WE SEND OUT SCOUTS—ALARMING INTELLIGENCE—THE CAMP STRUCK—WE MOVE TO THE NORTHWARD—WE CHANGE OUR PLANS—A WONDERFUL REGION—WE SEPARATE FROM OUR INDIAN FRIENDS—THROUGH A PINE FOREST—THE CATARACT OF THE PASS—WE SEND BACK OUR HORSES—OUR JOURNEY CONTINUED—A "CANADA STAG" KILLED—ENCAMPED FOR THE NIGHT.
The chief, who seemed inclined to treat us with every kindness, immediately ordered a wigwam to be put up for Clarice and Rachel, and another for Manley and me.
In the meantime, feeling interested in the fate of Piomingo, I went to seek him out. I found him lying on the ground, under the shade of some trees, to one of which he was secured by ropes. I asked him if he desired to escape.
"Yes," he replied; "life is sweet. But I am prepared to die as becomes a brave, if my enemies are resolved to take my life."
"If you were free, what would you do?" I asked. "I would endeavour to rescue the young squaw who was brought in a prisoner two days ago; she is the maiden I was about to make my wife. Life without her would be of little value to me; were she to be put to death, I should be ready to die with her."
"But are you able to move?" I asked.
"The pain has left my back, and I am as strong as ever," he answered. "Give me the opportunity, and you will see how I shall act."
Feeling a strong desire to save the lives of these two young people at every risk, I immediately went back to the chief, and used every argument in my power to induce him to set Piomingo at liberty. I pointed out to him how it was far more noble to forgive an injury than to avenge it, and that if he allowed Piomingo to go free he would make him his friend for life.
"If you choose to set him at liberty, you are welcome to do so," he said at last; "but he is unable to move, and if he remains in this camp he will be killed."
"I will see to that, and assist him to get away," I answered.
I hurried back to where Piomingo lay, and at once undid the cords which bound him.
"I feel that my strength has returned, and that I shall be able to perform whatever I undertake," he said.
"I do not wish to do things by halves," I remarked. "You shall have my horse; I will place the animal in yonder wood. If you have an opportunity, you can return him; but if not, I will give him to you."
"Young Paleface," he said, struck by my kindness, "Piomingo would wish to serve you for the remainder of his days; perhaps he will have an opportunity of showing his gratitude; but he would ask you to show him your generosity still further. Supply him with arms; without them, he may fall a victim to the first foe he meets."
"I will give you my knife and sword, but you must promise me not to use them against any of the people of this tribe except in self-defence, should they attempt to recapture you."
Piomingo swore by the Great Spirit that he would act as I desired.
"I will leave the sword and knife close to the tree to which I will secure my horse," I said on leaving him.
I thought it better not to question him as to his intentions in regard to the young squaw, although I had my suspicions on the subject.
I forthwith went for my horse, which I led to the wood, as I had promised. All the Indians were so much engaged that they took no notice of my proceedings; and when every arrangement had been made, I returned to Piomingo.
Grasping my hand, he exclaimed,—"You are more generous than I deserve; for when I went to your farm it was with the intention of working you evil. But after I saw the 'Fair Lily,' your sister, I had not the heart to do her an injury; and instead of remaining and opening the gate to your enemies, as I had intended, I made my escape. When I was watching your camp, it was with no treacherous design. I wished to warn you that the Arrapahas were still advancing, and that their purpose was to occupy the passes through the mountains, so that they could intercept you and any other Palefaces who might travel in that direction. They must, by this time, have carried out that part of their plan, so that I would advise you and your friends to pass on more to the north, by which means you may escape them. I have also to tell you that one of your people is in their hands. They have been carrying him about with them from place to place; but whether they intend to kill him, as they have done the other prisoners, I could not learn."
I thanked Piomingo for his information, which, I felt sure, gratitude had prompted him to give. And, of course, I resolved to urge the chief to act upon it.
On questioning Piomingo, I was convinced, from the description he gave of the white man who had been made prisoner, that it must be either Gideon or Bartle. I had great hopes, at all events, that Uncle Jeff had escaped from his pursuers; but what had since become of him I could not conjecture, nor could Piomingo give me any information.
It was now sufficiently dark to allow of the captive making his escape without being observed. I again cast off the ropes, therefore, and stole quietly away from the spot. The moment I had gone, he must have crept away—crouching down, Indian fashion, until he had got to a safe distance from the camp, when, having first secured the weapons I had left for him, he must have mounted my horse and galloped off.
The next day had been fixed for the death of the prisoners, so I boldly told the chief that, taking advantage of his permission, I had set Piomingo at liberty, and urged him to be equally generous towards the young squaw.
"My people will complain if they are disappointed," he answered, turning aside.
I was sorry that I could not see Maysotta, as she might have effectually pleaded for one of her own sex.
Stakes had now been driven into the ground, and every preparation made for the horrible sacrifice. But, looking at the captives, I should not have supposed that they were to be the victims. Even the young squaw retained her composure.
I spoke to Manley on the subject. "We must not allow these savages to carry out their cruel intention," I said. "If you and your men will assist, we might set them free."
"I would gladly do as you propose," he answered, "but it would be at the sacrifice, probably, of our own lives and that of your sister. These Redskins now treat us with every respect; but were we to interfere with their customs, they would naturally turn upon us."
I felt that he was right in that respect; but still I could not bear the thought of allowing the horrible deed to be perpetrated, without again interceding for the victims.
The hour now approached for the death of the prisoners, and finding that Piomingo had escaped, the Redskins were the more eager to put to death those who remained in their power. They were therefore led out and bound to the stakes, and the savages commenced their horrible war-dance round them.
Manley and I again pleaded with the chief.
"It is useless," answered Winnemak; "I have said it, and it must be done."
Just then, from behind the shelter of a wood on one side of the mountains, a mounted warrior dashed out. I saw at once that it was Piomingo. His eyes were fixed on one point; it was the spot where the young squaw was bound. Quick as lightning he cut the cords which bound her, and placing her before him on the saddle, galloped off, and was out of reach before those at hand could hinder him. Fortunately, none of Winnemak's people had firearms, and their bows and arrows having been laid aside, they hurried to their wigwams to obtain them. But ere bow could be drawn the rescued squaw and her deliverer were far beyond their reach. In vain were showers of arrows sent after them; the fugitives heeded them not. Many of the braves ran for their horses; but I well knew that my gallant steed, even with two people on his back, could keep ahead of them.
The whole camp was soon in confusion and astonishment at the audacity of the act. Some of the braves may have suspected that I had had a hand in the business, for I observed that they cast angry glances at me as they passed. So great was their excitement, too, that for the moment they had forgotten the other prisoners.
Just then I met Sergeant Custis and Pat Sperry.
"Now is our time to do a kind deed," I said; "it may be at some risk, but let us set the other prisoners free."
"Sure, won't I, thin!" cried Pat.
"I will venture on it," said the sergeant.
We hurried to the spot, and, in spite of the expostulations of a few old squaws who had remained to watch them, we cut the ropes which bound the unhappy captives to the stakes.
"Now run for your lives!" I exclaimed.
The released prisoners did not require a second bidding, although the old squaws tried to stop them. They were all young and active men, too, and before any of the braves had returned from their futile chase after Piomingo, the fugitives had got to a considerable distance from the camp.
As I knew that our part in the affair must at once become known, I immediately hastened to the chief.
"I have saved you from committing a great crime, which would have made you despised and hated by all white men," I exclaimed, with a boldness at which I myself was surprised. "If my uncle were here he would speak as I do, and approve of my conduct."
The chief appeared to be dumfounded at my audacity; but, although he himself would not have interfered, I do not think he was really sorry that the prisoners had escaped.
"I must get you to protect us from your people when they return," I said. "We have no wish to take the places of the prisoners, or to have bloodshed in the matter. At the same time, we are resolved to fight for our lives, should your people attempt to molest us."
"You indeed speak boldly," said the chief. "But I will endeavour to prevent further mischief, and will tell my people all you have said."
Almost immediately afterwards the braves came hurrying back to the camp, when the old squaws commenced in screeching tones to tell them what had occurred. The warriors on this advanced towards us with threatening looks. The chief stepped forward, and holding up his hands, they at once stopped and prepared to listen to him. He possibly may have made a very eloquent speech in our favour, but his braves were evidently not satisfied. We saw them making violent gestures, and, from the words which reached us, I made out that they insisted on our being delivered up to suffer in the place of the prisoners we had liberated.
Lieutenant Broadstreet, who had now joined us, rifle in hand, told me to say to the chief that if his people were injured an army of white men would be sent by his Government against them, and not one would be allowed to escape.
Although, I believe, the chief spoke as I begged him, the angry braves were not to be appeased, still crying out that we must be handed over to them.
"Not while we have got a cartridge left in our pouches," cried Sergeant Custis, lifting his rifle as he spoke, as if he intended to make use of it, while Manley, Pat, and I followed his example.
Just at this juncture two persons were seen approaching the camp,—the one was Maysotta, accompanied by Keokuk, the other was a tall person dressed in skins. At first I did not recognize him; but on looking again, what was my joy to see Uncle Jeff! Both he and Maysotta must have observed that something unusual was taking place in the camp, for they hurried forward at a quick pace, and in another moment had approached the chief.
Uncle Jeff at once put out his hand. "What does all this mean?" he asked.
Winnemak was silent.
"I will tell you all about it, Uncle Jeff," I said; and I briefly related what had occurred.
"You acted rightly, Ralph," he answered. "It would never do for white men to stand by and see murder committed, which proper boldness could prevent. Hand me a few cartridges, for I have expended my ammunition; and although we are five to fifty, I feel very sure these fellows will not interfere with us. However, we will try fair means first; and the young squaw will, I am sure, be on our side."
He at once turned to Maysotta, and telling her what had occurred, begged her to plead with her father and his people. She did not seem to think it necessary to say anything to Winnemak, but at once addressed herself to the braves, over whom it was evident she had great influence.
I saw the angry expression gradually disappear from their countenances; their gestures became less menacing, and at length their fury completely subsided. Maysotta saw the advantage she had gained, and went on to tell them that we were their guests, and that, even had we been guilty of a greater provocation, they were bound to protect our lives with their own; that we had always been friendly with the red men; and, above all, that we had preserved the life of their chief, who, had it not been for us, would have died. She by this means completely won over the braves, but she had a harder task with the old squaws. Finally, however, she succeeded with them, and what appeared at one time to threaten a serious termination was at length settled to the satisfaction of all parties.
We promised, as soon as we could obtain them, presents of tobacco, blankets, and beads for the squaws, and some arms and ammunition for the braves, on condition that they would always use them in our service.
We were, of course, very eager to hear how Uncle Jeff had escaped. I noticed, besides, that he looked fatigued and careworn, and had evidently suffered much.
"I had a narrow escape from my pursuers, on leaving the farm," he said, "for more than one bullet whistled close to my ears, while two entered the sides of my brave Jack—who bore me, notwithstanding, for many a mile, until I had left my enemies far behind. Then my gallant steed sank down and died. As I was making my way northward on foot, I caught sight of several parties of Arrapahas. This made me feel very anxious on account of Clarice and her escort, who, I feared, might have fallen into their hands. I myself had some difficulty in avoiding them, and at length I found it necessary to take to the mountains, where, at the same time, I should have a better chance of killing game. Unfortunately, for the first time in my life I became very ill, and had to remain, for several days in a cave, hardly able to crawl out and get a draught of water from a spring hard by. Recovering, I moved on again; but having exhausted the few cartridges I possessed, I was reduced to hard straits for food.
"I was making my way on when I heard a shot fired; and as I approached the spot, I saw a young Indian girl who had just killed a small deer. Her quick eye caught sight of me at the same moment. I made signs to her that I was desperately hungry, and she in turn pointed to the deer; so, as she appeared in no way alarmed at seeing me, I at once went up to her. After exchanging a few words, it occurred to me that she must be the daughter of our friend Winnemak; and on my asking her, she said that such was the case. I then informed her who I was; upon which she immediately cut up the deer, lighted a fire, and prepared such a meal as I had not enjoyed for many a day. I soon felt my strength wonderfully restored, and my spirits rose when she told me that Clarice and you were safe. We accordingly at once set off for the camp, and I am thankful that we arrived in time to settle matters amicably with our friends here."
The arrival of Uncle Jeff produced a great improvement in the state of affairs. The Indians had all heard of him, and Winnemak treated him with the greatest respect. Uncle Jeff was indeed likely to exercise a beneficial influence over the tribe. He told them that although men had a right to defend themselves against their enemies, the Great Spirit disliked their making war one upon another; that he wished them all to live at peace with their fellow-creatures; to provide proper food, clothing, and shelter for their squaws and pappooses; and that the Great Spirit intended that they should cultivate the ground, and not depend upon the precarious supply which the chase afforded. Uncle Jeff told them also that the Great Spirit loved them all, and wished them to be his children; that they were very wicked, but that he was ready to forgive them, and had sent One on earth, his own dear Son, who had consented to be punished instead of them, that he might become their Elder Brother, and that they might enjoy the affection and privileges bestowed by the Father upon his children.
Uncle Jeff was not much of a preacher, but, as he said, he might manage to break ground, so that any missionary coming after him would be more likely to be well received.
Clarice did not fail to talk to Maysotta on the same subject; and the Indian girl appeared to take in the truths of the gospel much more readily than did the men of her tribe.
* * * * *
Although the camp was pitched in a tolerably secure position, both Uncle Jeff and Winnemak considered it necessary to send out scouts in order to ascertain what the enemy were about.
Lieutenant Broadstreet, who had no longer any excuse for remaining with us, felt that it was his duty to proceed, with the two troopers, on his journey. But he was evidently very unwilling to leave Clarice; and I suspect that she also had no wish to let him go.
"I cannot tell to what dangers you may be exposed, and I shall be in a miserable state of anxiety until I once more have the happiness of seeing you," he said to her. "My intention is to point out the state of affairs to the commandant at Fort Harwood, and induce him to obtain such a body of troops as will effectually overawe the savages and drive them back to the southward, so that your uncle and other settlers may be able to resume possession of their property, and for the future live in peace. The sooner, therefore, I set out, the more quickly will this desirable object be attained."
"I highly applaud your intention, lieutenant," said Uncle Jeff; "and I speak honestly when I say that, if you wish at any time to turn your sword into a ploughshare, as the saying is, I shall be happy to have you for a neighbour; and come when you may, you shall always be welcome at Roaring Water. I hope that it will not be long before I am back there again. I only wish I knew what has become of Bartle and Gideon; if they are alive, we shall very soon get the farm built up again, and everything put to rights."
The first of the scouts who had been sent out soon came back, with the information that the enemy were still in considerable numbers in the neighbourhood. Winnemak and Uncle Jeff agreed, therefore, that it would be prudent to move further to the north, in consequence of what Piomingo had told me. Camp was accordingly struck, and the baggage animals—which, I am sorry to say, for the sake of my Redskin friends, included a number of the squaws—were loaded. A small party of warriors going ahead acted as an advance-guard, while the remainder of the tribe brought up the rear, or went as scouts on either hand.
As the lieutenant had to follow the same road for some distance, we continued together,—he, as may be supposed, riding alongside of Clarice. I do not know what Uncle Jeff thought about the matter, but it was evident to me that Clarice and Manley were very fond of one another. However, as I thought highly of him, I did not feel myself called upon to interfere in the matter.
We had proceeded some distance, when another of the scouts came in with the alarming intelligence that the enemy, in considerable numbers, were ahead of us, and that it was too probable they intended to attack us on our march. We had therefore to proceed with greater caution than before; and the advance-guard was considerably strengthened, so that they might be able to keep an enemy in check until the remainder of the tribe could come up.
It was too evident that the Arrapahas had overrun the country, and that it would be some time before they could be expelled; and, such being the case, Uncle Jeff said he would fix upon another location, perhaps to the west of the Rocky Mountains, where the Indians were friendly, and where he would still be near enough to the high-road to obtain a market for his produce.
He had, consequently, just settled to accompany the lieutenant through the pass, when another scout came in with the information that the Arrapahas had taken possession of the pass itself, and that they had so fortified themselves that they could not be driven out except by a strong party, and at considerable loss of life.
This made it necessary for Uncle Jeff and Manley to change their plans. They settled that we should proceed northwards with the Indians, while they reconnoitred the pass; promising, should they find the account they had received to be correct, to rejoin us, and perhaps attempt to cross the mountains so as to reach the western plains. The mountains to the northwards, however, were but little known, and even Winnemak confessed that he had never wandered among them. He had heard, he said, that there was a wonderful region in that direction, where the earth trembled frequently; the fountains, instead of being cold, were hot, and that the water was seen rushing upwards in huge jets; and that there were lakes amid the mountains, and torrents, and waterfalls such as were nowhere else to be seen.
"If the chief's account is correct, it must be an interesting region to visit," said Sergeant Custis. "For my own part, I hope we shall have the chance of getting there."
While travelling on we kept in compact order, looking out, as usual, for the approach of foes; but happily none appeared. Crossing the road which led to the pass, we continued onwards until nightfall. We then encamped in as strong a position as we could find. We knew it was of no use to attempt concealing the route we had followed; for even had we taken the greatest pains to do so, we should not have succeeded in eluding the sharp eyes of our foes, had they wished to pursue us.
Soon after it grew dark, the sounds of horses' feet were heard. The braves flew to arms. We stood ready with our rifles. Before we could see any one, Uncle Jeff's voice was heard, and he and Manley rode into camp. They had found that the report of the scouts was correct, and that we could not hope to be able to get through in that direction. Accordingly, the next morning we again started, and pushed on until we reached a spot strongly guarded by rocks and trees, with a stream flowing on one side. Here Winnemak, believing himself secure from his foes, resolved to remain.
We now made preparations to separate from our Indian friends. None of them were willing to encounter the fatigue and dangers necessary to be undergone in crossing the mountains; they also evidently believed the region to be enchanted, and, if inhabited at all, to be the abode of spirits, or beings differing greatly from the human race. When Maysotta heard we were going, she begged Clarice and Rachel to remain with her; but Clarice had made up her mind to accompany us, and was fully prepared for all the difficulties we might have to encounter. Fortunately, Lieutenant Broadstreet had sufficient supplies of provisions for all our wants. We were thus not altogether destitute of the necessaries of life, for we had, I remember, even tea and coffee, sugar and salt. The lieutenant had also a very small bell-tent, the canvas of which formed scarcely half a load for a man. He himself seldom used it, but he insisted that it should be brought, to afford shelter to Clarice. Three or four Indians, moreover, agreed to accompany us as far as our baggage-mules could go, that they might convey our provisions and stores; after which we should have to carry them ourselves in knapsacks on our backs.
On parting with Winnemak, he told us that we should come back sooner than we expected, as he was sure we should never get over the mountains.
"'Where there's a will there's a way.' There is nothing like having the will to do a thing, to help one to succeed," answered Uncle Jeff.
Our guides were under the belief that the only practicable way in which they could get to the region they had heard of, was by following up a torrent which, they said, came down from the far-off snowy summits of the mountains in a succession of cataracts. For some distance we travelled through a dense pine forest, following the course of a stream into which we concluded the torrent fell. We frequently had to turn aside to avoid the numberless fallen trunks, or to dismount and lead our animals over them. We thus made but slow progress, and were compelled to encamp in the midst of the forest at a much earlier hour than would have been necessary in the open country. We kept up a blazing fire, however, and happily escaped a visit from bears, or any of the savage animals whose voices we heard round us on every side.
The next morning we moved forward, and looked out eagerly for a torrent. At length we heard the roar of tumbling waters, and making our way through the forest we came in sight of a cataract which altogether surpassed that of our own location. It appeared to be formed of several streams, which, rushing forth from the snowy heights, joined the main body, and then came leaping downwards in one vast mass of water, with a strength sufficient, it would seem, to force its way through the hardest rock. There could be no doubt that this was the very cataract we were in search of.
To carry our animals farther, would be impossible; indeed, had they been able to make their way, they would not have found sufficient grass for their sustenance in the rocky region we were approaching. We accordingly encamped on a level spot not far from the cataract. When I surveyed the wild and difficult region which we had to pass, I regretted that Clarice had accompanied us, and wished that she had remained with the Indians. Besides the fatigue which we must undergo, I feared that we might run short of provisions, and that my sister might be exposed to other hardships, which she was little able to endure.
She laughed at my fears.
"You do not know how strong I am; I shall be able to go through as much as any of you," she said. "Although I like Maysotta, I should not have been happy among her savage tribe."
The next morning we sent the animals back, and loaded ourselves with packs of provisions. Rachel carried as much as any one of us, and Clarice insisted on having a load likewise—although Manley, who made it up, took good care that it should be a very light one.
The first day's journey was not so fatiguing as we expected to find it, for we managed to wend our way upward on the slopes of the hills, avoiding the more broken and steep places. We were soon satisfied, too, that there was no risk of running short of food, for several times we came upon herds of deer; although, as we approached them without care, they scampered off before we were near enough to get a shot.
We had made our way through another pine forest, and had just turned an angle in the mountains, when suddenly before us we saw several wapiti, commonly known as the "Canada stag," one of the largest of the deer tribe. This animal is fully as large as the biggest ox I ever saw; his horns, branching in serpentine curves, being upwards of six feet from tip to tip. In colour he is reddish-brown; on the upper part of the neck the hairs are mixed with red and black, while from the shoulders and along the sides the hide is a kind of gray.
The stags stopped and gazed at us stupidly, without taking to flight, then began to utter cries which sounded wonderfully like the braying of an ass; upon which Uncle Jeff lifted his unerring rifle and brought one of them down, when the rest, taking fright, scampered off.
He and the two soldiers immediately began cutting up the animal.
"I wish we could take the hide with us, for it makes the best leather anywhere to be found," Uncle Jeff observed; "but we must not add to our loads."
As the day was now drawing to a close, we had not far to carry the meat we had just obtained; and coming to a spot near one of the numerous streams which fed the "big cataract," we encamped. As before, the small bell-tent, which Pat Sperry had carried, was erected for Clarice and Rachel; while we made our beds of fir-tops, round our camp-fire, with such shelter as our blankets and a few boughs afforded. We were too well accustomed to this sort of life, however, to consider it any hardship.
We had no longer any fear of being attacked by Indians, but it was still necessary to keep a watch by night, for it was very possible that a grizzly might take it into his head to pay us a visit, or a pack of wolves find us out; or a prowling panther might pounce down upon us, should the fire go out, and no one be on the alert to drive him off.
WE CONTINUE OUR JOURNEY OVER THE MOUNTAINS, AND ENCAMP IN A FERTILE VALLEY—HUNT ELK IN COMPANY WITH A PANTHER—I SPOIL THE SPORT OF THE LATTER—UNCLE JEFF WOUNDS AN ELK, WHICH IS LOST DOWN A PRECIPICE—MORE FORTUNATE AFTERWARDS—UNCLE JEFF RESOLVES TO REMAIN WITH CLARICE, RACHEL, AND PAT, WHILE MANLEY, THE SERGEANT, AND I PUSH ON—DIFFICULTIES IN CROSSING THE MOUNTAINS—MANLEY IN FEARFUL DANGER—HE ESCAPES—DESCEND TOWARDS A BROAD VALLEY—ITS WONDERFUL APPEARANCE—WE ENCAMP—THE SERGEANT NEARLY SCALDS HIS FINGERS IN A TEMPTING SPRING—CURIOUS PHENOMENON—DREADFUL NOISES OF WILD BEASTS DISTURB OUR SLUMBERS.
The next day, at an early hour, we were again on the move, Clarice and Rachel trudging on bravely with the help of long thin poles, the points hardened in the fire. Onwards and upwards we went, sometimes passing through dense forests, and climbing over the trunks of fallen trees; at others making our way through glades, where, sheltered from the sun, the walking was comparatively easy. On emerging into the more open ground, we searched for some canon or cleft in the mountains through which we might find a passage. As for going over the summits of the mountains, that was evidently impossible. They consisted of jagged pinnacles, or precipitous rocks covered with snow; and even the most experienced mountaineers, supplied with ropes and all other appliances, could not hope to surmount them.
At length, after traversing for some distance the mountain-side, we saw before us a deep gorge, at the bottom of which rushed a torrent towards the east.
"If we can find holding ground for our feet, we may get through there," said Manley.
Uncle Jeff agreed with him, so we made towards it. For ourselves we had no fears, but we naturally felt very anxious for Clarice, who must suffer from fatigue with such rough and dangerous climbing as lay before us; although, in reality, with her correct eye and active feet, she was as secure on the giddy heights and snowy ledges over which we passed as any one of us.
Poor Rachel felt the cold greatly, and was less able to get along than her young mistress. Still she persevered. "If you go I go, Missee Clarice; never mind where," said the faithful creature; although very often she crept along on her hands and knees rather than trust herself to an upright position.
Thus, climbing along the side of the precipice, with a gorge so deep on one side that the bottom was invisible, and the mountain rising on the other apparently lost in the skies, we worked our way on until, after descending again for some distance, we reached more level ground. It was a large valley or plateau surrounded by mountains; those we had crossed being on the one side, while a still more elevated range occupied the other. Wild as was the scenery through which we had passed, this was wilder still. It was traversed, however, by the stream whose course we had followed, and although we were unable to see its source, there could be no doubt that it descended from the lofty range before us. A portion of the plateau was covered by a forest, nourished by numerous rivulets, most of which flowed into larger streams, although some found an outlet towards the southward. No signs of inhabitants were visible; but game of every kind was most abundant, herds of deer, mountain sheep, and birds of all descriptions.
"I am not the man to propose going back," said Uncle Jeff; "but unless we can find an opening in these rocks, it is very clear that our present party cannot go forward. I propose, therefore, that we should camp here until we have explored the country ahead, after which we shall be able to form our plans."
He looked towards Clarice as he spoke. He had resolved not to expose her to the fatigue and peril which his experience told him must inevitably be endured by those attempting to make their way through so wild a region as that before us. He therefore selected a suitable spot for camping. Clarice's tent was put up, and we cut down poles and boughs with which to form a couple of small huts for ourselves. Uncle Jeff, Manley, and I had one, and the two men the other.
While the sergeant and Pat were employed in erecting the huts, the rest of us took our rifles and started in search of game, and before long we caught sight, towards the northern end of the valley, of several elk or moose feeding near a wood. It was necessary to approach them cautiously, however, for should they take the alarm they would be off at a rate which would give us little chance of overtaking them. But the wind came from them to us, and this was to our advantage.
The elk is one of the most wary of the deer tribe, and, notwithstanding his enormous horns, he can pass through a thick forest, as he throws them back on his shoulders so as in no way to impede his progress. Large as was the wapiti which we had before met with, the elk is still larger, and one of the animals we saw before us was fully seven feet in height—as tall, indeed, as many an elephant. As the flesh is very palatable food, we were eager to kill one or more of the herd. Uncle Jeff, too, said that he wanted the skins to assist in making a tent, in case we should have to remain some time at our present location.
Creeping along, then, as much under cover as possible, we endeavoured to get within shot of the animals. We succeeded at last in reaching the wood, and hoped, by making our way through it concealed by the trees, to get up to them before we were discovered. Uncle Jeff led the way, while Manley and I followed in Indian file. It was important not only to keep ourselves concealed, but to avoid making any noise, as the elk has a remarkably acute sense of hearing, and the slightest sound might startle the herd.
We had succeeded in gaining a spot a thousand yards or so from them, when I heard a noise in the bushes on our left, and rather ahead, the herd being on the right. On looking narrowly in the direction from whence the sound came, I caught sight of a panther, or "American lion," as the beast is commonly called, stealing along, very probably on the same errand as we were,—hoping to pounce upon one of the females of the herd, could he catch his prey unprepared. He is bound to be cautious, however, how he attacks a buck, for the elk can do battle with his horns and hoofs, and might disable even the savage panther.
Uncle Jeff saw the brute as soon as I did, and turning round, he made a sign to me to aim at the panther the moment he should fire at the elk. In the meantime, the panther was so intent on reaching his expected prey that he was not likely to observe us. As may be supposed, I kept a watchful eye on the wild beast, for he might possibly become aware of our presence; and if so, might content himself with a human being for his supper instead of venison, and I had no fancy to give him an opportunity of selection.
It was very exciting having both the panther and deer before us. Frequently Uncle Jeff stopped, fearful of being discovered by the elk; while the panther, for the same reason, did likewise. Thus the savage beast would creep on and on, crouching down and concealing himself from view. He so far interfered with our sport, that we could have the chance of killing only two deer instead of three; for I was to reserve my fire for his benefit, and I ardently hoped I should not miss. I tried to make Manley understand that it would be prudent in him not to fire until he saw whether my bullet took effect, but I could not be certain what he would do.
Our progress was now slower than ever. Several times the deer had looked up, apparently suspecting that danger was near; but still Uncle Jeff advanced, in a stooping posture, unwilling to stir even the smallest twig for fear of alarming the wary herd. I moved on more rapidly; the panther was now not more than twenty yards from us, and would in a few seconds make his deadly spring.
Suddenly Uncle Jeff stopped, raised his rifle to his shoulder, and fired. The panther at that moment was rising, about to dash forward from the brushwood. I pulled the trigger; at the same instant Manley fired—he had aimed at the deer—and as the smoke cleared away I saw the panther fall back on the ground.
The deer were now in full flight, so I followed Uncle Jeff and Manley in the direction the herd were taking towards the north end of the valley. What means they had of escape we could not tell; we hoped that, shut in by the mountain, we might again get near enough to have another shot.
The wounded elk was evidently severely hurt, for his pace now began to slacken, so Uncle Jeff cheered us on. We saw, however, that unless we could soon come up with the chase he might escape us altogether. The appearance of the country had changed, too; while rocks arose at some distance, there was evidently a vast intervening chasm between us and them.
Once more Uncle Jeff fired, but, although the bullet took effect, the deer continued his course. Almost immediately afterwards, what was our disappointment to see the wounded animal, regardless of the fate he was about to suffer, spring over the edge of a precipice, while the rest of the herd scampered away towards some almost inaccessible rocks on the left!
The elk was irretrievably lost. In vain we searched for a way by which we might reach the bottom of the gorge; we were soon convinced that the cliff was utterly impracticable.
"It can't be helped," cried Uncle Jeff; "but we must not give up the hope of obtaining some venison this evening. The elk will not long remain out on these barren rocks, and if we can hide ourselves near where they have to pass, we may each of us kill one."
We were not long in finding some thick bushes behind which we could kneel and take good aim at the passing deer.
"Do not let us be greedy," said Uncle Jeff; "you and Manley, Ralph, select one animal, and I will take another."
In half an hour or less the deer came trotting back towards their former feeding-ground, and we all three fired; Uncle Jeff knocked over a buck, and we killed a doe.
It took us some time to cut them up, and it was nearly dark before we reached the spot where I had shot the panther. Anxious to know whether it was still alive, I made my way through the wood to the place, but could nowhere find the animal. Had it escaped, notwithstanding its wound? It was too dark, however, to search for it; so we hurried on as fast as we could with our load of venison to the camp, where Clarice was eagerly looking out for us. The huts were erected by this time, and a blazing fire lighted; and I noticed that Clarice's tent had been carefully staked round by the sergeant, so that no wild beast could break suddenly into it.
"I am afraid, Miss Middlemore, that you will grow very weary of the rough life we are compelled to lead," observed Manley.
"Oh no! I enjoy it very much indeed," she answered, looking up in his face, "and shall be really sorry when it comes to an end."
"I doubt that very much, young lady," said Uncle Jeff. "We have only just commenced the passage of the mountains, and I have made up my mind not to let you go on unless some tolerably easy path can be found over them. I am very much afraid, however, that we shall not discover one fit for you to travel on."
"Then what are we to do, Uncle Jeff?" asked Clarice.
"I will tell you," he answered. "I propose remaining here with one of the men, while Lieutenant Broadstreet, the other man, and Ralph, try to make their way across the mountains. They may manage to do it; but if they had you with them, they would probably fail—no disrespect to your prowess, so don't pout your lips."
"What do you say to my plan, lieutenant?"
"Although I would rather have Miss Middlemore's company, yet I confess that I should be often very anxious about her and her servant venturing into places through which I should not hesitate to penetrate alone. I consider your plan, therefore, under the circumstances, the best that could be adopted; and as you promise me the assistance of Ralph, I will leave Pat Sperry to attend on you—and Pat is a trustworthy fellow, when the liquor bottle is kept out of his way."
I do not think Clarice liked this plan, but she had no valid objection to urge against it; indeed, when she looked up at the snowy mountains before us, and the vast chasms which yawned on each side, she must have owned to herself that she was unfitted to travel through such a region.
Next morning we sent the two men for the deer skins, and a further supply of venison; but when they came back they brought the skin of the panther as well. They had found the animal close to the body of the deer, by the scent of which he must have been attracted; but he must have died of his wounds before he had begun to eat the flesh.
We spent the rest of the day in making pemmican, and in doing up our packages in a more compact form. The larger part of our stores we left for the party in camp—only taking powder and shot, a small quantity of coffee, and a few simple cooking utensils, so that we might travel as lightly as possible. We had little doubt about being able to obtain a sufficient supply of game; and Sergeant Custis, who was a bit of a botanist, said that he hoped to find roots which would serve as vegetables.
Early in the morning, having said good-bye to our friends, we set out. The valley was soon crossed, and we then proceeded along the base of the mountains to the southward, in the hope of finding some opening in the cliffs, or a practicable path up which we might climb. Our rifles were slung at our backs, and we each carried a long pole, on the strength of which we could thoroughly depend.
At length we came to an opening. It did not look very promising, but it was the only one which offered us any means of penetrating into the mountains, and ultimately, as we hoped, of getting over them. For some distance we kept along a ledge which gradually ascended, with a steep precipice on one side and an almost perpendicular cliff on the other. Gradually, however, the ledge became broader, and we forced our way among the trees which grew on it.
Manley proved himself an excellent mountaineer; and as I had for many years been accustomed to climbing, I ventured along paths which many would have hesitated to follow.
I cannot describe the whole of that day's journey—the dreadful precipices along which we scrambled, the profound gorges into which it almost made the head giddy to look down, the rugged heights we climbed, the thick forests of pine through which we penetrated. Still, we did not complain, hoping that success would crown our efforts.
At length we reached a place near trees and water, which would supply us with the only necessaries we required; so we built a rough shelter with boughs, for the wind was piercingly cold. We were able to defy it, however, with the help of a large fire, which we kept blazing in front of our hut.
We were making better progress than I had expected, but still range upon range of snowy mountains lay between us and the western slopes which it was our object to descend. Perhaps our trials and fatigues had only just commenced. However, none of us were inclined to give in; and as we got some sound sleep by turns, we were prepared after breakfast to set out again.
Up, up we went, the cold increasing rapidly. Every hollow below us was filled with snow; still, we could find no canon or gorge of any description through which to make our way. Over the range we must go—or, at all events, some lofty shoulder of it. We had now to encounter a new description of danger, too. The snow lay on the only practicable path, and it might conceal deep crevasses; or an avalanche might descend from above, and overwhelm us; or the mass, slipping from beneath our feet, might carry us down into one of the fathomless chasms below. Notwithstanding this, we went on and on, until it would have been as dangerous to turn back as to go forward.
I was taking the lead, when, on turning an angle of a rock, I saw spread out before me a valley so broad that my eye could scarcely reach the opposite side. Flowing through it were numerous streams; a large lake, many miles in extent, occupied its centre; while hills and forests dotted it in all directions. But, as I looked below, I saw a precipice of fearful depth, which it would be impossible to descend.
I had observed, as I came by, a steep slope leading upwards on our right, thickly covered with snow. I thought, however, that it might afford us a way by which, having ascended it, we could reach a part of the mountain from whence to descend with less risk than from that on which we now stood, so I shouted to my companions to take it. Sergeant Custis heard me, and we mounted together, expecting that Manley would follow.
I looked round to speak to him, when what was my horror to see him gliding rapidly down, surrounded by a vast mass of crumbling snow, towards the edge of the precipice which I have just mentioned! My heart sank within me. To render him any assistance was impossible; in a few minutes he would be dashed to pieces. I should have been horrified to see any human being in so fearful a predicament; but he was my friend, the first I had ever possessed. I thought, also, of the grief the news of his death would cause my sweet sister Clarice. How should I be able to tell her of it? These thoughts flashed across my mind.
Close to the very edge of the precipice, a mass of jagged rock stood out. Already Manley had disappeared, and the snow went thundering down. For a moment I felt inclined to let myself glide down also. Just then I heard a voice; it was Manley shouting out to us not to attempt to come to his rescue. When about to be hurled over the edge of the precipice, he had clutched the jutting rock, and held on for his life, while the snow went rushing by under his feet. He waited until it had ceased to fall, and then, clutching the sides of the rock, by a powerful effort slowly worked himself upward, until at last he gained the firmer part of the snow. Still, he several times cried out to us not to attempt to join him, lest our united weight might again set the mass in motion.
"I have indeed been mercifully preserved," he said, when, having rejoined us, we congratulated him on his escape. "I pray that we may succeed in getting down into the valley, although at present I see no path open to us."
After climbing some way, we found a gap in the rocks, which, although full of snow, afforded a sufficiently firm footing to enable us to get on without much difficulty. From thence, although the descent was not without danger, we succeeded in reaching a broad ledge free from snow. Here some bushes grew, of sufficient size to afford us fuel; and sheltered in the hollow of a rock, we passed the night in tolerable comfort.
On the return of day we recommenced our search for a practicable way down the mountain; and happily finding it, we at length reached one of the lower heights of the wide valley I have mentioned. I call it a valley, but it was rather a large basin, surrounded, as far as the eye could reach, by lofty mountains.
"Now we are here, how are we ever to get out again?" I asked Manley.
"Where those rivers find an outlet, so probably shall we," he answered. "There can be no doubt that two or perhaps more canons lead into this basin,—some to the north and east, so far as I can judge, and others to the west,—and by them, without having any ascent to climb, we shall probably be able to make our way in the direction we wish to go."
Having the day before us, we proceeded westward across the basin. We soon found, however, that it was anything but level. Large hills, many of which might have been dignified by the title of mountains, rose up in various directions. One object, however, engaged our attention in the far distance: it was a beautiful sheet of water, blue as the sky overhead—like a jewel in a setting of green.
Nowhere could we see any Indian wigwams, but here and there we observed what appeared like smoke rising above the trees.
"I very much doubt if what we see is smoke," observed Manley; "it looks more like vapour; and, from the appearance of this region, I suspect that some volcanic action is going forward. However, we shall discover that as we proceed."
Although we at first fancied we had reached the valley's level, we found we had still a considerable descent to make, and that we could not hope to arrive that day on the banks of the lake. We therefore encamped on the borders of a forest overlooking a stream which evidently ran into the lake, and which would serve to guide us the next day. The stream was bordered by rocks of a curious form, but we had not time to examine them before it was dark, as we had to make our usual preparations for passing the night.
Sergeant Custis at once took the can to get some water from a spring which, not far off issued from a rock and fell into a basin. From the regular appearance of this basin, we might have supposed it to have been artificial. The sergeant dipped in his can, but he drew it back in a great hurry, exclaiming, "Why, it's at boiling heat!"
We hurried up, and found that such was indeed the case. As the water had a peculiar taste, we agreed not to use it for cooking, lest it might have some pernicious effect; so the sergeant had a considerable distance to go before he could get down to fill his can.
It had now become quite dark, and we were seated round our camp-fire, when we heard low rumbling sounds; and great was our astonishment to see, by the light of the moon, which just then appeared from behind a cloud, a lofty jet of silvery water, rising, as it seemed to us, a hundred feet or more into the air! Although our curiosity was excited, we had no wish to venture towards the spot in the darkness, as we hoped to be able to examine it the next morning.
Scarcely had we placed our heads on the fir-tops which formed our couches, when hideous sounds burst forth from the forest. The screeching of night-birds, the barking of coyotas, the dismal howling of the llovas, the cry of the panther, and other sounds, well-nigh drove sleep from our eyelids, and showed us that this region must be thickly inhabited by the wild beasts of the forest, although no human beings might be found within it. Having plenty of powder and shot, however, we were not alarmed on that account. Still, it was necessary to keep up a blazing fire, and to watch vigilantly, lest any unwelcome visitor might intrude upon us, and still more unpleasantly disturb our night's rest.
ADVANCE TOWARDS A BEAUTIFUL LAKE—HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS MET WITH—BOILING MUD POTS—CURIOUS BASINS FORMED BY WATER IN THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN—LOVELY FRETWORK ROUND THEIR RIMS—NEARLY SINK INTO A BOILING MUD POOL—THE LAKE REACHED—ABUNDANCE OF GAME AND FISH—BUILD A RAFT—BEGIN VOYAGE ACROSS LAKE—VIOLENT STORM—IN GREAT DANGER—DRIVEN ACROSS THE LAKE—WE CLING TO TREES WHILE THE RAFT IS DASHED TO PIECES—MAKE OUR WAY THROUGH THE FOREST—I MISS MY COMPANIONS, AND LOSE MY GUN AND KNAPSACK OVER A PRECIPICE—REACH FOOT OF MOUNTAIN—I CAMP WITHOUT SUPPER OR FIRE.
In spite of the fearful noises produced by the savage inhabitants of that region, and certain low, ominous rumbling sounds which came up from the direction of the waterspout, when we did go to sleep we slept soundly enough. At length the sergeant, who had taken the last watch, roused up Manley and me, and we started to our feet—my first impulse being to look out for the jet of water which I supposed I had seen on the previous evening, but which was now nowhere visible.
"If we have got into an enchanted land, as the Indians suppose it is, the fairies or spirits have not thought fit, during the night, to trouble us," said Manley, laughing. "Our business now is to try and make our way across this valley—so, forward!"
After breakfast, we strapped on our packs and recommenced our march, our object being to reach the shore of the lake as soon as possible. If there were any native inhabitants in this region, they would probably be found there; and we would either get them to put us across the lake in their canoes, or else we would skirt along it until we could again take a westerly course.
We soon found that we had got into a region subject to violent volcanic action, and were compelled to turn aside to avoid a wide space full of ponds, the intervals between which were covered with a crust of brimstone. I attempted to reach one of the ponds, but had not gone far when the point of my pole went through the crust, and up bubbled a quantity of black slime. On touching it, and finding it scalding hot, I shouted to my companions, who were behind, not to venture on the treacherous ground. A horror seized me, and every instant I feared that I should break through the surface. Should that take place, what a dreadful fate would be mine! I hastened back, stepping cautiously, as if moving over ice too thin to bear my weight; and very thankful I was when I once more got on hard ground.
Still further on, as we proceeded down the valley, we saw vapour rising from numerous fissures in the hill-sides. Around these vents quantities of sulphur had been deposited. But the most curious objects were basins of all sizes, nearly circular, of which there were great numbers—formed, apparently, by the lime contained in the hot springs. Some of these springs were exhausted; others, as they gushed forth from the mountain-side, were hot enough to boil potatoes. Beautiful as was the appearance of the basins, we were too eager to push forward, to examine them minutely. One was from twelve to twenty feet in diameter, and had a beautifully scalloped border. So perfect was the shading of the scallops, that it looked like a most delicate work of art rather than the production of nature. From the centre spouted up water to the height of seven or eight feet. Farther on was another boiling spring, of far greater dimensions,—a horrible-looking caldron, the water dark and muddy, and in ceaseless agitation.
"Here is a pot suitable for the witches' caldron in Macbeth," cried out Manley.
He was rather ahead of me, and on overtaking him I found him standing by the side of a circular basin whose diameter we calculated to be fully twenty feet. The contents consisted of what greatly resembled hasty pudding, or, as Manley said, "a huge caldron of thick mash." The whole surface was bubbling up every instant, and giving off a thud like the noise produced by the escape of the gas below.
Curious as these sights were, we were still more astonished by the appearance of the side of the mountain, the base of which we passed. All up the slope was seen, as it were, one above another, a succession of large basins or reservoirs. The margins were beautifully scalloped and adorned with natural bead-work of exquisite beauty. In spite of our hurry, we could not resist the temptation of making our way up to them. One of the largest springs we calculated to be fully thirty feet in diameter; and so perfectly transparent was the water, that, as we looked down into it, we could see to the very bottom. Its sides were ornamented with coral-like forms of various shades, from pure white to bright cream-yellow, while the blue sky overhead gave an azure tint to the whole surface which no art could imitate. Over several parts of the rim the water was flowing down into other basins. I climbed up and looked over into one of the pools, which was literally hanging on to the one above it like a bird's nest to a wall; while beautiful stalactites were suspended below it, caused by the water which flowed over the sides. The temperature of the water when it came out of the side of the mountain was high, but in the course of its passage from pool to pool it became gradually cooler.