"I cannot resist the temptation of taking a bath in one of these beautiful basins," exclaimed Manley.
Selecting one, I followed his example; and the sergeant was soon sitting in a third, with his head just above the water. Nothing could be more refreshing and invigorating, and when we got out we all agreed that we felt better able to continue our journey.
We found that the clear atmosphere of this region greatly deceived us as to distances, and it was not until the following day that we arrived on the shores of the lake. It was nearly evening when, after having penetrated a thick pine forest, we at length stood on its borders. Few lake-scenes could be more beautiful than that now spread out before us. The southern shore was indented with long narrow inlets, while pine-crowned promontories stretched from the base of the hills on every side. Islands of emerald hue dotted its surface, and round the margin was a sparkling belt of yellow sand. The surface, unruffled by a breath of air, was of a bright green near the shore, shading into a dark ultramarine towards the centre. Whether there were fish, we had yet to discover; but we had no fear of starving, for the whole surface of the lake swarmed with birds—swans, gulls, pelicans, geese, herons, brants, sand-hill cranes, and many varieties of ducks. An island in view was literally white with the numbers of pelicans which had taken up their abode upon it. We had also seen many other birds during the day—eagles, hawks, ravens, ospreys, prairie-chickens, grouse, mocking-birds, and woodpeckers; while we caught sight of several kinds of deer, elk, and mountain sheep. Even buffalo had made their way into the valley. Grizzly bears and panthers, too, we had good reason to fear, abounded, and were likely to be troublesome to us.
We formed our camp on the shore of the lake, where there was fuel in abundance; and taking my gun, in the course of a quarter of an hour I shot geese and ducks enough to give us an ample supper, and breakfast next morning. Manley, who was a good angler, had, in the meantime, been fitting up a rod and line—for he had brought hooks with him; and I found, when I got back, that he and the sergeant had caught a dozen salmon-trout, between a pound and a pound and a half in weight. Their colour was of a light gray above, and a pale yellow below. The dorsal and caudal fins were dark gray, and the others mostly of a brilliant orange or bright yellow.
We calculated that the lake was fully twenty miles long, and not less than fifteen broad in its widest part; and had we not been in a hurry to proceed on our journey, we agreed that we would have willingly spent some days in this enchanting spot. However, this was not to be thought of.
We kept up a blazing fire all night, and consequently escaped a visit from either grizzly or panther. The question now was, "How were we to cross the lake?" We were none of us much accustomed to boating, although Sergeant Custis knew more about it than either Manley or I. At first we talked of building a canoe, but the sergeant suggested that, as it would take some time to construct one, it would be better to form a raft, which could be put together in a few hours.
"If the water remains as quiet as it does at present, we can soon paddle to the other side; and we can also rig a mast and yard, on which we can make a very good sail with our blankets," he observed.
At daylight we commenced to build a raft. There were logs enough of every size and length in the forest, and we selected those only which we could drag with ease to the water's edge. Lithe vines, of which there were plenty hanging to the trees, served instead of ropes, and with these we bound our logs together. As the pine-wood was heavy, we formed a platform on the top of the logs with smaller poles and lighter branches, interwoven, and bound together as tightly as we considered necessary for the easy voyage we proposed to undertake.
We were, it must be understood, at the north-east end of the lake. On the west side was the promontory which we hoped to reach, and beyond it a deep gulf ran up the shore, the farther end of which we could not distinguish.
Some hours were passed in constructing the raft. We had then to cut out the paddles, a long oar to steer by, and also the mast and yard. These, although they were very roughly formed, occupied us some time longer, so that it was late in the day before we were ready to commence our voyage. We calculated, however, that we should have no difficulty in getting across before sundown; and as the evening promised to be calm and beautiful, we expected to have a pleasant passage. The wind, too, was favourable, blowing from the eastward, and would help us along,—although, as it was very light, we must be prepared to use our paddles.
The raft had been built in the water, so that all we had to do was to step on board, set our sail, and shove off. "Away we go!" cried Manley, giving a shove with the steering oar, and we glided off from the shore.
Sergeant Custis quickly set the sail, which, as we got a little way on, blew out with the breeze. He and I then plied the paddles. We appeared to be making fair progress, too, although the raft moved but slowly. But the wind soon dying away, we had our paddles alone to depend on. Manley tried to scull with the oar, but he was not an adept at the art, and it did not help us much. When we watched the shore we had left, we saw that we had made some progress; but when we looked ahead towards the side of the lake we wished to reach, it appeared no nearer than when we stood on the shore we had left, while the mountains rose towering up above our heads as gigantic as ever. The sun had already disappeared beyond the pine-clad heights to the west, leaving the valley in rapidly increasing shade.
"I doubt, Ralph, whether we shall set foot on shore much before midnight, unless we move at a faster rate than we are now doing," said Manley.
I agreed with him; observing, however, that a moonlight voyage on that calm lake would be pleasant in the extreme, and a thing to be remembered.
Not expecting to be so long on the raft, and intending to have supper on our arrival, we grew very hungry. Fortunately we had plenty of cooked provisions, and fresh water alongside, so that we had no difficulty in satisfying our appetites.
While the sergeant was engaged in again doing up the pack, a sudden squall struck our sail, carrying away the mast, and had I not sprung up and seized hold of it, the blanket would have been lost. Fortunately I caught it before it was wet. This squall was quickly followed by another, and we could see the white-topped waves curling up around us on all sides. Our raft was but ill calculated to buffet with a tempest such as seemed but too likely to come on. The wind being as yet favourable, however, the sergeant attempted to repair the mast and re-hoist the sail; but scarcely had he done so when it was again carried away.
"We must trust to our paddles, and the wind will still drive us along," said Manley.
We could hear the wind roaring among the trees on the shore, and every instant it increased, raising up big waves which threatened to sweep over us. The raft was tossed and tumbled about, and sometimes it was with difficulty we could hold on sufficiently to prevent ourselves from being shaken off into the seething water. We had, fortunately, at the suggestion of the sergeant, secured our rifles and knapsacks to the top of the platform in the centre of the raft, where they were tolerably secure.
We were now driving on much faster than we had hitherto been doing, but the darkness prevented us from knowing whether it was in the right direction, for we could see only the foaming waters dancing up around us. All we could do, therefore, was to hold on, and try with the steering oar to keep the raft before the wind, hoping that we might be driven into some sheltered bay, where we could land in safety.
I thought of what Clarice would have said, if she had been with us—"Trust in God"—and I felt sure that she would not have been more alarmed than we were. We saw our danger,—we could not be blind to that,—but none of us gave way to cowardly fears. Manley sat with perfect calmness, steering, while Sergeant Custis and I paddled away, endeavouring to keep the raft before the following seas. At last I caught sight of some dark object rising out of the water, but instead of being ahead, it was on the right hand, or, as we judged, to the northward of us. It was evidently land, but whether the end of the island we had seen in that part of the lake, or the mainland, we could not determine. In vain we attempted to paddle up to it; the gale drove us on, and showed us that we were perfectly unable to go in any direction excepting that towards which the wind should impel us.
Again we lost sight of the land, and this led us to think that we must have passed an island. The waves hissed and foamed, and danced up around us as much as ever; still our raft held together, and we were enabled to cling on to it. Even if we were only moving at the rate of two miles an hour, it could not take us more than seven or eight hours to get across from one side of the lake to the other, and we calculated that we must already have been that time on the raft. What if we had got into a channel of some river, which might rush rapidly along, pouring over some terrific cataract? Should we by any means be able to reach the shore, so as to escape being carried along with the raft? Had it been daylight, the danger would not have been so great, for we might have seen in what direction to direct our efforts. As it was, we might, should we paddle to one side or the other, be placing ourselves in greater danger than by allowing the raft to drive on before the gale. Our ears were assailed by the continued roar of the waves dashing on the shore, of the wind rushing through the trees, and of the foaming waters as they clashed against each other; we sometimes, indeed, could scarcely hear each other's voices. There being now no sail, we were able to keep our eyes turning in every direction.
"When we do reach the shore, we must take care not to lose our things," said Manley, with due thought. "Let each man seize his rifle and knapsack; for if we fail to get into a harbour, we shall probably be dashed against a rocky shore, or among overhanging trees, where our raft will, no doubt, quickly be knocked to pieces."
Dangerous as was our present position, we had to confess that the operation of landing might prove even more perilous; still we were eager to go through it, trusting that, notwithstanding the danger, we should escape.
At length Sergeant Custis cried out, "Land ahead! We shall be close to it in a few minutes. It seems to me to be covered with wood, with mountains rising beyond. Yes! no doubt about it! We must each try to get hold of a stout branch or trunk of a tree, and cling on to it until daylight returns and we can see our way."
The sergeant was right, although the time we took to reach the shore was longer than he expected it would be. In daylight we could have made our escape without difficulty, but now we ran the most fearful risk of being crushed against the raft, as it surged up and down; or against the trees, which hung, some with their branches in the water, others but slightly raised above it, while the seething waters whirled and leapt around their trunks with a force which must soon reduce our raft to fragments.
"Now is our time!" cried the sergeant. "Quick, quick, gentlemen!" and seizing a branch, he swung himself up into a tree, hauling his rifle and knapsack after him. The next instant he extended his hand to me, by which assistance I was enabled to follow his example. On looking round, I lost sight of Manley. Had he been washed off, or struck by a bough?
"Manley, Manley!" I shouted; "where are you?"
"All right!" he answered, greatly to my relief.
The sound came from a distance, for even after I had left the raft it had been driven some way on before he could manage to grasp a bough. We had at all events succeeded in our object of crossing the lake, although we had not landed exactly in the manner we desired, nor could we tell our whereabouts. We might be at the very southern end of the lake, should the wind have shifted to the northward, or we might be at its western extremity. Wherever we were, there we must remain until daylight; for were we to attempt moving, in the pitchy darkness which hung around, we might fall off into the water, or lose ourselves in the forest.
"It cannot be far off daylight, sergeant," I observed.
"I think not," he answered; "but I would advise you to take care not to drop off to sleep. If you do, you may chance to fall into the water. It will be as well to caution the lieutenant, or he, being alone, may forget himself."
Considering the noise of the waves dashing under our feet, the waving of the trees, and the howling of the wind amid them, I did not think the caution very necessary; but, notwithstanding, I shouted out to Manley.
"No fear of that," he answered. "It would require a more comfortable spot for a bivouac, to induce me to take a snooze."
That night appeared to me the longest I can remember. Days appeared to have passed since we had left the eastern shore, with the bright sunlight and the calm blue water. Still, day must return. What a comfort that thought often is! The roar of the waters gradually decreased, the wind having fallen, and thus, in spite of the sergeant's warning, my head was beginning to nod, when he cried out,—
"Here is daylight at last; I see a tint of red over the snowy tops of the mountains. We shall have the sun himself sending his warm rays down upon us before long."
His voice aroused me in a moment. Manley answered his hail; and as the light increased we saw that we were at the farther end of what might be the main body of the lake, or a branch running off it. It was in reality the great western arm of the lake, and we had been carried many miles on our journey, in the exact direction we wished to go.
We had soon light enough to enable us to crawl off the branches to which we had clung, and make our way down to the ground—if ground it could be called, for, in reality, in every direction it was covered thickly with logs in all stages of decay, some only lately fallen, others which could be knocked to pieces with a kick, while the feet sank at almost every step in decomposed vegetable matter. Still this was the region through which, somehow or other, we must make our way.
After an hour's toil we reached a small open space, where the ground was sufficiently hard to enable us to light a fire and dry our drenched clothes and blankets. We had also to look to the priming of our rifles, as they were likely to have got damp, and might fail us at a pinch. Being unwilling to encamp in the forest altogether, though we all greatly required rest, we resolved to push on until we could reach more open ground where water was to be obtained.
To save my companions labour, as I was a more practised backwoodsman than either of them, I offered to go ahead and try to find the shortest way out of the forest. How far it might be, I could not tell; but I had hopes that the forest in which we were might prove to be only a belt of trees on the shore of the lake.
It did not occur to me as possible that my companions could miss my trail. I shouted now and then, however, but did not hear their voices in reply, the forest being so dense that sounds could not penetrate far through it. I went on and on, feeling sure that I was directing my course to the westward. The ground rose more and more, too, in some places rather abruptly, but still covered with a dense growth of trees, and soon I found that I was mounting a hill. The path was more easy than at first, however, there being but few fallen trunks, so I made much better progress.
"I must get out of this," at last I said to myself; and so I continued moving on, occasionally notching a tree with my axe, if I thought my trail was not sufficiently distinct. "Of course they will follow," I thought more than once. I did not, indeed, entertain a doubt about it.
I had reached the top of the hill, but the trees were too high to enable me to see any of the country around. I could judge by the direction of the sun's rays, however,—which had now drawn round, and were striking in my face,—that I was steering westward, as before. I occasionally stopped and looked back, expecting that my friends would overtake me; and although I did not see them, I felt so sure that they must be close behind that I continued my course.
On and on I went, when again I found myself descending, and thus knew that I had crossed over a hill of some height; still the trees prevented me from getting a view of the country beyond. At last I came to some marshy ground of a similar character to that which I had met on the other side of the lake, with sulphur springs in the centre. I had therefore to make a detour to avoid it, but as the tall trees which grew on the surrounding hills would not allow me to get a view of the country, I could not determine in what direction to steer my course. I did not perceive an important circumstance. Owing to the spongy nature of the ground, into which my feet sank at every step, the marks were soon obliterated, while I still supposed that my trail was sufficiently defined to enable Manley and the sergeant to follow me.
I now mounted another hill, of a far more rugged character than the former ones which I had passed over.
"Surely," I thought, "on the other side of this there must be open ground, where I shall be able to see my way ahead, and select a spot for our camp." The hill, however, proved to be even more rugged than I had expected. Still I did not like to go back, though the farther I went the wilder and more jagged it became.
At last I found myself scrambling along the summit of a precipice, until I saw before me a foaming cascade falling down the precipitous rocks, with lofty pinnacles rising above it. This formed a cataract which, after a short course, ran into a lakelet at the foot of the cliffs; while beyond was the open ground I had been hoping to find.
Although a good cragsman, my climb had been a rough one, and I now sat down to rest on the top of the cliff before I commenced mounting higher, which it was necessary to do in order to get above the falls, and from thence make my way down the further side of the mountain on to the open ground. To rest my shoulders, I had taken off my pack, and placed it with my rifle by my side. I failed to notice, as I did so, the slippery nature of the rock, which was covered with a velvet-like surface of moss, produced by the constant spray from the waterfall. Feeling thirsty, I thought that I could reach a small jet of water which, flowing amid the rocks, fell into the main cascade. I therefore got up to make my way to it, and while doing so must have touched my rifle with my foot. I obtained the water, although not without difficulty, and more danger than it was wise to run for the purpose. But, on returning, what was my dismay to see neither rifle nor knapsack! They had both, it was very evident, slipped over the cliff, and fallen into the lakelet. Had I been alone, my loss would have been indeed a serious one, but as I hoped that my friends would soon overtake me, I did not allow it to depress my spirits.
I approached as near to the edge of the cliff as I dared, thinking it possible that my rifle and knapsack might have fallen on some ledge, or perhaps been stopped in their downward progress by bushes; but, as far as I could judge, the precipice was perpendicular, and they must have fallen into the lakelet. I saw at once, therefore, that there was very little chance of my being able to recover them: still that point could not be decided until I got down to the level of the lake, when I might ascertain its depth. If not very deep, I might perhaps be able to dive to the bottom; but though naturally eager to make the attempt, I felt it would be safest to do nothing in the matter until I was joined by my friends.
I waited a short time for their coming up, but as they did not appear, I thought it desirable to retrace my steps, in case they should have missed their way, or lost sight of my trail. I accordingly went back, shouting out to them; but it was not until I came to the spongy ground I had passed, that I saw the probability of their having lost my trail and gone in some other direction. In vain I searched for signs of them. Should I return to where I parted from them, a long time might elapse before we might meet; and my anxiety to try and recover my rifle and knapsack forbade me doing this.
The day was advancing, and darkness would come on before I could get to the shore of the lake, so I again turned and made my way over the mountain till I got above the fall; from thence, with infinite labour and at no little risk, I ultimately succeeded in reaching the level ground. I had now to go round the base of the mountain in order to reach the lake; but the distance was considerable, and I could scarcely hope to reach it before nightfall. I felt, therefore, that it would be prudent to look out for a spot for camping. A grove of trees of no great extent was before me, and their trunks would afford shelter; but what about a fire? My flint and steel I had incautiously left in my knapsack, but I had a small burning-glass which one of our visitors at the farm had given me. I had seldom made use of it, but I had put it in my pocket, with the few valuables I possessed, on the night we left Roaring Water. As the sun had disappeared, that, however, would be of no use for the present; so I arrived at the unsatisfactory conclusion that I must pass the night without food or fire.
ALONE IN THE FOREST—AWAKENED BY THE CRY OF A PANTHER—THE BRUTE DISCOVERS ME—I TAKE REFUGE IN A TREE—THE PANTHER DISAPPEARS—A VISIT TO THE LAKE—VAIN EFFORTS TO RECOVER MY RIFLE AND KNAPSACK—I CONTINUE TOWARDS THE WEST, HOPING TO MEET MY FRIENDS—MORE SULPHUR SPRINGS—NEARLY OVERWHELMED BY A MUD VOLCANO—A POISONOUS VALLEY—CAUGHT IN A SNOW-STORM—BUILD A HUT—MY FARE, THISTLE ROOTS—MAKE TRAPS AND A FISHING-LINE—SALLY FORTH—CATCH THREE BEAVERS—FIND ANOTHER LAKE—SALMON-TROUT CAUGHT—CONTINUE DOWN A RIVER, AND COME UPON A NUMBER OF MAGNIFICENT GEYSERS—AM ABOUT TO TAKE UP MY ABODE IN A GROTTO, WHEN A HOT SPRING RISES FROM IT—I SHIFT MY QUARTERS—PREPARE FOR ANOTHER SOLITARY NIGHT—I HEAR A SHOT, AND A WOUNDED DEER BOUNDS NEAR ME.
My exertions had made me hungry. Recollecting the amount of animal life which abounded in that region, however, I had no great fear of starving altogether, for if I could not shoot I might trap animals. I hoped, however, to be able to rejoin my companions the following day, when my wants would be supplied, so that I was not much out of spirits. Should I fail to trap game at any time, or should I fail to meet my companions even for some days, there were, I remembered, roots of various sorts which might serve for food, though it was now too late to obtain them. Indeed, barely light enough remained to enable me to cut down some branches with which to form a slight hut. I managed to collect a few to answer my purpose, the thick trunk of a tree serving as a back. In spite of this shelter, it was very cold; but of course I made up my mind to endure it as best I could, and, in spite of hunger and anxiety, it was not long before I fell asleep.
What time had elapsed I know not, when I was awakened by a shrill cry, almost like that of a human being. I shouted out for help before I was quite awake, thinking it must come from my companions, who were in danger; but when completely aroused, I knew too well that it was the shriek of the panther which so often makes night hideous in the forests of the south. What the brute was about, I could not tell; but as I knew he must be close to me, I again shouted out, hoping to frighten him away. At the same time clutching hold of a low branch of the tree which hung directly overhead, I swung myself into it.
Presently I saw the panther come out of a thicket close at hand, and smell round the hut. He had only just discovered me, and seemed to have a strong inclination to make his supper off my body. I did not feel altogether comfortable, even where I was, as I had a belief that panthers can climb, like most of the cat tribe, and that he might take it into his head to mount the tree. I had no weapon besides my knife, but with that I managed to cut off a pretty thick branch, with which I hoped to be able to defend myself.
As I found it very cold where I sat, my first object was to try and drive the brute away. I therefore kept pelting him with pieces of withered branches, which I broke off; but to no purpose. Still snarling occasionally, he kept smelling round and round the tree, frequently casting a look up at me with his glittering eyes. Now and then he went to a little distance, and seemed about to spring into the tree. At last he got into a position which enabled me to take good aim at him, and I threw a heavy piece of a branch, which hit him directly on the nose. At the same time I sprung round the tree, so as to be concealed from his view. He gave an upward glance; but not seeing me, he appeared to be seized with sudden fright, and, greatly to my satisfaction, went muttering away into the depths of the wood.
Trusting that the panther would not come back, I descended the tree, and once more sought the shelter from which he had driven me. The interruption to the night's repose had been somewhat unpleasant, but that did not prevent me sleeping on until daylight; after which I proceeded in the direction where I expected to find the lakelet into which my rifle and knapsack had dropped.
I was considering what I should do for food, when I observed a green plant of a bright hue, with a small head, which I recognized as a thistle, the roots of which I had seen the Indians use for food. Pulling it up, I found it not unlike a radish in taste and consistency. Searching about, I soon found several more: and although not likely to be very nutritious, the roots served to stop the gnawings of hunger, and enabled me to make my way with a more elastic step.
My thoughts were occupied as to the probability of finding Manley and the sergeant. I hoped that, once clear of the forest, they might encamp and make a large fire, the smoke of which would serve to guide me to them. Should they, on the contrary, continue searching about, we might miss each other.
The shore of the lakelet was at last reached, but my first glance at it convinced me that there was every probability of its being of great depth. The cliffs over which my rifle and knapsack had fallen went sheer down into it; while farther on the torrent brought a large supply of water, which found an exit on the opposite side. The water was clear as crystal, and from the shore upon which I stood I could see the bottom. When I put in my stick, however, I could not fathom it—and this at the shallowest part. Still, my existence might depend upon recovering my rifle, so, throwing off my clothes, I plunged in and swam to the foot of the cliff. I felt sure that I was under the very spot from whence the things had fallen, but when I looked down, notwithstanding the clearness of the water, I could not see them, nor the bottom, and this at once convinced me of the immense depth. I had therefore to abandon all hope of recovering my rifle and knapsack, and swim back, not altogether without some fear of being seized with cramp from the coldness of the water.
Quickly dressing, I ran on to warm myself, keeping as before to the west, as I felt sure that Manley and the sergeant would proceed in the same direction. Coming to a high mound or hill, I climbed to the top, whence I could obtain a pretty extensive view; but nowhere could I see any objects moving which could be my friends. A herd of elk were browsing in the far distance, and a number of mountain sheep were scampering about on the side of the neighbouring height. My eyes were attracted, however, by some wreaths of vapour far down the valley, in the direction which it was probable Manley and the sergeant had taken. The vapour might arise from a fire they had kindled; but when I looked again, I saw not only one, but several wreaths, or rather jets, which made me fear that my first conjecture was wrong. However, as these jets appeared in the right direction, I determined to go towards them.
I descended from the height, and continued my course, feeling unusually weak and weary, when, some way along the valley, I observed several circular holes, full of mud of different colours bubbling up, while vapour issued from various fissures in the sides of the hills, and a sulphureous odour pervaded the air.
Becoming more and more fatigued, at last I threw myself on the ground, and ate a few of the thistle roots which I had fortunately brought with me. I remember noticing a large hole not far off, but it appeared to be empty. I felt very drowsy, and dropped off to sleep before long, my head resting on my knees; when suddenly I became conscious of a loud rumbling sound, while the earth beneath me seemed to shake and upheave.
Springing to my feet, what was my horror to see, close to me, a mass of dark water and mud rising up in the shape of a column! Higher and higher it rose, surrounded by volumes of vapour; while from its summit was scattered far and wide thick lumps of mud. Becoming aware that I had been sleeping close to an active mud geyser, I sprang away from the dangerous neighbourhood, narrowly escaping being overwhelmed with the hot and horrible mixture. The spout, or column, I should think, must have risen to a height of nearly fifty feet; while every few seconds loud reports were heard, and with each report a dense volume of steam shot forth—the ground meanwhile shaking violently.
I stood watching it till, gradually decreasing, the centre part of the column sank down into the orifice from which it had been expelled; and within a short time all was again quiet. The mass of mud which covered the ground, and coated even the boughs of the neighbouring trees, alone showed the violent outbreak that had just taken place.
As I advanced the valley began to narrow. Miasmatic vapours, escaping from holes and crevices on either side, filled the air, making it difficult to breathe with freedom, so I hastened on, anxious to get out of so horrible a region. To escape from it I climbed a hill, along the side of which I made my way as fast as the uneven nature of the ground and fallen logs and rocks would allow.
I again got into a more open country, where I became conscious of a considerable change in the atmosphere. Hitherto the air had been tolerably warm, though bracing; it now grew sensibly cooler. Thick clouds were gathering in the sky. The wind, before a gentle breeze, now rose rapidly, and blew with violence. It soon became icy cold, and flakes of snow began to fall. Without a fire, I felt I should well nigh perish. At all events, before I could make a fire I must search for some cavern in which to light it; or, failing to find a cavern, I must build a hut. As the appearance of the ground did not indicate that caverns were likely to exist on the side of the hill, I set to work without delay to collect materials for building a hut; and having cut down a number of pine branches, I stuck them in the ground, weaving their tops together with vines, and piling as many rough pieces of bark against the side as I could find.
In vain I watched for a gleam of sunshine, which would enable me, by means of my burning-glass, to kindle a fire. The clouds gathered thicker and thicker; and no hope remained of my being able to obtain the desired spark. Taking advantage, therefore, of the remaining light, I searched about and pulled up all the thistle roots I could find. With this hermit-like fare, the only provender I was likely to obtain while the storm lasted, I retired into my hut.
Scarcely had I got under shelter when down came the snow, and the whole face of the country was speedily covered with a sheet of white. How long the storm might last, I could not tell; it might blow over in one or two hours, or days might elapse before it ceased. It was too early in the year, however, to fear the setting in of winter weather, even in that elevated region, or my condition would indeed have been deplorable.
I had kept an opening through which I could look over the valley, in case my friends might pass that way. But night came on, and they did not appear; so, closing up my window, I coiled myself away to sleep, as the size of my hut would not allow me to stretch myself at full length.
I had little fear that a panther would break into my bower; but I was not so confident that, should a grizzly scent me out, he might not poke in his nose. Still I could trust to Him who had hitherto protected me. I had my knife and my long stick, and, at all events, I might give Master Bruin an unpleasant scratch on the snout, should he come within my reach.
Notwithstanding my uncomfortable position, I was soon asleep, and did not awake until daybreak. Had I possessed any means of cooking my roots, I might have made a tolerably satisfactory breakfast. Indeed, although they assisted to sustain life, they were far from wholesome raw; still, to quell the cravings of hunger, I ate them.
The storm continued to blow with as much violence as on the previous evening, and, lightly clad as I was, I felt that it would be rash to continue my course till it was over. I sincerely hoped that Manley and the sergeant had found suitable shelter. However, as they could light a fire, and had abundance of food, I was pleased to think that they were better off than I was.
To employ the time, I tried to manufacture some traps of such materials as I possessed. I then bethought me that I had a fish-hook in my pocket; but when I came to search for a line I could find none. I had, however, a silk neckerchief; and having unravelled this, I twisted it with the greatest care into a strong thread. It occupied a good deal of time, but I succeeded in three or four hours in forming a line of sufficient length for my purpose. I had plenty of loose shot, too, which I split for weights. I then carefully rolled up the line round a piece of wood, ready for use as soon as I should reach a lake or stream likely to contain trout.
The storm lasted upwards of two days. Although my journey was thus delayed, I felt sure my friends would likewise have been prevented from travelling, and thus I was none the less likely to meet them. At length the wind subsided, the clouds dispersed, and the sun shone forth with dazzling brightness on the snow, which began quickly to disappear beneath his rays.
Carrying the traps I had manufactured, and my fishing-line, I now sallied out. I had exhausted all my roots, but as the snow cleared away I obtained a further supply, though, hungry as I was, I still had very little inclination to eat them raw.
I had not gone far when I came to some boiling springs; one of which, although the water was of intense heat, was little larger than a good-sized caldron. I threw in my roots, and sat down beside it to warm my feet, which were benumbed with the melting snow. While my frugal dinner was cooking, I looked about in search of my friends; but again I was disappointed. When I thought that the roots were sufficiently boiled, I raked them out with my stick. They were certainly more palatable, and I hoped they would prove more nutritious.
Every hour was now of importance, for Manley and the sergeant would, I calculated, be pushing on, under the belief that I was before them. I had quenched my thirst with snow, for in that volcanic region I could find no water fit to drink; it was either intensely hot, or so impregnated with sulphur and other minerals that I was afraid to swallow it. I saw that it would soon be necessary again to camp, so, that I might not have to pass the night without a fire, I endeavoured to obtain a light by means of my burning-glass, before the sun should descend too low. The wood around was so wet that I feared, after all, I should not succeed; but having made my way to a forest on one side of the valley, I discovered some moss growing under the branches of a tree which had sheltered it from the wet. Here also was abundance of dead wood. With as much as I could carry I hurried back into the open, and sitting down, brought the glass to bear on the now fast sinking rays of the sun. I watched the effect with almost trembling eagerness, till, greatly to my joy, from the small bright spot caused by the concentrated rays a thin thread of smoke began to ascend and spread over the moss. This I blew gently, placing over it a few twigs at a time, until I soon had a brisk fire burning.
The place where I had lighted my fire was not one at which I wished to camp, but once having a fire, I could carry a burning brand and ignite another in some more convenient situation. I was not long in selecting a spot close under a rock, where I soon had a fire blazing up. I thus had warmth, although I was still destitute of wholesome food; and, indeed, I found myself weaker than I had ever before been.
I was not of a disposition to give way to despondency, but sombre thoughts would intrude. I began to fear that I might not be able to rejoin my friends; that they, unable to find me, would suppose that I had met with some accident, and would at length make their way to the fort by themselves. Had I possessed my rifle and knapsack, I should have had no fear on the subject, but the only means I had of obtaining food were precarious; and I could not cast off the thought that, should I continue to grow weaker, I might ultimately perish.
I was soon shown, however, that I ought not to have desponded. I was more successful with my beaver traps than I had expected; and, imperfectly formed as they were, I caught no less than three animals in them, which afforded me ample food, and greatly restored my strength.
Pushing on over a wooded height, I saw below me a beautiful lake two or three miles long, and almost as many broad. I hastened down to its shore, and having caught some grasshoppers on the way, I quickly had my line in the water. Having chosen a favourable spot, scarcely a moment had passed before I hauled out a salmon-trout a pound or more in weight. In half an hour I had caught a dozen—as many as I could carry. I therefore camped and cooked some of the fish, which afforded me a more satisfactory supper than I had eaten for many days.
Seeing a stream running out of the lake, I next morning followed its course. I cannot describe the beautiful waterfalls which I passed on my way, or the scenery, which was altogether very fine. I hastened along, believing that the stream, from the direction it took, would lead to an outlet among the mountains.
I had thus gone on for some miles, when the canon down which I was travelling widened, and suddenly I saw before me a scene far more wonderful than any I had yet witnessed. In every direction over the broad valley, on both sides of the stream, rose a number of jets of sparkling water far surpassing in beauty the artificial fountains in the most celebrated gardens of royal mansions.
I hurried on, to get a more perfect sight of this wonderful region. Suddenly, from a high mound some thirty feet or more above the level of the plain, I saw a jet burst forth, which rose to the height of one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty feet—a perfect geyser, the first real one I had yet seen. It continued playing for fifteen minutes or more, the mass of water falling back into the basin, and then running over the edges and down the sides of the mound. Others were playing all the time. As I hastened on, from another cone a column shot upwards to a far greater height—considerably above two hundred feet, I should say—and lasted very much longer than the first. The intervening spaces between these geysers were covered with grass; and in many places trees rich with foliage grew luxuriantly, showing that there was no danger in venturing among them.
Another beautiful geyser, which burst up when I was not more than a hundred yards from it, had the exact appearance of a fan. On examining it, I found that it possessed a double orifice, which discharged five radiating jets to the height of sixty feet; the drops of spray as they fell perfectly representing the feathers of a fan. Nothing could be more beautiful than the effect. The eruption lasted nearly thirty minutes, the water preserving its elegant form during the whole time. About forty feet from it dense masses of vapour ascended from a hole, emitting at the same time loud sharp reports. As I looked along the river I saw small craters of every conceivable form; some were quiescent, while others poured out cascades forming small rivulets which ran into the river.
So beautiful and curious was the scene, that for a time I forgot my perilous position.
I had no fear of starving, as long as I had my fishing-line and traps, and was able to light a fire; but I knew that I had a wild and rugged road to pursue, and probably snow-capped mountains to climb, before I could reach the western plains. It was important, therefore, to obtain substantial fare, that I might regain my full strength for the undertaking. I had not, of course, given up all hope of falling in with my friends, but still I was forced to contemplate the possibility of missing them. I wondered that we had not yet met, as I certainly thought they would have taken the same direction that I had followed.
I must, at all events, spend another night in the valley; and I was looking about for some place which would afford me shelter, when I saw, a short distance off, what appeared to be a beautiful grotto—consisting of fantastic arches, pillars, and turrets, with hollows beneath them, in one of which I might find a comfortable sleeping-place. I determined to explore it, and, after collecting wood for a fire, to take my rod and line and endeavour to catch some fish in the river. I should, at all events, have no difficulty in cooking them in one of the numerous boiling caldrons in the neighbourhood. Directly behind the grotto was a forest of firs, from which I could collect an ample supply of wood for my fire, as also small branches to form my couch, should the ground prove damp.
I was making my way towards the grotto, when I heard a rumbling sound, and directly afterwards two jets of water spouted from its midst—one of them rising rapidly to the height of nearly a hundred feet, when, spreading out, down it came, the scalding water falling in a dense shower on every side, while wreaths of steam were ejected from the various holes which had been within their influence, the which would speedily have parboiled me, had I not at once run off to a safe distance. I then turned back to look at the beautiful phenomenon. Although the jet was not so lofty as many of the other geysers, its form was not less beautiful, assuming, as it curled over, the appearance of a gigantic ostrich feather.
I had received a lesson not to trust to appearances, and was now very unwilling to take up my lodgings in any one of the curious grottoes which lay scattered about in the valley. They might be perfectly quiet, and afford me comfortable shelter; or, proving treacherous, a stream of hot water might burst forth from some unperceived vent and blow me fifty feet into the air, or scald me to death. I accordingly resolved to build myself a bower in which, although it would not afford me so much shelter as a cavern, I might pass the night in safety.
It was necessary, however, before the sun should disappear, to light my fire; and having fixed upon a spot, I repaired to the woods nearest at hand to collect the fuel. I had not gone far when I saw rising before me a curious white mound, twenty-five or thirty feet in height, and about a hundred at the base. From the summit rose a small puff of steam, like that escaping from the lid of a kettle; but I saw, from the appearance of the trees around it, that it could not for many years have sent forth any dangerous stream of hot water. Not far off was a small basin with an elegantly scalloped rim; it was full of hot water, which scarcely bubbled over. "This will make me a capital fish-kettle," I said to myself, "so I will build my hut near here. I do not think there can be any risk."
Having selected a clear spot, I set to work and piled up the wood for my fire. This was the first operation. I could build my hut in the dusk, or even by the light of the fire, should it be necessary, after I had caught my fish. Then taking a handful of moss into the open, with a few dry sticks, I quickly lighted it with my burning-glass, and carrying it back, soon had my fire in a blaze. I next made it up carefully, that it might burn until I came back, and hurried down to the river. I was doubtful whether trout were to be found in water into which hot streams were constantly pouring; however, as most of them became cold before they reached the main current, I thought it possible that I might be successful. In the expectation of catching fish, I had omitted to set my traps; or rather, occupied by the wonderful scenes around me, I had forgotten all about the matter. In vain I threw in my line, baited with an active grasshopper; not a fish would bite. I went higher up the river, where fewer hot springs ran into it, but I was equally unsuccessful.
The shadows beginning to spread over the valley, warned me that I must return to my camping ground and content myself with a few thistle roots for supper; and I had just wound up my line, when my ear caught the sound of what appeared to be a shot fired at some distance up the valley. It was so faint, however, that I thought it might possibly be a sound emitted by some geyser or fire-hole. Just then a deer came bounding along, a short distance off. On seeing me it swerved slightly out of its course, and as it did so I perceived a stream of blood flowing from its side.
"That was a shot, then!" I exclaimed; "and my friends must have fired it."
My first impulse was to run in the direction from whence the shot came, but on looking at the deer I perceived that it was slackening its pace; and after a few more bounds, down it sank to the ground, not one hundred yards from me.
I KILL THE DEER—MORE WONDERS—MEET MANLEY AND SERGEANT CUSTIS AT LAST—A PLEASANT EVENING—PARCHED WITH THIRST AMIDST SPARKLING STREAMS—OUR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY OVER THE MOUNTAINS—SAFE ARRIVAL AT FORT HARWOOD—WELCOMED BY THE COMMANDANT—AN EXPEDITION ORGANIZED TO DRIVE THE INDIANS FROM THE COUNTRY—MANLEY COMMANDS IT—I ACCOMPANY HIM—MEET BARNEY AND KLITZ, STILL BOUND FOR CALIFORNIA—BARNEY GIVES AN ACCOUNT OF THEIR ESCAPE—THEIR JOURNEY STOPPED—THEY RETURN WITH US—WE MEET PIOMINGO AND HIS SQUAW—TELLS US THAT HE HAS BURIED THE WAR-HATCHET—HEAR AN ALARMING ACCOUNT OF BARTLE—ASCEND THE MOUNTAIN TO WHERE WE LEFT UNCLE JEFF—FIND HIM AND CLARICE WELL—HE HAS OBTAINED A LARGE SUPPLY OF PELTRIES—OUR RETURN TO WINNEMAK'S CAMP—MAYSOTTA ACCOMPANIES CLARICE TO ROARING WATER.
Although I had not forgotten the friends I hoped soon to see, my instinct as a hunter made me anxious to secure the deer, as it might possibly get up again, and be lost to us by springing into the river. Acting on this impulse, therefore, I ran up to the wounded animal. The poor brute was endeavouring to rise on its knees, so, hamstringing it with my knife, I effectually prevented it from escaping. I had, however, to approach it cautiously, for a blow from its antlers, even in its present state, might prove dangerous. I managed at length to reach its throat, when its struggles speedily ceased.
I now looked round for my friends, in the expectation of seeing them at any moment, for I was sure they would follow the deer; but they did not come. Still I could not have been mistaken. The animal had been shot by a rifle bullet; it was a rifle I had heard fired. Had Indian hunters shot the deer, they would certainly have followed more closely at its heels; and besides, they were not likely to have rifles.
After having secured the deer, I hastened in the direction from whence it had come, expecting that every moment would solve the mystery. Yet, eager as I was, my eyes could not avoid remarking the wonderful objects around me. On one side was a basin, its projecting rim carved with marvellously intricate tracery, while the waters within were tinted with all the colours of the rainbow. On the other side appeared a mass greatly resembling an ancient castle. It rose more than forty feet above the plain, while in its midst was a turret of still greater dimensions. A succession of steps, formed by the substances in the water which had become hardened, led up to it, ornamented with bead and shell work; while large masses, shaped like cauliflowers or spongy-formed corals, projected from the walls. Out of this curious structure, as I was passing it, shot a column of water sixty feet or more in height, vast volumes of steam escaping at the same time.
It seems curious that I should have been able to remark these objects at a time when my mind was occupied by a matter of so much importance. Still I could not avoid seeing the objects; and although I did not at the time think much about them, they stamped their impression on my mind as I went along. Suddenly two figures appeared, which put every other object out of my sight. My eyes were fixed upon them; I had no doubt that they were Manley and Sergeant Custis. I shouted. They saw and heard me, and came hurrying forward, and we were soon warmly shaking hands.
"Ralph, my dear fellow! we feared that you were lost," exclaimed Manley, "and we have been hunting for you day after day. How haggard you look! How did you manage to lose us? and what has become of your rifle?"
These and numerous other questions I had briefly to answer. How they had missed me, they could not very clearly tell. Instead, however, of coming westward, they had for some time hunted about in the very neighbourhood where they had at first lost sight of me. At length they reached one of my camps, and from thence they had followed me up, although they had been compelled, as I had, to take shelter during the storm.
Of course, they were as much delighted as I was with the extraordinary region in which we found ourselves; and I could now enjoy an examination of its wonders far more than I did at first.
We were very anxious to push on, in order to carry relief to our friends, and to punish the Arrapahas for their audacious raid on our territory, but that evening we could proceed no farther. We therefore cut up the deer, and carried as much of its flesh as we required to camp, where we built a hut, and employed the evening in preparing the venison for the remainder of our journey—for we had snowy heights to surmount, where we might be unable to meet with game. An abundant meal and a night's rest completely set me up; and my friends insisting on alternately keeping watch, I was allowed to sleep on without interruption.
I must pass rapidly over the next few days of our journey. We worked our way along the rugged gorges through which the river forced a passage, and we had torrents to cross, precipitous mountains to climb, amid glaciers and masses of snow, where by a false step we should have been hurled to destruction. But we were mercifully preserved.
Game in these wild regions is scarce, and we were frequently hard pressed for food. In one of the valleys, at the beginning of this part of our journey, nowhere was a drop of drinkable water to be found. For hours we walked on, with bright fountains bubbling up on every side; but they were scalding hot, or so impregnated with minerals that we dared not touch them. Our fate promised to be like that of Tantalus: with water on every side, we were dying of thirst. At length I espied, high up on the mountain slope, a little green oasis, scarcely larger than a small dinner-plate. I scrambled up to it, and, putting down my hand, found a fountain of cool bright water issuing forth. I shouted to my companions, who quickly joined me. Never was nectar drank with more delight; and, revived and strengthened, we again pushed on.
Sometimes we slept in caverns, sometimes in huts built of clods and boughs. Frequently we had to camp on the bare ground, without shelter, our feet as close to the fire as we could venture to place them without running the risk of their being scorched.
At last, to our great joy, we saw the western plains stretching out before us. I call them the plains, although hills of all heights rose in their midst. Far away to the south-west was the great Salt Lake; while in front of us were the mountainous regions bordering the Pacific,—California and its newly-discovered gold-mines. Now descending steep slopes, now traversing gorges, now climbing down precipices, now following the course of a rapid stream, we ultimately reached level ground, and at last arrived at Fort Harwood.
"Why, Broadstreet, my dear fellow!" exclaimed the commandant, who, with a number of other officers, came out on seeing us approach, "we had given you up as lost! Some emigrants who escaped from a train which was attacked reported that every white man on the other side of the pass, for miles to the southward, had been murdered. They had heard, also, that an officer and his men had been cut off, so we naturally concluded you were the unhappy individual."
"Such would have been our fate, if we had attempted to get through the pass; but, guided by my friend here, we crossed the mountain, for the purpose of asking you to send a force of sufficient strength to drive back the Indians, with their rascally white allies," answered the lieutenant.
"The very thing I purposed doing, if I could obtain a trustworthy guide," said the commandant.
"You could not have a more trustworthy one than my friend, Ralph Middlemore," answered Manley. "He knows the mountains better than any white man we are likely to find; and as for Indians, I would not put confidence in one of them."
Of course, I at once expressed my willingness to undertake the duty proposed; and the expedition was speedily arranged. Our troops may not have had a very military appearance, but the men knew how to handle their rifles, and had had experience in border warfare. We numbered fifty in all, besides the drivers of the baggage horses and mules conveying our provisions and ammunition. All not absolutely necessary encumbrances were dispensed with, our camp equipage consisting of a few iron pots, tin cups, and plates. Lieutenant Broadstreet had command of the party, and he was directed to select a fit site for a new fort in the neighbourhood of Roaring Water, to assist in holding the Arrapahas in check for the future.
Not an hour was lost; and by sunrise, two days after our arrival, we commenced our march. I had advised Manley to let me go ahead with a few of the most experienced men, to act as scouts, that we might ascertain whether the enemy still held the pass; but two days had gone by without any signs of the Indians. The remains of their fires, however, showed that they had been there not long before. At the end of the second day, just as we were about to encamp, I caught sight of two figures coming over the brow of a slight elevation. I rubbed my eyes; was it fancy, or did I really see Klitz and Barney before me, precisely as I had seen them on a previous occasion, when attempting to make their escape from the farm? No doubt about it. There was Barney wheeling a barrow, and Klitz, with a couple of muskets on his shoulder, marching behind him. Had I been inclined to superstition, I might have supposed that I beheld a couple of ghosts, or rather beings of another world; but I was convinced, unless I was the victim of some optical delusion, that the two worthies were there in flesh and blood.
I did what every one should do when there exists any doubt about a matter,—I hastened forward to solve the mystery. No sooner did they see me than Klitz dropped his muskets, and Barney, letting go the handles of his wheel-barrow, stood gazing at me with open eyes and outstretched hands.
"Arrah, now, it's the young masther himself!" exclaimed Barney; whilst the German uttered an exclamation which I did not comprehend. "Sure, now, we were afther thinking your honour was kilt intirely," continued Barney. "Might I be so bold as to ax where your honour comes from now?"
"Let me inquire where you come from, and how you escaped from the burning house," I said. "Although I am glad to see you, I would rather you had rejoined your regiment."
"Sure, Mister Ralph dear, we were returned as dead, and it would have been sore against our consciences to take sarvice under the circumstances. But your honour was axin' how we escaped. Sure, when I was hunting for the Redskin spy, didn't I find out the root-house. And so, afther matters came to the worst, we got in there, with food enough to last until those thieves who wanted our scalps had taken themselves off. As to cutting our way through the enemy, I knew well enough that would not suit me; for I could not run, and Klitz would have been a mark a mile off. So, when you rushed out, he and I dropped down through the trap and stowed ourselves away. The Indians, marcifully, niver came to look for us. In truth, while they were hunting about down came the building on their heads, and we could hear their shrieks and cries as they tried to scramble out from among the flames. If it had not been for a small vent-hole far away up in a corner, we should have been suffocated, maybe. All day long we could hear them screeching and hallooing outside the house; but before night the thieves of the world took themselves off, we suppose, for all was silent.
"At the end of a couple of days we thought we might safely venture to take a few mouthfuls of fresh air, and begin to work our way out from among the ruins. It was no easy job, but we got free at last. Neither Redskin nor white man was to be seen; and of all the buildings, the hut and the mill only were standing. The villains had carried off all our blankets and most of the cooking-pots, but enough was left for our wants, seeing that we had nothing to put in them. However, Klitz was not the boy to starve. He soon caught some fish, and I got hold of a sheep which came up to the door; and if there had only been a dhrop of the cratur', we should have lived like princes. One thing there was which the Indians had not carried off, and that was a wheel-barrow. When Klitz saw it, 'We will go to California!' says he. Says I, 'I'm the boy for it!' So, as we had our muskets and a few rounds of ammunition, afther drying the mutton and making some other necessary preparations we set off. The Indians had left the country, and no one stopped us, so surely your honour won't be so hard as to stop us now!"
"That must depend on what Lieutenant Broadstreet has to say in the matter," I observed. "I am under his orders, and will conduct you to him."
Klitz elongated his visage on hearing this, but Barney took the matter with his usual good-humour.
In consideration of the dangers the men had gone through, and their conduct in the defence of the farm, the lieutenant treated them kindly. He could not allow them to continue on their way to California, of course, which they most certainly would never have reached, but he inflicted no greater punishment than ordering them to mount the baggage-mules and return with us.
We did not entirely rely on Barney's report that the Indians had left the neighbourhood, though it perhaps made us less cautious than we would otherwise have been. As I was well mounted, I frequently went on a considerable distance ahead, eager to fall in with some one from whom I might gain intelligence of Uncle Jeff, Clarice, or our friends. I did not suppose that Uncle Jeff would remain in the mountains where we had left him, but that he would certainly have come down to meet us; or perhaps, should Bartle and Gideon have escaped, he might have rejoined them and returned to Roaring Water.
We had got through the pass, and were about to march to the southward, in the hope of overtaking the enemy, should they be still lingering in that part of the country, when I saw smoke ascending from the level ground close to the foot of the mountain, and some way ahead. On watching it, I was satisfied that it rose from an encampment of white or red men. As there was little doubt that information could be obtained from the inhabitants, whoever they were, the sergeant and I, with two well-mounted troopers, rode forward, keeping on the alert to guard against coming suddenly on an enemy.
As we got nearer, I saw, by means of a telescope which I had obtained at the fort, an Indian camp of a more permanent character than I had yet fallen in with in that neighbourhood. This was a proof that the inhabitants were friendly.
In a short time several persons appeared; and on seeing us one of them came forward, habited in the costume of a chief, a quiver at his back and a bow in his hand. A squaw followed him. He stopped and gazed at me. Then, as I rode on, he advanced, and, putting out his hand, exclaimed,—
"You know me!—Piomingo. This my squaw. You save my life and her life, and I am ever your friend."
I told him that I was very glad to see him, and that he could give me information I very much desired. In the course of conversation he informed me that he had talked with Winnemak, and had buried, as he said, the war-hatchet; and he had therefore come and settled in that district. He had also preserved my horse with the greatest care; and, he added, he was ready to restore him to me in good condition. With regard to Uncle Jeff, he could tell me nothing. As my uncle, however, had not rejoined Winnemak, I concluded that the latter was still in the mountains, well contented with his new locality, and engaged in shooting and trapping.
"Can you give me any information about my other friends?" I asked.
One white man, he said, had gone to Winnemak's camp; and from his description I had little doubt that the person he spoke of was either Bartle or Gideon. I was very sure, however, that either of them would without delay have rejoined Uncle Jeff. What Piomingo told me about the other caused me much anxiety. He had been captured by the Arrapahas, he said, who had carried him about with them; probably, according to their cruel custom, with the intention of ultimately putting him to death in some barbarous manner.
As Piomingo volunteered to lead a party of us in search of the marauders, who still had, according to his report, a white man with them, I at once accepted his offer, and would gladly have set off immediately; but it was important first to carry assistance to Uncle Jeff and Clarice, who could not fail—so Manley thought—to require it. He and I, with twenty troopers and some of our baggage animals, accordingly turned to the northward, leaving Sergeant Custis and the remainder of our force to watch the pass, in order to prevent the return of the Arrapahas.
We pushed on as fast as our horses would go, the lieutenant being fully as eager as I was, but it took us two days to reach the foot of the mountains. Manley declared that he could not have found the spot had it not been for my assistance. We here formed camp, while he and I, with six of our strongest baggage animals, and men to look after them, took our way up the mountain.
I need scarcely describe the route. Sometimes we made tolerable progress, at other times we had to use the greatest caution to escape falling over the precipices which we had now on one side, now on the other. But the most arduous part of the undertaking was forcing our way through the primeval forests, over trunks of trees, and through pools of water, into which the horses sank up to their knees. The poor brutes had an uncomfortable time of it. The men, armed with thick sticks, went behind whacking them unmercifully, while others dragged away at their heads. I was thankful to have the task of acting as guide, although it was not an easy one—having every now and then to climb over fallen logs or leap across pools. I was, however, saved the pain of witnessing the sufferings of the animals; and I determined, if possible, to find an easier path down again.
At length a height which separated us from the first valley was passed; and looking down, to our infinite satisfaction we caught sight of a well-constructed hut, with a wreath of smoke ascending from its chimney. All, then, was likely to be well. Manley and I, leaving our men to follow with the animals, hurried down, and in less than a quarter of an hour we were shaking hands with Uncle Jeff and Clarice. I need scarcely describe how Manley and my fair young sister met, but it was very evident that they were not sorry to see each other. Rachel came out, beaming with smiles; and in a short time Pat Sperry appeared, followed by another person whom I was truly glad to see—Gideon Tuttle. The latter had joined Uncle Jeff some days before. Although desperately wounded, he had managed to make his escape, and had lain in hiding in the mountains for several days, till he had recovered sufficient strength to travel. The report he gave us of Bartle, however, was truly alarming. There could be no doubt that he had been captured by the Indians, and, Gideon feared, must have been put to death by them; but when I told him what Piomingo said, he became more hopeful as to the fate of his old friend.
"If he is alive, we will find him out, wherever he may be!" he exclaimed. "Even if the varmints have him in the middle of their camp, we will manage to set him free."
Uncle Jeff, as I expected, had not been idle. Ever since the day we had left him, he had been hunting and trapping, and had collected a large store of skins of all sorts of animals, with dried meat enough to supply an army. The baggage animals we had brought could carry but a small amount of the stores collected by Uncle Jeff. It was arranged, therefore, that a larger number should be sent up as soon as possible, to bring away the remainder. Who was to take charge of them? was the question. Uncle Jeff, Gideon, and I, were naturally anxious to return to Roaring Water, that we might get up huts and re-establish ourselves before the commencement of winter.
While we were in this dilemma, Winnemak and several of his braves appeared. On hearing of our difficulty, he said, "Commit them to my care. I will protect them with my life—although I believe no one will venture up here to carry them off. I have, as yet, had few opportunities of showing my gratitude. I failed to assist you, when I wished to do so, against the Arrapahas; but in this matter I can, at all events, render you a service."
"Where will Maysotta remain while you are up in the mountains?" asked Uncle Jeff, after he had accepted Winnemak's offer.
"Oh, let her come with us!" exclaimed Clarice. "I wish to show her that I am grateful for the service which she rendered me; and she may perhaps be pleased with the life we lead. She has several times expressed a wish to know how white people spend their time."
The chief, who seldom interfered with the movements of his daughter, replied that she was at liberty to do as she wished, and that we should find her in the camp at the foot of the mountains.
Lieutenant Broadstreet had to rejoin his men as soon as possible, and no time, therefore, was lost in commencing our journey down the mountain. Winnemak and several of his people were left in charge of Uncle Jeff's hut and stores.
We had not a few difficulties to encounter on our return, but Clarice, by whose side Manley rode whenever the path would permit, endured them bravely; and we ultimately, without accident, reached the foot of the mountains, where we found Maysotta encamped with the remainder of her people. She was well pleased with the proposal Clarice made to her; and her baggage being put into little bulk, she mounted her horse and accompanied us forthwith.
ON OUR WAY WE VISIT PIOMINGO—HE TELLS US OF BARTLE'S CAPTIVITY, AND OFFERS TO ASSIST US IN HIS RECOVERY—GIDEON, PIOMINGO, AND I SET OUT, FOLLOWED BY A STRONG PARTY UNDER SERGEANT CUSTIS—WE DISCOVER THE TRAIL, AND FOLLOW IT UP—HORRIBLE CRUELTIES PRACTISED BY INDIANS ON THEIR PRISONERS—THE TRAIL LEADS ALONG THE MOUNTAIN—WE SEE A FIGURE ABOVE US—IT IS BARTLE—IS HE ALIVE?—JUST IN TIME—GIDEON AND I STAY BY HIM—I AFTERWARDS SET OFF TO OBTAIN HELP—PIOMINGO HAS SENT A LITTER—WE ARRIVE SAFE AT ROARING WATER—HARD AT WORK REBUILDING THE HOUSE—A FORT ESTABLISHED—BARNEY AND KLITZ JOIN US—A VISIT FROM MANLEY—A PROPOSAL, AND CONFESSION—UNCLE JEFF APPROVES OF THE ENGAGEMENT OF MANLEY AND CLARICE—WINNEMAK AND PIOMINGO BECOME CHRISTIANS, AND INSTRUCT THEIR PEOPLE—THE HOUSE REBUILT—SETTLERS GATHER ROUND US, AND UNCLE JEFF'S FARM BECOMES THE MOST FLOURISHING IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.
As we approached Piomingo's camp, or rather village, we saw him hurrying out to meet us.
"I have gained information for you," he said, "about one of your white friends who has long been held in captivity by the Arrapahas. The party who have him remained for some time in the neighbourhood of Roaring Water, if they are not there still. If you hasten on, you may overtake them; but it would be dangerous to approach with a large band, in case they should immediately kill their prisoner—they have already killed several who had fallen into their power—rather than run the risk of allowing him to escape. My advice is, that a small number of experienced men should pursue them, followed by a larger party at a short distance; and I willingly offer to serve as a scout to accompany the first party. If we can find the Arrapahas in camp, we may be able to liberate the prisoner; or if we can form an ambush and pounce suddenly out on them, we may manage to cut the thongs with which he is bound, mount him on one of our horses, and carry him off."
As we were convinced that the white man of whom Piomingo spoke was Bartle Won, Uncle Jeff and Gideon accepted the brave's offer without hesitation. It was finally settled that Piomingo, Gideon, and I should push on until we came upon the trail of the Arrapahas, and that a party of twenty men, under Sergeant Custis, should follow us. We were then cautiously to approach the camp of the enemy, and endeavour by some means or other to liberate Bartle. We had confidence in the success of our plan, for Piomingo had ever been celebrated for his cunning and audacity, which he had in times past exercised in less reputable ways than that in which he now proposed to employ them. Some of Winnemak and Piomingo's people, who were now on good terms, scoured the country as scouts; and from the reports they brought us we were satisfied that the chief body of the enemy had completely deserted the neighbourhood. Still, the party of whom Piomingo had heard might have remained behind, and we therefore at once commenced our search for their trail.
But I must be brief in my account. For two days we searched in every direction, scarcely resting, till at length we discovered a trail which Piomingo was confident was that of our foes; and, moreover, he said they had a white man with them. They had, however, he thought, passed some days before. Piomingo sent back one of his men to urge Sergeant Custis to come on rapidly; and we pushed forward as fast as we could travel, hoping soon to overtake the Arrapahas.
After following the trail, we found that it took the way along the mountains. This was rather an advantage in some respects, as, being accustomed to mountain travelling, we might move on faster than those of whom we were in pursuit. As, however, we were made of flesh and blood, we were obliged to encamp at night, although the dawn of day found us again in pursuit.
Piomingo thrilled my heart with horror by an account which he gave of the cruelties practised by the savages on some of their captives, and I had great fear that our friend Bartle might have been subjected to the same horrible tortures. Piomingo told us that he himself had been present at some of the scenes he described. It showed me how debased men, formed in the image of God, can become, when they have departed from Him, and how cruel by nature is the human heart, which can devise and take satisfaction in the infliction of such barbarities. The white men who were thus treated had done nothing to injure the Indians, except in attempting to defend their lives and property when attacked. The captives having been brought out into an open space, bound hand and foot, the Indians threw off their usual garments, and dressed themselves in the most fantastic manner. One of their victims was first led forward and stretched on the ground, to which he was bound by cords and pegs, so that he could move none of his limbs. The savages then commenced a wild dance round him, jeering and mocking him, while they described the various tortures for which he must be prepared. One of the unfortunate victim's companions was, in the meantime, held, with his hands bound behind him, and made a witness to his sufferings. The savages, as they danced round and round him, stooped down and pricked him with daggers and knives, taking good care not to wound him mortally. Next one of the wretches, seizing his knife, cut his scalp from off his head; while others brought some burning embers of wood and placed them on his breast.
But I see no advantage in further mentioning the diabolical cruelties practised by these savages of which Piomingo told us. Far removed from the benign influences of Christianity, these red men only acted according to the impulses of their barbarous nature. The thought came upon me with great force, Is it not the duty of white men who are Christians to send the blessed light of the gospel, by every means in their power, to their benighted fellow-creatures? They have souls as we have, and they are as capable of receiving the truths of the gospel as we are. Bold, energetic men, imbued with the love of souls, are required, who, ready to sacrifice all the enjoyments of civilization, will cast themselves fearlessly among the native tribes, and by patience and perseverance endeavour to induce them to listen to the message of reconciliation, and to imitate the example of Him who died for them.
I spoke earnestly and faithfully to Piomingo of this, and I was thankful to find that he listened not only willingly but eagerly to what I said.
"Yes," he exclaimed at length, "I see that you are right. Although some white men have set us a bad example, it is no reason that all should do so. The truths about which you speak are independent of man. There must be bad white men as well as bad red men; but I am sure that those who follow the example of Him of whom you tell me, the Son of the Great Spirit, must be good men. I will try to follow him, and when we get back, you must tell me more about him."
I gladly promised to do so, and was thankful for this opportunity of speaking to Piomingo.
Before starting next morning we sent a message to the sergeant, begging him to keep as close to the foot of the mountain as possible, as we were sure the enemy could not have gone far up; indeed, their trail led along the lower part of the side. They had taken this direction, probably, in order that they might obtain a view over the plain, and thus the more easily escape from those who by this time, they must have known through their scouts, were in pursuit of them, although they could not be aware that our small party was so close at their heels. In a few hours more, we believed, we should probably be up with them; and we hoped that while they were in camp we might find some means or other of releasing Bartle.
Though generally keeping our eyes ahead, or down on the plain, I happened on one occasion to look up the mountain. On the height above me was the figure of a human being. I pointed it out to my companions.
"There is no doubt about it," exclaimed Gideon; "what you see is a cross, with a man, well-nigh stripped, bound to it."
The spot was one difficult of access, but it had been reached shortly before, and, Piomingo declared, by Indians, whose trail he discovered on the hard rock, where Gideon and I could not perceive the slightest marks.
"That is Bartle," cried Gideon as we were climbing on. "Little chance, however, of the poor fellow being alive. The cruel varmints! I'll punish them one of these days for what they have done."
The expressions which his indignation drew forth were very natural, but they were not in accordance with the precepts I had been endeavouring to inculcate on Piomingo.
As we hastened on Gideon cried, "I think I saw his head move; if so, he must be alive. We are coming! cheer up, cheer up, Bartle; we are coming to your help!" he shouted.
The faint sound of a human voice was heard in return.
"He is alive," I exclaimed; "he is alive!" and I waved my cap as we rushed to our friend's assistance.
Another minute, and we were by Bartle's side. We could perceive no wound, but his eyes were starting from his head, and his tongue protruded. Not a moment was lost in cutting the lashings with which he was bound to the stump of a small tree, with another rough piece of wood fastened across it. A few minutes later, and I believe he would have breathed his last. We had fortunately brought with us a bottle of water and some spirits, some of which we poured down his throat, and in a wonderfully short time he revived, and was able to tell us what had happened to him. He had rendered one of his captors a service on some occasion, and this man had sufficient influence with the others to preserve his life. When, however, they found themselves closely pursued by our troops, they were about to kill him; but, at the instigation of the brave who had hitherto saved him from being put to death, they resolved to bind him to the tree and leave him. In all likelihood, his friend had proposed this with the intention of afterwards returning and setting him free.
As Bartle would certainly be unable to move for some time, Gideon and I remained by him, while Piomingo returned to inform Sergeant Custis of our success, and also to warn him that the enemy were not far ahead. The sergeant, we afterwards heard, pushed rapidly on, and in a short time came up with the party, and, by the careful way in which he approached, took them completely by surprise. They attempted to defend themselves, but the greater number were cut to pieces—a few only escaping to the southward.
Gideon and I, I have said, had been left on the mountain-side to look after Bartle. The first thing Gideon did was to take off his own coat and wrap it round our friend, whose limbs were swollen by the pressure of the cords, while he was chilled by long exposure to the cold air; indeed, most men would have sunk under the sufferings he had endured. How were we to get him down the mountain? was the next question. He could not walk, and Gideon and I together were unable to carry him. The spot was exposed to a hot sun by day, and to cold winds by night, and there were no materials at hand to build a hut; indeed, but little wood even to form a fire. At last I proposed setting off to try and obtain help,—though, should the troops or the Indians who accompanied us have gone south, it might be a long time before I could fall in with any one. There was nothing else to be done, however, as far as we could see, although I greatly feared that before I could return Bartle would have succumbed.
"Quick, Ralph," said Gideon, as I rose to set off. "Do not forget some food; and bring a litter, or something of that kind, to carry Bartle on."
I had scarcely got a hundred feet down the mountain when I saw two Indians in the distance, coming towards me, each carrying something on his back, and a long pole in his hand. I waved to them, and they made signals in reply. They were soon close to me, and on coming up they said that they had been sent by Piomingo, and that they carried materials for forming a litter. He had thought of the very thing we required. It was rapidly put together; and placing Bartle on it, we each of us took the end of a pole, and began cautiously to descend the mountain. Of necessity our progress was very slow. Sometimes we had to place the litter on the ground, not for the sake of resting ourselves, but that we might lower it with more caution. Thus proceeding, we at last reached the plain, where, as the day had closed, we encamped.
Next morning, Bartle, although better, was still unable to walk; we therefore carried him the whole way to Roaring Water. We found Uncle Jeff standing in the midst of the ruins of the old house,—in no desponding mood, however,—and he welcomed Bartle as he would have done a beloved brother.
"You will soon come round, Bartle," he said, as he took his hand; "and we will get a house up as big and as strong as the old one."
"Ay! that we will," answered Bartle; "and if the Redskins pay us another visit, we will take good care that they shall never get inside it."
* * * * *
The hut had been thoroughly cleaned out, and Clarice, Maysotta, and Rachel had taken possession of it, while the rest of the party occupied the mill.
Lieutenant Broadstreet had, in the meantime, fixed on a good site for a fort on the summit of a precipice by the river-side, and his men were busily engaged in cutting and fixing up the palisades which were to surround it. So much was he occupied in the duty he had to perform, that he could rarely come over to Roaring Water; while I was so fully employed that I had no time to visit him.
We were greatly in want of labourers to supply the places of the poor fellows who had been killed when the Indians attacked the house, and at last Uncle Jeff told me to go over to the fort and ascertain if any men were likely to obtain their discharge, and if so, to offer them good wages.
"You can tell the lieutenant that we shall be glad to see him over here whenever he can come," said Uncle Jeff, "although we have not the best accommodation in the world to offer him."
I had little doubt that Manley would not be influenced by the latter consideration; so, mounting my horse, I rode off to the fort, and gave him Uncle Jeff's message.
"I can afford you two hands, at all events," he answered, and I saw a twinkle in his eyes. "They know the place, and perhaps you may get more work out of them than I can; only take care they do not run away."
I guessed to whom he alluded; nor was I mistaken. We went out together, and he summoned Klitz and Barney, who were slowly working away with pick, axe, and spade.
"Men," he said, "you have claimed your discharge; you shall have it, if you are willing to go and take service at Roaring Water."
"Sure, with the greatest pleasure in me life; there's not a finer gintleman on this side of the Atlantic than Mr. Crockett," said Barney.
Klitz simply gave a grunt of acquiescence.
The whole matter was arranged; and they were to return with me the next day. I was also glad to obtain two more men, who, though they belonged to that class of individuals known as "Uncle Sam's bad bargains," and might be lazy rascals when labouring for a Government for which they did not care a cent, turned out to be very ready to serve a master who treated them kindly and paid them well. As we travelled along they showed no inclination to decamp, but chatted and laughed, each in his own style—Barney being undoubtedly the leading wit of the party. They were heartily welcome at Roaring Water, and both Klitz and Barney showed that they were willing and able to work. The only thing which seemed to put the German out was when any allusion was made to a wheel-barrow.
We had just begun active operations when Winnemak came to see his daughter. Maysotta, however, had no inclination to return with him, and begged that she might remain to assist her new friend, from whom she was hearing more wonderful things daily, as well as gaining more knowledge. Winnemak offered us the services of some of his men, who were willing to work for wages; and although they were not equal to the worst of the white men, yet, by Uncle Jeff's good management, they were made very useful.
From some passing emigrant trains we obtained a good supply of tools,—axes and saws,—and we were busily at work from sunrise to sunset. Clarice and Rachel had succeeded in recovering some of the cattle, pigs, and poultry which had strayed, and in a short time the farm began to assume something of its former appearance.
I had, one afternoon, come back from the forest in which we obtained our timber, in order to get a fresh axe in place of one which I had broken, when I found Maysotta alone in the hut. On asking for Clarice, I was told she had gone to the cool fountain for a pitcher of water. It struck me that something was amiss with the Indian girl, but what it was I could not tell. I was going on to the mill, where I expected to find an axe, when Maysotta added,—
"The young white chief, from the fort out there, came here just now inquiring for you. When he heard that Clarice was at the spring, he hastened off in that direction, without seeming to regard me."
Having obtained the axe, I set off after Manley, whom I was anxious to see, and as I got near the spring I heard him in conversation with my sister.