"When darkness came, I would have crawled toward the camp, but I could not; and I lay all night in the cave, chafing with the pain of my wound, and listening to the howling of the wolves. That was a terrible night.
"Morning dawned again, and I could hear no sounds. I was now suffering dreadfully, both from hunger and thirst. I saw a well-known tree growing in front of the cave. I knew it, because the same tree is found upon the mountains of the Mimbres, near our mine. It was a species of pine, called by the Mexicans 'pinon,' whose cones afford food to thousands of the miserable savages who roam over the great western Desert from the Rocky Mountains to California. If I could only reach this tree, I might find some of its nuts upon the ground; and, with this hope, I dragged myself painfully out of the cave. It was not twenty paces from the rocks where the tree grew; yet, with my weakness and the pain of my wound, I was nearly half an hour in reaching it. To my joy, I found the ground under it covered with cones. I was not long in stripping off the rinds of many of them, and getting the seeds, which I ate greedily, until I had satisfied my hunger.
"But another appetite far more terrible was craving me—I was tortured with thirst. Could I crawl as far as the camp? I knew that there I should find water in the stream; and, from the position of the cave, I knew I could not find it nearer. I must either reach it or die; and, with this thought to spur me on, I commenced the short journey of three hundred yards, although I was not certain I might live to see the end of it. I had not crawled six paces through the underwood, when a bunch of small white flowers attracted my attention. They were the flowers of the sorrel-tree—the beautiful lyonia—the very sight of which sent a thrill of gladness through my heart. I was soon under the tree, and, clutching one of its lowermost branches, I stripped it of its smooth, serrated leaves, and eagerly chewed them. Another and another branch were successively divested of their foliage, until the little tree looked as if a flock of goats had been breakfasting upon it. I lay for nearly an hour masticating the soft leaves, and swallowing their delicious and acid juice. At length my thirst was alleviated, and I fell asleep under the cool shadow of the lyonia.
"When I awoke again, I felt much stronger, and with new appetite to eat. The fever which had begun to threaten me was much allayed; and I knew this was to be attributed to the virtue of the leaves I had eaten—for besides relieving thirst, the sap of the sorrel-tree is a most potent febrifuge. Gathering a fresh quantity of the leaves, and tying them together, I again set out for the pinon-tree. I took the leaves with me, so that I should not have to make the return trip to the sorrel that night again. In a few minutes I had reached the end of my journey, and was busy among the cones. You laugh at my calling it a journey; but I assure you it was a most painful one to me, although it was not ten paces from one tree to the other. The slightest motion agonised me.
"That night I passed under the pinon, and in the morning, having made my breakfast of the seeds, I collected my pockets full, and set out again for the sorrel-tree. Here I spent the day; and with a fresh cargo of leaves returned at night to the pinon, where I again slept.
"Thus, for four successive days and nights, I passed between these two brave trees, living upon the sustenance they afforded. The fever was luckily warded off by the leaves of the friendly lyonia. My wound began to heal, and the pain left it. The wolves came at intervals; but, seeing my long knife, and that I still lived, they kept at a wary distance.
"Although the leaves of the sorrel assuaged my thirst, they did not satisfy it. I longed for a good draught of water; and, on the fourth day, I set out for the stream. I was now able to creep upon my hands and one knee, dragging the wounded limb after me. When I had got about half-way through the underwood, I came upon an object that almost congealed the blood in my veins. It was a human skeleton. I knew it was not that of a man—I knew it was—"
Here the voice of the miner became choked with sobs, and he was unable to finish the sentence. Nearly all in the room—even the rude hunters— wept as they beheld his emotion. After an effort he continued:—
"I saw that she had been buried; and I wondered at this, for I knew the Indians had not done it. I was never certain until this hour who had performed for her that sacred rite. I thought, however, it must have been you; for after I had recovered I went back upon the trail; and, not finding your wagon anywhere, I knew you must have come on to the camp, and gone away again. I looked in every direction to find which way you had gone; but, as you will remember, there was a heavy fall of rain shortly after, and that had obliterated every track. All this happened after I was able to get upon my feet, which was not for a month after the night of the massacre. But let me go back in my narrative to where I had found the remains of my poor wife.
"The wolves had torn the body from its grave. I looked for some vestige of my child. With my hands I dug down into the loose mould and leaves, which you had thrown over her body; but no infant was there. I crawled on to the camp. I found that, just as you have described it—except that the bodies were now bleaching skeletons, and the wolves had taken their departure. I searched around, on all sides, thinking I might find some traces of my little Luisa; but in vain. 'The Indians have either carried the child away,' thought I, 'or the fierce wolves have devoured it altogether.'
"In one of the wagons I found an old mess-chest lying hid under some rubbish. It had escaped the hurried plunder of the savages. On opening it, I saw that it contained, among other things, some coffee and several pounds of jerked meat. This was a fortunate event, for the meat and coffee nourished me, until I was able to gather a sufficient quantity of the pinons.
"In this way I spent a whole month, sleeping in one of the wagons at night, and crawling off to collect pinons during the day. I had but little fear that the Indians would return; for I knew that that part of the country was not inhabited by any tribe; and we must have fallen in with a party of the Arapahoes, wandering out of their usual range. As soon as I grew strong enough, I dug a grave, where I interred the remains of my poor wife; and now I began to think of taking my leave of that melancholy scene.
"I knew that I was not much more than a hundred miles distant from the eastern settlements of New Mexico; but a hundred miles of uninhabited wilderness, and on foot, was a barrier that seemed almost as impassable as the ocean itself. I was determined, however, to make the attempt; and I set about sewing a bag in which I should carry my roasted pinons— the only provision I could get to sustain me through the journey.
"While engaged in this operation, with my eyes fixed upon the work, I heard footsteps near me. I raised my head suddenly, and in alarm. What was my joy, when I saw that the object which had startled me was neither more nor less than a mule, that was slowly coming towards the camp! I recognised it as one of the mules that had belonged to our caravan.
"The animal had not yet observed me; and I thought it might shy away, if I showed myself too suddenly. I resolved, therefore, to capture it by stratagem. I crept into the wagon, where I knew there was a lazo; and having got hold of this, I placed myself in ambush, where I saw the mule would most likely pass. I had scarcely got the noose ready, when, to my extreme satisfaction, the mule came directly to where I lay expecting it. The next moment its neck was firmly grasped in the loop of the lazo, and the animal itself stood tied to the tongue of one of the wagons. It was one of our mules that had escaped from the Indians, and after wandering over the country for weeks had now found the track, and would, no doubt, had I not caught it, have found its way back to Saint Louis; for this is by no means an unfrequent occurrence with animals that stray off from the caravans. It soon became tame with me, and in a few days more I had manufactured a bridle and saddle; and, mounting with my bag of roasted pinons, I rode off on the trail for Santa Fe. In about a week I reached that place in safety, and continued my journey southward to the mine.
"My history since that time can have but little interest for any of you. It is that of a man sorrowing for the loss of all he loved on earth. But you, Rolfe, you have given me new life in restorer; to me my child, my Luisa; and every chapter of your history, woven as it is with hers, will be to me, at least, of the deepest interest. Go on then,—go on!"
With this the miner concluded; and our host, after inviting each of us to re-fill our cups with wine, and our pipes with tobacco, resumed his narrative where he had left it off, in consequence of the happy, but unexpected episode, to which it had led.
LOST IN THE DESERT.
"Well, my friends," proceeded our host, "it was a terrible sight to look upon—those fierce, gaunt wolves—the mad and foaming mastiffs—the dead mother, and the terrified and screaming child. Of course, the wolves fled at the approach of myself and Cudjo, and the dogs whimpered with delight. Well they might, poor brutes! for had we not come to their aid, they could not have held out much longer against such fearful odds. Although the battle had not been a long one, and commenced most likely after we had driven the wolves from the camp, yet the poor mastiffs were torn and bleeding in many places. As I stooped down to take up the little Luisa, she still clung close around the neck of her mother, crying for her 'mamma' to awake. I saw that her mamma would never wake again. She was lifeless and cold. There was an arrow in her breast. It was plain, that after receiving this wound she had fled into the thicket—no doubt followed by the faithful dogs—and, favoured by the darkness, had kept on, until she had fallen and died. The position of her arms showed that she had breathed her last clasping her child to her bosom.
"Leaving Cudjo to guard the body, I carried the child back to my own wagon. Although so lately terrified with the battle of the wolves and dogs, the little creature cried at being separated from its mother, and struggled in my arms to be taken back."
Here Rolfe's narrative was again interrupted by the sobs of McKnight, who—although a firm, lion-hearted man—could not restrain himself on listening to these painfully affecting details. The children of Rolfe, too, repeatedly wept aloud. The "dark sister" herself seemed least affected of all. Perhaps that terrible scene, occurring at such an early period of her life, had impressed her character with the firmness and composure which afterwards marked it. Every now and then she bent towards the "fair one," throwing her arms around the neck of the latter, and endeavouring to restrain her tears.
"I gave the child to my wife," continued Rolfe, after a pause, "and in the company of little Mary, then about her own age, she soon ceased crying, and fell asleep in my wife's bosom. I took a spade which I had in my wagon, and going back dug a grave; and, with the help of Cudjo, hastily interred the body. I say hastily, for we did not know the moment we might stand in need of some one to do as much for ourselves. It seems that our labour was in vain; yet even had we known this was to be the case, we should not the less have acted as we did. There was some satisfaction in performing this last sacred and Christian ceremony for our murdered friend; and both Cudjo and I felt it to be nothing more than our duty.
"We did not remain any longer near the spot, but hastening back to our wagon, I led the oxen in among some trees, where they might be hidden from view. Commending my wife and little ones to God, I shouldered my rifle, and set out—for the purpose of discovering whether the savages had left the place, and in what direction they had gone. It was my intention, should I be able to satisfy myself about the road they had taken, to go by some other course, yet by one that would bring me back into the trail, so that I could go on to the country of New Mexico. I knew very well that at that late season, and with oxen worn-out, as ours were, I could never get back to Saint Louis—which was nearly eight hundred miles distant.
"After proceeding a mile or two—creeping through bushes, and skulking behind rocks—I saw the trail of the Indians striking out into an open plain, in a due westerly direction. They must have formed a large band, and all mounted, as the tracks of their horses testified. Seeing that they had moved off westward, I formed the resolution of making two or three days' journey to the south, and afterwards turning in a westerly direction. This would most likely secure me from meeting them again, and would bring me, as I guessed, to the eastern ranges of the Rocky Mountains through which I might pass into the valley of New Mexico. I had heard my companions speak of a more southern pass through these mountains, than that which lies near Santa Fe; and I hoped to be able to reach it, although I believed it to be two hundred miles distant. With these plans in my mind, I returned to where I had left my little party.
"It was night when I got back to the wagon, and I found Mary and the children in great distress at my delay; but I had brought them good news—that the Indians were gone away.
"I first thought of remaining all night where we were; but, not being yet fully satisfied that the Indians were gone, I changed my intention. Seeing that we were to have a moon, and that a smooth plain stretched away towards the south, I concluded that it would be better to make a night journey of it, and put twenty miles, if possible, between us and the camp. All agreed with this proposal. In fact, we were all equally anxious to get away from that fearful spot; and had we stayed by it, not one of us could have slept a wink. The apprehension that the savages might return, and the excited state of our feelings—to say nothing of the terrible howling of the wolves—would have kept us awake; so, resolving to take our departure, we waited for the rising of the moon.
"We did not waste time, my friends. You all know that water is the great want in these deserts, both for man and beast. We knew not where or when we might next find it; so we took the precaution to fill our vessels at the stream. We filled all we had that would hold water. Alas! these were not enough, as you shall hear.
"The moon rose at length. She seemed to smile upon the horrid picture that lay below at the deserted camp; but we stayed no longer to contemplate it. Leading our oxen out of their cache, we struck out into the open plain, in a direction as nearly south as I could guide myself. I looked northward for the star in the tail of the Little Bear—the polar star—which I soon found by the pointers of the Ursa Major; and keeping this directly on our backs, we proceeded on. Whenever the inequalities of the ground forced us out of our track, I would again turn to this little star, and consult its unfailing index. There it twinkled in the blue heavens like the eye of a friend. It was the finger of God pointing us onward.
"And onward we went—here creeping around some gaping fissure, that opened across our track—there wading over a sandy swell—and anon rolling briskly along the smooth, herbless plain; for the country we were passing through was a parched and treeless desert.
"We made a good night's journey of it, cheered by the prospect of escaping from the savages. When day broke, we were twenty miles from the camp. The rough hills that surrounded it were completely lost to our view, and we knew from this that we had travelled a long way; for some of these hills were of great height. We knew that we must have passed over a considerable arc of the earth's surface before their tops could have sunk below the horizon. Of course, some intervening ridges, such as the sandy swells I have mentioned, helped to hide them from our view; but, at all events, we had the satisfaction of knowing that the savages, even had they returned to the camp, could not now see us from that point. We only feared the chances of their discovering our tracks, and following us. Urged by this apprehension, we did not halt when the day broke, but kept on until near noontide. Then we drew up—for our oxen, as well as the horse, were completely tired out, and could go no farther without rest.
"It was but a poor rest for them—with neither grass nor water—not a blade of anything green except the artemisia plant, the wild wormwood—which, of course, neither horse nor oxen would touch. This grew all around us in low thickets. Its gnarled and twisted bushes, with their white silvery leaves, so far from gladdening the eye, only served to render the scene more dreary and desolate—for we knew that this plant denoted the extreme barrenness of the soil. We knew that, wherever it grew, the desert was around it.
"It was, indeed, but a poor rest for our animals—for the hot sun glanced down upon them during the noon hours, making them still more thirsty. We could not afford them a drop of the precious water; for we ourselves were oppressed with extreme thirst, and our stock was hourly diminishing. It was as much as we could to spare a small quantity to the dogs, Castor and Pollux.
"Long before night, we once more yoked to the oxen, and continued our journey, in the hope of reaching some stream or spring. By sunset we had made ten miles farther to the south, but no landmark as yet appeared in sight—nothing to indicate the presence of water. We could see nothing around us but the sterile plain stretching on all sides to the horizon—not even a bush, or rock, or the form of a wild animal, relieved the monotonous expanse. We were as much alone, as if we had been in an open boat in the middle of the ocean!
"We began to grow alarmed, and to hesitate. Should we go back? No, that would never do. Even had the prospect at the end of a backward journey been more cheering, we felt uncertain whether we might be able to reach the stream we had just left. We should surely reach water as soon by keeping forward; and with this thought we travelled on through all the livelong night.
"When morning came, I again surveyed the horizon, but could see no object along its level line. I was riding gloomily alongside the poor oxen, watching their laborious efforts, when a voice sounded in my ears. It was that of Frank, who was standing in the fore part of the wagon, looking out from under the tilt.
"'Papa! papa!' cried he, 'look at the pretty white cloud!'
"I looked up at the boy, to see what he meant. I saw that he was pointing to the south-east, and I turned my eyes in that direction. I uttered an exclamation of joy, which startled my companions; for I saw that what Frank had taken for a white cloud was the snowy cap of a mountain! I might have seen it before, had my eyes been searching in that quarter; but they were not, as I was examining the sky more towards the south and west.
"Guided by no very extraordinary experience, I knew that where there was snow there must be water; and, without another word, I directed Cudjo to head his oxen for the mountain. It was out of the way we wanted to go; but we thought not of that, for the saving of our lives had now come to be the only question with us.
"The mountain was still twenty miles distant. We could have seen it much farther off, but we had been travelling through the night. The question was, would our oxen be able to reach it? They were already tottering in their tracks. If they should break down, could we reach it? Our water was all gone, and we were suffering from thirst as the sun rose. A river, thought I, must run from the mountain, fed by the melting of its snows. Perhaps we might come to this river before arriving at the mountain-foot. But, no;—the plain evidently sloped down from us to the mountain. Whatever stream ran from it must go the other way. We should find no water before reaching the mountain— perhaps, not then; and, tortured with these doubts, we pushed gloomily forward.
"By noon the oxen began to give out. One of them fell dead, and we left him. The other three could not go much farther. Every article that was of no present use was thrown from the wagon to lighten it, and left lying on the plain; but still the poor brutes were scarce able to drag it along. We went at a snail's pace.
"A short rest might recruit the animals, but I could not bring myself to halt again, as my heart was agonised by the cries of my suffering children. Mary bore up nobly; so, too, did the boys. For myself, I could not offer a word of consolation, for I knew that we were still ten miles from the foot of the mountain. I thought of the possibility of riding on ahead, and bringing back some water in the vessels; but I saw that my horse could never stand it. He was even now unable to carry me, and I was afoot, leading him. Cudjo also walked by the side of the oxen. Another of these now gave up, and only two remained to drag the vehicle.
"At this terrible moment several objects appeared before us on the plain, that caused me to cry out with delight. They were dark-green masses, of different sizes—the largest of them about the size of a bee cap. They looked like a number of huge hedge hogs rolled up, and presenting on all sides their thorny spikes. On seeing them, I dropped my horse; and, drawing my knife, ran eagerly forward. My companions thought I had gone mad, not understanding why I should have drawn my knife on such harmless-looking objects, and not knowing what they were. But I knew well what they were: I knew they were the globe cacti.
"In a moment's time I had peeled the spikelets from several of them; and as the wondering party came up, and saw the dark-green succulent vegetables, with the crystal water oozing out of their pores, they were satisfied that I had not gone mad.
"In a short while, we had cut the huge spheroids into slices, which we chewed with avidity. We set some of them also before the horse and oxen, both of which devoured them greedily, sap, fibres, and all; while the dogs lapped the cool liquid wherever they were cut.
"It is true, that this did not quench thirst, in the same way that a drink of water would have done; but it greatly relieved us, and would, perhaps, enable us to reach the mountain. We resolved to halt for a short while, in order to rest the oxen. Unfortunately, the relief had come too late for one of them. It had been his last stretch; and when we were about to start again, we found that he had lain down and was unable to rise. We saw that we must leave him; and, taking such harness as we could find, we put the horse in his place, and moved onward. We were in hopes of finding another little garden of cactus plants; but none appeared, and we toiled on, suffering as before.
"When we had got within about five miles of the mountain-foot, the other ox broke down, and fell—as we supposed—dead. We could take the wagon no farther; but it was no time either to hesitate or halt: we must try it afoot, or perish where we were.
"I loosed out the horse, and left him to his will—I saw he was no longer able to carry any of us. I took an axe from the wagon—also a tin-pot, and a piece of dry beef that still remained to us. Cudjo shouldered the axe and little Mary; I carried the beef, the pot, Luisa, and my rifle; while my wife, Frank, and Harry, each held something in their hands. Thus burdened, we bade adieu to the wagon, and struck off toward the mountain. The dogs followed; and the poor horse, not willing to be left behind, came tottering after.
"There is not much more of that journey to be detailed. We toiled through the five miles the best way we could. As we drew nearer to the mountain, we could see deep dark ravines running down its sides, and in the bottom of one we distinguished a silvery thread, which we knew was the foam of water as it dashed over the rocks. The sight gave us new energy, and in another hour we had reached the banks of a crystal stream, and were offering thanks for our deliverance."
ADVENTURE WITH AN ARMADILLO.
"Well, my friends, we had arrived on the banks of a rivulet, and were thanking God for bringing us safely there. We soon satisfied our thirst, as you may believe, and began to look around us. The stream we had reached was not that which runs into the valley here, but altogether on the other side of the mountain. It was but a mere rill, and I saw that several similar ones issued from the ravines, and after running a short distance into the plain, fell off toward the south-east, and united with others running from that side. I found afterwards that they all joined into the same channel, forming a considerable river, which runs from this elevated plain in an easterly direction; and which I take to be a head-water of the Great Red River of Louisiana, or perhaps of the Brazos, or Colorado, of Texas. I have called it a considerable river. That is not quite correct; for although, where they all unite, they form a good-sized body of water, yet twenty miles farther down, for three-fourths of the year the channel is perfectly dry; and that is the case I know not how far beyond. The water, which passes from the mountain at all times, is either evaporated by the hot sun, or sinks into the sands of its own bed, during a run of twenty miles. It is only in times of great rain—a rare occurrence here—or when very hot weather melts an unusual quantity of the snow, that there is water enough to carry the stream over a flat sandy tract which stretches away to the eastward. All these things I found out afterwards, and as you, my friends, know them to be common phenomena of the Desert, I shall not now dwell upon them.
"I saw that, where we were, there was but little chance of getting anything to eat. The sides of the mountain were rugged and grim, with here and there a stunted cedar hanging from the rocks. The small patches of grass and willows that lined the banks of the little rills— although cheering to the eye, when compared with the brown barrenness of the Desert—offered but little prospect that we should get any thing to eat there. If the Desert stretched away to the south of the mountain, as we saw that it did to the north, east, and west, then we had only reached a temporary resting-place, and we might still perish, if not from thirst, from what was equally bad—hunger.
"This was uppermost in our thoughts at the time,—for we had not eaten a morsel during that day; so we turned our attention to the piece of dried meat.
"'Let us cook it, and make a soup,' said Mary; 'that will be better for the children.' My poor wife! I saw that the extreme fatigue she had undergone had exhausted her strength, yet still she endeavoured to be cheerful.
"'Yes, papa, let us make soup; soup is very nice,' added Frank, trying to cheer his mother by showing that he was not dismayed.
"'Very well, then,' I replied. 'Come, Cudjo, shoulder your axe, and let us to the mountain for wood. Yonder are some pine-trees near the foot,—they will make an excellent fire.'
"So Cudjo and I started for the wood, which was growing about three hundred yards distant, and close in to the rocks where the stream came down.
"As we drew nearer to the trees, I saw that they were not pine-trees, but very different indeed. Both trunks and branches had long thorny spikes upon them like porcupine's quills, and the leaves were of a bright shining green, pinnate with small oval leaflets. But what was most singular was the long bean-shaped pods that hung down thickly from the branches. These were about an inch and a half in breadth, and some of them not less than twelve inches in length. They were of a reddish-brown, nearly a claret colour. Except in the colour, they looked exactly like large bean-pods filled with beans.
"I was not ignorant of what species of tree was before us. I had seen it before. I knew it was the honey-locust, or thorny acacia,—the carob-tree of the East, and the famed 'algarobo' of the Spaniards.
"I was not ignorant of its uses neither,—for I knew this to be the tree upon which (as many suppose) Saint John the Baptist sustained himself in the Desert, where it is said, 'his meat was locusts and wild honey.' Hence it is sometimes called, 'Saint John's bread.' Neither was Cudjo ignorant of its value. The moment his eyes rested upon the long brown legumes, he cried out, with gestures of delight:—
"'Massa—Massa Roff, lookee yonder!—beans and honey for supper!'
"We were soon under the branches: and while I proceeded to knock down and collect a quantity of the ripe fruit. Cudjo went farther up among the rocks, to procure his firewood from the pines that grew there.
"I soon filled my handkerchief, and was waiting for Cudjo, when I heard him shout,—
"'Massa Roff! come dis away, and see de varmint—what him be.'
"I immediately ran up among the rocks. On reaching the spot where Cudjo was, I found him bending over a crevice or hole in the ground, from which protruded an object very much like the tail of a pig.
"'What is it, Cudjo?' I asked.
"'Don't know, Massa. Varmint I never see in Vaginny—looks someting like de ole 'possum.'
"'Catch hold of the tail, and pull him out,' said I.
"'Lor! Massa Roff, I've tried ma best, but can't fetch 'im no how. Look yar!' And so saying, my companion seized the tail, and pulled— seemingly with all his might—but to no purpose.
"'Did you see the animal when it was outside?' I inquired.
"'Yes, Massa; see 'im and chase 'im 'till I tree him yar in dis cave.'
"'What was it like?'
"'Berry like a pig—maybe more belike ole 'possum, but cubberd all ober wi' shell like a Vaginny turtle.'
"'Oh! then—it is an armadillo.'
"'An amadiller! Cudjo niver hear o' dat varmint afore.'
"I saw that the animal which had so astonished my companion was one of those curious living things—which Nature, in giving variety to her creatures, has thought proper to form—and which are known throughout Mexico and South America by the name of 'armadilloes.' They are so called from the Spanish word 'armado,' which signifies armed—because all over their body there is a hard, shell-like covering divided into bands and regular figures, exactly like the coats-of-mail worn by the warriors of ancient times. There is even a helmet covering the head, connected with the other parts of the armour by a joint, which renders this resemblance still more complete and singular. There are many species of these animals; some of them as large as a full-sized sheep, but the generality of them are much smaller. The curious figuring of the shell that covers them differs in the different species. In some the segments are squares, in others hexagons, and in others, again, they are of a pentagonal shape. In all of them, however, the figures have a mathematical form and precision, that is both strange and beautiful. They look as though they were artificial,—that is, carved by the hand of man. They are harmless creatures, and most of the species feed upon herbs and grass. They do not run very nimbly, though they can go much faster than one would suppose, considering the heavy armour which they carry. This, however, is not all in one shell, but in many pieces connected together by a tough, pliable skin. Hence they can use their limbs with sufficient ease. They are not such slow travellers as the turtles and tortoises. When they are pursued and overtaken, they sometimes gather themselves into a round ball, as hedgehogs do; and if they should happen to be near the edge of a precipice they will roll themselves over to escape from their enemy. More often when pursued they betake themselves to their holes, or to any crevice among rocks that may be near; and this was evidently the case with that which Cudjo had surprised. When they can hide their heads, like the ostrich they fancy themselves safe; and so, no doubt, thought this one, until he felt the sinewy fingers of Cudjo grasping him by the tail. It was evident the animal had run into a shallow crack where he could get no farther, else we would soon have lost sight of his tail; but it was equally evident, that pulling by that appendage was not the method to get him out. I could see that he had pushed the scaly armour outward and upward, so that it held fast against the rocks on every side. Moreover, his claws, which are remarkable both for length and tenacity, were clutched firmly against the bottom of the crevice. It would have taken a team of oxen to have pulled him out, as Cudjo remarked with a grin.
"I had heard of a plan used by the Indians who hunt the armadillo, and are very fond of his flesh; and as I was determined to try it, I told my companion to let go the tail, and stand to one side.
"I now knelt down in front of the cave, and, taking a small branch of cedar, commenced tickling the hind-quarters of the animal with the sharp needles. In a moment I saw that his muscles began to relax, as the shell to separate from the rocks, and close in toward his body. After continuing the operation for some minutes, I observed that he had reduced himself to his natural size, and had no doubt forgotten to keep a look-out with his claws. Seeing this, I seized the tail firmly; and, giving it a sudden jerk, swung the armadillo out between the feet of my companion. Cudjo aimed a blow with the axe which nearly severed its head from its body, and killed the animal outright. It was about the size of a rabbit, and proved to be of the eight-banded species—reckoned more delicious eating than any other.
"We now returned to camp with our firewood, our locust-beans, and our armadillo—the last of which horrified my wife, when I told her I was going to eat it. It proved a great curiosity to the boys, however, who amused themselves by running their fingers all over its mottled armour. But I had something that amused the little Mary and Luisa still more— the delicious, honey-like pulp from the pods of the locust-tree, which they greedily ate. The seeds we extracted from the pulp, intending to roast them as soon as we had kindled our fire.
"And now, my friends," continued Rolfe, rising to his feet, "since we have got to talking about this same locust-tree, I hope you will not refuse to try a mug of my home-brewed beer, which I made out of its beans this very day, while you were wandering about my grounds and through the valley. It is, perhaps, not equal to Barclay and Perkins'; but I flatter myself that, under the circumstances, you will not find it unpalatable."
Saying this, our host brought forward a large flagon, and pouring into our cups a brown-coloured liquid, set them before us. We all drank of the "locust beer," which was not unlike mead or new cider; and to prove that we liked it, we drank again and again.
This ceremony over Rolfe once more resumed his narrative.
A VERY LEAN BUFFALO.
"We were all soon engaged in different occupations. Mary was preparing the dried meat, which she intended to boil along with the locust-beans in our tin-pot. Fortunately, it was a large one, and held nearly a gallon. Cudjo was busy kindling the fire, which already sent up its volumes of blue smoke. Frank, Harry, and the little ones, were sucking away at the natural preserves of the acacia, while I was dressing my armadillo for the spit. In addition to this, our horse was filling out his sides upon the rich buffalo-grass that grew along the stream; and the dogs—poor fellows! they were like to fare worst of all—stood watching my operations, and snapped eagerly at every scrap that fell from my knife. In a very short while the fire was blazing up, the beef and beans were bubbling over it in the tin-pot, and the armadillo was sputtering on the spit beside them. In another short while all things were cooked and ready to be eaten.
"We now remembered that we had neither plates, glasses, knives, forks, nor spoons—yes, Cudjo and I had our hunting-knives; and, as it was no time to be nice, with these we fished the pieces of meat and some of the beans out of the soup-pot, and placed them upon a clean, flat stone. For the soup itself, we immersed the lower part of the pot into the cool water of the stream, so that in a short time Mary and the children could apply the edge of it to their lips, and drink of it in turn.
"As for Cudjo and myself, we did not want any of the soup. We were altogether for the 'substantials.'
"I thought, at first, I should have all the armadillo to myself. Even Cudjo, who in 'ole Vaginny' had bolted 'coons, 'possums, and various other 'varmints,' for a long time hung back. Seeing, however, that I was eating with evident relish, he held out his sable paw, and desired me to help him to a small piece. Having once tasted it, the ice of his appetite seemed to be all at once broken, and he kept asking for more, and then for more, until I began to fear he would not leave me enough for my own support.
"Neither Mary nor the boys, however, would consent to share with us, although I assured them, what was positively the fact, that what I was eating was equal in delicacy of flavour to the finest roast pig—a dish, by the way, to which the armadillo bears a very great resemblance.
"The sun was now setting, and we began to think how we were to pass the night. We had left all our blankets in the wagon, and the air was fast becoming cold, which is always the case in the neighbourhood of snowy mountains. This is easily explained. The atmosphere getting cool upon the peak, where it envelopes the snow, of course becomes heavier, and keeps constantly descending around the base of the mountain, and pushing up and out that air which is warmer and lighter. In fact, there was a sensible breeze blowing down the sides of the mountain—caused by these natural laws—and it had already made us chilly, after the burning heat through which we had been travelling. Should we sleep in this cold atmosphere—even though we should keep up a fire during the whole night—I knew that we must suffer much.
"The thought now entered my mind, that I might go back to the wagon— which was only five miles off—and bring up our blankets. Should I go myself, or send Cudjo, or should both of us go? All at once the idea came into my head that one of us might ride there, and bring back a load of other articles, as well as the blankets. Our horse, who had been filling himself for the last hour and a half with good grass and water, already began to show symptoms of life and vigour. Animals of this kind soon recover from fatigue, when their food and drink are restored to them. I saw that he would be quite able to do the journey, so I gave Cudjo directions to catch him. There happened to be a piece of rope around his neck, and this would serve for a bridle. I hesitated for some time, whether both Cudjo and I should leave Mary and the children; but my wife urged us to go, telling us she would have no fear, as long as Harry and Frank with their rifles remained with her. The dogs, too, would stay. Indeed, there was not much danger of their leaving her, while she held in her arms the little Luisa, whom both these animals seemed to watch over.
"Influenced by her advice, I consented to leave her alone with the children; and, giving directions that they should fire off one of the rifles, in case of any alarm, I set forth, with Cudjo and the horse.
"We could see the white tilt of the wagon from the very start; and we had no difficulty in guiding ourselves to it.
"As we passed onward, I was reflecting whether the wolves had not already made a meal of our poor ox that we had left by the wagon. If not, it was my intention to skin him, and save the meat, lean and tough as it must be—for the animal, when we left him, looked like some dry skeleton to be preserved in a museum. Still I saw before us no prospect of a better breakfast, and I began to grow very anxious as to whether we might find a bit of him left. At this moment, I was startled from my reflections by an exclamation from Cudjo, who had stopped suddenly, and was pointing to some object directly ahead of us. I looked forward; and saw in the dim light something that very much resembled a large quadruped.
"'P'raps, Massa,' whispered Cudjo, 'him be de buffler.'
"'Perhaps it is a buffalo; but what is to be done? I have left my rifle. Here! take the horse, and I will endeavour to get near enough to kill it with my pistols.'
"Giving Cudjo the horse, and cautioning him to be silent, I drew the largest of my pistols, and crept silently forward. I went upon my hands and knees, and very slowly, so as not to give the animal an alarm. As I got nearer, I felt sure it was a buffalo; but the moon had not yet risen, and I could see its form but very indistinctly. At length, I believed I had it within range of my pistol; at least, thought I, if I go any nearer it will make off; so I halted—still upon my knees—and made ready to fire. As I raised my weapon, the horse suddenly neighed; and, in answer to his neigh, the strange animal uttered a loud roar, which I knew to be nothing else than the bellowing of an ox! And so it proved, as it was neither more nor less than our own ox, who had left the wagon, and was slowly making his way for the mountain. The cool air had somewhat revived him, and instinct, or a knowledge of the way we had gone, was guiding him in that direction.
"I know not whether I was more pleased or disappointed at meeting our old companion. A good fat buffalo would have been more welcome at the time than a famished ox; but when I reflected that he might yet help us to get out of the Desert, I felt that we were fortunate in finding him still alive. The horse and he put their noses together, evidently pleased at again meeting each other; and I could not help thinking, as the ox shook his long tail, that the horse must have whispered to him about the nice grass and water that were so near. The ox had his reins upon him; and lest he might stray from the track, we tied him to a sage-bush, so that we might take him with us on our way back.
"We were about leaving him, when it occurred to me, that if the ox only had a little water, he might, along with the horse, enable us to bring the wagon up to the mountain. What a delightful surprise it would be to Mary, to see us return with ox, wagon, and all;—not only the blankets, but also our cups, pans, and cooking-pots, besides some coffee, and other little luxuries, that were stored away in our great chest! Ha! thought I, that would be delightful; and I immediately communicated the idea to Cudjo. My companion fully agreed with me, and believed it quite possible and practicable. We had brought along with us the tin-pot fall of cool water from the stream; but it was too narrow at the mouth, and the ox could not possibly drink out of it.
"'Let us gib it, Massa Roff,' advised Cudjo, 'in de ole hoss-bucket, once we gets 'im back to de wagon. Ya! ya! we gib Missa an abstonishment.' And my light-hearted companion laughed with delight, at the prospect of making his mistress happy on our return.
"Without farther parley, we unloosed the rein from the sage-bush, and led the ox back towards the wagon. Neither of us rode the horse, as we knew he would have enough to do in dragging up his share of the load.
"On reaching the wagon, we found everything as we had left it; but several large white wolves were prowling around; and, no doubt, it had been the sight of them that had roused the ox, and imparted to him the energy that had enabled him to get away from the spot.
"We soon found the bucket; and, pouring the water into it, set it before the ox, who drank every drop of it, and then licked the sides and bottom, of the vessel until they were quite dry. We now 'hitched to' both the animals; and, without more ado, drove off towards our little camp at the mountain.
"We guided ourselves by the fire, which we could see burning brightly under the dark shadow of the cliffs. Its blaze had a cheering effect on the spirits both of my companion and myself; and even the horse and ox seemed to understand that it would be the end of their journey, and pressed forward with alacrity to reach it.
"When within about half a mile, I heard the report of a rifle ringing among the rocks. I was filled with alarm. Were Mary and the children attacked by Indians?—perhaps by some savage animal?—perhaps by the grizzly bear?
"I did not hesitate a moment, but ran forward—leaving Cudjo with the wagon. I drew my pistol, and held it in readiness as I advanced, all the while listening eagerly to catch every sound that might come from the direction of the fire. Once or twice I stopped for short intervals to breathe and listen; but there were no noises from the camp! What could be the meaning of the silence? Where were the dogs? I knew that, had they been attacked by a grizzly bear, or any other animal, I should have heard their barks and worrying. But there was not a sound. Had they been killed all at once by Indian arrows, so silent in their deadly effect? O God! had my wife, and children too, fallen victims?
"Filled with painful apprehensions, I ran forward with increased energy, determined to rush into the midst of the enemy—whoever they might be— and sell my life as dearly as possible.
"At length, I came within full view of the fire. What was my astonishment, as well as joy, on seeing my wife sitting by the blaze, with little Luisa upon her knee, while Mary was playing upon the ground at her feet! But where were Harry and Frank? It was quite incomprehensible. I knew that they would not have fired the rifle to alarm me unnecessarily, yet there sat Mary as though no rifle had been fired!
"'What was it, dear Mary?' I cried, running up. 'Where are the boys?— they discharged the rifle, did they not?'
"'They did,' she replied; 'Harry fired at something.'
"'At what?—at what?' I inquired.
"'At some animal, I know not what kind; but I think they must have wounded it, for they all ran out, dogs and all, after the shot was fired, and have not yet come back.'
"'In what direction?' I asked hurriedly.
"Mary pointed out the direction; and, without waiting further, I ran off into the darkness. When about an hundred yards from the fire, I came upon Harry, Frank, and the mastiffs, standing over some animal which I saw was quite dead. Harry was not a little proud of the shot he had made, and expected me to congratulate him, which of course I did; and laying hold of the animal by one of its hind-legs—for it had no tail to lay hold of—I dragged it forward to the light of the fire. It appeared to be about the size of a sucking calf, though much more elegantly shaped, for its legs were long and slender, and its shanks not thicker than a common walking-cane. It was of a pale red colour, whitish along the breast and belly, but its large, languishing eyes and slender forking horns told me at once what sort of animal it was; it was the prong-horned antelope,—the only species of antelope found in North America.
"Mary new related the adventure. While they were sitting silently by the fire, and somewhat impatiently awaiting our return—for the wagon had delayed us considerably—they saw a pair of large eyes glancing in the darkness like two candles, and not many yards from where they sat. They could see nothing but the eyes; but this of itself was sufficient to alarm them, as they fancied it might be a wolf, or, perhaps still worse, a hear or panther. They did not lose presence of mind, however; and they knew that to escape by running away would be impossible; so both Frank and Harry took hold of their rifles—though Harry was foremost with his. He then aimed, as well as he could, between the two glancing eyes, and pulled trigger. Of course the smoke blinded them, and in the darkness they could not tell whether the bullet had hit the animal or not; but the dogs—who up to this time had been sleeping by the fire—sprang to their feet, and ran out in pursuit. They could hear them running for some distance, and then they heard a scramble and a struggle, and then they were silent; so they concluded—what afterwards proved to be the case—that Harry had wounded the animal, and that the dogs had caught, and were worrying it. And so they were, for as the boys got to the spot they had just killed it; and—hungry as they were— would soon have made a meal of it had Frank and Harry not got up in good time to prevent them. The antelope had been shot in the shoulder, and had only run for a short distance before it fell.
"Although Harry did not boast of his prowess, I saw that he had a triumphant look,—the more so as this fine piece of venison would ensure us all against hunger for three days at the least; and, considering that only an hour before we did not know where the next meal was to come from, it was certainly no small matter to be proud of. I thought just then of the surprise I had prepared for them, not only in bringing up the wagon which contained all our utensils and comforts, but in the recovery of our best ox.
"'Where is Cudjo?' asked my wife. 'Is he bringing the blankets?'
"'Yes,' said I, knowingly, 'and a good load besides.'
"At that moment was heard the creaking of wheels, and the great tilt of white canvass was seen, far out, reflecting back the blaze of the fire. Frank leaped to his feet, and, clapping his hands with delight, cried out,—
"'Mamma! mamma! it is the wagon!'
"Then was heard the loud voice of Cudjo in a joyous 'Wo-ha!' and the moment after, the horse and ox stepped up to the fire as lightly as if the pull had been a mere bagatelle; and they could have stood it an hundred miles farther without flinching. We were not slow in relieving both of them from their traces, and giving them a full swing at the grass and water.
"As it was now late in the night, and we were all very tired, from the fatigues we had undergone, we determined to lose no time in going to rest. Mary went to prepare a bed in the wagon,—for this was our only tent, and a very excellent tent it was, too. At the same time, Cudjo and I set about skinning the antelope, so that we might have it in fine order for our breakfast in the morning. The dogs, too, were interested in this operation,—for they, poor brutes, up to this time, had fared worse than any of us. However, the head, feet, and intestines, fell to their share; and they soon had a supper to their hearts' content. Having finished skinning the antelope, we tied a rope to its legs, and slung it up to the branch of a tree—high enough to be out of the reach of wolves, as well as our own dogs, during the night.
"Mary had by this time completed the arrangements for our sleeping; and but one thing more remained to be done before retiring to rest. That was a duty which we never neglected when circumstances admitted of its being performed. Mary knew this, and had brought out of the wagon the only book which it contained—the Bible. Cudjo turned up the pine logs upon the fire; and, seating ourselves around the blaze, I read from the Sacred Book those passages which were most appropriate to our own situation,—how God had preserved Moses and the children of Israel in the Desert Wilderness.
"Then, with clasped hands and grateful hearts, we all knelt, and offered thanks for our own almost miraculous deliverance."
"Next morning we were up by the earliest break of day, and had the pleasure of witnessing a beautiful phenomenon in the sunrise. The whole country to the east, as far as we could see, was a level plain; and the horizon, of course, resembled that of the ocean when calm. As the great yellow globe of the sun appeared above it, one could have fancied that he was rising out of the earth itself—although he was more than ninety millions of miles distant from any part of it. It was a beautiful sky into which the sun was slowly climbing up. It was of a pale blue colour, and without the smallest cloud—for on these high table-plains in the interior of America, you may often travel for days without seeing a cloud as big as a kite. We were all in better spirits, for we had rested well, and had no longer any fear of being followed by the savages who had massacred our companions. They would have been fools, indeed, to have made that dreadful journey for all they could have gotten from us. Moreover, the sight of our antelope, with its nice yellow fat, crisped by the cold night-air, was anything but disheartening. As Cudjo was a dexterous butcher, I allowed him to quarter it, while I shouldered the axe and marched off to the mountain-foot to procure more wood for the fire. Mary was busy among her pots, pans, and platters, scouring and washing them all in the clear stream—for the dust of the barren plains had blown into the wagon as we marched, and had formed a thick coating over the vessels. Fortunately we had a good stock of these utensils—consisting of a gridiron, a large camp-kettle, a couple of mess-pans, a baking-dish, a first-rate coffee-pot and mill, half-a-dozen tin-cups and plates, with an assortment of knives, forks, and spoons. All these things we had laid in at Saint Louis, by the advice of our Scotch friend, who know very well what articles were required for a journey across the Desert.
"I was not long in getting the wood, and our fire was soon replenished and blazing brightly. Mary attended to the coffee, which she parched in one of the mess-pans, and then ground in the mill. I handled the gridiron and broiled the venison-steaks, while Cudjo collected a large supply of locust-beans, and roasted them. These last were to serve us for bread, as we had neither meal nor flour. The supply we had brought from Saint Louis had been exhausted several days before; and we had lived altogether upon dried beef and coffee. Of this last article we were very sparing, as we had not over a pound of it left, and it was our most precious luxury. We had no sugar whatever, nor cream, but we did not mind the want of either, as those who travel in the wilderness find coffee very palatable without them—perhaps quite as much so as it is, when mixed with the whitest of sugar and the yellowest of cream, to the pampered appetites of those who live always at home. But, after all, we should not have to drink our coffee without sweetening, as I observed that Frank, while extracting the beans of the locust, was also scraping the honeyed pulp from the pods, and putting it to one side. He had already collected nearly a plate full. Well done, Frank!
"The great mess-chest had been lifted out of the wagon; and the lid of this, with a cloth spread over it, served us for a table. For seats we had rolled several large stones around the chest; and upon these we sat drinking the delicious coffee, and eating the savoury steaks of venison.
"While we were thus pleasantly engaged, I observed Cudjo suddenly rolling the whites of his eyes upwards, at the same time exclaiming,—
"'Golly! Massa—Massa—lookee yonder!'
"The rest of us turned quickly round—for we had been sitting with our backs to the mountain—and looked in the direction indicated by Cudjo. There were high cliffs fronting us; and along the face of these, five large reddish objects were moving, so fast, that I at first thought they were birds upon the wing. After watching them a moment, however, I saw that they were quadrupeds; but so nimbly did they go, leaping from ledge to ledge, that it was impossible to see their limbs. They appeared to be animals of the deer species—somewhat larger than sheep or goats—but we could see that, in place of antlers, each of them had a pair of huge curving horns. As they leaped downward, from one platform of the cliffs to another, we fancied that they whirled about in the air, as though they were 'turning somersaults,' and seemed at times to come down heads foremost!
"There was a spur of the cliff that sloped down to within less than a hundred yards of the place where we sat. It ended in an abrupt precipice of some sixty or seventy feet in height above the plain. The animals, on reaching the level of this spur, ran along it until they had arrived at its end. Seeing the precipice they suddenly stopped, as if to reconnoitre it; and we had now a full view of them, as they stood outlined against the sky, with their graceful limbs and great curved horns almost as large as their bodies. We thought, of course, they could get no farther for the precipice, and I was calculating whether my rifle—which I had laid hold of—would reach them at that distance. All at once, to our astonishment, the foremost sprang out from the cliff; and whirling through the air, lit upon his head on the hard plain below!" We could see that he came down upon his horns, and rebounding up again to the height of several feet, turned a second somersault, and then dropped upon his legs, and stood still! Nothing daunted the rest followed, one after the other in quick succession, like so many street-tumblers, and like them—after the feat had been performed—the animals stood for a moment, as if waiting for applause!
"The spot where they had dropped was not more than fifty paces from our camp; but I was so astonished at the tremendous leap, that I quite forgot the rifle I held in my hands. The animals, too, seemed equally astonished upon discovering us—which they now did for the first time. The yelping of the dogs, who rushed forward at the moment, brought me to myself again, as it did also the strangers to a sense of their dangerous proximity; and, wheeling suddenly, they bounded back for the mountain. I fired after them at random; but we all supposed without effect, as the whole five kept on to the foot of the mountain, followed by the dogs. Presently they commenced ascending, as though they had wings; but we noticed that one of them hung in the rear, and seemed to leap upward with difficulty. Upon this one our eyes became fixed, as we now fancied it was wounded. We were right in this. The rest soon disappeared out of sight; but that which lagged behind, on leaping for a high ledge, came short in the attempt, and rolled backward down the face of the mountain. The next moment we saw him struggling between the mastiffs.
"Cudjo, frank, and Harry, ran together up the steep; and soon returned, bringing the animal along with them quite dead—as the dogs had put an end to him. It was a good load for Cudjo, and proved upon closer acquaintance to be as large as a fallow-deer. From the huge wrinkled horns, and other marks, I knew it to be the argali, or wild sheep, known among hunters by the name of the 'bighorn,' and sometimes spoken of in books as the 'Rocky Mountain sheep,' although in its general appearance it looked more like an immense yellow goat, or deer with a pair of rams' horns stuck upon his head. We knew, however, it was not bad to eat,—especially to people in our circumstances; and as soon as we had finished our breakfast, Cudjo and I whetted our knives, and having removed the skin, hung up the carcass alongside the remainder of the antelope. The dogs for their pains had a breakfast to their satisfaction; and the rest of us, seeing so much fresh meat hanging to the tree, with a cool stream of water running beneath it, began to fancy we were quite delivered from the Desert.
"We now sat down together to deliberate on our future proceedings. Between the argali and the antelope, we had provision enough to last us for a week at least; but when that was done, what likelihood was there of our procuring a further supply of either? Not much, thought we; for although there might be a few more antelopes and a few more 'bighorns' about the place, there could not be many with so little appearance of anything for them to feed upon. Moreover, we might not find it so easy to kill any more of them,—for those we had already shot seemed to have fallen in our way by chance, or—as we more properly believed at the time and still believe—by the guiding of a Providential hand. But we knew it was not right or wise to rely altogether on this,—that is, we knew it was our duty, while trusting in its guidance, at the same time to make every effort which lay in our own power to save ourselves. When our present supply should be exhausted, where was the next to come from? We could not always live upon armadilloes, and argalis, and antelopes,—even supposing they were as plenty as the rocks. But the chances were ten to one we should get no more of them. Our ox in a week would have improved in condition. He would sustain us for a time; and then—our horse—and then—and then—the dogs—and then—we should starve to a certainty.
"Any of these necessities was sufficiently fearful to contemplate. Should we kill our ox, we would be unable to take the wagon along, and how could the horse carry us all out of the Desert? If we then killed the horse, we should be still worse off, and utterly helpless on foot. No man can cross the Great Desert on foot—not even the hunters—and how could we do it? To remain where we were would be impossible. There were a few patches of vegetation on the different runlets that filtered away from the mountain-foot. There were clumps of willows growing along these, but not enough of grass to support any stock of game upon which we could live, even were we certain of being able to capture it. It was evident, then, to us all, that we should have to get away from that place as speedily as possible.
"The next point to be determined was, whether the Desert extended away to the south, as we already knew that it did to the north. To ascertain this, I resolved to go around the mountain, leaving the rest at the camp until my return.
"Our horse was by this time rested, and well fed; and, having saddled him and shouldered my rifle, I mounted and rode off. I kept around the mountain-foot, going by the eastern side. I crossed several rivulets resembling the one on which we had encamped; and noticed that all these turned off toward the eastward, making their way to a main stream. In this direction, too, I saw a few stunted trees, with here and there an appearance of greenness on the surface of the plain. On the way I saw an antelope, and another animal resembling a deer, but differing from all the deer I had ever seen, in having a long tail like a cow. I knew not at the time what sort of an animal it was, as I had never met with any description of it in books of natural history.
"After riding about five miles, I got fairly round to the east side of the mountain, and could view the country away to the south. As far as my sight could reach, I saw nothing but an open plain—if possible more sterile in its character than that which stretched northward. The only direction in which there were any signs of fertility was to the east, and that was but in patches of scanty vegetation.
"It was a cheerless prospect. We should now certainly have a desert to cross before we could get to any inhabited country. To strike eastwardly again, for the American frontier—circumstanced as we were without provisions and with worn-out cattle—would be madness; as the distance was at least eight hundred miles. Besides, I knew there were many hostile tribes of Indians living on that route, so that, even should the country prove fertile, we could never hope to get through it. To go northward or southward would be equally impossible, as there was no civilised settlement for a thousand miles in either direction. Our only hope, then, would be, to attempt crossing the Desert westwardly to the Mexican settlements on the Del Norte,—a distance of nearly two hundred miles! To do this, we should need first to rest our ill-matched team for several days. We should also require provisions enough for the route, and how were these to be obtained? Again, thought I, we must trust to Providence, who has already so manifestly extended a helping hand to us.
"I observed that the mountain on the southern face descended with an easier slope toward the plain, than upon the north where it is bold and precipitous. From this I concluded that a greater quantity of snow must be melted, and run off in that direction. Doubtless then, thought I, there will be a greater amount of fertility on that side; and I continued to ride on, until I came in sight of the grove of willows and cotton-trees, which line the stream above the valley here. I soon reached them, and saw that there was a stream with considerable pasturage near its borders—much more than where we had encamped I tied my horse to a tree, and climbed some distance up the mountain in order to get a view of the country south and west. I had not got to a great height when I caught sight of the singular chasm that seemed to open up in the plain. I was attracted with this peculiarity, and determined to examine it. Descending again to where I had left my horse, I mounted, and rode straight for it. In a short time I stood upon the brink of the precipice, and looked down into this smiling valley.
"I cannot describe my sensations at that moment. Only they, whose eyes have been bent for days on the sterile wilderness, can feel the full effect produced by a scene of fertility such as there presented itself. It was late in the autumn, and the woods that lay below me—clad in all the variegated livery of that season—looked like some richly-coloured picture. The music of birds ascended from the groves below, wafted upward upon the perfumed and aromatic air; and the whole scene appeared more like a fabled Elysium than a reality of Nature I could hardly satisfy myself that I was not dreaming, or looking upon some fantastic hallucination of the mirage.
"I stood for many minutes in a sort of trance, gazing down into the lovely valley. I could observe no signs of human habitation. No smoke rose over the trees, and no noises issued forth, except the voices of Nature, uttered in the songs of birds and the hum of falling waters. It seemed as though man had never desecrated this isolated paradise by his presence and passions.
"I say I stood for many minutes gazing and listening. I could have remained for hours; but the sinking sun admonished me to hasten away. I was nearly twenty miles from our camp, and my horse was neither strong nor fresh. Determined, therefore, to return on the morrow, bringing with me my companions and all that belonged to us, I turned my horse's head and rode back. It was late in the night—near midnight—when I reached camp. I found everything as I had left it, except that Mary was in great anxiety about what had delayed me so long. But my return, and the discovery which I communicated, soon restored her spirits; and we laid out our plans for changing our camp to the valley, determined to set forth at an early hour in the morning."
THE GREAT ELK.
"We were stirring by sunrise next morning; and having breakfasted heartily, we packed our wagon and started away from our camp, which we had named 'Camp Antelope.' The stream we called 'Bighorn Creek' ever afterwards. We arrived at the upper end of the valley about an hour before sunset. Here we passed the night. Next day I set forth to find some path by which we might get down into the bottom. I rode for miles along the edge of the bluff, but to my surprise I found that on both sides ran a steep precipice; and I began to fear that the tempting paradise was inaccessible, and had only been created to tantalise us. At length I reached the lower end, where, as you have noticed, the precipice is much less elevated—on account of the sloping of the upper plain. Here I came upon a path winding gradually down, upon which I saw the footmarks of animals of various kinds. This was exactly what I wanted.
"In this valley we could remain until our cattle were sufficiently recruited to face the Desert, while with our rifles we should be able to procure a sufficient stock of provisions for the journey.
"I went back for the wagon; but as I had consumed most of the day in my explorations, it was late when I reached the camp; and we remained another night on the same spot, which we named the 'Willow Camp.'
"Next morning, we started early. On arriving at the point where the path led down, we halted the wagon. Mary and the children remained with it, while Cudjo and I descended into the valley to reconnoitre. The woods were quite thick—the trees apparently all bound together by huge vines, that stretched from one to the other like immense serpents. There was a thick undergrowth of cane; but we saw that a trail had been made through this by the passage of numerous animals. There were no human footmarks to be seen, nor any signs that a human being had ever been upon the spot.
"We followed the trail that led us directly to the banks of the stream. It was then very shallow, and a great part of its shingly bed was dry. I saw that this would afford a good road for our wagon, and we kept on up the channel. About three miles from the lower end of the valley, we came to a place where the forest was more open, and less choked up with underwood. On the right bank of the stream there was a rising ground, forming a clear space of large extent, with only a tree growing here and there. This ground sloped gently down to the stream, and was covered with beautiful herbage—both grass and flowers. It was a lovely spot; and as we came suddenly out upon it, several animals, frightened by our approach, bounded off into the thickets beyond. We stepped for a moment to gaze upon the bright picture. Birds of brilliant wing were fluttering among the many-coloured leaves, singing or screaming, and chasing each other from tree to tree. There were parrots, and paroquets, and orioles, and blue-jays, and beautiful loxias, both of the scarlet and azure-coloured species. There were butterflies, too, with broad wings mottled all over with the most vivid tints, flapping about from flower to flower. Many of these were as large as some of the birds, and far larger than others—for we saw flocks of tiny humming-birds, not bigger than bees, shooting about like sparkling gems, and balancing themselves over the cups of the open flowers.
"It was a beautiful scene, indeed; and Cudjo and I at once agreed that that was the very place to pitch our camp. At the time, we meant it only for a camp—a spot where we might remain until our animals had recruited their strength, and we had collected from the forests around provision enough for the Desert journey. A temporary camp, indeed! That, gentlemen, is ten years ago, and here we are upon the same spot at this moment! Yes, my friends, this house stands in the middle of that very glade I have been describing. You will be surprised, when I tell you, there was no lake then, nor the appearance of one. That came afterwards, as you shall hear.
"What the lake now is was then part of the glade; and its surface, like the rest, was covered with beautiful vegetation, with, here and there, trees standing alone, or in small clumps, which gave it a most park-like appearance. In fact, we could not help fancying, that there was some splendid mansion in the background, to which it belonged—although we saw that the thick, dark woods surrounded it on all sides.
"We did not remain longer than was necessary to examine the ground. We knew that Mary would be anxiously looking for us, so we hastened back to our wagon. In less than three hours from that time, the wagon, with its snow-white tilt, stood in the centre of the glade, and the ox and horse, loosed from their labour, were eagerly browsing over the rich pasture. The children were playing on the green sward, under the shadow of a spreading magnolia; while Mary, Cudjo, the boys, and myself, were engaged in various occupations about the ground. The birds flew around us, chattering and screaming, to the great delight of our little ones. They came quite close to our encampment, perching upon the nearest trees; and wondering, no doubt, what strange creatures we were, who had thus intruded upon their hitherto untenanted domain. I was glad to see them thus curious about us, as I argued from this that the sight of man was new to them, and, therefore, we should be in no danger of meeting with any of our own kind in the valley. It is strange, that, of all others, man was the animal we most dreaded to meet! Yet, such was the case; for we knew that any human beings we might fall in with in such a place would be Indians, and, in all probability, would prove our most cruel enemies.
"It was still early in the afternoon, and we determined to do nothing for the remainder of that day but rest ourselves, as we had all experienced considerable fatigue in getting far wagon up the stream. Rocks had to be removed, and occasionally a way hewed through the thick branches. But the difficulty being now over, we felt as though we had reached a home, and we set about enjoying it Cudjo built a fire, and erected a crane over it, upon which to hang our pots and kettles. The crane consisted of two forked sticks driven in to the ground, one on each side of the fire, with a long pole placed horizontally, and resting upon the forks. This is the usual manner of making the crane among backwoods' travellers, who cook their meals in the open air. The tripod crane, used by gipsies in Europe, is rarely to be seen among the wanderers of the American wilderness.
"In a short time, our camp-kettle, filled with pure water, was boiling and bubbling to receive the aromatic coffee; and the remainder of the antelope, suspended over the fire, was roasting and sputtering in the blaze. Mary had set out the great chest, covered with a clean white cloth—for she had washed it the day before; and upon this our tin plates and cups—scoured until they were shining like silver—were regularly arranged. When all these little preparations had been made, we seated ourselves around the fire, and watched the dainty venison as it became browned and crisped in the blaze. Cudjo had suspended the joint by a piece of strong cord, so that, by simply whirling it around, it would then continue for some time turning itself, as well as if it had been upon a patent jack-spit. We were congratulating ourselves on the fine supper we were likely soon to partake of, when, all at once, our attention was directed to a noise that came out of the woods, near the border of the open ground. There was a rustling of leaves, with a cracking sound as of dead sticks, broken by the hoofs of some heavy animal. All our eyes were immediately turned in that direction. Presently we saw the leaves in motion; and the next moment three large animals stepped out into the glade, apparently with the intention of crossing it.
"At first sight we thought they were deer—for each of them carried a pair of branching antlers—but their great size at once distinguished them from any of the deer species we had ever seen. Any one of them was as large as a Flemish horse; and their huge antlers rising several feet above their heads, gave them the appearance of being still much larger. On seeing the branched and towering horns, we took them for deer,—and in fact they were so; but far differing from either the red or fallow-deer that are to be met with in parks and forests. They were elk—the great elk of the Rocky Mountains.
"On coming out of the timber, they marched forward, one after the other, with a proud step, that showed the confidence they placed in their great size and strength—as well as in the pointed weapons which they carried upon their heads, and which they can use upon an enemy with terrible effect. Their appearance was extremely majestic; and we all admired them in silence as they approached, for they came directly towards our camp.
"At length they caught sight of our wagon and fire,—neither of which objects, up to this time, they had seen. All at once they halted, tossed up their heads, snorted, and then continued for some moments to gaze at us with an expression of wonder.
"'They will be off now,' I muttered in an undertone to my wife and Cudjo. 'No doubt they will be off in a moment, and they are entirely out of reach of my rifle.'
"I had caught hold of the gun on first seeing them, and held it in readiness across my knees Harry and Frank had also seized their small pieces.
"'What pity, Massa Roff,' said Cudjo, 'de big rifle no reach 'em! Golly! de be ebery one fat as 'possum!'
"I was thinking whether I might not creep a little closer to them, when, to our surprise, the animals, instead of starting off into the woods again, came several paces nearer, and again halted, tossing up their heads with a snort similar to that which they had uttered before. I say that this astonished all of us, for we had heard that the elk was an exceedingly shy animal. So, too, they are, of any danger to which they are accustomed; but, like most of the deer and antelope tribe, their curiosity is greater than their fear; and they will approach any object which may be new to them, and examine it minutely, before running off. I saw that curiosity had brought them so much closer to us; and, thinking they might advance still nearer, I cautioned my companions to remain silent, and without making any stir.
"The wagon, with its great white tilt, appeared to be the main attraction to our strange visitors; and, after eyeing it a moment with looks of wonder, they again moved several paces forward, and stopped as before. A third time they advanced towards it, and again made halt.
"As the wagon was at some distance from where we were sitting by the fire, their movements towards it brought their great sides somewhat into our view. Their last advance, moreover, had brought the leader within range of my rifle. He was much the largest of the three, and I determined to wait no longer, but let him have it; so, levelling my piece at the place which I supposed lay nearest to his heart, I pulled trigger.
"'Missed him!' thought I, as the three great animals wheeled in their tracks, and went away like lightning. What was strange to us, they did not gallop, as most deer do, but went off in a sort of shambling trot, like a 'pacing' horse, and quite as fast as a horse could gallop.
"The dogs—which, up to this time, Cudjo had been holding by their necks—dashed after with yelps and barking. They were all—both elk and dogs—soon lost to our eyes; but for some time we could hear the elk breaking through the thick cane and bushes, with the dogs yelling in close pursuit.
"I thought there would be no chance of the mastiffs coming up with them, and was, therefore, not intending to follow; when, all at once, I heard the voices of the dogs change from yelping to that of a worrying sound, as though they were engaged in a fierce conflict with one another.
"'Perhaps I have wounded the animal, and they have overtaken it,' said I. 'Come, Cudjo! let us after and see. Boys, remain to take care of your mother.'
"I laid hold of Harry's rifle, and followed by Cudjo, ran across the glade in the track which both elk and dogs had taken. As we entered the bushes, I saw that their leaves were sprinkled with blood.
"'No doubt,' said I, 'he is wounded, and badly, too. We shall have him yet.'
"'Dat we shall, Massa!' cried Cudjo; and we ran on as fast as we could through the thick cane-brake, in the track made by the animals. I ran ahead of my companion, as Cudjo was rather slow of foot. Every here and there I saw gouts of blood on the leaves and cane; and, guided by the hoarse voices of the mastiffs, I soon reached the spot where they were. Sure enough the wounded elk was there, down upon his knees, and defending himself with his antlers; while one of the dogs lay sprawling on the ground and howling with pain. The other still kept up the fight, endeavouring to seize the elk from behind; but the latter spun round, as though his knees were upon a pivot, and always presented his horny spikes in the direction of the attack.
"I was afraid the elk might get a blow at one of our brave dogs, and put an end to him, so I fired hastily; and, regardless of consequences, ran forward to finish the elk with the butt of the rifle. I struck with all my might, aiming directly for his head, but in my hurry I missed him; and, carried forward with the force which I had thrown into the blow, I fell right into the midst of his branching antlers! I dropped my rifle, and seized hold of the points, with the intention of extricating myself; but before I could do so, the elk had risen to his feet, and with a powerful jerk of his head tossed me high into the air. I came down upon a thick network of vines and branches; and, my presence of mind still remaining, I clutched them as I fell, and held on. It was well that I did so, for directly under me the infuriated animal was bounding from point to point, evidently in search of me and wondering where I had gone. Had I fallen back to the earth, instead of clinging to the branches, he would no doubt have crushed me to pieces with his powerful horns.
"For some moments I lay quite helpless where I had been flung, watching what was passing below. The mastiff still continued his attack, but was evidently cowed by the fate of his companion, and only snapped at the elk when he could get round to his flanks. The other dog lay among the weeds howling piteously.
"At this moment Cudjo appeared in sight, for I had headed him some distance in my haste. I could see the whites of his great eyes turned up in wonderment when he perceived the rifle lying upon the ground without seeing me. I had barely time to utter a shout of warning, when the elk spied him; and lowering his head, rushed upon him with a loud and furious snort.
"I was filled with fear for my faithful follower and friend. I saw that he carried a large Indian spear—which he had found at the camp where our companions had been massacred—but I had no hope of his being able to ward off the impetuous attack. I saw that he did not even point the weapon to receive the enraged animal, but stood like a statue. 'He is paralysed with terror,' thought I; and I expected the next moment to see him impaled upon the sharp antlers and gored to death. But I had very much mistaken my man Cudjo. When the horns were within two feet of his breast, he stepped nimbly behind a tree, and the elk passed him with a rush. So quick had been the action, that for a moment I thought he had gone under; but, to my agreeable surprise, the next moment I saw him start out from the tree, and, making a lounge with the spear, bury it among the ribs of the animal! No matador in all Spain could have performed the feat more cleverly.
"I shouted with delight as I saw the huge body rolling to the earth; and, dropping down from my perch, I ran toward the spot. On reaching it, I found the elk panting in the throes of death, while Cudjo stood over his body safe and triumphant.
"'Bravo!' cried I, 'my brave Cudjo, you have ended him in earnest!'
"'Yes, Massa,' replied Cudjo, coolly, though evidently with some slight symptoms of triumph in his manner; 'yes, Massa Roff, dis black niggur hab gin de gemman a settler under de rib number five. He butt de breath out of poor Cassy no more—poor ole Cassy!' and Cudjo commenced caressing the dog Castor, which was the one that had suffered most from the horns of the elk.
"We were now joined by Harry, who, hearing the struggle, could remain no longer in the camp. Fortunately we found his rifle quite safe; and Cudjo drawing his knife, let the blood out of the animal in a scientific manner. From its great weight—not less than a thousand pounds—we saw that we could not take the whole carcass to camp without yoking either the horse or ox to it, so we resolved to skin and quarter it where it lay. After going back for the necessary implements, as well as to announce our success, we returned again, and soon finished the operation. Before the sun had set, nearly a thousand pounds of fresh elk-meat were dangling from the trees around our little encampment. We had purposely delayed eating until our work should be done; and while Cudjo and I were engaged in hanging up the huge quarters, Mary had been busy with the gridiron, and an elk rump-steak—quite equal to the best beef—added to the excellence of our supper."
ADVENTURE WITH THE CARCAJOU.
"We arose early next morning; and, having eaten a hearty breakfast of elk-steaks and coffee, began to consider what was the next thing to be done. We had now quite enough of meat to carry us to the end of the longest journey, and it only remained to be cured, so that it would keep on the way. But how were we to cure it, when we had not a particle of salt? Here was a difficulty which for a moment looked us in the face. Only for a moment, for I soon recollected that there was a way of preserving meat without salt, which has always been much in use among Spanish people, and in countries where salt is very scarce and dear. I had heard, too, that this method was much practised among the trappers and hunters when laying up a stock of buffalo flesh, or of any other animals they might chance to kill. It is called 'jerking,' and the meat when thus prepared goes by the name of 'jerked meat.' By the Spaniards it is called 'tasajo.'
"I remembered having read an account of the process, and after instructing Cudjo in it, we immediately set about 'jerking' the elk. We first built a large fire, upon which we placed a great many sticks of green wood freshly cut from the tree. This was done so that the fire might burn slowly, and throw out a great volume of smoke. We then stuck several stakes into the ground around the fire, and stretched lines from one to the other. This being done, we took down the quarters of the elk and removed the meat from the bones—cutting it off in thin strips, each of them over a yard in length. These strips we hung over the lines already prepared, so that they might be exposed to the smoke and heat of the fire, although not so much as to cause them to be broiled. The whole process was now ended—excepting that it would be necessary for us to look occasionally to the fire, as well as to see that the dogs and wolves did not leap up and snap off the meat, that hung down from the lines like so many strings of sausages. In about three days the flesh of the elk would be 'jerked,' and capable of being, carried to any distance without the danger of spoiling.
"During these three days we all remained very much in the neighbourhood of our camp. We might have procured more game had we gone out to hunt for it, but we did not do this for three reasons:—First, because we had enough for our wants; secondly, we did not wish, under the circumstances, to waste a single charge of ammunition; and, lastly, because we had seen the tracks of bears and panthers by the stream. We did not wish to risk meeting with any of these customers in the dark and tangled woods, which we should have been likely enough to do, had we gone far out in pursuit of game. We were determined to leave them unmolested as long as they should preserve a similar line of conduct towards us; and, in order to prevent any of them from intruding into our camp while we were asleep, we kept a circle of fires burning around the wagon throughout the night.
"During these three days, however, we were not without fresh viands, and those, too, of the most luxurious and delicate kinds. I had succeeded in killing a wild turkey, which, along with several others, had entered the glade, and run close up to our camp before they saw us. He was a large 'gobbler'—over twenty pounds in weight—and, I need not tell you, proved far more delicious eating than his tame cousins of the farm-yard.
"At the end of the third day, the elk-meat was as dry as a chip; and taking it from the lines we packed it in small bundles, and placed it in our wagon. We now thought of waiting only until our animals should be fairly recruited; and as both horse and ox were up to their eyes, from morning till night, in rich pasturage, and began to fill out about the flanks, we were congratulating ourselves that we should not have long to wait.
"Of how little value are human calculations! Just at that moment, when we were so sanguine of being able soon to escape from our desert prison, an event occurred, which rendered that escape altogether impossible—for years at least, and it might have been, for ever. But I will detail the circumstance as it happened.
"It was on the afternoon of the fourth day after we had entered the valley. We had just finished dinner, and were sitting near the fire watching the two children, Mary and Luisa, as they rolled in joyous innocence over the smooth green sward. My wife and I were conversing about the little Luisa—about the unfortunate end of her father and mother—both of whom, we believed, had fallen victims in the savage massacre. We were talking of how we should bring her up—whether in ignorance of the melancholy fate of her parents, and in the belief that she was one of our own children—or whether, when she had grown to a sufficient age to understand it, we should reveal to her the sad story of her orphanage. Our thoughts now reverted, for the first time, to our own wretched prospects, for these, too, had been blighted by the loss of our Scotch friend. We were going to a strange land—a land where we knew no one—of whose language, even, we were ignorant—a land, too, whose inhabitants were neither prosperous of themselves, nor disposed to countenance prosperity in others—much less of the race to which we belonged. We were going, too, without an object; for that which had brought us so far was now removed by the death of our friend. We had no property—no money—not enough even to get us shelter for a single night: what would become of us? They were bitter reflections which we drew from thinking on the future; but we did not permit them to torture us long.
"'Fear not, Robert,' said my noble wife, placing her hand in mine, and looking cheerfully in my face; 'He who has guarded us through the past is not likely to fail us in the future.'
"'Dear Mary,' I replied, roused to new life and energy by her consoling words, 'you are right—you are right—in Him only let us trust.'
"At that moment a strange noise sounded in our ears, coming from the direction of the forest. It seemed distant at first, but every moment drew nearer and nearer. It was like the voice of some animal 'routing' from extreme terror or pain. I looked around for the ox. The horse was in the glade, but his companion was not to be seen. Again the voice came from the woods, louder and more fearful than ever. It was plainly the bellowing of an ox; but what could it mean? Once more it rose upon the air, nearer and more distinct, and sounded as though the animal was running as it cried!
"I sprang to my rifle—Frank and Harry also seized theirs—Cudjo armed himself with the Indian spear; and the dogs, that had started to their feet, stood waiting a signal to rush forth.
"Once more broke out that terrible cry; and we could now hear the sweeping of leaves, and the crackling of branches, as if some huge animal was tearing its way through the bushes. The birds flew up from the thicket, terrified and screaming—the horse neighed wildly—the dogs sent forth their impatient yelps, and our children shrieked in affright! Again rose, the deep and sonorous roar, filling the valley with its agonising tones. The cane rattled as it yielded to the crushing hoof. We saw the leaves of the thick underwood shaking at a distance—then nearer—then up to the edge of the glade—and the next moment a bright red object appeared through the leaves, and dashed out into the opening. We saw at a glance it was the ox; but what could it mean? Was he pursued by some monster—some beast of prey? No! not pursued, but already overtaken. Look! see what the ox carries on his shoulders! Oh, heavens! what a sight!
"We were all for a while as if paralysed. Between the shoulders of the ox, and clutching him around the neck, was a large animal. It at first sight appeared to be a mass of brown shaggy hair, and part of the ox himself—so closely was it fastened upon him. As they drew nearer, however, we could distinguish the spreading claws and short muscular limbs of a fearful creature. Its head was down near the throat of the ox, which we could see was torn, and dappled with crimson spots. The mouth of the strange animal was resting upon his jugular vein. It was tearing his flesh, and drinking his blood as he ran!
"The ox, as he came out of the thicket, galloped but slowly, and bellowed with less energy than before. We could perceive that he tottered as he ran, still making for the camp. In a short time, he was in our midst, when, uttering a long moan, he fell to the earth with the death-rattle in his throat!
"The strange animal, roused by the shock, suddenly let go its hold, and raised itself erect over the carcass. Now, for the first time, I saw what it was. It was the fearful carcajou! Now, too, for the first time, it seemed to be aware of our presence, and suddenly placed itself in an attitude to spring. The next moment it had launched its body towards Mary and the children!
"We all three fired as it sprang forward, but our feelings had unnerved us, and the bullets whistled idly away. I drew my knife and rushed after; but Cudjo was before me, and I saw the blade of his spear glancing towards it like a flash of light, and burying itself in the long hair. With a hoarse growl, the monster turned, and, to my joy, I saw that it was impaled upon the spear, which had passed through the skin of its neck. Instead of yielding, however, it rushed up the shaft, until Cudjo was compelled to drop the weapon, to save himself from being torn by its long, fierce claws. Before it could clear itself from the spear, I had drawn my large pistol, and fired directly into its breast. The shot proved mortal; and the shaggy monster rolled over, and struggled for some minutes in the agonies of death. We were saved; but our poor ox, that was to have drawn us out of the Desert, lay upon the grass a lifeless and almost bloodless carcase!"
A FRUITLESS SEARCH FOR A TRAIL.
"Our hopes of being able to get away from the oasis valley were thus crushed in a moment. The horse could not of himself draw the wagon, and how could we travel without it? Even could we have crossed the Desert on foot, he would hardly suffice to carry our food and water. But for us to pass one of those terrible stretches of wilderness—by the Spaniards called 'jornadas'—on foot was out of the question. Even the strongest and hardiest of the trappers often perish in such attempts; and how should we succeed—one of us being a delicate female—and having two children that must be carried in our arms? The thing was plainly impossible; and as I reflected upon it, the thoughts of its impossibility filled me with despair.
"But were we never to escape from that lonely spot? What prospect was before us of ever being able to leave it? No human beings might come to our relief. Perhaps no human foot except our own had ever made its track in that remote valley! This was not at all improbable; and indeed a party of hunters or Indians, on their journey across the Desert, might visit the mountain without discovering the valley,—so strangely was it hollowed out of the plain.
"I had but little hope that any caravan or party of traders would pass that way. The Desert that surrounded us was a sufficient barrier against that; besides, I knew that the mountain was far to the southward of the trails usually followed by the prairie traders. There was but one hope that I could cling to with any degree of confidence: that was, that the Desert might not stretch so far to the south or west as it appeared to do; and by breaking up the wagon, and making a light cart out of it, we might still be able to cross it. I was determined, therefore, first to go alone, and explore the route in both these directions. If it should appear practicable, I could return, and put this design into execution.