"Next morning, having loaded my horse with provisions, and as much water as he could well carry, I took an affectionate leave of my wife and little ones; and, commending them to the protection of God, I mounted, and rode off toward the west. I headed in this direction for a day and a half, and still the waste stretched to the horizon before me. I had made but a short journey, for the path led through ridges and hillocks of moving sand, and my horse sank to the knees at every step. In the afternoon of the second day, I turned back from the attempt, fearful that I should not be able to regain the valley. But I succeeded at length,—both myself and horse almost dead with thirst on arriving there.
"I found my little party all well, as I had left them; but I had brought them no glad tidings, and I sat down in the midst of them with a feeling of despair.
"My next reconnoissance was to be to the south; and I only waited until my jaded horse might be sufficiently rested for another journey.
"Another day passed, and I was sitting upon a log near the fire, reflecting upon the dark future that lay before us. I was filled with despondency, and took no note of what was passing around. When I had sat in this way for some time, I felt a light hand touching me upon the shoulder; and, looking up, I saw that Mary had seated herself upon the log beside me, while a smile of cheerfulness and composure was playing upon her features.
"I saw that she had something in her mind that she was about to communicate to me.
"'What is it, Mary?' I asked.
"'Is not this a lovely spot?' said she, waving her hand so as to indicate the whole scene by which we were surrounded. My eyes, along with hers, roamed for a moment over the fair picture, and I could not do otherwise than answer in the affirmative. It was, indeed, a lovely spot. The open glade, with the golden sun streaming down upon its green herbage, and vivid flowers—the varied tints of the forest frondage, now dressed in the brilliant lively of autumn—the cliffs beyond, contrasting with it in colour from their lining of dark-green cedars and pines—and, higher still, the snow-white summit, as it towered against the blue sky, sparkling under the sun, and lending a delicious coolness to the air—all these objects formed a panorama that was indeed lovely to look upon. And there were sweet sounds falling upon the ear—the murmur of distant waters—the light rustling of leaves, stirred by a soft breeze that blew past laden with the aromatic odours of buds and flowers—the music of birds that sang to each other in the groves, or uttered their joyous calls as they flapped their bright wings over the open glade.
"'Yes, Mary,' I replied, 'it is indeed a lovely spot.'
"'Then, Robert,' said she, with a look of strange meaning, 'why should we be so anxious to leave it?'
"'Why?' I repeated mechanically after her, wondering at the question.
"'Yes, why?' continued my wife. 'We are in search of a home—why not make this our home? Where can we find a better? How know we that in that land whither we were going, we may find one so good—if, indeed, they give us a home at all?'
"'But, dear Mary,' said I, 'how could you live away from the world—you who have been brought up in the midst of society and its refinements?'
"'The world!' replied she, 'what care we for the world? Have we not our children with us? They will be our world, and we can be society enough for each other. Moreover,' continued she, 'remember how little we have in that world,—remember how it has used us so far. Have we been happy in it? No, I have enjoyed more happiness here than I ever did in the midst of that society, of which you speak. Think, Robert! reflect before we rashly leave this lovely spot—this sweet home—into which I can almost believe the hand of God has guided us.'
"'But, Mary, you have not thought of the difficulties, the hardships to which such a life may expose you.'
"'I have,' she replied. 'I have thought of all these while you were absent. I can see no difficulty in our procuring a subsistence here. The Creator has bountifully stocked this singular oasis. We may easily obtain all the necessaries of life—for its luxuries I care but little. We can live without them.'
"Her words produced a strange effect upon me. Up to that moment the idea of remaining in the oasis had never entered my mind. I had only occupied myself with speculating on the means by which we could escape from it. Now, however, a sudden change came over my thoughts; and I began to think seriously of following the counsel of my self-sacrificing companion. The harsh treatment we had received at the hands of civilised man—buffeted about by ill fortune—continually deceived, and at every step becoming poorer and more dependent, all had their effect in blunting that desire I should otherwise have felt to get back to the world. I was not averse then to the idea, but rather ready to fall at once into the plan.
"I remained silent for a length of time, casting over in my mind the possibility of our carrying out such a scheme—the chances of our being able to procure subsistence. It was evident there was plenty of game in the valley. We had occasionally seen deer of different species, and we had also discovered the tracks of other animals. There were pheasants and turkeys, too, in abundance. We had our rifles, and by good fortune a large stock of ammunition—for, besides my own, Harry and Frank had powder-horns containing nearly a pound each. But this in time would be expended—what then? Oh, what then? Before that I should find out some other mode of capturing our game. Besides, the valley might contain many other things intended to sustain life—roots and fruits. We had already found some indications of this; and Mary, who was an accomplished botanist, could tell the uses of them all. We should find both food and water. What more could we ask from the hand of Nature?
"As I ran these thoughts through my mind, the project became every moment more feasible. In fact, I grew quite as enthusiastic about it as my wife.
"Cudjo, Frank, and Harry, were brought into our council; and they, too, received the idea with delight. The faithful Cudjo was contented, as he alleged, with any lot, so long as he might share it with us. As for the boys they were in raptures with the thought of such a free wild life.
"We did not fully resolve upon anything for that day. We were determined not to act rashly, but to reflect seriously upon it, and to renew our deliberations on the following morning.
"During that night, however, a circumstance occurred, which at once fixed my resolution to remain in the valley—at least until some unforeseen chance might enable us to leave it with a better prospect of safety."
THE MYSTERIOUS FLOOD.
"Well, my friends, I shall now detail to you the strange incident, which at once decided me to adopt the suggestion of my wife, and make our home in the valley. Perhaps we did not, at the time, contemplate staying here for the remainder of our lives—but only for a few years. However, we resolved to remain for the present, and give our lonely life a fair trial, leaving the future an open question.
"The reason why I had hesitated at all upon the subject was this:—I could not think of settling down with no prospect of improving our condition; for, however much we might exercise our industry, its products could not enrich us beyond the satisfying of our own wants. We should have no market, thought I, for any superfluous produce, even could we cultivate the whole valley. We could, therefore, become no richer, and would never be in any fitter state to return to civilised society—for, in spite of all, a thought of this still remained in my mind.
"Mary, who was of a far more contented disposition than I, still persisted in arguing that as our happiness did not depend upon possessing riches, we would never desire to leave that lovely spot, and that, consequently, we should stand in no need of wealth.
"Perhaps hers was the true philosophy—at all events, it was the natural one. But the artificial wants of society implant within us the desire of accumulating individual property; and I could not rid myself of this provident feeling. 'If we could only find some object,' said I, 'upon which we might be exercising our industry, so that our time should not be wasted, and by which we might prepare ourselves for returning to society, then might we live most happily here.'
"'Who knows?' said Mary, in reply to this; 'there may be objects in this valley that may occupy us, and enable us to lay up the very store you speak of, as well as if we were to continue on to New Mexico. What opportunities should we have there better than here? We have nothing now to begin life with anywhere. Here we have food and land, which I think we may fairly call our own; there we should have neither. Here we have a home; and how know you, Robert, that we may not yet make a fortune in the Desert?'
"We both laughed at the idea; which, of course, Mary had meant only as a jest in order to render our prospects more cheering.
"It was now near midnight, for we had sat up to that late hour deliberating on what we should do. As I have said, we agreed to leave the matter undecided until the morrow. The moon was just appearing over the eastern cliff; and we were about rising to retire to our resting-places, when our eyes fell upon an object that caused us all at the same time to cry out with astonishment.
"I have said, that when we first entered this valley there was no lake here. Where you now see one, was a green sward, with here and there a coppice of trees, forming part of the little prairie in which we were encamped. The stream ran across it, as it still does through the lake; but at this point there were scarcely any banks, as the water flowed over a wide and shallow channel. On previous nights, when the moon was shining into the valley, as we sat around our camp fire, we had noticed the stream winding like a silver thread through the dark-green herbage. Now, to our extreme wonder, instead of the narrow line, a broad sheet of water glistened before us! It seemed to cover a space of several hundred yards in extent, reaching far up the glade towards our camp. Could it be water, or was it only the mirage—the fata morgana? No; it was not the latter. We had witnessed this before, on our passage across the great plains. We had witnessed it on several occasions, and it was nothing like what we now saw. There is a filmy, whitish appearance about the illusions of the mirage by which the experienced traveller can always distinguish it from the real. But there was nothing of that in the present instance. It was water that spread before us,—for the moon, that had now risen above the cliff, was plainly reflected upon its calm and glassy surface. Yes; it could be nothing but a sheet of water!" But we were determined not to trust to our eyes alone. We all ran towards it—Cudjo, the boys, and myself,— and in a few seconds we stood upon its edge—upon the edge of what appeared to be a large lake, formed as if by some magical influence!
"We had at first regarded the phenomenon only with feelings of wonder; but our wonder was now changed to consternation, when we perceived that the water was still rising! It ran in about our feet while we stood, rippling slowly against the gentle ascent like the influx of a tide.
"'What could it mean?' we asked of each other, with looks that betrayed our fears. Was it a flood—an inundation—a sudden swelling of the stream? This it plainly was, but what could have caused it? There had been no rain for several days before, and no great heat to have caused any unusual melting of the snow upon the mountain. What, then, could be the origin of this sudden and singular freshet? What could it mean?
"We stood for some time silent, with hearts beating audibly,—each looking at the others for an answer to this question. The solution seemed to strike us all at the same time, and a fearful one it was. Some terrible convulsion—the falling of the precipice perhaps—had dammed the canon below; no doubt, had blocked up the great fissure by which the stream found its way from the valley. If such were the case, then, the valley would soon fill with water, not only to cover the ground occupied by our camp, but the tops of the highest trees!
"You will easily conceive the terror with which this thought was calculated to inspire us. We could think of no other cause for the strange inundation; nor, indeed, did we stay longer to consider of any, but ran back to the camp, determined to escape from the valley as soon as we could. Cudjo caught the horse, Mary awoke the children, and brought them out of the wagon, while the boys and I busied ourselves in collecting a few necessary things, that we might be enabled to carry along with us.
"Up to this time we had not thought of the difficulty—much less the impossibility—of escaping from the valley. To our horror, that now became clear as the sun at noon-day; for we perceived that the road by which we had entered the glade, and which lay along the stream, was completely covered, and the rising water reached far beyond it! There was no other path by which we could get out. To attempt cutting one through the thick tangled woods would be the work of days; moreover, we remembered that we had crossed the stream on the way to our camp, and that, of course, would now be swollen below, so that to re-cross it would be impossible. We had no doubt but that the valley, at its lower end, was by this time filled with water, and our retreat in that direction completely cut off! We knew of no other path!
"I cannot describe the state of mind into which we were thrown, when these facts became evident to one and all of us. We were about to start out from the camp, each of us carrying our burden; but it was plainly of no use making the attempt, and we let fall the various utensils with a feeling of despair. The water was still rising—the lake was growing larger!
"The wolves howled, driven from their lair by the encroaching element— birds, roused from their sleep, screamed and fluttered among the trees— our dogs barked at the strange sight—and, in the clear moonlight, we could see deer, and other wild animals, rushing, as if terrified, through the open glade. O God! were we to be engulfed, and perish in this mysterious flood?
"What was to be done? Should we climb into the trees? That would not save us. If the great channel was blocked up below, I knew that that would not save us; for its jaws were higher than the tops of the highest trees, and the rising flood would soon wash us from the branches. It might prolong our lives, and with them our despair; but what—'Ha!' The thought, heaven-directed, at this moment entered my mind.
"'A raft! a raft! we shall yet be saved!'
"My companions at once understood my meaning. Cudjo seized the axe, while Mary hastened to the wagon to collect such ropes and cords as were in it. I knew there would not be enough of these for our purpose; and, spreading out the great elk-skin, I proceeded to cut it into stripes.
"There were several logs lying close to our camp. They were the trunks of tall straight trees, that, from time to time, had fallen, and were now quite dead and dry. They were the trunks of the beautiful rhododendrons, or tulip-trees, out of which the Indians always make their canoes, when they can get them of sufficient size. This, because their wood is extremely soft and light—weighing only twenty-six pounds to the cubic foot. While busy myself, I directed Cudjo to cut a number of these logs into equal lengths. Cudjo knew how to handle an axe with any man; and the logs were soon of the proper dimensions. We now rolled them together, and, by the aid of our ropes and cross pieces, lashed them firmly to one another; and our raft was completed. Upon this we placed our great chest containing the jerked meat, with our blankets, and such utensils as were necessary to be saved. We laid in no stock of water for the expected voyage—we had no fear about our having enough of that.
"We had been occupied nearly two hours in constructing the raft; but during all this time we had been so busy, that we had hardly looked in the direction of the flood—only to see that it still continued to rise. As soon as our arrangements were completed, I ran down to the water's edge. After watching it for a few minutes, to my great joy I perceived that the flood was at a stand! I shouted the glad news to my companions, who, on hearing it, hastened to join me, and assure themselves by actual observation. For half-an-hour, we all stood upon the shore of the new-formed lake, until we became convinced that its waters were rising no higher. We saw, too, that they did not subside, but remained stationary. 'It has reached the top of whatever has dammed it,' thought we, 'and is now flowing over.'
"'What a pity, Massa Roff,' said Cudjo, as we wended our way back to the camp; 'what a pity we make dat fine raff for nuffin!'
"'Ah, Cudjo,' rejoined my wife, 'we should never regret having performed that which is a work of precaution; and we must remember that the raft— although it may not be required as we intended it—has already far more than repaid us for the labour bestowed upon it. Remember the misery we were suffering but a short time since, and from which the idea of this raft at once relieved us. Measures of precaution, however irksome, should always be adopted. It is only the slothful and vacillating who either neglect or regret them.'
"'Dat's true, Missa—dat's berry true,' said Cudjo, in a serious tone, for he well knew how to appreciate the teachings of his noble mistress.
"It was now very late, or rather very early, and Mary, with the children, returned to their usual resting-place in the wagon. Cudjo and I, fearing to trust to the capricious water, determined—lest it might take another turn, and 'catch us napping'—to keep watch on it till the morning."
THE BEAVERS AND WOLVERENE.
"When daylight came, the mysterious flood was still standing at its full height. I call it mysterious, for as yet we knew nothing of what had so suddenly created it. We could think of no other cause than the falling in of the precipice below. I had determined, as soon as the day fairly broke, to make my way through the woods, and remove all doubt—for we still felt some uneasiness in regard to this strange phenomenon.
"Leaving Cudjo with his long spear, and the boys with their rifles, to guard the camp, I set forth alone. I took with me my gun, as well as a small hatchet which we had, to clear away a track through the brushwood.
"I struck at once into the woods, and guiding myself by an occasional glimpse of the sun that had now risen, I kept on in a south-easterly course. It was my intention to get out on the edge of the flood some distance below, when I could then skirt around it. After cutting my way through the brambles to the distance of nearly a mile, I came suddenly out upon the bank of the rivulet; and guess my surprise, on seeing that the stream was not only not swollen, but there was even less water than usual running in its channel! I noticed, however, that the water was muddy, and that green leaves and fresh broken twigs were floating down upon its current.
"Of course, I now turned my face up-stream, knowing that the dam must be in that direction; but, for my life, I could not imagine how any accident of Nature could have stopped up the channel above. The falling of trees could not possibly have produced such an effect; and there were no high bluffs abutting on the rivulet, that could have fallen into its bed. I began to believe that human hands had been at work; and I looked for the prints of human feet. I saw none, but the tracks of animals were numerous. Thousands of them, at least—great broad feet, webbed like those of a duck, but with sharp claws—were impressed in the sand and mud, all along the banks of the stream.
"I moved forward very cautiously; for, although I could not discover their tracks, I was still fearful that Indians, and of course enemies, were near. At length, I reached a bend in the stream, above which I remembered that the channel was narrower, and ran between banks of a considerable height. I remembered it well—for, on first entering the valley, we had been obliged at this place to draw the wagon out of the bed of the rivulet, and cut a way for it through the adjacent woods. No doubt, then, I would there find the obstacle that had so mysteriously intercepted the current.
"On reaching this bend, I climbed out upon the bank; and, stealing silently through the underwood, peeped through the leaves. A most singular scene was before me.
"The stream, as I had rightly conjectured, was dammed up, at the point where the channel was narrowest, but not by any accident. The work bore the marks of design, as much as if it had been constructed by human hands. A tall tree had been felled across the stream—so that the place where it had been cut through was not detached from the stump, but still held fast by its crushed fibres. On the other side its top branches were buried under rocks and mud, so as to render them secure. Against this tree upright stakes rested; and these again were wattled together, and firmly bedded in rocks that had been collected around their lower ends. Behind these uprights were piled other stakes and branches laid crosswise, and bound together with layers of rocks and mud—so that the whole structure formed a wall of full six feet in thickness—broad along the top, and sloping off toward the water. On the lower side it stood nearly perpendicular, as the uprights were thus set. The top of this was plastered with mud, and at both sides was left a narrow sluice, or wash, through which the water ran smoothly off, without wearing away the breastwork.
"I have said that the work bore the marks of design, as much as if it had been constructed by human hands. But it was not. The builders of that breastwork were before my eyes, and apparently just resting from their labours.
"There were about an hundred of them in all, squatting over the ground, and along the parapet of the new-made dam. They were of a dark-brown, or rather a chestnut colour; and reminded me of so many gigantic rats— except that their tails were pot elongated and tapering like these. Their backs, however, were arched, and their bodies of a thick rounded shape, similar to animals of the rat kind. Moreover, I could perceive that they were armed with the cutting teeth, which distinguish the family of the rodentia, or 'gnawers.' These teeth I could see distinctly—as some of the animals were using them at the time, and they even protruded when their mouths were shut. I noticed that there was a pair of them in each jaw, broad, strong, and shaped like chisels. The ears of the animals were short, and almost buried in the hair, which although long was not shaggy, but presented a smooth appearance over all parts of their bodies. There was a tuft of stiff bristles growing out on each side of the nose, like the whiskers of a cat; and their eyes were small, and set high up, like those of the otter. Their fore limbs were shorter than the hind ones, and both had feet with five claws, but the hind feet were broad and large, and completely webbed between the toes. It was they, then, that had made the tracks I had observed in coming up the stream. But the most striking feature of these animals was the tail. This appendage was entirely without hair, of a dark colour, and looking as though it was covered with the well-known substance shagreen. It was about a foot in length, several inches broad and thick, and not at all unlike a cricket bat—except that it appeared heavier and more oval-shaped at the end. The animals were somewhat larger than otters, not so long, but much thicker and heavier in the body.
"I had never seen such creatures before, but I knew at once what they were—for although I had neglected my other studies, natural history had always been my favourite, and I had made some progress in that. I knew, then, that the strange beings before me were beavers—the castor fibre of the naturalists.
"The whole mystery was now explained. A colony of beavers had migrated into the valley, and constructed their dam; and this it was which had caused the sudden inundation.
"I remained for some time, after I had made the discovery, watching these creatures and their interesting movements. The breastwork appeared to be quite finished; but this did not follow from the fact that the animals were no longer at work upon it, as it is only by night they perform such labour. In fact, they are rarely seen except by night, in countries where they have been disturbed or hunted; but here they were evidently unaccustomed to man. They appeared to be resting after their night's work, it is not likely that they had built the whole breastwork during that one night, but had only put on the finishing part which had produced the sudden flood. As the glade above where they had dammed the rivulet was nearly level, a very small stoppage in the stream sufficed to inundate a large extent of ground, as it had actually done.
"Some of the beavers were sitting upon the newly-raised work, gnawing the leaves and twigs that stuck out from the mud; others were washing themselves, disporting playfully through the water; while others squatted upon logs that lay along the edge of the dam, every now and again flapping their heavy tails upon the water, like so many laundresses beating out their wet linen.
"It was a curious and comical sight; and, after having enjoyed it for some time, I was about to step forward to witness what effect my presence would produce, when, all at once, I perceived that some other object had created a sudden commotion among the animals. One of them, who had been stationed upon a log at some distance up the lake, and apparently acting as a sentry, now ran out upon the log, and struck the water three quick heavy flaps with his tail. This was evidently a signal; for, the moment he had given it, the animal, as if pursued, pitched himself head-foremost into the lake, and disappeared. The rest started as soon as they heard it; and looking around for a moment, as if in affright, they all ran to the bank, and plunged simultaneously under the water—each of them striking a blow with his tail as he disappeared!
"I now looked for the cause of this sudden movement. All at once I perceived, coming around the lake where the sentry-beaver had disappeared, a strange-looking animal. It moved slowly and silently, skulking among the trees, and keeping close in upon the water's edge. I saw that it was making for the new-built dam, and I remained where I was to watch it. At length it reached the breastwork, and crawled cautiously along it, keeping behind the parapet—so as not to be seen from the lake above.
"I had now a good view of it, and a vicious-looking creature it was. It was not much larger than one of the beavers themselves; and in some points not unlike them; but in other respects the difference was marked. It was of a very different colour—being nearly black upon the back and belly, while a light brown strip traversed both its sides, meeting over its rump. Its nose and feet were completely black, while its breast and throat were white, and a whitish ring was around each of the eyes. It had small ears, with stiff bristles at the nose, and a short and bushy tail. The hair over its whole body was long and shaggy. Its legs were thick and muscular, and so short that, when it moved, its belly seemed to trail along the ground. It appeared rather to crawl than to walk— but this arose from the fact of its being an animal of the plantigrade family; and using its feet to walk upon—which in many other animals, such as the horse, appear to form part of the legs. With the animal in question the feet were long, black, and armed with white curving claws. Its whole appearance was that of a carnivorous creature—in other words, it was a beast of prey. It was the Wolverene, the dreaded enemy of the beavers.
"On arriving near the middle of the breastwork, it stopped; and, planting its forefeet up against the parapet, raised its head slowly, and looked over into the lake.
"Although the beaver is an amphibious animal, and spends full half of his time in the water, he cannot remain long, without coming to the surface to take breath; and already the heads of several were seen at different points in the lake. Others, again, had boldly climbed out on the little islets which here and there appeared above water, and where they knew that the wolverene, who is not a good swimmer, could not reach them. None of them, however, showed any signs of returning to the breastwork.
"The wolverene seemed also to have arrived at this conclusion; for now— apparently careless of being seen from the lake—he looked around him on all sides and above, as if he either intended giving up the pursuit of his prey, or adopting some more effective measure to secure it. At length he appeared to have formed some resolution, and leaping boldly up on the parapet, so as to be seen by the beavers, he walked back again along the water's edge whence he had come. On getting a good distance from the breastwork, he stopped for a moment; and then, turning away from the lake, ran off into the woods.
"I was curious to see whether the beavers would now return to the breastwork, and I resolved to remain a while longer without showing myself. I waited about five minutes or more, at the end of which time I saw several of them—who had gone to the most distant islets—plunge into the water and come swimming towards me. As I was watching them, all at once I heard a rustling among the fallen leaves near the dam; and on looking I perceived the wolverene making all the haste he could toward the breastwork. On reaching it, however, instead of running out behind the parapet as before, I saw him plant his long claws against a tree, and commence climbing upward, keeping on that side farthest from the lake. The branches of this tree stretched horizontally out, and directly over the breastwork. In a short time the wolverene had reached the fork of one of these; and, crawling out upon it, he laid himself flat along the branch and looked downward.
"He had scarcely settled himself on his perch, when half-a-dozen beavers—thinking from what they had seen that he must have gone clear off—climbed out upon the breastwork, flapping their great tails as they came. They were soon under the very branch, and I saw the wolverene with his legs erected and ears set for the spring. This was my time; and glancing up the barrel of my rifle, I aimed directly for his heart. At the crack, the astonished beavers leaped back into the water, while the wolverene dropped from his perch—a little sooner, perhaps, than he had intended—and rolled over the ground evidently wounded. I ran up and struck at him with the butt-end of my gun, intending to finish him; but, to my astonishment, the fierce brute seized the stock in his teeth, and almost tore it in pieces! For some time I hammered him with huge stones—he all the while endeavouring to lay hold of me with his long curved claws—and it was not until I got a down-blow at his head with my axe that the fight was ended. A fearful-looking monster he was as he lay stretched before me, and not unlike the carcajou which had killed our ox at the camp, only smaller. I did not attempt to take his carcass with me, as it was a useless burden. Moreover, from the fetid smell which he emitted, I was glad to part company as soon as I had killed him; and, leaving him where he lay, I took the shortest road back to the camp."
HOW TO BUILD A LOG-CABIN.
"I need not describe the joy of my wife and the rest when I returned, and related to them what I had seen, as well as my adventure with the wolverene. The discovery that our new-made lake was nothing else than a great beaver-dam at once decided the question as to our remaining in the valley. Here was a source of wealth to us far greater than would have been any situation in the mines of Mexico—in fact, better than a mine itself. The skin of every beaver in that dam I knew to be worth a guinea and a half. I saw there were at least an hundred of them—there might be many more—and how soon would these multiply into thousands, producing annually four or five young to every pair of them. We could tend them—taking care to provide them with food—and destroy the wolverenes and any other of their enemies, that might exist in the valley. They would thus increase the faster, and we could easily prevent them from becoming too numerous by trapping the older ones, and carefully preserving their skins. After several years thus employed, we could return to civilised life, carrying with us enough of their valuable fur to sell for a smart fortune.
"The prospect of staying where we were was now delightful—the more so, as I was satisfied it was the best thing I could do. Even had I been able to procure a pair of fresh oxen at that moment, I should not have moved a step farther. What Mary had said in jest was now likely to be realised in earnest, We might yet make our fortune in the Desert!
"Of course, it was a settled point—we resolved to remain.
"The first thing to be done, then, was to provide ourselves with a house. It would be a 'log-cabin,' of course; and putting up a log-cabin was a mere bagatelle to Cudjo. During our residence in Virginia, he had built two or three on my farm; and no man knew better than he how to do the thing. No man knew better than he how to shape the logs, notch them, and lay them firmly in their beds—no man knew better how to split the 'clap-boards,' lay them on the rafters, and bind them fast, without even a single nail—no man knew how to 'chink' the walls, clay the chimney, and hang the door of a log-cabin better than Cudjo. No. I will answer for that—Cudjo could construct a log-cabin as well as the most renowned architect in the world.
"There was plenty of the right kind of timber at hand—plenty of tulip-trees with their tall straight trunks rising to the height of fifty feet without a branch; and for the next two days the axe of Cudjo could be heard with its constant 'check—check,' while every now and then the crash of a falling tree woke the echoes of the valley. While Cudjo was felling the timber and cutting it into logs of a proper length, none of the rest of us were idle. In cooking our meals, scouring the vessels, and looking after the children, Mary found sufficient employment; while Frank, Harry, and I, with the help of our horse Pompo, were able to drag the logs forward to the spot where we had designed to put up the cabin.
"On the third day, Cudjo notched the logs, and on the fourth we raised the walls up to the square. On the fifth, we set up the gables and rafters, which, you know, is done by shortening the gable-logs successively, as you go upward, and tying each pair of them by a pair of rafters notched into them, at the ends, precisely as the wall-logs below. A ridge-pole completed the frame, and that was laid by the evening of the fifth day.
"Upon the sixth day, Cudjo went to work upon a large oak which he had felled and cut into lengths of about four feet each, at the beginning of our operations. It was now somewhat dry, so as to split easily; and with his axe and a set of wedges he attacked it. By sunset, he had a pile of clap-boards beside him as large as a wagon—quite enough to 'shingle' the roof of our house. During that day, I employed myself in tempering the clay for chinking the walls and plastering the chimney.
"On the seventh day, we all rested from our labour. We did so because it was Sunday. We had resolved ever to keep the Sabbath. Though the eyes of men could not see us—which I fear is too often the reason for observing the sacred day—we knew that the eye of God was upon us, even in that remote valley.
"We rose as early as usual, and after eating our breakfast, the Bible was brought forth, and we offered—the only sacrifice to Him acceptable—the sacrifice of our humble prayers. Mary had been busy during the week, and our little ones were dressed out, as if for a holiday. Taking them along with us, we all walked down to the lake and some distance around its edge. We saw that the beavers had been as busy in building as we; and already their cone-shaped dwellings appeared above the water—some of them near the shore, and others upon the little islets. There was only one which we could reach, and this we examined with great curiosity. It stood only a few yards from the shore, but at a place where the water was deep on its front side. It was nearly cone-shaped, or rather the form of a bee-hive; and was constructed out of stones, sticks and mud mixed with grass. Part of it was under water, but although we could not look into the interior, we knew that there was an upper story above water-mark—for we saw the ends of the joists that supported the second floor. The entrance was toward the centre of the lake and under the water—so that in going out of and into his house, the beaver is always under the necessity of making a dive. But he does not mind that, as it seems to be rather a pleasure to him than an inconvenience. There was no entrance toward the land, as we had often heard. Indeed, it would be bad policy in the beaver, thus to make a door by which his enemy, the wolverene, could easily get in and destroy him. The houses were all plastered over with mud, which, by the flapping of the tails and the constant paddling of the broad web-feet, had become as smooth as if the mud had been laid on with a trowel. We knew that they were also plastered inside, so as to render them warm and commodious in winter.
"Some of these dwellings were not regular cones, but rather of an oval shape; and sometimes two were placed, as it were, 'under one roof,' so as to steady them in the water, and save labour in the building. They were all pretty large—many of them rising the height of a man above the surface of the lake, and with broad tops, where the beavers delighted to sit and sun themselves. Each house was built by its own inhabitants, and each of them was inhabited by a single pair of beavers—man and wife—and in some instances where there were families by four or five. Some of them who had finished their houses earlier than the rest, had already commenced gathering their provisions for the winter. These consisted of the leaves and soft twigs of several species of trees—such as willow, birch, and mulberry—and we saw collections of these floating in the water in front of several of the houses.
"It was late in the season for beavers to be constructing a new dam. It is generally in spring when they perform that labour; but it was evident that the present colony had just arrived—no doubt driven by trappers or Indians, or perhaps drought, from their last settlement, hundreds of miles away. We conjectured that they must have come up the stream that ran away to the eastward.
"They must have entered the valley some time before we discovered them, as it would have taken them several days to gnaw down the trees and accumulate the materials for the dam that had so suddenly started up to alarm us. Some of these trees were nearly a foot in diameter, while many of the stones—which they had rolled up or carried between their fore-paws and throat—would have weighed nearly a score of pounds.
"It was evident, then, they had arrived late in the season, and had worked hard to get ready for the winter. But Cudjo and I were determined, as soon as we should have finished our building operations, to lend them a hand in laying in their stock of provisions."
THE SAGACIOUS SQUIRREL.
"While we thus stood watching the movements of our beavers, and conversing about the habits of these interesting animals, an incident occurred which very much amused us, and proved that the beavers were not the only animals whom Nature had gifted with extraordinary sagacity.
"Near the middle of the lake stood a clump of tall trees—their trunks immersed for two or three feet under the water. These trees had been upon the bank of the rivulet, previous to the formation of the dam; and they were now surrounded on all sides, forming a kind of timber islet. It was evident, however, that they were destined to decay, as they were trees of the poplar species, and such as could not live with their roots covered with water.
"Among the tops of these trees we observed several small animals leaping nimbly about from branch to branch and from one tree to the other. They were squirrels. They seemed to be labouring under some unusual excitement—as though they had been alarmed by the presence of an enemy. But there did not appear to be any such enemy near them. We noticed that they passed from tree to tree, running down the trunks of each, as far as the water would allow them; and then, after looking outward, as if they intended to leap into the lake, they would suddenly turn back again, and gallop up into the high branches. There were in all about a dozen of them; but the nimbleness with which they passed from place to place, would have led one to believe that there were ten times that number; and the twigs and leaves were constantly kept in motion, as though a large flock of birds were fluttering through them.
"We had noticed these animals before, from time to time, dashing about in the same clump of trees; but not thinking it anything unusual, had paid no attention to their movements. Now, however, it occurred to us that these little creatures—who never take to the water unless compelled by absolute necessity—had been suddenly cut off from their usual range by the forming of the dam, and were held where they were in a state of captivity. This was the more evident, as the trees had been stripped of many of their leaves, and the bark was peeled from the more tender twigs and branches. It was plain that the squirrels had been living for some time upon short allowance, and were anxious to get off from the place.
"We now saw what was causing the unusual commotion among them at that particular time. Near the clump of trees, but higher up the lake, a small log was floating in the water. It had somehow got into the stream above, and was being borne down by the current. It was at this moment nearing the little island of timber upon which were the squirrels; but it came on very slowly, as the current through the lake was hardly perceptible. It was this log that was causing such a flurry; and the animals evidently intended—should it come near enough—to use it as a raft.
"We seated ourselves to watch their manoeuvres. On came the log slowly and gradually; but, instead of drifting directly for the timber, it was borne by the current in a direction that would carry it at least twenty yards from the trees. The squirrels had gathered upon that side; and now, instead of running up and down the trunks, as before, they all stood upon the topmost branches apparently watching the motions of the log.
"'Poor little creatures!' said Mary, 'they will be unable to reach it, after all. What a pity!'
"Just as she made this reflection, the log floated forward to the point where it was likely to be nearest to the clump in passing. A long branch stretched out in that direction; but, as we calculated, the driftwood was not likely to pass nearer than twenty yards. On this branch, however, the squirrels had now gathered, one behind the other in a long string, and we could see the foremost of them straining himself as if to spring.
"'Surely, they do not intend,—surely, they cannot leap so far!' said Mary, as we all stood holding our breath, and watching them with intense curiosity.
"'Yes, Missa,' replied Cudjo; 'de do intend. Gosh! de leap him, too. Dis nigga see 'em in Vaginny leap far furrer. Looky now! Yonder de go—wap!'
"As Cudjo spoke, the foremost squirrel launched out into the air, and the next moment pounced down upon the log. Then another followed, and another, and another, looking like so many birds flying through the air in a string, until the log was covered with the little creatures, and floated off with its cargo!
"We supposed that they had all succeeded in getting off, but in this we were mistaken. On looking up to the trees again, we saw that there was still one remaining. He appeared not to have got out upon the projecting branch in time,—for the weight of each of those that preceded him, coming down upon the log had pushed it so far off, that he became, no doubt, afraid to venture taking such a long leap. He was now running to and fro, apparently in a frantic state—both on account of his inability to escape, and his being thus left alone. For some time he kept springing from tree to tree, running down the trunks of all to the very edge of the water, and stopping now and again to look hopelessly after his companions.
"At length, we saw him descend a tree, whose bark was exceedingly rough—in fact, crisped outward in great broad pieces, or scales of a foot long, and several inches broad, that looked as though they were about to fall from the tree. For this reason, the tree is known among backwoodsmen as the 'scaly bark.' Having descended this tree, nearly to the point where it rose above the water, the squirrel was seen to stop; and for a moment we lost sight of him, where he was hidden behind one of the broad pieces of bark. We thought he had taken shelter there, intending to rest himself. Presently, however, we saw the bark moving backwards and forwards; and from what we could see of the little animal, it was evident he was trying with all his might to detach it from the tree. Occasionally he ran out from the crevice—scratched the bark outside with teeth and claws—and then hurriedly disappeared again.
"These strange manoeuvres were kept up for several minutes, while we all remained upon the shore, watching with curiosity for the result.
"At length, we saw the piece of bark move rapidly outward from the trunk, and hang down suspended only by a few fibres. These were soon gnawed by the teeth of the squirrel, and the broad scale fell into the water. It had hardly touched the surface, when the animal ran nimbly down, and leaped upon it! There was no current at the spot where the bark fell into the water; and we were in doubt whether it would carry him out from among the trees; but we were soon convinced that our squirrel knew what he was about. As soon as he had fairly balanced himself upon his tiny craft, he hoisted his broad bushy tail high up in the air, by way of a sail; and, the next moment, we saw that the breeze catching upon it wafted the little mariner slowly, but surely, outward! In a few seconds he had cleared the trees; and the wind soon brought him within the influence of the current, which caused his bark to float downward after his companions.
"These had well-nigh reached the breastwork of the dam; and Harry wished very much to intercept them as they got to land. This wish, however, was overruled by his mother, who very justly declared that the little creatures deserved to escape, after having so well amused us by their ingenuity.
"In a short time, they all leaped ashore, and went scampering off among the trees in search of a dinner—for by this time, no doubt, they were sufficiently hungry."
A HOUSE BUILT WITHOUT A NAIL.
"Next day Cudjo and I went on with our housebuilding. This day was appropriated to roofing it. We first laid a row of the clap-boards, projecting considerably over the eaves—so as to cast the water far out. These we secured near their lower ends by a long straight pole, which traversed the roof horizontally from gable to gable, and was lashed down by strips of wet elk-hide. These we knew would tighten as they dried, and press the pole firmer than ever against the boards.
"We now laid a second row of the clap-boards—with their lower ends riding the upper ones of the first row, and thus securing them. The second row was in its turn secured by a horizontal pole, along its bottom, and at its top by the lower ends of the third row; and so on up to the ridge.
"The other side was shingled in a similar manner; and the ridge itself was secured against leakage, by allowing the clap-boards, on one side, to project upwards, and shelter the ends of those on the other. This gave our cabin quite a chanticleer sort of comb along its top, and added to the picturesqueness of its appearance.
"Our house was now built and roofed, and we could say that we had finished a house without ever having been inside of it—for as yet it had neither door nor windows. As the spaces between the logs were not yet 'chinked,' it looked more like a gigantic cage than a house.
"Our next day was devoted to making the door and window—that is, making the apertures where these were to be. We designed having only one window—in the back.
"The manner in which we opened our doorway was very simple. Having first carefully rested the logs—which were to be on each side of the door—upon firm wedges, we sawed away the parts between. Fortunately, we had a saw, or this operation would have given us a good deal of trouble. Of course, we sawed away the proper size for a door; and thus our doorway, by placing the lintels and posts, was complete. In a similar manner we cut out our window in the back. We then went to work upon one of the soft tulip-trees, and sawed out enough plank to make a door and window, or rather a window-shutter. These we cut to the proper size, and bound them together by slats, and trenails made out of the hard locust-wood. We then hung them—both door and window-shutter—with strips of elk-skin. That night we carried in all our bedding and utensils, and slept under the roof of our new house.
"It was still far from being finished; and the next day we set about building a fireplace and chimney. This, of course, was to be in one of the gable ends; and we chose that looking northward—for we had built our cabin fronting the east. We wedged the logs precisely as we had done with the door, and then sawed away the space between—up to the height of an ordinary mantel-piece. Behind this, and altogether outside the house, we built a fireplace of stones and clay—laying a hearth of the same materials, that completely covered the sleeper—in order to prevent the latter from being burned. On the top of this fireplace, the chimney was still to be erected; and this was done by notching short straight pieces of timber, and placing them across each other, exactly as we had laid the logs of the house itself. These pieces were put in shorter, as we advanced to the top—so that the top ones might be lighter and more easily supported by those below; and when the whole was finished, and the chinks filled with clay, our chimney tapered upward like the funnel of a little factory. The chimney and fireplace occupied us quite a day, and at night—although it was not very cold—we tried it with a log-fire. It drew beautifully.
"Next day we 'chinked' the walls all round with chips, stones, and clay. We chinked gables and all, until not a hole was to be seen that would let a mouse through. The floor still remained; but we intended to lay this with plank, and as we had no means of getting them except by our small saw, and they would require some time to dry, we resolved to attend, first, to several other things that were of more necessity, and finish the floor at our leisure. We carpeted the ground, which was quite dry, with green palmetto leaves, and that rendered it sufficiently comfortable for the present. We now formally entered our new house, which we had built from floor to chimney without a nail!
"Our next care was to furnish our horse with a house—in other words, to build a stable. Not that the weather rendered it at all necessary for Pompo—so our horse was called—to sleep under a roof; but we were fearful lest some beast of prey, prowling about by night, should fancy him—as the carcajou had fancied our poor ox.
"The stable was only a two days' job—as we built it out of logs already cut, and roofed it with the refuse of our clap-boards. Besides, we had no window nor chimney to make, and we did not chink the logs, as that was not necessary for a stable in such a climate. Our horse would be warm enough without that; and Cudjo had made him a trough by hollowing out one of the tulip-trees.
"From that time forth Pompo was regularly called every evening at sunset, and shut up in his stable. We could not afford to let the carcajou make a meal of him, as in our log-hauling and other labours he was of great service to us.
"As soon as the stable was finished, we set to work and put up a table and six strong chairs. As I have said, we had no nails; but, fortunately enough, I had both a chisel and auger, with several other useful tools. All of these I had brought in the great chest from Virginia, thinking they might be needed on our beautiful farm at Cairo. With the help of these, and Cudjo's great skill as a joiner, we were able to mortise and dovetail at our pleasure; and I had made a most excellent glue from the horns and hoofs of the elk and ox. We wanted a plane to polish our table, but this was a want which we could easily endure. The lid of our table was made of plank sawn out of the catalpa-tree; and with some pieces of pumice I had picked up in the valley, and the constant scouring which it received at the hands of our housewife, it soon exhibited a surface as smooth as glass. From my finding this pumice-stone, I concluded that our snow-mountain had once been a volcano—perhaps like the peak of Teneriffe, standing alone in the water, when the great plain around us had been covered with a sea.
"Cudjo and I did not forget the promise we had made to the beavers. We could see these little creatures, from day to day, very busy in drawing large branches to the water, and then floating them towards their houses. We knew that this was for their winter provisions. They had grown quite tame, as soon as they found we were not going to molest them; and frequently came out on our side of the lake. For this confidence on their part we were determined to give them a treat they little dreamt of—at least, of receiving from our hands.
"I had noticed a clump of beautiful trees, which grew near one side of the glade, and not far from where we had built our house. Our attention had been called to them by the aromatic fragrance of their flowers, that blew around us all the time we were engaged in building. They were low, crooked trees, not over thirty feet in height—with oval leaves, six inches in length, and of a bluish-green colour. The flowers were about the size of a rose, although more like a lily in appearance, and white as snow. Their perfume was extremely agreeable, and Mary was in the habit of gathering a bunch of them daily, and placing them in a vessel of water.
"I have already said that my wife understood botany, and all botanists take a pleasure in imparting their knowledge to others. She explained to us, therefore, the nature and properties of this sweet-scented tree. It was a species of magnolia—not that which is celebrated for its large flowers, but another kind. It was the magnolia glauca, sometimes called 'swamp sassafras,' but more generally known among hunters and trappers as the 'beaver-tree.' It is so named by them, because the beaver is fonder of its roots than of any other food; so fond of it, indeed, that it is often used as a bait to the traps by which these animals are caught.
"Whether our beavers had already discovered their favourite tree in some other part of the valley, we did not know. Probably they had; but, at all events, Cudjo and I by a very little labour, with our spade and axe, could save them a great deal; and so we set about it.
"In a few hours we dug up several armfuls of the long branching roots, and carried them down to the edge of the lake. We flung them into the water at a place where we knew the animals were in the habit of frequenting. In a short time the aromatic roots were discovered, when a whole crowd of beavers were seen hurrying to the spot, and swimming off again to their houses, each with a root or a whole bunch of them in his teeth. That was a grand festival for the beavers."
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
A BATTUE OF "BLACK-TAILS."
"Of course we could do nothing more for our beavers at present. It was not our intention to trap any of them until they should become very numerous, and then we could obtain annually a large number of skins. Their tails, we knew, were very good to eat—in fact, quite a delicacy— but we could not afford to kill one of them merely for the sake of eating his tail; and the other parts of the beaver's flesh are by no means palatable. Besides, we expected to find enough of game without that, as in every part, where the ground was soft, we saw the tracks of deer and other animals.
"By the time we had fairly furnished our house, the flesh of the elk was beginning to run short, so that a grand hunting excursion was determined upon. It was also to be an exploring expedition, as up to this time we had not visited any part of the valley except that which lay immediately around our house. Frank, Harry, and myself, were to form the party, while Cudjo was to remain by the house, and guard the female portion of our little community with his great spear.
"Everything being ready, we started out with our three rifles, and took the route up the valley. As we passed along under high trees, we could see squirrels upon all sides of us; some of them sitting on their hind-quarters like little monkeys; some of them cracking nuts; some of them barking like toy-dogs; while others, again, leaped about among the branches. As we advanced upon them, they sprang up the trees, or streaked off along the ground so swiftly that it seemed more like the flight of a bird than the running of a four-footed animal. On reaching a tree they would gallop up it, generally keeping on the opposite side to that on which we were, so that they might be secure. Sometimes, however, their curiosity would get the better of their fears, and when they had climbed as high as the first or second forking or the branches, they would stop there and gaze down upon us, all the while flourishing their light bushy tails. We had excellent opportunities of getting a shot at them, and Harry, who was not so thoughtful as his brother, wished very much to try his skill; but I forbade this, telling him that we could not afford to throw away our ammunition on such small game. Indeed, this was a thought that frequently entered my mind, and made me anxious about what we should do when our ammunition became exhausted. I cautioned both my boys, therefore, not to spend a single shot on any animal smaller than elk or deer, and they promised to obey me.
"When we had gone about a mile up-stream, we saw that the trees grew thinner as we advanced, and then opened into small glades, or spaces covered with herbage and flowers, usually called 'openings.' This, surely, was the very place to find deer—much more likely than in the thick woods, where these animals are in more danger from the cougar and carcajou, that occasionally drop upon them from the trees. We had not gone far among these openings, before we saw fresh tracks. They were more like the tracks of a goat than those of a deer, except that they were much larger. They were nearly as large as the tracks of the elk, but we knew they were not these.
"We advanced with great caution, keeping in the underwood as much as possible. At length we saw that there was a large glade before us, much larger than any we had yet passed. We could tell this by the wide clear spaces that appeared through the trees. We stole silently forward to the edge of this glade, and, to our great satisfaction, saw a herd of deer feeding quietly out upon the open ground.
"'Papa, they are not deer,' said Frank, as we first came in sight of them. 'See! who ever heard of deer with such ears as those? I declare they are as long as a mule's!'
"'Yes,' added Harry; 'and who ever heard of deer with black-tails?'
"I confess I was myself puzzled for a while. The animals before us were certainly deer, as their long slender legs and great branched antlers testified; but they were very different from the common kind—and different, too, from the elk. They were much larger than the red or fallow-deer, though not unlike them in shape and colour. But that which was strange, as my boys had at once noticed, was the peculiarity of their ears and tails. The former were quite as long as the ears of a mule, and reached more that half-way to the tops of their antlers. Their tails, again, were short and bushy, of a whitish colour underneath, but on the top and above as black as the wing of a crow. There were also some black hairs upon their backs, and a black stripe along the neck and shoulders, while their noses on each side were of a pale ashy colour—all of which marks gave them a very different appearance from the Virginian or English deer.
"I have said that I was at first puzzled; but I soon recollected having heard of these animals, although they are but little known to naturalists. They could be no other than the 'black-tailed deer' of the Rocky Mountains—the cervus macrotis described by the naturalist Say. This was evident, both from their size, the great length of their ears— but more than all from the colour of their tails, from which last circumstance their common name has been given them by the hunters and trappers.
"We did not stop long to examine them. We were too anxious to have a shot at them; but how were we to get near enough? There were seven of them in the herd; but they were quite out in the middle of the glade, and that was more than three hundred yards wide. The nearest of the seven was beyond the range even of my long rifle. What, then, was best to be done?
"After thinking about this for a moment, I saw that an open passage led out of the glade through the trees on the other side. It was a wide avenue leading into some other glade; and I knew that the deer when startled would be most likely to make off in that direction. I determined, therefore, to creep round to the other side, and intercept them as they attempted to run through. Frank was to remain where we first saw them, while Harry would go half-way along with me, and then take his stand behind a tree. We should thus enclose the deer in a sort of triangle, and some one of us would be sure of getting them within range before they could escape.
"I had scarcely got to the edge of the opening when I saw that the herd was browsing in towards Frank. They were every moment getting closer and closer to him, and I watched eagerly for the shot. I knew he would not fire until they were very near, as I had cautioned him not to do so, on account of the smallness of his rifle. Presently I saw the stream of smoke and fire issuing from the leaves; then followed the sharp crack, and then the yelping of our dogs as they broke forward. At the same time one of the deer was seen to spring upward and fall dead in its tracks. The others wheeled and ran, first one way and then another, in their confusion; until, after doubling several times, they made towards the opening where I stood. In their flight, however, they had gone too close to Harry, and as they were running past his stand, the tiny crack of a rifle was heard among the bushes; and another of the black-tails rolled over on the plain.
"It was now my turn; and I prepared myself to make the best shot I could or be beaten by my own boys. So as they came up I let drive at them, to my mortification missing them every one—as I thought at the moment. It soon appeared, however, that I was mistaken in this. Castor and Pollux swept past upon the heels of the herd; and before they had disappeared out of the long avenue, I saw the dogs spring upon the haunches of one that lagged behind, and drag him to the ground. I ran to their assistance, and seizing the wounded animal by one of its antlers, soon put an end to it with my knife. I had wounded it in the flank; and that had enabled the mastiffs to overtake it, which they could not have done otherwise, as its companions were at the time several hundred yards ahead of it. We all now came together, exulting in the fine fortune we had met with, for we had made a regular battue of it. We were glad that none of us had missed, and that we had succeeded in obtaining so much good meat, for we were not slaughtering these beautiful creatures out of wanton sport, but from the necessity of procuring food. Each congratulated the others upon their good shooting, and said nothing of his own—although it was plain that all three of us were proud of our respective shots. To do justice, however, that of Harry was decidedly the best. He had knocked his one over while on the run—no easy matter with these black-tails, who do not gallop regularly as other deer, but bound forward, lifting all their feet together, as you will sometimes see sheep do. This mode of running is one of the peculiarities of their species—which, perhaps, more than any other thing, distinguishes them from the common deer.
"After carefully wiping out, and then reloading, our rifles, we rested them against the trees, and set to work to skin our game.
"While engaged in this operation, Harry complained of thirst. Indeed, we were all thirsty as well, for the sun was hot, and we had walked a good distance. We could not be far from the stream, although we were not sure of its direction; and Harry, taking the tin cup which we had brought with us, set out to find it, promising soon to return with water for our relief. He had only left us but a short while, when we heard him calling back through the trees; and, thinking that some animal might have attacked him, Frank and I seized our rifles, and ran after him. On coming up, we were surprised to find him standing quietly on the bank of a crystal rivulet, holding the cup=full of water in his hand.
"'Why did you bring us away?' asked Frank.
"'Taste this,' replied he; 'here's a pickle!'
"'Oh, papa!' cried Frank, after applying the cup to his lips; 'salt as brine, I declare.'
"'Salt you may say,' continued his brother; 'the sea itself is not so salt—taste it, papa!'
"I did as I was desired; and, to my delight, I found that the water of the rivulet was, what Frank had alleged, 'salt as brine.' I say to my delight, for I was greatly pleased at this discovery. The boys could not understand this, as they, being now very thirsty, would much rather have met with a cup of fresh, than a whole river of salt water. I soon pointed out to them the importance of what we had found. We had hitherto been in great need of salt—for we had not a single grain of it—and had felt the want ever since our arrival in the valley. Only they who cannot get salt, can understand what a terrible thing it is to be without this homely, but necessary article.
"The flesh of our elk, which for many days past we lived upon, had proved quite insipid for want of salt; and we had not been able to make a soup that was in any way palatable. Now, however, we should have as much as we desired; and I explained to my companions, that by simply boiling this water in our kettle, we should obtain the very thing we so much stood in need of. This, as they saw, would be great news for mamma on our return; and the prospect of making her happy, by imparting the information, rendered all of us impatient to get back. We did not stay a moment by the salt stream—which was a very small rivulet of blue water, and evidently ran from some spring that bubbled up in the valley. Not far below us, we saw where it emptied itself into the main stream of fresh water; and, keeping down to the latter, we quenched our thirst, and then went back to our work.
"We made all the haste we could; and our three black-tails were soon skinned, quartered, and hung upon the trees—so as to be out of reach of the wolves while we should be gone. We then shouldered our rifles, and hurried back to the house."
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
CATCHING A TARTAR.
"Of course, Mary was much pleased at hearing of the discovery we had made. One of the first requisites of a housewife is a supply of good salt; and that we promised to obtain for her on the morrow. It was our intention to carry the kettle up to the salt stream, and there manufacture the article—as that would be more convenient than to bring the water down to the house. This piece of work we laid out for the next day. Meanwhile, as it was not yet near night, we caught Pompo, and set off again to bring home our black-tails. This required us to make several journeys—as we had no cart by which we could bring the deer all at once, and each of them was as large as a good-sized heifer. We succeeded, however, in getting all to the house before sunset—except the skins, which we left hanging on the trees for another day. While the boys and I had been engaged at this work, Cudjo was not idle. It was our intention to cure the venison—not by 'jerking,' as we had done the elk-meat, but with the salt, which we were about to make on the morrow. For this purpose, we should require a large vessel capable of holding the pickle. We had nothing of the sort; and, of course, we were puzzled for a while as to how we should manage without it. It was early in the day—before we had brought in the venison—that this difficulty occurred to us.
"'Why could we not leave it in the stream itself?' asked Harry. 'The water is very clear, and there are clean hard rocks on the bottom. Why could we not sink the quarters of venison on these rocks, and make them fast, by placing great stones on them?'
"'Ha, ha!' laughed Frank, 'trust the wolves for finding them there. These gentry would soon empty your famous pickle barrel.'
"'Look yar, Massa,' said Cudjo; 'this nigga sees no difficulty 'bout dat. He soon make a place for de meat.'
"'How, Cudjo?' inquired Mary.
"'Why, Missa, same's dey make de ole dug-out in Vaginny—by hollering out de log.'
"This was the very thing itself. A log hollowed out after the manner of a canoe, or 'dug-out,'—as Cudjo used to designate that species of craft—would answer the purpose admirably; and Cudjo, having chosen a section of a large tulip-tree, went to work. By the time we had got our last load to the house, he had made a cavity in the tree, that was capable of containing the three black-tails at once. A valuable idea was also suggested by this operation. We remembered the wooden trays, dishes, and other utensils—made in this way—that we had often seen among the negroes on our plantation. These, however rude, we saw answered the purpose well; and we might hereafter supply ourselves in a similar manner.
"After breakfast the next morning, we started for the salt stream. We all went together, Mary riding the horse, while Cudjo and I carried the children in our arms. Frank and Harry took the kettle upon a long pole between them—each, at the same time, having his rifle in the other hand. The dogs of course followed us, and our house was left to take care of itself. We had hung the venison up on high branches, lest the wolves might take a fancy to it in our absence.
"Mary was charmed with the scenery as we passed along, particularly where the woods began to open, as they did, towards the upper end of the valley. She noticed the various kind of trees as we advanced, and at one time uttered a joyous exclamation, as though she had seen something that pleased her more than common.
"We questioned her as to what it was; but she would satisfy us no farther than by telling us, that she had made a discovery of nearly as much importance as our salt river. We were curious to know what it was, but my wife checked our curiosity by observing, very justly, that as we were happy enough at that time, she might make us too happy; and she should therefore reserve her secret until we got back to our house in the evening. 'We may then be weary and out of spirits,' added she, 'but I have something to tell you that will make you all merry again.'
"I could not help admiring the good sense and patience of my wife, thus reserving pleasant news for a time when they might be more available in producing a happy effect.
"As we were marching through a small glade, talking and laughing in high glee, an animal leaped out of some bushes before us, and ran slowly off to one side. It was a beautiful little creature, about the size of a cat, with dark glossy hair, spotted about the head and neck, and with clear white stripes running along its back. It did not go far before it stopped; and, throwing up its long bushy tail, looked back at us with the playful and innocent air of a kitten. I knew very well what the pretty creature was. Not so the impetuous Harry, who, thinking that here was the very 'pet' he wanted, dropped his pole, kettle, and all, and made after it.
"I cried out to him to desist; but the boy, either not hearing me—on account of the yelping of the dogs, who had also started in pursuit—or being too intent on making a capture, ran on after the animal. But the chase did not last long. The little creature, apparently not the least frightened at the terrible enemies that were so close upon its heels— stood near the edge of the glade, as if to await its pursuers Harry, as he ran, was all the while eagerly scolding off the dogs. He wanted to take the little beauty alive; and he feared that the mastiffs would kill it before he could come up. It looked, too, as if they would, for they were now almost on top of it yelping with open mouths. Just at this moment, the strange animal was seen to elevate its hind-quarters, throw its long tail forward over its back, and give a sudden jerk of its body, as if by way of an insult to its pursuers. But it meant something more than a mere insult. It meant to punish them for their audacity. The effect of that singular movement was at once apparent. The dogs suddenly wheeled in their tracks. Their victorious yelping was changed to a fearful howling; and both of them ran back thrusting their noses into the grass, and capering over the ground as if they had either been stung by wasps, or had suddenly fallen into convulsions! Harry stopped for a moment wondering at this. He did not stop long. The next moment we saw him throw his hands up to his face, and uttering a cry that betokened pain and terror, come running back as quick as he had gone off.
"The pole-cat (for it was a pole-cat—the mephitis chinga, or American skunk) after he had discharged the fetid shower, stood for an instant looking over his shoulder, in such a way that we could almost fancy he was laughing. Then jerking his tail from side to side in a frolicksome manner, he made a bound into the bramble, and disappeared.
"Whether the skunk laughed or not, we did—especially Frank, who took this method of retaliating upon his brother for dropping the great kettle against his shins. But we had no time to lose in talk, until we could get some distance from the glade, which was now filled with the suffocating smell; so, calling upon Harry to lay hold of his burden, we hurried as quickly as possible from the spot. The dogs, however, brought the effluvium along with them; and it required unusual scolding and pelting of stones to keep them at a respectful distance. Harry had come off better than I expected—as the animal had directed its battery against the dogs; and he had only received enough of the discharge to punish him for his rashness and disobedience.
"As we continued our journey, I took the opportunity to instruct my children in the habits of this singular animal.
"'You have seen,' said I, addressing myself to Frank and Harry, 'that it is about the size of a cat, although broader and fleshier in the body, lower upon the limbs, and with a sharper and more elongated snout.
"'You have seen that it is a spotted and striped animal—and in this respect it also resembles the cat, as these spots and stripes are different upon different individuals of the same species—so much so that no two skunks are exactly alike in colour.
"'You have witnessed the efficient means with which Nature has armed it against its enemies; and I shall now tell you all the rest that is known of its habits.
"'It is a carnivorous creature—destroying and eating many other beings that have life as well as itself. For this purpose it is furnished with strong, sharp claws, and three kinds of teeth, one of which—termed canine, or tearing teeth—is a certain symptom of its being a carnivorous, or flesh-eating animal. You must know, that the shape of the teeth will always prove this. Animals that feed upon vegetables, such as horses, sheep, rabbits, and deer, have none of these canine teeth. Well, the skunk has four of them—two in each jaw, and very sharp ones, too,—and with these he kills and eats (whenever he is lucky enough to get hold of them) rabbits, poultry, birds, mice, frogs, and lizards. He is very fond of eggs, too; and frequently robs the farm-yard, and the nests of the ruffed grouse and wild turkey—killing these birds whenever he can catch them. The killing, however, is not all upon his side—as the wolf, the horned owl, the wolverene, and the farmer, in their turn, lull him whenever they can catch him. He is not by any means a fast runner, and his safety does not lie in his swiftness of foot. His defensive armour is found in the fetid effluvium which, by a muscular exertion, he is capable of ejecting upon his pursuer. This he carries in two small sacs that lie under his tail, with ducts leading outward about as large as the tube of a goose-quill. The effluvium itself is caused by a thin fluid, which cannot be seen in daylight, but at night appears, when ejected, like a double stream of phosphoric light. He can throw it to the distance of five yards; and, knowing this, he always waits till the pursuer has fairly got within range—as the one we have just seen did with Castor and Pollux. The discharge of this fluid rarely fails to drive off such enemies as wolves, dogs, and men. Sometimes it occasions sickness and vomiting; and it is said that there are Indians who have lost their eyesight from inflammation caused by it. Dogs are frequently swollen and inflamed for weeks, after having received the discharge of a skunk. In addition to the disagreeableness of this odour, there is no getting rid of it after the fluid has once been sprinkled over your garments. Clothes may be washed and buried for months, but it will still cling to them; and where a skunk has been, killed, the spot will retain the scent for many months after, even though deep snow may have been lying upon it.
"'It is only when attacked or angered that the animal sends forth his offensive fluid; and when killed suddenly, or before he has had time to "fire it off," nothing of the kind is perceived upon his carcass.
"'The skunk is a burrowing animal, and in cold countries he enters his hole, and sleeps in a half-torpid state throughout the winter. In warm climates, however, he continues to prowl about all the year round, generally at night—as, like most predatory creatures, the night is his day. In his burrow, which runs several yards underground, he lives, in company with ten or a dozen of his companions. The female has a nest in one part, made of grass and leaves, where she brings forth her young— having from five to nine kittens at a birth.
"'Strange as it may appear, the Indians, as well as many white men— hunters and others—eat the flesh of this animal, and pronounce it both savoury and agreeable—equal, as they allege, to the finest roast pig. So much for the skunk and his habits. Now to the making of our salt.'"
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
THE SALT SPRING.
"We had now arrived on the banks of the salt creek; but as we saw the cliff close by, and knew that we must be near the spring which supplied this little rivulet, we resolved to travel on to the fountain-head. A few hundred yards farther brought us to the spring, and it was well worth travelling a little farther to see.
"Near the bottom of the cliff were several round objects, looking like half globes, or bowls turned upon their mouths. They were of a whitish colour, resembling white quartz rock; and of all sizes, from that of a large baking oven to the size of a wooden dish. In the top of each there was a round cavity—like a little crater of a volcano—and in this the blue water bubbled and boiled as though a hot fire was in the ground underneath them. There were in all nearly twenty of these, but many of them were without the crater-like cavity in the top; and through the latter, of course, no water escaped to the creek. These were old ones, that had ceased to run.
"It was evident that these oven-looking mounds had been formed by the water itself, which had been depositing the sediment that formed them for many, many years. Around some of them there grew beautiful plants and shrubs, whose leaves and flowers hung over, trailing in the water; and from the cliff above long vines crept out, covered with gay scarlet blossoms. Bushes of wild currants grew all around, and the fragrance of their leaves scented the air. It was altogether a sweet, cool spot, and filled us with feelings of enjoyment.
"After we had satisfied our curiosity in examining these objects, we prepared to make our salt. Frank and Harry collected armfuls of dry wood for the fire, while Cudjo erected a crane in his usual fashion. Upon this the kettle was suspended, and filled with crystal water out of one of the natural basins. The fire soon blazed under it, and we had nothing more to do than wait until the evaporation should be completed by boiling.
"For this purpose we chose a spot where the ground was carpeted with a soft green turf; and upon it we all sat down to wait the result.
"I need not say that in this we had a deep interest, amounting, in truth, to anxiety. It might not be salt after all. The water tasted salt—that is true. But so, too, would water impregnated by the sulphate of magnesia or the sulphate of soda. When evaporated we might find one or other of these substances.
"'What is the sulphate of magnesia, papa?' inquired Frank.
"'Perhaps you would know it better by the name of Epsom salts!' rejoined his mother, with a knowing smile.
"'Bah!' returned he, with a grin upon his face, 'I hope it won't turn out that. But what sort of thing, then, is the sulphate of soda?'
"'That is the scientific name for Glauber's salts.'
"'Worse still! I don't think we stand in need of either. Do we, Harry?'
"'Not a bit of it,' responded Harry, also grinning at the thought of these well-known specifics. 'I would rather it should turn out saltpetre and sulphur. Then we could make lots of gunpowder.'
"Harry was a great shot—as we have seen—and one of his fears was, that our stock of powder would run out.
"'Do not wish for that, Harry,' said his mother. 'Gunpowder we can do very well without. Let us hope for something more necessary to us at present.'
"With such-like conversation we passed the time, while we watched the steaming kettle with feelings of anxious expectation.
"For myself, I had some reliance upon a fact which I had observed years before, and had regarded as singular. It was this. I believe the Creator has so disposed it, that salt, so essential to animal life, is to be found in all parts of the globe, either in rocks, springs, standing lakes, incrustations, or in the ocean itself. No part of the earth, of great extent, is without it; and I had noticed in the interior territories of the American continent—where the sea is too distant to be visited by animals—that Nature has provided numerous salt springs, or 'licks,' as they are termed in the language of the country. These springs from time immemorial have been the meeting-places of the wild creatures of the forest and prairie, who resort thither to drink their waters, or lick the saline soil through which these waters run. Hence their common name of 'licks.' Here, then, was a valley whose four-footed inhabitants never roamed beyond its borders. I felt confident that Nature had provided for their wants and cravings by giving them everything necessary to their existence, and, among other necessities, that one which we were now in search of ourselves—salt. In other words, but that this was a salt spring, or there existed some other such in the valley, these creatures would not have been found within it. I took the opportunity to point out this theory to my boys, as well as to show them—what I myself clearly recognised in it—the hand of the Creator. It rendered them confident that, when we had evaporated our water, we should get salt for our pains.
"'Papa,' inquired Frank, who was a great naturalist, 'I should like to know what makes this little rivulet run salt water.'
"'No doubt,' I replied, 'the water you see gushing forth has just been passing through vast beds or rock-salt, and has become impregnated with it.'
"'Rock-salt! and is the salt we use found in rocks?'
"'Not all of it, though great quantities are. There are beds of rock-salt found in many countries—in England, and the East Indies, in Russia, and Hungary, and Spain; and it has also been discovered in vast quantities in this very Desert we are now dwelling in. These beds of rock-salt, when worked to supply salt, are called salt-mines. The most celebrated are in Poland, near the city of Cracow. These have been worked for seven hundred years; and there is enough left in them to supply all the world for many centuries yet to come. These mines are said to be very beautiful—lit up, as they are, by numerous lamps. The rock has been excavated by the miners into all sorts of shapes. Houses, chapels, columns, obelisks, and many other ornamental forms of buildings, have been made; and these, when illuminated by lamps and torches, appear as splendid and brilliant as the palaces of Aladdin.'
"'Oh! I should like so much to see them!' cried Harry, in a transport.
"'But, papa,' inquired Frank, who always sought after information on such subjects, 'I never saw any of this rock-salt. How is it that it comes to us always crushed, or in great bricks, as if it had been baked? Do they break it fine before it is sent to market from the mines?'
"'In some of these mines nothing more is required than to crush the rock; in others, however, the rock is not pure salt, but mixed with other substances, as oxide of iron and clay. In these cases it is first dissolved in water, to separate it from such impurities, and then evaporated back again into salt, precisely as we are doing now.'
"'What colour is the salt-rock, papa?'
"'When pure it is white; but it assumes various colours, according to what substances may be found mixed with it. It is often yellow, and flesh-coloured, and blue.'
"'How pretty it must be!' exclaimed Harry; 'like precious stones, I declare.'
"'Yes, it is a precious stone,' rejoined his brother; 'more precious, I take it, than all the diamonds in the world. Is it not, papa?'
"'You are quite right,' I replied. 'Salt-rock is more valuable to the human race than diamonds; though they, too, have an absolute value, besides their value as a mere ornament. There are some important uses in arts and manufactures to which they can be applied.'
"'But, papa,' again inquired Frank, determined to know everything he could about the article of salt, 'I have heard that salt is made of sea-water. Is it so?'
"'Vast quantities of it.'
"'How is it made?'
"'There are three ways of obtaining it:—First, in warm climates, where the sun is strong, the sea-water is collected into shallow pools, and there left until it is evaporated by the sun's rays. The ground where these pools are made must neither be muddy nor porous, else the salt would get mixed with the mud and sand. Of course the people who manufacture it in this way take care to choose firm, hard ground for the bottoms of their pools. There are sluices attached to these pools by which any water that may not evaporate is drawn off. Salt is made in this manner in many southern countries—in Spain and Portugal, in France, and other countries that lie around the Mediterranean; also in India, China, Siam, and the island of Ceylon.
"'The second way of making salt from sea-water is precisely the same as that I have described—except that, instead of these artificial pools, the evaporation takes place in broad tracts of country over which the sea has spread in time of high springtides. When the sea falls again to its proper level, it leaves behind it a quantity of water in these tracts, which is evaporated by the sun, leaving behind it fields of pure salt. Nothing remains to be done but to scrape this salt into heaps and cart it off; and at the next spring-tide a fresh influx of sea-water produces a new crop of salt, and so on. This kind is better than that which is made in the artificial pools—though neither of them is equal to the salt of the mines. They are both known in commerce under the name of "bay-salt," to distinguish them from the "rock-salt" of the mines. Great natural beds of the bay-salt are found in the Cape de Verde islands; also in Turk's island and Saint Martin's in the West Indies, and on Kangaroo Island, near the coast of Australia.
"'There is still a third plan of making salt out of the sea. That is, by boiling the water, as we are doing; but this makes the worst of all salt; besides, it is far more expensive to manufacture salt in this way than to buy it from other countries. Indeed, this last plan would never be adopted, were it not that some foolish governments force their people to pay a heavy duty for importing salt into their country, thus making it still cheaper for them, costly as it is, to manufacture the article at home.'
"'What makes the sea salt, papa?'
"'That is one of the phenomena about which naturalists have a difference of opinion. Some of them say there are vast beds of salt at the bottom which keep the water always impregnated. I think this notion is very childish; and they who hold it offer only childish arguments to support it. Others assert that the salt water of the ocean is a primitive fluid—that it was always as it now is—which you will perceive is giving no reason at all, more than saying, "it is salt, because it was salt always." This is an equally irrational theory. Others, again, believe that the saltness of the ocean is caused by the flowing into it of salt rivers. These, I think, hold the true opinion; but unfortunately they have failed, as far as I know, to answer the objections which have been raised against it. Your papa has reflected a good deal upon this subject, and believes that he can explain away all the difficulties that oppose this last theory. Probably he may take an early opportunity of doing so; but it will require more time than he can spare at present.'
"'Is the sea equally salt at all places?' inquired the philosopher Frank, after a short pause, during which he had been busily reflecting on what had been said.
"'No; it is more so at the Equator than in the colder regions around the Poles. It is less salt in gulfs and inland seas than in the open ocean. This I believe I can also explain, because it would support the theory regarding the rivers of which we have just spoken. The difference of saltness in different parts of the sea is, however, very trifling.'
"'How much salt is there in the sea-water?'
"'Three and a half per cent nearly. That is, if you boil down one hundred pounds of sea-water, it will yield you about three pounds and a half of salt.'
"'But are there not many lakes and brine-springs that contain a far greater proportion than that?'
"'Many. There is a large lake lying in this very Desert, to the north-west of where we are, called the "Great Salt Lake." The waters of that lake are more than one-third pure salt. There are many springs and rivers that contain a greater proportion than the ocean itself. It is to be hoped that our own little creek here will yield better than it.— But come! let us see how the kettle boils. We had almost forgotten it.'
"We approached our kettle, and lifted the lid. To our great joy, a scum was floating on the top, very much like crystals of ice forming upon half melted snow. Some of it was skimmed off and applied to our lips. Joy! it was salt—the pure chloride of sodium—equal to the best ever shipped from Turk's Island."
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
THE BATTLE OF THE SNAKES.
"I need not tell you that the announcement was received with joyful acclamations; and that one and all satisfied themselves by tasting of the salt. It had crystallised into small cubes, as salt always does; and it was as white as snow, which proved its great purity. We had put into the kettle—which was a large camp-kettle—about four gallons of water, and when it was fully evaporated, we obtained not less than ten pints of salt, showing that the water of our spring was much more saline than the sea itself.
"When our first kettle-full was disposed of, we re-filled it with water, and again hung it over the fire. We also hung another vessel beside the kettle; and that was our frying-pan, in which several fine steaks of venison, seasoned with the new salt, were cooked for our dinner. We were not unmindful of the thanks which we owed to God for giving us this munificent supply of an article so much needed by us; and as soon as dinner was over, my wife took occasion to bring this subject pointedly forward and we sat for some time conversing upon it.