"Presently we noticed a strange-looking object in motion along the ground, and close in to the edge of the thicket. At first sight we knew not what to make of it. Was it an animal? No—it could not be that. It had not the shape of any animal we had ever seen: and yet we could see legs and tails, and ears and eyes, and heads—heads, indeed!—there seemed to be a head sticking out of every part of its body, for we counted half a score of them as it moved along. It moved very slowly, and when nearly opposite to us it stopped, so that we had a good view of it. All at once the numerous heads seemed to separate from the main body, becoming little bodies of themselves with long tails upon them, and looking just like a squad of white rats! The large body to which they had all been attached we now saw was an old female opossum, and evidently the mother of the whole troop. She was about the size of a cat, and covered with woolly hair of a light grey colour. She had a snout somewhat resembling that of a pig, though much sharper at the point, and with whiskers like a cat. Her ears were short and standing— her mouth very wide, and, as we could see, full of sharp teeth. The legs were short and stout, and the feet with their keen claws seemed to spread out upon the ground more like hands than feet. The tail was very peculiar; it was nearly as long as the body, tapering like that of a rat, and quite naked. But the greatest curiosity in the structure of this creature was a pouch like opening which appeared under her belly, and which showed that she belonged to the family of the marsupialia, or pouched animals. This, of course, we had known before. The little ''possums' were exact pictures of their mother—all having the same sharp snouts and long naked tails. We counted no less than thirteen of them, playing and tumbling about among the leaves.
"As soon as the old one had shaken them all off, she stepped more nimbly over the ground—going backwards and forwards, and looking up into one of the pawpaws that grew above the spot where she had halted. In this tree the orioles were now fluttering about, chirruping wildly, and at intervals making a dash downward, until their wings almost swept the nose of the opossum. The latter, however, appeared to take all this very coolly; and evidently did not care for the imbecile efforts of the birds to frighten her off, but continued her survey without paying any attention to their manoeuvres. On looking upward, we discovered the object of her search—the nest of the orioles—which was hanging like a large purse, or rather like a distended stocking, from the topmost twigs of the tree.
"After a few moments the old 'possum seemed to have made up her mind; and, approaching the spot where the young ones were scrambling about, she uttered a short sharp note that brought them all around her. Several of them ran into the pouch which she had caused to open for them. Two of them took a turn of their little tails around the root of hers, and climbed up on her rump, almost burying themselves in the long wool; while two or three others fastened themselves about her neck and shoulders. It was a most singular sight to see the little creatures holding on with 'tails, teeth, and toe-nails,' while some peeped comically out of the great breast-pocket.
"We thought she was going to move away with her cargo; but, to our astonishment, she walked up to the pawpaw, and commenced climbing it. When she had reached the lowermost branch—which grew nearly horizontal—she halted; then, taking the young ones, one by one, in her mouth, she caused each of them to make a turn or two of its tail around the branch, and hang head downwards. Five or six of the 'kittens' were still upon the ground. For these she returned, and taking them up as before, again climbed the tree. She disposed of the second load, precisely as she had done the others—until the thirteen little 'possums hung head downwards along the branch, like a string of candles!
"It was such a comical sight to see these monkey-looking little creatures dangling by their tails, that my companion and I could not restrain our laughter as we gazed upon it. We took care, however, not to laugh aloud—as we were anxious to observe the further movements of the old 'possum, and we knew that if she should hear us it would spoil the sport at once.
"As soon as she saw the young ones all fairly suspended, she left them, and commenced climbing higher up the tree. We noticed that she caught the branches in her claws, exactly as a human being would have done with his hands, hoisting herself from limb to limb. At length she reached that branch upon which hung the nest, far out at its top. For a moment she stopped and surveyed it. She was evidently in doubt whether it would carry her weight without breaking, and so were we. Should it break, she would have a smart fall to the ground—for the tree was one of the highest, for a pawpaw, we had ever seen; and there were no other branches below to which she could clutch in case of falling.
"The nest, however, full of eggs no doubt, tempted her on; and, after a moment's pause, she started along the branch. When about half-way up it—holding on both with tail and feet—the slender sapling began to creak and bend, and show symptoms of breaking. This, with the screaming of the birds—that now flapped against her very nose—seemed all at once to cow her; and she crept down again, going backwards along the limb. On reaching the fork, she paused, and looked about with an air that showed she was both vexed and puzzled. All at once her eyes rested upon the branch of an oak-tree, that stretched out over the pawpaw, and directly above the orioles' nest. She looked at this for a moment—as if calculating its height from the nest; then seeming to make up her mind, she ran nimbly down the pawpaw, over the ground that intervened, and up the trunk of the oak. We lost sight of her for an instant among the thick leaves; but the next we saw her crawling out upon the branch that overhung the pawpaw.
"When she had reached a point directly above the nest, she flung herself fearlessly from the branch, and hung to her whole length—suspended by the tail. In this position she oscillated back and forward, with gaping mouth and outstretched claws, endeavouring to seize hold of the nest; but, with all her efforts, and no doubt to her great mortification, she was unable to reach it. She hung for several minutes, clutching, now at the nest, now at the leaves of the pawpaw, and evidently tantalised by the thought of the delicious eggs so near her very nose. We could see that she had lowered herself to the last link of her tail—until only a single turn of it sustained her upon the limb—and we expected every moment to see her fall to the ground. Her stretching was all to no purpose, however; and at length, uttering a bitter snarl, she swung herself back to the limb, and came running down from the oak.
"She seemed to have given up her purpose in a sort of angry despair; for climbing up the pawpaw, she hurried her young from the branch, pitching them somewhat rudely to the ground. In a short while she had gathered them all upon her back and into her pouch; and commenced retreating from the spot—while the orioles changed their terrified screaming into chirrups of victory.
"Frank and I now deemed it proper to interfere, and cut off the retreat of the 'old 'possum;' so, dropping from our perch, we soon overtook and captured the whole family. The old one, on first seeing us approach, rolled herself into a round clump—so that neither her head nor legs could be seen—and in this attitude feigned to be quite dead. Several of the youngsters, who were outside, immediately detached themselves, and imitated the example of their mother—so that the family now presented the appearance of a large ball of whitish wool, with several smaller 'clews' lying around it!
"On finding, however, that we were not to be cheated, and being pricked gently with the point of an arrow, the old one unwound herself; and, opening her long jaws, snapped and bit on every side of her, uttering all the while a sharp noise, like the snarling of a poodle.
"Her snarling did not avail her, for in a few minutes we had muzzled her securely, and made her fast to one of the saplings—intending to take the whole family with us when we returned to the house."
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.
THE MOCCASON SNAKE AND THE ORIOLES.
"We now climbed back into the live-oak, and recommenced flinging down our moss. We were chatting gaily about the curious scene we had just witnessed. Frank was remarking how lucky he had been in thus finding the nest of the orioles—as he wanted young birds of that species, and he could return for them whenever they were hatched. All of a sudden, these birds—that since the defeat of the 'possum had remained perfectly quiet—again commenced screaming and chattering as before.
"'Another 'possum!' said Frank; 'maybe it's the old father coming to look after his family.'
"We both stopped, and looked down. We soon discovered what was causing this new commotion. Slowly gliding over the grass, and glittering as it went, was a long monster-looking object. It was a huge serpent—a snake of the most venomous kind—the dreaded 'moccason.' It was one of the largest of its species; and its great flat head, protruding sockets, and sparkling eyes, added to the hideousness of its appearance. Every now and then, as it advanced, it threw out its forked tongue, which, moist with poisonous saliva, flashed under the sunbeam like jets of fire. It was crawling directly for the tree on which hung the nest. Frank and I stood still where we were—determined to watch its movements, as we had done those of the opossum. On reaching the root of the pawpaw, it stopped for a moment, as if to consider.
"'Do you think it is going to climb up to the nest?' inquired my companion.
"'No,' I replied, 'the moccason is not a tree-climber. If it were, the poor birds as well as the squirrels would have little chance; but it cannot climb. Look at it! it is only making pretence—to frighten the orioles still more, if possible.'
"As I said this, the snake had drawn its body closer to the tree, and raised its flat head up against the trunk, throwing out its tongue as if it was licking the bark.
"The orioles, evidently believing that it was about to climb up, had now descended to the lowest branches, fluttering from one to the other, and screaming all the while either with rage, or terror, or both combined.
"The snake, seeing them approach almost within range of his hideous maw, gathered himself into a coil, and prepared to strike. His eyes scintillated like sparks of fire, and seemed to fascinate the birds; for, instead of retiring, they each moment drew nearer and nearer, now alighting on the ground, then flapping back to the branches, and anon darting to the ground again—as though they were under some spell from those fiery eyes, and were unable to take themselves away! Their motions appeared to grow less energetic—their chirping became almost inaudible—and their wings seemed hardly to expand as they flew, or rather fluttered, around the head of the serpent. One of them at length dropped down upon the ground—within reach of the snake—and stood with open bill, as if exhausted, and unable to move farther. We were expecting to see the snake suddenly launch forth upon his feathered victim; when, all at once, his coils flew out, his body was thrown at full length, and he commenced retreating from the tree! The birds, apparently released from the spell that had bound them, flew up to the higher branches, and ceased their screaming!
"For a while, my companion and I stood silent, wondering at this unexpected termination of the scene.
"'What can have driven him off?' asked Frank, turning to me with a look of inquiry.
"Before I could make any reply, an object appeared upon the edge of the thicket which attracted the attention of both of us. It was an animal about the size of a wolf, and of a dark grey or blackish colour. Its body was compact, round-shaped, and covered—not with hair, but—with shaggy bristles, that along the ridge of its back were nearly six inches in length, and gave it the appearance of having a mane. It had very short ears, no tail whatever, or only a knob; and we could see that its feet were hoofed, not clawed as in beasts of prey. But, whether beast of prey or not, its long mouth, with two white tusks protruding over the jaws, gave it a very formidable appearance. Its head and nose resembled those of the hog more than any other animal; and, in fact, it was nothing else than the peccary—the wild hog of Mexico. As it came out from the long weeds and grass, we saw that two smaller animals, of a dark reddish colour—two young peccaries—were following at its heels. Like the opossum, it was a mother and her brood.
"The three soon drew near the pawpaws; and the orioles seeing them, once more set up the scolding concert. But the old peccary paid no attention to the birds. They were nothing to her; and she passed on with her nose to the ground, occasionally stopping to pick up a seed or a nut.
"In going away from the thicket, she crossed the track by which the serpent had retreated. All on a sudden she stopped, tossed up her nose, and scented the air. The fetid smell of the moccason had reached her, and seemed at once to rouse all her energies. She ran for some moments from side to side with her nose to the ground, and lifting the trail like a hound. She first followed it back to the tree, but there was a double trail—that by which the snake had come, as well as the one he had just made in retreating—and this for a moment puzzled her. She took the wrong trail at first, and galloped nimbly out upon it; but, almost in the same breath, returned to the tree, and then started upon the other.
"During all these manoeuvres, the snake was crawling off as fast as he could—which at best was only a very tardy gait, for the moccason is but a slow traveller. We could see that he kept as much as possible under the grass, occasionally raising his flattened head, and glaring behind him. He was making for the cliffs, that were only about a stone's throw distant.
"He had got scarce half-way, when the peccary running up the fresh trail almost trod upon him; and, seeing the object of her pursuit, she suddenly stopped, erected her long bristles, and uttered a shrill grunt. The snake, finding that he was overtaken, threw himself into a coil, and prepared to give battle; while his antagonist, now looking more like a great porcupine than a pig, drew back, as if to take the advantage of a run; and then halted. Both for a moment eyed each other—the peccary evidently calculating its distance,—while the great snake seemed cowed, and quivering with affright. Its appearance was entirely different from the bright semblance it had exhibited but a moment before, when engaged with the birds. Its eyes were less fiery, and its whole body seemed more ashy and wrinkled.
"We had not many moments to observe it, for the peccary was now seen to rush forward, spring high into the air, and pounce down with all her feet held together upon the coils of the serpent! She immediately bounded back again; and, quick as thought, once more rose above her victim. The snake was now uncoiled, and writhing over the ground. Another rush from the peccary—another spring—and the sharp hoofs of the animal came down upon the neck of the serpent, crushing it upon the hard turf. The body of the reptile, distended to its full length, quivered for a moment, and then lay motionless along the grass. The victor uttered another sharp cry—that seemed intended as a call to her young ones—who, emerging from the weeds, where they had concealed themselves, ran nimbly forward to the spot."
THE BATTLE OF THE COUGAR AND PECCARIES.
"Frank and I were rather pleased with the result of the encounter; though I do not see why we should have taken sides with the peccary, who would have eaten the birds—could she have caught them—and their eggs, too, just as fast as the snake would have done. And why should we have taken the part of the birds either, who, in their turn, had devoured many a butterfly as bright and beautiful as themselves? But so it is. From time immemorial, the poor snake—who is comparatively a harmless animal, and whose deadly powers have been greatly exaggerated—has been hated and persecuted by man more than any other creature; thus fulfilling in a remarkable manner the prophecy of the Sacred Book.
"We began to consider what plan we should take to capture the animal. We desired very much to get possession of the young ones, as we knew they would be a valuable addition to our stock, and would serve us in the place of real pigs—though their flesh does not taste much like pork. It is more like that of the hare. In fact, it is not eatable at all, unless certain precautions are taken immediately after the animal is killed. There is a glandular opening on the back, just above the rump, that has been improperly called a navel. In this opening, there is a substance that emits a strong smell of musk; and if the whole part be not cut out, in less than an hour after the animal has been killed, the flesh becomes so impregnated with the musky odour, that it is quite unpalatable. If the gland, however, be removed in time, peccary-pork is not bad eating—though there is no lard in it, as in the common pork; and, as we have said, it tastes more like the flesh of the hare.
"But my companion and I did not think of these things at the time. We only thought of how we could capture the young peccaries.
"It was plain that, while the mother was with them, the thing would be impossible. We knew that we dared not encounter the fierce brute. Even had we had our dogs with us, she would have been more than a match for both of them with her sharp tusks, and long crocodile-shaped jaws. In fact, the most courageous dog will lower his tail, and run from the attack of this animal; and if, on the contrary, he should await it, it would only be to have a leg snapped off, or his side ripped open. It was plain, then, as long as the old one was there to guard them, we could never lay our fingers upon the 'shoats.' What was to be done? Should we send a rifle bullet at the mother? Frank thought this would be cruel, and so it would have been. Still I knew that the peccary was a fierce animal, and not much entitled to the mercy we would have shown to a deer, or any harmless creature like that. I knew, moreover, that there were a good many of them in the valley—for we had seen their tracks in the mud—and it was exceedingly dangerous to come in contact with them. Indeed, hunters and others have been often surrounded, and torn in pieces by them. Such, then, being the case, I felt that it would not be wise to let any of them escape, whenever we could destroy them—else they might at some time destroy one of ourselves. With these thoughts in my mind, I paid but little attention to the remonstrances of Frank; but, bending down from the branch, on which we stood, I reached for my rifle. I could just lay hold of the muzzle, as it leaned against the tree; and, drawing it cautiously up, I prepared to fire.
"During all this time, the peccary had been busy with the carcass of the snake. After killing it, she had bitten off the head; and, holding the body between her forefeet, she had peeled off the skin with her tusks and teeth as adroitly as a fishmonger would have skinned an eel! She had just finished this operation as I got hold of the gun; and was now tearing up the white flesh, and throwing it in small pieces to the youngsters—all the while uttering low grants, that betokened her satisfaction and enjoyment.
"I raised my rifle, and was about to take aim, when an object caught my eye, which caused me to lower it again with a feeling of terror. The peccary was about fifty yards from the tree upon which we stood; and about twenty yards beyond, another animal, of a far different character, was seen coming out of the jungle. It was about the size of a vealed calf, but shorter in the legs, and much longer in the body. It was all over of a deep red colour, except the breast and throat, which were nearly white. Its ears were erect, short and blackish; its head and muzzle cat-shaped; and its whole body somewhat resembled the figure of a cat—except that its back, instead of being arched, was hollow, and sunk away below the level of its gaunt muscular shoulders.
"It would have been a fearful thing to look at, even had we not known what it was; but we did know, and that rendered the sight of it still more terrifying. It was the 'cougar!'
"Now, for the first time, since coming upon the spot, we felt fear. We knew that the peccary, savage as it was, could not climb the tree; and hitherto we had deemed ourselves secure. We were now no longer so. We knew that the cougar could ascend a tree with the agility of a squirrel, and was as much at home among the branches as upon the ground itself. I knew all this; and I turned to my companion, and whispered him to remain motionless and silent.
"The cougar came on with stealthy tread. His eyes, as we could see, were set upon the unconscious peccary; and his legs were strained down as he moved—so that one would have fancied he was crawling upon his belly. His long tail, stretched away behind him, was gently waving from side to side—exactly after the manner of a cat when stealing through the stubble upon the basking partridge.
"All this time the peccary was greedily devouring the snake, wholly unconscious of the danger that was gathering over her. The ground, for some distance around her, was clear of weeds and brushwood; but a large tree stood near; and its long, horizontal branches stretched out, casting their shade upon the spot she occupied. On reaching the margin of the weeds, that had hitherto partially concealed him, the cougar suddenly stopped, and appeared to deliberate. He knew that, unless he could spring suddenly and unawares upon the back of his victim, he would have to encounter those terrible tusks, the effects of which he saw exhibited at that moment on the carcass of the great reptile. He was still too distant to reach the peccary with a single spring; and he appeared to be considering how he might get a little nearer without being discovered.
"All at once, his eyes rested upon the over-stretching branches—a sudden change took place in his attitude; and, turning slowly and silently, he crawled back among the weeds. We could see that he was making a detour to get upon the other side of the tree from that occupied by the peccary. Presently we saw him approach the trunk, and the next moment spring up more like a streak of red light than a living animal. We could hear the rattle of his claws on the loose bark, as he passed upward; and the peccary, too, seemed to have heard it, for she threw up her head with a grunt, and stood for a moment listening.
"'Only a squirrel, perhaps!' thought she, and again resumed her occupation.
"The cougar now appeared coming from behind the trunk; and, after looking cautiously about him, commenced crawling out along the branch. On reaching one of its forks, he gathered himself like a cat; and then, with a terrific scream, sprang down upon the back of his victim. His claws were buried in her neck at the first dash; and his long body covered hers—his hind-legs and tail warping around her. The frightened animal uttered a shrill cry, and struggled to free herself. Both rolled over on the ground—the peccary all the while gnashing her jaws, and continuing to send forth her strange sharp cries, until the woods echoed again. Even the young ones ran around, mixing in the combat—now flung sprawling upon the earth, now springing up again, snapping their little jaws, and imitating the cry of their mother. The cougar alone fought in silence. Since the first wild scream, not a sound had escaped him; but from that moment his claws never relaxed their hold; and we could see that with his teeth he was silently tearing the throat of his victim.
"The combat did not last long—only a few moments. The peccary soon ceased to struggle, and lay upon her side—still in the embrace of her terrible adversary—who had now torn open the veins of the neck, and was, silently and cat-like, lapping the warm blood.
"With all the hostility which we felt for the cowardly cougar, we did not deem it prudent to interfere. We knew that he would serve us just as he was doing the peccary, if he only knew that we were so convenient to him; and we therefore remained perfectly still, not daring to move even a limb. He was not thirty yards from us, for the struggle had brought both him and his victim nearer to our tree. I could have shot him as he lay crouching in the enjoyment of his red meal; but I knew too well the the uncertainty of killing such a muscular and powerful animal with a rifle bullet; and I resolved to let him finish his feast, and take himself off if he would, without any hindrance on our part.
"We were not allowed much time to think about it; for the combat was hardly over, when strange voices reached our ears, coming from the woods, apparently on all sides of us. They had reached the ears of the cougar, too; for the fierce brute started suddenly to his legs, and stood listening, and, as we thought, somewhat alarmed. He seemed to hesitate a moment, looking around him and down at the fresh-killed animal. Then, as if suddenly forming a resolution, he buried his teeth in the throat of the dead peccary; and, swinging the carcass over his long back, commenced retreating.
"He had made only a few steps, when the noises that had been all this time growing more distinct were heard upon the very edge of the underwood; and, the next moment, several dark objects bounded out into the opening. We saw at a glance they were peccaries. There were twenty or thirty in all. They had been summoned by the cries of the one that had been killed. They came from every side, rushing simultaneously forward, and uttering their shrill grants as they ran.
"They had got between the cougar and trees, before he could reach the latter; and, in fact, they were upon him on all sides, almost in the twinkling of an eye. They formed a complete circle around him; and with their long bristles erected, their gnashing jaws, and shrill notes, they presented a most formidable array.
"The cougar, seeing that his retreat was cut off—at least, so long as he carried the carcass—flung off his burden, and leaped upon the foremost of his advancing enemies, striking it to the ground with his huge paws. He had not time to turn himself, however, when several others fastened on him from behind; and we could see the red fur fly from his sides, torn up by their sharp tusks. Now came the struggle in earnest. For a short while the cougar kept his antagonists at bay— striking them down and tearing them with teeth and claws; but at length the whole herd closed upon him, and we could see the blood streaming from his torn flanks. He now seemed to fight as if wishing to make his way through them and escape; but the peccaries, as active as himself, hemmed him in their midst, surrounding him with a dense mass of bodies and snapping jaws. Twice or three times, the cougar sprang into the air—as if to leap beyond the circle of his antagonists—but at the same time several of these were also seen to rear upward, and intercept him in the spring. At length, by a desperate effort, he succeeded in clearing himself; and dashed out from among them, striving to escape. What was our horror, on perceiving that he ran directly for the tree upon which we were standing!
"With a feeling akin to despair, I cocked my rifle; but, before I could bring it to bear upon his body, he had passed up the tree like a flash; and lay crouching not twenty feet above our heads, and glaring down at us! So close had he been in passing, that his claws brushed my arm, and I could feel his warm breath upon my face! The peccaries had followed to the foot of the tree, and there stopped—being unable to climb it. Some of them ran around, gazing upward. Others tore the bark with their teeth; and all of them uttered their shrill screams of fury and disappointment.
"For some moments, Frank and I stood terror struck. We knew not what was best to be done. There, above, was the terrible cougar, his eyes glaring like balls of fire at ourselves, who were within reach of a single spring! We knew not the moment he might leap down upon us. Below, again, was an enemy, equally terrible, in the peccaries. They would have torn us to pieces in an instant, had we attempted to descend to the ground. No wonder, then, we were terrified at the dilemma in which we were so suddenly placed. No wonder it was some moments before I could gather resolution enough to act.
"At length, however, I bethought myself that of the two enemies the cougar was certainly the worse. We were safe from the peccaries so long as we remained upon the tree, while we were at the mercy of the other, go where we would. I resolved, therefore, to direct my energies toward the destruction of the latter.
"All this time, the cougar had remained where he had first perched himself in an upper fork of the tree. He would, no doubt, have attacked us sooner had he not dreaded the peccaries below; but he feared that by springing at us he might precipitate himself amongst them; and this kept him for the moment quiet. I knew very well, however, that as soon as the animals at the foot of the tree should take their departure, our fate would be sealed.
"My companion was unarmed. He had brought with him only his bow and arrows. These had been left at the foot of the tree, and were already crunched in pieces by the peccaries. I put him behind me, therefore—so that he should be out of the way of the cougar in case I should only succeed in wounding the latter, and it might spring upon us. All this was done in silence, and as gently as possible, so as not to startle the monster that lay above us, glaring and growling.
"As soon as I was ready, I brought up my rifle slowly and with great caution. I steadied myself on the limb of the tree, and took aim directly for the head of the cougar—which was the only part of him I could see for the moss. I pulled trigger. The smoke for a while blinded me, and I could not tell the effects of my shot; but I heard a rustling noise—as of some heavy body falling through the leaves and branches—then a dull sound as of the same body striking against the earth—and the next instant louder screams, and a sudden rushing among the peccaries. I looked below. I saw the red body of the cougar struggling in their midst; but it did not struggle long, for in a few moments it was tossed upon their snouts, and mangled by their long fierce tusks."
CHAPTER FORTY ONE.
BESIEGED IN A TREE.
"I now believed that we were safe. Both Frank and I experienced that happiness which men feel who have been suddenly snatched from the jaws of death. 'The peccaries,' thought we, 'will soon disperse and go off into the woods, now that their enemy has been destroyed.' To our consternation, however, we soon found that we were mistaken; for, instead of retiring after they had glutted their vengeance upon the cougar, they again surrounded the tree, looking fiercely up at us, tearing the bark as before, and uttering their wild cries. It was evident they were determined to destroy us if they could. It was a strange way to thank us for delivering over to them their enemy!
"We were upon the lower branches, and they could see us distinctly. We might easily have climbed higher, but that would have served no purpose, as they could not reach us where we were. They could only destroy us by keeping us in the tree, until we might perish by hunger or thirst; and from what I had heard of the nature of these animals, I knew that it was not improbable that they might do this.
"At first I was determined not to fire at them, thinking that after a while their fury might subside, and they would disperse. Frank and I, therefore, climbed a little higher; and concealed ourselves, as well as we could, in the thick tufts of the moss.
"After remaining thus for above two hours, we saw that it was all to no purpose—for the peccaries, although they had become more quiet, still formed a dense circle around the tree, and appeared determined to carry out the siege. Some of them had lain down—intending, no doubt, to take it as coolly and easily as possible—but not one had as yet left the spot.
"I grew impatient. I knew that our people would be uneasy about our long absence. I feared, moreover, that Harry and Cudjo might come in search of us; and they, being on foot and not able to climb quickly enough to a tree, might fall victims to these fierce creatures. I determined, therefore, at length to try what effect a shot or two might have upon the herd.
"I again descended amongst the lowermost branches, to make sure of my aim, and commenced firing. Each time I selected an animal, aiming as nearly as I could for its heart. I fired five times, and at every shot one of the peccaries was seen to bite the dust; but the rest, instead of being frightened by the fearful havoc I was making among them, only trampled over the bodies of their dead companions, grunting more fiercely than ever, and rushing against the trunk with their hoofed feet, as though they would climb up it.
"As I returned to load my rifle for the sixth time, I found to my consternation that I had but one bullet left! This I rammed into the gun, which I again discharged among the peccaries, and another of them lay stretched upon the ground. But all to no purpose was this slaughter—the animals seemed to be quite regardless of death.
"I knew of no other method to drive them away, and I now returned to the upper branches where I had left my companion, and sat down beside him. We could do no more than wait with patience—in hopes that the night might call off our strange besiegers. Although we could hear them below us, still uttering their wild cries, and scratching against the trunk of the tree, we now paid them no more attention, but sat quietly upon our perch, confiding in the hand of Providence to deliver us.
"We had been seated thus but a very short while, when all at once we became conscious that there was a bitter smoke rising around us. At first we had taken it for the smoke which had been produced by the firing of the rifle and which had hung for some time about the tree. Now we knew it could not be that, for it was growing thicker and thicker, and we noticed that it had a smell very different from that of burnt powder. Moreover, it produced a stifling, choking sensation, causing us to cough, and rub our eyes with the pain. On looking downward, I was unable to see either the ground or the peccaries; but I could perceive a thick cloud rising up all around the tree. I could hear the voices of the fierce brutes, loud as ever; but they appeared to be scattering outward, and their cry was different to what it had hitherto been. It now occurred to me that the moss had caught fire from the wadding of my rifle; and this soon proved to be the fact, for the smoke all at at once became illuminated with a bright blaze that seemed to spread almost instantaneously over the surface of the ground. We saw that it did not fully envelope the tree, but burned on that side where we had thrown down large quantities of the moss.
"My companion and I scrambled out on the branches to the opposite side— going as far as we could to avoid the smoke. We feared, all the while, that the hanging mass, or even the tree itself, might catch fire, and force us to leap into the midst of our enemies. Fortunately, however, we had clean stripped those branches that hung directly over the blazing heap; and as yet the flames did not mount high enough to reach the others.
"When we had crawled beyond the blinding smoke, we could distinguish the peccaries, standing in a thick mass at some distance from the tree, and evidently somewhat terrified by the fire. 'Now,' thought I, 'we shall be delivered from them. They will go off far enough to enable us to escape through the smoke;' and with this intention, I commenced reconnoitring the ground in the direction in which the thick clouds were carried by the wind. I concluded that none of the animals had gone in this direction; and I saw that if we could leap down without being seen, we might make off through the trees. We were about descending upon a lower limb to carry out this purpose, when a sound like the distant yelping of dogs broke upon our ears. It filled us at once with a terrible foreboding. We knew that it must be our own dogs; and we knew that Harry or Cudjo, or perhaps both, would be coming close upon their heels. I knew that the dogs would soon be killed by the herd, and then poor Harry—he would be at once torn in pieces! This was a fearful thought, and Frank and I paused a moment, with palpitating hearts, to listen. Yes, it was the dogs! We could hear them yelping and barking at intervals, and evidently coming nearer. The next moment we could plainly distinguish voices, as of people following upon the track of the dogs. The voices could be no other than those of Harry and Cudjo coming in search of us. I was irresolute how to act. Should I allow them to come on, and while the dogs might keep the peccaries engaged for a moment, shout out and warn them to take to the trees. It then occurred to me that I might leave Frank where he was, and by making a sudden rush through the smoke, get nearer to Harry and Cudjo and give them warning before the peccaries could get up. Fortunately their voices sounded in the right direction, and I might reach them without being pursued at all.
"I did not hesitate a moment after forming this resolve; but, handing my empty rifle to Frank, and drawing my knife, I dropped down among the smoking heaps of half-burnt moss. I ran off the moment my feet touched the ground; and, after going a distance of an hundred yards or so, I came in sight of the dogs, and the next moment of Harry and Cudjo. But at the same instant, on glancing back, I saw the whole herd of the peccaries rushing after me with shrill cries. I had barely time to shout to Harry and Cudjo, and swing myself up to a branch, when the animals were around me. The others, seeing me climb, and also perceiving the cause, made to a tree; and the next moment I had the satisfaction of seeing both of them mount into its branches. The dogs, on the contrary, ran forward to meet the herd, and give them battle. This did not last long, for as soon as they had encountered the sharp teeth of the peccaries they ran howling back to the tree where Harry and Cudjo had taken shelter. Fortunately for the dogs, poor brutes! there were some low branches, to which, by the help of Cudjo, they were able to spring up. Had it not been so, they would soon have suffered the fate of the cougar; for the peccaries, fiercely enraged in their short encounter with them, pursued them hotly, and surrounded the tree into which they had been lucky enough to climb.
"I was now left to myself. From the position I occupied I could not see Harry, Cudjo, or the mastiffs; but I could see the black herd that was around them. I could hear all that passed—the howling of the dogs—the voices of Harry and Cudjo—the vengeful notes of the peccaries, all ringing together in a wild concert. Then I heard the crack of the little rifle, and I saw one of the animals tumble over upon the ground. I heard the shouts of Cudjo, and I could see the blade of his long spear lunging down a intervals among the dark bodies below. I could see that it streamed with blood; and that numbers of the animals were falling to the earth. Again came the crack of Harry's rifle, again the loud barking of the dogs, and again the shouts of Cudjo, as he stood upon the lowermost branches, and plied his terrible weapon. And thus for some minutes raged the battle, until I could see the ground fairly strewed with black and bleeding forms. Only a few of the peccaries remained upon their feet; and these at length, becoming alarmed by the fearful slaughter of their companions, turned away from the tree, and fled into the thick underwood. It was plain that they were defeated, and would not again molest us; and, feeling confident of this, we all descended from our trees, and made our way to the house as quickly as we could—so as to relieve the anxiety of my wife.
"Although we often afterwards met a few of the peccaries in our hunting excursions—and had the fortune to capture some of their young—they never from that time offered to attack us, but always endeavoured to escape. It is the nature of this animal to fight bravely with an enemy until conquered, when it will in future always run at his approach. In fact, there appeared to be but one herd of them in the valley; and as that had been nearly destroyed, we found them afterwards both scarce and shy.
"Next day we returned, well armed, for our opossum and her young, which in our hurry we had quite forgotten. We found, to our mortification, that the cunning animal had gnawed off her fastenings, and escaped, with her whole brood."
CHAPTER FORTY TWO.
AN ADVENTURE WITH DUSKY WOLVES.
"During that year we raised two crops of corn. Neither one of them required as much as two months to bring it to maturity. When we gathered our fall crop we found that we had twenty times the full of our cart—enough to serve us for a whole year, as well as to feed our animals in the winter.
"Our second year was spent pretty much as the first. We made our sugar in the spring, and planted a large quantity of corn. We added to our stock of pets both deer and antelope; and among other animals we caught an old she-wolf, with a large brood of wolf-puppies at her heels. I need hardly tell you that we were constrained to kill the old one on account of her savage disposition, but the young ones we kept and reared. They grew up quite as tame as our own dogs, with whom they fraternised as if they had been of the same species.
"During the summer and winter we had several adventures in the trapping and killing of wild animals; but one of these adventures was of such a singular and dangerous character, that you may feel interested in its narration.
"It occurred in the dead of winter, when there was snow upon the ground; and, in fact, it was the severest winter we experienced during our sojourn in the valley.
"The lake was frozen over, and the ice was as smooth as glass. Of course, we spent much of our time in skating about over its surface, as it gave us health and a good appetite. Even Cudjo had taken a fancy for this amusement, and was also one of the skaters Frank was fonder of it than any of us, and was, in fact, the best skater in our community.
"One day, however, neither Cudjo nor I had gone out, but only Frank and Harry. The rest of us were busy at some carpenter work within doors. We could hear the merry laugh of the boys, and the ring of their skates, as they scoured over the smooth ice.
"All at once a cry reached our ears which we knew betokened the presence of some danger.
"'O Robert!' ejaculated my wife, 'they have broken through the ice!'
"We all dropped what we held in our hands, and rushed for the door. I seized a rope as I ran, while Cudjo laid hold of his long spear, thinking that that might best help us. This was the work of a moment, and the next we were outside the house. What was our astonishment to see both the boys, away at the farthest end of the lake, still upon their feet, but skating toward us as fast as they could drive! At the same time our eyes rested upon a terrible object. Close behind them upon the ice, and following at full gallop, was a pack of wolves! They were not the small prairie wolves—which either of the boys might have chased with a stick—but of a species known as the 'great dusky wolf of the Rocky Mountains.' There were six of them in all. Each of them was twice the size of the prairie wolf; and their long dark bodies, gaunt with hunger, and crested from head to tail with a high bristling mane, gave them a most fearful appearance. They ran with their ears set back, and their jaws apart, so that we could see the red tongues and white teeth.
"We did not halt a moment, but rushed onward for the lake. I flung down the rope, and seized hold of a large rail as I ran, while Cudjo hurried forward, brandishing his spear. Mary, with presence of mind, turned back into the house for my rifle.
"I saw that Harry was foremost; and that the fierce pursuers were fast closing upon Frank. This was strange, for we knew that Frank was by far the best skater. We all called out to him, uttering confused shouts of encouragement. Both were bearing themselves manfully, but Frank was most in danger. The wolves were upon his heels! 'O God! they will devour him!' I cried in my agony, expecting the next moment to see him torn down upon the ice. What was my joy at seeing him suddenly wheel, and dart off in a new direction, with a shout of triumph! The wolves, thus nimbly eluded, now kept after Harry—who in turn, became the object of our anxiety. In a moment they were upon him; but he, already warned by his brother, wheeled in a similar manner; while the fierce brutes, carried along by the impetus of their race, swept to a considerable distance upon the ice before they could turn themselves. Their long tails, however, soon enabled them to veer around in the new direction; and they galloped after Harry, who was now the nearest to them. Frank, in the meantime, had again turned, and came sweeping past behind them— uttering loud shouts, as if to tempt them from their pursuit of Harry. They heeded him not, and again he changed his direction; and, as though he was about to skate into their midst, followed the wolves. This time he shaved up close behind them, just at the moment Harry had made his second angle and escaped.
"At this juncture we heard Frank calling out to his brother to make for the shore; while, instead of retreating, he poised himself upon his skates, until Harry had passed; and then dashed off, followed by the whole pack. Another slight turn brought him nearly in our direction.
"There was a large hole broken through the ice close by the shore; and we saw that, unless he turned again, he would skate into it! We thought he was watching the wolves too intently to see it, and we shouted to warn him. Not so: he knew better than we what he was about. When he had reached within a few feet of the hole, he wheeled sharply to the left, and came dashing up to the point where we stood to receive him. The wolves, following in a close clump, and too intent upon their chase to see anything else, went sweeping past the angle; and the next moment plunged into the broken ice!
"Cudjo and I ran shouting forward, and with the heavy rail and long spear commenced dealing death amongst them. It was but a short, though exciting scene. Five of them were speared and drowned; while the sixth succeeded in crawling out upon the ice, and was making off, frightened enough at the cold ducking he had got. I thought he was going to escape us, but at that moment I heard the crack of a rifle from behind; and the wolf tumbled over, howling like a shot hound. On turning around, I saw Harry with my rifle, which Mary had brought down during the encounter, and which she had intrusted to Harry as a better marksman than herself. The wolf was still only wounded, kicking furiously about upon the ice; but Cudjo now ran out, and, after a short struggle, finished the business with his spear.
"That was a day of great excitement in our little community. Frank, who was the hero of the day, although he said nothing, was not a little proud of his skating feat. And well might be, as, but for his manoeuvres, poor Harry would undoubtedly have fallen a prey to the fierce wolves."
CHAPTER FORTY THREE.
TAMING THE GREAT ELK.
"In the third year our beavers had increased to such numbers, that we saw it was time to thin them off, and commence laying up our store of furs. They had grown so tame that they would take food from our hands. We had no difficulty, therefore, in capturing those we intended to kill, without giving alarm to the others. For this purpose we constructed a sort of penn, or bye-pool, with raised mud banks, near the edge of the lake, and a sluice-gate leading into it. Here we were accustomed to feed the animals; and whenever a quantity of roots of the swamp sassafras was thrown into the pool, a large number of the beavers crowded into it—so that we had nothing else to do but shut down the sluice-gate, and catch them at our leisure. We accomplished all this very quietly; and as none that we trapped were ever allowed to go back and 'tell the tale,' and as at all other seasons the trap was open and free, of course the surviving beavers, with all their sagacity, never knew what became of their companions, and did not even appear to suspect us of foul play, but remained tame as ever.
"In our first crop of skins we laid by, at least 450 pounds worth, with more than 50 pounds worth of 'castoreum.' In our second year we were enabled to do still better; and the produce of that season we estimate at 1000 pounds. Wanting a place to dry and store our furs, we built a new log-cabin, which is the one we are now living in. The old one became our store-house.
"The third year of our trapping was quite as productive as the second; and so with the fourth and fifth. Each of them yielded, at least, 1000 pounds worth of furs and 'castoreum;' so that our old cabin now contains 4500 pounds of property, which we have taken care to keep in good condition. Besides, we estimate our livestock in the dam, which we can trap at any time, at 2500 pounds more; so that, you see, we are worth in all 7000 pounds at this moment. Do you not think, my friends, that we have realised the prediction of my wife, and made a fortune in the Desert?
"As soon as we began to collect these valuable furs, a new train of thought was suggested to us—when and how we should bring them to a market.
"Here was a grand difficulty that stared us in the face. Without a market in which to dispose of them, our furs would be of no more use to us, than a bag of gold would be to a man dying with hunger in the middle of a desert. Although surrounded with plenty for all our wants and necessities, we were still, in a manner, imprisoned in our little valley oasis. We could no more leave it, than the castaway sailor could leave his desert island. With all the animals that were subject to us, none of them were beasts of burden or draught—that is, except Pompo. He was old at the time that these reflections first occurred to us; and when we should be ready to leave our valley in a few years more, poor Pompo would be still older; in fact, barely able to carry himself, let alone a whole family of people, with several thousand beaver-skins to boot.
"Although quite happy where we were—for we were always too much occupied to be otherwise—these thoughts would intrude upon us every now and then, and they gave us a good deal of anxiety.
"As for Mary and myself, I believe we should have been contented to remain where we were, and lay our bones in this lovely, but lonely spot. But we had others to think of—our children. To them we had a duty to perform—the duty of their education. We could not think of bringing them up ignorant of the world; and leaving them to such a wild and wayward fate as would be theirs. These reflections, I have said, at times pressed heavily upon us.
"I proposed to my wife that I should take Pompo, and endeavour to penetrate the settlements of New Mexico—where I could obtain either mules, horses, or oxen. These I should bring back to our valley, and keep them until we required them for carrying us out of the Desert. Mary would not listen to this proposal. She would not consent that we should be separated. 'We might never,' said she, 'see each other again.' She would not allow me to go.
"Indeed, when I reflected seriously on this matter I saw that it would have been useless for me to make the attempt. Even could I have crossed the Desert in safety, where was the money wherewith to purchase these animals? I had not enough to buy either ox or ass. The people of New Mexico would have laughed at me.
"'Let us be patient,' advised my wife. 'We are happy where we are. When the time arrives, and we are ready to go forth, trust that the hand which brought us here can and will guide us safely back again.'
"With such words of consolation my noble wife always ended our conversation on that subject.
"I looked upon her words as almost prophetic; and so they proved in this case, as on many other occasions.
"One day—it was about the fourth year of our sojourn in the valley—we were talking on this very theme; and Mary, as usual, had just expressed her firm reliance upon the hand of Providence to deliver us from our strange captivity, when our conversation was interrupted by Harry, who came running into the house breathless with haste, and with looks full of triumph.
"'Papa! mamma!' cried he; 'two elks—two young elks—taken in the trap! Cudjo is bringing them on in the cart,—two beautiful young elks, about as big as year-old calves.'
"There was nothing very new or strange in this announcement. We had captured elk in the pit-fall before; and we had several of them in our park—old ones. It was the fact of their being 'young elk,'—a sort we had not yet taken—which had put Harry into an unusual state of excitement.
"I thought nothing of it at the moment, but went out along with Mary and the children to have a look at our new pets.
"While Cudjo and the boys were engaged in putting them into the park, all at once I remembered what I had read of, but which had hitherto escaped my memory—that the great American elk is capable of being trained as a beast either of draught or burden.
"I need hardly tell you, my friends, that this thought at once led to a series of reflections. Could these elk be trained to draw a wagon?—to draw us out of the Desert?
"I lost no time in communicating my thoughts to my wife. She, too, had read of this—in fact, in a London menagerie, had seen the elk in harness. The thing, therefore, was practicable. We resolved to use every effort to make it so.
"Let me not weary you, my friends, with details. We set to work to train our young elk. No man knew better than Cudjo how to break a pair of oxen to either plough or cart; and when the elk had grown big, Cudjo yoked them to the plough, and turned up several acres of ground with them. During the winter, too, many a good load of dead-wood did Cudjo make them 'haul' up to the wood-pile that supplied our fire. In short, they worked, both in the plough and cart, as gentle as oxen."
CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.
CATCHING THE WILD HORSES.
"We had accomplished a great object. Nothing remained but to train a sufficient number of elk for our purpose. We trapped several fawns; and Cudjo proceeded in breaking them as he had done the others.
"At this time, however, an event occurred which verified my wife's prediction still more clearly, and proved that the hand of God was over and around us.
"One morning, a little after daybreak, and just before we had risen, we were all thrown into a state of consternation by a noise that came from without. It was the trampling of hoofs—of many hoofs; and there was no difficulty in perceiving that horses were about the house. Their neighing proved this—for Pompo had neighed in his stable, and we could hear a dozen of them uttering their loud responses.
"'Indians!' thought we: and we gave ourselves up for lost.
"We all ran to our arms. Harry, Frank, and I, seized hold of our rifles, while Cudjo betook himself to his great spear. I opened one of the windows, and looked cautiously out. Horses they were, sure enough, but no horsemen! There they were—in all nearly a dozen of them—white, black, red, speckled and spotted like hounds! They were dashing about through the open ground, neighing, snorting, rearing at each other, and tossing back their long flowing manes, while their tails swept away behind them in beautiful luxuriance. There were they, without bridle or saddle, or any other sign that the hand of man had ever touched them. And never had it. I saw at a glance what they were. They were mustangs—the wild horses of the Desert.
"We were not long in resolving how to act. It was evident they had come up the stream from the eastern plains; and, seeing the valley, had been tempted by its greenness, and had strayed into it. Our design, then, was at once formed, and that was to prevent them from getting out again.
"This could be accomplished very easily, by closing up the road which led down to the valley; but, then, how were we to get to it without giving them the alarm? They were playing directly in front of the house, and we could not pass out of the door without showing ourselves. This would at once set them off in a wild gallop, and we should never see more of them. We knew they would not allow us to approach them—for we had seen several bands of them while crossing the prairies, and these would not allow our hunters to get within less than a mile of them. This is a curious fact—that the horse, which you would suppose to be the natural companion of man—once he has escaped from captivity, and goes wild, becomes more shy of man than any other animal, and more difficult to be approached. He seems to have an idea of what is wanted with him, and is determined not to return to slavery. I have never seen a drove of wild horses, but the thought occurred to me, that there was some old 'runaway' among them, who told the rest how he had been used, and cautioned them to keep clear of us. Certain it is, that the wild horse is the wildest of all animals.
"How, then, were we to get out, and circumvent the drove? That was soon decided. Telling Cudjo to take his axe and follow me, I climbed out at the back window of our cabin; and keeping the house between us and the horses, we crept along past our store-house and stable, until we got into the woods in the rear. We skirted through the timber, and soon reached the point where the road runs out of the valley. Here Cudjo set lustily to work with his axe; and in half an hour we had felled a tree across the track, completely blocking it up. We took care to make it secure, by adding several rails, in such a way that no horse without wings could have leaped over it. This done, we gave ourselves no farther concern about being seen by the mustangs; and, shouldering our implements, we marched leisurely back to the house. Of course, the moment the wild horses saw us, they galloped off into the woods; but we did not care for that, as we could easily find them again. And find them we did. Pompo was saddled and bridled; a lazo was made out of raw-hide ropes; and in less than three days the whole caballada of wild horses—eleven in all—was shut up in our park.
"Now, my friends, I fear I have quite tired you with our adventures. I might relate many more, and perhaps, at some future time, may do so. I might tell you how we caught and tamed the wild sheep and the antelopes;—how we captured the young buffaloes on the upper plains, and tamed them, and made cheese and butter from their milk;—how we reared up the kittens of the cougar and the cubs of the black bear;—how the wild geese, and swans, and cranes, and pelicans, migrated to our lake, and became quite tame with us;—how Cudjo and I with our horses made a journey across the Desert to the 'Camp of Sorrow,' as we called the place where our friends had been massacred;—how we picked out two of the best of the wagons, and with the gunpowder which we took from the bomb-shells and many other useful articles, returned again to our valley. These, and many other adventures with wolves and wolverenes, with panthers and peccaries, and porcupines and opossums, I might detail to you; but no doubt you are already wearied with the length of my story.
"It is now nearly ten years since our arrival in this valley oasis. During all that time, we have lived contented and happy; and God has favoured our efforts, and crowned them with success. But our children have grown up almost wild, as you see,—with no other education than that which we ourselves have been able to impart to them; and we are anxious on their account once more to return to the civilised world. It is our intention then to proceed to Saint Louis in the spring. For this purpose, we have everything ready—our wagons, and horses, and furs—all except those which we intend to trap in the ensuing winter. I know not whether we may ever return to this sweet spot—though it will be always dear to us from a thousand memories. That will depend upon circumstances arising in the future, and which we cannot now foresee. It is our intention, however, on leaving the valley, to throw open their bars and set all our captives free—to let them return once more to their wild independence.
"And now, my friends, I have but one request to make of you. It is late in the season. You have lost your trail; and, as you all know, it is very perilous to attempt crossing the prairies in winter. Remain with me, then, until spring; and let us all go together. The winter will be a short one; and I shall endeavour to make it pass pleasantly for you. I can promise you plenty of hunting adventures; and, when the proper season arrives, we shall have a grand battue of the beavers. Speak, then! What say you to remain?"
I need hardly tell you, my young reader, that we at once accepted the proposal. Our friend McKnight, would of course remain on account of the little Luisa; and as for the rest of us, we knew well the hardships we should have to encounter, should we travel the great plains during winter. We knew that in that latitude, as Rolfe had said, the winter would be a short one; and therefore we should not lose much time by staying until spring. The strange wild life which we should lead, had charms for all of us, and we willingly consented to remain.
As Rolfe promised, we had many hunting adventures; and among the rest, the battue of beavers—nearly two thousand of which were trapped and taken.
As soon as spring arrived, we made ready to set forth. Three wagons were prepared—two of them loaded with furs and valuable castoreum. The third carried the females—while Rolfe and his sons rode upon horseback. The walls of the deer-park were broken down, and the aviaries thrown open; and, after distributing plenty of food to the numerous pets, we left them to themselves, and took our departure from the valley. We struck northward for the old trail; and on reaching it, turned our faces for Saint Louis—where we arrived in the month of May; and where Rolfe soon after sold his furs for a large sum of money.
It is now several years since that time; and during the interval, I—the writer of this little book—living in a distant country, heard nothing more about Rolfe or his family. A few days ago, however, I received a letter from Rolfe himself, which gave me the gratifying intelligence that they were all well, and in excellent spirits. Frank and Harry had just finished their college studies, and had come out accomplished scholars and sterling men. Mary and Luisa—Luisa was still one of the family—had returned from school. Besides this, Rolfe's letter contained some very interesting intelligence. No less than four marriages were in contemplation in his family. Harry was about to wed the little "dark sister," Luisa. Frank had come to an understanding with a fine young lady, the daughter of a Missouri planter; and the fair-haired, blue-eyed, rosy-lipped Mary had enslaved a young "prairie merchant," one of those who had spent the winter with us in the valley oasis, and who had been very gallant to Mary all along the journey homeward. But who were to be the fourth couple? Ah! that question we must leave for Cudjo and his "lubbly Lucy" to answer.
Rolfe's letter farther informed me, that it was their intention—as soon as the marriage festivities were over—to return to the valley oasis. All were going together—McKnight, new-married couples, and all. They were to take with them many wagons, with horses, and cattle, and implements of husbandry—with the intention of settling there for life, and forming a little patriarchal colony of themselves.
It was a pleasant letter to read: and as I perused it over and over, and reflected on the many happy hours I had passed in the company of these good people, I could not help thanking the fate that first led me to the Home in the Desert.