It is the habit of these birds, when aware of the presence of the hunter, to remain perfectly silent and motionless, and it requires the keenest eyes to make them out among the leaves. In fact, the very beauty of their singular plumage, which makes the argus-pheasant so marked and attractive an object when side by side with other birds, is the very thing which, amid the foliage of trees, renders it so difficult to be seen. Ocellated as the bird is all over its body, wings, and tail, the general-effect is such as rather to conceal it. A disk of the same size of an unbroken colour, even though the tints be less brilliant, is far more likely to arrest the eye-glance. Besides, the collected foliage of the trees, when gazed at from beneath, presents a species of ocellation, to which that of the argus-pheasant is in some way assimilated. This may be a provision of nature, for the protection of this beautiful and otherwise helpless bird; for it is no great creature at a flight, with all its fine plumes; and, but for its power of thus concealing itself, would easily fall a prey to the sportsman.
Naturalists often, and, perhaps, oftener hunters, have noted this adaptation of the colour of wild animals to their haunts and habits. The jaguars, the leopards, and panthers, whose bright, yellow skins, beautifully spotted as they are, would seem to render them most conspicuous objects, are, in reality, the most difficult to be perceived amid the haunts which they inhabit. An animal of equal size, and of the dullest colouring, provided it were uniform, would be more easily seen than they. Their very beauty renders them invisible; since their numerous spots, interrupting the uniformity of colour, breaks up the large disk of their bodies into a hundred small ones, and even destroys, to the superficial glance, the form which would otherwise betray their presence.
For some such reason then the argus-pheasant is most difficult to be seen, when once settled on his perch among the leaves and twigs of the trees. But though himself not observed, he sees all that passes below. He is well named. Although the eyes all over his body be blind, he carries a pair in his head, that rival those of the famed watchman from whom he borrows his surname. He keeps the sportsman well in sight; and should the latter succeed in espying him, the argus knows well when he is discovered, and the moment a cock clicks or a barrel is poised upward, he is off with a loud whirr that causes the woods to ring.
But, as already stated, he is no great flyer. The smallness of the primary quills of his wing—as well as the unwieldy size of the secondaries, forms an impediment to his progress through the air, and his flight is short and heavy. He is a good runner, however, like all birds of his kind; and he passes rapidly over the ground, using his wings in running like the wild turkey, to which bird he is kindred. When the argus-pheasant is at rest or unexcited, his plumage is neither so bright nor beautiful. It is when showing himself off in the presence of his females that he appears to best advantage. Then he expands his spotted wings, and trails them on the ground in the same manner as the peacock. His tail, too, becomes spread and raised erect, whereas at other times it is carried in a line with the body with the two long feathers folded over each other.
The argus-pheasant (which closet-naturalists now say is not a pheasant, but an argus) is peculiar to the southern parts of Asia, though the limits of its range are not well understood. It is found in all parts of India, and also, as is supposed, in China, even in the northern provinces of that country.
But the argus is not the only beautiful pheasant of these regions. India, or rather southern Asia, is the true home of the pheasant tribe. Already nearly a dozen species of these birds, some of them far more beautiful than the birds of paradise, are known to naturalists; and when the ornithology of the Indian Islands has been thoroughly investigated, a still greater number will be found to exist there.
The Impeyan pheasant, larger than the common fowl, rivals the crested peacock in the brilliancy of its hues. No words can give any adequate idea of the splendour of this bird. Nearly the whole surface of its plumage is resplendent—dazzling with changing hues of green and steel-blue, of violet and gold. It looks as if its body was clothed in a scale armour of bright shining metal, while the plumage is soft and velvety to the touch. This magnificent bird is a native of the Himalaya Mountains; where is also found another splendid species, the peacock-pheasant of Thibet, the latter closely allied to a still more gorgeous bird, the crested polyplectron of the Moluccas.
One cannot look upon these lovely winged creatures without a feeling of gratitude to Him who sent them to adorn the earth, and give pleasure to all who may behold them.
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.
STALKING THE YAKS.
Caspar was not out pheasant-shooting, and therefore these beautiful birds were permitted to fly off unscathed. Caspar's game was the grunting bull.
Where could the herd be? He had already traversed half the extent of the valley without finding the yaks; but there was nothing singular in this. There was plenty of covert among the rocks and woods; and wild animals, however large, have an instinct or a faculty of concealing themselves that often surprises the hunter. Even the gigantic elephant will get out of sight amidst thin jungle, where you might suppose his huge body could hardly be hidden; and the great black buffalo often springs unexpectedly out of a bushy covert not much bigger than his own body. Just as partridges can squat unseen in the shortest stubble, or squirrels lie hid along the slenderest branch, so have the larger wild animals the faculty of concealing themselves in a covert proportionately scanty.
The young hunter was aware of this fact; and therefore was not so much surprised that he did not at once come in sight of the yaks. The former attack upon them, resulting in the loss of two of their number, had rendered them wary; and the noises made in building the hut had, no doubt, driven them to the most secluded corner of the valley. Thither Caspar was bending his steps.
He was calculating that they would be found in some cover, and was beginning to regret that he had not brought Fritz, instead of trying to stalk them, when all at once the herd came under his eyes. They were quietly browsing out in a stretch of open ground—the young calves, as on the former occasion, playing with each other, tearing about over the ground, biting one another, and uttering their tiny grunts, like so many young porkers. The cows and yearlings were feeding unconcernedly— occasionally raising their heads and looking around, but not with any signs of uneasiness or fear. The bull was not in sight!
"Where can he be?" inquired Caspar of himself. "Perhaps these may be a different herd; 'one, two, three;'" and Caspar went on to tell over the individuals of the flock.
"Yes," he continued, muttering to himself, "they are the same, I fancy: three cows—four yearlings—the calves—exactly the number—all except the bull.—Where can the old rascal have concealed himself?"
And with his eyes Caspar swept the whole of the open space, and looked narrowly along the selvedge of the timber which grew around it. No bull, however, was to be seen.
"Now where can the old grunter have gone to?" again inquired Caspar of himself. "Is he off by himself, or along with some other herd? Surely there is but the one family in this valley. Yaks are gregarious animals: Karl says so. If there were more of them, they would be all together. The bull must be ranging abroad by himself, on some business of his own. After all, I suspect he's not far off. I dare say he's in yonder thicket. I'd wager a trifle the knowing old fellow has a trick in his head. He's keeping sentry over the flock, while he himself remains unseen. In that way he has the advantage of any enemy who may assail them. A wolf, or bear, or any preying beast that should want to attack the calves where they now are, would be certain to approach them by that very thicket. Indeed, I should have done so myself, if I didn't know that there was a bull. I should have crouched round the timber and got under cover of the bushes, which would have brought me nicely within range. But now I shall do no such thing; for I suspect strongly the old boy's in the bushes. He would be on me with a rush if I went that way, and in the thicket there's not a tree big enough to shelter a chased cat. It's all brush and thorn bushes. It won't do; I shan't stalk them from that direction; but how else can I approach them? There's no other cover. Ha! yonder rock will serve my purpose!"
Caspar was not half the time in going through this soliloquy that you have been in reading it. It was a mental process entirely, and, of course, carried on with the usual rapidity of thought. The interjection which ended it, and the allusion to a rock, were caused by his perceiving that a certain rock might afford him the necessary cover for approaching the game.
This rock he had observed long before—in fact, the moment he had seen the herd. He could not have failed to observe it, for it lay right in the middle of the open ground, neither tree nor bush being near to hide it. It was of enormous size, too—nearly as big as a hovel, square-sided and apparently flat-topped. Of course, he had noticed it at the first glance, but had not thought of making it a stalking-horse— the thicket seeming to offer him a better advantage.
Now, however, when he dared not enter the thicket—lest he might there encounter the bull—he turned his attention to the rock.
By keeping the boulder between him and the yaks, he could approach behind it, and that would bring him within distance of the one or two of the herd that were nearest. Indeed, the whole flock appeared to be inclining towards the rock; and he calculated, that by the time he could get there himself they would all be near enough, and he might make choice of the biggest.
Up to this time he had remained under cover of the timber, at the point where he first came in sight of the yaks. Still keeping in the bushes, he made a circuit, until the rock was put between him and the herd. Big as the boulder was, it hardly covered the whole flock; and much caution would be required to get up to it without alarming them. He saw that if he could once pass over the first one hundred yards, the rock, then subtending a larger angle of vision, would shield him from their sight, and he might walk fearlessly forward. But the first hundred yards would be awkward stalking. Crawling flat upon his breast appeared to be his only chance. But Caspar had often stalked chamois on his native hills; and many a crawl had he made, over rocks and gravel, and ice and snow. He thought nothing, therefore, of progression in this way, and a hundred yards would be a mere bagatelle.
Without farther hesitation, therefore, he dropped to his marrow-bones, and then flat upon his breast, and in this attitude commenced wriggling and shuffling along like a gigantic salamander. Fortunately the grass grew a foot or more in height, and that concealed him from the view of the yaks. On he went, pushing his gun before him, and every now and then raising his eyes cautiously above the sward to note the position of the herd. When it changed, he also deflected slightly from his course— so as always to keep the centre of the rock aligned upon the bodies of the animals.
After about ten minutes of this horizontal travelling, the hunter found himself within thirty paces of the great boulder. Its broad sides now appeared sufficient to cover the whole flock; and as crawling along the ground was by no means pleasant, Caspar was fain to give it up, and take once more to his feet. He rose erect, therefore; and running nimbly forward, in another moment he stood behind the rock.
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.
CASPAR RETREATS TO THE ROCK.
Caspar now perceived that the rock was not all in one piece. In other words, there were two rocks—both of them immense boulders, but of very unequal size. The largest, as already observed, was of the size of a small house, or it might be compared to a load of hay; while the smaller was not much bigger than the wagon. They lay almost contiguous to each other, with a narrow space, about a foot in width, forming a sort of alley between them. This space resembled a cleft, as if the two blocks had once been united, and some terrible force had cloven them asunder.
Caspar only glanced at these peculiarities as he came up—his eye mechanically searching for the best point of the rock to shelter him from the game, while it afforded him an opportunity of aiming at them. It was altogether a very awkward cover—the rock was square-sided as a wall, with no jutting point that he could crawl behind and rest his gun over. In fact, at the corners it rather hung over, resting on a base narrower than its diameter. There was no bush near to it—not even long grass to accommodate him. The ground was quite bare, and had the appearance of being much trampled, as if it was a favourite resort—in fact, a "rubbing-stone" for the yaks. It was their tracks Caspar saw around it—some of them quite fresh—and conspicuous among the rest were some that by their size must have been made by the hoofs of the bull.
The sight of these large fresh tracks conducted Caspar, and very suddenly too, into a train of reflections that were anything but agreeable.
"The bull's tracks!" muttered he to himself. "Quite fresh, by thunder! Why he must have been here but a minute ago! What if—"
Here Caspar's heart thumped so violently against his ribs, that he could scarce finish the interrogation.
"What if he be on the other side of the rock?"
The hunter was in a dilemma. Up to that moment he had never thought of the probability of the bull being behind the rock. He had taken it into his fancy, that the thicket must be the place of his concealment, but without any very good reason did he fancy this. It was assigning more cunning to the animal than was natural; and now on second thoughts Caspar perceived that it was far more probable the bull should be sunning himself on the other side of the great boulder! There he would be near to the herd,—and likely enough there he was.
"By thunder!" mentally exclaimed Caspar, "if he be there, the sooner I get back to the timber the better for my health. I never thought of it. He could run me down in half a minute. There's no place to escape to. Ha!—what!—good!"
These ejaculations escaped from the hunter as he cast his eyes upward. It was a peculiarity in the form of the rocks that had caused him to utter them. He noticed that the lesser one had a sloping ridge that could be easily ascended; and from its highest point the top of the larger might also be reached by a little active climbing.
"Good!" repeated he to himself; "I'll be safe enough there, and I can easily get up if I'm chased. The top of the rock's equal to any tree. It'll do if I am put to the pinch; so here goes for a shot, bull or no bull!"
Saying this, he once more looked to his gun; and kneeling down close in to the great rock, he commenced shuffling round one of its impending corners, in order to get within view of the herd.
He did not move one inch forward without looking well before him into the plain where the yaks were feeding, but quite as anxiously did he bend his eyes around the edge of the boulder, where he surmised the bull might be. He even listened at intervals, expecting to hear the latter breathing or giving a grunt, or some other sign, by which his presence might be made known.
If behind the rock at all he must be very near, thought Caspar—near enough for his breathing to be heard; and once Caspar fancied that he actually heard a grunt, which did not proceed from any of the herd.
The hunter, however, had less fear now, as he believed he could retreat to the rock before even the swiftest animal could overtake him. He therefore moved on with sufficient confidence.
You are not to suppose that all these thoughts and movements occupied much time. There were not five minutes consumed from the time Caspar arrived at the rocks, until he had taken all his measures; and another minute or two were occupied in creeping round within view of the herd— where at length Caspar arrived.
As yet no bull was seen. He might still be there, but if so, he was farther round the corner of the rock; and the sight of the others now fair before the muzzle of Caspar's gun drove all thoughts of the bull out of his mind. He resolved to fire at the nearest.
Quick as thought the gun was to his shoulder, his finger touched the trigger, and the loud report echoed from the distant cliffs. The ball told, and a cow was bowled over, and lay sprawling on the plain. Bang went the second barrel, and a young bull with a broken leg went hobbling off toward the thicket. The rest of the herd tore away at top speed, and were soon lost sight of in the bushes.
A little calf alone remained by the cow that had fallen. It ran frisking around, uttering its singular cries, and seemingly astonished and unable to comprehend the catastrophe that had befallen its mother!
Under other circumstances Caspar would have pitied that calf—for though a hunter, he was not hard-hearted. But just then he had something else to do than give way to pity.
He had scarce aimed his second shot—even while his finger was still resting on the trigger—when a sound reached his ears that made his heart leap. It spoiled his aim in fact, or the yearling would have had it between his ribs instead of in his hind-leg. That sound could be nothing else than the grunt of the old bull himself; and so close to Caspar did it appear that the hunter suddenly dropped the muzzle of his gun, and looked around thinking the animal was right by him!
He did not see the bull on looking around; but he knew the latter could not be many feet off, just behind the angle of the boulder. Under this impression Caspar sprang to his feet, and ran with lightning speed to ascend the rock.
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.
FACE TO FACE WITH A FIERCE BULL.
Caspar leaped on to the lower one, and scrambled up its sloping ridge. His eyes were turned more behind than before him, for he expected every moment to see the bull at his skirts. To his astonishment no bull had yet appeared, although as he was running around the rock twice or thrice had he heard his terrific grunting.
He now faced toward the summit, determined to climb up to the safest place. From the top he would be able to see all around, and could there watch the movements of the bull, as he fancied, in perfect security. He laid his hand on the edge of the rock and drew himself over it. It was as much as he could do. The parapet was chin high, and it required all his strength to raise himself up.
His attention was so occupied in the endeavour, that he was fairly upon the top ere he thought of looking before him; and when he did look, he saw, to his amazement and terror, that he was not alone. The bull was there too!
Yes! the bull was there, and had been there all the while. The top of the boulder was a flat table, several yards in length and breadth, and upon this the old bull had been quietly reclining, basking himself in the sun, and watching his wives and children as they browsed on the plain below. As he had been lying down, and close to that edge of the table which was most distant from Caspar, the latter could not have perceived him while approaching the rock. He did not even think of turning his eyes in that direction, as he would as soon have thought of looking for the old bull in the top of one of the trees. Caspar had quite forgotten what Karl had told him,—that the summits of rocks and isolated boulders are the favourite haunts of the yaks,—else he might have kept out of the scrape he had now fairly got into.
On perceiving his dilemma, the young hunter was quite paralysed; and for some moments stood aghast, not knowing how to act.
Fortunately for him the bull had been standing at the farthest extremity of the table, looking out over the plain. The trouble he was in about his family occupied all his attention, and he stood loudly grunting to them as if calling them back. He was unable to comprehend what had caused such a rout among them; although he had already experienced the dire effect of those loud detonations. He was "craning" forward over the edge, as if half determined to leap from the summit, instead of turning to the easier descent by which he had got up.
As Caspar scrambled up to the ledge, the rattle of his accoutrements on the rock reached the ears of the bull; and just as the former had got to his feet the latter wheeled round, and the two were now face to face!
There was a moment's pause. Caspar stood in terror; his antagonist, perhaps, also surprised at the unexpected rencontre. It was a very short pause, indeed. Almost in the next instant the fierce yak, uttering his terrific cry, charged forward.
There was no chance to evade the shock by springing to one side or the other. The space was too circumscribed for such a manoeuvre, and the most adroit matador could not have executed it where Caspar stood. He was too near the edge of the rock to make the experiment. His only hope lay in bounding back as he had come; which he did almost mechanically upon the instant.
The impetus of the leap, and the slanting surface of the lower boulder, carried him onward to the bottom; and, unable any longer to retain his feet, he fell forward upon his face. He heard the rattle of the bull's hoofs upon the rock behind him; and before he could recover his feet again he felt the brute trampling over him.
Fortunately he was not hurt, and fortunately the same impetus that had flung him upon his face also carried his antagonist far beyond him; and before the latter could turn from his headlong charge, the young hunter again stood erect.
But whither was he to run? The trees were too far off;—oh! he could never reach them. The fierce beast would be on him ere he could half cross the open ground, and would drive those terrible horns into his back. Whither?—whither?
Confused and irresolute, he turned and rushed back up the rock.
This time he scaled the slope more nimbly; more lightly did he leap upon the ledge, but without any feeling of hope. It was but the quick rush of despair,—the mechanical effort of terror.
The manoeuvre did not yield him a minute's respite. His fierce antagonist saw it all, and went charging after.
Lightly the huge brute bounded up the slope, and then leaped upon the table, as if he had been a chamois or a goat. No pause made he, but rushed straight on with foaming tongue and flaming eye-balls.
Now, indeed, did Caspar believe his last moment had come. He had rushed across the table of granite, and stood upon its extremest end. There was no chance to get back to the place where he had ascended. His vengeful antagonist was in the track, and he could not pass him. He must either spring down from where he stood, or be tossed from the spot upon the horns of the fierce bull. Dizzy was the height,—over twenty feet,—but there was no alternative but take the leap. He launched himself into the air.
He came down feet foremost, but the terrible shock stunned him, and he fell upon his side. The sky was darkened above him. It was the huge body of the bull that had bounded after, and the next moment he heard the heavy sound of the animal's hoofs as they came in contact with the plain.
The hunter struggled to regain his feet. He rose and fell again. One of his limbs refused to perform its functions. He felt there was something wrong; he believed that his leg was broken!
Even this fearful thought did not cause the brave youth to yield. He saw that the bull had recovered himself; and was once more approaching him. He scrambled towards the rock, dragging the useless limb behind him.
You will suppose that there was no longer a hope for him, and that the wild ox rushing upon him must certainly gore him to death. And so he would have done, had not Caspar been in the hands of Providence, who gave him a stout heart, and enabled him to make still another effort for his safety.
As he turned toward the boulder, an object came before his eyes that filled him with fresh hopes. That object was the cleft between the rocks. It was, as already described, about a foot in width, and separated the two boulders at all points,—except along the top, where they rested against each other.
Caspar's quick mind at once perceived the advantage. If he could only reach this crevice, and crawl into it in time, he might still be saved. It was big enough for his body; it would be too narrow to admit that of his huge antagonist.
On hands and knees he glided along with desperate speed. He reached the entrance of the crevice. He clutched the angle of rock, and drew himself far inward. He had not a moment to spare. He heard the horns of the bull crash against the cheeks of the chasm; but the charge was followed by a grunt of disappointment uttered by the furious animal.
A cry of joy involuntarily escaped from the lips of the hunter,—who felt that he was saved!
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.
CASPAR IN THE CLEFT.
Caspar breathed freely. He had need; for the peril he had passed, and the rushing backward and forward, and springing over the rocks, had quite taken away his breath. He could not have lasted another minute.
The bull, thus balked of his revenge, seemed to become more furious than ever. He rushed to and fro, uttering savage grunts, and at intervals dashing his horns against the rocks, as if he hoped to break them to pieces, and open a passage to his intended victim. Once he charged with such fury that his head entered the cleft till his steaming snout almost touched Caspar where he lay. Fortunately, the thick hairy shoulders of the bull hindered him from advancing farther; and in drawing back his head, he found that he had wedged himself; and it was with some difficulty that he succeeded in detaching his horns from the rock!
Caspar took advantage of his struggles; and seizing a stone that lay near at hand, he mauled the bull so severely about the snout, that the brute was fain to get his head clear again; and although he still stood madly pawing by the outside of the cleft, he took care not to repeat his rude assault.
Caspar now seeing that he was safe from any immediate danger, began to feel uneasiness about his broken limb. He knew not how long he might be detained there—for it was evident that the yak was implacable, and would not leave him while he could keep his eyes upon him. It is the nature of these animals to hold their resentment so long as the object of their vengeance is in sight. Only when that is hidden from them, do they seem to forget—for it is probable they never forgive.
The bull showed no signs of leaving the ground. On the contrary, he paced backward and forward, grunting as fiercely as ever, and at intervals making a rush towards the entrance as if he still had hopes of reaching his victim.
Caspar now regarded these demonstrations with indifference, he was far more concerned about his limb; and as soon as he could turn himself into a proper position, he began to examine it.
He felt the bone carefully from the knee downward. He knew the thigh was safe enough. It was his ankle-joint, he feared, was broken. The ankle was already swollen and black—badly swollen, but Caspar could detect no evidence of a fracture of the bones.
"After all," soliloquised he, "it may be only sprained. If so, it will be all right yet."
He continued to examine it, until he at length arrived at the conviction that it was "only a sprain."
This brought him into good spirits again, though the leg was very painful; but Caspar was a boy who could bear pain very stoically.
He now began to ponder upon his situation. How was he to be rescued from his fierce besieger? Would Karl and Ossaroo hear him if he were to shout? That was doubtful enough. He could not be much less than a mile from them; and there were woods and rough ground between him and them. They might be chopping, too, and would not hear his calls. Still, they would not always be chopping, and he could keep up a constant shouting till they did hear him. He had already noticed that in the valley, shut in on all sides as it was by cliffs, sounds were transmitted to a great distance—in fact, the cliffs seem to act as conductors somewhat after the manner of a whispering-gallery. No doubt, then, Karl and Ossaroo would hear him—especially if he gave one of his shrill whistles; for Caspar knew how to whistle very loudly, and he had often made the Bavarian hills ring again.
He was about to make the Himalayas ring, and had already placed his fingers to his lips, when the thought occurred to him that it would be wrong to do so.
"No," said he, after reflecting a moment, "I shall not call them. My whistle would bring Karl, I know. He would come running at the signal. I might not be able to stop him till he had got quite up to the rocks here, and then the bull! No—Karl's life might be sacrificed instead of mine. I shall not whistle."
With these reflections, he removed his fingers from his lips, and remained silent.
"If I only had my gun," thought he, after a pause,—"if I only had my gun, I'd soon settle matters with you, you ugly brute! You may thank your stars I have dropped it."
The gun had escaped from Caspar's hands as he fell upon his face on first rushing down from the rock. It was no doubt lying near the spot where he had fallen, but he was not sure where it had been flung to.
"If it was not for this ankle," he continued, "I'd chance a rush for it yet. Oh! if I could only get the gun here; how I'd fix the old grunter off, before he could whisk that tail of his twice—that I would."
"Stay!" continued the hunter, after some minutes' pause, "my foot seems to get well. It's badly swollen, but the pain's not much. It's only a sprain! Hurrah!—it's only a sprain! By thunder! I'll try to get the gun."
With this resolve, Caspar raised himself to a standing attitude, holding by the rocks on both sides.
The lane between them just gave him room enough to move his body along; and the cleft being of a uniform width from side to side, he could get out on either side he might choose.
But, strange to relate, the old bull, whenever he saw the hunter move towards the opposite side, rushed round to the same, and stood prepared to receive him upon his horns!
This piece of cunning, on the part of his antagonist, was quite unexpected by Caspar. He had hoped he would be able to make a sally from one side of the rock while his adversary guarded the other; but he now saw that the animal was as cunning as himself. It was but a few yards round from one side to the other, and it would be easy for the bull to overtake him, if he only ventured six feet from the entrance.
He made one attempt as a sort of feint or trial; but was driven back again into the crevice almost at the point of his antagonist's horns.
The result was, that the yak, now suspecting some design, watched his victim more closely, never for a moment taking his eyes off him.
But withal Caspar had gained one advantage from the little sally he had made. He had seen the gun where it lay, and had calculated the distance it was off. Could he only obtain thirty seconds of time, he felt certain he might secure the weapon; and his thoughts were now bent on some plan to gain this time.
All at once a plan was suggested to him, and he resolved to make trial of it.
The yak habitually stood with his head close up to the crevice—the froth dropping from his mouth, his eyes rolling fiercely, and his head lowered almost to the earth.
Caspar could have thrust his head with a spear—if he had been armed with one—or he could even have belaboured it with a cudgel.
"Is there no way," thought he, "that I can blind the brute? Ha! By thunder, I have it!" exclaimed he, hitting upon an idea that seemed to promise the desired result.
As quick as thought he lifted over his head his powder-horn and belt; and, then stripping off his jacket, took the latter in both hands, held it spread out as wide as the space would permit. He now approached the edge of the cleft in hopes of being able to fling the jacket over the horns of the bull, and, by thus blinding him, get time to make a rush for his gun. The idea was a good one; but, alas! it failed in the execution. Caspar's arms were confined between the boulders, and he was unable to fling the jacket adroitly. It readied the frontlet of the bull; but the latter, with a disdainful toss of his head, flung it to one side, and stood fronting his adversary, as watchful of his movements as ever.
Caspar's heart sunk at the failure of his scheme, and he retreated despairingly back into the cleft.
"I shall have to call Karl and Ossaroo in the end," thought he. "No! not yet!—not yet! Another plan! I'll manage it yet, by thunder!"
What was Caspar's new plan? We shall soon see. He was not long in putting it to the test. A youth quick in action was Caspar.
He seized his huge powder-horn, and took out the stopper. Once more he crept forward towards the bull, and as near the snout of the latter as it was safe for him to go. Holding the horn by its thick end, and reaching far out, he poured upon the levellest and driest spot a large quantity of powder; and, then drawing the horn gradually nearer, he laid a train for several feet inward.
Little did the grunting yak know the surprise that awaited him.
Caspar now took out his flint, steel, and touch-paper, and in a moment more struck a fire, and touched off the train.
As he had calculated, the exploding powder flashed outward and upward, taking the bull by surprise with the sudden shock, at the same time that it enveloped him in its thick sulphury smoke. The animal was heard routing and plunging about, not knowing which way to run.
This was the moment for Caspar; who, having already prepared himself for the rush, sprang suddenly forth, and ran towards his gun.
With eagerness he grasped the weapon; and, forgetting all about his sprained ankle, ran back with the speed of a deer. Even then, he was not a moment too soon in reaching his retreat; for the bull, having recovered from his surprise, saw and pursued him, and once more sent his horns crashing against the rocks.
"Now," said Caspar, addressing his fierce besieger, and speaking with a confidence he had not hitherto felt, "that time you were more scared than hurt; but the next time I burn powder, the case will be rather different, I fancy. Stand where you are, old boy. Another minute allow me! and I'll raise this siege, without giving you either terms or quarter."
As Caspar continued to talk in this way, he busied himself in loading his gun. He loaded both barrels—though one would have been sufficient; for the first shot did the business clear as a whistle. It tumbled the old bull off his legs, and put an end to his grunting at once and for ever!
Caspar now came forth from the cleft; and, placing his fingers to his lips, caused the valley to ring with his loud whistle. A similar whistle came pealing back through the woods; and, in fifteen minutes' time, Karl and Ossaroo were seen running forward to the spot; and soon after had heard the particulars of Caspar's adventure, and were congratulating him on his escape.
The yaks were skinned and quartered, and then carried home to the hut. The young bull, that had been wounded, also turned up close at hand; and was finished by the spear of Ossaroo. Of course, he too was skinned and quartered, and carried home; but all this labour was performed by Karl and Ossaroo; for Caspar's ankle had got so much worse, that he had himself to be carried to the hut on the backs of Ossaroo and his brother.
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.
Karl and Ossaroo had their adventure, though it was not of so dangerous a character as that of Caspar. They were spectators rather than actors in it. Fritz was the real actor, and Fritz had come off only second best, as a huge gash in his side testified.
They had chosen a pine, and were busy hacking away at it, when a confused noise—a mixture of yelping and barking—fell upon their ears, and caused them to hold their hands, and listen. It was a thin piece of woods, where they were—composed principally of straggling pine-trees without underwood, and they could see to a distance of several hundred yards around them.
As they stood looking out, a large animal, evidently in flight, came dashing past the spot. He did not appear to be a fast runner, and they had a good view of him. He was nearly as large as a jackass, and had something of the appearance of one, but a pair of stout horns, twelve inches in length, and very sharp-pointed, showed that he was a cloven-hoofed animal. His hair was coarse and rough; dark brown on the upper part of his body, reddish on the sides, and whitish underneath. Along the back of the neck he was maned like a jackass, and the neck itself was thick with rather a large head to it. The horns curved backwards so as to lie close along the neck; the legs of the animal were thick and stout, and he appeared to be altogether a stupid creature, and ran with a clumsy ungainly gait.
Neither Karl nor Ossaroo had ever seen such an animal before, but they guessed it to be the "thar," or "serow,"—one of the tribe of antelopes, known as the goat-like antelopes,—of which there are several species in the East Indies.
They guessed aright. It was the serow, (Capricornis bubalina).
But the creature was not alone. Although we have said he was not running very swiftly, he was going as fast as his thick legs would carry him. And he had good reason too, for, close upon his heels, came a pack of what Karl supposed to be red wolves, but which Ossaroo recognised as the wild dogs of India. There were about a dozen of these, each nearly as large as a wolf, with long necks and bodies, somewhat long muzzles, and high, erect, round-tipped ears. Their general colour was red, turning to reddish white underneath. The tops of their long bushy tails were black, and there was a brown patch between the orbits of their eyes, which added to the fierce wolf-like expression that characterised them. It was from them that the howling and yelping had proceeded. They were in full cry after the serow.
Fritz, on hearing the music, would have bounded forth and joined them; but to keep him out of harm's way, Karl had tied him to a tree before commencing work, and Fritz, nolens volens, was compelled to keep his place.
The chase swept by, and both dogs and antelope were soon lost to the sight, though their howling could still be heard through the trees.
After a time it grew louder, and the wood-cutters, perceiving that the chase was again coming in their direction, stood watching and listening. A second time the serow appeared crossing the open tract, and the dogs, as before, close at his heels.
Once more all disappeared, and then, after a short interval, "hark back" was the cry; and, to their surprise, Karl and the shikarree again saw the wild dogs pressing the serow through the woods.
Now it appeared to both that the dogs might easily have overtaken the antelope at any moment; for they were close up to his heels, and a single spring, which any of them might have given, would have launched them upon its flanks. Indeed, it appeared as if they were running it only for their amusement, and at any moment could have overtaken it!
This observation of our wood-cutters was partially true. The wild dogs could at any moment have overtaken the antelope, for they had done so already; having turned it more than once. But for all that, they were not running it out of mere sport. They were thus chasing the game back and forward in order to guide it to their breeding-place, and save themselves the trouble of carrying its carcass thither! This was in reality what the wild dogs were about, and this accounted for their odd behaviour. Ossaroo, who knew the wild dogs well, assured the Sahib Karl, that such is their practice, that—whenever they have young ones— they hunt the larger animals from point to point until they get them close to their common burrowing place; that then they all spring upon the victim, and worry it to death, leaving the puppies to approach the carcass and mangle it at their pleasure!
The plant-hunter had already heard of this singular practice having been observed in the "wild honden," or hunting-dogs of the Cape, and was therefore less surprised at Ossaroo's account.
Of course it was not then that Karl and Ossaroo conversed upon these topics. They were too busy in watching the chase, which once more passed within twenty yards of the spot where they were standing.
The serow seemed now to be quite done up, and it appeared as if his pursuers might at any moment have pulled him down. But this they evidently did not wish to do. They wanted to drive him a little farther.
The creature, however, was not going to accommodate them. He had run enough. A very large tree stood in his way. Its trunk was many feet in diameter, and great broad buttresses stood out from its flanks, enclosing angular spaces between them, any of which would have made a stall for a horse. It was just the sort of place which the serow was looking out for; and making a sharp rush for the tree, he entered one of these divisions, and wheeling around, buttocks to the stump, stood firmly to bay.
This sudden manoeuvre evidently disconcerted his fierce pursuers. There were many of them that knew the serow well, and trembled at the sight of his horns when brought too close to them. They knew his tactics too, and were well aware that once in a position, like that he had now taken up, he became a dangerous customer to deal with.
Knowing this, most of the old dogs held back. But there were several young ones in the pack, rash, hot-blooded fellows, who, vain of their prowess, were ashamed to hang their tails at this crisis; and these, without more ado, rushed in upon the antelope. Then ensued a scene that caused Ossaroo to clap his hands and shake his sides with laughter. A desperate struggle was carried on. Right and left pitched the wild dogs, some yelping, some skulking back, crippled and limping; while one or two soon lay stretched out dead; transfixed as they had been by the pointed horns of the antelope. Ossaroo enjoyed this scene, for the shikarree had a great dislike to these wild dogs, as they had often interfered with his stalking.
How the battle would have ended, or whether the bold buck would have beaten off his numerous enemies will never be known; for while the contest was raging, the great boar-hound, Fritz, contrived somehow or other to slip his fastening, and the next moment he was seen rushing like a streak of fire towards the melee. The wild dogs were as much terrified by his sudden appearance in their midst as the quarry itself could have been, and, without staying to examine the interloper, one and all of them took to their heels, and soon disappeared behind the trees.
Fritz had never seen a serow before, but taking it for granted it was fair game, he sprang at the creature on sight. Better for Fritz had it been a Saxon boar, for it cost him several sharp rips, and a long struggle before he became master of the field; and it is doubtful whether he would not have suffered still worse, had not a pea of lead from the rifle of his master aided in bringing the strife to an end.
The game, but for its hide, was hardly worth faking home; as the flesh of the serow is very coarse, and poor eating. For all that, the animal is eagerly hunted by the natives of the Himalayas; partly because it is not difficult to come up with, and partly that these poor people are not very epicurean in their appetites.
OSSAROO CHASED BY WILD DOGS.
If Ossaroo hated any living creature more than another, the wild dogs, as already hinted at, were his particular aversion. They had often spoiled a stalk upon him, when he was in the act of bringing down an axis or an antelope with his arrows, and they themselves were not worth bending a bow upon. Their flesh was not fit to be eaten, and their skins were quite unsaleable. In fact, Ossaroo regarded them as no better than filthy vermin, to be destroyed only for the sake of exterminating them.
Hence it was that the shikarree was so delighted, when he saw the old serow dealing death among his canine antagonists.
But it was written in the book of fate, that Ossaroo should not sleep that night until he had done penance for this exultation.
Another adventure was in store for him, which we shall now relate.
From the place where the yaks had been killed to the hut was a very long distance—full three quarters of a mile; and, of course, transporting the skins and meat thither required Karl and Ossaroo to make many journeys backward and forward. Caspar was laid up with his sprained ankle, and could give them no assistance. As we have said, they had to carry him home as well as the meat.
The work occupied them all the rest of the day, and, when twilight arrived, there was still one joint to be got home. For this joint Ossaroo started alone, leaving the others at the hut to cook the supper.
On cutting up the meat, they had taken the precaution to hang the pieces upon high branches, out of the reach of beasts of prey. Experience had taught them, that there were many of these in the place, ravenous enough to devour a whole carcass in a few minutes. What kind of wild beast had carried off the flesh of the cow-yak, they knew not. Karl and Caspar believed they were wolves, for the wolf, in some form or other, is found in every quarter of the globe; and in India there are two or three distinct species—as the "landgah," or Nepaul wolf, (Canis pallipes), and the "beriah," another Indian wolf, of a yellow colour, slenderly made, and about the size of a greyhound, with long, erect ears, like the jackal. The jackal, too, which is only a smaller wolf, and the common or brindled hyena, inhabit these countries; so that it was difficult to say which of all these ravenous creatures had committed the depredation. Ossaroo's opinion was, that it was done by dogs, not wolves; and, perhaps, by the very pack that had that day been seen in pursuit of the antelope. It made no great difference, as far as that went; for these same wild dogs are in reality more wolf than dog, and in habits quite as ferocious and destructive as the wolves themselves. But to return to Ossaroo and his adventure.
When the shikarree arrived on the ground where the meat had been left, he was not much surprised to see a number of wild dogs skulking about. Half a dozen of them were standing under the joint, where it hung from the branch; some of them in the act of springing upward, and all of them regarding the tempting morsel with fierce, hungry looks. The offal and "giblets" they had already disposed of, so that not the smallest fragment could be seen lying about. What Ossaroo regretted most was, that he had brought with him neither bow nor arrow nor spear, nor, in short, any thing in the shape of a weapon. Even his long knife he had left behind, in order that he might carry the large joint with greater ease.
On seeing the hated dogs, however, he could not resist the temptation of having a shy at them; and, gathering up a handful of bulky stones, he rushed into their midst, and pelted at them right and left.
The dogs, startled by this sudden onslaught, took to their heels, but Ossaroo could not help observing that they did not appear to be so badly frightened; and, some of them that left the ground sulky and growling, stopped at no great distance from the spot, and appeared half inclined to come back again!
It was the first time in his life that Ossaroo felt something like fear of the wild dogs. He had been in the habit of chasing them on sight, and they had always scampered off at the sound of his voice. These, however, seemed to be larger and fiercer than any he had before encountered, and it was evident there was fight in them. It was nearly dark, and at night such animals are much bolder than during the daylight. Night is, in fact, their true time for rapine and desperate deeds. Ossaroo reflected, moreover, that these dogs had, in all probability, never before encountered man, and were, therefore, less inclined to fear or flee from him.
It was not without some misgiving, therefore, that he found himself in their presence, thus unarmed and alone.
When his armful of stones was exhausted, some of the dogs still remained within sight, looking in the grey twilight much larger than they actually were.
Ossaroo reflected for a moment whether he would gather some more rocks, and give them a fresh pelting. On second thoughts, he concluded it would be more prudent to let them alone. They were already almost at bay, and any farther demonstration on his part might provoke them to turn upon him in earnest. He determined, therefore, to leave them as they stood, and hurry off with his load.
Without more ado, he took down the quarter of yak-beef, and, placing it upon his shoulders, turned homeward toward the hut.
He had not gone very far when he began to suspect that the dogs were after him. In fact, he more than suspected it, for the pattering of feet upon the dead leaves, and an occasional low growl that reached his ears, convinced him they were after him. The heavy burden upon his shoulders, pressing his head forward and downward, prevented him from seeing either to one side or the other, and to look behind, it would be necessary for him to turn quite round.
But the pattering of the feet sounded nearer, and the short half-bark, half-growl, became more frequent, until Ossaroo found himself at length constrained to turn, from sheer apprehension of being attacked in the rear.
The sight that met his eyes was enough to have terrified the stoutest heart. Instead of half a dozen of the wild dogs which he expected to see following him, there were far above a score of them, and they appealed to be of every age, sex, and size. In fact, all the dogs of the valley were trooping at his heels, as if they had been all summoned to join in the attack.
But the stout shikarree was not yet dismayed. He had been accustomed to hold the wild dogs in too great contempt to be so easily frightened, even by such numbers of them, and he resolved to make another attempt to drive them off.
Leaning the beef, therefore, against a tree, he stooped down and groped the ground, until he had again armed himself with pebbles as big as paving-stones; and rushing some paces backward, he flung them with all his might in the teeth of his tormentors. Several of the pebbles happened to hit in the right place, and more than one of the dogs ran howling away; but the fiercer and older ones scarce yielded their ground, and only answered the assault by a fierce grinning and jabbering, while their white teeth could be distinguished under the moonlight set in angry menace.
Upon the whole, Ossaroo gained but little by this new demonstration; and as he reshouldered his load, he saw the dogs gathering thick as ever behind him.
Perhaps he would not have taken up his burden again, but an idea had suddenly entered his mind; he had conceived a plan of getting rid of his ugly followers.
He knew that he was near the edge of the lake. He remembered that between him and the hut there lay a long reach of water, where the lake ran up into a sort of branch or bay. He knew that this bay, even at its neck, was quite shallow and fordable. He had, in fact, waded across it that very day in order to shorten the path. He was just then within a hundred yards of the fording-place; and if the dogs contemplated attacking him, he would be able to reach the water before they were likely to begin their attack. He would take to the water, and that would throw them off. With all their fierceness, they surely would not follow him into it?
Acting under this impression, he reshouldered his load and hurried forward. He did not waste time to look about. He need not have looked around to convince himself that he was still followed, for the thick pattering of the feet, the snarling, and chattering, were behind him as before. Every moment it sounded nearer and nearer, and at length when Ossaroo arrived by the water's edge he fancied he could hear the breathing of the brutes close to his very ankles.
He made no halt, but dashed at once into the lake, and plunged wildly across. The noise made by himself in wading knee-deep prevented him from hearing other sounds; and he did not look to see whether he was followed until he had climbed out on the opposite shore of the bay. Then he paused and turned around. To his chagrin the whole pack were in the water, crossing like hounds after a stag! Already they were half over. They had no doubt hesitated a moment before taking to the water, and this gave Ossaroo some advantage, else they would have landed as soon as he. As it was, they would soon take up the distance.
Ossaroo hesitated a moment as to whether he should abandon his burden, and retreat towards the hut; but the thought of yielding to a pack of wild dogs was too much for his hunter pride; and, wheeling suddenly into the path, he hurried onward with his load. It was now but a short distance to the hut. He had still hopes that he might reach it before his pursuers would make up their minds to assail him.
On he hastened, making his limbs do their best. Once more came the pattering feet; once more the growling, and yelping, and jibbering of the wild dogs from behind; once more their hot breathing seemed to be felt close to his heels; and then, all at once, the quarter of yak-beef appeared to increase in weight, and grow heavier and heavier, until it came suddenly to the ground, pulling Ossaroo upon his back. Several of the ravenous brutes had seized upon and dragged both burden and bearer to the earth!
But Ossaroo soon recovered his feet; and, seizing a large pole, that fortunately lay near, commenced laying around him right and left, at the same time making the woods echo with his yells.
A terrible melee ensued, the dogs showing fight, seizing the pole in their teeth, and springing forward upon the hunter whenever an opportunity offered. The latter, however, handled his improvised weapon so well, that for a long time he kept the whole pack at bay.
He was growing very tired, and no doubt in a few minutes more would have been obliged to succumb, when he, as well as the joint of yak-beef, would soon have disappeared from the world; but, before this terrible event could happen, the large spotted body of Fritz was seen rushing into the midst of the crowd. Fritz was followed by his master, Karl, armed with the double-barrelled gun, which soon opened fire, scattering the wild pack like a flock of sheep, and laying out more than one of their number at the feet of Ossaroo.
The scene was soon over after the arrival of Karl and Fritz, and Ossaroo was delivered from his peril; but if ever a follower of Brahma swore vengeance against any living creature, Ossaroo did that very thing against the wild dogs.
CHAPTER FORTY ONE.
So indignant was Ossaroo with these animals that he vowed he would not lie down till he had taken wholesale revenge, and Karl and Caspar were curious to know how he intended to take it. They knew the dogs would be like enough to come round the hut during the night. Indeed, they heard them yelping not far off at the moment; but for all that how were they to be killed, for that was the sort of revenge the shikarree meditated taking? It would never do to expend powder and shot on such worthless animals; besides firing at them in the darkness would be a very uncertain mode of killing even a single one of them.
Did Ossaroo intend to sit up all night and shoot at them with his arrows? The chances were he should not hit one; and from the way Ossaroo talked he had made up his mind to a whole hetacomb! Certainly he could not do it with his bow and arrows. How then was he going to take the wholesale vengeance he had rowed?
They knew of no sort of trap that could be arranged, whereby more than a single dog might be captured; and it would take some time with such weapons as they had to construct the rudest kind of trap. True, there was the "dead-fall" that might be rigged up in a few minutes from logs that lay near; but that could only fall once, crushing one victim, unless Ossaroo sat up to rearrange it. Besides, the cunning dogs might not go under it again, after one of their number had been immolated before their eyes.
Karl and Caspar could not conceive what plan Ossaroo intended to pursue; but from experience they knew he had some one; and therefore they asked him no questions, but watched his proceedings in silence.
The first thing that Ossaroo did was to collect from the antelope all the tendons or sinews that he could lay his fingers on. Some, also, he obtained from the barking-deer, which Caspar had killed in the morning; and others he took from the limbs of the yaks that had been brought home in their skins. In a short while he had a goodly bunch of these tough strings; which he first dried before the fire, and then twisted after his own fashion into slender cords. In all he made more than a score of them—Karl and Caspar of course acting under his directions, and lending him all necessary help during the operation. These cords, neatly twined and dried by the heat, now resembled strings of coarse catgut; and it only remained for Ossaroo to knot and loop them, and form them into snares.
Of course Karl and Caspar now knew what Ossaroo purposed—to snare the dogs of course. Yet how the snares were to be set, or how a wild dog could be captured with a piece of catgut, was more than they could comprehend. Surely, thought they, the dogs will gnaw such a string to pieces in half a minute, and set themselves free again? So it would have appeared, and so they would doubtless have done had the snares been set for them in the ordinary manner. But Ossaroo had a plan of his own for setting snares, and it was by this plan he intended to succeed in capturing the dogs.
The next thing Ossaroo did was to provide himself with an equal number of stoutish thongs, which his knife and the numerous raw hides that lay about soon enabled him to do. When these were all prepared, about twenty small skewer-like rods were obtained from the bushes and sharpened at one end. Then a like number of "griskins" were cut from the antelope venison—it being esteemed of least value; and thus provided, Ossaroo started forth to set his snares.
Karl and Caspar of course accompanied him, the latter limping on one leg, and carrying a large pine-torch—for as the moon had gone down, and it was now quite dark, they required a light to do the work. Karl was loaded with the thongs, skewers, and griskins, while Ossaroo himself was in charge of the snares.
Now it so happened that not far from the hut, and all around it, there grew numbers of low trees, with long branches that extended horizontally outward. They were a species of the pyrus, or mountain-ash, sometimes known as "witch hazel." The branches, though long, were thin, tough, and elastic, and not much burdened with either branchlets or leaves. They were the very things for Ossaroo's purpose, and he had observed this before it had become quite dark, and while he was meditating upon some plan to get square with the wild dogs. Upon these branches he was now to operate.
Reaching up he caught one of them in his hand, drew it downwards, and then suddenly let it go again, in order to try the "spring" of it. It appeared to satisfy him; and, once more laying hold of it, he stripped off its leaves and twigs, and then tied the rawhide thong to its upper end. To the other end of the string was next adjusted the skewer-like rod, and this last was fastened in the ground in such a way as to hold the branch bent downward with considerable force, while a very slight jerk upon the pin itself would set the former free. The shikarree now arranged his piece of venison for a bait, fixing it so that it could not possibly be dragged away or even slightly tugged without setting free the rod-trigger, and consequently the bent branch. Last of all, was arranged the snare, and this was placed in such a position with regard to the bait, that any animal attempting to seize the latter must necessarily have the whole or part of its body encircled by the ready running noose.
When all these matters were arranged to his satisfaction, Ossaroo proceeded to another tree, and went through a similar process of snare-setting; and then to another, and so on till the whole of his snares were disposed of, when the party returned to the hut.
They sat for half-an-hour longer, listening in hopes that before retiring they might enjoy the sport of seeing a wild dog snared. Whether it was that the torch-light had frightened them off for a while, or from some other cause, neither yelp, nor growl, nor noise of any kind, gratified the ears of the listeners; so they gave it up, and, shutting the rude door of the hut, one and all of them went soundly to sleep.
The fact is, the day's work had been one of the hardest of their lives. All were as tired as hod-carriers; and they were glad to stretch themselves once more on the fragrant leaves of the rhododendrons.
Had they not slept so soundly, they might have heard a considerable confusion of noises throughout the night. What with barking and growling, and yelping and howling, and snapping and snarling, and the creaking of branches and the rattling of twigs, there was a constant medley, that ought to have awakened the three sleepers long before daylight. It did awake them, however, at last; and as the light streamed through the apertures of the hut, all three sprang to their feet and rushed out into the open air. It was still only grey light; but as soon as they had rubbed their eyes clear of sleep, a sight was before them that caused Karl and Caspar to break out into loud laughter, while Ossaroo jumped about vociferating his delight in wild yells of triumph. Nearly every snare they had set had caught its victim—nearly every tree around the hut carried a dog swinging to its branches—some by the neck hanged quite dead—some round the body alive and struggling—while there were others suspended by a single leg, their snouts almost touching the earth, and their tongues hanging from their frothy jaws!
It was the strangest of all scenes; and Ossaroo had, as he had vowed, a full measure of vengeance—which he now carried to its completion, by seizing his long spear, and putting an end to the struggles of the hideous brutes.
CHAPTER FORTY TWO.
THE CREVASSE BRIDGED.
Young reader, I shall not weary you by relating every little circumstance which occurred during the time that the bridge was being constructed. Suffice it to say, that all hands were busy,—both night and day, I might almost say,—until it was finished. Although they were in no want of any thing, and might have lived their lives out in this place, yet the thought that they were imprisoned—cut off from all fellowship with mankind—weighed heavily upon their spirits, and not an hour was wasted in idle amusement. The whole of their time was given up to that which engrossed all their thoughts—the construction of the bridge—that link, which was wanting to unite them once more with the world, and free them from their lonely captivity.
They were a whole month in getting their bridge ready; which, after all, consisted only of a single pole of about six inches in diameter, and better than a hundred feet in length. It was nothing more than two slender pine-trees spliced together by means of rawhide thongs. But then these trees had to be shaved down to a nearly uniform thickness, and this had to be done with the small hatchet and knives; and the wood had to be charred by fire until it was quite dry and light; and the splicing had to be made with the greatest neatness and strength, so that there would be no danger of its yielding under a weight; and, moreover, a great many ropes had to be twisted, and many animals had to be captured and killed, to obtain the materials for these ropes; and other apparatus had to be made—so that the getting that bridge ready was a good month's work for all hands.
At the end of a month it was ready; and now behold it in the gorge of the glacier, and lying along the snowy surface of the ice, one end of it within a few feet of the crevasse! Thither they have transported it, and are just preparing to put it in its place.
The first thought that will strike you, will be how that piece of timber is to be placed across that yawning chasm. It is quite long enough to reach across—for they calculated that before making it—and there are several feet to lap over at each end; but how on earth is it to be extended across? If any one of the party was upon the opposite side, and had a rope attached to the end of the pole, then it would be easy enough to manage it. But as there could be nothing of this kind, how did they intend acting? It is evident they could not push it across before them; the end of such a long pole would naturally sink below the horizontal line before reaching the opposite side; and how was it to be raised up? In fact, as soon as they should push it a little more than half its length outward, its own weight would overbalance their united strength, and it would be likely to escape from their hands and drop to the bottom of the cleft—whence, of course, they could not recover it. This would be a sad result, after the trouble they had had in constructing that well-balanced piece of timber.
Ah! they were not such simpletons as to have worked a whole month without first having settled all these matters. Karl was too good an engineer to have gone on thus far, without a proper design of how his bridge was to be thrown across. If you look at the objects lying around, you will perceive the evidence of that design. You will understand how the difficulty is to be got over.
You will see there a ladder nearly fifty feet in length—several days were expended in the making of this; you will see a strong pulley, with block-wheels and shears—this cost no little time in the construction; and you will see several coils of stout rawhide rope. No wonder a month was expended in the preparation of the bridge!
And now to throw it across the chasm! For that purpose they were upon the ground, and all their apparatus with them. Without farther delay the work commenced.
The ladder was placed against the cliff, with its lower end resting upon the glacier, and as close to the edge of the crevasse as was reckoned safe.
We have said that the ladder was fifty feet in length; and consequently it reached to a point on the face of the cliff nearly fifty feet above the surface of the glacier. At this height there chanced to be a slight flaw in the rock—a sort of seam in the granite—where a hole could easily be pierced with an iron instrument.
To make this hole a foot or more in depth was the work of an hour. It was done by means of the hatchet, and the iron point of Ossaroo's boar-spear.
A strong wooden stake was next inserted into this hole, fitting it as nearly as possible; but, in order to make it perfectly tight and firm, hard wooden wedges were hammered in all around it.
When driven home, the end of this stake protruded a foot or more from the wall of the cliff; and, by means of notches cut in the wood, and rawhide thongs, the pulley was securely rigged on to it.
The pulley had been made with two wheels; each of them with axles strong enough to bear the weight of several hundreds. Both had been well tested before this time.
Another stake was now inserted into the cliff, within a few feet of the surface of the glacier. This was simply to be used as a belaying-pin, to which the ends of the pulley-ropes could be fastened at a moment's notice.
The next operation was the reeving of the ropes over the wheels of the pulley. This was the work of but a few minutes, as the ropes had already been carefully twisted, and had been made of just the thickness to fit the grooves of the wheels.
The ropes—or cables, as the boys called them—were now attached at one end to the great pole which was to form the bridge. One to its end, and the other to its middle, exactly around the place where it was joined.
The greatest pains was taken in adjusting these knots, particularly the one in the middle; for the duty which this cable was called upon to perform was, indeed, of a most important character.
It was to act as the main pier or support of the bridge—not only to prevent the long pole from "swagging" downward, but in fact to keep it from breaking altogether. But for Karl's ingenuity in devising this support, a slender pole, such as that they had prepared, would never have sustained the weight of one of them; and had they made it of heavier scantling, they could not have thrown it across the chasm. The centre support, therefore, was the chief object of their solicitude; and this cable, as well as the pulley-wheel over which it passed, were made much stronger than the other. The second rope was intended to hold up the end of the pole, so that, on approaching the opposite side of the chasm, it could be kept high enough to be raised above the ice.
The ropes being now completely rigged, each man took his place. Ossaroo, who was the strongest of the party, was to push the bridge forward; while Karl and Caspar attended to the pulley and the ropes. Rollers had already been laid under the poles; for, although but six inches in diameter, its great length rendered it no easy matter to slide it forward, even with the advantage of the slippery surface of frozen snow.
The word was given by Karl, and the pole commenced moving. Soon its end passed over the brink of the chasm, close by the edge of the black rock. Slowly and gradually it moved forward, and not one of them uttered a word. They were all too much absorbed in attending to their various duties to speak a sentence.
Slowly and gradually it moved onward, creeping along the cliff, like some huge monster, and protruding its muzzled snout far over the deep chasm.
At length the nearest roller approached the brink, find it became necessary to stop the motion till these could be rearranged.
This was easily done. A few turns of the cables around the belaying-pin, and all stood fast. The pulley-wheels worked admirably, and the cables glided smoothly over the grooved blocks.
The rollers were soon readjusted—the cables again freed from the pin, and the bridge moved on.
Slowly and gradually—slowly but smoothly and surely, it moved, until its farther end rested upon the opposite cheek of the crevasse, lapping the hard ice by several feet. Then the cables were held taut, and securely fastened to the belaying-pin. The nearer end of the pole was tied with other ropes—so that it could not possibly shift from its place—and the yawning abyss was now spanned by a bridge!
Not till then did the builders rest to look upon their work; and, as they stood gazing upon the singular structure that was to restore them to liberty and home, they could not restrain themselves, but gave vent to their triumphant feelings in a loud huzzah!
CHAPTER FORTY THREE.
THE PASSAGE OF THE CREVASSE.
I know you are smiling at this very poor substitute for a bridge, and wondering how they who built it were going to cross upon it. Climbing a Maypole would be nothing to such a feat. It may seem easy enough to cling to a pole six inches in diameter, and even to "swarm" along it for some yards, but when you come to talk of a hundred feet of such progression, and that over a yawning chasm, the very sight of which is enough to make the head giddy and the heart faint, then the thing becomes a feat indeed. Had there been no other mode of getting over, like enough our heroes would have endeavoured to cross in that way.
Ossaroo, who had "swarmed" up the stem of many a bamboo and tall palm-tree, would have thought nothing of it; but for Karl and Caspar, who were not such climbers, it would have been rather perilous. They had, therefore, designed a safer plan.
Each was provided with a sort of yoke, formed out of a tough sapling that had been sweated in the fire and then bent into a triangular shape. It was a rude isosceles triangle, tied tightly at the apex with rawhide thongs; and thereto was attached a piece of well-twisted rope, the object of which was to form a knot or loop over the pole, to act as a runner. The feet of the passenger were to rest on the base of the yoke, which would serve as a stirrup to support the body, while one arm would hug the pole, leaving the other free to push forward the runner by short gradations. In this way each was to work himself across. Their guns, and the few other things, were to be tightly strapped to their backs. They had only those that were worth bringing along. As for Fritz, he was not to be left behind, although the transporting him across had offered for some time a serious difficulty. Ossaroo, however, had removed the difficulty by proposing to tie the dog up in a skin and strap him on his (Ossaroo's) own back, and thus carry him over. It would be nothing to Ossaroo.
In less than half-an-hour after the bridge was in its place, the three were ready to cross. There they stood, each holding the odd-looking stirrup in his hand, with his impedimenta strapped securely on his back. The head of Fritz, just showing above the shoulder of the shikarree, while his body was shrouded in a piece of shaggy yak-skin, presented a very ludicrous spectacle, and his countenance wore quite a serio-comical expression. He seemed quite puzzled as to what was going to be done with him.
Ossaroo proposed crossing first; and then Caspar, brave as a lion, said that he was the lightest, and ought to go first. Karl would not listen to either of them, Karl alleged that, as he was the builder of the bridge, by all usage it was his place to make trial of it. Karl being the Sahib of the party, and, of course, the man of most authority, carried his point.
Stepping cautiously to the point where the pole rested on the ice, he looped the rawhide rope over it, and then suffered the yoke to drop down. He then grasped the pole tightly in his arms, and placed his feet firmly in the stirrup. For a moment or two, he pressed heavily upon the latter, so as to test its strength, while he held on by the beam above; and then, disengaging his left arm, he pushed the runner forward upon the pole, to the distance of a foot or more. This, of course, carried the stirrup along with it, as well as his feet; and then, throwing forward the upper part of his body, he swung himself out above the abyss.
It was a fearful sight, even to those who watched him, and would have been too perilous a feat for idle play; but the very nature of their circumstances had hardened them to undergo the danger.
After a time, Karl was far out from the ice, and seemed to hang upon a thread between heaven and earth!
Had the pole slipped at either end, it would have precipitated the adventurous Karl into the chasm; but they had taken every precaution against this. At the nearer end, they had rendered it secure by rolling immense rocks upon it; while, on the opposite side, it was held in its place by the cable, that had been drawn as tight as the pulley could make it.
Notwithstanding the mainstay in the middle, it sank considerably under the weight of Karl's body; and it was plain that, but for this contrivance, they could never have crossed. When half-way to the point where this stay was attached, the pole bent far below the level of the glacier, and Karl now found it up-hill work to force the runner along. He succeeded, however, in reaching the stay-rope in safety.
Now he had arrived at one of the "knottiest" points of the whole performance. Of course, the runner could go no farther, as it was intercepted by the stay. It was necessary, therefore, to detach it altogether from the pole, and then readjust it on the other side of the cable.
Karl had not come thus far to be stopped by a difficulty of so trifling a kind. He had already considered how he should act at this crisis, and he delayed only a moment to rest himself. Aided by the mainstay itself, which served him for a hand-rope, he mounted cross-legs upon the timber, and then, without much trouble, shifted his runner to the opposite side. This done, he once more "sprang to his stirrup," and continued onward.
As he approached the opposite edge of the chasm, he again encountered the up-hill difficulty; but a little patience and some extra exertion brought him nearer and nearer, and still nearer, until at last his feet kicked against the icy wall.
With a slight effort, he drew himself upon the glacier; and, stepping a pace from the brink, he pulled off his cap, and waved it in the air. A huzza from the opposite side answered his own shout of triumph. But louder still was the cheer, and far more heartfelt and joyous, when, half-an-hour afterwards, all three stood side by side, and, safe over, looked back upon the yawning gulf they had crossed!
Only they who have escaped from some terrible doom—a dungeon, or death itself—can understand the full, deep emotions of joy, that at that moment thrilled within the hearts of Karl, Caspar, and Ossaroo.
Alas! alas! it was a short-lived joy,—a moment of happiness to be succeeded by the most poignant misery,—a gleam of light followed by the darkest of clouds!
Ten minutes had scarce elapsed. They had freed Fritz from his yak-skin envelope, and had started down the glacier, impatient to get out of that gloomy defile. Scarce five hundred steps had they taken, when a sight came under their eyes that caused them suddenly to hall, and turn to each other with blanched cheeks and looks of dread import. Not one of them spoke a word, but all stood pointing significantly down the ravine. Words were not needed. The thing spoke for itself.
Another crevasse, far wider than the one they had just crossed, yawned before them! It stretched from side to side of the icy mass; like the former, impinging on either cliff. It was full two hundred feet in width, and how deep. Ugh! they dared hardly look into its awful chasm! It was clearly impassable. Even the dog appeared to be aware of this; for he had stopped upon its edge, and stood in an attitude of fear, now and then uttering a melancholy howl!
Yes, it was impassable. A glance was sufficient to tell that; but they were not satisfied with a glance. They stood upon its brink, and regarded it for a long while, and with many a wistful gaze; then, with slow steps and heavy hearts, they turned mechanically away.
I shall not repeat their mournful conversation. I shall not detail the incidents of their backward journey to the valley. I need not describe the recrossing of the crevasse—the different feelings with which they now accomplished this perilous feat. All these may be easily imagined.
It was near night when, wearied in body and limb—downcast in mien and sick at heart—they reached the hut, and flung themselves despairingly upon the floor.
"My God! my God!" exclaimed Karl, in the agony of his soul, "how long is this hovel to be our home?"
CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.
That night was passed without much sleep. Painful reflections filled the minds of all and kept them awake—the thoughts that follow disappointed hopes. When they did sleep it was more painful than waking. Their dreams were fearful. They dreamt of yawning gulfs and steep precipices—of being suspended in the air, and every moment about to fall into vast depths where they would be crushed to atoms. Their dreams, that were only distorted pictures of the day's experience, had all the vividness of reality, and far more vivid in their horror. Often when one or other of them was awakened by the approaching climax of the dream, he endeavoured to keep awake rather than go through even in a vision such horrible scenes.
Even the dog Fritz was not free from similar sufferings. His mournful whimpering told that his sleep like theirs was troubled and uneasy.
A bright sunshiny morning had its beneficial effect upon all of them. It aided the reaction—consequent on a night of such a dismal character—and as they ate their breakfasts of broiled meat they were again almost cheerful. The buoyancy of Caspar's spirits had well-nigh returned, and his fine appetite showed itself in full vigour. Indeed all of them ate heartily, for on the preceding day they had scarce allowed themselves time to taste food.
"If we must remain here always," said Caspar, "I see no reason why we need starve ourselves! There's plenty to eat, and a variety of it, I can say. I don't see why we shouldn't have some fish. I am sure I have seen trout leap in the lake. Let us try a fly to-day. What say you, Karl?"
Caspar said this with the intention of cheering his brother.
"I see no harm in it," answered the quiet botanist. "I think there are fish in the lake. I have heard there is a very eatable kind of fish in all the rivers of the Himalayas, known as the 'Himalayan trout'—though it is misnamed, for it is not a trout but a species of carp. It may be found here, I dare say; although it is difficult, to imagine how fish could get into this sequestered lake."
"Well," rejoined Caspar, "we must think of some plan to get them out of it. We have neither nets, rods, hooks, nor lines. What's to be done? Can you think of any way of taking the fish, Ossaroo?"
"Ah! Sahib," replied the shikarree, "give me bamboo, me soon make net to takee fish—no bamboo—no net—no matter for net—Ossaroo poison the water—get all da fish."
"What! poison the water? how would you do that? Where is the poison?"
"Me soon find poison—bikh poison do."
"'Bikh' poison—what is that?"
"Come, Sahib! me show you bikh plant—plenty grow here."
Both Karl and Caspar rose and followed the shikarree.
They had not gone many paces when their guide stooped and pointed to a plant that grew in plenty about the place. It was an herbaceous plant, having a stem nearly six feet high, and rather broad digitate leaves, with a loose spike of showy yellow flowers at the top.
Caspar rather hastily took hold of one of the plants; and, plucking off the spike, held it to his nose, to see whether the flowers had any perfume. But Caspar dropped the nosegay as hastily as he had seized it, and with an exclamation of terror turned towards his brother, into whose arms he staggered half swooning! Fortunately he had taken but a very slight "sniff" of that dangerous perfume, else he might have been laid up for days. As it was he felt giddy for hours after.
Now this singular plant the botanist Karl recognised at a glance. It was a species of aconite, or wolf's-bane, and very similar to the kindred species, Aconitum napellus, or "monk's hood," of Europe, whose roots furnish the most potent of poisons.
The whole plant—leaves, flowers, and stem—is of a poisonous nature, but the roots, which resemble small turnips, contain the essence of the poison. There are many species of the plant found in different parts of the world, and nearly a dozen kinds in the Himalaya Mountains themselves; but the one pointed out by Ossaroo was the Aconitum ferox of botanists, the species from which the celebrated "bikh" poison of the Hindoos is obtained.
Ossaroo then proposed to poison the fish by throwing a sufficient quantity of the roots and stems of the plant into the lake.
This proposal, however, was rejected by Karl, who very properly observed, that although by that means they might obtain a plentiful supply of fish, they would destroy more than they could use at the time, and perhaps leave none for the future. Karl had already begun to talk about a "future" to be spent on the shores of this lovely lake. The belief that they might never go out of the valley was already taking shape in the minds of all three, though they did not care to give expression to such sad imaginings.
Karl tried to be cheerful, as he saw that Caspar was gay.
"Come," said he, "let us not mind the fish to-day. I own that fish is usually the first course, but go along with me. Let us see what kind of vegetables our garden has got. I am sure we may live better if we only try. For my part I am getting tired of broiled meat, and neither bread nor vegetables to eat along with it. Here I dare say we shall find both; for whether it be due to the birds, or its peculiar climate—or a little to both most likely—our valley has a flora such as you can only meet with in a botanic garden. Come then! let us see what we can find for the pot."
So saying Karl led the way, followed by Caspar, Ossaroo, and the faithful Fritz.
"Look up there!" said the botanist, pointing to a tall pine that grew near. "See those large cones. Inside them we shall obtain seeds, as large as pistachio-nuts, and very good to eat. By roasting them, we can make an excellent substitute for bread."
"Ha, indeed!" exclaimed Caspar, "that is a pine-tree. What large cones! They are as big as artichokes. What sort of pine is it, brother?"
"It is one of the kind known as the 'edible pines,' because their seeds are fit for food. It is the species called by botanists Pinus Gerardiana, or the 'neosa' pine. There are pines whose seeds are eatable in other parts of the world, as well as in the Himalaya Mountains,—for instance, the Pinus cembra of Europe, the 'ghik' of Japan, the 'Lambert' pine of California, and several species in New Mexico, known among the people as 'pinon' trees. So you perceive that besides their valuable timber—to say nothing of their pitch, turpentine, and resin—the family of the pines also furnishes food to the human race. We shall get some bread from those cones whenever we desire it!"
So saying, Karl continued on in the direction of the lake.
"There again!" said he, pointing to a gigantic herbaceous plant, "rhubarb, you see!"
It was, in fact, the true rhubarb, which grows wild among the Himalaya Mountains, and whose great broad red-edged leaves, contrasting with its tall pyramid of yellow bracts, render it one of the most striking and beautiful of herbaceous plants. Its large acid stems—which are hollow and full of pure water—are eaten by the natives of the Himalayas, both raw and boiled, and its leaves when dried are smoked as tobacco. But there was a smaller species that grew near, which Ossaroo said produced much better tobacco; and Ossaroo was good authority, since he had already dried some of the leaves, and had been smoking them ever since their arrival in the valley. In fact, Ossaroo was quite out of betel-nut, and suffered so much from the want of his favourite stimulant, that he was glad to get any thing to smoke; and the "chula," or wild rhubarb-leaves, answered his purpose well. Ossaroo's pipe was an original one certainty; and he could construct one in a few minutes. His plan was to thrust a piece of stick into the ground, passing it underneath the surface—horizontally for a few inches, and then out again—so as to form a double orifice to the hole. At one end of this channel he would insert a small joint of reed for his mouth-piece, while the other was filled with the rhubarb tobacco, which was then set on fire. It was literally turning the earth into a tobacco-pipe!
This method of smoking is by no means uncommon among the half-civilised inhabitants of India as well as Africa, and Ossaroo preferred a pipe of this kind to any other.
Karl continued onward, pointing out to his companions several species of edible roots, fruits, and vegetables which the valley contained. There were wild leeks among the number. These would assist them in making soup. There were fruits too,—several species of currants, and cherries, and strawberries, and raspberries,—kinds that had long been introduced to European gardens, and that to Karl and Caspar looked like old acquaintances.
"And there!" continued Karl, "see the very water produces food for us. Look at the lotus, (Nelumbium speciosum). Those large pink and white flowers are the flowers of the famed lotus. Its stalks may be eaten, or, if you will, their hollow tubes will serve us as cups to drink, out of. There, too, is the horned water root (Trapa bicornis), also excellent eating. Oh! we should be thankful. We are well provided with food."
Yet the heart of Karl was sore while thus endeavouring to talk cheerfully.
CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.
NEW SURVEY OF THE CLIFF.
Yes, the hearts of all three were far from being contented, though they returned to the hut laden with fruits, and roots, and nuts, and vegetables; out of which they intended to concoct a better dinner than they had been lately accustomed to.
The rest of that day was spent about the hut, and a good deal of it was given up to culinary operations. Not that any of the party cared so much for a good dinner; but being thus engaged prevented them from reflecting as much as they would otherwise have done upon their painful situation. Besides, they had no other work to do. They had no longer a motive for doing any thing. Up to that moment the preparing the ropes and timbers of the bridge had kept them employed; and the very work itself, combined with the hope which they then felt, enabled them to pass the time pleasantly enough. Now that these hopes were no more,— that their whole scheme had ended in failure, they felt restless,—and could think of nothing upon which to employ themselves. Preparing their dinner, therefore, out of the new and varied materials that had come into their hands, was, at least, some distraction to their gloomy thoughts.
When dinner was ready, all of them ate heartily, and with a relish. Indeed, they had been so long without vegetables that these tasted to them as fine as any they had ever eaten. Even the wild fruits appeared equal to the best they had ever gathered from an orchard!
It was a little after midday, as they were enjoying this dessert. They were seated in the open air, in front of the hut, and Caspar was doing most part of the talking, he was doing his best to be cheerful, and to make his companions so as well.
"They're the best strawberries I've eaten for a month," said he; "but I think a trifle of sugar and a drop of cream would be an improvement. What say you, Karl?"
"It would," he replied, nodding assent.
"We did wrong to kill all our cows," continued Caspar, with a significant look at one of the yak-skins that lay near.
"By-the-bye," said Karl, interrupting him, "I was just thinking of that. If we are to stay here all our lives,—oh!"
The painful reflection, again crossing Karl's mind, caused him to exclaim as he did. He left his hypothetic sentence unfinished, and relapsed into silence.
Several days after this Karl left the hut, and, without telling his intention to either of his companions, walked off in the direction of the cliffs. Indeed, he had no very definite nor determined aim in so doing; a sort of hopeless idea had come into his mind of making the circuit of the valley, and once more surveying the precipice all round it.
Neither of the others offered to accompany him, nor did they question him as to his object in setting out. Both had gone about business of their own. Caspar had become engaged in making a wash-rod for his gun, and Ossaroo a net to catch the large and beautiful fish that abounded in the lake. Karl, therefore, was permitted to set forth alone.
On reaching the precipice, he turned along its base, and walked slowly forward, stopping every yard or two, and looking upward. Every foot— nay, I might say every inch, of the cliff did he scan with care,—even with more care than he had hitherto done; though that would appear hardly possible, for on the former occasions on which the three had examined it, their reconnoissance had been most particular and minute.