Chapter 20 New plans—Our travellers join the fur-traders, and see man_trange things—A curious fight—A narrow escape, and a prisoner taken.
Not long after the events related in the last chapter, our four friends, Dick, and Joe, and Henri, and Crusoe, agreed to become for a time members of Walte_ameron’s band of trappers. Joe joined because one of the objects which th_raders had in view was similar to his own mission, namely, the promoting o_eace among the various Indian tribes of the mountains and plains to the west.
Joe, therefore, thought it a good opportunity of travelling with a band of me_ho could secure him a favourable hearing from the Indian tribes they migh_hance to meet with in the course of their wanderings. Besides, as the trader_arried about a large supply of goods with them, he could easily replenish hi_wn nearly exhausted pack by hunting wild animals and exchanging their skin_or such articles as he might require.
Dick joined because it afforded him an opportunity of seeing the wild, majestic scenery of the Rocky Mountains, and shooting the big-horned shee_hich abounded there, and the grizzly “bars,” as Joe named them, or “Caleb,” as they were more frequently styled by Henri and the other men.
Henri joined because it was agreeable to the inclination of his ow_ollicking, blundering, floundering, crashing disposition, and because h_ould have joined anything that had been joined by the other two.
Crusoe’s reason for joining was single, simple, easy to be expressed, easy t_e understood, and commendable. _He_ joined—because Dick did.
The very day after the party left the encampment where Dick had shot th_rizzly bear and the deer, he had the satisfaction of bringing down a splendi_pecimen of the big-horned sheep. It came suddenly out from a gorge of th_ountain, and stood upon the giddy edge of a tremendous precipice, at _istance of about two hundred and fifty yards.
“ _You_ could not hit that,” said a trapper to Henri, who was rather fond o_eering him about his short-sightedness.
“Non!” cried Henri, who didn’t see the animal in the least; “say you dat? v_hall see;” and he let fly with a promptitude that amazed his comrades, an_ith a result that drew from them peals of laughter.
“Why, you have missed the mountain!”
“Oh, non! dat am eempossoble.”
It was true, nevertheless, for his ball had been arrested in its flight by th_tem of a tree not twenty yards before him.
While the shot was yet ringing, and before the laugh above referred to ha_ealed forth, Dick Varley fired, and the animal, springing wildly into th_ir, fell down the precipice, and was almost dashed to pieces at their feet.
This Rocky Mountain or big-horned sheep was a particularly large and fine one, but, being a patriarch of the flock, was not well suited for food. It wa_onsiderably larger in size than the domestic sheep, and might be described a_omewhat resembling a deer in the body and a ram in the head. Its horns wer_he chief point of interest to Dick; and, truly, they were astounding! Thei_normous size was out of all proportion to the animal’s body, and they curve_ackwards and downwards, and then curled up again in a sharp point. Thes_reatures frequent the inaccessible heights of the Rocky Mountains, and ar_ifficult to approach. They have a great fondness for salt, and pay regula_isits to the numerous caverns of these mountains, which are encrusted with _aline substance.
Walter Cameron now changed his intention of proceeding to the eastward, as h_ound the country not so full of beaver at that particular spot as he ha_nticipated. He therefore turned towards the west, penetrated into th_nterior of the mountains, and took a considerable sweep through the lovel_alleys on their western slopes.
The expedition which this enterprising fur-trader was conducting was one o_he first that ever penetrated these wild regions in search of furs. Th_round over which they travelled was quite new to them, and having no guid_hey just moved about at haphazard, encamping on the margin of every stream o_iver on which signs of the presence of beaver were discovered, and settin_heir traps.
Beaver-skins at this time were worth 25 shillings a piece in the markets o_ivilised lands, and in the Snake country, through which our friends wer_ravelling, thousands of them were to be had from the Indians for trinkets an_aubles that were scarce worth a farthing. A beaver-skin could be procure_rom the Indians for a brass finger ring or a penny looking-glass. Horses wer_lso so numerous that one could be procured for an axe or a knife.
Let not the reader, however, hastily conclude that the traders cheated th_ndians in this traffic, though the profits were so enormous. The ring or th_xe was indeed a trifle to the trader, but the beaver-skin and the horse wer_qually trifles to the savage, who could procure as many of them as he chos_ith very little trouble, while the ring and the axe were in his estimation o_riceless value. Besides, be it remembered, to carry that ring and that axe t_he far distant haunts of the Red-man cost the trader weeks and months o_onstant toil, trouble, anxiety, and, alas! too frequently cost him his life!
The state of trade is considerably modified in these regions at the presen_ay. It is not more _justly_ conducted, for, in respect of the value of good_iven for furs, it was justly conducted _then_ , but time and circumstance_ave tended more to equalise the relative values of articles of trade.
The snow which had prematurely fallen had passed away, and the trappers no_ound themselves wandering about in a country so beautiful and a season s_elightful, that it would have seemed to them a perfect paradise, but for th_avage tribes who hovered about them, and kept them ever on the _qui vive_.
They soon passed from the immediate embrace of stupendous heights and dar_orges to a land of sloping ridges, which divided the country into a hundre_uxuriant vales, composed part of woodland and part of prairie. Through thes_umerous rivers and streams flowed deviously, beautifying the landscape an_nriching the land. There were also many lakes of all sizes, and these swarme_ith fish, while in some of them were found the much-sought-after and highl_steemed beaver. Salt springs and hot springs of various temperatures abounde_ere, and many of the latter were so hot that meat could be boiled in them.
Salt existed in all directions in abundance, and of good quality. A sulphurou_pring was also discovered, bubbling out from the base of a perpendicular roc_hree hundred feet high, the waters of which were dark-blue, and tasted lik_unpowder. In short, the land presented every variety of feature calculated t_harm the imagination and delight the eye.
It was a mysterious land, too, for broad rivers burst in many places from th_arth, flowed on a short space, and then disappeared as if by magic into th_arth from which they rose. Natural bridges spanned the torrents in man_laces, and some of these were so correctly formed that it was difficult t_elieve they had not been built by the hand of man. They often appeare_pportunely to our trappers, and saved them the trouble and danger of fordin_ivers. Frequently the whole band would stop in silent wonder and awe as the_istened to the rushing of waters under their feet, as if another world o_treams, and rapids, and cataracts were flowing below the crust of earth o_hich they stood. Some considerable streams were likewise observed to gus_rom the faces of precipices, some twenty or thirty feet from their summits, while on the top no water was to be seen.
Wild berries of all kinds were found in abundance, and wild vegetables, besides many nutritious roots. Among other fish splendid salmon were found i_he lakes and rivers; and animal life swarmed on hill and dale. Woods an_alleys, plains, and ravines, teemed with it. On every plain the red-dee_razed in herds by the banks of lake and stream; wherever there were cluster_f poplar and elder-trees and saplings, the beaver was seen nibblin_ndustriously with his sharp teeth, and committing as much havoc in th_orests as if they had been armed with the woodman’s axe; otters sported i_he eddies; racoons sat in the tree-tops; the marten, the black fox, and th_olf, prowled in the woods in quest of prey; mountain sheep and goats browse_n the rocky ridges, and badgers peeped from their holes.
Here, too, the wild horse sprang snorting and dishevelled from his mountai_etreats—with flourishing mane and tail, spanking step, and questionin_aze,—and thundered away over the plains and valleys, while the rocks echoe_ack his shrill neigh. The huge, heavy, ungainly elk, or moose-deer, _trotted_way from the travellers with speed equal to that of the mustang. Elks seldo_allop; their best speed is attained at the trot. Bears, too, black, an_rown, and grizzly, roamed about everywhere.
So numerous were all these creatures, that on one occasion the hunters of th_arty brought in six wild horses, three bears, four elks, and thirty red-deer; having shot them all a short distance ahead of the main body, and almos_ithout diverging from the line of march. And this was a matter of every-da_ccurrence—as it had need to be, considering the number of mouths that had t_e filled.
The feathered tribes were not less numerous. Chief among these were eagles an_ultures of uncommon size, the wild goose, wild duck, and the majestic swan.
In the midst of such profusion the trappers spent a happy time of it, when no_olested by the savages, but they frequently lost a horse or two i_onsequence of the expertness of these thievish fellows. They often wandered, however, for days at a time without seeing an Indian, and at such times the_njoyed to the full the luxuries with which a bountiful God had blessed thes_omantic regions.
Dick Varley was almost wild with delight. It was his first excursion into th_emote wilderness; he was young, healthy, strong, and romantic; and it is _uestion whether his or his dog’s heart, or that of the noble wild horse h_estrode, bounded most with joy at the glorious sights, and sounds, an_nfluences by which they were surrounded. It would have been perfection had i_ot been for the frequent annoyance and alarms caused by the Indians.
Alas! alas! that we who write and read about those wondrous scenes should hav_o condemn our own species as the most degraded of all the works of th_reator there! Yet so it is. Man, exercising his reason and conscience in th_ath of love and duty which his Creator points out, is God’s noblest work; bu_an, left to the freedom of his own fallen will, sinks morally lower than th_easts that perish. Well may every Christian wish and pray that the name an_he gospel of the blessed Jesus may be sent speedily to the dark places of th_arth; for you may read of, and talk about, but you _cannot conceive_ th_iendish wickedness and cruelty which causes tearless eyes to glare, an_addened hearts to burst, in the lands of the heathen.
While we are on this subject let us add (and our young readers will come t_now it if they are spared to see many years) that _civilisation_ alone wil_ever improve the heart. Let history speak and it will tell you that deeds o_arkest hue have been perpetrated in so-called civilised, though pagan lands.
Civilisation is like the polish that beautifies inferior furniture, whic_ater will wash off if it be but _hot enough_. Christianity resembles dye, which permeates every fibre of the fabric, and which nothing can eradicate.
The success of the trappers in procuring beaver here was great. In all sort_f creeks and rivers they were found. One day they came to one of the curiou_ivers before mentioned, which burst suddenly out of a plain, flowed on fo_everal miles, and then disappeared into the earth as suddenly as it ha_isen. Even in this strange place beaver were seen, so the traps were set, an_ hundred and fifty were caught at the first lift.
The manner in which the party proceeded was as follows: They marched in a mas_n groups or in a long line, according to the nature of the ground over whic_hey travelled. The hunters of the party went forward a mile or two i_dvance, and scattered through the woods. After them came the advance-guard, being the bravest and most stalwart of the men mounted on their best steeds, and with rifle in hand; immediately behind followed the women and children, also mounted, and the pack-horses with the goods and camp equipage. Anothe_and of trappers formed the rear-guard to this imposing cavalcade. There wa_o strict regimental order kept, but the people soon came to adopt th_rrangements that were most convenient for all parties, and at length fel_aturally into their places in the line of march.
Joe Blunt usually was the foremost and always the most successful of th_unters. He was therefore seldom seen on the march except at the hour o_tarting, and at night when he came back leading his horse, which alway_roaned under its heavy load of meat, Henri, being a hearty, jovial soul an_ond of society, usually kept with the main body. As for Dick, he wa_verywhere at once, at least as much so as it is possible for human nature t_e! His horse never wearied; it seemed to delight in going at full speed; n_ther horse in the troop could come near Charlie, and Dick indulged him b_ppearing now at the front, now at the rear, anon in the centre, an_requently _nowhere_!—having gone off with Crusoe, like a flash of lightning, after a buffalo or a deer. Dick soon proved himself to be the best hunter o_he party, and it was not long before he fulfilled his promise to Crusoe, an_ecorated his neck with a collar of grizzly bear claws.
Well, when the trappers came to a river where there were signs of beaver, the_alled a halt, and proceeded to select a safe and convenient spot, near woo_nd water, for the camp. Here the property of the band was securely piled i_uch a manner as to form a breastwork or slight fortification, and here Walte_ameron established head-quarters. This was always the post of danger, bein_xposed to sudden attack by prowling savages, who often dogged the footstep_f the party in their journeyings to see what they could steal. But Camero_as an old hand, and they found it difficult to escape his vigilant eye.
From this point all the trappers were sent forth in small parties ever_orning in various directions, some on foot and some on horseback, accordin_o the distances they had to go; but they never went further than twent_iles, as they had to return to camp every evening.
Each trapper had ten steel traps allowed him. These he set every night, an_isited every morning, sometimes oftener, when practicable, selecting a spo_n the stream where many trees had been cut down by beavers for the purpose o_amming up the water. In some places as many as fifty tree stumps were seen i_ne spot, within the compass of half an acre, all cut through at abou_ighteen inches from the root. We may remark, in passing, that the beaver i_ery much like a gigantic water-rat, with this marked difference, that it_ail is very broad and flat like a paddle. The said tail is a greatly esteeme_rticle of food, as, indeed, is the whole body at certain seasons of the year.
The beaver’s fore-legs are very small and short, and it uses its paws as hand_o convey food to its mouth, sitting the while in an erect position on it_ind-legs and tail. Its fur is a dense coat of a greyish-coloured down, concealed by long coarse hair, which lies smooth, and is of a bright chestnu_olour. Its teeth and jaws are of enormous power; with them it can cut throug_he branch of a tree as thick as a walking-stick at one snap; and, as we hav_aid, it gnaws through thick trees themselves.
As soon as a tree falls, the beavers set to work industriously to lop off th_ranches, which, as well as the smaller trunks, they cut into lengths, according to their weight and thickness. These are then dragged by main forc_o the water side, launched, and floated to their destination. Beavers buil_heir houses, or “lodges,” under the banks of rivers and lakes, and alway_elect those of such depth of water that there is no danger of their bein_rozen to the bottom; when such cannot be found, and they are compelled t_uild in small rivulets of insufficient depth, these clever little creature_am up the waters until they are deep enough. The banks thrown up by the_cross rivulets for this purpose are of great strength, and would do credit t_uman engineers. Their “lodges” are built of sticks, mud, and stones, whic_orm a compact mass; this freezes solid in winter, and defies the assaults o_hat house-breaker, the wolverine, an animal which is the beaver’s implacabl_oe. From this “lodge,” which is capable often of holding four old and six o_ight young ones, a communication is maintained with the water below the ice, so that, should the wolverine succeed in breaking up the lodge, he finds th_amily “not at home,” they having made good their retreat by the back-door.
When man acts the part of house-breaker, however, he cunningly shuts the back- door _first_ , by driving stakes through the ice, and thus stopping th_assage. Then he enters, and, we almost regret to say, finds the family a_ome. We regret it, because the beaver is a gentle, peaceable, affectionate, hairy little creature, towards which one feels an irresistible tenderness!
But, to return from this long digression.
Our trappers having selected their several localities, set their traps in th_ater, so that when the beavers roamed about at night, they put their fee_nto them, and were caught and drowned; for, although they can swim and div_dmirably, they cannot live altogether under water.
Thus the different parties proceeded, and in the mornings the camp was a bus_cene indeed, for then the whole were engaged in skinning the animals. Th_eavers thus taken were always skinned, stretched, dried, folded up with th_air in the inside, laid by, and the flesh used for food.
But oftentimes the trappers had to go forth with the gun in one hand and thei_raps in the other, while they kept a sharp look out on the bushes to guar_gainst surprise. Despite their utmost efforts a horse was occasionally stole_efore their very eyes, and sometimes even an unfortunate trapper wa_urdered, and all his traps carried off.
An event of this kind occurred soon after the party had gained the wester_lopes of the mountains. Three Iroquois Indians, who belonged to the band o_rappers, were sent to a stream about ten miles off. Having reached thei_estination, they all entered the water to set their traps, foolishl_eglecting the usual precaution of one remaining on the bank to protect th_thers. They had scarcely commenced operations, when three arrows wer_ischarged into their backs, and a party of Snake Indians rushed upon and sle_hem, carrying away their traps, and horses, and scalps. This was not know_or several days, when, becoming anxious about their prolonged absence, Cameron sent out a party which found their mangled bodies affording _oathsome banquet to the wolves and vultures.
After this sad event the trappers were more careful to go in larger parties, and keep watch.
As long as beaver were taken in abundance the camp remained stationary, bu_henever the beaver began to grow scarce, the camp was raised, and the part_oved on to another valley.
One day Dick Varley came galloping into camp with the news that there wer_everal bears in a valley not far distant, which he was anxious not to distur_ntil a number of the trappers were collected together to go out and surroun_hem.
On receiving the information Walter Cameron shook his head.
“We have other things to do, young man,” said he, “than go a-hunting afte_ears. I’m just about making up my mind to send off a party to search out th_alley on the other side of the Blue Mountains yonder, and bring back word i_here are beaver there, for if not, I mean to strike away direct south. Now, if you’ve a mind to go with them, you’re welcome. I’ll warrant you’ll fin_nough in the way of bear-hunting to satisfy you; perhaps a little India_unting to boot, for if the Banattees get hold of your horses, you’ll have _ong hunt before you find them again. Will you go?”
“Ay, right gladly,” replied Dick. “When do we start?”
Dick went off at once to his own part of the camp to replenish his powder-hor_nd bullet pouch, and wipe out his rifle.
That evening the party, under command of a Canadian named Pièrre, set out fo_he Blue Hills. They numbered twenty men, and expected to be absent thre_ays, for they merely went to reconnoitre, not to trap. Neither Joe nor Henr_ere of this party, both having been out hunting when it was organised. Bu_rusoe and Charlie were, of course!
Pièrre, although a brave and trusty man, was of a sour, angry disposition, an_ot a favourite with Dick, but the latter resolved to enjoy himself an_isregard his sulky comrade. Being so well mounted, he not unfrequently sho_ar ahead of his companions, despite their warnings that he ran great risk b_o doing. On one of these occasions he and Crusoe witnessed a very singula_ight, which is worthy of record.
Dick had felt a little wilder in spirit that morning than usual, and on comin_o a pretty open plain he gave the rein to Charlie, and with an “ _Adieu me_omerades_ ,” he was out of sight in a few minutes. He rode on several mile_n advance without checking speed, and then came to a wood where rapid motio_as inconvenient, so he pulled up, and, dismounting, tied Charlie to a tree, while he sauntered on a short way on foot.
On coming to the edge of a small plain he observed two large birds engaged i_ortal conflict. Crusoe observed them too, and would soon have put an end t_he fight had Dick not checked him. Creeping as close to the belligerents a_ossible, he found that one was a wild turkey-cock, the other a white-heade_agle! These two stood with their heads down and all their feathers bristlin_or a moment, then they dashed at each other, and struck fiercely with thei_purs as our domestic cocks do, but neither fell, and the fight was continue_or about five minutes without apparent advantage on either side.
Dick now observed that, from the uncertainty of its motions, the turkey-coc_as blind, a discovery which caused a throb of compunction to enter his breas_or standing and looking on, so he ran forward. The eagle saw him instantly, and tried to fly away, but was unable from exhaustion.
“At him, Crusoe,” cried Dick, whose sympathies all lay with the other bird.
Crusoe went forward at a bound, and was met by a peck between the eyes tha_ould have turned most dogs, but Crusoe only winked, and the next moment th_agle’s career was ended.
Dick found that the turkey-cock was quite blind, the eagle having thrust ou_oth its eyes, so, in mercy, he put an end to its sufferings.
The fight had evidently been a long and severe one for the grass all round th_pot, for about twenty yards, was beaten to the ground, and covered with th_lood and feathers of the fierce combatants.
Meditating on the fight which he had just witnessed, Dick returned towards th_pot where he had left Charlie, when he suddenly missed Crusoe from his side.
“Hallo, Crusoe! here, pup, where are you?” he cried.
The only answer to this was a sharp whizzing sound, and an arrow, passin_lose to his ear, quivered in a tree beyond. Almost at the same momen_rusoe’s angry roar was followed by a shriek from some one in fear or agony.
Cocking his rifle, the young hunter sprang through the bushes towards hi_orse, and was just in time to save a Banattee Indian from being strangled b_he dog. It had evidently scented out this fellow, and pinned him just as h_as in the act of springing on the back of Charlie, for the halter was cut, and the savage lay on the ground close beside him.
Dick called off the dog, and motioned to the Indian to rise, which he did s_imbly that it was quite evident he had sustained no injury beyond th_aceration of his neck by Crusoe’s teeth, and the surprise.
He was a tall strong Indian, for the tribe to which he belonged, so Dic_roceeded to secure him at once. Pointing to his rifle and to the Indian’_reast, to show what he might expect if he attempted to escape, Dick ordere_rusoe to keep him steady in that position.
The dog planted himself in front of the savage, who began to tremble for hi_calp, and gazed up in his face with a look which, to say the least of it, wa_he reverse of amiable, while Dick went towards his horse for the purpose o_rocuring a piece of cord to tie him with. The Indian naturally turned hi_ead to see what was going to be done, but a peculiar _gurgle_ in Crusoe’_hroat made him turn it round again very smartly, and he did not venture, thereafter, to move a muscle.
In a few seconds Dick returned with a piece of leather and tied his hand_ehind his back. While this was being done the Indian glanced several times a_is bow, which lay a few feet away, where it had fallen when the dog caugh_im, but Crusoe seemed to understand him, for he favoured him with such a_dditional display of teeth, and such a low—apparently distant, almost, w_ight say, subterranean— _rumble_ , that he resigned himself to his fate.
His hands secured, a long line was attached to his neck with a running noose, so that if he ventured to run away the attempt would effect its own cure b_roducing strangulation. The other end of this line was given to Crusoe, wh_t the word of command marched him off, while Dick mounted Charlie and brough_p the rear.
Great was the laughter and merriment when this apparition met the eyes of th_rappers; but when they heard that he had attempted to shoot Dick their ir_as raised, and a court-martial was held on the spot.
“Hang the reptile!” cried one.
“Burn him!” shouted another.
“No, no,” said a third; “don’t imitate them villains; don’t be cruel. Let’_hoot him.”
“Shoot ’im,” cried Pièrre; “Oui, dat is de ting; it too goot pour lui, mais, it shall be dooed.”
“Don’t ye think, lads, it would be better to let the poor wretch off?” sai_ick Varley; “he’d p’raps give a good account o’ us to his people.”
There was a universal shout of contempt at this mild proposal. Unfortunately, few of the men sent on this exploring expedition were imbued with th_eacemaking spirit of their chief; and most of them seemed glad to have _hance of venting their hatred of the poor Indians on this unhappy wretch, wh_lthough calm, looked sharply from one speaker to another, to gather hope, i_ossible, from the tones of their voices.
Dick was resolved at the risk of a quarrel with Pièrre to save the poor man’_ife, and had made up his mind to insist on having him conducted to the cam_o be tried by Cameron, when one of the men suggested that they should tak_he savage to the top of a hill about three miles further on, and there han_im up on a tree as a warning to all his tribe.
“Agreed, agreed,” cried the men; “come on.”
Dick, too, seemed to agree to this proposal, and hastily ordered Crusoe to ru_n ahead with the savage, an order which the dog obeyed so vigorously tha_efore the men had done laughing at him, he was a couple of hundred yard_head of them.
“Take care that he don’t get off!” cried Dick, springing on Charlie an_tretching out at a gallop.
In a moment he was beside the Indian. Scraping together the little of th_ndian language he knew, he stooped down, and, cutting the thongs that boun_im, said—“Go, white men love the Indians.”
The man cast on his deliverer one glance of surprise, and the next momen_ounded aside into the bushes and was gone.
A loud shout from the party behind showed that this act had been observed, an_rusoe stood with the end of the line in his mouth, and an expression on hi_ace that said, “You’re absolutely incomprehensible, Dick! It’s all right, _know_ ; but to my feeble capacity it _seems_ wrong.”
“Fat for, you do dat?” shouted Pièrre in a rage, as he came up with a menacin_ook.
Dick confronted him. “The prisoner was mine. I had a right to do with him a_t liked me.”
“True, true,” cried several of the men who had begun to repent of thei_esolution, and were glad the savage was off. “The lad’s right. Get along, Pièrre.”
“You had no right, you vas wrong. Oui, et I have goot vill to give you on_nock on de nose.”
Dick looked Pièrre in the face, as he said this, in a manner that cowed him.
“It is time,” he said quietly, pointing to the sun, “to go on. Your bourgeoi_xpects that time won’t be wasted.”
Pièrre muttered something in an angry tone, and, wheeling round his horse, dashed forward at full gallop followed by the rest of the men.
The trappers encamped that night on the edge of a wide grassy plain, whic_ffered such tempting food for the horses that Pièrre resolved to forego hi_sual cautious plan of picketting them close to the camp, and set them loos_n the plain, merely hobbling them to prevent their straying far.
Dick remonstrated, but in vain. An insolent answer was all he got for hi_ains. He determined, however, to keep Charlie close beside him all night, an_lso made up his mind to keep a sharp look out on the other horses.
At supper he again remonstrated.
“No fraid,” said Pièrre, whose pipe was beginning to improve his temper. “Th_ed reptiles no dare to come in open plain when de moon so clear.”
“Dun know that,” said a taciturn trapper, who seldom ventured a remark of an_ind; “them varmints ’ud steal the two eyes out o’ you’ head when they se_heir hearts on’t.”
“Dat ar’ umposs’ble, for de have no hearts,” said a half-breed; “dey have vo_ole vere de heart vas be.”
This was received with a shout of laughter, in the midst of which an appallin_ell was heard, and, as if by magic, four Indians were seen on the backs o_our of the best horses, yelling like fiends, and driving all the other horse_uriously before them over the plain.
How they got there was a complete mystery, but the men did not wait t_onsider that point. Catching up their guns they sprang after them with th_ury of madmen, and were quickly scattered far and wide. Dick ordered Cruso_o follow and help the men, and turned to spring on the back of Charlie, bu_t that moment he observed an Indian’s head and shoulders rise above th_rass, not fifty yards in advance from him, so without hesitation he darte_orward, intending to pounce upon him.
Well would it have been for Dick Varley had he at that time possessed a littl_ore experience of the wiles and stratagems of the Banattees. The Snake natio_s subdivided into several tribes, of which those inhabiting the Rock_ountains, called the Banattees, are the most perfidious. Indeed, they ar_onfessedly the banditti of the hills, and respect neither friend nor foe, bu_ob all who come in their way.
Dick reached the spot where the Indian had disappeared in less than a minute, but no savage was to be seen! Thinking he had crept ahead he ran on a fe_ards further, and darted about hither and thither, while his eye glanced fro_ide to side. Suddenly a shout in the camp attracted his attention, an_ooking back he beheld the savage on Charlie’s back turning to fly. Nex_oment he was off and away far beyond the hope of recovery. Dick had left hi_ifle in the camp, otherwise the savage would have gone but a short way—as i_as, Dick returned, and sitting down on a mound of grass, stared straigh_efore him with a feeling akin to despair. Even Crusoe could not have helpe_im had he been there, for nothing on four legs, or on two, could keep pac_ith Charlie.
The Banattee achieved this feat by adopting a stratagem which invariabl_eceives those who are ignorant of their habits and tactics. When suddenl_ursued the Banattee sinks into the grass, and, serpentlike, creeps along wit_onderful rapidity, not _from_ but _towards_ his enemy, taking care, however, to avoid him, so that when the pursuer reaches the spot where the pursued i_upposed to be hiding, he hears him shout a yell of defiance far away in th_ear.
It was thus that the Banattee eluded Dick and gained the camp almost as soo_s the other reached the spot where he had disappeared.
One by one the trappers came back weary, raging, and despairing. In a shor_ime they all assembled, and soon began to reproach each other. Ere long on_r two had a fight, which resulted in several bloody noses and black eyes, thus adding to the misery which, one would think, had been bad enough withou_uch additions. At last they finished their suppers and their pipes, and the_ay down to sleep under the trees till morning, when they arose in _articularly silent and sulky mood, rolled up their blankets, strapped thei_hings on their shoulders, and began to trudge slowly back to the camp o_oot.