Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 25 Dangers of the prairie—Our travellers attacked by Indians, an_elivered in a remarkable manner.

  • There are periods in the life of almost all men when misfortunes seem to crow_pon them in rapid succession, when they escape from one danger only t_ncounter another, and when, to use a well-known expression, they succeed i_eaping out of the frying-pan at the expense of plunging into the fire.
  • So was it with our three friends upon this occasion. They were scarcely rid o_he Blackfeet, who found them too watchful to be caught napping, when, abou_aybreak one morning they encountered a roving band of Camanchee Indians, wh_ore such a warlike aspect that Joe deemed it prudent to avoid them i_ossible.
  • “They don’t see us yit, I guess,” said Joe, as he and his companions drove th_orses into a hollow between the grassy waves of the prairie, “any if we onl_an escape their sharp eyes till we’re in yonder clump o’ willows, we’re saf_nough.”
  • “But why don’t you ride up to them, Joe,” inquired Dick, “and make peac_etween them and the Pale-faces, as you ha’ done with other bands?”
  • “Because it’s o’ no use to risk our scalps for the chance o’ makin’ peace wi’ a rovin’ war-party. Keep yer head down, Henri! If they git only a sight o’ th_op o’ yer cap, they’ll be down on us like a breeze o’ _wind_.”
  • “Hah! let dem come!” said Henri.
  • “They’ll come without askin’ yer leave,” remarked Joe drily.
  • Notwithstanding his defiant expression, Henri had sufficient prudence t_nduce him to bend his head and shoulders, and in a few minutes they reache_he shelter of the willows unseen by the savages. At least so thought Henri, Joe was not quite sure about it, and Dick hoped for the best.
  • In the course of half an hour the last of the Camanchees was seen to hover fo_ second on the horizon, like a speck of black against the sky, and then t_isappear.
  • Immediately the three hunters bolted on their steeds and resumed thei_ourney; but before that evening closed they had sad evidence of the savag_ature of the band from which they had escaped. On passing the brow of _light eminence, Dick, who rode first, observed that Crusoe stopped an_nuffed the breeze in an anxious, inquiring manner.
  • “What is’t, pup?” said Dick, drawing up, for he knew that his faithful do_ever gave a false alarm.
  • Crusoe replied by a short, uncertain bark, and then bounding forward, disappeared behind a little wooded knoll. In another moment a long, disma_owl floated over the plains. There was a mystery about the dog’s conduc_hich, coupled with his melancholy cry, struck the travellers with _uperstitious feeling of dread, as they sat looking at each other in surprise.
  • “Come, let’s clear it up,” cried Joe Blunt, shaking the reins of his steed, and galloping forward. A few strides brought them to the other side of th_noll where, scattered upon the torn and bloody turf, they discovered th_calped and mangled remains of about twenty or thirty human beings. Thei_kulls had been cleft by the tomahawk, and their breasts pierced by th_calping-knife; and from the position in which many of them lay, it wa_vident that they had been slain while asleep.
  • Joe’s brow flushed, and his lips became tightly compressed, as he muttere_etween his set teeth, “Their skins are white.”
  • A short examination sufficed to show that the men who had thus bee_arbarously murdered while they slept had been a band of trappers, or hunters; but what their errand had been, or whence they came, they could not discover.
  • Everything of value had been carried off, and all the scalps had been taken.
  • Most of the bodies, although much mutilated, lay in a posture that led ou_unters to believe they had been killed while asleep; but one or two were cu_lmost to pieces, and from the blood-bespattered and trampled sward around, i_eemed as if they had struggled long and fiercely for life. Whether or not an_f the savages had been slain, it was impossible to tell, for if such had bee_he case, their comrades, doubtless, had carried away their bodies. That the_ad been slaughtered by the party of Camanchees who had been seen at daybreak, was quite clear to Joe; but his burning desire to revenge the death of th_hite men had to be stifled, as his party was so small.
  • Long afterwards it was discovered that this was a band of trappers who, lik_hose mentioned at the beginning of this volume, had set out to avenge th_eath of a comrade; but God, who has retained the right of vengeance in Hi_wn hand, saw fit to frustrate their purpose, by giving them into the hands o_he savages whom they had set forth to slay.
  • As it was impossible to bury so many bodies, the travellers resumed thei_ourney, and left them to bleach there in the wilderness; but they rode th_hole of that day almost without uttering a word. Meanwhile the Camanchees, who had observed the trio, and had ridden away at first for the purpose o_eceiving them into the belief that they had passed unobserved, doubled o_heir track, and took a long sweep in order to keep out of sight until the_ould approach under the shelter of a belt of woodland towards which th_ravellers now approached.
  • The Indians adopted this course instead of the easier method of simpl_ursuing so weak a party, because the plains at this part were bordered by _ong stretch of forest into which the hunters could have plunged, and rendere_ursuit more difficult, if not almost useless. The détour thus taken was s_xtensive that the shades of evening were beginning to descend before the_ould put their plan into execution. The forest lay about a mile to the righ_f our hunters, like some dark mainland, of which the prairie was the sea, an_he scattered clumps of wood the islands.
  • “There’s no lack o’ game here,” said Dick Varley, pointing to a herd o_uffaloes which rose at their approach, and fled away towards the wood.
  • “I think we’ll ha’ thunder soon,” remarked Joe. “I never feel it onnattera_ot like this without looking out for a plump.”
  • “Hah! den ve better look hout for one goot tree to get b’low,” suggeste_enri. “Voilà!” he added, pointing with his finger towards the plain; “dere a_ lot of wild hosses.”
  • A troop of about thirty wild horses appeared, as he spoke, on the brow of _idge, and advanced slowly towards them.
  • “Hist!” exclaimed Joe, reining up; “hold on, lads. Wild horses! my rifle to _op-gun there’s wilder men on t’other side o’ them.”
  • “What mean you, Joe?” inquired Dick, riding close up.
  • “D’ye see the little lumps on the shoulder o’ each horse?” said Joe. “Them’_njun’s _feet_ ; an’ if we don’t want to lose our scalps we’d better make fo_he forest.”
  • Joe proved himself to be in earnest by wheeling round and making straight fo_he thick woods as fast as his horse could run. The others followed, drivin_he pack-horses before them.
  • The effect of this sudden movement on the so-called “wild horses” was ver_emarkable, and to one unacquainted with the habits of the Camanchee Indians, must have appeared almost supernatural. In the twinkling of an eye every stee_ad a rider on its back, and before the hunters had taken five strides in th_irection of the forest, the whole band were in hot pursuit, yelling lik_uries.
  • The manner in which these Indians accomplish this feat is very singular, an_mplies great activity and strength of muscle on the part of the savages.
  • The Camanchees are low in stature, and usually are rather corpulent. In thei_ovements on foot they are heavy and ungraceful, and they are, on the whole, _lovenly and unattractive race of men. But the instant they mount their horse_hey seem to be entirely changed, and surprise the spectator with the ease an_legance of their movements. Their great and distinctive peculiarity a_orsemen is the power they have acquired of throwing themselves suddenly o_ither side of their horse’s body, and clinging on in such a way that no par_f them is visible from the other side save the foot by which they cling. I_his manner they approach their enemies at full gallop, and without risin_gain to the saddle, discharge their arrows at them over their horses’ backs, or even under their necks.
  • This apparently magical feat is accomplished by means of a halter o_orsehair, which is passed round under the neck of the horse, and both end_raided into the mane, on the withers, thus forming a loop which hangs unde_he neck and against the breast. This being caught by the hand, makes a sling, into which the elbow falls, taking the weight of the body on the middle of th_pper arm. Into this loop the rider drops suddenly and fearlessly, leaving hi_eel to hang over the horse’s back, to steady him, and also to restore him t_is seat when desired.
  • By this stratagem the Indians had approached on the present occasion almos_ithin rifle range before they were discovered, and it required the utmos_peed of the hunters’ horses to enable them to avoid being overtaken. One o_he Indians, who was better mounted than his fellows, gained on the fugitive_o much that he came within arrow range, but reserved his shaft until the_ere close on the margin of the wood, when, being almost alongside of Henri, he fitted an arrow to his bow. Henri’s eye was upon him, however; letting g_he line of the pack-horse which he was leading, he threw forward his rifle, but at the same moment the savage disappeared behind his horse, and an arro_hizzed past the hunter’s ear.
  • Henri fired at the horse, which dropped instantly, hurling the astonishe_amanchee upon the ground, where he lay for some time insensible. In a fe_econds pursued and pursuers entered the wood, where both had to advance wit_aution, in order to avoid being swept off by the overhanging branches of th_rees.
  • Meanwhile the sultry heat of which Joe had formerly spoken increase_onsiderably, and a rumbling noise, as if of distant thunder, was heard; bu_he flying hunters paid no attention to it, for the led horses gave them s_uch trouble, and retarded their flight so much, that the Indians wer_radually and visibly gaining on them.
  • “We’ll ha’ to let the packs go,” said Joe, somewhat bitterly, as he looke_ver his shoulder. “Our scalps ’ll pay for’t if we don’t.”
  • Henri uttered a peculiar and significant _hiss_ between his teeth, as he said, “P’raps ve better stop and fight!”
  • Dick said nothing, being resolved to do exactly what Joe Blunt bid him; an_rusoe, for reasons best known to himself, also said nothing, but bounde_long beside his master’s horse, casting an occasional glance upwards to catc_ny signal that might be given.
  • They had passed over a considerable space of ground, and were forcing thei_ay, at the imminent hazard of their necks, through a densely-clothed part o_he wood, when the sound above referred to increased, attracting the attentio_f both parties. In a few seconds the air was filled with a steady an_ontinuous rumbling sound, like the noise of a distant cataract. Pursuers an_ugitives drew rein instinctively, and came to a dead stand, while th_umbling increased to a roar, and evidently approached them rapidly, though a_et nothing to cause it could be seen, except that there was a dense, dar_loud overspreading the sky to the southward. The air was oppressively stil_nd hot.
  • “What can’t be?” inquired Dick, looking at Joe, who was gazing with a_xpression of wonder, not unmixed with concern, at the southern sky.
  • “Dunno, boy. I’ve bin more in the woods than in the clearin’ in my day, but _iver heerd the likes o’ that.”
  • “It am like t’ondre,” said Henri; “mais it nevair do stop.”
  • This was true. The sound was similar to continuous, uninterrupted thunder. O_t came with a magnificent roar that shook the very earth, and revealed itsel_t last in the shape of a mighty whirlwind. In a moment the distant woods ben_efore it, and fell like grass before the scythe. It was a whirling hurricane, accompanied by a deluge of rain such as none of the party had ever befor_itnessed. Steadily, fiercely, irresistibly, it bore down upon them, while th_rash of falling, snapping, and uprooting trees mingled with the dir_rtillery of that sweeping storm like the musketry on a battle-field.
  • “Follow me, lads!” shouted Joe, turning his horse and dashing at full spee_owards a rocky eminence that offered shelter. But shelter was not needed. Th_torm was clearly defined. Its limits were as distinctly marked by its Creato_s if it had been a living intelligence sent forth to put a belt of desolatio_ound the world; and, although the edge of devastation was not five hundre_ards from the rock behind which the hunters were stationed, only a few drop_f ice-cold rain fell upon them.
  • It passed directly between the Camanchee Indians and their intended victims, placing between them a barrier which it would have taken days to cut through.
  • The storm blew for an hour, then it travelled onward in its might, and wa_ost in distance. Whence it came and whither it went none could tell; but, fa_s the eye could see on either hand, an avenue a quarter of a mile wide wa_ut through the forest. It had levelled everything with the dust; the ver_rass was beaten flat, the trees were torn, shivered, snapped across, an_rushed; and the earth itself in many places was ploughed up and furrowed wit_eep scars. The chaos was indescribable, and it is probable that centurie_ill not quite obliterate the work of that single hour.
  • While it lasted, Joe and his comrades remained speechless and awe-stricken.
  • When it passed, no Indians were to be seen. So our hunters remounted thei_teeds, and, with feelings of gratitude to God for having delivered them alik_rom savage foes and from the destructive power of the whirlwind, resume_heir journey towards the Mustang Valley.