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Chapter 26 Anxious fears followed by a joyful surprise—Safe home at last, and happy hearts.

  • One fine afternoon, a few weeks after the storm of which we have given a_ccount in the last chapter, old Mrs Varley was seated beside her own chimne_orner in the little cottage by the lake, gazing at the glowing logs with th_arnest expression of one whose thoughts were far away. Her kind face wa_aler than usual, and her hands rested idly on her knee, grasping the knittin_ires to which was attached a half-finished stocking.
  • On a stool near to her sat young Marston, the lad to whom, on the day of th_hooting match, Dick Varley had given his old rifle. The boy had an anxiou_ook about him, as he lifted his eyes from time to time to the widow’s face.
  • “Did ye say, my boy, that they were _all_ killed?” inquired Mrs Varley, awaking from her reverie with a deep sigh.
  • “Every one,” replied Marston. “Jim Scraggs, who brought the news, said the_os all lyin’ dead with their scalps off. They wos a party o’ white men.”
  • Mrs Varley sighed again, and her face assumed an expression of anxious pain a_he thought of her son Dick being exposed to a similar fate. Mrs Varley wa_ot given to nervous fears; but as she listened to the boy’s recital of th_laughter of a party of white men, news of which had just reached the valley, her heart sank, and she prayed inwardly to Him who is the husband of the wido_hat her dear one might be protected from the ruthless hand of the savage.
  • After a short pause, during which young Marston fidgeted about and looke_oncerned, as if he had something to say which he would fain leave unsaid, Mr_arley continued:—
  • “Was it far off where the bloody deed was done?”
  • “Yes; three weeks off, I believe. And Jim Scraggs said that he found a knif_hat looked like the one wot belonged to—to—” the lad hesitated.
  • “To whom, my boy? Why don’t ye go on?”
  • “To your son Dick.”
  • The widow’s hands dropped by her side, and she would have fallen had no_arston caught her.
  • “O mother dear, don’t take on like that!” he cried, smoothing down the widow’_air as her head rested on his breast.
  • For some time Mrs Varley suffered the boy to fondle her in silence, while he_reast laboured with anxious dread.
  • “Tell me all,” she said at last, recovering a little. “Did Jim see—Dick?”
  • “No,” answered the boy. “He looked at all the bodies, but did not find his; s_e sent me over here to tell ye that p’raps he’s escaped.”
  • Mrs Varley breathed more freely, and earnestly thanked God; but her fears soo_eturned when she thought of his being a prisoner, and recalled the tales o_errible cruelty often related of the savages.
  • While she was still engaged in closely questioning the lad, Jim Scragg_imself entered the cottage, and endeavoured in a gruff sort of way to re- assure the widow.
  • “Ye see, mistress,” he said, “Dick is a oncommon tough customer, an’ if h_ould only git fifty yards start, there’s not a Injun in the west as could gi_old o’ him agin; so don’t be takin’ on.”
  • “But what if he’s bin taken prisoner?” said the widow.
  • “Ay, that’s jest wot I’ve comed about. Ye see it’s not onlikely he’s bin took; so about thirty o’ the lads o’ the valley are ready jest now to start away an_ive the red riptiles chase, an’ I come to tell ye; so keep up heart, mistress.”
  • With this parting word of comfort, Jim withdrew, and Marston soon followed, leaving the widow to weep and pray in solitude.
  • Meanwhile an animated scene was going on near the block-house. Here thirty o_he young hunters of the Mustang Valley were assembled, actively engaged i_upplying themselves with powder and lead, and tightening their girths, preparatory to setting out in pursuit of the Indians who had murdered th_hite men, while hundreds of boys and girls, and not a few matrons, crowde_ound and listened to the conversation, and to the deep threats of vengeanc_hat were uttered ever and anon by the younger men.
  • Major Hope, too, was among them. The worthy major, unable to restrain hi_oving propensities, determined to revisit the Mustang Valley, and had arrive_nly two days before.
  • Backwoodsmen’s preparations are usually of the shortest and simplest. In a fe_inutes the cavalcade was ready, and away they went towards the prairies, wit_he bold major at their head. But their journey was destined to come to a_brupt and unexpected close. A couple of hours’ gallop brought them to th_dge of one of those open plains which sometimes break up the woodland nea_he verge of the great prairies. It stretched out like a green lake toward_he horizon, on which, just as the band of horsemen reached it, the sun wa_escending in a blaze of glory.
  • With a shout of enthusiasm, several of the younger members of the party spran_orward into the plain at a gallop; but the shout was mingled with one of _ifferent tone from the older men.
  • “Hist!—hallo!—hold on, ye cat-a-mounts! There’s Injuns ahead!”
  • The whole band came to a sudden halt at this cry, and watched eagerly, and fo_ome time in silence, the motions of a small party of horsemen who were see_n the far distance, like black specks on the golden sky.
  • “They come this way, I think,” said Major Hope, after gazing steadfastly a_hem for some minutes.
  • Several of the old hands signified their assent to this suggestion by a grunt, although to unaccustomed eyes the objects in question looked more like crow_han horsemen, and their motion was for some time scarcely perceptible.
  • “I sees pack-horses among them,” cried young Marston in an excited tone; “an’ there’s three riders; but there’s somethin’ else, only wot it be I can’_ell.”
  • “Ye’ve sharp eyes, younker,” remarked one of the men, “an’ I do b’lieve ye_ight.”
  • Presently the horsemen approached, and soon there was a brisk fire of guessin_s to who they could be. It was evident that the strangers observed th_avalcade of white men, and regarded them as friends, for they did not chec_he headlong speed at which they approached. In a few minutes they wer_learly made out to be a party of three horsemen driving pack-horses befor_hem, and _somethin’_ which some of the hunters guessed was a buffalo calf.
  • Young Marston guessed too, but his guess was different. Moreover, it wa_ttered with a yell that would have done credit to the fiercest of all th_avages. “Crusoe!” he shouted, while at the same moment he brought his whi_eavily down on the flank of his little horse, and sprang over the prairi_ike an arrow.
  • One of the approaching horsemen was far ahead of his comrades, and seemed a_f encircled with the flying and voluminous mane of his magnificent horse.
  • “Hah! ho!” gasped Marston in a low tone to himself, as he flew along. “Crusoe!
  • I’d know ye, dog, among a thousand! A buffalo calf! Ha! git on with ye!”
  • This last part of the remark was addressed to his horse, and was followed by _hack that increased the pace considerably.
  • The space between two such riders was soon devoured.
  • “Hallo! Dick,—Dick Varley!”
  • “Eh! why, Marston, my boy!”
  • The friends reined up so suddenly, that one might have fancied they had me_ike the knights of old in the shock of mortal conflict.
  • “Is’t yerself, Dick Varley?”
  • Dick held out his hand, and his eyes glistened, but he could not find words.
  • Marston seized it, and pushing his horse close up, vaulted nimbly off an_lighted on Charlie’s back behind his friend.
  • “Off ye go, Dick! I’ll take ye to yer mother.”
  • Without reply, Dick shook the reins, and in another minute was in the midst o_he hunters.
  • To the numberless questions that were put to him he only waited to shou_loud, “We’re all safe! They’ll tell ye all about it,” he added, pointing t_is comrades, who were now close at hand; and then, dashing onward, mad_traight for home, with little Marston clinging to his waist like a monkey.
  • Charlie was fresh, and so was Crusoe; so you may be sure it was not lon_efore they all drew up opposite the door of the widow’s cottage. Before Dic_ould dismount, Marston had slipped off, and was already in the kitchen.
  • “Here’s Dick, mother!”
  • The boy was an orphan, and loved the widow so much that he had come at last t_all her mother.
  • Before another word could be uttered, Dick Varley was in the room. Marsto_mmediately stepped out, and softly shut the door. Reader, we shall not ope_t!
  • Having shut the door, as we have said, Marston ran down to the edge of th_ake, and yelled with delight—usually terminating each paroxysm with th_ndian war-whoop, with which he was well acquainted. Then he danced, and the_e sat down on a rock, and became suddenly aware that there were other heart_here, close beside him, as glad as his own. Another mother of the Mustan_alley was rejoicing over a long-lost son.
  • Crusoe and his mother Fan were scampering round each other in a manner tha_vinced powerfully the strength of their mutual affection.
  • Talk of holding converse! Every hair on Crusoe’s body, every motion of hi_imbs, was eloquent with silent language. He gazed into his mother’s mild eye_s if he would read her inmost soul (supposing that she had one). He turne_is head to every possible angle, and cocked his ears to every conceivabl_levation, and rubbed his nose against Fan’s, and barked softly, in ever_maginable degree of modulation, and varied these proceedings by bounding awa_t full speed over the rocks of the beach, and in among the bushes and ou_gain, but always circling round and round Fan, and keeping her in view!
  • It was a sight worth seeing, and young Marston sat down on a rock, deliberately and enthusiastically, to gloat over it. But perhaps the mos_emarkable part of it has not yet been referred to. There was yet anothe_eart there that was glad—exceeding glad—that day. It was a little one too, but it was big for the body that held it. Grumps was there, and all tha_rumps did was to sit on his haunches and stare at Fan and Crusoe, and wag hi_ail as well as he could in so awkward a position! Grumps was evidentl_ewildered with delight, and had lost nearly all power to express it. Crusoe’_onduct towards him, too, was not calculated to clear his faculties. Ever_ime he chanced to pass near Grumps in his elephantine gambols, he gave him _assing touch with his nose, which always knocked him head over heels; wherea_rumps invariably got up quickly and wagged his tail with additional energy.
  • Before the feelings of those canine friends were calmed, they were all thre_uffled into a state of comparative exhaustion.
  • Then young Marston called Crusoe to him, and Crusoe, obedient to the voice o_riendship, went.
  • “Are you happy, my dog?”
  • “You’re a stupid fellow to ask such a question; however, it’s an amiable one.
  • Yes, I am.”
  • “What do _you_ want, ye small bundle o’ hair?”
  • This was addressed to Grumps, who came forward innocently, and sat down t_isten to the conversation.
  • On being thus sternly questioned, the little dog put down its ears flat, an_ung its head, looking up at the same time with a deprecatory look as if t_ay, “Oh, dear! I beg pardon; I—I only want to sit near Crusoe, please, but i_ou wish it I’ll go away, sad and lonely, with my tail _very_ much between m_egs—indeed I will, only say the word, but—but I’d _rather_ stay if I might.”
  • “Poor bundle!” said Marston, patting its head, “you can stay then. Hooray!
  • Crusoe, are you happy, I say? Does your heart bound in you like a cannon bal_hat wants to find its way out and can’t—eh?”
  • Crusoe put his snout against Marston’s cheek, and, in the excess of his joy, the lad threw his arms round the dog’s neck and hugged it vigorously, a piec_f impulsive affection which that noble animal bore with characteristi_eekness, and which Grumps regarded with idiotic satisfaction.