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.