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Title: Bill Biddon, Trapper - or Life in the Northwest
Author: Ellis, Edward Sylvester, 1840-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    [Illustration: THE TRAPPER’S HOME.]



    Bill Biddon, Trapper

    OR

    LIFE IN THE NORTHWEST

    BY

    EDWARD S. ELLIS


    AUTHOR OF “NATHAN TODD,” “LIFE OF PONTIAC, THE
    CONSPIRATOR,” “LAND OF MYSTERY,” ETC.

    NEW YORK
    HURST & COMPANY

    PUBLISHERS


    COPYRIGHT, 1916,

    BY

    HURST & COMPANY



    CONTENTS.


    CHAPTER                                          PAGE

       I. Out Late at Night                             9

      II. A New Friend                                 32

     III. The Trapper’s Story                          48

      IV. The Trapping Grounds                         72

       V. Conversations and Plans                      98

      VI. Still in the Dark--The Canoe Again          116

     VII. Alone in the Wilderness                     134

    VIII. Trapping Among the Indians                  153

      IX. The Buffalo Hunt and its Consequences       174

       X. An Awful Awakening                          191

      XI. The Brigade and an Old Friend               210

     XII. Found at Last                               237



    LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


    The Trapper’s Home                                    FRONTISPIECE

                                                                  PAGE

    “What’s your handle, stranger?”                                 41

    “Gave a snort of alarm and plunged headlong away into the
      droves.”                                                      61

    “Looking back saw a host of savage forms.”                      79

    “In the stern, with a guiding oar, sat a young female.”         93

    “I could see his two coal-black eyes glittering plainly.”      145

    “Setting up a wild yell, the Indians scattered and plunged
      after them.”                                                 177

    “Without losing a moment, we mounted and struck to the
      northward.”                                                  203

    “A fight! a fight! make a ring for them.”                      213

    “No less personage than Nat stepped ashore.”                   239

    “Hilloa, you!”                                                 251



BILL BIDDON, TRAPPER;

OR,

LIFE IN THE NORTHWEST.



CHAPTER I.

OUT LATE AT NIGHT.


“How is it, Nat? Any light yet?”

“Not the least sign of one, and it’s my opinion it will be a long time
before we see another.”

“What! you haven’t given up all hopes of reaching the camp? I hope
not, as I don’t relish the idea of camping out to-night.”

“Nor I either; but I’m thinking it will come to that sooner or later.”

“Well, there are several hours yet, in which we must plod onward,” I
added, trudging wearily behind my companion.

Before going further, I may as well introduce my friend and myself. My
companion answered to the name of Nathan Todd, and was a native of
Maine. He was a tall, lank individual, with long, attentuated limbs
and an awkward appearance generally. He was very meager and muscular,
and when roused to a heat of passion, as quick and powerful as the
panther. His gait was an ungainly, straddling one, and he was
seemingly capable of anything but speed; but on one or two occasions
since leaving the States, he had shown a fleetness of foot which was
truly wonderful. He was a good, open-hearted fellow, and one who, when
driven to the wall, would be a dangerous enemy. Once or twice,
however, he had shown the white feather, and his natural timidity
would often evince itself. As a consequence, Nat was not, perhaps, the
safest companion in the hour of danger; but, for all that, there was
no one in our party whose presence I would have preferred upon the
night in which I introduce him to notice. There was no imminent peril
threatening us, and Nat was a capital companion, who could while-away
the hours, if he chose, with his inexhaustible store of anecdote and
humor. I knew he entertained a warm affection for me, and would brave
almost any danger rather than be suspected of his only deficiency. A
single intimation would decide his course in a moment.

Nat wore a singular dress--half savage and half civilized. The pants
and shoes were such as are fashionable in the enlightened world; but a
capacious hunting-shirt encased his body, secured around the waist by
a heavy band, and much the same as are worn by the hunters and natives
of the Far West at the present day. The most striking part of his
dress, however, was the hat. This he had brought with him from Maine,
and it really seemed indestructible. It was a gray color, and having
lost its band a long time before, had acquired the shape of a cone.
When it rested on his head, the edge reached the shoulders behind, and
the eyebrows in front, and the pointed peak was far off above the
crown.

Nathan Todd’s face was full of shrewdness and good humor. He had a
large, curved nose, broad mouth, and a fine blue eye. The chin was
retreating; but this drawback was modified partly by a long tuft of
yellow hair, the only signs of beard upon his face, except a shadowy
mustache. The hair was long and sandy, and harmonized well with the
rest of his countenance. There was ever a contraction of the
eyebrows--a sort of unspoken question--so often seen in persons from
“down east,” which indicated a prying, curious disposition.

As for myself, my name is William Relmond, and I hail from one of the
middle States. Shortly after the announcement of the discovery of gold
in California, I was seized with the lunacy that was carrying its
thousands to the Pacific coast. I was well situated in life at home,
but that was not considered. I must go and fish up a fabulous fortune
also. I had one brother and several sisters, but our parents had been
dead for some years, and we were residing with an uncle, the guardian
of each, until maturity. A favorable opportunity offering I had made
some preparation for the legal profession; but I was never inclined to
Coke, and had no intention of pursuing the practice of the law in
after life. At the age of twenty, then, without a settled purpose in
life, I determined to make a journey to the El Dorado of the New
World. I was not influenced solely by the love of gain, in taking this
step, but the love of adventure urged me irresistibly on. I had heard
wonderful stories of the boundless prairies, of the wandering hordes
of Indians, their millions of buffaloes and horses, and the vast,
billowy ocean of verdure and sunshine, and the Far West seemed the
paradise of the world to me.

I was provided with an ample outfit at home, and departed amid the
tears of my good uncle and affectionate sisters. I proceeded by the
usual route to Independence, Missouri, where I made inquiries of the
trains which were constantly leaving the point for Oregon and
California. In my wanderings, I stumbled upon Nat Todd, my present
companion. He had just arrived from his distant home, where he had
left a widowed mother and a disconsolate sweetheart. But he said he
was going to return, in just two years from the day he left, with a
“rousing heap” of money, and intended to buy “Squire Hunt’s farm,”
take Alminy down there, and live the rest of his life. His frankness
and humor impressed me favorably; and, after a short conversation, we
grasped hands, and swore to remain by each other till our adventures
were terminated by death or a happy _dénouement_.

We engaged places in a train which left the next day. This company
numbered nigh two hundred persons, and was composed of all kinds of
characters, except females. There were French _voyageurs_, Irishmen,
and an agent of one of the western fur companies, and the majority of
the rest were those just from the plow or the workshop. They had
secured the services of an experienced guide, and were well equipped
for the perilous journey before them.

The overland route, at this time, was so alive with passing emigrants,
that few depredations were committed by the Indians. The savages
sometimes hung around companies, but as there were almost always other
whites in sight, they rarely ventured upon any greater crime than
pilfering. Nothing worthy of note occurred upon the journey for a
length of time. We experienced the usual mishaps and trials of
emigrants, but nothing more startling. We sometimes lost a part of our
baggage and provisions in crossing the rivers, and were greatly
discomforted by the terrific storms which often rage in these regions.
Then, again, we traveled mile after mile, and hour after hour upon the
dry, monotonous, glistening rolling prairie, so wearied and tired of
the scene that we hardly exchanged a syllable for hours at a stretch.

At last, the plains of Kansas were reached. On the day in which I
introduce my friend and myself to notice, we had descried a solitary
antelope at a great distance upon the prairie, and set out to bring it
down. We left our horses behind, hoping to reach the animal by
stratagem. I approached it near enough to wound it, when it made off
with the speed of the wind. Expecting to see it give out each moment,
we followed it mile after mile, until gathering darkness warned us
that night was at hand, when we halted in alarm, and were compelled to
allow the antelope to escape, while we endeavored to retrace our
steps. The caravan was nowhere in sight, and we doubted not that it
had disappeared hours before. We left the train about noon, and had
been warned that they would not halt or wait for us, and should we
lose them, they would take no pains to hunt us up. But we heeded not
this, as we expected to keep them constantly in view, and have the
antelope cooked for our supper.

But I have shown how widely we were mistaken. We were compelled to see
the night shut down around us, without bringing us any hope of
spending it with our friends; and at a late hour we were still
plodding aimlessly over the prairie.

“No light yet, Nat?” I asked, for the twentieth time.

“Well, I should think you had asked that question about often enough,
to be suited with my answer.”

“I expect to ask it a dozen times more.”

“Then I’ll just answer at once for all, so I won’t be troubled agin
with talkin’. _No!_ there’s the answer.”

“I don’t know but what you are right, Nat. We must have come a long
distance, utterly unconscious of it, in our eagerness to get that
plaguey antelope, and it is useless to hope to reach camp again before
morning.”

“That’s my opinion, exactly. That camp, I opine, is a good dozen miles
off yet.”

“Then we may have a chance of reaching it still before morning, as
this bright moon favors us.”

The moon, full and clear, had arisen an hour before, and its light
illumined the prairie for a great distance around. Far away, on every
hand, we could discern the blue outline of the horizon, while the
prairie seemed to roll up against it like the dark boundaries of a
mighty ocean. Everything was as silent and motionless as though we
were treading a region of death.

Mile after mile, we trudged on, beguiling the time by conversation.
The ground was dry and hard, and the vegetation scarce and stunted.
The day had been quite warm, and there was a delicious coolness about
the evening air that made it pleasant to walk an hour or so; but as
more than double that time had expired since we commenced, it had long
been exceedingly wearisome to us.

“I wonder whether those fellows will go a foot out of the way to pick
us up,” muttered Nat, half to himself.

“I don’t believe they will. They told us they wouldn’t and they value
their time too highly to waste it for a couple who are of no account
to them, especially since we can fall in with other trains.”

“I reckon they’re of some account to us, being they have got both our
horses and considerable of our traveling apparatus.”

“That is too true, Nat. In fact, since we have been walking here, I
have persuaded myself that those fellows would, just as likely as not,
turn something out of the way to get rid of us.”

“Somehow or other, I’ve felt just the same for a week.”

“Then, if we value our property, we mustn’t let them slip.”

“No; I’ll be shot, if we must!” exclaimed Nat, half angrily, striking
at once into a more rapid walk. “If they run off with my mare,
I’ll--I’ll--” and again he strode faster over the prairie.

Long--long, we journeyed in silence. Nat’s apprehensions had been
aroused, and he was willing to walk the whole night to come up with
those in whose honesty he had so little faith. Now and then he would
mutter incoherently to himself and shoot ahead, keeping me almost on a
run to maintain my place beside him. Suddenly he halted, and turned
upon me with an expression I shall never forget. I could see his eyes
expanded to twice their usual size, and his whole face aglow beneath
his monstrous hat, as he asked in a cold whisper:

“Wonder if there’s Injins about to-night.”

I laughed outright.

“Why, Nat, you ain’t afraid, are you?”

“Who said I was afraid? I just asked a question.”

“What possessed you to ask such a question?”

“Don’t know; just come into my mind. Do you s’pose there are any
Injins roving round the country to-night?”

“I am sure I cannot tell, but I think it extremely probable. Are you
fearful that there are some upon our trail?”

“There might be! No; I was thinking if we should come across any of
them, they might be able to tell us whether any of them chaps think
we’re lost, and have run off with my mare.”

“Should we meet a lot of those savages, no doubt they would tell us
something else besides that.”

“I expect so,” and he wheeled around and strode ahead again. It was
now getting near midnight, and I was completely worn out. It was out
of the question to reach the camp that night, and we might as well
submit to our fate at once, so I spoke rather decidedly.

“I’m tired of this.”

Nat turned and looked at me a second, and then answered:

“So am I. We’ve to camp out to-night, and there’s no use in waiting
till morning afore we do it. Ain’t it lucky you brought your blanket
with you? It would go hard to do without that to-night.”

“I brought it with me by merest chance, not thinking I should need it.
It was indeed fortunate; and now let us prepare to use it.”

There was not much choice on the hard but warm earth. My blanket was
ample and sufficient for us both. After some search, a small
depression was selected, and in this I spread my heavy blanket. We
then stretched ourselves upon it, pulled the ends over us, being sure
to inclose our rifles in its folds, and resigned ourselves to sleep.
In that lone hour, I forgot not that there was one arm upon which I
could rely, and One only who could watch over me until morning, and to
that protection I appealed.

Ere the sun was fairly above the horizon, we were up and upon our way.
Knowing the company would not be in motion for several hours, we hoped
to reach them before they breakfasted, and have a laugh over our
night’s adventure. Nat led the way, and took long, rapid strides over
the ground, seemingly oblivious of the existence of any one else. I
kept beside him, now and then venturing a remark, but receiving no
answer or intimation that I was heard.

Suddenly, my friend came to a dead halt, dropped the butt of his rifle
to the earth with a ringing clamp, and wheeled upon me with one of
those indescribable looks. I had seen these before, so that I knew
something unusual was agitating him.

“What’s the trouble now?”

“It’s no use; we’ll never see that company agin.”

“What makes you think thus?”

“I know so. I had a dream last night that my mare was gone for ever
and ever, and I know she is. Don’t you remember that fur agent told us
they’d change the direction they’s traveling some time yesterday? They
hadn’t done it when we left them, and they done it as soon as we got
out of sight, I warrant.”

I now remembered hearing our guide remark, as also did the fur agent
with us, that the trail we were following made an abrupt bend some
miles ahead. We were traveling northeast at that time, and the
contemplated change was nearly due southwest. This fact had entirely
escaped our minds, until it now occurred to Nat, and we had,
consequently, been proceeding in a wrong direction. By referring to
the sun, we found we had gone far too much to the east in order to
intercept the train, which was now in all probability many leagues to
the southwest.

This was a discovery which was overwhelming. We had then been
journeying in a direction which had brought us not a foot nearer the
company than if we had remained motionless; and it was certain that
the party was irrecoverably lost.

“This is a pleasant discovery, Nat.”

“Very.”

“I see no hope for your mare. She is probably a good day’s journey
distant, and we do not know what direction to take to reach her.”

“That’s it,” replied Nat, ill-humoredly; “if I knowed sure what way to
tramp to find her, I wouldn’t stop till I’d laid my hands on her for a
certainty; but this trudging along, and just as like as not going away
from her all the time, isn’t the thing.”

“I see no course left then, but to proceed south, in the hope of
falling in with some emigrant train, or in striking the Oregon trail,
north, and getting into California ahead of them.”

“The Oregon trail will have to be our destination, then. If these
fellows find they’ve got the start of us, they won’t give us a chance
to come up again, and we might as well try to catch the whirlwind as
to follow them. No; we must try the ready for them when they come.
How far is the trail off?”

“It can’t be more than a day’s journey; the trail follows the Platte
through Nebraska, and I’m pretty sure we can reach it by nightfall, if
we proceed pretty steadily and rapidly.”

The day was clear and pleasant, and the sky devoid of the least signs
of threatening storm. There were two or three white clouds straggling
off in the western horizon, but the sky was of a deep clear blue. We
were now proceeding in a northward direction, intending to strike the
Platte at the nearest point. South, east, and west the small waving
hills of the prairie stretched, unrelieved by the slightest object,
except in the west the far-off outline of some mountain-peak was just
visible, resembling a slight pointed cloud against the blue sky. This
disappeared at noon, and we were again like wanderers upon the
illimitable sea. A short time after, Nat’s keen vision detected a
number of black, moving specks far to the westward.

“An emigrant train, perhaps,” I suggested.

“They’re Pawnee Injins as sure as the world, and we’d better give them
a wide berth.”

“Pawnee Indians! How do you know that? You never have been in this
section before?”

“That’s true, but you don’t s’pose I started out here without first
larning something ’bout the country and folks, do you? If you do,
you’re mighty mistaken. Just let me know in what part of the country
we are, and I’ll let you know what sights you will see, that is, if we
are going to see any at all. But let’s keep to the east; I don’t want
to keep them Pawnees in sight.”

“The Pawnee Indians are reported friendly to the whites.”

“Exactly; but have they been reported honest? If they should come upon
us and take a fancy to our rifles, what is there to prevent them from
taking them? And,” added Nat, with a shrewd shake of his head. “I’ve
not faith enough in their good intentions to want ’em in sight at this
particular time.”

There was a great deal of reason in his remarks, and it was not
unwillingly that I turned my face more to the northeast, and soon saw
them disappear from view.

Some time toward the middle of the afternoon we descried a solitary
buffalo ahead. He had apparently left his friends and wandered about
as though entirely lost. After considerable difficulty we approached
nigh enough to bring him down. He was quite poor, and his flesh was
strong and Oregon trail, and get into California first, and be tough;
but we were glad enough to get it, such as it was. He was thrown on
his face, with his knees bent under him, a keen knife run along the
spine with just sufficient force to penetrate the skin, which was then
pulled down each side. This done, we cut the choice portions out. Nat
reserved the buffalo-skin for his blanket, and the rest was thrown
away. We made a hearty meal, and about the middle of the afternoon
again set forward, hoping to accomplish quite a distance ere
nightfall.

Just at dark we reached a stream of considerable size, which I
afterward learned was the Republican Fork of Nebraska. The point at
which we struck it, was about where it leaves the territory of Kansas
and enters Nebraska. Although no considerable stream, we concluded not
to cross it before morning, and we made arrangements for passing the
night upon its banks. There was considerable timber at different
points, and a goodly quantity of driftwood lay scattered along its
banks. As the river was quite low, we gathered several armfuls, and
had a fire soon started. We had brought some meat of the slain buffalo
with us, but concluded not to cook supper, as our appetites were
satiated.

Seated round our fire, half-hidden in a depression in the river
bottom, with the dark, glistening stream flowing silently by, and
smoking our pipes, we naturally fell into an easy conversation.

“We can’t be far from the ‘trail,’ can we?” asked Nat.

“Farther than I suspected,” I answered. “The Republican Fork, which I
am convinced is the stream out there, is over fifty miles from the
Platte, which, with several other streams must be crossed before the
trail is reached.”

“Fudge! I don’t believe I can head off them fellows after all, and my
old mare and overcoat will go to thunder.”

“They will go _somewhere_ where you will never see them again.”

“I _know_ I’m bound to lose ’em, and I shan’t think any more about
them.”

“That’s the best plan, Nat. They are no great loss.”

“I sh’d like to know whether that greaser or fur agent took them
though,” interrupted my friend, earnestly.

After this he fell into a fit of musing, and we remained silent for
some time. When the fire had burnt low, I arose and replenished it.
Nat looked anxiously at the roaring blaze, carrying ashes and cinders
high in the air, and reflecting far out upon the dark river, and he
remarked:

“Wonder if some Injins won’t see that.”

“I guess not. We are so low down the bank that I think it can be
visible for no considerable distance upon the prairie, and the bend in
the river fortunately saves us from view up or down the stream. The
only point from which it would attract attention is directly across
from us.”

“And it looks suspicious enough there,” repeated Nat, in a whisper,
removing his pipe and gazing across the river.

It did indeed look gloomy, forbidding, and threatening. Our fire was
nearly on the level with the water, which rolled darkly and noisily at
our very feet; and when its crackling blaze arose higher than usual,
the low face of the opposite shore was struck by the light. At such
times I could not help reflecting what favorable chances were afforded
any foe who might be lurking opposite. I involuntarily shrunk from the
fire, and felt relieved when the shore blended with the darkness.

It began to grow quite late, the fire had smoldered low, when Nat,
removing his cap, turned upon me with:

“What do you think of our journey to California?”

I was at a loss to comprehend his meaning, and looked at him for an
explanation.

“I mean to ask whether you feel in such a hurry to get to mines as you
did when we were in Independence?”

Now, to confess the truth, the experience of the last week or two, and
especially of the last two days, had done much toward dampening the
ardor which I once thought could never leave me; and I believe, had I
possessed moral courage enough, I should have seized the first
opportunity to return to the comforts of a home, where I possessed
enough to satisfy any sensible person’s ambition. Still I hesitated to
commit myself.

“I cannot say that I am; but what induced you to----”

“I’m sick of this business,” interrupted Nat, lengthening his legs
with a spiteful jerk, and looking disgustedly into the fire.

“What has come over you?” I asked, half-amused at his manner.

“Well there’s that mare----”

“But you promised not to think of her.”

“How can I help it, I should like to know? She’s gone sure, and
there’s that overcoat, that cost me four dollars and a half in Lubec;
and Alminy made a big pocket in it on purpose for me to fill full of
gold chunks; and I should like to know how I am going to do it, when a
Greaser has got it.”

“I am afraid that that would not be the only difficulty you would be
likely to experience, Nat, in getting it filled.”

“And my jack-knife was in the coat-pocket, I declare!” exclaimed he,
suddenly starting up and pinching alternately one pocket and then
another. “Yes, sir, that’s gone, too; that’s worse than all the rest,”
he added, despairingly, falling upon his elbow, and gazing
abstractedly into the fire.

“That’s a trifling loss, surely, as you have your hunting-knife.”

“I’ve a good notion to get up and go back now,” he added, not heeding
my remark. “I’m sick of this business. It’s bad enough to lose the
mare, but when the knife is gone I can’t stand it.”

I knew this was but a momentary despondency with my friend, and for
the sake of whiling away the time before sleep, I was inclined to
humor it.

“But what will you do for that gold that you was going to buy Deacon
Hunt’s farm with for your Alminy?”

“Let her go without it,” he answered, gruffly, without removing his
gaze from the fire. “She can get along without it. I believe she only
coaxed me to go off to Californy to get me out of the way, so that
mean Bill Hawkins might take my place. If he does come any such game,
he’ll catch it when I get back.”

I laughed deeply, but silently, as I witnessed his appearance at these
remarks. It was so earnest and feeling, that it was impossible to
resist its ludicrousness.

“Nat,” said I, after a moment’s thought, in which my mind had taken an
altogether different channel, “I am free to own that I have little
faith in our success in California. I left home in a flush of
excitement, without considering the consequences of such a rash step,
and they are now beginning to present themselves. I propose that we
seek our fortune elsewhere. The fact that gold exists in California is
now known all over the world, and we know there is not the remotest
corner of her territory which is not swarming with hundreds who leave
no means untried to amass their fortunes. I have no desire to wrangle
and grope with them, and would much rather seek wealth elsewhere.”

“But where else?”

“If gold exists in one spot on the Pacific coast, it is right to
suppose it exists in many others, and what is to prevent our finding
it?”

“Have you thought of any place?”

“It seems to me that in Oregon, among the spurs of the Rocky
Mountains, there must be fabulous quantities of the precious metal.”

“But why hasn’t it been found?”

“Oregon is thinly settled, and no suspicion has led them to search for
it.”

“Well, let us dream upon it.”

A few more fagots were forthwith heaped upon the fire, and then we lay
down for the night’s rest.

My companion had lain but a minute, when he suddenly sprang to his
feet, and exclaimed:

“Hurrah for Oregon!”

“Be careful,” I admonished; “your indiscretion may be fatal. That wall
of darkness across the river looks gloomy and threatening enough to
me.”

“It does--hello! I’m shot--no, I ain’t, neither.”

That instant the report of a rifle burst from the other bank, and the
bullet whizzed within an inch of my companion’s face.

“Heavens! are we attacked!” I ejaculated, starting back from the fire.

“I believe so,” replied Nat, cowering behind me.

We listened silently and fearfully, but heard no more. The fire
smoldered to embers, the river grew darker, and the night, moonless
and cold, settled upon us. But no sleep visited my eyelids that night.
Till the gray dawn of morning I listened, but heard no more.



CHAPTER II.

A NEW FRIEND.


As the light of morning overspread the stream and prairie, I felt an
unspeakable sense of relief. Not a moment of sleep had visited me that
night, although Nat’s extreme fear toward midnight gave way to his
drowsiness, and he slept long and heavily.

“Come, wake up, Nat!” said I, shaking him as soon as I saw that day
was at hand.

“How? what’s the matter?” said he, rubbing his eyes, and gaping
confusedly about him.

“Day is at hand, and we must be on our way to Oregon.”

He hastily rose, and we commenced our simple preparations. I ran up
the river bank, and swept the prairie to the south of us to satisfy
myself that no wandering Indians were in sight. The whole plain was
visible, and with a feeling akin to joy, I reported the fact to Nat.
He, however, was not satisfied with my survey, as he had more than
once before detected objects that had escaped my vision, and he
ascended a high roll in the bank, some distance up, and took a long,
careful, scrutinizing sweep of the whole horizon. Feeling satisfied
that he would be no more rewarded for his pains than I was, I started
the fire, and commenced cooking some of our buffalo, I had been
engaged in this for a minute or so, when I heard Nat call, in a
hoarse, anxious, half-whisper:

“Come here, quick!”

I hurried to his side and eagerly asked him the cause of agitation.

“Why, just look yonder, if that ain’t enough to agitate one, then I
don’t know what is.”

He pointed across the river, out upon the prairie; and following the
direction of his finger, I saw not more than a mile or two away a
single horseman proceeding leisurely from us.

“Who can that be?” I asked half to myself, still watching the receding
figure.

“Why he’s the one that sent that bullet across the water after us, and
I’m thinking it’s lucky for him, he’s going another way. If I should
get my hands on him, he would remember the time.”

And Nat extended his arms energetically, and shook his head spitefully
by way of emphasizing his remark.

I continued gazing after the unknown person. At first I supposed it
was an Indian, but at that distance, and with his back toward us, it
was almost impossible to judge accurately. A moment’s thought
convinced me that it was a white man. I could make out the hunting-cap
of the trapper, and was soon satisfied he belonged to that class. His
horse was walking leisurely along, and he seemed totally unaware of
the proximity of strangers.

But who could it be? Was it he who had fired the well-nigh fatal shot?
And what meant his actions in thus willfully leaving us? These and
similar questions I asked myself, without taking my eyes from him, or
heeding the numerous questions and remarks my companion was uttering.
But, of course, I could give no satisfactory solution, and when his
figure had grown to be but a dim speck in the distance, I turned to
Nat.

“We may see him again; but, if I don’t know him, I know one thing, I’m
wonderfully hungry just now.”

We partook of a hearty breakfast, my appetite for which was
considerably weakened by the occurrence just narrated. Without much
difficulty we forded the Republican Fork, being compelled only to swim
a few strokes in the channel, and reached the opposite side, with dry
powder and food.

Here we made a careful search of the shore, and ascertained enough to
settle beyond a doubt the identity of the horseman with the would-be
assassin of the night before. His footprints could be seen, and the
place where he had slept upon the ground, together with the scraps of
meat. By examining the tracks of his horse, we discovered that both
hind feet were shod; this decided our question of his being a white
man; and although it cleared up one doubt, left us in a greater one.
He could not have avoided the knowledge that we were of the same
blood, and what demoniacal wish could lead him to seek the life of two
harmless wanderers? Be he who he might, it was with no very Christian
feelings toward him that we took the trail of his horse, and pursued
it.

Our course after the first five miles, swerved considerably to the
northwest. From the actions of the stranger, it was evident he
understood the character of the country, and we judged the shortest
way of reaching the Oregon trail would be by following him. The
footprints of his animal were distinctly marked, and we had no
difficulty in keeping them.

At noon we forded a stream, and shortly after another, both
considerably less than the Republican Fork. On the northern bank of
the latter, were the still glowing coals of the stranger’s camp-fire,
and we judged he could be at no great distance. The country here was
of a slightly different character from the rolling prairie over which
we had journeyed thus far. There were hills quite elevated, and, now
and then, groves of timber. In the river bottoms were numerous
cottonwoods and elder; these natural causes so obstructed our view,
that we might approach our unknown enemy very nigh without knowing it.
Nat was quite nervous, and invariably sheered off from the forbidding
groves of timber, striking the trail upon the opposite side at a safe
distance.

In this way we traveled onward through the entire day. No signs of
Indians were seen, and we anticipated little trouble from them, as
they were friendly at this time, and the most they would do would be
to rob us of some of our trinkets or rifles.

At sundown we left our guiding trail and struck off toward a small
stream to camp for the night. When we reached it, and decided upon the
spot, Nat remarked seriously:

“I say, Relmond, that feller might be near enough to give us another
shot afore morning, and I’m going to see whether his trail crosses the
brook out there or not.”

So saying, he wheeled and ran back to the spot where we had left it.
It was still bright enough to follow it, and bending his head down to
keep it in view, he continued upon a rapid run. I was upon the point
of warning him against thus running into danger, but not feeling much
apprehension for his safety, I turned my back toward him. A minute
after, I heard his footsteps again, and, looking up, saw him coming
with full speed toward me, his eyes dilated to their utmost extent,
and with every appearance of terror.

“He’s there!” he exclaimed.

“Where?” I asked, catching his excitement.

“Just across the stream up there; I liked to have run right into him
afore I knowed it. See there!”

As Nat spoke, I saw the glimmering of a fire through the trees, and
heard the whinny of a horse.

“Didn’t he see you?”

“Yes, I know he did. When I splashed into the water like a fool, he
looked up at me and grunted; I seen him pick up his rifle, and then I
put, expecting each moment to feel a ball in me.”

“I thought you intended laying hands on him if an opportunity
offered,” I remarked, with a laugh.

“I declare, I forgot that,” he replied, somewhat crestfallen.

After some further conversation, I decided to make the acquaintance of
the person who had occupied so much of our thoughts. Nat opposed this,
and urged me to get farther from him; but a meaning hint changed his
views at once, and he readily acquiesced. He would not be prevailed
upon, however, to accompany me, but promised to come to my aid if I
should need help during the interview. So leaving him, I started
boldly up the stream.

When I reached the point opposite the stranger’s camp-fire, I stumbled
and coughed so as to attract his attention. I saw him raise his eyes
and hurriedly scan me, but he gave no further evidence of anxiety,
and I unhesitatingly sprang across the stream, and made my way toward
him. Before I halted, I saw that he was a trapper. He was reclining
upon the ground, before a small fire, and smoking a short black pipe,
in a sort of dreamy reverie.

“Good evening, my friend,” I said, cheerfully, approaching within a
few feet of him. He raised his eyes a moment, and then suffered them
lazily to fall again, and continue their vacant stare into the fire.
“Quite a pleasant evening,” I continued, seating myself near him.

“Umph!” he grunted, removing his pipe, and rising to the upright
position. He looked at me a second with a pair of eyes of sharp,
glittering blackness, and then asked: “Chaw, stranger?”

“I sometimes use the weed, but not in that form,” I replied, handing a
piece to him. He wrenched off a huge mouthful with a vigorous twist of
his head, and returned it without a word. This done, he sank back to
his former position and reverie.

“Excuse me, friend,” said I, moving rather impatiently, and determined
to force a conversation upon him, “but I hope you will permit a few
questions?”

“Go ahead, stranger,” he answered, gruffly.

“Are you traveling alone in this section?”

“I reckon I ar’, ’cept the hoss which ’ar a team.”

“Follow trapping and hunting, I presume?”

“What’s yer handle, stranger?” he suddenly asked, as he came to the
upright position, and looking at me with more interest.

“William Relmond, from New Jersey.”

“Whar’s that place?”

“It is one of the Middle States, quite a distance from here.”

“What mought you be doin’ in these parts?”

“I and my friend out yonder are on our way to Oregon.”

“Umph! you’re pretty green ’uns.”

“Now I suppose you will have no objection to giving me your name.”

“My handle’s Bill Biddon, and I’m on my way to trappin’-grounds up
country.”

“How far distant?”

“A heap; somewhar up ’bove the Yallerstone.”

“Do you generally go upon these journeys alone?”

[Illustration: “What’s your handle, stranger?”]

“Sometimes I does, and sometimes I doesn’t.”

I ceased my questions for a few moments, for fear of provoking him. As
his route, as far as it extended, would be in our direction, I
determined to keep his company if I could gain his consent. He was a
splendid specimen of the physical man. He was rather short, but heavy
and thick-set, with a compactness of frame that showed a terrible
strength slumbering in his muscles. His face was broad, covered by a
thin, straggling beard of grizzled gray, and several ridged scars were
visible in different parts of it. His brows were beetling and
lowering, and beneath them a couple of black eyes fairly snapt at
times with electric fire. His mouth was broad, and though one could
plainly see a whirlwind of terrific passion might be called into life
within his breast, yet there was, also in his face, the index of a
heart alive to good humor and frankness. I saw that, if approached
skillfully, his heart could be reached. He was evidently the creature
of odd whims and fancies and caprice, feeling as well satisfied
without the society of his fellow-man as with it--one of those strange
beings, a hero of a hundred perils, who was satisfied to lose his life
in the mighty wilderness of the Far West, without a single one
suspecting or caring for his fate.

“Would you have any objections to my friend and myself accompanying
you, that is, as far as you should proceed in our direction?”

He looked steadily at me a moment, and answered, “You kin go with me
ef you wants; but I knows as how you’re green, and yer needn’t s’pose
I’m goin’ to hold in fur yer. Yers as never does that thing.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t expect you to. Of course, we will make it a point not
to interfere in the least with your plans and movements.”

“Whar is yer other chap? S’pose it war him what come peakin’ through
yer a while ago; had a notion of spilin’ his picter fur his
imperdence.”

“I will go bring him,” I answered, rising and moving off. But as I
stepped across the stream, I discerned the top of Nat’s white hat,
just above a small box-elder; and moving on, saw his eye fixed with an
eager stare upon the trapper.

“Don’t he look savage?” he whispered, as I came to him.

“Not very. Are you afraid of him?”

“No; but I wonder whether he--whether he knows anything about the old
mare and my knife.”

“Perhaps so; come and see. He just now asked for you.”

“Asked for me?” repeated Nat, stepping back. “What does he want of
me?”

“Nothing in particular. I just mentioned your name, and he asked where
you were. Come along; I hope you ain’t afraid?”

“Afraid! I should like to see the man I’m afraid of!” exclaimed my
companion in an almost inaudible whisper, as he tremblingly followed
me across the brook, and to the spot where Biddon, the trapper, was
lying.

“My friend, Nathan Todd, Biddon.”

“How are you? Very happy to make your acquaintance,” and Nat nervously
extended his hand.

“How’re yer?” grunted Biddon, with a slight jerk of his head, and not
noticing the proffered hand.

“Been a most exceedingly beautiful day,” ventured Nat, quickly and
nervously.

I saw the trapper was not particularly impressed with him, and I took
up the conversation. I made several unimportant inquiries, and learned
in the course of them, that our friend, Bill Biddon, was about forty
years of age, and had followed trapping and hunting for over twenty
years. He was a native of Missouri, and Westport was the depot for his
peltries. For the last two or three years he had made all his
excursions alone. He was quite a famous trapper, and the fur company
which he patronized gave him a fine outfit and paid him well for his
skins. He possessed a magnificently-mounted rifle, and his horse, he
informed me, had few superiors among the fleetest mustangs of the
south. Both of these were presented him by the company mentioned.

“Why ain’t you got horses?” he asked, looking toward me.

“They were both stolen from us.”

“I don’t s’pose you’ve seen anything of a company with a mare,
short-tailed, that limped a little, and an overcoat that had a knife
in the pocket?” asked Nat, eagerly.

“Not that I knows on,” answered Biddon, with a twinkle of humor.

I gave the particulars of our loss, and then asked, without due
thought:

“Did you not camp upon the banks of the Republican Fork last night?”

“Yas; what’d yer want to know fur?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing,” quickly answered Nat.

I believe the trapper understood my allusion, and I hoped he would
give an explanation of his act; but he made no reference to it, and,
after further conversation, we all lay down in slumber.



CHAPTER III.

THE TRAPPER’S STORY.


I was aroused from my slumber, before it was yet light, by Biddon
shaking me and calling in my ear:

“Come, you chaps, you’ve got only two minutes to swaller yer feed in.”

Nat was already moving about, and I sprang to my feet, determined to
continue in my friend’s good graces, if such a thing were possible, by
a cheerful acquiescence in all his reasonable wishes. Our fire was
kindled, a hasty breakfast swallowed, and just as the sun made its
appearance above the prairie, we moved off toward the north.

Long before noon we reached the Platte, and forded it at the point
where Fort Grattan now stands. The Platte, during the winter months,
is a boisterous stream of great width, but in summer it is very
shallow (from which circumstance it derives its name), and at the dry
season it almost ceases running, and dwindles down to an innumerable
number of stagnant pools. As it was now the summer season, we walked
over without more than merely wetting our shoes. The Oregon trail
follows the northern shore of this stream to Washington Territory, or
to what was Oregon at the time of which I write. Leaving the Platte,
we shaped our course toward the northwest, so as to strike the
southern spur of the Black Hills. From Biddon’s conversation, I found
that his destination was the neighborhood of the head-waters of the
Tongue or Powder River, which have their cañons in the Black Hills.

As he allowed his horse to proceed upon a moderate walk, we had no
trouble in keeping him company. We generally started at the first
indication of morning, halting now and then to slake our thirst in the
numerous streams which crossed our path, and resting an hour at noon.
At sunset we struck camp upon some small stream, cooked our evening
meal, spent an hour or two in smoking and conversation, and turned in
for the night.

The country over which we now journeyed was much better timbered than
any through which we had yet passed. For an entire day after crossing
the Platte, we met with thousands of the ash, elm, walnut, and
cottonwood trees. The bark of the latter, I was surprised to observe,
was greatly relished by the trapper’s horse, he often preferring it
to the rich, succulent grass which so abounds in this region. Besides
this there were signs of the buffalo, antelope, and hundreds of other
animals.

One night we halted upon the bank of a large stream some miles north
of the Platte, which emptied into the Missouri. It was quite broad and
rapid, and near the center of the channel a small, sandy island was
visible. We passed over this while fording the stream, and I noticed
that Biddon walked around it, and surveyed several spots with more
than common interest. I did not question him then, but at night, when
we were stretched before the fire, with our soothing pipes, I ventured
the inquiry.

“I seed sights on that chunk of mud one time,” said he, with a dark
frown.

“What was it?--what was it?” asked Nat, eagerly.

“Here’s as what don’t like to think of that time, augh!” he answered,
seeming still unwilling to refer to it.

“Why not?” I asked, beginning to partake of Nat’s curiosity.

“It makes a feller’s blood bile; but, howsomever,” he added,
brightening up, “if you wants to hear it, yer kin.”

“We do by all means; please give it.”

“Yas, that ar’ war’ a time of general wipin’ out, and this yer water
that now looks as black as a wolf’s mouth, _run red_ that night! It
war’ nigh onto ten year ago that it happened. I was down in Westport
one day in the summer when a feller slapped me on the shoulder and
axed me ef I wanted a job. I tole him I didn’t care much, but if he’s
a mind to fork over, and it wan’t desprit hard, and too much like
work, I’s his man. He said as how thar’ war’ a lot of fellers camped
out on the prairie, as war gwine to start for Oregon, and as wanted a
guide; and heerin’ me spoken on as suthin’ extronnery, why he like to
know ef I wouldn’t go; he’d make the pay all right. I cut around the
stump awhile and at last ’cluded to go. I went out onto the perarie,
and seed the company. They were men, women, and children, ’specially
the last ones. I seed they wanted good watchin’, and I kinder hinted
they’d find trouble afore they’d reach Oregon.

“There weren’t many folks trampin’ these parts then, and them as did
go, had to make up thar minds to see fight and ha’r-raisin’. B’ars and
beavers, they did! The reds war the same then all over, arter you get
clear of the States, and no feller’s ha’r war his own till he’d lost
it.

“We started the next day, and struck the Platte afore night. There war
but twenty good men, an’ I made half of ’em stand watch that night
just to get their hands in. In course they didn’t see nothin’, ’cept
one straddlin’ chap, like this feller yer that is called Nat. He said
as how he seed wonders, he did, and thar war a hundred reds crawlin’
round the camp all night.

“We went purty slow, as it weren’t best to hurry the teams; but we
hadn’t been two days on the way afore the fools got into the
all-firedest scrabble I ever seed. I don’t know what it come ’bout,
but it war so big, they split company, and part of ’em crossed over
and camped on t’other side the Platte. I tole ’em they’d see stars
purty soon, if they didn’t splice agin, but they’s too rearin’ to do
it, and I said if they’s a mind to be sich fools, they mought be fur
all me, and I’d let ’em go on alone. Howsomever, the smallest party
hung on fur me not to leave ’em, and I ’cluded to stay with ’em as I
knowed purty well they’d need me all the time.

“The biggest company as had crossed the Platte, kept on by it, and so
the others said they’d leave it and cut across fur Oregon. I tole ’em
this war the best way, and so we left ’em. Them I war with war a heap
the smallest, and had but three or four men and five or six women and
children. What made things look wuss, I seed ‘signs’ when we parted,
and I knowed purty well the reds smelt what war goin’ on. And ’bout a
dozen times in the afternoon I could see ’em off on the perarie
stealin’ long and dodgin’ through cover. I knowed that the imps were
follerin’ us, seein’ the other war a heap more powerful nor us.

“Things got so dubersome afore night, I said to the men ef they’d take
the advice of a feller as knowed what he war ’bout, they’d turn round
and never stop till they cotched the others; for ef they didn’t,
they’d cotch it at night; reds war ’bout them as thick as flies. They
said how ef I’s _’fraid_ I mought go back, but as for them _they’d_ go
through fire and blazes ’fore they would. I felt riled ’nough at this
to leave ’em, and I would ef it hadn’t been fur them poor women; they
looked so sorrerful I made up my mind to stick to ’em fur thar sake.

“We reached the stream just as it war growing dark, and the reds had
got so sassy, that five or six of ’em stood a little ways off and
watched us. This scart the women and men, and they axed me what war to
be done? The women cried and wanted to coax the Injins up to give ’em
sunkthin’ to get thar good will, but they war cross and sulky, and
didn’t say much.

“After some talk and a heap of cryin’, we ’cluded to camp on that
piece of sand in the river. The teams war drew over and we follered.
The water war some deeper nor now, and it took us a long time to land;
but we got over at last. As soon as we war clean over, I commenced
fixing up things fur the reds. We didn’t build no fire, but put the
teams together near the middle, and the women inside ’em. There war
four men without me, and I set ’em round the place to watch fur sign.
I made ’em all squat flat down on the mud close to the water, and told
’em to blaze away at anything they seed, ef it war a beaver or otter,
and gave ’em pertickler orders not to wink both eyes at a time. I seed
they’s skerish, and there weren’t no danger of thar snoozin’ on watch.

“I’s pretty sartin the reds would come some of thar tricks, and come
down the river; so I went up to the upper part of the thing, and laid
in the mud myself to watch fur ’em. I knowed, too, they wouldn’t be
’bout ’fore purty late, so I took a short nap as I laid in the mud.
When I woke up the moon war up in the sky, and the river had riz so my
pegs war in the water. I flapped out, but didn’t see nothin’ yet. I
sneaked down round by t’other fellers, and found ’em all wide awake;
and they said, too, as how they hadn’t seen nothin’ ’cept the river
war gettin’ higher, which they kinder thought the Injins mought ’ve
done. Jist as I war going back I heard some of the purtiest singin’ in
the world. Fust, I thought it war an Injin, ef it hadn’t been so nice;
then I ’cluded it must be an angel. I listened, and found it came from
the wagons. I crept up and seed two little girls all ’lone clus by the
wagons, a singin’ sunkthin’. Shoot me! ef it didn’t make me feel
watery to see them. The moon war shinin’ down through the flyin’
clouds, right out on ’em. They sot with their arms round each other
and war bare-headed, and ef I hadn’t knowed ’em I’d swore they were
angels sure. I axed what they were singin’ for, and they said the
Injins war goin’ to come after ’em that night, and they war singin’ to
their mother in heaven to keep ’em away. Shoot me! when one of ’em
throwed her little white arms round my neck and kissed my ugly
meat-trap, I couldn’t stand it. I went up to my place again and lad
down in the mud.

“It was gettin’ colder, and the wind comin’ up, drew the white clouds
’fore the moon, makin’ it all black. But when it come out agin I seed
sunkthin’ comin’ down the river that looked like a log. I dug down
deeper into the mud, and set my peepers on it, fur I knowed thar war
sunkthin’ else thar, too. It come right on and struck the mud a
little ways from me. I didn’t stir ’cept to kinder loose my knife. The
log stuck a minute, and then swung round and went down the river. I
knowed the boys would see it, and I didn’t leave my place. Thinkin’ as
how this war only sent down to see what we’d do, I war lookin’ fur
other things, when I heard a noise in the water, and, shoot me, ef a
sneakin’ red didn’t come up out of the water, and commence crawlin’
toward whar the gals war singin’. (Jist put a little fodder on the
fire.)”

I sprang up and threw on some fagots, and then seated myself and
anxiously awaited the rest of his story. He put away his pipe, filled
his mouth with tobacco, and, after several annoying delays, resumed:

“Thar weren’t no time to lose. I crept ’long behind him mighty sly,
and afore he knowed it, come down _spank_ onto him. I didn’t make no
noise nor he either. I jist grabbed his gullet and finished him with
my knife. I then crawled back agin, and, shoot me, ef I didn’t see
forty logs comin’ down on us; the river war full of ’em.

“I jumped up and hollered to the other fellers to look out. They came
up aside me and stood ready, but it weren’t no use. ’Fore we knowed
it, I seed over forty of ’em ’long ’side us. We blazed into ’em and
went to usin’ our knives, but I knowed it wouldn’t do. They set up a
yell and pitched fur the wagons, while ’bout a dozen went at us. The
fust thing I knowed the whole four boys were down and thar ha’r
raised, and the women screechin’ murder. It made me desprit, and I
reckon I done some tall work that night. Most these beauty spots on my
mug come from that scrimmage. I seed a red dart by me with that little
gal as was singin’, and cotched a dead red’s gun and let drive at him;
but the gun weren’t loaded, and so the devil run off with her.

“The oxes war bellerin’, the horses snortin’, and the tomahawks
stoppin’ the women’s screams; the redskins war howlin’ and yellin’
like all mad, and as I had got some big cuts and knocks, I ’cluded it
best to move quarters. So I made a jump for the stream, took a long
dive, and swam for the shore. I come up ’bout whar you’re setting, and
I made a heap of tracks ’fore daylight come.”

“And did you never hear anything of the children captured upon that
night?”

“I never seed ’em agin; but I come ’cross a chap at Fort Laramie when
I went down agin, what said he’d seen a gal ’mong some the redskins up
in these parts, and I’ve thought p’r’aps it mought be one of ’em, and
agin it moughtn’t.”

“Did you say that all happened out there?” asked Nat, jerking his
thumb toward the island mentioned, without turning his face.

“I reckon I did.”

“Bet there’s a lot of Injins there now!” exclaimed he, turning his
head in that direction.

“Jist as like as not,” returned Biddon, with a sly look at me.

“I’m goin’ to sleep then,” and rolling himself up in his
buffalo-blanket, all but his feet, disappeared from view.

“It’s ’bout time to snooze, I think,” remarked the trapper, in a lower
tone, turning toward me.

“I think so, but I suppose there need be no apprehension of
molestation from Injins, need there?”

Biddon looked at me a moment; then one side of his mouth expanded into
a broad grin, and he quietly remarked:

“Times are different from what they used to war.”

“Biddon,” said I, after a moment’s silence, “before we saw you we
camped upon one side of a stream while you were upon the other. Now, I
do not suppose you would willfully harm a stranger; but since I have
met you, I have a great desire to know why you fired that shot at Nat.
You supposed we were Indians, I presume?”

A quiet smile illumined the trapper’s swarthy visage; and, after
waiting a moment, he answered:

“The way on it war this: I seed you and Nat camping there, and I
s’pected you war gwine to tramp these parts. I watched you awhile, and
was gwine to sing out for you to come over. Then said I, ‘Biddon, you
dog, ain’t there a chance to give them a powerful scare.’ First I
drawed bead on you, but when that Nat jumped up, I let fly at him, and
he kerflummuxed splendid. Howsumever, it’s time to snooze, and I’m in
for it.”

With this, we wrapped our blankets around us, and in a few moments
were asleep.

On a clear summer morning, we sallied out upon the broad, open prairie
again. The trapper now struck a direction nearly due northwest toward
the Black Hills, and we proceeded with greater speed than before. The
face of the country began to change materially. Vast groves of timber
met the eye, and the soil became rich and productive. At noon we
encountered the most immense drove of buffaloes that I ever witnessed.
They were to the west of us, and proceeding in a southern direction,
cropping the grass clean as they went. Far away, as far as the vision
could reach, nothing but a sea of black moving bodies could be
distinguished. I mounted a small knoll to ascertain the size of the
drove; but only gained a clearer idea of their enormous number. The
whole western horizon, from the extreme northwest to the southwest,
was occupied solely by them, and nothing else met the eye. They were
not under way, and yet the whole mass was moving slowly onward. The
head buffaloes would seize a mouthful of grass, and then move on a few
feet and grasp another. Those behind did the same, and the whole
number were proceeding in this manner. This constant change of their
position gave an appearance to them, as viewed from my standing-point,
similar to the long heaving of the sea after a violent storm. It was
truly a magnificent spectacle.

We approached within a short distance. They were more scattered upon
the outside, and with a little trouble the trapper managed to
insinuate himself among them. His object was to drive off a cow which
had a couple of half-grown calves by her side, but they took the alarm
too soon, and rushed off into the drove. We then prepared to bring
down one apiece. I selected an enormous bull, and sighted for his
head. I approached nigh enough to make my aim sure, and fired. The
animal raised his head, his mouth full of grass, and glaring at me a
moment, gave a snort of alarm and plunged headlong away into the
droves. At the same instant I heard Nat’s rifle beside me, and a
moment after that of the trapper. This gave the alarm to the herd.
Those near us uttered a series of snorts, and dropping their bushy
heads, bowled off at a terrific rate. The motion was rapidly
communicated to the others, and in a few seconds the whole eastern
side was rolling simultaneously onward, like the violent
countercurrent of the sea. The air was filled with such a vast cloud
of dust that the sun’s light was darkened, and for a time it seemed we
should suffocate. We remained in our places for over an hour, when the
last of these prairie monsters thundered by. A strong wind carried the
dust off to the west, and we were at last in clear air again. Yet our
appearance was materially changed, for a thin veil of yellow dust had
settled over and completely enveloped us, and we were like walking
figures of clay.

[Illustration: “Gave a snort of alarm and plunged headlong away into
the droves.”]

I looked away in the direction of the herd, expecting to see my
buffalo’s lifeless form, but was considerably chagrined at my
disappointment, as was also Nat at his. The trapper’s was a dozen
yards from where it had been struck.

“’Pears to me,” said he with a sly smile, “I heer’n your dogs bark,
but I don’t see nothin’ of no buffaloes, ogh!”

“I _hit_ mine,” I answered quickly; “I am sure of it.”

“Whereabouts?”

“In the head, plump and square.”

“Whar’d you sight yourn, Greeny?”

“Just back the horns, and I hit him too. If he hasn’t dropped before
this, I’ll bet he’ll have the headache for a week.”

“B’ars and beavers, you! Them bufflers didn’t mind your shots more nor
a couple of hailstones. Do you see whar I picked mine?” asked the
trapper, pulling the buffalo’s fore-leg forward, and disclosing the
track of the bullet behind it.

“Isn’t a shot in the head fatal?” I asked in astonishment.

“You might hit ’em thar with a cannon-ball, and they’d git up and run
agin, and ef you’d pepper ’em all day whar you did yourn, you’d pick
the bullets out thar ha’r and they wouldn’t mind it.”

This I afterward found to be true. No shot, however well aimed, can
reach the seat of life in the buffalo through the head, unless it
enter the eye, fair front.[1]

    [1] I may further remark, that the buffalo slain by us when lost
    upon the prairie, was shot in the side as he wheeled, to run
    from us, without our suspecting it was the only place in which
    we could have given him a mortal wound.

The trapper’s buffalo was thrown forward upon his face, his legs bent
beneath him, and dressed after the usual fashion. He was in good
condition, and we had a rich feast upon his carcass. The trapper
selected a few choice portions from the inside, relished only by
himself, and cutting several huge pieces for future use, the rest was
left for the beasts of prey.

We proceeded but a few miles further, and encamped upon the banks of
the Dry Fork. This is a small stream, a few miles south of the Black
Hills. There was but a foot or two of sluggish water, and in the hot
season it was often perfectly dry. Here for the first time I was made
aware of the changeable character of the climate in this latitude. The
weather, thus far, had been remarkably clear and fine, and at noon we
found the weather sometimes oppressively warm. Toward night the wind
veered around to the northwest, and grew colder. At nightfall, when we
kindled our fire, the air was so chilly and cutting that Nat and I
were in a shiver. Had it not been for our blankets we should have
suffered considerably, though Biddon did not call his into
requisition. There were a number of cottonwood trees near at hand,
which served partly to screen us from the blast.

After our evening meal had been cooked, Biddon remarked:

“The fire must go out, boys.”

“Why? Do you apprehend danger?” I asked.

“Don’t know as I do; I hain’t seed signs, but we’re gittin’ into parts
whar we’ve got to be summat skeerish.”

“I suppose it’s about time for the Indians to come?” remarked Nat
interrogatively, with a look of fear toward the trapper.

“They’re ’bout these parts. Me’n Jack Javin once got into a scrimmage
yer with ’em, when we didn’t ’spect it, and jist ’cause we let our
fire burn while we snoozed. I’d seen sign though then, and wanted to
put it out, but he wan’t afeared.”

“Let’s have ours out then,” exclaimed Nat excitedly, springing up and
scattering the brands around.

“Needn’t mind ’bout that; it’ll go out soon enough.”

As Nat reseated himself, Biddon continued:

“You see, Jarsey, them reds kin smell a white man’s fire a good way
off, and on sich a night as this, ef they’re ’bout they’ll be bound to
give him a call. You needn’t be afeared, howsumever, to snooze, ’cause
they won’t be ’bout.”

It was too cold to enjoy our pipes, and we all bundled up for the
night’s rest. In a few moments I heard the trapper’s deep breathing,
and shortly after Nat joined him in sleep. But I found it impossible
to get to sleep myself. The ground was so cold that my blanket could
not protect me, and the cutting wind was terrible. I used every means
that I could devise, but it was of no use, and I feared I should be
compelled to either build the fire again, or to continue walking all
night to prevent freezing to death.

I chose the latter expedient. It was quite dark, yet I had noticed our
situation well enough, I judged, not to lose it. So grasping my
blanket in my hand, I started on a rapid run directly over the
prairie. I continued a long distance, until pretty well exhausted. I
turned to retrace my steps. My blood was warming with the exercise,
and I hurried forward, counting upon sound sleep for the remainder of
the night.

I continued my run for a full half hour, and then stopped in
amazement, as I saw no signs of my companions. Thinking I must have
passed the spot where they were lying, I carefully walked back again,
but still without discovering the men. I had lost them in the
darkness, and it was useless to hunt them at night. So I concluded to
wait till morning, feeling sure that they could be at no great
distance. I now commenced searching for a suitable place for myself,
and at last hit upon a small depression in the prairie. There was a
large stone imbedded in the earth on one side, which served to protect
me from the chilling wind. As I nestled down, beside this, such a
feeling of warmth and comfort came over me that I congratulated myself
upon what at first seemed a misfortune.

Lying thus, just on the verge of sleep, my nerves painfully alive to
the slightest sound, I suddenly felt a trembling of the ground. At
first it seemed a dream; but, as I became fully awake, I started in
terror and listened. I raised my head, but heard no sound, and still
in the most perplexing wonder sank down again, hoping it would shortly
cease. But there was a steady, regular increase, and presently I
distinguished millions of faint tremblings, like the distant
mutterings of thunder. Gradually these grew plainer and more distinct,
and finally I could distinguish sounds like the tread of innumerable
feet upon the prairie. Still at a loss to account for this strange
occurrence, I listened, every nerve in my body strung to its highest
tension. Still louder and louder grew the approaching thunder, and
every second the jar of the earth became more perceptible. Suddenly
the truth flashed upon me--_a herd of buffaloes were approaching_.

Terror for an instant held me dumb when I realized this awful danger.
My first resolve was to rush forth and warn Nat and Biddon; but I
reflected that they must have been awakened, ere this, and that I
could do nothing to ward off the peril which threatened all alike.
Springing to my feet, I paused a second to collect my tumultuous
thoughts. Could I reach the timber, I could ascend a tree and be
beyond danger; but I knew not what direction to take, and there was no
time to spare. To remain still was to be trampled to death; to rush
away could save me but a few moments longer. God of heaven! what a
death!

Louder and louder grew the thundering tread of the animals, and I
stood like a madman, the cold sweat pouring off me, tormented by a
thousand agonizing thoughts, and expecting death each moment! Nearer
and nearer came the rattle of the clamping hoofs, and I stood rooted
to the spot!

Sinking on my knees, I implored mercy of the One who could give it in
this moment of dire necessity; and while on my knees the means of
preservation presented itself.

“Strange!” I exclaimed, breathing deeply, “that I did not think of it
before.”

I have said that I was in a sort of depression or hollow in the earth,
and that a large stone was imbedded on one side. Now a safer and more
secure shelter could not have been found in this emergency. I wrapped
my blanket around me, and crept as far beneath it as I could, and I
was saved!

A few minutes later, and a dark body plunged headlong over me with the
rapidity of lightning, followed instantly by another and another, and
I knew the herd were thundering past. For a long time I lay there,
beneath these thousands of feet, one of which would have been
sufficient to kill me. The incessant crackling of their hoofs, and
rattling of their horns, sounded like the discharge of musketry. Once
a ponderous body tumbled over the rock which sheltered me, and I
caught sight of a dark, writhing, bellowing mass, and the next instant
it regained its feet and disappeared.

It must have been an hour that I lay here, ere the last animal leaped
over me. Then I looked up and saw the stars shining overhead. My joy
at the sight of those glittering orbs cannot be expressed. I arose to
my feet, and looked about me. It was too dark to discern objects, yet
I could hear the rapidly retreating footfalls of the herd in the
distance, and I knew I had been saved from a frightful death. Sinking
to the earth I offered a sincere prayer of gratitude to the Almighty
for his miraculous preservation of my life!



CHAPTER IV.

THE TRAPPING GROUNDS.


I was agreeably surprised upon waking to see Nat standing within a few
feet, holding two horses by the bridle.

“Which one will you choose?” he asked with a broad smile.

“How did you come by them?” asked I.

“I s’pose it must have been about the time you left us last night,
that Biddon woke me up, and told me to follow him, as there was a
_powerful_ chance to get a couple of hosses for you and me. I asked
him where you could be, and he said he s’posed you’d gone further
up-stream to sleep by yourself, though he hadn’t seen you go.
Howsumever, we wasn’t worried, as we thought you were old enough to
take care of yourself, so we started down the bed of the stream. We
went about half a mile, when Biddon showed me a small camp-fire,
burned down to a few coals and ashes; but there was enough light to
show us two hosses picketed a few yards away, and we seen the feet of
a couple of redskins turned toward the fire. Biddon said as how they
was a couple of hunters, sound asleep, and we might _borrow_ their
horses, if I didn’t make too much noise. He told me to stand still,
and keep my gun pointed at them, and the minute one stirred to shoot
him, and then rush in, and dispatch the other. I promised to do so,
and he stole around to the hosses on his hands and knees. He had cut
both the lariats and was leading them away, when one of the Indians
raised his head and looked around, and as soon as he seen the hosses
moving off, give a grunt and jumped up and ran toward them. I
remembered it was my duty to shoot, and as the Indian was running
purty fast, I aimed about ten feet ahead of him, supposing, of course,
the villain would git there as soon as the bullet did; but, I’ll be
hanged if he wasn’t mean enough to stop, and let the bullet be wasted.
My gun kicked like blazes, and the Ingins I s’pose thought a whole
tribe was upon them; for setting up a great howl, they _skooted_ off
in the darkness, leaving us alone with the animals. Running back, I
overtook Biddon, who was riding along as though nothing had happened.
He asked me to ride and of course I jumped on, and here I am. But
which hoss do you want?”

“I do not see as there is much room for choice,” I replied; “both are
splendid animals, and a most opportune blessing.”

“If it’s all the same to you, this gentleman is mine;” and handing the
bridle to me, he vaulted upon the other. The latter was a magnificent
Indian pony, of a deep bay color, probably captured when very young,
and high spirited and fiery. Both manifested considerable uneasiness,
knowing they were in the hands of strangers, and Nat’s made one or two
efforts to dislodge him; but he was a good horseman, and maintained
his place with apparent ease despite the struggles, which were frantic
and desperate at first. Mine was somewhat larger, of a coal-black
color, and with as much spirit and fire as the other, but in a few
moments we had them both under perfect control.

Besides these two animals, we gained two fine Indian saddles, and were
now as well mounted as we could wish. Nat remarked, that when the
buffaloes thundered by he felt some apprehension for me, but the
trapper expressed none, saying that I would be found all right in the
morning. As soon as there was light, Nat commenced searching the bed
of the stream for me, and failing in this, he climbed a tree and took
a survey of the prairie on both sides. From his elevation he
discovered what he believed to be my dead body; and, accompanied by
Biddon and the horses, hastened toward me. Upon reaching me, they
understood instantly the whole matter, and it was their loud laughter
that had aroused me.

We were now pretty far to the northwest of Nebraska Territory. The
face of the country was materially different, and I began to notice a
change of temperature. The summer had just closed, and the early
autumn was like the approach of winter. The nights were cool and
chilling, and the days generally mild at noon, but often keen and
exhilarating. The prairie was mostly of the rolling kind, but the
belts of timber were more common, and the vegetation richer and more
exuberant. It was plain, too, that we were journeying into a section
where the foot of civilization had not been. The vast, undulating
swell of the prairie, the mighty fields of verdure, and the broad
rivers and streams, bore only the marks of the red man and wild beast.

Toward noon, Nat descried a solitary antelope far ahead. It was near a
grove of timber, from which it had just wandered, and stood gazing
wonderingly at our approach. We rode on in silence for some time, when
Biddon raised his hand for us to halt.

“What do you intend doing?” I asked.

“Jes’ hold on and see,” he replied, as he dismounted.

He made a circuit, skirting the prairie, so as to reach the grove
mentioned upon the opposite side from the antelope. I still was at a
loss to understand his intention, as the animal was too distant from
the timber to be brought down with a rifle-shot from that point.

“What under the sun does he intend doing?” I asked, turning to Nat.

“Guess he’s getting off there to shoot us.”

On the outer edge of the grove, next to the antelope, I saw him
emerge, holding a stick over his head, to which was affixed a
handkerchief or rag. He walked a short distance, and then lay down
flat upon the prairie, perfectly concealed in the grass. The rag was
visible, fluttering above him. I now watched the motions of the
antelope. He stood gazing at us, until the trapper came into view,
when, with a startled glance at him, he wheeled and ran. In a moment,
however, he paused and turned quickly around. His looks were now fixed
upon the fluttering signal. He stood motionless a moment, and then
cautiously lifting his foot, made a step toward it. Thus he continued
to approach, step by step, with apparent fear, and yet evidently
impelled by an ungovernable curiosity, until he was scarce a hundred
yards distant from the prostrate form of the trapper. Still he was
moving stealthily onward, when suddenly a red tongue of fire spouted
from the grass, and, as the sharp crack of Biddon’s rifle reached us,
we saw the antelope give a wild leap into the air, and, bounding a
short distance, fall to the ground. The trapper immediately sprang to
his feet and hastened to the fallen animal.

“Let us ride to him,” said I, walking my horse onward.

We had ridden a short distance when Nat halted and asked:

“What’s got into Biddon? Just look at him!”

I did look up, and for a moment believed the man had turned crazy. He
had seen us approaching, and was now making furious gesticulations
toward us. I watched him a moment, and then remarked:

“He is either signaling for us to come on or to stop.”

“He means us to wait, I guess, and we had better pause until he
returns.”

We reined in our horses and watched him. He was apparently satisfied
with our stopping, and stooped and commenced working at the animal. In
a few moments he arose, and slinging a huge piece on his shoulder,
made his way into the grove. From this he emerged in due time, and
made his way toward us, motioning, meanwhile, for us to remain in our
places.

“Why didn’t you wish us to approach?” I asked, as soon as he came
within speaking distance.

He made no answer, but throwing his meat upon the ground, hastily
mounted his horse. Then he spoke in a deep whisper:

“Boys, did you ’spose there’s over twenty redskins among them trees?”

“Heavens! it isn’t possible?” I exclaimed, catching my breath.

“It’s so; I seed ’em, and thar eyes are on us this minute. They’re
waitin’ for us to go on, an’ they’ll give us thunder and lightnin’.”

“What’s to be done?” queried Nat.

“Jes’ keep still, an’ don’t kick up, or they’ll see it. We’ve got to
make a run for it. Keep close to me, and when I start, let your horses
went.”

“But the meat?” I hurriedly asked.

“Can’t take it. We have a long run, an’ our horses won’t want to carry
no extra load. I didn’t see thar animals, but I guess they ain’t
mounted. Ready!”

With this, Biddon wheeled his horse quickly around, and vanished from
his place with the speed of lightning, while ours almost
simultaneously shot ahead like an arrow. An instant after, I heard
the faint discharge of guns, and, looking back, saw a host of
savage forms pouring hastily from the timber.

[Illustration: “Looking back saw a host of savage forms.”]

“No need of hurrying. They are not mounted,” I called out to Nat, who
has hurrying his horse to the utmost.

“I don’t believe it,” he exclaimed, still speeding furiously onward.

“Go it, Todd! you’ll fetch up at Fort Laramie,” yelled Biddon.

The latter drew his horse into a steady canter, and indulged in
several loud laughs at the flying fugitive. Nat continued his mad
career until he had gone a good distance, when, seeing how far behind
he had left us, he reined up and awaited our approach.

The savages, in the meantime, were hurrying on in pursuit. I know not
what led them to expect any success in this chase, for, as remarked,
not one was mounted. They may have had little faith in the speed or
bottom of our horses, and trusted they would be able to run us down.
Biddon half turned in his seat, and, looking back a moment, asked:

“Do you see that red, diggin’ like all mad off on one side? The one as
is tryin’ to surround us?”

I glanced back and answered in the affirmative.

“Do you want to see a red drop in purty style?”

I answered again in the affirmative.

“Wal, jis keep yer peeper on him.”

So saying, he raised his rifle, without checking the speed of his
horse, took a quick aim along its long barrel and fired. To my
astonishment, the Indian mentioned uttered a wild shriek, and
springing high in the air, fell to the earth.

“He’s done for,” remarked the trapper, quietly. “While I fodder my
iron, ’sposen you try your hand.”

I raised mine to my shoulder, and pointing it toward a conspicuous
savage, pulled the trigger. As might be expected, I came about as near
to him as I did to Nat, in front.

“It will take a long time for me to accomplish that feat,” said I.

“Wal, yer goes agin.”

And again was the fatal rifle discharged, and again did a savage bite
the dust.

Still the pursuers maintained their ground, seemingly determined to
overtake us at all hazards. They were separating and scattering over
the prairie, with the evident intention of hemming us in. At this
moment we came up to Nat.

“Why don’t you run?” he asked, impatiently. “They’ll shoot us all
afore we know it.”

He had scarcely finished his words, when the pursuers did fire, and
with an uncomfortable effect, too. The bullets were plainly heard
whistling through the air beside us, and one actually cut its way
through the upper part of Nat’s hat, some eight or ten inches from the
crown of his head. He dodged nervously, and jerking the hat off his
head, held it up to view.

“Just look there!” he exclaimed, indignantly, putting his finger
through the orifice.

“What of it?” gruffly asked Biddon.

“That’s a pretty question to ask, I should think! I swow I won’t stand
any such work as this.”

And giving his horse the rein, he shot rapidly ahead.

“I guess we mought as well,” remarked Biddon, letting his horse have
free rein.

The race was now decided. At such speed as we went, of course the
pursuers were soon left behind, and in an hour not one was visible,
all of them being either distanced or having voluntarily withdrawn.

Our course was southwest; so that we had lost considerable ground, and
were obliged to make a long _detour_ to regain the trail. We camped at
night about as far south as the previous camp, but farther west. In
the morning we struck due north, and continued in this direction for
several days.

It is not necessary to give the particulars of our journey to the
northwest. We continued traveling onward for three days, when we
reached the region where it was intended we should remain until
spring. This was much further northward than I suspected; in fact, it
was but a few miles distant from the Hudson Bay Territory, and upon
one of the remote tributaries of the Missouri. We had entered a
climate that even now, was like the winter of the one we had left. We
had entered a mighty wilderness, where, ere we left it, we were doomed
to pass through some strange experiences, and of which I now shall
speak.

We had detected signs of beavers at several streams which we crossed
during the last day or two of our journey, but Biddon paid no
attention to them until about the middle of the afternoon, when we
reached a small river, flowing nearly due south, and passing through
the Hudson Bay Territory in its course. This stream we forded, and, as
we reached the opposite side, he remarked:

“Yer’ the spot whar we’re goin’ to squat.”

It is perhaps worth remarking that the section was a wooded country.
We had passed over no clear prairie during the day, and were in the
midst of a deep wood. The trees were of nearly every conceivable
kind--the cottonwood predominating, with oak, elm, ash, walnut, and
such as are common in our own forests.

After crossing, the trapper headed directly up-stream for a short
distance, when he turned to the left and descended into a valley. Here
he dismounted.

“Take yer fixins’,” said he, “and turn the hosses loose.”

“Won’t they wander away?” I asked.

“_Yourn_ may, but mine _won’t_; you’ve got to take your chances,
though. ’Tain’t likely they’ll be ’sturbed, ’cept by grizzlys and
reds.”

The spot selected was a broad bottom of rich grass, inclosed by thick
walls of undergrowth upon every side. Here we left our horses, and,
taking our saddles and trappings, moved away.

“Have you ever been here before?” I asked of the trapper.

“I stayed yer last season, but didn’t ’spect to come back. Howsumever,
I changed my mind, and yer we is. Move keerful and don’t make a big
trail.”

We followed nearly a quarter of a mile directly up-stream, when he
halted, and looked carefully about him.

“I don’t s’pose thar’s reds ’bout, but thar’s no tellin’ whar they is.
I didn’t see none last year, but they mought be ’bout now. Jes’ hold
on a minute.”

The banks of the stream were fringed by a deep under-growth upon both
sides. Stepping forward to the water’s edge, the trapper parted the
branches, and glancing a moment within, motioned for us to approach.

“It’s all right,” said he, “there hain’t been no reds poki’ ’bout yer
while I’s gone.”

With this he stooped and pushed a small canoe into the water and
slipped within it.

We joined him, although our combined weight brought the frail vessel
down to its very gunwales. It was made of bark after the Indian
fashion, very light, but strong. Biddon dipped a long Indian paddle in
the water and we moved slowly up-stream. After going a short distance,
he again touched the bank, and from beneath another lot of shrubbery
drew forth a number of beaver traps. These were similar to the common
trap used in all parts of the world, and set much after the same
fashion, but with a very different bait. At every point where signs of
the animals were visible, he dug down the bank, so as to make a
certain spot perpendicular. Just beneath the surface of the water he
then placed the trap. The next and last proceeding was to smear the
banks around with a very odoriferous oil, obtained from the beaver
itself. This smell attracts the beavers in the vicinity, who
immediately swim to the shore to learn more of it. The trap is so
arranged that one is sure to place his foot directly upon it for
support in ascending the bank, and the natural consequence follows. He
is caught and falls into his mortal enemy’s hands.

“Ef one don’t have a dinner on beaver tails tomorrow, then I’m a
beaver,” remarked Biddon, after he had set all his traps, and headed
his canoe down stream.

“A dinner on beaver tails!” exclaimed Nat, in astonishment. “That must
be a fine dinner, I swow.”

“If you had read much of these animals, you would know that the part
mentioned by Biddon, is the most delicious and nourishing portion,”
said I.

“And when you gits a bite of it, you’ll find it so, I reckons!”

“Perhaps so,” replied Nat, doubtingly; “but whar ar’ you going to take
us?”

“You’ll find out when we get thar.”

The trapper rowed the canoe quite a distance down stream, when he
sheered it into shore close to where a huge chestnut, larger than any
I had ever before witnessed, overhung the water. Its base was
enveloped by a mass of undergrowth, denser than common, and we were
obliged to stoop to the edge of the boat before we could make our way
beneath it. As we sprang up the bank, it pulled up behind us, and I
then noticed that the chestnut was hollow, and had a deep orifice at
its base.

“Foller,” commanded Biddon, stooping and crawling beneath it.

We did so, although there was some hesitation upon my part, and my
astonishment was unbounded at what I witnessed when within. At first
there was nothing visible but the intense darkness, and I stood,
fearful of advancing or retreating.

“Where are you, Biddon?” asked Nat, in a slightly wavering tone. The
next instant the trapper struck a light; and as its rays filled the
chamber, I repeat, my astonishment was unbounded. We were standing in
an open space, at least eight feet in diameter. The chestnut was but a
mere shell, with its trunk but a few inches in thickness at the most.
The interior of this was fitted up like a house. The rotten chunks
upon the sides had been torn down and formed a pleasant, velvety
carpet beneath the feet. All around the _walls_ were hung numerous
furs, and a pile at one side afforded a bed such as we had not enjoyed
for weeks. Added to all this, there was an arrangement so as to make
it perfectly easy and convenient to kindle a fire. Nat was the first
to express his unbounded astonishment.

“This beats all. I never seen anything like it. But don’t the Injins
know anything of it?”

“No, _sir_; and I cac’late as how they won’t neyther, ef you don’t
tell ’em.”

“Oh! I won’t tell them. I swow this is queer,” and he looked slowly
about and above him. “What’s that hole for?” he asked, pointing to a
small orifice just visible far above us.

“That’s fur the smoke to go out.”

“But it must be likely to attract attention,” I remarked.

“I never start a fire ’cept at night.”

“I see--wonderful!” and I, too, gazed admiringly about me. The light
made the whole interior visible. The dark, snuff-colored fragments of
decayed wood hung in ponderous masses above us, and the immense
diameter gradually tapered as it ascended, until only the small
opening, far above, was seen, resembling a faint star. The thickness
of the wood, together with the great number of furs, protected us so
well from the cold, that there could be little need of fire in the
coldest weather, except for cooking purposes.

“This is rather odd, I allow, to you, Jarsey; but ef you had been with
me down on the Yallerstone, you’d seen suthin’ as would’ve made you
look, you would. You may shoot me, ef you wouldn’t.”

“I suppose I should, but not more than this has.”

“Mebbe not, but don’t stand gapin’ there all day. It’s gittin’ dark,
and we’ll have our fodder.”

The fire was now started, and the smoke ascended finely, escaping at
the outlet. A good slice of meat was cooked, and we made a hearty
supper upon it. After this the fire was allowed to slumber, but the
light remained burning until a late hour. We lit our pipes, and
chatted dreamily for a long time in our new home. The trapper, feeling
in the mood, related many reminiscences of his life, including
adventures both tragical and comical, and Nat gave a few of his own
experiences. At a late hour we ceased, and fell into a peaceful,
dreamless slumber.

When I awoke the trapper had disappeared. Nat was stretched beside me
still asleep. In a short time the former entered as noiselessly as he
had departed.

“What fortune?” I asked.

“Good; had two fat fellers. Wake up, and we’ll have a meal as is a
meal.”

Nat soon made a movement, and, after several yawns, became fully
awake. The trapper kindled a small fire, and cooked his beaver tails.
The two made as choice and delicious a meal as I had ever eaten. Nat
was convinced by one taste.

The day was clear and pleasant, and Biddon expressed his determination
of going up the stream in order to see the signs of game. I
accompanied him, but Nat chose to remain at home and sleep a few hours
longer.

We sauntered carelessly forth up the stream through the tangled
underwood. It was a clear day in autumn; the air was keen and bracing,
and the woods gloriously fine. Some of the leaves were just beginning
to fall, and they made a dappled and fiery carpet for our feet,
rustling with a soft, pleasant sound at every step. Now and then we
could hear the shrill notes of some songster of the forest, and once
or twice the faint bay of some distant animal.

We had wandered some distance, when Biddon proposed turning back, as
he had just discovered he had forgotten his pipe. I was too well
pleased, however, with the prospect to retrace my footsteps.
Accordingly, we parted company for a time, he remarking that probably
he would return when he had regained his indispensable article.

Left alone, I now wandered dreamily onward, in a pleasant reverie,
hardly conscious of what I was doing, until I was recalled to my
senses by the grandeur of a new scene that suddenly burst upon my
view. I had ascended a small rise on the bank of the stream, from
which I had an extended view of the river. I stood for a moment wrapt
in the glories of the scene. Far behind could be discerned the broad
bosom of the river, stretching away like a vast body of molten silver,
bordered on either side by the mighty forest, until it disappeared in
a sweeping curve, within the interminable wilderness. Above me for
several miles the same winding course could be seen, brightly
glistening for miles. Not a ripple disturbed the surface, save when a
bird skimmed over it, just tipping its wings, and making a flashing
circle or two. The blue sky above, unflecked by a single cloud,
harmonized so well with the magnificent view, that I stood a long
time, drinking in the splendor of the scene.

My eye was still resting upon the glistening bend of the river above,
when the quietness of the scene was interrupted by a dark speck which
suddenly came in view, around a curve about a mile above. At first I
supposed it to be some animal or log floating upon the surface; but as
I looked at it, I saw to my astonishment that it was a canoe coming
down-stream. Several forms were visible, yet their number, at that
distance, was uncertain. The bright flash of their paddles was visible
in the morning sunshine, and they maintained their place near the
center of the stream.

[Illustration: “In the stern, with a guiding oar, sat a young
female.”]

I scrutinized them, vainly to make out their number, until it occurred
to me that it would be best to make myself invisible. The approaching
canoe might contain nothing but Indians, and it was not desirable that
our presence in this section should be known to any but ourselves. I
slipped behind the trunk of a tree, nearer the water, yet still upon
the elevated knoll, which entirely concealed my body from sight.

From this point I watched the approach of the canoe with interest.
Soon it came nigh enough to enable me to distinguish the forms within
it. There were two Indian warriors seated each with a paddle in his
hand, but not using them, except to keep the canoe in the channel, and
in the stern, with a guiding oar, sat a young female. I supposed her a
squaw, belonging to the same tribe with her companions, and
scrutinized her as closely as my position would permit. She wore a
beautiful head-dress, gayly ornamented with stained porcupine quills
and beads, and a brilliant crimson shawl enveloped her slight form.
The savages maintained their places as motionless as statues, their
gaze apparently resting upon the stream behind them; while that of the
female was fixed upon the stream in front, and her whole attention
absorbed in directing her canoe.

I know not whether the inmates discovered me before I concealed
myself, but I fancied I detected a glance of the Indians at my
hiding-place, as they floated slowly by, and some cause led the
female, when directly opposite, and but a few hundred feet distant, to
turn her face toward me. Judge of my astonishment, at perceiving that
she was not an Indian--but a white woman! Her appearance, as she
turned her gaze directly upon the spot where I was standing, I can
never forget. She was so close at hand, and my view so perfect in the
clear sunlight, that I saw every feature. The pale white face,
surrounded by dark, luxuriant hair falling upon the shoulders, the
dark eyes shaded by long inky lashes, and the mute, untranslatable
look, haunted me for many a night after. She merely glanced toward me,
and slowly floated past.

Dropping upon my hands and knees, I crept hastily from the knoll into
the undergrowth below, and made my way hurriedly but noiselessly to
the stream. I could not have been over a minute in so doing, but when
I reached the water, and peered through the bushes, not a trace of the
canoe was visible. I looked closely into each shore, up and down the
stream, everywhere that I could look, but could not detect the
slightest ripple or movement to account for this mysterious
disappearance. For over an hour I waited in the hope that the canoe
would reappear, but I saw nothing more of it.



CHAPTER V.

CONVERSATIONS AND PLANS.


The disappearance of the canoe, although singular in itself, had
nothing supernatural about it. The shrubbery, which overhung the water
on either shore, offered a secure and impenetrable hiding-place, and a
few dexterous, vigorous strokes of the paddles were all that was
needed to send it beneath their shadows. That this had been done, was
plainly evident. Yet why had it been done? What motive was there for
concealment? And why, if apprehensive of danger, had the Indians
waited till they were in its vicinity?

These and numerous questions, I asked myself, as I carefully retraced
my steps down-stream again. The whole proceeding was mysterious to me.
I had, doubtless, exposed myself while watching the canoe and its
occupants, and thus betrayed to an enemy our presence in their
country. What would result from this, I could not conjecture, and
determined to make everything known to the trapper. But then I felt
somewhat fearful of this. He would, doubtless, be incensed at my
imprudent thoughtlessness, which might compel him to leave a country
offering such inducements to the trapper and fur-trade; and I argued
it was not certain that I had really been seen by the Indians in
question. If they meditated hostility, Biddon would be warned soon
enough for all purposes--and so I decided to keep my own secret for
the present.

But the question which occupied my thoughts, almost to the exclusion
of everything else, was the identity of the female in the canoe. What
could bring a white maiden to these wild regions of the northwest?
What meant her appearance in the canoe with two savage Indian
warriors? What if she was the child which Biddon had referred to, as
being captured upon the night of the massacre? This thought
intensified the interest I already felt in her. I believed _she_ had
seen me; and her silent look toward the shore had something more than
curiosity in it. I imagined there was a mute, eloquent appeal in those
dark eyes.

Still ruminating upon this all-absorbing theme, I reached the tree,
and, stooping upon my hands and knees, crawled within it. The movement
had well-nigh cost me my life. As my head entered, I encountered the
alarmed visages of Nat and Biddon--the latter with his knife drawn,
and just preparing to spring upon me.

“You liked to got rubbed out that time!” he exclaimed, replacing his
weapon. “What made you forgit the sign?”

“It must have been because it did not occur to me,” I laughed; “I have
had no occasion to use it before, and forgot it altogether; but I will
remember it, you may be assured, in future.”

“You’d better, for I was just going to shoot, too,” added Nat, rising
to his feet, and then seating himself again.

“You shoot!” repeated Biddon, contemptuously, “You’re shooter ain’t
loaded!”

“I forgot that. I wonder if I couldn’t load it, say?” he indignantly
demanded.

“Yes, in course, if the reds waited fur yer.”

Nat made no reply to this, except that of instantly proceeding to load
his piece. As it was near noon, the meal was prepared--this time from
the beaver’s body. The hair was singed off from a piece, which was
then cooked in the usual manner. This, although very palatable, was
not equal to the tail of the animal, the meat being more tough and
oily.

Shortly after, the trapper departed for the purpose of visiting his
traps, and setting new ones. When alone with Nat, I determined to
impart to him my morning’s experience.

“Nat, I have seen Indians,” I remarked, in a quiet tone.

“You hain’t!” he exclaimed, starting up from his bed of skins with
such suddenness as to break the remains of his pipe.

“I have; and, what is considerably more, they have seen me.”

“I should think it was considerably more, umph! What did you do to
them? I didn’t hear you shoot. Why didn’t you tell me before? Why
didn’t you--why, it seems to me you’re very cool about it.”

“There is no occasion for excitement at all. Just remain quiet, and I
will tell you how it all happened.”

And thereupon I related the particulars of the incident already known
to the reader. Nat’s wonder, excitement, and apprehension were roused
to the highest pitch at the narration. Springing to his feet, he
pulled his flattened hat violently over his forehead, and striding
about a moment, demanded:

“Why didn’t you tell Bill? Like as not he’ll be shot and scalped
before he gets back.”

“I did not think it best,” I returned. “Biddon is not the man to walk
into danger with his eyes shut, and if there is any cause for fear,
he will discover it soon enough.”

“Suppose he will; but ain’t it terrible?”

“Isn’t what terrible?”

“Why, that we’re surrounded by Injins, thirsting for our blood!”

“We are not surrounded by Indians, Nat,” I returned, reprovingly.

“I know; but then they are all around us. It won’t do to stick our
heads out, except at night, and then, like as not, we’ll be shot for
our trouble.”

“You are not afraid, I hope.”

“Oh, no! not a bit; but then you know it’s rather _unpleasant_ to feel
that those infarnal Blackfeet (because this is the country of the
Blackfeet Injins) are all about you, and waiting for a chance to shoot
you from behind every bush.”

“Nat,” I commenced, earnestly, “you say you are not afraid of Indians,
and yet you show it in every word, look, and action. There is no
excuse for this. I saw only two savages, and a girl, evidently a
captive; no words or actions were exchanged between us. They
disappeared very suddenly and were, more probably, frightened at my
presence. I see nothing in this to excuse the excitement and terror
you have exhibited.”

“I wonder what that girl is?”

“I am afraid you will have to wonder a long time, as I can see no
occasion for satisfying your curiosity.”

“Is she good looking?” asked my companion, seriously.

“Very! What makes you ask that question?”

“I declare, if I don’t marry her, just to spite Alminy, and make Bill
Hawkins mad,” he exclaimed, joyously.

At this point I could restrain my mirth no longer; but, as I indulged
it, I was considerably surprised to feel a slight twinge of jealousy
at his words. This discovery was painful.

“I am afraid you will meet with several formidable obstacles, before
you can accomplish that; the most difficult of which will be to obtain
an audience with the fair one herself.”

“Don’t suppose she’d be very anxious to see me; and I wouldn’t care if
I only had my pipe and jack-knife to pass away time with.”

“I think it would be as well not to mention this affair to Biddon.”

“Why not?”

“It can do no good, and he would be displeased at the thoughtlessness
I have evidenced. I do not think there are savages enough in the
vicinity to render us fearful of our safety. The canoe, I am disposed
to believe, belongs to some tribe quite distant from here.”

“But what are they here for?”

“I can only conjecture. Biddon has never seen savages in this
particular section, and these may be returning from some journey to
their tribe.”

“Perhaps so, and may be not. These plagued Injins sometimes live in
one place and sometimes in another, you know, and it may be that a
notion has just entered their heads to come and live in these parts.”

“There is reason in what you say, but, as I stated, if danger
threatens, Biddon will undoubtedly detect its signs himself in time.”

“I think he will, though I shall feel a little flustered every time he
goes out. You remember when he was after the antelope, he walked right
among the Injins, without knowing it till it was too late to stop.”

“He did, it is true, but how nicely he walked out again. I tell you,
Nat, that fellow has nerve equal to any emergency. What man, when
conscious of an overwhelming foe being concealed within a few feet of
him, could have repressed every sign of trepidation or fear, as he
did, and bring the antelope through the same fearful ordeal, with the
same coolness and deliberation?”

“That was a clever thing, I allow.”

“Biddon told me he felt a little nervous when he saw us start to come
up to him, for, if we had reached him, it would have been all up with
us. He called out to us, though we did not hear him, that there were
more animals in the grove, and our approach would frighten them. The
impatient Indians were thus held at bay, in the hope of being offered
a better opportunity to accomplish our ruin, until it was too late to
accomplish anything save the loss of two or three of their number.
Such a man, I repeat, will scent danger soon enough without the help
of others.”

“He will, and I hope he’ll find out who that white girl is.”

“Nat, do you remember the account Biddon gave some time ago of a
horrible massacre, upon the sandy island near where we encamped one
night?”

“I don’t think there is much likelihood of my ever forgetting it.”

“You will also recall his account of the capture of a small child by
the savages? Now, it has occurred to me that this is that child grown
to womanhood.”

“I _know_ it is!” exclaimed Nat, joyously.

“It is true there is much against it. It was a great distance from
here, but as these savages wander hundreds of miles at times, it is
not improbable, upon that ground. Instances are only too common of
persons spending their lives in captivity among these Indian tribes.
She is a captive, beyond a doubt, and must long for restoration to her
home and friends. If possible, I am bound to know more of her.”

“So am I!” exclaimed my excitable companion.

“As I said, we will say nothing of this to Biddon, until he discovers
signs of Indians himself. To-morrow, we will go forth together, and
spend the day in endeavoring to gain traces of the canoe and its
inmates; and if anything is discovered which is alarming, we will
impart it to him.”

This Nat agreed to, and shortly after we heard three raps upon the
outside of the tree--the trapper’s signal of his presence. A moment
after, he made his appearance. He was considerably elated at his
prospect for a goodly quantity of furs; had set a number of traps; was
sure of half a dozen next day; had seen no signs of Indians, and was
convinced there were none in the vicinity. None of us passed out again
that day, but remained indulging in our pipes and conversation as
usual, until a late hour.

The next morning the trapper proposed that I should accompany him upon
his daily round. I complied, while Nat remained behind.

The day was as warm and pleasant as the preceding one, and the forest
and stream as delightful. Biddon paddled slowly up the unrippled
surface, and in a short time reached the first trap; it had not been
disturbed. Still hopeful, he passed on to the second and third and all
the others. But there were no signs of beaver in any.

“Shoot me, that’s quar’!” he exclaimed, thoughtfully, as he saw the
last one. “I don’t understand it; I must git out and take a look
round.”

He sprang ashore, and minutely examined the ground around. A few
seconds sufficed. He looked up with a gleam of deep meaning, and said:

“Here’s the track of a thunderin’ moccasin. The reds have found us
out.”

He stepped into the canoe, and taking the paddle moved it carefully
back again. He touched at each trap on the way. The footprints of a
stranger were visible at each.

“Thar’s been a beaver taken out of that one!” he remarked, as the last
one was reached. “It’s lucky for the sneakin’ coward that I didn’t see
him. He wouldn’t ’sturbed any more gentlemen’s traps.”

“Are you sure it is an Indian who has been annoying you?”

“Wogh! Don’t you s’pose I could tell a red’s track from a grizzly’s?”

“But it might have been a white man--some hunter or trapper?” I
suggested.

“A white man wouldn’t be mean ’nough to do sich a thing, ’less it war
some of those Hudson Bay fellers. They try them tricks sometimes, but
they git come up to. I catched a feller once from Fort Hall at mine,
and the way I walked into him war a caution; but this ar’ an Injin’s
track, sure.”

“Do you suspect there could be a number in the vicinity?”

“Ef there war, I’d’ve heard of ’em afore. This is some varmint,
sneakin’ round yer, and he’s got to be rubbed out afore he makes more
trouble.”

“I fear that will be a difficult and dangerous job.”

“Let me be for that.”

Shortly after we reached our home, and running the canoe beneath the
bushes, entered it. We were somewhat surprised to find Nat absent. He
returned, however, in a short time, and I saw at once by his nervous,
flustered manner that something unusual had occurred. Biddon
questioned him rather closely, as he suspected something, but Nat
evaded his inquiries, and would not admit that he had seen anything
to excite alarm or apprehension.

“I’m goin’ out, and when I come back I’ll tell you what’s the matter
with them traps,” said Biddon, seizing his rifle and departing.

I waited until he was beyond hearing, and then turning to my
companion, asked,

“What is the matter with you, Nat?”

“Why?” he asked, in turn, with a start.

“Because you show plainly that something has occurred to alarm you.”

He remained silent a moment, and then seizing his hat, jerked it off
his head, and threw it spitefully down, where he gazed at it a second,
and exclaimed,

“I’m sick of this.”

“Sick of what?”

“Why, of being in this fix.”

“I don’t understand you. Please explain what you mean.”

“I should think you ought to know.”

“But I do not.”

“Why, this wood is full of Injins; they’re behind every tree and
stump, and in every bush, and you can hardly step without pitching
over some painted heathen.”

“I am afraid you are exaggerating,” I answered, suppressing a smile
which was struggling at the corners of my mouth.

“No, I ain’t. I swow there are ten thousand Injins just waiting
outside to pounce upon us.”

“You are talking nonsense, and you know it.”

“Well, there’s _one_ Injin, for I seen him. Come now,” he affirmed, as
if the matter was now settled beyond a question.

“Ah! that alters the case considerably. I shouldn’t wonder at all if
there is one or a half-dozen savages in the forest.”

“If you see _one_ savage haven’t you a right to suppose there’s a
hundred more about, I should like to know?”

“Not always, Nat; I have seen three myself, yet I do not believe there
is another one in the neighborhood. But I have not heard the
particulars of this affair of which you have been speaking. Please let
me hear them.”

“There isn’t much to tell, but there is enough to make you do a heap
of thinking. You see, after you had left, I took a notion that I must
have a morning ramble; and I thought, too, there might be such a thing
as you two running into danger and needing my help (I should like to
know what you are laughing at). So, on the whole, there was no
hesitation upon my part. Taking my rifle out, I was soon making my
way as noiselessly as possible, in a direction from the river.

“I hadn’t gone more than a dozen yards before I commenced thinking
about Injins, and came nigh going back again. I wasn’t afraid at all,
you know, but then it appeared to me I might bring you and Biddon into
trouble. However, I kept on. I had gone some distance further, when
all of a sudden I heard a terrible whirr and rattle, and jumped clean
off my feet. But it was only a big owl which I had stirred up. I was
so provoked at the start he gave me, that I should have wrung his neck
had I got my hands upon him. But I went on. Pretty soon I reached a
little stream of water, and as I jumped across, what do you suppose I
saw in the sand?”

“I am sure I cannot tell.”

“Nothing less than a big moccasin track. And what was more, it hadn’t
been made there a week before! I stood and looked at it a good while,
cogitating some wonderful things. At last I stooped and went to
measuring it. I was just going to rise, when I heard a grunt right by
me. I jumped up so quick--to be ready, you know--that I floundered
backward into the water. And I may be shot if there wasn’t a big
painted Injin standing not ten feet off. He didn’t say a word, but
just stood and looked at me with them awful eyes of his. As soon as I
could think, I raised my gun, took a quick aim, and pulled the
trigger; but the infernal gun snapped. I pulled it again, but it
wouldn’t go, and I just happened to think the thing wasn’t loaded. All
this time the painted imp stood grinning at me, without saying a word,
except to kinder grunt. He had a big shining gun in one hand, and I
was dreadful afraid he would shoot it. I told him not to stir, but to
stand still till I got mine loaded, and he waited. But somehow or
other, I s’pose I was in such a hurry that things wouldn’t go right.
Instead of putting the powder in the gun-barrel, I crammed it in my
pocket, and jammed the ramrod into my shoe. I told the Injin to have
patience and I’d get it loaded in a minute. I got it fixed somehow at
last and hauled it up to my shoulder, when, no Injin was there! I
looked behind, all about me, and up into the trees but he’d been
spirited away somewhere. However, I made up my mind to shoot at the
spot where he had stood, and I up and blazed away. That is, I blazed
away without the gun going off. I believe he spirited that too.”

“Let me examine it. Perhaps you made some blunder.”

“No, I’m sure I didn’t.”

I took the rifle, with a smile of certainty that I should find
something the matter with it. Sure enough the muzzle was crammed with
paper, and upon removing it, _a pipestem_, broken in pieces, rolled
out, while there was not a grain of powder in the barrel.

“I declare, I forgot about the powder!” exclaimed Nat, opening his
eyes in wonder.

“But not about the bullet,” I laughed, pointing to the fragments of
his pipe.

“How’d that get there?” he angrily asked.

“That’s the question.”

“I didn’t put it there.”

“Who did, then?”

“I don’t know, I declare.”

Nat picked up the fragments and examined them carefully.

“That’s my pipe sure; and I had it in my mouth, I remember when I
started out, and missed it coming back. I didn’t put it in the gun
though.”

“Let it pass then. Did you see no more of your Indian friend?”

“No; he knew enough to keep out of my way. I waited a long time for
him, and at last started home again. I kept an eye on every suspicious
object, but as I just said, seen nothing.”

At this point I gave free vent to my pent-up mirth. Nat, much
astonished, looked wonderingly at me, seemingly at a loss to
understand the cause.

“I do not see what there is to laugh at,” he remarked, reprovingly.
“If it’s a laughing matter to know that there are Injins all about
you, why you must laugh.”

“Your adventure with the Indian, Nat, and the singular load in your
rifle appears to me to be a funny matter, and I trust you will pardon
me if----”

“Didn’t I tell you I didn’t put it in there? It was the Injin’s work.”

And to this day Nat cannot be made to believe that he was instrumental
in introducing the pipe into his gun.

After a few more unimportant remarks, the conversation ceased. Nat’s
adventure began to appear to me in a different light from that in
which I had viewed it at first. I doubted not but that he was
perfectly honest and truthful in what he said. But why, when exposed
to the will of the savage, did he escape unscathed? Why did the latter
stand fearless and harmless before him? And what meant these strange
signs, these “footprints,” which were becoming visible around us?
Matters were assuming a puzzling form. We were being environed by
Indians without any evidence of hostility upon their part. What meant
it? Surely there was a meaning too deep and hidden for us to divine as
yet.

Suddenly Nat spoke.

“Don’t you remember the canoe? We were going to hunt for that to-day!”

“Ah! how did I forget that? But had we not better wait till Biddon
returns?”

“No; let us go at once. Hark! what’s that?”

I held my breath, as the distant report of a rifle reached our ears.
The next instant came a sound, faint and far away yet clear and
distinct--a horrid, unearthly sound, as the cry of a being in mortal
agony!



CHAPTER VI.

STILL IN THE DARK--THE CANOE AGAIN.


For a moment we stood breathless, paralyzed and speechless. Then our
eyes sought each other with a look of fearful inquiry.

“Was that Biddon’s voice?” I asked, in a faint whisper.

“I don’t know. There it is again!”

And again came that wild, howling shriek of such agony as made our
blood curdle within us.

“_It is his voice!_ Let us hasten to his aid,” I exclaimed, catching
my rifle, and springing out. Nat followed closely, his gun having been
reloaded. The cry came from up the river and toward it we dashed,
scrambling and tearing through the brush and undergrowth, like two
maddened animals, heedless of what the consequence might be. Several
times we halted and listened, but heard nothing save our own panting
breasts and leaping hearts. On again we dashed, looking hurriedly
about us, until I knew we had ascended as high as could be the author
of that startling cry. Here we paused and listened. No one was to be
seen. I turned toward Nat, standing behind me, and directly behind him
I saw Biddon slowly approaching.

“What are you doin’ here?” he asked, as he came up.

“Was not that your voice which I just heard?”

“I rather reckon it wan’t. When you hear Bill Biddon bawl out in that
way, jist let me know, will yer?”

“What under the sun was it?” I asked then, greatly relieved.

“That’s more nor me can tell; but shoot and skin me, if I can’t tell
you one thing;” he approached closely and whispered, “there’s sunkthin
else nor reds about yer.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, although I understood well enough what he
meant.

“I’s here once afore, as I told yer, and I never heerd sich goin’s on
then. I’ve seed the tracks of moccasins all about the traps, but can’t
draw bead on the shadder of a redskin.”

“You heard that horrid howl, didn’t you?”

“Heerd it! I should think I did.”

“Was it you who shot?”

“Yes; the way on it was this: I got on a purty plain trail and
follered it up hereabouts, when I cotched the glimpse of a Blackfoot’s
feather goin’ down through the bushes there, and blazed away at him. I
never missed a red in my life, and I didn’t miss him. Howsumever, he
didn’t mind it, but kept on and got away, and jist as he went out of
sight that orful yell come. It didn’t seem that he made it, but
sounded like as though ’twas all about me, above and under the ground,
and around and behind me.”

“Anywhere near us?” asked Nat.

“It sounded jist under your feet about.”

“Jerusha!” exclaimed the affrighted Nat, as he sprang nervously toward
me.

“It must have been the Indian, surely, who made that yell,” said I.

“In course; though things are beginnin’ to look qua’rish to me.”

The same look of uneasiness again passed over the trapper’s face; and
I saw that although he strove to hide it, he was by no means at rest.
Matters were beginning to put on an unusual aspect, and that was the
reason. Give the trapper of the northwest flesh and blood to contend
against, let him know that nothing supernatural is arrayed against
him, and he is the last man in the world to yield an inch. But the
moment he sees something unexplainable to his simple mind, (and the
trapper is a credulous being), his courage deserts him. He believes
that other spirits than those of men visit this earth, and they are
his greatest horror.

“Les’ go home; there’s Injins all around us,” pleaded Nat.

“How’d you know?”

“Because I _seen_ one myself.”

Biddon looked inquiringly at me, and, deeming it best, I related the
incident given in the preceding chapter. I saw at once his uneasiness
was increased.

“Why didn’t you shoot the redskin?” he angrily asked of Nat.

“Why didn’t _you_ shoot the redskin?” queried Nat, in turn.

“I did--hit him fair and square as I ever hit anything.”

“But didn’t do any more good than I did.”

“I made the infarnal imp howl.”

“And I made mine _grunt_,” added Nat, triumphantly.

“There is no need of words,” I interposed. “Each of you did your best,
Nat included. You, Bill, I believe, hit your man and mortally wounded
him. That yell was of agony, though I can’t conceive how we came to
mistake it for yours. The dead or dying body of that Indian, I
believe, is near at hand. See! what does that mean?” I asked, as I
detected some red fluid dripping from the limb of a bush to the earth.
The trapper stepped forward and looked at it.

“That’s the blood of a Blackfoot, or I’m a skinned beaver!” he
remarked, with a glow of relief at having those strange apprehensions
of his removed.

“Yes, I’m convinced that’s Injin blood,” added Nat, rubbing it between
the tip of his finger and thumb. “The blood of a Blackfoot Injin,
too--a man’s about thirty-two years old. Probably a brother to the one
I frightened.”

“What do you know about that?” I asked.

“Oh! it’s only a supposition of mine.”

“Biddon, I believe, as I just said, that we will find the body of that
savage near at hand. Let us follow it.”

“Jes’ what I’s agoin’ to do,” he replied, starting off at once upon
the trail.

It was easy to follow, as every step was marked by blood, which, in
many places, was dripping from the bushes to the ground. It was
followed but a short distance, however, as it led in a direct line to
the river.

“It’s as I s’pected,” said Biddon, turning round in disgust.

“He must have drowned then.”

“Dunno ’bout that. He’s taken to the water to hide his trail, an’ jes’
as like as not some of the other painted heathen have helped him off.”

“No doubt about that. I’ve been thinking that some of them helped off
that fellow when I was loading my gun.”

“We mought as well go back agin,” said Biddon. “I’m tired of huntin’
spirits, and I dunno but what we’d better move traps and leave this
plagued place to ’em.”

“That’s what I am in favor of--”

Nat suddenly paused, for Biddon, with a slight “sh” motioned us down.
We both sank quickly and silently to the earth, while he, in a
crouching position, gazed stealthily up-stream.

“What is it, Bill?” whispered Nat.

“_There’s a canoe comin’ down stream!_”

We said nothing; and Nat looking meaningly in the water.

“Skin me, if there ain’t two reds and a squaw in it,” added Biddon,
without changing his position, or removing his gaze.

I could not restrain the singular agitation that came over me at this
announcement. Fearing to betray myself, I cautiously arose beside
Biddon.

“Let me take a look,” I whispered.

“Be keerful you ain’t seen,” he whispered, in turn, as he stepped
back.

As I looked, I saw, not more than two hundred yards distant the canoe
approaching, heading directly towards us. For this reason, I could
only see the foremost Indian, though I was positive another, together
with the white captive, were in it. I gazed but a moment and then
looked inquiringly at the trapper. He made no reply, but again peered
forth.

“That ain’t a squaw; it’s a white gal,” said he, looking round upon us
with an astounded look.

“Shall we rescue her?” I asked.

“Ef she wants us to, in course.”

“You going to shoot them?” asked Nat, anxiously.

“Can’t tell yit. Jest see that yer irons is ready, and we’ll wait till
they get out yer. Don’t make no noise till I give the motion.”

The trapper stole a yard or two in front of us, where he sank softly
down upon his face until only his head was visible. Nat fingered his
gun nervously beside me, while I, not a whit less agitated, waited
for the canoe to appear through the interstices of the bushes in
front.

In a moment, I heard the faint ripple of an oar, and saw the trapper
slowly raising his head and bringing his rifle in front of him. He
raised his hand warningly for us to remain quiet until the moment
should arrive. I heard the click of my companion’s gun, as he raised
the hammer, and admonished him to be careful.

Suddenly, I saw the red head-dress of one of the savages glittering
through the bushes, and, before I could speak, came an explosion
beside me like the crash of a thunderbolt. Almost simultaneously, the
herculean frame of the trapper bounded over me, and he exclaimed:

“Who fired that? I’m shot.”

Nat and I sprang to our feet and dashed after him; but as I turned,
though bewildered with excitement, I looked at the spot where the
canoe was seen. It was gone!

We dashed up the bank, and in a moment reached Biddon. The excitement
had completely gone, and he stood coolly feeling his ear.

“Was that your gun, Jarsey?” he asked.

“No, sir; mine is still loaded.”

“How is yours, Greeny?”

Nat lifted his, examined the lock and looked into the barrel. He had
indeed discharged it, grazing the trapper’s head so closely as to
wound his ear.

“Wonder if that was my gun? Sure, I believe it was,” he remarked,
still looking into the barrel.

“Was it your gun?” repeated the trapper, his brow darkening like a
thunder-cloud, and laying his hand upon his knife-handle, as he
approached. Nat looked up and started as he saw his visage fairly
gleaming with passion.

“I didn’t shoot it, Bill, by thunder!” he expostulated.

The face of the trapper changed. It grew paler, and the dark cloud
fled from it. He replaced his drawn knife. He believed the words of
Nat.

Matters were approaching a crisis. The recent startling events had
their effect upon us all. The trapper avowed he could not stand “sich
goin’s on,” and should leave for some other quarters. Little sleep
came to Nat at night. His adventure with the savage, and the more
recent occurrence alarmed him. He had discovered that there were
consequences to be feared from both sides.

I was still unwilling to believe that there was anything in the events
given which would not soon be explained. It was evident our foes were
around, and from some inexplicable cause, had pursued an unusual
course toward us. We had all been exposed to their power, and had yet
escaped harmless. What was the meaning of this? And, above all, what
was the object of the appearance and disappearance of the canoe at the
different times mentioned? Who could be that fair being of whose
existence I only was as yet aware?

These questions, prompted only my anxious curiosity and desire to
learn more of that mysterious being whom I had now twice seen. I
ridiculed the ideas of Biddon, and Nat strove hard to convince him
that he was not afraid. Biddon, consented to remain until more was
learned, intimating at the same time, that it must be very soon. He
visited the horses each day, and found them undisturbed. This,
however, only added to his anxiety. Had they been gone he would have
taken it as convincing evidence that _bona fide_ Indians were in the
neighborhood.

The next day, after the closing scene of the last chapter, Nat agreed
to accompany me for the last time to the spot where we had seen the
canoe. The trapper could not be prevailed upon to go, affirming that
he should probably have his hands full at home. It required my utmost
skill to succeed with Nat, as the horror had plainly settled upon him.

“It’s awful!” said he, as we started, “this walking right into
danger, but I want to see that canoe agin, but especially that gal,
and so I’ll go.”

“And, I trust, behave yourself. You well know, Nat, you fired that
shot which came so near ending Biddon’s life.”

“Wonder if I did pull the trigger!” he exclaimed, suddenly stopping
and looking round at me.

“You _know_ you did, and had he known it, too, it would have been a
sorry piece of business for you. That temper of his is terrible, when
it is once excited.”

“I remember cocking my gun, and kind of pulling the trigger, but I
didn’t mean to pull hard enough to make it go off.”

“I suppose not. I cannot conceive how Biddon persuaded himself to
believe that you did not discharge it when the case was self-evident.
But he is willing to believe almost anything since he has started.”

“He shouldn’t have gotten before my gun, for he knows my hand
sometimes trembles.”

“I trust you will be able to control it this time.”

“No doubt of that; but, then, I’d advise you, as a friend, not to get
before me, especially if you see the canoe coming.”

I assured him that I should not, and we kept upon our way. Upon each
of the occasions before, as near as I could judge, it was about noon
that the canoe made its appearance; and, as it was that time now, we
hurried forward, lest the opportunity should pass. The opportunity, I
say--for, although it had appeared but twice as yet, I somehow or
other was well satisfied we should see it again.

“What are you going to do?” asked Nat.

“It will depend upon what we see. If simply those two savages with the
captive, as we judge her to be, are in the canoe, and no demonstration
is made, I think it best not to attempt a rescue. It is only a
supposition of ours that she is a captive, and we know not that she
would thank us for interfering in her case.”

In a short time we reached the elevation already mentioned. Here we
seated ourselves so as to remain concealed from any stragglers in the
vicinity, while we ourselves with a little care could detect the
slightest object passing. As I stooped, my hand came in contact with
something cold, and upon looking at it, I saw it covered with dark
clotted blood. I started, and wiped it on the grass, but it sent a
shudder through me to reflect that it had once been the life-fluid of
a human being.

“Ugh!” exclaimed Nat; “ain’t that awful?”

“It is disagreeable, to say the least.”

“Just look at the blood on the grass, too, and all around. I believe
Bill must have hit a half-dozen Injins sure, the way things appear
here.”

“He must have wounded one terribly to make him bleed like this.”

“And if he had been a flesh and blood Injin he would have never
tramped in that manner. I tell you, William Relmond, there _is_
something more more than human about us. I can feel it in my bones,
and I’m of Biddon’s opinion that the sooner we get away from here the
better.”

“Fudge! I see you are beginning to get alarmed.”

“Oh no; you are mistaken. I am not frightened at all. For Biddon’s
sake, but more especially for yours, I am anxious. If you are desirous
of remaining hereabouts, and will take all the consequences, I will
make no objections.”

“Of course, if I run into danger of my own accord, I expect that I
alone will suffer the penalty.”

“Then we needn’t say anything more about it; you know we pledged
ourselves to remain true to each other, and I won’t desert you.”

“That’s well spoken, Nat. The minute I am satisfied that our lives are
imperiled, I shall not be the means of prolonging that peril a
moment. It is only this great desire to solve and understand the
singular occurrences that are transpiring around us, that leads me to
still remain. I have determined that to-day we shall all be
satisfied.”

“My curiosity is extraordinarily high; but I guess that gal has as
much to do with it as anything else. I’m determined to get a glimpse
of her face, and, if possible, whisper in her ear that Nat Todd, from
Maine, is about. I flatter myself that the minute she knows that, she
will jump overboard and make for shore without saying a word to the
chaps with her.”

“The greatest difficulty, I fear, will be to convey your words to the
captive, without conveying it also to her captors.”

“I swow, it would be harder than I thought at first.”

During this conversation, which was carried on in a half-whisper, Nat
was constantly parting the bushes and peering through them, while now
and then I glanced expectantly up the stream; but nothing as yet had
rewarded our watchfulness. Suddenly I reflected that as I had been
twice defeated in observing the disappearance of the canoe, from the
exact spot upon which we were now seated, that we might make a better
arrangement of ourselves, so as to insure this coveted knowledge to
one of us at least.

I mentioned this to Nat.

“If one of us was on t’other side, the thing would be certain, but
that can’t be done very conveniently, and we shall have to try
something else.”

“Suppose you go down stream about a hundred yards near the bend
yonder,” I proposed to Nat.

“Guess I will!” he exclaimed, as he rose to go.

“Wait a moment,” said I, detaining him. “Let me admonish you to
exercise no ordinary caution, Nat, for you have seen enough to
convince you that your own safety depends upon it. Remember that a
word or false movement, however slight, may defeat our plans. Look out
for danger to yourself, and not let your curiosity be the means of
your destruction. _Be very careful._”

I know not what led me to thus warn him; but at the moment he arose to
go, an unaccountable sense of impending danger came over me. It was
not so much for me as for him I spoke thus. He promised to heed my
words and departed.

As soon as he had disappeared, I cast another look up stream, but
still there were no signs of the expected canoe, and a sudden
apprehension that I should not see it again came over me. There was,
in fact; as much reason not to expect it as to anticipate its coming,
and as I looked up at the sun and saw that it was already beyond the
hour, I was half-tempted to turn back. While I was debating, I
naturally looked up the river, and there, just rounding the bend where
the canoe had first come into view before,--and there it was coming!
Quivering with agitation, I sank upon the ground, and gave a low
whistle as a signal to Nat. He returned it, as an evidence of his
watchfulness.

I saw from that point where I was seated, the view would be most
obstructed when the canoe was nearest. Accordingly, I crept cautiously
and quickly nearer the water’s edge. This time, however, I slightly
varied my course, and concealed myself behind the trunk of a fallen
tree. This was within a yard of the water, and afforded complete
concealment. I noticed the log was rotten and apparently hollow.

Here I lay, and intently listened and watched. A few moments and an
almost inaudible ripple was heard, and the canoe was opposite. I
exercised the most extreme caution, and was fortunate enough to obtain
a perfect view of each of the occupants. They were the same--the dark,
malignant faces of the savages, and the fair features of the captive.
She sat in the stern, her hand resting gently upon a guiding oar, and
her gaze fixed upon the stream in front. The canoe floated with the
current, and not a paddle was stirred, nor the least motion made by
the beings before me. The headdress of the captive was, as mentioned
before, eagle feathers and porcupine quills, while the dark, waving
masses of hair hung low upon the shoulders, contrasting with the
whiteness of the face. A heavy crimson shawl enveloped the form, as
when first seen. The features were regular, and, perhaps, in my state
of feeling, their beauty was considerably enhanced; but the thought
came upon me that if there were anything supernatural in my
experience, it was in seeing such wonderful beauty as was now before
me.

Unconsciously I forgot myself as the canoe was gliding past, and
before I was aware, it was hid from view by intervening obstacles. I
withdrew hastily, intending to hurry farther down, where the view
would be more complete. I had taken but a step or two when Nat’s rifle
was discharged, and I heard distinctly a muffled sound of his voice.
Wild with agitation, I dashed to the spot where I supposed him to be.
The view of the river at this point was clear, and I turned to look at
the canoe. It had vanished!

I looked around for Nat, but he too, was gone. I called him, and once
thought I heard a faint answer. But it was not repeated, and I could
not tell its direction. I reached the ground, and beheld _the tracks
of others beside his own_. I awaited until near night, but Nathan Todd
was never to return.



CHAPTER VII.

ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS.


“Where’s your friend?”

There was apprehension in the question of the trapper, or he would not
have called Nat, as he had never called him before. The question was
asked, too, the instant I appeared.

“I cannot tell,” I answered, seating myself gloomily.

“Whar’d you leave him?”

“I cannot answer that either. He went with me to watch the river, as
you remember. Espying that canoe which you saw yesterday, he concealed
himself a few yards distant, in order to obtain a better view of it.
Since then I have seen nothing of him.”

“Was it he who shot?”

“It sounded like his gun, although I am not positive that it really
was.”

“I heerd it, an’ took it for him; and, shoot me, if I didn’t know he’d
get into some scrape.”

“I fear he has, and the last one, too.”

“My thoughts ’zactly. Luckily you did not, too.”

“I came nearer than I wish to again, Biddon. I can tell you, that I am
willing to leave this place as soon as you wish; I’ve seen enough to
satisfy me.”

“Shouldn’t wonder; I did long ago.”

“Let us leave to-morrow. Are you willing?”

“I’ll go to-night if you want to.”

“No; there is no need of that. It will be best to wait until
daylight.”

“I don’t know; that’s the only time we’ve been interfered with.”

“Besides,” I added. “I have faint hopes that Nat may return.”

“Waugh! you’ll never see him again, and ef we’re ’bout yer another
day, we’ll never see each other again. No use lookin’ fur him, shoot
me ef thar is.”

“I do not think he has been slain, only captured by some lurking
enemy, from whom he may escape.”

“No, _sir_; I tell you he’s gone, and I reckon as how we’d better be
gone too.”

“Perhaps you are right, Biddon, although I shall be loth to leave the
vicinity when I am not satisfied of his fate.”

“I’m satisfied, an’ you oughter be. Leastways, _I’m_ goin’ to-morrow,
an’ you kin stay and play with these Blackfeet as long as you like.
I’ve been up to see the horses, and fixed things so as to start as
soon as daylight. Any ’jections?”

“None at all.”

“Then ’tis settled, and let’s snooze.”

But it was by no means settled. As I lay that night ruminating upon
the strange scenes through which I had so recently passed, the pledge
that I had made with Nat came back to me. I had promised to remain by
him as long as there was hope; and to desert him now, would be a
violation of that vow, and a base and unworthy act upon my part. For
us both to leave him would probably seal his fate, if alive. It was by
no means certain that if lost, he was irrecoverably gone, and I
resolved that if the trapper should depart on the morrow I would
remain.

In making this resolution, perhaps it was not the desire alone to
benefit my companion that prompted it, although I aver that that alone
would have been sufficient. Unconsciously, almost, I found my thoughts
wandering from Nat to the fair being who had been the cause of all
this trouble. At most, I could only speculate and conjecture with
regard to her, and the same speculations and conjectures I had made
before. Undoubtedly she was a captive among a tribe of Indians, over
whom she wielded a great influence; and that she was the same maid
referred to by Biddon, seemed certain to me. I had mentioned this
thought to him, in the hope of persuading him to remain. He started
somewhat at the unsuspected suggestion, and, after a few moments’
thought, admitted the probability of such being the case. To my
surprise I found I had completely defeated my own plans.

“I kinder thought then, that little thing war suthin’ more nor human,
an’ ef it’s her, you see, I’m purty sure now. No use talkin’, I shan’t
stay here longer than time ’nough to start. It might be that gal, and
then agin it moughn’t. Shoot me ef it moughn’t.”

I said no more, for I saw it would be useless. When he had once
determined upon a matter there was no changing him. He was satisfied
that “spirits invisible” had encompassed him, and there was but one
way of escaping them.

He was now reposing quietly beside me, utterly oblivious to external
things; and as the night was far advanced, I sank upon my knees, and
besought the great Disposer of events to guide me aright in the
undertaking which I was about to commence, and to watch over my
unfortunate companion, now doubtless in captivity; to protect the
kind-hearted trapper, and to soon clear away the mystery which had
enveloped us like a cloud. Then I lay down and slept.

I awoke, hearing a slight rustling noise beside me, and, upon looking
around, caught a glimpse of Biddon as he departed. It was very early,
and he doubtless was after the horses, in order to leave at once the
place which had such terrors for him. In the course of a half hour he
returned.

“The horses are waitin’,” said he.

I arose and passed out. The three animals stood outside, a short
distance away, each saddled and prepared for travel.

“Come, work lively, and fetch them skins out,” said Biddon, commencing
himself. I made no reply, but assisted him until everything was in
readiness, for starting.

“Jump on, and shoot me ef we won’t soon be clar of this outlandish
place.”

“Biddon, I am not going with you,” I said, mildly.

“_What?_” he asked, looking wonderingly at one, as if doubting my
senses.

“I intend to remain here.”

“Ogh! jump on, an’ shut up yer meat-trap; it’s time we started.”

“I said I was going to remain here.”

“Do you mean it, Jarsey?” he queried, bending such a fierce look upon
me.

“Most certainly I do.”

“Then, all Bill Biddon’s got to say is, you’re a fool.”

I colored slightly at this, but made no reply.

“What yer going to stay fur? Get shot and lose yer ha’r, I s’pose,
jist to please the reds.”

“I am sorry, friend Biddon, that you feel thus. When Nathan Todd and I
left the States for this country, we pledged eternal friendship to
each other, and I am sure I should never feel at ease if I should
leave him in this dire extremity. I am by no means satisfied that I
can afford him no assistance, although he is a captive. He has no
claims upon you, and I should not expect you to remain, but, as I
said, I am determined not to leave this place until I have obtained
satisfactory intelligence of him.”

The trapper remained silent a few moments after this. He then spoke:

“I s’pose you mean right, Jarsey, but you’re awful simple. Yer’s as
what hopes you’ll find the other chap right side up and squar with his
ha’r on, but I don’t ’spect _your_ ha’r ’ll be yer’s to-night.
Howsumever you’re bound to stay, I see, so yer’s good luck. I’d like
to stay with you, but I ain’t backward to own Bill Biddon knocks under
_this_ time.”

He reached his hard, horny hand, and I took it.

“Good-by, Bill, I hope we shall meet again. We have not been long
acquainted, but I trust long enough to be friends.”

“And you’ll remember as how ole Bill Biddon didn’t mean what he said
just now.”

“Certainly, certainly, I know you did not.”

“Wal, good-by it is, then.”

A half-hour after and I was alone in the great wilderness of the
Northwest.

After parting with Biddon, I remained stationary a long time,
meditating upon the strange resolve that I had acted upon. If looked
at with the common-sense view that the honest trapper gave it, I was
sensible it was nothing less than a piece of recklessness upon my
part, which only could be excused by the motives that actuated me. I
felt some regret certainly at parting with Biddon, for that honest,
manly heart which throbbed within his massive breast had drawn me
toward him, and I knew he had come to regard me in a far different
light than he did at first. However, I was hopeful, and could not
persuade myself that I was never to see him again.

Toward night the sky gave evidence of an approaching storm. A strong
wind arose, and a melancholy, desolate moaning, like the precursor of
winter, could be heard at intervals in the forest. Darkness came on
earlier than usual, and, as I passed into the trapper’s home, the
storm burst upon me. No one who has not witnessed a storm in the
wilderness, can appreciate its awful grandeur. As I cowered within the
heart of the old forest king, its power was subdued to my ears; but
enough reached them to give me an idea of the terrific spectacle
without. The huge sides of the tree surrounding me rumbled and groaned
as though it were yielding to the hurricane; the wind blew with such
fury that at times it sounded as though wailing screams were rending
the air above me; and the sharp splintering of the trees riven by the
lightning, rivaled the crash of the thunderbolt itself.

As the morning approached, the storm gradually died away, and as I
stepped forth the sun was shining in unclouded splendor.

Slinging my rifle over my shoulder, I wandered aimlessly forward,
following the course of the stream for several hours. Finally,
becoming considerably wearied, I seated myself upon a fallen tree, to
gain a little rest; but my mind was in such a state of excitement that
the desire to press forward was irresistible, and I arose again.

As I stood upon the spot, I happened to look across the stream upon
the prairie. The river at this point was flowing east and west, so
that I looked to the southward; and as I did so I saw Biddon in the
distance, riding leisurely away. He was miles distant, so that I could
not hope to make my voice reach him; and as the prairie in many parts
was submerged, it was out of the question to pursue with the hope of
overtaking him. So I contented myself with watching him until he
disappeared. He appeared precisely the same as when Nat and I first
caught sight of him; and it struck me as a rather curious coincidence
that my first and last glimpse of him were similar. Shortly after, he
was a mere quivering speck on the horizon, and soon disappeared
altogether.

The storm which had just ended was the usher of the cold season. A
strong wind had arisen, and was blowing coldly through the forest. The
changes in these regions are remarkably sudden; and by the middle of
the afternoon, needles of ice put out along the shores of the stream.
I suffered much from this sudden and severe cold; and to make it
worse, everything upon which I could lay hands was so water-soaked as
to make it impossible to kindle a fire.

I continued wandering aimlessly onward, until I descended a large
valley, filled with trees of enormous growth. As I entered, I heard a
crackling in the bushes above me. I looked carefully about, but could
detect nothing, although the crackling was still heard. Creeping
cautiously and stealthily up the bank, I came upon the cause of this
apprehension. There was a species of fruit, called the “buffalo
berry,” quite numerous here, and in among them, seated on his
haunches, and contentedly devouring, was a grizzly bear. I started as
I took in his colossal form, and turned to make a hasty retreat; but
curiosity held me to the spot. He was a huge, unwieldy body; his
massive form being enveloped in a coat of long, black, glossy hair,
and his eyes small and glittering. His long nails rattled among the
leaves, as he pulled the bushes toward him, and plucked the delicate
fruit.

All at once a mad desire to take this formidable creature’s life came
upon me. I knew it was only the most skillful hunter who could prevail
against him, and yet I determined to take the risk. As he sat, his
side was turned toward me, and I made a low whistle to attract his
attention. He stopped chewing instantly, and turned his head toward
me as if listening. I could see his two coal-black eyes glistening
plainly. I was lying upon my face, with my rifle resting upon a stone
in front. Raising the hammer of my rifle, I took a long, a deliberate,
a sure aim at one of his eyes, and before he changed his head, pulled
the trigger.

“How does that suit?” I asked exultingly, expecting to see him give up
the ghost immediately. To my surprise and terror, I saw him sitting
unmoved and apparently unhurt, but looking about him, as if to
ascertain from what direction the shot had come. The next instant he
caught sight of the bluish wreath from my rifle, and with a low growl
of rage plunged directly toward me.

That cumbrous body could roll over the ground much faster than I
suspected, and I found that, when alarmed, I could also travel
rapidly. But in the tangled undergrowth I was no match for him, as he
crashed through it without the least inconvenience, and gained
rapidly. I saw he would assuredly overtake me before I could go a
hundred yards further; so throwing my rifle to the ground, I drew my
knife, and waited his attack. As he came rolling forward, the blood
from his wound trickled down, and daubed his mouth; while his red
tongue lolled out, his mouth was wide open, and his long and white
teeth shone with terrible ferocity. He was, indeed, a terrific animal,
and I drew a deep breath as I felt that a struggle for life or death
was at hand.

[Illustration: “I could see his two coal-black eyes glittering
plainly.”]

Suddenly, when a hundred feet distant, there came the _report of
another rifle_, and the brute halted, and gazed about him. I also cast
a wondering look around to see who my new friend was. No one was in
sight, yet I saw a faint curl of smoke rising from the bushes above
me. The bear also discovered it, and with another growl made toward
it. He had evidently been struck, and his rage was turned in another
direction. Hastily loading my rifle, I ran up the hill, intending to
follow and assist my unknown friend, but both he and the brute had
disappeared. I stood anxiously listening for some guiding sound, and
soon heard the report of a gun in the distance, followed by a faint
shout.

Tearing through the undergrowth, I dashed hastily forward, calling out
in loud tones, so that my friend might guide me to him. There was no
response homeward. I feared that he had suffered the fate which had
well-nigh been mine. The trail of the bear was now very plain to be
seen by the broken twigs, the rising branches, and the blood marks
upon the ground. Soon I reached the spot where the last struggle had
evidently taken place. The ground was torn up and cast about, and the
blood was spattered for many feet around. Following further, I came
upon the dead body of the brute. There was another bullet mark in the
head, and a ghastly wound in the throat from which an enormous
quantity of blood had poured.

But where was the author of this deed? Why had he fled? Who was he? I
looked about expecting to see him near at hand, but I was
disappointed. On the ground were the marks of a moccasin, and it was
evident my preserver was an Indian. This fact suggested other
questions. Had he been following me? Else how came he to be present
just at the instant needed? And what was his object? It could not be
that my life was sought, for, if such were the case, it had been
really spared, as I had been continually exposed through the day; and
in the occurrence just narrated, he had preserved my life at the
imminent risk of his own.

At any rate, the affair was singular and unaccountable. The Indian was
probably gazing upon me this moment, and I looked furtively about,
half-expecting to see his glowing eye-balls in the thick shrubbery
around.

It was now growing late, and I cast about for some place in which to
spend the night. The wind still blew, and a fire was indispensable. I
gathered several armfuls of twigs and branches, and pitched my camp
upon the banks of a small rippling stream, a tributary of the river
referred to. Here, after the expense of an almost incredible amount of
patience, I succeeded in starting a fire, and with the feeling of a
conqueror inhaled its glowing, cheerful warmth. The pangs of hunger
now began to make themselves felt, as I had tasted no food the entire
day. The grizzly bear lay but a short distance away, and, after a few
minutes’ debate, I concluded that he should answer the demands of
nature.

As I drew my knife, and started toward him, a shadow glided from
before me, and I saw a human form stealthily make off. I stopped
suddenly and hesitated, but finally went on, cut a piece from the
animal, and returned. Just before I reached the crackling fire, I
again saw a shadow flit before me and disappear. It was too distinct
and plain to be a freak of imagination, and it was evident that
something or somebody was following or watching. Whoever he might be,
I determined that, upon the first opportunity, he should have the
contents of my gun for his temerity.

The consciousness that some one was near at hand, watching, perhaps,
every motion, lessened my appetite somewhat. However, after skewering
a good-sized piece and roasting it, I made a hearty supper; and, as I
produced my inseparable pipe, I think, had it not been for the
instinctive presence of that invisible form, my enjoyment would have
been complete.

The pleasant warmth of the fire, the soothing effect of the pipe,
gradually threw a dreamy, half-unconsciousness over me, into which I
sunk with willing delight. As my listless eyes rested upon the glowing
embers, there came a strain of wonderful music, like the faint tones
of some distant wind-harp. I stirred not, but listened, fearing to
move lest the spell should be broken. Again came the wave of heavenly
harmony, swelling to the most inspiring grandeur, and then dying away
into faint, fluctuating tremors, fainter and fainter, till the
strained ear could just feel their waves. It sounded in the air above
me, and at that moment I knew that there was nothing real in my
experience, and I listened breathlessly for it again.

The music continued, I think, over an hour, and to this day it seems I
can hear it still. Such music I have never heard before or since. As I
sat alone that dark, stormy night, in the wilderness of the northwest,
hundreds of miles from civilization, it seemed there was a chord
within me that responded to the air tones above. It appeared
sometimes to sink until it had enveloped me in its wild thrilling
power, and then it suddenly swept upward, until I was pained with
intense listening. At last, it died away, and with a long sigh of
relief I awoke to full consciousness.

I have heard others narrate experience similar to mine and I leave the
explanation to the curious and investigating, convinced that I can
offer none that will be satisfactory.

I replenished the fire, folded my blanket around me, and lay down to
sleep. The night wind was howling dismally through the forest, and the
distant rush of the river made melancholy music. In a short time I
fell into a deep, and profound sleep.

I was aroused from this by feeling something working at my blanket. I
lay motionless a moment to ascertain the character of the threatened
danger. The next instant something struck me like the paw of an
animal; and, thinking a wolf had attacked me, I sprang to my feet with
a shout, threw off my blanket, and drew my knife. Instead of
confronting wolves, I met the gaze of a half-dozen savages! For a
moment I was completely bewildered.

“You go ’long with us,” said one, laying his hand upon my arm.

I saw that resistance would be useless. There were half a dozen fully
armed, and my rifle was in their hands.

“I am in your power,” said I; “do what you please with me.”



CHAPTER VIII.

TRAPPING AMONG THE INDIANS.


One of the savages cast some wood upon the fire, and as it blazed up,
I saw that five of them stood around me. Resistance would be useless,
as my rifle, knife, and revolver were in their hands. Their faces were
devoid of paint, and they were probably a party of hunters who had
fallen upon my trail. I remembered my spectral visitant a few hours
before, and doubted not that he was the means of the tedious captivity
which had now only commenced.

After I had arisen to my feet, the captors continued conversing in an
unknown tongue. It perplexed me to understand how one of them was able
to address me in tolerably good English; but I supposed he must have
had intercourse with the fur traders and hunters and the forts and
stations of the northwest.

The debate of the Indians I judged to be a decision upon the course
they were to follow. Singularly enough, I had hardly any fears at all
in regard to my life, feeling pretty well convinced that they intended
an endless captivity for me. I doubted not I should be adopted into
their tribe, and doomed to the office of the meanest slave. This was
not a very encouraging prospect it is true, but it was infinitely
superior to that of death.

After a few minutes’ conversation, the Indians apparently came to a
satisfactory conclusion; for they seated themselves around the fire,
ordering me to do the same, and here they sat as grim and silent as
statues, not a muscle moving, excepting an occasional wink of the eyes
at long intervals. I watched them, it seemed for an hour, shivering
with cold all the time, although my captors had not deprived me of my
blanket.

At last, as I looked up, I saw that day was breaking. There was a
faint light in the east, heralding the approach of the sun. Shortly
after, it burst above the forest line, lighting up the interminable
prairie and wilderness with its golden glory. The savages sprang to
their feet, seized their weapons and started away.

“Keep close, and don’t run!” said the savage who had addressed me at
first.

“No danger of my attempting it,” I answered, following almost
cheerfully behind them.

And in truth it would have been the height of folly to make an attempt
to escape. Each of the savages was a fleet runner, each possessed a
loaded rifle (and one of them had another, together with my revolver,
which, by the way, was a source of great wonderment and perplexity to
him), and the utmost limit that I possibly could have gained, as will
be evident to the reader, was perhaps ten feet. So I meditated no
attempt, but followed close in the footsteps of my captors.

No halt was made for breakfast, and during the whole forenoon we
tramped through the wilderness in a northerly direction. As I knew I
was in the extreme upper part of the great Nebraska Territory when
taken captive, I felt pretty certain that I was now in the Hudson Bay
Territory, within the British line. But here my companions made a turn
to the eastward, and then, strangely enough, proceeded south again, so
that I was uncertain whether I was now in the United States or not.
The reason of this detour on the part of the savages I never knew and
could only conjecture. I afterward imagined it was for the purpose of
misleading and bewildering me in case I should ever attempt to leave
them.

When the sun was overhead, the Indians halted upon the bank of a small
flashing stream, and prepared their meal. A half-hour before halting,
one of the Indians had dodged off into the forest. Some time after I
heard the report of a rifle, and in a few minutes he returned with a
large ptarmigan in his hand. The feathers were plucked from this, and
the body dressed much after the fashion of civilized communities. It
was then partially cooked over the blaze, and despite the change of
circumstances, I made as good and substantial a meal upon it as did
any of my companions.

The meal finished, the savages squatted before the fire, drew forth
their pipes and commenced silently smoking, their eyes glittering
through the vapor with suppressed fierceness, as ever and anon a
sidelong glance was bestowed upon me. One of the Indians--he who spoke
English--was examining my revolver. He closed one eye and peered
wonderingly into the six little barrels; then he fingered about the
hammer, took off the cap, tasted it, and replaced it. (It may be
remarked here that at the time of my experience, percussion caps were
almost unknown in this region. As they were of comparatively recent
invention, few of the trappers consented to use them until a long time
after.) I was expecting each moment to see the weapon discharge
itself, as it was fully charged, and was handled awkwardly. The
Indian looked at it in every direction, at last gave it up. He took a
smell of it, and snuffing the gunpowder, handed it to me.

“What is he?”

“A young gun,” I answered with a smile.

As I took the weapon I looked about me. There were five unsuspicious
savages, and there were six messengers of death at my command. For an
instant a wild resolve thrilled me; but it was for an instant only. My
soul revolted at the wholesale slaughter I should be compelled to
inflict, and I looked at my interlocutor with a pleasant smile.

“Does he shoot?” he queried, his dark eyes lighting up with curiosity.

“Of course. Would you like to see me fire it?”

“Yaw! shoot at him,” he answered, pointing at the trunk of a large
tree.

“What part of it?”

“Hit him where you mind to.”

“Oh, let’s have a mark,” I laughed, stepping forward and tearing off a
small piece of the bark, so as to offer a red spot several inches in
diameter. The other savages were now surveying my motions with
interest, and with some degree of suspicion the formidable looking
little weapon in my hand. I saw there was an opportunity for making a
good impression and I resolved to do it. I stepped back a few paces,
took a careful, though apparently a careless aim, and fired the six
barrels in succession with tolerable good effect.

“Just look at the mark,” I remarked, rather stiffly.

The Indian stepped forward and examined the holes, all within an inch
or two of the center. Then with his knife he pried out each bullet,
and showed them to his companions. They grunted their satisfaction, or
rather wonder, and turned the diminutive six-shooter over and over in
their hands, totally unable to comprehend how such a number of fatal
shots could come almost simultaneously from it. I loaded and fired it
a number of times, and my friend--he who spoke English--asked me to
make him a present of it. I assented with the greatest pleasure, as I
had no power to refuse, and volunteered to instruct him in its use,
and all things considered we were getting on quite intimate terms.

This proceeding of mine was a stroke of policy, to which I believe I
owe my life. My apparent cheerfulness, my readiness to acquiesce in
all their wishes, convinced them that I cherished no sullen
vindictiveness toward them, and I am well satisfied that had I asked
my captors at this time to allow me to proceed unmolested upon my way,
they would have done so. Yet I was perfectly willing to tarry with
them a while, for reasons which, I trust, are obvious to the reader,
and I made no request of them.

We remained in this spot for over an hour practicing with the
revolver. At the end of that time its new owner had made such progress
as to be able to strike a good-sized tree a yard distant, at nearly
every shot.

“Him nice thing!” he remarked, shoving it carefully down in his belt.

“Very good in a close hug with a bear or foe,” I replied.

“He is, by dam,” he added, pulling it forth and again examining each
part.

There was but one drawback to the savage’s prospect of pleasure. I had
but a small quantity of caps, and of course there was no means of
obtaining any among his own kindred. He however satisfied himself with
the thought that he could obtain more at some of the trading posts in
that section.

The line of march was again taken up, and continued until nightfall.
They traveled in Indian file, my dusky friend bringing up the rear,
and myself directly in front of him. This plan was adopted, not
through any fear of pursuit, as they were in their own country, but
because caution and watchfulness are habitual to the North American
Indian. Every now and then the click of the revolver was audible
behind, but I felt no apprehension as I knew the savage was only
examining it for his own pleasure.

Just before dusk we reached a large and rapidly flowing stream. Here
the rifles were slung about their persons, and we grasped hands and
plunged unhesitatingly in. Had not this expedient been adopted, I
should never have reached the opposite side. We sank to our shoulders
several times, and the boisterous current lifted me clean from the
bottom, but the strong arms of my captors were all-efficient, and held
me firmly in my place until the opposite shore was reached, with no
greater misfortune than the uncomfortableness of our soaked and
clinging garments.

The sun had sunk behind the western mountains, and the deep gloom of
night was settling over the wilderness, when as we reached the top of
a swell, I saw for the first time the Indian village. It lay in a sort
of valley, and numbered sixty or seventy lodges. As seen in the dim
twilight these looked singularly picturesque and fanciful. I could see
dark forms flitting like shadows about the lodges, and the low hum of
their conversation was audible. We were descried, as our forms stood
out in relief against the sky, but no signals were given by either
party.

As we descended into the valley my heart began to fail me, at what I
feared my reception would be. Stories of the tortures undergone by
captives came over me, and I ventured my fears to my friend.

“What your name?” he asked, halting and turning toward me.

“Will,” I replied.

“Will stay here, and me come and fix things. My name Jim,” said he,
taking the name probably given him by the whites with whom he was
acquainted.

The other savages seeing us halting stopped also, and looked
suspiciously. Jim (as I shall hereafter name him) said something in an
unintelligible tongue and they passed on.

“Stay here, Will, and me fix things.”

With this he disappeared, and I seated myself upon the ground to await
his return. It struck me as rather curious for him to give a captive
such a good opportunity to escape, but it pleased me withal, and it
need not be told I made no attempt to make off.

In a few moments he returned, bearing in his arms several Indian
garments.

“Will put him on, and me fix things,” said he, throwing them down
beside me. I hastily donned them, understanding fully their use and
intentions.

“Keep close, and don’t say nothing to nobody,” he added, as they
enveloped my person.

He now turned his face towards the village, and we were soon wending
our way through it. We passed several savages who spoke to me, Jim
however taking the responsibility of replying. At last we reached his
lodge without my identity being discovered. This was at the extreme
eastern end of the village, and as we entered I saw it was devoid of
any persons except ourselves.

“You sleep there, Will,” said he, pointing to one corner, where a
buffalo robe was visible by the dim light of a few smoldering embers.
I repaired to the spot, thanking him for his kindly offer, and lay
down, while he replenished the fire, seating himself by it, and
commenced the never-ceasing pleasure of examining his revolver.

Lying half asleep on the buffalo robe, listlessly gazing at the
savage, his features all at once struck me. I had seen them before,
but where I could not recollect. Let me see--ah! it was plain now. He
was one of the occupants of the mysterious canoe!

It soon became known throughout the Indian village that a white man
was a captive among them, and the next morning the entrance to Jim’s
lodge was thronged with hundreds anxious to get a peep at me. Knowing
that this curiosity must be gratified sooner or later, I stepped
boldly forth, and mingled among them, in order to have the matter
finished at once. No violence was offered me, although several pinched
my arms rather severely, seemingly determined to be satisfied upon all
my points.

My Indian friend Jim was married, and, in the course of the day, his
squaw made her appearance. She was a middle-aged woman, and tolerably
good-looking for a savage. Jim informed her that I was to be her
slave, and thus it may be said I was established in winter-quarters.

The heavy storm referred to in the previous chapter, was the close of
the warm season, and the fierce northern winter commenced setting in.
Winter in the northwest is far different from that season in the
Middle States. It is full six months in continuance, and such is the
intense coldness for the greater part of the season, that the
thermometer sinks to thirty and often forty degrees below zero. Two
weeks after my capture, it seemed impossible to prevent freezing to
death in the lodge with a roaring fire a few feet off. Yet the savages
minded it hardly at all. A few extra garments were added to their
costume, and they flitted as incessantly through the village as ever.

In the tribe it was acknowledged that I was the property of Jim, and
thus my lot was much more endurable than otherwise. He was really a
good-hearted Indian, I believe; and the course that I ever maintained
toward him won some of his regard. However, he was a lazy dog, like
all of his male kindred, and, although I had an exalted opinion of
him, it was impossible to discover in him any of those poetical
attributes which are so generally conceded to the North American
Indian. In conversation with me, he discarded entirely those
extravagant, highly-wrought figures of speech common to his kindred,
and added in their place an awkward oath or two, and a phrase learned
from the Hudson-Bay traders. The greater part of the day he sat before
his fire, smoking and gazing moodily into it, while his better-half
busied herself about the apartment as willingly and contentedly as
though she never dreamed of a different lot. Of course, I assisted her
as much as lay within my power, and came at last to do all of the
out-door work.

I have always regarded my capture by this tribe of Indians as a
fortunate circumstance. I cannot imagine how else I could have
maintained life through the unusually severe winter which followed. No
mortal hand could have saved me from perishing from cold, while it
would have been utterly impossible to have procured food, when the
snow lay six feet upon the ground, and the rivers were sealed by great
depths of ice. Although frequent occasions presented themselves, I
determined to make no effort to leave my captors until the spring had
arrived.

As mentioned, I had pretty well-defined suspicions that Jim was one of
the savages who occupied the mysterious canoe, referred to in the
preceding chapters. I was not positive of this, although, when I
stood by his side and viewed his profile, the resemblance seemed
perfect.

One great disappointment had already come. I was sure that I should
learn something either of Nat, or of the fair, mysterious captive.
When I questioned Jim, he answered with such apparent sincerity and
truth, that I was pretty well convinced he knew nothing of either. In
regard to the latter he laughed; the former he merely shook his head;
he knew nothing of either. Sometimes when I fell into a deep reverie,
and suddenly awoke, I could see Jim lift his eyes quickly from me, as
though he had been endeavoring to satisfy himself of my identity. He
questioned me artfully, and I told him all. At last, I resolved to put
the question direct.

“Jim, didn’t you and another warrior, some weeks ago, pass down the
river, some distance south, with a white woman?”

There was a perceptible start at this question, but he answered
promptly:

“Don’t know nothing ’bout ’em.”

“Why, I was pretty sure that I saw you.”

He shook his head.

There was nothing to be gained by further questioning, and I gave it
up. But I was satisfied he knew more of Nat and the sweet captive
than he was willing to tell--and I was not mistaken.

Shortly after this conversation, Jim told me that he and several of
his tribe were in the employ of the Hudson Bay Fur Company, and traded
numerous furs with them every spring. I asked him whether he was not
in the territory of the Northwest Fur Company. He replied that that
made no difference; each trespassed upon the other’s grounds, and he
had been engaged for both.[2]

    [2] The Hudson Bay Company, established two hundred years ago,
    by Prince Rupert, divided its territory into four
    compartments--the Northern, including all the country of the Far
    North; the Southern, extending south to Lake Superior; the
    Montreal, including the country along the northern shore of the
    Gulf of St. Lawrence; and the Columbia Department, comprehending
    all the country west of the Rocky Mountains, including Oregon,
    in which, I believe, they still trade.

A few weeks subsequent to this, there came a storm which laid the snow
six feet deep, and Jim informed me that, in company with several
others, he should proceed to set his traps for the winter’s work, and
he willingly consented that I should accompany him. Preparations were
accordingly made. Extra garments were donned, a couple of traps taken
by each, and, placing our snow-shoes upon our feet, we sallied forth.
This was the first time I ever attempted to travel with snow-shoes,
and, as may be supposed, I made awkward work of it. These were fully
six feet in length, resembling a canoe somewhat in shape, and of
extreme lightness. The interior is filled with a gauzy network, which
allows the light, sand-like snow to fall through without impeding
one’s progress. They are fastened loosely but securely to the feet,
and when the snow is not dampened by thaws, twenty miles can be easily
made in a day. Without these convenient things, it would be next to
impossible to travel during six months of the year in the fur-bearing
regions.

We proceeded westward some eight or ten miles before all of the traps
were set, when, turning, we retraced our steps, intending to visit
them the following night. The trap used by the Indians of this section
is much the same as the common steel-trap of the States, being,
however, much larger, and without the saw-like teeth of the latter. A
long chain, with a heavy stone attached, is fastened to the trap, and
concealed beneath the snow, to prevent the animal making off with the
whole concern. The trap is placed just beneath the surface of the
snow, and bits of frozen fish are scattered around, which attract the
half-starved foxes, lynx, beavers, and wolves in the region. Having
completed all arrangements, we retraced our steps, and reached the
village just as night was setting in.

Nothing of note took place the next day, and, as the night came on,
Jim informed me that they were going to visit their traps to ascertain
what luck they had. As he made no objection, I again donned my
snow-shoes and joined them. There was but one savage beside himself.
The snow was crisp and fine, and the traveling comparatively easy. Jim
dragged a small sled behind him for the purpose of bringing back
anything found in the traps.

It was a bright moonlight night, and as we journeyed through the
forest, there were patches of snow almost as light as day. We shunned
the trees, as the snow-crust was brittle around them, and once or
twice crossed broad belts of snow, devoid of timber, which Jim
informed me were the beds of rivers. As we traveled on, nothing broke
the silence, except the muffled sliding of our shoes over the icy
crust, or a single word from one of the savages; and it occurred to me
that if my friends at home could have seen me at this particular
moment, they would have imagined I was searching for gold in a strange
country.

The first trap we reached had the _fore-leg_ of a fox in it only. I
looked at Jim inquiringly, unable to understand what it meant.

“He gnawed him off, and run away; look out next time.”

The fox had been caught by his fore-leg, and, finding himself unable
to get loose, had eaten off the imprisoned limb and escaped on the
others. In a month’s time he would probably suffer no inconvenience
from it. In the next trap was found a red fox, whose fur bears but a
trifling value. He was killed, placed upon the sled, the trap reset,
and we proceeded to the rest. None of them had been visited, except
the last. In this was imprisoned a beautiful black fox, the capture of
which nearly set the two savages into ecstasies. The fur, of this
animal is more valuable than that of any other caught by the trappers,
one alone sometimes bringing as high as two hundred dollars. It is so
rarely captured, and such a prize, when taken, that a hunter would be
satisfied with one single animal during the whole season.

Our two animals being secured upon our sled, and the traps carefully
reset, we commenced our return journey. The night was far advanced
when we reached the Indian village. As we entered our lodge, Jim’s
squaw arose noiselessly and replenished the fire. While removing my
snow-shoes, I remarked to Jim that my feet had felt for the last hour
or two as though they were asleep.

“Let me see him,” he asked quickly, jerking off the thick moccasins
which I had donned a few weeks back. He looked at my feet a moment,
and then exclaimed, “By dam, him froze up!”

I was considerably startled at this, and anxiously asked him if they
were badly frozen.

“Yaw, but me fix em,” he answered, and commenced immediately rubbing
until I begged him to desist. He paid no heed to my entreaties, but
continued this treatment until he had restored completely the
congealed circulation, and saved the useful members.

The savages had but poor fortune in trapping this winter, and there
was considerable suffering. The Indians of the northwest rely solely
upon what they are able thus to take, for their food during the cold
season; and, as there is generally plenty of game, they fare well. But
now and then some unaccountable cause drives all the animals away, and
cases of actual starvation have occurred. Jim told me that three
winters before a case of cannibalism had occurred in their tribe, and
years before that, when a mere child, there came an appalling time.
Half the families were obliged to devour some of their members to
support life until spring, and, for over a week, an old, miserable
bison supported the whole tribe. Jim said he had more than once cooked
his moccasins and eaten them.

The tribe was driven to no such extremity as this while I was with
them, and I saw no want myself. Jim was one of their best hunters and
he supplied his own lodge before that of others. Yet, there were
others who were not so fortunate, and who were often compelled to
endure the pangs of hunger for days at a time. When food was secured,
they gorged themselves nearly to bursting, and were the happiest of
mortals, until the wants of nature again made themselves felt.

I could write far more of my experience with this tribe of Indians;
but I feel it would be hardly in place here, as there are other
characters in this narrative who must claim notice. My aim has been
only to dwell long enough upon particulars, for an understanding of
the events that follow. During my captivity, several things occurred
to make me suspect that the mysterious captive referred to was in this
village the whole time, and I was satisfied that the Indian Jim knew
more of Nat than he would impart to me. These imaginings filled me
with moody misgivings, and I made a resolve that as soon as spring
came I would make my escape; and if I could learn nothing of the two
beings whose fate was unknown to me, depart for the States. The life
I was leading was a wearisome, monotonous one, and in time would
become unbearable. Spring was but a month or two distant, and in its
approach I placed my fondest hopes; but it was doomed to open an
experience in my life of which I little dreamed.



CHAPTER IX.

THE BUFFALO HUNT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.


During my captivity among the Indians, as stated in the last chapter,
there was considerable suffering on account of the scarcity of food.
The country to the north of Nebraska is the paradise of all species of
game in the summer months, but during the winter the large animals
proceed to the southward, and the deep snows prevent the capture of
the smaller ones, except by means of traps. Spring, therefore, was
looked forward to with eager expectation, as the harbinger of
enjoyment and the season of the chase.

And it came at last. First, the sun grew hotter and blazed more
fiercely; the snow became damp and cloggy, and the dripping of water
could be heard through the day and night. Snow-shoe traveling was now
nearly impossible, as long as the thaw continued. Huge streams of
melted snow poured into the rivers all along the banks, and the ice
became weaker and weaker each moment, till, at last, with a terrific
crashing and thundering, the whole mass started, and, a week after,
the clear, blue running water only was seen. The thaw continued, until
at last all the snow had disappeared, and with feelings of
indescribable joy, we once more saw the face of the earth. Vegetation
now commenced with surprising growth, and, in an almost incredible
short space of time, bright, radiant, glorious spring held indisputed
reign. Indians were departing and arriving every day with loads of
fish, wild fowl, and game, and the village was a scene of unbridled
feasting for many a day.

One forenoon, a savage, who had been absent a day or two, announced
that a herd of buffaloes were quietly browsing a few miles to the
southward. This produced violent commotion throughout the village, and
preparations were at once made for the grand hunt. Some twenty or
thirty splendid Indian ponies were mounted by as many warriors, and,
to my inexpressible delight, Jim informed me that I should accompany
them. A small, high-spirited animal was given me as my charger. He was
of a dark color, and his dappled haunches glistened in the sun like
polished ebony.

About noon we sallied forth from the village, and struck a southward
direction, restraining our animals to a walk, in order to preserve
their wind for the severe test at hand. While riding along by the
side of Jim, the thought of escape--which had not been absent from me
for the last six months--came with double force. I was now mounted
upon a fleet, long-winded animal, who could hold his own with any
horse bestrode by the Indians, and what was to prevent my escape? In
the bewilderment and excitement of the chase, I might wander miles
away, and be gone many hours, without exciting suspicion. My captors,
I suppose, had no thoughts of my attempting a flight, as I had
permitted so many opportunities to pass, and I felt there would be no
suspicious eyes watching my motions. The prairie stretched hundreds of
miles to the southward, and it seemed my animal longed to bound away
upon it. At any rate, I felt the time had come, and resolved that I
should never return to the Indian village a captive.

An hour or so after, we came in sight of the drove, cropping the new
grass of the prairie. So numerous were they, that, as we looked over
them, it was impossible to see their extent. Far away, until they
touched the horizon, the ocean of dark, swarming bodies could be seen.

Our animals now partook of the excitement of their masters. Arching
their necks, they scented the prey afar, and it was nearly impossible
to restrain their impatience. They snorted, and plunged, champed
their bits, and shook their heads, and seemed determined to rush
forward despite all restraint.

[Illustration: “Setting up a wild yell, the Indians scattered and
plunged after them.”]

We continued stealthily approaching in a body, preserving strict
silence, in order not to alarm the game. In this way, we came within a
hundred yards, when a bull raised his alarmed gaze at us, and, giving
a loud snort, heaved his huge body round, and plunged madly into the
herd. All took the alarm, and went thundering away, making the earth
tremble with their multitudinous tread.

It was now wholly useless to undertake to check our animals longer,
and, setting up a wild yell, the Indians scattered and plunged after
them. The buffalo is not a runner, and, owing to the shortness of his
fore-legs, appears to roll in his gait. The Indians’ horses soon bring
their riders alongside the bisons, and as soon as the shot is given,
they shy off to avoid the infuriated animal’s horns. Before I was
prepared for it, my animal was abreast of a buffalo, and waiting for
my shot. Here I committed a blunder common to all beginners of the
hunt. I fired while holding the reins in my hands. The consequence
was, my bullet struck the animal somewhere about the head, got
entangled in his mane, where it would drop out in a day or two. My
horse immediately veered to one side, and allowed the buffalo to run
until I could reload. I now saw my beast knew more of the chase than I
did, and dropping the rein upon his neck, allowed him full freedom.

Cautiously, but rapidly, he came alongside the plunging buffalo, and
taking more care, I sent a bullet through the fore part of his body.
It was his death-wound; and, seemingly conscious of his fate, and
determined on revenge, he wheeled instantly round, drove his fore-feet
into the ground, and dropped his head to rip up my charger. This
movement was so sudden, and we were so close upon him, that my horse
could neither check his speed nor turn to one side. But he avoided him
for all that. Dropping upon his haunches with a snort, he made a
terrific bound upward and went clean over the buffalo. The maddened
animal expected this, and plunged his horns upward at him, expecting
to still kill him. The instinct of the horse was too much, however;
he, too, feared such a fate, and leaped high enough to avoid him. As
he came to the earth again, he plunged swiftly away, the enraged
buffalo in full pursuit; but he easily kept clear from him, wheeling
and dodging, and still remaining nigh enough for me to give my shot.
My gun was unloaded, and before I could charge it, the buffalo had
fallen to the earth and was fast dying.

I now looked about me. Buffaloes were flying in every direction, and
the forms of the savages could be seen darting to and fro among them,
dealing death and destruction at every turn. The main herd was pouring
simultaneously southward, while the scores which had been cut off,
were endeavoring to rejoin them, carrying us along with them. In
different parts of the prairie could be seen the dark, motionless
forms of the slain buffaloes, showing how successful the chase had
been thus far.

The sky, which in the morning was fair and clear, was now becoming
overcast with heavy clouds, and two or three warning rumbles of
thunder were heard in the distance. Still, the savages were too
excited to notice the interruption, as long as a single buffalo
remained. I saw Jim plunge his horse unhesitatingly into a crowd of a
dozen or so, when, as he commenced dealing destruction, his horse
became entangled, and he was compelled to make a flying leap over the
backs of the animals around him. This he accomplished successfully,
leaping from one back to the other, until he was clear of them all.

Suddenly, it occurred to me, while holding my fiery horse, that if I
meditated escape it was high time to be about it. Turning to the
southward, I could just descry the drove thundering away, a vast cloud
of dust circling above them. The rein was dropped upon the neck of my
horse, and, stretching out his head, he bounded away like the wind. He
was a noble animal, and was now in his element. He enjoyed the chase
as much as any of the savages; and, as mile after mile of prairie flew
beneath his feet, he was only warming into the excitement. As I looked
back, I could just discern the Indians, like specks in the distance,
still at their bloody work.

We were now at no great distance from the herd, and my horse catching
sight of an old worried bull, somewhat in the rear, instantly made
toward him. He was too jaded to hasten his pace, and I could see his
fury was roused. I prepared to shoot him, as it would go to show my
pursuers, if I should have any, that the excitement of the chase had
alone carried me away. While yet some distance, he shied to one side,
and turned his head warningly toward us, but without halting. The
horse, however, finding that I still restrained my shot, continued to
bring me closer. At last, the bison struck into a swifter run, and
made desperate efforts to rejoin his companions. In an instant I was
beside him, and holding my gun to my shoulder, was just on the point
of firing, when he suddenly stood at bay, in precisely the same manner
as the other. My horse, instead of making a running leap this time,
stopped instantaneously, planting his feet firmly in the ground. I was
not prepared for this, and shot a dozen feet over his head, falling
upon my face within a foot of the buffalo. The shock was terrible, and
I was severely injured. I endeavored to rise, fearing that I should be
gored and trampled to death, but was unable, and heard the buffalo
scampering away. I placed my hand to my face, and found it covered
with blood, and a strange bewilderment was coming over me. I arose to
my knees, and gazed about me. The buffalo was plunging in the rear of
his drove, while my horse was galloping wildly around me, his mane and
bridle flying in the wind. I heard the bursting of thunder overhead,
and everything was growing dark and confused. I tried again to rise,
but failed. There was a thick darkness about me, a heavy hand pressing
me to the earth, and all become chaotic.

When consciousness returned, all was blank darkness. The rain was
pouring down in torrents, and, stunned and bleeding, I lay on the
soaked, cold, spongy earth. Gradually, the remembrance of my
misfortune came over me. I must have been lying several hours upon the
prairie, exposed to the cold, dismal storm. My clothes were saturated
with the chilling rain, and my face and hands bedabbled with mud and
dirt.

I struggled desperately to my feet, and endeavored to pierce the
Stygian gloom around; but it was useless; not the smallest point of
the faintest light could be seen in any direction. Up, down, on every
hand, the same solid walls of darkness enveloped me. I was many miles
from the Indian village, and had lost its direction. At that moment, I
would have given worlds to have been within Jim’s lodge. Flight, in my
present condition, was not to be thought of, and I must soon receive
succor or I should perish.

I listened. In the dismal sweep of the rain something like a footstep
was heard. I called out, but there was no reply. Again the splash of a
foot was heard, now from a different point. Soon I discovered some
animal was walking around me in a circle. Feeling round in the spongy
prairie, I found my rifle, but it was useless as a means of defense,
as the charge was thoroughly wetted. I clubbed it, and waited for the
attack. Still around and around the same step went. At first I fondly
hoped it might be Jim, or one of his companions, but its footfall
showed it to be a quadruped, and its approach was too cautious.
Suddenly it halted and walked directly toward me. I drew my rifle
back, ready to brain it the minute it was within my reach. A faint
neigh was heard--joy inexpressible! it was my faithful horse. As I
called to him, he approached, and lowered his head for me to take his
bridle. With a feeling of deep thankfulness and hope, I clambered into
the saddle, and he bounded away, his unerring instinct leading him
straight toward home.

The rain continued to beat, cold and dismal, and I felt already
burning within me a hot, fiery fever, from the terrible suffering I
had undergone. I should soon be prostrated, and without some kindly
hand to nurse me, would inevitably perish. But the horse was certain;
and, after an hour or two, my heart leaped, as we entered the silent
Indian village. But one light was burning, and that was in the lodge
of Jim, showing that he expected my return. I rode instantly up to the
entrance and dismounted, while my noble horse made off to look out
for himself. Jim arose as he heard my approach, and, lifting his
torch, advanced to meet me.

“You had long hunt--”

He started back in horror at my appearance. Then, holding his light
over his head, and peering at me, he asked:

“What de matter? Been in fight?”

“No; I was thrown from my horse, and lay senseless upon the prairie
until a short time ago. I feel bad, Jim, and fear I am severely
injured,” said I, starting to seat myself.

“Wait minute; am hurt; let me fix ’em.”

He clapped his hands, and instantly the bundle of blankets at the side
of the lodge arose to an upright position, and his squaw walked forth.
My wounds were now dressed, my garments changed for dry ones, and with
a hot cup of drink, I was swathed in blankets, and placed by the fire.
Jim said it was not far from morning, and if at that time I was worse,
he would call in the Medicine Man.

All night the fever burned and raged, and when morning came I was
partially delirious. Jim examined my pulse, shook his head doubtingly,
and departed from the lodge. In a short time he returned, and with him
came the Medicine Man, an Indian considerably advanced in years, and
much loved and honored by his tribe. He, too, looked grave, and held
a consultation in an undertone with Jim. From these signs, I knew I
was dangerously, probably fatally injured.

And now came days of those strange, indescribable visions that come
over one in high fever. I was in all imaginable places, and saw
wonderful persons and scenes. Now and then, there were moments when
reason flitted to its throne. At such times I saw the Medicine Man or
Jim near me; and once, as I wonderingly opened my eyes, I saw the
mysterious captive bending over me. I looked straight into her dark,
liquid eyes, and reached forth and touched her garment, to satisfy
myself that it was no freak of mind. My fixed stare alarmed her, and
she looked inquiringly at the Medicine Man. He mumbled something, and
she departed.

About a week after my accident, as I subsequently learned, I awoke
with my full reason. As I looked wonderingly about me, the first
object that encountered my eyes was the captive to whom I have
alluded. My fixed stare at her seemed to alarm her, and she arose to
pass out.

“Wait,” said I; “pray do not leave me.”

“But you should not talk,” she replied, much agitated; “the Medicine
Man would not allow it; you will surely injure yourself.”

“You and the Medicine Man are both mistaken, if he thinks thus. I know
I have been sick and delirious, but my mind was never clearer than it
is this instant, and I know a few moments’ conversation cannot injure
me. Let me beg you not to refuse me this, as I cannot tell whether the
opportunity will ever again be offered.”

The being before me was much embarrassed, and for a moment hesitated,
seemingly in doubt between duty and inclination. Seizing the
opportunity, I urged my wish with greater fervor than ever. Finally
she glanced furtively around, as though she expected to meet the
twinkling orbs of the Medicine Man, and then answered:

“I cannot refuse your request, and yet it seems wrong that I should
thus disobey the injunctions that were given for your good. What is it
that you wish to ask me?”

“Am I out of danger?”

“Not yet. You have been crazy for a long time, and more than once the
Medicine Man has shaken his head in doubt when he looked upon you.”

“Have you not watched by me nearly all the time I have been thus?” I
gazed full in her face as I uttered this question, and she dropped her
eyes in confusion, as she replied:

“I have assisted the Medicine Man several times as he wished me to,
and I have done no more to you than I would to any one in similar
circumstances.”

“No, sweet being, I know you haven’t,” I exclaimed, in admiration;
“your heart is open to any one. Who you are I know not, but I can see
your race is similar to my own, and judge you to be a willing prisoner
among these Indians. Your image has long been before me, and I can
never forget your fair, angelic face. What first was merely _interest_
upon my part, has grown into a stronger passion for you, though I
fear--”

I paused as she suddenly arose to her feet, and raised her hand in a
warning manner. Before I could ask the meaning of this, a shuffling
step was heard, and the next minute the Medicine Man made his
appearance. He gesticulated angrily toward her, and she passed quietly
out of the lodge. I followed her with my eyes, and as she reached the
passage way, she turned toward me with a look that told more than
words.

The Medicine Man evidently suspected what I had been doing; for I
could see he was excited, and mumbled continually to himself. He
forced a bitter, scalding drink into my mouth, which was soothing in
its effects, and in a short time I slept.

Now comes a long blank in my memory. After this incident, black night
shut around my mind. There is a faint recollection of again seeing
Jim and the Medicine Man bending over me, and the sweet pale face of
the fair captive, and then again came utter oblivion.



CHAPTER X.

AN AWFUL AWAKENING.


I have now reached a point in my life over which I would fain pass in
silence. It is an experience so strange, so like some horrid vision of
sleep, so different from what usually falls to the lot of man, that,
at this remote day, I cannot look upon it without a recoiling shudder
of horror. I have sometimes persuaded myself that it was unreal; but
no, it is true, and time can never clothe the memory of it in a
different dress than that of unearthly terror. Bleak and bare it
stands alone, in my checkered lot, and the silver that now glistens
prematurely in my hair, came upon that night.

I remember falling into a deep sleep, in which the last form that
passed before my eyes was that of the dark Medicine Man; there was a
confused murmur of voices, and then all became blank and dark.
Gradually the darkness was swept by the glittering folds of a dream--a
dream which had little form or theme, but the minutest particulars of
which I remember to this day. There were airy, waving figures gliding
silently about me without voice, but with every variety of motion.
They passed and repassed before my face, frequently pausing and
extending their arms over my body, and sometimes standing and intently
scanning my countenance. This continued a long time, not a word spoken
either by myself or the forms, when suddenly the whole changed. The
waving figures darted with the rapidity of lightning among each other,
and the quiet radiance became instantly as black as night. In this, I
could distinguish the rushing forms growing fainter and fainter,
until, at last, all was blackness again.

Then came a feeling as though the thick darkness in one volume were
gradually crushing me beneath it, and then a strange feeling of being
cramped and held forcibly still. Then came a long, deep, indrawn
breath, and I awoke.

All was confused and inexplicable. Open my eyes as wide as I might, I
could not pierce the Stygian gloom. I tried to move, but could
not--could not stir a limb, and only the fingers of my hand. The air
was steamy and hot, and I was surrounded by something which chained
every part. I strove to collect my thoughts. I remembered the
consultation in the hut, the coming unconsciousness, and--my present
awakening. My first impression, after this, was that the house had
fallen over me. I clenched my hands--_they closed upon earth_! I
reached forward and licked the darkness. _I tasted earth!_--and then
came the sudden, overwhelming knowledge--

I WAS BURIED ALIVE!!

No pen can draw the faintest picture, no soul conceive the unutterable
horror, unless that soul has gone through the same awful experience
that filled my soul at that discovery. Such a whirlwind of fire as
seethed through my bursting brain, such a perfect blaze of all the
passions that can rack the human mind, I cannot portray with this
feeble pen. For a moment I was frantic, and then suddenly a dreadful
and frightful calmness soothed my frame.

Ay, I was buried alive! The savages had mistaken my trance-like stupor
for death itself, and I had been hurried prematurely into the grave.

Oh, the appalling discovery! To die while in the grave! The thought
was too horrible! I was not yet ready to give way to utter despair. I
durst not pause a second for thought, for I knew it would surely come.
I twisted and struggled with the strength of fury. I could turn my
body around, and use my arms. There was an open space before my face,
as I had been buried in the sitting position. Had I lain back I could
not have survived five minutes; as it was, my limbs were immovably
secured, and it _was absolutely impossible for me to free myself_.

It was a long time, for such an experience, before I admitted this,
but I was compelled to at last. Death by suffocation was rapidly
approaching, and all that was left for me was to prepare for it. The
small breath of air around me had already been breathed over and over
again, and was become hot, steamy, and sickening. I was gasping and
panting, but strove to collect my thoughts and keep them from
wandering. I commenced praying.

Suddenly a muffled sound reached my ear, as though something had
fallen to the earth above. I listened--it was repeated directly over
me, now rapidly and regularly. What could it mean? Was it the sign of
dissolution, or was it real? I listened, and heard it plainer and
plainer above the mild throbs of my heart. _It was real!_ Something or
somebody was digging at the grave above!

Could I now hold out till I was reached? The air had already become
_thick and palpable_, and strange fires were flitting before my eyes.
I held my breath till the distended blood-vessels seemed bursting, and
then as I respired, the earth turned to soft _mud_ around me; and
then the long-labored inspiration was like drawing in some loathsome
reptile.

But _what_ was above? It could not be a person, as I had been buried
by them. It must be some famished animal hastening to devour me. Yet
this would be a relief, to gain one more draught of the sweet, cool
air of heaven before death.

Now I heard the murmur of _voices_! I shouted--there was a pause and
stillness; then the efforts were renewed with greater vigor. I shouted
again. I could feel the jarring tremble of the loose earth above. Some
one was endeavoring to rescue me from my awful fate, thank God!

A moment after, and the cool air brushed my face; a strong hand seized
my arm, and--Oh, joy inexpressible! I was on the earth again.

For a moment I was bewildered and dizzy, and my pulse fluttered
wildly, for I had been very, very nigh death. I was recalled to full
consciousness by the familiar voice of Jim.

“Got in a tight fix, Bill. Ole Jim jus’ in time.”

I took the savage’s hand without a word, and, sinking upon my knees,
sent up a deep, heartfelt prayer to the Merciful Being who had thus
snatched me from the most appalling death. There was a bright moon
shining, and, as I turned, I saw the dark Indian’s eyes fixed
wonderingly upon me.

“Jim,” said I, solemnly, “may the God who has put it into your heart,
reward you for this act. I _never, never_ can.”

“Jim didn’t do it,” he quickly interrupted. “_She_ did!” and,
disengaging his grasp, he darted out of sight I turned and looked
behind me. There, standing motionless as a statue, her slight form
wrapped in a thick mantle, her sweet, white face appearing like a
spirit’s, stood the fair, mysterious captive.[3]

    [3] In the northwestern part of Oregon is a tribe of Indians
    called Chenooks, who bury their sick, as soon as the Medicine
    Man pronounces them beyond recovery. This horrid practice is not
    confined to them alone, for other tribes in the northwest have
    been known to inflict it upon their captives.

For a moment, I was disposed to believe it was a spirit before me, so
still and motionless she remained. Suddenly she turned to depart.

“Hold!” exclaimed I, springing forward and seizing her arm; “hold one
moment, till I thank thee.”

“Thank the Great One above,” she replied, in a low, sweet voice. “He
it is who has preserved your life.”

As she uttered these words, she turned her dark eyes upward, and the
moonlight streaming down upon her face, threw a vail like the halo of
glory around it. Then looking me calmly in the face, she added:

“You have escaped an awful death, it is true; and you are not the only
one who has thus risen from the grave. When delirious, you spoke of
home and of friends there, and I know your presence is prayed for. The
chance of reaching them is now placed within your reach. A horse is
saddled and bridled, and awaiting you, but a short distance away. Jim
will furnish you with a rifle. You know the direction to take, and let
me urge you to flee.”

Again she turned to go, but I restrained her.

“You are a white person, and do you wish to live and die with these
savages?”

The tears glistened on her face as she replied, “I have not a friend
in the civilized world. My parents were murdered by the Indians, and
myself and sister carried away in captivity. We were separated; I was
taken eastward, and she westward beyond the Rocky Mountains. She
cannot be living, for she was a delicate child, younger than me, and
incapable of bearing one-half the suffering that must have been
imposed upon her. Should I ever see the land I left when a child, I
should be a stranger among strangers. There are those here who love
me, and I will remain behind and die among them.”

“Flee with me,” I impetuously urged. “You will not be a stranger.
Hundreds will love you, and you can die with your own kindred. Jim,
who is faithful to you, will furnish us both with a fleet horse, and
we can elude all pursuit. I--”

I paused, for her agitation had become painful. She was sinking to the
earth, when I caught her, and, leading her a short distance, seated
myself beside her upon a fallen tree. Then I gently pulled her head
over on my bosom, and looked down upon her features. Her gaudy
head-dress was removed, and her white face lay among the mass of jetty
hair like a jewel set in darkness. The dark, sweeping lashes, the
faint roseate glow of each cheek, the delicate nose and lips, as the
moonlight rested on them, were indescribably beautiful. There was,
too, an utter abandonment about her,--a tumultuous throbbing, that
showed what a powerful emotion was agitating her.

What was that emotion? Was it a response to my own great passion? What
else could it be? Encouraged by the certainty that the latter was the
case, I urged my suit with redoubled ardor. I pictured the happiness
that would be hers in a civilized country, and the utter misery that
must follow her life among the savages. She informed me that she was a
captive, not of the tribe near at hand, but of one further north,
which had held her ever since the massacre of her parents; and that
she had been told, in case she attempted to leave them, instant death
would be the result. I saw she wished--she _longed_ to flee, and the
objections she offered were only suggested by her fears.

“Hist!” she whispered, “there is some one.”

I turned on the defensive. In an instant Jim stood beside me.

“How soon goin’?” he asked, anxiously, turning toward me.

“Shortly; why do you ask?”

“Day clus comin’, and if you cotched, no use!” he replied, meaningly.

“I was not aware, Jim, that I had enemies among you.”

“You hain’t; but--”

The rest of the sentence was gesticulated, first pointing to me and
the fair one beside me.

“Do you not understand?” asked the latter. “There are several in the
tribe who look upon me with envious eyes, and were they conscious that
you knew of my existence, you would not be spared a moment. This is
what Jim means, and his words must be heeded.”

“Must I travel afoot and alone?” I asked of the Indian.

“There’s the hoss what tossed you over the buffler there,” he
answered, pointing to a clump of trees, “and I’ve brought you them
other things,” he added, handing me my knife, powder-horn, and rifle,
“and I’ll show you through the woods to the peararie.”

“Thank you; but I shall not need you, as I know the way well enough.”

“How soon you goin’ to start?” he asked, turning to depart.

“In less than an hour I shall bid you farewell.”

“Jim,” interposed the fair captive, “bring my horse to the same spot.
I think I shall also leave for home to-night. If inquiry is made, you
can tell them this, and add that I shall probably be with them in a
few days again. As I know the wilderness well, I will guide our friend
here through it.”

The savage looked cautiously at us both. If he was shrewd enough to
suspect the truth, he was polite enough not to show it. He replied
that her wish should be gratified, and he disappeared as noiselessly
as he came. It was now getting far in the night. The moon rode high in
the heavens, and shed a full, perfect light down upon us.

“So you are going,” said I, looking at her.

“I am going to attempt it,” she answered, firmly.

“And through no action of mine shall you ever regret this step,” I
added, warmly.

“Oh! I hope he will soon return, for I _wish_ to go,” she said, as
with a shiver of apprehension she looked hurriedly about in the dark
shadows of the forest.

“As yet, we know not each other’s names,” said I, pleasantly.

“True,” she answered, with a faint smile. “Mine is Imogene Merment.”

“And mine is William Relmond; but where can Jim be?”

“Ah! there he is now,” she answered, with a deep flush; and the next
minute the savage stood beside us.

“The animals are there; and I’m thinking you’d better be off. Soon as
you git away, I’ll cover up the hole, so thee won’t think him has
crawled out; but I’m much afeared there am some peeking about here.”

“We will go at once,” said Imogene, gathering up her dress.

I turned to give a last word to Jim, but he had vanished.

“Let us hurry,” said she, “for I have a dread that we are watched, and
will not get away after all. I pray God that nothing may prevent us,
now that we are started.”

She almost ran, and in a minute we reached the grove referred to. Here
we found two horses saddled and bridled, and ready for a journey.
Without losing a moment, we mounted and struck to the northward.

“Why this direction, Imogene?” I asked.

“To avoid pursuit,” she answered. “At daylight we will change it, and
proceed to the south-east.”

The open prairie was some miles distant, and as long as we were in the
deep shadows of the wood, the greatest danger was to be apprehended.
It was more than probable that the extended absence of Jim and
Imogene, at the same time, had aroused the suspicions of more than
one savage. As all must have known that I was buried while still
living, and that she had battled their determination as long as there
was hope, when the morning came and showed her abrupt departure, they
could not help suspecting the true cause.

[Illustration: “Without losing a moment, we mounted and struck to the
northward.”]

The air was cool and exhilarating, and, as my fiery animal pranced
beside that of Imogene, I could not restrain the wild, ardent hopes
that thrilled my being. I was homeward bound with the fairest prize of
the universe to me. What else could be needed? Ah! there was the fate
of Nat, my companion, still shrouded in obscurity. I determined to
question her at once in regard to him.

“Imogene, although this is hardly the proper moment, I cannot help
questioning you about the fate of a friend of mine.”

“I know to whom you refer,” she answered, quickly. “I have heard him
speak of you, but he does not know of your existence. He is a captive
like yourself, save that he seems perfectly contented with his fate.”

“Thank heaven! it seems indeed that a wonderful Providence is watching
over all of us.”

“I believe he can effect his escape, but it must be through your
instrumentality, for I will not dare to show myself under the
circumstances.”

“Good, clever Nat, I will do anything for him,” I exclaimed, warmly.
“He is a whole-souled fellow, for all he is so odd. Only to think, he
has been so nigh me all this time! Of course, it is my place to assist
him, as far as lies in my power.”

“I have had several conversations with him, in all of which he spoke
of you. He appeared to love you, and regretted greatly that you were
so reckless. He said he had long striven to teach you how to hunt with
caution, but never succeeded. He also referred to a trapper named Bill
Biddon, the one who did his best to save our family when they fell
victims to the savages, and who I would give all the world to see. He
said he succeeded, after several years, in making quite a hunter of
him.”

“Oh! the rascal,” I laughed, “just like him.”

When day dawned we continued our journey for several hours. I learned
in the course of our conversation that Imogene Merment wandered
continually among the tribes for many miles around, and, as I learned
in after years, her existence was known to points as far opposite as
Fort Churchill and Fort Hall.[4]

    [4] The Crow Indians are a numerous tribe, subdivided into the
    Blackfeet-Sioux, Dacotah, Ouk-pa-pas, Two Kettle, and Minnie,
    besides several others. Each has its separate village and chief,
    but all are on friendly relations with each other.

At noon I shot a ptarmigan, which was cooked and upon which we made a
hearty dinner. Imogene ascended a small eminence to ascertain whether
any signs of pursuit were visible. None were discovered, but we
hurried forward until nightfall, when we drew up for the night. We
started a fire, and at my urgent request, Imogene lay down beside it,
while I kept watch. Our horses were picketed at scarcely a rod
distant, and yet in the night they became so terrified at the approach
of some animal, that they broke loose and fled, and we never saw them
again.

This was a great loss to us, but in the morning we continued our
journey on foot, and at noon ascended a high mountain, which was a
spur of the Black Hills, lying between the Yellowstone and Missouri.
The day was a clear, beautiful one, and the fairest peaks of the
mountains, looming up against the blue, far-off horizon, formed a fine
background to the glorious landscape spread out before us. Never shall
I forget the magnificent scene which was opened to our vision. To the
north, the mighty wilderness stretched in one unbroken tract as far as
the eye could reach, while to the southward the glistening waters of
the vast rivers could be seen, winding and losing their tortuous
channels in the forest again. Numerous patches of prairie were
visible to the west, and small, dark specks moving over their face,
showed us that animal life was not wanting in this favored country.
South of us, nestling in a deep valley, could be seen the tiny
beehive-like lodges of the tribe we had left, seemingly covering
scarcely a square rod of ground.

“Yonder,” said Imogene, pointing to the northward, “is the tribe which
holds your friend. The village is two days’ journey, but the course is
direct, and you cannot fail to find it. If you wish to search for him,
I will remain here until you return. I should wish to approach no
nearer, as it would increase the danger to both of us. Your friend has
hunted with the tribe in this mountain, and should you be at a loss to
find me again, ask him to guide you to the ‘Death Rock,’ and you will
reach me by the most direct course.”

I hesitated long before leaving Imogene, but my duty to Nat, and the
hopeful view she took of it, finally decided me. She was confident I
should find him and be back in a few days, and urged me to delay no
longer. We repaired to the “Death Rock,” where we separated. Imogene
was familiar with its peculiarities, and assured me that in its
recesses she could find security from any animal foe.[5] Before
leaving her, I saw that she was provided with food sufficient to last
a week at least, and as she was furnished with a rifle and ammunition,
her situation was certainly as good as my own.

    [5] Death Rock is composed principally of a vast cave, in which
    it is said a whole tribe of Indians once perished; choosing
    death by starvation rather than to fall into the hands of their
    enemies.



CHAPTER XI.

THE BRIGADE AND AN OLD FRIEND.


After bidding Imogene good-by, I started on a rapid pace to the
northward. At night I kindled a fire by which I slept in safety, and
at an early hour resumed my journey. The character of the country
continued much the same--broad belts of prairie relieved by groves of
trees and streams of considerable magnitude. Birds of all kinds
whirred through the air and sang within the wood, and the dark forms
of wild animals were more than once seen gamboling in the distance.

At noon I reached the banks of a river, so large that I was pretty
certain it was the Yellowstone, and hence was able to judge pretty
correctly of my locality. The river was very broad, and it was quite a
serious undertaking to cross it; but, nevertheless, it had to be done,
and I commenced making my preparations.

As I was stepping in, a sound of voices struck me. I paused and
listened, and soon could hear the loud, regular swelling song
gradually approaching nearer and nearer, and at stated intervals the
powerful chorus. There was something in the sound of this song, at
such a time, that was indescribably stirring and inspiriting; and, as
it came nigher and nigher, and grew louder, its power increased.
Hardly satisfied of the nature of the approaching body, I withdrew a
short distance, and waited its appearance. Soon a large canoe, nearly
full of men, came to view around a bend some hundred yards distant,
and it was instantly followed by another and another, all keeping time
to the words of the song:

    We are going with the tide,
            Yoho! yoho!
    Free as the mountain-winds we glide,
            Yoho! yoho!
    Oh! ours is a merry life,
            Yoho! yoho!
    And full of danger, toil, and strife,
            Yoho! yoho!
        Then join your voices
          In the glad refrain,
        And let the mountains
          Echo back the strain.

As over a score of majestic voices joined in the deep swelling chorus,
the echoes were awakened for miles around. I watched them in wonder
and admiration. Soon, to my surprise, they made toward the shore
where I stood. As it was noon, they were probably putting in for their
dinner. In a moment the boats were hauled up on the bank, and as rough
and hardy a set of fellows as ever met, sprang upon the shore. A half
dozen scattered along the bank, and in a moment returned bearing
armfuls of sticks and fuel. A huge fire was soon blazing and roaring,
an enormous quantity of meat steaming and spitting, and the men,
excepting the cook, were lolling about on the grass, each one smoking
and chatting, and making a scene of pleasant confusion and enjoyment.

I now stepped forth from my concealment. Several turned their faces
toward me as I passed them, but no unusual amount of astonishment was
manifested. I made my way to a group of three, and seated myself
beside them.

“Whar’d you come from?” asked a short, gruff-looking man.

“No place in particular, at present,” I replied, pleasantly.

“One of them Nor’west chaps, I s’pose?”

“No, sir; I am no trapper at all, but a mere adventurer in these
parts.”

“Pooty story to tell them as will believe it,” he retorted, angrily.

“I am sure it is immaterial with me whether you believe it or not.
If I were a member of the Northwest Fur Company, I should not be
ashamed or afraid to own it, as I believe that is as respectable and
honorable as the one in whose service you are.”

[Illustration: “A fight! a fight! make a ring for them.”]

“Boys! do you hear that?” called out a fellow beside me. “Yer’s one of
them sneaking chaps--a Nor’wester, and he’s insulted us--”

“Beg your pardon, sir,” I interrupted; “I did no such thing.”

“Do you hear that, I say?” he called out, without regarding my words.
“Here’s a sneaking Nor’wester cracking up his party afore us.”

I was so provoked that I made no reply or noticed him. His words
attracted their attention, and, anxious to see the trouble, they
gathered round.

“What’s up?” demanded a stumpy fellow, pushing his head in between the
others.

“A fight! a fight!”

“Make a ring for ’em.”

“Blow me, if he don’t look like one o’ them Nor’westers as sent
Governor Semple out the world.[6] Go in, Tom!”

    [6] In an affray between two parties, belonging respectively to
    the Hudson Bay and Northwest Fur Companies, the leader of the
    former, Mr. Semple, was shot by a member of the latter. This
    happened some years before the date of our story, but for a long
    time there was ill-feeling and frequent encounters between the
    members of the companies.

“I’ll maul him as soon as I get in fightin’ order,” said Tom--he of my
first acquaintance.

Matters were now getting serious. A collision between the redoubtable
Tom and myself seemed unavoidable. His impudent bravado and insults
had roused me somewhat, and I made up my mind that I should withdraw
nothing I had uttered, and bear none of his insolence.

“What’s the row?” demanded another; “I don’t understand it.”

“Why, here’s a sneakin’ Nor’wester,” answered Tom, “blowin’ ’bout
things, and I’ve made up my mind I won’t stand it;” and he continued
his war-like preparations.

“That’s right, Tom, go in and win,” added several voices.

“Gentlemen,” said I, “all I ask is that you shall understand this
matter and show fair play--”

“We’ll do that, you!” interrupted several.

“In the first place,” I continued, “I have said nothing against the
company in whose service you are. This man, whom you call Tom, accused
me of being a member of a rival company; I replied I was not, although
I should not be ashamed if such were the case, as I considered the
latter as respectable as yours. He avers, however, I have insulted
you, and seems determined to avenge it, and I am perfectly willing to
gratify him. As I told him, I am not in the service of any company,
but am a mere adventurer in these parts. With this explanation I am
now ready for any proceeding he may wish.”

“Smash me to nuthin’, ram me down and shoot me, if thar ain’t Jarsey,
or I’m a sinner!” exclaimed a familiar voice, and the same instant
Bill Biddon stepped into the ring before me. “Give us your paw,
Jarsey.”

He grasped my hand and gave a vigorous gripe, while his scarred
countenance was dissolved in one great broad smile. It is needless to
say I was delighted beyond measure at this unexpected meeting.

“Why, Bill, I little thought to meet you here.”

“And yer’s as what thinks Bill didn’t think so himself.”

During this passage of words between us, the others stood wondering
and perplexed. The honest old trapper turned, and seeing Tom standing
with his fists still clinched, shouted:

“Ef you say another word to that gentleman thar, as is worth forty
like you, there’ll be only a grease-spot left of you. Do you hear,
eh?” and he shook his ponderous fist beneath his nose.

The fellow did hear, and with a muttering, “It’s cu’rous, I allow,”
donned his coat with the most perfect meekness.

“Now,” said Biddon facing the rest, “if thar are any ’bout yer as
wants to take up this fout, why jist step forward and get lammed.”

“Is he a Nor’wester?” asked one, breaking the perfect silence.

“What you want to know fur?”

“’Cause if he is, he can’t pass this crowd without swallerin’ them
words.”

“What words?” demanded Biddon, fiercely.

“What Tom said he said.”

“Have I not explained--” I commenced.

“Now jist hold on, Jarsey,” interrupted the trapper, turning toward me
with a backward wave of his hand. “Now, hold on, you, fur ef you take
back anything you’ve said, shoot me, ef _I_ don’t lick you. Ogh!” Then
turning to the others he continued, “He ain’t goin’ to take back
nothin’ he’s said yerabouts; and ef Tom Wilson thar don’t swaller what
_he_ said, yer’s as will make him do it.”

“I mought’ve be mistaken,” said the now thoroughly-frightened Tom.

“That won’t do.”

“Wal, he didn’t say so,” he jerked out.

“That’ll answer. S’posen I say he is a Nor’-wester, how ’bout that?”
demanded Biddon, glaring about on the rest.

There was no response. All was still as death.

“Wal, boys,” added Bill, returning to his good nature, “he _ain’t_ a
trapper; never took a skin in his born days; is a parfect gentleman,
and I’ll make you ’quainted with Bill Relmond, from the States, or, as
I call him, Jarsey, as fine a chap as ever tramped these parts.”

The scene that followed was singular and amusing. All crowded around
me, smiling and talking and shaking hands; and the first hand I
grasped was Tom Wilson’s.

“Hope you won’t mind what I said;” he spoke in a lower tone, “I orter
been lammed for it, sure.”

“Don’t refer to it,” I laughed; “I suppose you were only anxious for a
little amusement to pass away time.”

“That’s it ’zactly, Jarsey, you’re a trump.”

“It’s my private opine,” called out Biddon, “that this coon is goin’
inter these eatables, and ef you wants a bite, Jarsey, you’d better
jine.”

All now crowded around the meal-pot, and commenced devouring its
contents with the avidity of wild animals. It consisted mainly of
pemmican (dried buffalo flesh), a food much in vogue in the northwest,
with several biscuits and some scalding tea. The meal finished, the
men instantly produced their pipes, which they indulged in for ten or
fifteen minutes. The boats were then shoved into the water, the
cooking-utensils placed on board, and preparations made for starting.

“Whar you bound to?” asked Biddon, just as they were ready.

“The Blackfeet-Sioux,” I answered, unable to repress a smile.

“The Blackfeet-Sioux?” he repeated.

“Yes; do you know their grounds?”

“I’s ’bout twenty miles down-stream--that is the village. We cac’late
to camp thereabouts to-night. What, in the name of beavers, do you
want with them?”

“I’ll explain matters when we have a better opportunity,” I answered.

“Jump in with me then, an’ I’ll git Tom Wilson to rest a while, and
we’ll talk over matters and things.”

I sprang into the boat, and the brigade was soon under way. The
Yellowstone, being broad and deep and the current quite powerful, the
work was comparatively light. The song was again taken up by the
_voyageurs_, all joining in the chorus and keeping time with the
measured dip of their paddles. I seated myself in the stern, beside
the steersman, who I found to be a clerk in the Hudson Bay Company,
and a gentleman.

“How long will you remain with us, Mr. Relmond?” he asked.

“Only until night.”

“I was in hopes you would accompany us to the settlement.”

“I should be glad to do so, but circumstances forbid.”

“It was quite fortunate,” he smiled, “that you and Biddon were
acquainted. He is a noble fellow.”

“Most assuredly he is. I accompanied him, as a seeker of adventures,
last summer from Independence, and we separated in the autumn, while
in the wilderness. I was considerably surprised to find him in your
service.”

“He had a misunderstanding with his employers, I believe. He had a
dispute with one of their agents, and gave him a severe pounding. He
was reproved rather sharply for this and left the company in disgust.
This was during the winter. Shortly after he visited Red River
settlement, and volunteered his services, and they were gladly
accepted, as his skill was known to many.”

“He has been then but a short time with you.”

“Only a few weeks--but long enough to let us know the value of his
services. This brigade is all owing to him.”

“How so?”

“You are aware we are now in the United States territory. It is not
often that we extend our work into it, except in Oregon, which has
lately fallen into the hands of the Americans. Biddon had engaged a
large quantity of furs of the Indians in the neighborhood, intending
them for one of their fur companies, but after his dispute he offered
them to us, and this brigade was dispatched for the purpose of
collecting them. He will find there is quite a pile of money due him
at York fort when he arrives there.”

Further time was spent in conversation with the clerks when I noticed
a person had taken Biddon’s place at the oars. The trapper motioned me
beside him, and seating ourselves in the opposite end of the boat he
said:

“Now we’ll have a talk, Jarsey, ogh!”

“The first thing to be knowed,” said Biddon, “is how in the name of
human natur you come in these parts. How war it, Jarsey?”

“You must remember, Biddon, I’ve been a prisoner for the last six
months.”

“Did you ever hear nothin’ of Greeny?”

“Yes; a rumor reached me that he was living with a tribe of Indians to
the east of us.”

“Altogether onpossible,” answered the trapper, with a shake of his
head.

“Why is it impossible?”

“He’s had his ha’r raised sure, and never seed the next day arter we
seed the last on him.”

“I am more hopeful than you are. Recollect _I_ have been a captive and
am now here without bodily harm.”

“It’s qua’r, I allow, how you come out, as you did. The reds down in
them parts are ramparageous, and if it hadn’t been for that Jim, you
spoke about, and that gal, you’d a gone under sure. I’s tuck once by
them same chaps one time. Me an’ Snapper Jack was sat on one dark
night in an awful snowstorm by a hundred on ’em. They blazed right
into us, and Jack rolled over with a pound of lead in him and never
said a word. I’s purty well riddled in my lower story, but I tuk
through and got off with my ha’r, while Jack never knowed who tuk his.
They cac’lated on toastin’ you up brown, and would ef it want fur that
gal, as I’s sayin’ while he’s had it all.”

“I cannot yet see, Biddon, why there is not a probability of Nat’s
being alive. The Indians in these parts are on friendly intercourse
with the traders, and it is in this region, if anywhere, that he will
be found.”

“I don’t b’lieve he’s about. They got him down thar, and he got it
down thar, _sure_.”

These words of the trapper dampened my expectations greatly. Much of
the joy of my hope was that I expected to again grasp the hand of my
old friend, and the thought that he had long been dead made me sad and
gloomy. However, I was not ready to give up all hope, and determined
that I should be satisfied of his fate before I returned to the
States.

The brigade proceeded regularly and rapidly down the Yellowstone,
until the sun sinking in the west, warned them that night was at hand.
The steersman informed me they should not be able to reach the Indian
village that night, but would early the next day. Just as the shadows
were blending with the darkness on the river banks, the brigade ran
into shore for the night’s encampment. There was a dense forest on
either side of us, which rendered our situation dark and gloomy; but
this was soon dispelled by the jolly _voyageurs_. Fuel was collected,
and a great roaring fire crackled and blazed cheerily around us; and
the men passing to and fro, chatting and joking, the confusion of
preparations for supper, made a scene well calculated to dispel all
gloomy reveries. The three boats were hauled up on the banks, turned
over, and their contents scattered among the owners, and all gathered
around the hearty evening meal. These hardy fellows after the
laborious day’s work, their appetites sharpened, and healthy truly,

    “Ate like horses, when you hear them eat.”

The meal finished, the indispensable pipes were in requisition. Three
or four huge fires were kindled, around which the men lazily stretched
themselves, to while away the hour that must elapse ere they “turned
in” for the night. The brigade included men in it, who had trapped and
hunted the shores of the Frozen Sea to the plains of the Kansas, and
from Labrador to the mouth of the Columbia, beyond the Rocky
Mountains. They had encountered every imaginable foe: the intense cold
and the polar bear of the far North, and the innumerable hordes of
savages of the more temperate regions; and now they recounted their
thrilling reminiscences to each other, and speculated upon the fate
still in store for them. The hour passed rapidly, and ere I was aware,
the _voyageurs_ were gathering their blankets around them for the
night’s rest.

“Come, bundle up, Jarsey,” said Biddon, “for thar’ll be no time to
snooze in the daylight.”

The men were stretched at every point around the fire, their feet
being toward it, their heads radiating outward, so that the three
groups resembled the same number of immense wheels. As most of the
places were occupied, I lay a little beyond the circle, within a foot
or two of Biddon. The fires now smoldered, and the heavy darkness
again settled over wood and river. Nothing disturbed the deep silence
save the faint flow of the Yellowstone, or the dull noise of an ember
as it broke apart, and now and then the distant wail of some wild
animal. But a short time elapsed ere I joined the rest in the land of
dreams.

The night passed away without any event worthy of note; and the first
apprisal I had of the approach of day, was by hearing loud cries of
“Léve! léve! léve!”[7] uttered by numerous voices.

    [7] Arouse, or get up.

Starting up, I saw the _voyageurs_ were all astir, and making ready to
embark. The boats were launched, and being too early for breakfast,
the men sprang in and seized the oars.

“When we halt for breakfast,” said the steersman, “it will be at the
Indian village, which I understand is your destination.”

With the same inspiring song of yesterday, the men bent to their oars,
and the boats shot rapidly through the foaming water. In the course of
an hour or more, the brigade put in for breakfast, and the same
bustling scene that had taken place the night before was re-enacted.

The place chosen was a broad, open plot of grass, reaching down to the
water’s edge, and extending some hundred feet back, when the edge of
the forest was reached. No signs of Indians were seen, and I was
somewhat puzzled to know how it was known they were in the vicinity.
The clerk mentioned before, explained to me that Biddon had described
the halting spot, and the distance so accurately, that there could be
no mistake, and the savages would soon make their appearance.

We had scarcely spoken, when a movement was heard in the forest, and
several Indians made their appearance. They seemed to understand the
meaning of the brigade; for, directly behind them came numbers of
others bearing loads of peltries--the furs of beavers, foxes, badgers,
lynxes, martens, otters, and wolverines. A barter at once commenced,
and in less than half an hour the whole array was deposited in the
boats, and the Indians were proudly parading in the gaudy trinkets and
dresses which had just fallen to their lot.

“Where is their village?” I asked of Biddon.

“A mile or so back in the woods; you can’t miss it.”

“I can remain here without danger, can I not?”

“Yas, I guess so--hold on, I’ll fix it for you.”

With this he strode rapidly toward a man who appeared to be the chief,
and commenced a conversation. He understood the Sioux tongue well
enough to hold quite an intelligible conversation. The talk lasted but
a moment, when he returned.

“You needn’t be skeerish,” said he; “I’ve made it all right. I told
that old chap you wanted to take a look at the country hereabouts, to
skeer up some furs fur us agin. He was a little s’pishus at fust,
shoot me ef he warn’t! and he axed ef you wanted to run off with that
gal o’ theirs, ’cause ef you war, you’d better leave yer ha’r behind
you. There’s been two or three round these parts after her, and he
won’t stand it no longer. You’ve got to be mighty shy, Jarsey, I kin
tell yer; but I hope you’ll git her fur all that, ogh!”

“I am grateful to you for this kindness, Biddon----”

“Never mind ’bout that; come to the pint ef you’ve got anything to
say.”

“I had nothing except to express my thanks, which you seem averse to
receiving.”

“It does go again my stummick, I allow, Jarsey; when you come the
squaw over me, I can’t stand it. Yer’s as likes to talk fair and
squar, and leave the rest. Shoot me ef I doesn’t! Wal I does, ogh!”

“I suppose the time has come for us to separate, then, Biddon?”

“Leastways it’s close at hand. Think you’d better go up to Selkirk
settlement with us; don’t s’pose you will; think you’re a fool, shoot
me ef I don’t, ogh!”

“It seems our separation is to be something like it was before,” I
laughed. “I believe you had a small opinion of my abilities at that
time.”

“Wal, yer’s as hopes you’ll come out right side up this time. In
course I’ll have a glimpse of that ugly face of your’n agin. In
course.”

“I don’t know about that. As you have gone into the service of the
Hudson Bay Company, your sphere of action will be far removed from
mine, and it will be an occurrence which I cannot imagine at this time
that will bring us together.”

“That ain’t so sartin,” said the trapper, in a low, confidential tone.
“I rather opine I’ll be down in Westport or Independence this fall,
and ef these fellows cac’lates on keepin’ me around, they’ve got to
step round ’emselves. Shoot me if they hain’t, ogh!”

“I hope you will not spend your life in the dreary region north of
this, for it will indeed be a dreary, lonely life for you.”

“Wal, you see, Jarsey,” he continued, with a shade of feeling, “it
don’t make much difference whar I traps. Yer’s as s’pects to go under
somewhar in the mountains, and leave my topknot fur the buzzards and
reds, and it mought as well be in one part as t’other of this
country.”

“Fudge, Biddon, don’t talk that way. Why I am sure I shall see you
settled down in the States with a wife and a dozen children--”

I paused as I noticed the trapper’s face. Some strange emotion was
gaining the mastery over him; but he conquered in a minute.

“Never talk that way agin, Jarsey; I can’t stand it.”

“Pardon me; you will soon be under way,” I spoke, wishing to pass from
the allusion which had been so painful to him. He turned, and looking
at the brigade, which was making preparations to start, answered:

“Yas; the boys are near ready, and they won’t wait. What yer goin’ to
do, Jarsey, when we leave you ’mong the reds?”

“I have told you, Biddon, that my sole purpose is to seek out Nat
Todd. I have given you an account of my meeting and partial flight
with Imogene, the captive, who has told me of his whereabouts. She is
now waiting at Death Rock for me, and is as confident as I am that I
shall bring Nat with me. These Indians, believing Imogene to be with
the other tribe, will not suspect her flight unless a runner arrives
here and acquaints them with it; but I have little fear of that, as I
have no expectation of remaining any length of time.”

“Wal, as that little gal has _seed_ Nat, of course he’s kickin’. Bless
her soul! I’d like to see her sweet face, but I s’pose the brigade
can’t spare me just now. Jarsey, I’ve my s’picions that that other
sperit is somewhere out toward Oregon, ’mong a tribe of redskins. I’ve
had my s’picions I say, but I’ll say nothin’ more now ’cept to kind of
hint I may take a tramp out in them parts some day to see ef thar be
signs of her.”

“I sincerely hope that such may be the case, although I cannot be as
sanguine as you are. Should you rescue her, the debt of gratitude--”

“There! that’ll do, ogh!” interrupted Biddon, imperatively. “Such
things go agin my stummick, and I don’t want to hear ’em. As you’re
on the track of Nat, _go_, fur he may be somewhar yit, in spite of the
fears I have that he isn’t, arter all.”

“Rest assured I shall leave no stone unturned. I shall seek him at
once.”

“And when you finds him, jest tell him old Bill Biddon is about, and
ready to hunt savages with him any time, ef he don’t git behind me
when shootin’ time comes. Ogh! ogh!” and the trapper enjoyed his joke
merrily. He stopped suddenly and looked at the brigade. A few moments
more and they would be under way.

“Wal, Jarsey, talkin’ time’s gittin’ mighty short. I’d like to talk
longer, but can’t do it this time. Hope we’ll have a time down in the
States ’fore long.”

“I sincerely trust we shall,” I answered, unwilling to turn away from
the hopeful picture which he was drawing for himself.

“And we’ll have Nat ’long with us,” he added.

“Of course, for I am sure he would not willingly miss an opportunity
of seeing his old friend again. Of course, Biddon, we shall meet, if
not in this world, I hope in the next.”

“P’r’aps so, though I can’t tell till we gits there. Don’t know much
’bout them matters, ogh!”

At this moment the voice of the steersman was heard, ordering the men
to their places. Biddon turned, took a step, then halted and faced me.

“Good-by, Jarsey.”

He extended his hand, but ere I could take it it was hastily
withdrawn. He mumbled something, dashed his hand across his face, and
strode rapidly toward the boat.

“Good-by, Biddon. God bless you!” I called after him.

The _voyageurs_ seized their oars, and in a few moments they were in
the stream, their same cheery song echoing as loudly and as joyously
as before. I stood upon the bank, watching them as the current bore
them onward. In a few moments they reached a bend in the river--Biddon
made a signal to me, and the next minute they had all vanished.

As the brigade vanished down the river, and the song of the
_voyageurs_ grew fainter and fainter, until it died away in the
distant windings of the Yellowstone, I awoke from the mournful reverie
into which I had fallen, and turned to the work before me. There was a
dozen Indians around, all busy with their new possessions. Some were
parading pompously in their new blankets, some examining their
glitterng knives, and others wrenching off great mouthfuls from huge
twists of tobacco, and all evidently in the highest spirits. The chief
had been presented with a fine, polished rifle, and he was standing
apart, trying its lock, and “drawing bead” on different objects in the
distance.

I waited till he appeared satisfied, and then approached and made a
complimentary remark; I saw at once it was not comprehended, and there
was not probably a savage who could speak a word of English in the
tribe. However, as they spoke the same tongue as the tribe in which I
spent my captivity, my situation in this respect was not as bad as it
might have been.

In the course of half an hour, the chief started toward his village,
the others sauntering along behind him, and myself at his side. His
rifle was now thrown over his shoulder, and he seemed to have lost all
interest in it as he walked thoughtfully forward, his dark eyes bent
upon the ground. A few minutes’ walk through the forest brought us to
the Indian village. It was so similar to the one before described,
that it needs no mention here.

The Blackfeet-Sioux are one of the many divisions of the Dacotah or
Sioux tribe, whose hunting-grounds include the greater part of the
vast territory of Nebraska. These subdivisions of this numerous people
are tribes within themselves. Although speaking the same tongue, they
are separate and literally independent of each other. Each has its
village and chief, whose authority is absolute. Like all North
American Indians, their life is a migratory one; and the traveler who
to-day finds them located on the Yellowstone or Little Missouri, may,
a year after, find them as far westward as the Great Falls of the
Missouri.

My advent among these savages excited no unusual attention, as they
are often visited by traders and hunters. The chief took me to his own
lodge, where all the attention I could wish was given. I was gladly
surprised to find upon the next day, that there was a half-breed among
them who could speak the English tongue. His acquaintance I soon made.
He was a middle-aged man, who had spent most of his life in trapping,
sometimes as far northward as the Saskatchewan, and who often acted as
interpreter for his tribe. He possessed the daring hardihood of the
French trapper, and the low, ferocious cunning of the savage. He had
ever considered this tribe as his people, having a squaw and several
children.

From this half-breed I learned that the flight of Imogene was not yet
discovered, and that the tribe which held Nat was about a dozen miles
to the eastward I informed the chief, through the interpreter, that I
should make several days’ ramble through the woods, in order to get a
better idea of the face of the country and of its resources. He
seemed to believe I really was an agent of one of the fur companies,
and offered me an escort. I declined, however, and the next morning
started on foot in the direction of the tribe alluded to.



CHAPTER XII.

FOUND AT LAST.


I took a direction nearly due east toward the Black Hills. Near the
middle of the day I reached the shore of a lake. It was a small,
beautiful sheet of water, its glistening surface unruffled by a single
ripple, and I stood a long time gazing upon its placid bosom. The blue
outline of the opposite shore was faintly visible in the distance, and
here and there the green face of a tiny island protruded from its
surface adding greatly to the picturesqueness of the scene.

As I stood looking dreamily out upon this lake, my eyes rested upon a
small speck, just discernible far toward the other side. It was too
small and dark to be an island, and, furthermore, I fancied it was
moving. A moment more satisfied me that it was a canoe crossing the
lake nearly to the point upon which I was standing. So small and black
was it, that for a long time I was tempted to believe it was nothing
but a bird floating upon the surface; but the flashing of the oars in
the sunshine showed its true nature, and I waited anxiously its
approach.

On it came, slowly and steadily, its form gradually increasing as it
approached, until I could discover the outlines of a single man
propelling it over the water. A sudden hope that it might be Nat
himself came over me, but as it came nigher, the dazzling plumes of a
savage convinced me of my mistake. It struck me as a little singular
that the Indian, solitary and alone, should approach so unhesitatingly
a stranger, and I was upon the point of concealing myself; but,
knowing that I must have been seen, and that such a proceeding would
only awaken suspicion upon his part, I remained boldly in view.

A few minutes later and the canoe grated upon the sand a few yards
from me; and, daubed in all the glittering paraphernalia of savage
war-paint and plumes, no less a personage than Nat stepped ashore and
approached me!

I was upon the point of calling out to him, when I saw he did not
recognize me. Since we had last been together my beard had grown
considerably, and my dress was also changed to that of a
semi-barbarous one. I drew my hat down to my eyes, and spoke in a
changed voice.

“A pleasant day this, my friend.”

[Illustration: “No less personage than Nat stepped ashore.”]

“Yes, it is,” replied the same natural, cracked voice.

“A fine country this, too,”

“Yes, that’s so; didn’t expect to see you.”

“And why not, my friend?”

“’Cause ’tain’t often you see a white man in these parts; you’re the
first one I’ve seen.”

“And how is it you are here yourself?”

“Wal, stranger, there’s a long story fastened to that question--a
longer one than I care about spinning at present.”

“You are not a prisoner, I hope.”

“It was some time last fall I got tuk, and I’ve been with them, of
course, ever since.”

“And why have you remained with them so long? It strikes me that if I
had the fine opportunity you have, I should not be long waiting to bid
them farewell.”

“You see, when I landed down here, it was winter, and if you’re any
hunter, as I calculate you are, from your dress, you must know that a
fellow from the States would make poor work tramping a thousand miles
at such a time. So I concluded to wait till spring, and have been
thinking about going for the last month or two, but, somehow or other
I haven’t got started; I suppose ’cause I haven’t had a good start.”

“What were you doing on the lake?”

“I came down this morning to fish, and seeing you on t’other side,
took you to be an Injin fishin’ and so I paddled across.”

“You are allowed considerable liberty, it seems, after all.”

“Well, I have considerable, though it hain’t done me much good so
fur.”

“You wish to return to the States, I presume.”

“I guess I do; I am about as homesick a dog as you ever laid eyes on,
and there’s a gal home that I want to see amazingly.”

At this remark I was compelled to cough several times, to prevent
bursting into a loud, boisterous laugh. I felt like dropping upon the
grass and rolling over and over, and yelling like an Indian. But I
restrained myself, and determined to carry the deception further.

“She most likely has given you up as dead by this time.”

“I’m a little afraid she has, and that’s the reason I want to go down
and tell her her mistake. But I don’t know as it would be any use, by
gracious!” he added, in a desponding tone.

“And why not, pray?”

“Oh, there’s a chap named Bill Hawkins, who thinks he’s mighty smart,
all the time flourishing round there. I’d just like to lay hands on
him once,” and Nat clinched his hands and shook his head menacingly.
Then resuming his natural manner, he added, quickly, and with a sort
of desperation, “I don’t care though. If Sal wants him, she can have
him.”

“That’s it. Take things philosophically is my motto, when you are
compelled to.”

In making this last remark, I unwittingly dropped my voice to its
natural key. Nat started and raised those large, blue innocent eyes of
his, and stared wonderingly at me.

“Did my remark surprise you?” I asked, working harder than I ever did
to restrain my gravity.

“It weren’t what you said, but your voice sounded amazingly like a
person I used to know, and I thought maybe you might be him.”

“Perhaps I am.”

“No; you don’t look like him. He was about your size, but didn’t dress
like you, nor didn’t have such whiskers.”

“What was his name?”

“William Relmond, from New Jersey.”

“William Relmond, from New Jersey,” I repeated, as though trying to
recall some half-forgotten remembrance.

“He used to be called ‘Jarsey’ by Bill Biddon,” added Nat, quickly, as
if to aid my recollection.

“And do you know Bill Biddon, a trapper?” I demanded, eagerly.

“I am of the opinion that I do, being as I have hunted with him a long
time.”

“Ah! indeed. He is an old friend of mine. I saw him some time since,
and he was then in the service of the Hudson Bay Company.”

“Didn’t he say anything about ‘Jarsey?’”

“I’ve hit it now! There’s where I heard the name. Yes; he said a great
deal about him, and he also mentioned a person called Nathan Todd, I
think.”

“I am the man, sir,” responded Nat, with considerable dignity.

“You are! I recall now that he mentioned the fact of your captivity,
although he was more inclined to say you were dead and gone long
since.”

“Bill is a pretty ’cute chap, but he’s mistaken there.”

“Yes; he seemed to cherish a warm friendship for you.”

“You see the way of it was this: Me and Bill Relmond started from
Independence last summer for California. The company we was with ran
away from us, taking my knife and mare with them. So we started fur
Californy on our own hook. We came across this Bill Biddon and changed
our minds, or, rather, Relmond did, and concluded to go on a hunt up
in these parts. Well, we did, and this is the end of that hunt. We
fixed on a place down on the Yellowstone, and would have spent a good
time if it hadn’t been for that Relmond. He was a good fellow, but
betwixt you and me (you needn’t say nothing about it, you know), he
was rather soft, and I had to keep a clus watch over him to prevent
his getting into danger. There used to come some Injins down the
stream in a canoe, and they set his head crazy. It wasn’t the Injins,
though, but a white gal they had. She was pretty, I allow, but he
ought to have knowed better than to chase her as he did; he might have
knowed what would have come of it. We used to go down and watch this
canoe. One day I went a little lower down the stream than he did, and
hid in some bushes beside the water to take a good look at the gal and
the Injins. Pretty soon they came, and as they got along by me, by
gracious if they didn’t start right into the bushes after me! I was so
fast in the roots and limbs that I hadn’t time to git out before they
got right on to me. I then up and blazed away to keep them off, but I
forgot to take aim, and didn’t hit them, and the first thing I knowed
I didn’t know anything. One of them smashed his tomahawk square at me,
grabbed me by the neck, whopped me into the canoe, paddled to the
other side, and made me walk all the way here. I haven’t seen Relmond
or Biddon since, and I should like to know what has become of them.”

“Biddon is safe, of course; and Relmond was a captive, I believe,
awhile, but he managed to make his escape some time since.”

“How do you know that much, I should like to know?”

“Simply for the reason that I am William Relmond.”

Nathan Todd started as if struck by a thunderbolt. His eyes and mouth
opened, his rifle fell unheeded to his feet, and he stared all agape
at me. His face was such an embodiment of wonder, doubt, then
certainty and pleasure, that I gave way completely to my feelings,
and, seating myself upon the ground rolled over and laughed one of
those laughs which rack our whole being, and make us as weak as an
infant. When I again resumed my feet, my old friend approached and
extended his hand.

“What you laughing at? I knowed it was you all the time.”

It is hardly worth time to dwell upon the words which passed between
Nat and myself after my identity became known to him. Of course he
was half frantic with joy in turn, and overwhelmed me with questions
and explanations, and in the course of half an hour we both came to a
full understanding.

I had acquainted Nat with my separation from Imogene, and that she was
waiting for me at “Death Rock.” He knew the place well and without
losing time we hastened forward. He had become acquainted with
Imogene, and had often conversed with her about her lost sister, and
of me, little dreaming that she had ever seen me.

Nat proved his knowledge of the country, for his course toward the
Death Rock was direct, and, ere we had traveled many miles it loomed
up to view. It seemed a long while to reach it, but before dark we
were both conversing with Imogene.

The night was spent within the cave, Nat and I conversing around the
fire, while Imogene, wrapped in our blankets, slumbered unconsciously
beside it. Nat succeeded in catching several fine trout from a small
mountain-stream, and when we resumed our journey, I hardly think three
more hopeful people could have been found in the universe.

Our progress was less rapid than usual, as we feared for Imogene,
although her life had been such as to make her the very embodiment of
health and activity. At night we reached a bend of the Yellowstone,
and camped upon its banks. A fire was again kindled, and while Nat
kept watch, I concluded to take a little rest. He allowed me to sleep
heavily until morning, when I was aroused by one of the most terrific,
unearthly shrieks that ever greeted mortal ear.

“God of heaven! what does that mean?” I exclaimed, springing to my
feet.

“Sounds like the ‘Snorter,’ the engine that I heard on the Boston
road,” answered Nat, rubbing his eyes, and listening.

“Hush!” I admonished, as again that hideous scream burst upon us.

“Wonder if the Pacific Railroad’s built yet?” remarked Nat, with the
utmost _nonchalance_; “or, maybe, some of their engines have run away
from them.”

As I stood wondering and waiting, the gray light of morning commenced
appearing through the forest, and shortly the day dawned. A moment
after, as I was about to awaken Imogene, the awful scream was
repeated, seemingly directly across the river. It was different from a
human voice, but sounded like the cry of a wild animal in extremity of
the direst agony.

As if our terror was still too faint, we now heard the loud ring of a
_bell_, apparently from the very forest.

“What is that?” asked Imogene, pale with horror.

“Heaven knows!” I answered.

“Sounds like the old bell up in Lubec,” remarked Nat; who, singularly
enough, was the least agitated.

“Listen!” whispered Imogene, raising her hand.

Now was heard a dead sound like the distant heave of the stormy sea,
growing stronger and nearer each second, and at intervals that wild,
unearthly shriek reverberated through the forest arches with a horrid
power.

Matters were now assuming such an inexplicable form I began to fear I
was losing my senses. I looked around upon the faces of others; but
no--it was all a terrible reality.

“Look!” spoke Imogene, in a husky whisper, pointing down the river.

I did look and what was seen? There, just rounding the curve of the
Yellowstone below us, burst the broad flaming hull of a steamboat.

For a moment I could scarce believe my senses. Nat was the first to
recover himself.

“I knowed what it was all the time, by gracious! Hilloa, you!”

The latter exclamation was addressed in vociferous tones to the
steamboat; and, fearing lest he might still escape notice, he sprang
into the water and waved his plumes excitedly over his head, yelling
at the top of his voice all the time. We had been seen, however, and
heeded by those on the boat. A small bell tinkled, and instantly the
huge wheel of the steamer reversed, plowing the water into foamy
waves, and quickly bringing it to a stand still. The captain then
stepped from his wheelhouse and hailed us:

“What’s wanted?”

“Supper and lodging,” answered Nat.

“Who are you?”

“White men of course.”

“White men; I see only one, and you’re an Injin, sure as I’m Captain
Garbold.”

I now stepped forward from the shelter of the forest, to which I had
instinctively retreated with the trembling Imogene, upon the
appearance of the boat.

“Ah! who are those?” called the captain, instantly.

“We are whites, as you can readily see, and only ask to be taken to
our friends.”

The captain immediately turned and spoke to several beside him. A few
minutes afterward a small boat put out from the steamer, and Imogene,
followed by myself, stepped into the boat, but Nat lingered.

[Illustration: “Hilloa, you!”]

“Come, hurry, Nat, don’t keep them waiting,” said I.

“_I’m going to remain!_” he remarked, quietly.

“What do you mean?” I asked, in astonishment.

He approached, and whispered in my ear:

“_I’m going to hunt up Irene Merment!_”

“Why----”

“Don’t say anything,” he interrupted, with a smile. “I will do it.
There is no use of trying to persuade me to go with you. My mind is
made up, and has been made up a long time.”

Imogene joined her entreaties with mine, but he could not be made to
change his resolution. Not wishing to detain our friends, I extended
my hand.

“If you are determined to remain, I must now bid you good-by, Nat.
Your determination is so new to me that I can hardly realize it. It is
a hopeless search upon which you are going, I fear. May the One who
has so mercifully watched over all of us, still protect you. If you
ever see Biddon, don’t forget me to him. Good-by.”

“Nor me either,” said Imogene, taking his hand. “I long to see him, to
pour out my heart’s gratitude to him. I hope we shall see you again.”

“Oh! you will, sure. I shall be down in the States one of these days,
and like enough bring a wife with me, and several little Nat Todds, as
good-looking as your heirs will be. You mustn’t think this is a last
farewell, for I know it isn’t.”

We exchanged farewells once more, and then were rowed out to the
steamboat. As we were received on board, Nat swung his plume over his
head, and shouted:

“Long life to you! the fust news you will receive from Nat Todd will
be a telegraphic dispatch from the Rocky Mountains, ‘that he is making
a sensation in that neighborhood.’”

Another and a last farewell, and the eccentric being had vanished in
the forest.

Imogene had no suspicion of the true cause of Nat Todd’s erratic
course, and I judged it best to let her remain in ignorance until Nat
should inform her himself. Whether that time was ever to come or not,
no one could tell; but I had strong hope that it would.

As may be supposed, our advent created an infinite amount of
questioning and wonderment for our new-found friends. The boat was the
steamer “Shooting Star,” which had been sent to trace the Yellowstone,
as far as it was navigable, by a company in St. Louis. They proposed
opening trade in this section, and knowing well the prodigious
resources of the country watered by its tributaries, had sent a
skillful captain and crew to ascertain its character and availability.
This river had, however, been ascended before.

The “Shooting Star” ascended the Yellowstone several hundred miles
further, until brought to a stand still by the rapids in its upper
part. Several days were spent in running up Clark’s Fork, the Big
Horn, Tongue, Powder, and numerous other streams, many of which, as
yet, have received no names though of considerable size. All along the
banks of these gathered crowds of wondering Indians, who surveyed us
with mingled terror and amazement. On two occasions, when halting to
wood, the crew were attacked by them, and one of their number was
slain. At other points they manifested a friendly disposition and
bartered extensively with us.

Finally the bow of the boat was turned home, and on a glorious
morning, in the latter part of June, 1850, we glided into the turbid
waters of the mad Missouri, and a few days later “Shooting Star” sunk
to rest at the wharves in St. Louis. Accompanied by Imogene, I made my
way home as rapidly as possible. As may be supposed, my return was a
never-to-be forgotten day to my friends. The caravan which I had
joined at Independence, had been attacked, a few days subsequent to my
separation from it, by an overwhelming body of Apache Indians. Rumors
reached the States that all had fallen in the massacre, and my
reappearance was like the dead returning to life. The reader, I trust,
can imagine the few remaining incidents. After inducing Imogene to
return to the States, I do not think I should have ever forgiven
myself had I not offered her all the protection within my power. She
was like an exotic at first, taken from a distant clime; but love
works wonders. To-day there are few accomplishments of her sex which
she does not possess. True there was no great romances or mystery yet
to be developed in her history. She had been orphaned when a young
child, in the terrible manner described by the trapper at the
commencement of this tale. I had gained no princess or wealthy
heroine, but simply a _wife_, in the truest sense of the word.

The history of Nat Todd’s adventures and journey to the Rocky
Mountains, together with a further account of Bill Biddon, the
Trapper, and of Irene Merment, the lost sister, will be given the
reader in another volume.


THE END.





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