D. W. (David W.) Belisle.

The American family Robinson; or, The adventures of a family lost in the great desert of the West online

. (page 13 of 20)
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220 THE WANDERERS; OR,

brother ; let there be peace between us," said the

chief, sadlv.

/

The trapper grasped the offered hand in a mo-
ment, and after due preparation, they once more pur-
sued their journey, taking their way directly across
the prairie that stretched out before them. Their
horses were fleet travellers, and they hurried over
the smooth, green sward that covered the prairie,
for two hours, when they were brought to a sudden
pause by stumbling on a borough of prairie dogs,
the ground being tunneled in every direction under-
neath, leaving a thin crust of earth, through which
the horses broke, sending the yelping denizens
howling from their dens over the prairie in admira-
ble fright and confusion. Making a circuit round
the deceptive traps of the snarling curs, they again
struck out for the distant boundary of the prairie,
which they hoped soon to reach. At noon they
rested by a pool of stagnant water, the first they
had seen since morning, which was unfit for use,
but of which the horses drank sparingly. The
spring grass, now tender and nutritious, was
cropped with avidity by the horses, and after
a halt of two hours, they again pursued their jour-
n.y. They soon found the first buffalo they had
seen since the preceding autumn, and they hailed
the sight of them as an omen of good. About
sunset, Whirlwind had the good fortune to kill one,
and they deemed it prudent to encamp, as it would
be impossible for them to reach the boundary of



LIFE IN THE WESTERS WILDS. 221

the prairie that night. Steaks constituted the
chief feature of their supper, and a rarity they
were, having so long been deprived of them, and
which, with the addition of the Indian bread-root,
made a no mean repast.

They had searched every ravine, cavity, and
hollow for more than a mile around for fresh water,
but without success. A pool of unwholesome water
similar to the one they rested by at noon, being
all they found. This was a little relief to the
distressed horses, but none to them. Dividing the
milk of the goat between them, they lay down to
sleep. At dawn, they were again in motion; and
after three hours' hard riding, they saw the distant
forest, that bounded the prairie, looming against
the horizon. Buffalo, antelope, elk, deer, and fowl
now became quite numerous, giving indications that
the forest was well watered and fertile. With
renewed energy, they rode on, and about noon
entered the welcome heavily timbered forest the
surface of which was uneven and rolling, some-
times rising in gentle hills, then towering in pre-
cipitous cliffs, interspersed with sylvan dells, through
which streamlets wound, sometimes in quiet beauty,
and again dashing down ledges of rock, lashing
their waters to a foam.

Eagerly they drank the waters of the limpid
stream for which they as well as their beasts had
been suffering. Tired with their rapid marches
which the necessity of procuring water had

19*



222 THE WANDERERS; OR,

forced them to take they resolved to rest the
remainder of the day. Selecting a spot by the
stream, shut in by tall cliffs on either side, they
secured their horses and were preparing to spend
the night when the chief hurriedly motioned them
to be silent. He then with noiseless tread ascended
the cliff behind them. Evidently some new danger
awaited them, and with terror they clung to each
other for protection from the unknown evil. In
half an hour he returned. " Indians yonder !"
said he, briefly, pointing towards the cliff on the
opposite side of the stream.

" Have you seen and do you know them ?" askecii
the trapper, adding, "Perhaps we are nearer home,
and they belong to some friendly bribes ?"

" Does she ?" asked the chief, turning with a
scornful gesture towards Mahnewe

The squaw rising from the baas where she had
been sitting advanced with the look of sadness
entirely dispelled from her face, which was now
sunny and radiant with joy.

"Mahnewe," said she, speaking earnestly and
rapidly, " is the friend of the white man, and so
are her people. Over the hills yonder is their vil
lage and these are their hunting grounds. Let not
^he white man fear ; he has saved the life of a wife
of the chief, and Mahnewe will answer for his
safety/'

"Are you sure of what you say?" asked Jane,
whose dread of cannibals was the torture of her life



LIFE IN THE WESTERN W i L i> s . 22



" Mahnewe cannot mistake the place of her
people," said the squaw, looking amused at the evi-
dent fright of the young girl.

" I mean of what tribe are they, are you, Mah-
newe ?''

" The squaw will not tell," said the chief, taunt-
ingly. " She knows they are the enemies of the
Arapahoes. The Snake fears the Eagle."

" Mahnewe is the daughter of a chief, and the
wife of a chief. She is not a coward ; red blood ia
in her veins. She is a Snake, and fears not the
Arapahoe !"

" Come, this will never answer, chief! Leave
Mahnewe to me. Now, tell me truly, are we
on the hunting-grounds of the Snakes, and are you
one of that tribe ?"

"Mahnewe has said it, and cannot lie," returned
the woman earnestly, and with great dignity of
manner.

" If this is true, we are saved," said the trapper.
" I have friends among that people, and know my
way home from their hunting-grounds."

"Are you sure of what you tell us, Mahnewe?"
asked Sidney ; " for a mistake on this point might
involve us all in destruction."

" Are not yonder the hills where my childhood's
y'3ars were spent ? Who can forget the home of
their kindred, the place of their birth ?"

" Sometimes hills in the distant bear a resem-



224 THE WANDERERS; OB,

blance to others, which vanishes on a nearer ap-
proach," observed the trapper.

" Let Mahnewe go to her people, she fears not
of finding strangers in their place," said she, in
pleasing tones.

U A good idea, uncle, let her go and ascertain
positively ; but keep the child to prevent treach-
ery," suggested Sidney.

"Mahnewe goes not without her child, if all
our lives should depend on her going !" said the
squaw, decidedly.

"But consider, Mahnewe, if they should not
prove to be your people the child would only hinder
your retreat, and if they should be, you can return
and claim it in safety," said Howe.

"If my brother listens to the forked tongue of
the Snake's squaw, she will guide tho warriors of
her people to our retreat, where we shall all be
slaughtered," said the chief.

" I think not, chief ; there is an air of sincerity
about the squaw that dispels all thought of treach-
ery in my mind ; besides, she is under great obli-
gations to us for saving her own and the child's
life. The Indians are not ungrateful you know,
chief, and I think we do her wrong to suspect her



motives in wanting to go.' !



" The Snakes are friends of my brother, and will
not harm him. Let the squaw conduct the dogs to
our camp ; Whirlwind knows how to die," returned
the chief.



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 225

" They shall not hurt you while we live," said
Edward. " Those who are our friends must not
offer harm to you, unless they want us their ene-



mies.'



" Do not go, Mahnewe," said Jane. " Some
harm might result from it for which we should all
repent. We shall find out in the course of to-morrow
at furthest if these are the Snakes, and if they are
you can join them when we are assured no harm
can result to us from it."

Mahnewe turned her dark, liquid eyes implor-
ingly to Howe as if to gain his voice in her favor,
but they were evidently all against it, and he did
not like to take the responsibility.

u Not to-night," said he, kindly, "but perhaps
to-morrow you may go."

Sad and sorrowfully she walked away, and they
Baw how bitter was her disappointment,

"Never mind, child," said Howe, "it will all be
well yet. Patience and perseverance will overcome
everything. Our first business must be to secure
ourselves on the defensive. From the appearance
of the Indians, I do not think they suspect our
being in this vicinity, and I propose that our horses
be secured in this thicket that skirts the bank here,
where they can feed and not be detected. We
must do without a fire, and one of us had better go
cautiously to the top of the cliff yonder, and recon-
noitre."

" Whirlwind, will go. Keep watch of the squaw,



226 THE WANDERERS; OR,

or she will betray us." So saying, the chief started
on his scouting expedition.

Following the course of the brook until it curved
around a sudden bend of the cliff, he crossed it, and
striking a narrow ravine overhung on one side by
shelving rock, he followed on within its shadows
for over a mile, when the ravine began to widen,
the sides gradually lessen in height, and which, a
mile farther on terminated in rolling acclivities,
covered with verdure, while the ground between
became a beautiful dell, shaded with tall, stately
trees, the branches of which were vocal with a
hundred bird voices, filling the air with their

' O

melody. The dell was quite free from undergrowth,
and the sun was excluded by the primitive trees,
that interlaced their branches, making the forest
almost impenetrable. The soul of the Indian was
entranced, as he gazed on this scene, so wild and
silent in its beauty. It was his beau-ideal of the
Spirit-Land ; and, as he gazed, he drew his hand
across his eyes to see if he, indeed, was waking.
Still, there lay the landscape before him, with the
melody above. At that moment the spell was
broken by a herd of deer, leisurely crossing the
dell. Drawing his bow, he was on the point of
shooting, when recollecting his errand thither, he
recovered his prudence ; for, should the deer
escape with an arrow sticking in it, and be seen
by the Indians, he was in search of, it would give
them to understand that others were near them.



LIFE IN THE WESTERS WILDS. 227

Cautiously he proceeded across the enchanting
landscape, and, after an hour's walk, discovered
an opening in the forest. " Here," thought the
chief, " I shall get a glimpse of the dogs, and if,
as I think, they are Snakes, it will go hard with
me, if I don't carry off one scalp at least," and his
eyes glared with the ferocity of a tiger. He was
as much a savage still at heart as ever. Nearing
the opening, he saw before him a lake to which he
approached by a smooth grassy plat, of several
rods wide, dotted here and there with mosses, ferns,
and beautiful wild flowers, with an occasional tree
shorn of half its limbs which lay scattered along
the water's edge. The opposite bank skirted the
base of the hills they had seen from the encamp-
ment, rising in peaks, barren and rocky on their
summits. The water of the lake was transparent
and calm, and looked as placid as though nothing
had ever penetrated the lonely spot in which it
was nestled, to mar its surface. The chief on
emerging into the open glade, saw the sky had
become flecked with clouds that were scudding
across the heavens, in a thousand fantastic waves,
while just above the peak of the topmost hill over
the lake, a black cloud, heavy and portentious
with a gathering s^orrn, was rising slowly, leaving
a long streak of light unbroken cloud against the
horizon.

The chief surveyed the lake, the hills and the
forest from which he had emerged, with the sur-



228 THE WANDERERS; OR,

rounding scenery long and earnestly, and then
murmured to himself in a tone, that betokened a
sorrowful certainty ; " It is not true, these are not
the hunting grounds of the Snakes ; they have
none so good and beautiful as these. We are
lost ! lost ! in the interminable wilds of the West,
where hope or deliverance may never come." And
the stern but proud chieftain bowed his head in
despair for a moment : then stretching his hands
towards the sky, which dimly shone through the dark
rolling clouds, he cried : " Father, Manito ! why
hast thou left thy child to wander from his people,
and cast a spell * over his feet so that he cannot
return ? Has he done an evil in thy sight, that he
is thus punished ? Great Spirit, Manito ! thy
prophet awaits thy sign !'

As he concluded, a peal of thunder that shook
the ground, burst from the clouds above, followed
by a blinding flash of lightning, which was
quickly followed by another, and another ; and,
as the wind came sweeping down in angry blasts,
it seemed as if every element in nature were war-
ring against each other. The chief stood unmoved
on the spot, his arms still raised, hi? lips parted
but motionless, stupified by the storm around him.

* The Indians Imagine that good and evil spirits can
cast a spell over any person they desire, and while under
it, they have no control over their own actions, but are
obliged to follow the inclination of the spirit by which the
spell is cast.



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 229

The Great Spirit he imagined had spoken to him
angrily in the storm, and superstitious as all the
Indians are, it filled his soul with horror. Large
drops of rain soon began to fall, the wind rose
furiously, lashing the water on the lake into huge
waves, while wild fowls and birds darted frightened
through the air. Still the chieftain stood there.
What was now the storm to him ? Was not the
Great Spirit angry ? and as the rain fell on his
upturned face in torrents, the lightnings descended,
shivering a tree near where he stood, and stunning
him with the shock. He was prostrated, and lay
on the green sward motionless, the rain forming a
pool about him, which was every moment augmented
as the torrents came down upon him.

When consciousness again returned, the sky was
clear, without a single cloud to mar its serenity.
It was night, and the heavens were dotted with a
thousand gems that apparently smiled at the for-
lorn appearance of the half-drowned chief as he
slowly dragged himself from his unsought bath.
The lake was as placid as when he first saw it, and
there was nothing to remind him of the commotion
that had raged around him, save the shivered tree
and his saturated garments and hair

"It is the abode of the Evil Spirits," said he,
"and they have lured me hither." Starting in
the direction whence he came, he saw within half
a mile, a camp-fire dimly burning as if struggling
with wet fuel. Highly elated at the discovery, as
20



230 THE WANDERERS; OR,

it plainly showed by their lighting a fire that they
were unaware of others being around, he crept
noiselessly towards them. Approaching within a few
rods he saw they were a party of about thirty, who
were evidently on a hunt. They were not Snakes ;
he was sure of that ; but of what tribe they were
he could not tell. Evidently not of any tribe of
which he had any knowledge, and they had a
stronger resemblance to the cannibals than to any
others he had seen. With this information he
returned about midnight, much to the relief of the
rest at the camp, who had feared he had been
captured, and were in great suspense for his safety.



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 231



/iftmtjj.



They endeavor to conceal themselves fro a. the Indians They are
discovered A frightful rencounter Escape of Mahnewe They
pursue their journey in the night and take a wrong direction
Discovery of a river, over -which they cross Came to a prairie-
Desolate appearance of the country Approach a sandy desert
and conclude to cross itThey provide themselves with ample
provisions and set out over the cheerless waste.

ALL the next day they remained concealed in
order to escape observation, and to allow the strange
Indians to go far enough away so that they could
proceed without being molested. Which way to
journey next was a difficult question to them, but
as it would be quite impossible to cross the barren,
rocky hills before them, they finally determined to
go down the stream until they came to the terminus
of the hills that the chief had seen, and instead
of crossing over as he had done to strike out into
tho woodland beyond the dell, and take their course
on as far as it extended. Having made every-
thing ready for an early start the next morning,
they laid down to sleep. About midnight they
were awakened by the blinding glare of torches,
and found three hideous savages bending over
them with raised tomahawks. Comprehending at



THE WANDERERS; OR,

once the nature of the assault, they sprang to their
feet and attacked their assailants. The chief had
the fortune to cleave the scull of the one nearest
him at the first blow of his tomahawk, and turning,
saw another who had the trapper at disadvantage,
with tomahawk raised above his head, and with a
dexterous blow he disabled the arm raised with the
murderous weapon. In a moment he would have
killed the Indian had not the screams of Jane,
whom the remaining savage attempted to carry off
in his arms after knocking Sidney senseless with
his war-club, made him forget all else, and spring
to her rescue. The trapper, who was not hurt,
made a blow at his assailant, but he evaded it and
fled into the forest where Howe thought it not pru-
dent to follow, as he imagined a whole ambuscade
of Indians might be in waiting to seize upon him.
Hastening to the assistance of Whirlwind, he saw
him closed hand to hand with the savage, their
hunting-knives being their only weapons, both hav-
ing dropped their tomahawks. Howe saw they
were equally matched, and fearing the chief would
get a bad wound, raised a club and dealt the sav-
age a blow that felled him to the ground. The
chief soon despatched him, and then they turned
to Sidney and Edward. Already were they revi-
ving, not having received any serious wounds. The
copious gourds of water that Jane had sprinkled
over them were all the care they needed. They
now bethought themselves of Mahnewe. She was



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 233

gone ; not a vestige or clue remaining of her or the
child.

" Betrayed !" said the chief with compressed lips
and glistening eves.

" Oh, no ; she has never betrayed us !" said the
trapper. " I fear there was more than three of
the savages, and they have stolen her."

" It is horrible ! they will kill her ! Oh, uncle,
canno?we pursue and overtake them?" said Jane.

"I will go and bring her scalp," said the chief.
" She is a foe and has led the dogs to murder her
benefactors."

"No; we shall have to leave her to her fate,"
said Howe. "One of the Indians has escaped to
give the alarm, and perhaps within this hour or as
soon as daylight, the whole tribe will be down upon
us. Our only hope for our own lives is in flight.
Our horses may out-travel them if they defer the
attack until daylight. Fortunately for us the
horses are fresh and strong;."

o

Hastily mounting in the darkness, with no light
save the faint glimmer of the stars, they plunged
into the unknown wilds before them, Whirlwind
leading them as a guide. But instead of taking
the direction they had determined on after a long
consultation the day before, they mistook the route
in their haste and the darkness, and fled north-west
of it ; but they pursued their way in silence.

At last the welcome day broke, and halting to

take a drink themselves and water thdr horses,
20*



234 THE WANDERERS; OR,

they remounted, and galloped rapidly through the
forest. In about two hours they came to the
bank of a river, the largest they had seen in their
wanderings. Entering this in order to throw their
pursuers off the track, they rode up it as long as the
river continued wide, but as it contracted the water
became too deep to be breasted by the horses, and
they crossed to the opposite bank. Here, to their
great sorrow, their goat and her kid gave out, and
no urging could induce them to proceed. The ani-
mals had evidently gone as far as they were capa-
ble, and with sorrow they turned them loose and left
them. The goat's milk had been such an indispen-
sable addition to their store that they felt as if part-
ing with one of their main reliances in leaving her
behind.

Still they pursued their way, avoiding the hills
as much as possible until the sun was high in the
heavens; when becoming weary with their hard ride,
and faint for want of food, they halted in a spot
where a cool spring gushed from beneath a huge
boulder that looked as if it had been hurled from a
rocky acclivity above to its bed. Tethering their
horses where they could feed, they set a guard and
began with all haste to eat such as their provision
bags afforded. Cooking was out of the question,
for the smoke would point out the exact spot where
they were, a thing they were most desirous to hide.

They now calculated they were thirty miles from
the place of their last encampment, and beyond the



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 235

danger of being overtaken, provided their enemies
had no horses, which they thought quite probable.
However, they deemed it imprudent to rely on such
a supposition ; and after an hours' halt, they again
moved on, pausing occasionally to refresh them-
selves, until towards sunset, when the ground be-
came more even and the soil more sandy. Here
they noticed the vegetation- was becoming more
sparse, what trees there were having a stunted
and gnarled appearance ; after a long search
they found a spring of pure water, by which they
encamped for the night, being now relieved fron
the fear of an attack ; for, had they been ever so
well mounted they could not have made a greater
distance than they had, and having the advantage
of a start of their pursuers they calculated on a
certain escape. They were unmolested through
the night ; and early in the morning they again set
forth. At noon where they halted the face of the
country was much as it was when they set out in
the morning ; but, after a rapid ride in the after-
noon, the vegetation entirely disappeared except the
rank grass, leaving a broad prairie before them.
Here they paused, resolving to rest themselves
before they proceeded faither.

Alas ! had they only known which way to pro-
ceed, what direction would lead them to their
home and friends, it would have been well with
them. But they had pursued so many different
directions they had become bewildered, and a!3



236 THE WANDERERS; OR,

courses seemed to them alike. The next and
the next day passed over and found them unde-
cided whether it was best to cross over the prairie
or not ; but the third day they concluded to do so,
and refreshed and invigorated they set out. Two
days ot their journey they found occasional sup-
plies of water, and on the third towards noon they
came to its boundary. The forest skirting tho
border of the prairie was a clump of stunted trees,
and there was very little grass or shrubs growing
around. Everything looked forlorn and desolate
about them, offering but scanty subsistence for
themselves or beasts.

Following the forest down a short distance they
found a tolerable camping ground where they spent
the night. The next day on riding through the
forest about three miles they found that it termi-
nated, leaving a field of sand without a blade of
grass or shrub growing upon it. It was nothing
but sand, drear and desolate as far as the eye
could reach. They were stupefied, and gazed sadly
on the barren waste before them.

"This," at last said the trapper, " is the desert
of which we have heard by vague rumors and tra-
ditions, but of which, until now, I never believed
existed. We have undoubtedly made our way on
tho opposite side, and it will be necessary for us
to either go across or round it in order to get
home. The nearest course is across, and even when
there, we shall be many hundred miles from home."



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 237

Jane could hardly repress the sob that arose ai
her uncle announced the dismal prospect that lay
before them, and even hope almost died in her
heart. For the first time she entertained the
thought that there was a probability of ending
their days in those unknown, unbroken regions.
Whirlwind saw the emotion that was stirring her
heart, for he was a keen observer, and read human
nature with that accuracy peculiarly characteristic
of the Indian. Placing himself by her side, he said
in a mild tone

" Why is the antelope troubled ? is not her
warrior by her side to make her a new home ? The
wilderness encircles us on every side, and the Great
Spirit makes a barrier of sand that we cannot
escape. It is his will that we remain; let us not
attempt to leave the forest."

" Look here, chief, let Jane alone," said Sidney,
angrily, as he attempted to draw her from Whirl-
wind.

" Sidney," said Howe, in an authoritative tone,
" how long will it be before you learn prudence ?"

An angry retort rose to his lips, but catching


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Online LibraryD. W. (David W.) BelisleThe American family Robinson; or, The adventures of a family lost in the great desert of the West → online text (page 13 of 20)