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 14 of 20)
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 14 of 20)
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the pleading eye of the young girl fixed upon him,
he remained silent and walked away.

" Come, chief, what say you, shall we strike the
desert or not."

" Were I to consult my own inclination, I should
say not, but return to our quarters, and prepare
for winter."



238 THE WANDERERS; OR

" That is out of the question, chief; go home
we must," spoke up Edward, with a tone of energy
and decision quite new to him.

"Yes, go home ! we not only must, but will,"
said Sidney.

" If we can get home," added Jane, sadly.

" We will do our best," said Howe, in a cheerful
tone. He saw, too, that he had an arduous trial
to contend with in the angry feelings Sidney
entertained for the chief, which to his credit the
chief never seemed to notice or resent. He knew
the temper of the chieftain well, and knew him
patient and forgiving, but knew him also unrelenting
in his hate, when his anger was aroused. Howe's
policy was to keep up a unity of feeling and pur-
pose between every member of his little band, as
he well knew a division would weaken their exer-
tions, and cripple their efforts to extricate them-
selves from the trials that every day were thickening
and becoming more complicated around them.

A consultation ensued, in which they came to
the conclusion to cross the desert ; but, as tradi-
tion said there was not a drop of water or a blade
of grass to be had between the two boundaries,
and that the desert was two days' journey across,
they retreated to a spot where grass and water
could be collected in quantities sufficient to last
them the three days they would be in crossing the
barren waste. Happily they were well provided
with horses, having still in their possession those



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 239

that had been appropriated to the use of Oudin
and Mahnewe, as well as the two pack horses.
Gathering large quantities of grass by cutting it
tip with their hunting knives, they bound it in com-
pact bundles ; then taking some skins, they sewed
them up, making them tight and secure for water-
bags. The morning of the third day found them
ready for their perilous adventure. Each one
taking a water-bag, a bundle of grass and provision
on his own horse, sufficient to last them through

7 o

the first day, which, together with the four horses
heavily laden with provision, water and grass, they
thought quite sufficient to last them, double the
time they intended being on the desert.

Hope again gilded the future to the wanderers
as they surveyed with satisfaction the result of their
labors ; and, when they turned their horses towards
the sandy plain before them, their hearts were
elated, and a feeling of security against its terrors
made them even gay and joyous. It is well the
future is always hid from view ; were it not, the
heart would faint and shrink from its trials when
called to endure them, and instead of bravely
contending with them, it would be palsied and
weakened by fear.



240 THE WANDERERS; OR,



ixtmtjr*



They set out over the Desert Encampment in the sand An island
in the sand discovered Singular appearance of rocks Human
skeletons found in the sand A mirage Dreary prospects
Some of their horses give out They arrive at an oasis Beau-
tiful scenery They come to a lake Singular geological features,
They discover and explore a cavern in which they come upon
mysterious implements Gold found in abundance The cavern
supposed to have been an ancient mine Its remarkable features.

THE sky was overcast with clouds as they entered
the desert, which broke and finally cleared away
before the day was half spent. It had been their
intention to ride as fast as their horses could
travel ; but they found that travelling in the sand,
where, at every step the horses' hoofs sank above
the fetlock, was easier talked of than performed,
and to their dismay, they found themselves reduced
to a walk, bv the time they lost sight of the forest

*/ t/ O

whence they started. A feeling of loneliness now
crept involuntarily over them which deepened by
finding the desert bestrewed with bones bleached
in the sun, of those who had probably been lost in
this barren waste, and had perished with hunger
and thirst. The mid-day sun now poured its rays



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 241

on their unprotected heads, causing a feeling of
dizziness, while its glittering reflection from the
sand almost blinded their sight. At sunset, when
about to halt for the night, they caught a faint
glimmer of a body rising against the horizon,
brought into relief by the expiring light. "A
forest !" they all shouted joyously at the sight.
But, as they were now fatigued and hungry, and
$he object ahead, if a forest, was apparently miles
away, they concluded to spend the night where
they were. That night the sand was their bed,
the skins they used for saddles their pillows, and
the star-gemmed canopy above their only covering.
At dawn they were again on their march, and as
they proceeded the objects they had seen the night
before faint and indistinctly, became more clearly
defined, having the appearance of uneven bodies,
scattered over a considerable extent of territory.
In a few hours, they came to them and found,
instead of a forest, a singular mass of rocks, some-
times rising in smooth perpendicular columns, some
of them capped by a huge flat rock laying as regu-
larly as if placed there by the hand of mechanical
skill, and then again they were thrown down and
lay scattered around as if by some violent throe of
nature. Though there were vast fields of rock,
not a shrub, nor any sign of vegetation could be
seen. All was desolate, sand and rock. What struck
them as being very singular about these rocks, was
the fact that, they were divided into two distinct

21 Q



242 THE WANDERERS; OR,

parts, leaving a pathway through them fifty feet wide,
unincumbered by boulder or stones, and which was
smooth and even. Guiding their horses thiough
this defile, which seemed like a portal to the desert
beyond, they could not refrain from the thought
that the hand of man had built here a barrier, to
prevent the incursion of some foe ; still these rocks
were so massive, rude, and in such gigantic pro-
portions, it almost set at defiance the supposition
that human agency could have placed them there.
Riding further on a few miles, they came upon the
skeleton of an Indian, half buried in the sand,
entirely denuded of flesh, and laying as if he had
calmly lain down to die. Shuddering at the spec-
tacle, they rode on a few paces, when another, and
another, met their sight, until they had counted
fifteen skeletons. They had probably been a party
lost in the desert, and being unable to extricate
themselves had miserably perished in that dreary
spot.

Surveying these a moment, and then with a
glance at their own store of provisions, they urged
on their horses until night, when they were obliged
to halt, for their animals exhibited signs of giving
out from fatigue, although no indication of the
expected forest, with its supply of water and game,
was in view, as they had anticipated. Nothing but
a plain of sand, occasional rocky beds, and huge
boulders scattered among them were seen. Well
it was for them that they had taken an extra



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 243

supply of provisions, or they, too, might have
perished by a death more lingering and terrible
than cannibals could inflict. With heavy hearts
and dread forbodings when light again dawned,
they once more resumed their journey, the desert
retaining the same appearence it had the day
before, until towards night, when, to their joy ! a
forest loomed against the horizon. Forgetting their
fatigue, they urged their wearied beasts on, mile after
mile, until darkness hid every object in its mantle
of gloom. Still on they went, till the horses
paused, trembling and tottering, ready to fall.
They could proceed no farther. Giving them
water and grass, they ate their own supper and
lay down to sleep, with the expectation of being in
full view of the forest when daylight should break
upon them.

Worn with fatigue they slept soundly, forgeting
for a few hours, the terrible anxiety that tortured
them when awake, and the sun had already risen
before they awoke from dreaming of beautiful
forests, through which clear streams went mur-
muring, and where game of every description, from
the huge buffalo to the tiny singing bird, abounded.
Rousing themselves, their first thought was of
the forest, and looking around not a vestige waa
to be seen, and the truth gradually dawned upon
them as they gazed horror stricken in each other's
bloodless faces, that they had seen a mirage, and
that, instead of terminating, it betokened that the



244: THE WANDERER?; OR,

desert extended far beyond them. Seeing the
panic into which they were all thrown by this
discovery, Howe said in a cheerful tone

" Come ! come ! this will never do : we have
provision and water enough for us and the horses
for to-day, and we can easily divide, and make it
last two days. We are caught and must do the
best we can ; at least we can never free ourselves,
if we stand still and bewail our fate."

" Oh, uncle ! this is terrible," said Edward,
gazing abstractedly around where nothing but
desolation met his eye.

" We can do no better than help ourselves out
of it," said Jane, encouragingly. "Be a man,
Edward, and, doing your best, take your chance
with the rest."

" That is a brave girl," said Howe, with a nod
of approval. " Let us be courageous ; the darkest
hour of the night is that just before the dawn. Is
it not so, chief?''

" Always," answered the chief. " I have heard
our old men speak of these deserts, but they are
more vast and dreary than even the report por-
trayed them. But if we would escape, every
moment is precious, and we must haste away."

" Alas ! a new evil had visited them, for on
going to their horses they found them lame, stiff,
and hardly able to move. One refused to rise
from the bed of sand, and nc effort could move
him. Constant travel in the desert beneath tho



LIFE IN TtflE WESTERN WILDS. 245

burning sun, had done the work for him ; he was
useless, and to save his dying from thirst and
starvation, they killed him. They did that with
sorrowful hearts, well knowing if they waited to
take him with them, it would be death to them,
and that he could never escape from his girdle of
sand, if left alive.

The other horses soon began to show sufficient
activity to warrant their travelling, and again they
rode on. That day they had sufficient to last them,
but they could not make it hold out longer unless
they put themselves on short allowance. Halting
at noon, where not a ray of deliverance shone upon
them any more than their first day out, they con-
cluded to kill the three spare horses in order to
save the water and grass for the rest. Selecting
the three that exhibited the greatest signs of lassi-
tude, they killed them. Confident now of holding
on their course another day, they took their luggage
on the horses they rode, and again set out. A
copious shower of rain fell before night which was
a great relief, as it refreshed their heated bodies
as well as their horses, and cooled the temperature
of the sand, from which they had been greatly
annoyed by its scattering, and sometimes almost
blinding their eyes, causing them to become in-
flamed and exceeding painful. That night also
rain fell ; but making a covering of the skins they
used for saddles, they managed to get a few hours'

sleep, <md as it served to refresh them and the
u*



246 THE WANDERERS; OR,

horses, and knowing that rain in the desert is of
rare occurrence, they felt as if it was truly provi-
dential. They also found their horses in the
morning in better condition than they had expected,
and with a faint hope that they might reach a
forest that day, they set out expecting that, in all
probability, they were near land well moistened,
and the show r ers they had received had been only
the extension of a larger one that had passed over
a tract of country supplying moisture for plenteous
evaporation. This they knew the desert could
never do, and it caused their spirits to elate with
hope. In a few hours more a small speck was seen
circling in the air. " A bird ! a bird !" cried the
chief, pointing at the object. Howe's quick eye
caught the sight of it, when it disappeared, and
was lost in the distance.

" Thank Heaven," cried Jane, fervently ; " we
shall be saved at last !" and tears of joy filled eyes
that trials could not dim.

" Yes, we are near a forest," said the chief;
" the dark hour is passing ; may the day in its
brightness repay us for its darkness."

"Amen to that !" said Sidney; " and may the
day bring no evil worse than the night."

"What can be worse," indignantly asked Ed-
ward, " than the terrible days we have spent on
these burning sands."

" Do not repine, Edward," said Jane, gently
" Those bleaching bones we passed indicate that



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 241

others have fared worse than we have ; for we still
live."

" They were nothing but Indians, and they get
used to such things," said Sidney.

" Does the young brave think the Indians can-
not feel ?" asked the chief, reproachfully. " He
will not repine at his lot, because red blood flows
in his veins, and he scorns to be a coward. Those
that wail most feel the least; they throw their
griefs to the winds ; but the Indian is too proud to
be pitied, and hides the grief in his heart, singing
his war-song to cover its workings."

" You make heroes of your people, chief," said
Sidney, touched by the deep tone of feeling with
which these words were uttered.

" We are warriors and braves," returned the
.hief.

About noon the waving tops of trees became
visible, strangely intermixed with bold outlines
which they found on a nearer approach to be rocks.
This time the trees proved to be real; and as they
approached, the forest grew more clearly defined,
and towards night to their inexpressible joy, they
came to patches on which were found sparse and
stunted vegetation. Halting, they used their last
water for themselves and horses, consumed their
last provisions, and lay down to rest, until daylight
should enable them to explore the place around
them. Alas ! when the rising sun lit up the
Bcsnery around them, they saw that they had not



248 THE WANDERERS; OR,

gained the main land, but had come to an oasis of
about three miles in circumference, much of which
was quite barren, and the rest covered with coarse
grass, large beds of slate rock, with here and there
a huge boulder, and the whole intermixed with scat-
tered trees that looked as if they had struggled hard
to maintain existence. The whole tribe of cactae
was here represented, stretching its long snake-
like arms over the rocky place, giving it a peculiarly
ugly appearance. Fortunately, a few shrubs grew
scattered over the oasis, on which their horses
might feed, and turning them loose to glean where
they could rind anything, being well assured they
would not of their own accord, enter the desert,
they dispersed in search of water and something
to satisfy their own hunger. For, having been on
short allowance the day before, they did not relish
the idea of fasting any length of time.

Edward and Jane took a course to the right,
while the rest separately took courses in different
directions, with the understanding that they were
to communicate with each other by hallooing, if
they found either water, roots, or game. The
children's course at first was over a pebbly bed,
which terminated in a disjointed mass of sandstone,
which towered up to a considerable height, and
was one of the objects that had attracted their
attention from the desert. Ascending to the top
of this with much difficulty, a vision of loveliness
met their sight a vision which gladdened the



LIFE IN THE WESTEEN WILDS. 249

hearts of the half famished children. A vale lay
before them shaded by luxuriant foliage, and covered
with a green sward, in the centre*of which, a lake
spreading over about three acres of ground slept in
tranquil beauty, its waters dotted with numerous
water fowl of brilliant plumage.

They stood for some time silently contemplating
the scene before them ; their hearts were too full
for words, and a feeling of gratefulness that they
had been led thither, made them forget for the
time all they had suffered.

" Shout, Edward, and call them to us," said
Jane, as the trance-like feeling that first seized
her, wore away.

The hallo of Edward rung out on the clear air,
answered the next moment by another, and then
another, until all had been apprized of their dis-
covery. Guided by Edward's voice, they all arrived
on the ledge of rocks in half an hour, and as they,
in turn, looked down on the scene below, they were
almost overcome with joy, at the sight of the deliv-
erance at hand. They soon descended the rocky
ledge, which they found exceedingly hazardous, as
the pebbles gave way under their feet, often precipi-
tating them on the sharp stones below. They
heeded not their difficulties, for the vale lay invi-
tingly before them, and with their eyes on that,
they finally reached the bottom in safety,
entered the welcome shade. They found the



250 THE WANDERERS; OR,

was rich and productive, teeming with vegetation,
and the woods filled with fowl. No signs of other
game were arouncl, but they saw the lake was filled
with fine fish, which were so tame that they swam
close to the water's edge.

" Build a fire ; we all want breakfast," cried the
chief, exultingly, as, with stick in hand, he waded
out a few feet, striking right and left among the
finny tribes. In a few minutes a number of large
fish, stunned by the blows, turned over on their
sides, and floated on the surface, when they were
caught up by the chief, and thrown on the shore. A
plentiful repast was soon ready, and having satis-
fied their hunger, they turned their thoughts to
their future.

" We will encamp here," said the trapper,
" until we shall have recruited ourselves and
horses. Our luggage, though it is so scanty, is of
incalculable value to us, and must be brought
thither also."

" How the poor horses will relish this tender
grass and cool water?" said Jane.

"I am going for them," said the chief. "Let
one of the young braves go with me, and all may
be brought at once." Sidney and the chief set
out on their way, following the base of the ledge
of rocks in order to get around it, when they met
the horses making their way towards them at a
rapid gait. . The instinct of the wild prairie horse
had -caused them to scent the water, for which



LIFE IN T H ^ WESTERN WILDS. 251

they were making by the nearest route. Poor
things ! they were worn almost to skeletons, .amed
and crippled, and were pitiable sights to look
upon.

Building themselves a hut to shield them from
rain and dew, they made preparations to remain a
number of days before they again ventured on the
dreary desert. They supposed by the large quan-
tities of fowl, that they were at no great distance
from main land ; but as this was mere conjecture,
they dared not rely upon it. Past experience,
dearly purchased, warned them to presume on
nothing, and that their own boasted woodcraft
was of little avail, under difficulties like those in
which they were now placed.

For the three first days of their sojourn at that
place they were so fatigued and debilitated that
they were content to keep quiet by the lake, the
delightful repose which (hey enjoyed so intensely,
after the harrassing terrors of the desert, strength-
ened the spirits of the wanderers as well as their
bodies.

The fifth and sixth days they began to explore
farther around the place, and the seventh they had
become quite strengthened, so magically had the pure
water and an abundance of fish and fowl, together
with the numerous roots which they found, acted
upon them. They found this lake had no streams
entering or running from it, and that no motion
stirred its placid bosom save a singular circular one



252 THE WANDERERS; OK,

that never changed from the slow monotony of its
course.

In one of their rambles they had noticed a singu-
lar opening in the rocks that formed the ridge ;
but something else attracting their attention at the
moment, they had passed it by without a close
inspection of it. A week afterwards they chanced
to be in its vicinity, and they at once resolved to
explore the cavern, for such the opening they had
no doubt would lead them to. Providing them"
selves with torches, they ventured in, the chief
leading the way. The opening was about eight feet
high and three broad, resembling a doorway ; and
holding their torches close to the edge they found
it had been actually cut, as distinct traces of where
the rock had been broken off were still visible.
Passing over the rubbish that had accumulated at
the mouth, they came to a solid rocky floor quite
smooth as if worn so by constant friction. For
about fifty feet the passage had a uniform appear-
ance, the sides and roof looking as if recently cut
by a mason's hand. The passage suddenly termi-
nated, and they found themselves in a place about
six feet wide, and running parallel to the ledge.
How long it was they could not see, as it extended
in two directions. Taking the one leading to the
right they had gone but a few feet when a peculiar
glittering in the opposite side of the cave arrested
their attention, which n close inspection they pro-
nounced to be particles of gold mixed with the rock*



LIFE JN THE WESTERN WILDS. 253

They found, as they proceeded, that they were
ascending gradually, and that the passage was of a
uniform height ; and, as the particles of gold were
plainly visible imbedded in the rock, they came to
the conclusion that they had come to an ancient
gold mine, and the tunnel had indeed been cut by
human skill.

They soon came to the terminus of this part, and
when they returned they resolved to explore the
cavern at the left, being very anxious to do so. The
chief, however, dissented, for he had been troubled
from the moment they had discovered the particles
of gold. At first he peremptorily refused to go
with them until he found they were resolved to go
even if he remained behind. Then yielding a
reluctant consent he took his torch and led the
way. This passage was precisely similar to the
other, with the exception that it descended gradu-
ally while the other ascended. Here too the par-
ticles of gold were discovered guttering in the rock
that formed one of the sides of the passage ; and,
as none of the precious ore was visible on the roof
or other side, they supposed a vein had run through
the rock in a dip formed by an upheaval of the rock,
and which having been discovered by some unknown
persons, the ledge had been tunneled and the ore
taken from its hidden bed.

Following the tunnel a short distance, they came
to a single step, about two feet high, which descend-
ing, they found others at regular intervals of about
22



254 THE WANDERERS; OR,

ten feet apart, until they had counted fifty of them,
The sides along which the vein ran bora indi-
cations of having yielded vast quantities of ore,
with still enough to repay the labor of crushing
the quartz in which it was imbedded, and extracting
the gold. The steps now terminated, and the pas-
sage branched in two directions at right angles with
each other. In one of the branches they found the
continuation of the vein of precious ore, and fol-
lowed it up. Instead of its descending, they found
it perfectly level, the passage having the same
width and height as at its mouth for a considerable
distance, when it suddenly opened into a large
room, which they found, by pacing it, to be three
hundred feet long, and two hundred and twenty
wide, in the longest and widest parts. Its shape
was very singular, jutting out here and there, and
as the glare of the torches lighted up the gloom,
millions of particles from every crevice and jutting
point of its rugged sides, reflected back their light
in flashing rays.

"The abode of evil sjnrits !" cried the chief, in
great alarm, with more agitation perhaps than he
would have exhibited before a shower of darts aimed
at him, or than at the stake of an enemy. " Fly !"
he continued, " before it is too late ! The anger of
the Evil Spirit is fearful, w r hen aroused ; fly ! fly !
and save yourselves," and, with a vice-like grasp, he
caught up Jane and bounded up the passage. Howe
saw the movement, but the chief had been sc* <juick,


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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 14 of 20)