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 3 of 20)
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to answer them. I resolved to find out, and at-
tempted to make friends with him as the most
tangible way of succeeding. He was reserved and
haughty, and I doubted my success; but I was
agreeably surprised when he deigned to receive
and converse with me, though at the same time he
treated me with a degree of contempt by no means
agreeable ; yet it came from him with such a glance
of pity in his eye as if he earnestly commiserated
my inferiority, that I half forgave him at the mo-
ment. He conversed about everything save the
one subject nearest my heart himself. But on
this point he was silent, and when, day after day,
I entreated him to give me a history of himself,
the thought seemed to call up such agonizing re-
collections as to make every renewal of the subject
difficult for me and painful to him.

" Many months went by, but as yet I was no far-
ther advanced than at first, on the one great sub-
ject of which I so longed to be familiar. I fancied



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 39

of late the old man had become more taciturn and
reserved than formerly, showing a disinclination to
converse on any subject, and I could not avoid seeing
his steps grow slower ; he took less exercise than
had been his custom, and I saw plainly he was
passing away. Then I feared he would never re-
lent ; that death would come upon him and his his-
tory remain unknown.

" One evening, after I had in vain endeavored to
gain access to the old man through the day, I
wandered out and stood on a high cliff, against
whose base the waves of the lake beat with a sul-
len roar ; and looking far away over the turbulent
surface of this prince of inland seas, was wondering
if ever its waters would become tributary to the will
of my race, or if, as now, the canoe of the Indian was
all the vessel that should breast its rugged waves.
The place where I stood was a sort of table, or
level rock, the highest peak of th e cliff, rising in a
cone-like shape, some thirty feet above. Below it
was irregular, and the path to the place where I
stood tortuous, difficult, and dangerous ; but when
once there, one of the grandest views on the whole
lake was presented. I had not been there long,
when, hearing a footstep approach, and thinking it
a dangerous place to be caught in if it should be
an unfriendly Indian, I caught hold of some shrubs
growing in the crevices of the rock, and silently
let myself down a few feet below the table, whose
overhanging rock I knew would protect me from



40 THE WANDERERS; on,

observation, and where I could have a full view of
the rock by looking through the shrubs, by whose
friendly aid I had descended to my retreat.

" I had scarcely secreted myself when, to my as-
tonishment, the old man advanced slowly up the
path, his labored breathing showing how painful to
him was the exertion. Fearing no harm I was
soon by his side, begging him to lean on me and to
allow me to assist him. He looked down on me
with a peculiar expression, akin to that I should
express should Benny here insist on going out buf-
falo hunting, and which annoyed me exceedingly,
of which he, however, took no notice.

"After standing with folded arms, looking intently
over the water towards the far south, he turned to
me and said :

"'It shall be even so. Come hither, son of a
degenerate race, and learn the secrets of the past.
Long before your race knew this continent ex-
isted, my people were in the vigor and glory of na-
tional prosperity. From the extreme north, where
the icebergs never yield to the sun, through the
variations of temperature to the barren rocks in
the farthest south, were ours, all, from ocean
to ocean !'

"He paused for a moment, as if endeavoring to
lecall some half-forgotten facts, then proceeded in
t, sorrowful tone.

"'But troubles came. Our kings had fostered
two different races on their soil, who were at tirsc



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 41

but a handful, and who had at two different pe-
riods been driven by winds on our shore. The
first that were thus cast on our hospitality were
partially civilized in their ways, and though far
removed above the brute, were not like us ; so
wide was the difference that an intermarriage with
them would have been punished with death. They
were human, and therefore protected, their in-
significance being their greatest friend ; for my an-
cestors no more thought of laying tribute on them,
even when they came to number themselves by thou-
sands, than you would on an inferior race. The
other race were savages of the worst character ;
more savage than beasts of prey, and so they mul-
tiplied and became strong, and even preyed upon
themselves. Thus our forests became filled with
beasts in the shape of man, and our districts with
an imbecile race. Centuries rolled onward, and
the savages multiplied and grew audacious. They
even penetrated our cities and preyed upon us, while
we, paralyzed by such acts of ingratitude, were
weakened by what should have made us strong.
We passively beheld a loathsome reptile, that might
at first have been crushed in an hour, thrive to be-
come a monster to devour us.

" At length, but, alas! too late, we awoke to the
danger of our situation. AVe drove them from our
cities to the mountains, but ere we could take ac-
tive measures to prevent a recurrence of these out-
rages, the other race we had fostered started

4*



42 THE WANDERERS; OR,

up like a swarm of locusts, and declaring them-
selves our equals, demanded to be recognized aa
such. So preposterous was this demand, that we
were at first disposed to treat it only as the sug-
gestion of a disordered intellect, but, of course,
could never comply with so degrading a request,
for nothing we could do could invest them with
strength, intellect, or form like ours. Soon after

o /

our refusal they too grew audacious, and forming
a league with the savages, set up a king whom they
said should make laws and govern the land.
Then commenced a terrible war of extermination.
This whole continent was drenched with blood,
We fought to save our homes and our country,
they to gain the supremacy. It was not a battle
of a year or of half a century. As many years as
I have seen, the torrent was never stayed, and
when an advantage was gained, on either side,
life was never spared. By slow degrees, they pos-
sessed themselves of fortress after fortress, and
city after city : we, the while, growing weaker,
they stronger, until we were compelled to take re-
fuge in the cities :>f our king. These cities were
built and walled with granite, and we supposed
them to be impregnable ; and laying as they did
in the centre of the continent, and in proximity
to one another, we hoped yet to withstand them.
But, alas ! we had another foe to encounter
Gaunt hunger and famine came with their ghastly
forms and bony arms, blighting the strong and the



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 43

brave. But it could not make traitors or cowards
of us, and dying we hurled defiance at our foes.
The walls of oar cities unmanned, were scaled
the gates thrown open ; and our streets filled with
the murderers whom we had reared to exterminate
us. A few were found alive, and these few were
saved by the victors that the arts and sciences
might not die. From these I am descended; but
though we refused to transmit this knowledge to
them, they treated us with great care, hoping that
after a lapse of time we would amalgamate with
them. But we were made of sterner stuff than
that. We could see our race and nation blotted
from existence, but not degraded. After the lapse
of many centuries we were forgotten in the strug-
gles of a half civilized race and the savages for
supremacy, and my people dying out year by year,
are all gone save myself, the last of the rightful
owners of this continent."

As the old man concluded, his head fell forward
on his breast and he remained silent and motion-
less so long, that I feared the recalling of the past
had been too great a task for him, and going up to
him, I laid my hand on his. Throwing it aside, he
said : u Young man, I have told you of the past,
and now there is a page of the future I will unfold
to you. Your race shall possess the heritage of
my ancestors. And as the savages exterminated
us, so shall you them. But, beware, you too are
fostering a serpent that at last will sting, and per-



44 THE WANDERERS; OR,

haps devour you." " The arts and sciences of y(/ur
race speak of them; were they like ours," I said,
anxious to learn more of this strange people :
"Yours," he replied with more warmth than he
had exhibited, "are not unlike ours, though far in-
ferior to them. Your race boasts of discoveries
and inventions ! ah ! boy, you are but bringing to
light arts long lost, but in perfection centuries of
centuries before your people ever knew of this
land."

" Is there any proof of this ? is there nothing
remaining to give ocular demonstration of these
facts ?" I asked.

"A few, said he. Nothing very satisfactory,
but what there is, you shall see."

So saying, he let himself down to the same spot
where I had, in hiding from him, I following. On
removing a few pieces of loose rock the door lead-
ing to a cavern was visible, which we entered. It
was a large cave running back into a lofty arched
room, as far as I could see in the surrounding
gloom. The old man took a couple of torches
from a pile that lay on a shelving rock close by
the door, lighted them, and giving one to me bade
me follow. The farther we went the wider and
loftier was the cave, until I began to wonder where
it would end. At this moment he paused before a
stone tablet of immense proportions, raised aboot
three feet from the floor, the ends resting on blocks
of granite. All over its surface was hierogly-



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 45

phics engraved in characters I had never seen
before, though I have often found similar ones
since.

" Here, said he," are recorded the heroic
deeds of our race while fighting to save our
firesides from a rapacious foe. Every character
is a history in itself. Yet your race know
it not ; but still boast of sciences you do not
possess."

"No," said I, " we cannot decypher these cha-
racters, we have never claimed to have done so ;
but if you can give me a key to them, tell me how
we may make an alphabet to it, we may still be
able to do so."

"It would be useless for me to do so," said
he, with his old manner of superiority, " your in-
tellect could not grasp it ; you would not under-
stand me."

" Try me," said I, eagerly, " try me and see."

But he only beckoned me away, then advancing
a few paces took from a recess in the rock, a heavy
flagon not unlike our own in shape, and placing It
in my hand, informed me that their vessels for
drinking were like that, varied in shape and size
according to taste. Hoi iing it to the light, I was
astonished to find it was made of gold, fine and
pure as any I had ever seen. There were instru-
ments of silver, also, which he assured me, would
carry sound many miles, and others of glass and
silver to shorten objects to the sight at an equal



46 THE WANDERERS; OR,

distance. And these, said he, handing me some
curious shaped vases are like the material of which
we made many of our ornaments to our dwelling.
They appeared to be made of glass, yet they were
elastic. He said the material was imperishable,
There were helmets, shields, curiously shaped wea-
pons, chisels, and many things I knew not the
use of, all made of copper, among the rest a shield
precisely like the one you have, Anne."

" Did you bring nothing away ? uncle," asked
the children.

"No: when he had shown me all he desired me
to see, he led me back to the mouth of the cave,
and motioning me out, followed, closing the open-
ing he had made and ascending to the table where
we stood before.

" Then I begged the old man to tell me more
of his race, to unfold the curtain that hung like a
pall between them and us. He shook his head
sadly, and standing with his face towards the
south, communing with himself awhile, turned to
me, and said : ' You believe in a God, good and
evil, rewards and punishments ?'

I answered in the affirmative.

" Would you hesitate to break an oath taken in
the name of the God in which you believe ?" he
asked.

" I would not dare to commit such a crime," 1
answered.

"Then, swear," said he, "that what I have



LIFE ix THE WES TERN WILDS 47

told and shown you, ycu will never reveal to nu-
man being by word or sign."

" Oh, no, you cannot mean that ; leave us some
clue to your lost race," I entreated.

"Yes, swear," repeated he imperiously.

" No : oh ! no, I cannot. Though for your
sake," I said, "I will be silent any reasonable
number of years you shall dictate to me."

He gazed sternly on me for a few moments,
then said.

" Let it be so. When I have passed away you
are absolved from your oath."

" You will teach me to read the recorded past,"
I said inquiringly, and tell me of the arts now
lost, at some future day !"

" It is too late, my days are spent, he said; then
rousing himself, he exclaimed, in a voice that still
rings in my ears : c Son of a degenerate race, go
over this whole continent and there trace the his-
tory of my people. Our monuments are there,
and on them are chiseled our deeds, and though
we moulder in the dust, they can never die ; they
are imperishable. Go where the summer never
endy, where the trees blossom, still laden with
fruit, and there we once were mighty as these for-
ests, and numerous as the drops in this lake ; there
read of our glory but not of our shame that was
never chiseled in our monumental pillars ; it is
here, (placing his hand on his heart) and with /ne
must die. Go, (said he, waving with his hand to



48 THE WANDERERS, OR,

wards the path that ascended the table) go, and
leave the last of a mighty race, to die alone. It
is not fitting you should be here : Go ? I am
called.' "

I obeyed him reluctantly, but I neve: sav him
again.



IN THE WESTERN WILDS 49



/nnrtju



ri.cir journey continued Finding a Prairie Encamping for the
Night Singular incident A Mirage on the Prairie Alarm in
the Camp The Prairie discovered to be on fire Flight to the
Sand Hills Their final escape Search for water Finding a
stream Encampment.

THE next day the camp was struck and packed ;
the oxen, rested and invigorated by roving over
and cropping the rich grasses that grew in luxuri-
ance along the banks of the river by which they
had encamped, moved with a brisk step along their
shady track, while the voices of the drivers sounded
musically, reverberating through the stillness of the
forest. Towards noon they came to one of those
singularly interesting geological features of the
west, a Prairie. This was something entirely new
to the younger children, who had never been far
from the place where they were born, and it very
naturally surprised them to see such a boundless
extent of territory, without a house, barn, or fence
of any kind nothing but a waving mass of coarse
rank grass

" Oh ! father," cried little Benny, as the vast

prairie burst on his sight, " see what a great big
5 D



THE WANDERERS: OR,

farm somebody has got ! But where does he live ?
I don't see any house."

" And the fences, apple, peach, and pear trees ?"
said Anne.

" It is not a farm ; it's a big pasture kept on
purpose to feed buffaloes and deer in," said
Martin.

"You are all wrong," retorted Lewis, "for
though buffaloes and deer do feed on the prairie,
it is not kept for them alone ; it has always been
so-* trees will not grow on it."

" You, too, are wrong, Lewis," said Mr. Dun-
can. " Though it is true trees will not grow on the
prairie now, yet it was not always so. Geologists
tell us that the vegetable growth, some thousand
years ago was, in many respects, different from
what now covers the solid surface of our earth.
Changes of temperature and constituents of soil
are going on from age to age, and correspondent
changes take place in the vegetable kingdom.
Over large tracks, once green with ferns, stately
trees have succeeded, followed in their turn, in the
course of ages, by grosser and other herbaceous
plants."

"According to that theory, after a regular
course of time has elapsed, these rank grasses will
be succeeded by some ether form of vegetable
growth," remarked Sidney.

" Certainly," replied Mr. Duncan. " When one
class of trees has exhausted the soil of appropriate



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 51

pabulum, and filled it with an excrement which, in
time, it came to loathe, another of a different
class sprang up in its place, luxuriated on the ex-
crement and decay of its predecessor, and in time
has given way to a successor destined to the same
ultimate fate. Thus, one after another, the stately
tribes o-f the forest have arisen, flourished, and fell,
until the soil has become exhausted of the proper
food for trees, and become fitted for the growth
of herbaceous plants."

After pitching their camp that night, the child-
ren in rambling round it, came to one of those land-
marks with which the prairies are so thickly studded
along the different trails a grave. Saddened
at the thought of any one dying in that lonely
place, they gathered around it, wondering if the
hand of affection soothed his last, his darkest hour,
if tears bedewed his resting place, or whether he
died unmourned, unwept, hurried with unseemly
haste beneath the sod, and only remembered by a
mother, wife or sister, who a thousand miles away
was wondering why the absent one, or tidings of
him, came not.

The children assembled thus in a group, Howe
drew thither also, to ascertain what they had found.

"A grave," said he, u ah! pooi fellow, he
sleeps well in his prairie bed."

" Here is a name cut in this bit of board at the
head, uncle, but it is done so badly I can't make
it out," said Martin.



52 TlIE WANDERERS; OK,



Let me try," said Howe; "it is plain enough,
euro.'



u

ft



" JOSHUA CRANE

"DIED
" OCT. 20, 1834, AGED 27."

" Now, children, would you like to see Mr.
Joshua ?" said Howe.

"Why, uncle," said they, "how can you make
light of such a thing?"

" I am in earnest ; for, from various indications
about it, I am of opinion that he is a curious fel-
low."

Anne, with a tear in her eye, cast a reproachful
look towards her uncle, while the rest were too
much surprised to do anything but stare at him in
wonder.

" Bring me a crowbar and shovel, Edward. I
find I must convince these little doubters that I
am really in my senses."

" Oh, uncle!" said Jane, "you could not have
the heart to disturb the dead !"

" Bless me, child, who thinks of disturbing the
dead ; I am only going to show you what a funny
fellow Joshua is. Now," said he, raising the
crowbar, " if Joshua is sleeping here, this iron
cannot reach him ; but, if as I suspect, why, then,
you see" and down went the crowbar in the loose
earth. " Now give me the shovel," said he, and
commenced removing the dirt, the children look-
ing on in astonishment. He soon brought to the



LIFE IN THE WESTERN WILDS. 53

surface, and rolled on the grass a barrel of brandy.
The broad lonely prairie fairly resounded to the
shouts and laughter of the children, as they danced
about the barrel ; Howe standing by enjoying a
deep ha ! ha ! peculiarly his own.

" What a curiosity, Joshua is ! Who would
have thought of finding such a thing there ?"

'It is a rare thing, I own," said Howe, "yet
occasionally resorted to when oxen have given out,
or died. Sometimes wagons have been over-loaded,
and then unable to make their way over the rough
roads, some heavy article is taken and buried with
all the signs of a grave about it, to prevent its
being disturbed and stolen, as in the present in-
stance. Probably the owner will be along here for
it, or sell it to some one who will come for it in
course of the summer."

" Will you leave it here, or bury it again ?"

" The prize is mine ; I shall carry it along with
me," said Howe.

" That would not be right," rejoined Martin.
" It is another man's property."

" Which he forfeited by false pretences. No,
children, whatever found without an owner in these
wilds, falls to the finder by right," said the Trapper.

"I think the children are right," said Mrs.
Duncan, who had come hither at the sound of their
mirth.

" Suppose the owner is dead and never cornea
for it," said Howe.

5 *



54 THE WANDERERS; OR

"It in no wise alters the case. It is better that
it never finds an owner than possess ourselves of
what has purposely been hid from us."

" Such notions are right and proper for a settle-
ment, but for a place like this, it is carrying it to
too nice a point."

" The rights of others should be as sacred to ua
in one place as another," replied Mrs. Dunc-an.

" Suppose somebody had trapped beaver and
foxes in some particular locality, would that make
the animals that were uncaught in that locality his

9"

own :

" Certainly not. The case is different; as the
beaver uncaught never were his, he had no claim
on them. But if he caught a hundred beaver and
cured the skins, and secreted them in some place
until he chose to sell them, it would be decidedly
dishonest for any one to take them away as their
own, because they had found the place in which
they were hidden."

" 1 believe you are right, Mary. Joshua shall
be reinterred," said Howe, rolling the barrel in its
old bed, and proceeding to cover it.

"Mother is always right," cried the children, as
they wended their way back to camp.

Early the next morning, as they were moving
over the prairie, a beautiful vision burst on their
sight. It was a mirage of the prairie. As the sun
rose in all the splendor of an unclouded sky in the
east, the objects in t he west became suddenly elon



LlFE IN THE U7 > <5 T E R N WlLDS. 55

gated vertically, the long rank grass stretching to
an amazing altitude, while its various hues of green
were reflected with vivid accuracy. As the emi-

*

grants approached the optical illusion, it gradually
contracted laterally above and below towards the

V

centre, at the same time rapidly receded towards
the horizon, until it assumed its original aspect. As
the sun approached the meridian, the atmosphere
become so intensely warm that Mr. Duncan thought
it prudent to rest until it began to descend, to
which they all joyfully assented, as their oxen
appeared to be almost overcome with the heat.
They had been a day and a half on the prairie,
and as the water they brought with them would
not last them longer than the next morning, they
were anxious to make the distance to the hills,
which were looming faintly before them in the
west, where they were sure of finding an abundant
supply. Accordingly, the oxen were turned loose,
the horses and mules being picketed, and all re-
signed themselves to the disagreeable necessity of
an encampment in a burning noonday sun on the
prairie, with not even a shrub to shelter them from
its rays. But there was no help for it, the oxen
could not proceed with the wagons, and they were
obliged to wait until the heat of the day was over.
Towards evening, a light breeze began to stir
the heated air, and borne on its wings, came also
a disagreeable odor caught only at long intervals,
but which served to put Howe and Mr. Duncan on
their guard.



56 THE WANDERERS; OR,

" There is a fire on the prairie, away at the
north," said Howe, " and there is not a moment
to be lost, if we would save our baggage, cattle, or
even our lives !"

" It is true, there is fire, and now I ses ihe
smoke away yonder, looking like a thin mist against
the sky ; should it blow this way, our only refuge
is the Sand Hills, that I know lay yonder towards
the forest," said Mr. Duncan, looking intently to-
wards the point whence the odor came.

" Saddle the horses and mules, boys," said Mr.
Duncan, " and place Mary and the children on
them. Benny, you must ride with your mother,
I am afraid to trust you alone on a mule chased
by fire. You must sit still, my boy, and keep up
your courage ; the Sand Hills are yonder, not more
than three miles over the plain ; you see them,
Mary," he continued, " but do not mind the trail ;
keep your horses headed direct for them, and ride
for your lives. I do not think there will be any
danger for any of us ; but it is better to make all
ready for the worst."

u But, suppose you, with the oxen, wagons, and
cows, are surrounded with fire," said Mrs. Duncan.

" We will do our best in the emergency. But
I hope to gain the hills in safety. Perhaps the


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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 3 of 20)