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Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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" ' Well,' said I, as my host set down the light upon the
table, which I saw had recently been dusted, ' how soon is
this performance to begin ? for, thanks to that brandy of
yours, I shall be asleep in something like a quarter of an

" ' Young man !' solemnly replied my superstitious
friend ; ' you jest now but if you jest to-morrow morning,
I will give you the best boy on my plantation, and say
you are the bravest man that ever rode through Alabama !'

" With this he very gravely shook me by the hand,
wished me a safe deliverance from the woes to come, and
retired with the dignity of a state functionary, leaving me
in a frame of mind something between a grin, a yawn, and
a horror.

" Finding myself entirely alone, I took a quiet survey of


the apartment, but discovered nothing remarkable. In
one corner stood a bed, and near it an old-fashioned
bureau; a table, a settee, and two or three chairs, were
ranged along the walls; at the windows hung white
muslin curtains, and the floor was covered with a sort of
matting the whole apartment, in fact, having the appear-
ance of a genteel, country sleeping-room. I looked out
of the windows, and found they opened upon the garden.
I then examined the walls carefully, the matting, every
corner, crack, and crevice, to be certain there was no
chance of playing a trick upon me, though I hardly
thought my host was one to sanction anything of that
kind. I next locked the door, and then examined my
pistols, and placed them with my knife under my pillow.
Then, having arranged the means of striking a light in a
case of emergency, I proceeded to undress and turn in ;
and finding all right, I finally put out the light. The
room was now quite dark, and I looked to see my super-
natural operators begin their nocturnal orgies ; but having
looked in vain till my heavy eyelids began to droop, I
gradually yielded to the somnific influence, and a kind of
forgetfulness succeeded.

" I am not certain whether I slept or not ; but I was
suddenly aroused by feeling something like a cold hand
placed upon my mouth, followed by a kind of stifling

sensation, not unlike that produced by nightmare.



" ' Well,' thought I, ' this is cool, certainly. I am in
for it now, at all events ; and so let us see who will come
out second best.'

, " My first idea was to carefully raise my hand, and
suddenly grasp the hand of the unknown ; and then, if I
found a body to it, to put that particular body in a condi-
tion not to play tricks upon travelers any more. But in
attempting to raise my hand, I made the startling dis-
covery that it was paralyzed.

" This was the first shock of any thing like fear which
my system ever received ; and I freely admit the sensation
was not a pleasant one. What could it mean ? Was
it in reality nightmare, or something else ? I knew
nothing human could paralyze me, and for the first time
I began to think there might be some foundation for the
stories of my host. But, pshaw ! it was a dream I knew
it was a dream a kind of waking dream a dyspeptic
dream superinduced by a hearty supper, some over-indul-
gences afterward, and the ideas fixed upon my mind when
I went to rest.

" I made another effort a stronger and more deter-
mined effort and brought up my hand like lightning ;
but just as I grasped for the intruding hand, it seemed to
be removed, and I felt something like a light blow upon
my temples.


" ' Have a care, whoever you are !' said I ; ' for I am
armed, and will not be trifled with !'

" As I spoke, I fancied I heard a low, mocking laugh ;
and at the same instant the bed seeemed to be raised up
from the floor, and rocked like a cradle.

" Nothing daunted, though somewhat mystified, I
grasped my knife and pistols, sprung out of bed and under
it, but found nothing. Then, strangely enough, the room,
which had till now been very dark, suddenly appeared
slightly illuminated, so that I could see all over it. I
came out from under the bed, and heard a heavy jar, as if
the latter had suddenly been lifted and then dropped back
to its place. This was strange ! very strange ! but I
would find out the secret ; and I hurried about the apart-
ment, examining every object by the new and gradually
diffused light, which was not unlike that of early day.

" But, then, whence came this light, which was of itself
as much a mystery as the rest ? I hastily drew back the
curtains of the windows but all was dark without not a
ray came through the glass and this astonished me
exceedingly. Where could this light come from ? and
what could be the cause of it ? If there was a lantern, a
lamp, or a fire, in an adjoining apartment, I knew I should
more distinctly perceive the light through a crevice than m
the body of the room itself yet I could discover nothing
to lead me to suppose that any other place was illuminated.


" I spent some quarter of an hour in looking over and
under every thing I could find, and then went and sat down
on the bed ; but just as I did so, the apartment suddenly
became dark again, and I distinctly felt a hand grasp my
ankle. As I cautiously glided my own hand down to it, it
seemed to be removed, and the same instant I felt a
smart blow upon my forehead, followed by another low,
taunting laugh.

" I now began to feel strangely. This was a species of
jugglery that passed my comprehension. Had the room
not been mysteriously lighted at all, I fancied I might
account for the rest as a trick ; but that light was some-
thing for which I could fix upon no rational cause ; and
not being able to discover the source of the light, the rest
became alike mysterious and inexplicable.

"Next followed sounds, not unlike the rushing and
moaning of winds the very room itself seemed to rock
and I heard a slow, steady, measured tread, with a clank-
ing noise as of chains. With my pistol and knife firmly
grasped, and both ready for action, I waited for the steps
to approach me ; but though they seemed to be continually
advancing, they apparently came no nearer. Presently
I felt a cold air blowing upon my face; and believing
that some trap-door had been opened near me, I reached
for my matches, struck a light, and looked eagerly around


me ; but every thing was exactly as at first nothing
seemed to have been disturbed in the least.

"I now made another thorough search around the
walls for a secret door ; and then, lifting the matting by
degrees, I also carefully examined the floor underneath;
and having thus fully satisfied myself that there was no
entrance to the room except through the door and windows
and the door was still locked, with the key remaining in
it, and the windows I knew had not been opened I threw
myself down upon a seat, and pondered the mystery for
more than an hour, occasionally pinching myself to be cer-
tain I was awake.

" At last, finding I could not settle the matter to my own
satisfaction, I proceeded to make another thorough exami-
nation of every thing and every place actually opening the
drawers of the bureau to see that no one was concealed
within and then once more put out the light. The very
instant I did so, however, I felt myself touched in twenty
places at the same time, by what appeared to me to be
twenty hands ; while something like a brush was drawn
rapidly up and down and over my face several times. I
now began to grow uneasy to be in some degree alarmed
to believe indeed there might be more things in heaven
and earth than had been dreamed of in my philosophy.

"'In the name of God,' said I, solemnly 'if this be



aught from the other world, make known your wish, and
depart to your rest 1 J

" From that moment, for something like half an hour, I
neither heard a sound, nor felt a touch; and throwing
myself once more upon the bed, I resolved to sleep out the
night, let it be what it would, and make such a report in
the morning as I might see proper.

" With this intent I closed my eyes, and gradually fell
into a drowsy state as at first ; but suddenly a bright flash,
like that of the most vivid lightning, brought me up with
a start, and I found the room illuminated as before, and
heard several strange noises all around me. My feelings
at that moment I can only describe as a kind of mingled
impression of awe and terror of something wild and
weird-like a secret sensation of something fearful and
unearthly. A weak, faint, sickening feeling came over me ;
and closing my eyes, I fell back, completely exhausted.
On looking up again, the room was as dark as the blackest
night, except in one single spot overhead, where there
seemed to burn a kind of small, bluish light, that illumi-
nated nothing around it.

" This was too much. I felt I would rather acknowledge
myself vanquished, than courageously remain involved in
such terrible mystery through the night ; and tremblingly
I rose, with the intention of finding my way out of the


" I had scarcely touched my feet to the floor, however,
when I experienced a kind of paralyzing shock, followed by
a sensation of being lifted and swung in the air. The next
moment I seemed to drop heavily ; and as I advanced a step,
with my hair fairly standing on end, a cold, clammy hand
grasped mine. Determined to know what it belonged to,
my fingers closed upon it like a vice ; while with the other
hand I felt along an arm that seemed to end in air, without
other form or body attached. The very acme of horror
now seized me ; this could belong to nothing human ; it
was indeed a creation of the invisible inhabitants of the
invisible world ; and with a long, loud, despairing shriek,
I fell."

Here my friend, Lance Walters, brought his narrative
to a pause.

" Well !" I exclaimed, in no little excitement ; " what
chen ?"

" I hardly know what then," he replied. " The next
I remember, I found myself in bed, with the old planter
and his wife and some half a dozen negroes standing around
me, and a neighboring leech taking blood from my arm.
I recovered in the course of the day, and in the afternoon
took leave of my entertainer, fully determined never to
spend another night beneath his roof. You perceive,"
he concluded with a smile, " I did not get a darkey for a


present, nor had I the honor of being accounted the
bravest man that ever rode through Alabama."

" But what was the mystery ?" said I.

"Ah, what indeed ?" mused Lance.

"Was it nightmare a dream a chemical trick or
was it something really supernatural ?

" That is what I have been trying to settle ever since,"
replied Lance Walters ; " but, till the day of my death, I
fear it will remain a mystery to me. Enough that I was
really frightened for once ; and I was only too glad to get
away, without asking or being asked any unnecessary ques-
tions. Let me trouble you for another cigar I"

it I,

AFAR out in the great wilderness of the Far West,
around their camp-fire, sat four mountaineers, one toast-
ing his meat at the fire, one mending his torn moccasins
by the flickering light, and the other two squatted upon
the ground, quietly smoking their pipes, while their mules
and horses stood feeding near. It was a wild picturesque
scene in a deep valley, near a mountain stream a lurid
light gleaming upon their hard, bronzed features, their
rough, mountain costume, their packs and arms, their feed-
ing cattle, the gliding stream, and the rocks and the trees
around and above them.

"I say, Bill, old hoss," said one of the two who sat
smoking, turning to his nearest companion, " 'spose you
gin us that thar scrape o' yourn with the Injuns ! I'd
like to smoke another pipe afore I turns in ; and them
kind o' things, you know, sarves to float the time along

" Wall, that thar war one on 'em !" returned Bill, em-
phatically, taking a long, steady pull at his pipe, and



rolling out quite a cloud : " I never had sich a run afore,
since I owned these hyer pegs. "

The second speaker, Bill Lukens, was a tall, brawny
fellow, some five-and-thirty years of age, with sandy com-
plexion, light-blue eyes, ancFstrongly marked features.
He had spent a great portion of his life in the wilderness,
as hunter, trapper, and guide ; and, like all who are con-
tinually exposed to perils, had passed through a great
many scenes of adventure, and had had a great many
hair-breadth escapes. He had recently joined the present
party, to whom he was known by reputation ; and having,
on more than one occasion, alluded to his "scrape with
the Crows," one of his companions had now asked him for
the story, to while away the time around their camp fire.

" Wall, crowd her through !" said the first speaker, in
reply to Lukens.

" Ay, that's the talk," said the one who was toasting his

"Next to the fun o' being in a scrape," observed the
fourth, "is the fun o' telling on't, or hearing on't."

" Wall," resumed Bill, " as you're all willing, and me,
too, I'll go in. You see, it was just this hyer way : Me
and my pardner, old Fighting Pete it's like some o' ye
knows him ?"

" I does that easy," replied the first speaker, drawing
two or three rapid whiffs from his pipe j " I knows the old


beaver, jest like a trap. Me and him had a fight once,
and I got licked !"

All laughed, and Bill Lukens proceeded.

"Wall, as I was a-saying, old Fighting Pete war my
pardner ; and me and him war setting our traps, up along
the Big Horn, one day, about three or fou* year ago, when
I seed some'at as I didn't like, and I pinted it out to

" ' What does you call that thar, old hoss ?' says I.

"'Why, that thar's as plain as shooting,' says Pete.
' That thar's a moccasin print, as had a Injun foot into it,
and not many year ago nyther. Augh I it's allers the way,'
says Pete ; ' ef a feller happens to git whar he can do suthin
decent, round comes the bloody red niggers to spile it all.
I say, Bill, we'll hev to put out from hyer, and it goes agin
me like sand in my eye.'

" 'Wall, says I, 'thar's only one print, anyhow.'

" 'As you see,' says Pete ' only one print as you see-
but you arn't sich a confounded fool as to 'spose a Injun
walks on one leg, I 'spect ?'

"'Wall,' says I, 's'pose he has two legs ? that thar
only makes him one Injun and then we're two to one,
any how.'

"'Augh!' says Pete, drawing himself up amazing, and
looking as wise as an owl ; ' does you know anything about
hens ?'


" ' Not uncommon/ says I, ' but I've eat 'em to Inde-

" ' Shah !' says Pete ; ' I don't mean that thar ; but I
means ef you know the principal upon which they works ?'

" ' Not particular,' says I.

" ' Wall, theg, I'll tell ye,' says Pete. ' They fust makes
a nest, and then they lays a nest-egg, and arter that they
lays more.'

" ' But,' says I, ' I don't see the pint.

" ' Why, you bat-blind crow,' says Pete, ' the pint is,
that this hyer red nigger ar' the nest-egg ; and whar you
sees a sign o' him, you'll see more soon for he ain't a egg
as'll stay long alone so it's my opine we'd better gather
up our traps and put out from hyer.'

" ' Wall,' says I, ' I don't know but that's safe advice.'

" ' It ar' hoss, sir-ee !' says Pete.

" So we tuk up the traps as we war putting down ; and
then we went to look arter some we'd sot afore Pete
going up the river, and me down but both agreeing to
meet at a place as we'd named Cedar Bluff.

" Wall, boys, I hadn't gone fur down the river, when,
jest as I war passing along behind a thicket like, whiz,
came two or three arrers two of 'em so close as to graze
the skin, and t'other. one sticking into my arm a bit, and
followed by some o' them thar yells as all the skunks knows
how to do.


" ' Hooraw !' thinks I : ' ar' that your game !' and making
powerful quick tracks for a near bluff, I turned the corner
of a rock, and, looking back, seed three o' the red niggers
close arter me, still yelling like mad.

"I didn't know how many thar mought be; but I
thought as how, ef the forward one war Fighting Pete's
nest-egg, I'd make a cold chicken on him sudden. So
fetching round my old rifle, I let him hev the nicest part
into it thinking, maybe, ef he'd git more'n he wanted,
he'd let the next imp behind him hev a bit, too. And he
did yes, sir-ee ! for the ball went plump through him,
and into the one behind him ; and sich a howling as they
all set up together, you never heerd.

"Wall, I 'spected now to see t'other hound turn and
run, and gin it up straight. But he didn't nary once
no, sir but come full bent arter me, drawing another
arrer to the head, and letting it slide so close as to make
me think o' what a preacher once said to me 'bout my

"'Oho!' says I, dodging around another corner o' the
rock, and hugging it close ; ' ef you're aU, you'll be easy
meat, too, afore long ; and ef you thinks I'm a gwine to
run from one sich a red nigger, jest wait till I git a chance
to tell you I arn't.'

"Wall, round he come, blowing amazing for he

thought I'd gone on furder, case the place had that kind



o' a look out I soon tuk the conceit out o' him powerful j
for jest as I seed his ugly mug agin, not more'ii four feet
off, I riz up and lit on to him, like a painter on to a deer ;
and afore he knowed particular what ailed him, he didn't
know nothing for I'd got my butcher into him a few, I
tell you!

" Wall, I ripped off his scalp, and shook it in his face,
to show my contempt for the beast ; and then, faring off
his b'ar-skin, and taking his bow and arrers, to help me
out, in case thar war any more 'bout, I kicked him down
into the water. Then I gin one reg'lar yell for old
Wirgin'a, and sot to loading my rifle, all the time keeping
my eye peeled, and looking two ways for Sunday.

" Jest as I war ramming down the ball, I heerd a few
more yells, some distance, off, and old Pete's rifle crack at
the same time. Says I to myself : Pete war right 'bout
that thar hen business, and thar'll be a nest-full round here
soon, anyhow. Then I wanted to do two things. I
wanted to git to Pete, and help him out ; and I wanted to
git to t'other niggers, and get thar scalps and traps. But
I didn't do nyther : fust, bekase I knowed that ef old Pete
war to be killed or tuk, it 'ud be over afore I could reach
him ; and second, bekase thar war some answering yells
t'other side o' me, not fur off; and I felt as how, ef I
stayed round there long, I mought know a feller, by the


name of Bill Lukens, that 'ud want help the wost kind

" So I primed the old rifle quick as lightning ; and
taking along the bow and arrers, I plunged into the Big
Horn, and made for the bluff on t'other side. I got over
thar without ary accident, and crawled up under some
bushes, whar I could look back ; but when I did look
back, I seed some five or six o' the niggers pointing me
out ; and then, whiz, came another lot o' arrers, (along
with some o' the darndest yells,) and two on 'em stuck
into me one on 'em into my meat-trap, and t'other into
my arm.

" One o' the arrers I pulled out, and t'other broke off in.
'But,' says I, 'you infernal old Crow niggers, I'll give
another o' ye suthin as ye can't pull out;' and taking plum
sight at the feller with the longest feather, I drapped him
amazing. The arrer in me now hurt me oncommon ; but
it war in the fleshy part o' my arm, and had nothing to do
with my running pegs ; and so I reckoned the next best
thing to do war to use them a bit.

" Wall, I pulled up the bluff as quick and as zig-zag as
I could the infarnal imps all the while blazing away with
thar arrers, and howling powerful over thar dead. I got
up to the top o' the bluff safe enough ; and from thar,
about a mile off or maybe half-a-mile I could see a big
bit o' prairie ; and crossing that thar prairie, full bent,


war a big crowd more o' the thieving scoundrels. I begun
to think it war a gwine to be tight dodging, and broke for
the nearest thicket ; but jest as I reached it, my ha'r fairly
riz for the yells as burst from it a'most stunned me and
the next breath I found myself surrounded and tuk.

"'Wall,' says I, 'Bill Lukens, your trapping ar' done
for. You're wanted for a roasting-piece 'cept your scalp
and that thar'll rattle in some greasy nigger's lodge, to
make glory for him and music for his squaw.'

" Not to spin the matter out too long, I'll jest say what
they done with me, and how I got cl'ar of 'em. They tuk
me down to the prairie as I seed from the bluff; and thar,
arter a while, they all met nigh a hundred on 'em and
thar I had my trial. I couldn't understand much Crow
talk ; but I made out enough to know that they war
a-gwine to hev some fun with me, ayther by way of a burn
or a run. I war in hopes it would be a run ; but I didn't
say so, kase it warn't likely they'd take my advice, any-
how, even ef I talked Crow to 'em with tears in my eyes.

"At last, arter a good deal of palavering, and some
grumbling, it war decided as I should make a run for thar
fun. But I took a good look at these hyer pegs, and then
at thar spindle shanks, and made up my mind, ef they'd
keep off thar hosses and be decent, I'd show 'em a run as
'ud be more fun for me "nor them.

"Wall, hollering and laughing, kicking and slapping


me, and making all sorts of a hullabaloo, which I 'spect
they thought war fun, they tuk me way out into the
prairie, 'bout five mile from any tree or bush ; and thar,
arter stripping off all my clothes, and tying my hands
behind my back, they made me understand some'at by
words and some'at by signs that when they gin the big
yell, I war to run for my life, and every nigger on J em
arter me, and the first one as mought hit me with his
tomahawk, war to hev my scalp for pay.

" ' Thank you/ says I ; 'but if it's all the same to you,
you greasy niggers, I'd prefer to keep that thar same scalp
my own self.'

" Still, I didn't think I had much chance o' doing it ;
for how war a naked man, with his hands tied behind his
back, and placed in front of a hundred o' the red niggers,
to git away from 'em ? and then git away to some fort
arterwards, afore he'd starve to death ? But, anyhow, it
war a chance for life, and Bill Lukens and me concluded
we'd go in and do our purtiest.

"Purty soon they all stretched themselves out in a long
row, way past both sides o' me, and about thirty yards
behind, and I noticed as they all put aside all thar weapons
'cept their tomahawks and knives. That thar war some hope
to me, and I looked a head to see the chances. Straight
ahead I seed prairie, and nothing else ; but off to the


right, 'bout five mile, as I said afore, war the hills whar
they'd tuk me from.

" Now I knowed them thar hills wa.r my only chance ;
but I know'd, too, it 'aid take a long and a fast run,
forrerd, to cl'ar the hounds so as to double on 'em and
shape my course that thar way ; and I'd jest got these hyer
things all thought over like, when up rose one tremenjua
yell, like a young airthquake, and off I bolted, like a shot
from a gun, and on come the hull yelling pack arter me.

" ' Pegs,' says I, ' ef you've got any respect for Bill
Lukens, do your duty now, for ef you gin in, he'll hev his
har lifted amazing !'

" And pegs did do thar duty ; and sich another run you
never seed. I put on, and on, and on, as hard as I could
tear ; and all the time I could hear the yells behind just
about as nigh ; and I didn't dar to take a look back, for
fear some tomahawk would settle me ; for I knowed they
could throw a few feet with a sartain aim.

" Arter running a good while, and finding myself still
alive and kicking, and not hearing the hounds quite so
lively-like, I jest turned my head a little, and seed as how
I'd left all but six fur back ; and out of them thar six,
only one or two would be like to gin me any trouble, ef I
could hold out at the rate I war going.

"I had more hope now, and I did my best, I tell you.


I strained every narve, and cord, and all the other fixings
into me, and kept on for nigh a half hour, doubling so as
to git my line towards the nearest wood. When I looked
back agin, I seed all had gin in 'cept two ; and out o' them
thar two, one war a good way behind t'other ; so I knowed
it war only one arter all.

" ' Oh, ef I only had my hands loose/ says I to myself,
1 I'd bet a pound o' bacca yit, that I'd fix that thar var-

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 15 of 22)