Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

The tide of things has led him, he appears
To breathe and live but for himself alone,
Unblamed, uninjured, let him bear about
The good which the benignant law of Heaven
Has hung around him; and, while life is his,
Still let him prompt th' unlettered villagers
To tender offices and pensive thoughts.

- Then let him pass! a blessing on his head! And long as he can wander, let him breathe The freshness of the valleys; let his blood Struggle with frosty air and winter snows; And let the chartered wind, that sweeps the heath, Beat his gray locks against his withered face. Reverence the hope whose vital anxiousness Gives the last human interest to his heart. May never HOUSE, misnamed of INDUSTRY, Make him a captive! For that pent-up din, Those life-consuming sounds, that clog the air, Be his the natural silence of old age! Let him be free of mountain solitudes; And have around him, whether heard or not, The pleasant melody of woodland birds. Few are his pleasures: if his eyes have now Been doomed so long to settle on the earth, That not without some effort they behold The countenance of the horizontal sun, Rising or setting, let the light at least Find a free entrance to their languid orbs; And let him, where and when he will, sit down Beneath the trees, or by the grassy bank Of highway side, and with the little birds Share his chance-gathered meal; and, finally, As in the eye of Nature he has lived, So in the eye of Nature let him die!

LESSON XXXIII.

EXERCISES IN ARTICULATION.

W: wave, weave, wind, wove, wound, wood, wool, weal, woe, want, will, wend.

A Prairie on Fire.

THE 18th of August was an eventful day to us, which few of the party can ever forget. The night previous, we encamped without water for our cattle and horses, and the little we obtained for our own use was of the worst quality, and swallowed only to allay the intolerable thirst brought on by a long day's march under the hot sun. The hard buffalo chase had jaded my horse severely, and at such a time I well knew he needed water more than ever; but not a drop could I procure for him.

In the middle of the afternoon we altered our course somewhat to the north, to avoid the bad travelling we found immediately on our route. Small parties of men were out in every direction in search of water, but they met with no success. By this time the want of the reviving element was plainly seen in our horses; their wild and glaring eyes, with their broken, nervous, and unsteady action, showing the intensity of their suffering. The mules, too, suffered much from the want of water, but nothing in comparison with the horses and oxen. The endurance of the mule is never so well tested as on a journey where both water and grass are

GEORGE W. KENDALL.

[ocr errors]

one

scarce.

I have said that we continued our journey until the middle of the afternoon. About that time, and without seeing any sign ahead that could lead us to expect there was so great a change in the face of the country, we suddenly reached the brow of a precipitous bluff, some two or three hundred feet

in height, which overlooked a large valley, of broken and rugged appearance. This valley was four or five miles in width, a ridge of rough hills bounding it on the northern side; and not only the descent to the valley, from the bluff on which we stood, but the whole surface below, was covered by dry cedars, apparently killed the previous year by fire.

The spot upon which we stood was a level plain, covered with rank and coarse grass several feet in height. This grass, no rain having fallen for weeks, had become as dry as tinder. While consulting as to what course we should pursue, some one of our party discovered water at a distance of three or four miles across the valley below, a turn in the river bringing it to view. We immediately determined, if possible, to effect the descent of the steep and ragged bluff before us, and at least give our suffering animals a chance to quench their thirst, even if the water should prove too brackish for our own use.

Some thirty-five or forty of the advance-guard instantly determined upon undertaking the toilsome and dangerous descent; and, to give my horse the earliest turn at the water, I accompanied this party. After winding and picking our way for a full hour, pitching down precipices that were nearly perpendicular, and narrowly escaping frightful chasms and fissures of the rocks, we were all enabled to reach the valley with whole bones; but to do this we were frequently obliged to dismount from our horses, and in some places fairly to push them over abrupt descents which they never would have attempted without force.

I have said that this bluff was some two or three hundred feet in height we travelled at least a mile to gain this short distance, so devious and difficult was our path. The side of the bluff was formed of rough, sharp-pointed rocks, many of them of large size; and every little spot of earth had, in former years, given nourishment and support to some craggy cedar, now left leafless and desolate by fire. Shoots of young cedars, however, were springing up where they could

find root-hold; but they were not destined to attain the rank and standing of their sires.

After reaching the valley, we soon found the sandy bed of what had been a running stream in the rainy season. Immediately on striking it, our tired nags raised their heads, pricked up their ears, and set off at a brisk trot, instinctively knowing that water was in the vicinity. The horse scents water at an incredible distance, and frequently travellers upon the prairies are enabled to find it by simply turning their horses or mules loose.

A tiresome ride of three or four miles now brought us to the river. On reaching its banks, nothing could restrain our nags from dashing headlong down. Equally thirsty ourselves, we had fondly hoped that the waters might prove fresh and sweet; but they were even more brackish than any we had yet tasted. Repulsive as it was, however, we swallowed enough to moisten our parched lips and throats, and ten minutes after were even more thirsty than before. Our horses, fonder of this water than of any other, drank until apparently they could swallow no more.

While some of our party were digging into the sand at the edge of the stream, with the hope of finding fresher water, and others were enjoying the cooling luxury of a bath, a loud report, as of a cannon, was heard in the direction of the camp, and a dark smoke was seen suddenly to rise.

"An Indian attack!" was the startling cry on all sides; and instantly we commenced huddling on our clothes and bridling our horses. One by one, as fast as we could get ready, we set off for what we supposed to be a scene of conflict. As we neared the camping ground, it became plainly evident that the prairie was on fire in all directions. When within a mile of the steep bluff, which cut off the prairie above from the valley, the bright flames were seen flashing from the dry cedars, and a dense volume of black smoke, rising above all, gave a painful sublimity to the scene.

On approaching nearer, we were met by some of our com

panions, who were hurriedly seeking a passage up the steep. They had heard, from those on the prairie above, that the high grass had caught fire by accident, and that with such velocity had it spread, that several of the wagons, and among them that of the commissioners, had been consumed. This wagon contained, in addition to a large number of cartridges, all the trunks and valuables of the mess to which I was attached, making me doubly anxious to gain the scene of action, and learn the worst. It afterwards proved that the explosion of the cartridges in the wagon was what we had mistaken for the report of our six-pounder.

With redoubled exertions we now pushed forward towards the camp; but before we could reach the base of the high and rugged bluff, the flames were dashing down its sides with frightful rapidity, leaping and flashing across the gullies and around the hideous cliffs, and roaring in the deep, yawning chasms with the wild and appalling noise of a tornado. As the flames would strike the dry tops of the cedars, reports resembling those of the musket would be heard; and in such quick succession did these reports follow each other, that I can compare them to nothing save the irregular discharge of infantry a strange accompaniment to the wild roar of the devouring element.

The wind was blowing fresh from the west when the prairie was first ignited, carrying the flames, with a speed absolutely astounding, over the very ground on which we had travelled during the day. The wind lulled as the sun went down behind the mountains in the west; and now the fire began to spread slowly in that direction. The difficult passage by which we had descended was cut off by the fire, and night found our party still in the valley, unable to discover any other road to the table-land above. Our situation was a dangerous one, too; for had the wind sprung up and veered into the east, we should have found much difficulty in escaping, with such velocity did the flames extend,

« FöregåendeFortsätt »