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THE PRAIRIE ON FIRE.
[J. FENIMORE COOPER, the most celebrated and the most volu
minous of American novelists, was born 15th September,
1789, and died 14th September, 1851.] The sleep of the fugitives lasted for several hours. The trapper was the first to shake off its influence, as he had been the last to court its refreshment. Rising, just as the grey light of day began to brighten that portion of the studded vault which rested on the eastern margin of the plain, he summoned his companions from their warm lairs, and pointed out the necessity of their being once more on the alert.
“See, Middleton !” exclaimed Inez, in a sudden burst of youthful pleasure, that caused her for a moment to forget her situation, “how lovely is that sky! surely it contains a promise of happier times!”
“It is glorious !” returned her husband. “ Glorious and heavenly is that streak of vivid red; and here is a still brighter crimson. Rarely have I seen a richer rising of the sun.”
Rising of the sun !” slowly repeated the old man, lifting his tall person from its seat with a deliberate and abstracted air, while he kept his eye riveted on the changing and certainly beautiful tints that were garnishing the vault of heaven. “Rising of the sun ! -I like not such risings of the sun.—Ah's me! the Indians have circumvented us. THE PRAIRIE IS ON FIRE !”
“Oh, dreadful!" cried Middleton, catching Inez to his bosom, under the instant impression of the imminence of their danger. “ There is no time to lose, old man; each instant is a day. Let us fly!”. 129
“ Whither ?" demanded the trapper, motioning him, with calmness and dignity, to arrest his steps. this wilderness of grass and reeds, we are like a vessel in the broad lakes without a compass. A single step on the wrong course might prove the destruction of us all. It is seldom danger is so pressing that there is not time enough for reason to do its work, young officer; therefore, let us await its biddings."
“For my part,” said Paul Hover, looking about him with an unequivocal expression of concern, “I acknowledge, that should this dry bed of weeds get fairly in a flame, a bee would have to make a flight higher than common to prevent his wings from being scorched. Therefore, old trapper, I agree with the captain, and say, Mount and Run!”
“ Ye are wrong, ye are wrong ;-man is not a beast, to follow the gift of instinct, and to snuff up his knowledge by a taint in the air or a rumbling in the ground; but he must see, and reason, and then conclude. So, follow me a little to the left, where there is a rising in the ground whence we may make our reconnoitrings."
The old man waved his hand with authority, and led the way, without further parlance, to the spot he had indicated; followed by the whole of his alarmed companions. An eye less practised than that of the trapper might have failed in discovering the gentle elevation to which he alluded ; and which looked on the surface of the meadow like a growth a little taller than common.
When they reached the place, however, the stunted grass itself announced the absence of that moisture which had fed the rank weeds of most of the plain, and furnished a clue to the evidence by which he had judged of the formation of the ground hidden beneath. Here a few minutes were lost in breaking down the tops of the surrounding herbage- which, notwithstanding the advantage of their position, rose even above the heads of Middleton and Paul-and in obtaining a look-out that might command a view of the surrounding sea of fire.
The examination which his companions so instantly and so intently made, rather served to assure them of their desperate situation than to appease their fears. Huge columns of smoke were rolling up from the plain, and thickening in gloomy masses around the horizon. The red glow which gleamed upon the enormous folds, now lighting the volumes with the glare of the conflagration, now flashed to another point, as the flame beneath glided ahead, leaving all behind enveloped in awful darkness, and proclaiming louder than words the character of the imminent and rapidly-approaching danger.
The naturalist stood, tablets in hand, looking at the awful spectacle with as much composure as though the conflagration had been lighted in order to solve the difficulties of some scientific problem. Aroused by the question of his companion, he turned to his equally calm though differently occupied associate, the trapper; demanding, with the most provoking insensibility to the urgent nature of their situation, 66 Venerable hunter, you have often witnessed similar prismatic experiments
“ It is time to be doing," cried Middleton ; “ the flames are within a quarter of a mile of us, and the wind is bringing them down in this direction with dreadful rapidity.”
“Anan! the flames ! I care but little for the flames ! If I only knew how to circumvent the cunning of the Tetons as I know how to cheat the fire of its prey, there would be nothing needed but thanks to the Lord for our deliverance. Do you call this a · FIRE'? If you had seen what I have witnessed in the eastern hills; when mighty mountains were like the furnace of a smith, you would have known what it was to fear the flames, and to be thankful that you were spared. Come,
lads, come; 'tis time to be doing now, and to cease talking, for yonder curling flame is truly coming on like a trotting moose. Put hands upon this short and withered grass where we stand, and lay bare the ’arth.”
The subtle element seized with avidity upon its new fuel, and in a moment, forked flames were gliding among the grass, as the tongues of ruminating animals are seen rolling among their food, apparently in quest of its sweetest portions.
“Now," said the old man, holding up a finger, and laughing in his peculiarly silent manner, “you shall see fire fight fire. Ah's me! many is the time I have burned a path from wanton laziness to pick my way across a tangled bottom.” “But is this not fatal ?” cried the amazed Middle
“are you not bringing the enemy nigher to us, instead of avoiding it?"
“Do you scorch so easily? Your grandfather had a tougher skin. But we shall live to see,- we shall ALL live to see.”
The experience of the trapper was in the right. As the fire gained strength and heat, it began to spread on three sides, dying of itself on the fourth for want of aliment. As it increased, and the sullen roaring announced its power, it cleared everything before it, leaving the black and smoking soil far more naked than if the scythe had swept the place. The situation of the fugitives would still have been hazardous, had not the area enlarged as the flame encircled them. But, by advancing to the spot where the trapper had kindled the grass, they avoided the heat; and in a very few moments the flames began to recede in every direction, leaving them enveloped in a cloud of smoke, but perfectly safe from the torrent of fire that was still furiously rolling onward.
“Most wonderful !” said Middleton, when he saw the complete success of the means by which they had been rescued from a danger that he had conceived to be unavoidable. “ The thought was a gift from Heaven."
“Old trapper,” cried Paul, thrusting his fingers through his shaggy locks, “I have lined many a loaded bee into his hole, and know something of the nature of the woods; but this is robbing a hornet of his sting without touching the insect !”
“It will do—it will do,” returned the old man, who, after the first moment of his success, seemed to think no more of the exploit. “Let the flames do their work for a short half-hour, and then we will mount. That time is needed to cool the meadow; for these unshod beasts are tender on the hoof as a barefooted girl.”
The veteran, on whose experience they all so implicitly relied for protection, employed himself in reconnoitring objects in the distance, through the openings which the air occasionally made in the immense bodies of smoke, that by this time lay in enormous piles on every part of the plain. J. FENIMORE COOPER.
THE NATURAL BRIDGE OF VIRGINIA.
[ELIHU BURRITT, commonly called the learned blacksmith, an
American, was born in 1811. He was a working blacksmith, but, by close study and perseverance, made himself master
of many ancient and modern languages.] The scene opens with a view of the great Natural Bridge in Virginia. There are three or four lads standing in the channel below, looking up with awe to that vast arch of unhewn rocks. It is almost five hundred feet from where they stand, up those perpendicular bulwarks of limestone to the key of that vast arch, which appears to them only of the size of a man's hand. The silence of death is rendered more impress