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stockings. A moment more, and all our belongings were whisked out of the torrent into a long apartment, floored with hewn plank and nicely weathertight; the whip cracked on the off leader's withers; and saying good-night to our late comrades, with an accompaniment of thunder, we saw them whirl away into the glare, and shut the ranche door between us and the storm.
A tall ladder led up from the kitchen, receptionroom, and bed-chamber we had just entered, into the "men folks' " loft, above. Ascending it, under Comstock's guidance, we found a number of sturdy ranchemen snoring defiance to the outer storm, and without ceremony dropped down in our blankets on the intervals of floor between them. As we have seen, it can thunder in Nebraska, — but not loud enough to break such slumber as then and there fell incontinently upon our prostrate forms!
COMSTOCK'S. — A BUFFALO HUNT.
Comstock had the early habits, without the aggressive and proselyting spirit, of most pioneers. He pitied our Eastern weakness, and let us sleep late, which, in Nebraska, means the sybaritic hour of eight A. M. It was still raining when we arose; but it was only a trickle compared with the night before. A Euphuist, indefatigable in hunting metaphors to earth, might have said that the sky looked like a battle-field the day after an engagement, where the exhausted clouds lay still, mangled with lightning, and bleeding lymph from all their wounds down upon the world below. Or he might have compared it to a great ball-room, where the dancers had waltzed themselves to death to the music of the thunder-band, and were now strewn prostrate on the floor of their late revel, amid the drippings of ruptured goblet, flask, and wassail bowl. To the matter-of-fact person, it was simply raining, and after a style which promised steady continuance all day; but whether the "tireless heavens" looked fagged to him or not, he must have acknowledged that he felt so, had he been of our party. We had not yet reacquired the old muscular tone of former forest- camps, which makes sleep, on a log-floor and a blanket, as refreshing as on the springiest mattress. We were a little lame, and, though we said nothing about it, were unable to regard eight A M., an hour so luxuriously late as it appeared to our sturdy host, our last late breakfast having been eaten, like others of the series, at half-past eleven in New York. Yet we were undeniably refreshed from the sore, wide-awake sleepiness of the day before; and a capital meal of stewed buffalo-hump and antelope-steak, washed down by coffee, surprisingly realistic for this latitude of pease and chickory ideals, creamed, moreover, from the sumptuous and unmistakable udders of nature, proved palatable to us in the highest degree.
I like so much to think of the Comstocks—one of the best, truest, kindest families of pioneer people we met in our whole journey, and having no equals for typical character or native goodness in our experience, short of Sisson's delightful ranche at the foot of Shasta Peak, in California, —I enjoy their memory so heartily, that I am fain to spend a portion of this rainy Nebraska day in making their portraits for my readers.
Comstock himself is a man about sixty-three, with a head and face like the pictures of De Quincey. In contour only, not in expression; for in the wrinkles around his eyes lurks a Yankee waggery, which no English face, even the shrewdest, ever simulates. His hair is grizzled and wiry, such as belongs to the iron temperament. He is of the medium height, compactly made, and in every limb and lineament shows the training of over half a century's pioneer life, hardship having braced instead of shaken him. He began his history in the western part of New York State, when bear-hunts were still an accessible pastime to people in the vicinity of Rochester, and all the now smiling lawns and meadow-lands of the region were howling wildernesses, here and there intersected by a bridle-path. From his earliest manhood he has been pressing the front of barbarism. He has lived successively in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, and Nebraska. As fast as civilization has come up to his stake set in the wilderness, he has pulled it up, and travelled to some newer domain, beyond the atmosphere of artificial society. There is that in him which cannot tolerate fine gentlemen, town-meetings, political claptrap, and the gossip of mixed communities. As his eldest son said of himself, so he might say, "I cannot breathe free in sight of fences: I must be able to ride my horse where I like." Yet, for all this, there is nothing about him of the barbarism he has been fighting; nothing of asceticism or misanthropy toward the society he has left behind. He is a devouring reader. The crannies of his log-house are full of old magazines—newspapers of ancient date — well-read and re-read books. He takes the liveliest interest in everything that concerns the East; he is thoroughly acquainted with the names that have figured most largely in our public records, and has a general knowledge of recent literature which surprised me. He was never tired of hearing about New York, Boston, Philadelphia, their prominent people and institutions. I think he felt the same kind of interest in them that a boy feels in the Island of San Juan de Fernandez. An ideal blessedness surrounds Robinson Crusoe, to our youthful fancy, although on stern logical considerations, we should not care to be cast upon an uninhabited island ourselves. Nothing would tempt Comstock to live in a great city; yet its diminished roar, heard far off on the rear of the buffaloes, fascinates him like weird music. He was driven out of Texas by the corrupt manners of the slavocracy around him, and he loves Freedom as he loves air. He never tires of talking about people who have helped her at the East. "I would go further," said he one day, "to take a look at Henry Ward Beecher, than to see the biggest old buffalo-bull that ever ran."
Comstock is a widower, with a large family of children, most of them living with him, and two of them having children of their own under his roof. On the Plains there is none of our Eastern necessity of leaving home to push one's fortune. There is plenty of pushing to be done in home's immediate neighborhood,— plenty of room to push, where a family is surrounded everywhere by league on league of the most fertile soil, which has never been appropriated, recorded, or even surveyed for the market. The Little Blue is fringed with cotton-wood of lofty growth: men and axes are the only remaining conditions for a house and a corral. To be sure, cotton-wood timber has one unpleasant idiosyncrasy: even while it is growing, all the crevices of its bark swarm with that wretched insect which has received its name from the slovenly beds of corrupt civilization, and conferred on them their main horror; but a good seasoning removes the pest, and I must say for Comstock's that I never found an individual of the species while I stayed there. As for grain-land and pasturelot, the only problem with the family is the point of the compass towards which they shall run the plough or drive the cattle; the consideration of how far never once intrudes upon their minds. The absence of fences makes it necessary to keep a tolerable stud of horses for the chase of stray steers. Occasionally