Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][ocr errors][graphic][ocr errors]

t

the question how I was going to get round to him, and pack him home. He had not seen or scented me when I lay down in the grass and poised my Ballard, which nominally put up for five hundred yards, but at that distance invariably threw the ball above, unless allowance was made for its habits. I spent as much time in calculating my aim as a boy of ten over a sum in division, and fired resting on my elbows. My brown spot went up into the air with one convulsive spring, turned a cart-wheel, and fell on his side in his tracks. The next moment I saw how impossible it was to get him, but went down the draw excusing the murder by a promise to go after him to-morrow. When that morrow came, he was a clean skeleton, picked by the wolves. Though I had not the meat, I had gained a pride and a confidence in my weapon which were everything to a man in my position, — and hugged it close to my breast ere I swung it round to my back, not knowing how often it might have to save my life before I saw camp again. I had many occasions to love that rifle afterwards; and I should be ungrateful indeed, if I did not say that the Ballard breech-loader is, without a single exception, the best arm for Western work that was ever invented. In good hands, it fires seven balls a minute with perfect accuracy, having all the advantages ever practically used in a repeater; it is the simplest in its mechanism of all breech-loading weapons, and never once got out of order during a daily use of eight months. Its breech is absolutely powder-tight, through the very construction of its cartridge; this cartridge is an entire load, including percussion material, and cleans the bore in leaving it; nothing can be more portable, simpler, safer. The man who is competent to use a rifle at all need never miss with it, and one who has made its acquaintance will never be without it in the wilderness. If this be high praise, I can only say that every expert who has seen its performance agrees with me. Over and over again in the far West, old hunters became so enamored of it as to offer me its original cost, several times told.

I was half way across the first bottom when the sun went out of sight. Simultaneously with his disappearance, the wolves seemed to be assembling for jubilee. In every quarter I could see one of either the big gray or the coyote variety. They did not seem alarmed at me, and sat up on their haunches like so many shepherd dogs, in a circle around me and poor tired Nig, making the air dismal with their discordant howls. I was not afraid of them, for they never attack a man unless mad with hunger; but their presence, worn out as I was, filled me with gloom and foreboding. They seemed like harpy old women .at a country funeral, crowding around to get a last look at the corpse. Moreover, they might attack my picketed horse in force during the night; and personal affection for him after my trial of his intelligent faithfulness, to say nothing of my own loneliness if he were killed, made me very anxious not to lose him.

Despite the depression begotten of the wolves, my spirits had still to touch their zero point. Crossing the river bottom about a hundred rods from me, I presently saw a man, coatless, hatless, and, to my field-glass, of a rich-brown complexion, black-haired, And carrying a gun. So this was the meaning of the deserted Sioux camp on the bluff! How far off were the rest of the band?

I knew it would not do to show the white feather. I leaped on my horse, whom I had still been leading, and rode toward the savage, hallooing with all my might. He stopped for a minute, eyed me curiously, took down his gun, thought better of it, and left for the neighboring timber. Upon this I put spurs to poor Nig, who met the exigency with all his reserve capital of speed. In five minutes more I was on the brink of the river.

Directly opposite, on the northern bank, stood a snow-white tent, and above it floated St. George's Cross!

If Robinson Crusoe, in one of his goat hunts, had suddenly come to the office of the British consulate, he could not have been taken more aback by that sight than I by this!

I rubbed my eyes to make sure that it was not a dream of exhausted nerves and an empty stomach. But my horse gave a joyful neigh, which was quickly answered by several of the same sort, in the tent's immediate neighborhood. I knew horses were not given to nervous hallucination, and, without any attempt to explain a verdict which could not be impugned, plunged Nig into the Republican, and forded to the opposite shore. A bluff, jolly Englishman, of undeniable Pall Blall flavor, hailed me as I touched the bank, and pointed out the access to his camp. This was pitched on high ground, surrounded by a slough except at one narrow point, which was covered with the densest forest and undergrowth. If an Englishman's house is his castle, his camp in this instance was still more so. Twenty resolute white men could have defended it against a thousand Sioux. Nothing in the defenses of Washington was stronger

« ZurückWeiter »