Abbildungen der Seite

swift, but with a more measurely motion than that of the higher discharges, it shot up, shedding its glare for many rods around, and making a sharply cut band of fire against the black background of the clouds, until it struck the nearest mass of vapor. Then, with the most tremendous flash and peal of the whole storm, its blazing capital broke into splinters, and went shivering across the area, right over our heads. If it were only possible to paint such things | But on canvas they would seem even more theatrical than they do in these inadequate words. In all the wrath of nature, — mad hurricanes and thunder-storms, on sea or land, – there never visited me anything to compare in awful splendor, and the impression of ungoverned power, with this upward lightning-stroke on the Nebraska Plains. Out of the deluge; the flame, and the roar, we suddenly saw a corral and log-house, at our right-hand; a small stream, swollen to a torrent, under tall cottonwoods, upon our left. The former were “Comstock's; ” the latter was the Little Blue. Drenched to the skin, but happy with the memory of the greatest night in my life, I jumped down, and passed one of the boxlanterns inside to be lighted, for the first time, by my comparatively dry companions. This effected, we opened the curtains sufficiently to let them escape; with the assistance of the driver, got out of the boat all such dunnage as we intended to stop with us; and by the time everything was disgorged but our guns, succeeded in awakening the occupants of the ranche to a sense of our needs. Comstock came to the door with a lantern of his own, and as soon as we pronounced the words “Munger” and “buffalo hunt,” welcomed us with a cordiality as cheering as dry

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 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

« ZurückWeiter »