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back from a sentry-post, a mile or two outside the grazing herd, in time to stampede them by intelligence of an enemy; but nothing short of perfect wind and limb consists with the duty of going five or ten miles ahead of a corps, to scent and discover pasture. I have noticed their arrangement so widely that it is no mere theory with me, arising from an admiration which insists on pushing to the extreme a parallel between human and bovine sagacity. The bulls selected for sentry duty take up their position on all the prominences of the divide, leaving unoccupied, as we discovered on the day referred to, and always afterward, not a single point from which an approaching enemy may be commanded. The buffalo, widely different from the antelope, depends scarcely at all on his scent; but those great round eyes of his, glowing in their earnestness or anger, like balls of fiery asphaltum, possess a length of range, and an inevitability of keenness, scarcely surpassed by those of any quadruped running wild on our continent. Crouch and crawl where you may, you cannot enter the main herd without half a dozen pair of them successively, or at a time, focusing full upon you. Instant retreat of their owners follows; at first no faster than a majestic walk, but, if your pursuit be hot, with increasing gradations of speed up to the heavy cow-gallop; and then comes the stampede of the late quietly feeding herd, in a cloud of dust, and with a noise of thunder, like a general engagement. I have said it is impossible to get by the sentries; but there is an exception for the case of a hunter, who, disguised in a wolf or antelope skin, is willing to crawl slowly, dragging a rifle, for two or three miles; or the still rarer case of one who, lying down completely out of sight in the grass, wriggles himself painfully along, like a snake, till he gets within range. Being somewhat of an enthusiast in hunting as well as everything else, and having no animal disguises at hand to aid me in the former method, I resolved, after our repeated failures recorded above, to try the latter manner of approach. Nobody cared to join me. The rest of the party went around the foot of the bluff to watch the success of Munger, who had just come from the camp on horseback, and was charging with carbine slung and revolver drawn, up another draw about a mile to the north of our first advance. I stayed on top of the divide, and, lying down close to the grassroots, began to work myself toward the herd. I kept my secret so well that a coyote passed only a little over pistol-shot from me before he suspected danger. I crawled and rested at intervals for more than an hour, the herd getting all the time in plainer sight, until finally my patience became exhausted, and several buffalo wandered as near me as four hundred yards. My rifle was the Ballard (a weapon of whose excellence I shall hereafter have occasion to speak more at large), and put up for five hundred yards, though I have killed an antelope with it at six hundred. I was sure I might rely on it at my present distance, if the buffalo-fever could only be held in check. I took deliberate aim, and succeeded in hitting a fine bull, though the ball went too low for his final settlement, and he walked away laboriously to lie down where I could not follow him. Just at that moment a pair of rifles spoke in quick succession lower down the bluff. Two old bulls on the edge of the herd gave as many jumps, and began lashing their sides and shaking their heads after a most expressive manner. They had evidently been made to tingle somewhere, but were only provoked. For a moment they stood confronting each other, and considering themselves for the probable cause of the disturbance. Then the idea seemed to strike each simultaneously that the other had in some mysterious manner committed the insult, and forthwith they rushed headlong against each other's adamant skulls with a shock which might have caved in an ordinary brick house. Then they locked horns, and pushed with such strength as nearly to lift each other on their hind legs; then they tossed each other's heads sideways, broke hold, trampled the ground savagely, and joined their heads with another crash in desperate tourney. Another pair of shots broke up the comical misunderstanding, and set the whole detachment stampeding out of sight, after which I picked myself up a much more fatigued but decidedly a wiser man on the subject of penetrating herds, and joined my comrades just at the foot of the bluff, to find Munger and a gentleman of our Overland party responsible for the practical joke on the old bulls, at whose memory we were still laughing. It was long after sunset when we got back to camp. Our artist had made two or three studies of game and horses while we were “wasting our time” (as people always say to hunters who return light, though I notice that a nice pair of grouse or saddle of venison greatly dignifies the pastime); George Comstock had the remainder of the antelope cooking at a glorious fire, supplied as usual from the beavers' wood-pile; and the aroma of our condensed coffee, just prepared by turning a gallon of water into a pint of paste, gave the wild pure air of the Plains a strangely incongruous but delicious flavor of civilization.
After finishing our meal, we spread our blankets for the night, and lay down upon them to smoke and talk away that nice mezzotint hour which in camp shades away from supper to bed-time. From the “Noctes Ambrosianae'' down to the last book on the Adirondacks, Literature delights to dwell on such occasions. The romance and poetry, the wit and wisdom, of the camp-fire belong to a specialty as individual and charming as Boswell's Johnson and the gossip of Leigh Hunt. I wish I could believe myself adequate to the analyzing of our camp palaver; for it was so racy that no tyro can hope to do it the least justice, and even an old hand might shrink from attempting to redraw the most original of frontier originalities.
The magical beauty and the strange suggestions of our place and time seemed to open every heart, infuse some genius into every mind. He must have had a vulgar nature indeed who could not be caught up into one short inspiration by the mere reflection upon where we were. Half a score of white men all alone in the heart of the virgin continent; some far Sioux camp and the vast cohorts of the buffalo our nearest neighbors in place or sympathy. Above us was the great, pure dome of a heaven so free from all taint of earthly smoke that the stars seemed to have been let down like cressets leagues closer to our heads than in the city, and burned in diamond points without veil or trembling. The air was of that strange sweetness which, having no scent and being absolutely limpid, is still called spicy and balmy by hyperbole straining vainly for an adequate name. Our fire leaped up gladly, as if it tasted the young original oxygen with our own human relish; and across its faint, vanishing edges came spectral glimpses of shivering trees along a distant bend of the Republican; while boldly beyond the flame, the purple-black bluffs rose against the clear dark sky, their promontories merged by night into one long wall of shadow. Nothing broke the silence save now and then the yelp of a coyote, a night-bird's scream, our own subdued voices, and the lulling gurgle of the river at our feet, on its way over dusky sand-bars to carry the message of the Rocky Mountain snows to the soft current of the Gulf and the mad waves of the Atlantic. We lay half-way between great mysteries, – in the lap of a loneliness as profound as the caves of the Nereids. But this loneliness mellowed instead of oppressing the quaint Western minds which were around us in the firelight. Some trifling remark about the hunt led to a queer idiomatic answer; we began to laugh, and the fire of humor was straightway kindled to such a height that yarn after yarn, joke on joke, surprised the solemn dignity of nature. The simplest saying of any man who has lived like these pioneers much away from his kind takes the form of an aphorism. He has not been where he could give away the sap of his reflections before it crystallized; he has not emptied his brains in loose small-talk; he has much bethought himself,boiled himself down; and when he speaks, be sure that it is “sugaring-off” time. I fancy the amount of thought is much the same in all men of quick intellects; they differ mostly in quality of thought and in the measure of its condensation. There is less difference between the Yankee mountaineer and the Western plainsman than their local varieties of scene and habit would lead one to expect. The terseness and epigrammatic Smack of both comes from isolation, and their talk has many resemblances.