The Dog Crusoe and His Master
Robert Michael Ballantyne
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Dave Morgan, Bradley Norton and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE DOG CRUSOE
A Story of Adventure in the Western Prairies
ROBERT MICHAEL BALLANTYNE
Author of "The Coral Island," "The Young Fur-Traders," "Ungava,"
"The Gorilla-Hunters," "The World of Ice,"
_The backwoods settlement--Crusoe's parentage and early history--The
agonizing pains and sorrows of his puppyhood, and other interesting
_A shooting-match and its consequences--New friends introduced to the
reader--Crusoe and his mother change masters_.
_Speculative remarks with which the reader may or may not agree--An
old woman--Hopes and wishes commingled with hard facts--The dog
Crusoe's education begun_.
_Our hero enlarged upon_--_Grumps_.
_A mission of peace--Unexpected joys--Dick and Crusoe set off for the
land of the Redskins, and meet with adventures by the way as a matter
of course--in the wild woods_.
_The great prairies of the far west--A remarkable colony discovered,
and a miserable night endured_.
_The "wallering" peculiarities of buffalo bulls--The first buffalo
hunt and its consequences--Crusoe comes to the rescue--Pawnees
discovered--A monster buffalo hunt--Joe acts the part of ambassador_.
_Dick and his friends visit the Indians and see many wonders--Crusoe,
too, experiences a few surprises, and teaches Indian dogs a lesson--An
Indian dandy--A foot-race_.
_Crusoe acts a conspicuous and humane part--A friend gained--A great
_Perplexities--Our hunters plan their escape--Unexpected
interruption--The tables turned--Crusoe mounts guard--The escape_.
_Evening meditations and morning reflections--Buffaloes, badgers,
antelopes, and accidents--An old bull and the wolves--"Mad
tails"--Henri floored, etc_.
_Wanderings on the prairie--A war party--Chased by Indians--A bold
leap for life_.
_Escape from Indians--A discovery--Alone in the desert_.
_Crusoe's return, and his private adventures among the Indians--Dick
at a very low ebb--Crusoe saves him_.
_Health and happiness return--Incidents of the journey--A buffalo
shot--A wild horse "creased"--Dick's battle with a mustang_.
_Dick becomes a horse tamer--Resumes his journey--Charlie's
doings--Misfortunes which lead to, but do not terminate in, the Rocky
Mountains--A grizzly bear_.
_Dick's first fight with a grizzly--Adventure with a deer--A
_A surprise, and a piece of good news--The fur-traders--Crusoe proved,
and the Peigans pursued_.
_Adventures with the Peigans--Crusoe does good service as a
discoverer--The savages outwitted--The rescue_.
_New plans--Our travellers join the fur-traders, and see many strange
things--A curious fight--A narrow escape, and a prisoner taken_.
_Wolves attack the horses, and Cameron circumvents the wolves--A
bear-hunt, in which Henri shines conspicuous--Joe and the
"Natter-list"--An alarm--A surprise and a capture_.
_Charlie's adventures with savages and bears--Trapping life_.
_Savage sports--Living cataracts--An alarm--Indians and their
doings--The stampede--Charlie again_.
_Plans and prospects--Dick becomes home-sick, and Henri
metaphysical--The Indians attack the camp--A blow-up_.
_Dangers of the prairie--Our travellers attacked by Indians, and
delivered in a remarkable manner_.
_Anxious fears followed by a joyful surprise--Safe home at last, and
_Rejoicings--The feast at the block-house--Grumps and Crusoe come out
strong--The closing scene_.
THE DOG CRUSOE.
_The backwoods settlement--Crusoe's parentage, and early
history--The agonizing pains and sorrows of his puppyhood, and other
The dog Crusoe was once a pup. Now do not, courteous reader, toss your
head contemptuously, and exclaim, "Of course he was; I could have told
_you_ that." You know very well that you have often seen a man above
six feet high, broad and powerful as a lion, with a bronzed shaggy
visage and the stern glance of an eagle, of whom you have said, or
thought, or heard others say, "It is scarcely possible to believe that
such a man was once a squalling baby." If you had seen our hero in
all the strength and majesty of full-grown doghood, you would have
experienced a vague sort of surprise had we told you--as we now
repeat--that the dog Crusoe was once a pup--a soft, round, sprawling,
squeaking pup, as fat as a tallow candle, and as blind as a bat.
But we draw particular attention to the fact of Crusoe's having once
been a pup, because in connection with the days of his puppyhood there
hangs a tale.
This peculiar dog may thus be said to have had two tails--one in
connection with his body, the other with his career. This tale, though
short, is very harrowing, and as it is intimately connected with
Crusoe's subsequent history we will relate it here. But before doing
so we must beg our reader to accompany us beyond the civilized
portions of the United States of America--beyond the frontier
settlements of the "far west," into those wild prairies which are
watered by the great Missouri River--the Father of Waters--and his
Here dwell the Pawnees, the Sioux, the Delawarers, the Crows, the
Blackfeet, and many other tribes of Red Indians, who are gradually
retreating step by step towards the Rocky Mountains as the advancing
white man cuts down their trees and ploughs up their prairies. Here,
too, dwell the wild horse and the wild ass, the deer, the buffalo, and
the badger; all, men and brutes alike, wild as the power of untamed
and ungovernable passion can make them, and free as the wind that
sweeps over their mighty plains.
There is a romantic and exquisitely beautiful spot on the banks of one
of the tributaries above referred to--long stretch of mingled woodland
and meadow, with a magnificent lake lying like a gem in its green
bosom--which goes by the name of the Mustang Valley. This remote vale,
even at the present day, is but thinly peopled by white men, and is
still a frontier settlement round which the wolf and the bear prowl
curiously, and from which the startled deer bounds terrified away. At
the period of which we write the valley had just been taken possession
of by several families of squatters, who, tired of the turmoil and the
squabbles of the _then_ frontier settlements, had pushed boldly into
the far west to seek a new home for themselves, where they could have
"elbow room," regardless alike of the dangers they might encounter in
unknown lands and of the Redskins who dwelt there.
The squatters were well armed with axes, rifles, and ammunition. Most
of the women were used to dangers and alarms, and placed implicit
reliance in the power of their fathers, husbands, and brothers to
protect them; and well they might, for a bolder set of stalwart men
than these backwoodsmen never trod the wilderness. Each had been
trained to the use of the rifle and the axe from infancy, and many of
them had spent so much of their lives in the woods that they were more
than a match for the Indian in his own peculiar pursuits of hunting
and war. When the squatters first issued from the woods bordering the
valley, an immense herd of wild horses or mustangs were browsing on
the plain. These no sooner beheld the cavalcade of white men than,
uttering a wild neigh, they tossed their flowing manes in the breeze
and dashed away like a whirlwind. This incident procured the valley
The new-comers gave one satisfied glance at their future home, and
then set to work to erect log huts forthwith. Soon the axe was heard
ringing through the forests, and tree after tree fell to the ground,
while the occasional sharp ring of a rifle told that the hunters were
catering successfully for the camp. In course of time the Mustang
Valley began to assume the aspect of a thriving settlement, with
cottages and waving fields clustered together in the midst of it.
Of course the savages soon found it out and paid it occasional visits.
These dark-skinned tenants of the woods brought furs of wild animals
with them, which they exchanged with the white men for knives, and
beads, and baubles and trinkets of brass and tin. But they hated the
"Pale-faces" with bitter hatred, because their encroachments had at
this time materially curtailed the extent of their hunting-grounds,
and nothing but the numbers and known courage of the squatters
prevented these savages from butchering and scalping them all.
The leader of this band of pioneers was a Major Hope, a gentleman
whose love for nature in its wildest aspects determined him to
exchange barrack life for a life in the woods. The major was a
first-rate shot, a bold, fearless man, and an enthusiastic naturalist.
He was past the prime of life, and being a bachelor, was unencumbered
with a family. His first act on reaching the site of the new
settlement was to commence the erection of a block-house, to which the
people might retire in case of a general attack by the Indians.
In this block-house Major Hope took up his abode as the guardian of
the settlement. And here the dog Crusoe was born; here he sprawled in
the early morn of life; here he leaped, and yelped, and wagged his
shaggy tail in the excessive glee of puppyhood; and from the wooden
portals of this block-house he bounded forth to the chase in all the
fire, and strength, and majesty of full-grown doghood.
Crusoe's father and mother were magnificent Newfoundlanders. There was
no doubt as to their being of the genuine breed, for Major Hope had
received them as a parting gift from a brother officer, who had
brought them both from Newfoundland itself. The father's name was
Crusoe, the mother's name was Fan. Why the father had been so called
no one could tell. The man from whom Major Hope's friend had obtained
the pair was a poor, illiterate fisherman, who had never heard of the
celebrated "Robinson" in all his life. All he knew was that Fan had
been named after his own wife. As for Crusoe, he had got him from a
friend, who had got him from another friend, whose cousin had received
him as a marriage-gift from a friend of _his_; and that each had said
to the other that the dog's name was "Crusoe," without reasons being
asked or given on either side. On arriving at New York the major's
friend, as we have said, made him a present of the dogs. Not being
much of a dog fancier, he soon tired of old Crusoe, and gave him away
to a gentleman, who took him down to Florida, and that was the end of
him. He was never heard of more.
When Crusoe, junior, was born, he was born, of course, without a name.
That was given to him afterwards in honour of his father. He was also
born in company with a brother and two sisters, all of whom drowned
themselves accidentally, in the first month of their existence, by
falling into the river which flowed past the block-house--a calamity
which occurred, doubtless, in consequence of their having gone out
without their mother's leave. Little Crusoe was with his brother and
sisters at the time, and fell in along with them, but was saved from
sharing their fate by his mother, who, seeing what had happened,
dashed with an agonized howl into the water, and, seizing him in her
mouth, brought him ashore in a half-drowned condition. She afterwards
brought the others ashore one by one, but the poor little things were
And now we come to the harrowing part of our tale, for the proper
understanding of which the foregoing dissertation was needful.
One beautiful afternoon, in that charming season of the American year
called the Indian summer, there came a family of Sioux Indians to the
Mustang Valley, and pitched their tent close to the block-house. A
young hunter stood leaning against the gate-post of the palisades,
watching the movements of the Indians, who, having just finished
a long "palaver" or talk with Major Hope, were now in the act of
preparing supper. A fire had been kindled on the greensward in front
of the tent, and above it stood a tripod, from which depended a large
tin camp-kettle. Over this hung an ill-favoured Indian woman, or
squaw, who, besides attending to the contents of the pot, bestowed
sundry cuffs and kicks upon her little child, which sat near to her
playing with several Indian curs that gambolled round the fire. The
master of the family and his two sons reclined on buffalo robes,
smoking their stone pipes or calumets in silence. There was nothing
peculiar in their appearance. Their faces were neither dignified nor
coarse in expression, but wore an aspect of stupid apathy, which
formed a striking contrast to the countenance of the young hunter, who
seemed an amused spectator of their proceedings.
The youth referred to was very unlike, in many respects, to what we
are accustomed to suppose a backwoods hunter should be. He did
not possess that quiet gravity and staid demeanour which often
characterize these men. True, he was tall and strongly made, but no
one would have called him stalwart, and his frame indicated grace and
agility rather than strength. But the point about him which rendered
him different from his companions was his bounding, irrepressible
flow of spirits, strangely coupled with an intense love of solitary
wandering in the woods. None seemed so well fitted for social
enjoyment as he; none laughed so heartily, or expressed such glee in
his mischief-loving eye; yet for days together he went off alone into
the forest, and wandered where his fancy led him, as grave and silent
as an Indian warrior.
After all, there was nothing mysterious in this. The boy followed
implicitly the dictates of nature within him. He was amiable,
straightforward, sanguine, and intensely _earnest_. When he laughed,
he let it out, as sailors have it, "with a will." When there was good
cause to be grave, no power on earth could make him smile. We have
called him boy, but in truth he was about that uncertain period of
life when a youth is said to be neither a man nor a boy. His face was
good-looking (_every_ earnest, candid face is) and masculine; his hair
was reddish-brown and his eye bright-blue. He was costumed in the
deerskin cap, leggings, moccasins, and leathern shirt common to the
western hunter. "You seem tickled wi' the Injuns, Dick Varley," said a
man who at that moment issued from the blockhouse.
"That's just what I am, Joe Blunt," replied the youth, turning with a
broad grin to his companion.
"Have a care, lad; do not laugh at 'em too much. They soon take
offence; an' them Redskins never forgive."
"But I'm only laughing at the baby," returned the youth, pointing to
the child, which, with a mixture of boldness and timidity, was playing
with a pup, wrinkling up its fat visage into a smile when its playmate
rushed away in sport, and opening wide its jet-black eyes in grave
anxiety as the pup returned at full gallop.
"It 'ud make an owl laugh," continued young Varley, "to see such a
queer pictur' o' itself."
He paused suddenly, and a dark frown covered his face as he saw the
Indian woman stoop quickly down, catch the pup by its hind-leg with
one hand, seize a heavy piece of wood with the other, and strike it
several violent blows on the throat. Without taking the trouble to
kill the poor animal outright, the savage then held its still writhing
body over the fire in order to singe off the hair before putting it
into the pot to be cooked.
The cruel act drew young Varley's attention more closely to the pup,
and it flashed across his mind that this could be no other than young
Crusoe, which neither he nor his companion had before seen, although
they had often heard others speak of and describe it.
Had the little creature been one of the unfortunate Indian curs, the
two hunters would probably have turned from the sickening sight with
disgust, feeling that, however much they might dislike such cruelty,
it would be of no use attempting to interfere with Indian usages. But
the instant the idea that it was Crusoe occurred to Varley he uttered
a yell of anger, and sprang towards the woman with a bound that caused
the three Indians to leap to their feet and grasp their tomahawks.
Blunt did not move from the gate, but threw forward his rifle with a
careless motion, but an expressive glance, that caused the Indians to
resume their seats and pipes with an emphatic "Wah!" of disgust at
having been startled out of their propriety by a trifle; while Dick
Varley snatched poor Crusoe from his dangerous and painful position,
scowled angrily in the woman's face, and turning on his heel, walked
up to the house, holding the pup tenderly in his arms.
Joe Blunt gazed after his friend with a grave, solemn expression of
countenance till he disappeared; then he looked at the ground, and
shook his head.
Joe was one of the regular out-and-out backwoods hunters, both in
appearance and in fact--broad, tall, massive, lion-like; gifted with
the hunting, stalking, running, and trail-following powers of the
savage, and with a superabundance of the shooting and fighting powers,
the daring, and dash of the Anglo-Saxon. He was grave, too--seldom
smiled, and rarely laughed. His expression almost at all times was a
compound of seriousness and good-humour. With the rifle he was a good,
steady shot, but by no means a "crack" one. His ball never failed to
_hit_, but it often failed to _kill_.
After meditating a few seconds, Joe Blunt again shook his head, and
muttered to himself, "The boy's bold enough, but he's too reckless for
a hunter. There was no need for that yell, now--none at all."
Having uttered this sagacious remark, he threw his rifle into the
hollow of his left arm, turned round, and strode off with a long, slow
step towards his own cottage.
Blunt was an American by birth, but of Irish extraction, and to an
attentive ear there was a faint echo of the _brogue_ in his tone,
which seemed to have been handed down to him as a threadbare and
almost worn-out heirloom.
Poor Crusoe was singed almost naked. His wretched tail seemed little
better than a piece of wire filed off to a point, and he vented his
misery in piteous squeaks as the sympathetic Varley confided him
tenderly to the care of his mother. How Fan managed to cure him no one
can tell, but cure him she did, for, in the course of a few weeks,
Crusoe was as well and sleek and fat as ever.
_A shooting-match and its consequences_--_New friends introduced to
the reader_--_Crusoe and his mother change masters_.
Shortly after the incident narrated in the last chapter the squatters
of the Mustang Valley lost their leader. Major Hope suddenly announced
his intention of quitting the settlement and returning to the
civilized world. Private matters, he said, required his presence
there--matters which he did not choose to speak of, but which would
prevent his returning again to reside among them. Go he must,
and, being a man of determination, go he did; but before going he
distributed all his goods and chattels among the settlers. He even
gave away his rifle, and Fan and Crusoe. These last, however, he
resolved should go together; and as they were well worth having, he
announced that he would give them to the best shot in the valley. He
stipulated that the winner should escort him to the nearest settlement
eastward, after which he might return with the rifle on his shoulder.
Accordingly, a long level piece of ground on the river's bank, with
a perpendicular cliff at the end of it, was selected as the
shooting-ground, and, on the appointed day, at the appointed hour, the
competitors began to assemble.
"Well, lad, first as usual," exclaimed Joe Blunt, as he reached the
ground and found Dick Varley there before him.
"I've bin here more than an hour lookin' for a new kind o' flower that
Jack Morgan told me he'd seen. And I've found it too. Look here; did
you ever see one like it before?"
Blunt leaned his rifle against a tree, and carefully examined the
"Why, yes, I've seed a-many o' them up about the Rocky Mountains, but
never one here-away. It seems to have gone lost itself. The last
I seed, if I remimber rightly, wos near the head-waters o' the
Yellowstone River, it wos--jest where I shot a grizzly bar."
"Was that the bar that gave you the wipe on the cheek?" asked Varley,
forgetting the flower in his interest about the bear.
"It wos. I put six balls in that bar's carcass, and stuck my knife
into its heart ten times, afore it gave out; an' it nearly ripped the
shirt off my back afore I wos done with it."
"I would give my rifle to get a chance at a grizzly!" exclaimed
Varley, with a sudden burst of enthusiasm.
"Whoever got it wouldn't have much to brag of," remarked a burly young
backwoodsman, as he joined them.
His remark was true, for poor Dick's weapon was but a sorry affair. It
missed fire, and it hung fire; and even when it did fire, it remained
a matter of doubt in its owner's mind whether the slight deviations
from the direct line made by his bullets were the result of _his_ or
_its_ bad shooting.
Further comment upon it was checked by the arrival of a dozen or more
hunters on the scene of action. They were a sturdy set of bronzed,
bold, fearless men, and one felt, on looking at them, that they would
prove more than a match for several hundreds of Indians in open fight.
A few minutes after, the major himself came on the ground with the
prize rifle on his shoulder, and Fan and Crusoe at his heels--the
latter tumbling, scrambling, and yelping after its mother, fat and
clumsy, and happy as possible, having evidently quite forgotten that
it had been nearly roasted alive only a few weeks before.
Immediately all eyes were on the rifle, and its merits were discussed
And well did it deserve discussion, for such a piece had never before
been seen on the western frontier. It was shorter in the barrel and
larger in the bore than the weapons chiefly in vogue at that time,
and, besides being of beautiful workmanship, was silver-mounted. But
the grand peculiarity about it, and that which afterwards rendered it
the mystery of mysteries to the savages, was that it had two sets of
locks--one percussion, the other flint--so that, when caps failed,
by taking off the one set of locks and affixing the others, it was
converted into a flint rifle. The major, however, took care never
to run short of caps, so that the flint locks were merely held as a
reserve in case of need.
"Now, lads," cried Major Hope, stepping up to the point whence they
were to shoot, "remember the terms. He who first drives the nail
obtains the rifle, Fan, and her pup, and accompanies me to the nearest
settlement. Each man shoots with his own gun, and draws lots for the
"Agreed," cried the men.
"Well, then, wipe your guns and draw lots. Henri will fix the nail.
Here it is."
The individual who stepped, or rather plunged forward to receive the
nail was a rare and remarkable specimen of mankind. Like his comrades,
he was half a farmer and half a hunter. Like them, too, he was clad in
deerskin, and was tall and strong--nay, more, he was gigantic. But,
unlike them, he was clumsy, awkward, loose-jointed, and a bad shot.
Nevertheless Henri was an immense favourite in the settlement, for
his good-humour knew no bounds. No one ever saw him frown. Even when
fighting with the savages, as he was sometimes compelled to do in
self-defence, he went at them with a sort of jovial rage that was
almost laughable. Inconsiderate recklessness was one of his chief
characteristics, so that his comrades were rather afraid of him on the
war-trail or in the hunt, where caution and frequently _soundless_
motion were essential to success or safety. But when Henri had
a comrade at his side to check him he was safe enough, being
humble-minded and obedient. Men used to say he must have been born
under a lucky star, for, notwithstanding his natural inaptitude for
all sorts of backwoods life, he managed to scramble through everything
with safety, often with success, and sometimes with credit.
To see Henri stalk a deer was worth a long day's journey. Joe Blunt
used to say he was "all jints together, from the top of his head to
the sole of his moccasin." He threw his immense form into the most
inconceivable contortions, and slowly wound his way, sometimes on
hands and knees, sometimes flat, through bush and brake, as if there
was not a bone in his body, and without the slightest noise. This sort
of work was so much against his plunging nature that he took long to
learn it; but when, through hard practice and the loss of many a
fine deer, he came at length to break himself in to it, he gradually
progressed to perfection, and ultimately became the best stalker in
the valley. This, and this alone, enabled him to procure game, for,
being short-sighted, he could hit nothing beyond fifty yards, except a
buffalo or a barn-door.
Yet that same lithe body, which seemed as though totally unhinged,
could no more be bent, when the muscles were strung, than an iron
post. No one wrestled with Henri unless he wished to have his back
broken. Few could equal and none could beat him at running or leaping
except Dick Varley. When Henri ran a race even Joe Blunt laughed
outright, for arms and legs went like independent flails. When he
leaped, he hurled himself into space with a degree of violence that
seemed to insure a somersault; yet he always came down with a crash on
his feet. Plunging was Henri's forte. He generally lounged about the
settlement when unoccupied, with his hands behind his back, apparently
in a reverie, and when called on to act, he seemed to fancy he must
have lost time, and could only make up for it by _plunging_. This
habit got him into many awkward scrapes, but his herculean power
as often got him out of them. He was a French-Canadian, and a
particularly bad speaker of the English language.
We offer no apology for this elaborate introduction of Henri, for
he was as good-hearted a fellow as ever lived, and deserves special
But to return. The sort of rifle practice called "driving the nail,"
by which this match was to be decided, was, and we believe still is,
common among the hunters of the far west. It consisted in this: an
ordinary large-headed nail was driven a short way into a plank or a
tree, and the hunters, standing at a distance of fifty yards or so,
fired at it until they succeeded in driving it home. On the present
occasion the major resolved to test their shooting by making the
distance seventy yards.
Some of the older men shook their heads.
"It's too far," said one; "ye might as well try to snuff the nose o' a
"Jim Scraggs is the only man as'll hit that," said another.
The man referred to was a long, lank, lantern-jawed fellow, with a
cross-grained expression of countenance. He used the long, heavy
Kentucky rifle, which, from the ball being little larger than a pea,
was called a pea-rifle. Jim was no favourite, and had been named
Scraggs by his companions on account of his appearance.
In a few minutes the lots were drawn, and the shooting began. Each
hunter wiped out the barrel of his piece with his ramrod as he stepped
forward; then, placing a ball in the palm of his left hand, he drew
the stopper of his powder-horn with his teeth, and poured out as much
powder as sufficed to cover the bullet. This was the regular _measure_
among them. Little time was lost in firing, for these men did not
"hang" on their aim. The point of the rifle was slowly raised to the
object, and the instant the sight covered it the ball sped to its
mark. In a few minutes the nail was encircled by bullet holes,
scarcely two of which were more than an inch distant from the mark,
and one--fired by Joe Blunt--entered the tree close beside it.
"Ah, Joe!" said the major, "I thought you would have carried off the
"So did not I, sir," returned Blunt, with a shake of his head. "Had
it a-bin a half-dollar at a hundred yards, I'd ha' done better, but I
never _could_ hit the nail. It's too small to _see_."
"That's cos ye've got no eyes," remarked Jim Scraggs, with a sneer, as
he stepped forward.
All tongues were now hushed, for the expected champion was about to
fire. The sharp crack of the rifle was followed by a shout, for Jim
had hit the nail-head on the edge, and part of the bullet stuck to it.
"That wins if there's no better," said the major, scarce able to
conceal his disappointment. "Who comes next?"
To this question Henri answered by stepping up to the line, straddling
his legs, and executing preliminary movements with his rifle, that
seemed to indicate an intention on his part to throw the weapon bodily
at the mark. He was received with a shout of mingled laughter and
applause. After gazing steadily at the mark for a few seconds, a broad
grin overspread his countenance, and looking round at his companions,
he said,--"Ha! mes boys, I can-not behold de nail at all!"
"Can ye 'behold' the _tree_?" shouted a voice, when the laugh that
followed this announcement had somewhat abated.
"Oh! oui," replied Henri quite coolly; "I can see _him_, an' a goot
small bit of de forest beyond."
"Fire at it, then. If ye hit the tree ye desarve the rifle--leastways
ye ought to get the pup."
Henri grinned again, and fired instantly, without taking aim.
The shot was followed by an exclamation of surprise, for the bullet
was found close beside the nail.
"It's more be good luck than good shootin'," remarked Jim Scraggs.
"Possiblement," answered Henri modestly, as he retreated to the rear
and wiped out his rifle; "mais I have kill most of my deer by dat same
"Bravo, Henri!" said Major Hope as he passed; "you _deserve_ to win,
anyhow. Who's next?"
"Dick Varley," cried several voices; "where's Varley? Come on,
youngster, an' take yer shot."
The youth came forward with evident reluctance. "It's of no manner o'
use," he whispered to Joe Blunt as he passed, "I can't depend on my
"Never give in," whispered Blunt, encouragingly.
Poor Varley's want of confidence in his rifle was merited, for, on
pulling the trigger, the faithless lock missed fire.
"Lend him another gun," cried several voices.
"'Gainst rules laid down by Major Hope," said Scraggs.
"Well, so it is; try again."
Varley did try again, and so successfully, too, that the ball hit the
nail on the head, leaving a portion of the lead sticking to its edge.
Of course this was greeted with a cheer, and a loud dispute began as
to which was the better shot of the two.
"There are others to shoot yet," cried the major. "Make way. Look
The men fell back, and the few hunters who had not yet fired took
their shots, but without coming nearer the mark.
It was now agreed that Jim Scraggs and Dick Varley, being the two best
shots, should try over again, and it was also agreed that Dick should
have the use of Blunt's rifle. Lots were again drawn for the first
shot, and it fell to Dick, who immediately stepped out, aimed somewhat
hastily, and fired.
"Hit again!" shouted those who had run forward to examine the mark.
"_Half_ the bullet cut off by the nail head!"
Some of the more enthusiastic of Dick's friends cheered lustily, but
the most of the hunters were grave and silent, for they knew Jim's
powers, and felt that he would certainly do his best. Jim now stepped
up to the line, and, looking earnestly at the mark, threw forward his
At that moment our friend Crusoe, tired of tormenting his mother,
waddled stupidly and innocently into the midst of the crowd of men,
and in so doing received Henri's heel and the full weight of his
elephantine body on its fore paw. The horrible and electric yell that
instantly issued from his agonized throat could only be compared, as
Joe Blunt expressed it, "to the last dyin' screech o' a bustin'
steam biler!" We cannot say that the effect was startling, for these
backwoodsmen had been born and bred in the midst of alarms, and were
so used to them that a "bustin' steam biler" itself, unless it had
blown them fairly off their legs, would not have startled them. But
the effect, such as it was, was sufficient to disconcert the aim of
Jim Scraggs, who fired at the same instant, and missed the nail by a
'Turning round in towering wrath, Scraggs aimed a kick at the poor
pup, which, had it taken effect, would certainly have terminated the
innocent existence of that remarkable dog on the spot; but quick as
lightning Henri interposed the butt of his rifle, and Jim's shin met
it with a violence that caused him to howl with rage and pain.
"Oh! pardon me, broder," cried Henri, shrinking back, with the
drollest expression of mingled pity and glee.
Jim's discretion, on this occasion, was superior to his valour; he
turned away with a coarse expression of anger and left the ground.
Meanwhile the major handed the silver rifle to young Varley. "It
couldn't have fallen into better hands," he said. "You'll do it
credit, lad, I know that full well; and let me assure you it will
never play you false. Only keep it clean, don't overcharge it, aim
true, and it will never miss the mark."
While the hunters crowded round Dick to congratulate him and examine
the piece, he stood with a mingled feeling of bashfulness and delight
at his unexpected good fortune. Recovering himself suddenly, he seized
his old rifle, and dropping quietly to the outskirts of the crowd,
while the men were still busy handling and discussing the merits of
the prize, went up, unobserved, to a boy of about thirteen years of
age, and touched him on the shoulder.
"Here, Marston, you know I often said ye should have the old rifle
when I was rich enough to get a new one. Take it _now_, lad. It's come
to ye sooner than either o' us expected."
"Dick," said the boy, grasping his friend's hand warmly, "ye're true
as heart of oak. It's good of 'ee; that's a fact."
"Not a bit, boy; it costs me nothin' to give away an old gun that I've
no use for, an's worth little, but it makes me right glad to have the
chance to do it."
Marston had longed for a rifle ever since he could walk; but his
prospects of obtaining one were very poor indeed at that time, and it
is a question whether he did not at that moment experience as much joy
in handling the old piece as his friend felt in shouldering the prize.
A difficulty now occurred which had not before been thought of. This
was no less than the absolute refusal of Dick Varley's canine property
to follow him. Fan had no idea of changing masters without her consent
being asked or her inclination being consulted.
"You'll have to tie her up for a while, I fear," said the major.
"No fear," answered the youth. "Dog natur's like human natur'!"
Saying this he seized Crusoe by the neck, stuffed him comfortably into
the bosom of his hunting-shirt, and walked rapidly away with the prize
rifle on his shoulder.
Fan had not bargained for this. She stood irresolute, gazing now to
the right and now to the left, as the major retired in one direction
and Dick with Crusoe in another. Suddenly Crusoe, who, although
comfortable in body, was ill at ease in spirit, gave utterance to a
melancholy howl. The mother's love instantly prevailed. For one moment
she pricked up her ears at the sound, and then, lowering them, trotted
quietly after her new master, and followed him to his cottage on the
margin of the lake.
_Speculative remarks with which the reader may or may not agree--An
old woman--Hopes and wishes commingled with hard facts--The dog
Crusoe's education begun_.
It is pleasant to look upon a serene, quiet, humble face. On such a
face did Richard Varley look every night when he entered his mother's
cottage. Mrs. Varley was a widow, and she had followed the fortunes of
her brother, Daniel Hood, ever since the death of her husband. Love
for her only brother induced her to forsake the peaceful village of
Maryland and enter upon the wild life of a backwoods settlement.
Dick's mother was thin, and old, and wrinkled, but her face was
stamped with a species of beauty which _never_ fades--the beauty of a
loving look. Ah! the brow of snow and the peach-bloom cheek may snare
the heart of man for a time, but the _loving look_ alone can forge
that adamantine chain that time, age, eternity shall never break.
Mistake us not, reader, and bear with us if we attempt to analyze this
look which characterized Mrs. Varley. A rare diamond is worth stopping
to glance at, even when one is in a hurry. The brightest jewel in the
human heart is worth a thought or two. By _a loving_ _look_ we do not
mean a look of love bestowed on a beloved object. _That_ is common
enough; and thankful should we be that it is so common in a world
that's overfull of hatred. Still less do we mean that smile and look
of intense affection with which some people--good people too--greet
friend and foe alike, and by which effort to work out their _beau
ideal_ of the expression of Christian love they do signally damage
their cause, by saddening the serious and repelling the gay. Much less
do we mean that _perpetual_ smile of good-will which argues more of
personal comfort and self-love than anything else. No; the loving look
we speak of is as often grave as gay. Its character depends very much
on the face through which it beams. And it cannot be counterfeited.
Its _ring_ defies imitation. Like the clouded sun of April, it can
pierce through tears of sorrow; like the noontide sun of summer, it
can blaze in warm smiles; like the northern lights of winter, it
can gleam in depths of woe;--but it is always the same, modified,
doubtless, and rendered more or less patent to others, according to
the natural amiability of him or her who bestows it. No one can put
it on; still less can any one put it off. Its range is universal; it
embraces all mankind, though, _of course_, it is intensified on a few
favoured objects; its seat is in the depths of a renewed heart, and
its foundation lies in love to God.
Young Varley's mother lived in a cottage which was of the smallest
possible dimensions consistent with comfort. It was made of logs, as,
indeed, were all the other cottages in the valley. The door was in the
centre, and a passage from it to the back of the dwelling divided it
into two rooms. One of these was sub-divided by a thin partition,
the inner room being Mrs. Varley's bedroom, the outer Dick's. Daniel
Hood's dormitory was a corner of the kitchen, which apartment served
also as a parlour.
The rooms were lighted by two windows, one on each side of the door,
which gave to the house the appearance of having a nose and two eyes.
Houses of this kind have literally got a sort of _expression_ on--if
we may use the word--their countenances. _Square_ windows give the
appearance of easy-going placidity; _longish_ ones, that of surprise.
Mrs. Varley's was a surprise cottage; and this was in keeping with the
scene in which it stood, for the clear lake in front, studded
with islands, and the distant hills beyond, composed a scene so
surprisingly beautiful that it never failed to call forth an
expression of astonished admiration from every new visitor to the
"My boy," exclaimed Mrs. Varley, as her son entered the cottage with a
bound, "why so hurried to-day? Deary me! where got you the grand gun?"
"Won it, mother!"
"Won it, my son?"
"Ay, won it, mother. Druve the nail _almost_, and would ha' druve it
_altogether_ had I bin more used to Joe Blunt's rifle."
Mrs. Varley's heart beat high, and her face flushed with pride as she
gazed at her son, who laid the rifle on the table for her inspection,
while he rattled off an animated and somewhat disjointed account of
"Deary me! now that was good, that was cliver. But what's that
scraping at the door?"
"Oh! that's Fan; I forgot her. Here! here! Fan! Come in, good dog," he
cried, rising and opening the door.
Fan entered and stopped short, evidently uncomfortable.
"My boy, what do ye with the major's dog?"
"Won her too, mother!"
"Won her, my son?"
"Ay, won her, and the pup too; see, here it is!" and he plucked Crusoe
from his bosom.
Crusoe having found his position to be one of great comfort had fallen
into a profound slumber, and on being thus unceremoniously awakened he
gave forth a yelp of discontent that brought Fan in a state of frantic
sympathy to his side.
"There you are, Fan; take it to a corner and make yourself at
home.--Ay, that's right, mother, give her somethin' to eat; she's
hungry, I know by the look o' her eye."
"Deary me, Dick!" said Mrs. Varley, who now proceeded to spread the
youth's mid-day meal before him, "did ye drive the nail three times?"
"No, only once, and that not parfetly. Brought 'em all down at one
shot--rifle, Fan, an' pup!"
"Well, well, now that was cliver; but--." Here the old woman paused
and looked grave.
"But what, mother?"
"You'll be wantin' to go off to the mountains now, I fear me, boy."
"Wantin' _now_!" exclaimed the youth earnestly; "I'm _always_ wantin'.
I've bin wantin' ever since I could walk; but I won't go till you let
me, mother, that I won't!" And he struck the table with his fist so
forcibly that the platters rung again.
"You're a good boy, Dick; but you're too young yit to ventur' among
"An' yit, if I don't ventur' young, I'd better not ventur' at all. You
know, mother dear, I don't want to leave you; but I was born to be a
hunter, and everybody in them parts is a hunter, and I can't hunt in
the kitchen you know, mother!"
At this point the conversation was interrupted by a sound that caused
young Varley to spring up and seize his rifle, and Fan to show her
teeth and growl.
"Hist, mother! that's like horses' hoofs," he whispered, opening the
door and gazing intently in the direction whence the sound came.
Louder and louder it came, until an opening in the forest showed the
advancing cavalcade to be a party of white men. In another moment
they were in full view--a band of about thirty horsemen, clad in the
leathern costume and armed with the long rifle of the far west.
Some wore portions of the gaudy Indian dress, which gave to them a
brilliant, dashing look. They came on straight for the block-house,
and saluted the Varleys with a jovial cheer as they swept past at full
speed. Dick returned the cheer with compound interest, and calling
out, "They're trappers, mother; I'll be back in an hour," bounded off
like a deer through the woods, taking a short cut in order to reach
the block-house before them. He succeeded, for, just as he arrived at
the house, the cavalcade wheeled round the bend in the river, dashed
up the slope, and came to a sudden halt on the green. Vaulting from
their foaming steeds they tied them to the stockades of the little
fortress, which they entered in a body.
Hot haste was in every motion of these men. They were trappers, they
said, on their way to the Rocky Mountains to hunt and trade furs. But
one of their number had been treacherously murdered and scalped by a
Pawnee chief, and they resolved to revenge his death by an attack on
one of the Pawnee villages. They would teach these "red reptiles" to
respect white men, they would, come of it what might; and they had
turned aside here to procure an additional supply of powder and lead.
In vain did the major endeavour to dissuade these reckless men from
their purpose. They scoffed at the idea of returning good for evil,
and insisted on being supplied. The log hut was a store as well as
a place of defence, and as they offered to pay for it there was no
refusing their request--at least so the major thought. The ammunition
was therefore given to them, and in half-an-hour they were away
again at full gallop over the plains on their mission of vengeance.
"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." But these men knew
not what God said, because they never read his Word and did not own
Young Varley's enthusiasm was considerably damped when he learned the
errand on which the trappers were bent. From that time forward he gave
up all desire to visit the mountains in company with such men, but he
still retained an intense longing to roam at large among their rocky
fastnesses and gallop out upon the wide prairies.
Meanwhile he dutifully tended his mother's cattle and sheep, and
contented himself with an occasional deer-hunt in the neighbouring
forests. He devoted himself also to the training of his dog Crusoe--an
operation which at first cost him many a deep sigh.
Every one has heard of the sagacity and almost reasoning capabilities
of the Newfoundland dog. Indeed, some have even gone the length of
saying that what is called instinct in these animals is neither more
nor less than reason. And in truth many of the noble, heroic, and
sagacious deeds that have actually been performed by Newfoundland dogs
incline us almost to believe that, like man, they are gifted with
But every one does not know the trouble and patience that is required
in order to get a juvenile dog to understand what its master means
when he is endeavouring to instruct it.
Crusoe's first lesson was an interesting but not a very successful
one. We may remark here that Dick Varley had presented Fan to his
mother to be her watch-dog, resolving to devote all his powers to the
training of the pup. We may also remark, in reference to Crusoe's
appearance (and we did not remark it sooner, chiefly because up to
this period in his eventful history he was little better than a ball
of fat and hair), that his coat was mingled jet-black and pure white,
and remarkably glossy, curly, and thick.
A week after the shooting-match Crusoe's education began. Having fed
him for that period with his own hand, in order to gain his affection,
Dick took him out one sunny forenoon to the margin of the lake to give
him his first lesson.
And here again we must pause to remark that, although a dog's heart is
generally gained in the first instance through his mouth, yet, after
it is thoroughly gained, his affection is noble and disinterested. He
can scarcely be driven from his master's side by blows; and even when
thus harshly repelled, is always ready, on the shortest notice and
with the slightest encouragement, to make it up again.
Well; Dick Varley began by calling out, "Crusoe! Crusoe! come here,
Of course Crusoe knew his name by this time, for it had been so often
used as a prelude to his meals that he naturally expected a feed
whenever he heard it. This portal to his brain had already been open
for some days; but all the other doors were fast locked, and it
required a great deal of careful picking to open them.
"Now, Crusoe, come here."
Crusoe bounded clumsily to his master's side, cocked his ears, and
wagged his tail,--so far his education was perfect. We say he bounded
_clumsily_, for it must be remembered that he was still a very young
pup, with soft, flabby muscles.
"Now, I'm goin' to begin yer edication, pup; think o' that."
Whether Crusoe thought of that or not we cannot say, but he looked
up in his master's face as he spoke, cocked his ears very high, and
turned his head slowly to one side, until it could not turn any
farther in that direction; then he turned it as much to the other
side; whereat his master burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter,
and Crusoe immediately began barking vociferously.
"Come, come," said Dick, suddenly checking his mirth, "we mustn't
play, pup, we must work."
Drawing a leathern mitten from his belt, the youth held it to Crusoe's
nose, and then threw it a yard away, at the same time exclaiming in a
loud, distinct tone, "Fetch it."
Crusoe entered at once into the spirit of this part of his training;
he dashed gleefully at the mitten, and proceeded to worry it with
intense gratification. As for "Fetch it," he neither understood the
words nor cared a straw about them.
Dick Varley rose immediately, and rescuing the mitten, resumed his
seat on a rock.
"Come here, Crusoe," he repeated.
"Oh! certainly, by all means," said Crusoe--no! he didn't exactly
_say_ it, but really he _looked_ these words so evidently that we
think it right to let them stand as they are written. If he could have
finished the sentence, he would certainly have said, "Go on with that
game over again, old boy; it's quite to my taste--the jolliest thing
in life, I assure you!" At least, if we may not positively assert that
he would have said that, no one else can absolutely affirm that he
Well, Dick Varley did do it over again, and Crusoe worried the mitten
over again, utterly regardless of "Fetch it."
Then they did it again, and again, and again, but without the
slightest apparent advancement in the path of canine knowledge; and
then they went home.
During all this trying operation Dick Varley never once betrayed the
slightest feeling of irritability or impatience. He did not expect
success at first; he was not therefore disappointed at failure.
Next day he had him out again--and the next--and the next--and the
next again, with the like unfavourable result. In short, it seemed at
last as if Crusoe's mind had been deeply imbued with the idea that he
had been born expressly for the purpose of worrying that mitten, and
he meant to fulfil his destiny to the letter.
Young Varley had taken several small pieces of meat in his pocket each
day, with the intention of rewarding Crusoe when he should at length
be prevailed on to fetch the mitten; but as Crusoe was not aware of
the treat that awaited him, of course the mitten never was "fetched."
At last Dick Varley saw that this system would never do, so he changed
his tactics, and the next morning gave Crusoe no breakfast, but took
him out at the usual hour to go through his lesson. This new course of
conduct seemed to perplex Crusoe not a little, for on his way down to
the beach he paused frequently and looked back at the cottage,
and then expressively up at his master's face. But the master was
inexorable; he went on, and Crusoe followed, for _true_ love had
now taken possession of the pup's young heart, and he preferred his
master's company to food.
Varley now began by letting the learner smell a piece of meat, which
he eagerly sought to devour, but was prevented, to his immense
disgust. Then the mitten was thrown as heretofore, and Crusoe made a
few steps towards it, but being in no mood for play he turned back.
"Fetch it," said the teacher.
"I won't," replied the learner mutely, by means of that expressive
sign--_not doing it_.
Hereupon Dick Varley rose, took up the mitten, and put it into the
pup's mouth. Then, retiring a couple of yards, he held out the piece
of meat and said, "Fetch it."
Crusoe instantly spat out the glove and bounded towards the meat--once
more to be disappointed.
This was done a second time, and Crusoe came forward _with the mitten
in his mouth_. It seemed as if it had been done accidentally, for he
dropped it before coming quite up. If so, it was a fortunate accident,
for it served as the tiny fulcrum on which to place the point of that
mighty lever which was destined ere long to raise him to the pinnacle
of canine erudition. Dick Varley immediately lavished upon him the
tenderest caresses and gave him a lump of meat. But he quickly tried
it again lest he should lose the lesson. The dog evidently felt that
if he did not fetch that mitten he should have no meat or caresses. In
order, however, to make sure that there was no mistake, Dick laid the
mitten down beside the pup, instead of putting it into his mouth, and,
retiring a few paces, cried, "Fetch it."
Crusoe looked uncertain for a moment, then he picked up the mitten and
laid it at his master's feet. The lesson was learned at last! Dick
Varley tumbled all the meat out of his pocket on the ground, and,
while Crusoe made a hearty breakfast, he sat down on a rock and
whistled with glee at having fairly picked the lock, and opened
_another_ door into one of the many chambers of his dog's intellect.
_Our hero enlarged upon--Grumps_.
Two years passed away. The Mustang Valley settlement advanced
prosperously, despite one or two attacks made upon it by the savages,
who were, however, firmly repelled. Dick Varley had now become a man,
and his pup Crusoe had become a full-grown dog. The "silver rifle," as
Dick's weapon had come to be named, was well known among the hunters
and the Redskins of the border-lands, and in Dick's hands its bullets
were as deadly as its owner's eye was quick and true.
Crusoe's education, too, had been completed. Faithfully and patiently
had his young master trained his mind, until he fitted him to be
a meet companion in the hunt. To "carry" and "fetch" were now but
trifling portions of the dog's accomplishments. He could dive a fathom
deep in the lake and bring up any article that might have been dropped
or thrown in. His swimming powers were marvellous, and so powerful
were his muscles that he seemed to spurn the water while passing
through it, with his broad chest high out of the curling wave, at a
speed that neither man nor beast could keep up with for a moment. His
intellect now was sharp and quick as a needle; he never required a
second bidding. When Dick went out hunting, he used frequently to drop
a mitten or a powder-horn unknown to the dog, and after walking miles
away from it, would stop short and look down into the mild, gentle
face of his companion.
"Crusoe," he said, in the same quiet tones with which he would have
addressed a human friend, "I've dropped my mitten; go fetch it, pup."
Dick continued to call it "pup" from habit.
One glance of intelligence passed from Crusoe's eye, and in a moment
he was away at full gallop, nor did he rest until the lost article was
lying at his master's feet. Dick was loath to try how far back on his
track Crusoe would run if desired. He had often gone back five and six
miles at a stretch; but his powers did not stop here. He could carry
articles back to the spot from which they had been taken and leave
them there. He could head the game that his master was pursuing and
turn it back; and he would guard any object he was desired to "watch"
with unflinching constancy. But it would occupy too much space and
time to enumerate all Crusoe's qualities and powers. His biography
will unfold them.
In personal appearance he was majestic, having grown to an immense
size even for a Newfoundland. Had his visage been at all wolfish in
character, his aspect would have been terrible. But he possessed in an
eminent degree that mild, humble expression of face peculiar to his
race. When roused or excited, and especially when bounding through the
forest with the chase in view, he was absolutely magnificent. At other
times his gait was slow, and he seemed to prefer a quiet walk with
Dick Varley to anything else under the sun. But when Dick was inclined
to be boisterous, Crusoe's tail and ears rose at a moment's notice,
and he was ready for anything. Moreover, he obeyed commands instantly
and implicitly. In this respect he put to shame most of the boys of
the settlement, who were by no means famed for their habits of prompt
Crusoe's eye was constantly watching the face of his master. When Dick
said "Go" he went, when he said "Come" he came. If he had been in the
midst of an excited bound at the throat of a stag, and Dick had called
out, "Down, Crusoe," he would have sunk to the earth like a stone. No
doubt it took many months of training to bring the dog to this state
of perfection, but Dick accomplished it by patience, perseverance, and
Besides all this, Crusoe could speak! He spoke by means of the dog's
dumb alphabet in a way that defies description. He conversed, so to
speak, with his extremities--his head and his tail. But his eyes, his
soft brown eyes, were the chief medium of communication. If ever the
language of the eyes was carried to perfection, it was exhibited in
the person of Crusoe. But, indeed, it would be difficult to say
which part of his expressive face expressed most--the cocked ears of
expectation, the drooped ears of sorrow; the bright, full eye of
joy, the half-closed eye of contentment, and the frowning eye of
indignation accompanied with a slight, a very slight pucker of the
nose and a gleam of dazzling ivory--ha! no enemy ever saw this last
piece of canine language without a full appreciation of what it meant.
Then as to the tail--the modulations of meaning in the varied wag
of that expressive member--oh! it's useless to attempt description.
Mortal man cannot conceive of the delicate shades of sentiment
expressible by a dog's tail, unless he has studied the subject--the
wag, the waggle, the cock, the droop, the slope, the wriggle! Away
with description--it is impotent and valueless here!
As we have said, Crusoe was meek and mild. He had been bitten, on the
sly, by half the ill-natured curs in the settlement, and had only
shown his teeth in return. He had no enmities--though several
enemies--and he had a thousand friends, particularly among the ranks
of the weak and the persecuted, whom he always protected and avenged
when opportunity offered. A single instance of this kind will serve to
show his character.
One day Dick and Crusoe were sitting on a rock beside the lake--the
same identical rock near which, when a pup, the latter had received
his first lesson. They were conversing as usual, for Dick had elicited
such a fund of intelligence from the dog's mind, and had injected such
wealth of wisdom into it, that he felt convinced it understood every
word he said.
"This is capital weather, Crusoe; ain't it, pup?"
Crusoe made a motion with his head which was quite as significant as a
"Ha! my pup, I wish that you and I might go and have a slap at the
grizzly bars, and a look at the Rocky Mountains. Wouldn't it be nuts,
Crusoe looked dubious.
"What, you don't agree with me! Now tell me, pup, wouldn't ye like to
grip a bar?"
Still Crusoe looked dubious, but made a gentle motion with his tail,
as though he would have said, "I've seen neither Rocky Mountains nor
grizzly bars, and know nothin' about 'em, but I'm open to conviction."
"You're a brave pup," rejoined Dick, stroking the dog's huge head
affectionately. "I wouldn't give you for ten times your weight in
golden dollars--if there be sich things."
Crusoe made no reply whatever to this. He regarded it as a truism
unworthy of notice; he evidently felt that a comparison between love
and dollars was preposterous.
At this point in the conversation a little dog with a lame leg hobbled
to the edge of the rocks in front of the spot where Dick was seated,
and looked down into the water, which was deep there. Whether it did
so for the purpose of admiring its very plain visage in the liquid
mirror, or finding out what was going on among the fish, we cannot
say, as it never told us; but at that moment a big, clumsy,
savage-looking dog rushed out from the neighbouring thicket and began
to worry it.
"Punish him, Crusoe," said Dick quickly.
Crusoe made one bound that a lion might have been proud of, and
seizing the aggressor by the back, lifted him off his legs and held
him, howling, in the air--at the same time casting a look towards his
master for further instructions.
"Pitch him in," said Dick, making a sign with his hand.
Crusoe turned and quietly dropped the dog into the lake. Having
regarded his struggles there for a few moments with grave severity of
countenance, he walked slowly back and sat down beside his master.
The little dog made good its retreat as fast as three legs would carry
it; and the surly dog, having swum ashore, retired sulkily, with his
tail very much between his legs.
Little wonder, then, that Crusoe was beloved by great and small among
the well-disposed of the canine tribe of the Mustang Valley.
But Crusoe was not a mere machine. When not actively engaged in Dick
Varley's service, he busied himself with private little matters of his
own. He undertook modest little excursions into the woods or along the
margin of the lake, sometimes alone, but more frequently with a little
friend whose whole heart and being seemed to be swallowed up in
admiration of his big companion. Whether Crusoe botanized or
geologized on these excursions we will not venture to say. Assuredly
he seemed as though he did both, for he poked his nose into every bush
and tuft of moss, and turned over the stones, and dug holes in the
ground--and, in short, if he did not understand these sciences, he
behaved very much as if he did. Certainly he knew as much about them
as many of the human species do.
In these walks he never took the slightest notice of Grumps (that
was the little dog's name), but Grumps made up for this by taking
excessive notice of him. When Crusoe stopped, Grumps stopped and sat
down to look at him. When Crusoe trotted on, Grumps trotted on too.
When Crusoe examined a bush, Grumps sat down to watch him; and when he
dug a hole, Grumps looked into it to see what was there. Grumps never
helped him; his sole delight was in looking on. They didn't converse
much, these two dogs. To be in each other's company seemed to be
happiness enough--at least Grumps thought so.
There was one point at which Grumps stopped short, however, and ceased
to follow his friend, and that was when he rushed headlong into the
lake and disported himself for an hour at a time in its cool waters.
Crusoe was, both by nature and training, a splendid water-dog. Grumps,
on the contrary, held water in abhorrence; so he sat on the shore of
the lake disconsolate when his friend was bathing, and waited till he
came out. The only time when Grumps was thoroughly nonplussed was when
Dick Varley's whistle sounded faintly in the far distance. Then Crusoe
would prick up his ears and stretch out at full gallop, clearing
ditch, and fence, and brake with his strong elastic bound, and leaving
Grumps to patter after him as fast as his four-inch legs would carry
him. Poor Grumps usually arrived at the village to find both dog and
master gone, and would betake himself to his own dwelling, there to
lie down and sleep, and dream, perchance, of rambles and gambols with
his gigantic friend.
_A mission of peace--Unexpected joys--Dick and Crusoe set off for the
land of the Redskins, and meet with adventures by the way as a matter
of course--Night in the wild woods_.
One day the inhabitants of Mustang Valley were thrown into
considerable excitement by the arrival of an officer of the United
States army and a small escort of cavalry. They went direct to the
blockhouse, which, since Major Hope's departure, had become the
residence of Joe Blunt--that worthy having, by general consent, been
deemed the fittest man in the settlement to fill the major's place.
Soon it began to be noised abroad that the strangers had been sent by
Government to endeavour to bring about, if possible, a more friendly
state of feeling between the Whites and the Indians by means of
presents, and promises, and fair speeches.
The party remained all night in the block-house, and ere long it was
reported that Joe Blunt had been requested, and had consented, to be
the leader and chief of a party of three men who should visit the
neighbouring tribes of Indians to the west and north of the valley as
Government agents. Joe's knowledge of two or three different Indian
dialects, and his well-known sagacity, rendered him a most fitting
messenger on such an errand. It was also whispered that Joe was to
have the choosing of his comrades in this mission, and many were the
opinions expressed and guesses made as to who would be chosen.
That same evening Dick Varley was sitting in his mother's kitchen
cleaning his rifle. His mother was preparing supper, and talking
quietly about the obstinacy of a particular hen that had taken to
laying her eggs in places where they could not be found. Fan was
coiled up in a corner sound asleep, and Crusoe was sitting at one side
of the fire looking on at things in general.
"I wonder," remarked Mrs. Varley, as she spread the table with a pure
white napkin--"I wonder what the sodgers are doin' wi' Joe Blunt."
As often happens when an individual is mentioned, the worthy referred
to opened the door at that moment and stepped into the room.
"Good e'en t'ye, dame," said the stout hunter, doffing his cap, and
resting his rifle in a corner, while Dick rose and placed a chair for
"The same to you, Master Blunt," answered the widow; "you've jist
comed in good time for a cut o' venison."
"Thanks, mistress; I s'pose we're beholden to the silver rifle for
"To the hand that aimed it, rather," suggested the widow.
"Nay, then, say raither to the dog that turned it," said Dick Varley.
"But for Crusoe, that buck would ha' bin couched in the woods this
"Oh! if it comes to that," retorted Joe, "I'd lay it to the door o'
Fan, for if she'd niver bin born nother would Crusoe. But it's good
an' tender meat, whativer ways ye got it. Howsiver, I've other things
to talk about jist now. Them sodgers that are eatin' buffalo tongues
up at the block-house as if they'd niver ate meat before, and didn't
hope to eat again for a twelvemonth--"
"Ay, what o' them?" interrupted Mrs. Varley; "I've bin wonderin' what
was their errand."
"Of coorse ye wos, Dame Varley, and I've comed here a purpis to tell
ye. They want me to go to the Redskins to make peace between them
and us; and they've brought a lot o' goods to make them presents
withal--beads, an' knives, an' lookin'-glasses, an' vermilion paint,
an' sich like, jist as much as'll be a light load for one horse--for,
ye see, nothin' can be done wi' the Redskins without gifts."
"'Tis a blessed mission," said the widow; "I wish it may succeed. D'ye
think ye'll go?"
"Go? ay, that will I."
"I only wish they'd made the offer to me," said Dick with a sigh.
"An' so they do make the offer, lad. They've gin me leave to choose
the two men I'm to take with me, and I've corned straight to ask
_you_. Ay or no, for we must up an' away by break o' day to-morrow."
Mrs. Varley started. "So soon?" she said, with a look of anxiety.
"Ay; the Pawnees are at the Yellow Creek jist at this time, but I've
heerd they're 'bout to break up camp an' away west; so we'll need to
"May I go, mother?" asked Dick, with a look of anxiety.
There was evidently a conflict in the widow's breast, but it quickly
"Yes, my boy," she said in her own low, quiet voice; "and God go with
ye. I knew the time must come soon, an' I thank him that your first
visit to the Redskins will be on an errand o' peace. 'Blessed are the
peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.'"
Dick grasped his mother's hand and pressed it to his cheek in silence.
At the same moment Crusoe, seeing that the deeper feelings of his
master were touched, and deeming it his duty to sympathize, rose up
and thrust his nose against him.
"Ah, pup," cried the young man hastily, "you must go too.--Of course
Crusoe goes, Joe Blunt?"
"Hum! I don't know that. There's no dependin' on a dog to keep his
tongue quiet in times o' danger."
"Believe me," exclaimed Dick, flashing with enthusiasm, "Crusoe's more
trustworthy than I am myself. If ye can trust the master, ye're safe
to trust the pup."
"Well, lad, ye may be right. We'll take him."
"Thanks, Joe. And who else goes with us?"
"I've' bin castin' that in my mind for some time, an' I've fixed
to take Henri. He's not the safest man in the valley, but he's the
truest, that's a fact. And now, youngster, get yer horse an' rifle
ready, and come to the block-house at daybreak to-morrow.--Good luck
to ye, mistress, till we meet agin."
Joe Blunt rose, and taking up his rifle--without which he scarcely
ever moved a foot from his own door--left the cottage with rapid
"My son," said Mrs. Varley, kissing Dick's cheek as he resumed
his seat, "put this in the little pocket I made for it in your
She handed him a small pocket Bible.
"Dear mother," he said, as he placed the book carefully within the
breast of his coat, "the Redskin that takes that from me must take my
scalp first. But don't fear for me. You've often said the Lord would
protect me. So he will, mother, for sure it's an errand o' peace."
"Ay that's it, that's it," murmured the widow in a half-soliloquy.
Dick Varley spent that night in converse with his mother, and next
morning at daybreak he was at the place of meeting, mounted on his
sturdy little horse, with the "silver rifle" on his shoulder and
Crusoe by his side.
"That's right, lad, that's right. Nothin' like keepin' yer time," said
Joe, as he led out a pack-horse from the gate of the block-house,
while his own charger was held ready saddled by a man named Daniel
Brand, who had been appointed to the charge of the block-house in his
"Where's Henri?--oh, here he comes!" exclaimed Dick, as the hunter
referred to came thundering up the slope at a charge, on a horse
that resembled its rider in size and not a little in clumsiness of
"Ah! mes boy. Him is a goot one to go," cried
Henri, remarking Dick's smile as he pulled up. "No hoss on de plain
can beat dis one, surement."
"Now then, Henri, lend a hand to fix this pack; we've no time to
By this time they were joined by several of the soldiers and a few
hunters who had come to see them start.
"Remember, Joe," said one, "if you don't come back in three months
we'll all come out in a band to seek you."
"If we don't come back in less than that time, what's left o' us won't
be worth seekin' for," said Joe, tightening the girth of his saddle.
"Put a bit in yer own mouth, Henri," cried another, as the Canadian
arranged his steed's bridle; "yell need it more than yer horse when ye
git 'mong the red reptiles."
"Vraiment, if mon mout' needs one bit, yours will need one padlock."
"Now, lads, mount!" cried Joe Blunt as he vaulted into the saddle.
Dick Varley sprang lightly on his horse, and Henri made a rush at his
steed and hurled his huge frame across its back with a violence that
ought to have brought it to the ground; but the tall, raw-boned,
broad-chested roan was accustomed to the eccentricities of its master,
and stood the shock bravely. Being appointed to lead the pack-horse,
Henri seized its halter. Then the three cavaliers shook their reins,
and, waving their hands to their comrades, they sprang into the woods
at full gallop, and laid their course for the "far west."
For some time they galloped side by side in silence, each occupied
with his own thoughts, Crusoe keeping close beside his master's horse.
The two elder hunters evidently ruminated on the object of their
mission and the prospects of success, for their countenances were
grave and their eyes cast on the ground. Dick Varley, too, thought
upon the Red-men, but his musings were deeply tinged with the bright
hues of a _first_ adventure. The mountains, the plains, the Indians,
the bears, the buffaloes, and a thousand other objects, danced wildly
before his mind's eye, and his blood careered through his veins and
flushed his forehead as he thought of what he should see and do, and
felt the elastic vigour of youth respond in sympathy to the light
spring of his active little steed. He was a lover of nature, too, and
his flashing eyes glanced observantly from side to side as they swept
along--sometimes through glades of forest trees, sometimes through
belts of more open ground and shrubbery; anon by the margin of a
stream or along the shores of a little lake, and often over short
stretches of flowering prairie-land--while the firm, elastic turf sent
up a muffled sound from the tramp of their mettlesome chargers. It was
a scene of wild, luxuriant beauty, that might almost (one could fancy)
have drawn involuntary homage to its bountiful Creator from the lips
even of an infidel.
After a time Joe Blunt reined up, and they proceeded at an easy
ambling pace. Joe and his friend Henri were so used to these beautiful
scenes that they had long ceased to be enthusiastically affected by
them, though they never ceased to delight in them.
"I hope," said Joe, "that them sodgers'll go their ways soon. I've no
notion o' them chaps when they're left at a place wi' nothin' to do
but whittle sticks."
"Why, Joe!" exclaimed Dick Varley in a tone of surprise, "I thought
you were admirin' the beautiful face o' nature all this time, and
ye're only thinkin' about the sodgers. Now, that's strange!"
"Not so strange after all, lad," answered Joe. "When a man's used to a
thing, he gits to admire an' enjoy it without speakin' much about it.
But it _is_ true, boy, that mankind gits in coorse o' time to think
little o' the blissin's he's used to."
"Oui, c'est _vrai_!" murmured Henri emphatically.
"Well, Joe Blunt, it may be so, but I'm thankful _I'm_ not used
to this sort o' thing yet," exclaimed Varley. "Let's have another
gallop--so ho! come along, Crusoe!" shouted the youth as he shook his
reins and flew over a long stretch of prairie on which at that moment
Joe smiled as he followed his enthusiastic companion, but after a
short run he pulled up.
"Hold on, youngster," he cried; "ye must larn to do as ye're bid, lad.
It's trouble enough to be among wild Injuns and wild buffaloes, as I
hope soon to be, without havin' wild comrades to look after."
Dick laughed, and reined in his panting horse. "I'll be as obedient as
Crusoe," he said, "and no one can beat him."
"Besides," continued Joe, "the horses won't travel far if we begin by
runnin' all the wind out o' them."
"Wah!" exclaimed Henri, as the led horse became restive; "I think we
must give to him de pack-hoss for to lead, eh?"
"Not a bad notion, Henri. We'll make that the penalty of runnin' off
again; so look out, Master Dick."
"I'm down," replied Dick, with a modest air, "obedient as a baby, and
won't run off again--till--the next time. By the way, Joe, how many
days' provisions did ye bring?"
"Two. That's 'nough to carry us to the Great Prairie, which is
three weeks distant from this. Our own good rifles must make up the
difference, and keep us when we get there."
"And s'pose we neither find deer nor buffalo," suggested Dick.
"I s'pose we'll have to starve."
"Dat is cumfer'able to tink upon," remarked Henri.
"More comfortable to think o' than to undergo," said Dick; "but I
s'pose there's little chance o' that."
"Well, not much," replied Joe Blunt, patting his horse's neck, "but
d'ye see, lad, ye niver can count for sartin on anythin'. The deer and
buffalo ought to be thick in them plains at this time--and when the
buffalo _are_ thick they covers the plains till ye can hardly see the
end o' them; but, ye see, sometimes the rascally Redskins takes it
into their heads to burn the prairies, and sometimes ye find the place
that should ha' bin black wi' buffalo, black as a coal wi' fire for
miles an' miles on end. At other times the Redskins go huntin' in
'ticlur places, and sweeps them clean o' every hoof that don't git
away. Sometimes, too, the animals seems to take a scunner at a place,
and keeps out o' the way. But one way or another men gin' rally manage
to scramble through."
"Look yonder, Joe," exclaimed Dick, pointing to the summit of a
distant ridge, where a small black object was seen moving against the
sky, "that's a deer, ain't it?"
Joe shaded his eyes with his hand, and gazed earnestly at the object
in question. "Ye're right, boy; and by good luck we've got the wind
of him. Cut in an' take your chance now. There's a long strip o' wood
as'll let ye git close to him."
Before the sentence was well finished Dick and Crusoe were off at full
gallop. For a few hundred yards they coursed along the bottom of a
hollow; then turning to the right they entered the strip of wood, and
in a few minutes gained the edge of it. Here Dick dismounted.
"You can't help me here, Crusoe. Stay where you are, pup, and hold my
Crusoe seized the end of the line, which was fastened to the horse's
nose, in his mouth, and lay down on a hillock of moss, submissively
placing his chin on his forepaws, and watching his master as he
stepped noiselessly through the wood. In a few minutes Dick emerged
from among the trees, and creeping from bush to bush, succeeded in
getting to within six hundred yards of the deer, which was a beautiful
little antelope. Beyond the bush behind which he now crouched all was
bare open ground, without a shrub or a hillock large enough to conceal
the hunter. There was a slight undulation in the ground, however,
which enabled him to advance about fifty yards farther, by means of
lying down quite flat and working himself forward like a serpent.
Farther than this he could not move without being seen by the
antelope, which browsed on the ridge before him in fancied security.
The distance was too great even for a long shot; but Dick knew of
a weak point in this little creature's nature which enabled him to
accomplish his purpose--a weak point which it shares in common with
animals of a higher order--namely, curiosity.
The little antelope of the North American prairies is intensely
curious about everything that it does not quite understand, and will
not rest satisfied until it has endeavoured to clear up the mystery.
Availing himself of this propensity, Dick did what both Indians and
hunters are accustomed to do on these occasions--he put a piece of
rag on the end of his ramrod, and keeping his person concealed and
perfectly still, waved this miniature flag in the air. The antelope
noticed it at once, and, pricking up its ears, began to advance,
timidly and slowly, step by step, to see what remarkable phenomenon
it could be. In a few seconds the flag was lowered, a sharp crack
followed, and the antelope fell dead upon the plain.
"Ha, boy! that's a good supper, anyhow," cried Joe, as he galloped up
"Goot! dat is better nor dried meat," added Henri. "Give him to me; I
will put him on my hoss, vich is strongar dan yourn. But ver is your
"He'll be here in a minute," replied Dick, putting his fingers to his
mouth and giving forth a shrill whistle.
The instant Crusoe heard the sound he made a savage and apparently
uncalled-for dash at the horse's heels. This wild act, so contrary to
the dog's gentle nature, was a mere piece of acting. He knew that the
horse would not advance without getting a fright, so he gave him one
in this way, which sent him off at a gallop. Crusoe followed close at
his heels, so as to bring the line alongside of the nag's body, and
thereby prevent its getting entangled; but despite his best efforts
the horse got on one side of a tree and he on the other, so he wisely
let go his hold of the line, and waited till more open ground enabled
him to catch it again. Then he hung heavily back, gradually checked
the horse's speed, and finally trotted him up to his master's side.
"'Tis a cliver cur, good sooth," exclaimed Joe Blunt in surprise.
"Ah, Joe! you haven't seen much of Crusoe yet. He's as good as a man
any day. I've done little else but train him for two years gone by,
and he can do most anything but shoot--he can't handle the rifle
"Ha! then, I tink perhaps hims could if he wos try," said Henri,
plunging on to his horse with a laugh, and arranging the carcass of
the antelope across the pommel of his saddle.
Thus they hunted and galloped, and trotted and ambled on through wood
and plain all day, until the sun began to descend below the tree-tops
of the bluffs on the west. Then Joe Blunt looked about him for a place
on which to camp, and finally fixed on a spot under the shadow of a
noble birch by the margin of a little stream. The carpet of grass on
its banks was soft like green velvet, and the rippling waters of the
brook were clear as crystal--very different from the muddy Missouri
into which it flowed.
While Dick Varley felled and cut up firewood, Henri unpacked the
horses and turned them loose to graze, and Joe kindled the fire and
prepared venison steaks and hot tea for supper.
In excursions of this kind it is customary to "hobble" the
horses--that is, to tie their fore-legs together, so that they cannot
run either fast or far, but are free enough to amble about with a
clumsy sort of hop in search of food. This is deemed a sufficient
check on their tendency to roam, although some of the knowing horses
sometimes learn to hop so fast with their hobbles as to give their
owners much trouble to recapture them. But when out in the prairies
where Indians are known or supposed to be in the neighbourhood, the
horses are picketed by means of a pin or stake attached to the ends
of their long lariats, as well as hobbled; for Indians deem it no
disgrace to steal or tell lies, though they think it disgraceful to
be found out in doing either. And so expert are these dark-skinned
natives of the western prairies, that they will creep into the midst
of an enemy's camp, cut the lariats and hobbles of several horses,
spring suddenly on their backs, and gallop away.
They not only steal from white men, but tribes that are at enmity
steal from each other, and the boldness with which they do this is
most remarkable. When Indians are travelling in a country where
enemies are prowling, they guard their camps at night with jealous
care. The horses in particular are both hobbled and picketed, and
sentries are posted all round the camp. Yet, in spite of these
precautions, hostile Indians manage to elude the sentries and creep
into the camp. When a thief thus succeeds in effecting an entrance,
his chief danger is past. He rises boldly to his feet, and wrapping
his blanket or buffalo robe round him, he walks up and down as if he
were a member of the tribe. At the same time he dexterously cuts the
lariats of such horses as he observes are not hobbled. He dare not
stoop to cut the hobbles, as the action would be observed, and
suspicion would be instantly aroused. He then leaps on the best horse
he can find, and uttering a terrific war-whoop darts away into the
plains, driving the loosened horses before him.
No such dark thieves were supposed to be near the camp under the
birch-tree, however, so Joe, and Dick, and Henri ate their supper in
comfort, and let their horses browse at will on the rich pasturage.
A bright ruddy fire was soon kindled, which created, as it were, a
little ball of light in the midst of surrounding darkness for the
special use of our hardy hunters. Within this magic circle all was
warm, comfortable, and cheery; outside all was dark, and cold, and
dreary by contrast.
When the substantial part of supper was disposed of, tea and pipes
were introduced, and conversation began to flow. Then the three
saddles were placed in a row; each hunter wrapped himself in his
blanket, and pillowing his head on his saddle, stretched his feet
towards the fire and went to sleep, with his loaded rifle by his side
and his hunting-knife handy in his belt. Crusoe mounted guard by
stretching himself out _couchant_ at Dick Varley's side. The faithful
dog slept lightly, and never moved all night; but had any one observed
him closely he would have seen that every fitful flame that burst from
the sinking fire, every unusual puff of wind, and every motion of the
horses that fed or rested hard by, had the effect of revealing a speck
of glittering white in Crusoe's watchful eye.
_The great prairies of the far west_--_A remarkable colony discovered,
and a miserable night endured_.
Of all the hours of the night or day the hour that succeeds the dawn
is the purest, the most joyous, and the best. At least so think we,
and so think hundreds and thousands of the human family. And so
thought Dick Varley, as he sprang suddenly into a sitting posture next
morning, and threw his arms with an exulting feeling of delight round
the neck of Crusoe, who instantly sat up to greet him.
This was an unusual piece of enthusiasm on the part of Dick; but the
dog received it with marked satisfaction, rubbed his big hairy cheek
against that of his young master, and arose from his sedentary
position in order to afford free scope for the use of his tail.
"Ho! Joe Blunt! Henri! Up, boys, up! The sun will have the start o'
us. I'll catch the nags."
So saying Dick bounded away into the woods, with Crusoe gambolling
joyously at his heels. Dick soon caught his own horse, and Crusoe
caught Joe's. Then the former mounted and quickly brought in the other
Returning to the camp he found everything packed and ready to strap on
the back of the pack-horse. "That's the way to do it, lad," cried Joe.
"Here, Henri, look alive and git yer beast ready. I do believe ye're
goin' to take another snooze!"
Henri was indeed, at that moment, indulging in a gigantic stretch and
a cavernous yawn; but he finished both hastily, and rushed at his poor
horse as if he intended to slay it on the spot. He only threw the
saddle on its back, however, and then threw himself on the saddle.
"Now then, all ready?"
And away they went at full stretch again on their journey.
Thus day after day they travelled, and night after night they laid
them down to sleep under the trees of the forest, until at length they
reached the edge of the Great Prairie.
It was a great, a memorable day in the life of Dick Varley, that on
which he first beheld the prairie--the vast boundless prairie. He had
heard of it, talked of it, dreamed about it, but he had never--no, he
had never realized it. 'Tis always thus. Our conceptions of things
that we have not seen are almost invariably wrong. Dick's eyes
glittered, and his heart swelled, and his cheeks flushed, and his
breath came thick and quick.
"There it is," he gasped, as the great rolling plain broke suddenly on
his enraptured gaze; "that's it--oh!--"
Dick uttered a yell that would have done credit to the fiercest chief
of the Pawnees, and being unable to utter another word, he swung his
cap in the air and sprang like an arrow from a bow over the mighty
ocean of grass. The sun had just risen to send a flood of golden glory
over the scene, the horses were fresh, so the elder hunters, gladdened
by the beauty of all around them, and inspired by the irresistible
enthusiasm of their young companion, gave the reins to the horses and
flew after him. It was a glorious gallop, that first headlong dash
over the boundless prairie of the "far west."
The prairies have often been compared, most justly, to the ocean.
There is the same wide circle of space bounded on all sides by the
horizon; there is the same swell, or undulation, or succession of long
low unbroken waves that marks the ocean when it is calm; they are
canopied by the same pure sky, and swept by the same untrammelled
breezes. There are islands, too--clumps of trees and
willow-bushes--which rise out of this grassy ocean to break and
relieve its uniformity; and these vary in size and numbers as do the
isles of ocean, being numerous in some places, while in others they
are so scarce that the traveller does not meet one in a long day's
journey. Thousands of beautiful flowers decked the greensward, and
numbers of little birds hopped about among them.
"Now, lads," said Joe Blunt, reining up, "our troubles begin to-day."
"Our troubles?--our joys, you mean!" exclaimed Dick Varley.
"P'r'aps I don't mean nothin' o' the sort," retorted Joe. "Man wos
never intended to swaller his joys without a strong mixtur' o'
troubles. I s'pose he couldn't stand 'em pure. Ye see we've got to the
"One blind hoss might see dat!" interrupted Henri.
"An' we may or may not diskiver buffalo. An' water's scarce, too, so
we'll need to look out for it pretty sharp, I guess, else we'll lose
our horses, in which case we may as well give out at once. Besides,
there's rattlesnakes about in sandy places, we'll ha' to look out for
them; an' there's badger holes, we'll need to look sharp for them lest
the horses put their feet in 'em; an' there's Injuns, who'll look out
pretty sharp for _us_ if they once get wind that we're in them parts."
"Oui, yis, mes boys; and there's rain, and tunder, and lightin',"
added Henri, pointing to a dark cloud which was seen rising on the
horizon ahead of them.
"It'll be rain," remarked Joe; "but there's no thunder in the air jist
now. We'll make for yonder clump o' bushes and lay by till it's past."
Turning a little to the right of the course they had been following,
the hunters galloped along one of the hollows between the prairie
waves before mentioned, in the direction of a clump of willows. Before
reaching it, however, they passed over a bleak and barren plain where
there was neither flower nor bird. Here they were suddenly arrested by
a most extraordinary sight--at least it was so to Dick Varley, who
had never seen the like before. This was a colony of what Joe called
"prairie-dogs." On first beholding them Crusoe uttered a sort of half
growl, half bark of surprise, cocked his tail and ears, and instantly
prepared to charge; but he glanced up at his master first for
permission. Observing that his finger and his look commanded
"silence," he dropped his tail at once and stepped to the rear. He did
not, however, cease to regard the prairie-dogs with intense curiosity.
These remarkable little creatures have been egregiously misnamed by
the hunters of the west, for they bear not the slightest resemblance
to dogs, either in formation or habits. They are, in fact, the marmot,
and in size are little larger than squirrels, which animals they
resemble in some degree. They burrow under the light soil, and throw
it up in mounds like moles.
Thousands of them were running about among their dwellings when Dick
first beheld them; but the moment they caught sight of the
horsemen rising over the ridge they set up a tremendous hubbub of
consternation. Each little beast instantly mounted guard on the top of
his house, and prepared, as it were, "to receive cavalry."
The most ludicrous thing about them was that, although the most timid
and cowardly creatures in the world, they seemed the most impertinent
things that ever lived! Knowing that their holes afforded them a
perfectly safe retreat, they sat close beside them; and as the hunters
slowly approached, they elevated their heads, wagged their little
tails, showed their teeth, and chattered at them like monkeys. The
nearer they came the more angry and furious did the prairie-dogs
become, until Dick Varley almost fell off his horse with suppressed
laughter. They let the hunters come close up, waxing louder and louder
in their wrath; but the instant a hand was raised to throw a stone or
point a gun, a thousand little heads dived into a thousand holes, and
a thousand little tails wriggled for an instant in the air--then a
dead silence reigned over the deserted scene.
"Bien, them's have dive into de bo'-els of de eart'," said Henri with
a broad grin.
Presently a thousand noses appeared, and nervously disappeared, like
the wink of an eye. Then they appeared again, and a thousand pair of
eyes followed. Instantly, like Jack in the box, they were all on the
top of their hillocks again, chattering and wagging their little tails
as vigorously as ever. You could not say that you _saw_ them jump out
of their holes. Suddenly, as if by magic, they _were_ out; then Dick
tossed up his arms, and suddenly, as if by magic, they were gone!
Their number was incredible, and their cities were full of riotous
activity. What their occupations were the hunters could not ascertain,
but it was perfectly evident that they visited a great deal and
gossiped tremendously, for they ran about from house to house, and sat
chatting in groups; but it was also observed that they never went far
from their own houses. Each seemed to have a circle of acquaintance in
the immediate neighbourhood of his own residence, to which in case of
sudden danger he always fled.
But another thing about these prairie-dogs (perhaps, considering their
size, we should call them prairie-doggies), another thing about them,
we say, was that each doggie lived with an owl, or, more correctly, an
owl lived with each doggie! This is such an extraordinary _fact_ that
we could scarce hope that men would believe us, were our statement not
supported by dozens of trustworthy travellers who have visited and
written about these regions. The whole plain was covered with these
owls. Each hole seemed to be the residence of an owl and a doggie,
and these incongruous couples lived together apparently in perfect
We have not been able to ascertain from travellers _why_ the owls have
gone to live with these doggies, so we beg humbly to offer our own
private opinion to the reader. We assume, then, that owls find it
absolutely needful to have holes. Probably prairie-owls cannot dig
holes for themselves. Having discovered, however, a race of little
creatures that could, they very likely determined to take forcible
possession of the holes made by them. Finding, no doubt, that when
they did so the doggies were too timid to object, and discovering,
moreover, that they were sweet, innocent little creatures, the
owls resolved to take them into partnership, and so the thing was
settled--that's how it came about, no doubt of it!
There is a report that rattlesnakes live in these holes also; but we
cannot certify our reader of the truth of this. Still it is well to
be acquainted with a report that is current among the men of the
backwoods. If it be true, we are of opinion that the doggie's family
is the most miscellaneous and remarkable on the face of--or, as Henri
said, in the bo'-els of the earth.
Dick and his friends were so deeply absorbed in watching these curious
little creatures that they did not observe the rapid spread of the
black clouds over the sky. A few heavy drops of rain now warned them
to seek shelter, so wheeling round they dashed off at full speed for
the clump of willows, which they gained just as the rain began to
descend in torrents.
"Now, lads, do it slick. Off packs and saddles," cried Joe Blunt,
jumping from his horse. "I'll make a hut for ye, right off."
"A hut, Joe! what sort o' hut can ye make here?" inquired Dick.
"Ye'll see, boy, in a minute."
"Ach! lend me a hand here, Dick; de bockle am tight as de hoss's own
skin. Ah! dere all right."
"Hallo! what's this?" exclaimed Dick, as Crusoe advanced with
something in his mouth. "I declare, it's a bird o' some sort."
"A prairie-hen," remarked Joe, as Crusoe laid the bird at Dick's feet;
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