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DESCRIPTION OF A HERD OF BISONS.
"THERE come the buffaloes themselves, and a noble herd it is."
Every eye was now drawn to the striking spectacle that succeeded. A few enormous bison bulls were first discovered scouring along the most distant roll of the prairie, and then succeeded long files of single beasts, which, in their turns, were followed by a dark mass of bodies, until the dun colored herbage of the plain was entirely lost in the deeper hue of their shaggy coats. The herd, as the column spread and thickened, was like the endless flocks of the smaller birds, whose extended flanks are so often seen to heave up out of the abyss of the heavens, until they appear as countless as the leaves in those forests over which they wing their endless flight. Clouds of dust shot up in little columns from the centre of the mass, as some animal more furious than the rest ploughed the plain with his horns, and, from time to time, a deep, hollow bellowing was borne along on the wind, as though a thousand throats vented their plaints in a discordant murmuring.
A long and musing silence reigned in the party, as they gazed on this spectacle of wild and peculiar grandeur. It was at length broken by the trapper, who, having been long accustomed to similar sights, felt less of its influence, or rather felt it in a less thrilling and absorbing manner, than those to whom the scene
was more novel. "There," said he, "go ten thousand oxen in one drove, without keeper or master, except Him who made them, and gave them these open plains for their pasture! But the herd is heading a little this way, and it behooves us to make ready for their visit. If we hide ourselves, altogether, the horned brutes will break through the place, and trample us beneath their feet, like so many creeping worms; so we will just put the weak ones apart, and take post, as becomes men and hunters, in the van." As there was but little time to make the necessary arrangements, the whole party set about them in good earnest.
By the vascillating movements of some fifty or a hundred bulls, that led the advance, it remained questionable, for many moments, what course they intended to pursue. But a tremendous and painful roar, which came from behind the cloud of dust that rose in the centre of the herd, and which was horridly answered by the screams of carrion birds, that were greedily sailing directly above the flying drove, appeared to give a new impulse to their flight, and at once to remove every symptom of indecision. As if glad to seek the smallest signs of the forest, the whole of the affrighted herd became steady in its direction, rushing in a straight line toward the little cover of bushes, which has already been so often named.
The appearance of danger was now, in reality, of a character to try the stoutest nervés. The flanks of the dark, moving mass, were advanced in such a manner as to make a concave line of the front, and every fierce eye, that was glaring from the shaggy wilderness of hair, in which the entire heads of the males were
enveloped, was riveted with mad anxiety on the thicket. It seemed as if each beast strove to outstrip his neighbor in gaining this desired cover, and as thousands in the rear pressed blindly on those in front, there was the appearance of an imminent risk that the leaders of the herd would be precipitated on the concealed party, in which case the destruction of every one of them was certain. Each of our adventurers felt the danger of his situation in a manner peculiar to his individual character and circumstances.
The old man, who had stood all this while leaning on his rifle, and regarding the movements of the herd with a steady eye, now deemed it time to strike his blow. Leveling his piece at the foremost bull, with an agility that would have done credit to his youth, he fired. The animal received the bullet on the matted hair between his horns, and fell to his knees; but, shaking his head, he instantly arose, the very shock seeming to increase his exertions. There was now no longer time to hesitate. Throwing down his rifle, the trapper stretched forth his arms, and advanced from the cover with naked hands, directly towards the rushing column of the beasts.
The figure of a man, when sustained by the firmness and steadiness that intellect can only impart, rarely fails of commanding respect from all the inferior animals of the creation. The leading bulls recoiled, and, for a single instant, there was a sudden stop to their speed, a dense mass of bodies rolling up in front, until hundreds were seen floundering and tumbling on the plain. Then came another of those hollow bellowings from the rear, and set the herd again in motion. The
head of the column, however, divided; the immovable form of the trapper cutting it, as it were, into two gliding streams of life. Middleton and Paul instantly profited by his example, and extended the feeble barrier by a similar exhibition of their own persons.
For a few moments, the new impulse given to the animals in front served to protect the thicket. But, as the body of the herd pressed more and more upon the open line of its defenders, and the dust thickened so as to obscure their persons, there was, at each instant, a renewed danger of the beasts breaking through. It became necessary for the trapper and his companions to become still more and more alert; and they were gradually yielding before the headlong multitude, when a furious bull darted by Middleton, so near as to brush his person, and, at the next instant, swept through the thicket with the velocity of the wind.
All their efforts would have proved fruitless, however, against the living torrent, had not Asinus, whose domains had just been so rudely entered, lifted his voice in the midst of the uproar. The most sturdy and furious of the bulls trembled at the alarming and unknown cry, and then each individual brute was seen madly pressing from that very thicket, which, the moment before, he had endeavored to reach with the same sort of eagerness as that with which the murderer seeks the sanctuary.
As the stream divided, the place became clear; the two dark columns moving obliquely from the copse to unite again at the distance of a mile on its opposite side. The instant the old man saw the sudden effect which the voice of Asinus had produced, he coolly
commenced reloading his rifle, indulging, at the same time, in a most heartfelt fit of his silent and peculiar merriment.
The uproar which attended the passage of the herd, was now gone, or rather it was heard rolling along the prairie, at the distance of a mile. The clouds of dust were already blown away by the wind, and a clear range was left to the eye, in that place where, ten minutes before, there existed such a strange scene of wildness and confusion.
THE VILLAGER'S WINTER EVENING SONG.
Nor a leaf on the tree, not a bud in the hollow, Where late swung the blue-bell, and blossomed the rose ; And hushed is the cry of the swift-darting swallow, That circled the lake in the twilight's dim close.
Gone, gone are the woodbine and sweet-scented brier, That bloomed o'er the hillock and gladdened the vale; And the vine that uplifted its green pointed spire, Hangs drooping and sere on the frost covered pale.
And hark to the gush of the deep welling fountain, That prattled and shone in the light of the moon; Soon, soon shall its rushing be still on the mountain, And locked up in silence its frolicsome tune.