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A NARROW ESCAPE.
which appears to them only of the size of a man's hand. The silence of death is rendered more impressives by the little stream that falls from rock to rock down the channel. The sun is darkened, and the boys have uncovered their heads, as if standing in the presence-chamber of the Majesty of the whole earth. At last this feeling begins to wear away; they look around them; and find that others have been there before them. They see the names of hundreds cut in the limestone butments. A new feeling comes over their young hearts, and their knives are in their hands in an instant. "What man has done, man can do," is their watchword, while they draw themselves up, and carve their names a foot above those of a hundred full-grown men who have been there before
They are all satisfied with this feat of physical exertion, except one, whose example illustrates perfectly the forgotten truth, that there is "no royal road to learning." This ambitious7 youth sees a name just above his reach-a name which will be green in the memory of the world when those of Alexander, Cæsar, and Bonaparte, shall rot in oblivion.8 It was the name of Washington. Before he marched with Braddock to that fatal field, he had been there and left his name, a foot above any of his predecessors. It was a glorious thought to write his name side by side with that great father of his country. He grasps his knife with a firmer hand, and clinging to a little jutting crag, he cuts a gain10 into the limestone, about a foot above where he stands; he then reaches up and cuts another for his hands. "Tis a dangerous adventure; but as he puts his feet and hands into those gains, and draws himself up carefully to his full length, he finds himself a foot above every name chronicled" in that mighty wall. While his companions are regarding him with concern and admiration, he cuts his name in wide capitals, large and deep, into that flinty album.12 His knife
is still in his hand, and strength in his sinews, and a new-created aspiration in his heart. Again he cuts another niche,13 and again
he carves his name in larger capitals. This is not enough; heedless of the entreaties of his companions, he cuts and climbs again. The gradations of his ascending scale's grow wider apart. He measures his length at every gain he cuts. The voices of his friends wax weaker and weaker, till their words are finally lost on his ear. He now for the first time casts a look beneath him.
Had that glance lasted a moment, that moment would have been his last. He clings with a convulsive shudder to his little niche in the rock. An awful abyss16 awaits his almost certain fall. He is faint with severe exertion, and trembling from the sudden view of the dreadful destruction to which he is exposed. His knife is worn half-way to the haft. He can hear the voices, but not the words, of his terror-stricken companions below. What a moment! what a meagre chance to escape destruction! there is no retracing his
steps.17 It is impossible to put his hands into the same niche with his feet, and retain his slender hold a moment. His companions instantly perceive this new and fearful dilemma,18 and await his fall with emotions that "freeze their young blood." He is too high to ask for his father and mother, his brothers and sisters, to come and witness or avert 19 his destruction. But one of his companions anticipates20 his desire. Swift as the wind, he bounds down the channel, and the situation of the fated boy is told upon his father's hearthstone.
Minutes of almost eternal length roll on, and there are hundreds
standing in that rocky channel, and hundreds on the bridge above, all holding their breath, and awaiting the fearful catastrophe.21 The poor boy hears the hum of new and numerous voices
both above and below. He can just distinguish the tones of his father, who is shouting with all the energy of despair,-" William! William! Don't look down! Your mother, and Henry, and Harriet, are all here praying for you! Don't look down! Keep your eye towards the top!" The boy didn't look down. His eye is fixed like a flint towards heaven, and his young_heart on Him who reigns there. He grasps again his knife. He cuts another niche, and another foot is added to the hundreds that remove him from the reach of human help from below. How carefully he uses his wasting blade! How anxiously he selects the softest places in that vast pier! How he avoids every flinty grain! How he economizes his physical powers, 22 resting a moment at each gain he cuts. How every motion is watched from below! There stand his father, mother, brother, and sister, on the very spot, where if he falls, he will not fall alone.
The sun is half-way down in the west. The lad has made fifty additional niches in that mighty wall, and now finds himself directly under the middle of that vast arch of rock, earth, and trees. He must cut his way in a new direction, to get from this overhanging mountain. The inspiration of hope is in his bosom; its vital heat is fed by the increasing shouts of hundreds perched upon cliffs and trees, and of others who stand with ropes in their hands upon the bridge above, or with ladders below. Fifty more gains must be cut before the longest rope can reach him. His wasting blade strikes again into the limestone. The boy is emerging24 painfully foot by foot, from under that lofty arch. Spliced ropes are in the hands of those who are leaning over the outer edge of the bridge. Two minutes more, and all will be over. That blade is worn to the last half-inch. The boy's head reels; his eyes. are starting from their sockets. His last hope is dying in his heart, his life must hang upon the next gain he cuts. That niche is his last. At the last flint gash he makes, his knife-his faithful knife-falls from his little nerveless hand, and, ringing along the precipice, falls at his mother's feet. An involuntary groan of
THE PRAIRIE ON FIRE.
despair runs like a death-knell through the channel below, and all is still as the grave. At a height of nearly three hundred feet, the devoted boy lifts his hopeless heart and closing eyes to commend his soul to God. 'Tis but a moment-there! one foot swings off!-he is reeling-trembling-toppling over into eternity. Hark! a shout falls on his ears from above! The man who is lying with half his length over the bridge, has caught a glimpse of the boy's head and shoulders. Quick as thought, the noosed rope is within reach of the sinking youth. No one breathes. With a faint convulsive effort, the swooning boy drops his arm into the noose. Darkness comes over him, and with the words "God!". and "mother!" whispered on his lips just loud enough to be heard in heaven-the tightening rope lifts him out of his last shallow niche. Not a lip moves while he is dangling over that fearful abyss; but when a sturdy Virginian reaches down and draws up the lad, and holds him up in his arms before the tearful, breathless multitude-such shouting! and such leaping and weeping for joy, never greeted a human being so recovered from the yawning gulf of eternity. E. BURRITT.
MEANINGS: 1. Butments, pillars of rock on which the bridge rests. 2. Spanning, reaching from one side to the other. 3. Piers, the pieces of rock that support the arches of a bridge. 4. Key, the middle stone of an arch is called the keystone. 5. Impressive, striking. 6. Illustrates, shows. 7. Ambitious, anxious to gain a higher place. 8. Rot in oblivion, be forgotten. 9. Predecessors, those who had been there before him. 10. Gain, a hole to put his hands or feet in. 11. Chronicled, carved. 12. Album, a book for holding people's names or portraits. 13. Niche, hole. 14. Gradations, steps. 15. Ascending scale, the ladder cut by himself in the rock up which he climbs. 16. Abyss, deep gulf. 17. Retracing his steps, going down by the same way. 18. Dilemma, double difficulty. 19. Avert, prevent. 20. Anticipates, foresees. 21. Catastrophe, end-the boy's fall. 22. Economizes his physical powers, saves his strength as much as he can. 23. Vital, life-giving. 24. Emerging, coming out.
THE PRAIRIE ON FIRE.
THE sleep of the fugitives lasted for several hours. The trapper, who had been the first to go to sleep, was the first to wake. As soon as the sun began to rise, he summoned his companions from their warm lairs,3 and pointed out the necessity of their being once more on the alert.4
"See, Middleton !" exclaimed Inez, in a sudden burst of youthful pleasure, that caused her for a moment to forget their situation, how lovely is that sky! Surely it contains a promise of happier
"It is glorious !" returned her husband. “Glorious and heavenly is that streak of vivid red; and here is a still brighter crimson. Rarely have I seen a richer rising of the sun."
Rising of the sun!" slowly repeated the old man, lifting his tall person from its seat with a deliberate and abstracted air, while he kept his eye riveted on the changing and certainly beautiful tints that were garnishing the vault of heaven. Rising of the sun!I like not such risings of the sun.-Ah's me! the Indians have circumvented us. THE PRAIRIE IS ON FIRE!"
Oh, dreadful!" cried Middleton, clutching Inez by the arm. "There is no time to lose, old man; each instant is a day. Let us fly!"
"Whither?" demanded the trapper, motioning him, with calmness and dignity, to arrest his steps.7 "In this wilderness of grass and reeds, we are like a vessel in the broad lakes without a compass. A single step on the wrong course might prove the destruction of us all. It is seldom danger is so pressing that there is not time enough for reason to do its work, young officer; therefore, let us await its biddings."
"For my part," said Paul Hover, looking about him with an unequivocal expression of concern,8 I acknowledge, that should this dry bed of weeds get fairly in a flame, a bee would have to make a flight higher than common to prevent his wings from being scorched. Therefore, old trapper, I agree with the captain, and say, MOUNT and RUN!"
"Ye are wrong-ye are wrong;-man is not a beast, to follow the gift of instinct, and to snuff up his knowledge by a taint in the air or a rumbling in the ground; but he must see, and reason, and then conclude. So, follow me a little to the left, where there is a rising in the ground whence we may make our reconnoitrings.10
The old man waved his hand with authority, and led the way, without further parlance," to the spot he had indicated; 12 followed by the whole of his alarmed companions. An eye less practised than that of the trapper might have failed in discovering the gentle elevation 13 of which he spoke; and which looked on the surface of the meadow like a growth a little taller than common.
When they reached the place, however, the stunted11 grass itself announced the absence of that moisture which had fed the rank 15 weeds of most of the plain, and furnished a clue to the evidence by which he had judged of the formation of the ground hidden beneath. Here a few minutes were lost in breaking down the tops of the surrounding herbage-which, notwithstanding the advantage of their position, rose even above the heads of Middleton and Pauland in obtaining a look-out that might command a view of the surrounding sea of fire.
They saw huge columns of smoke rolling up from the plain, and thickening in gloomy masses around the horizon.1 16 The red glow which gleamed upon the enormous folds, now lighting the volumes 17 with the glare of the conflagration,18 now flashed to another point, as the flame beneath glided ahead, leaving all behind enveloped 19
THE PRAIRIE ON FIRE.
in awful darkness, and proclaiming louder than words the character of the imminent 20 and rapidly approaching danger.
The naturalist 21 stood, tablets in 22 in hand, looking at the awful spectacle with as much composure 23 as though the conflagration had been lighted in order to solve the difficulties of some scientific problem.
"It is time to be doing," cried Middleton; "the flames are within a quarter of a mile of us, and the wind is bringing them down in this direction with dreadful rapidity."
"Anan! the flames! I care but little for the flames! If I only knew how to circumvent the cunning of the Indians as I know how to cheat the fire of its prey, there would be nothing needed but thanks to the Lord for our deliverance. Do you call this a'FIRE'? If you had seen what I have witnessed in the eastern hills, when mighty mountains were like the furnace of a smith, you would have known what it was to fear the flames, and to be thankful that you were spared. Come, lads, come; 'tis time to be doing now, and to cease talking; for yonder curling flame is truly coming on like a trotting moose. Put hands upon this short and withered grass where we stand, and lay bare the 'arth."
The fire seized with avidity 25 upon its new fuel, and in a moment, forked flames were gliding among the grass, as the tongues of ruminating animals 26 are seen rolling among their food, apparently in quest27 of its sweetest portions.
"Now," said the old man, holding up a finger, and laughing in his peculiarly silent manner, "you shall see fire fight fire. Ah's me! many is the time I have burned a path from sheer laziness to pick my way across a tangled dell." "But is not this fatal ?" cried the amazed Middleton; 66 are you not bringing the enemy nigher to us, instead of avoiding it?”
'Do you scorch so easily? Your grandfather had a tougher skin. But we shall live to see, we shall ALL live to see. The experience of the trapper was in the right. As the fire gained strength and heat, it began to spread on three sides, dying of itself on the fourth for want of aliment.28 As it increased, and the sullen roaring announced its power, it cleared everything before it, leaving the black and smoking soil far more naked than if the scythe had swept the place. The situation of the fugitives would still have been hazardous, 29 had not the area 30 enlarged as the flame encircled 31 them. But, by advancing to the spot where the trapper had kindled the grass, they avoided the heat; and in a few moments the flames began to recede 32 in every direction, leaving them enveloped in a cloud of smoke, but perfectly safe from the torrent of fire that was still furiously rolling onward.
"Most wonderful!" said Middleton, when he saw the complete success of the means by which they had been saved from a danger that he had thought to be unavoidable. "The thought was a gift from Heaven."