Had anything human been on the other side to see me - to seehow brave I was, (alas! poor human nature!) - I could haveplucked up heart to risk it. It would have been such acomfort to have some one to see me drown! But it isdifficult to play the hero with no spectators save oneself.
I shall always have a fellow-feeling with the Last Man:
practically, my position was about as uncomfortable as hiswill be.
One of the worst features of it was, what we so oftensuffered from before - the inaccessibility of water. The sunwas broiling, and the and soil reflected its scorching rays.
I was feverish from exhaustion, and there was nothing,nothing to look forward to. Mile after mile I crawled along,sometimes half disposed to turn back, and try the deep butnarrow passage; then that inexhaustible fountain of lasthopes - the Unknown - tempted me to go forward. Ipersevered; when behold! as I passed a rock, an Indian stoodbefore me.
He was as naked as I was. Over his shoulder he carried aspear as long as a salmon rod. Though neither had foreseenthe other, he was absolutely unmoved, showed no surprise, nocuriosity, no concern. He stood still, and let me come up tohim. My only, or rather my uppermost, feeling was gladness.
Of course the thought crossed me of what he might do if heowed the white skins a grudge. If any white man had everharmed one of his tribe, I was at his mercy; and it wascertain that he would show me none. He was a tall powerfulman, and in my then condition he could have done what hepleased with me. Friday was my model; the red man wasRobinson Crusoe. I kneeled at his feet, and touched theground with my forehead. He did not seem the least elated bymy humility: there was not a spark of vanity in him.
Indeed, except for its hideousness and brutality, his facewas without expression.
I now proceeded to make a drawing, with my finger, in thesand, of a mule in the water; while I imitated by pantomimethe struggles of the drowning. I then pointed to myself;and, using my arms as in swimming, shook my head and myfinger to signify that I could not swim. I worked animaginary paddle, and made him understand that I wanted himto paddle me across the river. Still he remained unmoved;till finally I used one argument which interested him morethan all the rest of my story. I untied a part of the shirtround one foot and showed him three gold studs. These I tookout and gave to him. I also made a drawing of a rifle in thesand, and signified that he would get the like if he wentwith me to my camp. Whereupon he turned in the direction Iwas going; and, though unbidden by a look, I did not hesitateto follow.
I thought I must have dropped before we reached his village.
This was an osier-bed at the water's side, where the wholeriver rushed through a rocky gorge not more than fifty tosixty yards broad. There were perhaps nearly a hundredIndians here, two-thirds of whom were women and children.
Their habitations were formed by interlacing the tops of theosiers. Dogs' skins spread upon the ground and numeroussalmon spears were their only furniture. In a few minutes myarrival created a prodigious commotion. The whole populationturned out to stare at me. The children ran into the bushesto hide. But feminine curiosity conquered feminine timidity.