How the Runaways Got Into Trouble
Excerpt from: The Bear Hunter’s Son
Hobble-Frank, Fat Jemmy and Long Davy, Martin Bauman and his Mandan friend Wohkadeh take matters into their own hands, and sneak out of camp at night, against Old Shatterhand’s advice. They travel through the ancient landscape of Yellowstone, towards the region with the geysers ..
The volcanic river banks rise torn and jagged, washed by the rain, and form shapes no amount of fantasy could create. The onlooker believes that he sees the ruins of an old fortress. He is able to see the empty window openings, the turret, and the spot where the drawbridge once spanned the moat. Not far from it rise slim minarets. One imagines the muezzin would step out onto the platform at any moment, and call the believers to prayer. Opposite, a Roman amphitheatre opens up in which Christian slaves had once been fighting wild animals. Next to it, a Chinese pagoda rises freely and daringly into the air, and further down the river stands a thirty or forty metres tall animal figure, massive and indestructible, as if it had been built to the gods of a prehistoric culture.
Yet all of that is but deception. The volcanic eruptions furnished the mass that the water sculpted into figures. And someone who gazes upon the products of such elemental powers feels like a microscopic worm in the dust, and has forgotten all pride that hitherto possessed him.
Jemmy, Davy and Martin Baumann fared no better when they followed the course of the river in the morning. They didn’t tire of voicing their admiration. It was impossible to say what Wohkadeh was feeling and thinking; he didn’t comment.
Of course, good old Hobble-Frank used the opportunity to let his scientific light shine; but he found no willing listener in Jemmy that day, because his fat friend had concentrated all of his senses into his eyes, and in the end, he gave the limping Saxon short shrift with an angry request to shut up.
“Very well then!” the erstwhile forestry warden replied. “Wat good does gazing at these wonders do to humanity if it refuses to have them explained? The great poet Gellert is quite correct when he says: ‘Wat’s nutmeg to a cow?’ I will therefore also keep my nutmeg and my pearls to myself. One might have been through high school, yet undershtands nothing about the Yellowstone. I, however, will wash my hands of it henceforth. At least I know where I shtand!”
Where the river described a fairly wide bend west, numerous hot springs emerged that combined their waters to a sizeable rivulet, which emptied into the Yellowstone. It seemed as though the riders were no longer able to move along the banks of the latter from there on, and thus the five men turned left, to follow the hot rivulet.
There was no tree or bush. All vegetation had died. The hot liquid looked dirty, and smelt like rotten eggs. It was barely tolerable. The situation didn’t improve until the riders reached elevated ground after an arduous ride of several hours. Up there was clear, fresh water; soon, bushes came into view, and trees a little later on.
There was no real path, of course. The horses often needed to work their way across long stretches covered with boulders that looked as if a mountain had crashed from the sky, and broke into a mess of small pieces.
The rubble oftentimes attained wondrous shapes, and the five riders stopped occasionally to exchange their opinions about them. Time passed over that, and it was already noon when they had covered about half of their way.
At that point the riders saw a fairly large house in the distance. It seemed to have been built in the style of an old Italian villa, framed by a garden, and surrounded by a tall rock wall. They stopped in astonishment.
“A residence, here, on the Yellowstone! That’s impossible!” Jemmy said.
“Why would dat be impossible?” Frank replied. “If there is a hostis on the Saint Bernard pass, then someone might just have built one here, too. Dat possibility exists everywhere.”
“That’s hospice, not hostis,” Jemmy said.
“Are you getting started on me again? You didn’t want to profit from my knowledge before, and now you ought not peddle your dubious wisdom on me, either! Have you ever been on the Saint Bernhard pass?”
“Then be quietly silent! Only those who dwell up there can talk about dat. But, have a closer look at the house! Isn’t there someone standing right there in front of the gate?”
“Indeed. At least it seemed that way. He’s gone now. It might have been only a shadow.”
“So? You’re once again embarrassing yourself with your optical allusions. Where there is a human shadow, there must also be a human who threw dat shadow. Dat would be the famous theory of Pythagoras’s hypothesis on the two triangles. And if the shadow is gone, then either the sun or the one who threw the shadow has vanished. The sun is still here, therefore the fellow’s gone. We will soon find out where to.”
They hastily approached the building, and of course noticed that it hadn’t been built by human hands, and that it was instead a work of nature. What they had seen as walls, turned out to be white feldspar. Several gaps could easily be mistaken for the openings of windows from a distance. There was even a broad, tall gate opening. When the men looked through it, they saw a kind of large courtyard, which had been divided into spaces of varying sizes by natural rock formations. A spring bubbled up from the Earth in the middle of the yard, and sent its clear, cool water straight out of the gate.
“Wonderful!” Jemmy exclaimed. “This place is mightily suited for a midday rest. Shall we go inside?”
“I’m all for it,” Frank replied. “But we don’t know yet whether the fellow who lives in there is perhaps an evil person.”
“Pshaw! We were mistaken; there’s no one about. But I shall do some unnecessary reconnoitring.”
He slowly rode through the gate, holding his gun ready to shoot, and looked around the yard. Then he turned around to the others and gave them a wave.
“Come inside! There’s not a single soul here.”
“I would hope so,” Frank said. “I’m not fond of dealing with departed souls who maintain a spectral existence on Earth.”
Davy, Martin and Frank obeyed Jemmy’s invitation. But Wohkadeh maintained his cautious reluctance and stayed outside.
“Why is my red brother not coming?” the son of the bear hunter asked.
The Indian pensively sucked the air through his nose and replied:
“Can my brothers not notice that it very much smells of horses here?”
“Of course there must be a horse smell. We’ve brought ours here.”
“The smell came out of the gate when we stopped outside.”
“There is neither a man nor a beast to see here, and not even a trace of either.”
“Because the ground is made from solid rock. My brothers must be careful.”
“There is no reason for any concern,” Jemmy explained. “Come, let’s have a look around further back as well.”
Instead of letting him do that on his own, and thus keeping their retreat open, they were following him to the furthest rock niche, riding in a tight bunch.
And suddenly, an unexpected chorus of howls erupted as if the Earth were quaking. A very significant number of Indians broke out of the background, and in no time at all, the four careless men were surrounded.