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The views from the hill tops near Wellington are very beautiful, extending over many a mile of sea and mountain, valley and forest, till the distance is closed up by the snow-capped range of the Tararua mountains, their peaks glittering in the brilliant sunshine. The small settlements near Wellington look cheerful and thriving, and have a green and pleasant effect after the sombre color of the forest, reminding one of the green sward of “Old England.”
There is certainly some charm in this country that makes one like it, in spite of the discomforts one endures; and I can only account for it by the strong resemblance there is to England, in the temperature and productions, in the green grass-covered slopes and the babbling brooks. It is pleasant to be greeted on the road in one's own language; to see the rosy cheeked children rolling in front of every cottage-door; to chat with the laborer at the roadside, or stop at his hut for a glass of milk.
It is all homelike and pleasing, especially when one feels at the same time invigorated and braced by the temperate climate and dry atmosphere, which one appreciates the more highly after having been in the tropics, often pining for the sight of green grass and running water, and where, in the midst of stagnant lagoons and malarious swamps, one may sigh in vain for such refreshing influence; where, too, oppressed with lassitude, every nerve unstrung, and debilitated in every limb and muscle, one can scarcely imagine the light heart, the elastic step, and feeling of vigor one so soon acquires here.
If we had been inclined to look at the dark side of our prospects we could scarcely have done so on such a day as this, when earth, sea, and sky seemed to vie with one another for the palm of brilliancy and beauty, and the air was so light and bracing that it was a pleasure to inhale it. Such days are almost peculiar to New Zealand, and make one forget and forgive a thousand discomforts.
We rapidly passed through Port Nicholson, and a few tacks carried us out of the Narrows, where we were at one moment almost becalmed under the hills, and at the next plunging, like a restive horse struck with the spur, as we were caught by a squall from one or other of the numerous gullies and ravines that seam the sides of the mountainous and precipitous coast. On getting out into the straits we found it almost calm, and as little or nothing was to be done with such a light breeze, we stood across to Port Underwood, in the Middle Island, and dropped anchor there just before sunset. Nothing could exceed the wild and picturesque beauty of this magnificent lake-like bay, surrounded by green and forest-covered mountains, almost as untouched as when Cook first entered it, in his good ship Resolution, and, finding no anchorage, made fast to the trunk of a tree with a hawser.
Here and there, in little picturesque bights and sandy bays, or in the angle of a rocky glen, might be seen the rude hut and small patch of garden-ground indicating the presence of a European ; a retired whaler, perhaps, or runaway sailor; or mayhap an escaped convict, who lives on, year after year, in the same solitude, rarely exchanging a word with a countryman, his life almost perfectly idle, and possibly, to his surprise, perfectly harmless. His wants are amply supplied by his patch of potatoes and cabbages, his pork is furnished by his Maori neighbors, the bay teems with fish, and his only society is his Maori wife and a family of half-a-dozen semi-cannibals, the heirs of his estate, who help to paddle the canoe, catch fish, pigeons, and wild-fowl. Here, year after year, the monarch of all he surveys, he goes on the same uncheckered round, satisfied that he lives without toil, his sympathies not extending beyond his own bay, careless of what becomes of the rest of the world, and uninterested in its events.
PRAIRIE BUFFALO HUNTING (N, AMERICA). A GALLOP across the prairies in pursuit of game is by no means so smooth a career as those may imagine who have only the idea of an open level plain. It is true the prairies of the hunting ground are not so much entangled with flowering plants and long herbage as the lower prairies, and are principally covered with short buffalo-grass; but they are diversified by hill and dale, and
where most level, are apt to be cut up by deep rifts and ravines, made by torrents after rains; and which, yawning from an even surface, are almost like pitfalls in the way of the hunter, checking him suddenly when in full career, or subjecting him to the risk of limb and life. The plains, too, are beset by burrowing holes of small animals, in which the horse is apt to sink to the fetlock, and throw both himself and his rider.
The late rain had covered some parts of the prairie with a thin sheet of water, through which the horse had to splash his way. In other parts there were innumerable shallow hollows, eight or ten feet in diameter, made by the buffaloes, who wallow in sand and mud like swine. These being filled with water, shone like mirrors, so that the horse was continually leaping over them or springing on one side. We had reached, too, a rough part of the prairie, very much broken up and cut, as the buffalo, who was running for life, took no heed to his course, plunging down break-neck ravines, where it was necessary to skirt the borders in search of a safer descent.
At length we came to where a winter stream had torn a deep chasm across the whole prairie, leaving opened, jagged rocks, and forming a long glen, bordered by steep crumbling cliffs of mingled stone and clay. Down one of these the buffalo flung himself, haif tumbling, half leaping, and then scuttled along the bottom; while I, seeing all further pursuit useless, pulled up and gazed quietly after him from the border of the cliff, until he disappeared amongst the windings of the ravine. Nothing now remained but to turn my steed and rejoin my companions. Here, at first, was some little difficulty. The ardor of the chase had betrayed me into a long, heedless gallop. I now found myself in the midst of a lonely waste, in which the prospect was bounded by undulating swells of land, naked and uniform, w bere, from the deficiency of landmarks and distinct features, an inexperienced man may become bewildered, and lose his way as readily as in the wastes of the ocean. The day, too, was overcast, so that I could not guide myself by the sun; my only mode was to retrace the track my horse had made in coming, though this I would often lose sight of where the ground was covered with parched herbage. To one unaccustomed to it, there is something inexpressibly lonely in the solitude of a prairie. The loneliness of a forest seems nothing to it. There the view is shut in by trees, and the imagination is left free to picture some livelier scene beyond. But here we have an immense extent of landscape without a sign of human existence. We have the consciousness of being far, far beyond the bounds of human habitation; we feel as if moving in the midst of a desert world. As my horse lagged slowly back over the scenes of our late scamper, and the delirium of the chase had passed away, I was peculiarly sensibie to these circumstances. The silence of the waste was now and then broken by the cry of a distant flock of pelicans, stalking like spectres about a shallow pool; sometimes by the sinister croaking of a raven in the air; while occasionally a scoundrel wolf would scour off from before me, and, having attained a safe distance, would sit down and howl and whine, with tones that gave a dreariness to the surrounding solitude.
THE PRAIRIE-DOG OF AMERICA. On returning from our excursion, I learned that a burrow, or village, as it is termed, of prairie-dogs had been discovered upon the level summit of a hill, about a mile from the camp. Having heard much of the habits and peculiarities of these little animals I determined to pay a visit to the community. The prairie-dog is, in fact, one of the curiosities of the Far West, about which travellers delight to tell marvellous tales, endowing him, at times, with something of the political and social habits of a rational being, and giving him systems of civil government and domestic economy almost equal to what they used to bestow upon the beaver.
The prairie-dog is an animal of the cony kind, about the size of a rabbit. He is of a very sprightly nature; quick, sensitive, and somewhat petulant. He is very gregarious, living in large communities, sometimes of several acres in extent, where innumerable little heaps of earth show the entrances to the subterranean cells of the iņhabitants. According to the accounts given of them, they would seem to be continually full of sport, business, and public affairs ; whisking about hither and thither,
as if on gossiping visits to each other's houses, or meeting either in the cool of the evening, or after a shower, and gambolling together in the open air.
Sometimes, especially when the moon shines, they pass half the night in revelry, barking or yelping with short, quick, yet weak tones, like those of very young puppies. While in the height of their playfulness and clamor, however, should there be the least alarm, they all vanish into their cells in an instant, and the village remains blank and silent. In case they are hard pressed by their pursuers, without any hope of escape, they will assume a pugnacious air, and a most whimsical look of impotent wrath and defiance. Such are a few of the particulars that I could gather about the habits of this little inhabitant of the prairies, who, with his pigmy republic, appears to be a subject of much whimsical speculation and burlesque remarks among the hunters of the Far West.
It was towards evening that I set out, with a companion, to visit the village in question. Unluckily, it had been invaded in the course of the day by some of the rangers, who had shot two or three of its inhabitants, and thrown the whole sensitive community into confusion. As we approached, we could perceive numbers of the inhabitants seated at the entrance of their cells, while sentinels seemed to have been posted on the outskirts, to keep a look-out. At sight of us, the picket-guards scampered in and gave the alarm; whereupon, every inhabitant gave a short yelp or bark, and dived in his hole, his heels twinkling in the air, as if he had thrown a somerset.
We traversed the whole village, or republic, which covered an area of about thirty acres; but not a whisker of an inhabitant was to be seen. We probed their cells as far as the ramrods of our rifles would reach, but in vain. Moving quietly to a little distance, we lay down upon the ground, and watched for a long time, silent and motionless. By-and-by, a cautious old citizen would slowly put forth the end of his nose, but instantly draw it in again. Another, at a greater distance, would emerge entirely; but, catching a glance of us, would throw a somerset and plunge back again into his hole. At length, some who resided on the opposite side of the village, taking courage from the continued stillness, would steal forth, and hurry off to a distant hole, the