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Few boys have ever led a happier, busier, or more varied existence than did Humphry Davy. He was the son of a poor wood-carver, who lived in the pretty seaside town of Penzance, in England, where Humphry was born in 1778. Lowly, however, as was his birth, in his earliest years Humphry gave many proofs that nature had endowed him with rare talents.

Some of the stories told of his childish brightness are hard to believe. They relate, for instance, that before he was two years old he could talk almost as plainly and clearly as a grown person; that he could repeat many passages of "Pilgrim's Progress," from having heard them, before he could read; and that at five years old he could read very rapidly, and remembered almost everything he read.

His father, the wood-carver, had died while Humphry was still very young, and had left his family poor. But by good-fortune a kind neighbor and friend, a Mr. Tonkine, took care of the widow and her children, and obtained a place for Humphry as an apprentice with an apothecary of the town. Humphry proved, indeed, a rather troublesome inmate of the apothecary's house. He set up a chemical laboratory in his little room upstairs, and there devoted himself to all sorts of experiments. Every now and then an explosion would be heard, which made the members of the apothecary's household quake with terror.

Humphry began to dream ambitious dreams. Not for him, he thought, was the drudgery of an apothecary store. He felt that he had in himself the making of a famous man, and he resolved that he would leave no science unexplored. He set to work with a will. His quick mind soon grasped the sciences not only of mathematics and chemistry, but of botany, anatomy, geology, and metaphysics. His means for the experiments he desired to make were very limited, but he did not allow any obstacle to prevent him from pursuing them.

He was especially fond of wandering along the seashore, and observing and examining the many curious and mysterious objects which he found on the crags and in the sand. One day his eye was struck with the bladders of seaweed, which he found full of air. The question was, how did the air get into them? This puzzled him, and he could find no answer to it, because he had no instruments to experiment with.

But on another day, soon after, as he strolled on the beach, what was his surprise and delight to find a case of surgical instruments, which had been flung up from some wreck on the coast! Armed with this, he hastened home, and managed to turn each one of the instruments to some useful account. He constructed an air-pump out of a surgeon's syringe, and made a great many experiments with it.

Fortunately for Humphry, he formed a friendship with a youth who could not only sympathize with him, but was of a great deal of use to him. This was Gregory Watt, a son of the great James Watt, the inventor of the steam-engine. Gregory Watt had gone to Penzance for his health, and had there fallen in with the ambitious son of the wood-carver. This new friend was able to give Humphry many new and valuable hints and encouraged him with hopeful words to go on with his studies and experiments.

Already Humphry was getting to be known as a scientific genius beyond the quiet neighborhood of Penzance. He had proposed a theory on heat and light which had attracted the attention of learned men; and at twenty-one he had discovered the peculiar properties of nitrous oxide--what we now call "laughing-gas"--though he nearly killed himself by inhaling too much of it. He had also made many experiments in galvanism, and had found silicious earth in the skin of reeds and grass.

So famous indeed had he already become, that at the age of twenty-two--when most young men are only just leaving college--he was chosen lecturer on science at the great Royal Institution in London. There he amazed men by the eloquence and clearness with which he revealed the mysteries of science. He was so bright and attractive a young man, moreover, that the best London society gladly welcomed him to its drawing-rooms, and praises of him were in every mouth. His lecture-room was crowded whenever he spoke.

But he was not a bit spoiled by all this flattery and homage. He worked all the harder; resolved to achieve yet greater triumphs in science than he had yet done. An opportunity soon arose to turn his knowledge and inventive powers to account in a very important way. For a long time the English public had every now and then been horrified by the terrible explosions which took place in the coal mines. These explosions resulted often in an appalling loss of human life. Their cause was the filling of the mine by a deadly gas, called "fire-damp," which, when ignited by a lighted candle or lamp, exploded with fearful violence. One day an explosion of fire-damp occurred which killed over one hundred miners on the spot.

This event called universal attention to the subject, and Humphry Davy was besought to try and find some means of preventing, or at least lessening, similar calamities. He promptly undertook the task, and set about it with all his wonted energy. The problem before him was how to provide light in the mines in such a way that the miners might see to work by it, and at the same time be safe from the danger of fire-damp explosion. Many attempts had been made to achieve this, but they had all failed,

Davy began his experiments. He soon made several valuable discoveries.

One was that explosions of inflammable gases could not pass through long narrow metallic tubes. Another was that when he held a piece of wire gauze over a lighted candle, the flame would not pass through it. As a result of his long and patient toil Davy was able at last to construct his now famous _Safety-Lamp_, which has undoubtedly saved the lives of thousands during the period which has elapsed since it was invented. He presented a model of his new lamp to the Royal Society, in whose rooms in London it is to be seen to this day.

It is a simple affair, being merely a lamp screwed on to a wire gauze cylinder, and fitted to it by a tight ring. His idea was to admit the fire-damp into the lamp gradually by narrow tubes, so that it would be consumed by combustion. The Safety-Lamp was in truth the greatest triumph of Humphry Davy's useful life.

"I value it," he said, "more than anything I ever did."

Honors of all kinds were showered upon him. Many medals were awarded to him, and the grateful miners subscribed from their scant wages enough to present him with a magnificent service of silver worth $12,000. His discovery was hailed from every part of Europe. The Czar Alexander of Russia sent him a beautiful vase, and he was chosen a member of the historic Institute of France; while his own government conferred upon him the coveted title of baronet.

Sir Humphry Davy, as he was now called, died in the prime of life and in the fulness of honor and fame. Fond of travel, and continuing to the last his scientific studies, he went to the continent, and took up his abode at Geneva, on the borders of one of the loveliest of Swiss lakes. There he had a laboratory, where he could work at will, and could also indulge his passion for fishing and hunting.

But he was worn out before his time. He was attacked by palsy, and passed away at Geneva in 1829, in the fifty-first year of his age.

There he was buried. A simple monument reveals where he lies in the foreign churchyard; while a tablet in Westminster Abbey keeps alive his memory in the hearts of his countrymen.


By Emerson Hough

"How much farther, Francois?" asked the leader of a little mountain cavalcade which wound its way down a broad river valley in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. "See, it is now noon, and the encampment is not yet in sight. Shall we not stop and rest?"

The speaker was a tall, thin man, whose face, browned by the sun of the plains and mountains, none the less bore a refinement almost approaching austerity. The man accosted was leaner and browner than himself, and wore the full costume of the Western _engage_ of the fur trade.

"M'sieu' Parker," he replied, "halways you hask how far to ze hencampment. I do not know. In the mountain we do no hask how far.

We push on ze horse. Thass all."

"But the rendezvous--are you sure it is in this valley of the Green?"

"It is establish for ze month of August in ze valley of ze Green.

Those man of the mountain, he do not disappoint. This rendezvous of ze year 1835, it may be ze last one for ze trappaire. But me, Francois Verrier, say to you that you shall see ze rendezvous, also ze trappaire, and ze trader, and ze Injin--hundreds of heem.

My faith! Zay shall see for ze first time ze missionaire to ze Injin! M'sieu' Parker, you are not ze good father? _Eh bien_, you shall make some little _priere_ for those _sauvages_."

The thin face of Samuel Parker brightened. This land before his view, majestic, beautiful, was as fabled and unknown as the continent of lost Atlantis. It was a wild world, a new one. He, first to answer that strange appeal from the wild Northwest,--that appeal carried by the four Nez Perces Indians, who travelled in ignorance and hope across half a continent to ask that the Book might be sent out to them by the white man,--felt now exaltation swell within his soul.

What a meeting must be this, which he had pushed forward so eagerly to discover! It was a gathering, as he had been well advised, not in the name of religion or of politics, of art or science--hardly even in the cause of commerce, although here the wild trappers and hunters, absent from one year's end to the other in the mountains, annually met, at some appointed spot in the Rockies, those bold merchants who brought out to them stores of goods to trade for furs. The trappers' rendezvous! He had heard of it a thousand tales distorted and unreal. Truly there was work ahead. He caught up the reins upon his horse's neck, forgot his weariness, and resumed his way.

His followers, a score or more of horsemen and pack-train drivers, among whom rode a short sturdy young man, the future martyr-missionary, Marcus Whitman, moved on, browned, gaunt, dust-begrimed, yet cheerful.

They had travelled for perhaps a mile or so down the valley when the guide, riding abreast of his employer, suddenly pulled up his horse and signed for his companion to pause.

"M'sieu'," said he, "you think I know little of zis land. Behol'!

We are harrive' zis hour."

He pointed. There, against the sky-line, on a projecting range of the mountainside which sloped down to the edge of the valley, was the figure of a mountain man, motionless, and evidently on guard.

"_En avant!_" cried Francois, setting heels to his horse. "_V'la!_ It is ze guard of ze encampment. Ride quick, _mes camarades!_"

The train, packhorses and all, pushed forward at a gallop, which soon broke into a wild run--the proper gait in trapper custom for all who arrived at the mountain rendezvous.

As they rounded the spur of rocks which had made the watch-tower of the sentinel, the full scene burst upon their eyes. There was a wide, sweet space in the valley, made as if for the very purpose of the great rendezvous. A flat of green cottonwoods adjoined the river-bank. "Benches," or natural terraces, of sweet grass rose along the hillside a half-mile away. Hundreds of horses, picketed or hobbled, grazed here and there. Others, favorite steeds of their masters, stood tied at the doors of lodges, in front of which rose long, tufted spears, in the heraldry of that land insignia of their owner's rank. Teepees, a hundred and twoscore, skin tents of the savage tribes and homes also of the whites, were grouped irregularly over a space of more than half a mile. At the doors of many of these, silent Indians sat and smoked. In the wide interspaces of the village were many men, some of them dressed in brown buckskins, others clad more gaudily. These passed to and fro, some on foot, others riding furiously. Animation was in all the air.

Shouts, cries, a tumult formed of many factors filled the air.

Babel of speech rose from Frenchmen, Spaniards, Canadians, English, Scotch, Irish, and American backwoodsmen, and Indians of half a dozen tribes. Horses, dogs, black-haired and blanketed women, and children of divers colors moved about continually. The gathering was heterogeneous, conglomerate, picturesque, savage.

Samuel Parker, missionary to the Oregon tribes, and now come hither to the mountain market of 1835 as knight-errant of the Gospel, pulled up his horse at the edge of the encampment and gazed in sheer amazement. His party--except Whitman, who reined in his horse at his friend's side--passed on and joined the shouting throng.

Apparently they conveyed certain news as they rode; for now out of the circling ranks of wild horsemen there swept toward the strangers a group of yelling riders.

Long ribbons and waving eagle feathers streamed from the manes and tails of their ponies. Some riders, even of the white men, wore the great war-bonnets of the northern tribes, the long crests of feathers sweeping back upon the croups of the rough-coated steeds they rode. Weapons were in the hands of all. Loud speech and many oaths were on their lips. They might well have disturbed bolder hearts than that of a peaceful missionary.

The leader of the approaching band was a man of gigantic stature, more than six inches above the six-feet mark. He was dark of hair and eye; a wide mustache swept back across his face, and his heavy, untrimmed beard, matted and sunburned at the edges, gave him an expression savage and forbidding.

Clad in the buckskin of a mountain trapper, none the less this personage affected a certain finery. A brilliant sash encircled his waist, his hat bore a wide plume. At his belt hung pistols, and in his hand was a long rifle. He pulled up his horse squatting, its nose high in air.

"How, friend!" he cried. "Or _be_ you friend, who come thus without word to Bill Shunan's camp?"

"Sir," replied the missionary, "my name is Parker--Samuel Parker.

I am from far New England, and am bound upon my way to Oregon.

I have come aside from the Sublette Cutoff trail to be present at this rendezvous. Yourself I do not know."

"What! Not know Bill Shunan, the bully of the Rockies, and the owner of this camp? Hark ye, stranger, ye're treading on dangerous ground. I've whipped half a dozen men to-day, and driven every fighter of the rendezvous back into his lodge. _They_ know Bill Shunan, and they show him respect, as you shall yourself."

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