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´╗┐Title: Golden Face - A Tale of the Wild West
Author: Mitford, Bertram, 1855-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Golden Face - A Tale of the Wild West" ***

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Golden Face
A Tale of the Wild West
By Bertram Mitford
Published by Trischler and Company, London.
This edition dated 1892.
Golden Face, by Bertram Mitford.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
GOLDEN FACE, BY BERTRAM MITFORD.



PREFACE.

An impression prevails in this country that for many years past the Red
men of the American Continent have represented a subdued and generally
deteriorated race.  No idea can be more erroneous.  Debased, to a
certain extent, they may have become, thanks to drink and other
"blessings" of civilisation; but that the warrior-spirit, imbuing at any
rate the more powerful tribes, is crushed, or that a semi-civilising
process has availed to render them other than formidable and dangerous
foes, let the stirring annals of Western frontier colonisation for the
last half-century in general, and the Sioux rising of barely a year ago
in particular, speak for themselves.

This work is a story--not a history.  Where matters historical have been
handled at all the Author has striven to touch them as lightly as
possible, emphatically recognising that when differences arise between a
civilised Power and barbarous races dwelling within or beyond its
borders, there is invariably much to be said on both sides.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE WINTER CABIN.

"Snakes! if that ain't the war-whoop, why then old Smokestack Bill never
had to keep a bright lookout after his hair."

Both inmates of the log cabin exchanged a meaning glance.  Other
movement made they none, save that each man extended an arm and reached
down his Winchester rifle, which lay all ready to his hand on the heap
of skins against which they were leaning.  Within, the firelight glowed
luridly on the burnished barrels of the weapons, hardly penetrating the
gloomy corners of the hut.  Without, the wild shrieking of the wind and
the swish and sough of pine branches furiously tossing to the eddying
gusts.

"Surely not," was the reply, after a moment of attentive listening.
"None of the reds would be abroad on such a night as this, let alone a
war-party.  Why they are no fonder of the cold than we, and to-night we
are in for something tall in the way of blizzards."

"Well, it's a sight far down that I heard it," went on the scout,
shaking his head.  "Whatever the night is up here, it may be as mild as
milk-punch down on the plain.  There's scalping going forward
somewhere--mind me."

"If so, it's far enough away.  I must own to having heard nothing at
all."

For all answer the scout rose to his feet, placed a rough screen of
antelope hide in front of the fire, and, cautiously opening the door,
peered forth into the night.  A whirl of keen, biting wind, fraught with
particles of frozen snow which stung the face like quail-shot, swept
round the hut, filling it with smoke from the smouldering pine-logs;
then both men stepped outside, closing the door behind them.

No, assuredly no man, red or white, would willingly be abroad that
night.  The icy blast, to which exposure--benighted on the open plain--
meant, to the inexperienced, certain death, was increasing in violence,
and even in the sheltered spot where the two men stood it was hardly
bearable for many minutes at a time.  The night, though tempestuous, was
not blackly dark, and now and again as the snow-scud scattered wildly
before the wind, the mountain side opposite would stand unveiled; each
tall crag towering up, a threatening fantastic shape, its rocky front
dark against the driven whiteness of its base.  And mingling with the
roaring of the great pines and the occasional thunder of masses of snow
dislodged from their boughs would be borne to the listeners' ears, in
eerie chorus, the weird dismal howling of wolves.  It was a scene of
indescribable wildness and desolation, that upon which these two looked
forth from their winter cabin in the lonely heart of the Black Hills.

But, beyond the gruesome cry of ravening beasts and the shriek of the
gale, there came no sound, nothing to tell of the presence or movements
of man more savage, more merciless than they.

"Snakes! but I can't be out of it!" muttered the scout, as once more
within their warm and cosy shanty they secured the door behind them.
"Smokestack Bill ain't the boy to be out of it over a matter of an
Indian yelp.  And he can tell a Sioux yelp from a Cheyenne yelp, and a
Kiowa yelp from a Rapaho yelp, with a store-full of Government
corn-sacks over his head, and the whole lot from a blasted wolfs yelp,
he can.  And at any distance, too."

"I think you _are_ out of it, Bill, all the same;" answered his
companion.  "If only that, on the face of things, no consideration of
scalps or plunder, or even she-captives, would tempt the reds to face
this little blow to-night."

"Well, well!  I don't say you're wrong, Vipan.  You've served your
Plainscraft to some purpose, you have.  But if what I heard wasn't the
war-whoop somewhere--I don't care how far--why then I shall begin to
believe in what the Sioux say about these here mountains."

"What do they say?"

"Why, they say these mountains are chock full of ghosts--spirits of
their chiefs and warriors who have been scalped after death, and are
kept snoopin' around here because they can't get into the Happy
Hunting-Grounds.  However, we're all right here, and 'live or dead, the
Sioux buck 'd have to reckon with a couple of Winchester rifles, who
tried to make us otherwise."

He who had been addressed as Vipan laughed good-humouredly, as he tossed
an armful of fat pine knots among the glowing logs, whence arose a blaze
that lit up the hut as though for some festivity.  And its glare affords
us an admirable opportunity for a closer inspection of these two.  The
scout was a specimen of the best type of Western man.  His rugged,
weather-tanned face was far from unhandsome--frankness, self-reliance,
staunchness to his friends, intrepidity toward foes, might all be read
there.  His thick russet beard was becoming shot with grey, but though
considerably on the wrong side of fifty, an observer would have credited
him with ten years to the good, for his broad, muscular frame was as
upright and elastic as if he were twenty-five.  His companion, who might
have been fifteen years his junior, was about as fine a type of
Anglo-Saxon manhood as could be met with in many a day's journey.  Of
tall, almost herculean, stature, he was without a suspicion of
clumsiness; quick, active, straight as a dart.  His features, regular as
those of a Greek-sculpture, were not, however, of a confidence-inspiring
nature, for their expression was cold and reticent, and the lower half
of his face was hidden in a magnificent golden beard, sweeping to his
belt.  The dress of both men was the regulation tunic and leggings of
dressed deerskin, of Indian manufacture, and profusely ornamented with
beadwork and fringes; that of Vipan being adorned with scalp-locks in
addition.

These two were bound together by the closest friendship, but there was
this difference between them.  Whereas everyone knew Smokestack Bill,
whether as friend or foe, from Monterey to the British line, who he was
and all about him, not a soul knew exactly who Rupert Vipan was, nor did
Rupert Vipan himself, by word or hint, evince the smallest disposition
to enlighten them.  That he was an Englishman was clear, his nationality
he could not conceal.  Not that he ever tried to, but on the other hand,
he made no sort of attempt at airing it.

This winter cabin was a substantial log affair, run up by the two men
with some degree of trouble and with an eye to comfort.  Built in a
hollow on the mountain face, it hung perched as an eyrie over a ravine
some thousands of feet in depth, in such wise that its occupants could
command every approach, and descry the advent of strangers, friendly or
equivocal, long before the latter could reach them.  Behind rose the
jagged, almost precipitous mountain in a serrated ridge, and
inaccessible from the other side; so that upon the whole the position
was about as safe as any position could be in that insecure region,
where every man took his rifle to bed with him, and slept with one eye
open even then.  The cabin was reared almost against the great trunk of
a stately pine, whose spreading boughs contributed in no slight degree
to its shelter.  Not many yards distant stood another log-hut, similar
in design and dimensions; this had been the habitation of a French
Canadian and his two Sioux squaws, but now stood deserted by its former
owners.

Vipan flung himself on a soft thick bearskin, took a glowing stick from
the fire, and pressed it against the bowl of a long Indian pipe.

"By Jove, Bill," he said, blowing out a great cloud.  "If this isn't the
true philosophy of life it's first cousin to it.  A tight, snug shanty,
the wind roaring like a legion of devils outside, a blazing fire,
abundance of rations and tobacco, any amount of good furs, and--no
bother in the world.  Nothing to worry our soul-cases about until it
becomes time to go in and trade our pelts, which, thank Heaven, won't be
for two or three months."

"That's so," was the answer.  "But--don't you feel it kinder dull like?
A chap like you, who's knocked about the world.  Seems to me a few
months of a log cabin located away in the mountains, Can't make it out
at all."  And the scout broke off with a puzzled shake of the head.

"Look here, you unbelieving Jew," said the other, with a laugh.  "Even
now you can't get rid of the notion that I've left my country for my
country's good.  Take my word for it, you're wrong.  There isn't a
corner of the habitable globe I couldn't tumble up in every bit as
safely as here."

"I know that, old pard.  Not that I'd care the tail of a yaller dog if
it was t'other way about.  We've hunted, and trapped, and `stood off'
the reds, quite years enough to know each other.  And now I take it,
when we've lit upon a barrelful of this gold stuff, you'll be cantering
off to Europe again by the first steamboat."

"No, I think not.  Except--" and a curious look came into Vipan's face.
"Well, I don't know.  I've an old score to pay off.  I want to be even
with a certain person or two."

"You do?  Well now don't you undertake anything foolish.  You know
better than I do that in your country you've got to wait until your
throat's already cut before drawing upon a man, and even then like
enough you'll be hung if you recover.  Say, now, couldn't you get the
party or parties out here, and have a fair and square stand up?  You'd
make undertaker's goods of 'em right enough, never fear."

"No, no, my friend.  That sort of reptile doesn't face you in any such
simple fashion.  It strikes you through the lawyers--those beneficent
products of our Christian civilisation," replied the other, with a
bitter laugh.  "However, time enough to talk about that when we get to
our prospecting again."

"If we ever do get to it again.  Custer's expedition in the fall of last
year didn't go through here for fun, nor yet to look after the Sioux,
though that was given as the colour of it.  Why, they were prospectin'
all the time, and not for nothin' neither.  No, `Uncle Sam' wants to
have all the plums himself, and, likely enough, the hills'll be full of
cavalrymen soon as the snow melts.  Then I reckon we shall have to git."

"Well, the reds'll be hoist with their own petard.  It's the old fable
again.  They call in `Uncle Sam' to clear out the miners, and `Uncle
Sam' hustles them out as well.  But we may not have to clear, after all,
for it's my belief that the moment the grass begins to sprout the whole
Sioux nation will go upon the war-path."

"Then we'd have to git all the slicker."

"Not necessarily," replied Vipan, coolly.  "I've a notion we could stop
here more snugly than ever."

"Not unless we helped 'em," said the scout, decidedly.  "And that's not
to be done."

"I don't know that.  Speaking for myself, I get on very well with the
reds.  They've got their faults, but then so have other people.  Wait, I
know what you're going to say--they're cruel and treacherous devils, and
so forth.  Well, cruelty is in their nature, and, by the way, is not
unknown in civilisation.  As for treachery, it strikes me, old chum,
that we've got to keep about as brisk a look-out for a shot in the back
in any of our Western townships as we have for our scalps in an Indian
village."

The scout nodded assent; puffing away vigorously at his pipe as he
stared into the glowing embers.

"For instance," went on the other, "when that chap `grazed' me in the
street at Denver while I wasn't looking, and would have put his next
ball clean through me if you hadn't dropped him in his tracks so
neatly--that was a nice example for a white man and a Christian to set,
say, to our friends Mountain Cat, or Three Bears, or Hole-in-a-Tree,
down yonder, wasn't it?  But to come to the point--which is this:
Supposing some fellow had rushed us while we were prospecting that place
down on the Big Cheyenne in the summer and invited us to clear, I guess
we should briskly have let him see a brace of muzzles.  Eh?"

"Guess we should."

"Well, then, it amounts to the same thing here.  We are bound to strike
a good vein or two in the summer--in fact, we have as good as struck it.
All right.  After all the risk and trouble we've stood to find it,
Uncle Sam lopes in and serves us with a notice to quit.  It isn't in
reason that we should stand that."

"Well, you see, Vipan, we've no sort of title here.  This is an Indian
reservation, and Uncle Sam's bound by treaty to keep white men out.
There are others here besides us, and I reckon in the summer the
Hills'll be a bit crowded up with them.  So we shall just have to chance
it with the rest, and if we're moved, light out somewhere else."

"Well, I don't know that _I_ shall.  It's no part of good sense to chuck
away the wealth lying at our very feet."  And the speaker's splendid
face wore a strangely reckless and excited look.  "The scheme is for the
Government to chouse the Indians out of this section of country by hook
or by crook--then mining concessions will be granted to the wire-pullers
and their friends.  And we shall see a series of miscellaneous frauds
blossoming into millionaires on the strength of _our_ discoveries."

"And are you so keen on this gold, Vipan?  Ah I reckon you're hankering
after Europe again, but I judge you'll be no happier when you get
there."

The scout's tone was quiet, regretful, almost upbraiding.  The other's
philosophy was to end in this, then?

"It isn't exactly that," was the answer, moodily, and after a pause.
"But I don't see the force of being `done.'  I never did see it; perhaps
that's why I'm out here now.  However, the Sioux won't stand any more
`treaties.'  They'll fight for certain.  Red Cloud isn't the man to
forget the ignominious thrashing he gave Uncle Sam in '66 and '67, and,
by God, if it comes to ousting us I'll be shot if I won't cut in on his
side."

"I reckon that blunder won't be repeated.  If the cavalrymen had been
properly armed; armed as they are now, with Spencer's and Henry's
instead of with the sickest old muzzle-loading fire-sticks and a round
and a half of ammunition per man, Red Cloud would have been soundly
whipped at Fort Phil Kearney 'stead of t'other way about."

"Possibly.  As things are, however, he carried his point.  And there's
Sitting Bull, for instance; he's been holding the Powder River country
these years.  Why don't they interfere with him?  No, you may depend
upon it, a war with the whole Sioux nation backed by the Indian
Department, won't suit the Govermental book.  `Uncle Sam' will cave in--
all the other prospectors will be cleared out of the Hills, except--
except ourselves."

"Why except ourselves?" said the scout, quietly, though he was not a
little astonished and dismayed at his friend and comrade's
hardly-suppressed excitement.

"We stand well with the chiefs.  Look here, old man: I'd wager my scalp
against a pipe of Richmond plug--if I wasn't as bald as a billiard ball,
that is--that I make myself so necessary to them that they'll be only
too glad to let us `mine' as long as we choose to stay here.  Just
think--the stuff is all there and only waiting to be picked up--just
think if we were to go in on the quiet, loaded up with solid nuggets and
dust instead of a few wretched pelts.  Why, man, we are made for life.
The reds could put us in the way of becoming millionaires, merely in
exchange for our advice--not necessarily our rifles, mind."  And the
speaker's eyes flashed excitedly over the idea.



CHAPTER TWO.

A NOCTURNAL VISITOR.

No idea is more repellent to the mind of a genuine Western man than that
of siding with Indians against his own colour.  Contested almost step by
step, the opening up of the vast continent supplies one long record of
hideous atrocities committed by the savage, regardless of age, sex, or
good faith; and stern, and not invariably discriminate, reprisals on the
part of the dwellers on the frontier.  It follows, therefore, that the
race-hatred existing between the white man and his treacherous and
crafty red neighbour will hardly bear exaggeration.  Thus it is not
surprising that Smokestack Bill should receive his reckless companion's
daredevil scheme with concern and dismay.  Indeed, had any other man
mooted such an idea, the honest scout's concern would have found vent in
words of indignant horror.

There was silence in the hut for a few minutes.  Both men, lounging back
on their comfortable furs, were busy with their respective reflections.
Now and again a fiercer gust than usual would shake the whole structure,
and as the doleful howling of the wolves sounded very near the door, the
horses in the other compartment--which was used as a stable--would snort
uneasily and paw the ground.

"You don't know Indians even yet, Vipan," said Smokestack Bill at
length, speaking gravely, "else you'd never undertake to help them, even
by advice, in butchering and outraging helpless women, let alone the
men, though they can better look after themselves.  No, you don't know
the red devils, take my word for it."

"I had a notion I did," was the hard reply.  "As for that `helpless
woman' ticket, I won't vote on it, Bill, old man.  There's no such thing
as a `helpless' woman; at least, I never met with such an article, and I
used to be reckoned a tolerably good judge of that breed of cattle,
too--"

His words were cut short.  The dog uttered a savage growl, then sprang
towards the door, barking.  Each man coolly reached for his rifle, but
that was all.

"I knew I wasn't out of it," muttered the scout, more to himself than to
his hearer.  "Smokestack Bill knew the war-whoop when he heard it.  He
ain't no `tenderfoot,' he ain't."

Swish--Whirr!  The fierce blast shrieked around the lonely cabin.  Its
inmates having partially quieted the dog, were listening intently.
Nothing could they hear beyond the booming of the tempest, which,
unheeded in their conversation, had burst upon them with redoubled
force.

"Only a grizzly that he hears," said Vipan, in a low tone.  "No red
would be out to-night."

Scarcely had he spoken than the loud, long-drawn howl of a wolf sounded
forth, so near as to seem at their very door.  Then the hoof-strokes of
an unshod horse, and a light tap against the strong framework.

"It's all straight.  I thought I knew the yelp," said the scout.  Then
he unhesitatingly slid back the strong iron bolts which secured the
door, and admitted a single Indian.

The new comer was a tall, martial-looking young warrior, who, as he slid
down the snow-besprinkled and gaudy-coloured blanket which had
enshrouded his head, stood before them in the ordinary Indian dress.
The collar of his tunic was of bears' claws, and among the scalp-locks
which fringed his leggings were several of silky fair hair.  But for
three thin lines of crimson crossing his face, and a vertical one from
forehead to throat, he wore no paint, and from his scalp-lock dangled
three long eagle-feathers stained black, their ends being gathered into
tufts dyed a bright vermilion.  For arms he carried a short bow, highly
ornamented, and a quiver of wolfskin, the latter adorned with the
grinning jaws of its original owner, and in his belt a revolver and
bowie knife.  This warlike personage advanced to Smokestack Bill, and
shook him by the hand effusively.  Then, turning to Vipan, he broke into
a broad grin and ejaculated--

"Hello, George!"

He thus unceremoniously addressed made no reply, but a cold,
contemptuous look came into his eyes.  Then he quietly said:--

"Do the Ogallalla dance the Sun-Dance [Note 1] in winter?"

"Ha!" said the Indian, emphatically, grasping at once the other's
meaning.

"When I was lost in the Ogallalla villages, all the _warriors_ knew me,"
went on Vipan, scathingly.  "There may have been _boys_ who have become
warriors since."

"Ha!"

The Indian was not a little astonished.  This white man spoke the
Dahcotah language fluently.  He was also not a little angry, and his
eyes flashed.

"You are not of the race of those around us," he said, "not of the race
of The Beaver," turning to the scout.  "Your great chief is George."

"Don't get mad, Vipan," said Smokestack Bill, hastening to explain.  "He
only means that you're an Englishman.  It'll take generations to get out
of these fellers' heads that Englishmen are still ruled by King George."

Vipan laughed drily.  He had given this cheeky young buck an appropriate
setting down.  Whether or no it was taken in good part was a matter of
indifference to him.

Meanwhile, the scout, having put on a fresh brew of steaming coffee,
threw down a fur in front of the fire, and the warrior, taking the pipe
which had been prepared for him, sat in silence, puffing out the
fragrant smoke in great volumes.

This done, he drew his knife, and proceeded to fall to on some deer ribs
provided by his entertainers.  The latter, meanwhile, smoked tranquilly
on, putting no question, and evincing no curiosity as to the object of
his visit.  At length, his appetite appeased, the warrior wiped his
knife on the sole of his mocassin, returned it to its sheath, and
throwing himself back luxuriously, ejaculated--

"Good!"

To the two white men, the visit of one or more of their red brethren was
a frequent occurrence; an incident of no moment whatever.  They were
accustomed to visits from Indians, but somehow both felt that the
arrival of this young warrior had a purpose underlying it.

The pipe having been ceremonially lighted and passed round the circle,
the guest was the first to break the silence.

"It is long since War Wolf has looked upon the face of The Beaver"
(Smokestack Bill's Indian name), "or listened to the wise words which
fall from his lips.  As soon as War Wolf heard that The Beaver had built
his winter lodge here, he leaped on his pony and wasted not a moment to
come and smoke with his white brothers."

Vipan, listening, could have spluttered with sardonic laughter.  Though
he had never seen him before, he knew the speaker by name--knew him to
be, moreover, one of the most unscrupulous and reckless young
desperadoes of the tribe, whose hatred of the whites was only equalled
by their detestation of him.  But he moved not a muscle.

"It is long, indeed," answered the scout.  "War Wolf must have journeyed
far not to know, or not to have heard of Golden Face," and he turned
slightly to his friend as if effecting an introduction.

By this _sobriquet_ the latter was known among the different clans of
the Dahcotah or Sioux, obviously bestowed upon him by reason of his
magnificent golden beard.

"The name of Golden Face is not strange, for it is not seldom on the
lips of the chiefs of our nation," continued the savage with a graceful
inclination towards Vipan.  "The hearts of the Mehneaska [Americans] are
not good towards us, but our hearts are always good towards Golden Face
and his friend The Beaver.  To visit them, War Wolf has journeyed far."

"Do the Ogallalla [a sub-division or clan of the Sioux nation] send out
war-parties in winter time?" asked the scout, innocently.  But the
question, harmless and apparently devoid of point as it was, conveyed to
his hearer its full meaning.  The eyes of the savage flashed, and his
whole countenance seemed to light up with pride.

"Why should I tell lies?" he said.  "Yes, I have been upon the war-path,
but not here.  Yonder," with a superb sweep of his hand in a westerly
direction.  "Yonder, far away, I have struck the enemies of my race, who
come stealing up with false words and many rifles, to possess the land--
our land--the land of the Dahcotah.  Why should I tell lies?  Am I not a
warrior?  But my tongue is straight; and my heart is good towards Golden
Face and his friend The Beaver."

Vipan, an attentive observer of every word, every detail, noted two
things: one, the boldness of this young warrior in thus avowing,
contrary to the caution of his race, that he had actually just returned
from one of those merciless forays which the frontier people at that
period had every reason to fear and dread; the other, that having twice,
so to say, bracketted their names, the Indian had in each instance
mentioned his own first.  In his then frame of mind the circumstance
struck him as significant.

After a good deal more of this kind of talk, safeguarded by the adroit
fencing and beating around the bush with which the savage of whatever
race approaches a communication of consequence, it transpired that War
Wolf was the bearer of a message from the chiefs of his nation.  There
had been war between them and the whites; now, however, they wished for
peace.  Red Cloud and some others were desirous of proceeding to
Washington in order to effect some friendly arrangement with the Great
Father.  There were many white men in their country, but their ways were
not straight.  The chiefs distrusted them.  But Golden Face and The
Beaver were their brothers.  Had they not lived in amity in their midst
all the winter?  Their hearts were good towards them, and they would
fain smoke the pipe once more with their white brothers before leaving
home.  To that end, therefore, they invited Golden Face and The Beaver
to visit them at their village without delay, in fact, to return in
company with War Wolf, the bearer of the message.

To this Bill replied, after some moments of solemn silence only broken
by the puff-puff of the pipes, that he and his friend desired nothing
better.  It would give them infinite pleasure to pay a visit to their
red brethren, and to the great chiefs of the Dahcotah nation especially.
But it was mid-winter.  The weather was uncertain.  Before undertaking
a journey which would entail so long an absence from home, he and his
friend must sleep upon the proposal and consult together.  In the
morning War Wolf should have his answer.  Either they would return with
him in person, or provide him with a suitable message to carry back to
the chiefs.

In social matters, still less in diplomatic, Indians are never in a
hurry.  Had the two white men agreed there and then upon what their
course should be, they would have suffered in War Wolfs estimation.  The
answer was precisely what he had expected.

"It is well," he said.  "The wisdom of The Beaver will not be
overclouded in the morning, nor will the desire of Golden Face to meet
his friends be in any way lessened."

While this talk was progressing, Vipan's eye had lighted upon an object
which set him thinking.  It was a small object--a very small object, so
minute indeed that nine persons out of ten would never have noticed it
at all.  But it was an object of ominous moment, for it was nothing less
than a spot of fresh blood; and it had fallen on the warrior's leggings,
just below the fringe of his tunic.  Putting two and two together, it
could mean nothing more nor less than a concealed scalp.

"Bill was right," he thought.  "Bill was right, and I was an ass.  He
did hear the war-whoop right enough.  I wonder what unlucky devil lost
in the storm this buck could have overhauled and struck down?"

The discovery rendered him wary, not that a childlike ingenuousness was
ever among Vipan's faults.  But he resolved to keep his weather eye
open, and if he must sleep, to do so with that reliable orbit ever
brought to bear upon their pleasant-speaking guest.

Soon profound silence reigned within the log cabin, broken only by the
subdued, regular breathing of the sleepers, or the occasional stir of
the glowing embers.  The tempest had lulled, but, as hour followed hour,
the voices of the weird waste were borne upon the night in varied and
startling cadence; the howling of wolves, the cat-like scream of the
panther among the overhanging crags, the responsive hooting of owls
beneath the thick blackness of the great pine forests, and once, the
fierce snorting growl of a grizzly, so near that the formidable monster
seemed even to be snuffing under the very door.

The two owners of the cabin are fast asleep; Vipan with his blanket
rolled round his head.  The scout, however, is lying on his back, and
his blanket has partially slipped off, as though he had found its weight
too burdensome.  The three are lying with their feet to the fire in
fan-shaped formation from it: the scout in the centre, their guest on
the outside.  The latter, too, is fast asleep.

Is?  Surely not.  Unless a man can be said to sleep with both eyes open.

A half-charred log fell into the embers, raising a small spluttering
flame.  This flame glowed on the fierce orbs of the red warrior.  For a
fraction of a second it glowed on something else, before he hid his hand
within his blanket.  But the still, steady breathing of the savage was
that of a sleeping man.

"Tu-whoo-whoo-whoo!"

Nothing is more dismal than the hoot of an owl in the dead silent night.
That owl is very near; almost upon the tree overhead.  His voice must
have had a disturbing effect upon the dreams of the red man, for in some
unaccountable fashion the distance between the latter and the sleeping
scout has diminished by about half.  Yet the white man has not moved.

"Tu-whoo-whoo-whoo!"

That time it is nearer still.  Noiseless, and with a serpentine glide,
the head of the savage warrior is reared from the ground, in the
semi-gloom resembling the hideous head of some striped and crested
snake, and in the dilated eyeball there is a fierce scintillation.

The attitude is one of intense, concentrated listening.

Honest Bill slumbers peacefully on.  That hideous head raised over him,
scarce half a dozen yards distant, is suggestive of nightmare
personified.  Yet its owner is his guest, who has eaten at his fireside,
and now rests beneath his roof.  Why should his slumbers be disturbed?

"Tu-whoo-whoo-whoo!"

Again that doleful cry.  But--look now!  What deed of dark treachery is
this stealthy savage about to perpetrate?  He is a yard nearer his
sleeping host, and his right hand grips a long keen knife.  Ah! will
nothing warn the sleeper?

The murderous barbarian rises to his knees, and his blanket noiselessly
slips off.  And at that moment through the intervening space of gloom
comes a low distinct whisper:

"Are the dreams of War Wolf bad, that he moves so far in his sleep?"

Vipan has not moved.  His blanket is still rolled round his head, but
the fierce Indian, darting his keen glance in the direction of the
voice, espies an object protruding from the speaker's blanket that was
not there when last he looked.  It is about three inches of a revolver
barrel, and it is covering him.  No fresh scalp or scalps for him
to-night.

Let it not be supposed for a moment that the treacherous villain was in
any way abashed.  It was not in him.  He merely replied, pleasantly:

"No--I cannot sleep.  I am hungry again, for I have ridden far, and it
is now near morning.  I would have found the `chuck' [food] without
disturbing Golden Face and The Beaver, who are very weary, and sleep
well."

And, knife in hand, he deliberately stepped over to the corner where
hung the carcase from which they had feasted the evening before, and
cutting off a portion, placed it upon the coals to broil.

Vipan could not but admire the cool readiness of both reply and action.
He knew that but for his own wariness, either his friend or himself--
possibly both--would by now be entering the Happy Hunting-Grounds, yet
from his bloodthirsty and treacherous guest he apprehended no further
aggression--that night at any rate.  The surprise had failed abjectly;
the enemy was on the alert; it was not in Indian nature to make a second
attempt under all the circumstances.  Moreover, he recognised in the
incident a mere passing impulse of ferocity, moving the savage at the
sight of these two victims ready,--as he imagined--for the knife,
combined with the overmastering temptation to the young warrior to bear
back to his village the scalps of two white men--men of considerable
renown, too--taken by himself, alone and singlehanded.  So he calmly
laid down again as if nothing had happened.

The scout, who had awakened at the first sound of voices, and who took
in at a glance the whole situation, fully equalled his friend's
coolness.

"Snakes!" he remarked, "I had a pesky bad dream.  Dreamt I was just
goin' to draw on some feller, when I awoke."

"The Beaver has slain many enemies," rejoined War Wolf, nodding his head
approvingly.  "When a man has taken scalps, he is prompt to take more,
even in his dreams."

"And to lose his own, you pison young skunk!" thought Smokestack Bill,
in reply to this.  "I'll be even with you one day, see if I don't."

But the "pison young skunk," unenlightened as to this event of the
future, merely nodded pleasantly as he sat by the fire, knife in hand,
assimilating his juicy venison steak with the utmost complacency.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  Part of the initiatory festival during which, by virtue of
undergoing various forms of ghastly self-torture, the growing-up boys
are admitted among the ranks of the warriors.



CHAPTER THREE.

A TRAGEDY OF THE WILD WEST.

It may seem strange that on the face of so forcible a demonstration of
the treacherous disposition of their guest, yet a couple of hours after
sunrise should see our friends starting in his company for the Sioux
villages.  But the incident of the night, which might have had so tragic
a termination, impressed these men not one whit.  It was "all in the
day's journey," they said, while admitting that they had been a trifle
too confiding.  That, however, was a fault easily remedied.  But to men
who habitually carry their lives in their hands, one peril more or less
matters nothing.

As they threaded the mountain defiles nothing could be more good
humoured and genial than the young warrior's manner.  He chatted and
laughed, sang snatches of songs in a high nasal key, bantered Vipan on
the poor condition of his nag, and challenged him to a race as soon as
they were domiciled in the village.  He wanted to know why Golden Face
had not followed the example of other white men in the matter of squaws.
Red Cloud's village could furnish some famous beauties.  Golden Face
was rich--he could take his choice.  There would be great festivities in
his honour, and the prettiest girls would be only too glad to be chosen
by a man of his prowess.  Thus the genial War Wolf--who amid shouts of
laughter extended, or, to be more accurate, "broadened" this vein of
fun.  Now all this was very jolly, very entertaining; but on one point
our two friends were of the same mind.  Under no circumstances whatever
should the sportive young barbarian be suffered to ride behind.  When he
stopped, they stopped; and one or two crafty attempts which he made to
fall back, they, with equal deftness, resolutely defeated.

It was a lovely morning, crisp and clear.  A thin layer of snow lay
around, diminishing as the altitude decreased.  The frosted pines
sparkling in the sun, the great crags towering up to the liquid blue;
here the ragged edges of a cliff shooting into the heavens, there a long
narrow canon, whose appalling depth might well make the wayfarer's head
swim as his horse slipped and stumbled along the rugged track which
skirted its dizzy brink--all this afforded a scene of varied grandeur,
which, with the strong spice of danger thrown in, was calculated to set
the blood of the adventurously disposed in a tingle.

They struck into a tortuous defile, whose lofty sandstone walls almost
shut out the light of day.  High above, soaring in circles, a couple of
eagles followed the trio, uttering a harsh yell, but otherwise the
voices of Nature were still.  Vipan found an opportunity of chaffing the
Indian, whom he challenged to bring down one or both of the birds with
his bow--a proposal which was met by the suggestion that he could do so
with a rifle--would Golden Face let him try with his?  Then a wide
valley, into which boulders and rocks seemed to have been hurled in
lavish confusion.  Oak and box elder, dark funereal pines and naked
spruce, lay dotted in clumps about a level meadow, through which rushed
a half-frozen stream.  Suddenly a white shape darted through the
leafless brake.

Flash--bang!  A snap shot though.

"Get to heel, Shanks!  Darn yer hide, you've become so tarnation fat and
skeery you ain't worth a little cuss, you ain't," cried the scout,
dropping the smoking muzzle of his piece.  The dog thus apostrophised
was a mangy and utterly useless Indian cur, which the scout had picked
up in the woods, and which Vipan was continually urging upon him to
shoot.  "Sho! you gavorting jack-rabbit!  A white wolf 'll make a
mouthful of you.  And he ain't touched," went on Shanks's master,
disgustedly, as the dog slunk to heel.  Better not to fire at all than
to miss in the presence of an Indian.  Then something seemed to strike
him.

A raven rose from the ground, uttering a plethoric croak, then another,
and the pair flopped heavily up to a limb overhead.  A plunge or two
through the leafless thicket and they were in a small open space.  The
wolf--the ravens--each had been disturbed in a hideous repast.  There,
in the midst of their ravaged camp, the remnants of its fire strewn
around them, lay the corpses of two white men, half-charred, frightfully
mangled, and--scalped.

Looking upon this doleful spectacle the scout was able to locate the
war-whoop he had heard the night before.  Vipan, for his own part,
cherished a shrewd conviction that he could restore the missing scalps--
though too late--merely by the simple process of stretching forth an
arm.  But the matter was no concern of his.  On the other hand, to seize
and hold on to the chance of monopolising the search after the precious
metal here, pre-eminently was.

The unfortunate men were evidently miners.  The implements of their
calling lay around, together with their modest baggage; but their
weapons had disappeared.  Both had been shot to death with arrows, and
that at very close quarters, probably while they were asleep.  They were
rough looking fellows, one red-haired and red-bearded, the other
hatchet-faced, but both with skins tanned to parchment colour.

"Reckon we'll give the poor boys a hoist under the sod," said the scout,
shortly.  Then as for a moment his steady gaze met that of War Wolf, the
latter said:

"Wagh!  Bad Indians are about.  The white men were too reckless.  When
they come to find wealth in the country of the Dahcotah they should
sleep warily.  The Beaver is going to bury his friends.  Good.  When the
shadow is there" (about half an hour) "War Wolf will return."

If there was the faintest satirical gleam in the warrior's eyes as he
uttered these words, there would be nothing gained by noticing it.
Smokestack Bill, seizing one of the murdered men's picks, began to dig,
lustily and in silence, every now and again shaking his head ominously.
Vipan, who thought this voluntary sextonship a bore, lent a hand to
oblige his friend.  These two unknown miners were no more his kin than
the savage Sioux who had slain them.  He had no kin.  All the world was
an enemy, to be turned to advantage when possible, and defeated at any
rate when not.  Had he been alone he would merely have looked, and
passed on his way.

By half an hour a hole of adequate dimensions received the two mangled
and mutilated corpses.  Then, having trodden down the last spadeful of
earth, the scout, with a knife, marked a couple of rude crosses upon the
trunk of the nearest tree.  His companion, consistently callous, said
nothing.

As they turned to leave this lonely grave in the wilderness, they were
rejoined by the young warrior.  He had not been idle.  A brace of
ruff-grouse, shot by arrows, dangled from his saddle, and the three
moved forward in silence, seeking a suitable midday camp.



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE "SQUARSON" OF LANT-HANGER.

The Rev. Dudley Vallance was "squarson" of Lant with Lant-Hanger, in the
county of Brackenshire, England.

Know, O reader, unversed in the compound mysteries of Mr Lewis Carroll,
that the above is a contraction of the words squire-parson.

On the face of this assertion it is perhaps superfluous to state that
the Rev. Dudley was a manifest failure in both capacities--superfluous
because if this is not invariably the rule under similar circumstances,
the exceptions are so rare as to be well-nigh phenomenal.

As squire he was a failure, for he had a pettifogging mind.  He was not
averse to an occasional bit of sharp practice in his dealings, which
would have been creditable to an attorney after the order of Quirk,
Gammon, and Snap.  Moreover, he was lacking in geniality, and for field
sports he cared not a rush.

As parson he was a failure; for so intent was he upon the things of this
world that he had neither time nor inclination to inspire his
parishioners with any particular hankering after the things of the next.
Now this need not seem strange, or even severe, since the fiat has gone
forth from the lips of the highest of authorities--"Ye cannot serve God
and Mammon."

In aspect the Rev. Dudley was tall and lank.  He had a very long nose
and a very long beard.  Furthermore, he had rather shifty eyes and a
normally absent manner.  When not absent-minded, the latter was suave
and purring.  His age was about fifty.

In the matter of progeny he was blessed with a fair quiverful--eight to
wit--of whom seven were daughters.  His spouse was nothing if not fully
alive to a sense of her position.  This she imagined to consist mainly
in a passion for precedence, gossip, cliquerie, and deft mischief-making
at secondhand.  If she fell short in one thing it was in that aggressive
and domineering fussiness habitually inseparable from the type, but this
was only because she lacked the requisite energy.  Howbeit, she never
forgot that she was "Squarsina" of Lant with Lant-Hanger--if we may be
allowed to coin a word.  This was not wholly unnecessary, for others
were wont to lose sight of the fact.

Lant Hall--commonly abbreviated to Lant--the abode of the Vallances, was
rather an ugly house; squat, staringly modern, and hideously embattled
in sham castellated style.  But it was charmingly situated--dropped, as
it were, upon the side of a hill, whose vivid green slope, falling to a
large sheet of ornamental water, was alive with the branching antlers of
many deer.  Overshadowing the house lay a steep wooded acclivity--or
hanger--at one end of which lay the village, whence the name of the
latter.  "A sweetly pretty, peaceful spot," gushed the visitor, or the
tourist driving through it; "a nook to end one's days in!"

Scenically, the prospect was enchanting.  On the one hand, line upon
line of wooded hills fed the eye as far as that organ cared to roam, on
the other, softly undulating pastures, with snug farmhouses and peeping
cottages here and there.  Skirting the village on one side, the limpid
waters of the Lant sparkled and swirled beneath the old grey bridge--
which bore the Vallance arms--and then plunged on, to lose themselves in
a mile of dark fir wood, where the big trout lay and fattened.  A lovely
champaign, in sooth; small wonder that the aesthetic stranger should be
smitten with a desire to end his days in so sweet a spot.

But this sweet spot had its disadvantages.  It was frightfully out of
the way, being five miles from the nearest railway station, and that on
a branch line.  The necessaries of life were only to be obtained with
difficulty, and farm and dairy produce was expensive, and in supply,
precarious.  There was one butcher, and no baker, and a post-office
chiefly noteworthy for the blundering wherewith Her Majesty's mails were
received and dispensed.  Moreover, the Brackenshire folk were not of a
particularly pleasant rustic type.  They were very "independent," which
is to say they did what seemed right in their own eyes, irrespective of
such little matters as honesty or square dealing.  They were, as a rule,
incapable of speaking the truth, except accidentally, and they had very
long tongues.  Suffice it briefly to say, they excelled in the low and
sordid cunning which usually characterises the simple-hearted rustic of
whatever county.

The Rev. Dudley Vallance had a shibboleth which he never wearied of
pronouncing.  This was it:--County Society.

Now, at Lant-Hanger this article, within anything like the accepted
meaning of the term, did not exist.

It was a crying want, and like all such so capable, it must be supplied.
Our "squarson" set to work to supply it by a simple device.  He went
into bricks and mortar.

His jerry-built "bijou residences," and tinkered-up rustic cottages soon
let, and let comfortably--for him.  Not so for the tenants, however, for
the honest Brackenshire craftsmen "did" their employer most thoroughly,
and the luckless householders found themselves let in for all sorts of
horrors they had never bargained for.  Thus the Rev. Dudley "did" as he
was "done."  But he got his "County Society."

This, at the period with which we have to deal, in the year of grace
1875, consisted of a sprinkling of maiden ladies and clergymen's
relicts, who leased the delectable dwellings aforesaid; a retired
jerry-builder, who knew better than to do anything of the kind; the
village doctor; a few neighbouring vicars of infinitesimal intellect; a
couple of squireens evolved from three generations of farmers, and,
lastly, Mr Santorex of Elmcote; all of whom, with the notable exception
of the last-named, constituted an array of satellites revolving round
the centre planet, the Rev. Dudley himself.

The Lant property, though comparatively small, was a snug possession.
Aesthetically a fair domain, it was all of it good land, and the five to
six thousand acres composing it all let well.  Wholly unencumbered by
mortgages or annuity charges, it was estimated to bring in about 7,000
pounds a year, so that in reckoning the present incumbent a fortunate
man, the neighbourhood was not far wrong.  There were, however,
half-forgotten hints, which the said neighbourhood would now and again
let drop--hints not exactly to the credit of the present squire.  For it
was well known that the Rev. Dudley had inherited Lant from his uncle,
not his father, and that this uncle's son was still living.



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE SANTOREXES OF ELMCOTE.

"Now, Chickie, hurry up with the oats, and we'll go and try for a brace
of trout before the sun blazes out."

"Mercy on us, do let the child finish her breakfast!  It's bad enough
being obliged to have it twice laid, without being hurried to death, one
would think."

But the "child" stands in no need of the maternal--and querulous--
championship.

"I'm ready, father," she cries, pushing her chair back.

"Right.  Get on a hat then," is the reply, in a prompt and decisive, but
not ungenial tone, and the head which had been thrust through the
partially opened door disappears.

"That's your father all over," continued the maternal and querulous
voice.  "How does he know I don't want you at home this morning?  But
no, that doesn't matter a pin.  I may be left to toil and slave, cooped
up in the house, while everybody else is frisking about the fields all
day long, fishing and what not--"

"But, mother, you don't really want me, do you?"

"--And then your father must needs come down so early, and, of course,
wants his breakfast at once, and then it has to be brought on twice; and
he must flurry and fidget everyone else into the bargain.  Want you?
No, child, I don't want you.  Go away and catch some fish.  If I did
want you, that wouldn't count while your father did--oh, no."

Yseulte Santorex made no reply.  She did the best thing possible--
however, she kissed and coaxed the discontented matron, and took a
prompt opportunity of escaping.

One might search far and wide before meeting with a more beautiful girl.
Rather above the medium height, and of finely formed frame, it needed
not the smallness of her perfectly shaped hands and the artistic
regularity of her features to stamp her as thoroughbred.  It was
sufficient to note the upright poise of her head, and the straight
glance of her grand blue eyes, but surer hall-mark still, she was
blessed with a beautifully modulated voice.  When we add that she
possessed a generous allowance of dark brown hair, rippling into gold,
we claim to have justified our opening statement concerning her.  Her
age at this time was twenty; as for her disposition, well, reader, you
must find that out for yourself in the due development of this
narrative.

Losing no more time than was necessary to fling on a wide straw hat, the
girl joined her father in the hall, where he was waiting a little
impatiently--rod, basket, landing-net, all ready.

"You shall land the first fish, Chickie," he said, as they started.  "It
isn't worth while taking a rod apiece, we shall have too little time,"
with a glance upward at the clouded sky which seemed disposed to clear
every moment.

"I oughtn't to tax your self-denial so severely, dear," answered the
girl, "when I know you're dying to get at the river yourself."

"Self-denial, eh?  Thing the preachers strongly recommend, and--always
practise.  Beginning here," with a slight indicating nod.

Yseulte laughed.  She knew her father's opinion of his spiritual
pastor--in point of fact, shared it.

"I knew a man once who used to say that self-abnegation was a thing not
far removed from the philosopher's stone.  Its indulgence inspired him
with absolute indifference to life and the ills thereof, and at the same
time with a magnificent contempt for the poor creatures for whose
benefit he practised it."

"Very good philosophy, father.  But the compensation for foregoing the
delights of having one's own way is not great."

"My dear girl, that depends.  The key to the above exposition lies in
the fact that that individual never had a chance of getting his own way.
So he made a virtue of necessity--an art which, though much talked
about, is seldom cultivated."

"Your friend was a humbug, father," was the laughing reply.  "A doleful
humbug, and no philosopher at all."

"Eh?  The effrontery of the rising generation--commonly called in the
vulgar tongue--nerve!  A humbug!  So that's your opinion, is it, young
woman?"

"Yes, it is," she answered decisively, her blue eyes dancing.

"Phew-w!  Nothing like having your own opinion, and sticking to it," was
all he said, with a dry chuckle.  Then he subsided into silence,
whistling meditatively, as if pondering over the whimsicality he had
just propounded, or contemplating a fresh one.  These same
whimsicalities, by the way, were continually cropping up in Mr
Santorex' conversation, to the no small confusion of his acquaintance,
who never could quite make out whether he was in jest or earnest, to the
delight of his satirical soul.  To the infinitesimal intellects of his
neighbours--the surrounding vicars, for instance--he was a
conversational nightmare.  They voted him dangerous, even as their kind
so votes everything which happens to be incomprehensible to its own
subtle ken.  What sort of training could it be for a young girl just
growing to womanhood to have such a man for a father--to take in his
pernicious views and ideas as part of her education, as it were?  And
herein the surrounding vicaresses were at one with their lords.  Stop!
Their what?  We mean their--chattels.

But Yseulte herself laughed their horror to scorn.  Her keen perceptions
detected it in a moment, and she would occasionally visit its expression
with a strong spice of hereditary satire.  She could not remember the
time when her father had treated her otherwise than as a rational and
accountable being, and the time when he should cease to do so would
never come--of that she was persuaded.  Nor need it be inferred that she
was "strong-minded," "advanced," or aspiring in any way to the "blue."
Far from it.  She had plenty of character, but withal she was a very
sweet, lovable, even-tempered, and thoroughly sensible girl.

There were two other children besides herself--had been, rather, for one
had lain in Lant churchyard this last ten years.  The other, and eldest,
was cattle-ranching in the Far West, and doing fairly well.

Mr Santorex was unquestionably a fine-looking man.  A broad, lofty
brow, straight features, and firm, clear eyes, imparted to his face a
very decided expression, which his method of speech confirmed.  He was
of Spanish origin, a fact of which he was secretly proud; for although
Anglicised, even to his name, for several generations, yet in direct
lineage he could trace back to one of the very oldest and noblest
families of Spain.

Though now in easy circumstances, not to say wealthy, he had not always
been so.  During the score of years he had lived at Lant-Hanger, about
half of that period had been spent in dire poverty--a period fraught
with experiences which had left a more than bitter taste in his mouth as
regarded his neighbours and surroundings generally, and the Rev. Dudley
Vallance in particular.  Then the tide had turned--had turned just in
the nick of time.  A small property which he held in the north of Spain,
and which had hitherto furnished him with the scantiest means of
subsistence, suddenly became enormously valuable as a field of mineral
wealth.

With his changed circumstances Mr Santorex did not shake off the dust
of Lant-Hanger from his shoes.  He had become in a way accustomed to the
place, and was fond of the country, if not of the people.  So he
promptly leased Elmcote, a snug country box picturesquely perched on the
hillside overlooking the valley of the Lant, and having moved in, sat
down grimly to enjoy the impending joke.

He had not long to wait.  Lant-Hanger opened wide its arms, and fairly
trod on its own heels in its eagerness to make much of the new
"millionaire," whom, in his indigent days, it had so consistently
cold-shouldered as a disagreeable and highly undesirable sort of
neighbour.  Next to Lant Hall itself, Elmcote was the most important
house in the parish, and its tenant had always been the most important
personage.  So "County Society," following the example of its head and
cornerstone, the Rev. Dudley Vallance, metaphorically chucked up its hat
and hoorayed over its acquisition.

Down by the river-side this warm spring morning, Yseulte, never so happy
as when engaged in this, her favourite sport, was wielding her fly-rod
with skill and efficiency, as many a gleaming and speckled trophy lying
in her creel served to show.

The movement became her well.  Every curve of her symmetrical form was
brought out by the graceful exercise.  Her father, standing well back
from the bank, watched her with critical approval.  True to his
character as a man of ideas, he almost forgot the object of the present
undertaking in his admiration for his beautiful daughter, and his
thoughts, thus started, went off at express speed.  What a lovely girl
she was growing--had grown, indeed.  What was to be her destiny in life?
She must make a good match of course, not throw herself away upon any
clodhopper in this wretched hole.  That young lout, Geoffrey Vallance,
was always mooning in calf-like fashion about her.  Not good enough.
Oh, no; nothing like.  Seven thousand a year unencumbered was hardly to
be sneezed at; still, she must not throw herself away on any such
unlicked cub.  He fancied he could do better for her in putting her
through a London season--much better.  And then came an uneasy and
desolating stirring of even his philosophical pulses at the thought of
parting with her.  He was an undemonstrative man--undemonstrative even
to coldness.  He made at no time any great show of affection.  He had
long since learned that affection, like cash, was an article far too
easily thrown away.  But there was one living thing for which, deep down
in his heart of hearts, he cherished a vivid and warm love, and that was
this beautiful and companionable daughter of his.

"Never mind about me, dear.  I think I won't throw a fly this morning,"
he said, as the girl began insisting that he should take a turn, there
being only one rod between them.  "Besides, it's about time to knock off
altogether.  The sun is coming out far too brightly for many more
rises."

"Father," said the girl, as she took her fishing-rod to pieces, "I can't
let you shirk that question any longer.  Am I to pay that visit to
George's ranche this summer or not?"

"Why, you adventurous Chickie, you will be scalped by Indians, tossed by
mad buffaloes, bolted with by wild horses.  Heaven knows what.  Hallo!
Enter Geoffry Plantagenet.  He seems in a hurry."

"No!  Where?  Oh, what a nuisance!"

Following her father's glance, Yseulte descried a male figure crossing
the stile which led into the field where they were sitting, and
recognised young Vallance, who between themselves was known by the above
nickname.  He seemed, indeed, in a desperate hurry, judging from the
alacrity wherewith he skipped over the said stile and hastened to put a
goodly space of ground between it and himself before looking back.  A
low, rumbling noise, something between a growl and a moan, reached their
ears, and thrust against the barrier was discernible from where they sat
the author of it--a red, massive bovine head to wit.  Struggling to
repress a shout of laughter, they continued to observe the new arrival,
who had not yet discovered them, and who kept turning back to make sure
his enemy was not following, in a state of trepidation that was
intensely diverting to the onlookers.

"Hallo, Geoffry!" shouted Mr Santorex.  "Had old Muggins' bull after
you?"

He addressed started as if a shot had been fired in his ear.  It was bad
enough to have been considerably frightened, but to awake to the fact
that Yseulte Santorex had witnessed him in the said demoralised state
was discouraging, to say the least of it.

"That's worse than the last infliction of Muggins you underwent, isn't
it, Mr Vallance?" said the latter mischievously, referring to the
idiotic game of cards of that name.

"Did he chevy you far, Geoffry?" went on Mr Santorex, in the same
bantering tone.

"Er--ah--no; not very," said the victim, who was somewhat perturbed and
out of breath.  "He's an abominably vicious brute, and ought to be shot.
He'll certainly kill somebody one of these days.  I must--er--really
mention the matter to the governor."

But there was consolation in store for the ill-used Geoffry.  Having
thus fallen in with the Santorex's it was the most natural thing in the
world that he should accompany them the greater part of the way home.
Consolation?  Well, have we not sufficiently emphasised the fact that
Yseulte Santorex was a very beautiful girl?

It must be admitted that the future Squire of Lant did not, either in
personal appearance or mental endowment, attain any higher standard than
commonplace mediocrity.  He was very much a reproduction of his father,
though without his father's calculating and avaricious temperament, for
he was a good-natured fellow enough in his way.  "No harm in him, and
too big a fool ever to be a knave," had been Mr Santorex' verdict on
this fortunate youth as he watched him grow up.  Had he been aware of
it, this summing-up would sorely have distressed the young Squire, for
of late during the Oxford vacation Geoffry Vallance had eagerly seized
or manufactured opportunities for being a good deal at Elmcote.



CHAPTER SIX.

THE INDIAN VILLAGE.

A long, open valley, bounded on either side by flat, table-topped hills,
and threaded by a broad but shallow stream, whose banks are fringed by a
straggling belt of timber.  Sheltered by this last stand tall conical
lodges, some in irregular groups, some dotted down in twos and threes,
others in an attempt at regularity and the formation of a square, but
the whole extending for upwards of a mile.  In the far distance, at the
open end of the valley, the eye is arrested by turret-shaped buttes,
showing the _bizarre_ formation and variegated strata characteristic of
the "Bad Lands."  The stream is known as Dog Creek, and along its banks
lie the winter villages of a considerable section of the Sioux and
Cheyenne tribes.

The westering sun, declining in the blue frosty sky, lights up the river
like a silver band, and glows upon the white picturesque lodges,
throwing into prominence the quaint and savage devices emblazoned upon
their skin walls.  Within the straggling encampment many dark forms are
moving, and the clear air rings ever and anon with the whoop of a gang
of boys, already playing at warlike games; the shrill laughter of young
squaws, and the cackle of old ones; an occasional neigh from the several
herds of ponies feeding out around the villages and the tramp of their
hoofs; or vibrates to the nasal song of a circle of jovial merrymakers.
Here and there, squatted around a fire in the open, huddled up in their
blankets, may be descried a group of warriors, solemnly whiffing at
their long pipes, the while keeping up a drowsy hum of conversation in a
guttural undertone, and from the apex of each pyramidal "_teepe_" a
column of blue smoke rises in rings upon the windless atmosphere.  It is
a lovely day, and although the surrounding hills are powdered with snow,
down here in the valley the hardened ground sparkles with merely a crisp
touch of frost.

Then as the gloaming deepens the fires glow more redly, and the life and
animation of the great encampment increases.  Young bucks, bedaubed with
paint, and arrayed in beadwork and other articles of savage finery,
swagger and lounge about; the nodding eagle quill cresting their
scalp-locks giving them a rakish, and at the same time martial, aspect,
as they wander from tent to tent, indulging in guffaws amongst
themselves, or exchanging broad "chaff" with a brace or so of coppery
damsels here and there, who, for their part, can give as readily and as
freely as they can take.  Or a group is engaged in an impromptu dance,
both sexes taking part, to a running accompaniment of combined guttural
and nasal drone, varied now and again by a whoop.  Wolfish curs skulk
around, on the look-out to steal if allowed the chance, snarling over
any stray offal that may be thrown them, or uttering a shrill yelp on
receipt of an arrow or two from some mischievous urchin's toy bow; and,
altogether, with the fall of night, the hum and chatter pervading this
wild community seems but to increase.

Great stars blaze forth in the frosty sky, not one by one, but with a
rush, for now darkness has settled upon the scene, though penetrated and
scattered here and there by the red glare of some convivial or household
fire.  And now it becomes apparent that some event of moment is to take
place shortly, for a huge fire is kindled in front of the large
council-lodge, which stands in the centre of the village, and, mingling
with the monotonous "tom-tom" of drums, the voices of heralds are
raised, convening chiefs and warriors to debate in solemn conclave.

No second summons is needed.  The unearthly howling of the dancers is
hushed as if by magic, the horseplay and boisterous humour of youthful
bucks is laid aside, and from far and near all who can lay claim to the
rank of warrior--even the youngest aspirants to the same hanging on the
outskirts of the crowd--come trooping towards the common centre.

Within the council-lodge burns a second fire, the one outside being for
the accommodation of the crowd, and it is round this that the real
debate will take place.  As the flames shoot up crisply, the interior is
vividly illumined, displaying the trophies with which the walls are
decked--trophies of the chase and trophies of war, horns and rare skins,
scalps and weapons; and, disposed in regular order, the mysterious
"medicine bags" and "totems" of the tribal magnates, grotesque affairs
mostly, birds' heads and claws, bones or grinning jaws of some animal,
the whole plentifully set off with beadwork and paint and feathers.

Then the crowd outside parts decorously, giving passage to those whose
weight and standing entitle them to a seat within the sacred lodge, and
a voice in the council.  Stately chieftains arrayed in their most
brilliant war-costumes--the magnificent war-bonnets of eagles' plumes
cresting their heads and flowing almost to the ground behind, adding an
indescribably martial and dignified air to their splendid stature and
erect carriage--advance with grave and solemn step to the council fire
and take their seats, speaking not a word, and looking neither to the
right nor to the left Partisans, or warriors of tried skill and daring,
who, without the rank and following of chiefs, are frequently elected to
lead an expedition on the war-path, these, too, in equally splendid
array, have a place in the assembly; after them, lesser braves, until
the lodge can hold no more.  The crowd must listen to what it can of the
debates from without.

From the standpoint of their compatriots, some of these warriors are
very distinguished men indeed.  There is Long Bull, and Mountain Cat,
and Crow-Scalper, all implacable and redoubted foes of the whites.
There is Burnt Wrist, and Spotted Tail, and Lone Panther, and a dozen
other notable chiefs.  Last, but not least, there is Red Cloud, orator,
statesman, and seer, the war-chief of the Ogallalla clan, and medicine
chief virtually of the whole Sioux nation.

The flames of the council fire leap and crackle, casting a lurid glow on
the stern visages of the assembled warriors.  Many of these wear
brilliantly-coloured tunics of cloth or dressed buckskin, more or less
tastefully adorned with beadwork or shining silver plates.  Over this,
carelessly thrown, or gracefully dangling from its wearer's shoulder, is
the outer "robe" of soft buffalo hide, blazoned all over with
hieroglyphics and pictures setting forth the owner's feats of arms or
prowess in the chase, and among the scalp-locks fringeing tunics and
leggings may be descried not a few that originally grew upon Anglo-Saxon
heads.  But all is in harmony, tasteful, barbarically picturesque; and
the air of self-possessed dignity stamped upon the countenances of these
plumed and stately warriors could not be surpassed by the most august
assembly that ever swayed the affairs of old civilisation.

One more personage is there whom we have omitted to mention.  Leaning
against a lodge pole, as thoroughly unconcerned and at his ease among
the red chieftains as ever he was in Belgravian boudoir, his splendid
face as impassive as their own, sits Rupert Vipan, and if ever man lived
who was thoroughly calculated to inspire respect in the breasts of these
warlike savages, assuredly he was that man.  That he is here at all is
sufficient to show in what honour he is held among his barbarian
entertainers.

And now in order to render more clearly the drift of the subsequent
debate, some slight digression may here be necessary.

The Sioux, or Dahcotah, as they prefer to be called, are about the only
aboriginal race in North America whose numbers and prowess entitle them
to rank as a nation.  They are sub-divided into clans or tribes:
Ogallalla, Minneconjou, Uncpapa, Brule, and many more, with the
specification of which we need not weary the reader, but all more or
less independent of each other, and acting under their own chiefs or
not, as they choose.  At the time of our story the whole of these,
numbering about 60,000 souls, occupied a large tract comprising the
south-western half of the territory of Dakota, together with the
adjacent extensive range in eastern Montana and Wyoming, watered by the
Yellowstone and Powder Rivers and their tributaries, and commonly called
after the last-named stream.  On the border-line of Dakota and Wyoming,
and therefore within the Indian reservation, stand the Black Hills, a
rugged mountain group rising nearly 8,000 feet above the sea level, an
insight into whose wild and romantic fastnesses we have already given.

At that period popular rumour credited the Black Hills with concealed
wealth to a fabulous extent.  Gold had already been found there, not in
any great quantities, but still it had been found, and the nature and
formation of the soil pointed to its existence in vast veins, at least
so said popular rumour.  That was enough.  Men began to flock to this
new Eldorado.  Parties of prospectors and miners found their way to its
sequestered valleys, and soon the rocks rang to the sound of the pick,
and the mountain streams which gurgled through its savage solitudes were
fouled with the washing of panned dirt.

But the miners had two factors to reckon with--the Government and the
Indians.  The former was bound by treaty to keep white men, particularly
miners, out of the Indian reservation; the latter became more and more
discontented over the non-fulfilment of the agreement.  The shrewd
tribesmen knew that gold was even a greater enemy to their race than
rum.  The discovery of gold meant an incursion of whites; first a few,
then thousands; cities, towns, machinery.  Then good-bye to the game,
whereby they largely subsisted; good-bye, indeed, to the country itself,
as far as they were concerned.  They threatened war.

It became necessary for something to be done.  Troops were sent to
patrol the Black Hills, with strict injunctions to arrest all white men
and send them under guard to the settlements.  This was extensively
done.  But the expelled miners, watching their chance, lost no time in
slipping back again, and their numbers, so far from decreasing, had just
the opposite tendency, arrests notwithstanding.

Then the United States Government resolved to purchase the Black Hills,
and made overtures to the Sioux accordingly.  The latter were divided in
opinion.  Some were for terms, the only question being as to their
liberality; others were for rejecting the proposal at any price, and if
the Government still persisted in its neglect to keep out the white
intruders, why then they must take the defence of their rights into
their own hands.

Pause, O philanthropic reader, ere running away with the idea that these
poor savages' rights were being ruthlessly trampled on; and remember the
old legal maxim about coming into court with clean hands.  The
Government tried to do its best, but in a vast, rugged, and lawless
country the inhabitants are not to be policed as in a well-ordered city
of the Old World.  Men could not be hung merely for encroaching on the
reservation, and the state of popular feeling precluded any sort of
deterrent punishment.  And then, were the Indians themselves strictly
observing their side of the treaty?  Let us see.

For several summers the bands roaming in the Powder River country had
perpetrated not a few murders of whites, had run off stock and destroyed
property to a considerable extent, in short, had taken the war-path, and
this although nominally at peace.  Now it was by virtue of keeping the
peace that their exclusive rights over the encroached-upon territory had
been conceded.

We have said that the Sioux were made up of various sub-divisions or
clans.  Now at that time there was not one of these which did not
furnish a quota of warriors to swell the ranks of the hostiles.
Nominally at peace, and drawing rations from the Government, the
turbulent spirits of these tribes would slip away quietly in small
parties, to join the hostile chiefs for a summer raid, returning to the
agencies when they had had enough fighting and plunder, and becoming--in
popular parlance--"good Indians" again.  These escapades were either
winked at by the tribal chiefs, who remained quietly at the agencies,
"keeping in" with the Government, or were simply beyond their power to
prevent.  Probably both attitudes held good, for the control exercised
by an Indian chief over his band or tribe seldom amounts to more than
moral suasion.

Briefly, then, the Sioux and their allies, the Northern Cheyennes, might
be thus classified:--

1.  The hostiles, _i.e._, the bold and lawless faction who hardly made
any secret of being on the war-path.  These held the broken and rugged
fastnesses of the Powder River country already referred to.

2.  The Agency Indians who, sitting still on their reserves, helped
their hostile brethren with information and supplies.

3.  The turbulent youths on the reservation, always ready to slip away
on their own account, or to join the hostiles, in search of scalps,
plunder, and fun in general.

4.  The whole lot, ripe for any devilment, provided it offered a safe
chance of success.

Such was the state of affairs in 1873-4-5, and now apologising to the
reader for this digression, let us get back to our council.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

THE COUNCIL.

In silence the "medicine-man" prepared the great pipe, his lips moving
in a magical incantation as he solemnly filled it.  Then handing the
stem to Vipan, who was seated on the right of Red Cloud, he applied a
light to the bowl.  This "medicine" or council pipe was a magnificent
affair, as suited its solemn and ceremonial character.  The large and
massive bowl was of porous red stone, the stem, upwards of a yard in
length, being profusely ornamented with beadwork and quills, and at
intervals of a few inches flowed three long and carefully-dressed
scalp-locks.  Vipan, fully alive to the position of honour he occupied,
gravely inhaled the aromatic mixture with the utmost deliberation,
expelling the smoke in clouds from his mouth and nostrils.  Then he
passed it on to Red Cloud, who, after the same ceremony, in similar
fashion passed it to the chief next him on his left, and so in dead
silence it went round the circle, each warrior taking a series of long
draws, and then, having handed the pipe to his neighbour, emitting a
vast volume of smoke by a slow process which seemed to last several
minutes, and the effect of which was not a little curious.

No word had been uttered since they entered the lodge, and not until the
pipe had made the complete round of the circle was the silence broken.
Then a sort of professional orator, whose mission was something similar
to that of counsel for the plaintiff--viz., to "open the case"--arose
and proceeded to set forth the grounds of debate.  The Dahcotah, he
said, were a great nation, and so were their brethren the Cheyennes, who
also had an interest in the matter which had brought them together.
Both were represented here by many of their most illustrious chiefs and
their bravest warriors, several of whom, in passing, the orator
proceeded to name, together with the boldest feat of arms of each, and
at each of these panegyrics a guttural "How-how!" went forth from his
listeners.  The Dahcotah were not only a great people and a brave
people, but they were also a long-suffering people.  Who among all the
red races had such good hearts as the Dahcotah?  Who among them would
have remained at peace under such provocation as they had received and
continued to receive?

The debate was getting lively now.  An emphatic exclamation of assent
greeted the orator, whose tone, hitherto even, began to wax forcible.

When the Dahcotah agreed to bury the hatchet with the Mehneaska
[Americans]--went on the speaker--a treaty was entered into, and under
this the Great Father [the President of the United States] promised that
the reservations they now occupied should be secured to them for ever--
that no white men should be allowed within them, either to hunt or to
settle or to search for gold, and on these conditions the Dahcotah
agreed to abandon the war-path.  That was seven years ago.  They had
abandoned it.  They had "travelled on the white man's road," had sat
within their reservations, molesting no one.  They had made expeditions
to their hunting-grounds to find food for their families and skins to
build their lodges, but they had sent forth no war-parties.  They had
always treated the whites well.  And now, how had the Great Father kept
his promises?  White men were swarming into the Dahcotah country.  First
they came by twos and threes, quietly, and begging to be admitted as
friends.  Then they came by twenties, armed with rifles and many
cartridges, and began to lay out towns.  Soon the Dahcotah country would
be black with the smoke of their chimneys, and the deer and the buffalo,
already scarce, would be a thing of the past.  Look at Pahsapa [the
Black Hills].  Every valley was full of white men digging for gold.
What was this gold, and whose was it?  Was it not the property of the
Dahcotah nation, on whose ground it lay hidden?  If it was valuable,
then the Great Father should make the Dahcotah nation rich with valuable
things in exchange for it.  But these intruding whites took the gold and
gave nothing to its owners--threatened them with bullets instead.  It
had been suggested that they should sell Pahsapa.  But these Hills were
"great medicine"--sacred ground entrusted to the Dahcotah by the Good
Spirit of Life.  How could they sell them?  What price would be
equivalent to such a precious possession?  There was a chief here of
mighty renown--the war-chief of the Ogallalla--who had led the nation
again and again to victory, whose war-whoop had scattered the whites
like buffalo before the hunters, the "medicine chief" of the Dahcotah
race.  When the council should hear his words on this matter their path
would be plain before them.

As the orator ceased an emphatic grunt went round the circle with a
unanimity that spoke volumes.  Red Cloud [Note 1], thus directly
referred to, made, however, no sign.  Motionless as a statue, there was
a thoughtful, abstracted look upon his massive countenance, as though he
had not heard a word of the harangue.

A few moments of silence, then another chief arose--a man of lofty
stature and of grim and scowling aspect, his eyes scintillating with a
cruel glitter from beneath his towering war-bonnet.  After less than
usual of the conventional brag as to the greatness of his nation and so
forth, speaking fiercely and eagerly, as if anxious to come to the
point, he went on:--

"What enemy has not felt the spring of Mountain Cat?  From the far
hunting-grounds of the Kiowas and the Apaches to the boundary line of
the English in the North, there is not a spot of ground that Mountain
Cat has not swept with his war-parties; not a village of the crawling
Shoshones or skulking Pawnees that he has not taken scalps from; not a
waggon train of these invading whites that he has not struck.  When in
the South the destroying locusts sweep down upon the land, they come not
in one mighty cloud.  No.  They come one at a time at first, then a few
more, fluttering quietly, far apart.  It is nothing.  But lo! in a
moment there is a cloud in the air--a rush of wings, and the land is
black with them--everything is devoured.  So it is with these whites.
One comes to trade, another comes to hunt, a third comes to visit us,
two more come to search for this gold, and lo! the land is hidden
beneath their devastating bands.  Their stinking chimneys blacken the
air, their poisonous firewater kills our young men or reduces them to
the level of the whites themselves, who drink until they wallow like
hogs upon the earth, and brother kills brother because he has drunk away
his mind and has become a brute beast.  Who would have dealings with
such dogs as these?

"There was a time when our hunting-grounds shook beneath the tread of
countless buffalo.  Then we were great because free and feared--for who
in those days dared incur the enmity of the Dahcotah?  What happened?
The whites built their accursed roads and the steam-horse came puffing
over the plains, and where are the buffalo to-day?  The land is white
with their skeletons, but will skeletons feed the Dahcotah and supply
skins for their winter lodges?  The Great Father" (and the savage
uttered the words with a contemptuous sneer) "then said, `Let us send
and kill all the buffalo, and the red races will starve.'  So the white
hunters came from the east and destroyed our food for ever.  And where
are we to-day?  Are we not living like beggars?  Are we not dependent on
the Agencies for our daily food and clothing, instead of upon our own
arrows and lances as of yore?  First came the settlers, whom we treated
as friends, then the steam-horse and the iron road, then the finding of
the gold.  Where this gold is, there the whites swarm.  What do we gain,
I say, by treating with these lying Mehneaska?  What have we ever
gained?  When they sought to throw open our territory by cutting it with
a broad road, did we treat?  No, we fought.  Where is that road to-day?
Where are the forts built along it to keep it open?  Gone--all gone.
But the buffalo--what few are left--are there.  How many would be left
now had we traded away our rights?  Not one.  The whole Dahcotah nation
went out upon the war-path.

"The whites begged for peace, and we granted it them.  They agreed to
respect our country, which was all we asked.  Seven years have gone by,
and how is that agreement kept?  Go, count the white men digging in
Pahsapa.  Ha!  There are many scalps to be had in Pahsapa."

His tone, which had hitherto been one of quick, fierce emphasis, here
assumed a slow and deadly meaning.  The young warriors, listening
without, gripped their weapons with a murmur of delighted applause.
Mountain Cat was a chieftain after their own heart.  Let him but set up
the war-post that very night.  All the young men in the village would
strike it.

"We are strong," he continued, "strong and united.  Our bands are
defending our hunting-grounds between this and the Yellowstone, but what
shall be thought of us if we allow the whites to invade us here, to
deprive us of the medicine hills without a struggle?  Are we men, or
have we become squaws since we began to receive doles of Government
beef?"

Then the fierce savage, raising his voice, his eyes blazing like
lightning, stretched forth his arm in denunciatory gesture over the
assembly, and continued:

"Mountain Cat will never trust the promises of these Mehneaska.  If they
want Pahsapa, let them take it by right of conquest--by seizing it from
the unconquerable Dahcotah.  There are scalps to be taken in Pahsapa.
Let the whole Dahcotah nation once more go out upon the war-path.  I
have said."

Vipan, listening impassively, though with keen attention, to every word
that was uttered, here caught the eye of War Wolf.  The young warrior's
face was a study in sardonic ferocity at the words, "There are scalps to
be taken in Pahsapa," and he grinned with delight over the fiendish joke
shared between himself and Golden Face.

The young bucks in the background were in ecstasies of glee.  They
anticipated no end of fun in the near future.

Several other speakers followed, and opinions on the advisability of war
varied considerably.  Most of them advocated the sale, but for an
enormous price.  There was a white man among them to-night, they said,
of a different race to these other whites, and towards him their hearts
were good.  He loved his red brethren; he was their brother.  He had
told them about other lands than that of the Mehneaska--lands as large
and as rich beyond the great Salt Lake.  They must listen to him, for he
was wise.  He understood the ways of the whites, and would teach the
Dahcotah how to deal with them--so that if Pahsapa should be sold they
should receive full price; and not, as in other transactions, receive
payment in promises.

This, more or less plainly put, was the burden of their speeches.
Vipan, listening with more than Indian composure, felt that things were
tending all as he would have them.  It may here be stated that he was
alone among his red entertainers; Smokestack Bill, foreseeing how
affairs were likely to drift, having returned to the log cabin among the
mountains.  For once the adventurer was glad of his comrade's absence.
He could play his cards more freely; besides, the Indians trusted him as
belonging to another race.  Had the scout been still in the village, the
two white men would not have been admitted to this council.

Then arose Spotted Tail, the head chief of the Brule bands, and after
Red Cloud, perhaps one of the most influential chiefs of the nation.  He
made a long oration, of considerable eloquence, but it was all in favour
of peace.  There was no need, he said, to reiterate that they were a
great nation.  Everybody knew it.  As many speakers had asserted, the
Dahcotah had never been conquered.  Why was this?  Because they were not
only a brave but a prudent people.  A brave man without prudence was
like a grizzly bear--he might slay so many enemies more or less, but he
invited his own destruction by rushing upon their rifles.  As with a
man, so it was with a nation.  Prudence was everything.  This gold which
white men were now finding among the Hills--did not all experience show
that wherever it was discovered, there the whites would soon appear in
countless swarms?  Gold was the "medicine" of the whites--they could not
resist it.  Not even all the warriors the Dahcotah could muster could in
the long run stand between the whites and gold--no, nor all the warriors
of every tribe from the Apaches in the south to the Blackfeet on the
English boundary line.  The last time they went upon the war-path it was
to prevent the whites from making a broad road through their country--
and they succeeded.  If they went upon it this time it would be to keep
the whites away from this gold.  That was a thing which no tribe or
nation had ever succeeded in doing yet, or ever would.  Let the Dahcotah
be prudent.

As for these Hills, it was true they were "great medicine," but the
people seldom hunted in them.  They were not of much use.  The Mehneaska
were very anxious to possess them, and the Great Father was so rich he
could afford to give such a price as would make the Dahcotah rich too.
Besides, it was evident that he wished to treat them fairly this time,
for had he not sent troops to drive away the intruding gold-seekers?
They had come back, it was true; but this only proved the difficulties
besetting the whole question.  Let the Dahcotah nation be prudent--
prudence was the keystone to every matter of international difficulty.
His counsel was for entering into negotiations at once about the
purchase.  He was also emphatically on the side of peace.

Very faint were the murmurs of applause from the young men outside as
Spotted Tail resumed his seat.  The war spirit was in the air, and the
burden of his speech was unpalatable to them.  Then Red Cloud said:

"Golden Face sits in an honoured place at the council fire of the
Dahcotah people.  They will listen to his words as to the voice of a
brother."

With a slight bend of the head in acknowledgment of this graceful
invitation, Vipan arose.  As he stood for a few moments silently
contemplating the circle of stately chiefs, the firelight glinting on
the flowing masses of his beard and bringing into strong relief the
herculean proportions of his towering stature, there was not an eye
among the crowd of fierce and excitable savages but dilated with
admiration.  Here was indeed a man.

"Who am I that stand to address you to-night?" he began, speaking in
their own tongue with ease and fluency.  "Who knows?  I will not boast.
Suffice it to say that I have led men to war, in other lands beyond the
great salt seas.  I have struck the enemy, and that not once only.  I
have seen his back, but he has never seen mine.  Enough.  Who am I?  It
has been said that I am not of the race around us.  That is so.  There
are many white races; that to which I have belonged matters nothing, for
I own no race, I am akin to all the world," with a sweep of the arm that
would have done credit to one of their own most finished orators.

"The people whose hearts are straight towards me, whether light or dark,
white or red, that is my people.  Those who deal fairly with me, I deal
fairly with; those who do not, let them beware.  You in council have
asked my advice.  I cannot give advice, but my _opinion_ the chiefs
before me can value or not.

"I have listened to the speeches of many valiant men.  Some have
advocated peace, others have been for war.  It is a simple thing to go
to war.  Is it?  When the red men strike the war-post, they muster their
warriors, and go forth to battle.  When the whites decide on war, they
collect their dollars, and pay soldiers to go and fight for them.  The
red men fight with weapons, the whites with dollars.  The red men would
rather forego their chance of booty than lose one warrior.  The whites
would rather lose a thousand soldiers than five thousand dollars.  But,
you will say: If the whites have the dollars, and value not the lives of
other people, what chance have we, for they are rich, and can pay?  Wait
a moment.  Men are wonderfully alike, whether red or white.  Is it your
experience that the richest man is the man who cares least for his
possessions?  It is not mine.

"Now let your ears be open, for this is the point.  The fear of losing
men will not deter the whites from going to war; no, not for a moment,
but the fear of losing dollars will.  It is not the soldiers who make
the war, it is the people who pay for it.  These will not allow war to
be made by their rulers for fun.

"Were I a councillor of the Dahcotah nation, this is what I should say:
First, let the Great Father prove that he is in earnest by turning all
the whites out of Pahsapa, or allowing us to do so.  When this is done--
but not until then--we will enter into negotiations for the purchase.
Then I should ask eighty million dollars in cash.  It is a large sum,
but nothing compared with the value of the ground itself.  The Mehneaska
will gladly pay this, rather than embark in a war which they know will
cost them twenty times as much, for they know the prowess of the
Dahcotah nation, and respect the name of Red Cloud," turning with a
graceful inclination towards the chief at his side.

"And there are many whites who will refuse to pay for a war with the red
men.  They love their red brethren, they say.  It is no trouble to love
people you have never seen.  They do not really love you, but pretend
to, which is more to your interest still; so that others shall
say:--`What good people, to take such care of the poor red man.'  They
will take your part and see that you are not wronged, because sympathy
gives no trouble, and is cheap, and they think it a sure and easy way to
the white man's Happy Hunting-grounds.

"In short, then, were I one of themselves, these would be my words to
the chiefs and warriors of the Dahcotah nation:--Be firm; fix your
price, and in any attempt to beat you down, stand as immovable as the
towering Inyan Kara.  Having fixed it, get someone whom you can trust to
see that you obtain it; and, above all, write in your hearts the warning
of the great chief who has just sat down, for it contains the words of
golden wisdom: `A brave man without _prudence_ is like the grizzly
bear--he invites his own destruction.'

"There is one more thing to talk about.  I and the warriors of the
Dahcotah nation are brothers, and our hearts are the same.  I who speak
with you am of no race.  I am akin to all the world, to all men whose
hearts are good towards me.  But although I am of no race I have friends
of every race.  When the war-parties of the Dahcotah are abroad, it may
be that they will find me.  Who would strike the friends of his brother?
Such of the Mehneaska as may be with me are my friends, and the
Dahcotah warriors will pass on, saying:--`We do not strike the friends
of our brother, lest we turn him into an enemy.'  Yet why should I talk
of this?  Only that in the days of youth the blood is hot, and young men
upon the war-path strike first, and think afterwards.  Enough, my words
are for the ears of chiefs.  My heart and the hearts of the great chiefs
to whom I speak, are the same.  I have spoken."

The clear ringing voice, the fluent language, the determination, even
the veiled menace in the last words of the speaker, appealed straight to
the most susceptible side of his savage hearers.  One white man alone in
their midst, and he did not shrink from threatening them with his
hostility in the event of certain contingencies--threatening _them_, in
their own estimation the most redoubtable warriors in the world!
Assuredly he knew the way to their respect.

There were some there, however, in whom these last words aroused a
feeling of rankling hostility, among them that fierce, that
uncompromising abhorrer of the whole white race, Mountain Cat.  This
grim chieftain smiled sardonically to himself, as he inwardly promised
what sort of treatment should be meted out to anyone whom his war-party
should surprise, be they the friends of whom they might.  Then ensued a
period of silence, and every eye was turned with expectation upon Red
Cloud.

But that crafty chief was not yet prepared to commit himself to a
definite policy either way.  Sitting motionless, he had weighed every
word which had fallen from the speakers, and notably from the last.  He
was too far-sighted to plunge his nation into open war before the time
was ripe: and his thinking out of the situation had convinced him that
it was not.  There were still cards to be played.  So when he spoke it
was briefly.  Cautiously touching on the _pros_ and _cons_ of the
speeches they had listened to, he announced that the situation must
further be delayed, hinting that meanwhile such of his countrymen as
felt aggressively disposed towards the common enemy had better exercise
great prudence.

The council was at an end.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  This chief, over and above his skill and intrepidity as a
warrior, enjoyed a high reputation among the Indians of the Northern
Plains as a magician and a seer--a reputation really due to his
astuteness, keen foresight, and extraordinary luck.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE SCALP-DANCE.

Uncas and Wingenund are very pretty creations, but they represent the
savage as he really is about as accurately as the Founder of
Christianity represents the average Christian of the current century.
Which may be taken to mean that all preconceived and popular ideas of
the "noble red man" can safely be relegated to the clouds.

Nobody was more aware of this than Vipan, consequently he knew exactly
at what valuation to take all these overwhelmingly fraternal speeches of
his red brethren.  He knew--none better--that the wily chiefs intended
to make use of him; he knew, moreover, that he could be of use to them;
equally was he determined to receive a full equivalent for his services,
and this equivalent he intended should be nothing less than the
exclusive right of mining in the Black Hills.

His shrewd mind had grasped the sense of the council, and he realised
that a sort of desultory warfare, for which no one was responsible,
would be undertaken against the white men already there.  These,
isolated by twos and threes at their scattered mining camps, could not
hope to make a successful stand against bands of savages raiding upon
them incessantly.  They would be driven out, and then he, Vipan, the
friend and "brother" of the red possessors, would pick out all the best
claims, work them with a will, and quickly make his fortune.

A daring and unscrupulous plan?  Yes; but Nature had endowed the man
with indomitable daring, and circumstances had combined to render him
utterly unscrupulous.  In advising the chiefs to ask the enormous sum
named above, and to abide by their demand, he was perfectly well aware
that the United States Government would not agree to it, but the larger
the demand the more protracted would be the haggle, and the more
protracted the haggle the more time would be his wherein to enrich
himself.

There was one factor which he overlooked--or if it occurred to him he
preferred to put it aside--the possibility that the yield of gold would
not come up to anything like his expectations.  But he was sanguine.
Adventurers of his type invariably are.  Give him a fair chance and his
fortune was made.

Vipan was very popular in the Indian village.  Apart from the
consequence attaching to him as the friend and guest of the great
chief--for he had taken up his quarters in Red Cloud's own lodge--he
mixed freely with all the warriors, chatting with them, and treating
them as friends and equals.  Indians in private life are arrant gossips,
and the adventurer being one of those adaptable persons at home in any
society was in great request, for he was essentially "good company," and
two-thirds of the night would be spent in this or that warrior's
_teepe_, the structure crowded to suffocation, listening to his droll,
or tragical, or romantic stories of all parts of the world.  Then, too,
he would accompany the young bucks on their hunting trips, in no case
allowing their success to excel his; or would organise shooting matches
among them.  There were instances even wherein he was not above cutting
out one or two of them in some--what we will call--boudoir intrigue,
purely for the devilment of the thing, and if only to show them that
there was nothing in which he could not surpass them--whether in love,
war, or the chase.  All this told.  Their respect and admiration for him
were unbounded, yet had they by chance the good fortune to surprise him
alone on the prairie, and get him into their power, it is doubtful
whether any consideration of friendship would suffice to restrain some
of the young bucks from taking his scalp.  And of this he himself was
well aware.

It was the evening of the day after the council.  Vipan, returning from
a solitary hunt, to the success of which an antelope strapped behind his
saddle, and several brace of sand-grouse dangling from the same, bore
silent testimony, found his thoughts fully occupied weighing the
position of affairs, and the more he looked at it the less he liked it.
There was a hitch somewhere, and on this he had no difficulty in putting
his finger.  A powerful faction in the village was hostile to him
altogether, and this was the uncompromising war-faction--Grey Wolf, the
chief of the Cheyenne band; Mountain Cat, the Ogallalla; also War Wolf,
who, although not a chief, yet aspired to this dignity, and who, his
youth notwithstanding, was a warrior of such prestige among his fellows
as to be no mean adversary.  These especially--and there were others--he
knew distrusted him and his plans.  They were inveterate haters of all
whites indiscriminately, and while they had hitherto treated him with
grim courtesy, yet the covert hostility of their manner and words was
not lost upon so shrewd an observer as himself.  But it was certain that
although the distrust or antipathy of these men might place obstacles in
his path, yet no sort of alarm did it inspire him with.  He was the
proper stuff out of which adventurers are made--utterly reckless.

The crisp, frosty ground crackled beneath the hoofs of his powerful
black horse; the sun had gone down, and the white conical lodges of the
Sioux village stood spectral in the grey twilight.  There was a
stillness and peace pervading the scene, which was very unusual in such
close proximity to the savage encampment.  Suddenly, shrilling forth
loud and clear upon the evening air, rang out the terrible war-whoop.

To say that Vipan saw that his weapons were ready to hand would be
superfluous, for they were always in a state of readiness.  But he did
not quite like the look of things, and more than one keen, anxious
glance did he cast, without seeming to do so, into the belt of timber
which he was skirting.  Suddenly the semi-gloom seemed alive with dusky
shapes flitting among the tree stems, and then all around him arose once
more the war-whoop, which was taken up and echoed back from the village
amid the frantic hammering of many drums.

"What's it all about, Three Elks?" he asked tranquilly, as a tall
warrior glided past him in the twilight.

"How!  Scalp!" replied the savage laconically, and then opening his
mouth he once more set up the hideous shout as he rushed on.

The aspect of the Sioux village was that of the nethermost shades with
all the fiends holding high revel.  For the open space in front of the
council-lodge was alive with excited Indians, those coming in from
without whooping or shrilling their war-whistles as they rushed into the
thick of the surging throng.  Gangs of squaws squatted around, keeping
up a wild, nasal, yelling chant, to the monotonous "tom-tom" of drums.
Red fires glared upon the night; while hundreds of excited warriors,
plumed and hideously painted, falling into something like a circular
formation, revolved around several poles, from which dangled and flapped
scalps in various stages of preservation--some dry and parchment-like,
others fresh and only half cured.

Round and round circled the wild dance, the hoarse howling of the
warriors, varied occasionally by a deafening war-whoop; the nasal
yelling of the squaws; the hammering of drums and the screech of
whistles; the lurid glare of the fires upon the fierce bounding shapes
and the hideously streaked bodies and plumed heads; the gleam of weapons
and the disgusting trophies flapping up aloft; all went to make up a
weird and appalling pandemonium which baffles description.  And yet so
contagious, so insidious in its effect was this barbarous saturnalia
that Vipan could with difficulty restrain himself from rushing into the
maddened throng, and, brandishing his weapons, whoop and howl with the
wildest of them.

One thing he observed which, in any other man as well acquainted with
the Indian character as himself, would have been productive of
uneasiness.  The dancers consisted almost entirely of young bucks, every
chief or partisan of any note being conspicuous by his absence.  But
although he knew that his position was precarious in the extreme there
in the midst of that crowd of savages, quickly working themselves into a
state of uncontrollable excitement, yet there was such an irresistible
fascination about the whole thing that he felt rooted to the spot.

Suddenly War Wolf, bounding up to one of the poles, detached a couple of
scalps, and, waving them aloft, uttered an ear-splitting yell.  The
savage, bedaubed from head to foot with yellow paint spotted all over
with blotches of vermilion, brandishing a tomahawk in one hand and the
ghastly trophies in the other, while with blazing eyes he yelled forth
the history of his bloody exploit, looked a very fiend.  Then as his
eyes met those of Vipan, standing on the outside of the circle, he gave
vent to a devilish laugh, flourishing the scalps ironically towards the
latter.

The war-whoop pealed forth again, shriller, fiercer, and many a
bloodthirsty glare was turned upon Vipan from a hundred pairs of eyes,
as the maddened barbarians revolved in their frenzied rout.  But he
never quailed.  The fascination was complete.  And through it he noted
two things.  Both scalps were fresh.  Hardly a week had passed since
they grew upon the heads of their owners--and one of them was
plentifully covered with a thick crop of red hair.

A voice at his side, speaking in quiet tones, broke the spell.

"Golden Face should be hungry and tired.  Will he not come in, and rest
and eat?"

Turning, he beheld Red Cloud.  The latter's eyes wandered from his to
the crowd of furious dancers with a meaning there was no mistaking.
Without a word he turned and strolled away with the chief.



CHAPTER NINE.

SOME OLD CORRESPONDENCE.

Mr Santorex and his daughter were seated in the former's own especial
sanctum, busily engaged in sorting and destroying old letters and
papers.

The room was a pleasant one, somewhat sombre perhaps--thanks to its
panelling of dark oak--but the window commanded a lovely view of the
Lant valley.  Round the room stood cabinet cupboards, enclosing
collections of insects, birds' eggs, plants, etc., and surmounted by a
number of glass cases containing stuffed birds and animals.
Fishing-rods on a rack, a few curiosities of savage weapons, and a
portrait or two adorned the walls.

"Had enough of it, Chickie?  Rather a sin to keep you boxed up here this
lovely morning, isn't it?"

"No, father, of course it isn't.  Besides, we are nearly at the end of
these `haunting memories of bygone days,' aren't we? or we shall be by
lunch-time, anyhow."

It was indeed a lovely morning.  The sweet spring air, wafting in at the
window, floated with it the clear song of larks poised aloft in the blue
ether, the bleating of young lambs disporting amid the buttercups on the
upland pastures, and many another note of the pleasant country blending
together in harmonious proportion.

"`Haunting memories,' eh?" replied Mr Santorex, seeming to dwell
somewhat over the sheaf of yellow and timeworn papers he held in his
hand.  "Instructive--yes.  A record of the average crop of idiocies a
man sows in earlier life under the impression that he is doing the right
thing.  Acting under a generous impulse, I believe it is called."

Thus with that cynical half-smile of his did Mr Santorex keep up a
running comment on each separate episode chronicled among the papers and
letters filed away in his despatch-box.  Some he merely looked at and
put aside without a word; others he descanted upon in his peculiar dry
and caustic fashion which always inspired the listeners with something
bordering on repulsion.  Yseulte herself could not but realise that
there was a something rather cold-blooded, not to say ruthless, about
her tranquil and philosophical parent that would have awed--almost
repelled--her but that she loved him very dearly.  Her nature was a
concentrative one, and unsusceptible withal.  She had hardly made any
friends, because she had seen no one worth entertaining real friendship
for, and she was a girl who would not fall in love readily.

"I wish I hadn't seen this just now, father," she said, handing him back
a sheaf of letters.  It was a correspondence of a lively nature, and
many years back, between himself and Mr Vallance.  "You see, the
Vallances are all coming up here this afternoon, and I don't feel like
being civil to them immediately upon it."

"Pooh! civility means nothing, not in this location at least.  Why, when
we first came here we were overwhelmed with it.  It didn't last many
months certainly, but it broke out afresh when rumour made me a
millionaire.  Why, what have you got there?"

For she was now scrutinising, somewhat intently, a photograph which had
fallen out of a bundle of papers among the piles they had been sorting.
It represented a youngish man, strikingly handsome, and with a strong,
reckless stamp of countenance; and though the original must have been
prematurely bald, the mouth was almost hidden by a long heavy moustache.
A queer smile came into Mr Santorex's face.

"Think that's the type you could fall in love with, eh, Chickie?  Well,
I advise you not to, for I can't bring you face to face with the
original."

"Why?  Who is it?"

"Who is it?  No less a personage than the disinherited heir, Ralph
Vallance.  The plot thickens, eh?"

"I didn't know.  I thought he was dead, if I ever knew there was such a
person, that is.  Why was he disinherited?"

"Ah, that's something of a story.  Poor Ralph!  I think he was most
unfairly treated, always did think so; especially when that hum--er, I
mean, our spiritual guide, jumped into his shoes.  No, I daresay you
never heard much about it, but you are a woman now, my dear, and a
deuced sensible one too, as women go, and I always hold that it is
simply nonsensical and deleterious to their moral fibre to let women--
sensible ones, that is--go about the world with their eyes shut.  To
come back to our romance.  The old squire of Lant was a straight-laced,
puritanical fossil, and Master Ralph was just the reverse, an
extravagant, roystering young dog who chucked away ten pounds for every
one that he was worth, in fact the ideal `Plunger' as you girls estimate
that article.  Naturally, there were occasional breezes down at the
Hall, nor were these effectually tempered by the crafty intervention of
cousin Dudley, who ran the vicarage in those days.  The old man used to
get very mad, especially when Ralph began dabbling in _post obits_, and
vowed he'd cut off that hopeful with a shilling, and leave everything to
his reverend nephew.  Finally, the regiment went on foreign service, and
while the transport was lying at the Abraham Islands, where she had put
in for coal and other supplies, that young idiot, Ralph Vallance, must
needs get mixed up in a confounded domestic scandal there was no
clapping an extinguisher on.  The mischief of the thing was that it
nearly concerned the Governor of the place, whose interest was
considerable enough to get Master Ralph cashiered, in the event of his
failing to send in his papers at once.  Of the two evils, he chose the
latter, and least; and as it could not be kept from his affectionate
parent, that sturdy Pharisee duly cut him off with a shilling and
departed this life forthwith.  So the revered and reverend Dudley reigns
in both their steads."

"I wonder Mr Vallance has the conscience to take the property at the
expense of his cousin, whatever the latter might have done."

"You do, do you!  Oh, Chickie, to think that you and I should have been
sworn allies all through your long and illustrious career, and you still
capable of propounding such a sentiment!  Know then, O recreant, that
our sacred friend, although he may be something of a kn--ah'm! has
nothing of the fool about him, although the other was a consummate young
ass, or he would never have gone the length of getting himself cut out
of his patrimony."

"But didn't Mr Vallance do anything for him?"

"I have it on the best authority, that of the victim himself, that he
did not.  Ralph, however, was determined not to be outdone in
generosity, for he came raging down here one fine day consumed with
anxiety to take his reverend cousin by the scruff of the neck and give
him a liberal thrashing.  It was just as well, perhaps, that chance
enabled me to prevent him."

"You knew him then, father?"

"Yes, we struck up acquaintance on that occasion.  Poor Ralph!  He was a
fine fellow, whatever his faults, and, mind you, my impression is that
in the last affair it was a case of clapping the saddle on the wrong
horse, that he was screening somebody else, and allowed the blame to
fall on himself rather than `peach.'  It was magnificent, but--stark
idiotic."

"He has a very, fine face," said Yseulte, again taking up the photograph
and examining it thoughtfully.  The fact that he had suffered at the
hands of his slippery cousin was quite enough to enlist all her
sympathies in behalf of the romantic scapegrace.

"Yes, it is.  You know I am not given to indiscriminate eulogium, but
without hesitation I think Ralph Vallance was about the finest specimen
of manhood I ever saw."

"What has become of him now?"

"I haven't the faintest notion.  All this happened a good many years
ago, when you were almost in your cradle.  Why, Ralph, if he is alive,
must be getting on in years by this time.  There, that's about all the
story that it's worth your while to know, my dear, and now we'll lock
the correspondence away in my private safe.  Let me have the portrait
again when you have done with it."

Yseulte, as we have said, was not a romantically inclined girl, yet,
somehow, this faded portrait of the man of whom nobody had heard
anything for almost as many years as she herself had lived, made a vivid
impression on her.  As she sat contemplating it, a voice arose from the
lawn beneath, saying in the most approved Oxford drawl:

"Ah, how do you do, Mrs Santorex?  I've brought rather a queer plant
that your husband may not have in his collection.  It strikes me as a
curious specimen."  And then Mrs Santorex was heard asking the speaker
in.

Father and daughter looked at each other with the most comical
expression in the world.  Then the former murmured, with a dry,
noiseless laugh:

"He's found the four-leaved shamrock.  Oh, Chickie, Chickie! have some
pity on poor Geoffry Plantagenet, and put him out of his misery, once
and for all!"

The girl could hardly stifle her laughter.  Her father, for his part,
was thinking resignedly that to the bald expedients devised by enamoured
youth as pretexts for numerous and wholly unnecessary visits to the
parent or lawful guardian of its idol, there is no limit.



CHAPTER TEN.

POOR GEOFFRY.

The clever author of "Mine is Thine" lays it down as an axiom that
nothing so completely transforms the average sensible man into a
consummate idiot for the time being as an _arriere pensee_; and it is an
axiom the soundness of which all observation goes to prove.

Geoffry Vallance, if not passing brilliant, was endowed with average
sense and more than average assurance, yet when he found himself seated
opposite Yseulte at the luncheon table in accordance with that young
lady's father's impromptu invitation, his wits were somewhat befogged.
Not to put too fine a point upon it, he was distressingly conscious of
feeling an ass, and, worse still, of looking one.  His conversation,
normally lucid, and, like the brook, apt to "go on for ever," was now a
little incoherent, jerky, and limited in area; his demeanour, normally
self-possessed, not to say a trifle assertive, was now constrained,
spasmodic, and painfully apprehensive of saying or doing the wrong
thing.

The poor fellow was over head and ears in love, which blissful state
developed a new phase in his character--a self-consciousness and a
diffidence which no one would have suspected to lie hidden there.  Eager
to show at his best in the eyes of Yseulte and her father, he, of course
showed at his worst.  It never occurred to him--it does not to most men
under the circumstances--that heroic qualities are not essential to the
adequate looking after of multifold dress baskets and hand luggage at
the railway station or on board the Channel packet; that a Greek profile
is hardly requisite to the unmurmuring liquidation of milliners' bills,
or the torso of a Milo to the deft fulfilment of the _role_ of domestic
poodle.  These considerations did not occur to him, but a wretched
consciousness of his own deficiencies in appearance and attainments did,
and now to this was added the recollection of that ridiculous position
they had seen him in only a day or two ago, and which had lain heavily
on his mind ever since.

"Too great a fool ever to be a knave" had been Mr Santorex's dictum,
not meaning thereby that Geoffry was a dunce or a blockhead, the fact
being that he was a hard reader and expected to take high honours at the
end of the ensuing term.  But in other matters, field sports and real
_savoir vivre_, he was something of a duffer.  Yet though father and
daughter disliked the residue of the house of Vallance, they entertained
a sort of good-humoured kindness towards Geoffry, who was at worst a
muff, and good-natured, and with no harm in him.  And of this feeling
poor Geoffry had an inkling.

A little chaff about Muggins' bull, and Yseulte, seeing that the topic
was distressful to the hero of the adventure, good-naturedly turned it;
for in spite of her previously expressed disinclination for showing any
civility towards the Vallances that day, she seemed quite to have
forgiven them as far as Geoffry was concerned, and was as kind to him as
ever.  The plant, by the way, which had served as pretext for this
visit, was a fraud of the first water, but Mr Santorex, while showing
its worthlessness as a specimen, had not only spared, but even
flattered, the feelings of the donor, for, thorough cynic as he was at
heart, in his practice he was a very tolerant man where the wretched
little tricks and subterfuges of mediocrity in distress were concerned,
always provided that these were not intended to serve as a cloak to
knavery.  When they were, his merciless predilection for, and powers of,
dissection had full indulgence.

The hereditary searing-iron must have found place in his daughter's
composition, though untempered by the experience of years and maturity.
For there was something of feline cruelty in the way in which, when
luncheon was over, she lured poor Geoffry out into the garden, talking
serenely in that beautifully modulated voice of hers, as, every action
full of unconscious grace, she bent down to pluck a flower here, or
raise a drooping plant there; or looking up into his face now and then
with such a straight glance out of her grand eyes as to make the poor
fellow fairly tremble with bewilderment, and stammer and stutter in his
attempts to express himself, until he was pitiable to behold.  But
though ashamed of the impulse, Yseulte was unable wholly to resist it.
This poor-spirited adorer of hers--was he not standing in another's
place, smugly enjoying and thriving upon what had been reft from its
rightful owner by a pitiful and underhanded trick--a trick which, though
legally permissible, was morally as complete an act of deliberate fraud
as any for which men were sent into penal servitude?  That photograph,
you see, had fired a new train of thought in the girl's adventurous
mind.  It was a splendid face, that which looked at her from the bit of
faded cardboard.  Its strong, reckless expression had seemed to haunt
her ever since.  She had never seen anything like it.  And it was that
of an injured and ill-used man; a man, too, with a vein of real heroism
running through his character, and therefore unlike other men; for had
not her father expressed his conviction that this man was suffering
wrongfully, was a beggar for life, rather than speak the word which
should inculpate someone else?  She looked at her stuttering, flurried
admirer there present, and turned away to hide a contemptuous curl of
the lip; she thought of the defrauded and absent one--whose place he had
usurped--wandering destitute over the earth, and her feelings were
strangely stirred.  Yet the former she knew well, his failings and his
good points; the latter she had only seen in a portrait--and an old and
faded portrait at that.  Was she going to fall in love with an old and
faded portrait?  Well, it was beginning to look uncommonly as if she
might.

Geoffry was on tenterhooks.  They were alone, and likely so to be left
for some little while longer at any rate.  Should he try his fate?
Anything was better than this suspense.  He would.

Alas for the defeat of praiseworthy enterprise!  The words would not
come.  He pounced upon a flower which Yseulte had been toying with and
had thrown down, and while stuttering over the discarded blossom as a
preliminary, a well-known and silky voice behind the pair made him start
and redden like a child detected in the forbidden jam-cupboard.

"Ah, there you are, Geoffry.  We thought you were being well taken care
of by our good friends here, so we didn't wait lunch for you.  How are
you, Yseulte?  My young people will be here soon.  I left them on the
road, or just starting."

It is doubtful whether Geoffry's feelings towards his sire were
affectionate just then.  Yseulte, however, felt that the latter's
presence was rather welcome.  Her adorer's embarrassment portended
something she preferred to avoid.  So she welcomed the reverend squire
quite cordially.

A gleam of colour on the lawn and the sound of voices betokened the
arrival of the rest of the family, and lo--Lucy and Agnes and Cecilia
and Anastasia, tennis-racquet in hand and arrayed in white flannels or
scarlet flannels, or blue flannels, and crowned with hats of stupendous
dimensions.  They were all fair, blue-eyed girls, passable-looking if
somewhat expressionless, very much alike, and numbering just a year
apiece between their ages.

No great cordiality existed between these young ladies and Yseulte
Santorex, as we have said; still, society has its duties, and leaving
the latter to fulfil the provisions of this threadbare truism on the
sunny lawn at Elmcote, wave we our magic wand to transport the reader to
a very different scene.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

"HANDS UP!"

A dull, leaden-grey sky; a few stray feathery flakes floating upon the
frosty air; an icebound stream; a dark serrated ridge rising to the
heavens on the one hand; on the other a lofty peak towering away into
the misty heights.  The dull moaning noise of the wind through the
forest, and the distant howling of wolves, for the wintry evening is
rapidly closing in, renders the whole scene and surroundings
indescribably desolate and dreary.

A hoof-stroke on the frost-bound earth.  Who is this riding abroad in
the weird wilderness at such an hour, with the snowstorm lowering
overhead, darkness and the multifold perils of the great mountains in
front!  Phantom steed and phantom rider?

Whether visionary or material, however, the latter glances upward
anxiously from time to time.  Darkness and the impending storm!  What he
urgently needs is daylight and tranquillity.  He reins in his powerful
black steed, and gazes intently for a few moments at the towering peak
half lost in the snow-cloud; then abruptly turning his horse, rides
about forty yards at right angles, and again sits contemplating the
lofty crag.

Somewhat of an extraordinary proceeding this.  Why does not the man
hasten upon his way?  A matter of but a few hours and these desolate
solitudes will be the theatre of such a strife and whirl of the elements
that any human being, one would think, would strain every effort to
reach a place of safety and comfort before the fury of the tempest is
upon him.  But this man seems in no sort of hurry; indeed, were it not
for his occasional anxious glances heavenward, he might be deemed
ignorant of the impending cataclysm.

"There is Ma-i-pah, the Red Peak," he muses.  "There is the forked pine,
and I have got them in line.  So far good.  The next thing is to find
the scathed tree.  But--oh curse the snow-cloud!  It may be months
before--"

"Cau-aak!"

A flap-flap of wings in the brake.  A raven, rising almost under the
horse's feet, wings its way to the boughs of a neighbouring oak.

So sudden is the hideous croak, echoing upon the stillness of this
deathly solitude, that even the iron nerves of the horseman are not
proof against a superstitious thrill.  But those nerves are strung up to
a pitch of suppressed excitement which is all engrossing.

"Cau-aak--Cau-aak!"

A second raven rises from the brake, and floats lazily off to join the
first, resembling in its grim blackness some foul demon of the
wilderness disturbed in his den of horrors.  Struck with an idea, the
rider turns his horse and enters the covert.  Following him, we seem to
have stood on this spot before.

There are the two crosses recently cut upon the huge pine-trunk, so
recently that the fresh resin exuding from them is all red and sticky as
though the very tree were weeping blood for the two hapless ones,
victims of a deed of blood, lying beneath it.  There is the mound of
earth and stones.  Stay! that mound has surely undergone a
transformation; for it is half overthrown, and the earth is rent and
burrowed, and cast up in all directions.  And there, scattered around,
lie the bones of the murdered men, broken and picked nearly clean by the
carrion beasts and birds of the wilderness.  By a ghastly coincidence,
the two scalpless heads, half denuded of flesh, lay side by side
grinning as if in agony, their sightless sockets, gory and half filled
with earth, gaping up at the intruder.  An awful, an appalling sight to
come upon suddenly in the twilight gloom of that grisly forest--a sight
to shake the strongest nerves, to haunt the spectator to his dying day.

But he who now looks upon it is little concerned, though even he cannot
repress a slight shiver of disgust as he contemplates the horrid
spectacle.  He dismounts, and leading his horse away from the mournful
relics, at which the animal snorts and shies in alarm, hitches him up to
a sapling, and then proceeds narrowly to scrutinise the ground.

The man's figure looks gigantic in the semi-gloom, as casting his ample
buffalo robe off one shoulder, he lays his rifle on the ground and
extracts something from the breast of his fringed hunting-shirt.  It is
nothing less than a crumpled and dirty piece of paper, oblong in shape,
and containing what is evidently a plan of some sort, rudely drawn, and
undecipherable without the aid of a few words equally rudely written and
misspelt, clearly the work of some unlettered person.

"_Forkt pine, Red Peak, Blarsted tree, the creek where half-buried
rock_!"

"The plot thickens," murmurs the investigator excitedly, conning over
the laconic cipher.  "Having established the relationship between the
forked pine and Ma-i-pah, otherwise the Red Peak, the next thing is to
discover the blasted tree, which should not be difficult, unless the
term represents obloquy rather than the effects of lightning.  That
done, the rest will be easy."

A few steps further into the brake.  Suddenly the blood surges into his
face.  Something white and ghostlike glints athwart the gloom.  A huge
pine, dead, and stripped of all its lower bark, clearly by several
successive strokes of lightning.  This can be no other than the "blasted
tree" of the cipher.  Almost trembling with excitement, once more he
unfolds the dirty sheet of paper and eagerly scans it.

"Hands up, stranger!  Hands up! or you're a stiff 'un, by God!"

The harsh, threatening voice, cleaving the twilight solitude, where a
moment before Vipan had imagined himself absolutely alone, was enough to
unnerve a less resolute hearer.  It proceeded from a tall,
sinister-looking man, who standing on a ridge or bank some
five-and-twenty yards off, and slightly above him, had him covered with
a rifle-barrel.  There was no disputing the grim mandate.  The other
held him at a complete disadvantage.  Any hesitation to comply would
mean a bullet through his heart that instant.  But while holding both
hands high above his head, his eyes were keenly on the look-out for the
smallest chance.

"I don't seem to have the pleasure of your acquaintance, friend," he
answered coolly.  What a fool he was to have parted company with his
Winchester, he thought.

"You don't?" yelled the man, amid a volley of curses.  "You soon will,
though, I reckon, you pesky-white Injun.  I'll learn you to set the red
devils on to scalp and knife my pardners.  Now, you jest throw down that
hunk of paper, slicker nor greased lightning--mind me."

The tone was so fierce and threatening that there was no room for delay.
No man living was more keenly competent to realise the situation than
he who had now the worst of it.

"All right," he answered.  "I'm standing on it.  You'll see it when I
move my foot."

"Don't move a hair else then, or you're a stiff," was the grim
uncompromising reply.

"Now," went on the fellow, having assured himself that the paper was
there, "take six steps backward--six and no more.  Quick march!"

With the deadly rifle-barrel still covering his heart, Vipan obeyed.

"Well! what's the next thing?" he said, and at the same time he noticed
that the other carried a lariat rope dangling in loose coils from his
left arm.

"The next thing, eh?" jeered the fierce aggressor.  "I and some of the
boys have kept our eye upon you for a good while, and the next thing is
we're going to lynch you.  Now--Turn round!"

The man in his eagerness had made a step forward, with the result that,
the little ridge of ground whereon he was standing being slippery with
the frost, he missed his footing, stumbled, staggered wildly in his
efforts to recover his balance, and finally rolled headlong almost at
Vipan's feet.

Crack!

The aggressor lay writhing in his death-throes.  All this time warily on
the look-out for the smallest chance in his favour, Vipan, quick as
thought, had whipped out the little Derringer which he carried in his
breast-pocket, and sent a bullet through his adversary's brain.

"I think I've turned the tables on you with effect, my hearty," he said,
contemplating the dead man with a savage sneer.  Now that there was no
further necessity for coolness, his blood boiled at the recent
humiliation this fellow had made him undergo.  "Ha, ha!  Go and tell
your two precious `pardners' what a sorry hash you made of it on their
account, you miserable idiot, and bait a few more Tartar traps down in
the nethermost shades.  Ha, ha!"

The first thing he did was to pick up and secure the sheet of paper.
Then he searched the dead man lest anything bearing upon the cipher
might be in his possession, but without avail.  He was about to leave
the spot, when an idea struck him.

For a moment he stood contemplating his late enemy.  Bending down, an
expression of strong disgust in his face, he gripped the dead man by the
hair--a couple of quick slashes, and the scalp was in his hand.  Then he
drew his knife across the throat of the corpse.

"The Sioux--his mark," he muttered, with grim jocosity.  "Faugh!  Now to
stow away this beastly thing," wiping the scalp upon its late
proprietor's clothing.

He removed the latter's weapons--rifle, revolver, knife--and keeping a
sharp look-out against any further aggression, regained his horse.  In
mounting, he trod on something which crackled crisply.  It was a dried
and shrivelled knee-boot, from which the leg-bone still protruded.  And
his attention being once more attracted to these ghastly relics, it
almost seemed to him that the two heads had changed their position, and
were glaring at him with hideous and menacing scowl.  The ravens, from a
neighbouring tree, renewed their lugubrious croak, as if resentful at
being so long kept away from their repulsive feast.  Overhead, the sky
grew blacker and blacker, and the snowflakes whirled round the horseman
as he emerged from the gloom of that grisly brake.

"There's more carrion for you, you black devils," he muttered,
apostrophising the ravens.  "Heavens!  What had I to do with the brute's
unwashen `pardners'?  If I'm to be held answerable for the scalp of
every idiot who goes to sleep with both eyes shut, I've got my work cut
out for me.  Ha, ha!  The red brother comes in mighty convenient
sometimes."

Thus musing, he had gained the crossing of a mountain torrent, at the
entrance to a long, narrow canon, whose sheer, overhanging walls were
gloomy and forbidding, even by the light of day.  Dismounting, he took
out the scalp, and wrapping it round a stone, hurled it away into a
deep, swirling pool, whose centre was free from ice.  The dead man's
weapons followed suit.

"There!  Pity to throw away good serviceable arms,
but--`Self-preservation, etc.'  I only treated the dog as he would have
treated me, but I don't want to establish a vendetta among his desperado
mates with myself for its object.  A lot the scoundrels care about such
a plea as self-defence.  No.  Let them credit the reds with the job."

The rising gale shrieked wildly overhead, but within the black walls of
the canon the wayfarer was entirely protected from its force.  The
snowflakes, large and fleecy, now fell thickly about him.  And now there
was exultation in place of the former anxiety in his glance as ever and
anon he studied the dark and overcast sky.

"Better and better.  Nothing like snow for covering up a trail, and by
the time it's open again there'll be not much left of yon carrion.  Up,
Satanta!  We'll soon be home now."

The black steed arched his splendid neck responsive to his master's
voice.  And his said master, muffling himself closer in his buffalo
robe, settled himself down in his saddle with every confidence in the
ability of one or other, or both of them, to keep the right trail, even
through the pitchy blackness which was now descending upon them.  The
driving snow, the shrieking of the gale, the howling of wolves in the
dark forest, the grisly sight left behind, the stain of blood, were
nothing to him who rode there--on--on through the night.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

"TO QUIT."

When Vipan narrated the events of the last chapter to his friend and
partner, the latter looked grave.

"I know the chap you dropped," he said, "and he'll be no loss to this
territory, nohow.  He's one o' them desperate, hard-drinkin', cussin'
bullies that a whole township--ay, and many a township 'll be only too
glad to see laid.  But then, you see, there are his mates to reckon
with; bullies, all of 'em, like himself.  I'm afraid if they light upon
the trail we shall have some warm work along."

"But they won't light on it, Bill, thanks to this friendly blizzard.
Why, the snow'll be there for the next three months, but most, if not
all, of my late friend won't.  He'll be pretty evenly distributed among
the wolves and crows by that time," was the grim reply.  And the speaker
kicked the logs into a blaze, and took a long pull at his whisky-horn.
"Besides," he added, "I took all precautions.  If they do strike the
trail, they'll credit the whole business to the red brother."

The scout puffed earnestly at his pipe for some little while, his
features in no wise relaxing their gravity.

"See here, Vipan," he said, at length; "that's one side of the affair
I've been cudgelling over.  Most of the chaps located around have got a
notion that you're too thick with the reds, and they're pretty mad.
I've run against several of 'em, and have been hearin' some tall talk
among 'em while you were away down there.  Now, the best thing we can do
is to clear out our _caches_ [Note 1] as soon as the weather lifts, and
git."

"No, no, Bill; that's not my line at all.  It's no part of my idea to be
choused out of the goose with the golden eggs just as I've brought that
biped home, not to mention being obliged to sneak away from a lot of
yapping curs, any one of whom I'm ready to meet, how, when, and where he
chooses."  And Vipan's face was a picture of contemptuous resentment.

"Whatever they are, old pard, they can shoot--they can.  I don't know
what's to stand in the way of a straight volley just any time we hap to
be on the move, even if not when we poke our noses out of our own door.
But if your mind's set on stayin' on, I'll just dry up."

The other's face softened.  This staunch and loyal comrade of his was
prepared, as a matter of course, to stand by him and equally share the
peril in which the jealous resentment of the incensed miners placed or
might place himself.

"Now, look here, old chum," he said, "I'll just tell you what sort of a
prospecting I've made.  I always maintained the upper bend of Burntwood
Creek was worth tapping.  It's my private opinion we've at last struck
the real yellow, and if you don't think it worth following up after what
I'm going to show you, why I'll fall in with your idea, and light out
now for some where else.  Look at this," and he placed in his friend's
hand the paper which he had taken from the pocket of one of the dead
miners whom he had helped to bury.

Smokestack Bill studied the plan thoughtfully for a few moments.

"It's tarnation vague," he said at length: "`Forkt pine, Red Peak,
blarsted tree, and the creek where half-buried rock.'  Why, there's
parks of forked pines, and as for the blasted tree it's like enough to
be some stem against which one o' them chaps was squelched by his mule,
and known only to them.  And the creek's just chock full of half-buried
rocks."

"Ha, ha, ha!  Bill, my boy, I've located them all--all but the
half-buried rock, that is.  The tree's a scathed pine all right, close
to where the two fellows were scalped.  I was just going to locate the
creek part of the business, when that unhung skulker `jumped' me.  You
may just bet your bottom dollar we'll light upon something rich."

"Well, well, I'll see you through it," said the other in a tone as if he
began to think there might be something in it.  "But seems to me we
shan't be much the better for a lot of gold even if we find it.  You're
bent on a rush to Great Britain, Vipan, I can see that.  Well, my boy,
if we light on a find, you can take the bigger half, and go and pay off
old scores with the party that's tricked you.  I've not much use for the
stuff, I reckon."

"Bill, old friend, you're an extraordinary production of your day and
species--a thoroughly unselfish specimen of humanity to wit.  Now, do
you think it in the least likely that I should agree to any such
arrangement?  No, no; share and share alike is the motto between
partners.  If we make a good thing of it we'll take our jaunt together."

"'M, p'raps.  Cities don't like me, and I don't like cities.  If it were
otherwise I should be jingling my tens of thousands of dollars to-day,
instead of owning nought but a good rifle, a good horse, and a _cache_
full of pelts.  There's mighty mean tricks done in cities, and those
done in a lawyer's office ain't the least mean.  My old dad was in that
line, and though a good chap in other ways, I saw queer things done in
that office of his.  I couldn't stand it, and I couldn't stand the life,
so I kicked over the stool and struck out West.  I got blown up in a
Missouri steamboat first thing, and came down on a chunk of the
smokestack into the mud on the Nebraska side--leastways, that's what the
boys declared, and that's why they call me Smokestack Bill, though I
reckon I must have got astride of the smokestack while I was half
drowning.  And now my brother Seth, who took kindly to lawyering, is the
richest man in Carson County."

"But that you are thoroughly happy as a plainsman, Bill, I should say
you had made a mistake," answered Vipan, in whom the other's story
seemed to have touched a sympathetic chord.  "Otherwise the man who
sacrifices wealth--beggars himself for a principle--is a consummate ass,
and deserves all he condemns himself to; that is, a lifetime spent in
regretting it," he added, with an unwonted bitterness.  "But never mind
that," resuming his normal tone.  "When the snow melts we'll go down and
prospect Burntwood Creek, and as it's unlucky--deuced unlucky--to
discount one's successes beforehand, we'll just dismiss the subject out
of hand until then.  Meanwhile, life being uncertain, we'll _cache_ the
cipher in some snug place in case anything should happen to me."

Three months went by.  All the rigours of winter had set in upon the
Black Hills.  Everywhere the snow lay in an unbroken sheet, attaining in
many places such prodigious depths as almost to bury the brakes and
thickets of a shorter growth.  The dark foliage of the great pines
afforded some relief from the dazzling whiteness around, but even that
was almost concealed by the huge masses of snow which had there effected
lodgment.  And here and there a mighty cliff of red sandstone stood
forth from the surrounding snow, its face half draped with glistening
icicles.  But the weather was glorious, and the air as exhilarating as
champagne.  The peaks, shining like frosted silver, rearing their heads
to the ever-cloudless blue--that marvellous combination of subtle shades
of the richest azure, tempered with green, which is produced by contrast
with a snow-enshrouded earth--the smooth face of each great precipice,
frowning beneath its brow of dark and bristling pines; the muffled roar
of the mountain torrent struggling for freedom, far down under its
successively imprisoning layers of ice; the wild cry of bird or beast,
even more at fault in the icebound rigours of its native waste than its
artificial enemy, man--all this went to make up an engraving from the
scenes of Nature in her winter magnificence, in all her savage primeval
beauty, in her unsurpassable and most stately grandeur.

In the midst of it all our two friends were thoroughly comfortable.
They trapped a good deal and hunted occasionally.  Many a valuable fur
of silver fox and marten and beaver were added to their stores, and the
thick coat of the great white wolf, and the tawny one of the cougar, or
mountain lion.  Two grizzlies of gigantic size also bit the dust--the
redoubted "Old Ephraim" standing no chance whatever before the rifles of
two such dead shots--while deer, both black-tailed and red, unable to
make much running in the deep snow, fell an easy prey.

The entrance to their cabin was all but buried in snow, but within it
was thoroughly warm and snug.  Here, before a blazing fire, they would
lounge at night.  Stores of every kind were plentiful--flour, coffee,
and sugar, whisky, warm furs, and abundance of tobacco--and surrounded
by every creature comfort they would sit and smoke their long pipes,
after a day of hard and healthful exercise, while the wind shrieked
without, and all the voices of the weird wilderness were abroad, and the
great mountains reverberated ever and anon the thunderous boom of some
mighty mass of snow which, dislodged by the wind or its own weight,
roared down the slopes, perchance to plunge with a crash over a huge
cliff.  Now and then old Shanks would lift his shaggy head and growl as
the dismal yell of a cougar would be borne upon the night, but he was
well-used to the sounds of the forest, and quickly subsided again.  And
the ghostly hooting of owls, and the shrill barking of foxes, in the
dark pine forest mingled with the ravening howl of the wolves in
ceaseless chorus from the frozen and wind-swept slopes.

Sometimes an Indian, belated on his hunt, would take advantage of their
hospitality, and on such occasions Vipan would delight to "draw" his
savage guest, with the result that the red-skinned warrior, replete with
good cheer and good humour, would lie back on his furs, puffing out huge
clouds of tobacco smoke, and narrate--with that absence of reserve which
characterises the savage when so engaged--many a strange tale of love
and war, and among them, here and there, an instance of such fiendish
and ruthless atrocity as would have caused the ordinary listener's hair
to stand on end with horror and repulsion, not swerving in the smallest
degree from his smiling and good-humoured imperturbability during the
narration.  But Vipan was wholly proof against any such ordinary
weakness.  The way to know Indians, he said, was first to get them to
talk, and then to let them talk.  _He_ wanted to know Indians
thoroughly, and reckoned by this time he had about succeeded.  So in him
the red warrior found an attentive, not to say appreciative, listener.

Thus the months went by, and when the crocuses and soldanellas began to
appear from beneath the melting snow, and the torrents and creeks ran
red in the first spring freshets, an impatience, a feverish longing to
be up and doing came upon Vipan, rendering him moody, and at times
irritable.  But until the rivers should have run off the melted snows
nothing could be done.  In vain his comrade preached philosophy.

"I judge you'll get no good by tearing your shirt, old pard," said the
honest scout.  "See here, now.  Did you ever set your heart on a single
thing, that when you got it you wondered how the snakes you could ever
have been so hot on gettin' it?  No, you didn't.  About this _placer_.
Maybe we shall find plenty of stuff--maybe little--maybe none at all.
But whatever we find or don't find, it's no part of good sense to tear
our shirts a' thinkin' of it."

"No, it isn't," agreed the other.  "But--`many a slip,' etc."

"'M, yes.  What's the odds, though?  We can always light on fresh
ground.  And if the reds go on the war-path soon as the grass grows,
it'd do us both good to get a scouting berth with the command for a
spell."

Vipan's forebodings were destined to be realised.  A few mornings later
the two occupants of the winter cabin were awakened by the trampling of
many hoofs.  With their minds full of the threats of those around them,
both seized their rifles and stood ready for any emergency.  But with no
body of jealous and exasperated miners had they now to deal.  Cautiously
peering forth, their gaze fell upon the trappings and accoutrements of a
cavalry patrol.

A furious curse escaped Vipan's lips.  His plans were ruined.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  A _cache_ is a sort of underground storeroom or place of
concealment--generally jar-shaped--wherein peltries and other goods are
deposited, pending their convenient removal.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

HENNIKER CITY.

Henniker City was a typical prairie township in no wise bearing out the
imposing idea which its name might convey.

It might have contained some five score dwellings, mainly of the log-hut
order; a few frame houses, with real glazed windows figuring as the
aristocratic and advanced representatives of civilised architecture
among the more primitive structures.  It boasted a brace of churches,
one of which, only occasionally used, having been reared through the
efforts of a travelling priest attached to the nearest Catholic mission,
the other representing no creed in particular, though chiefly resorted
to by what our friend Smokestack Bill was wont to define as "the
pizenest kind of Hard-shell Baptists," a definition we should be loth to
attempt to elucidate.  It boasted more stores than churches, and more
drinking saloons than stores.  It contained a bank, whose manager
reckoned handiness at drawing, and, if necessary, using, the six-shooter
at least as essential a qualification for his clerks as the footing up
of figures.  It boasted a sheriff, whose three predecessors had "died in
their boots" within less than the same number of years.  And for
population, fixed and floating, it mainly comprised about as daredevil,
swash-bucklering, unscrupulous a set of cut throats, as ever shot a
winning adversary at euchre or "held up" [from "Hold up your hands"--the
"road agent's" warning] the Pony Express.

Such was the place to which our two friends were moved by the detachment
of troops which had so suddenly and unwelcomely invaded their mountain
retreat.  A shout of mingled mirth, derision, and resentment went up in
the township at this fresh evidence of the high-handedness of Uncle Sam,
and in a trice the whole population crowded around the prisoners and
their escort.

"Hello, pard!" sung out a slouching-looking fellow in a frowsy shirt and
cabbage-tree hat, addressing Vipan.  "Don't be down on your luck, now.
When the Colonel here's fightin' the Sioux, we're the boys to slide back
and pouch the stuff.  Hey!"

"Say, Colonel!  Going after Sittin' Bull soon?" sung out another, to the
officer in command of the cavalry.  "'Cause Smokestack Bill's the boy to
raise a mob of scouts for yer, and we're the boys to jine."

"Not till you put a hunk of lead through yon cussed white Injun, I
reckon," growled a forbidding ruffian, on the outskirts of the crowd,
with a scowl at Vipan.

"Snakes!  Wasn't he with the Injun as scalped Rufus Charlie and Pesky
Bob?" said another, taking up the suggestion.  And then a knot of men,
gathered in conclave, eyed the object of the discussion in a manner that
boded no good.

Meanwhile the crowd, surging round the new arrivals, continued to pour
forth banter and queries.

"Got the `dust' about yer, strangers, or did yer _cache_ it?"

"Say, pardners, whar did yer leave yer squaws?  Or did Uncle Sam
confiscate 'em as national property?  Ho, ho!"

"See here, boys, am I sheriff of Henniker City, or am I not?" drawled a
cool, deliberate voice, as the chaff reached its height.  "'Cause if I
am, jest clear a way; and if I'm not, I reckon I'd like to cotch a
glimpse of the galoot as says so."  A shout of mirth greeted this
speech, and speedily a lane was opened through the crowd, down which
advanced a tall, spare man.  This worthy's sallow visage was adorned
with a grizzled beard of the "door-knocker" order, above which protruded
a half-chewed cigar, a pair of whimsical grey eyes, and a determined
mouth.  In his hand he carried a Winchester rifle, and the inevitable
six-shooter peeped forth from his hip-pocket.

"How do, Colonel?  Brought me some more citizens, hey?  Smokestack Bill,
as I'm a miserable sinner!  That your pard, Bill?  All right, come this
way.  Citizens of Henniker, the High Court is about to sit."

Without more ado, the two "prisoners" and their custodian, resuming the
thread of their previous conversation, followed the whimsical sheriff
into the Courthouse, as many as could crowding in until the room was
full, laughing, chatting, bantering each other; kicking up an
indescribable uproar.  At last, raising his voice above the shindy, the
whimsical sheriff succeeded in obtaining something like silence.

"Citizens!" he said, "we must proceed with the business which has
brought us together.  The prisoners at the bar having been handed over
to me to be dealt with according to law--that is, kept in custody until
able to take their trial for 'truding on Indian lands--cannot be so kept
because the gaol with which this city is supplied would not hold a clerk
of a dry goods store, let alone a couple of Indian fighters.  That being
so, the prisoners may consider themselves under bail to the tune of
fifty dollars apiece, to appear when wanted; snakes, and that'll be
never," he parenthesised, in an undertone.  "Citizens, the court is
adjourned--and now disperse--git--vamoose the ranch.  Those who are not
too drunk will go home peaceably, those who are, will adjourn to
Murphy's saloon and get drunker.  Prisoners at the bar, you will
accompany me right along and take supper.  I have spoken."

If any confiding reader imagines that when night settled down upon
Henniker City the wearied denizens of that historic township retired to
their welcome couches to recruit their toil-worn limbs in sweet and
well-earned repose--why we are sorry to dispel the illusion.  But in the
interests of stern truth we must place it upon record that the hours of
darkness usually witnessed the liveliest of scenes, for it was only then
that the township began to live.  The saloons drove literally a roaring
trade, for the shindy that went on in them as the night wore on, and
their _habitues_ waxed livelier, was something indescribable.  Miners in
their rough shirts and cabbage-tree hats, here and there a leather-clad
trapper, cowboys and ranchmen in beaded frocks and Indian leggings, and
more or less "on the burst," but all talking at a great rate; all
tossing for, or shouting for, or consuming drinks, and, we regret to
say, a large proportion somewhat the worse for the latter.  Now and then
a chorus of ear-splitting whoops, a clatter of hoofs down the street, to
an accompaniment of pistol-shots, while the red flashes and whistling of
balls in the darkness, warning those who might be under cover not to
venture forth just yet, told that a group of cowboys were engaged on the
time-honoured and highly popular pastime known among their craft as
"painting the town red," _i.e._, galloping through the streets whooping
and discharging their six-shooters at everything or nothing.  But this
was far too ordinary an occurrence to attract any attention.  It all
meant nothing.  Here and there, however, it did mean something.
Partitioned off from the bar-room was the space devoted to card-playing,
and it might be that from here the ominous sound of cards vehemently
banged down with a savage curse upon the table warned those who heard it
to stand clear.  In a twinkling the flash and crack of pistol-shots--
then a lull, and amid inquiries from many voices, eager, hurried,
perhaps in a lowered tone, a dead man is raised and deposited on a table
or carried forth to his home if he have one.

"Who is it?"

"How did it happen?"

"Was it a fair draw?"

"Oh yes, both blazed together!"  "All right--fair and square enough!"
and the other players resume their gamble, and the talkers their
narratives, and more drinks are ordered, and nothing further is thought
of the affair.

At that time Henniker City was blessed--or the reverse--with a
considerable influx on its normal population.  Grouped around the
outskirts of the town lay the tents of many of the dispossessed miners--
who, like our two friends, had been removed from the Indian lands.  All
these men were more or less discontented; and suffering in addition from
enforced idleness, it follows that monotony and drink rendered them ripe
for any mischief which might suggest itself.  Moreover, among their
ranks was a sprinkling of the very scum of the frontier--horse thieves,
"road agents" or highwaymen, professional assassins, and bullies of
repute whose presence here was due to the fact that they had rendered
every other State too hot to hold them, and where, did they venture to
return, they would be lynched without fail, if not shot on sight.

Into one of these tents we must invite the reader to peep with us.

Look at those two knights of the hang-dog countenance.  He who is now
speaking would stand not a chance before any intelligent jury, if only
on account of his aspect alone.  By the dim oil-lamp in the tent we can
make out two other forms lying around, but the cloud of tobacco smoke,
added to the dimness aforesaid, precludes a more familiar study of their
not less forbidding features.

"See now, Dan," hang-dog number one was saying.  "May I be chopped in
splinters by the reds if I allow this darned white Injun to get away out
o' this without a carcase full o' lead.  So we'd better go up and finish
the job to-night."

"Can't be done, I reckon.  What about his pard--eh?  To say nothin'
about Nat Hardroper, who seems to have kinder taken him up!"

"Darn his pard, and darn Nat Hardroper!" replied the other, furiously.
"Only a set of doggoned skunks 'ud have elected Nat Hardroper sheriff,
and only a set of white-livered coons 'ud have kep' him in the berth.  I
guess I don't fear him."

"See here, Rube," suggested the other, "why not tumble to my plan?
He'll be going to Red Cloud's village in a day or two--see if he don't.
Then we can ambush him at Bald Eagle Forks and plant him full of lead."

"Don't want that.  Want to string him up.  Shooting's too good.  Didn't
he set the red devils on to sculp my pardners?  Didn't he wipe out my
brother? leastways, he must have, for I reckon Chinee-Knifer Abe ain't
the boy to be taken playin' possum.  Ef it hadn't bin for a squad of his
reds, we'd have strung him up down in Burntwood Creek the day before the
snow."

"Guess our scalps sat loose that day.  Snakes! but they ran us hard,"
answered the fellow addressed as Dan.  "This Vipan 'd have been
buzzard-meat then but for that."

"Reckon he shall be to-night," furiously retorted the first speaker.
"I've said it--and Bitter Rube ain't the boy to go back on his word.
That blanked white Injun, helpin' to dance around my pardners' sculps!"

And a volley of curses drowned the speaker's utterance.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

IN A TIGHT PLACE.

"Stranger--I guess I want this floor!"

The place, an inner room partitioned off from Murphy's saloon; the time,
late evening; the speaker a tall, half-drunken ruffian in frowsy miner's
dress; the spoken to, Vipan--who, lounging against a table was chatting
with the saloon-keeper; the tone, insolent and threatening to the last
degree; the attitude, that of a man sure of his advantage.

"Stranger--I guess I want this floor!"

"And I guess you've got it," came the quick reply, but not more quickly
than the change of attitude which it described.  For, in a twinkling, a
straight "right and left" from the shoulder had sent the aggressor to
earth like a felled ox, while his pistol-bullet buried itself in the
wall half a yard above Vipan's head.

Then ensued a stupendous hubbub.  Pistols cracked, as the stricken man's
mates in the outer room hurled themselves at the partition door intent
on taking up their comrade's quarrel.  But the door, a solid slab one,
met them in full career, pinning the foremost of their number half in,
half out.

"Now, Dan Harper, back's the word!" said the quiet, but stern voice of
Smokestack Bill, to whose promptitude was due this first check to the
enemy.

"You move a little inch forward and you're a stiff, you bet."

"Leggo the darn door, then--F-fixed t-tight," gasped the pinned one,
who, with the muzzle of the scout's six-shooter within an inch of his
nose, would willingly have obeyed, but could not.  Smokestack Bill,
however, relaxing his pressure, the crushed one was able to draw back,
considerably bruised, into the outer room, and the door was jammed to,
but not before a couple of bullets fired into the room had narrowly
grazed Vipan's shoulder.

"Now then, boys," called out the scout.  "Anyone feel like trying an
entrance?  Better not, believe me."

All this had befallen within infinitely fewer minutes than it takes to
chronicle.  The felled bully lay prone where he had first dropped,
stunned, insensible, and motionless--and disarmed, for the first act of
his adversary was to put it out of his power to get the advantage of
them.  The room, half filled with stifling smoke from the pistol-shots;
the barricaded door, against which the besieged ones had run up a couple
of casks; the two determined men, fully prepared to defend themselves at
the expense of any number of their adversaries' lives; the fierce,
threatening summons to yield entrance from the infuriated gang without;
all went to make up a strange and startling metamorphosis on the
hitherto quiet evening, which the two men had reckoned upon when they
retired into the private room of the saloon-keeper to be clear of any
disturbance.

"Air you agoin' to open?" sung out a harsh voice, at the close of a
muttered consultation.  "We know you, Smokestack Bill, and we've nothin'
again you.  But that pizen skunk, the white Injun, we're bound to have
him if we burn down the old log to do it.  So you come out of it, Bill,
right along, while you can."

"You be advised, Dan Harper," cried the scout in reply.  "You're a dead
man this very night if you don't git--mind me."

"So are a dozen of you, by God!" sung out Vipan.  He knew the whole
business was a deliberate plan to take his life.  The ruffian whom he
had felled was to pick a quarrel and shoot him on sight, while his
scoundrelly mates stood ready to make sure of him if the first part of
the scheme miscarried.  A roar went up from the crowd.  "Let's get at
him!  What'll we do with him, boys?"

"Tar and feather him!"

"Burn him at the stake!"  "Scalp him!"  "String him up!" were some of
the yells that burst from the maddened throng as it surged round the
building, narrowly scanning every door and window for a chance of
forcing an entrance.  But the defenders of the inner room knew better
than to be caught that way.

"One minute before you begin any tricks," cried the scout, and his voice
had the dangerous ring about it of that of an ordinarily cool and quiet
man roused at last.  "One minute, and just listen to me.  We've molested
nobody, and don't want to molest nobody.  Bitter Rube in here picked a
quarrel with my pardner and got knocked down.  If he'd done it with any
of you boys he'd have been shot dead.  He'll be shot before anyone gets
in here--"

"Darn Bitter Rube!  Serve the bunglin' fool right!  What do we care
about Bitter Rube?  It's the pizen white Injun we're going to lynch--and
lynch him we will--by God!"

"Try it!" rejoined the scout.  "There'll be a few of you dead in your
boots before mornin', I reckon.  And anyone who thinks Smokestack Bill
the boy to go back on a pardner is makin' an almighty big error in the
undertaking.  So now, stand clear for squalls."

A roar and a yell was the only reply.  A deafening crash, as some of the
rioters in the outer saloon vented their rage in smashing all the glass
they could lay hands on; then a shock, as the end of a beam, wielded as
a battering ram, came full against the door.  A couple of flashes and
reports, mingling like a single one.  The beam fell to the earth at the
same time as three of its bearers, whom the fire of the besieged,
discharged through a chink at such close quarters, had literally raked
in line.  The remainder promptly got out of the way.

"Put in the faggot.  Don't give any of the skunks a further show,"
yelled the frantic mob, exasperated by this reverse.  And a rush was
made for the further end of the building.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

JUDGE LYNCH TAKES A BACK SEAT.

It is not wonderful, all things considered, that the citizens of
Henniker, together with its fortuitous and floating population, should
have been moved to such lengths as to resolve upon lynching Vipan.
Indeed, it would have been surprising had matters turned out otherwise.
Here was a man they very much more than suspected of being in league
with their barbarous and dreaded foes, at a time when the frontier was
almost in a state of war.  A man of known daring and unscrupulousness,
and whom they knew to have been present--the only white man--at an
important council, involving issues of peace or war; to have taken part
in its deliberations, going even so far as to advise the chiefs, and
that, if report were to be believed, by no means in the direction of
peaceful results.  Several of their friends and neighbours had been
murdered and scalped, those who had escaped a similar fate being obliged
to carry on their mining or other operations rifle in hand, even if not
forced to quit altogether.  Meanwhile, this man, it was well known,
could move about the country perfectly unmolested, visiting the Indian
encampments at will--indeed, in one instance he was known to have
witnessed a scalp-dance, wherein the prime attraction of the
entertainment lay in the exhibition of the scalps recently torn from the
heads of two of their murdered comrades.

And then he was an alien, which was the crowning point of the whole
offence; and the good citizens of Henniker were virtuously stirred that
a foreigner--an Englishman--should, while dwelling on their free and
sacred soil, presume to be on friendly terms with its dispossessed and
original owners; even as here and there in Great Britain may still be
found a misguided and hard-headed Tory moved to honest indignation at
the prospect of Fenians and Invincibles and National Leaguers stirred up
to dynamite and murder by Irish-American agents and American dollars.

But how came it that so much should be known of Vipan's movements,
seeing that he himself was almost the only white man who could safely
penetrate the semi-hostile country or venture among the roving bands who
even then were raiding and murdering at their own sweet will?  Well,
human nature is rather alike all the world over.  Gossip on that wild
Western frontier was circulated through very much the same channels as,
say, at Lant with Lant-Hanger in the county of Brackenshire--through the
agency of the squaws to wit.  Some of the miners owned red spouses,
others, again, were not above open admiration for the savage beauties--
and, presto!--sooner or later the gossip of the Indian villages leaked
out.

Peering through the chinks, the besieged could descry a sea of
threatening faces, savagely hideous in the red torchlight.  Prominent
among these was a man who held a noosed cord.  Hither and thither he
moved, stirring up the crowd, his sinister features distorted with
malicious rage.  Hatred, envy, disappointed greed, all were depicted
there, as with blood-curdling threats the mob clamoured for the object
of its resentment.

Suddenly a clatter of approaching hoofs became audible alike to
besiegers and besieged.  The crowd paused aghast, the first thought
being that of an Indian attack.  Then a score of horsemen darted into
the light, and a ringing voice was heard inquiring--

"Say, boys, what in thunder's all this muss?"

"That's the sheriff," said Smokestack Bill, coolly, lowering his
revolver.  "We're out of this fix, anyhow."

A roar was the answer.

"The white Injun!  The pizen white Injun!  We're going to lynch him."

"I guess not," was the reply.  "Not while Nat Hardroper's sheriff of
Henniker City.  When it comes to reckoning with that invaluable officer,
Judge Lynch'll have to take a back seat.  Eh, boys?" turning to his
well-armed followers, a score of cowboys and well-disposed citizens,
whom he had prudently collected in haste on receiving the first
intimation of a riot.

"That's so, sheriff," was the prompt reply.

"Say, Dan Harper," called out the sheriff, "Judge Lynch's sittin' in the
State you've just left.  Why not go and talk to him there?"

The face of the fellow named blanched at this allusion.

Meanwhile the crowd, composed mainly as it was of ruffians and bullies,
began to show a disposition to slink off, in the presence of these
well-armed and determined representatives of law and order.

"Never mind, boys," shouted someone.  "We'll plant him full of lead yet.
Now let's git."

"How do, sheriff?" said the scout, calmly stepping forth with extended
hand.  "Guess you've raised the siege on us right slick in the nick of
time."

"How do, Bill?  How do, colonel?" to Vipan.  "Now you come right along
to my log and we'll talk."

"Hold hard, friends," objected Vipan.  "We've got to drink first.
Murphy, bring out the juice."

"Whurroo, sheriff darlint," chuckled the saloon-keeper.  "Whurroo! but
it's purty shootin' there's bin around here afure you came.  Be jabers!
and thur'll be a big inquist to-morrow, and the power of the `crame' 'll
be on hand for the jewry, I reckon.  Bedad! and whur's that shuck-faced
omadhaun?" he added, gazing at the corner.  For Bitter Rube, having
recovered his confused senses, had profited by the confusion to steal
away unperceived.

"Now, boys, mind me," said Nat Hardroper to Vipan and the scout, after a
substantial supper a few hours later.  "This same Henniker City's a
powerful survigerous place.  I've got you out of one fix, but I can't go
on getting you out of fixes.  It's too big a contract on one man's
hands, I want you to see.  Now, a power of those chirruping roarers'll
be on your trail first thing you show your noses out of this shebang.
If I warn't sheriff this'd be my advice--to take your hosses this very
night and git.  But it ain't my advice, because, you see, I _am_
sheriff, and you're under my charge.  No, no; it ain't my advice."

Save for the faintest possible wink, he looked them straight in the
face, as solemn as an owl.  Vipan burst into a roar of laughter.

"Right you are, Nat.  It's not your advice--we'll remember that."

"Well, good-night, boys; good-night."

They shook hands heartily.  But our two friends did not go to bed; they
went to the stable.  By daybreak they had put a considerable number of
miles between Henniker City and themselves.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

A CONJUGAL DEBATE AND ITS SEQUEL.

With all his failings, the Rev. Dudley Vallance had one redeeming
point--he was excessively fond of his children; but it is probable that
he loved his only son more than all the rest put together.  To him he
could refuse nothing.  Indeed, so loth was he to part with him even for
a time that he could not bring himself to allow Geoffry to enter any
profession.  He must remain at home.  There was no need for him to earn
his living, since he would one day succeed to the Lant property, and
meanwhile he could be learning to look after it.

Fortunately, Geoffry was something of a bookworm, and studious of
temperament, or the bringing-up he had received, and the aimless life
which it entailed upon him, would have sent the boy straight to the
dogs.  As it was, he was cut out by Nature for a college don rather than
for a country squire, and during his University career he was known
essentially as a reading man.

It may be imagined, then, that when he returned home at the end of the
summer term, after taking a brilliant double first, the pride and
delight of his reverend parent knew no bounds, and by a series of
festivities, unparalleled since the distinguished youth's coming of age,
was Lant-Hanger at large, and particularly its "County Society," bidden
to share the parental joy.

But, alas! that the latter should be so short-lived.  The object of all
this fun and frolic seemed in no way to relish it at all.  Instead of
returning home cheerful, overflowing with spirits, thoroughly enjoying
life with the zest of the average young Englishman who has just scored a
signal success, and sees a congenial and rose-bestrewn future before
him, poor Geoffry seemed to have parted with all capacity for enjoyment.
He was pale and listless, absent, bored, and--shall we own it?--at
times excessively irritable, not to say peevish.  His father was deeply
concerned, and his mother, who read off the symptoms as briefly as the
village doctor would diagnose a case of incipient scarlet fever, felt
more of anger than concern.

"I really don't know what to do about the boy," said the Rev. Dudley,
dejectedly, coming into his wife's morning-room the day after the last
of their house party had dispersed.  "It's dreadful to see the poor
fellow in such low spirits.  He must have been working too hard,
whatever he may say to the contrary.  It's hard to part with him so
soon, the dear fellow, but we positively must send him abroad to travel
for the summer.  Nothing like travel."

"Try him, and see if he'll go," was the short reply.

"We must insist upon it.  We must get medical advice--a doctor's opinion
to back us up.  The boy will be ill--ill, mark me.  He eats nothing.  He
doesn't sleep, for I hear him moving in his rooms far into the small
hours.  He looks pale and pulled down, and doesn't even care for his
books.  Then, when all the people were here, he would steal away from
everybody, and wander about and mope by himself all day.  We had some
nice people, too; and pleasant, good-looking girls.  Come, hadn't we?"

"Oh, yes; a most complete party.  Only one ingredient left out."

"And that?"

"Yseulte Santorex."  And Mrs Vallance shut down the envelope she was
closing with a vicious bang.

"God bless my soul! you don't say so?  Surely it hasn't gone so far as
that?"

"It has gone just as far as that abominable girl could carry it," was
the uncompromising reply.  "Surely you are not simple enough to imagine
that the daughter of that hybrid Spanish atheist would neglect such an
opportunity?  The girl has simply made a fool of him."

"You dislike her to that extent?" said Mr Vallance, vacantly, his mind
full of the woeful plight into which his son was plunged.  "I don't
know.  Sometimes I think her not a bad sort of girl considering the
fallow in which her mind has been allowed to lie.  And Geoffry might do
worse."

"Oh, yes.  He might, but not much.  A forward, bold, masculine minx,
tramping the countryside, fishing and shooting.  And she is utterly
devoid of respect for her elders, and as for principle or religion--
faugh!  I beg leave to think, Dudley, that he hardly could do worse."

This spitefulness on the lady's part was not wholly devoid of excuse.
For her elders, as represented by Mrs Dudley Vallance, Yseulte
certainly had scant respect.  And then, if she became their son's wife,
the day might come when Mrs Vallance would have to abdicate Lant Hall
in her favour, whereas no such calamity could in the nature of things
ever befall its reverend squire.  Of course Geoffry must marry somebody
or other one day; but Geoffry's mother could contemplate such a
contingency with far more equanimity than that of being dispossessed by
a girl whom she detested, and whom she knew despised her.

"Well, well! we won't say that; we won't say quite that," rejoined Mr
Vallance.  "Perhaps you are a little hard on poor Yseulte.  She is
young, remember, and at a thoughtless age.  But she is thoroughbred in
the matter of birth, and will be well off.  We must not expect
everything at once.  And the girl is very pretty, with all her faults.
I am not surprised at Geoffry's infatuation."

"No more am I," was the short reply.

"Oh, but you must look at a question of this kind apart from prejudice.
And then I can't bear to see poor Geoffry simply eating his heart out
like this.  I am becoming seriously alarmed about him; and I tell you
what it is, my dear, as he really has staked his happiness on this girl,
he shall have her.  I'll see Santorex about it this very day."

"Oh, well, if you have quite made up your mind, the sooner you do so the
better," answered his spouse, resignedly.

"Very well, then, that's settled," said the Rev. Dudley, with a sigh of
relief.

There was just one thing they forgot, this worthy couple, namely, that
before settling a matter of the kind so comfortably and out of hand, it
might be necessary to obtain the concurrence of the party most
concerned, to wit Yseulte Santorex herself.  But that Yseulte might
unhesitatingly decline the honour of the projected alliance never
occurred to them for one moment, and any suggestion of the bare idea of
such a contingency would have thrown them into a state of wild
amazement.

During the above debate, the subject thereof was doing exactly as his
father had said; wandering about by himself--and moping.  Strolling down
the cool mossy lane, shaded between its high nut-hedges, he found
himself upon the river-bank.  It was time to go home.  They would be
wondering what had become of him; perhaps sending everywhere in search
of him.  In his then morbid frame of mind, Geoffry shrank from being
made a fuss over.  Mechanically he turned to retrace his steps.

"Great events from little causes spring."  The little cause in this
instance was a little flock of sheep, which a farmer's lad, aided by his
faithful collie, was driving into the lane from an adjacent field.  The
animals were kicking up a good deal of dust; Geoffry was no fonder of
walking in a cloud of dust than most people.  The lane was narrow, and
sheep are essentially idiotic creatures; were he to try and pass these,
they would, instead of making room for him, inevitably scamper on ahead
as fast as their legs could carry them, thereby kicking up about ten
times more dust.  That decided him.  He would extend his walk.

Over a rail, an unexpected flounder into a dry ditch, and he stood up to
his neck in brambles and nettles.  But the sting of the latter was
hardly felt; for his eyes fell upon an object which set his knees
trembling and his heart going like a hammer.  A moment earlier and he
would have missed the phenomenon which evoked this agitation, but for
the sheep.  What was it?  Only a broad-brimmed straw hat, and beneath it
a great knot of dark brown hair rippling into gold.

It needed not this, nor the supple figure in its cool light dress which
became visible, as with an effort poor Geoffry staggered up from his
thorny hiding-place, to reveal the identity of this new feature of the
situation.  She was standing with her back towards him, about fifty
yards away, taking a fishing-rod to pieces, and she was alone.

At the tearing and rustling noise caused by his efforts to free himself
from the clinging brambles, she turned quickly, the half-startled look
upon her features giving way to a wholly amused one as she took in the
situation.  Geoffry, noting it, felt savage, reckless, mad with himself
and all the world.  Could he never appear before her but in a ridiculous
light--the central figure of some absurd situation?

"Why, Mr Vallance, you seem to have fallen among thorns," she cried,
adding, with a merry laugh, "and the thorns have sprung up and choked
you.  But never mind.  Sit down and rest here in the shade, while I do
up my tackle, and then we can walk home together as far as our ways
lie."

The tone was kind and sympathetic, and Geoffry felt soothed.  Red and
perspiring, he cast himself down with a grateful sigh upon a mossy bank,
in the shadow of the great oak beneath which she was standing.

"That'll be some consolation," he replied ruefully.  "It was nothing,
though--the tumble, I mean.  I must have caught my foot in something,
and came a cropper.  But, it was well worth while."

Yseulte smiled, trying hard not to render the smile a mischievous one.

"Well, you're the best judge of that.  And now, have all your visitors
left?"

"Yes, and a good job too," was the fervent reply.

"How ungrateful!  I'm sure they did their best to make themselves
agreeable, especially to you.  Confess; you are dreadfully bored now
that they are gone."

"Not in the very least.  _You_ are here--and--and--" He broke off,
helpless and stuttering.

"But I shall not be much longer.  I am going away too."

He sprung to his feet as if he had been stung.

"What?  You are going away?  When?"

"Very soon.  In a week or ten days; perhaps not quite so soon."  Already
she wished she had not told him.  It would have been better, for every
reason, that he should have heard the news at second hand.

"In a week or ten days!" he echoed.  "But not for long--Yseulte, say it
will not be for long!"

If at times the girl had been guilty of a touch of feminine spitefulness
in the reflection that she had completely subjugated--and through no
artful intent--the hope of this family whom, not without reason, she
detested, assuredly she felt sorry and ashamed of it now, as she noted
the pitiable effect which her announcement produced upon her admirer.
His face was as pale as death.

"But what if it will be for long?" she answered, gently.  "For months,
perhaps--or a year."

"Then I'll go and hang myself."

Poor Geoffry!  For weeks--for months--he had been anticipating such a
moment as this; had revolved every kind of set speech; every form of the
most moving entreaty; every promise to devote his life to her happiness
and welfare; all in the most impassioned language that the earnestness
of his love could suggest: and had shivered with apprehension lest his
nervousness and misgiving should intervene to mar the effect and leave
him stuttering and looking an ass; yet now that the critical moment had
come, all his carefully-planned oratory had resolved itself into the
brusque, passionate statement--"Then I'll go and hang myself."  Yet
never was declaration more exhaustive.

She understood his meaning; she did not wish him to say more; and her
tone was very gentle, very pitiful, as she replied:

"Be a man."

The utterly wretched expression upon his face, showed that he had
understood her.  Never was proposal more terse; never refusal more
prompt and decisive.  It was impossible for each to misunderstand the
other.

"Have I no chance, Yseulte?" he said, the eager trepidation of his
former tone having given way to one of dull hopelessness, which moved
her infinitely.

"No," she answered, gently.  "It would be cruel to leave you in any
doubt.  There are many reasons against it--insuperable reasons."

"Oh, what are they?  Tell me what they are," he cried, relapsing into
his former tone.  "They can be removed--there is nothing I will not do,
or give up, for you.  What are they?  You don't like my people, I know;
but you have always been kind and friendly with me.  Surely my relations
need not stand in the way?"

"You must not ask me for reasons, Geoffry.  Let us talk over this
rationally.  If I cared for you as you wish, nothing should stand in the
way.  But as I do not, even you would not thank me for coming between
yourself and those who do.  Only think what a firebrand I should be."

"No, you would not.  I tell you there is nothing I would not do for
you--or would not give up for you.  Only just try me."

What complication-loving fiend should have brought to her recollection
then the vision of that pictured face which had made such an impression
upon her--the face of the disinherited heir of Lant Hall?  The leaven of
her father's cynical philosophy almost moved her to experiment on this
_corpus vili_ ready to her hand, and ascertain whether his protestations
would go the length of espousing her ideas of right and wrong as
regarded that particular subject.  But she restrained herself in time.

Very dejectedly and in silence he walked beside her as far as their ways
lay together.  He would fain have reopened his pleadings, but with a
hurried farewell she left him before he could detain her.

"Well, Chickie?  Been having it out with Geoffry Plantagenet?" said her
father, who, from his library window, had witnessed their parting at the
divergence of the roads.

"Yes; that's just what I have been doing.  And--I think, dear, we
oughtn't to laugh at poor Geoffry quite so much."

"Oh, that's how the land lies, is it?" answered Mr Santorex, struck by
the unwonted gravity which she had brought to bear upon the subject.
"All right, we won't.  Not that _we_ shall have much longer to laugh at
anyone," he added somewhat ruefully.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

WAR WOLF IS "WANTED."

"Say, Vipan.  Guess we'd better draw off out o' this for a bit.  There's
no call for us to help do police work just now, and we can't stand
looking on.  There'll be hair-lifting here in a minute, I reckon."

Thus Smokestack Bill to his friend and boon companion as the two lounged
on the turf, a hundred yards or so from the trading store attached to
the Blue Pipestone Agency.  The place was alive with Indians, gathered
there for the purpose of drawing the rations with which a paternal
Government supplied them, contingent on their good behaviour and in
consideration of their peaceably abiding on their reservation and
eschewing the fiery delights of the war-path.  So Uncle Sam's red
nephews occupied the ground in crowds, indulging in much jollification
on the strength of newly-acquired beef and flour and other commodities
which should refresh and comfort both the inner and the outer man, and
while the squaws were busily packing these upon their much-enduring
ponies, their lords were lounging about, chatting, smoking,
merry-making, and having a good time generally.  Meanwhile, the trading
post had been doing a brisk business.

"Police work, eh?" returned Vipan, with a glance at the detachment of
U.S. Cavalry, which, encamped in the neighbourhood of the store, showed
no sign that any serious undertaking was in contemplation.  "Who are
they after nobbling?"

"See here, old pard--if I didn't know you well enough to stake my life
you'd never go back on a pardner, you and I wouldn't be here together
to-day.  If they can't claw hold of their man, it mustn't be through any
meddlin' of ours."

"Who is it they want?"

"War Wolf."

"The devil they do!  They gave out a different story."

"That's so.  Joe Ballin, who's with them, 's an old pard of mine.  We've
done many a scout together in '67 and '68.  Well, he told me all about
it.  This command is out after no less a chap than War Wolf.  You see
the pizen young skunk has been braggin' all over the section how he
scalped Rufus Charley and Pesky Bob, them two fellers we buried down by
Burntwood Creek.  It's got to the General's ears, and now they've come
to take him over to Fort Price.  They've given out a lie that they're
bound down the river on the trail of a Minneconjou who ran off a lot of
Government beef last month, but that's just a red herring.  As sure as
War Wolf comes along, they'll grab him--mind me."

Vipan meditatively blew out circles of smoke into the air, without
replying.  This was a most untoward _contretemps_.  He remembered the
scalp-dance which he had witnessed; the two scalps--including the
red-haired one--which War Wolf had so boastfully brandished during that
barbarian orgie, and it flashed across him vividly now that, were the
Indian arrested for the deed, the bulk of his clansmen and the Sioux at
large would look upon himself as having betrayed their compatriot into
the enemy's hand, or would for their own purposes affect to.  Here were
the troops, and he, Vipan, on good terms and hob-nobbing with their
leaders.  The capture--if it took place--would be to himself most
disastrous.  It was characteristic of the man that he lost sight of the
grave peril in which he himself would be placed, alone here in the midst
of hundreds of exasperated savages.  His plans of future enrichment
would be utterly broken up, and it was of this he was thinking.
Unscrupulous, self-seeking as he was, Vipan had his own code of honour,
and he would no more have dreamed of betraying his friend's confidence
than of cutting his friend's throat.  But had the information reached
him through any other channel, it is more than doubtful whether Uncle
Sam's cavalry would have effected their capture that day.

"You're right, Bill," he said, at length.  "There'll be an almighty
rumpus if that game's tried on.  Why, there are enough reds here to chaw
up this command twice over, and they'll do it, too, I'll bet a hat.  Why
the devil did they send out so few men?"

"Well, what d'you say?  Hadn't we better git?"

"Not this child.  You see, if we make tracks, and War Wolf gets grabbed,
the reds'll certainly think I gave him away.  He's an infernal young
skunk, and I'd gladly see him hung; still, it nohow suits my book that
he should be just now.  So I'll see it out, but if you'd rather be
outside it, don't stay.  We can rendezvous anywhere you like
afterwards."

"Oh, well; it's no great matter.  I don't care if I stay," answered the
scout, with his usual imperturbability.  "Here's a big burst of rain
coming.  We'd better get inside the store, anyhow."

Great drops began to plash around them; there was a steely gleam,
followed by a long, muttering roll of distant thunder.  As they made
their way towards the log-house, the Indians were breaking up into
groups of twos and threes, and hurrying away in the direction of a
cluster of _teepes_ erected hard by.  Failing any necessity for it, they
were no more inclined for a ducking than most people.  The cavalrymen,
beyond taking precautions for keeping their arms and ammunition dry,
seemed indifferent to the weather.

"Hello, Smokestack Bill!" cried a hearty voice, as they entered.  "So
that's how Nat Hardroper custodies his State prisoners, eh?"

They recognised in the speaker the officer who had arrested them in the
Black Hills.  With him was Joe Ballin, the scout above referred to.
Vipan, especially, further noticed a sergeant and a dozen men posted,
apparently by accident, within the room.

"Lord, Colonel," replied the scout, "you don't want us to foot the
Henniker trail again?"

"Not I," said the other, with a laugh.  "Other game afoot this journey."

Then at Vipan's suggestion, drinks were dispensed, the storekeeper--a
long, lank Eastern man--participating in the round.

Suddenly the latter exclaimed:

"Snakes! here come three reds.  Your man in 'em, Colonel?"

Through the open door three Indians could be descried approaching
rapidly.  It was raining hard, and their blankets were drawn over their
heads and shoulders, leaving only a part of their faces visible.  The
swarthy features of Ballin the scout lit up with a momentary excitement.

"The centre one, Colonel," he whispered, hardly moving his lips.  "The
centre one.  He's the skunk we want, and no mistake."

The Indians continued to advance with their light, springy step.  When
about a hundred yards from the store they were suddenly joined by a
large band of fully-armed and mounted warriors, clearly a band which had
just arrived upon the ground, but which had hitherto been unseen by
those inside the store, owing to the limited range of vision afforded by
the latter's doorway.

This untoward arrival placed a critical aspect on the state of affairs.
But Captain Fisher's orders--the higher rank by which that officer was
commonly addressed, was mere popular brevet--were concise.  They were to
the effect that he should apprehend upon sight, and convey to Fort Price
an Ogallalla Sioux, known as War Wolf.  This was sufficient.  If that
Indian were not apprehended it would only be because he had made himself
remarkably scarce.  As it was, however, here he stood before them,
advancing confidently into the trap.  But then, he had at his back a
formidable force of his compatriots, outnumbering the cavalrymen three
to one, not reckoning the number of warriors already on the ground, and
whom the first whoop would bring upon the representatives of authority
in crowds.  Clearly here was a critical situation.  So thought Vipan,
who stood prepared to watch its _denouement_ with intense interest.  So
thought Smokestack Bill and the storekeeper, who, however, with
characteristic phlegm, stood prepared to act as events should decide.
So, especially, thought the Captain and the dozen men disposed inside
the store to effect the capture.

The whole band, in delightful disorder, was now straggling around the
door; the three pedestrians, who had been joined by a couple of the new
arrivals, leading.  All unconscious of danger, War Wolf was chattering
and laughing with his companions.  Then a shadow darkened the doorway,
and the first Indian entered.  Before his eyes became sufficiently
accustomed to the sudden darkness--for the windows had been purposely
shaded--the second was in the room.  A rapid movement, a sudden
exclamation, and two struggling bodies--all quick as lightning.  Captain
Fisher had seized the second Indian from behind, effectually pinioning
him.

It was done in a moment.  The desperate struggles of the lithe and
active savage taxed all the efforts of the half-dozen men who had been
told off for the purpose, while the remainder held the entrance.  In a
trice he was subdued, disarmed, and securely bound.  His comrade, to
whom Ballin the scout had hurriedly explained that no harm was intended,
stood by sullen and immovable.

Then arose an indescribable hubbub.  The warriors outside, who had
dismounted, rushed helter-skelter for their ponies, and the loud,
vibrating shout of the war-whoop rose above the clamour of angry and
inquiring voices.  At its sound the temporary village became as a
disturbed ants' nest, Indians pouring from the _teepes_ in swarms: and
in less than a minute a crowd of excited savages--mounted and afoot--
came surging down upon the log-store, brandishing their weapons, and
fiercely clamouring for the instant release of their compatriot.

But a line of disciplined men barred their way.  Drawn up in front of
the store, the troopers, some fifty strong, stood with carbines
levelled, awaiting the word of command; while Ballin, duly instructed,
went outside and informed the Indians that, should they approach twenty
paces nearer, the troops would fire.

The effect was magical.  The entire mass halted dead.  Then, yelling the
war-whoop, a number of young bucks darted out from the main body and,
putting their ponies at full speed, began circling round the tenement
and its defenders.  But a peremptory mandate from one of the chiefs
present recalled these young-bloods, and for a moment the two rival
forces stood contemplating each other--the savages with a fierce scowl
of hatred, the troops, cool, determined, and not altogether anxious for
a peaceful solution to the difficulty.

Then the chief who had recalled the more ardent of his followers,
advanced making the peace-sign--extending his right hand above his head
with the palm outwards.

What had War Wolf done, he asked, that he should be seized like a common
thief in the white men's towns?  Had he not come peaceably with the rest
to obtain his rations, and had obtained them--a clear proof that the
Government was not angry with him?  He had been living on the
reservation with them all, as everybody knew; why then should the Great
Father send soldiers to take him?

Briefly Captain Fisher explained the charge against the young warrior.
The killing of two citizens in time of peace was murder--not an act of
war.  The prisoner would have to answer for it before the Civil Courts
of the Territory.

The chief's face was a study in admirably feigned surprise, as the above
was interpreted to him.  He was a warrior of tall, commanding aspect,
just past middle age, and looked almost gigantic beneath his nodding
eagle plumes.  He was the head war-chief of the Minneconjou clan, and
had the reputation of being well-disposed towards the whites.  He
rejoiced in the name of Mahto-sapa, or The Black Bear.

"What the white Captain had just told them contained sound sense," he
replied.  "But would it not do as well if War Wolf were released now,
and called upon to answer to the charge against him later on, when the
Great Father should want to try him.  Such a course would be most
gratifying to his countrymen, who were highly incensed that a warrior of
his standing and repute should be seized in the way he had been.  It
would be best, perhaps, for all parties," the Indian explained, with
just a shadow of meaning in his uniformly courteous tone--"for his young
men were so hot-blooded and impatient, he feared they might not act with
the prudence and moderation to be looked for in men of riper years, a
contingency which would be in every way lamentable to himself and the
other chiefs of the Dahcotah nation."

If the speaker expected his veiled threat to produce any effect on
Captain Fisher, he must have been sadly disappointed.  Concisely that
officer informed him that, in the matter of a grave charge of this kind,
War Wolf could not expect more lenient treatment than would be accorded
to a citizen under similar circumstances.  No white man would be held to
bail if arrested for murder, and an Indian must look for precisely the
same treatment--no better and no worse.  At the same time he guaranteed
that the prisoner should receive every consideration compatible with his
safe keeping until such time as the authorities should decide upon his
guilt or innocence.  As for the anger of the warriors he saw before him,
greatly as he should regret any breach of the peace, that consideration
could not in any way be suffered to interfere with him in the discharge
of his duty.  Were he, the speaker, the very last man left of the
command they saw before them, he should still do his best to convey his
prisoner whither he had been ordered, and would die rather than release
him.

The chief, seeing that further parley was useless, turned and rejoined
his followers.  Then once more arose a wild hubbub of angry and
discordant voices, and for a moment it seemed that the crowd of
impulsive and exasperated barbarians would hurl itself forward and in
one overwhelming rush annihilate that mere handful of troops.  Suddenly
a body of warriors, some hundred strong, sprang on their ponies, and,
unmindful of their leader's mandate, scoured away over the plain,
whooping and brandishing their weapons.  The remainder having withdrawn
some little distance gathered into knots, or squatted in circles on the
ground, talking in eager and menacing tones.

"Thunder!  Reckon that lot's gone to raise hell among the pesky varmints
camped along your return trail, Colonel," said the lank storekeeper,
pinning a fly to the wall with his quid at half-a-dozen paces.  "You'll
need to keep a bright lookout on the road if you're ever going to get
this skunk to Fort Price."

And what of the captive?  The first expression of rage, mingled with
amazement and mortification, having rapidly glinted across his
countenance, his features became as a mask of impassibility.  Only once,
as his glance met that of Vipan, his eyes glared as he hissed in a tone
inaudible to those around:

"Golden Face!  The Dahcotah's _brother_!  Ha!  We shall meet again!"

"War Wolf walks straight into the trap, as a silly antelope walks up to
the fluttering rag upon the hunter's wand.  Who is to blame but War Wolf
himself?" replied Vipan, in the same almost inaudible tone.  But the
Captain hearing it, turned sharply round.  Vipan's reputation as being
on more than ordinarily friendly terms with the Sioux had already
reached him.  However, he made no remark, but having disposed his
prisoner in such wise as to guard against all possibility of escape or
rescue, he prepared to start.  Just then the other Indian who had
accompanied the prisoner into the store, inquired if he might go and
fetch his pony.  War Wolf was his brother, and he, Burnt Shoes, did not
intend to leave him.  He would go as a prisoner too.

"He's a fine, staunch fellow," said the Captain, kindly, as this request
was interpreted.  "But we can't take him.  Tell him so, Ballin, and also
that he can serve his brother's interests better by going back to his
people and notifying them that in the event of their making any attack
upon us either now or along the road, the prisoner will be shot dead."

This was interpreted, and at War Wolfs request the two Indians were
allowed a few moments' conversation together.  Then Burnt Shoes, having
taken leave of his brother, strode away, looking straight in front of
him.

The threat and the warning were by no means superfluous.  As the
troopers appeared outside with their prisoner, the bands of savages
clustered hard by sprang to their feet with an angry shout.  Many of the
warriors could be seen fitting arrows to their bowstrings, and the click
of locks was audible as they handled their rifles in very suggestive
fashion.

Even the emphatic message which Burnt Shoes strove to deliver,
concerning the fate awaiting his brother in the event of a rescue, was
hardly heard.  The clamour redoubled, and the attitude of the savages
became menacing to the last degree.  Meanwhile the cavalry escort, with
its prisoner in the midst, had got under way, and was retiring
cautiously, and at a foot's pace.  By this time, however, the authority
of Mahto-sapa, and the earnest appeals of Burnt Shoes, had availed to
quell the tumult.  The crowd began to melt away.  By twos and threes, or
in little groups of ten or twelve, the warriors began to disperse over
the plain in all directions, only the chief, with comparatively few
followers, remaining.

"Say, but there'll be trouble when those chaps come up with the
sodgers," said the lank storekeeper, contemplating the retreating
Indians.  "They'll jump 'em in an overwhelming crowd somewheres about
Blue Forks, and I'll risk ten dollars there'll not be a scalp left in
that command."

"Well, I'm going to persuade the residue to hear reason, anyhow," said
Vipan carelessly, making a step towards the door.

"Don't risk it," urged his friend, promptly.  "They're plaguy mad, and
it's puttin' your head into the alligator's jaws to go among 'em jes
now."

"Well, you see, it's this way," was the rejoinder.  "They are plaguy mad
just now, as you say, but they'll be madder by-and-by.  A classical
authority has said, `agree with thine adversary quickly,' and I'm going
to agree with mine."

"You're a dead man if you do," said the storekeeper.

"No fear.  Mahto-sapa and I are rather friends.  I reckon I'm going to
sleep in his village to-night, and I'll risk twenty dollars if you like,
Seth Davis, that I look round here again, with all my hair on, within a
month."

"Done!" said the storekeeper, shortly.

They watched him join the group of sullen and brooding savages--moving
among them, alone, absolutely fearless, as among a crowd in an English
market-town--addressing one here, another there.  Then they saw him
fetch his horse and ride away with the band, which had been preparing to
take its departure.

"Gosh!  I never saw such a galoot as that pard of yours," said Seth
Davis, ejecting an emphatic quid.  "Takes no more account of a crowd of
Ingians a-bustin' with cussedness, nor though they were a lot o' darned
kids.  Wal, wal!  Reckon that wager's on, all there; hey, Smokestack
Bill?"

"That's so," was the laconic reply.  "Let's liquor."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

"THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY."

About a month later than the events just detailed, a solitary individual
might have been descried occupying one of the high buttes overlooking a
large tract of the northern buffalo range, somewhat near the border
between the territories of Montana and Wyoming.  Howbeit, we must
qualify the statement in some degree.  Save to the keen eye of yon
war-eagle, poised high aloft in the blue ether, the man was not to be
descried by any living thing, for the simple reason that he took very
especial care to keep his personality effectually concealed.

Beneath lay the broad rolling plains extending in bold undulation far as
the eye could reach, stretching away to the foothills, and then the
distant snow peaks, of the Bighorn range.  No cloud was in the sky.  The
atmosphere in its summer stillness was wondrously clear, all objects
being sharply definable up to an incredible distance.  From his lofty
perch the man looks down upon the surrounding country as upon a map
lying outspread before his feet.

That something is occupying his attention is evident.  Lying flat on his
face, his gaze is riveted on the plain beneath.  What object has
attracted his keen vision--has sufficed to retain it?

Crawling onward, unwinding its slow length like some huge variegated
centipede, comes a waggon train, and, though it is at least ten miles
distant, the observer, from his vantage-ground, can with his unaided
vision master every essential detail--several great lumbering waggons,
veritable prairie schooners, their canvas tilts looking like sails upon
that sea of rolling wilderness; a little way ahead of these a lighter
waggon, drawn by a team of four horses.  He can also make out a few
mounted figures riding in front.

"Looks a pretty strong outfit," would run his thoughts, if put into
words.  "Looks a pretty strong outfit.  The boss--two guides, or
scouts--six or eight bullwhackers--a chap to worry the horse team--
probably two or three more men thrown in--a dozen or more all told--
possibly a score.  But then--the family coaches--Lord knows how many
women-folk and brats they hold--all down-Easters, too, most likely, who
never saw a redskin, except a drunken one at the posts.  A dozen men
ought to be able to stand off the reds; and anyhow whether they can or
not the next few hours will decide.  But then they've got their women to
look after, and their cattle to mind.  No, no; they must be idiots to
come crossing this section at this time of day."

The observer's reflections are, to say the least of it, ominous for
those who belong to the waggon train.  Let us see what there is to
justify them.

Far away in front of him, at least as far as the waggon train itself--
ahead of it, but rather off its line of route, is another object; an
object which he has espied before the outfit appeared, and the sight
whereof has kept him immovable on his lofty observatory for upwards of
an hour.  This object the inexperienced eye would hardly notice, or
would pass over as an indistinct clump of scrub lying on the slope of a
deep ravine.  To the practised eye of the watcher, however, that object
stood revealed in its true light at the very first glance, and it hardly
needed the aid of the powerful double glass which he carried, and which
rendered an object at ten miles almost as distinct as one at a hundred
yards, to tell him that the harmless-looking clump of scrub was nothing
less formidable than a strong band of Indians--a strong band of red
warriors _on the war-path_.

"That'll be it," he mused.  "The old game.  They'll jump that outfit at
yonder creek while it's unhitching just about sundown--rather over two
hours from this.  If those chaps are, as I suspect, down-Easters,
they'll be thrown into the liveliest confusion, and while a few of the
reds run off every hoof of the cattle, the rest'll rush the whole show.
Their guide or guides can't be worth a damn, anyhow, to judge from the
free and easy way in which the whole concern is shuffling along.
There'll be fresh scalps among that war-party to-night, I'll lay long
odds; but--it's rough on the women-folk, to put it mildly."

To the ordinary observer there would have been something terrible beyond
words in the situation.  That little handful advancing fearlessly into
the vast wilderness, their every step watched by the hawk-like gaze of
savage videttes lying face to the ground on more than one of the
adjoining heights, advancing step by step into the trap, heedless of the
awful cloud overhanging their march, even that lurking band of the
fiercest and most ruthless barbarians to be found upon the earth's
surface.  And the radiant sun shedding the golden glories of his nearly
run course upon the majestic vastness of those fair solitudes sank lower
and lower to his rest, only too certain to be lulled in his far-off
mountain bed by the crash and rattle of shots, the exultant yells of
human fiends, the unheeded prayer for mercy, then massacre mingled with
a demon orgie of sickening barbarity from the very thought of which the
average mind shrinks in dismay.  Well, what then?  Only one more chapter
of horror in the annals of the blood-stained West.

But if to the ordinary mind the situation would have been appalling,
repulsive and incomprehensible to the last degree would have been the
attitude of this man, who lounged there as cold-blooded a spectator of
the coming struggle as a frequenter of the bull-ring awaiting his
favourite entertainment, and in much the same vein; who saw those of his
race and kindred advancing step by step to the most terrible form of
death--for the chances in their favour were about equal to those of the
bull when pitted against the _cuadrilla_--and made no effort to warn
them of their peril.  Yet had he delivered his mind on the subject he
would coolly have justified himself by the explanation that in the first
place he made a point of never interfering in other people's business;
while in the next he was a man who recognised no race or kindred, and
who, if anything, had a greater respect for the savage red man than for
the huckstering, swindling, lying white Christian.  The former was man
ruthless as Nature made him, the latter a nondescript product--equally
ruthless, but _plus_ hypocrisy and cant wherewith to cloak his
blood-sucking propensities.

And now the waggon train was well-nigh abreast of his position.
Cautiously adjusting his field-glasses so that no ray of the sun
glinting on the lens should betray his whereabouts, either to friend or
foe, he narrowly scanned the travellers.  There were, as he had
conjectured, females among them, two of whom rode on horseback among the
group of men in front.  He scanned the ground beyond, and not a detail
escaped him, even to the heads of the three Indian scouts lying _perdu_,
like himself, at intervals along a high ridge overlooking the line of
march.  Then he closely scrutinised the lurking war-party.

The latter was astir, and he could easily make out a sea of plumed
crests and painted countenances, even to the colour of the pennons
floating from the lance-heads.  Warriors might be seen rapidly
caparisoning their ponies, while others, already prepared for action,
were gathered around the little group of chiefs in the centre apparently
engaged in debate.  It wanted an hour to sundown.

Once more he brought his glasses to bear upon the travellers.  Suddenly
the blood surged in waves over the man's bronzed and sunburnt
countenance, and his hand trembled to such an extent that he nearly
dropped the telescope.  What did he see?  Pausing a moment, with an
angry frown at his own weakness, again he sent a long, eager, steady
look into the group riding ahead.  What did the powerful lens reveal to
upset the equanimity, to shake the very nerves of this cool, hardened,
cynical plainsman?  Among the group of advancing specks is a white one--
a mere white speck.  Framed within the lens, however, that speck becomes
a white horse, and upon his back is a girl of extraordinary beauty.
Surely this is not the disturbing factor?  We shall see.

"_That's_ too good for our dear red brother, anyhow," said the watcher
half-aloud, shutting up his glass.  Then, without arising to his feet,
he slid behind the knoll.  But before doing so he sent one more glance
at the distant halting place of the savages.  The band was on the move,
riding slowly down into the ravine.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

WINTHROP'S OUTFIT.

Nearer, nearer, the sun sank down to the western peaks, and upon the
wilderness rested the sweet and solemn stillness of the evening hour.
Save the call of a bird at intervals within the timber belt, there was a
silence that might be felt.  The broad stream, tranquilly flowing around
its bend, gleamed first with living fire, then red, as the last rays of
the sun fell upon its surface, to lift in a moment, leaving its waters
grey and cold.  Then one last kiss of golden light upon the tree-tops,
and the lamp of day had gone down.

One living creature moved within this solitude, however.  Alone,
enjoying with all her soul the spacious grandeur of the Western
wilderness, stood a very lovely girl.  Every now and then she would
pause for a few moments to drink in that glorious sense of unfettered
freedom which the vast expanding roll of hill and plain, never ending,
like a sea of billowy verdance stretching from sky to sky, inspired in
her, then return to her occupation.  That occupation was--fishing.

She wore a riding-habit which, fitting her like a glove, revealed the
undulating curves of an unrivalled figure.  By some clever contrivance
she had shortened its otherwise inconvenient length, and with the grace
and deftness of a practised hand she was wielding a trout-rod.  What a
spectacle to come upon suddenly in the heart of the wild and
blood-stained West!  And what insane fatuity should bring her here alone
in the fast falling twilight?

At this moment, however, the last thought in her mind is any fear of
danger.  Her cast whirls in the air; the flies drop noiselessly into a
bubbling eddy.  There is a rush through the water and a splash.  An
eager light comes into the velvety blue eyes, fading as rapidly to give
place to one of vexation as the cast, suddenly released from its
tension, springs high overhead, describing many a fantastic gyration.

"How sickening," she cries, with a little stamp of impatience.  "How
unutterably sickening!  That _was_ a beauty, and I shan't rise another
to-night.  But--it's nearly dark.  I must go back."

What is that stealthy rustle in the depths of yonder scrub?  For the
first time the girl is conscious of a shade of nervousness as she
hurriedly begins to take her rod to pieces.  Her thoughts suggest the
proximity of some hideous snake, or a panther perhaps.

She turns towards where she left her pony.  Can the gathering dusk be
playing her tricks?  The animal is not there.  Though securely fastened,
it has disappeared.

But the sight which does meet her eyes roots her to the ground with
horror.  Stealing noiselessly towards her, in the dark shade of the
timber, are three half-naked Indians--tall, athletic, hulking savages,
hideously painted.  They halt for a moment as they see themselves
perceived.  They are barely a dozen yards distant.

"How, lily gal!" grunts the foremost, wreathing his repulsive face into
a frightful grin, and advancing with outstretched hand.  "How, lily gal!
No 'fraid!  Me good Injun, me.  Ha, ha!  Me good Injun brudder."

The exultant mockery underlying this friendly address was too
transparent.  Her eyes dilating with horror, the girl stepped back, the
consciousness that she was alone in the power of these fiends turning
her limbs to stone.  They, for their part, secure of their beautiful
prize, were enjoying her terror.

"No run 'way," said the first speaker, who had diminished the distance
between them.  "No run 'way.  Injun, good brudder."  And he seized her
left wrist in the grasp of a vice--while another, with a fierce
chuckling laugh, made a movement to seize her right one.

But the brutal contact broke the spell of horror which was weaving
around her.  A wild cry of indignation escaped her lips, and her eyes
blazed.  Wrenching her right wrist free, she dashed the heavy butt end
of her fishing-rod with all her force--and it was not small--full into
the first assailant's face, knocking out some of his front teeth, and
causing him to loosen his hold.

With the fierce growl of a wounded cougar, the savage sprang at her
again, the blood streaming from his mouth, and as the unhappy girl
recoiled to renew her efforts to keep her persecutors at bay, such a
marvellous change came over the scene that not one of the actors in it
was quite aware what had happened.

An enormous dark mass seemed to fall from the very heavens,
simultaneously with a thundrous roar.  The girl, now tottering on the
verge of faintness, saw, as in a flash, her first assailant lying with
his skull crushed to pulp, another lay gasping in the agonies of death,
while the third was just vanishing in the timber!  At him pointing the
still smoking muzzle of a revolver, mounted on a huge black horse, was
the most splendidly handsome man she had ever seen.

"Quick!  Drop all that gear and mount in front of me.  Give me your
hand."

There was no disobeying the curt commanding tone.  Resisting a deadly
impulse to faint right away, she extended her hand.  In a second she was
swung up before the stranger on his powerful horse.

It was all done like lightning.  The first appearance of the savages--
the assault--the rescue--occupied barely a couple of minutes.  Pale to
the lips, shaky, and unnerved, she could hardly now realise it all.  But
often in the time to come would she look back to that strange ride, the
weight of the appalling danger she had just escaped still hanging over
her, the courage and promptitude of her rescuer, the struggle she was
waging with her own natural terror, dreading she knew not what.

The black steed was going at a gallop now, but his rider had him well in
hand.  The girl noticed that they were making something of a _detour_
which took them far out on the open plain, whereas her ride down to the
river had led her along the very edge of the timber.  She noticed, too,
the anxious, alert look on the stranger's face.  Though he did not turn
his head, she felt assured that not a detail in the surroundings escaped
him.

"There are your people," he said briefly, as they suddenly came in sight
of the camp.  The waggons had just unhitched, and the mules and oxen
were being driven down to the water; not the river we have seen, but a
small creek running into it.  Already columns of smoke were rising on
the evening air.

"I can never thank you enough," said the girl, suddenly and with a
shudder.  "But for your promptitude where should I be now?"

"Say but for your own courage and self-possession.  The average idiot in
petticoats would have shrieked and fainted and gone into hysterics.
Meanwhile, the reds would have captured her and shot me," he rejoined,
somewhat roughly.  "Be advised by me now.  Don't startle the rest of the
women, or they'll hamper us seriously.  Now we'll dismount."

He lifted her to the ground, and, without another word, turned to
confront a man who had hurried up.  But the girl's clear voice
interrupted him before he could speak.

"This gentleman has rescued me from frightful danger, Major Winthrop.
There are Indians about."

"By Jove!" said he addressed, with a start of astonishment, looking from
the one to the other.  He was a man below middle age, of medium height,
active and well-built, and there was no mistaking him for anything other
than what he was--an English gentleman.

"Boss of this outfit, I take it?" said the new arrival shortly.

"Yes.  Allow me to offer you my most grateful thanks for--"

"Well, there's a big lot of Sioux preparing to `jump' you at any moment.
Corral your waggons without delay, and have your cattle brought in at
once.  Not a second to lose."

A frightful yell drowned his words.  There was a thunder of hoofs upon
the turf as a band of some fifty mounted Indians, dashing from their
cover, bore down upon the herd of draught stock which was being driven
back from the water in charge of three or four men.  On came the
savages, whooping and whistling, brandishing blankets and buffalo robes
with the object of stampeding the now frantic cattle.

But among those in charge of the latter there chanced to be a couple of
experienced plainsmen.  In a trice there rang out three shots, and two
of the assailants' ponies went riderless.  Crack--crack!  Another pony
went down.  This was more than the redskins could stand.  Like a bird of
prey alarmed in its swoop, the entire band swerved at a tangent and
skimmed away over the plain as fast as their ponies could carry them.
The herd was saved.

"There goes the first act in the drama," said the stranger coolly.  "Now
stand clear for the second."

The suddenness of it all--the yelling, the shots, the swoop of the
painted and feathered warriors--had created a terrible panic in the
camp, and had the main body of the savages charged at that moment
nothing could have saved its inmates.  As the stranger had at first
conjectured, two of the waggons were full of women and children, the
families of some of the emigrants.  These at once rushed to the
conclusion that their last hour had come, and shrieks and wailings
tended to render confusion worse confounded.  But Major Winthrop, with
military promptitude, had got the men well in hand, and a very few
minutes sufficed to corral the waggons, bring in the cattle, and put the
whole camp into a creditable state of defence.  It was now nearly dark.

"Will they attack us to-night?" enquired Major Winthrop, as, having
completed his arrangements, he returned to where the stranger was seated
smoking a pipe and gazing narrowly out into the gloomy waste.

"I should be inclined to say not.  Their surprise has fallen through,
you see, and then Indians don't like fighting at night.  But it's at the
hour before dawn, when we're all infernally sleepy and more or less
shivery with being up all night--it's then we shall have to keep a very
bright look-out indeed.  I should keep about half your men at a time on
guard all night through if I were in your place."

"Who air you, stranger?" said a not very friendly voice.

He addressed turned, and beheld a lank, dried-up individual who might
have been any age between thirty and fifty.  His hawk-like face was the
colour of mahogany, and, but for a small moustache, was devoid of
hirsute adornment.  His deep-set grey eyes, however, were those of a man
prompt and keen to act in the moment of difficulty or danger.  His dress
consisted of a rather dirty blue shirt and fringed breeches.

"Who am I?  Why just who I look--neither more nor less," was the
rejoinder, given with provoking tranquillity.

"And what might your name be--if it's a fair question?"

"It might be Jones, or it might not.  The question is a fair one,
however.  That being so, I don't mind telling you my name is Vipan.
What's yours?"

"I'm Oregon Dave, champion bronco-buster [ranch term for a professional
horse-breaker] of Wyoming.  I'm boss-guide of this hyar outfit, and the
chap who reckons he knows Injuns and their little ways better nor I had
best just step out and say so."

"If I were boss-guide of any outfit, I'm damned if I'd let a young lady
belonging to that same start off by herself to go fishing among a Sioux
war-party," said Vipan, with a quiet satire in his tone that was
maddening to the last degree.  He resented the other's truculent
bearing, and intended to let him know it.

"Eh!  Say that again," said the first speaker, flushing with anger.

"We mustn't quarrel my friends, we mustn't quarrel," put in Major
Winthrop, earnestly.  "It was mainly owing to your pluck and
promptitude, Dave, that we haven't lost every hoof of our cattle.  And
but for Mr Vipan, here, Miss Santorex would at this moment be a
prisoner among the Sioux.  I was to blame in that matter, and I bitterly
acknowledge it."  Then he told him the circumstances of Vipan's
unexpected and opportune appearance among them.  Before its conclusion
Oregon Dave turned to the latter with outstretched palm:

"Shake, stranger, shake.  You're all there, and I'm only fit to be
kicked into a kennel to yelp.  Guide?  No, I ain't no guide, only a
tenderfoot--a doggoned professor.  Scalp me if I don't go and hunt bugs
upon the perairie with a brace o' gig-lamps stuck across my nose.  I'll
go now and ask the reds to tar and roast me.  Good-bye, Kurnel;
good-bye, stranger, I ain't no guide, I ain't.  Thunder, no!"

"Nonsense, man," said Winthrop, clapping him on the shoulder.  "We were
all to blame.  We were informed along the road that the Indians were
peaceable, and that all chance of war was at an end, for this summer, at
any rate," he explained, for Vipan's benefit.  "That being so, we have
travelled much too carelessly, although in camp we've been on the alert
for horse or cattle thieves."

"I've been watching your outfit, and I've been watching the reds for
nearly two hours," said Vipan.  "They mean't jumping you yonder at the
creek, and would have done so before this if you had not changed your
plan, and camped here.  As near as I can count, there are about three
hundred of them.  See that butte away up there?  That's where I've been
located.  Came down to warn you--none too soon, either."

"No, indeed.  We owe you a debt of gratitude we can never repay, myself
especially.  Good God, if harm had befallen Miss Santorex!  I can't even
stand the idea of it."

"Relative of yours?" said the other shortly.

"_No_.  She's the sister of a neighbour of ours--man who runs the
adjoining ranch.  She's come out from England to stay with her brother
for a bit, and took the opportunity of travelling with us.  And--if
anything had happened--good God, if anything had happened!  It's an
awful responsibility, and I devoutly wish we were safe through it.  Now,
I think, we may go and get some supper."

Major Winthrop, as we have said, was English.  He had retired early from
the service, and being an energetic fellow had soon found an unoccupied
life pall upon him.  Accordingly he had migrated to the Far West and
started ranching--a life that suited him thoroughly.  His wife, a pretty
little vivacious brunette, was American.  She was considerably his
junior, and they had not been long married; and at the time we make
their acquaintance were returning from a visit to her home in the
Eastern States.

"My! what a fine-looking fellow!" she whispered to her friend, as she
watched the approach of her husband's guest.  "Why, Yseulte, it was
worth while getting into a fix to be rescued by such a knight-errant as
that."

To her surprise the colour came to the girl's face--visible in the
moonlight--as she answered:

"What nonsense, Hettie!  Do be quiet, or they'll hear you."

"I ought to scold you severely, Miss Santorex, for running such an awful
risk," said Winthrop, as they sat down to supper, picnic fashion, beside
the horse waggon which served as the ladies' bedroom, saloon, and
boudoir--and in bad weather, dining-room--all run into one.

"Please don't, for I assure you I'm very penitent," she answered.

"And then just think what an adventure she'll have to tell about when
she gets home again," put in Mrs Winthrop.  "Well, now, Yseulte, what
do you think of our Indians, now you have seen them--real ones--at
last?"

"Oh, don't ask me!" answered the girl, who was still rather pale and
shaky, in spite of her plucky efforts to recover her self-possession.
"That last charge was all over so quickly.  But aren't they rather
cowardly?"

"Why?" said the Major.

"Well, a number of them like that to be turned back by three men."

"I trust you may have no practical occasion to alter your opinion," put
in Vipan, speaking for the first time.  "That was a small surprise party
bent on running off the stock--not fighting.  As it was, they lost two
killed and wounded at the first fire, and one pony, which is enough to
turn any Indian charge of that strength."

"Killed!  Were there any killed?" asked Mrs Winthrop, in a horrified
tone.  "They seemed only frightened."

"H'm, perhaps that was all, or they may have been only wounded," said
Vipan, inventing a pious fraud for the occasion.  These two delicately
nurtured women would require all their resolution on the morrow; there
was no need to unnerve them with an instalment of horrors to-night.  So
both men affected an unconcern which one of them at any rate was far
from feeling, and little by little the contagion spread, and the
emigrants' families began to forget their first fears, and the spell of
brooding horror which had first lain upon them began to pass away, and
the terrible danger with which they were threatened seemed more remote,
yet, the night through, men sat together in groups, chatting in an
undertone, as, rifle in hand, they never entirely took their gaze off
the moonlit waste, lest the ferocious and lurking foe should creep upon
them in his strength and strike them unawares.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE WAR-PATH.

"Steady, boys.  Here they come!" whispered Vipan, his eyes strained upon
the point of a long narrow spit of scrub looming dark and indistinct in
the heavy morning mist.  Within the waggons, whose sides were securely
padded with sacks of flour and other protective material, the women and
children, worn out with anxiety and apprehension, were slumbering hard.
It was the gloomy hour of early dawn.

A moment's aim, and he discharged his Winchester.  The report rolled out
like thunder upon the heavy mist-enshrouded atmosphere.  Then a moment
of dead silence.

Suddenly a line of fire darted along the ground.  Then whirling down
like lightning upon the corral came what resembled a number of wavy
balls of flame.  There was a roar and thunder of hoofs, the loud,
horrible, quavering war-whoop rent the air, and a plunging sea of
hideously painted centaurs, streaming with feathers and tags and
scalp-locks, and bathed as it were, in a ring of flame, surged around
the corral, enfolding it in a mighty moving mass of demon riders and
phantom steeds.  A shower of blazing torches came whizzing right into
the midst of the camp, followed by another.  Thick and fast they fell,
lying sputtering and flaring everywhere.  The encampment and its
defenders were in a sheet of flame, and amid the clouds of sulphurous
smoke, even the crash and rattle of volleys was well-nigh drowned in the
demoniacal and stunning yells of the attacking savages, who, pressing
the advantage afforded them by this unlooked-for panic, saw success
already theirs.

In the excitement of this sudden surprise the shooting on both sides was
wild in the extreme.  Amid the whirling, plunging mass, a warrior was
seen to leap convulsively in his saddle, and, throwing up his arms, sink
beneath the pounding hoofs.  More than one pony rolled upon the ground,
but still the flying horde circled in nearer and nearer, full half its
strength preparing for a final and decisive charge.  It seemed that the
doom of every man, woman, and child in that camp was sealed.

Maddened by the terrific yells, by the flames of the burning missiles
scorching their legs, the frantic animals picketed within the corral
plunged and kicked, and strained wildly at their picket ropes.  It only
needed for them to break loose to render the general demoralisation
complete.

But amid the indescribable tumult, the yelling of the Indians, the
plunging of the frenzied cattle, the crash and rattle of volleys, the
fiery peril which threatened to wrap the whole camp in flames, the
on-rushing squadrons of demon centaurs, and the piteous shrieks of
terrified women and children, three or four men there kept their heads,
and well indeed was it for the rest that they did so.

"Keep cool, boys!  Don't fire too quick," thundered Vipan, deliberately
picking up one of the blazing torches and hurling it with good aim full
against the striped countenance of a too daring assailant.  Winthrop,
whose trained eye took in the weakness, the frightful jeopardy of the
situation, had his hands full at the side of the corral which he had
elected to attend to.

"Jee-hoshaphat!" exclaimed Oregon Dave, between his set teeth.  "Now for
it, boys!  They mean hair this time."

For the Indians, who, wheeling and turning on their quick active little
steeds in such wise as to render themselves difficult targets in the
uncertain light, as well as to bewilder the eye of their enemy, were now
seen to mass together with marvellous celerity.  Then, with a long,
thrilling whoop, they charged like lightning upon the weakest point in
the defences.

Never more deadly cool in their lives, half-a-dozen men, among them
Vipan and Oregon Dave, stand in readiness.

"Now let drive," whispers the latter.

A raking volley at barely a hundred yards.  Several saddles are emptied,
but it does not stop the charge.  Led by a chief of gigantic stature and
wildly ferocious aspect, the whole band hurls itself forward, as a stone
from a catapult.  Then the fighting is desperate indeed, for it is
hand-to-hand.  A score of warriors slide from their horses and leap
within the enclosure, their grim and savage countenances aglow with the
triumph of victory, only, however, to retreat helter-skelter as several
of their number drop dead or wounded before the terrible six-shooters of
that determined half-dozen.  In the confusion the gigantic chief,
watching his opportunity, puts forth his lance and spears one of the
unfortunate emigrants through the heart.  Then bending forward he drags
out the still quivering body, and with amazing strength throws it across
his horse.

"That's that devil Crow-Scalper," cries Vipan, amid the roar of rage
which goes up at this feat.  But the chief, flinging the body to the
earth again, wheels his horse and utters his piercing rallying _cry_,
brandishing aloft the bleeding scalp he has just taken.  More than one
bullet ploughs through the eagle plumes of his war-bonnet; his horse is
shot under him; but he seems to bear a charmed life.  Leaping on the
pony of a warrior at that moment shot dead at his side, again he utters
his shrilling, piercing whoop and strives to rally his band.

But the latter have had about enough.  The deadly precision of those
unceasing close-quarter shots is more than Indian flesh and blood can
stand up to.

"They're off, by th' Etarnal, they're off!" roared one of the emigrants,
a tall Kentuckian who boasted a strain of the blood of the Boones.
"Give 'em another volley, boys!"

"Guess so, Elias," yelled his spouse, a raw-boned masculine virago, who
throughout had been wielding a rifle with good effect.  But the Indians
showed no desire to wait for this parting attention.  They kept up a
show of fight just long enough to enable them to bear away their dead,
always an important feature in their military drill.  Then with a final
whoop of defiance they vanished into the mist.

Suddenly they returned, but only a handful.  One of their fallen
comrades had been overlooked.  Darting from among the rest a couple of
warriors, riding abreast, skimmed rapidly along towards the corral.
Suddenly they were seen to bend over, and seizing an inert corpse by the
neck and heels, raise it and fling it across the pommel in front of one
of them.  Then, almost without abating speed, they wheeled their ponies
and disappeared.

"By the Lord! but that was well done," cried Winthrop.

Throughout this desperate affray, which had not occupied many minutes,
the weaker members of the community, frozen with fear, crouched
shudderingly within their shelters.  These helpless women knew what
terrible fate awaited them in the event of the savages proving
victorious, and to their appalled senses the hideous war-whoop, the
thunder of charging hoofs, the shouts and the wild crashing of shots
seemed as a very hell opening before them.

Shivering in her well-padded waggon, poor little Mrs Winthrop was in a
pitiable state of terror and anxiety.

"Oh, Yseulte, I wish I could be as brave as you," she moaned, clinging
to her friend as to a final refuge.  "How do you manage it?  Tell me."

"I don't know," answered the girl, with something of a warrior-light
shining in her eyes.  "Only I'm sure we shall win."

The calm, steadfast tones conveyed to the distracted, terrified
creature, as she herself phrased it, "tons of comfort."  Then the tumult
had ceased.

The mist was rolling back, unfolding heaven's vault of brilliant blue,
and in less than half an hour the whole country-side stood revealed.
Not an Indian was in sight.  Slain ponies lay around, and here and there
a dark clot of gore showed where a warrior had fallen.

"Will they come again?" said Winthrop, turning to Vipan.  Many an ear
hung upon the answer.

"No," replied the latter, tranquilly, beginning to sponge out his rifle.
"I never saw a finer charge than that last, and they know perfectly
that if it wouldn't carry the corral nothing will.  They intended a
surprise, you see, but it broke down completely, and unless they try the
palaver trick we shall see no more of them just yet.  But we shall have
to keep a bright lookout, for depend upon it, they won't let us be out
of sight long--for some time at any rate."

"Waal, boys," drawled the tall Kentuckian, "I reckon we'll jest squat
around a bit, and be darn thankful."

"That's so, Elias," assented his martial spouse, diving into the waggon
to lug out her brood by the ears, as if nothing had happened.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

TRUCE.

It was afternoon, and quiet had settled down upon the emigrants' camp
once more.  While its inmates were despatching their much-needed
breakfasts Vipan and Oregon Dave had sallied forth upon a scout.  They
soon returned, reporting the whole party of Indians to be retiring over
a distant range of hills some twelve miles to the eastward.  So, pickets
being posted to give warning should they think better of it and return,
the cattle were driven down to the water and were now enjoying a graze
under the watchful supervision of half-a-dozen men.

It was afternoon.  Most of the inmates of the camp were recruiting
themselves after their night of watching and the exciting events of the
morning's conflict.  A few drowsy snores, or now and then the puling cry
of some child within the waggons, or perchance the clatter of pots and
pans, as one or two of the women were cleaning up the culinary
implements which had served for the morning meal; these were the only
sounds which broke the slumbrous stillness.

Stretched upon the turf about fifty yards outside the corral, puffing
lazily at an Indian pipe, lay Vipan.  He alone of all there present
seemed to feel no need of slumber.  The dash and excitement of the
conflict over, a strange reaction had set in.  There was a look upon his
face as of a man who, turning back upon the chapters of his own history,
finds the reminiscences therein recorded the reverse of pleasant.  It
was also the look of one who is undergoing a new experience, and a
disquieting one.

A light step on the grass behind him.

"Are you really made of cast-iron, Mr Vipan?"

"H'm, why so, Miss Santorex?"

"Because everyone else is snoring like the Seven Sleepers, and you, who
have had as trying a time of it as any three of the rest put together,
are still wide awake."

"I might say the same of you.  You, too, have been awake all night."

"Oh, dear no; nothing like it.  And now--and now we are alone, I want
really to thank you as I ought, but--but--I don't know how," broke off
the girl, with a comic ruefulness that was inexpressibly bewitching.
"Really, though, I never was further from joking in my life.  Now that I
have seen what those dreadful savages are like, I seem to realise what a
frightful fate you saved me from," she added earnestly, with a lovely
flush.

"Let us talk of something else," he answered, somewhat abruptly.  "You
showed extraordinary grit during the recent little unpleasantness
between us and our red brothers.  May I ask where, when, and how you
served your apprenticeship as an Indian fighter?"

She laughed and gave a slight shiver.  Now that they were over, the
appalling experiences of the early morning could not but tell upon her.
She was rather pale, and dark circles round her eyes told of an
apprehensive and restless night.

"Poor Mrs Winthrop is quite ill this morning, and no wonder.  I hope we
shall have no more of those frightful experiences.  And yet, to look
round the camp no one would suspect that anything out of the way had
happened."

Vipan followed her glance.  He was glad that all traces of the bloody
struggle had been removed--the dead bodies, including that of the
unfortunate emigrant who had been scalped, had been buried while the
terrified and worn-out women were sleeping the slumber of exhaustion.

"No, it was all horrible--horrible," Yseulte went on, speaking gravely
and sadly.  "If I was not half-dead with fear it was thanks to my
father's teaching.  He always used to say that panic was fatal to
self-respect, and still more fatal to self-preservation.  Child as I
was, the idea took root, and I was able to conquer my fears of bulls or
savage dogs, or mysterious noises at night, or at any rate very nearly
so."

"Quite, I should say.  Your father must be a somewhat rare type of man."

"He is.  Wait till you see him.  Then you will think so."

"Is he coming out here, then?"

"Coming out here!" she echoed, wonderingly.  "Oh, no.  I am going back
in a few months' time.  I mean when you come to see us and give him the
opportunity of thanking you as I never can."

Vipan looked curiously at her.  They had been strolling all this while,
and were now well out of earshot of the camp.

"When I come and see you," he repeated.  "To begin with, it is extremely
unlikely I shall ever leave these festive plains, let alone go back to
England."

"Ah, you _are_ English.  I guessed that much from the very first.  But I
thought--we all thought--you were only out here on a trip."

He did not even smile.

"Do you think, Miss Santorex, that a man out here `on a trip' would be
up to every move of a Sioux war-party?  No; I have been out here a good
many years.  There are those in the settlements who speak of me as the
white Indian, who have more than once attempted my life because I happen
to feel more respect for the savage as he is than for that vilest of all
scum of humanity the `mean white.'  Why, not many weeks ago I was in a
far tighter place than this last little shindy of ours, and narrowly
escaped with my life at the hands of the latter."

"Bang!"

The picket posted on an eminence a mile distant had discharged his
piece.

"We must cut short our walk," went on the adventurer.  "That shot means
Indians in sight."

A few minutes and the pickets could be seen riding in.  As arranged, the
cattle, which had been brought near on the first alarm, were now quickly
driven into the corral.

The man who had fired the shot reported a large party of warriors
approaching rapidly from the direction in which the assailants had
retired.  He reckoned it was the same lot coming back.

"Hoorar!  Guess we'll lick 'em into pounded snakes again," drawled the
long Kentuckian, on hearing this news.

"They don't want to fight," said Vipan, "or they wouldn't have drawn off
so kindly to let us water and graze the stock.  This time they're coming
to talk."

"Well, that's better, anyhow," said the Major.  A sentiment which his
wife, who was standing at his side looking very pale and scared,
thoroughly echoed.

Mounted figures now began to appear on the ridge about a mile away, and
presently the entire band was halted upon the eminence.  Then a couple
of warriors rode out from the main body, and advancing a little
distance, made the peace-sign.  By way of answer a white towel was run
up on a pole and waved above the waggon corral.

"I want you to see this, Miss Santorex," said Vipan.  "It's a sight you
may not see again in a lifetime."

The band had now left its halting place and was riding slowly down
towards the camp.  If in the wild fury of their swooping charge the
Indians had worn a savagely picturesque aspect, with their waving
plumes, and flowing tags and scalp-locks on weapon and garment, none the
less now was the appearance of the warrior phalanx stately and striking
to the last degree.  So thought Yseulte Santorex, as she gazed with more
admiration than fear upon this array of the barbaric chivalry of the
Western plains.

The Indians approached in crescent formation, some half-dozen chiefs
riding a little in advance.  All were in their war-paint--the dresses of
some being, moreover, exceeding rich with colour and embroidery--the
eagle-plumed crest of many a noted brave streaming to the ground as he
rode.  Not a warrior but showed some bit of gorgeous colour.  Even the
ponies' manes were adorned with feathers and vermilion, and the
lance-heads and floating pennants gleaming above the sea of fierce stern
faces put the finishing touch to a battle array as martial and
gallant-looking as it was redoubtable and ruthlessly unsparing.

"It is magnificent!" said Yseulte, as from the coign of vantage which
the other had secured for her she surveyed the approaching band.  "What
tribe are they, Mr Vipan?"

"Sioux.  There may be a few Cheyennes among them, but the war-party is a
Sioux one.  Take the glass, and I'll tell you who some of them are.  The
chief there most to the right is Crow-Scalper, of the Uncpapa clan, a
record of whose atrocities would keep you awake at night for a week."

"He's a splendid-looking fellow," commented the girl, gazing withal at
the gigantic warrior who had led the last and most persistent charge
upon the camp.

"Oh, yes; I know him well.  Many's the hour I've spent in his lodge
making him talk.  Now, look again.  The middle one is Mountain Cat--the
trappers call him Catamount, but the other's the real rendering of his
name.  He hates the whites more than any Indian on this continent, and
would willingly put a bullet into me if he got the chance.  He's an
Ogallalla, and a good big chief too."

"He looks an awful savage," answered Yseulte, with the glass still at
her eyes.  "I never saw a more diabolical expression.  Who is the man
who has just joined them?"

"Lone Panther--a half-bred Cheyenne--a small chief in standing, but a
fiend when he heads a war-party.  And now I must leave you for a little,
and go and hear what they have to say.  It may interest you to watch the
progress of our conference through the glass."

"That it will.  But, oh, Mr Vipan, do try and persuade them to leave us
in peace.  You know them so well, I am sure you can."

"I'll try, anyhow, if only for your sake," he answered, with a queer
smile.

The three chiefs named had halted their band, and, attended by a couple
of warriors displaying dingy white rags on their lance-points, were
cantering down towards the corral.  Arrived within two hundred yards,
they halted.  There went forth to meet them Vipan, Major Winthrop, and
one of the latter's cowboys, who rejoiced in the name of Sam Sharp; also
two of the teamsters to hold their horses.

When within a hundred yards of each other, both parties dismounted.  The
three chiefs, giving their horses to their attendants, advanced with
slow and stately gait to where the three white men awaited them.

"Do we meet in peace, or do we meet in war?" began Vipan, as both
parties having surveyed each other for a few moments the Indians showed
no inclination to break the silence.  No answer followed this straight
question.  Then Lone Panther, breaking into a broad grin, said:

"Injun brother Goddam hungry.  White Colonel gib him heap `chuck.'"
[Food.]

Of this flippant remark Winthrop, to whom it was addressed, took no
notice beyond a signal to Vipan to carry the negotiations further.

The latter explained to the chiefs that the "white Colonel" entertained
his friends, not his enemies.  They had attacked his outfit, tried to
run off his stock, and had made themselves a dangerous nuisance.  But
that the camp had been vigorously defended they would have killed every
one in it.  They could not do this, and now they came and asked to be
feasted as if they were friends.

To this Crow-Scalper, putting on his most jovial smile and manner,
replied that the whole affair had been a mistake.  Young men, especially
when on the war-path, would not always be restrained; that being so, the
chiefs were obliged to humour them.  Beside, the warriors had no idea
that these whites were among the friends of Golden Face, or that Golden
Face was in the camp at all.  Otherwise they would never have attempted
to run off even a single hoof.

Vipan could hardly keep from roaring with laughter at the twinkle which
lurked in the speaker's eye, as he delivered himself of this statement.
Both he and the red man knew each other well--knew the futility of
trying to humbug each other.  Hence the joke underlying the whole thing.

What himself and his warriors most ardently desired now, went on
Crow-Scalper, was to show themselves friends of the friends of Golden
Face.  To this end they proposed to accompany the waggon train as an
escort.  There were, he feared, bands of very bad Indians roaming the
country, who would leave them unmolested if they had for escort a
Dahcotah war-party.  This course would wipe out all bad blood between
them, and atone for the mistake they had made in attacking their dear
friends the whites.  So having settled this to his own satisfaction,
Crow-Scalper suggested that a proper and most harmonious way of
cementing their new friendship would be for the white men to join camp
with their red brothers and to invite the latter to participate in a
feast.

Vipan managed to preserve his gravity while translating these proposals
for the benefit of his companions.  The chiefs meanwhile watched every
expression of their faces with steady and scrutinising gaze.

"They must take us for born idiots," said Winthrop.

"Thunder!  I guess there's no end to the sass of a redskin," said Sam
Sharp, the cowboy.  "Travel with a war-party of pesky Sioux!
Haw-haw-haw!"

"Better conciliate them to a small extent, though I never did believe in
buying off your Danes," said Winthrop.  "I'll give them an order for
coffee and sugar and tobacco on the post we last quitted; but I'll see
them hanged before they'll get anything out of us here."

This resolve Vipan communicated to the chiefs.  The white Colonel felt
quite strong enough to protect his own camp and did not need the escort
so kindly offered.  At the same time his red brothers could best show
their friendship by retiring altogether and leaving him quite alone.
The chiefs had admitted their inability to control their young men under
all circumstances, and this being so, it would be best to part good
friends.  They could proceed to Fort Jervis and obtain the supplies, for
which he would give them an order.

The emissaries saw that the game was up.  They might eventually wear out
the patience and watchfulness of the whites, and obtain the scalps and
plunder they so ardently desired, but they would have to fight.  No safe
and easy way of treachery lay open to the coveted spoil, and this they
recognised.

Then Mountain Cat, who up till now had preserved a stern and
contemptuous silence, said:

"Golden Face, the friend and brother of the Dahcotah!  Should he not
rather be called Double Face?"

The sneering and vindictive tone was not lost upon the other two whites,
although they understood not a word of its burden.  Glancing at Vipan,
they noticed that he was as unconcerned as though the other had never
spoken.

"Does one friend kill another?" went on the savage, his eyes flashing
with hatred.  "Ha!  More than one of our young men has been shot this
day.  Who was their slayer?  Golden Face--the friend and brother of the
Dahcotah nation!"

"What were my words to the great Council at Dog Creek?" was the calm
rejoinder.  "`Those who strike my friends strike me, and turn me into an
enemy.'  Were there not enough whites abroad upon the plains for your
war-party to strike without attacking my friends whom I accompany?
Enough.  My words stand.  I never go back from them."

For a moment things seemed to have come to a crisis.  The chief made a
step backward and cast a half-involuntary glance in the direction of his
party.  A threatening scowl came over his grim countenance, and his hand
made a movement towards the revolver in his belt.  But Vipan never moved
a muscle, beyond carelessly dropping his rifle so as to cover the Indian
in a manner apparently accidental.

"The Dahcotah have entertained a false friend in their midst," went on
Mountain Cat, darting forth his hand with a menacing gesture, "one who
smokes in their council and then betrays them.  Where is War Wolf?"

"Is War Wolf my horse or my dog that it is my business to take care of
him?" was the coldly contemptuous reply.

"Who witnessed the scalp-dance in our village at Dog Creek, when War
Wolf showed his scalps?  Who delivered him into the hands of the
soldiers?" said the other, meaningly.

"I know who did not--and that was myself.  We may as well speak plainly.
War Wolf appears to have gone about the country bragging how he took
the scalps of two white men, when he ought to have kept his mouth shut.
If he was seized by the soldiers he has himself to thank for it, and
nobody else--certainly not me, any more than yourself.  I would even
have warned him if I had been able, but it was impossible.  That is
enough about the matter."

"Good," repeated the savage chieftain, in a tone full of grim meaning.
"Golden Face talks well, but in future our war-parties will know an
enemy from a friend."

"So be it," replied Vipan, wholly unmoved by the threat.  "If your party
attacks our outfit again, we shall fight, as we did before."

"Excuse me," put in Winthrop, who was waxing impatient during this
protracted conversation.  "Excuse me--but our friend there does not seem
to enter into the situation in a right spirit.  Here is the order.  It
is made available only up till three days hence.  So if you will kindly
inform him accordingly, no doubt we shall get rid of the whole crew."

On the principle of "half a loaf," the other two chiefs grasped the bit
of paper eagerly.  They were beaming with smiles, and brimming over with
affection for their dear white brothers.  Only Mountain Cat held
scowlingly aloof.  Then they returned to their men.

It was uncertain now how matters would turn.  Watching them, the
occupants of the corral could see that an animated conference was being
held.  Would there be another battle?  Even if not, a large war-party
like this, determined to annoy them, could soon reduce their position to
one of imminent peril.  By closely investing the camp they could render
it nearly an impossibility for the stock to obtain proper grazing--let
alone bringing all progress forward to an utter standstill.  They could
even make it a matter of extreme difficulty to replenish the water
supply--and then, too, there would be the constant strain and fatigue of
ever being on the watch against surprise--whether by day or night.  So
that when their conference ended, the whole party mounted their ponies
and retreated in the same way as they had come, the feeling evoked in
the minds of the spectators was one of entire and undiluted relief.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

A PERIL OF THE PLAINS.

"A `tenderfoot,' and--`turned round'!"  [Lost.]  And the speaker hands
his field-glass to his companion.  The latter brings it to bear and
gazes with interest upon the object under observation.

The said object is a horseman, now between three and four miles distant.
The observers from their point of vantage and concealment, a little
belt of scrub and timber cresting a knoll, have been watching this
object ever since it appeared on the skyline.

Thanks to the powerful glass they can make out every movement of the
solitary horseman, and very irresolute his movements are.  Now he reins
in, and looks anxiously around; now he spurs his nag to the brow of some
slight eminence, only to encounter disappointment, for the broad rolling
plains lie around in unbroken monotony, affording no sort of landmark
for the guidance of this inexperienced traveller.  There is weariness
and disappointment in his every movement.  In his countenance there is
more--an expression of strong apprehension, not to say alarm.  This,
too, thanks to the developments of science, is clear to the observers.

"A `tenderfoot,' and turned round," repeats Vipan.  "Now, what the deuce
can he be doing here, alone, and away from his outfit?  Why--what's the
matter, Miss Santorex?"

"Look--look!" is the hurried reply.  "There--to the right--down in the
hollow!  What--who are they?"

In her eagerness she has seized his arm, and her face has gone pale as
death.  But Vipan has seen at the same time what she herself has.  His
reply is grave and in one word.

For a new factor has appeared on the scene.  Stealing around the slope
of the hill, out of sight of the horseman, but so that a few minutes
will bring them suddenly upon him, come nearly a score of mounted
figures.  Their plumed heads and long lances show them to be Indians,
their painted faces and the fantastic trappings of their ponies show
them to be warriors on the war-path.  Their stealthy glide, as nearer
and nearer they advance upon their wholly unconscious victim, leaves no
doubt whatever as to their present intentions.  Indeed, the observers
can plainly distinguish the exultant grin on each cruel countenance as
the warriors exchange glances or signals.  A few moments, and the
solitary horseman will ride right into their midst.

"Oh, can nothing be done to save him?" cried Yseulte Santorex, clasping
her hands in the intensity of the situation.

"I'm afraid, under present circumstances--nothing," was the reply, given
with a calmness that outraged and exasperated her.

"What!  I should never have believed it of you, Mr Vipan," she cried,
her eyes flashing with indignation.  "I should never have believed that
you--you of all men--would stand by and see a fellow-creature
barbarously done to death, and make no effort to save him, or even to
warn him."

There was a strange look in Vipan's eyes as he met her scornful and
angry glance--full and unflinchingly.

"Should you not!" he replied.  "Well, then, I would stand by and see a
hetacomb of `fellow-creatures' done to death, if the alternative lay in
exposing you to serious danger."

"Forgive me," she said, hurriedly, and in a softer tone.  "But leave me
out of the question, and let us try and save him.  See!  There are not
many Indians; we can surely do something.  Oh!  It is too late!"

The stranger's horse was seen suddenly to stop short, pause, swerve,
then start forward with a bound that nearly left his rider rolling on
the plain.  He had scented the Indians, who at the same moment appeared
within a few hundred yards of the white man.  Feigning astonishment at
the suddenness of the meeting, one of the foremost warriors called out
in broken English:

"How!  White brother not run away.  We good Injun--damn good Injun!
Stop!--say `how.'  Smoke pipe--eat heap `chuck'!  Damn good Injun, we!
White brother--stop!"

But the "white brother," though obviously a greenhorn, was not quite so
soft as that.  For all answer he dug the spurs into the sides of his nag
in such wise as materially to increase the distance between himself and
the savages.  The latter, baulked of an easy and bloodless capture,
together with the rare sport of putting a prisoner to death amid all
manner of slow and ingenious tortures, cast all pretence to the winds,
as they darted in pursuit.

Then began a race for life, which the spectators could not but watch
with thrilling interest.  Fortunately for the fugitive, his horse was an
animal of blood and mettle, and seemed likely to show a good lead to the
fleet war-ponies.  But on the other hand the fugitive himself was an
indifferent rider, and more than once, wholly unaccustomed to the
tremendous pace, he would sway in the saddle, and only save himself by a
hurried clutch at his steed's mane from being cast headlong to the
earth.  The whoops and yells of the savage pursuers sounded nearer and
nearer in his ears, and the expression of his countenance, livid as with
the dews of death, and eyeballs starting from their sockets, was that of
such despairing horror as to turn one of the two spectators sick and
faint.

"There's just a chance for him," muttered Vipan, more to himself than to
his companion.  "If he takes the right fork of the valley he's a dead
man--nothing can save him.  If he takes the left, it'll bring him close
under us, and I'll give him a hail."

"Do, for the love of Heaven!" gasped the girl through her ashy lips.
"God will help us, if we try and save this stranger."

Along the valley-bottom swept this most engrossing of all hunts--a
man-hunt.  Whatever advantage the superiority of his horse afforded him
the fugitive was throwing away by his own clumsiness; for wildly
gripping the bridle to steady himself in his seat, he was checking and
worrying his steed to a perilous extent.  Bent low on the necks of their
ponies, the savages were urging the latter to their utmost speed.
Slowly but surely now they were gaining.  But a minute more and the
fugitive must choose--the right fork of the valley, away into certain
death--the left, succour, possible safety.

Suddenly a warrior, urging his steed in advance of the rest, literally
flying over the ground, comes within fifty yards of the fugitive.
Five--ten--another effort and he will be within striking distance.  Then
rising upright in his saddle the savage whirls a lasso in the air.
Another moment and the fatal coil will have settled around the doomed
man's shoulders.

But it is not to be.  A crack and a puff of smoke from the spectators'
hiding-place.  The distance is too great for accuracy of aim--six
hundred yards if an inch--but the ball ploughs up the ground under the
pony's feet, causing the animal to swerve and the rider to miss his
cast.  The warriors, disconcerted by this wholly unlooked-for danger,
halt for a moment, gazing in the direction of the report.  At the same
time a stentorian voice calls out:

"This way, stranger.  This way, for your blessed soul, or you're a dead
man!"

The fugitive needs no second invitation.  His horse's head is turned
towards the never-so-welcome refuge.  Amid a shower of bullets and
arrows from his discomfited pursuers he gallops up the gradual slope
which lies between himself and safety, and, fainting, exhausted,
speechless, more dead than alive, at length flings himself upon the
ground at his rescuers' feet.

Vipan's attention is for the moment more taken up with the red warriors
than with the man he has saved from their ruthless clutches.  The whole
party has now withdrawn beyond range, and is busily discussing the
sudden turn affairs have taken.  Then turning to the panting and
exhausted man stretched at full length upon the ground with closed eyes,
he remarks drily:

"You've had a narrow squeak for it, friend.  I don't think your scalp
could sit much more lightly than it has done within the last few minutes
short of coming off altogether."

But the fugitive seemed not to hear.  His whole attention was fixed--
riveted--upon the beautiful face bending over him in alarm--solicitude--
then unbounded surprise.

"Yseulte!" he stammered.  "Yseulte!  Is it really you, or am I dead or
dreaming?"

"Why it's Geoffry.  Geoffry Vallance!  Why, Geoffry, where on earth
_have_ you dropped from?"

"Er--I was trying to catch up your--er--Major Winthrop's party--and lost
my way," he answered stupidly--rubbing his eyes in sheer bewilderment.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE "TENDERFOOT."

If Yseulte Santorex stood lost in amazement at this wholly unlooked-for
meeting, there was really considerable excuse for some upsetting of her
mental poise.  Beyond a brief and formal farewell in the presence of her
family, she had not seen her former admirer since that passionate and
despairing declaration of his in the summer meadows which skirted the
pleasant Lant, and neither at that time nor since had the faintest idea
crossed her mind that he contemplated any such undertaking as Western or
any other travel.  And now here he was, flung, so to say, by Fate at her
very feet, escaping by the narrowest chance from the hands of hostile
savages, the most ruthless in the world.  And she had been mainly
instrumental in saving him.

But Geoffry had the advantage of her, in that his surprise was mainly
confined to the circumstances and place of their meeting.  When he had
quarrelled with and separated from the rather worthless guide whom he
had engaged at the nearest frontier post, he had reckoned on pushing on
so as to overtake Major Winthrop's outfit in a day at the outside, and
having found it, the first part of his object would be accomplished.
Then he had lost himself, as we have seen, and but for the present
opportune meeting his fate was sealed.  And now here was the object of
his search, more winsome, more beautiful than ever, her loveliness
enhanced tenfold by the glorious open-air life she had been leading.
But who on earth was her companion?  Not her brother.  George Santorex
could never have altered beyond recognition within three or four years;
besides, he was dark-haired--darker than Yseulte herself--and had not
the herculean build of this stranger.  Thus ran Geoffry's thoughts as,
with half-closed eyes, he lay on the sward, thoroughly done up with
fright and exhaustion.

Vipan, for his part, took no notice of the man whose life he had saved.
He saw before him a loosely hung, shambling sort of youth, commonplace
of aspect, and in no wise over-burdened with practical intelligence.
Beyond the first half-bantering, half-contemptuous remark, he hardly
seemed to think his new acquaintance worth addressing.  Nor did he seem
to think the unexpected recognition between him and Yseulte Santorex
worthy of notice.

"Will they attack us, Mr Vipan?" asked the latter, with a shade of
anxiety.  For the Indians, having finished their consultation, were
riding just beyond range, so as to make a wide circuit of the position.

"I doubt it.  They are going to find our trail leading in here, so as to
discover the extent of our force.  They will find the trail of two
horses, and not having seen you will take for granted that represents
two men, instead of one man and a non-combatant.  That, with our friend
here, makes three.  Three men with rifles, snugly fixed in a strong
position, constitute far too tough a nut for a small force like that to
try and crack, and they are only sixteen.  No.  They will conclude to go
away and leave us alone."

Yseulte gave a sigh of relief.  A skirmish would mean bloodshed, and,
brave as she was, the idea of seeing men shot down, even in
self-defence, could not be otherwise than abhorrent to her.

"Look," went on Vipan, "they have picked up our trail, and--there goes
the inevitable white rag."

The warriors had stopped, clustered together, and having briefly
scrutinised the ground, one of their number rode out, waving a dirty rag
on a lance-point.

"Flourish away, friend," remarked Vipan, drily; "I guess we're not going
to be drawn by any such childish device."

"Don't they want to make terms?" said Yseulte.

"No doubt.  But we don't.  They know our number.  What they want now is
to find out our strength--who we are, in short.  Now there isn't a red
on the Northern Plains who doesn't know me, by sight or intuition, and
this time I'm going to let them entertain a Tartar unawares; if they try
fighting, that is."

Finding no notice whatever was taken of their signals, the savages again
gathered in consultation.  Then the warrior who had hoisted the white
flag advanced from among the rest, and yelled out in broken English:

"Ha-yah, ha-yah!  Golden Face Injun's brudder!  Good hoss, ole debbil
Satanta--make big trail.  Golden Face bring out lily white gal.  Good
squaw for Injun brudder!  Ha-yah!"

The whole band screamed with laughter, but the insolent buck grinned
rather too soon.  Long as the range was, a ball from Vipan's rifle
crashed through his shin-bone, and both he and his pony rolled upon the
ground; the latter in the throes of death.  Their mirth changed into a
yell of rage; the band scattered, and withdrawing to a more respectful
distance, began circling frantically around the position, waving their
weapons and bawling out such expletives and coarse expressions as their
limited knowledge of Anglo-Saxon allowed.  Finally, their vocabulary
having given out, they once more collected together, and with a parting
jeer rode leisurely away.

"There go sixteen as disgusted reds as are to be met on the Plains this
day," said Vipan as the last of the warriors disappeared over the far
rise.  "And now, Miss Santorex, sorry as I am to disappoint you, we must
put off our picnic _a deux_, or rather _a trois_, and get back to camp
as soon as possible.  Those chaps might fall in with a lot more of their
tribe, and double back on us sharp, or half-a-hundred things might
happen.  So we've no time to lose."

Vipan was not the man to leave anything to chance, but although no
square foot of the surrounding country escaped his keen glance, as they
cantered merrily away from the scene of the late _fracas_, not a sign of
their recent foes was visible.  The vast rolling plains shimmering in
the afternoon heat lay silent and deserted, and save that a film of
smoke in the far distance, marking the site of the emigrants' camp, was
faintly discernible, might have been untrodden by human foot.

"By the way, Mr--er?" began Vipan.

"--Vallance."

"Well, Mr Balance."

"Er--Vallance."

"Oh, Vallance, I beg your pardon.  Well, Mr Vallance, I was going to
say, what do you think of Indian fighting?  Never saw `Mr Lo' [Note 1]
on the war-path before, I take it?"

"No, never.  And I don't particularly care if I never see him again,"
answered Geoffry, flurriedly.  "Er--you have saved my life, Mr--er--?"

"Vipan."

"--Mr Vipan," he stuttered; "and but for you I should be a dead man at
this moment."

"Not strictly accurate, and that in two particulars," was the quiet
reply.  "In the first place, you should have said `But for Miss
Santorex'; in the second, you would not have had the luck to be a dead
man at this moment.  You would be squirming a good deal nearer to a slow
fire than is either pleasant or salubrious."

Geoffry turned pale, nor could he repress a slight shudder as he thought
of the ghastly fate from which he had escaped, as it were, by the skin
of his teeth.  Then the sight of his enslaver--so unexpectedly met with,
and, like himself, dependent for aid and protection amid the grisly
perils of these Western wilds, upon this mysterious stranger, who
treated him, Geoffry, with a patronising and tolerant air which under
any other circumstances would have been galling in the extreme--roused a
wave of jealousy and distrust in the young man's breast.  What the deuce
was she doing here, careering about the country with this splendidly
handsome desperado?  But the latter's next words seemed to solve the
enigma.

"I reckon you'll follow the crowd next time you feel like running
buffalo, Miss Santorex.  I ought not to have exposed you to even this
small risk."

"A delicate way of reminding me that I've only myself to thank for
risking being scalped," she replied demurely, but with a mischievous
smile struggling not to break forth.  "Well, it's perfectly true.  I
made you take me, and you all agreed it was quite safe.  But we killed
our buffalo after all--though I didn't like the killing part of it--and
I shall never get the chance of a buffalo hunt again.  Besides," with a
glance at Geoffry and a serious ring in her voice, "it looks as if we
had been sent here on purpose."

"I say," sputtered Geoffry, staring at Vipan, as though bursting with a
new idea.  "I say, w-were you ever at the 'Varsity?"

"Which 'Varsity?"

"Why, Oxford or Cambridge, don't cher know.  You give me the idea of a
man who has been there."

"Do I?  If I was there at all, it must have been rather before you were
born," replied the other, imperturbably.

"Hang the fellow, he needn't be so close!" thought Geoffry, with a
sullen sense of having been "shut up."  But he was glad enough to see
safety and comfort in the shape of Major Winthrop's camp, which lay
about a mile distant, between them and the setting sun, although he was
conscious of a profound feeling of jealousy and distrust towards the man
to whom he owed that safety and comfort.

"My partner will show up this evening," said Vipan, tranquilly.  "In
fact I shouldn't wonder if we found him in camp when we arrive, and
what's more, he'll know exactly what we've been doing since I joined
you."

"How on earth will he know?" asked Yseulte, wonderingly.

"That's just how he will know," was the amused reply.  "By looking on
the earth.  We have a code of our own.  But, you'll see, anyhow."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  A Western joke, from the passage in Pope's Essay on Man which
runs: "Lo, the poor Indian, whose untutored mind."



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

A BOMB FOR THE REV. DUDLEY.

The Rev. Dudley Vallance sat in his library sorting out the contents of
the post-bag.

There was his usual correspondence, all of which he knew at a glance,
and tossed impatiently aside, and two or three missives in an unknown
hand, which met with no greater attention.  But that which he sought was
not there.  Not a line from his absent son.

More than a month had elapsed since Geoffry had started on his travels.
To the surprise of his parents, he had as suddenly come round to their
plans, and was as ardently ready to go abroad as he had been formerly
opposed to the idea.  Still more to their surprise, he had expressed a
firm determination to travel in the United States and nowhere else; and,
with an energy wholly foreign to his limp nature, had extorted from them
a promise to reveal no word of his intention until after his departure.
Of course, the reason of this was soon made manifest; yet his indulgent
father would not oppose him.  And now, for nearly a fortnight, no news
of him had been received.  To be sure, he had been on the eve of
quitting the furthest limits of Western civilisation when he last
wrote--probably opportunities of communication were few and far between.
Yet the Rev. Dudley felt very anxious, very disappointed.

Mechanically he opened his letters, one after another, but hardly
glanced at the contents.  Even the announcement that a couple of farms
would shortly be thrown on his hands--a notice which at any other time
would have disturbed his rest for a week--passed unheeded now.  Suddenly
his face paled, and a quick gasp escaped his white lips.  He had come to
the last letter of all, and it was from his solicitors.

We know of nothing more calculated to knock a man out of all time than a
wholly unexpected and equally unwelcome communication imparted through
the agency of the post.  If imparted by word of mouth, he can find some
relief in questioning his informant, but when coming through the medium
of a letter, especially a lawyer's letter, there is that in the cold,
stiff paper, in the precise, hateful characters, as unbending, as
inexorable as the very finality of Fate.  The communication which, even
in the midst of his paternal anxiety, had knocked Mr Vallance so
thoroughly out of time, conveyed nothing less than the news that a
claimant had come forward to dispossess him of the Lant estates, to
contest the late squire's will on several grounds, including that of
fraud.  And the said claimant was no less a personage than the late
squire's son.

And really it is not surprising that he should have been knocked out of
time.  In a lightning-flash there passed before him a vision of years of
litigation, draining his resources and impoverishing his estate--and
that even should things not come to the worst.  The tone of his lawyers'
letter was not reassuring.  This meant that, in their opinion, the
claimant had a good case.  How good that case might be was a
consideration which turned the reverend squire's features a trifle
paler.

Then came a ray of hope.  Ralph Vallance had not been heard of for
years, nearer twenty than ten.  He had probably gone to the dogs long
ago, had joined the ranks of the "shady," and, in keeping with his
umbrageous character, was now trying to extort a compromise, or, failing
that, a sum of money not to make himself troublesome.  But to this happy
idea succeeded a darker one, dousing the first as in a rush of ink.
Probably with the extraordinary luck which now and then befalls the
thorough adventurer, Ralph was returning a rich man, prepared, out of
sheer vindictiveness, to devote a large portion of his wealth to
plunging his cousin into protracted litigation, with all its harassing
and impoverishing results.  This would be about as disastrous, in the
long run, as the actual establishment of the claim.

Again and again he read the hateful missive, until every word of it was
burnt into his brain, but he gleaned no comfort.  From whatever point he
thought it over, the outlook was about as gloomy as it could be.  The
summer air came into the room in soft and balmy puffs, laden with the
scent of roses.  He could hear his children's voices on the terrace
below, and away over many a mile of rolling down his eye wandered over
pleasant pastures alternating with velvety woodland, and yellow
corn-fields awaiting the sickle; to the river flashing like a silver
streak through the shade of the beeches, where the deer lay in antlered
and dappled groups, lazily chewing the cud in the soft and sensuous
forenoon.  All this was his own, and his son's after him--an hour ago,
that is.  But now?  He saw himself adrift in his old age, and his
idolised son drudging miserably for daily bread.  He saw the kinsman, in
whose place he had for so long stood, ejecting him pitilessly,
vindictively; exacting, it might be, all arrears to the uttermost
farthing.  Even after this lapse of years (nearer twenty than ten) he
cowered beneath the bitter and burning home-truths which that kinsman
had hurled at him, here, in this very room, and his heart quaked and his
blood curdled at the promise of a terrible and unlooked-for vengeance
with which his kinsman had left him.  Time had gone by; year had
succeeded year; his children growing up, and he himself in undisturbed
possession, and the force of these denunciations and threats had become
dulled.  He had long since come to categorise them in his own mind as
the furious vapourings of a desperate and disappointed man.  And now
they were to bear fruit, to strike him down in his old age, to turn him
and his homeless and helpless on the world.  The wretched man dropped
his head into his hands and groaned aloud.

But, the reader will ask, what was the man made of to start by
discounting the worst; to throw up the sponge so abjectly at the very
first threat of battle?  Well, there may be something in the adage that
conscience makes cowards--of certain temperaments, or there may have
been a something underlying the whole affair unknown even to Mr
Vallance's own lawyers, or, possibly, a good deal of both.  We can only
say: Reader, persevere, and discover for yourself.

Suddenly there floated in upon the summer air a mellow peal of church
bells.  Mr Vallance aroused himself.  He had forgotten it was Sunday,
forgotten his anxiety about Geoffry, forgotten everything in this new
and terrible blow that threatened him.  The turning of the door-handle
made him fairly start from his chair, so overwrought were his nerves.

"The girls have gone on, Dudley," said his wife, entering, a sumptuous
presence in her church-going attire.

"All right, my dear.  Kindly overtake them, will you?  I'll follow you
when I'm ready."

"But you'll be very late.  Why, what is the matter?" she broke off,
alarmed by his appearance and the huskiness of his tone.  Then glancing
at the pile of newly-opened letters--"Is it bad news?  Not--not about
Geoffry?"

"_No_, not about Geoffry; thank Heaven for that.  There is no word of
the boy or his movements.  It is--er--merely a very unfortunate and
perplexing matter of business.  Please don't wait for me."

Those who caught a glimpse of their pastor's face that morning as he
swept up the church behind his little procession of choir-boys were
startled at the grey, set expression it wore; and when, after several
mistakes and omissions in the performance of the service, he brought it
to a close without a sermon, the parish--such of it as was present, at
least--came to the conclusion that something must have gone very wrong
indeed.  Had Mr Vallance heard bad news about his son?  No, for when
the retired jerry-builder, who was also churchwarden, meeting the parson
after service, made the enquiry in a sepulchral and sympathising
stage-whisper, he met with a very unconcerned answer in the negative.

"Parson do look main sick, surely" was the verdict of the village, as,
represented by its choicest louts, it hung around the churchyard gate,
and subsequently at the corners of the roads and lanes, previous to its
afternoon Sunday loaf among the same.  "Parson, he be agein', he be."

Thus the village verdict.

"Poor Mr Vallance was looking very ill this morning," remarked Mrs
Santorex at dinner that day.  "He could hardly get through the service.
Everybody thought at first that he had heard bad news of Geoffry, but it
appears not.  In fact, he had heard no news of him at all."

"Likely enough he has been hard hit in the pocket department," rejoined
her lord.  "Probably, `poor Mr Vallance' has been dabbling in bubble
investments; and his particular bubble has--gone the way of all bubbles.
Rather rough that he should hear about it on Sunday, though, the day of
all others when he has to show up in public.  So he blundered over the
service, did he?  Well, our shepherd ought to know by this time that he
can't serve two masters--ha--ha!"

But when later in the afternoon Mr and Mrs Vallance, with a brace of
daughters, dropped in, Mr Santorex felt persuaded that at least one of
the quartet had come there with further intent than that of making a
mere friendly call, and accordingly he awaited events in a kind of
mental ambush congenial to his cynical soul.

"Any news of Yseulte?" asked Mrs Vallance, rising to depart.

"Yes.  She has fallen in with a Major Winthrop and his wife.  They seem
very good sort of people, and the little girl is going to travel under
their charge.  They are neighbours of my boy George, and are returning
to their ranche."

"Can I have a word with you, Santorex?" said the Rev. Dudley, lingering
at the gate, having told his wife and daughters to go on without him.
"Er--the fact is," he continued, lowering his voice, as the other nodded
assent, "the fact is--er--something rather troublesome--a mere trifle
that is to say--has occurred to worry me.  Have you any idea of the
whereabouts of Ralph Vallance?"

"Not the faintest."

"Oh.  I thought perhaps you might know something about him.  I believe
you and he were--er--on friendly terms at one time?"

"Yes, we were.  Why?  Have _you_ heard anything about him?"

"Er--well, I may say this much.  I fancy the poor fellow is in need of
assistance--if only I knew where he was."

"Afraid I can't help you to learn.  Stay.  It was only lately I was
turning out a lot of old correspondence, and there was a whole bundle of
Ralph's letters.  It was just before Chickie went away.  I'll hunt them
up and see if they afford any clue."

The other started.  A scared, anxious look came into his face at the
mention of the correspondence.

"Might I--might I just look over those letters?" he asked, eagerly.

"H'm.  I'm afraid I can hardly agree to that.  But if I find anything in
them likely to be of service to you I won't fail to let you know."

With this, Mr Vallance was forced to be content.  His late host stood
shaking his head softly as he looked after his retreating figure, and
that cynical half-smile played about the corners of his mouth.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

POOR GEOFFRY AGAIN.

True to Vipan's prediction, the first person they met on their return to
camp was Smokestack Bill.

Leaning against a waggon-wheel, lazily puffing at his pipe, his faithful
Winchester ever ready to hand, the scout watched their approach as
imperturbably as though he had parted with his friend but half-an-hour
back, instead of nearly a month ago, when he had watched the latter ride
off with Mahto-sapa's band into what looked perilously like the very
jaws of death.  But he could not restrain a covert guffaw as he marked
in what company he now met his friend again.

"Hello, Bill!  Any news?" cried the latter, as they rode up to the
waggon corral.  "By the way, I must call round and collect that twenty
dollars from Seth Davis."

"Guess you'll have to trade his scalp to raise it," was the grim reply.
"And you'll find it drying in the smoke of an Ogallalla _teepe_."

"That so?"

"It is.  Couple o' nights after War Wolf was run off, a crowd of 'em
came along and shot Seth in the doorway of his store.  Then they cleared
out all the goods and burnt down the whole shebang.  They couldn't nohow
get rid of the idea that he'd had a hand in giving War Wolf away."

"Well, we've just stood off a handful of reds."

"Sho!  With the young lady too!  Say, stranger"--he broke off, turning
to Geoffry--"are you the `tenderfoot' them reds was after?"

"Er--yes.  But--how did you know?" answered Geoffry, staring with
astonishment.

"Struck your trail.  But jest before, I'd struck the trail o' them
painted varmints.  Knew they'd jump you, but reckoned you'd make camp
'fore they got within shootin' distance."

"You're out of it this time, Bill," said Vipan.  "He'd have been roast
beef by now if we hadn't happened along.  It was a very pretty chase,
though," he added, with a laugh.  "Our friend here covered the ground in
fine style."

"Bless your heart, stranger, that's just nothing," laughed the scout,
noting the offended look which came into the young man's face at this
apparently unfeeling comment on the frightful peril from which he had
barely escaped.  "Why, me and Vipan there have had many and many such a
narrow squeak when we've been out scoutin' alone--ay, and narrower.
Haven't we scooted for a whole day with a yellin' war-party close on our
heels, and no snug corral like this handy to stand 'em off in!"

"Really!" exclaimed Geoffry, open-mouthed.  "You bet.  Them devils were
just a lot of young Cheyenne bucks out in search of any devilment that
might come handy.  But you were in luck's way, stranger, this time."

Smokestack Bill was the bearer of news which tended not a little to
relieve the travellers' minds.  He had thoroughly scouted the country
ahead and pronounced it free from Indians.  He was of opinion that no
further trouble need be feared.  The Sioux, he declared, had quite
enough to occupy their attention at home, for they were mustering every
available warrior to resist an expected invasion of the troops, and to
this end all raiding parties then abroad on the Plains had been called
in.  A council of war on a large scale, together with a grand medicine
dance, was to be held at the villages of Sitting Bull, Mad Horse, and
other chiefs of the hostiles, and it was expected that from twelve to
fifteen thousand warriors would assemble.  Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and
some few other chiefs still remained on their reservations, but the bulk
of their followers had deserted and joined the hostiles.  The scout was
of opinion that they would encounter no considerable body of Indians,
though their stock might be exposed to the risk of stampede at the hands
of a few adventurous young bucks, such as those who had so nearly
captured Geoffry Vallance.

The latter's arrival in the camp, or rather the manner of it, was
productive of no slight sensation among the more inexperienced of the
emigrants.  The seasoned Western men, however, characteristically viewed
the incident as of no great importance, and after one glance at the new
comer, tacitly agreed that the advent of a "tenderfoot" more or less
constituted but a sorry addition to their fighting force.  However, with
the consideration and tact so frequently to be found among even the
roughest of the pioneers of civilisation, no sign of this was suffered
to escape them, and beyond a little good-humoured chaff, and an
occasional endeavour--generally successful--to "cram" the "Britisher,"
Geoffry had no reason to complain of lack of kindliness or hospitable
feeling on the part of the travellers, who, while amusing themselves at
the expense of his "greenness," were ever ready and willing to give him
the benefit of their experience or lend him a helping hand.

By the Winthrops the young man was made warmly welcome.  The Major, glad
of such an acquisition as an educated fellow-countryman, pressed him to
remain with them until they arrived at their destination, and see
something of the West under his own auspices, and his kind-hearted
little wife, very much impressed by his tragic escape from such a
terrible fate, took the young stranger completely under her wing, and
was disposed to make a hero of him.

Thus the days went by, and the waggon train pursued its slow course over
the Western plains; now winding around the spur of some high foot-hill
of a loftier range; now emerging from the timber belt fringing some
swiftly-flowing river, upon a level tableland carpeted with the greenest
of prairie-grass, bespangled with many a strange and delicate-hued
flower.  The exhilarating air, the unclouded blue of the heavens, the
danger lately threatening them removed--removed, too, by the sturdy
might of their own right hands--infused a cheerfulness into the
wanderers.  And when the camp was pitched and the waggons securely
corralled for the night, many a song and jest and stirring anecdote
enlivened the gathering round the red watch-fires.  By day the more
enterprising spirits would diverge from the route to track the red deer
or the scarcer blacktail in the wooded fastnesses of some neighbouring
ravine, while the waggons creaked on their slow and ponderous course.

To this strange new life Geoffry Vallance took with a readiness which
was surprising to himself.  Indeed, he would have been thoroughly happy
but for one thing.  From the moment they had recognised each other, when
he reeled panting and exhausted to the ground at her feet, Yseulte's
demeanour towards him had been one of studied coldness and reserve.  She
would never address him of her own initiative, and deftly defeated any
attempt on his part to be with her alone.  The poor fellow was beside
himself with mortification; and when he recalled the circumstances of
that first recognition, how he had found her alone with the splendidly
handsome scout, to his mortification was added a perfect paroxysm of
jealous rage.

Mrs Winthrop took in the situation at a glance--indeed, it would have
been manifest to a far less clearsighted observer, so transparent were
the symptoms in so simple a subject as poor Geoffry--and it annoyed her.

"I can't think why," she began one day, when the latter was away on some
hunting expedition with most of the men, and the two ladies were alone
together, "I can't think why you treat the poor fellow so standoffishly,
Yseulte.  I'm sure he worships the very ground you walk on, and you
might be a little kinder to him."

"Really, I don't see that the fact entails upon me a corresponding
reciprocity," was the reply, given a little coldly.

"There you go with your long words, Yseulte.  And now you turn the
stand-offishness upon me.  I only mean, dear, that I want everyone to be
friendly and on good terms around.  Let him say what he wants to say.
Then give him an answer.  That'll fix him one way or another right
along, and put everything on a friendly footing again."

"Would it?  Supposing I were to tell you, Hettie, that Geoffry Vallance
can't take No for an answer, you would retort that you thought the more
of him for it.  But there is more than that.  He should not have
followed me out here.  It was not right--it was even ungentlemanly.  He
has taken an unfair advantage in besieging me like this.  In fact, he
has placed me in a thoroughly false position."

"But, dear," mischievously, "so far from following you, it was you who
brought him here."

"Say Mr Vipan, rather.  _I_ am not an Indian fighter."

Then spake Hettie Winthrop unadvisedly.

"Well, Mr Vipan, then.  But, Yseulte dear, you are always pleasant and
cordial enough with Mr Vipan.  Naturally the other poor fellow notices
it."

Yseulte turned her grand eyes full upon the speaker, and there was an
angry flash in them.  These two friends were as near a quarrel as they
would ever be likely to arrive.

"I don't know what you mean, Hettie.  Mr Vipan saved me from the most
horrible of fates.  Am I to show my appreciation by keeping him at arm's
length to please Geoffry Vallance?"

"Tut-tut!  You needn't be so fiery about it," said the other, laughing
mischievously.  "I didn't mean anything in particular that I know of,
and I guess I don't hold a brief for any Geoffry Vallance."

That evening, for the first time since her rescue just alluded to,
Yseulte was strolling by herself.  She had been strangely reserved and
silent all day, and now had stolen quietly away to be alone and think.
A stream flowed between its fringe of fig and wild plum trees, about two
hundred yards off the camp, and now she stood meditatively gazing into
the current and thinking with a pang over the loss of her trout-rod.
The evening air was lively with many a sound, the screech of myriad
crickets, the shout of the teamsters driving in the animals for the
night, the occasional cry of a fretful infant, and the wash and bubble
of the water flowing at her feet.  Suddenly the utterance of her own
name broke in upon her meditations.  There stood Geoffry Vallance, the
expression of his face that of eagerness to make the most of his
opportunity.

"Why do you always avoid me now?" he began, with a quick glance around,
as if fearful of interruption, "What have I done that you will hardly
speak to me now?"

A flush of anger mounted to her face.

"Have they come back from hunting?" she said, ignoring the question.

"No, I came back by myself.  I couldn't go on any longer till I knew
what I had done to offend you.  Have I not followed you to the end of
another world?  And this is how you treat me."

She could have struck him.  "What an idiot the boy is!" she thought.
"Father was right.  A witless idiot!"

"That is just what you have done," she flashed forth.  "Who gave you any
sort of encouragement to follow me to what you are pleased to call `the
end of another world'?  Why did you come here to render me thoroughly
ridiculous, to place me in a false position?  By what right do you
presume to call me to account?  Answer me that, and then kindly leave me
at once."

For a moment he seemed thunderstruck, and stood staring at her in blank
dismay.  Then a light seemed to dawn upon him.

"I thought, at any rate, that one more to protect you--to stand between
you and harm--in this wild country, counted for something.  But it seems
to constitute an offence.  Well, I will leave, this very night if you
wish it."

"Nonsense!" was the angry retort.  "Have you so soon forgotten the
result of trying to cross the plains alone?  You know perfectly well I
don't want you to run any such foolish risk.  But you should not have
followed me here at all.  I thought I had given you a final answer once
and for all at Lant--"

"Good evening, Miss Santorex!" struck in a voice behind them.  And Vipan
raised his hat as he rode by at a foot's pace within a dozen yards of
them.  So engrossed had they been that they had not heard the
hoof-strokes of his horse.  A flush came over Yseulte's face.  Could he
have heard? she thought.  Surely he must have.  The evening air was so
still, and Geoffry's voice was of the high "carrying" order.  Oh, that
unlucky Geoffry!  And for the moment she found it in her heart to wish
that he had been left to the tender mercies of the red men.

"I can't think how it is," said Geoffry, moodily, bringing his glance
back from Vipan's retreating form to the flushed face of his companion.
"I've a dim recollection of having seen that fellow before--how, when,
and where is just what puzzles me."

Yseulte started.  If she was thinking the same thing she was not going
to say so.  She suggested a return to the camp.

"And it's my belief," pursued Geoffry, with a dash of venom--"my firm
belief, that he's a bad hat."

"Is it?"

"Yes.  I've heard one or two queer whispers about him in the camp.  It's
said that he's too friendly with the Indians."

"Especially the other day when you and I had the pleasure of meeting.
Where would you be now but for him, or where should I?  I don't think we
ought to go out of our way to cultivate a bad opinion of a man who has
saved both our lives, do you?"

She left him, for they had now reached the camp--left him standing there
feeling very sore, very resentful, and thoroughly foolish.  Yseulte
Santorex could be very scornful, very cutting, when she chose.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

"AT HIS TIME OF LIFE."

"Something not quite right there--not quite right.  No, sir," said the
scout to himself, shaking his head softly as he furtively watched his
companion.  "And I reckon I can fix it," he added.  "Lord!  Lord!  To
think what we may come to--the most sensible of us as well as the most
downright foolishest."

Vipan, stretched at full length beside the camp fire, smoking his long
Indian pipe, looked the very picture of languid repose.  Yet his
thoughts were in a whirl.  Why had he come there?--why the devil had he
stayed?

The hour was late--late, that is, for those destined to rise at the
first glimmer which should tell of the rising dawn--and sundry shapes
rolled in blankets, whence emanated snores, betokened that most of the
denizens of the encampment were sleeping the sleep of the healthy and
the just.  The murmur of voices, however, with now and then an airy
feminine laugh from the Winthrops' side of the corral, told that some at
any rate were keeping late hours.

"Say, Bill, I conclude I'll git from here."

No change of expression came into the speaker's face.  Nor did he even
glance at him addressed.  The words seem to escape him as the natural
and logical outcome of a train of thought.

"Right, old pard.  I'm with you there.  Where'll you light out for?"

"I think I'll go to Red Cloud's village and see what's on.  Perhaps look
in upon Sitting Bull or Mahto-sapa on the way."

"There I ain't with you," answered the scout decisively.  "Better leave
the reds alone just now.  Haven't you been shooting 'em down like
jack-rabbits around here, and won't they now be bustin' with murderation
to take your hair?  No, no."

"May be.  But I want a change, anyway.  So I'm for looking up that
_placer_ on upper Burntwood Creek.  The troops won't molest us this
time, because all the miners'll have left.  Besides all available
cavalry will be told off against Sitting Bull."

"It's strange that Mr Vipan hasn't been near us all day," Mrs Winthrop
was saying.  "But I suppose he'll clear out as suddenly as he came.
These Western men are queer folks, and that's a fact."

"Vipan isn't a Western man," answered the Major, thoughtfully.  "And
it's my private opinion he could give a queer account of himself if he
chose.  Sometimes I could swear he had been in the Service.  However
that's his business, not ours."

"Well, he might be a little more open with us, anyway, considering the
time we have been together."

"Just over a week."

"That's as long as a year out here.  But I shall be sorry when he does
leave us--very sorry."

"May I hope that remark will apply to me, Mrs Winthrop?" said a voice
out of the gloom, as its owner stepped within the firelight circle.
"It's odd how things dovetail, for as a matter of fact I strolled across
for the purpose of taking leave."

"Oh, how you startled me!" she cried.  "Of taking leave?  Surely you are
not going to leave us yet, Mr Vipan?  Why, we hoped you would accompany
us home, and stay awhile, and have a good time generally.  You really
can't go yet.  Fred--Yseulte--tell him we won't allow it."

"Why, most certainly, we won't," began the former, heartily.  "Come,
Vipan--your time's your own, you know, and you may just as well do some
hunting out our way as anywhere else."

"Of course," assented his wife.  "But--I know what it is.  We have
offended him in some way.  Yseulte, what have you done to offend Mr
Vipan?  I'm sure I can't call to mind anything."

"There is no question of offence," protested Vipan.  "I am a confirmed
wanderer, you see, Mrs Winthrop--here to-day, away to-morrow.  The
country is clear of reds now, and you will no longer need our additional
rifles.  If we have rendered you some slight service, I can answer for
it, my partner is as glad as I am myself."

No man living was less liable to be swayed by caprice than the speaker.
Yet suddenly he became as resolved to remain a little longer, as he had
been a moment before to leave.  And this change was brought about by the
most trivial circumstance in the world.  While he was speaking, his eyes
had met those of Yseulte Santorex.

Only for a moment, however.

When Vipan, in his usual laconic manner, informed his comrade that he
concluded to wait a bit longer, the latter merely remarked, "Right,
pard.  Jest as you fancy."  But as he rolled over to go to sleep, he
nodded off to the unspoken soliloquy--

"It's a rum start--a darn rum start.  At his time of life, too!  Yes,
sir."



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

IN THE "DUG-OUT."

Yseulte Santorex was conscious of a new and unwonted sensation.  She
felt nervous.

Yet why should she have felt so, seeing that this was by no means the
first time she had undertaken an expedition _a deux_ under her present
escort?  But somehow it seemed to her that his tone had conveyed a
peculiar significance when he suggested this early morning
antelope-stalk at the time of making up his mind to remain.

It was a lovely morning.  The sun was not an hour high, and the air was
delicious.  But their success had been _nil_.  To account for the
absolute lack of game was a puzzle to Vipan, but it could hardly be the
cause of his constrained taciturnity.

Yseulte felt nervous.  Why had he induced her to come out like this
to-day?  Instinctively she felt that he was on the eve of making some
revelation.  Was he about to confide to her the history of his past?
Her nervousness deepened as it began to dawn upon her what an
extraordinary fascination this adventurer of the Western Plains, with
his splendid stature and magnificent face, was capable of exercising
over her.  A silence had fallen between them.

"I want you to see this," said Vipan suddenly as they came upon the
ruins of what had once been a strong and substantial building.  "It's an
old stage-station which was burnt by the reds in '67."

There was eloquence in the ruins of the thick and solid walls which even
now stood as high as ten or twelve feet in places, and which were still
spanned by a few charred and blackened beams, like the gaping ribs of a
wrecked ship.  The floor was covered with coarse herbage, sprouting
through a layer of _debris_, whence arose that damp, earthy smell which
seems inseparable from ancient buildings of whatever kind.  Standing
within this relic of a terrible epoch, Yseulte could not repress a
shudder.  What mutilated human remains might they not actually be
walking over?  Even in the cheerful daylight the flap of ghostly wings
seemed to waft past her.

"If these old walls could speak they'd tell a few queer yarns," said her
companion.  "Look at these loop-holes.  Many a leaden pill have they
sent forth to carry `Mr Lo' to the Happy Hunting-Grounds.  I don't know
the exact history of this station, but it's probably that of most others
of the time.  A surprise--a stiff fight--along siege in the `dug-out'
when the reds had set the building on fire--then either relief from
outside, or the defenders, reduced by famine or failure of ammunition,
shooting each other to avoid capture and the stake."

"Horrible!" she answered, with a shiver.  "But what is a `dug-out'?"

"Let's get outside, and I'll tell you all about it.  Look--you see that
mound of earth over there," pointing to a round hump about a score of
yards from the building, and rising three or four feet above the ground.
"Well, that is a roof made of earth and stones, and therefore bullet
and fire proof.  It is loop-holed on a level with the ground, though
it's so overgrown with buffalo-grass that the holes'll be choked up, I
reckon.  This roof covers a circular hole about ten or twelve feet in
diameter, and just high enough for a man to stand up in.  It is reached
by a covered way from the main building, and its object was this:--When
the reds were numerous and daring enough they had not much difficulty in
setting the building on fire by throwing torches and blazing arrows on
the roof, just as they threw them into our camp the other day.  Then the
stage people got into the `dug-out,' and with plenty of rations and
ammunition could hold their own indefinitely against all comers.  The
`dug-out' was pretty nearly an essential adjunct to every stage-station,
and a good many ranches had them as well.  And now, if you feel so
disposed, we will try and explore this one, and then it will be time to
start camp-wards."

She assented eagerly.  First going to the mound, the removal of the
overgrowth of grass revealed the loop-holes.

"It is like looking into the _oubliettes_ of a mediaeval castle," said
Yseulte, striving to peer through the apertures into the blackness
beneath.

"Now come this way," said her companion, leading the way into the
building once more.

A moment's scrutiny--then advancing to a corner of the building he
wrenched away great armfuls of the thick overgrowth.  A hole stood
revealed--a dark passage slanting down into the earth.

"Wait here a moment," he said.  "I'll go in first and see that the way
is clear."

The tunnel was straight and smooth.  Once inside there was not much
difficulty in getting along.  But it suddenly occurred to Vipan that he
might be acting like a fool.  What if he were to encounter a snake in
this long-closed-up _oubliette_, or foul air?  Well, for the latter, the
matches that he lighted from time to time burnt brightly and clear.  For
the former--he was already within the "dug-out" when the thought struck
him.

He glanced around in the subterranean gloom.  It was not unlikely that
the floor of the tomb-like retreat might be strewn with the remains of
its former owners, who had perished miserably by their own hands rather
than fall into the power of their savage foe.  But no grim death's-head
glowered at him in the darkness.  The place was empty.  Quickly he
returned to his companion.

"It's pretty dark in there," he said.  "Think you'd care to undertake
it?  It may try your nerves."

But Yseulte laughingly disclaimed the proprietorship of any such
inconvenient attributes.  She was resolved to see as much wild adventure
as she could, she declared.  Nevertheless, when she found herself buried
in the earthy darkness as she crawled at her companion's heels, she
could not feel free from an inclination to turn back there and then.

But when she stood upright within the underground fortress, and her eyes
became accustomed to the half-light, she forgot her misgivings.

"How ingenious!" she cried, looking first around the earthy cell and
then out through the loop-holes.  "Now, let's imagine we are beleaguered
here, and that the savages are wheeling and circling around us.  We
could `stand them off'--isn't that the expression?--till next week."

"And then if nobody came to get us out of our fix next week?"

"Oh, then we could hold out until the week after."

"You think that would be fun, eh?"

"Of course," she answered, her eyes dancing with glee in response to his
queer half-smile.

"H'm.  Well I'm very glad there's no chance of your undergoing the
actual experience," he answered drily, turning away to gaze out on the
surrounding country, but really that she should not see the expression
that swept across his face.  For it had come to this.  Rupert Vipan--
adventurer, renegade, freebooter--a stranger, for many a year, to any
softening or tender feeling--a man, too, who had already attained middle
age--thought, as he listened to her words, how willingly he would give
the remainder of his life for just that experience.  To be besieged here
for days with this girl--only they two, all alone together--himself her
sole protector, with a violent and horrible death at the end of it, he
admitted at that moment would be to him Paradise.  Yet a consciousness
of the absurdity of the idea struck him even then.  Who was he in her
eyes, in the eyes of those around her, her friends and protectors?  An
unknown adventurer--a mere commonplace border ruffian.  And--at his time
of life, too!

"Were you ever besieged in one of these places?" asked Yseulte.

Her voice recalled him to himself.

"Once," he answered.  "In '67, on the Smoky Hill route, four stagemen
and myself.  The reds burnt us out the first night, and we got into the
dug-out.  It was wearisome work, for they preserved a most respectful
distance once we were down there.  They wouldn't haul off, though.  So
one man kept a look-out at the loop-holes, while the rest of us played
poker or varied the tedium by swapping lies."

"Doing what?"

"Oh, exchanging `experiences.'  Tall twisters some of them were, too.
Well, by the third night we got so sick of it that we made up our minds
to try and quit.  The reds were still hanging around.  We needn't have,
for we had plenty of rations and ammunition, but the business was
becoming so intolerably monotonous.  Well, we started, and the upshot
was that out of the five, three of us fell in with a cavalry patrol the
next evening, having dodged the reds all day, each of us with an arrow
or two stuck more or less badly into him, and the Cheyennes went home
with a brace of new scalps.  Otherwise the affair was tame enough."

"Tame, indeed?  But you tell it rather tamely.  Now, how did the Indians
first come to attack you?  You left that out."

"Did I?  Oh, well, I happened to discover their propinquity, and
concluded to warn the stage people.  The red brother divined my
intention afar off, and came for me--and them."

"You ought to be called the Providence of the Plains," she said, with a
laugh that belied the seriousness of her face.  "There, I christen you
that on the spot."

"That would be a good joke to tell them over in Henniker City!  But to
be serious, in these latter days I never go out of my way to spoil the
red brother's fun.  None of my business, any way."

"But you made an exception in favour of us.  I don't believe you are
talking seriously at all."

"You don't?" he echoed, turning suddenly upon her, and there was that in
his tones which awed her into wonder and silence.  "You don't?  Well,
let me tell you all about it.  It was you, and you alone, who saved
every soul in that outfit from the scalping-knife and the stake.  I
sighted your party straggling along just anyhow, and I'd already been
watching the Sioux preparing to ambush it.  Then while promising my self
a good time lying up there on the butte, and looking on at the fun, I
chanced to catch sight of--you.  That decided the business.  Instead of
assisting at a grand pitched battle in the novel character of a
spectator, I elected to warn your people.  Otherwise--ambling along
haphazard as they were--they'd have lost their head-coverings to a dead
certainty.  That is how you saved them."

"What!  You would have done nothing to warn them?  I cannot believe it."

"Wouldn't have lifted a finger.  Why should I?" he broke off, almost
angrily.  "What interest had I in a few ranchmen and bullwhackers more
or less?  They were no more to me than the painted savages lying in wait
to scalp them.  Stop, you were going to say something about colour,
religion, and all that sort of thing.  But a white skin as often as not
covers as vile a nature as a red one, and for the other consideration
look at its accredited teachers.  About as good Christians as the
average Sioux medicine-man, neither better nor worse.  It was a blessed
good thing, though, that I had a first rate field-glass on that
occasion."

She raised her eyes to his as if expecting him to continue, and they
seemed to grow soft and velvety.  But he did not continue.  Instead, he
had taken a rigid attitude, and appeared to be listening intently.

"What can you hear?" she began, wonderingly.

But the words died away on her lips, and she grew ashy pale as her
dilated glance read her companion's face in the gloomy half-light of the
"dug-out."  No need to pursue her enquiry now.

For, audible to both, came a dull muffled roar, distant, faint, but of
unmistakable import.  Even Yseulte did not require her companion to
explain the sound.  Even she recognised in the long, dropping roll the
heavy discharge of firearms.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

A TERRIBLE DRAMA.

The waggon train had just pulled out.

Winding along over the wide prairie came the string of great cumbrous
vehicles, their white tilts gleaming in the morning sunshine, the
monotonous creaking of their axles mingling with the cheery shout of the
"bullwhackers" and the crack of whips.  Here and there along the line
rode horsemen in twos and threes, some leading spare horses, others
giving a general eye to the progress of the train.  Squads of children
chattered and squabbled in the waggons, a shrill feminine voice now and
again rising high in remonstration.  Women sat placidly sewing or
knitting--indulging too in gossip--of which perhaps Yseulte Santorex was
the subject more frequently than she would have guessed or approved.
All were in good spirits, for their journey was nearing its end.  No
room was there for apprehension either, for they had now reached the
extreme limits of the Sioux range.  So far from all minds was any
thought of danger that even scouting precautions had been of late very
much relaxed.

Thus they journeyed.

"There's something moving away there on the bluff, Dave," said Winthrop,
suddenly, shading his eyes.

"D'you say so, Colonel?" answered the cowboy, who with his employer and
mate was riding some little way ahead of the train.  "Likely enough it's
Smokestack Bill coming back.  He started off in that direction before
daybreak to hunt."

They were skirting a range of low round-topped bluffs, on one of which
had appeared the object which attracted Winthrop's attention.

"It's gone now," said the latter, still gazing intently.  "I could have
sworn it was somebody's head."

"Oh, thunder!  Look!" said the cowboy, quickly reining in his horse with
a jerk.

Well might even his stout heart--the heart of every soul in that
company--die away.  For the crest of the bluff was by magic alive with
mounted figures.  A great sheet of flame burst forth, and amid the
deafening crash of the volley a storm of leaden missiles whizzed and
hummed around the ears of the party.  Oregon Dave had uttered his last
words.  He threw up his arms with a stiffening jerk, and toppled heavily
from his saddle.

Then followed a scene of indescribable terror and confusion.  Rending
the air with their shrill, vibrating war-whoop, a vast crowd of painted
horsemen swooped down in full charge upon the doomed and demoralised
whites.  Flinging themselves behind their trained steeds, the Sioux
delivered their fire with deadly effect, then, recovering themselves in
the saddle with cat-like agility, they rode in among their writhing,
shrieking victims, spearing and tomahawking right and left.  Perfectly
mad with terror, the draught animals stampeded.  Waggons were
overturned, and their inmates flung screaming to the ground, or crushed
and mangled beneath the wreckage.

The surprise was complete; the demoralisation perfect.  Utterly
panic-stricken, helpless with dismay, men allowed themselves to be cut
down without offering a shadow of resistance.  Apart from the terror
inspired by the suddenness of the onslaught, there was literally not a
minute of time wherein to mass together and strike a blow in defence.
Even the privilege of selling their lives dearly was denied these doomed
ones.

The waggon train, pulled out at its full length, offered an easy prey,
and along this line, after the first and fatal charge, the warriors,
breaking up into groups, urged their fleet ponies; shooting down the
wretched emigrants with their revolvers, and ruthlessly spearing such
few who, being wounded, instinctively tried to crawl away.  Whooping,
yelling, whistling, brandishing their weapons, they strove to increase
the terror of the maddened teams, who, unable to break loose, upset the
vehicles wholesale.  They goaded the frenzied animals with their
lance-points, laughing like fiends if the wheels passed over the bodies
of any of the inmates thrown out or trying to escape; and once when a
whole family, driven wild with terror, instinctively flung themselves
from the creaking, swaying vehicle, which, upsetting at that moment,
crushed mother and children alike in a horrible mangled heap beneath the
splintering wreckage, the glee of the savages knew no bounds.

It was all over in a moment.  Not a man was left standing--not a man
with power in him to strike another blow.  All had been slain or were
lying wounded unto death.  All?  Stay!  All save one.

Winthrop, alone out of all that outfit, was untouched.  But he had
better have been dead.  His wife!  Oh, good God!  For her to fall into
the power of these fiends!

There was the light horse waggon; but between himself and it already
surged a crowd of skimming warriors.  Many a piece was aimed at him--
many a bullet sang about his ears, but still he went unscathed.

Spurring his horse, straight for the waggon he went--straight into the
thick of the yelling, whirling crowd.  Already, searing his ears like
molten lead, rose the piercing shrieks of miserable women writhing
beneath the scalping-knife, or struggling in the outraging grasp of the
victorious barbarians.  He sees a number of small bodies flung high into
the air--even marks the piteous terror in the faces of the wretched
little infants as they fall, to be caught dexterously on the bright
lance-points extended to receive them, and the laughing yells of the
painted fiends as the warm blood spurts forth and falls in jets upon
their hands and persons.  All this passes before his eyes and ears as a
vision of hell, and more than one of those fierce and ruthless
assailants deftly turns his horse away rather than face the awful fury
of despair blazing from his livid countenance.  One after another falls
before his revolver.  A moment more and he will reach his wife.  Then
they will both die together by his own hand.

The crowd of whirling centaurs seems to give way before him, and with
his eye upon his goal he spurs between their ranks.  But a roar of
mocking laughter greets his ears.

The canvas curtains of the waggon-tilt part, and a great savage,
hideously painted, springs forth, uttering an exultant whoop as he
brandishes something in the air.  It is a scalp--the blood trickling
freely down the long, shining, silky tress.

The whoop dies in the Indian's throat.  Winthrop's ball has sped true.
His wife's slayer falls heavily, still grasping in the locked grip of
death the relic of the murdered victim.  Yet, grim as it may seem, the
murderer really deserves the gratitude of both.  Then a thumping blow on
the arm sends his pistol flying out of his hand.

"How! white Colonel," says a gruff voice at his side.  "How!
Crow-Scalper big chief.  White scalp damn better nor `chuck.'  How?"

Grinning with delight, the gigantic warrior extended his hand in the
most friendly fashion; with difficulty curbing the plunges of his
excited steed.  He felt sure of his prey now.

Not yet.

Quick as thought, Winthrop had whipped out another pistol--a Derringer.

But for a timely swerve, Crow-Scalper would have been sent straight to
his fathers.  Then thinking things had gone far enough, the chief
pointed his revolver and shot the unfortunate Englishman dead.

It was all over in a moment--the firing and the din, the shrieks of
tortured women, the dying groans of mortally-wounded men--over in an
infinitely shorter time than it takes to narrate.  Not a man was left
alive; and already many a corpse lay where it had fallen, stripped and
gory, a hideous mangled object in the barbarous mutilation which it had
undergone.  Some of the Indians were busy looting the waggons.  Others,
scattered far and wide over the plain, were in pursuit of the fleeing
animals, which had stampeded in every direction.  All were in the
wildest degree of excitement and exultation.  They had mastered the
outfit at a stroke, with the loss of only three warriors.  They had
wiped out their former defeat, and had reaped a rich harvest of scalps.
They accordingly set to work to make merry over their plunder.

Over the worst of what followed we will draw a veil.  There were females
in that doomed waggon train.  Where these are concerned the red man, in
his hour of victory, is the most brutal, the most ungovernable fiend in
the world.

Singing, dancing, feasting, whooping, the barbarians kept up their
hideous orgie.  Then in furtherance of a new amusement a number of them
began to pile together the beams and planks of the wrecked waggons until
a huge heap was formed, in shape something like a rough kiln.  Up to
this structure were dragged about a dozen bodies.

Dead bodies?  No; living.

Men wounded unto helplessness and death, yet still with just the spark
of life in them.  Women, two or three, too elderly or unattractive to
fulfil the terrible fate invariably befalling the female captive of the
ruthless red man.  Some of the elder children who had not been speared
were also there.  All these, bound and helpless, were first deliberately
scalped, then flung inside the improvised kiln.  Fire was applied.

Drowning the appalling shrieks of their miserable victims in shrill
peals of laughter, the whole array of painted and feathered fiends
danced and circled around the blazing pyre in an ecstasy of glee.  For
upwards of an hour this frightful scene continued.  Then when the
anguish of the tortured victims had sunk in death, the savages gathered
up their spoils and departed, refraining from setting fire to any more
of the wreckage lest the too conspicuous sign of their bloody work
should by its volume be visible at a greater distance than they desired.

One more tragedy of the wild and blood-stained West.  A pack of coyotes,
snapping and snarling over their meal of mangled and defaced corpses,
whose scalpless skulls shone red and clotted in the sunlight.  A cloud
of wheeling, soaring vultures, a few piles of charred and shattered
wreckage, and many an oozy, shining pool of gore.  One more frightful
massacre.  One more complete and ruthless holocaust to the unquenchable
vendetta ever burning between the unsparing red man and his hated and
despised foe, the invading white.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

THERMOPYLAE.

"The camp is attacked," said Yseulte, not even pausing to brush off the
dust which had gathered upon her clothing during her passage into and
out of the "dug-out."

"I'm afraid so."

Both stood eagerly listening.  Again came the long, crackling roll, this
time more dropping and desultory, also more distinct than when they
first heard it underground.

"How will it end?" she asked.

Their glances met.  In the grave and serious expression of her
companion's face Yseulte read the worst.

"We must hope for the best.  Meanwhile, my first care must be for your
safety, so we must leave this spot at once.  See what comes of allowing
oneself to get careless.  As a matter of fact, we are off the Sioux
range, and reckoning on that we haven't been scouting so carefully as we
ought."

"When can we return to the camp?"

"Not a moment before dark," he replied, wondering if she knew that the
chances were a hundred to one against there being any camp to return to.
For to his experienced mind the situation was patent.  That sudden and
heavy fusillade meant a numerous war-party.  It also meant a surprise.
Further, and worst of all, he realised that at the time it took place
the waggon train would have pulled out, in which event the Indians would
not allow it time to corral.  Again, the firing had completely ceased,
which meant that one of two things had happened.  Either the assailants
had been beaten off; which was hardly likely within such a short space
of time.  Or they had carried the whole outfit at the first surprise;
and this he decided was almost certain.  But there was no need to break
the terrible news to his companion.

"Can we not wait here?" said the latter.  "We could retire into the
`dug-out' if they discovered us."

"How very near your ideal of fun has come to being realised!" was the
reply, with a shadow of a smile.  "No, we should stand no chance."

It did not escape Yseulte that, previous to starting, her escort gave a
quick, careful look to her saddlery and girths, pausing to tighten the
latter, and her heart sank with a chill and direful foreboding.

"You see, it's this way," continued Vipan.  "It is almost certain that
the war-party is a Sioux one, probably our old friends Crow-Scalper and
Mountain Cat.  This is the extreme western edge of the Sioux range,
consequently when the reds quit the scrimmage they are bound to travel
north or north-east.  So we must put as much space as we can between us
and them in the contrary direction.  For the same reason, if your
friends have whipped them--"

He paused abruptly, but it was too late.  She turned to him, her eyes
dilating with horror.

"_If_!  Oh, tell me the truth.  You think they have no chance?"

"One can but hope for the best."  She turned her face away, and the
tears fell thick and fast.  She could hardly realise it.  Her dear
friends, under whose protection she had travelled many and many a day,
in whose companionship she had been initiated into the delights of this
wild new land, and also its perils, now massacred; even at that moment,
perhaps, falling beneath the merciless blows of these bloodthirsty
savages.  She could hardly realise it.  Her mind felt numb.  Even the
sense of her own peril failed to come home to her.

But her companion realised it to the full.  This was no time to think of
anything but how to neglect no possible means of effecting her safety,
yet he could not banish the thrill of triumph which the thought inspired
in him that her fate, her very life, was absolutely in his hands.
Suddenly she turned to him.  The black drop of suspicion was corroding
her mind.

"Why did you bring me away from them all this morning?" she said,
speaking quickly and in a hard tone.  "Did you _know_ what was going to
happen?"

The adventurer's face went ashy white.  Even she could entertain such
suspicions!

"You forget, Miss Santorex.  My tried and trusted friend of years is in
that outfit.  Should I be likely to sell his scalp, even if I sold those
of _your_ friends?"

There was a savour of contempt in the cold incisiveness of his tone that
went to her heart.  What is baser than the sin of ingratitude?  Did she
not owe her life--and more than her life--to this man already, and now
to be flinging her pitiable and unworthy suspicions at him!  Would she
ever recover his good opinion again?

"Forgive me!" she cried.  "Forgive me!  I hardly knew what I was
saying."  And she burst into tears.  Even yet she would hardly believe
but that her fellow-travellers would succeed in holding their own.

Young though the day was, the torrid rays of the sun blazed fiercely
down upon the great plains.  Some distance in front rose a rugged ridge,
almost precipitous.  The only passage through this for many miles was a
narrow canon--a mere cleft.  Beyond lay miles and miles of
heavily-timbered ravines, and for this welcome shelter Vipan was making.
This plan he explained to his companion.

"Look!  What are those?" she cried, growing suddenly eager.  "Indians?
No.  Wild horses?  I didn't know there were any wild horses in these
parts."

Save for a scattered line of brush here and there, the great plains
until they should reach the defile above referred to were treeless, and
presented a succession of gentle undulations.  Nearly a mile distant,
seeming to emerge from one of these belts of brush, careering along in a
straggling, irregular line converging obliquely with the path of the two
riders, came a large herd of ponies.  It almost looked as if the latter
were bent on joining them.

Yseulte did not see the change in her companion's face, so intent was
she on watching the ponies.

"Get your horse into a gallop at once, but keep him well in hand," he
said.  But before she could turn to him, startled, alarmed by the
significance of his tone, the sudden and appalling metamorphosis which
came over the scene nearly caused her to fall unnerved from her saddle.
By magic, upon the back of each riderless steed there started an upright
figure, and, splitting the stillness of the morning air with its loud
fiendish quaver, the hideous war-whoop went up from the throats of half
a hundred painted and feathered warriors, who, brandishing their weapons
and keeping up one long, unbroken, and exultant yell, skimmed over the
plain, sure of their prey.

"Keep quite cool, and don't look back," he said.  "We've got to reach
that canon before they do--and we shall.  The war-pony that can overhaul
old Satanta when he's in average working order has yet to be built."

So far good, so far true.  But the same would not precisely hold good of
Yseulte's palfrey, which steed, though showy, was not much above the
average in pace or staying power.

The race was literally one for life, and the pace was terrific.  To the
girl it seemed like some fearful dream.  Sky and earth, the great
mountain rampart reared up in front, all blended together in rocking
confusion during that mad race.  The yells of the pursuing barbarians
sounded horribly nearer, and the pursued could almost hear the whistle
of their uncouth trappings as they streamed out on the breeze.

Vipan, reaching over, lashed her horse with a thong which he detached
from his saddle.  The animal sprang forward, but the spurt was only
momentary.  And the war-ponies were horribly fresh.

Nearer, nearer.  The great rock walls dominating the entrance to the
pass loomed up large and distinct.  Again he glanced back at the
pursuers.  Yes, they were gaining.  It was more a race than a pursuit--
the goal that grim rock-bound pass.  Even should the fugitives reach it,
what then?  Their chances would still be of the slenderest.

Ah, the horror of it!  Yseulte, white to the lips, kept her seat by an
effort of will, her heart melting with deadly fear.  Her companion,
fully determined she should never fall alive into the hands of the
savages, held his pistol ready, first for them, then for her, his heart
burning with bitter curses on his own blind and besotted negligence.  It
was too late now.  They were to founder in sight of land.  Ah, the
bitterness of it!

Bang!

The whiz of a bullet, simultaneously with a puff of blue smoke--this
time in front.  Vipan ground his teeth.  There was no escape, they were
between two fires.

But the regular thunder of the pursuing hoofs seemed to undergo a
change.  What did it mean?

Bang!

Then a glance over his shoulder told him that as the second ball came
whizzing into their midst, the painted warriors had swerved, throwing
themselves on the further side of their horses.

Only for a moment, though.  Realising that this new enemy represented
but a single unit, they hurled themselves forward with redoubled ardour,
yelling hideously.

"The gulch, pardner!  Streak for the gulch!" sung out a stentorian
voice; and sending another bullet among the on-rushing redskins, this
time with effect, Smokestack Bill kicked up his horse, which had been
lying prone, and in half a minute was flying side by side with his
friend.

Short though this check had been, yet it had given them a momentary
advantage.  But, now, as they neared the mouth of the pass, it became
clear to these two experienced Indian fighters that one of them must
give his life for the rest.

"Take the young lady on," said the scout.  "You're in it together, and
must get out of it together.  Reckon I'll stand them back long enough
for you to strike cover."

Here was a temptation.  Vipan knew well that it was so.  A short ten
minutes would save her--would save them both.  His friend could hold the
bloodthirsty savages in check for more than that.  A struggle raged
within him--a bitter struggle--but he conquered.

"No, no, old pard.  I'm the man to stay," he answered, slipping from his
saddle, for they were now at the entrance of the pass.  "Good-bye.  Take
her in safe."

It was no time for talking.  The pursuers, rendered tenfold more daring
by the prospect of the most coveted prize of all--a white woman--were
almost on their heels, the rocks re-echoing their exultant yells.
Yseulte's horse, maddened with terror and stimulated by a shower of
blows from the scout, bounded forward at a tearing gallop.

"Wait, wait!  We cannot leave him like this!  We must turn back!" she
cried, breathless, but unable to control her steed, which was stampeding
as though all the Sioux in the North-West were setting fire to its tail.

"Help me!  Help me to turn back!" she cried, in a perfect frenzy of
despair.  "We have deserted him--left him to die!"

Left alone, the bold adventurer felt no longer any hope, but in its
stead he was conscious of a wild elation.  His death would purchase
_her_ safety, and death was nothing in itself, but every moment gained
was of paramount importance.  Carefully he drew a bead on the charging
warriors and fired.  A pony fell.  Another rapid shot.  This time a
human victim.  This stopped their headlong rush, and still wheeling in
circles they hesitated to come nearer.

He glanced around.  Overhead, the slopes, almost precipitous, offered
many a possible hiding-place.  He might even escape--but he was not
there for that.  He was there to hold back the enemy--till night, if
necessary.

The day wore on.  The Sioux, who had drawn off to a distance, seemed in
no mood to renew the attack.  They were resting their ponies.

Suddenly he saw a score of them leap on horseback again and ride rapidly
away.  What could this mean?

A shadow fell between him and the light.  There was a hurtling sound--a
crash--and before he could turn or look up, the whole world was blotted
out in a stunning, roaring, heaving sea of space.  Then faintness,
oblivion, death.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

"I WOULD RATHER HAVE DIED WITH HIM."

Not till they had covered at least two miles could Yseulte Santorex
regain the slightest control over her recalcitrant steed.  In fact, in
her fatigue and nervousness it was as much as ever she could do to keep
her seat at all.  At length, panting and breathless, she reined in and
turned round upon the scout, who had kept close upon her pony's heels.

"I am going back," she cried, her great eyes flashing with anger and
contempt.  "I would sooner die than desert a--a friend."

"Not to be done, miss," was the quiet answer.  "Vipan said to me the
last thing--`Bill, on your life take her safe in.'  And on my life I
will.  You bet."

Yseulte looked at him again.  A thought struck her and she seemed to
waver.

"See here, miss," went on the scout.  "Vipan and I have hunted and
trapped and prospected together and stood off the reds a goodish number
of years.  We are pardners, we are, and if he entrusts me with an
undertaking of this kind, I've got to see it through.  Same thing with
him.  So the sooner we reach Fort Vigilance, where I'm going to take
you, and you're safe among the people there, the sooner I shall be able
to double back and try what can be done for Vipan."

"Oh, I never thought of that.  Pray do not let us lose a moment."

"So.  That's reasonable.  You see, miss, it's this way.  Women are
terrible dead-weights when it comes to fightin' Indians.  The
varmints'll risk more for a white woman than for all the scalps and
plunder in this Territory rolled together.  No.  Like enough, now that
you're snug away, they'll turn round and give up my pard as `bad
medicine.'  I reckon there ain't a man between Texas and the British
line knows Indians better than my pardner.  One day he's fighting 'em,
another day he's smokin' in their lodges.  He knows 'em, he does."

With this she was forced to be content.

Loyalty to his friend thus moved him to reassure her, but, as a matter
of fact, the honest scout felt rather bitter towards this girl.  He
blamed her entirely for his comrade's peril.  He had narrowly watched
that comrade of late, and accurately gauged the state of the latter's
feelings.  Why had this fine lady come out there and played the fool
with his comrade--the man with whom he had hunted and trapped for
years--with whom he had fought shoulder to shoulder in many a fierce
scrimmage with white or red enemies?  They had stood by each other
through thick and thin, and now this English girl had come in the way,
and to satisfy her vanity had sent Vipan to his death--his death,
possibly, amid the ghastly torments of the Indian stake.  She would
probably go home again and brag of her "conquest" with a kind of
patronising pity.

In silence they kept on their way--the scout's watchful glance ever on
the alert.  Suddenly his companion's voice aroused him from the
intensity of his vigilance.  He started.

"Tell me," she said.  "What chance is there of rescuing your friend?"

Her tone was so calm, so self-possessed, that in spite of the deathly
pallor of her face it deceived the worthy scout.  He felt hard as iron
towards her.

"About as much chance, I judge, as I have of being elected President,"
he replied, gruffly.  "And now I want you to know this--If you hadn't
troubled your dainty head about my pard, he wouldn't be where he is now.
And mind me, if it hadn't been for him, where d'you think you'd be
to-day?  You'd be wishing you were dead.  You'd be doin' scavenger work
in a Sioux village, leading a dog's life at the hands of every sooty
squaw in the camp--if it hadn't been for Vipan.  And now if the Lord
works an almighty miracle and I get my pard clear of the red devils,
maybe you won't say overmuch to him if you meet him--won't be
over-anxious to say you're glad to see him safe and sound again--"

The speaker pulled up short, staring blankly at her.  She had burst into
a wild storm of sobs.

"You are unjust.  Oh, God!  Oh, God! send him back to me!"  Then turning
to the dumbfoundered scout, and controlling herself to speak firmly:
"Listen.  If it would save his life I would cheerfully undergo death at
this moment.  I would suffer the slow fire or anything.  Think what you
like of me--God knows I speak the truth."

"Say that again, miss," stammered the other.  "Well, I ask your pardon.
I allow I don't know shucks of the ways of women.  If it's to be done,
my pard'll be brought out.  What shall I tell him if so be I find him?"
he added, as if struck with a bright idea.

"Tell him," and her voice shook with a tenderness she now no longer
cared to conceal, "tell him to come straight to me wherever I am.  And
if--ah, I cannot think of it--I would rather have died with him!"

Thus the secret of her tortured heart escaped her in that cry of
anguish; not to a sister woman, but to the rough and weather-beaten
frontiersman who was piloting her across that grim and peril-haunted
wilderness.

Again she relapsed into silence, and her escort noted that her tears
were falling thick and fast.  Suddenly she asked about the attack upon
the waggon train.

Smokestack Bill felt in a quandary.  She had gone through so much
already, she still had need of all her strength, all her nerve, before
she should reach the distant frontier post to which he was guiding her.
What would happen if he were to tell her the horrible news that they two
were the sole survivors of the ill-fated caravan; that he owed his
escape from the hideous massacre to the same cause as she did her own--
accidental absence?  He felt unequal to the task, and evaded the
necessity of replying by the invention of a somewhat cowardly pretext,
to wit, the imperative advisability of preserving silence as far as
possible.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

A RACE FOR--DEATH.

When Vipan recovered consciousness he found himself unable to stir.  A
lariat rope was tightly coiled around him from head to foot, binding his
arms to his sides, and rendering him as helpless as a log.

He tried to move, but an acute pain shooting through his head seemed to
crush him again, and he half closed his eyes, stunned and confused.

A dark face peered into his.  A tall Indian was bending over him.  In
the grim painted lineaments he recognised, to his astonishment, the
countenance of War Wolf.

"Ha, Golden Face.  You feel better now?  Good!  We will start."

He made no reply.  Glancing around him, he noted that the warriors were
making their preparations to move.  The ponies, which had been grazing
all ready saddled, were caught; and at a sign from War Wolf two of the
Indians proceeded to loosen the lariat rope in such wise as to allow him
the use of his legs.

"Now, mount," said one of them, as his fellow led a pony alongside of
the captive, who surveyed his steed designate with a dubious air.

"That sheep isn't up to my weight," he said.

"He will carry you as far as needful," was the reply, ominous in its
grim brevity.  "Quick, mount."

As he turned to obey a wild thought rushed through the adventurer's
mind.  Could he not seize the opportunity to make a dash for it?  His
wily guards must have read his thoughts, for, catching his eye, they
shook their heads with a ferocious grin.  Then with a raw hide thong
they secured their prisoner's feet beneath the horse's belly, and one of
them winding the end of the lariat rope which served as a bridle round
his hand, the band started.

Ever with a keen eye to opportunity, Vipan noted two things--one that
the band had undergone diminution by at least half its original number,
the other that they were travelling almost due north-east.  The halt had
been made not many miles from the fatal gorge, whose frowning entrance
he could just see as he turned his head.

No one could be more thoroughly aware than himself of the desperate
strait into which he had fallen.  He had witnessed more than one
instance of men taking their own lives at the last critical moment to
avoid capture and its inevitable sequel, a lingering death amid tortures
too horrible to name.  And now even that alternative was denied to him.
The opportunity was past and gone.

"Ha, Golden Face," said War Wolf, ranging his horse alongside his
prisoner.  "You thought I should have been hung before this."

"Well, yes, I did.  How did you manage to get clear?"

Then the savage, in fits of laughter, narrated all that had befallen him
at Fort Price; how, after a time, he had been allowed a certain amount
of guarded liberty, and how he had deftly managed to disarm the sentry
and make his escape.  It was a bold exploit, and so his listener
candidly told him.

"Ha!" cried the warrior, chuckling and swelling with inflated vanity, "I
am a man.  Even the stone walls of the Mehneaska cannot hold me.  I
laugh, and down they go!"

Several of the Indians gathered around, and the conversation became
lively.  No one would have thought that this white man in their midst,
with whom they were chatting and laughing so gaily was a prisoner,
doomed to the most barbarous of deaths at their hands.  The conversation
turned on his own capture, and, in a nonchalant way, Vipan asked for
particulars of that feat.

"Ha!  Burnt Shoes is not a fool," said War Wolf.  "He is my brother."

The warrior named grinned, and at a word from the chief he narrated how
he had slipped away from the main body, and, unobserved by the prisoner,
had gained the rocks over the latter's head.  When he was ready he had
signalled to his fellows, who had made that unexpected move in order to
fix the prisoner's attention.  He could easily have shot his enemy, but
the temptation to take him alive was great.  Therefore, seeing a
convenient boulder handy, he had hurled it upon his enemy's head, with
the most satisfactory result to himself and his tribesmen.

"But," added this candid young barbarian, "your scalp will be mine,
anyhow."

Vipan took no notice of this remark.  He knew the speaker by sight apart
from having recognised him as War Wolfs brother.  Then he asked what had
become of Satanta.

Here the Indians looked foolish, at least most of them did, while those
who did not, unmercifully chaffed their companions.  It came out that
the black steed objected to the new ownership which it was purposed to
assert over him, and watching his opportunity, which occurred while his
saddle was being changed during the recent halt, had concluded to part
company with the band.  In a word, he had started off as fast as his
legs could carry him.  But several warriors had gone after him, added
the speaker.

"They are after a shooting star, then," said Satanta's lawful owner.
"They had the best horse in the North-West, and they have let him slip
through their hands."

The party had been travelling at a rapid pace, and now the day was
merging into twilight.  Despatching pickets to neighbouring heights, the
savages prepared for a good long halt.

Vipan was released from his steed, and allowed to seat himself upon the
ground by the side of a fire that had been built.  His captors crowded
round him, laughing and talking in the friendliest fashion, and, noting
it, his heart sank within him.

And who shall blame him?  Bound and helpless, he knew the moment had
come for putting him to the most hellish tortures.  He read it in the
grim, painted visages closing him in on every side.  And between those
ruthless demon-faces he beheld in the background a sight whose meaning
he knew but too well.

Two Indians were busy driving strong pegs into the ground at intervals
of several feet apart.

Then he did a strange thing.  Quick as thought, and without any warning,
he spat full into War Wolfs face.

With a yell of rage, the young chief, starting back, swung his tomahawk
in the air.  In another instant the prisoner would have gained his wish.
He intended to exasperate the Indian into killing him on the spot.

But the others were wider awake.  Seizing their chiefs arm, a couple of
bystanders succeeded in arresting the blow.  Then half-a-dozen sinewy
warriors flinging themselves upon Vipan began to drag him towards the
pegs aforesaid.

A barbarity popular among the Plains' tribes is that known as "staking
out."  The wretched captive is stripped and thrown on his back.  Each
hand and foot is then fastened to a peg driven firmly into the ground at
the necessary distance apart.  Thus spread-eagled, he is powerless to
stir, beyond a limited wriggle.  Then the fun begins, and when is
remembered the hideous agony that a handful of live coals stacked
against the soles of a man's feet alone is warranted to produce, it
follows that the amount of burning at the disposal of the red demons
before death mercifully delivers the victim from their power is
practically unlimited.  In fact, their hellish sport may be bounded not
by hours, but even by days.  They generally begin by roasting the
tenderest parts of the body, finally piling up the fire all over the
stomach and chest of the sufferer.

Vipan, aware of the fate in store for him, seized his opportunity.
While the savages were slightly relaxing their grasp in order to pull
off his clothes, he made one stupendous effort.  Cramped as he was, his
herculean strength stood him in good stead.  A couple of violent kicks
in the stomach sent as many warriors to the earth gasping, and dragging
others with them in their fall.  Like a thunderbolt he dashed through
the group, and before his enemies had recovered from their confusion he
was many rods away, speeding down the hillside like a deer.

A frightful yell went up from the startled redskins.  A score of rifles
covered the flying fugitive, but a peremptory word from War Wolf knocked
them up.  Their prisoner was safe enough, no need to spoil sport by
killing him.  Though his legs where free, his arms were bound.  A rush
was made for the ponies.  The plain was open for miles and miles.  In
five minutes they would retake him with ease.

Of this Vipan was only too well aware.  The chances of escape had never
entered into his calculations when he made his wild attempt.  On foot
and unbound he might have distanced the savages, but what chance had he
against their ponies?  A water-hole lay in the bottom, a mile away.  He
would strive to reach this, and, bound as he was, an easy death by
drowning would be the alternative to hours of fiery torment.

And as he ran it seemed to the hunted man that this was no real
occurrence--only a horrid nightmare.  The events of a lifetime shot
through his mind.  Then the thunder of flying hoofs behind.

He glanced over his shoulder.  Would he reach the water?  Ah, never did
hunted man strain every nerve and muscle for life as did this one with
death before him as the prize.

Nearer!  The water-hole gleams cool and inviting.  A hundred yards--then
fifty.  The roar and thunder of hoofs is in his ears.  It stuns him.
Now for the final leap.  Then death!  Twenty steps more.  He poises
himself for the final spring.  But it is not to be.  The coil of a lazo
has settled around him; he is jerked from his feet, dragged back a dozen
yards--stunned, half senseless.

Then, as he wearily opens his eyes, doubtful whether he is dead or
alive, he finds himself in the midst of a crowd of Indians, all mounted
save the half-dozen who have run forward to secure him.  With a
sensation of surprise, his glance wanders amid the sea of painted
visages--of surprise because many of them are known to him, and were
certainly not among the band that effected his capture.  And--can he
believe his ears?--the chief of the party, a fine martial-looking
warrior, is giving instructions that his bonds shall be cut.

"Wagh!" ejaculated the latter, with the ghost of a smile.  "You have
fallen upon rough times, Golden Face."

Then the prisoner, once more a free man, looked up at the speaker and
knew that he was safe.  He recognised Mahto-sapa.

And now a great hubbub arose as War Wolf and his party rode up, and
angrily demanded their prisoner, emphasising their request by making a
dash at the latter.  But at a sign from the chief a dozen warriors
placed themselves in front of Vipan.

Then the debate began to wax very breezy, and small wonder.  By every
right of immemorial custom and usage, the late prisoner was absolutely
their property, and had they not been "choused" out of a rare and
exquisitely enjoyable form of sport?  Vipan, though too far off to hear
all that was being said, caught the name "Tatanka-yotanka" as mentioned
pretty frequently, and it seemed to have the effect of a damper on War
Wolf.  That impulsive savage, having indulged in a good deal of swagger,
ended by sullenly accepting the situation.  There is not much
hard-and-fast law among Indians in a matter of this kind.  If the
redoubted war-chief of the Minneconjou clan, surrounded by a large armed
force, chose to retain half-a-dozen prisoners, War Wolf, who was not,
properly speaking, a chief at all, had no redress, save such as he might
attain by force of arms.  But his following numbered barely thirty
warriors, whereas Mahto-sapa was at the head of fully five times that
number.

Dismounting, the Minneconjou chief gravely sat down upon the ground.
Then filling his pipe, and applying a light to the bowl, he handed it to
Vipan without a word.  In silence the latter received it, and after a
few puffs handed it back.

"What was said just now about Sitting Bull?" he enquired at length.

"This.  I have come out to look for you, Golden Face.  Sitting Bull is
anxious that you should visit him."

"Oho, I begin to see," said the adventurer to himself, as he lazily
watched his late captors draw their ponies out of the crowd and ride
sullenly away.

Now, in the debate just held, his rescuer had justified his action on
twofold ground.  War Wolf having allowed his prisoner to escape had
forfeited all claim to him; secondly, the said prisoner, being an
Englishman, his presence was required by Sitting Bull, the renowned
chief of the hostiles, for political purposes.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

THE VILLAGE OF THE HOSTILES.

All night long--with a brief halt towards morning--the war-party, with
Vipan in its midst, pushed forward at a rapid pace.

The sun rose.  They had passed the intricate defiles of the Bad Lands,
and were now threading the rugged and broken country beyond.  Piled in
chaotic confusion, the great peaks leaning towards each other, or split
and riven as by a titanic wedge, caught the first red glow upon their
iron faces.  Dark pinnacles soaring aloft, huge and forbidding, stood in
the first delicate flush like graceful minarets; and here and there
through a vista of falling slopes, the striped and fantastic face of a
_mesa_ would come into view, seamed with blue and black and red,
according to the varying strata of its soft and ever-crumbling
formation.  A hundred bizarre shapes reared their heads around.  Here a
clean rock shaft, so even and perpendicular in its towering symmetry
that it seemed impossible to have been planned by the hand of Nature
alone, standing side by side with some hugely grotesque representation
of a head, changing from animal to human with every fresh point of view,
so distorted yet so real, so hideous and repelling as to suggest
involuntary thoughts of a demon-guarded land.  There a black and yawning
fissure whose polished sides would hardly seem to afford resting-place
for the eyrie of yon great war-eagle soaring high above, his plumage
gleaming in the lustre of the new-born day.  Dark, cedar-clad gorges
rent the mountain sides, and on the nearer slopes the flash of something
white through the tall, straight stems of the spruce firs showed where a
deer, alarmed by this redoubtable inroad on his early grazing ground,
had darted away, with a whisk of his white "flag."

And in thorough keeping with its surroundings was the aspect of the wild
host, threading its way through these solitudes.  A clear, dashing
mountain brook curved and sparkled along a level bottom carpeted with
the greenest of sweet grass, and along this, strung out to the distance
of a mile, cantered group after group of mounted savages, the fantastic
adornments of themselves and their steeds streaming out to the morning
breeze; their waving plumes, and painted faces, their shining weapons
and brilliantly-coloured accoutrements, and the easy grace with which
they sat their steeds as they defiled along the ever-winding gorge,
forming about as striking and wildly picturesque a sight as would be
happened upon, travel we the whole world over.

All fear of pursuit being now over, the warriors rode anyhow, broken up
into groups or couples as the humour possessed them.  Most of them were
chatting and laughing with that ease and light-heartedness which in
their hours of relaxation is characteristic of most savage peoples, a
light-heartedness and freedom from care which renders them akin to
children.  Near the rear of the party rode Mahto-sapa and his prisoner,
together with three or four warriors of high rank.

For that he was such, Vipan himself was not left in any doubt, nor was
there room for any.  Though relieved from the indignity of bonds, yet
his arms had not been returned to him, not even a knife.  Moreover, the
steed he bestrode was far from being the best in the party.  All of
which he had hinted as delicately as possible to the chief.  The
latter's reply was characteristic.

"Patience--Golden Face.  It is not we who have taken your weapons; it is
War Wolf and his party.  As for horses, my young men are none of them
too well mounted.  Besides," added the Indian, a humorous gleam lighting
up his fine face as he noted the other's deprecatory shake of the head,
"besides--Golden Face has shamefully neglected his red brothers since
the Mehneaska waggons came along.  Why do they bring beautiful white
girls into a country where the ground is too rough for their tender
feet?  No.  Have patience.  My young men would be more than angry did
you leave them now to go and look after a white woman.  She is safe now,
but both she and the Brown Beaver would have fallen into the hands of
War Wolf had you not acted as you did," he continued.  "Wagh!  Golden
Face, it is not like you to throw away your life for a squaw!"

The adventurer made no reply, but the other's remark set him thinking.
It left, so to say, an unpleasant taste.  He was at an age when most men
have parted with their illusions, and he himself certainly was no
exception.  To his keen, cynical nature absolute trust was well-nigh
impossible.  Would he ever see Yseulte Santorex again, and even if he
did, would he not be in the same position as before--a king in these
Western wilds, in civilisation a pauper?  He knew the world--none
better.  It was one thing for this beautiful and refined girl to feel
drawn towards a companion and protector in the midst of the perilous
vicissitudes of Western travel, but that after months of reflection on
her return to safety and comfort she should still continue to think of a
man whose antecedents were doubtful, of whose very identity she was
ignorant, in the face, too, of the opposition of friends and relatives,
was quite another.  For long he rode in silence, and his thoughts were
very bitter.

All day the march continued.  That night the Indians, being
comparatively beyond fear of pursuit, camped for a long rest, and
resuming their progress at dawn, towards nightfall reached the bank of a
river.  This was immediately forded, and then halting on the opposite
bank the whole band collected together.  Then, after a word of
instruction from their chief, the warriors formed into line, and with a
loud and prolonged whoop dashed forward at a brisk canter.

The shout was answered from some distance ahead, and lo! as by magic,
there sprang up the red glow of many a fire, and among the
thinly-scattered timber bordering the stream tall lodges might be
descried, standing in groups or in long irregular lines, hundreds and
hundreds of them.  Then in the gloaming the whole village swarmed with
dusky shapes.  Squaws flung down their burdens, or abruptly quitted
their household employments, and, dancing and singing, crowded around to
welcome the returning war-party.  Young bucks, eager to know what had
been done in scalps and plunder, turned out by the dozen.  Children
yelled and curs barked and howled, and still the ever-increasing crowd
gathered about the returned warriors.

Suddenly the latter, reining in their ponies, burst into a wild
war-song.  It was taken up by the motley crowd following upon their
ponies' heels, and as the savage horsemen, in all the trappings of their
martial bravery, paced at length into the centre of the village, the
shrill, weird chorus echoing from many thousand throats, while the red
light danced and glowed upon plumed crests and burnished weapons rising
above the sea of fierce painted visages, the bold mind of the white
adventurer was filled with admiration as he gazed upon this stirring
picture which for grandeur and awesomeness left nothing to be desired.

Thus they entered the camp of the hostiles.

"Listen, Golden Face," said Mahto-sapa, as he spread a buffalo robe for
his guest.  "It will not be well to wander in the camp alone."

"No, I am a prisoner, and unarmed."

The other smiled slightly, with a significant glance at an old leathern
wallet hanging to the pole.  Then he left the lodge.

The adventurer, following his glance, promptly explored the receptacle.
He found an old single-barrelled pistol and a scalping-knife.  The
pistol was capped and loaded.



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

SITTING BULL.

The morning after his arrival in the village of the hostiles Vipan was
seated eating his breakfast in the lodge of his host, in company with
the latter and one of his brothers, when the door of the _teepe_ was
darkened, and an Indian entered.

Now there was nothing in the appearance of this warrior to denote
special rank.  His dress was strikingly plain, the beaded blanket thrown
around his shoulders was considerably the worse for wear, not to say
shabby, and his head was adorned with a single eagle quill stuck in the
back of his hair.  Yet a glance at the powerful, thickly-built frame,
the deep-set, though penetrating eyes, the square jaw and slightly
pock-marked countenance, and Vipan felt instinctively that this was none
other than the redoubtable war-chief of the hostiles himself.

With a grunt of salutation, the new arrival sat himself down among the
inmates of the _teepe_, then, without a word, and as a matter of course,
proceeded to help himself out of the three-legged pot containing the
smoking and savoury stew which constituted the repast.  Not a word was
spoken, not a question asked, and the four men proceeded with their meal
in silence.

Tatanka-yotanka, or Sitting Bull, was at that time in the very zenith of
his pride and influence.  He represented the fearless and implacable
war-faction in the nation, and in his persistent and uncompromising
hostility to the Americans and the United States Government he differed
from the more diplomatic Red Cloud.  As in the case of the latter,
however, Sitting Bull was not born to hereditary chieftainship, yet at
that time the influence he had achieved among his countrymen by his
personal prowess and skilful generalship was so solid and far-reaching
that sagacious and powerful war-chiefs such as Mahto-sapa deemed it
sound policy to co-operate with him; for the authority of a chief among
the Plains tribes, in addition to his prowess in war, depends not a
little on his conformity with the sense and wishes of his tribesmen, and
he who should commit himself unreservedly to a peace policy in
opposition to the desires of his people would soon find himself in the
position of a chief without any adherents.  Yet as savages rarely do
things by halves, it followed that however inclined for peace they might
be at first, such chiefs and warriors once they stood committed to war
threw themselves into the prosecution of hostilities with all the ardour
and aggressiveness of their more bloodthirstily disposed brethren.

Sitting Bull--like many another savage leader--was a shrewd thinker.
The experience of the last campaign had inspired him with profound
contempt for the United States Government.  The latter's demands had
then been successfully resisted, and after a sharp and sanguinary
struggle, culminating in the Fort Phil Kearney massacre, the Government
had retired, almost precipitately.  The Sioux nation had never been
conquered.  The Sioux warriors were as daring and warlike to-day as
then, and were better armed, for they could obtain, and had obtained,
from unscrupulous traders as many weapons of the latest improved
patterns and as much ammunition as they could afford to purchase.  The
Government, he reasoned, had not kept faith with them in the matter of
the Black Hills and other sections of their country, then full of white
men; therefore, let the Government look to itself.  That the Indian
leader's reasoning was sound according to his lights, was proved by
subsequent events, among them the calamitous massacre of nearly three
hundred brave soldiers, together with one of the most dashing cavalry
officers and successful Indian fighters the United States army has ever
possessed.  [Note 1.]  But no savage of his race and instincts could be
expected to take into his reckoning the steady tide of immigration
pouring into the American continent from the Old World, for the simple
reason that his conception of the very existence of an Old World was of
so shadowy a nature as to be practically legendary.

The meal over, each of the three Indians wiped his knife upon his
leggings or the soles of his moccasins with a grunt of satisfaction.
Then the inevitable pipe was filled, lighted, and duly passed round.

Vipan, thoroughly restored by a good night's rest, and with perfect
confidence in himself, looked forward to the keen skirmish of wits which
was at hand, and in which the slightest failure in coolness and wariness
might cost him his life, with feelings not far short of downright
enjoyment.

After the pipe had gone round in silence, Sitting Bull spoke.  He had
often heard of Golden Face, the friend of the Dahcotah nation, he said.
Now he was glad to have an opportunity of smoking with him, and learning
from his lips.

The speaker paused, and Vipan merely acknowledged the compliment by a
grave bend of the head.  The chief continued:

Golden Face, he had been given to understand, had been a great fighting
man among his own people, and a leader of warriors.  He was not of the
Mehneaska, the nation with whom no faith could be kept.  Why, then, had
he fought for the Mehneaska against his Dahcotah brethren?

Vipan, with due deliberation, replied that those for whom he fought
_were_ his own countrymen--not Americans.  They were subjects of the
Great White Queen, whose dominions lay to the north (Canada).  Why had
the Dahcotah attacked them and run off their stock?

"Were they all King George men?" asked the shrewd chief, half closing
his eyes and looking into space.

This was a staggerer, but Vipan was equal to it.

"They were not," he said.  "Only the leader and his household.  For the
rest, they bore me as little love as they do the Dahcotah warriors who
ran off their horses and cattle.  Listen now, and mark."  Then he
graphically narrated the circumstances under which he had warned
Winthrop's outfit of the lurking war-party, making it appear that his
warning had been due simply and solely to his recognition of his
fellow-countrymen among the travellers.

Not a muscle of Sitting Bull's crafty countenance moved as he listened.

"How!" he said, quietly, when the speaker ceased.  "Did not Golden Face
declare that he owned no nationality?"

This was another staggerer, and a more serious one than before.  But
Vipan's imperturbability was of a quality warranted to stand shocks.
Inwardly he laughed over the other's shrewdness in bringing up his own
words in judgment against him.

That was true, he replied.  But apart from the fact of that particular
white man being his fellow-countryman, and therefore one against whom
the Dahcotah nation had no quarrel, he was the son of a man who had once
rendered him a most important service.  Who worthy of the name and
dignity of a warrior ever forgot to requite a good turn once rendered,
even at the peril of his life?

This answer, if not altogether received as gospel by his hearers, sent
him up ten per cent, in their estimation.  Nowhere is diplomatic talent
and readiness in debate held in such high respect as among savage races.

"The white girl who hunted with Golden Face is very beautiful," went on
Sitting Bull.  "Was it for her he lifted his rifle against his Dahcotah
brethren?"

"Who would not fight for a beautiful woman, be she white or red?"
answered Vipan, with a burst of well-timed frankness.  "Sitting Bull is
a great chief, let him judge if my words are straight.  Did War Wolf and
his followers come to me as to a friend?  No; they attacked me as
enemies.  Then when they treated me as an enemy and an ordinary prisoner
of war, did I complain?  Sitting Bull is a great chief, a warrior of
renown, but who is War Wolf?  Who is he, I say?  Enough: I have smoked
in council with Red Cloud and the chiefs of the Dahcotah nation.  My
words are for the ears of chiefs, not for those of boys, who passed the
Sun-dance but yesterday."

The ghost of a smile flitted across Sitting Bull's grim features at this
reply, while a murmur of approbation escaped the other two auditors.  No
one understood better than the speaker the advantage of making the most
of himself among these people, nor was the dexterous compliment to his
own eminence thrown away upon the bold and sagacious warrior who had, so
to say, risen from the ranks.

"But," rejoined the latter, "if the white girl was of the race of King
George, with whom we have no quarrel, why did not Golden Face bring her
among his Dahcotah brethren, where he might have lived with her in peace
and safety?"

Vipan explained that a white girl such as her of whom they were speaking
would never consent to accompany him unless as his wife, and even then
she must be married according to the customs of her people.  To this the
wily chief quoted the case of his friend and brother, Mahto-sapa, who
had a white wife.  She had been taken to wife according to Dahcotah
custom; and whose lodge was more comfortable than hers; who was cared
for better than she?

Now Vipan was aware of the existence of this personage, yet strange to
say, bearing in mind his friendship with the Minneconjou chief, had
never seen her.  He was aware, too, that she was originally a white
captive, seized by the Indians during one of their dreaded raids upon a
settlement or waggon train some years previously, but that was the
extent of his knowledge.  It must be confessed he felt a good deal of
curiosity on the subject, but he was not the man to allow any sign of it
to appear.  His answer, however, was ready and to the point.

That might be true, he replied; but it was a matter of which he, Vipan,
knew nothing, nor did it concern him in any way.  What he did know was
this: The white girl in question was of very considerable account in her
own country.  True, most of the warriors in Sitting Bull's village were
his--the speaker's--brethren.  But some were not.  There were some in it
at that moment who looked upon him as an enemy, who had treated him as
one.  What if he had brought this white girl with him, and she had met--
with harm at the hands of any of these?  Would not her people require a
heavy reckoning?  The Dahcotah hunting-grounds were bounded on the north
by the British line.  Would it be the act of a friend to do anything
which should embroil the Dahcotah nation with two strong Powers instead
of one, in such wise too that they should be surrounded with enemies on
every side?

He had played a very trump card in making this reply, and he knew it.
For he had seen through Sitting Bull's motives in requiring his presence
in the camp of the hostiles, and was resolved to make the most of it;
and upon the extent of his success he was well aware that his very life
depended.

"Wagh!" exclaimed the chief, with well-feigned indifference.  "The
Dahcotah people fear the enmity of no one.  Yet they seek no quarrel
with the countrymen of Golden Face.  They have always heard that the
King George men have straight tongues, and that the Great White Queen
keeps her promises, and fulfils her treaties with the red tribes within
her territory."

Then followed a good deal of what, for want of a better word, we will
call "dark" talking.  Sitting Bull in a series of highly diplomatic
hints, and using much figurative language, strove to sound his prisoner
as to the probability of the British being induced to espouse his
people's cause in the event of the coming campaign ending disastrously
to them.  Vipan, ever mindful of his precarious position as in fact a
prisoner, though treated outwardly as a guest, answered cautiously, and
to the effect that although the British would be to the last degree
unlikely actively to interfere in their favour, yet it would be fatally
imprudent to commit any act tending to incur the hostility of the great
and mighty Power who occupied the northern boundary line of their
country, and whose territory, indeed, might yet serve them as a refuge
in time of need, for who could foretell the chances of war?  At the same
time he threw out more than one dexterous hint as to the services he
himself might be able to render his Dahcotah brethren in the event of
any such lamentable contingency.

Judging that enough had been said for the present, Sitting Bull arose.

"It is well," he said, throwing his blanket round his shoulders, as he
prepared to depart.  "The counsels of Golden Face are always good to
listen to.  His presence is very welcome to his red brethren."

Judging the moment a favourable one, Vipan delicately hinted that so
welcome a guest should not be treated in a manner unworthy the dignity
of a warrior--in a word, that his weapons should be restored to him.

Again that ghost of a smile crossed the face of the wily chieftain.

"No one could mistake Golden Face for anything but a warrior," he said,
sweetly.  "Is he not surrounded by his friends, his brothers?  Who
requires to go armed among his friends?"

There was nothing for it but to accept the position, and, moreover, to
accept it with a good grace.  Suddenly there arose a terrific din
outside--shrieks and yells, shouts of demoniac laughter, and the
trampling of many feet.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  General George A. Custer, who fell into an ambuscade on the
Little Bighorn river, and perished with his entire command at the hands
of the hostile Sioux, under Sitting Bull, on the 25th June, 1876.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

THE TWO VICTIMS.

If ever a spectacle of hell let loose was vouchsafed to mortal eye,
assuredly it must have borne a strong family likeness to that presented
by the Indian village, as Vipan and the three chiefs stepped gravely
outside the _teepe_ to see what was going on.

A wild, roaring, yelling crowd came surging into the open space where
stood the council-lodge.  Bucks and squaws, children and dogs, all
mingled together in a motley mass, whooping, laughing, chattering and
grinning.  A sea of wild excited faces, the crowd poured onward,
gathering as it rolled.  Then the cause of all this excitement became
discernible.  In the front of the throng, in the centre of a group of
yelling squaws, hustled, beaten, kicked, dragged along by the
bloodthirsty harpies, were two white men.  Their arms were tightly bound
behind their backs, but their feet were tied so as to enable them to
make short steps.  They had been stripped naked, and their bodies,
already lacerated with many a weal, and bruised from the switches and
clubs of their tormentors, were plentifully besmeared with their own
blood.

"Wagh, Golden Face!" exclaimed Sitting Bull, with grim humour.  "Our
squaws seem to handle your countrymen very tenderly."

The adventurer made no reply.  Even he felt his heart sicken within him
at the thought of the hideous fate these two wretched men were about to
undergo.  Yet drawn by an uncontrollable impulse, he found himself
moving beside the three Indians, who were strolling leisurely in the
direction taken by the crowd.  Not that his red friends manifested any
interest in the proceedings.  The torture of helpless prisoners was
sport for boys and squaws, and unworthy of the attention of great chiefs
or warriors of renown.  Still, with the characteristic weakness of their
race to witness anything unusual, they followed the crowd.

As the latter thundered along the open space, the inmates of the
clustering groups of _teepes_ on either side poured forth to swell its
ranks.  Young bucks would dart out in front, and execute a series of
leaps in the air, uttering shrill whoops, and even the river was dotted
with bull-boats, as the inhabitants of the villages on the opposite bank
crowded over in hundreds to see the fun.  Knives were flourished in the
prisoners' faces, kicks and slaps were their portion at every step;
indeed, it almost seemed that the ill-usage of the infuriated mob would
mercifully end their sufferings before they should reach the terrible
stake.  Something of this seemed to strike their tormentors themselves,
for all of a sudden a compact band of young bucks charged into the mass,
drove back the yelling squaws, and seizing the two unhappy wretches,
dragged them forward at a smart run.

Just outside the village was a clear space.  Here a couple of stout
posts, eight or nine feet high, had been driven into the ground about a
dozen yards apart.

And now Vipan had an opportunity of estimating the strength of the band
or bands into whose midst he had so involuntarily penetrated.  Far along
the river-banks on either side, extending a distance of five or six
miles, the tall lodges stood in lines and clusters among the thin belt
of timber which lined the stream.  These and the village behind him,
roughly reckoning, he estimated to represent some four or five thousand
warriors.  Overhead the great mountains shot up their craggy heads,
blasted into a score of fantastic shapes, frowning down upon the
barbarous scene like grim tutelaries of destruction.

The two miserable men were backed against the posts and firmly secured,
their arms being drawn up high above their heads and stretched to the
utmost.  Powerless to move a limb, they were ready for the torturers.

Suddenly a piercing cry for help burst from one of them.  In it Vipan
recognised his own name.

In deference to their rank, the crowd had made way for the chiefs in
whose company he was.  At a sign from Sitting Bull, it now gave way
further, and Vipan was able to approach within easy speaking-distance of
the prisoners.

"Oh, for God's sake, Mr Vipan, save me from torture!  Kill me--put me
out of my misery at once!"

Vipan stared at the utterer of this agonised prayer.  In the distorted
features, cut and bruised out of all knowledge, and livid with the dews
of bodily and mental anguish, in the strained eyeballs staring from
their sockets in deadly fear, he could hardly recognise the unfortunate
Geoffry Vallance.

A curious change passed over the adventurer's face, so curious that even
many of the Indians standing around noticed it and wondered.

"I am the last person in this world, of whom _you_ ought to ask a
benefit," he said curtly.

Had there been time for reflection, poor Geoffry might well have been
amazed.  Now, half-frenzied with terror, he only moaned:

"Save me from the torture!  Kill me, that is all I ask you!"

"I cannot if I would," was the answer, in a more relenting tone.  "How
did you manage to let them capture you?"

"It was the day the camp was taken," gasped the wretched prisoner.  "I
was lingering behind and got lost, and then my horse ran away when I was
dismounted.  I don't know how it was, but I looked up and found myself
in the middle of the Indians."

"Well, I can do nothing for you.  Mind me, though.  I knew a chap in
your position once.  He managed to roll his tongue back into his throat
and choke himself.  He escaped the fire that way.  Try it.  It's your
only chance."

The despairing moan with which this gloomy alternative was received was
drowned by a loud cry from the other white man.

"Colonel Vipan.  Git us out of this fix, for the Lord's sake!  I kin put
you on to a good thing, I kin!"

The adventurer turned in amazement.  He saw what was a villainous
countenance at the best of times, and now with the shaggy beard matted
with saliva and gouts of blood, it was hideous and horrible in the
extreme.  He recognised the man he had felled in the liquor saloon at
Henniker City--Bitter Rube.

"How in thunder did you get into this hobble?" he said.

"It's this way, Colonel.  The red devils jumped us at our _placer_.
They scalped the other three."

"Burntwood Creek?"

"That's it, Colonel.  You get me out of this, and I'll make you a rich
man for life.  There's gold there worth millions and millions."

"Glad to hear it, Bitter Rube," was the unconcerned reply.  "I know the
place all right; going to work it by and by.  It's where your mate
jumped me and got laid out for his pains.  Remember your scheme to lynch
me, eh, Bitter Rube?"

"Oh, Lord, Colonel.  It was the other chaps.  See here now--"

"Well, I can't even repay the little service you were going to render
me--a short shrift and a long rope," interrupted Vipan, the scowling
glances and increasing murmurs of the throng convincing him of the peril
he himself was incurring.  A frantic yell burst from the prisoner.

"You snake-spawned white Injun!  Here's a white man being cut into
chunks before your eyes.  I'll haunt yer!  I'll ghost yer!  I'll make
life a hell to yer!"

The miserable wretch went on to bellow the most frantic blasphemies.
One of the young Indians, stepping up behind him, thrust a red-hot
faggot into his open mouth.  This was greeted as an excellent joke by
the onlookers, who shouted and screamed with laughter.  Then one of them
applied a light to the victim's unkempt and shaggy beard.  It frizzled
and flared up, burning the wretched man frightfully about the face and
head.  The mirth of the spectators became well-nigh uncontrollable.

"How! white brudder," said a burly buck, grinning hideously into
Geoffry's face, and patting him fraternally on the shoulder.  "Injun
brudder hab heap fun.  Injun brudder not hurt you first.  Other man hurt
first--you see him--you hab heap good fun.  You hurt first, you no
laugh--other hurt first, you plenty laugh--Injun brudder plenty laugh.
How--how!"

Then the wretched Geoffry understood that with a diabolical refinement
of cruelty the savages intended that he should witness the torture and
death of his companion in adversity before his own turn came.  He could
only raise his eyes stupidly to the grinning countenance of his
addresser.

Two squaws now stepped forward--hideous hags whose long flattened
breasts fell in disgusting flaps below their waists.  They were nearly
naked, and each held in her hand a sharp knife.  Advancing to the
sufferer they made an incision down each of his sides, and proceeded to
skin him alive as coolly as a butcher would flay a dead sheep.

The anguished shrieks of the victim were terrible to hear; but no spark
of pity did they stir in the hearts of the ruthless fiends who crowded
around, gloating over this diabolical performance.  They danced and
laughed, leaping high in the air, hurling taunting epithets at the
miserable victim, and exhorting the other prisoner to observe what was
in store for him.  And in their hellish glee the women, if anything,
surpassed the younger and more ferocious of the warriors.

For nearly an hour the scene went on--varied at intervals by the passing
of a lighted torch along those portions of the victim's body already
laid bare.  The piercing shrieks of the tortured wretch sunk into
laboured and hollow groans--then ceased altogether.  He had fainted.

A glance having sufficed to show them that he was not dead, the
performers stood back, contemplating their handiwork with a grin of
ferocious satisfaction.  And so deftly had they done it, that from chin
to feet, the front and sides of the sufferer's body was entirely denuded
of skin, which hung from his shoulders in a bleeding and ghastly mantle.
Yet this was only the first stage of his torture.

Vipan, who had perforce witnessed this hideous spectacle, felt seized
with a violent and well-nigh uncontrollable nausea, and would have
turned away.  But as the exhibition of the slightest repulsion or
feeling would have been not merely inexpedient, but highly dangerous, he
was constrained to master himself.  Besides, a sort of horrible
fascination rooted him to the spot--an overmastering and morbid
curiosity to see how the other prisoner would fare.

Sitting Bull, who with a few other chiefs had been witnessing the
hellish performance with grave impassiveness, must have read his
thoughts.

"They are not King George men," he remarked laconically.  "They are not
your countrymen, Golden Face."

Vipan made no reply.  The remark suggested an idea.  He might be able to
save Geoffry by claiming him as a fellow-countryman.  A strange struggle
took place within him.  Why should he?  If he attempted to do so it
would be at deadly risk to himself, and even then would he meet with
success?  And apart from these considerations, as he himself had told
the unfortunate one, he was the last man from whom the latter should
claim any assistance.

Then the bloodthirsty rage of the barbarous horde took a fresh turn.
Their one victim was for the time being insensible to pain, but there
was another.  Him they had been reserving with this end in view.  Shouts
were raised that it was time to begin upon him.

With a wild-beast laugh, the two fiend-like hags approached the new
victim, their reeking knives in hand, the yells and roars of the crowd
urging them on.  The miserable Geoffry, bound immovably to the stake,
watched their approach.  His eyes protruded from their sockets, a cold
sweat rained down his distorted countenance, and there was a strange
hoarse rattle in his throat.  It was a sight to haunt the spectator for
a lifetime.  Then his head fell heavily forward on his chest.

Seizing him by the hair, one of the female fiends forced it back.  It
was as lead in her grasp.  Then the truth became apparent.  The
miserable captive was stone-dead.  He had died of sheer horror and
fright.

A moment of silence, then with a wild yell of disappointed fury the
ferocious crowd flung itself upon the corpse and hacked and mutilated it
into a shapeless and gory mass.  Then the blind madness of their
bloodthirsty rage fairly let loose, they turned once more to the first
victim.  The scalp was torn from his head; knives and burning splinters
were stuck into his flesh; and the yet warm and palpitating heart was
plucked out and reared aloft on the point of a lance.  Then bundles of
dry brushwood were piled around both of the mangled corpses, and set
alight, and soon the red tongues of flame--whose roaring and crackling
was drowned by the frenzied yells of the savages as they danced and
leaped around like devils let loose from the nethermost hell--shot
upward, licking around the cruel stakes of torture, and a horrible and
sickening odour of burning flesh hung upon the air.  A great volume of
smoke mounted to the heavens, and, after watching it for a while, the
whole fiend-like crowd surged back to the village, there to hold a
gigantic scalp-dance--bearing the reeking trophies aloft on
lance-points.

All that remained of the border ruffian and the unfortunate Geoffry
Vallance were two little heaps of calcined bones.



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

THE SUN QUEEN.

A month had gone by.  The mountain air had become thin and steely, and
the gorgeous glories of the golden-hued woods were falling fast.  Winter
was in the atmosphere.

In the villages of the hostiles time was of no account.  Dancing and
warlike exercises, gossip, story-telling and gambling, and hunting in
the adjacent mountains, thus this great gathering of savages on a
war-footing solaced their leisure hours--which were many.  Bands of
warriors, under some favourite chief or partisan, would strike the
war-post, and sally forth on some more or less desperate foray,
returning in due time with scalps or plunder, or both.  Once they
brought with them a wretched prisoner, who was promptly done to death
under the usual circumstances of revolting barbarity.

Now, of this life Vipan had become heartily sick.  Accustomed as he was
to come and go at will among the camps and villages of the Sioux, the
restraint of knowing himself a prisoner galled him.  For although
allowed a certain amount of liberty, and rather ostentatiously treated
as a guest, he was carefully watched.  But it is doubtful whether
another cause had not more to do with his weariness and disgust.  That
was no mere passing passion whose expression had so nearly escaped him
when standing in the dug-out with Yseulte Santorex.  By an inexplicable
rebound from his wild and reckless life, this man's mature mind and
strong nature had sprung to the other extreme.  Well he knew--none
better--his position, or, rather, the utter lack of it, did he return to
civilisation, and there were times when he felt tempted to throw himself
in heart and soul with his Indian friends, to lead them on the war-path,
and in ferocity and daring excelling even the savages themselves, to
devote the remainder of his life to acts of vengeance upon that
civilisation whose laws had placed it in the power of a specious
hypocrite to drive him forth from its midst a pauper and an outcast--
acts of barbarous and bloody vengeance that should render his name a
terror to the whole of the Western frontier.  What had he to do with
softness--with love--at his time of life?  Yseulte Santorex would be
safe in her English home by this time, probably recalling--when she did
recall it--their acquaintanceship only as a passing romance embedded
among her other adventurous experiences.  With such reflections would he
lash and torture himself.

More than once when accompanying some of their hunting parties into the
mountains he had been seized by a wild impulse to make a dash for
liberty.  But the cat-like watchfulness of the Indians never flagged,
and upon such occasions a glance was enough to show the impracticability
of any such scheme.  The first step would be the signal for a volley of
bullets through his body--moreover, he was never allowed the use of
anything but an inferior steed.

And now, day by day, his situation became more precarious.  Sitting
Bull, Crazy Horse, and the other chiefs had somehow waxed more than
doubtful of late as to whether his services in regard to a possible
British intervention would be of any use at all--and this idea was
insidiously fostered by his enemies, who were many and powerful--
Mountain Cat, the Ogallalla war-chief, and Crow-Scalper, who hated all
whites, and the band of young desperadoes who had attached themselves to
the fortunes of War Wolf.  The latter brave's bumptiousness had become
simply overwhelming.  Full of the recently-acquired importance conferred
upon him by his captivity among the whites and subsequent escape, he
would strut and swagger around, bedecked in all his war-paint and
finery--passing Vipan with a contemptuous laugh or a remark of covert
insolence.  The only consideration that restrained the latter from
inflicting summary chastisement was the certainty that the hour he did
so would be his last.  And his friend and protector, Mahto-sapa, was
frequently absent on warlike or diplomatic expeditions.  The sullen and
hostile feeling growing around him was written on every grim and
scowling face.  He felt as helpless as a fly in a spider's web.

Pondering over these things, he was seated one day alone in the lodge of
his host--the latter being away upon one of those absences which
constituted such a peril to himself--when a shadow darkened the entry
and a feminine voice inquired in English:

"May I come in?"

He started, as well he might.  The accent was pure and refined, the tone
firm and pleasing.  For answer he rose and bowed, and the speaker
entered.

Strange as it may seem, during all this while Vipan had seen his host's
white wife by no more than a few stray passing glimpses, and then at a
distance.  It had always struck him that she avoided him with design,
and he had respected her motives.  She dwelt in two _teepes_, which she
occupied all to herself--an unwonted luxury--and was attended on by a
Shoshone slave girl of unrivalled hideosity, captured on one of the
chief's forays into the country of the Snakes.

He saw before him a tall, fine-looking woman who might or might not have
been under forty.  She was habited in the tasteful Indian dress, and the
tunic and leggings of soft doeskin, beautifully embroidered, brought out
every line and curve of a splendidly-moulded figure.  Her face, browned
and hardened by exposure to the sun, and a life not altogether free from
privation, was lighted up by a pair of clear blue eyes, and must
formerly have been one of striking beauty.  But the chief attraction was
her hair.  This was not arranged in two long plaits after the Sioux
fashion, but rippled over her shoulders in a heavy redundant mass,
forming a very mantle of sheeny, ruddy gold, explaining to the
astonished spectator the name she bore among her adopted compatriots,
The Sun Queen.  But--Heavens--what an apparition to meet with in the
camp of the hostile Sioux!

"Thanks," she said, simply, seating herself upon the pile of robes which
Vipan had dragged forward for that purpose.  Then pausing a moment to
see if he would break the silence, she went on: "You do not seem to
remember me."

"Pardon me.  I am not likely to have forgotten you," was the quiet
reply, with an undercurrent of cutting satire.  "Who that had seen her
could ever forget the beautiful Miss D'Arcy--the Belle of the Island?"
She broke into a bitter laugh.  "Is that what they used to call me?  I
had forgotten--it seems such a long, long time ago.  Could it have been
myself?  I, Isabel D'Arcy, who held the whole island in thrall;
Government House, the garrison--all--all my humble devoted slaves, now
the wife of a painted savage!  In a word, an Indian squaw!"

"And because I declined to make one of the crowd of your humble devoted
slaves you ruined my life.  You blighted my whole career as a sacrifice
to your ruffled vanity.  One word from you would have exonerated me--yet
you did not speak it."

"Why did you not defend yourself?  Why did you not explain the matter
fully?"

"I was a fool not to, perhaps.  In fact, I am sure I was.  Well, you
see--it was no part of my creed to give away a friend, nor yet a woman--
for it was in a secondary degree on your account that I kept silence and
set up no defence."

"On my account?" she echoed.

"Yes.  Your only chance of getting clear out of the business was to deny
the whole thing and stick to it.  If I had cut in with the story of the
other man borrowing my charger for the occasion, especially as owing to
our striking resemblance we were often taken for each other--why the
whole murder would have been out.  No, there was nothing for it but the
denial."

"And--and have you never explained a word of it since?"

"Never.  What was the use?  I was already condemned.  Your uncle, Sir
George, had more than enough influence for that, and I was practically
cashiered.  I must, however, give him credit for the astute way in which
the business was hushed up.  Barentyne, I suppose, couldn't clear me for
fear of giving _you_ away."

"And what became of Major Barentyne?" she asked eagerly.

"He left the service soon afterwards.  He's a governor-general now, a
sort of viceroy, and all sorts of things; while I'm--well, a fair
specimen of a Western border ruffian.  Thus, in this world, is the
saddle clapped upon the wrong horse, and the scapegoat is jerked forth
into the wilderness--and it doesn't much matter."

There was no heat, no upbraiding in his tone.  After the first touch of
satire underlying his recognition of her he spoke in an even, almost
monotonous voice, puffing slowly at his long Indian pipe with the
impassiveness of the red men themselves.  Then a silence fell between
them.  The meeting, the conversation, seemed to have bridged over the
weary, hopeless years of captivity of the one, the aimless and chequered
wanderings of the other.  By magic the Indian _teepe_, with its
confusion of _parfleches_ and robes and cooking-pots and wicker-beds,
seemed to have disappeared, and once more their minds were back among
the Government House state and the garrison festivities of the island
colony, and many a familiar, but long-forgotten, face and memory of
other days.  And now the once beautiful girl who had queened it there,
the descendant of a good old line, was the weary, middle-aged wife of a
Sioux chief, doomed to live and die among the red barbarians.  Truly the
whirligig of Fortune was executing a strange freak when it brought these
two face to face thus.

"I have, indeed, injured you," she said at length.  "But I can yet make
some amends?"

He shook his head.

"Listen," she went on.  "I can do this.  I can give you in writing a
full and true statement of the whole affair.  Then you can return home
and clear yourself."

"And to what end?" he answered.  "Nothing on earth is to be gained by
raking up old troubles already forgotten.  Besides, you are forgetting;
I am a prisoner here, and, candidly, have very small hope of ever
knowing liberty again.  My time is about run out.  Do you know that from
hour to hour I live in unceasing apprehension of treachery?  Any moment
may be my last.  See, I have an old pistol here--only one shot.  I am
keeping it for myself, if necessary, for I will never figure at their
hellish stake."

She shuddered.

"But," she urged, lowering her voice, and speaking quickly, "but what if
I can help you to escape?"

He looked up, a flash of hope in his eyes.  Then he shook his head.

"I'm afraid it can't be done.  They would be certain to detect your
agency in the matter, and then what would be _your_ fate?"

"What, you can still make that a consideration!" she exclaimed in
amazement.  Then, suddenly she burst into a flood of tears.

"Forgive me," she said, quickly recovering herself.  "I am very foolish.
But you are the first of my race I have conversed with for eight long
years.  The only white faces I have seen during that time have been
those of wretched prisoners brought in for torture and outrage, or of
horse thieves and border ruffians, more repulsive and villainous than
those of the savages themselves."

"I had no idea of your identity," he said, "until you came in here just
now.  Then I recognised you, for I never forget a face.  I am not easily
astonished, but I was then.  If the subject is not painful I should be
glad to know the circumstances of your being here at all."

She laughed drearily.

"Oh, no!  Feeling is pretty well dead by now, and happily so.  The story
is that of many another, only I suppose I ought to reckon myself
fortunate when I think of what I have seen others go through.  In an
evil moment I arranged to come home from the Islands with some friends,
who were anxious to do the trip overland.  We landed at San Francisco,
and all went well until we reached this side of the mountains.  We were
a small party, so small that the people at Fort Laramie tried all they
could to dissuade us from going on, as most of the tribes were on the
war-path.  We were attacked on the banks of the North Platte, about two
days out from Laramie.  It was early in the morning, and we had just
hitched up for a start.  The spring waggon containing ourselves was a
little behind the rest.  Suddenly a band of warriors, hundreds of them
it seemed, charged in upon us yelling like fiends.  The teamsters were
shot dead in a moment.  Mr Elsdale, under whose protection I was
travelling, was run through with a lance almost before he had time to
fire a shot, and his wife and I were at the mercy of the savages.  Even
now I would rather not think of what she had to go through."

"And yourself?"

"I fainted, mercifully.  I must have remained unconscious for hours, for
when I came to I found myself tightly held by a powerful Indian in front
of his saddle.  The party was travelling at a considerable pace, and
some of them carried freshly-taken scalps, those of our unfortunate
outfit.  My captor smiled good-humouredly as I opened my eyes, and, with
signs and a word or two of English, told me not to be afraid, they were
not going to kill me.  Even then it struck me that he had a fine face.
There was an expression of humanity and kindness in it totally absent
from the hideous and painted visages of the rest.  That man was
Mahto-sapa."

She paused, and seemed to make an effort to proceed.  Her listener,
keenly interested, still smoked gravely without speaking.

"That night, when we halted, there was a frightful scene.  Mrs Elsdale
was a prisoner too, but I had not seen her until then.  Well, you know
Indians and their ways.  She was dead before morning.  That I escaped
the same brutal treatment was due to the chief.  It appears that he had
captured me with his own hand, and he claimed me as his exclusive
property.  There was nearly a fight over me, and I have since learned
that it was little short of a miracle that he carried his point.  Well,
I was taken to their head village unmolested, for the chief protected me
unswervingly the whole way, and then he took me as his wife.  What could
I do, at the mercy of a band of ruthless savages?  Some women might have
killed themselves, but I was a full-blooded creature and clung to life;
besides I always had a strong dash of the Bohemian in me."

Vipan remembered how that very thing used to be said of her among the
envious gossips of the island colony, who had predicted all sorts of
queer futures for Isabel D'Arcy.  Surely, however, that which had
befallen her was many degrees queerer than even they had ever designed
for her.

"The chief was a splendid-looking man," she continued, "and I felt
genuinely grateful to him when I thought what he had saved me from.  So
I made a virtue of necessity, and resolved to make the best of the
situation; and that I succeeded in obtaining a certain amount of
ascendancy over him you may judge from the style in which I am allowed
to live.  He has always treated me well, and I have never been molested
in the smallest degree from the time it was an understood thing that I
was his property.  I have more than once been the means of saving a
wretched prisoner, not from death--that would be beyond even my power--
but from the frightful ordeal of the stake.  The reason why those two
unhappy wretches were done to death outside the village the last time
instead of here, in its midst, was on my account.  The horrible sights I
have witnessed here would make even you turn sick.  Well, I laid myself
out to acquire influence among the Indians, doctoring them in a small
way and teaching them various little things; and once my position
assured I took no small pains to keep up its dignity.  They soon named
me The Sun Queen."

"And do you never contemplate a return to civilisation--to your
friends?" said her listener as she paused in her narrative.

"Never.  Friends!  Why, I never had a real one; and as for relations,
they would spurn me from their door.  No, I am accustomed to this life
now, and I shall live and die among the Sioux, the squaw of a savage.
Rather a contemptible object, am I not?" she ended, with a harsh and
bitter laugh.

"No, I should not say that," said Vipan, slowly, puffing out a great
cloud of smoke.

"What!" eagerly.  "You do not despise me in your heart?"

"Certainly not.  Look here.  Let us put the case fairly and without
prejudice.  Supposing you had lived the ordinary society life.  You
might, as hundreds have done before you, have married some vulgar
_parvenu_--we'll say from force of circumstances--or a fellow who got
drunk on the quiet and threw empty bottles at you, or some execrable
gutterling who happened to be rolling in money.  Civilised men and
Christians, mind.  I am brutally frank, you see.  Or again, more than
one Englishwoman of birth and breeding has been known to espouse some
slant-eyed, sallow-skinned Oriental for the sake of his rank and jewels,
sometimes not even that.  Well, you have allowed that Mahto-sapa, as a
man, is not contemptible either in aspect or qualities.  Now I call him
a king in comparison with such as I have just mentioned.  Of those who
would define him as a heathen and a savage, not one in a hundred could
boast half his good points.  My opinion is that you have shown sound
judgment in making the best of the situation."

"Do you know, you have taken a weight off my mind.  I had often thought
of what you now say, but required someone else's opinion.  No, I shall
live and die among these people.  But you?  I will think out and form
some plan for you to escape, but I do not disguise from you that it will
be difficult and risky.  And should you find yourself threatened with
immediate danger, do not delay, take refuge at once in my lodge.  I
believe they would hesitate to pursue you there."

She rose from her seat with a lithe, rapid movement, grasped his hand,
and glided from the lodge.



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

A TARDY REPARATION.

Vipan, left alone, felt drowsy, and kicking up the lodge fire into a
blaze, rolled himself in a blanket and lay down in the long wicker
basket which did duty as his bed.  But sleep refused to come.  This
strange meeting had something weird about it.  That this woman, whose
selfish reticence had ruined his life, to screen whom he had sacrificed
his prospects up to blighting point, as to whose whereabouts he had long
ceased to speculate, should appear before him alone in the camp of the
hostile Sioux--living there as one of themselves--struck him as little
short of miraculous, and a superstitious feeling seemed to warn him,
eagerly as he strove to dismiss it, that an occurrence so startling, so
entirely out of all reckoning, portended some grave crisis to himself.
Was her appearance after all these years destined to herald some other
turning-point in his life?  Thus musing, sleep at length overcame him,
and still his dreams were haunted by the sad face of the ex-society
belle, doomed to spend her life among savages, even resigned to that
deplorable destiny.

A stealthy form wormed itself quickly through the opening of the
_teepe_.  Vipan, who slept with one eye open, never moved, but his hand
tightened on the stock of the pistol in his breast.  Only for a moment,
though; for he recognised the hideous lineaments and beady eyes of the
Shoshone slave girl.

"Rise quickly, Golden Face," whispered the latter.  "The Sun Queen sends
for you.  Come at once."

Prepared for any emergency, he obeyed without a word.  It was already
dusk, and at the other end of the village were signs of a gathering of
some sort which was about to take place.  Unobserved, he entered Isabel
D'Arcy's tent.

Enjoining caution by a sign, she beckoned him to a seat.  The firelight
glinted on her shining hair, and he noticed that her still handsome face
was clouded with anxiety.  The _teepe_ was furnished in quasi-civilised
style.  There was a camp bedstead instead of the Indian wicker basket, a
table, two trunks, and even a few books.

"I have just learned something," she began, "that renders it necessary
for you to make the attempt at once.  Listen.  Time is short, and we
must lose none of it.  There is to be a big scalp-dance to-night in the
Ogallalla camp.  Hark!  They are beginning now.  Afterwards you are to
be seized and put to the torture.  I know the plot--never mind how.
Nothing can save you.  The Ogallallas have fourteen hundred warriors in
the village, and are all-powerful.  The whole of our band, except about
fifty, are away with Mahto-sapa, and even he could hardly protect you if
he were here.  Mountain Cat, War Wolf, Long Bull, and a dozen others are
all in the plot.  Now, quick--quick, I say!" stamping her foot.  "Obey
me or you are lost.  Take as much as you can carry of this," handing him
a _parfleche_ half full of dried meat.  "And this is the only weapon I
can find."

With a thrill of satisfaction he found himself in possession of a large
navy revolver, loaded in every chamber.

"But," he objected, "if I get clear will they not visit it upon you?"

"No.  They dare not.  Quick.  You have only an hour's start, with the
best of luck.  You may not have ten minutes.  Roll your blanket round
your chin, so as to hide your beard, and put on this."

She handed him an Indian head-dress of beadwork and cloth, from whose
summit rose a tall eagle-feather.  Fixing it on, he stood there
transformed into a stalwart savage.

"Now, my plan is simple--in fact, ridiculous.  You must personate an
Indian larking with my slave girl here.  She will pretend to run away,
and you must pursue her.  She will lead you to the nearest herd of
ponies; you must catch one and trust to luck.  Now, good-bye.  God speed
you!"

He thought he detected a quaver in her voice as she grasped his hands,
and would have lingered.  She stamped her foot angrily.

"Go, go!  You are endangering both of us, and the plan will fall
through."  And she almost pushed him from the lodge.

A mischievous cackle, and the dark form of the Shoshone girl glided
round the outside of the _teepe_.  Vipan, entering thoroughly into his
_role_, started boldly in pursuit.  So well did he act up to it that a
group of squaws whom he passed within ten yards screamed with laughter
at the sight of a stalwart buck larking after the Sun Queen's hideous
slave, no less than at the broad jests which he was gruffly hurling
after her as she ran.

The dark figure still glided on between the _teepes_, hardly visible in
the falling gloom.  To those who did see it the sight was an everyday
one, so that beyond a shout of mirth and a boisterous wish for his
success, no notice was taken of it.

The last line of _teepes_ was passed.  In front lay the timber belt,
then a subdued "crunch, crunch," betokened the proximity of a group of
ponies.  The dark figure of the Shoshone girl had disappeared.  "The
nearest," his deliverer had said.  His lariat rope was ready.  Gently,
soothingly, he approached the one he reckoned the best.  Up went the
perverse brute's head with a resentful snort, as it sidled and backed
away.  He tried another, with the same result.  His heart was in his
mouth.  The ponies had stopped feeding, and were gazing at him in alarm.
The least thing might stampede the herd and arouse the attention of its
owners.  There was no time to lose.  Whirling the noose around his head
he let fly.  The coils tautened out.  The affrighted animal thus noosed,
plunged, and fell heavily.  He was upon it like lightning.  Avoiding the
kicking hoofs, he wrenched a bight of the rope into its mouth, jerked
the trembling and terrified steed to its feet, and was on its back like
a circus-rider.  The rest of the herd trotted away, snorting and
throwing up their heels.

Suddenly a wild, shrill whoop went up from the village.  Ah! now for the
race for life; but what were the odds in his favour?  They had
discovered his flight.

On, through the darkness, the fugitive urged his unwilling steed, whose
bucking and plunging would have unseated any less skilful horseman.  And
as he fled, carefully picking his ground with the instinct of a
consummate plainsman, he strained his ears through the darkness to catch
the first sounds of pursuers behind, of a possible manoeuvre to outflank
and head him in front.  But the discovery had not, in fact, been made.
The wild shouts were the yells of the scalp-dance just beginning.
Fainter and fainter behind him sounded the savage chorus, then died
away, and amid the solitude of the grim mountain waste only the soft
hoof-beats of his steed, and the occasional scream of a panther among
the craggy heights, broke upon the dead and ghostly silence of the
night.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

BETWEEN THE LIVING AND THE DEAD.

With the first lightening of dawn, the fugitive realised that it behoved
him to exercise tenfold wariness.  Save one brief halt to rest his
steed, he had ridden the night through, and now he intended to lie
hidden in some snug retreat until darkness again should cover his flight
beneath its friendly folds.  A shallow stream flowed close at hand, now
losing itself in the timber, now gurgling along a grassy bottom, to
emerge a few hundred yards further down.  Into the water Vipan now
guided his steed, and riding down stream, emerged a mile or so further
on.  This manoeuvre, executed with the object of hiding his trail, he
had performed already twice that night.

The morning dawned but slowly; dark and cold, for a thick mist had
settled down on the land.  And now it seemed to Vipan that the ground
was becoming less precipitous.  Could he be getting clear of the
mountains already?  Suddenly the murmur of guttural voices struck upon
his ear, and strangely enough they sounded ahead of him.

Softly he checked his horse.  Then to his unbounded amazement the
subdued murmur arose again.  This time _it was behind him_.

A puff of air drove a space through the mist, and now Vipan's heart
stood still.  On either side of him, all around, gigantic in the filmy
wrack which swept over them in thickening or decreasing folds, loomed
shadowy horsemen.  Their deep-toned conversation, their plumed heads and
painted faces, were only too familiar to this man who was flying there
for his life.  _He was riding in the very midst of a war-party_.

Their strength he could not estimate.  Ghostly forms appearing and
disappearing as the mist thickened or partially dispersed, no clue could
he obtain as to their numbers.  One even called out to him a remark.  He
answered with a laconic grunt, and in his heart fervently blessed the
foresight of his deliverer which had invested him with the eagle-crested
head-dress.  The savages evidently took him for one of their party.
Fervently, too, did he bless the welcome fog and its kindly aid, for the
fraud could not have lived a moment in broad daylight.

Gradually, imperceptibly, he checked his steed.  Any moment the fog
might lift.  He must back out of this perilous escort as imperceptibly
as he had entered it.  But, just as he reckoned himself clear, a fresh
group of figures would start up on his rear, and canter forward in the
wake of those who had gone before.  These ceased, and by the time the
fog began fairly to roll back beneath the dispelling power of the rising
sun, Vipan, to his inexpressible relief, found himself alone.  Then
spying a confused heap of rocks and bushes high up on the slope of a
hill he made for it.  As a hiding-place it was perfect.  Entering its
welcome shelter, he secured his tired steed in such wise that the animal
could crop the green herbage growing in the cool shadow of the rocks.
Then he lay down and fell fast asleep.

When at length he awoke it was with a shiver of cold.  The sun was not
an hour from the western horizon.  He had slept the whole day.

Cautiously he peered forth.  His hiding-place, being at a considerable
elevation, afforded a wide view of the surrounding country.  The blue
line of the Black Hills cleft the sky to the south-eastward, and he
could make out the granite cone of the towering Inyan Kara.  His course
had so far been an accurate one.

Suddenly a moving object caught his eye.  Was the land absolutely
bristling with enemies?  Advancing along his trail far down in the
bottom came a file of mounted figures.  Though nearly three miles off,
there was no mistaking them or their object.  Then he chuckled
sardonically.  The trail of the war-party, under whose escort he had so
unwillingly travelled for ever so brief a space, would obliterate his
own a hundred times over.

Nearer and nearer they drew, riding at an easy canter.  He made out
forty-one Indians in war-costume.  He watched them with a sneer and a
chuckle.

Suddenly, when nearly abreast of his position, the leader halted, gazing
intently at the ground.  The band clustered round him, then scattered,
as if searching for more trail.  Then a smothered curse escaped the lips
of the watcher.  In obedience to a rapid signal, the whole band had
diverged from the trail of the war-party, and was heading straight for
his place of concealment.  It was all up with him.  They had lighted
upon his trail.  It was time to give them the slip.

He sent one more glance at the party.  Strung out in single file, the
warriors were riding along his trail, like a pack of hounds with their
noses to the ground.  In their leader he recognised his implacable and
untiring foe, War Wolf.

"All right," he muttered between his teeth, as he twisted the lariat
rope into the horse's mouth.  "All right, my friend.  You're bound for
the Happy Hunting-Grounds this time.  We'll get there together."

His horse, fresh and rested, bore him bravely as he dashed forth,
leaving the hill and the covert between himself and his pursuers.  Well
he knew what would happen.  The Indians would not ride straight up to
the bushes.  They would halt and cast round the hill to see if his trail
led away again.  This would give him a start.

The face of the country on this side was a series of rolling slopes
freely dotted with clumps of straggling timber.  Some distance ahead he
noted a long dark line of forest.  Night was at hand; could he reach
this in time he might yet hope to escape.

Then a long, pealing whoop went up.  The Sioux had discovered him, and
with exultant shouts each warrior lashed his pony into the utmost speed.

For half an hour the furious chase continued.  Vipan, glancing over his
shoulder, became aware that his pursuers were slowly gaining on him.
On--on.  The forest belt would soon be reached, and meanwhile the
dusking shadows were lengthening around.

He gained the first straggling patch of scrub.  A few hundred yards and
he would be within the welcome refuge, when his horse put a foot on the
crusted surface of a mud-hole, turned a somersault, and his rider came
whizzing to the earth.

Vipan arose.  Throughout the horror of the shock his self-possession did
not desert him, for he retained firm hold of the lariat rope.  He was on
his feet again, active as a cat, though stiff and bruised, but his steed
stood shaking with alarm, using its right foreleg limpingly.

A yell of exultation went up from the pursuers.  Half-a-dozen warriors,
better mounted than the rest, were some distance ahead.  So easy a
capture would be that of the unarmed fugitive that they had not troubled
to hold a weapon in readiness.  Now they began to whirl their lassos
ready for a throw.

Vipan, perfectly cool, crouched behind a bush, his revolver pointed.  On
they came, War Wolf leading, a grin of triumph wreathing his fierce
features.  A hundred yards--then fifty.  A ringing report--a jet of
flame in the glooming twilight.  War Wolf threw up his arms and lurched
heavily forward upon his horse's neck.  The terrified animal, snorting
and rearing, dashed away at a tangent, dragging his rider, who had
somehow become entangled in the caparisonings.

And what a howl of rage and consternation rent the air!  They had not
bargained for this, for they believed the fugitive to be unarmed.
Panic-stricken for the moment, they halted, then some of them dashed off
to the succour of their leader.  But they need not have done so.  The
bullet had sped true.  The young partisan had shouted his last
war-whoop.

Profiting by this temporary check, the hunted man had again sprung on
the back of his horse.  Lame or not, the animal must carry him further
yet.  On--on.  The forest belt was gained.  He plunged beneath its
shadows, only to find it was mere straggling timber--not thick enough
for hiding purposes.  The frosty air cut his face and the leaves
crackled crisply under his horse's hoofs.  He drew his knife and pricked
the poor brute furiously in the hinder quarters.  The fierce yells of
the savages drawing nearer and nearer told only too plainly that they
had no intention of relinquishing the pursuit, and the horse was
beginning to go dead lame.

"Cau--aak!"

He glanced involuntarily upward.  A huge raven disturbed on its roost
flapped away in alarm.  But another sight met his eye.  Extending
horizontally from two sturdy limbs of a Cottonwood tree, cleaving the
wintry sky, was a long dark object.  Vipan recognised one of those
platforms on which the Indians deposit their dead--like Mohammed's
coffin, midway between earth and heaven.

His mind was made up in a flash.  Checking his horse he dismounted, and
tearing a bunch of thorns from a bush, proceeded deliberately to insert
them beneath the poor animal's tail.  Then, as the horse galloped off in
a perfect frenzy of pain and terror, he slipped up the tree and gained
the burial platform, literally flattening himself against its ghastly
burden.  It was a hideous alternative.

Scarcely had he gained this gruesome refuge than the pursuers passed
beneath.  They were barely fifteen feet below him as he lay flattened
there, not even daring to breathe as the savages swept by, guided by the
frenzied gallop which, seeming to have gained redoubled speed, they
could hear still ahead of them.  It was a desperate expedient, but it
had answered so far.

"Cau--aak!  Cau--aak!"

Like an evil spirit let loose beneath the frosty heavens came the black
swoop of the raven he had disturbed, and the hunted man saw it with a
cold shiver.  He dared not even turn his head.  The warriors might
return at any moment from their fool's errand, and then even a breath
might seal his fate.  A strong shudder of disgust ran through his frame.
The hideous croak of the ill-omened bird brought back vividly that
other scene--the two grinning blood-stained skulls lying there in the
dark forest by Burntwood Creek, and the startling challenge of their
would-be avenger.  Involuntarily he turned his head, and a revulsion of
horror caused him to shrink back in spite of himself, and nearly to fall
from his precarious resting-place.  For within six inches of his face
his glance lighted upon a fearful sight.  A human countenance scowled
upon him--but such a face.  From the blackened and mummified skin drawn
tightly over the protruding bones, the glazed eyes seemed to glare anew
with menace and hate towards the violator of their resting-place.
Shadowy yet distinct in the light of the new moon this horrible
countenance, peering as it were from the fantastic cerements of
barbarous sepulture, was enough to unhinge the stoutest nerves.  A
grisly skeleton-claw raised in mid-air, as though about to grapple with
the impious intruder, completed the horror, while overhead, like the
fierce spirit of the departed warrior yet hovering around its decaying
tenement, the grim raven flapped in circles, emitting its gruesome
croak.

"Pooh!" said the fugitive to himself, making a strong effort to overcome
his not unnatural horror.  "Pooh!  While the country's swarming with
live redskins hunting for my scalp, am I going to be scared by one dead
one?  Not much--not much!"

An hour wore on--then two.  Wolves howled dismally over the midnight
waste, and still that grisly countenance glared menacingly in the
moonlight--and still they lay side by side, the dust of the
half-forgotten dead, and the living, breathing, vigorous frame--welded
together in that weird partnership--its object the saving of a life.

Thus they lay, side by side--the dead warrior preserving the life of the
hereditary enemy of his race.



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

ANOTHER BOMB FOR THE REV. DUDLEY.

Once more we must peep into the library at Lant Hall.

Mr Vallance sat in his accustomed chair, thinking.  His gaze would
wander from the window to the blazing fire and back again, and the frown
of anxiety deepened on his features.  Without, the wind howled shrilly
through the bare boughs, and a few scattered flakes of snow whirled in
the air.

"Why did we ever let him go?" he exclaimed aloud.  "Why did we ever let
him go?"

Even as when last we saw him, Mr Vallance was terribly anxious on
behalf of his son.  His former misgivings had been allayed by the
subsequent receipt of a letter from Geoffry; which missive, however, had
given him to understand that it was the last the writer would have an
opportunity of sending for some time--in fact, until he should be on his
way home again.  Characteristically, too, this letter contained only
vague and general information that the writer had fallen in with and
joined Winthrop's outfit; and of his meeting with Yseulte Santorex, not
a word.  It was of no use worrying about the matter, decided the Rev.
Dudley.  Any post might now bring intelligence that the boy was on his
way home.  It was poor comfort, and again he found himself repeating:

"Why did we ever allow him to go?"

Of the other affair which had so sorely troubled him--his cousin's
unexpected and preposterous claim--he had heard no more.  His
apprehensions first were lulled, then subsided altogether.  The whole
business was palpably a "try on."

A sound of subdued voices outside, then a knock.

"A gentleman wishes to see you, sir."

In his then frame of mind, Mr Vallance could not but feel startled by
the interruption.

"Who is he, James?" he asked, quickly.

"He wouldn't give his name, sir.  He said as how you'd be sure to see
him, sir."

"Quite right, quite right," said a deep voice, whose owner entered
behind the astonished flunkey.  "Er--How do, Dudley!"

If Mr Vallance had been startled before, the expression of his features
now betokened a state of mind little short of scare.  His face had
turned as white as a sheet, and his jaw fell as he stood helplessly
staring at his visitor.

"Why--bless my soul--Ralph," he stammered.  Then advancing with
outstretched hand, "Why--Ralph--I'm--I'm glad to see you.  I hope you
have come to stay with us for a time."

The visitor's reception of this friendly--this hospitable overture, was
singular.  Standing bolt upright, he deliberately put his hand behind
his back.

"Glad to see me!" he echoed, with a sneer.  "No, you are not.  Why tell
a--tarra-diddle.  Such a tarra-diddle, too--and you a preacher--er--I
beg your pardon--a _priest_, it used to be, if I remember right.  You
would sooner see the devil himself at this moment than me."

Under the sting of this reply, the parson recovered a certain amount of
dignity.

"Really," he said, stiffly, "your behaviour is strange, to put it
mildly.  May I ask, then, the object of your intru--your visit."

"Certainly, if it affords you any satisfaction."  Then glancing around
the room, and finishing up with a look out of the window, he went on.
"Say, cousin Dudley, this is a pretty shebang enough.  The object of my
visit is this: You've bossed up this show about long enough.  Suppose
you abdicate now and let me have a turn?"

"Have you taken leave of your senses?"

"Not much.  Have you?"

There was a sternness about the speaker's laconic reply which caused Mr
Vallance to quail involuntarily.  He made a step towards the bell-pull.
The other laughed.

"No, no.  Don't exert yourself.  I'm not going yet--and if you bring in
all the pap-fed flunkeys and swipe-guzzling stable-hands on your
establishment, the poor devils'll only get badly hurt without furthering
your object.  I mean what I say--you've got to quit sooner or later.  If
you're wise it'll be sooner."

"Indeed!  And why?" was the answer, given with cutting politeness.

"Well, it's this way.  If you agree to clear at once, I'll give you five
hundred a year--no, I'll make it six--out of the property for your life.
That and the parsonic pickings will keep you in clover.  If you mean
fighting, I'm your man.  But I warn you I'm prepared to plank down ever
so many thousands of pounds to get you out--and when I've got you out
I'll come down on you for every shilling of arrears, by George, I will!"

"Oh, you will?"

"You may bet your life on it."

For some moments the two men looked full in each other's faces without
speaking.  The sneer of conscious power on that of the one was matched
by the expression of defiance, hatred, mingled with fear, on that of the
other.

"Well, well," said Mr Vallance at length.  "Take your own course.
Only, let me remind you that you are in England now, and that in this
country we don't settle important matters in any such rough and ready
fashion."

"Oh don't make any mistake; I'm not going to _hurt_ you, if that's what
you're thinking about.  You see, I've been knocking around a goodish few
years, and now I've a fancy for settling down--settling down _in my own
place_, you understand."

There was a smug smile of triumph on the parson's face now.  His cousin
was merely "bouncing" to extort terms.  It would come to that in a few
minutes.  But the look aroused a very demon in the other.  His eyes
burned like live coals, though when he spoke his voice was under perfect
control.

"Again, I say, you needn't be afraid," he said.  "Everything shall be
done in due course of law."

"But--but, my good fellow, surely you are aware you haven't a leg to
stand on?"

"I reckon I'm the best judge of that.  See here, most reverend Dudley.
Do you remember our last interview, here, in this very room?  Safe in
the triumph of your successful fraud--fraud, I say, if you prefer it,
forgery--you jeered at me, jeered at the man you had robbed.  Remember?"

"`Fraud!'  `Robbed!'" sputtered the parson, trying to lash himself into
anger to drown the sinking sense that had come over him.  "Do you know,
sir, that you are using actionable words?"

"Ah, ah!  History repeats itself.  That is precisely as you spoke on the
former occasion, friend Dudley.  I will say it again, call in witnesses
if you like.  Having defrauded and robbed me of my patrimony by lies and
intriguing, _and_ worse--you, a preacher of the Gospel, a teacher of
Christian morality--you threatened me with the law.  You made your
lawyers write to threaten me with an action for libel if I dared so much
as venture an opinion on your behaviour.  Do you remember my words to
you as I left this room?"

Well, indeed, did he remember.  And now at the sight of the deadly wrath
on this man's features, all the more terrible because so completely held
in hand--of the towering form with its back just half a yard from the
door, precluding alike entrance or exit--again Mr Vallance could not
restrain a shiver of physical fear.

"I told you my time would surely come, didn't I?  How many years ago was
it?  Nearer twenty than ten--yes.  You slandered my name and stole my
possessions--you, a sacred dispenser of sacraments--and I went forth a
beggar, followed by your jeers of triumph.  If you go where I have been
during those years, and take the trouble to enquire, you will learn that
few persons have played me a scrofulous trick without bitterly rueing
it.  You have played me the most scrofulous trick of all, and you are
going to rue it."

"Well, I must trouble you to let me pass, please.  I shall ask you to
excuse me wasting my time any longer," said Mr Vallance, making a move
as if to leave the room.  But the other only smiled.

"Not yet.  Not quite yet," he said.  "By the way, Dudley.  Heard
anything of Geoffry lately?"

The tone was easy--smiling--but it struck a chill to the parson's heart.
He glanced up quickly at his interlocutor's face, his own white with
deadly fear.  His lips parted, but he was powerless to articulate.  The
other stood immovable--smilingly enjoying his apprehension, but the
smile was that of a fiend.

"Not heard anything of him?" he said, slowly, while like the hellish
hiss of red-hot irons in quivering flesh there passed through his mind
the recollection of his cousin's defiant sneers over the successful
intrigue that had robbed him of his patrimony, there in that same room,
whose very walls seemed to echo their refrain even now.  "Not heard
anything of him?  Well I'm not surprised, for--he's dead."

"Dead?" echoed Mr Vallance blankly, as though in a dream.

"As the proverbial door-nail."

"Murderer!" gasped the wretched man, spasmodically clutching the air
with his fingers, and gazing at his tormentor as through a far-off mist.

"Oh, no.  You are under a delusion," was the cool reply.  "It's odd that
it should devolve on me--on me above all people--to give you the latest
news of him.  He died at an Indian stake."

Even the pitiless, revengeful heart of the man who stood there smilingly
unfolding his horrible news was hardly prepared for the awful
metamorphosis that came over the smug, smooth-tongued, purring parson at
those words.  With a scream that rang through the house from top to
bottom, and froze the blood of all who heard it, the miserable man
leaped at his tormentor's throat like a wild cat at bay.  But he might
as well have leaped at a rock.  The powerful arm was raised, and the
mere shock of the recoil sent the poor wretch sprawling.  He lay--his
livid features working in mania--the foam flying from his lips in
flakes.

The other glanced at him a moment, then opened the door.

"You, James?" he said, coolly, to the trembling flunkey, who had not
been many yards from the door during the interview.  "You, James?  Your
boss is taken bad, I guess.  Better see after him.  Tell him, when he
comes round, I'll call again by-and-bye, and give him further
particulars."

With the same easy smile upon his lips he passed through the crowd of
frightened women-folk who met him on the stairs, and who shrunk back
before his glittering eyes and towering form, and gained the front door.
Then he smiled in fearful glee.

"The last time I passed out this way," he said to himself, half-aloud.
"The last time I passed out this way, I was saying my time would surely
come--and it has.  Aha! my exemplary and most reverend cousin I think
I'm nearly even with you now--very nearly!"



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

IN THE TWILIGHT OAKWOOD.

Yseulte Santorex was slowly wending her way homeward through the now
leafless oak woods which overhung Elmcote.

The lonely ride looked ghostly and drear in the early dusk of the
November afternoon.  A chill and biting wind moaned through the covert,
and now and again a pheasant or rabbit scuttling among the undergrowth,
raised a stealthy rustling sound that would have been somewhat startling
to any other of her sex who should find herself belated in that lonely
place.  But in this solitary pedestrian it inspired no fear, only a
sweet, sad recollection--albeit reminding her of the most perilous
moment in her whole life.  For it brought back vividly, by an
association of sound and surroundings, the shadowy timber belt, and the
stealthy tread of the grim painted savages advancing to seize her on the
lonely river-bank in the far Wild West.

But what a change had befallen her!  The happy, even-tempered girl who
had so gleefully left her home in keen anticipation of a period of
adventurous travel amid new and stirring scenes had disappeared, and
this pale, wistful-eyed woman walking here seemed but the mere ghost of
the Yseulte Santorex of yore.

Often in her dreams she again goes through those terrible experiences--
the perilous flight with the scout across the rugged ranges, momentarily
expecting the volley of the lurking Sioux ambushed in the dense timber.
Often in her dreams she is once more fleeing for dear life across those
wild plains, the war-whoops of the painted fiends ringing in her ears,
the thunder of their pursuing steeds shaking the ground.  Often in her
dreams she is again entering the frowning portals of that dread
Thermopylae, where one man had unhesitatingly laid down his life in
order that she might reach a place of safety.  Often, too, she is once
more amid her genial, kindly, travelling companions, only to wake up
with a start and a shiver to the remembrance of their horrible fate.

But never as long as she lives will she forget the moment when her
brother, finding her out at Fort Vigilance, brought the news which had
confirmed her fears to the uttermost.  He who had offered his life for
her was dead--dead amid the horrid torments of the Indian stake, as the
savages themselves affirmed--and to her, thenceforward, life seemed a
grey and valueless thing.  There was nothing further to be gained by
opposing her brother's wish that she should at once accompany him home
to Lant-Hanger.  Travelling through the British possessions safe beyond
the reach of the hostile Sioux, who still carried terror and pillage
over the plains of Dakota and Wyoming, they had set forth on their
journey and had reached home in due course.

Shocked out of even his philosophy by the change, nothing could exceed
the affectionate consideration her father had show for her since her
return.  Even her mother forgot to grumble and scold in her relief at
having the girl back again safe and sound, for George had judiciously
put them up to the real state of affairs.  It was not in the nature of
things that her parents should be well pleased that she had buried her
heart in the grave of an unknown adventurer, who had, moreover, met with
a horrible death, but time, they hoped, would work a gradual cure, and
she was young yet.  Then, too, apart from this unfortunate affair, her
experiences had been terrible for a refined and luxuriously-nurtured
English girl.  So no care or trouble was spared to induce her to forget
them.

But Yseulte herself was the last to second these well-meant efforts.
She would brace herself up to appear cheerful and at ease, but seemed
never so happy as when alone, rambling for hours through the fields and
woods, to her parents' concern and alarm.  But any expression of the
latter would be met by a wan smile and a remark that one who had heard
the war-whoop and shots fired in grim earnest, and had twice been chased
by red Indians on the war-path, felt pretty secure among the peaceful
lanes and meadows of tame Old England.  And one other thing noteworthy
was that she avoided Lant Hall and its denizens with a horror and a
persistency that was little short of feverish.  She had never divulged
poor Geoffry's presence with the waggon train, and shrank morbidly from
doing so now.  He might have escaped, but that he had fallen in the
general massacre which overtook the unfortunate emigrants she could
hardly doubt.

This evening she was returning from a long walk, having gone out to join
at luncheon her father and brother, who were shooting some distant
coverts, and who would drive home by the road.  She, preferring her
solitary ramble through the fields and plantations, had left them early
in the afternoon.

The sharp air had brought a tinge of colour to her pale cheeks, as,
defying its rigours in her warm winter dress and toque, she stepped
along the woodland ride with the easy grace of a perfect physical
organisation.  An owl dropped softly from overhead, hooting as it glided
along on noiseless pinions, the bark of a fox echoed from the depths of
the brake; but these weird sounds amid the gathering mists of night
caused her no uneasiness, let alone fear.  She even stopped to listen to
them with a wistful yearning, for in the cry of the wild creatures of
the woods, and the swirl of the wind through the denuded branches, she
seemed to feel once more borne back to those nights of peril and of
fear--but oh! how sweet the recollection--in the wild and blood-stained
West, to walk alone in the spirit presence of him whom her mortal eyes
should never more behold.

"Would to God we had died together!" she exclaimed aloud, her eyes
dimmed with a rush of blinding tears.  "Ah, why did I not die with him
when it was still in my power to do so?  Ah, why?"

And the owl flitting ghostly through the brake, answered:

"Tu-whoo--whoo-whoo!"

A sound smote upon her ear as she turned the bend of the path--a sound
as of the footfall and snort of a horse.  She looked up, and the sight
that met her eyes rooted her to the ground, while the blood at her very
heart stood still.  But not with fear.  Yet--what was that but a
phantom--a phantom horseman--advancing towards her at scarce thirty
paces?  For the noble proportions of the coal-black steed there was no
mistaking--and his rider--ah!--through many a night of horror and
anguish she had seen in her dreams that towering frame, mangled and
mutilated by the barbarous vengeance of the red demons, that splendid
face, drawn and livid in the throes of an agonising death.  Rider and
steed had been parted in life--here in the lonely woods, in the glooming
twilight, they were together again.

Her eyes met those of the phantom.  An ecstasy shook her frame, and she
was powerless to articulate.  A sweet smile played on her lips; her gaze
was strained upon the apparition, as though in the very strength of her
yearning she could constrain it to remain with her, could retard its
return to the shadowy unknown.

"Yseulte--love--I am no spectre," said the voice she knew so well.  "I
have come straight to you as soon as I learned where to find you.  Come
to me, darling!"

He had sprung to the ground, and stood awaiting her.  The spell was
broken.  A loud cry rang through the wood, and then she was in his
arms--laughing, weeping, sobbing, then laughing again.  Words were out
of the question.

The wintry night fell black upon the glooming oakwoods, weirdly musical
with the mournful hooting of the owls.  But there was no gloom in the
hearts of these two who now stepped from those thickening shades.

A crunch of wheels on the gravel, a flash of lamps, and the dog-cart
deposited the two shooters at the front door.

"Hallo, Chickie!  What's in the wind, now?" exclaimed Mr Santorex,
staring in amazement, as his daughter, hardly giving him time to alight,
had flown at him and flung her arms around his neck, her face all aglow
with more than the happiness of former days.

"Father!  _He's_ in there.  Go in and see him!"

"_He_?  What the deuce!  In where?  Give a fellow a chance!  Who's
_he_?"

"Mr Vipan."

"Oh, ah--I remember.  The champion scalp-hunter.  Come to life again,
has he?  Let's have a look at him."

As the door opened a tall figure rose from a chair, advancing with
outstretched hand.

"How do, Santorex?"

He thus unceremoniously addressed stared, as well he might.  This was
Western brusquerie with a vengeance, he thought.

"Confound it! am I altered so dead out of all recognition?" said the
other with a careless laugh, standing full in the light.

"Why, no--that is, yes.  We none of us grow younger in twenty years.
Well, well, Ralph.  I'm heartily glad to see you, heartily glad."  And
the two men grasped hands in thorough ratification of the sentiment.

"No, by George!  I should never have known you," went on Mr Santorex.
"And Chickie, here, called you something else just now--what the deuce
was it?"

"Vipan?  Yes, it was an old name in the family at one time.  I've
revived it lately for my own convenience.  That's how I was known out
West."

"Think you'd have known the child here?" went on "the child's" father,
turning to Yseulte, who had followed him into the room, and was now
staring in amazement at this new revelation.

"Well, I've had rather the advantage of her; a mean advantage she'll
say."

"She" was incapable of saying anything just then.  That photograph of
the disinherited Ralph Vallance, which, since her return home, she had
managed to conjure out of her father's boxes of old correspondence, and
had treasured because it bore some slight resemblance to her dead lover,
now turned out to be nothing less than his actual portrait.  Yet during
all their daily intercourse, so well had he guarded his secret, that not
a shadow of a passing instinct had ever warned her of his identity.  It
was astounding.

"Been to call on Dudley yet, Ralph?" said Mr Santorex, with a twinkle
in his eye.

"Oh, yes.  We had a talk over old times.  By the way, that's another
misnomer.  My real name's Rupert.  They used to call me the other for
short.  Heaven knows why, but they did, and I dropped it when I went
West.  Shan't revive it."

If ever there was a snug family party gathered together, it was that at
the Elmcote dinner-table that night, when Rupert Vallance, as we must
now call him, yielding to general request, but especially to an
appealing glance from Yseulte's blue eyes, narrated his experiences from
the time of his capture to his escape from the camp of the hostiles,
only generalising however as to the agency of this latter event, and
omitting for the present all mention of poor Geoffry's horrible death.
But when it came to the narrator literally tucking himself in with the
grisly denizen of the Indian grave, in the ghostly silence of the
darkling forest, Mrs Santorex shivered and announced her intention of
fainting; however, this effect was soon dispelled by the more pleasing
_denouement_ of the stirring tale, how just in the nick of time, when
alone, dismounted, barely half armed, and the savages still in search of
him, he had been found by Smokestack Bill, who all this while, in hourly
peril himself, had unweariedly watched his chances of coming to the aid
of his friend.  Smokestack Bill, too, with no less a companion than old
Satanta, who had been wandering the country ever since his escape from
the Ogallalla war-party, defying white or red to capture him, until,
seeming to recognise his master's friend, he ran whinnying to the latter
of his own accord.

"He's a grand fellow, that scout," said Mr Santorex.  "Why didn't you
bring him over with you, Rupert?"

"Wouldn't come.  He's going as chief scout to an expedition just about
to be sent against the hostiles.  I made him promise, though, to come
over directly after the war."

But the acme of this marvellous and stirring life's romance was reached
when later--after the ladies had retired to bed--Rupert Vallance
recounted, in strict confidence, the circumstances of his meeting in the
Sioux camp, the unfortunate woman who had ruined his career hitherto by
allowing him to suffer for another's intrigue.

"By Jove!" said George Santorex, junior.  "I've heard of that party.
Always supposed, though, she was a common sort of woman.  A lady! and
prefers to live among a lot of dirty redskins!  Why, the tallest yarn of
old Mayne Reid's is skim-milk to this.  But I guess she pretty well
wiped out old scores by chousing the reds out of your scalp in that
clever way, eh, Rupert!"

He nodded.  "That's so."

Just then there was an interruption.  A messenger had arrived from Lant
Hall.  The Rev. Dudley was not expected to live through the night, and
particularly wished to see Mr Santorex.

"Phew-w!" whistled the latter.  "I suppose I must go.  What on earth can
he want to talk to me about?  Perhaps it's about you, Rupert."

"Maybe it is," replied the latter, puffing out a cloud of smoke with as
complete nonchalance as though they were discussing the weather.  And
George Santorex, junior, furtively watching the unconcerned, relentless
face, thought he could well understand the reputation which this man had
set up in those Western wilds which had been for so many years their
common home.



CHAPTER FORTY.

CONCLUSION.

Summer has come round once more, and again, amid all the glories of a
cloudless evening, we stand beside the banks of the rippling Lant--
howbeit not without misgiving, for are we not about to enact the part of
eavesdroppers towards those two strolling languidly, contentedly, there
by the shining water?

"It strikes me, child, you seem inclined to find life rather a happy
thing," a voice well-known to us is saying.  "And you've no business
to."

A loving pressure of the strong arm on which she is leaning is the only
answer Yseulte deigns at first to make.  Then:

"Why not?"

"Because you've done a very wrong thing.  If the late lamented Dudley
were alive, he would tell you that a man may not marry his grandmother,
and by parity of reasoning a woman may not marry her grandfather.  Now
this is just what you have done, and it's very wrong of you."

She gave his arm a pinch.

"I never liked--boys!" she replied with a sunny smile.  And then she
sighed.  For it was on this very spot, beneath this same spreading oak
here on the river-bank, that poor Geoffry had made his passionate and
despairing declaration barely a year ago.  And now at the thought of the
poor fellow and his miserable end far away in that savage land, she
could not repress a sigh.

"By Jove!" cried Rupert Vallance, flinging a stone into the river.
"Something here seems to remind me of that evening when I came upon you
staving in the red brother's grinders with the butt end of a
fishing-rod.  I wonder, by the way, what became of that same weapon?  I
expect Mountain Cat's band still keep it as a big medicine-stick.
Deuced bad medicine it was for the buck you were laying it into.  Ho,
ho!"

"Don't remind me of that horrible moment," she said, coming closer to
him with a slight shiver.  "Let us go home, it's getting cold."

The Rev. Dudley Vallance was dead.  The shock of learning his son's
horrible end had brought on a stroke, and the following day he had
breathed his last--not, however, before he had made what reparation he
could for the wrong he had done his cousin, who, by the way, had so far
relented as to satisfy him that he had borne no hand in poor Geoffry's
death, and, in fact was powerless to prevent it; added to which he had
himself rescued him from the same fate on a previous occasion.  So on
his death-bed he had signed a hastily drawn-up will, bequeathing the
Lant property to Rupert Vallance absolutely, save and except a yearly
charge on the estate for the support of his widow and daughters.  To
this Rupert had added with ample liberality.  Once "the old man had
climbed down," as he euphemistically put it, he himself was willing to
let bygones be bygones, and had endowed the widow accordingly; needless
to say, without earning the slightest degree of gratitude from the
latter.

They strolled homeward across the meadows in the falling eve, and, lo,
as they entered the gate of the home paddock there arose a whinny and a
stamp of hoofs.

"Dear old Satanta!" said Yseulte, stroking the velvety black nose which
the noble animal thrust lovingly against her hand.  "You have well
earned your ease for life, at any rate."

"I should rather think he had.  No more arrows flying in his wake.  No
more brack water or willow-bark provender.  All oats and fun for life.
We shall have to give the war-whoop occasionally, just to remind him of
old times."

"Please, sir," said a man-servant, meeting them in the hall.  "Postman
says was he right in leaving this, sir?"

His master took the letter, glanced at the address, and exploded in a
roar of laughter.  It bore the United States stamp, and was directed--

  "Judge Rupert Vipan, Lant Hall,
  Brackenshire County,
  Great Britain."

"Nat Hardroper's fist!  Come along, Yseulte, and let's see what that
'cute citizen's got to say.  `Judge!'  Great Scott!  With infinite
trouble I got him out of calling me Colonel, and now he's elevated me to
the judicial bench!  `Vipan,' too!  The old name seems to stick,
anyway."

He broke open the letter and began to read--

  Henniker City, Dakota, 14th July, 1876.

  Dear Rupe,--Seems to me you're fixed up pretty tight and snug, after
  "baching" around all these years.  My respects to Madam.

  May be you'll not be sorry to hear I've sold your interest in the
  Burntwood Creek Mine to a New York Syndicate for two hundred and fifty
  thousand dollars, and five hundred fully paid-up shares in the new Co.
  If you weren't so keen on settling down in Great Britain again I
  reckon this find would make you more than a millionaire.  However,
  I've banked the specie here, where it'll be safe enough till you
  undertake to ship it to Great Britain--safe enough, that is, while I'm
  Sheriff of Henniker City--though they did "hold up" the bank in Jabez
  Humbold's time.

  The pesky Sioux are still on the war-path, as I judge you'll have
  learned even in Great Britain, but they're in a fair way of being
  soundly whipped.  And now I've got to tell you what you'll be dead
  sorry to hear.

Yseulte, watching her husband's face, marked the change that came into
it, as he turned the sheet and glanced hurriedly down it.  A terrible
frown--a frown similar to that which she had seen there when, dismounted
and alone, he had turned to face the savage pursuers at the entrance of
the canon that never-to-be-forgotten evening of her escape.  Mastering
himself, he continued to read:

  Your old pard, Smokestack Bill, is rubbed out.  He fell at the Little
  Bighorn with Custer and his command, and I reckon the red devils have
  had many a dance round his hair by this time.  Poor Bill!  I allow
  it's kinder rough when men have been pardners all the years you and he
  have; but he fell in fair fight, and that's better, as he himself
  would allow, than dying of a slow sickness, or being knifed in the
  back by some slinking wall-eyed rowdy in a saloon.  Well, well!  There
  wasn't a straighter, stauncher, all-round man, nor a better scout on
  this continent than Smokestack Bill, and if so be as any man says
  there was, why he'll be ill-advised to make the remark anywhere around
  this section.  I judge that's about all the news you'll care for just
  now, and with my respects to Madam, now as ever, old hoss, your
  sincere:

  Nathaniel J. Hardroper, Sheriff of Henniker City.

For some time Rupert Vallance stared vacantly at the hateful paper in
dead silence.  All the stirring experiences they had gone through
together crowded upon his mind, and the fate of his friend, staunch,
unswerving, true as steel, moved him more than he cared to show, even to
his wife.

"Ah, well!" he said at last, laying down the letter with a sigh.  "It's
bitterly rough on a fellow.  For upwards of a dozen years we've chummed
together like twin brothers, in tight fixes and out of them, and now the
poor chap's wiped out.  Yes, it's rough!"  An arm stole round his neck.
"Darling, can I forget that the noble, unselfish fellow saved your life
and brought you back to me!  And don't think me unfeeling, but if I had
never gone out there you might be lying there too, at this moment,
having shared the poor fellow's terrible fate."

"That's so," he assented.  "I hadn't thought of it in that light."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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