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Title: The Prairie Flower - A Tale of the Indian Border
Author: Aimard, Gustave, 1818-1883
Language: English
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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.

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http://www.freeliterature.org (Scans generously made
available by the Bodleian Library at Oxford)



THE PRAIRIE FLOWER

A TALE OF THE INDIAN BORDER

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD,

AUTHOR OF

"THE INDIAN SCOUT," "TRAPPERS OF ARKANSAS," "TRAIL HUNTER,"
"GOLD SEEKERS," "BEE HUNTERS,"
ETC., ETC.

LONDON:

CHARLES HENRY CLARKE, 13 PATERNOSTER ROW,

1874



                       CONTENTS


             I. A HUNTING ENCAMPMENT
            II. A TRAIL DISCOVERED
           III. THE EMIGRANTS
            IV. THE GRIZZLY BEAR
             V. THE STRANGE WOMAN
            VI. THE DEFENCE OF THE CAMP
           VII. THE INDIAN CHIEF
          VIII. THE EXILE
            IX. THE MASSACRE
             X. THE GREAT COUNCIL
            XI. AMERICAN HOSPITALITY
           XII. THE SHE-WOLF OF THE PRAIRIE
          XIII. THE INDIAN VILLAGE
           XIV. THE RECEPTION
            XV. THE WHITE BUFFALO
           XVI. THE SPY
          XVII. FORT MACKENZIE
         XVIII. A MOTHER'S CONFESSION
           XIX. THE CHASE
            XX. INDIAN DIPLOMACY
           XXI. MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
          XXII. IVON
         XXIII. THE PLAN OF THIS CAMPAIGN
          XXIV. THE CAMP OF THE BLACKFEET
           XXV. BEFORE THE ATTACK
          XXVI. RED WOLF
         XXVII. THE ATTACK
        XXVIII. CONCLUSION



CHAPTER I.

A HUNTING ENCAMPMENT.


America is the land of prodigies! Everything there assumes gigantic
proportions, which startle the imagination and confound the reason.
Mountains, rivers, lakes and streams, all are carved on a sublime
pattern.

There is a river of North America--not like the Danube, Rhine, or
Rhone, whose banks are covered with towns, plantations, and time-worn
castles: whose sources and tributaries are magnificent streams, the
waters of which, confined in a narrow bed, rush onwards as if impatient
to lose themselves in the ocean--but deep and silent, wide as an arm
of the sea, calm and severe in its grandeur, it pours majestically
onwards, its waters augmented by innumerable streams, and lazily bathes
the banks of a thousand isles, which it has formed of its own sediment.

These isles, covered with tall thickets, exhale a sharp or delicious
perfume which the breeze bears far away. Nothing disturbs their
solitude, save the gentle and plaintive appeal of the dove, or the
hoarse and strident voice of the tiger, as it sports beneath the shade.

At certain spots, trees that have fallen through old age, or have
been uprooted by the hurricane, collect on its waters; then, attached
by creepers and concealed by mud, these fragments of forests become
floating islands. Young shrubs take root upon them: the petunia and
nenuphar expand here and there their yellow roses; serpents, birds, and
caimans come to sport and rest on these verdurous rafts, and are with
them swallowed up in the ocean.

This river has no name! Others in the same zone are called Nebraska,
Platte, Missouri; but this is simply the _Mecha-Chebe_ the old father
of waters, _the_ river before all! the Mississippi in a word!

Vast and incomprehensible as is infinity, full of secret terrors, like
the Ganges and Irrawaddy, it is the type of fecundity, immensity, and
eternity to the numerous Indian nations that inhabit its banks.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three men were seated on the bank of the river, a little below its
confluence with the Missouri, and were breakfasting on a slice of roast
elk, while gaily chatting together.

The spot where they were seated was remarkably picturesque. The bank
of the river was formed of small mounds, enamelled with flowers. The
strangers had selected for their halt the top of the highest mound,
whence the eye embraced a magnificent panorama. In the foreground,
dense curtains of verdure which undulated with each breath of air: on
the islands innumerable flocks of dark-winged flamingos, perched on
their long legs, plovers and cardinals fluttering from bough to bough,
while numerous alligators lazily wallowed in the mud. Between the
islands, the silvery patches of water reflected the sunbeams. In the
midst of these masses of coruscating light, fishes of every description
sported on the surface of the water, and traced sparkling furrows.
Further back, as far as the eye could reach, the tops of the trees that
bordered the prairie, and whose dark green scarcely showed upon the
horizon.

But the three men we have mentioned seemed to trouble themselves very
slightly about the natural beauties that surrounded them, as they
were fully engaged in appeasing a true hunter's appetite. Their meal,
however, only lasted a few minutes, and when the last fragments had
been devoured, one lighted his Indian pipe, the other took a cigar
from his pocket. They then stretched themselves on the grass, and
began digesting with that beatitude which characterizes smokers, while
following with a languid eye the clouds of bluish smoke that rose in
long spirals with each mouthful they puffed forth. As for the third
man, he leant his back against a tree, crossed his arms, on his chest,
and went to sleep most prosaically.

We will profit by this momentary repose to present these persons to our
readers, and make them better acquainted with each other. The first was
a Canadian half-breed, of about fifty years of age, and known by the
name of "Bright-eye." His life had been entirely spent on the prairie
among the Indians, all of whose tricks he was thoroughly acquainted
with.

Like the majority of his countrymen he was very tall, more than six
feet in height: his body was thin and angular; his limbs were knotty,
but covered with muscles, hard as ropes; his bony and yellow face had
a remarkable expression of frankness and joviality, and his little grey
eyes sparkled with intelligence; his prominent cheekbones, his nose
bent down over a wide mouth supplied with long white teeth, and his
rounded chin, made up a face which was the most singular, and, at the
same time, the most attractive that could be imagined.

His dress differed in no respect from that of the other wood rangers;
that is to say, it was a strange medley of European and Indian
fashions, generally adopted by all the white prairie hunters and
trappers. His weapons consisted of a knife, a pair of pistols, and an
American rifle, now lying on the grass, but within reach of his hand.

His companion was a man of thirty to thirty-two years of age at the
most, but who appeared scarce twenty-five, tall, and well made. His
blue eyes, limpid as a woman's, the long light curls that escaped
beneath the edge of his Panama hat, and floated in disorder on his
shoulders, the whiteness of his skin, which contrasted with the olive
and brown complexion of the hunter, were sufficient evidence that he
was not born in the hot climate of America.

In fact, this young man was a Frenchman, Charles Edward de Beaulieu,
and was descended from one of the oldest families in Brittany. But,
under this slightly effeminate appearance, he concealed a lion's
courage which nothing could startle or even surprise. Skilled in all
bodily exercises, he was also endowed with prodigious strength, and the
delicate skin of his white and unstained hands, with their rosy nails,
covered nerves of steel.

The Count's dress would reasonably have appeared extraordinary in a
country remote from civilization to anyone who had leisure to examine
it. He wore a hunting jacket of green cloth, of a French cut, and
buttoned over his chest; yellow doeskin breeches, fastened by a waist
belt of varnished leather; a cartouche box, and a hunting knife in a
bronzed steel sheath, and with an admirably chiselled hilt: while his
legs were covered by long riding boots, coming up over the knee. Like
his companion, he had laid his rifle on the grass: this weapon, richly
damascened, must have cost an enormous sum.

The Count de Beaulieu, whose father followed the princes into exile
and served them actively, first in Condé's army and then in all the
Royalist plots that were incessantly formed during the Empire, was an
ultra-Royalist. Left an orphan at an early age, and possessed of an
immense fortune, he was nominated a lieutenant in the Gardes du Corps.
After the fall of Charles X., the Count, whose career was broken up,
was assailed by a fearful despondency, and an unenviable disregard for
life filled his heart. Europe became hateful to him, and he resolved
to bid it an eternal farewell. After intrusting the management of his
fortune to a confidential agent, the Count embarked for the United
States.

But American life, narrow, paltry, and egotistic, was not made for him;
for the young man understood the Americans no better than they did
him. His heart was ulcerated by the meanness and trickery he saw daily
committed by the descendants of the Plymouth Brethren, so he one day
resolved to bury himself in the depths of the country, and visit those
immense prairies whence the first lords of the soil had been driven by
the cunning and treachery of their crafty despoilers.

The Count had brought with him from France an old servant of the
family, whose progenitors, for many generations, had uninterruptedly
served the Beaulieus. Before embarking, the Count imparted his plans
to Ivon Kergollec, leaving him at liberty to remain behind or follow;
the servant's choice was not long, he simply replied that his master
had the right to do what he pleased without consulting him, and as it
was his duty to follow his master everywhere, he should do so. Even
when the Count formed the resolve of visiting the prairies, and thought
it right to tell his servant his resolution, the answer was still the
same. Ivon was about forty-five years of age, and was a true type of
the hardy, simple, and withal crafty Breton peasant; he was short
and stumpy, but his well-knit limbs and wide chest denoted immense
strength. His brick-coloured face was illumined by two small eyes,
which sparkled with cleverness and flashed like carbuncles.

Ivon, whose life had been spent calmly and lazily in the gilded halls
of Beaulieu House, had gradually assumed the regular habits of a
nobleman's lackey; having had no occasion to prove his courage, he was
completely ignorant of the possession of that quality, and, although
during the last few months he had been placed in many dangerous
circumstances while following his master, he was still at the same
point, that is to say, he completely doubted himself, and had the
innate conviction that he was as cowardly as a hare; so nothing was
more curious after a meeting with the Indians than to hear Ivon, who
had been fighting like a lion and performing prodigies of valour,
excuse himself humbly to his master for having behaved so badly, as he
was not used to fighting.

It is needless to say that the Count excused him, while laughing
heartily, and telling him as a consolation--for the poor fellow was
very unhappy at this supposed cowardice--that the next time he would
probably do better, and that he would gradually grow accustomed to this
life, which was so different from that he had hitherto led. At this
consolation the worthy man-servant would nod his head sorrowfully, and
reply, with an accent of thorough conviction:--

"No, sir, I can never have any courage. I feel sure of it; it is a sad
truth, but I am a poltroon. I am only too well aware of it."

Ivon was dressed in a complete suit of livery, though, in regard to
present circumstances, he was, like his companions, armed to the teeth,
and his rifle leant against the tree by his side.

Three magnificent horses, full of fire and blood, hobbled a few paces
from the hunters, were carelessly browsing on the climbing peas and
young tree shoots.

We have omitted to mention two peculiarities of the Count. The first
was, he always carried in his right eye a gold eyeglass, fastened round
his neck by means of a black ribbon; the second, that he continually
wore kid gloves, which we confess, greatly to his annoyance, had now
grown very dirty and torn.

And now, by what strange combination of chance were these three men,
so differing in birth, habits, and education, met together some five
or six hundred leagues from any civilized abode, on the banks of a
river, if not unknown, at any rate hitherto unexplored, seated amicably
on the grass, and sharing a breakfast which was more than frugal? We
can explain this in a few words to the reader by cursorily describing
a scene that occurred in the prairie about six months prior to the
beginning of our narrative.

Bright-eye was a determined man, who, with the exception of the time
he served the Hudson's Bay Company, had always hunted and trapped
alone, despising the Indians too much to fear them, and finding in
braving them that delight which the courageous man experiences, when,
alone and beneath the eye of Heaven, he struggles, confiding in his
own resources, against a terrible and unknown danger. The Indians
knew and feared him for many a long year. Many times they had come
into collision with him, and they had nearly always been compelled to
retreat, leaving several of their men on the field. Hence they had
sworn against the hunter one of those hearty Indian hatreds which
nothing can satiate save the punishment of the man who is the object of
it.

But as they knew with what sort of man they had to deal, and did not
care to increase the number of the victims he had already sacrificed,
they resolved to await, with the peculiar patience characteristic of
their race, the propitious moment for seizing their foe, and till then
confine themselves to carefully watching all his movements, so as not
to lose the favourable opportunity when it presented itself.

Bright-eye at this moment was hunting on the banks of the Missouri.
Knowing himself watched, and instinctively suspecting a trap, he took
all the precautions suggested to him by his inventive mind and the deep
knowledge he possessed of Indian tricks. One day, while exploring the
banks of the river, he fancied he noticed, a slight distance ahead
of him, an almost imperceptible movement in the thick brushwood. He
stopped, lay down, and began crawling gently in the direction of the
thicket. Suddenly the forest seemed agitated to its most unexplored
depths, A swarm of Indians rose from the earth, leaped from the trees,
or rushed from behind rocks; the hunter, literally buried beneath the
mass of his enemies, was reduced to a state of powerlessness, before he
could even make an attempt to defend himself.

Bright-eye was disarmed in a twinkling; then a chief walked up to him,
and holding out his hand, said coldly--

"Let my brother rise; the Redskin warriors are waiting for him."

"Good, good," the hunter growled; "all is not over yet, Indian, and I
shall have my revenge."

The chief smiled.

"My brother is like the mockingbird," he said ironically; "he speaks
too much."

Bright-eye bit his lips to keep back the insult that rose to them; he
got up and followed his victors. He was a prisoner to the Piékanns,
the most warlike tribe of the Blackfeet; and the chief who had taken
him was his personal enemy. The chief's name was _Natah Otann_ (the
Grizzly Bear). He was a man of five-and-twenty at the most, with a fine
intelligent face, bearing the imprint of honesty. His tall figure,
well-proportioned limbs, the grace of his movements, and his martial
aspect, rendered him a remarkable man. His long black hair, carefully
parted, fell in disorder on his shoulders; like all the renowned
warriors of his tribe, he wore on the back of his head an ermine skin,
and round his neck bears' claws mingled with buffalo teeth, a very
dear and highly-honoured ornament among the Indians. His shirt of
buffalo hide, with short sleeves, was decorated round the neck with a
species of collar of red cloth, ornamented with fringe and porcupine
quills; the seams of the garment were embroidered with hair taken from
scalps, the whole relieved by small bands of ermine skin. His moccasins
of different colours, were loaded with very elegant embroidery, while
his buffalo hide robe was quilted inside with a number of clumsy
designs, intended to depict the young warrior's achievements.

Natah Otann held in his right hand a fan made of a single eagle's wing,
and, suspended round the wrist from the same hand by a thong, the
short-handled long-lashed whip peculiar to the prairie Indians; on his
back hung his bow and arrows in a quiver of a jaguar's skin; at his
waist a bullet bag, his powder flask, his long hunting knife, and his
club. His shield hung on his left hip, while his gun lay across the
neck of his horse, which wore a magnificent panther skin for a saddle.
The appearance of this savage child of the woods, whose cloak and long
plumes fluttered in the wind, curveting, on a steed as untamed as
himself, had something about it striking, and, at the same time, grand.

Natah Otann was the first sachem of his tribe. He made the hunter a
sign to mount a horse one of the warriors held by the bridle, and the
whole party proceeded at a gallop towards the camp of the tribe. They
rode onward in silence, and the chief seemed to pay no attention to his
prisoner. The latter, free in appearance, and mounted on an excellent
horse, made not the slightest attempt to escape; at a glance he had
judged the position, saw that the Indians did not lose sight of him,
and that he should be immediately recaptured if he attempted flight.
The Piékanns had formed their camp on the slope of a wooded hill.
For two days they seemed to have forgotten their prisoner, to whom
they never once spoke. On the evening of the second day, Bright-eye
was carelessly walking about and smoking his pipe, when Natah Otann
approached him.

"Is my brother ready?" he asked him.

"For what?" the hunter said, stopping and pouring forth a volume of
smoke.

"To die," the chief continued, laconically.

"Quite."

"Good; my brother will die tomorrow."

"You think so," the hunter replied with great coolness.

The Indian looked at him for a moment in amazement; then he repeated,
"My brother will die tomorrow."

"I heard you perfectly well, chief," the Canadian said, with a smile;
"and I repeat again, do you believe it?"

"Let my brother look," the sachem said, with a significant gesture.

The hunter raised his head.

"Bah!" he said, carelessly; "I see that all the preparations are made,
and conscientiously so, but what does that prove? I am not dead yet, I
suppose."

"No, but my brother will soon be so."

"We shall see tomorrow," Bright-eye answered, shrugging his shoulders.

And leaving the astonished chief, he lay down at the foot of a tree
and fell asleep. His sleep was so real, that the Indians were obliged
to wake him next morning at daybreak. The Canadian opened his eyes,
yawned two or three times, as if going to put his jaw out, and got up.
The Redskins led him to the post of torture, to which he was firmly
fastened.

"Well!" Natah Otann said, with a grin, "what does my brother think at
present?"

"Eh!" Bright-eye answered, with that magnificent coolness which never
deserted him, "do you fancy that I am already dead?"

"No, but my brother will be so in an hour."

"Bah!" the Canadian said, carelessly; "many things can happen within an
hour."

Natah Otann withdrew, secretly admiring the intrepid countenance of his
prisoner; but, after taking a few steps, he reflected, and returned to
Bright-eye's side.

"Let my brother listen," he said, "a friend speaks to him."

"Go on, chief, I am all ears."

"My brother is a strong man; his heart is great," Natah Otann said; "he
is a terrible warrior."

"You know something of that, chief, I fancy," the Canadian replied.

The sachem repressed a movement of anger.

"My brother's eye is infallible, his arm is sure," he went on.

"Tell me at once what you want to come to, chief, and don't waste your
time in your Indian beating round the bush."

The chief smiled as he said, in a gentler voice, "Bright-eye is alone;
his lodge is solitary. Why has not so great a warrior a companion?"

The hunter fixed a searching glance on the speaker.

"What does that concern you?" he said.

Natah Otann continued,--

"The nation of the Blackfeet is powerful; the young women of the
Piekann tribe are fair."

The Canadian quickly interrupted him.

"Enough, chief," he said; "in spite of all your shiftings to reach your
point, I have guessed your meaning; but I will never take an Indian
girl to be my wife; so you can refrain from further offers, which will
not have a satisfactory result."

Natah Otann frowned.

"Dog of the palefaces," he cried, stamping his foot angrily, "this
night my young men will make war whistles of thy bones, and will drink
the firewater out of thy skull."

With this terrible threat, the chief finally quitted the hunter, who
regarded him depart with a shrug, and muttered, "The last word is
not spoken yet; this is not the first time I have found myself in
a desperate position, but I have escaped; there are no reasons why
I should be less lucky today. Hum! this will serve me as a lesson:
another time I will be more prudent."

In the meantime the chief had given orders to begin the punishment,
and the preparations were rapidly made. Bright-eye followed all the
movements of the Indians with a curious eye, as if he were a perfectly
unconcerned witness.

"Yes, yes," he went on, "my fine fellows, I see you; you are preparing
all the instruments for my torture; there is the green wood intended
to smoke me like a ham; you are cutting the spikes you mean to run up
under my nails. Eh, eh!" he added, with a perfect air of satisfaction;
"you are going to begin with firing; let's see how skilful you are.
Ah, what fun it is for you to have a white hunter to torture. The Lord
knows what strange ideas may be passing through your Indian noddles;
but I recommend you to make haste, or it is very possible I may escape."

During this monologue, twenty warriors, the most skilful of the tribe,
had ranged themselves about one hundred yards from the prisoner; the
firing commenced; the balls all struck within an inch of the hunter's
head, who, at each shot, shook his head like a drowned sparrow, to the
great delight of the spectators. This amusement had gone on for some
twenty minutes, and would probably have continued much longer, so great
was the fun it afforded the Blackfeet; when suddenly a horseman bounded
into the centre of the clearing, dispersed the Indians in his way by
heavy blows of his whip, and profiting by the stupor occasioned by his
unexpected appearance, galloped up to the prisoner, got down, quickly
cut the thongs that bound him, thrust a brace of pistols in his hand,
and remounted. All this was done in less time than it has taken us to
write it.

"By Tobias!" Bright-eye joyfully exclaimed, "I was quite sure I wasn't
going to die this time."

The Indians are not the men to allow themselves to be long subdued
by any feeling; the first moment of surprise past, they surrounded
the horseman, shouting, gesticulating, and brandishing their weapons
furiously.

"Come, make way there, you scoundrels," the newcomer shouted in a
commanding voice, lashing violently at those who had the imprudence to
come too near him. "Let us be off," he added, turning to the hunter.

"I wish for nothing better," the latter made answer; "but it does not
seem easy."

"Bah! let us try it, at any rate," the stranger continued, carefully
affixing his glass in his eye.

"We will," Bright-eye said cheerfully.

The stranger who had so providentially arrived, was the Count de
Beaulieu, as our readers will probably have conjectured.

"Hilloh!" the Count shouted loudly, "come here, Ivon."

"Here I am, my lord," a voice answered from the forest; and a second
horseman, leaping into the clearing, coolly ranged himself by the side
of the first.

There was something strange in the group formed by these three stoical
men in the midst of the hundreds of Indians yelling around them. The
Count, with his glass in his eye, his haughty glance, and disdainful
lip, was setting the hammer of his rifle. Bright-eye, with a pistol in
each hand, was preparing to sell his life dearly, while the servant
calmly awaited the order to charge the savages. The Indians, furious
at the audacity of the white men, were preparing, with multitudinous
yells and gestures, to take a prompt vengeance on the men who had so
imprudently placed themselves in their power.

"These Indians are very ugly," the Count said; "now that you are free,
my friend, we have nothing more to do here, so let us be off."

And he made a sign, as if to force a passage. The Blackfeet moved
forward.

"Take care," Bright-eye shouted.

"Nonsense," the Count said, shrugging his shoulders, "can these scamps
intend to bar the way?"

The hunter looked at him with the air of a man who does not know
exactly if he has to do with a madman or a being endowed with reason,
so extraordinary did this remark seem to him. The Count dug his spurs
into his horse.

"Well," Bright-eye muttered, "he will be killed, but for all that he is
a fine fellow: I will not leave him."

In truth it was a critical moment: the Indians, formed in close column,
were preparing to make a desperate charge on the three men--a charge
which would, probably, be decisive, for the Europeans, without shelter,
and entirely exposed to the shots of their enemies, could not hope to
escape. Still, that was not the Count's conviction. Not noticing the
gestures and hostile cries of the Redskins, he advanced towards them,
with his glass still in his eye. Since the Count's apparition, the
Indian sachem, as if struck with stupor at the sight, had not made
a move, but stood with his eyes fixed upon him, under the influence
of extraordinary emotion. Suddenly, at the moment when the Blackfeet
warriors were shouldering their guns, or fitting their arrows to the
bows, Natah Otann seemed to form a resolution: he rushed forward, and
raising his buffalo robe,--

"Stop!" he shouted, in a loud voice.

The Indians, obedient to their chiefs voice, immediately halted. The
sachem took three steps, bowed respectfully before the Count, and said
in a submissive voice:--

"My father must pardon his children, they did not know him: but my
father is great, his power is immense, his goodness infinite: he will
forget anything offensive in their conduct toward him."

Bright-eye, astonished at this harangue, translated it to the Count,
honestly confessing that he did not understand what it meant.

"By Jove!" the Count replied, with a smile, "they are afraid."

"Hum!" the hunter muttered, "that is not so clear: it is something
else; but no matter, it will be diamond cut diamond."

Then he turned to Natah Otann.

"The great pale chief," he said, "is satisfied with the respect his red
children feel for him: he pardons them." Natah Otann made a movement of
joy. The three men passed through the ranks of the Indians, and buried
themselves in the forest, their retreat being in no way impeded.

"Ouf!" Bright-eye said, as soon as he found himself in safety, "I'm
well out of that; but," he added shaking his head, "there is something
extraordinary about the matter, which I cannot fathom."

"Now, my friend," the Count said to him, "you are free to go whither
you please."

The hunter thought for an instant. "Bah!" he replied, after a few
moments had passed, "I owe you my life. Although I do not know you, you
strike me as a good fellow."

"You flatter me," the Count remarked, smiling.

"My faith, no; I say what I think. If you are agreeable we will stay
together, at any rate until I have acquitted the debt I owe you by
saving your life in my turn."

The Count offered him his hand.

"Thanks, my friend," he said, much moved; "I accept your offer."

"That is settled, then," the hunter joyfully exclaimed, as he pressed
the offered hand.

Bright-eye, at first attached to the Count by gratitude, soon felt
quite a paternal affection for him. But he understood no more
than the first day the young man's behaviour, for he acted under
all circumstances as if he were in France, and, by his rashness,
universally foiled the hunter's Indian experience. This was carried
so far, that the Canadian, superstitious like all primitive natures,
soon grew into the persuasion that the Count's life was protected by a
charm, so many times had he seen him emerge victoriously from positions
in which anyone else would have infallibly succumbed.

At length, nothing appeared to him impossible with such a companion,
and the most extraordinary propositions the Count made him seemed
perfectly feasible, the more so as success crowned all their
enterprises by some incomprehensible charm, and in a way contrary to
all foresight. The Indians, by a strict agreement, had given up all
contests with them, and even avoided any contact: if they perceived
them at any time, all the Redskins, whatever tribe they might belong
to, treated the Count with the utmost deference, and addressed him with
an expression of terror mingled with love, the explanation of which the
hunter sought in vain, for none of the Indians could or would give it.

This state of things had lasted for six months up to the moment when we
saw the three men breakfasting on the banks of the Mississippi. We will
now take up our story again at the point where we left it, terminating
our explanation, which was indispensable for the right comprehension of
what follows.



CHAPTER II.

A TRAIL DISCOVERED.


Our friends would probably have remained for a long time plunged in
their present state of beatitude had not a slight sound in the river
suddenly recalled them to the exigencies of their position.

"What's that?" the Count said, flipping off the ash from his cigar.

Bright-eye glided among the shrubs, looked for a moment, and then
calmly returned to his seat.

"Nothing," he said; "two alligators sporting in the mud."

"Ah!" the Count said. There was a moment's silence, during which the
hunter mentally calculated the length of the shadow of the trees on the
ground.

"It is past midday," he said.

"You think so," the young man remarked.

"No; I am sure of it, sir Count."

"Confound you! you are at it again," the young man said with a smile.
"I have told you to call me by my Christian name; but if you do not
like that, call me like the Indians."

"Nay!" the hunter objected.

"What is the name they gave me, Bright-eye? I have forgotten."

"Oh! I should not like, sir--"

"Eh?"

"Edward, I meant to say."

"Come, that is better," the young man remarked laughingly; "but I must
beg of you to repeat the nickname."

"They call you 'Glass-eye.'"

"Oh, yes! that's it;" the Count continued his laugh. "Only Indians
could have such an idea as that."

"Oh," Bright-eye went on, "the Indians are not what you suppose them;
they are as crafty as the demon."

"Come, stop that, Bright-eye; I always suspected you of having a
weakness for the Redskins."

"How can you say that, when I am their obstinate enemy, and have been
fighting them for the last forty years?"

"That is the very reason that makes you defend them."

"How so?" the hunter said, astonished at this conclusion, which he was
far from expecting.

"For a very simple reason. No one likes to contend with enemies
unworthy of him, and it is quite natural you should try to elevate
those against whom you have been fighting for forty years."

The hunter shook his head.

"Mr. Edward," he said, with a thoughtful air, "the Redskins are people
whom it takes many a long year to know. They possess at once the craft
of the opossum, the prudence of the serpent, and the courage of the
cougar. A few years hence you will not despise them as you do now."

"My good fellow," the Count objected, "I hope I shall have left the
prairies within a year. I am yearning for a civilized life. I want
Paris, with its opera and balls. No, no; the desert does not suit me."

The hunter shook his head a second time. Then he continued, with a
mournful accent, which struck the young man, and, as if rather speaking
to himself, than replying to the Count's remarks--

"Yes, yes; that is the way with Europeans: when they arrive on the
prairies, they regret civilized life, and the desert is only gradually
appreciated; but when a man has breathed the odours of the savannah,
when during long nights he has listened to the rustling of the wind
in the trees, and the howling of the wild beasts in the virgin
forests--when he has admired that proud landscape which owes nothing to
art, where the hand of God is imprinted at each step in ineffaceable
characters: when he has gazed on the glorious scenes that rise in
succession before him--then he begins by degrees to love this unknown
world, so full of mysteries and strange incidents; his eyes are opened
to the truth, and he repudiates the falsehoods of civilization. At
such a a moment he experiences emotions full of secret charms, and
recognizing no other master save that God, in whose presence he feels
himself so small, he forgets everything to lead a nomadic life, and
remains in the desert, because there alone he feels free, happy--a man,
in a word! Ah, sir, whatever you may say, whatever you may do, the
desert now holds you: you have tasted its joys and its griefs; it will
not allow you to depart so easily--you will not see France again so
speedily--the desert will retain you in spite of yourself."

The young man had listened with an emotion for which he could not
account, to this long harangue. In his heart he recognized, through the
hunter's exaggeration, the justice of his reasoning, and felt startled
at being compelled to allow him to be in the right. Not knowing what
to reply, or feeling that he was beaten, the Count suddenly turned the
conversation.

"Hum!" he began, "I think you said it was past twelve?"

"About a quarter past," the hunter answered.

The Count consulted, his watch.

"Quite right," he said.

"Oh!" the hunter continued, pointing to the sun, "that is the only true
clock; it never goes too fast or too slow, for Heaven regulates it."

The young man bowed his head affirmatively.

"We will start," he said.

"For what good at this moment?" the Canadian asked. "We have nothing
pressing before us."

"That is true; but are you sure we have not lost our way?"

"Lost our way!" the hunter exclaimed, with a start of surprise, almost
of anger; "no, no, it is impossible. I guarantee that within a week we
shall be on Lake Itasca."

"The Mississippi really runs from that lake?"

"Yes; for, in spite of what is asserted, the Missouri is only the
principal branch of that river: the savants would have done better to
assure themselves of the fact, ere they declared that the Mississippi
and Missouri are two separate rivers."

"What would you have, Bright-eye?" the Count said, laughingly. "Savants
are the same in all countries; being naturally indolent, they rely
on one another, and hence the infinity of absurdities they put in
circulation with the most astounding coolness."

"The Indians are never mistaken."

"That is true; but then the Indians are not savants."

"No; they see for themselves, and only assert what they are sure of."

"That is what I meant," the Count replied.

"If you will listen to me, Mr. Edward, we will remain here a few hours
longer to let the great heat pass off, and when the sun is going down
we will start again."

"Very good; let us rest then. Ivon appears to be thoroughly of our
opinion, for he has not stirred."

The Count had risen; before sitting down, he mechanically cast a glance
on the immense plain which lay so calmly and majestically at his feet.

"Eh!" he suddenly exclaimed, "what is that down there?--look,
Bright-eye."

The hunter rose and looked in the direction indicated by the Count.

"Well--do you see nothing?" the young man remarked.

Bright-eye, with his hand over his eyes to shield them from the glare
of the sun, looked attentively without replying.

"Well?" the Count said, at the expiration of a moment.

"We are no longer alone," the hunter answered; "there are men down
there."

"How men? We have seen no Indian trail."

"I did not say they were Indians."

"Hum! I suppose at this distance it would be rather difficult to decide
who they are."

Bright-eye smiled.

"You always judge from your knowledge obtained in the civilized world,
Mr. Edward," he answered.

"Which means--?" the young man said, intensely piqued at the
observation.

"That you are always wrong."

"Hang it, my friend! You will allow me to observe, all individuality
apart, that it is impossible at this distance to recognize anybody.
Especially when nothing can be distinguished, save a little white
smoke."

"Is not that enough? Do you believe that all smoke is alike?"

"That is rather a subtle distinction; and I confess that to me all
smoke is alike."

"That's where the error is," the Canadian continued, with great
coolness, "and when you have spent a few years in the prairie you will
not be deceived."

The Count looked at him attentively, convinced that he was laughing at
him; but the other continued, with the utmost calmness--

"What we notice down there is neither the fire of Indians nor of
hunters, but is kindled by white men, not yet accustomed to a desert
life."

"Perhaps you will have the goodness to explain."

"I will do so, and you will soon allow that I am correct. Listen, Mr.
Edward, for this is important to know."

"I am listening, my good fellow."

"You are not ignorant," the hunter continued imperturbably, "that what
is conventionally called the desert is largely populated."

"Quite true," the young man said, smiling.

"Good; but the enemies most to be feared in the prairies are not wild
beasts so much as men; the Indians and hunters are so well aware of
this fact that they try as much as possible to destroy all traces of
their passage and hide their presence."

"I admit that."

"Very good; when the Redskins or the hunters are obliged to light a
fire, either to prepare their food or ward off the cold, they select
most carefully the wood they intend to burn, and never employ any but
dry wood."

"Hum! I do not see the use of that."

"You will soon understand me," the hunter continued; "dry wood only
produces a bluish smoke, which is difficult to detect from the sky, and
this renders it invisible at a short distance; while on the other hand,
green wood, through its dampness, produces a white dense smoke, which
reveals for a long distance the presence of those who kindle it. This
is the reason why, by a mere inspection of that smoke, I told you just
now that the people down there were white men, and strangers, moreover,
to the prairie, else they would have employed dry wood."

"By Jove," the young man exclaimed, "that is curious, and I should like
to convince myself."

"What do you intend doing?"

"Why, go and see who are the people that have lighted the fire."

"Why disturb yourself, since I have told you?"

"That is possible; but what I propose doing is for my personal
satisfaction; since we have been living together you have told me such
extraordinary things, that I should like, once in a way, to know what
faith to place in them."

And not listening to the Canadian's observations, the young man aroused
his servant.

"What do you want, my lord?" the latter said, rubbing his eyes.

"The horses, and quickly too, Ivon."

The Breton rose and bridled the horses; the Count leaped into the
saddle; the hunter imitated him, though shaking his head; and the three
trotted down the hill.

"You will see Mr. Edward," Bright-eye said, "that I was in the right."

"I am certain of it; still I should like to judge for myself."

"If that is the case, allow me to go in front; for, as we do not know
with what people we may have to deal, it is as well to be on our guard."

The Canadian headed the party. The fire the Count had seen from the top
of the hill was not so near as he supposed, the hunter was incessantly
compelled to get out of the way of dense thickets which barred the way,
and this lengthened the distance; so that they took nearly two hours
in reaching the spot they were steering for. When they had at length
arrived within a short distance of the fire which had so perplexed
M. de Beaulieu, the Canadian stopped, making his companions a sign
to imitate him. When they had done so, Bright-eye got down, gave his
horse's bridle to Ivon, and taking his rifle in his hand, said, "I am
going on a voyage of discovery."

"Go," the young man replied, laconically.

The Count was a man of tried courage; but since he had been in the
prairie he had learned one thing, that courage without prudence is
madness in the presence of enemies who never act without calling craft
and treachery to their aid; hence, gradually renouncing his chivalrous
ideas, he was beginning to adopt the habits of the desert, knowing very
well that in an ambuscade the advantage nearly always remains with the
man who first discovers the enemies whom chance may bring in his way.
The Count, therefore, patiently awaited the hunter's return, who had
silently glided among the trees, and disappeared in the direction of
the fire. At the end of about an hour the shrubs shook, and Bright-eye
reappeared at a point opposite to that where he had started. The old
wood ranger had been considerably bothered by the apparition of the
distant fire which the Count pointed out to him from the top of the
hill. So soon as he was alone, putting in practice the axiom, that the
shortest road from one point to another is a curved line, the truth of
which is proved in the prairie, he had taken a wide circuit, in order
to come, if it were possible, on the trail of the men he wished to
observe, and from it discover who they really were.

In the desert, the meeting most feared is that with man. Every stranger
is at first an enemy, and hence persons generally accost each other at
a distance, with the barrel of the gun advanced, and the finger on the
trigger. With that infallible glance the experience of the savannahs
had given him, Bright-eye had noticed from a distance a place where the
grass was laid, and the strangers must have passed along that road.
The hunter, still bent down to escape observation, soon found himself
on the edge of a track about four feet wide, the end of which was lost
in a virgin forest a short distance ahead. After stopping a minute, to
recover his breath, the Canadian placed the butt of his rifle on the
ground, and began carefully studying the traces so deeply imprinted on
the plain. His investigation did not last ten minutes; then he raised
his head with a smile, threw his rifle on his shoulder, and quietly
returned to the spot where he had left his companions, not even taking
the trouble to go to the fire. This brief examination had told him all
he wished to know.

"Well, Bright-eye, any news?" the Count asked, on noticing him.

"The people, whose fire we perceived," the hunter replied, "are
American emigrants, pioneers who wish to set up their tent in the
desert. The family is composed of six persons--four men and two women;
they have a waggon to carry their baggage, and have with them a large
number of beasts."

"Mount your horse, Bright-eye, and let us go and welcome these worthy
people to the desert."

The hunter remained motionless and thoughtful, leaning on his rifle.

"Well," the Count said, "did you not hear me, my friend?"

"Yes, Mr. Edward, I perfectly understood you; but among the traces left
by the emigrants I discovered others which appeared to me suspicious,
and I should like, before venturing into their camp, to beat up the
neighbourhood."

"What traces do you allude to?" the young man asked, quickly.

"Well," the hunter went on, "you know that, rightly or wrongly, the
Redskins claim to be kings of the prairies, and will not endure there
the presence of white men."

"I consider that they are perfectly right in doing so; since the
discovery of America, the white men have gradually dispossessed them of
their territory, and driven them back on the desert; they are defending
their last refuge, and are justified in doing so."

"I am perfectly of your opinion, Mr. Edward; the desert ought to
belong to the hunters and the Indians; unfortunately the Americans do
not think so, and they daily quit their cities and proceed into the
interior, establishing themselves here and there, and confiscating to
their benefit the most fertile countries, and those richest in game."

"What can we do, my good friend?" the Count answered, with a smile;
"it is an irremediable evil, which we must put up with; but I cannot
yet see where you wish to arrive with these reflections, which, though
extremely just, do not appear to me exactly suited to the occasion; so
pray have the goodness to explain your meaning."

"I will do so. Well, I noticed, by certain signs, that the emigrants
are closely followed by a party of Indians, who probably only await a
favourable moment to attack and massacre them."

"The deuce!" the young man said; "that is serious of course you warned
these worthy people of the danger that threatens them."

"I--not at all. I have not spoken to them, nor even seen them."

"What! you have not seen them?"

"No; so soon as I recognized the Indian sign, I hurried back to consult
with you."

"Very good; but as you did not go to their camp, how were you able to
give me such precise information about them and their number?"

"Oh, very easily," the hunter answered simply; "the desert is a book
entirely written by the hand of God, and it cannot hide its secrets
from a man accustomed to read it. I needed only to look at the trail
for a few minutes to divine everything."

The Count fixed on the hunter a glance of surprise. Though he had
been living in the prairie for more than six months, he could not yet
understand the species of divination with which the hunter seemed
gifted, with reference to facts that were to himself as a dead letter.

"Perhaps, though," he said, "the Indians whose trail you detected are
harmless hunters."

Bright-eye shook his head.

"There are no harmless hunters among the Indians, especially when they
are on the trail of white men. These Indians belong to three plundering
tribes which I am surprised to see united; they doubtlessly meditate
some extraordinary expedition, in which the massacre of these emigrants
will be one of the least interesting episodes."

"Who are these Indians? Do you think they are numerous?"

The hunter reflected for a moment.

"The party I discovered is probably only the vanguard of a more
numerous band," he answered; "as far as I could judge, there were not
more than forty; but the Redskin warriors march with the speed of the
antelope, and they can hardly ever be counted; the party is composed of
Comanches, Blackfeet, and Sioux; that is to say, the three most warlike
tribes in the prairie."

"Hum!" the Count remarked, after a moment's reflection, "if these
demons really mean to attack the Americans, as everything leads us to
suppose, the poor fellows appear to be in an awkward position."

"Unless a miracle occur, they are lost," the hunter said, concisely.

"What is to be done--how to warn them?"

"Mr. Edward, take care what you are going to do."

"Still we cannot allow men of our own colour to be murdered almost in
our presence; that would be cowardly."

"Yes; but it would be astounding folly to join them; reflect that there
are only three of us."

"I know it," the young man said, thoughtfully; "still I would never
consent to abandon these poor people without trying to defend them."

"Stay, there is only one thing to be done, and perhaps Heaven will come
to our aid."

"Come, be brief, my friend, time presses."

"In all probability, the Indians have not yet discovered our trail,
although they must be a short distance from us. Let us, then, return to
the spot where we breakfasted, and which commands the entire prairie.
The Indians never attack their enemy before four in the morning; as
soon as they attempt their attack on the emigrants, we will fall on
their rear; surprised by the sudden aid given the Americans, it is
possible they will fly, for the darkness will prevent them counting us,
and they will never suppose that three men were so mad as to make such
an attack upon them."

"By Jove!" the Count said, laughing, "that is a good idea of yours,
Bright-eye, and such as I expected from so brave a hunter as yourself;
let us hurry back to our observatory, so as to be ready for every
event."

The Canadian leaped on his horse, and the three men retraced their
steps. But, according to his custom, Bright-eye, who was apparently a
sworn foe to a straight line, made them describe an infinite number of
turnings, to throw out any person whom accident brought on their track.

They arrived at the top of the hill just at the moment the sun was
disappearing beneath the horizon. The evening breeze was rising, and
beginning to agitate the tops of the great trees with mysterious
murmurs. The howling of the tigers and cougars was already mingled
with the lowing of the elks and buffaloes, and the sharp yelping of the
red wolves, whose dusky outlines appeared here and there on the river
bank. The sky grew more and more gloomy, and the stars began dotting
the vault of heaven.

The three hunters sat down carelessly on the top of the hill, at the
same spot they had left a few hours previously with the intention of
never returning, and made preparations for supper,--preparations which
did not take long, for prudence imperiously ordered them not to light
a fire, which would have at once revealed their presence to the unseen
eyes which were, at the moment, probably surveying the desert in every
direction. While eating a few mouthfuls of pemmican, they kept their
eyes fixed on the camp of the emigrants, whose fire was perfectly
visible in the night.

"Oh Lord!" Bright-eye said, "those people are ignorant of the first law
of the desert, else they would guard against lighting a fire which the
Indians can see for ten leagues round."

"Bah! that beacon will guide us where to go to their aid," the Count
said.

"Heaven grant that it be not in vain."

The meal over, the hunter invited the Count and his servant to sleep
for a few hours.

"For the present," he said, "we have nothing to fear; let me keep watch
for all, as my eyes are accustomed to see in the darkness."

The Count did not allow the invitation to be repeated; he rolled
himself in his cloak, and lay down on the ground. Two minutes
later, himself and Ivon were sleeping the sleep of the righteous.
Bright-eye took his seat against the trunk of a tree, and lit a pipe
to soothe the weariness of his night watch. All at once, he bent
his body forward, placed his ear to the ground, and seemed to be
listening attentively. His practised ear had heard a sound at first
imperceptible, but which seemed to be gradually drawing nearer.

The hunter silently cocked his rifle, and waited. At the expiration of
about a quarter of an hour there was a slight rustling in the thicket,
the branches parted, and a man made his appearance.

This man was Natah Otann, the sachem of the Piékanns.



CHAPTER III.

THE EMIGRANTS.


When he went out on the trail, the hunter's old experience did not
deceive him; and the traces he had followed up were really those of
an emigrant family. As it is destined to play a certain part in our
story, we will introduce it to the reader, and explain, as briefly as
possible, by what chain of events it was at this moment encamped on the
prairies of the Upper Mississippi, or, to speak like the learned, on
the banks of the Missouri.

The history of one emigrant is that of the mass. All are people who,
burdened by a numerous family, find a difficulty in rendering their
children independent, either through the bad quality of the land they
cultivate, or because, in proportion as the population increases, the
land, in the course of a few years, gains an excessive value.

The Mississippi has become during the last few years the highway of
the world. Every vessel that enters on its waters brings the new
establishments the means of supplying themselves, either by barter or
for money, with the chief commodities of existence. Thus the explorers
have spread along both banks of the river, which have become the
highways of emigration, by the prospect they offer the pioneers of
possessing fine estates, and holding them a number of years, without
the troublesome process of paying rent.

The word "country," in the sense we attach to it in Europe, does not
exist for the North American. He is not, like our rustics, attached,
from father to son, to the soil which has been the cradle of his
family. He is only attached to the land by what it may bring him
in; but when it is exhausted by too large a crop, and the colonist
has tried in vain to restore its primitive fertility, his mind is
speedily made up. He disposes of things too troublesome or expensive
to transport; only keeps what is absolutely necessary, as servants,
horses, and domestic utensils; says good-bye to his neighbours, who
press his hand as if the journey he is about to undertake is the
simplest matter in the world, and at daybreak, on a fine spring
morning, he gaily sets out, turning a parting and careless glance at
that country where he and his family have lived so long. His thoughts
are already directed forward; the past no longer exists for him, the
future alone smiles on him and sustains his courage.

Nothing is so simple, primitive, and at the same time picturesque, as
the departure of a family of pioneers. The horses are attached to the
wagons, already laden with the bed furniture and the younger children,
while on the other side are fastened the spinning wheels, and swaying
behind, a skin filled with tallow and pitch. The axes are laid in the
bottom of the cart, and cauldrons and pots roll about pell-mell in the
horses' trough; the tents and provisions are securely fastened under
the vehicle, suspended by ropes. Such is the moveable estate of the
emigrant. The eldest son, or a servant, bestrides the first horse,
the pioneer's wife sits on the other. The emigrant and his sons, with
shouldered rifles, walk round the wagon, sometimes in front, sometimes
behind, followed by their dogs, touching up the oxen and watching over
the common safety.

Thus they set out, travelling by short stages through unexplored
countries and along frightful roads, which they are generally
compelled themselves to make: braving cold and heat, rain and snow,
striving against Indians and wild beasts, seeing at each spot almost
insurmountable difficulties rising before them: but nothing, stops the
emigrants, no peril can check them, no impossibility discourage them.
They march on thus for whole months, keeping intact in their hearts
that faith in their luck which nothing shakes, until they at length
reach a site which offers them those conditions of comfort which they
have sought so long.

But, alas! how many families that have left the cities of America
full of hope and courage have disappeared, leaving no other trace of
their passage of the prairie than their whitened bones and scattered
furniture. The Indians, ever on the watch at the entrance of the
desert, attack the caravans, mercilessly massacre the pioneers, and
carry off into slavery their wives and daughters, avenging themselves
on the emigrants for the atrocities to which they have been victims
during so many centuries, and continuing, to their own profit, that
war of extermination which the white men inaugurated on their landing
in America, and which, since that period, has gone on uninterruptedly.

John Black belonged to the class of emigrants we have just described.
One day, about four months previously, he quitted his house, which was
falling to ruins, and loading the little he possessed on a cart, he
set out, followed by his family, consisting of his wife, his daughter,
his son, and two menservants who had consented to follow his fortunes.
Since that period they had not stopped. They had marched boldly
forward, cutting their way by the help of their axes through the virgin
forests, and determined on traversing the desert, until they found a
spot favourable for the establishment of a new household.

At the period when our story takes place, emigration was much rarer
than it is at present, when, owing to the recent discovery of
auriferous strata in California and on the Fraser River, an emigration
fever has seized on the masses with such intensity, that the old world
is growing more and more depopulated, to the profit of the new. Gold is
a magnet whose strength attracts, without distinction, young or old,
men or women, by the hope, too often deceived, of acquiring in a little
time, at the cost of some slight fatigue, a fortune; which, however,
rarely compensates for the labour undergone in its collection.

It was, therefore, unusual boldness on the part of John Black thus to
venture, without any possible aid, into a country hitherto utterly
unexplored, and of which the Indians were masters. Mr. Black was
born in Virginia: he was a man of about fifty, of middle height, but
strongly built, and gifted with uncommon vigour; and, although his
features were very ordinary, his face had a rare expression of firmness
and resolution.

His wife, ten years younger than himself, was a gentle and holy
creature, on whose brow fatigue and alarm had long before formed deep
furrows, beneath which, however, a keen observer could have still
detected traces of no ordinary beauty.

William Black, the emigrant's son, was a species of giant of more than
six feet in height, aged two-and-twenty, of Herculean build, and whose
jolly, plump face, surrounded by thick tufts of hair of a more than
sandy hue, breathed frankness and joviality.

Diana, his sister, formed a complete contrast with him. She was a
little creature, scarce sixteen years of age, with eyes of a deep
blue like the sky, apparently frail and delicate, with a dreamy brow
and laughing mouth, which belonged both to woman and angel; and whose
strange beauty seduced at the first glance and subjugated at the
first word that fell from her rosy lips. Diana was the idol of the
family--the cherished idol, that everyone adored, and who, by a word
or a glance, could command the obedience of the rude natures that
surrounded her, and who only seemed to live that they might satisfy her
slightest caprices.

Sam and James, the two labourers, were worthy Kentucky rustics, of
extraordinary strength, and who concealed a great amount of cunning
beneath their simple and even slightly silly aspect. These two young
fellows, one of whom was twenty-six, the other hardly thirty, had grown
up in John Black's house, and had vowed to him an unbounded devotion,
of which they had furnished proofs several times since the journey
began.

When John left his house to go in search of a more fertile country,
he proposed to these two men to leave him, not wishing to expose them
to the dangers of the precarious life which was about to begin for
himself; but both shook their heads negatively, replying to all that
was said to them, that it was their duty to follow their master, no
matter whither he went, and they were ready to accompany him to the end
of the world. The emigrant had been obliged to yield to a determination
so clearly expressed, and replied, that as matters were so, they might
follow him. Hence these two honest labourers were not regarded as
servants, but as friends, and treated in accordance. In truth, there
is nothing like a common danger to draw people together; and during
the last four months John Black's family had been exposed to dangers
innumerable.

The emigrant took with him a rather large number of beasts, which
caused the caravan, despite all the precautions taken, to leave such a
wide trail, as rendered an Indian attack possible at any moment. Still,
up to the present moment, when we pay them a visit, no serious danger
had really menaced them. At times they were exposed to rather smart
alarms; but the Indians had always kept at a respectable distance, and
limited themselves to demonstrations, hostile it is true, but never
followed by any results.

During the first week of their march, the emigrants, but little versed
in the mode of life of the Redskins, who incessantly prowled round the
party, had been afflicted with the most exaggerated fears, expecting
every moment to be attacked by those ferocious enemies, about whom
they had heard stories which might make the bravest tremble; but, as
so frequently happens, they had grown used to this perpetual threat
of the Indians, and, while taking the strictest precautions for their
safety, they had learned almost to deride the dangers which they had
so much feared at the outset, and felt convinced that their calm and
resolute attitude had produced an effect on the Redskins, and that the
latter would not venture to come into collision with them.

Still, on this day a vague restlessness had seized on the party: they
had a sort of secret foreboding that a great danger menaced them. The
Indians, who, as we have said, usually accompanied them out of reach
of gunshot, had all at once become invisible. Since their start from
their last camping ground, they had not seen a single one, though they
instinctively suspected that, if the Indians were invisible, they were
not the less present, and possibly in larger numbers than before.
Thus the day passed, sorrowfully and silently for the emigrants: they
marched side by side, eye and ear on the watch, with their fingers on
the trigger, not daring to impart their mutual fears, but (to use a
Spanish expression) having their beards on their shoulders, like men
expecting to be attacked at any moment. Still, the day passed without
the slightest incident occurring to corroborate their apprehensions.

At sunset, the caravan was at the foot of one of those numerous mounds
to which we have already alluded, and so large a number of which border
the banks of the river at this spot. John Black made a sign to his son,
who drove the cart, to stop, get down, and join him: while the two
females looked around them restlessly, the four men, assembled a few
paces in the rear, were engaged in a whispered conversation.

"Boys," Mr. Black said to his attentive companions, "the day is ended,
the sun is descending behind the mountains over there, it is time to
think about the night's rest. Our beasts are fatigued; we ourselves
need to collect our strength for tomorrow's labour; I think, though
open to correction, that we should do well to profit by the short time
left us to establish our camp."

"Yes," James answered, "we have in front of us a hillock, on the top of
which it would be easy for us to take up our quarters."

"And which," William interrupted him, "we could convert into an almost
impregnable fortress in a few hours."

"We should have a hard job in getting the wagon up the hill," the
father said, shaking his head.

"Nonsense," Sam objected, "not so much as you suppose, Master Black; a
little trouble, and we can manage it."

"How so?"

"Why," the servant replied, "we need only unload the wagon."

"That's true; when it's empty, it will be easy to get it to the top of
the hill."

"Stay," William observed, "do you think, father, that it is really
necessary to take all that trouble? A night is soon spent, and I fancy
we should do well to remain where we are: the position is an excellent
one; it is only a few paces to the river bank, and we can lead our oxen
to water."

"No; we must not remain here, the place is too open, and we should have
no shelter if the Indians attacked us."

"The Indians!" the young man said, with a laugh; "why, we have not
seen a single one the whole day."

"Yes; what you say, William, is correct, the Redskins have disappeared;
but shall I tell you my real thoughts? It is really this disappearance,
which I do not understand, that troubles me."

"Why so, father?"

"Because, if they are hiding, they are preparing some ambuscade, and do
not wish us to know the direction where they are."

"Come, father, do you really believe that?" the young man remarked in a
light tone.

"I am convinced of it," the emigrant said earnestly. The two servants
bowed their heads in affirmation.

"You will pardon me, father, if I do not share your opinion," the young
man continued. "For my own part, on the other hand, I feel certain that
these red devils, who have been following us so long, have eventually
understood that they could gain nothing from us but bullets, and, like
prudent men, have given up following us further."

"No, no; you are mistaken, my son, it is not so."

"Look ye, father," the young man continued, with a certain amount of
excitement, "allow me to make an observation which, I think, will bring
you over to my way of thinking."

"Do so, my son; we are here to exchange our opinions freely, and select
the best: the common interest is at stake, and we have to act for the
safety of all: under circumstances so grave as the present, I should
never forgive myself for neglecting good advice, no matter from whom it
came; speak, therefore, without timidity."

"You know, father," the young man went on, "that the Indians understand
honour differently from ourselves; that is to say, when the success of
an expedition is not clearly proved to them, they have no shame about
resigning it, because what they seek in the first place is profit."

"I know all that, my son; but I do not see yet what you are driving at."

"You will soon understand me. For nearly two months, from sunrise, the
moment we set out, to sunset, which is generally the time of our halt,
the Redskins have been following us step by step, and we have been
unable to escape for a single moment these most troublesome neighbours,
who have watched our every movement."

"That is true," John Black said, "but what do you conclude from that?"

"A very simple thing: they have seen that we were continually on our
guard, and that if they attempted to attack us, they would be beaten;
hence they have retired, that is all."

"Unfortunately, William, you have forgotten one thing."

"What is it?"

"This: the Indians, generally not so well armed as the white men, are
afraid to attack them, especially when they suppose they shall have to
deal with persons almost as numerous as themselves, and in the bargain,
sheltered behind wagons and bales of merchandise; but that is not at
all the case here: since they have been watching us, the Indians have
had many opportunities of counting us, and have done so long ago."

"Yes," Sam said.

"Well, they know that we are only four--they are at least fifty, if
they are not more numerous. What can four men, in spite of all their
courage, effect against such a considerable number of enemies? Nothing,
The Redskins know it, and they will act in accordance; that is, when
the opportunity offers, they will not fail to seize it."

"But--"--the young man objected.

"Another consideration to which you have not paid attention," John
Black quietly continued, "is that the Indians, whatever the number of
their enemies may be, never quit them without having attempted, at
least once, to surprise them."

"In truth," William answered, "that astonishes me on their part:
however, I am of your opinion, father; even if the precautions we
propose taking only serve to reassure my mother and sister, it would be
well not to neglect them."

"Well spoken, William," the emigrant remarked, "let us therefore set to
work without delay."

The party broke up, and the four men, throwing their rifles on their
shoulders, began making active preparations for the encampment. Sam
collected the oxen by the aid of the dogs, and led them down to the
river to drink. John, in the meanwhile, went up to the wagon.

"Well, my love," his wife asked him, "why this halt, and this long
discussion? Has any accident occurred?"

"Nothing that need at all alarm you, Lucy," the emigrant answered; "we
are going to camp, that is all."

"Oh, gracious me! I do not know why, but I was afraid lest some
misfortune had happened."

"On the contrary; we are quieter than we have been for a long time."

"How so, father?" Diana asked, thrusting her charming face from under
the canvas which concealed her.

"Those rascally Indians, who frightened us so much, my darling Diana,
have at length made up their minds to leave us; we have not seen a
single one during the whole day."

"Oh, all the better!" the girl said quickly, as she clapped her dainty
palms together; "I confess that I am not brave, and those frightful Red
men caused me terrible alarm."

"Well, you will not see them again, I hope," John Black said, gaily;
though while giving his daughter this assurance to appease her fears,
he did not believe a word he uttered. "Now," he added, "have, the
goodness to get down, so that we may unload the wagon."

"Unload the wagon," the old lady remarked, "why so?

"It is just possible," the husband answered, anxious not to reveal the
real reason, "that we may remain here a few days, in order to rest the
cattle."

"Ah, very good," she said; and she got out, followed by her daughter.

The two ladies had scarce set foot on ground, ere the men began
unloading the wagon. This task lasted nearly an hour. Sam had time
enough to lead the cattle to water, and collect them on the top of the
hill.

"Are we going to camp, then?" Mrs. Black asked.

"Yes," her husband answered.

"Come, Diana," the old lady said.

The two women packed up some kitchen utensils, and clomb the hill,
where, after lighting the fire, they began preparing supper. So soon as
the cart was unloaded, the two labouring men, aided by William, pushed
it behind, while John Black, at the head of the team, began flogging
the horses. The incline was rather steep, but owing to the vigour of
the horses and the impatience of the men, who at each step laid rollers
behind the wheels, the wagon at last reached the top. The rest was as
nothing, and within an hour the camp was arranged as follows.

The emigrants formed, with the bales and trees they felled, a large
circle, in the midst of which the cattle were tied up, and then put up
a tent for the two women. When this was effected, John Black cast a
glance of satisfaction around. His family were temporarily protected
from a coup de main--thanks to the manner in which the bales and trees
were arranged, and the party were enabled to fire from under cover on
any enemy that might attack them, and defend themselves a long time
successfully.

The sun had set for more than an hour before these various preparations
were completed, and supper was ready. The Americans seated themselves
in a circle round the fire, and ate with the appetite of men accustomed
to danger--an appetite which the greatest alarm cannot deprive them of.
After the meal, John Black offered up a prayer, as he did every evening
before going to rest; the others standing, with uncovered heads,
listened attentively to the prayer, and when it was completed, the two
ladies entered the hut prepared for them.

"And now," Black said, "let us keep a careful watch the night is dark,
the moon rises late, and you are aware that the Indians choose the
morning, the moment when sleep is deepest, to attack their enemies."

The fire was covered, so that its light should not reveal the exact
position of the camp; and the two servants lay down side by side on the
grass, where they soon fell asleep: while father and son, standing at
either extremity of the camp, watched over the common safety.



CHAPTER IV.

THE GRIZZLY BEAR.


All was calm in the prairie; not a sound disturbed the silence of the
desert. On the sudden appearance of the Indian, whatever the emotion
Bright-eye might feel, it was impossible for Natah Otann to perceive
anything: the hunter's face remained calm, and not a muscle moved.

"Ah!" he said, "the sachem of the Piékanns is welcome: does he come as
a friend or an enemy?"

"Natah Otann comes to sit by the fire of the palefaces, and smoke the
calumet with them," the chief replied, casting a searching glance
around him.

"Good: if the chief will wait a moment, I will light the fire."

"Bright-eye can light it, the chief will wait: he has come to talk with
the palefaces, and the conversation will be long."

The Canadian looked fixedly at the Redskin; but the Indian was
impassive like himself, and it was impossible to read anything on his
features. The hunter collected a few handfuls of dry wood, struck a
light, and soon a bright flame sprung up, and illumined the mount. The
Indian drew near the fire, took his calumet from his girdle, and began
grimly smoking. Bright-eye not wishing to remain in any way behindhand,
imitated his every movement with perfectly feigned indifference, and
the two men sat for several moments puffing clouds of smoke at each
other. Natah Otann at length broke the silence.

"The pale hunter is a warrior," he said; "why does he try to hide
himself like the water rat?"

Bright-eye did not consider it advisable to reply to this insinuation,
and continued smoking philosophically, while casting a side-glance at
his questioner.

"The Blackfeet have the eye of the eagle," Natah Otann continued,
"their piercing eyes see all that happens on the prairie."

The Canadian made a sign of assent, but did not yet reply; the chief
continued:--

"Natah Otann has seen the trail of his friends the palefaces, his heart
quivered with pleasure in his breast, and he has come to meet them."

Bright-eye slowly removed his pipe from his lips, and turning towards
the Indian, examined him carefully for an instant, and then answered--

"I repeat to my brother that he is welcome: I know that he is a great
chief, and am happy to see him."

"Wah!" the Indian said, with a cunning smile: "is my brother so
satisfied as he says at my presence?"

"Why not, chief?"

"My brother is angry still that the Blackfeet fastened him to the stake
of torture."

The Canadian shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, and coldly
answered:--

"Nonsense, chief! why do you fancy I am angry with you or your nation?
war is war; I have no reproaches to make to you. You wished to kill me,
I escaped; so we are quits."

"Good: does my brother speak the truth? has he really forgotten?" the
chief asked with some vivacity.

"Why not?" the Canadian answered cautiously. "I have not a forked
tongue, the words my mouth utters come from my heart: I have not
forgotten the treatment you made me undergo, I should lie if I said so:
but I have forgiven it."

"_Ochi_! my brother is a greatheart: he is generous."

"No: I am merely a man who knows Indian customs, that is all: you
did no more and no less than all the Redskins do under similar
circumstances: I cannot be angry with you for having acted according to
your nature."

There was a silence; the two men went on smoking. The Indian was the
first to interrupt it.

"Then my brother is a friend," he said.

"And you?" the hunter asked, answering one question by another.

The chief rose with a gesture full of majesty, and threw back the folds
of his buffalo robe.

"Would an enemy come like this?" he asked, in a gentle voice.

The Canadian could not repress a movement of surprise; the Blackfoot
was unarmed, his girdle was empty: he had not even his scalping
knife,--that weapon from which the Indians part so unwillingly.
Bright-eye offered him his hand.

"Shake hands, chief," he said to him. "You are a man of heart: now
speak, I am listening to you: and, in the first place, will you have a
draught of firewater?"

"The firewater is an evil counsellor," the chief replied, with a smile;
"it makes the Indians mad: Natah Otann does not drink it."

"Come, come, I see that I was mistaken with regard to you, chief; that
pleases me: speak, my ears are open."

"What I have to say to Bright-eye other ears must not listen to."

"My friends are in a deep sleep, you can speak without fear; and even
if they were awake, as you know, they do not understand your language."

The Indian shook his head.

"Glass-eye knows everything," he replied, "the Grizzly Bear will not
speak before him."

"As you please, chief: still, I would remark that I have nothing to say
to you: you can speak, therefore, or be silent at your ease."

Natah Otann seemed to hesitate for an instant, and then continued:--

"Bright-eye will follow his friend to the river bank, and there listen
to the words of the Blackfoot chief."

"Hum!" the hunter said, "and who will watch over my companions during
my absence? No, no," he added, "I cannot do that, chief. The Redskins
have the cunning of the opossum: while I am near the river, my friends
may be surprised. Who will respond for their safety?"

The Indian rose.

"The word of a chief," he said, in a proud voice, and with a gesture
full of majesty.

The Canadian looked at him attentively. "Listen, Redskin," he said to
him, "I do not doubt your honour, so do not take in ill part what I am
going to say to you."

"I listen to my brother," the Indian answered.

"I must watch over my companions. Since you insist on speaking to me in
secret, I consent to follow you, but on one condition, that I do not
lay aside my weapons; in that way, should one of those things happen,
which are too common in the prairie, and which no human foresight can
prevent, I shall be able to face the danger and sell my life dearly: if
what I propose suits you, I am ready to follow you; if not, not."

"Good," the Indian said, with a smile, "my pale brother is right, a
true hunter never quits his weapons. Bright-eye may follow his friend."

"Very well, then," the Canadian said, resolutely, as he threw his rifle
on his shoulder.

Natah Otann began descending the hill. While gliding noiselessly
through the shrubs and thickets, the Canadian walked literally in his
footsteps; but though pretending the most perfect security, he did
not omit carefully examining the vicinity, and lending an ear to the
slightest sound, but all was calm and silent in the desert, and after
some ten minutes' walk the two men reached the riverside.

The Mecha-Chebe rolled its waters majestically in a bed of golden
sand, while at times a few vague shadows appeared on the bank: they
were wild beasts coming to drink in the river. Two leagues from them,
at the top of the hill, sparkled the last flames of an expiring fire,
which appeared at intervals between the branches. Natah Otann stopped
at the extremity of a species of small promontory, the point of which
advanced some distance into the water. This spot was entirely free from
vegetation: the eye could survey the prairie for a great distance, and
detect the slightest movement in the desert.

"Does this place suit the hunter?" the chief asked.

"Capitally," Bright-eye replied, resting the butt of his rifle on the
ground, and crossing his hands over the muzzle: "I am ready to hear the
communication my brother wishes to make me."

The Indian walked up and down the sand with folded arms and drooping
head, like a man who is reflecting deeply. The hunter followed him
with his glance, waiting calmly, till he thought proper to offer an
explanation. It was easy to see that Natah Otann was ripening in his
brain one of those bold projects such as Indians frequently imagine,
but knew not how to enter upon it. The hunter resolved to put a stop to
this state of things.

"Come," he said, "my brother has made me leave my camp; he invited me
to follow him; I consented to do so: now that, according to his desire,
we are free from human ears, will he not speak, so that I may return to
my companions?"

The Indian stopped before him.

"My brother will remain," he said; "the hour is come for an explanation
between us. My brother loves Glass-eye?"

The hunter regarded his querist craftily.

"What good of that question?" he asked: "it must be a matter of
indifference to the chief whether I love or not the man he pleases to
call Glass-eye."

"A chief never loses his time in vain discourses," the Indian said,
peremptorily; "the words his lips utter are always simple, and go
straight to the point; let my brother then answer as clearly as I
interrogate him."

"I see no great inconvenience in doing so. Yes, I love Glass-eye; I
love him not only because he saved my life, but because he is one of
the most honourable men I ever met."

"Good! for what purpose does Glass-eye traverse the prairie? My brother
doubtlessly knows."

"My faith, no! I confess to you, chief, my ignorance on that head is
complete. Still, I fancy that, wearied with the life of cities, he has
come here with no other object than to calm his soul by the sublime
aspect of nature, and the grand melodies of the desert."

The Indian shook his head; the hunter's metaphysical ideas and poetic
phrases were so much Hebrew to him, and he did not understand them.

"Natah Otann," he said, "is a chief, he has not a forked tongue; the
words he utters are as clear as the blood in his veins. Why does not
the hunter speak his language to him?"

"I answer your questions, chief, and that is all. Do you fancy that I
would go out of my way to interrogate my friend as to his intentions?
They do not concern me; I have no right to seek in a man's heart for
the motive of his actions."

"Good! my brother speaks well; his head is grey, and his experience
long."

"That is possible, chief; at any rate you and I are not on such
friendly terms that we should exchange our thoughts without some
restriction, I fancy; you have kept me here for an hour without saying
anything, so it is better for us to separate."

"Not yet."

"Why not? Do you imagine I am like you, and that instead of sleeping o'
nights as an honest Christian should do, I amuse myself with rushing
about the prairie like a jaguar in search of prey?"

The Indian began laughing.

"Wah!" he said, "my brother is very clever; nothing escapes him."

"By Jingo! there is no great cleverness in guessing what you are doing
here."

"Good! then let my brother listen."

"I will do so, but on the condition that you lay aside once for all
those Indian circumlocutions in which you so adroitly conceal your real
thoughts."

"My brother will open his ears, the words of his friend will reach his
heart."

"Come, make an end of it."

"As my brother loves Glass-eye, he will tell him from Natah Otann that
a great danger threatens him."

"Ah!" the Canadian said, casting a suspicious glance at the other, "and
what may the danger be?"

"I cannot explain further."

"Very good," Bright-eye remarked, with a grin, "the information is
valuable, though not very explicit; and pray what must we do to escape
the great danger that menaces us?"

"My brother will wake his friend, they will mount their horses, and
retire at full speed, not stopping till they have crossed the river."

"Hum! and when we have done that, we shall have nought more to fear?"

"Nothing."

"Only think of that," the hunter said, ironically; "and when ought we
to start?"

"At once."

"Better still." Bright-eye walked a few paces thoughtfully; then he
returned, and stood before the chief, whose eyes sparkled in the gloom
like those of a tiger cat, and who followed his every movement.

"Then," he said, "you cannot reveal to me the reason that forces us to
depart?"

"No!"

"It is equally impossible, I suppose, for you to tell me of the nature
of the danger that menaces us?" he went on.

"Yes."

"Is that your last word?"

The Indian bowed his head in affirmation.

"Very good, as it is so," Bright-eye said all at once, striking the
ground with the butt of his rifle, "I will tell it you."

"You?"

"Yes, listen to me carefully; it will not be long, and will interest
you I hope."

The chief smiled ironically.

"My ears are open," he said.

"All the better, for I shall fill them with news which, perhaps, will
not please you."

"I listen," the impassive Indian repeated.

"As you said to me a moment back--and the confidence on your part was
useless, for I have known you so long on the prairie--the Redskins have
the eyes of an eagle, and they are birds of prey, whom nothing escapes."

"Go on."

"Here I am; your scouts have discovered, as was not difficult, the
trail of an emigrant family; that trail you have been following a
long time so as not to miss your blow; supposing that the moment had
arrived to deal it, you have assembled Comanches, Sioux, and Blackfeet,
all demons of the same breed, in order this very night to attack people
whom you have been watching for so many days, and whose riches you
covet because you suppose them so great---eh?"

Natah Otann's face revealed no emotion. He remained calm, although
internally restless and furious at having his thoughts so well guessed.

"There is truth in what the hunter says," he replied, coldly.

"It is all true," Bright-eye exclaimed.

"Perhaps; but I do not see in it for what reason I should have come
here to warn my Paleface brother."

"Ah, you do not see that; very well. I will explain it to you. You
came to seek me, because you are perfectly well aware that Glass-eye,
as you call him, is not the man to allow the crime you meditate to be
committed with impunity in his presence."

The Blackfoot shrugged his shoulders. "Can a warrior, however brave he
may be, hold his ground against four hundred?" he said.

"Certainly not," Bright-eye went on; "but he can control them by his
presence, and employ his ascendency over them to compel them to give
up their prospects; and that is what Glass-eye will undoubtedly do,
for reasons of which I am ignorant, for all of you have for him an
incomprehensible respect and veneration, and as you fear lest you
may see him come among you at the first shot fired, terrible as the
destroying angel, you seek to remove him by a pretext, plausible with
anyone else, but which will produce on him no other effect than making
him engage in the affair. Come, is that really all? have I completely
unmasked you? Reply."

"My brother knows all; I repeat, his wisdom is great."

"Now, I presume, you have nothing to add? Very well, good night."

"A moment."

"What more?"

"You must."

"Very well; but make haste."

"My brother has spoken in his own cause, but not in that of Glass-eye;
let him wake his friend, and impart our conversation to him; mayhap he
is mistaken."

"I do not believe it, chief," the hunter answered, with a shake of his
head.

"That is possible," the Indian persisted; "but let my brother do as I
have asked him."

"You lay great stress on it, chief!"

"Great."

"I do not wish to vex you about such a trifle. Well! you will soon
allow that I was right."

"Possibly; I will await my brother's reply for half an hour."

"Very good; but where shall I bring it to you?"

"Nowhere!" the Indian exclaimed, sharply. "If I am right, my brother
will imitate the cry of the magpie twice; if I am mistaken, it will be
that of the owl."

"Very good, that's agreed; you shall soon hear, chief."

The Indian bowed gracefully.

"May the Wacondah be with my brother!" he said.

After this courteous salutation, the two men parted. The Canadian
carelessly threw his rifle on his shoulder, and stalked back to his
camp, while the Indian followed him with his glance, apparently
remaining insensible; but as soon as the hunter had disappeared, the
chief lay down in the sand, glided along in the shade like a serpent,
and in his turn disappeared amid the bushes, following the direction
taken by Bright-eye, though at a considerable distance.

The latter did not fancy himself followed; he therefore paid no
attention to what went on around him, and regained his camp without
noticing anything of an extraordinary nature. Had not the Canadian
been preoccupied, and his old experience lulled to sleep for the
moment, he would have certainly perceived, with that penetration
which distinguished him, that the desert was not in its usual state
of tranquillity: he would have felt unusual tremors in the leaves,
and possibly have seen eyes flashing in the shade of the tall grass.
He soon reached the camp where the Count and Ivon were sleeping
profoundly. Bright-eye hesitated a few seconds ere awakening the young
man whose sleep was so peaceful; still, reflecting that the least
imprudence might entail terrible consequences, whose result it was
impossible to calculate, he bent over him, and gently touched his
shoulder. Though the touch was so slight, it sufficed to wake the
Count; he opened his eyes, sat up, and looking at the old hunter--

"Is there anything fresh, Bright-eye?" he asked.

"Yes, Sir Count," the Canadian replied, seriously.

"Oh, oh, how gloomy you are, my good fellow," the young man said, with
a laugh. "What's the matter then?"

"Nothing, yet; but we may soon have a row with the Redskins."

"All the better, for that will warm us, as it is horribly cold," he
replied, shivering. "But how do you know the fact?"

"During your sleep I received a visitor."

"Ah?"

"Yes."

"And who was the person who selected such an important moment to pay
you a visit?"

"The sachem of the Blackfeet."

"Natah Otann?"

"Himself."

"Upon my word, he must be a somnambulist, to amuse himself by walking
about the desert at night."

"He does not walk, he watches."

"Oh, I am in a bother; so keep me no longer in suspense; tell me what
passed between you. Natah Otann is not the man to put himself out of
the way without strong reasons, and I am burning to know them."

"You shall judge."

Without any further preface, the hunter described in its fullest
details the conversation he had with the chief.

"By Jove! that's serious," the Count said when Bright-eye had ended
his story. "This Natah Otann is a gloomy scoundrel, whose plans you
fully penetrated, and you behaved splendidly in answering him so
categorically. For what has this villain taken me? Does he fancy, I
wonder, that I shall act as his accomplice? Let him dare to attack
those poor devils of emigrants down there, and by the saints, I swear
to you, Bright-eye, that blood will be shed between us, if you help me."

"Can you doubt it?"

"No, my friend, I thank you; with you and my coward of an Ivon, I shall
manage to put them to flight."

"Is my lord calling me?" the Breton asked, raising his head.

"No, no, Ivon, my good fellow; I only say that we shall soon have some
fighting."

The Breton emitted a sigh, and muttered, as he lay down again,--

"Ah! if I had as much courage as I possess goodwill; but alas! as you
know, I am a wonderful coward, and I shall prove more harm to you than
good."

"You will do all you can, my friend, and that will be sufficient."

Ivon sighed in reply. Bright-eye had listened laughingly to this
colloquy. The Breton still possessed the privilege of astonishing him,
for he did not at all comprehend his singular organization. The Count
turned towards him.

"So it is settled?" he said.

"Settled," the hunter answered.

"Then give the signal; my friend."

"The owl, I suppose?"

"By Jove!" the Count said.

Bright-eye raised his fingers to his mouth, and, as had been agreed
with Natah Otann, imitated twice the cry of the owl, with rare
perfection. Hardly had the echo of the last cry died away, than a great
rumour was heard in the bushes, and, before the three men had time to
put themselves in a posture of defence, some twenty Indians rushed upon
them, disarmed them in a twinkling, and reduced them to a state of
utter defencelessness. The Count shrugged his shoulders, leant against
a tree, and, thrusting his glass in his eye, said,---

"This is very funny."

"Well, I can't see the point of the joke," muttered Ivon, in a grand
aside.

Among the Indians, whom it was easy to recognize as Blackfeet, was
Natah Otann! After removing the weapons of the white men, so that they
could not attempt a surprise this time, he walked towards the hunter.

"I warned Bright-eye," he said.

The hunter smiled contemptuously.

"You warned us after the fashion of Redskins," he replied.

"What does my brother mean?"

"I mean that you warned us of a danger that threatened us, and not that
you intended treachery."

"It is the same thing," the Indian replied, with utter calmness.

"Bright-eye, my friend, do not argue with those scoundrels," the Count
said.

And turning haughtily to the chief,--

"Come! what do you want of us?" he asked.

Since his arrival on the prairie, and through his constant contact with
the Indians the Count had almost unconsciously learned their language,
which he spoke rather fluently.

"We do not wish to do you any hurt; we only intend to prevent your
interference in our affairs," Natah Otann said respectfully; "we should
be very sorry to have recourse to violent measures."

The young man burst into a laugh.

"You are humbugs! I can manage to escape, in spite of you."

"Let my brother try it."

"When the moment arrives; as for the present, it is not worth the
trouble!"

While speaking in this light tone, the young man took his case from
his pocket, chose a cigar, and, pulling out a lucifer match, stooped
down and rubbed it on a stone. The Indians, considerably puzzled by his
movements, followed them anxiously; but suddenly they uttered a yell of
terror, and fell back several paces. The match had caught fire with the
friction; a delicious blue flame sported about its extremity. The Count
carelessly twisted the slight morsel of wood between his fingers, while
waiting till all the sulphur was consumed. He did not notice the terror
of the Indians.

The latter, with a movement as swift as thought, stooped down, and each
picking up the first piece of wood he found at his feet, all began
rubbing it against the stones. The Count, in amazement, looked at
them, not yet understanding what they were about. Natah Otann seem to
hesitate for a moment; a smile of strange meaning played, rapidly as
lightning, over his gloomy features; but reassuming almost immediately
his cold impassiveness, he took a step forward, and respectfully bowing
before the Count--

"My father commands the fire of the sun," he said, with all the
appearance of a mysterious terror, while pointing to the match.

The young man smiled; he had guessed the secret.

"Which of you," he said haughtily, "would dare to contend with me?"

The Indians regarded each other with amazement. These men, so intrepid
and accustomed to brave the greatest dangers, were vanquished by the
incomprehensible power their prisoner possessed. As, while talking
to the chief, the Count had not watched his match, it had gone out
before he could use it, and he threw it away. The Indians rushed upon
it, to assure themselves that the flame was real. Without appearing to
attach any importance to this action, the Count drew a second match
from his box, and renewed his experiment. His triumph was complete; the
Redskins, in their terror, fell at his feet, imploring him to pardon
them. Henceforth he might dare anything. These primitive men, terrified
by the two miracles he had performed, regarded him as a superior being
to themselves, and were completely mastered by him. While Bright-eye
laughed in his sleeve at the Indians' simplicity, the young man
cleverly employed his triumph.

"You see what I can do," he said.

"We see it," Natah Otann made answer.

"When do you intend to attack the emigrants?"

"When the moon has set, the warriors of the tribe will assault their
camp."

"And you?"

"Will guard our brother."

"So you now fancy that is possible," the Count said, haughtily.

The Redskins shuddered at the flash of his glance.

"Our brother will pardon us," the chief replied, submissively; "we only
knew him imperfectly."

"And now?"

"Now we know that he is our master, let him command, and we will obey."

"Take care!" he said, in a tone which made them shudder, "for I am
about to put your obedience to a rude trial."

"Our ears are open to receive our brother's words."

"Draw nearer."

The Blackfeet took a few hesitating steps in advance, for they were not
yet completely reassured.

"And now listen to me attentively," he said, "and when you have
received my orders, take care to execute them thoroughly."



CHAPTER V.

THE STRANGE WOMAN.


We are now obliged to return to the Americans' camp. As we have said,
Black and his son were mounting guard, and the pioneer was far from
easy in his mind. Although not yet possessed of all the experience
required for a desert life, the four months he had spent in fatiguing
marches and continued alarms had endowed him with a certain degree
of vigilance, which, under existing circumstances, might prove very
useful; not, perhaps, to prevent an attack, but, at least, to repulse
it. The situation of his camp was, besides, excellent; for from it he
surveyed the prairie for a great distance, and could easily perceive
the approach of an enemy.

Father and son were seated by the fire, rising from time to time, in
turn, to cast glances over the desert, and assure themselves that
nothing menaced their tranquillity. Black was a man gifted with an iron
will and a lion's courage; hitherto his schemes had been unsuccessful,
and he had sworn to make himself an honourable position, no matter at
what cost.

He was the descendant of an old family of squatters. The squatter being
an individuality peculiar to America, and vainly sought elsewhere, we
will describe him as he is, in a few words. On the lands belonging to
the United States, not yet cleared or put up for sale, large numbers
of persons have settled, with the desire of eventually _purchasing_
their lots. These inhabitants are called squatters. We will not say
that they are the pick of the western emigrants, but we know that,
in certain districts, they have constituted themselves a regular
Government, and have elected magistrates to watch over the execution
of the Draconian laws they have themselves laid down to insure the
tranquillity of the territories they have invaded. But by the side of
these quasi-honest squatters, who bow their necks beneath a yoke that
is often harsh, there is another class of squatters, who understand
the possession of land in its widest sense; that is to say, whenever
they discover, in their vagabond peregrinations, a tract of land that
suits them, they instal themselves there without any further inquiry,
and caring nothing for the rightful owner, who, when he arrives with
his labourers to till his estate, is quite annoyed to find it is in the
hands of an individual who, trusting to the axiom that possession is
nine points of the law, refuses to give it up, and if he insist, drives
him away by means of his rifle and revolver.

We know a capital story of a gentleman, who, starting from New York
with two hundred labourers, to clear a virgin forest he had purchased
some ten years previously, and never turned to any use, found, on
arriving at his claim, a town of four thousand souls built on the site
of his virgin forest, of which not a tree remained. After numberless
discussions, the said gentleman esteemed himself very fortunate in
being able to depart with a whole skin, and without paying damages to
his despoilers, whom he had momentarily hoped to oust. But there is no
more chance of ousting a squatter, than you can get a dollar out of a
Yankee, when he has once pocketed it.

John Black belonged to the former of the two classes we have described.
When he reached the age of twenty, his father gave him an axe, a rifle
with twenty charges of powder, and a bowie knife, saying to him--

"Listen, boy. You are now tall and strong; it would be a shame for you
to remain longer a burden on me. I have your two brothers to support.
America is large; there is no want of land. Go in God's name, and
never let me hear of you again. With the weapons I give you, and the
education you have received, your fortune will soon be made, if you
like: before all, avoid all disagreeable disputes, and try not to be
hanged."

After this affectionate address, the father tenderly embraced his son,
put him out of the cabin, and slammed the door in his face. From that
moment John Black had never heard of his father--it is true that he
never tried to obtain any news about him.

Life had been rough to him at the outset; but owing to his character,
and a certain elasticity of principle, the sole inheritance his family
had given him, he had contrived to gain a livelihood, and bring up his
children without any great privations. Either through the isolation in
which he had passed his youth, or for some other reason we are ignorant
of, Black adored his wife and children, and would not have parted from
them on any account. When fatality compelled him to give up the farm he
occupied, and look for another, he set out gaily, sustained by the love
of his family, no member of which was ungrateful for the sacrifices he
imposed on himself; and he had resolved to go this time so far, that
no one would ever come to dispossess him, for he had been obliged to
surrender his farm to its legitimate proprietor, which he had done on
the mere exhibition of the title deeds, without dreaming of resistance
--a conduct which had been greatly blamed by all his neighbours.

Black wished to see his family happy, and watched over it with the
jealous tenderness of a hen for its chicks. Thus, on this evening,
an extreme alarm had preyed on him, though he could not explain the
cause: the disappearance of the Indians did not seem to him natural;
everything around was too calm, the silence of the desert too profound:
he could not remain at any one spot, and, in spite of his son's
remarks, rose every moment to take a look over the intrenchments.

William felt for his father a great affection, mingled with respect:
the state in which he saw him vexed him the more, because there was
nothing to account for his extraordinary restlessness.

"Good gracious, father!" he said, "do not trouble yourself so much; it
really causes me pain to see you in such a state. Do you suppose that
the Indians would have attacked us by such a moonlight as this? Look,
objects can be distinguished as in broad day; I am certain you might
even read the Bible by the silvery rays."

"You are right for the present moment, Will. The Redskins are too
crafty to face our rifles during the moonshine; but in an hour the moon
will have set, and the darkness will then protect them sufficiently to
allow them to reach the foot of the barricade unnoticed."

"Do not imagine they will attempt it, my dear father! Those red devils
have seen us sufficiently close to know that they can only expect a
volley of bullets from us."

"Hum! I am not of your opinion; our beasts would be riches to them: I
do not wish to abandon them, as we should then be compelled to return
to the plantations to procure others, which would be most disagreeable,
you will allow."

"It is true; but we shall not be reduced to that extremity."

"May Heaven grant it, my boy; but do you hear nothing?"

The young man listened attentively.

"No," he said, at the end of a moment.

The emigrant proceeded with a sigh: "I visited the river bank this
morning, and I have rarely seen a spot better suited for a settlement.
The virgin forest that extends behind us would supply excellent
firewood, without reckoning the magnificent planks to be obtained from
it: there are several hundred acres around, which, from their proximity
to the water, would produce, I am certain, excellent crops."

"Would you feel inclined to settle here, then?"

"Have you any objection?"

"I--none at all! provided we can live and work together. I care little
at what place we stop: this spot appears to me as good as another, and
it is far enough from the settlements to prevent our being turned out,
at least for a great number of years."

"That is exactly my view."

At this moment a gentle quivering ran along the tall grass.

"This time I am certain I am not mistaken," the emigrant exclaimed; "I
heard something."

"And I too!" the young man said, rising quickly, and seizing his rifle.

The two men hurried to the entrenchments, but they saw nothing of a
suspicious nature: the prairie was still perfectly calm.

"'Tis some wild beast going down to drink, or returning," Will said, to
reassure his father.

"No, no," the latter replied, with a shake of the head; "it is not the
noise made by any animal--it was the echo of a man's footfall, I am
convinced."

"The simplest way is to go and see."

"Come then."

The two men resolutely climbed over the intrenchments, and with rifles
outstretched, went round the camp, carefully searching the bushes, and
assuring themselves that no foe lurked in them.

"Well!" they exclaimed, when they met.

"Nothing--and you?"

"Nothing."

"It is strange," John Black muttered, "and yet the noise was very
distinct."

"That is true; but I repeat, father, that it was nothing but an animal
leaping somewhere near. In a night so calm as this, the slightest sound
is heard for a great distance; besides, we are now certain that no one
is concealed near us."

"Let us go back," the emigrant said, thoughtfully. They began climbing
over the entrenchments; but both stopped suddenly, by mutual agreement,
hardly checking a cry of amazement, almost of terror. They had just
perceived a human being, whose outline it was impossible to trace at
such a distance, crouched over the fire.

"This time I will have it out," the emigrant exclaimed, taking a
prodigious bound into the camp.

"And I, too," his son murmured, as he followed his example.

But when they came opposite their strange visitor, their surprise
was redoubled. In spite of themselves, they stopped to gaze on the
stranger, without thinking to ask how he had entered their camp, and by
what right he had done so.

As far as they could form a judgment, they soon began to consider
the extraordinary being before them--a woman; but years, the mode of
life she led, and perchance cares, had furrowed her face with such a
multitude of cross hatchings, that it was impossible to conjecture her
age, or whether she had formerly been lovely. The large black eyes,
surmounted by thick brows crossing her curved nose, and deep sunk,
flashed with a gloomy fire; her salient and empurpled cheekbones, her
large mouth studded with dazzling teeth, and her thin lips and square
chin, gave her at first an appearance which was far from arousing
sympathy and exciting confidence; while her long black hair, matted
with leaves and grass, fell in disorder on her shoulders. She wore a
costume more suited for a man than a woman. It was composed of a long
robe of buffalo hide, with short sleeves, fastened on the hips by a
girdle bedizened with beads. This robe had the skirt fringed with
feathers, and only came down to the knee. Her _mitasses_ were fastened
round the ankles, and reached slightly above the knee, where they were
held up by garters of buffalo hide. Her _humpis_ or slippers were plain
and unornamented. She wore iron rings on her wrist, two or three bead
collars round her neck, and earrings. From her girdle hung on one side
a powder flask, an axe, and a bowie knife; on the other, a bullet pouch
and a long Indian pipe. Across her knees lay a rather handsome gun, of
English manufacture.

She was crouching over the fire, which she gazed at fixedly, with her
chin on the palm of her hand.

On the arrival of the Americans, she did not rise, and did not even
appear to notice their presence. After examining her attentively for
some time, Black walked up, and, tapping her on the shoulder, said--

"You are welcome, woman; it seems as if you were cold, and the fire
does not displease you."

She slowly raised her head on feeling the touch, and, fixing on her
questioner a gloomy glance, in which it was easy to perceive a slight
wildness, she replied in English, in a hollow voice, and with guttural
accent--

"The Palefaces are mad; they ever think themselves in their towns; they
forget that in the prairie the trees have ears and the leaves eyes to
see and hear all that is done. The Blackfeet Indians raise their hair
very skilfully."

The two men looked at each other on hearing these words, whose meaning
they were afraid to guess, though they seemed somewhat obscure.

"Are you hungry? Will you eat?" John Black continued, "or is it thirst
that troubles you? I can, if you like, give you a good draught of
firewater to warm you."

The woman frowned.

"Fire-water is good for Indian squaws," she said, "what good would it
do me to drink it? Others will come who will soon dispose of it. Do you
know how many hours you still have to live?"

The emigrant shuddered, in spite of himself at this species of menace.

"Why speak to me thus?" he asked; "have you any cause of complaint
against me?"

"I care little," she continued. "I am not among the living, since my
heart is dead."

She turned her head in every direction with a slow and solemn movement,
while carefully examining the country.

"Stay," she continued, pointing with her lean arm to a mound of grass a
short distance off, "'twas there he fell--'tis there he rests. His head
was cleft asunder by an axe during his sleep--poor James! This spot is
ill-omened: do you not know it? The vultures and the crows alone stay
here at long intervals. Why, then, have you come here? Are you weary of
life? Do you hear them? They are approaching; they will soon be here."

Father and son exchanged a glance.

"She is mad. Poor creature!" Black muttered.

"Yes; that is what they all say on the prairies," she exclaimed, with
some accusation in her voice. "They call me _Ohucahauck Chiké_ (the
evil one of the earth), because they fear me as their evil genius. You,
also, fancy me mad, eh? ah! ah! ah!"

She burst into a strident laugh, which ended in a sob; she buried
her face in her hands, and wept. The two men felt awed in spite of
themselves; this strange grief, these incoherent words, all aroused
their interest in favour of this poor creature, who appeared so
unhappy. Pity was at work in their hearts, and they regarded her
silently without daring to disturb her. In a few moments she raised her
head, passed the back of her hand over her eyes to dry them, and spoke
again. The wild expression had disappeared; the very sound of her voice
was no longer the same; as if by enchantment, a complete change had
taken place in her.

"Pardon," she said mournfully, "the extravagant words I have uttered.
The solitude in which I live, and the heavy burden of woe which has
crushed me so long, at times trouble my reason; and then the place
where we now stand reminds me of terrible scenes, whose cruel memory
will never be erased from my mind."

"Madam, I assure you--," John Black continued, not knowing what he
said, so great was his surprise.

"Now the fit has passed away." She interrupted him with a gentle
and melancholy smile, which gave her countenance a very different
expression from that the Americans had hitherto remarked; "I have been
following you for the last two days to come to your help; the Redskins
are preparing to attack you--"

The two men shuddered: and, forgetting all else to think only of the
pressing danger, they cast a restless glance around them.

"You know it?" Black exclaimed.

"I know all," she answered; "but reassure yourselves. You have still
two hours ere their horrible war cry will sound in your ears; that is
more than enough to render you safe."

"Oh! we have good rifles and keen sight," said William, clutching his
weapon in his nervous hands.

"What can four rifles, however good they may be, do against two or
three hundred tigers thirsting for blood, like those you will have to
fight? You do not know the Redskins, young man."

"That is true," he answered; "but what is to be done?"

"Seek a refuge?--where find help in these immense solitudes?" the
father added, casting a despairing glance around him.

"Did I not tell you I wished to help you?" she said, sharply.

"Yes; you told us so; but I try in vain to detect of what use you can
be to us."

She smiled a melancholy smile.

"It is your good angel that brought you to the spot where you now are.
While I was watching you all the day, I trembled lest you might not
encamp here. Come!"

The two men, surprised by the ascendancy this strange creature had
gained over them in a few minutes, followed her without reply. After
walking about a dozen steps, she stopped, and turned toward them.

"Look," she said, stretching out her thin arm in a north-west
direction, "your enemies are there, scarce two leagues off, buried in
the tall grass. I have heard their plans, and was present at their
council, though they little suspected it. They are only waiting for the
moon to set, ere they attack you. You have scarce an hour left."

"My poor wife!" Black murmured.

"It is impossible for me to save you all: to fancy it would be madness;
but I can, if you wish it, attempt to save your wife and daughter from
the fate that menaces them."

"Speak! speak!"

"This tree, at the foot of which we are now standing, although
apparently possessing all the vigour of youth, is internally hollow,
so that only the bark stands upright. Your wife and daughter, supplied
with some provisions, will get into the tree and remain there in safety
till the danger has passed away. As for ourselves--"

"As for us," Black quickly interrupted her, "we are men accustomed to
danger: our fate is in the hands of God."

"Good; but do not despair: all is not lost yet."

The American shook his head.

"As you said yourself, what can four men do against a legion of demons
like those who menace us? But that is not the question of the moment. I
do not see the hole by which my wife and daughter can enter the tree."

"It is twenty to twenty-four feet up, hidden among the branches and
leaves."

"The Lord be praised! they will be sheltered."

"Yes; but make haste and warn them, while your son and I make all the
preparations."

Black, convinced of the necessity of haste, ran off, while the stranger
and William constructed, with that dexterity produced by the approach
of danger, a species of handy ladder, by which the two women could not
merely ascend the tree, but go down into the cavity. Black waked the
ladies, and called the servants; in a few words he explained to them
what was passing; then, loading his wife and daughter with provisions,
furs, and other indispensable objects, he led them to the spot where
the stranger was expecting them.

"This is my most precious treasure," Black said; "if I save it, I shall
be solely indebted to you."

The two ladies began thanking their mysterious protectress; but she
imposed silence on them by a peremptory gesture.

"Presently, presently," she said; "if we escape, we shall have plenty
of time for mutual congratulations; but at this moment we have
something more important to do than exchange compliments. We must get
into a place of safety."

The two ladies fell back, quite repulsed by this rough reception, while
casting a curious and almost alarmed glance on the strange creature.
But the latter, perfectly stoical, seemed to notice nothing. She
explained in a few clear words the means she had found to conceal them:
recommended them to remain silent in the hollow tree, and then ordered
them to mount. The two ladies, after embracing Black and his son, began
resolutely ascending the rungs of the improvised ladder. They reached
in a few seconds an enormous branch, on which they stopped, by the
orders of the stranger. Black then threw down into the interior of the
tree the furs and provisions, after which the ladder was placed inside,
and the ladies glided through the hole.

"We leave you the ladder, which is useless to us," the stranger then
said. "But be very careful not to come out till you have seen me again;
the least imprudence, under the circumstances, might cost your lives.
However, keep your minds at rest. Your imprisonment will not be long, a
few hours at the most: so be of good cheer."

The ladies once again tried to express their gratitude; but, without
listening, the stranger made Black a sign to follow her, and rapidly
descended from the tree. Aided by the Americans, she then began
removing every trace that might have revealed where the ladies were
bestowed. When the stranger had assured herself, by a final glance,
that all was in order, and nothing could betray those who were so
famously hidden, she sighed, and followed by the two men, walked to the
intrenchments.

"Now," she said, "let us watch attentively around us, for these demons
will probably crawl close up in the shadows. You are free and honest
Americans, show these accursed Indians what you can do."

"Let them come!" Black muttered hoarsely.

"They will soon do so," she replied, and pointed to several almost
imperceptible black dots, which, however, grew larger, and were
evidently approaching the encampment.



CHAPTER VI.

THE DEFENCE OF THE CAMP.


The Redskins have a mode of fighting which foils all the methods
employed by European tactics. In order to understand their system
properly, we must, in the first place, bear in mind that the Indian
idea of honour is different from ours. This understood, the rest may be
easily admitted. The Indians, in undertaking an enterprise, have only
one object--success, and all means are good to attain it. Gifted with
incontestable courage, at times rash to an excess, stopping at nothing,
and recoiling before no difficulty--for all that, when the success
of these enterprises appears to them dubious, and that consequently
the object is missed, they retire as easily as they advanced, not
considering their honour compromised by a retreat, or by leaving the
battlefield to an enemy more powerful than themselves, or well on his
guard.

Thus, their system of fighting is most simple, and they only proceed by
surprises. The Redskins will follow the enemy's trail for entire months
with unequalled patience, never relaxing their watch for a moment,
spying him night and day, while ever careful not to be themselves
surprised: then, when the occasion at last presents itself, and they
fancy the moment arrived to execute the project, all the chances for or
against which they have so long calculated, they act with a vigour and
fury which frequently disconcert those they attack; but if after the
first onset they are repulsed--if they see that those they attack will
not let themselves be intimidated, and are prepared to resist, then, on
a given signal, they disappear as if by enchantment, and, without any
shame, begin watching again for a more favourable moment.

Black, on the advice of the stranger, had placed himself and his
party in such positions that they could survey the prairie in every
direction. The stranger and himself were leaning on their rifles in
the angle that faced the river. The prairie at this moment presented
a singular appearance. The breeze, which at sunset had risen with a
certain strength, was gently dying out, scarce bending the tops of the
great trees. The moon, almost departed, only cast over the landscape an
uncertain and timorous gleam, which, in lieu of dissipating the gloom,
only rendered the darkness visible, through the striking contrasts
between the obscurity and the pale and fugitive rays of the declining
planet.

At times, a dull roar or sharp bark rose in the silence, and, like a
sinister appeal, reminded the emigrant that implacable and ferocious
enemies were on the watch around, although invisible. The purity of the
atmosphere was so great, that the slightest sound could be heard for an
immense distance, and it was easy to distinguish the enormous blocks of
granite that formed black dots on the ground.

"Do you know for certain that we shall be attacked this night?" the
American asked, in a low voice.

"I was present at the last council of the chiefs," the unknown replied
distinctly.

The emigrant bent on her a scrutinising glance, which she recognised,
and immediately understood; she shrugged her shoulders disdainfully.

"Take care," she said to him, with a certain emphasis, "let not doubt
invade your mind; what interest should I have in deceiving you?"

"I know not," he replied dreamily "but I also ask myself what interest
you have in defending me?"

"None; since you place the matter on that footing, what do I care
whether your wealth is plundered, your wife, your daughter, and
yourself scalped? it is a matter of supreme indifference to me; but
must the affair be only regarded from that side? Do you imagine that
material interests have a great weight with me? If that is your
opinion, I shall withdraw, leaving you to get out of your present
position in the best way you can."

While uttering these words, she had thrown her rifle over her shoulder,
and prepared to climb over the palisade, but Black quickly checked her.

"You do not understand me," he said; "any man in my place would act as
I do; my position is fearful, you allow it yourself; you entered my
camp, and it is impossible for me to guess how. Still, I have hitherto
put the utmost confidence in you, as you cannot deny; but I do not
know who you are, or what motive causes you to act. Your words, far
from explaining, plunge me, on the contrary, into greater uncertainty;
the safety of my entire family and all I possess is at stake: reflect
seriously on all this, and I defy you to disapprove of my not putting
utter confidence in you, although you are, doubtlessly, deserving of
it, so long as I do not know who you are."

"Yes," she answered, after a moment's reflection, "you are right, the
world is so, people must first of all give their name and quality;
egotism is so thoroughly the master over the whole surface of the
globe, that even to do a person a service, you require a certificate
of honesty, for no one will admit disinterestedness of heart,--that
aberration of generous minds, which practical people brand as madness.
Unfortunately, you must take me for what I appear, at the risk of
seeing me go away, and hence any confidence on my part would be
superfluous. You will judge me by my acts, the only proof I can and
will give you of the purity of my intentions; you are free to accept or
decline my assistance, and after all is over, you can thank or curse me
at your choice."

Black was more perplexed than ever; the stranger's explanations only
rendered the fog denser, instead of affording him light. Still, in
spite of himself, he felt himself attracted toward her. After a few
moments of serious reflection, he raised his head, struck his rifle
barrel smartly with his right hand, and looking his companion well in
the face, said in a firm voice,--

"Listen, I will no longer try to learn whether you come from God or the
devil; if you are a spy of our enemies, or our devoted friend--events,
as you said, will soon decide the question. But bear this in mind, I
will carefully watch your slightest gesture, your every word. At the
first suspicious word or movement, I will put a bullet through your
head, even if I am killed the moment after. Is that a bargain?"

The stranger began laughing.

"I accept," she said. "I recognise the Yankee in that proposition."

After this, the conversation ceased, and their entire attention was
concentrated on the prairie. The most profound calm still continued
to brood over the desert; apparently, all was in the same state as at
sunset. Still the stranger's piercing eyes distinguished on the river
bank several wild beasts flying precipitately, and others escaping
across the river, instead of continuing to drink. One of the truest
axioms in the desert is:--there can be no effect without a cause.
Everything has a reason in the prairie, all is analysed or commented
on; a leaf does not fall from a tree, a bird fly away, without the
observer knowing or guessing why it has happened.

After a few moments of profound examination, the stranger seized the
emigrant's arm, and bending down to his ear, said in a weak voice, like
the sighing of the breeze, one word which made him tremble, as she
stretched out her arm in the direction of the plain.

"Look!"

Black bent forward.

"Oh!" he said a minute after, "what is the meaning of this?"

The prairie, as we have already mentioned, was covered in several
places by blocks of granite and dead trees; singularly enough, these
black dots, at first a considerable distance from the camp, seemed
approaching insensibly, and now were only a short way from it. As it
was physically impossible for rocks and trees to move of their own
accord, there must be a cause for this, which the worthy emigrant,
whose mind was anything but subtle, cudgelled his brains in vain
to guess. This new Birnam Wood, which moved all alone, made him
excessively uncomfortable; his son and servants had also noticed the
same fact, though equally unable to account for it. Black remarked
specially that a tree he remembered perfectly well seeing that same
evening more than one hundred and fifty feet from the mound, had
suddenly come so close, that it was hardly thirty paces off. The
stranger, without evincing any emotion, whispered--

"They are the Indians!"

"The Indians?" he said, "impossible!"

She knelt behind the palisade, shouldered her rifle, and after taking a
careful aim, pulled the trigger. A flash traversed the darkness, and at
the same moment the pretended tree bounded like a deer. A terrible yell
was raised, and the Redskins appeared, rushing toward the camp like a
herd of wolves, brandishing their weapons, and howling like demons.
The Americans, very superstitious people, reassured by seeing that
they had only to deal with men, when they feared some spell, received
their enemies bravely with a rolling and well-directed fire. Still,
the Indians, probably knowing the small number of white men, did not
recoil, but pushed on boldly. The Redskins were hardly a few yards off,
and were preparing to carry the barricades, when a shot, fired by the
stranger, tolled over an Indian ahead of the rest, at the instant he
turned to his comrades to encourage them to follow him.

The fall of this man produced an effect which the Americans, who
fancied themselves lost, were far from anticipating. As if by
enchantment, the Indians disappeared, the yells ceased, and the deepest
silence prevailed again. It might be supposed that all that had passed
was a dream. The Americans regarded each other with amazement, not
knowing to what they should attribute this sudden retreat.

"That is incomprehensible," Black said, after assuring himself by a
hasty glance that none of his party were wounded; "can you explain
that, mistress, you, who seem to be our guardian angel, for it is to
your last shot we owe the rest we at present enjoy?"

"Ah!" she said, with a sarcastic smile, "you are beginning to do me
justice, then."

"Do not speak about that," the emigrant said, with an angry voice; "I
am a fool; pardon me, and forget my suspicions."

"I have forgotten them," she replied. "As for that which astounds you,
it is very simple. The man I killed, or, at any rate, wounded, was an
Indian chief of great reputation; on seeing him fall, his warriors were
discouraged, and they ran to carry him off the field, lest his scalp
should fall into your hands."

"Oh, oh!" Black said, with a gesture of disgust; "do these Pagans fancy
we are like themselves? No, no! I would kill them to the last man, in
self-defence, and no one could blame me for it; but as for scalping,
that is a different matter. I am an honest Virginian, without a drop of
red blood in my veins. My father's son does not commit such infamy."

"I approve your remarks," the stranger said, in a sorrowful voice;
"scalping is a frightful torture; unfortunately, many white men on the
prairies do not think like you; they have adopted Indian fashions, and
scalp, without ceremony, the enemies they kill."

"They are wrong."

"Possibly; I am far from justifying them."

"So that," the emigrant joyfully exclaimed, "we are free from these red
devils."

"Do not rejoice yet; you will soon see them return."

"What, again?"

"They have only suspended their attack to carry off their killed and
wounded, and probably to invent some other plan, to get the better of
you."

"Oh, that will not be difficult; in spite of all our efforts, it will
be impossible for us to resist that flock of birds of prey, who rush on
us from all sides, as on a carcass. What can five rifles effect against
that legion of demons?"

"Much, if you do not despair."

"Oh, as for that, you may be easy, we will not yield an inch; we are
resolved to die at our posts."

"Your bravery pleases me," the stranger said, "perhaps all will end
better than you suppose."

"May Heaven hear you, my worthy woman."

"Let us lose no time; the Indians may return to the charge at any
moment, so let us try to be as successful this time as the first."

"I will."

"Good! Are you a man of resolution?"

"I fancy I have proved it."

"That is true. How many days' provisions have you here?"

"Four, at the least."

"That is to say, eight, if necessary."

"Pretty nearly."

"Good! Now, if you like, I will get rid of your enemies for a long
time."

"I ask nothing better."

Suddenly the war cry of the Redskins was again heard, but this time
more strident and unearthly than the first.

"It is too late!" the stranger said, sorrowfully, "All that is left is
to die bravely."

"Let us die, then; but first kill as many of these Pagans as we can,"
John Black answered. "Hurrah! my boys, for Uncle Sam!"

"Hurrah!" his comrades shouted, brandishing their weapons.

The Indians responded to this challenge by yells of rage, and the
combat recommenced, though this time it was more serious. After rising
to utter their formidable war cry, the Indians scattered, and advanced
slowly toward the camp, by crawling on the ground. When they found
in their road the stump of a tree or a bush capable of offering them
shelter, they stopped to fire an arrow or a bullet. The new tactics
adopted by their enemies disconcerted the Americans, whose bullets were
too often wasted; for, unluckily, the Indians were almost invisible in
the gloom, and, with that cunning so characteristic of them, shook the
grass so cleverly, that the deceived emigrants did not know where to
aim.

"We are lost," Black exclaimed despondingly.

"The position is indeed becoming critical; but we must not despair
yet," the stranger remarked; "one chance is left us; a very poor one,
I grant; but which I shall employ when the moment arrives. Try to hold
out in a hand-to-hand fight."

"Come," the emigrant said, shouldering his rifle, "there is one of the
devils who will not get any further."

A Blackfoot warrior, whose head rose at this moment above the grass,
had his skull fractured by the American's bullet. The Redskins suddenly
rose, and rushed, howling, on the barricade, where the emigrants
awaited them firmly. A point-blank discharge received the Indians, and
a hand-to-hand fight began. The Americans, standing on the barricades
and clubbing their rifles, dashed down every one who came within their
reach. Suddenly, at the moment when the emigrants, overpowered by
numbers, fell back a step, the stranger rushed up the barricade, with a
torch in her hand, and uttering such a savage yell, that the combatants
stopped, with a shudder. The flame of the torch was reflected on the
stranger's face, and imparted to it a demoniac expression. She held her
head high, and stretched out her arm, with a magnificent gesture of
authority.

"Back!" she shrieked. "Back, devils!"

At this extraordinary apparition, the Redskins remained for a moment
motionless, as if petrified, but then they rushed headlong down the
slope, flying, with the utmost terror. The Americans, interested
witnesses of this incomprehensible scene, gave a sigh of relief. They
were saved! Saved by a miracle! They then rushed toward the stranger,
to express their gratitude to her.

She had disappeared!

In vain did the Americans look for her everywhere; they could not
imagine whither she was gone: she seemed to have suddenly become
invisible. The torch she held in her hand, when addressing the Indians,
lay on the ground, where it still smoked; it was the only trace she
left of her presence in the emigrants' camp.

John Black and his companions lost themselves in conjectures on her
account, while dressing, as well as they could, the wounds they had
received in the engagement, when his wife and daughter suddenly
appeared in the camp. Black rushed toward them.

"How imprudent of you!" he exclaimed. "Why have you left your hiding
place, in spite of the warnings given you?"

His wife looked at him in amazement.

"We left it," she replied, "by the directions of the strange woman to
whom we are all so deeply indebted this night."

"What! have you seen her again?"

"Certainly; a few moments back she came to us; we were half dead
with terror, for the sounds of the fighting reached us, and we were
completely ignorant of what was occurring. After reassuring us, she
told us that all was over, that we had nothing more to fear, and that,
if we liked, we could rejoin you."

"But she--what did she do?"

"She led us to this spot; then, in spite of our entreaties, she went
away, saying that as we no longer needed her, her presence was useless,
while important reasons compelled her departure."

The emigrant then told the ladies all about the events of the night,
and the obligations they owed to this extraordinary female. They
listened to the narrative with the utmost attention, not knowing to
what they should attribute her strange conduct, and feeling their
curiosity aroused to the utmost pitch. Unfortunately, the peculiar
way in which the stranger had retired, did not appear to evince any
great desire on her part to establish more intimate relations with the
emigrants.

In the desert, however, there is but little time to be given to
reflections and comments; action is before all; men must live and
defend themselves. Hence Black, without losing further time in
trying to solve the riddle, occupied himself actively in repairing
the breaches made in his entrenchments, and fortifying his camp more
strongly, were that possible, by piling up on the barricades all the
articles within reach. When these first duties for the common safety
were accomplished, the emigrant thought of his cattle. He had placed
them at a spot where the bullets could not reach them, close to the
tent, into which his wife and daughter had again withdrawn, and had
surrounded them by a quantity of interlaced branches. On entering this
corral, Black uttered a cry of amazement, which was soon changed into,
a yell of fury. His son and the men ran up; the horses and one-half the
cattle had disappeared. During the fight the Indians had carried them
off, and the noise had prevented their flight being heard. It seemed
probable that the stranger's interference, by striking the Indians with
terror, had alone prevented the robbery being completed, and the whole
of the cattle carried off.

The loss was enormous to the emigrant; although all his cattle had not
disappeared, enough had been carried off to render further progress
impossible. His resolution was formed with that promptitude so
characteristic of the Northern Americans.

"Our beasts are stolen," he said; "I must have them back."

"Quite right," William answered; "at daybreak we will go on their
track."

"I, but not you, my son," the emigrant said. "Sam will go with me."

"What shall I do then?"

"Stay in the camp, to guard your mother and sister. I will leave James
with you."

The young man made no reply.

"I will not let the Pagans boast of having eaten my oxen," Black said,
wrathfully. "By my father's soul, I will get them back, or lose my
scalp!"

The night had passed away while the camp was being fortified. The sun,
though still invisible, was beginning to tinge the horizon with a
purple light.

"Ah, look!" Black continued, "here's day; let us lose no time, but set
off. I recommend your mother and sister to your care, Will, as well as
all that is here."

"You can go, father," the young man said. "I will keep good watch
during your absence; you may be easy."

The emigrant pressed his son's hand, threw his rifle, over his
shoulder, made a sign to Sam to follow him, and walked towards the
entrenchment.

"It is useless to wake your mother," he said, as he walked on; "when
she comes out of the tent, you will tell her what has occurred, and
what I have done; I am certain she will approve of it. So, good-bye, my
boy, and mind you are on the watch."

"And you, father--good luck!"

"May Heaven grant it, boy," the emigrant said, sorrowfully. "Such
splendid cattle!"

"Stay!" the young man exclaimed, holding his father back, at the moment
the latter was preparing to climb over the barricades. "What is that I
see down there?"

The emigrant turned quickly.

"Do you see anything, Will---whereabouts?"

"Look, father, in that direction. But what is the meaning of it? It
must be our cattle."

The emigrant looked in the direction his son indicated.

"What!" he exclaimed joyfully; "why, those are our cattle. Where on
earth do they come from? And who is bringing them back?"

In fact, at a great distance on the prairie, the American's cattle were
visible, galloping rapidly in the direction of the camp, and raising a
cloud of dust behind them.



CHAPTER VII.

THE INDIAN CHIEF.


The Count de Beaulieu was far from suspecting, as he carelessly
prepared to light a cigar, that the lucifer match he employed would at
once render him so important in the sight of the Indians. But, so soon
as he recognized the power of the weapon chance placed in his hands,
he resolved to employ it, and turn to his own profit the superstitious
ignorance of the Redskins. Enjoying, in his heart, the triumph he had
obtained, the Count frowned, and employing the language and emphatic
gestures of the Indians, when he saw they were sufficiently recovered
to listen to him, he addressed them with that commanding tone which
always imposes on the masses.

"Let my brothers open their ears; the words my lips utter must be
heard and understood by all. My brothers are simple men, prone to
error; truth must enter their hearts like an iron wedge. My goodness
is great, because I am powerful; instead of chastising them when
they dared to lay hands on me, I am satisfied with displaying my
power before their eyes. I am a great physician of the pale faces; I
possess all the secrets of the most famous medicines. If I pleased,
the birds of the air and the fish of the river would come to do me
homage, because the Master of Life is within me, and has given me his
medicine rod. Listen to this, Redskins, and remember it: when the first
man was born, he walked on the banks of the Mecha-Chebe; there he met
the Master of Life: the Master of Life saluted him, and said to him,
'Thou art my son.' 'No,' the first man made answer, 'thou art my son,
and I will prove it to thee, if thou dost not believe me; we will sit
down and plant in the earth the medicine rod we hold in our hands; the
one who rises first will be the younger, and the son of the other.'
They sat down then, and looked at each other for a long time, until at
length the Master of Life turned pale, and the flesh left his bones; on
which the first man exclaimed, joyfully, 'At length thou art assuredly
dead.' And they regarded each other thus during ten times ten moons,
and ten times more; and as at the end of that time the bones of the
Master of Life were completely bleached, the first man rose and said,
'Yes, now there is no more doubt; he is certainly dead.' He then took
the medicine stick of the Master of Life, and drew it from the earth.
But then the Master of Life rose, and taking the stick from him, said
to him, 'Stop! here I am; I am thy father, and thou art my son.' And
the first man recognized him as his father. But the Master of Life
then added, 'Thou art my son, first man; thou can'st not die; take my
medicine staff; when I have to communicate with my Redskin sons, I
will send thee.' This is the medicine staff. Are you ready to execute
my orders?"

These words were uttered with so profound an accent of truth, the
legend related by the Count was so true and so well known by all, that
the Indians, whom the miracle of the match had already disposed to
credulity, put complete faith in it, and answered respectfully--

"Let my father speak: what he wishes we wish. Are we not his children?"

"Hence," the Count continued, "I wish to speak with you, chief, alone."

Natah Otann had listened to the Count's discourse with the deepest
attention: at times, an observer might have noticed a flash of joy
cross his features, immediately followed, however, by a feeling of
pleasure, which lit up his intelligent eyes: he applauded, like his
warriors, perhaps more warmly than they, when the young man ceased
speaking; on hearing him say that he would speak with the sachem alone,
a smile played on his lips: he made the Indians a sign to retire, and
walked towards the Count with an ease and grace which the other could
not refrain from noticing. There was a native nobility in this young
chief, which pleased at the first glance, and attracted sympathy.

After bowing respectfully, the Blackfeet warriors went down the hill,
and collected about one hundred yards from the camping place.

There were two men whom the Count's eloquence had surprised quite as
much as the Indian warriors. These were Bright-eye and Ivon; neither
of them understood a syllable, and the young man's Indian science
completely threw them out; they awaited in the utmost anxiety the
denouement of this scene, whose meaning they could not decipher.

When left alone (for the hunter and Ivon soon also withdrew), the
Frenchman and the Indian examined each other with extreme attention.
But whatever efforts the white man made to read the sentiments of the
man he had before him, he was obliged to allow that he had to deal
with one of those superior natives, on whose faces it is impossible to
read anything, and who, under all circumstances, are ever masters of
their impressions; furthermore, the fixity and metallic lustre of the
Indian's eye caused him to feel a secret uneasiness, which he hastened
to remove by speaking, as if that would break the charm.

"Chief," he said, "now that your warriors have retired--"

Natah Otann interrupted him by a sign, and bowed courteously.

"Pardon me, Monsieur le Comte," he said, with an accent which a native
of the banks of the Seine would have envied: "I think the slight
practice you have had in speaking our language is wearisome to you; if
you would please to express yourself in French, I fancy I understand
that language well enough to follow you."

"Eh?" the Count exclaimed, with a start of surprise, "what is that you
say?"

Had a thunderbolt fallen at the Count's feet he would not have been
more surprised and terrified than on hearing this savage, who wore the
complete costume of the Blackfeet, and whose face was painted of four
different colours, express himself so purely in French. Natah Otann did
not seem to notice his companion's agitation, but continued coldly--

"Deign to pardon me, Monsieur le Comte, for employing terms which must
certainly have offended you by their triviality; but the few occasions
I have for speaking French in this desert must serve as an excuse."

M. de Beaulieu was a prey to one of those surprises which grow
gradually greater. He no longer knew were he awake, or suffering
from a nightmare; what he heard seemed to him so incredible and
incomprehensible, that he could not find words to express his feelings.

"Who on earth are you?" he exclaimed, when sufficiently master of
himself to speak.

"I!" Natah Otann remarked carelessly; "why, you see I am a poor Indian,
and nothing more."

"'Tis impossible," the young man said.

"I assure you, sir, that I have told you the exact truth. Hang it,"
he added with charming frankness, "if you find me a little less--what
shall I say?--coarse, you must not consider it a crime; that results
from considerations entirely independent of my will, which I will tell
you some day, if you wish to hear them."

The Count, as we think we have said, was a man of great courage, whom
but few things could disturb; the first impression passed, he bravely
took his part; perfectly master of himself henceforth, he frankly
accepted the position which accident had so singularly made for him.

"By Jove!" he said, with a laugh, "the meeting is a strange one, and
may reasonably surprise me; you will therefore pardon, my dear sir,
that astonishment--in extreme bad taste, I grant--which I at first
evidenced on hearing you address me as you did. I was so far from
expecting to meet, six hundred leagues from civilised countries, a man
so well bred as yourself, that I confess I at first hardly knew what
Saint to invoke."

"You flatter me, sir; believe me that I feel highly grateful for the
good opinion you are good enough to have of me; now, if you permit, we
will go back to our business."

"On my faith, I am so staggered by all that has happened, that I really
do not know what I am about."

"Nonsense, that is nothing; I will lead you back to the right track;
after the charming address you made us, you seem to desire speech with
me alone."

"Hum!" the Count said, with a smile, "I am afraid that I must have
appeared to you supremely ridiculous with my legend, especially my
remarks, but then I could not suspect that I had an auditor of your
stamp."

Natah Otann shook his head sadly; a melancholy expression for a moment
darkened his face.

"No," he said, "you acted as you were bound to do; but while you were
speaking, I was thinking of those poor Indians sunk so deeply in error,
and asking myself whether there was any hope of their regeneration
before the white men succeed in utterly destroying them."

The chief uttered these words with such a marked accent of grief and
hatred, that the Count was moved by the thought how this man, with a
soul of fire, must suffer at the brutalization of his race.

"Courage!" he said, holding out his hand to him.

"Courage!" the Indian repeated, bitterly, though clasping the proffered
hand; "after each defeat I experienced in the struggle I have
undertaken, the man who has served as my father, and unfortunately made
me what I am, never ceases to say that to me."

There was a moment of silence; each was busied with his own thoughts;
at length Natah Otann proceeded:--

"Listen, Monsieur le Comte; between men of a certain stamp there is a
species of undefinable feeling, which attaches them to each other in
spite of themselves; for the six months your have been traversing the
desert in every direction, I have never once lost sight of you; you
would have been dead long ere this, but I spread a secret ægis over
you. Oh, do not thank me," he said, quickly, as the young man made a
sign, "I have acted rather in my own interest than yours. What I say
surprises you, I daresay, but it is so. Allow me to tell you, that I
have views with reference to yourself, whose secrets I will unfold to
you in a few days, when we know each other better; as for the present,
I will obey you in whatever you wish; in the eyes of my countrymen, I
will keep up that miraculous halo which surrounds your brow. You wish
these American emigrants to be left at peace, very good; for your sake
I pardon this race of vipers; but I ask you one favour in return."

"Speak!"

"When you are certain the people you wish to save are in security,
accompany me to my village,--that is all I desire. That will not cost
you much, especially as my tribe is encamped not more than a day's
march from the spot where you now are."

"I accept your proposition, chief. I will accompany you wherever you
please, though not till I am certain that my _protégés_ no longer
require my aid."

"That is agreed. Stay, one word more."

"Say it."

"It is well understood that I am only an Indian like the rest, even to
the two white men who accompany you!"

"You demand it?"

"For our common welfare: a word spoken thoughtlessly, any indiscretion,
how trifling soever, would destroy us both. Ah! you do not know the
Redskins yet," he added, with that melancholy smile which had already
given the Count so much subject for thought.

"Very good," he answered; "you may be easy; I am warned."

"Now, if you think proper, I will recall my warriors; a longer
conference between us might arouse their jealousy."

"Do so; I trust entirely to you."

"You will have no reason to repent it," Natah Otann replied, graciously.

While the chief went to join his companions, the Count walked up to the
two white men.

"Well?" Bright-eye asked him, "have you obtained what you wanted from
that man?"

"Perfectly," he answered; "I only wished to say a few words to him."

The hunter looked at him cunningly.

"I did not think him so easy," he said.

"Why so, my friend?"

"His reputation is great in the desert; I have known him for a very
long period."

"Ah!" the young man said, not at all sorry to obtain some information
about the man who perplexed him so greatly; "what reputation has he
then?"

Bright-eye seemed to hesitate for a moment.

"Are you afraid to explain yourself clearly on that head?" the Count
asked.

"I have no reason for that; on the contrary, with the exception of that
day on which he wished to flay me alive--a slight mistake, which I
pardon with my whole heart,--our relations have always been excellent."

"The more so," the Count said, with a laugh, "because you never met
again, to my knowledge, till this day."

"That is what I meant to say. Look you--Natah Otann, between ourselves,
is one of those Indians whom it is far more advantageous not to see: he
is like the owl--his presence always forebodes evil."

"The deuce! You trouble me greatly by speaking so, Bright-eye."

"Suppose I had said nothing, then," he answered, quickly; "for my part,
I should prefer to be silent."

"That is possible; but the little you have allowed to escape has, I
confess, so awakened my curiosity, that I should not be sorry to learn
more."

"Unfortunately, I know nothing."

"Still you spoke of his reputation--is that bad?"

"I did not say so," Bright-eye answered, with reserve. "You know, Mr.
Edward, that Indian manners are very different from ours: what is bad
to us is regarded very differently by Indians; and so--"

"So, I suppose," the Count interrupted, "Natah Otann has an execrable
reputation."

"No, I assure you; that depends upon the way in which you look at
matters."

"Good; and what is your personal opinion?"

"Oh, I, as you are aware, am only a poor fellow; still it seems to me
as if this demon of an Indian is more crafty than his whole tribe;
between ourselves, he is regarded as a sorcerer by his countrymen, who
are frightfully afraid of him."

"Is that all?"

"Nearly."

"After that," the Count said, lightly, "as he has asked me to accompany
him to his village, the few days we spend with him will enable us to
study him at our ease."

The hunter gave a start of surprise.

"You will not do so, I trust, Sir?"

"I do not see what can prevent me."

"Yourself, Sir; who, I hope, will not walk, with your eyes open, into
the lion's jaws."

"Will you explain--yes, or no?" the Count exclaimed with rising
impatience.

"Oh, what is the use of explaining?--will what I say stop you? No, I
am persuaded of that. You see, therefore, it is useless for me to say
more; besides, it is too late--the chief is returning."

The Count made a movement of ill-humour, at once suppressed; but this
movement did not escape Natah Otann, who at this moment appeared on the
plateau. The young man walked toward him.

"Well?" he asked eagerly.

"My young men consent to do what our Paleface father desires; if he
will mount his horse and follow us, he can convince himself that our
intentions are loyal."

"I follow you, chief," the Count replied, making Ivon a sign to bring
up his horse.

The Blackfeet welcomed the three hunters with unequivocal signs of joy.

"Forward!" the young man said.

Natah Otann raised his arm. At this signal the warriors drove in their
knees, and the horses started like a hurricane. No one, who has not
witnessed it, can form an idea of an Indian chase: nothing stops
the Redskins--no obstacle is powerful enough to make them deviate
from their course; they go in a straight line, rolling like a human
whirlwind across the prairie crossing gulleys, ravines, and rocks, with
dizzy rapidity. Natah Otann, the Count, and his two companions, were
at the head of the cavalcade, closely followed by the warriors. All at
once the chief checked his horse, shouting at the top of his voice--

"Halt!"

All obeyed, as if by enchantment: the horses stopped dead, and remained
motionless, as if their feet were planted in the ground.

"Why stop?" the Count asked; "we had better push on."

"It is useless," the chief said, calmly; "let my Pale brother look
before him."

The Count bent on his horse's neck.

"I can see nothing," he said.

"That is true," the Indian said; "I forgot that my brother has the eyes
of the Palefaces; in a few minutes he will see."

The Blackfeet anxiously collected round their chief, whom they
questioned with their glances. The latter, apparently impassive, looked
straight ahead, distinguishing in the darkness objects invisible to
all but himself. The Indians, however, had not long to wait, for some
horsemen soon came up at full speed. When they arrived near Natah
Otann's party, they stopped.

"What has happened?" the chief asked, sternly; "why are my sons running
away thus? They are not warriors I see, but timid women."

The Indians bowed their heads with humility at this reproach, but
made no answer. The chief continued--"Will no one inform us of
what has happened--why my chosen warriors are flying like scattered
antelopes--where is Long Horn?"

A warrior emerged from the ranks.

"Long Horn is dead," he said, sorrowfully.

"He was a wise and renowned warrior; he has gone to the happy hunting
grounds to hunt with the upright warriors. As he is dead, why did not
the Blackbird take the totem in his hand in his place?"

"Because the Blackbird is dead," the warrior answered, in the same tone.

Natah Otann frowned, and his brow was contracted by the effort he made
to suppress his passion.

"Oh!" he said, bitterly, "the greathearts of the east have fought
well; their rifles carry truly. The two best chiefs of the nation have
fallen, but the Red Wolf still remained--why did he not avenge his
brothers?"

"Because he has also fallen," the warrior said, in a mournful voice.

A shudder of anger ran through the ranks.

"Wah!" Natah Otann exclaimed, with grief, "what is he also dead?"

"No; but he is dangerously wounded."

After these words there was a silence. The chief looked around him, and
then said--

"So; four Palefaces have held at bay two hundred Blackfeet warriors;
killed and wounded their bravest chiefs, and those warriors have not
taken their revenge. Ah! ah! what will the White Buffalo say when he
hears that? He will give petticoats to my sons, and make them prepare
food for the more courageous warriors, instead of sending them on the
warpath."

"The camp of the Long Knives was in our power," the Indian replied,
who had hitherto spoken for his comrades, "we already had them down
with our knees on their chests, a portion of their cattle was carried
off, and the scalps of the Palefaces were about to be attached to our
girdles, when the Evil Genius suddenly appeared in their midst, and, by
her mere appearance, changed the face of the combat."

The chief's face became still severer at this news, which his warriors
received with unequivocal marks of terror.

"The 'Evil Genius!'" he said; "of whom is my brother speaking?"

"Of whom else can I speak to my father, save the _Lying She-wolf of the
Prairies?_?" the Indian said, in a low voice.

"Oh! oh!" Natah Otann answered, "did my brother see the She-wolf?"

"Yes; we assure our father," the Blackfeet shouted altogether, happy to
clear themselves from the accusation of cowardice that weighed on them.

Natah Otann seemed to reflect for a moment.

"At what place are the cattle my brothers carried off from the Long
Knives?" he asked.

"We have brought them with us," a warrior answered, "they are here."

"Good," Natah Otann continued, "let my brothers open their ears to
hear the words the Great Spirit breathes unto me:--the Long Knives are
protected by the She-wolf: our efforts would be useless, and my sons
would not succeed in conquering them; I will make a great medicine to
break the charm of the She-wolf when we return to our village, but till
then we must be very cunning to deceive the She-wolf, and prevent her
being on her guard. Will my sons follow the advice of an experienced
chief?"

"Let my father utter his thoughts," a warrior answered, in the name of
all, "he is very wise: we will do what he wishes: he will deceive the
She-wolf better than we can."

"Good; my sons have spoken well. This is what we will do:--We will
return to the camp of the Palefaces, and will restore them their
beasts; the Palefaces, deceived by this friendly conduct, will no
longer suspect us; when we have made the great medicine, we will then
seize their camp and all it contains, and the Lying She-wolf will be
unable to defend them. I have spoken; what do my sons think?"

"My father is very crafty," the warrior replied; "what he has said is
very good, his sons will perform it."

Natah Otann cast a glance of triumph at the Count de Beaulieu, who
admired the skill with which the chief, while appearing to reprimand
the Indians for the ill success of their enterprise, and evincing the
greatest wrath against the Americans, had succeeded in a few minutes in
inducing them to carry out his secret wishes.

"Oh! oh!" the Count murmured, aside, "this Indian is no common man, he
deserves studying."

Still, a moment of tumult had followed the chief's words. The
Blackfeet, recovered from the panic and terror which had made them fly
with the feet of gazelles, to escape speedily from the ruined camp,
where they had experienced so rude a defeat, had got off their horses,
and were engaged, some in laying on their wounds chewed leaves of the
oregano, others in collecting the cattle and horses which they had
stolen from the Palefaces, and which were scattered about.

"Who is this Lying She-wolf of the Prairies, who inspires such horror
in these men?" the Count asked Bright-eye.

"No one knows her," the hunter answered, in a low voice, "she is a
woman whose mysterious life has hitherto foiled the most careful
attempts at investigation: she does no harm to any but the Indians,
whose implacable foe she appears to be: the Redskins affirm that she is
invulnerable, that bullets and arrows rebound from her without doing
her any injury. I have often seen her, though I have had no opportunity
of speaking with her. I believe her to be mad, for I have seen her
perform some of the wildest freaks at some moments, though at others
she appears in full possession of her senses: in a word, she is an
incomprehensible being, who leads an extraordinary life in the heart of
the prairies."

"Is she alone?"

"Always."

"You excite my curiosity to the highest degree," the Count said; "no
one, I suppose, could give me any information about this woman?"

"One person could do so, if he cared to speak."

"Who's that?"

"Natah Otann," the hunter said, in a low voice.

"That is strange," the Count muttered; "what can there be in common
between him and this woman?"

Bright-eye only answered by a significant glance.

The conversation was broken off, and at the chief's order the Blackfeet
remounted their horses.

"Forwards!" Natah Otann said, taking the head of the column again with
the Count and his companions.

The whole troop set out at a gallop in the direction of the American
camp, taking the cattle in their midst.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE EXILE.


We are compelled, for the proper comprehension of the facts that will
follow, to break off our story for a moment, in order to describe a
strange adventure which happened on the Western Prairies some thirty
odd years before our story opens.

The Indians, whom people insist so wrongly, in our opinion, in
regarding as savages, have certain customs which display a thorough
knowledge of the human heart. The Comanches, who appear to remember
that in old times they enjoyed a far advanced civilization, have
retained the largest amount of those customs which are, certainly,
stamped with originality.

One day in the month of February, which they call _the Moon of the
Arriving Eagles_, and in the year 1795 or 1796, a village of the Red
Cow tribe was in a state of extraordinary agitation. The hachesto, or
public speaker, mounted on the roof of a lodge, summoned the warriors
for the seventh hour of the day to the village square, near the ark
of the first man, where a grand council would be held. The warriors
asked each other in vain the purport of this unforeseen meeting, but no
one could tell them: the hachesto himself was ignorant, and they were
obliged to await the hour of assembling, although the comments and
suppositions still went on to a great extent.

The Redskins, whom badly-informed authors represent to us as cold,
silent men, are, on the contrary, very gay, and remarkable gossips when
together. What has caused the contrary supposition is, that in their
relations with white men the Indians are, in the first place, checked
by the difficulties of the language--equally insurmountable, by the
way, for both parties--and next by the distrust which every American
native feels towards Europeans, whoever they may be, owing to the
inveterate hatred that separates the two races.

During our lengthened residence among Indian tribes we often had
opportunities for noticing what mistakes are made with respect to the
Redskins. During their long evening gossips in the villages, or the
hunting expeditions, there was a rolling fire of jokes and witticisms,
often lasting whole hours, to the great delight of the audience, who
laughed that hearty Indian laugh, without care or afterthought, which
cleaves the mouth to the ears, and draws tears of delight,--a laugh
which, for metallic resonance, can only be compared with that of
negroes, though the former is far more spiritual than the latter, whose
notes have ever something bestial about them.

Toward the decline of day, the hour selected for the meeting, the
village square presented a most animated appearance. The warriors,
women, children, and dogs, those inseparable guests of the Redskins,
pressed round a large circle left empty in the centre for the
council fire, near which the principal chiefs of the nation crouched
ceremoniously. At a sign from an old sachem whose hair, white as
silver, fell in a cloud on his shoulders, the pipe bearer brought in
the great calumet, the stem of which he presented to each chief in
turn, while holding the bowl in the palm of his hand. When all the
chiefs had smoked, the pipe bearer turned the calumet to the four
cardinal points, while murmuring mysterious words which no one heard;
then he emptied the ash into the fire, saying aloud,--

"Chiefs, warriors, women, and children of the Red Cow, your sachems are
assembled to judge a very grave question; pray to the Master of Life to
inspire them with wise words."

Then the pipe bearer, after bowing respectfully to the chiefs,
withdrew, taking the calumet with him. The council began, and, at a
sign from the aged sachem, a chief rose, and bowing, took the word:--

"Venerated sachems, chiefs, and warriors of my nation," he said, in a
loud voice, "the mission with which I am entrusted is painful to my
heart: listen to me indulgently, be not governed by passion; but let
justice alone preside over the severe decree which you will, perhaps,
be compelled to pronounce. The mission which I am entrusted with is
painful, I repeat; it fills my heart with sadness: I am compelled to
accuse before you two renowned chiefs belonging to two illustrious
families, who have, with equal claims, deserved well of the nation on
many occasions by rendering it signal services; these chiefs, as I must
name them before you, are the Bounding Panther, and the Sparrow Hawk."

On hearing these names, so well known and justly esteemed, pronounced,
a shudder of astonishment and pain ran though the crowd. But, at a sign
from the oldest chief, silence was almost immediately re-established,
and the chief continued--

"How is it that a cloud has suddenly passed over the mind of these two
warriors, and tarnished their intellect to such an extent, that these
two men, who so long loved one another as brothers, whose friendship
was cited among the nation, have suddenly become implacable enemies,
so that, when they see each other, their eyes flash lightning, and
their hands seek their weapons to commit murder? No one can say;
no one knows it; these chiefs, when interrogated by the sachems,
maintained an obstinate silence, instead of revealing the causes of
their cruel enmity, which brings trouble and desolation on the tribe.
Such a scandal must not last longer; tolerating it would be giving a
pernicious example to our children! Sachems, chiefs, and warriors, in
the name of justice, I demand that these irreconcilable enemies should
be eternally banished from the tribe this very evening at sunset. I
have spoken. Have I said well, powerful men?"

The chief sat down amid a mournful silence in this assembly of nearly
two thousand people; the beating of their sorrow-laden hearts might
almost be heard, such sustained attention did each one give to the
words pronounced in the council.

"Has any chief any observation to offer on the accusation which has
just been brought?" the old sachem said, in a weak voice, which was,
however, perfectly heard in every part of the square. A member of the
council rose.

"I take the word," he said, "not to refute Tiger Cat's accusation,
for unfortunately all he has said is most scrupulously correct; far
from exaggerating facts, he has, with that goodness and wisdom which
reside in him, weakened the odiousness of that hatred; I only wish to
offer a remark to my brothers. The chiefs are guilty, that is only too
fully proved; a longer discussion on that point would be tedious; but,
as Tiger Cat himself told us, with that loyalty which distinguishes
him, these two men are renowned chiefs, chosen warriors, and they have
rendered the nation signal services; we all love and cherish them for
different reasons; let us be severe, but not cruel; let us not drive
them from among us as unclean creatures; before striking, let us make
one more attempt to reconcile them; this last step, taken in the
presence of the whole nation, will, doubtlessly, touch their hearts,
and we shall have the happiness of keeping two illustrious chiefs. If
they remain deaf to our prayers, if our observations do not obtain the
success we desire, then, as the case will be without a remedy, let us
be implacable; put an end to this scandal which has lasted too long,
and, as Tiger Cat asked, drive them for ever from our nation, which
they dishonour. I have spoken. Have I said well, powerful men?"

After bowing to the sachems, the chief resumed his seat in the midst
of a murmur of satisfaction, produced by his hearty language. Although
these two speeches were contained in the programme of the ceremony,
and everyone knew what the result of the meeting would be, the
unreconciled chiefs had so much sympathy among the nation, that many
persons still hoped they would be reconciled at the last moment, when
they saw themselves on the point of being banished. The strangest thing
connected with the hatred between the two men was, that the reason of
it was completely unknown, and no one knew how to account for it. When
silence was restored, the oldest sachem, after a consultation with his
colleagues in a low voice, took the word.

"Let the Bounding Panther and the Sparrowhawk be introduced to our
presence."

At the two opposite corners of the square, the crowd parted like
overripe fruit, and left a passage for a small band of warriors, in
the centre of which the two accused men walked. When they met, they
remained perfectly calm, a slight arching of the eyebrows being the
only sign of emotion they displayed. They were each about twenty-five
years of age, well built, and active, and of martial aspect. They wore
their grand costume and war paint, but their weapons were carried
by their respective friends. They presented themselves before the
council with great respect and modesty, which the assembly approved of
heartily. After looking at them with a glance at once sorrowful and
benevolent, the eldest sachem rose with an effort, and, supported by
two of his colleagues, who held him under the arms, he at length spoke
in a weak voice.

"Warriors, my beloved children," he said, "from the spot where you
stood you heard the accusation brought against you; what have you to
say in your defence?--are those words true? do you really entertain
this irreconcilable hatred to each other? Speak."

The two chiefs bowed their heads silently. The sachem continued--

"My cherished children, I was already very old, when your mother, a
child, whose birth I also saw, brought you into the world. I was the
first to teach you the use of those weapons, which later became so
terrible in your vigorous hands. Now that I am about to sleep the
eternal sleep, only to wake again in the happy hunting grounds, give
me a supreme consolation which will make me the happiest of men, and
repay me for all the sorrow you have caused me. Come, children, you are
young and adventurous, love alone ought to find a place in your hearts;
hatred is a passion belonging to a ripe age, it does not become youth;
offer one another those honest hands, embrace, like the two brothers
you are, and let all be eternally forgotten between you. I implore you,
my children; you cannot resist the prayers of an old man so near the
tomb as I am."

There was a moment of supreme anxiety in the crowd; all waited with
panting hearts for what was about to happen. The two chiefs directed a
tender glance at the old sachem, who regarded them with tears in his
eyes, then turned towards each other; their lips trembled, as if they
wished to speak; a nervous tremor agitated their bodies, but no sound
passed their lips; their arms remained inert by their sides.

"Answer," the old man continued, "yes or no. You must; I command it."

"No," they replied together, in a hoarse though firm voice.

The sachem drew himself up.

"It is well," he said. "As no generous feeling remains in your hearts,
as hatred has eaten them up entirely, and you are no longer men but
monsters, listen to the irrevocable sentence which your sachems, your
equals, your relations, and friends pronounce upon you. The nation
rejects you from its bosom; you are no longer children of our tribe.
Fire and water are refused you on the hunting ground of your nation,
we no longer know you. Chiefs who answer for you with their heads
will lead you twenty-five leagues from the village; you, Bounding
Panther, in a southern, and you, Sparrowhawk, in a northern direction;
you are forbidden, under penalty of death, ever to set your foot again
on the territory of your nation; each of you will take one of these
arrows, painted of diverse colours, which will serve as a passport
with the tribes through which you pass. Seek a nation to adopt you,
for henceforth you have neither country nor family. Go, accursed ones!
these arrows are the last presents you will receive from your brothers.
Go, and may the Master of Life soften your tiger hearts! As for us, we
know you no more. I have spoken. Have I said well, powerful men?"

The old man sat down again in the midst of general emotion; he veiled
his face with the skirt of his buffalo robe, and wept. The two chiefs
tottered away like drunken men, led to opposite corners of the square
by their friends. They passed through the ranks of their countrymen,
bowed down by the maledictions showered on them as they passed.

At the extremity of the village, horses were awaiting them. They
galloped off, still followed by their escort. When each arrived at the
spot where he was to be left, the warriors dismounted, threw their arms
on the ground, and went off at full speed. Not a word had been uttered
during the long ride, which lasted fourteen hours.

We will follow the Sparrowhawk: as for the Bounding Panther, no one
ever knew what became of him; his traces were so completely lost, that
it was impossible to find them again. The Sparrowhawk was a man of
tried courage and energy; still, finding himself alone, abandoned by
all those he had loved, a momentary feeling of discouragement and cold
rage almost turned him mad. But his pride soon revolted, he wrestled
with his sorrow, and after allowing his horse to take its necessary
rest, he set out boldly.

He wandered about at hazard for many a month, following no precise
direction, living by the chase, caring very little where he stopped, or
the people with whom chance might bring him in contact. One day, after
a long and perilous chase after an elk, which by a species of fatality
he could not catch up, he suddenly found himself before a dead horse.
He looked around him: no great distance off lay a sword, near which was
a corpse, easily recognizable as that of a European by the dress.

Sparrowhawk felt his curiosity excited; with that sagacity peculiar to
the Indians, he began ferreting about in every direction. His search
was almost immediately crowned with success; he saw, at the foot of a
tree, an old man with greyish hair and wild beard, dressed in tattered
clothes, and lying motionless. The Indian quickly went up to examine
the condition of the stranger, and try to restore him, if he were not
dead. The first thing Sparrowhawk did was to lay his hand on the heart
of the man he wished to succour. The heart beat, but so feebly, it
seemed as if it must soon stop. All the Indians are to a certain extent
doctors, that is to say, they possess a knowledge of certain plants, by
means of which they often effect really wonderful cures.

While trying to restore the stranger, the Indian examined him
attentively. Though his hair was beginning to turn grey, the man was
still young, not more than forty to forty-five; he was tall and
well-built; his forehead was wide and high; his nose aquiline; his
mouth large, and his chin square. His clothes, though in rags, were
well cut and made of fine cloth, which plainly showed that he must
belong to a better class of society--the reader will understand that
these delicate distinctions escaped the notice of the Indian--he
only saw a man of intelligent appearance, and on the point of death;
and though he belonged to the white race, a race which, like all his
countrymen, he detested, and for good reasons--at the sight of such
distress, he forgot his antipathy, and only thought of helping him.

Near the stranger there lay, in confusion on the grass, a surgeon's
pocketbook, a brace of pistols, a gun, a sabre, and an open book.
For a long time Sparrowhawk's efforts met with no success, and he
was despairing whether he could raise the dying man to life, when a
transient glow suffused his face, and his heart began beating more
quickly and strongly. Sparrowhawk made a gesture of delight at this
unexpected success. It was almost incredible! This warrior, whose whole
life had been hitherto spent in waging war of ambushes and surprises
with the whites, and committing the most refined cruelties on the
unhappy Spaniards who fell into his hands, now rejoiced at recalling to
life this individual, who, to him, was a natural enemy.

In a few minutes the stranger slowly opened his eyes, but he closed
them again at once, as the light probably dazzled them. Sparrowhawk did
not lose heart, and resolved to carry out a good work so well begun.
His expectations were not deceived: the stranger presently opened his
eyes again; he made an effort to rise, but was too weak, his strength
failed him, and he fell back again. The Indian then gently supported
him, and seated him against the trunk of the catalpa, at whose foot he
had been hitherto lying. The stranger thanked him by a sign, muttering
one word, _beber_ (drink).

The Comanches, whose life is passed in periodical excursions into the
Spanish territory, know a few words of that language. Sparrowhawk spoke
it rather fluently. He seized the gourd hanging to his saddle bow, and
which he had filled two hours before, and put it to the stranger's
lips; so soon as he had tasted the water, he began swallowing it in
heavy gulps. But the Indian, fearing an accident, soon took the gourd
from his lips. The stranger wished to drink again.

"No," he said, "my father is too weak, he must eat something first."

The patient smiled, and pressed his hand. The Indian rose joyfully;
took from his provision bag some fruit, and handed it to the man.
Through these attentions the stranger was sufficiently recovered,
within an hour, to get up. He then explained to Sparrowhawk, in bad
Spanish, that he and one of his friends were travelling together, that
their horses died of fatigue, while themselves could procure nothing to
eat or drink in the desert. The result was, that his friend died in his
arms only the previous day, after frightful suffering, and he should
have probably shared the same fate, had not his lucky star, or rather
Providence, sent him help.

"Good," the Indian replied, when the stranger ended his narrative, "my
father is now strong, I will lasso a horse, and lead him to the first
habitation of the men of his own colour."

At this proposition the stranger frowned; a look of hatred and haughty
contempt was legible on his face.

"No," he said; "I will not return to the men of my colour, they have
rejected and persecuted me, I hate them; I wish to live henceforward in
the desert."

"Wah!" the Indian exclaimed, in surprise, "has my father no nation?"

"No," he answered, "I am alone, without country, relatives, or friends;
the sight of a man of my colour excites me to hatred and contempt; all
are ungrateful, I will live far from them."

"Good," the Indian said; "I, too, am rejected by my nation; I, too, am
alone; I will remain with my father--I will be his son."

"What?" the stranger ejaculated, fancying he had misunderstood him, "Is
it possible? Does banishment also exist among your wandering tribes?
You, like myself, are abandoned by those of your race and blood, and
condemned to remain alone--alone for ever?"

"Yes," Sparrowhawk said, sorrowfully, bowing his head.

"Oh!" the stranger said, directing a glance of strange meaning toward
heaven, "oh, men! they are the same everywhere, cruel, unnatural, and
heartless!"

He walked about for a few moments, muttering certain words in a
language the Indian did not understand; then he returned quickly to
him, and pressing his hand, said, with feverish energy:--

"Well, then, I accept your proposition; our fate is the same, and we
ought not to separate again. Victims both of the spite of man, we will
live together; you have saved my life, Redskin; at the first impulse I
was vexed at it, but now I thank Providence, as I can still do good,
and force men to blush at their ingratitude."

This speech was far too full of philosophic precepts for Sparrowhawk
thoroughly to understand it; still, he caught its sense, that was
enough for him, as he was too glad to find in his companion a man
afflicted by similar misfortunes to his own.

"Let my father open his ears," he said; "he will remain here while I go
and find a horse for him; there are many manadas in the neighbourhood,
and I shall soon have what we want; my father will be patient during
Sparrowhawk's absence. I will leave him food and drink."

"Go," the stranger said; and two hours later the Indian returned with a
magnificent steed.

Several days were then spent in vagabond marches, though each took them
deeper into the desert. The stranger seemed afraid of meeting white
men; but with the exception of the story he had told of his narrow
escape from death, he maintained an obstinate silence as to his past
life. The Indian knew not then who he was, nor why he had ventured so
far into the desert at the risk of perishing. Each time Sparrowhawk
asked him any details about his life he turned the conversation, and
that so adroitly, that the Indian could never bring him back to the
starting point. One day, as they were rambling along side by side,
talking, Sparrowhawk, who was rather vexed at the slight confidence the
stranger placed in him, asked categorically--

"My father was a great chief in his nation?"

The stranger smiled sorrowfully.

"Perhaps," he answered; "but now I am nothing."

"My father is mistaken," the Indian said, seriously; "the warriors of
his nation may not have valued him, but he still remains the same."

"All that is smoke," the stranger replied. "The love of country is the
greatest and noblest passion the Master of Life has placed in the heart
of man--my father had a revered name among his people."

The stranger frowned, and his face assumed an expression the Indian had
never seen before.

"My name is a curse," he said, "no one will hear it uttered again; it
has been like a brand seared on my forehead by the partisans of the man
whom I, humble as I am, helped to overthrow."

Sparrowhawk made a gesture of supreme disdain.

"The chief of the nation must return to his warriors: if he betrays
them, they are masters of his scalp," he said, in a firm voice.

The stranger, surprised at being so well understood by this primitive
man, smiled proudly.

"In demanding his head," he said, "I staked my own; I wished to save my
country. Who can blame me?"

"No one," Sparrowhawk replied, quickly; "every warrior must die."

There was a lengthened silence; Sparrowhawk was the first to break it.

"We are destined," he said, "to live long days together, my father
wishes his name to remain unknown, and I will not insist on knowing it;
still, we cannot wander about at hazard, we must find a tribe to adopt
us, men to recognize us as brothers."

"For what purpose?"

"To be strong and everywhere respected: we owe it to our brothers, as
they owe it to us; life is only a loan which the Master of Life makes
us, on the condition that it is profitable to those who surround us. By
what name shall I present my father to the men from whom we may ask
asylum and protection?"

"By any you please, my son; as I am no longer to hear my own, any other
is a matter of indifference to me."

Sparrowhawk reflected for an instant.

"My father is strong," he said, "his scalp is beginning to resemble the
snows of winter, he will henceforth be called the White Buffalo."

"The White Buffalo; be it so," the stranger answered, with a sigh;
"that name is as good as another; perhaps I shall thus escape the
weapons of those who have sworn my death."

The Indian, charmed at knowing how henceforth to call his friend, then
said to him, joyfully--

"In a few days we shall reach a village of Blood Indians or Kenhas,
where we shall be received as if we were sons of the nation; my father
is wise, I am strong, the Kenhas will be happy to receive us; courage,
old father! this country of adoption will be, perhaps, worth your own."

"France, farewell!" the stranger uttered, in a choking voice.

Four days later they reached the village of the Kenhas, where a
friendly reception was given them.

"Well," Sparrowhawk said to his companion, after they had been adopted
according to all the Indian rites, "what does my father think? Is he
happy?"

"I fancy," the other said, with a melancholy air, "that nothing can
restore the exile the country he has lost."



CHAPTER IX.

THE MASSACRE.


Days, months, years, passed away: the White Buffalo seemed to have
completely renounced that country which he was forbidden ever to see
again. He had completely adopted Indian customs, and, through his
wisdom, had so thoroughly acquired the esteem and respect of the Kenha
nation, that he was counted among the most revered sachems.

Sparrowhawk, after giving on many occasions undeniable proofs of his
courage and military talents, had gained also a firm and honourable
place in the nation. If an experienced chief were required for a
dangerous expedition, he was ever selected by the council of the
sachems, for they knew that success constantly crowned his enterprises.
Sparrowhawk was a man of clear mind, who at once understood the
intellectual value of his European friend; obedient to the old man's
lessons, he never acted under any circumstances without having taken
his advice, and always followed his counsels: hence he speedily began
reaping the advantage of his skilful conduct. Thus, when he two years
later married a Kenha girl, and when his wife made him father of a boy,
he took him in his arms, and presented him to the old man, saying, with
great emotion:

"The White Buffalo sees this warrior, he is his son, my father will
make a man of him."

"I swear it," the old man replied, firmly.

When the child was weaned, the father kept the promise he had made his
friend, and gave him his son, leaving him at liberty to educate the
boy as he thought fit. The old man, rejuvenated by the hope of this
education, which gave him the chance of making a man after his own
heart of this frail creature, joyfully accepted the difficult task. The
child received from its parents the name of Natah Otann, a significant
name, for it is that borne by the most dangerous animal of Northern
America, the grizzly bear.

Natah Otann made rapid progress under the guidance of the White
Buffalo. The latter had a few books by him, which enabled him to give
his pupil a very extensive education, and make him very learned. Thence
resulted the strange circumstance of an Indian, who, while following
exactly the customs of his fathers, hunting and fighting like them, and
who was now leading his tribe, being at the same time a distinguished
man, who would not have been out of place in any European drawing room,
and whose great intellect had understood and appreciated everything.

Singularly enough, Natah Otann, on attaining manhood, far from
despising his countrymen, brutalized and ignorant as they were, felt
an ardent love for them, and a violent desire to regenerate them.
From that moment his life had an object, which was the constant
preoccupation of his existence--to restore the Indians to the rank from
which they had fallen, by combining them into a great and powerful
nation. The White Buffalo, the confidant of all the young chief's
thoughts, at first accepted these projects with the sceptical smile
of old men, who, having grown weary of everything, have retained no
hope in the depths of their heart: he fancied that Natah Otann, under
the impression of youthful ardour, let himself be carried away by an
unreflecting movement, whose folly he would soon recognize. But when
able to appreciate how deeply these ideas were rooted in the young
man's heart, when he saw him set resolutely to work, the old man
trembled, and was afraid of his handiwork. He asked himself if he had
done well in acting as he had done, in developing so fully this chosen
intellect, which alone, and with no other support than its will, was
about to undertake a struggle in which it must inevitably succumb.

He then sought to destroy with his own hands the edifice he had built
with so much labour: he wished to turn in another direction the ardour
that devoured his pupil, and give another object to his life, by
changing his plan. It was too late. The evil was irremediable. Natah
Otann, on seeing his master thus contradict himself, defeated him with
his own weapons, and obliged him to bow his head before the merciless
blows of that logic he had himself taught his pupil.

Natah Otann was a strange composite of good and evil; in him all was
in extreme. At times, the most noble feelings seemed to reside in him;
he was good and generous; then, suddenly, his ferocity and cruelty
attained gigantic proportions, which terrified the Indians themselves.
Still, he was generally good and gentle toward his countrymen, who,
unaware of the cause, but subject to his influences, feared him, and
trembled at a word that fell from his lips, or a simple frown.

The white men, and especially the Spaniards and Americans, were Natah
Otann's implacable enemies; he waged a merciless war on them, attacking
them wherever he could surprise them, and killing, under the most
horrible tortures, those who were so unhappy as to fall into his hands.
Hence his reputation on the prairies was great; the terror he inspired
was extreme; several times already the United States had tried to get
rid of this terrible and implacable foe; but all their plans failed,
and the Indian chief, bolder and more cruel than ever, drew nearer to
the American frontier, reigned uncontrolled in the desert, of which he
was absolute lord, and at times went, fire and sword in hand, to the
very cities of the Union to demand that tribute which he claimed even
from white men.

We must not be taxed with exaggeration. All we here narrate is
scrupulously exact; and if we now and then alter facts, it is only to
weaken them. If we uncovered the incognito that veils our characters,
many of our readers would recognize them at the first glance, and
certify to the truth of our statements.

A terrible scene of massacre, of which Natah Otann was the originator,
had aroused general indignation against him. The facts are as follow:--

An American family, consisting of father, mother, two sons of about
twelve, a little girl between three and four years of age, and five
servants, left the Western States with the intention of working a claim
they had bought on the Upper Mississippi. At the period we are writing
of, white men rarely traversed these districts, which were entirely
left to the Indians, who wandered over them in every direction, and,
with a few half-bred and Canadian hunters and trappers, were the sole
masters of these vast solitudes. On leaving the clearings, their
friends warned the emigrants to be on their guard. They had been
advised not to enter into the desert in so small a body, but await
other emigrants, who would soon proceed to the same spot; for a caravan
of fifty to sixty determined men might pass safe and sound through the
Indians.

The head of the American family was an old soldier of the war of
independence, gifted with heroic courage, and thorough British
obstinacy. He answered coldly, to those who gave him this advice,
that his servants and himself could hold their own against all the
Prairie Indians; for they had good rifles and firm hearts, and would
reach their claim in the face of all opposition. Then he made his
preparations like a man whose mind, being made up, admits of no delay,
and he started against the judgment of his friends, who predicted
numberless misfortunes. The first few days, however, passed quietly
enough, and nothing happened to confirm these predictions. The
Americans advanced peacefully through a delicious country, and no
sign revealed the approach of the Indians, who seemed to have become
invisible.

The Americans are men who pass most easily from extreme prudence to
the most foolish and rash confidence, and on this occasion were true
to their character. When they saw that all was quiet around them, and
no obstacle checked their progress, they began to laugh and deride
the apprehensions of their friends; they gradually relaxed in their
vigilance; neglected the precautions usual on the prairie; and at
last almost wished to be attacked by Indians, to make them feel the
weight of their arms. Things went on thus for nearly two months; the
emigrants were not more than ten days' march from their claim; they
no longer thought of the Indians: if at times they alluded to them in
the evening, before going to sleep, it was only to laugh at the absurd
fears of their friends, who fancied it impossible to take a step in the
desert without falling into an ambuscade of the Redskins.

One night, after a fatiguing day, the emigrants went to bed, after
placing sentries round the camp, rather to keep wild beasts off than
through any other motive; the sentinels, accustomed not to be troubled,
and fatigued by their day's labours, watched for a few moments, then
their eyelids gradually sank, and they fell asleep. Their awakening was
destined to be terrible.

About midnight, fifty Blackfeet, led by Natah Otann, glided like demons
in the darkness, clambered into the encampment, and ere the Americans
could seize their weapons, or even dream of defence, they were bound.
Then a horrible scene took place, the frightful interludes of which
the pen is impotent to describe. Natah Otann organised the massacre,
if we may be allowed to employ the term, with unexampled coolness and
cruelty. The chief of the party and his five servants were stripped
and attached to trees, flogged, and martyrized, while the two lads
were literally roasted alive in their presence. The mother, half mad
with terror, escaped, carrying off her little girl in her arms: but,
after running a long distance, her strength failed her, and she fell
senseless. The Indians caught her up; imagining her to be dead, they
disdained to scalp her; but they carried off the child, which she
pressed to her bosom with almost herculean strength. The child was
taken back to Natah Otann.

"What shall we do with it?" the warrior asked, who presented it to him.

"Into the fire!" he replied, laconically.

The Blackfoot calmly prepared to execute the pitiless order he had
received.

"Stop!" the father cried with a piercing shriek. "Do not kill an
innocent creature in that horrible manner. Are not the atrocious
tortures you inflict on us enough?"

The Blackfoot hesitated, and looked at his chief; the latter reflected.

"Stay," he said, raising his hand, and addressing the emigrant; "you
wish your child to live?"

"Yes!" the father answered.

"Good!" he answered, "I will sell you her life."

The American shuddered at this proposition. "On what terms?" he asked.

"Listen!" he said, laying a stress on every word, and darting at him a
glance which made him tremble to the marrow. "My conditions are these.
I am master of all your lives; they belong to me; I can prolong or cut
them short without the slightest opposition from you; but, I hardly
know why," he added, with a sardonic smile, "I feel merciful today;
your child shall live. Still, remember this; whatever the nature of the
torture I inflict on you, at the first cry you utter, your child shall
be strangled. You have it in your power to save her if you will."

"I accept," the other answered. "What do I care for the most atrocious
torture, so long as my child lives?"

A sinister smile played round the chief's lips. "It is well," he said.

"One word more."

"Speak."

"Grant me a single favour; let me give a last kiss to this poor
creature."

"Give him his child," the chief commanded.

An Indian presented the little girl to the wretched man. The innocent,
as if comprehending what was taking place, put her arms round her
father's neck, and burst into tears. The latter, frightfully bound
as he was, could only bestow kisses on her, into which his whole
soul passed. The scene had something hideous about it; it resembled a
witches' Sabbath. The five men fastened naked to trees, the children
twisting on the burning charcoal, and uttering piercing cries, and
these stoical Indians, illumined by the ruddy glow of the fire,
completed the most fearful picture that the wildest imagination could
have invented.

"Enough," Natah Otann said.

"A last gift, a last remembrance."

The chief shrugged his shoulders. "For what good?" he said.

"To render the death you intend for me less cruel."

"What is it you want?"

"Hang round my daughter's neck this earring, suspended by a lock of my
hair."

"Is that really all?"

"It is."

"Very good."

The chief came up, took from the emigrant's ear a ring he wore in it,
and cut off with a scalping knife a lock of his hair; then, turning to
him with a sardonic laugh, he said--

"Listen carefully. Your companions and yourself are going to be flayed
alive; of a strip of your skin I will make a bag to hold the lock of
hair and ring. You see that I am generous, for I grant you more than
you ask; but remember the conditions."

The emigrant looked at him disdainfully.

"Keep your promises as well as I shall mine: and now begin the
torture--you will see a man die."

Things were done as had been arranged; the emigrant and his servants
were flayed alive. The emigrant endured the torture with a courage
which even the chief admired. Not a cry, not a groan, issued from his
bleeding chest; he was made of granite. When his skin was entirely
stripped off, Natah Otann went up to him; the unhappy wretch was not
yet dead.

"Thou art a man," he said to him. "Die satisfied. I will keep the
promise I made thee."

And moved doubtlessly by a feeling of pity for so much firmness, he
blew out his brains.

This horrible punishment lasted four hours. The Indians plundered all
the Americans possessed, and what they could not carry off they burned.
Natah Otann rigidly kept the oath he had made to his victim: as he
said, from a strip of his skin, imperfectly tanned, he made a bag, in
which he placed the lock of hair, and hung it round the child's neck
by a cord also made of his skin. On the homeward road to his village,
Natah Otann paid the most assiduous attention to the poor little
creature; and, on rejoining the tribe, the chief declared before all
that he adopted the girl, and gave her the name of Prairie Flower.

At the period our story begins, Prairie Flower was fourteen years
of age; she was a charming creature, gentle and simple, lovely as
the princess of a fairy tale. Her large blue eyes, veiled by long
brown lashes, reflected the azure of the heaven, and she ran about,
careless and wild, through the forests and over the prairie, dreaming
at times beneath the shady recesses of the giant trees, living as
the birds live, forgetting the past, which was to her as yesterday,
caring nothing for the future, which to her had no existence, and only
thinking of the present to be happy.

The charming girl had unconsciously become the idol of the tribe. The
old White Buffalo more especially felt an unbounded affection for her;
but the experiment he had made with Natah Otann disgusted him with a
second trial at education. He only watched over her with truly paternal
care, correcting any fault he might notice in her with a patience and
kindness nothing could weary. This old tribune, like all energetic and
implacable men, had the heart of a lamb; having entirely renounced the
world which mistook him, he had refreshed his soul in the desert, and
recovered the illusions and generous impulses of his youth.

Prairie Flower had retained no remembrance of her early years; as
no one ever alluded in her presence to the terrible scenes which
introduced her to the tribe, fresher impressions had completely effaced
them. Loved and petted by all, Prairie Flower fancied herself a child
of the tribe. Her long tresses of light hair, gilded like ripe corn,
and the dazzling whiteness of her skin, could not enlighten her, for
in many Indian nations these anomalies are found; the Mandans, among
others, have many women and warriors who, if they put on European
clothes, might easily pass for whites.

The Blackfeet, seduced by the charms of this gentle young creature,
attached the destinies of the tribe to her. They considered her
their tutelary genius, their palladium: their faith in her was
deep, serene, and simple. Prairie Flower was truly the Queen of the
Blackfeet; a sign from her rosy fingers, a word from her dainty lips,
was obeyed with unbounded promptitude and devotion. She could do
anything, say everything, demand everything, without fearing even a
second's hesitation to her will. She exercised this despotic authority
unsuspectingly; she alone was unaware of the immense power she
possessed over these brutal natives, who in her presence became gentle
and devoted.

Natah Otann was attached to his adopted daughter, so far as
organizations like his are capable of yielding to any feeling. At
first he sported with the girl as with an unimportant plaything; but
gradually, as the child was transformed and became a woman, these
sports became more serious, and his heart was attracted. For the first
time in his life, this man, with his indomitable soul, felt a feeling
stir in him which he could not analyze, but which, through its force
and violence, astonished and terrified him.

Then, a dumb struggle began between the chiefs head and heart. He
revolted against this influence which subjugated him: he, hitherto
accustomed to break through every obstacle, was now powerless before
a child, who disarmed him with a smile, when he tried to overpower
her. This struggle lasted a long time; at length, the terrible Indian
confessed himself vanquished, that is to say, he allowed the current to
carry him away, and without attempting a resistance, which he felt to
be useless, he began to love the young maiden madly. But this love at
times caused him sufferings so terrible, when he thought of the manner
in which Prairie Flower had become his adopted daughter, that he asked
himself with terror, whether this deep love which had seized on his
brain, and mastered him, was not a chastisement imposed by Heaven.

Then, he fell back in his usual state of fury, redoubled his ferocity
with those unhappy beings whose plantations he surprised, and, all
reeking with blood, his girdle hung with scalps, he returned to the
village, and displayed the hideous trophies before the girl. Prairie
Flower, astonished at the state in which she saw a man whom she
believed to be--not her father, for he was too young--but a relative,
lavished on him all the consolations and simple caresses which her
attachment to him suggested to her: unfortunately, these caresses
heightened his suffering, and he would rush away half mad with grief,
leaving her sad and almost terrified by this conduct, which was so
incomprehensible to her.

Matters reached such a pitch, that the White Buffalo, whose vigilant
eye was constantly fixed on his pupil, considered that he must, at
all risks, cut away the evil at the root, and withdraw the son of his
friend from the deadly fascination exercised over him by this innocent
enchantress. When he felt convinced of the chiefs love for Prairie
Flower, the old sachem asked for a private interview with his pupil:
the latter granted it, quite unsuspecting the reason which urged the
White Buffalo to take this step.

One morning the chief presented himself at the entrance of his friend's
lodge. The White Buffalo was reading by the side of a fire kindled in
the middle of the hut.

"You are welcome, my son," he said to the young man. "I have only a few
words to say to you, but I consider them sufficiently serious for you
to hear them without delay; sit down by my side."

The young man obeyed. The White Buffalo then carefully changed his
tactics: he, who had so long combated the chief's views as to the
regeneration of the Indian race, entered completely into his views,
with an ardour and conviction carried so far, that the young man was
astonished, and could not refrain from asking what produced this sudden
change in his opinion?

"The cause is very simple," the old man answered. "So long as I
considered that these views were only suggested by the impetuosity of
youth, I merely regarded them as the dreams of a generous heart, which
was deceiving itself, and not taking the trouble to weigh the chances
of success."

"What now?" the young man asked, quickly.

"Now, I recognize all the earnestness, nobility, and grandeur,
contained in your plans; and not only admit their possibility, but I
wish to aid you, so as to ensure success."

"Is what you say quite true, my father?" the young man asked, with
exultation.

"I swear it: still we must set to work immediately." The chief examined
him for a moment carefully, but the old man remained impassive.

"I understand you," he at length said, slowly, and in a deep voice;
"you offer me your hand on the verge of an abyss. Thanks, my father, I
will not be unworthy of you; I swear to you by the Wacondah."

"Good; believe me, my son, I recognize you," the old man said, shaking
his head mournfully. "One's country is often an ungrateful mistress;
but it is the only one which gives us true enjoyment of mind, if we
serve her disinterestedly for herself alone."

The two men shook hands affectionately; the compact was sealed. We
shall soon see whether Natah Otann had really conquered his love as he
imagined.



CHAPTER X.

THE GREAT COUNCIL.


Natah Otann set to work immediately, with that feverish ardour that
distinguished him. He sent emissaries in every direction to the
principal chiefs of the western prairies, and convoked them to a
great plain in the valley of the Missouri, at a spot called "The Tree
of the Master of Life," on the fourth day of the moon of the hardened
snow. This spot was held in great veneration by the Missouri Indians,
who went there constantly to hang up presents. It was an immense sandy
plain, completely denuded of vegetation; in the centre of the desert
rose a gigantic tree, an oak, twenty feet in circumference at least,
the trunk being hollow, and the tufted branches covering an enormous
superficies. This tree, which was a hundred and twenty feet in height,
and which grew there by accident, necessarily was regarded by the
Indians as something miraculous; hence the name they gave it.

On the appointed day, the Indians arrived from all sides, marching in
good order, and camping at a short distance from the spot selected for
the council. An immense fire had been kindled at the foot of the tree,
and at a signal given by the drummers, or _Chichikouès_, the chiefs
collected around it, a few paces behind the sachems. The Blackfeet, Nez
Percés, Assiniboins, Mandans, and other horsemen, formed a tremendous
cordon round the council fire; while scouts traversed the desert in
every direction, to keep off intruders, and insure the secrecy of the
deliberations.

In the east the sun was pouring forth its beams; the desert, parched
and naked, was mingled with the boundless horizon; to the south, the
Rocky Mountains displayed the eternal snow of the summits; while in the
north-west, a silvery ribbon indicated the course of the old Missouri.
Such was the landscape, if we may call it so, where the barbarous
warriors, clothed in their strange costumes, were assembled near the
symbolic tree. This majestic sight involuntarily reminded the observer
of other times and climes, when, by the light of the incendiary fires
they kindled, the ferocious comrades of Attila rushed to conquer and
rejuvenate the Roman Empire.

Generally the natives of America have a Divinity, or more correctly, a
Genius, at times beneficent, but more frequently hostile. The worship
of the savage is less veneration than fear. The Master of Life is an
evil genius, rather than kind; hence the Indians give his name to the
tree to which they attribute the same powers. Indian religions, being
all primitive, make no account of the moral being, and only dwell on
the accidents of nature, which they make into gods. These different
tribes strive to secure the favour of the deserts, where fatigue and
thirst entail death, and of the rivers, which may swallow them up.

The chiefs, as we have said, were crouching round the fire, in a
state of contemplative immobility, from which it might be inferred
that they were preparing for an important ceremony of their worship.
Presently Natah Otann raised to his lips the long war pipe, made of a
human thighbone, which he wore hanging round his neck, and produced
a piercing and prolonged sound. At this signal, for it was one, the
chiefs rose, and forming in Indian file, marched twice round the tree,
singing, in a low voice, a hymn, to implore its assistance for the
success of their plans. At the third time of marching round, Natah
Otann took off a magnificent collar of grizzly bears' claws from his
neck, and hung it to the branches of the tree, saying,--

"Master of Life, look on us with a favourable eye. I offer thee this
present."

The other chiefs imitated his example each in turn; then they resumed
their scats round the council fire. The pipe bearer then entered the
circle, and after the customary ceremonies, offered the calumet to the
chiefs, and when each had smoked, the oldest sachem invited Natah Otann
to take the word.

The Indian chief's plan was probably the most daring ever formed
against the whites, and, as the White Buffalo said, mockingly,
must offer chances of success through its improbability, because
it flattered the superstitious ideas of the Indians, who, like all
primitive nations, place great faith in the marvellous. It is besides,
the quality of oppressed nations, to whom reality never offers aught
but disillusions and suffering, to take refuge in the supernatural,
which alone offers them consolation. Natah Otann had drawn the first
idea of his plan from one of the oldest and most inveterate traditions
of the Comanches, his ancestors. This tradition, by reciting which
his father often lulled him to sleep in his childhood, pleased his
adventurous mind; and when the hour arrived to put in execution the
projects which he had so long revolved, he invoked it, and resolved to
employ it, in order to collect the other Indian nations around him in
one common whole.

When Motecuhzoma (whom Spanish writers improperly call Montezuma, a
name which has no meaning, while the first signifies the _stern lord_)
found himself imprisoned in his palace by that talented adventurer,
Cortez, who, a few days later, tore his kingdom from him, the Emperor,
who preferred to confide in greedy strangers than take refuge in the
midst of his people, had a presentiment of the fate reserved for him. A
few days prior to his death, he assembled the principal Mexican chiefs
who shared his prison, and addressed them thus:--

"Listen! My father, the Sun, has warned me that I shall soon return to
him. I know not how or when I am destined to die, but I am certain that
my last hour is close at hand."

As the chiefs burst into tears at these words, for they held him in
great veneration, he consoled them by saying--

"My last hour is near on this earth, but I shall not die, as I am
returning to my father, the Sun, where I shall enjoy a felicity unknown
in this world; weep not, therefore, my faithful friends, but, on the
contrary, rejoice at the happiness which awaits me. The bearded white
men have treacherously seized the greater portion of my empire, and
they will soon be masters of the remainder. Who can stop them? Their
weapons render them invulnerable, and they dispose at their will of the
fire from heaven; but their power will end one day; they, too, will be
the victims of treachery; the penalty of retaliation will be inflicted
on them in all its rigour. Listen, then, attentively, to what I am
about to ask of you; the safety of our country depends on the fidelity
with which you execute my last orders. Each of you take a title of
the sacred fire which was formerly kindled by the Sun himself, and on
which the white men have not yet dared to lay a sacrilegious hand to
extinguish it. This fire burns before you in this golden censer; take
it unto you, not letting your enemies know what has become of it. You
will divide the fire among you, so that each may have a sufficiency;
preserve it religiously, ant never let it go out. Each morning, alter
adoring it mount on the roof of your house, at sunrise, and look
toward the east; one day you will see me appear, giving my right hand
to my father, the Sun; then you will rejoice, for the moment of your
deliverance will be at hand. My father and I will come to restore you
to liberty, and deliver you for ever from these enemies, who have come
from a perverse world, that rejected them from its bosom."

The Mexican chiefs obeyed the orders of their well-beloved Emperor on
the spot, for time pressed. A few days later, Motecuhzoma mounted on
the roof of his palace, and prepared to address his mutinous people,
when he was struck by an arrow, it was never known by whom, and fell
into the arms of the Spanish soldiery who accompanied him. Before
breathing his last sigh, the Emperor sat up, and raising his hands to
heaven, said, with a supreme effort, to his friends assembled round
him--"The fire! the fire! think of the fire."

These were his last words: ten minutes later he had ceased to breathe.
In vain did the Spaniards, whose curiosity was strongly aroused by
this mysterious recommendation, try by all the means in their power
to penetrate its meaning; but they did not succeed in making one of
the Mexicans they interrogated speak. All religiously preserved their
secret, and several, indeed, died of torture, rather than reveal it.

The Comanches, and nearly all the nations of the Far West, have
kept this belief intact. In all the Indian villages, the fire of
Motecuhzoma, which burns eternally is guarded by two warriors, who
remain by it for twenty-four hours without eating or drinking, when
they are relieved by two others. Formerly the guardians remained
forty-eight hours instead of twenty-four. It frequently happened
that they were found dead when the reliefs came, either through the
mephitic gases of the fire, which had great effect on them, owing to
their long fast, or for some other reason. The bodies were taken away,
and placed in a cavern, where, as the Comanches say, a serpent devoured
them.

This belief is so general, that it is not only found among the Red
Indians, but also among the Manzos. Many men, considered to be well
educated, keep up, in hidden corners, the fire of Motecuhzoma, visit
it every day, and do not fail at sunrise to mount on the roof of
their houses and look towards the east, in the hope of seeing their
well-beloved emperor coming to restore them that liberty for which they
have sighed during so many ages, and which the Mexican Republic is far
from having granted them.

Natah Otann's idea was this:--To tell the Indians, after narrating
the legend to them, that the time had arrived when Motecuhzoma would
appear and act as their chief; to form a powerful band of warriors,
whom he would spread along the whole American frontier, so as to
attack his enemies at every point simultaneously, and not give them
the time to look about them. This project, mad as it was, especially
in having to be executed by Indians, or men the least capable of
forming alliances, which have ever caused them defeats; this project,
we say, was deficient neither in boldness nor in nobility, and Natah
Otann was really the only man capable of carrying it out, could he but
find, among the persons he wished to arouse, two or three docile and
intelligent instruments, that would understand his idea, and heartily
cooperate with him.

The Comanches, Pawnees, and Sioux were of great utility to the chief,
as well as the majority of the Indians of the Far West, for they
shared in the belief on which Natah Otann based his plans, and not only
did not need to be persuaded, but would help him in persuading the
Missouri Indians by their assent to his assertions. But in so large
an assembly of nations, divided by a multitude of interests, speaking
different languages, generally hostile to each other, how would it
be possible to establish a tie sufficiently strong to attach them in
an indissoluble manner? How convince them to march together without
jealousy? Lastly, was it reasonable to suppose that there would not be
a traitor to sell his brothers, and reveal their plans to the Yankees,
whoever have an eye on the movements of the Indians, for they are so
anxious to be rid of them?

Still, Natah Otann did not recoil; he did not conceal from himself the
difficulties which he should have to overcome; but his courage grew
with obstacles. His resolution was strengthened, if we may use the
term, in proportion to the responsibilities which must every moment
rise before him. When the sachems made him the signal to rise; Natah
Otann saw that the moment had arrived to begin the difficult game he
wished to play. He took the word resolutely, certain that, with the men
he had before him, all depended on the manner in which he handled the
question, and that, the first impression once made, success was almost
certain.

"Chiefs of the Comanches, Osages, Sioux, Pawnees, Mandans, Assiniboins,
Missouris, and all you that listen to me. Redskin brothers," he said,
in a firm and deeply accentuated voice, "for many moons my spirit has
been sad. I see, with sorrow, our hunting grounds, invaded by the white
men, grow smaller every day. We, whose innumerable peoples covered,
scarce four centuries back, the immense extent of territory compassed
between the two seas, are now reduced to a small party of warriors who,
timid as antelopes, fly before our despoilers. Our sacred cities, the
last refuge of the civilization of our fathers, the Incas, will become
the prey of those monsters with human faces who have no other god but
gold. Our dispersed race will possibly soon disappear from that world
which it has so long possessed and governed alone. Tracked like wild
animals; brutalized by firewater, that corrosive poison invented by the
white men for our ruin; decimated by the sword and white diseases, our
wandering tribes are now but the shadow of a people. Our conquerors
despise our religion, and wish to bow us beneath the laws of the
crucified One. They outrage our wives; kill our children; burn our
villages; and will reduce us, if they can, to the state of wild beasts,
under the pretext of civilizing us. Indians, all you who hear me, is
our blood so impoverished in our veins, and have you all renounced your
independence! Reply, will you die as slaves, or live free?"

At these words, pronounced in aloud tone, and heightened by an
energetic gesture, a tremor ran through the assembly; brows were bent
firmly, all eyes sparkled.

"Speak, speak again, sachem of the Blackfeet," all the chiefs shouted
unanimously.

Natah Otann smiled proudly, his power over the masses was revealed to
him. He continued:--

"The hour has at length arrived, after so many hesitations, to shake
off the shameful yoke that presses on us. Within a few days, if you
please, we will drive the whites far from our frontiers, and repay them
all the evil they have done us. For a long time I have watched the
Americans and Spaniards. I know their tactics, their resources: to
utterly destroy them, what do we need, my well-beloved brothers? two
things alone--skill and courage!"

The Indians interrupted him with shouts of joy.

"You shall be free," Natah Otann continued. "I will restore to you the
valleys of your ancestors, the fields where their bones are buried,
and which the sacrilegious plough disperses in every direction. This
project, ever since I became a man, has fermented in my heart, and
become my life. Far from me and from you the thought that I intend
to force myself on you as chief, especially since the prodigy of
which I have been witness, in the appearance of the great emperor!
No; after that supreme chief, who must guide you to liberty, you are
free to choose the man who will execute his orders, and communicate
them to you. When you have chosen him, you will obey him; follow him
everywhere; and pass with him through the most insurmountable dangers,
for he will be the elect of the Sun; the lieutenant of Motecuhzoma! Do
not deceive yourselves, warriors; our enemy is powerful, numerous, well
disciplined, warlike, and has, before all, the habit of conquering us,
which is a great advantage to him. Name, then, this lieutenant; let his
election be free; take the most worthy, and I will joyfully march under
his orders!"

And, after saluting the sachems, Natah Otann disappeared in a crowd of
warriors, with calm brow, but with a heart devoured by restlessness.
His eloquence, so novel to the Indians, had seduced them, and thrown
them into a species of frenzy. They considered the daring Blackfoot
chief a genius superior to themselves, and almost bowed the knee to
him in adoration, so cleverly had he struck the chord which must
touch their hearts. For a long time the council gave way to a sort
of madness, and all spoke at once; when this emotion was calmed, the
wisest of the sachems discussed the opportunity for taking up arms, and
the chances of success. It was now that the tribes of the Far West, who
believed in the legend of the sacred fire, became so useful; at length,
after a protracted discussion, opinions were unanimous for a general
uprising. The ranks, momentarily broken, were reformed, and the White
Buffalo, invited by the chiefs to express the opinions of the council,
spoke as follows:--

"Chiefs of the allied Indian tribes, listen! This day it has been
resolved by the following chiefs:--Little Panther, Spotted Dog, White
Buffalo, Grizzly Bear, Red Wolf, White Fox, Tawny Vulture, Glistening
Snake, and others, each representing a nation and a tribe, that war has
been declared against the white men, our plunderers; and as this war
is holy, and has liberty for its object, all men, women, and children
must take part in it, each according to their strength. This very day
the _wampums_ will be sent by the chiefs to all the Indian tribes that,
owing to the distance of these hunting grounds, were unable to be
present at this great council, in spite of their great desire to be so.
I have spoken."

A long cry of enthusiasm interrupted the White Buffalo, who continued,
soon after:--

"The chiefs, after ripe deliberation, assenting to the request made
to the council by Natah Otann, the first sachem of the Blackfeet,
that they should appoint a lieutenant to the Emperor Motecuhzoma,
sovereign-chief of the Indian warriors, have chosen, as supreme
leader under the sole orders of the said Emperor, the wisest, most
prudent, and most worthy to command us. That warrior is the sachem of
the Blackfoot Indians, of the tribe of the Kenhas, whose race is so
ancient, Natah Otann, the cousin of the Sun, that dazzling planet which
illumines us."

A thunder of applause greeted the last words. Natah Otann saluted the
sachems, walked into the circle, and said, in a haughty voice,--

"I accept, sachems, my brothers; we agree, I shall be dead, or you will
be free."

"May the Grizzly Bear live for ever!" the crowd shouted.

"War to the white men!" Natah Otann continued, "a war without truce
or mercy. A slaughter of wild beasts, as they are accustomed to treat
us. Remember the law of the prairies:--eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
Let each chief send the wampum of war to his nation, for at the end of
this moon we will arouse our enemies by a thunderbolt. At the seventh
hour of this night we will meet again, to select the subaltern chiefs,
number our warriors, and choose the day and hour of attack."

The chiefs bowed without replying, rejoined their escorts, and soon
disappeared in a cloud of dust. Natah Otann and the White Buffalo
remained alone, a detachment of Blackfeet warriors watching over them
at a distance. Natah Otann, with his arms crossed and head bowed,
seemed plunged in profound reflection.

"Well," the old Indian said, with an almost imperceptible shade of
irony in his voice, "you have succeeded, my son; you are happy. Your
plans will, at length, be accomplished."

"Yes," he replied, without noticing the sarcastic tone of voice; "war
is declared; my plans have succeeded; but now, friend, I tremble at
such a heavy task. Will these peculiar men thoroughly comprehend me?
Will they be able to read, in my heart, all the love and adoration
I feel for them? Are they ripe for liberty? perhaps they have not
suffered enough yet? Father, father, whose heart is so powerful and
soul so great: whose life was used up in numerous contests, counsel
me! help me! I am young and weak, and I only have a strong will and a
boundless devotion to support me."

The old man smiled mournfully, and muttered, answering his own thoughts
more than his friend:--

"Yes; my life was used up in supreme struggles: the work I helped to
raise has been overthrown, but not destroyed; for a new society, full
of vitality, has risen from the ruins of a decrepit society; by our
efforts the furrow was ploughed too deeply for it ever to be filled up
again: progress marching onward, nothing can check or stop it! Do not
halt on the road you have chosen; it is the greatest and most noble a
great heart can follow."

In uttering these words, the old man had allowed his enthusiasm to
carry him away; his head was raised; his brow glistened; the expiring
sun played on his face, and imparted to it an expression which Natah
Otann had never seen before, and which filled him with respect. But the
old man shook his head sorrowfully, and continued:--

"Child, how will you keep your promise? where will you find
Motecuhzoma?"

Natah Otann smiled.

"You will soon see, my father," he said.

At the same moment, an Indian, whose panting horse seemed to breathe
fire through its nostrils, came up to the chiefs, where he stopped
suddenly, as if converted into marble; without dismounting, he bent
down to Natah Otann's ear.

"Already!" the latter exclaimed, "Oh! heaven must be on my side! There
is not a moment to lose. My horse! quick."

"What is the matter?" the White Buffalo asked.

"Nothing that relates to you at present, my father; but you shall soon
know all."

"You are going alone, then?"

"I must for a short period. Farewell!"

Natah Otann's horse uttered a snort of pain, and started at full
gallop. Ten minutes later all the Indians had disappeared, and solitude
and silence prevailed round the tree of the Master of Life.



CHAPTER XI.

AMERICAN HOSPITALITY.


Matters had reached this point at the moment when the story we
have undertaken to tell, begins: now that we have supplied these
indispensable explanations, we will take up our narrative again at the
point where we broke it off.

John Black and his family, posted behind the barricade that surrounded
the camp, regarded with joy, mingled with alarm, the cavalcade coming
toward them like a tornado, raising clouds of dust in its passage.

"Attention, boys!" the American said to his son and servants, with his
hand on his trigger. "You know the diabolical trickery of these apes of
the prairie; we must not let them surprise us a second time; at the
least suspicious sign, a bullet! We shall thus prove to them that we
are on our guard."

The emigrant's wife and daughter, with their eyes fixed on the prairie,
attentively followed the movements of the Indians.

"You are mistaken, my love," Mrs. Black said; "these men have no
hostile designs. The Indians rarely attack by day; when they do so,
they never come so openly as this."

"The more so," the young lady added, "as, if I am not mistaken, I can
see Europeans galloping at the head of the party."

"Oh!" Black said, "that really has no significance, my child. The
prairies swarm with scoundrels who join those demons of Redskins when
honest travellers are to be plundered. Who knows, indeed, whether white
men were not the instigators of last night's attack?"

"Oh, father, I never could believe such a thing as that," Diana
remarked.

Miss Black, of whom we have hitherto said but little, was a girl of
about seventeen, tall and slender; her large black eyes, bordered with
velvety lashes; the thick bandeaux of brown hair; her little mouth,
with its rosy lips and pearly teeth, made her a charming creature, who
would have been an ornament anywhere; but in the desert must naturally
attract attention. Religiously educated by her mother, a good and pious
Presbyterian, Diana still retained all the candour and innocence of
youth, combined with that experience of everyday life imparted by the
rude life of the clearings, where people begin early to think and act
for themselves. In the meanwhile the cavalcade rapidly approached, and
was now no great distance off.

"Those are really our animals galloping down there," Will said; "I
recognise Sultan, my good horse."

"And Dolly, my poor milch cow," Mrs. Black said, with a sigh.

"Console yourselves," Diana said, "I'll answer for it these people are
bringing back our cattle."

The emigrant shook his head in agitation.

"The Indians never give up what they have once seized; but, by my soul,
I'll have it out with them, and not let myself be robbed without a
trial for it."

"Wait a minute, father," said Will, stopping him, for the emigrant was
about to leap over the intrenchments, "we shall soon know what their
intentions are."

"Hum! they are very clear, in my idea. The demons want to propose to us
some disgusting bargain."

"Perhaps, father, you are mistaken," Diana said, quickly; "and see,
they are stopping, and apparently consulting."

In fact, on arriving within gunshot, the Indians halted, and began
talking together.

"Why shall we not go on?" the Count asked Bright-eye.

"H'm, you don't know the Yankees, Mr. Edward. I am sure that, if we
were to go ten paces further, we should be saluted by a shower of
bullets."

"Nonsense!" the young man said, with a shrug of his shoulder; "they are
not so mad as to act in that way."

"It's possible; but they would do as I tell you. Look attentively, and
you will see from this spot the barrels of their rifles glistening
between the stakes of the barricades."

"By Jove! it's true; then they want to be massacred."

"They would have been so long ago, had not my brother interceded in
their favour," Natah Otann said, joining in the conversation.

"And I thank you, chief. The desert is large; what harm can those poor
devils do you?"

"They, none; but presently others will come and settle by their side,
and so on; so that in six months my brother would see a city at a spot
where there is now nothing but nature as it left the omnipotent hands
of the Master of Life."

"That is true," Bright-eye said, "the Yankees respect nothing; the rage
for building cities renders them dangerous madmen."

"Why have we stopped, chief?" the Count said, recurring to his first
question.

"To negotiate."

"Will you do me a kindness? Leave this business to me. I am curious
to see how these people understand the laws of war, and how they will
receive me."

"My brother is free."

"Wait for me here, then, and do not make a move during my absence."

The young man took off his weapons, which he handed to his servant.

"What?" Ivon remarked. "Are you going, my lord, in this state among
those heretics?"

"How else should I go? You know very well that a flag of truce has
nothing to fear."

"That is possible," the Breton said, very slightly convinced; "but if
your lordship will believe me, you will, at least, keep your pistols in
your belt; for an accident happens so easily, and you do not know among
what sort of people you are going."

"You are mad!" the Count said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Well, then, as you are going unarmed to speak with people who do not
inspire me with the slightest confidence, I must ask your lordship to
permit me to accompany you."

"You, nonsense!" the young man said, laughing. "You know very well that
you are a wonderful coward; that's agreed on."

"Perfectly true; but I feel capable of anything to defend my master."

"There we have it; your cowardice need only come on you suddenly, and,
in your alarm, you will be ready to kill everybody. No, no, none of
that; I do not wish to get into trouble through you."

And dismounting, he walked in the direction of the barricades. On
arriving a short distance from them, he took out a white handkerchief,
and waved it in the air. Black, still ready to fire, carefully watched
the Count's every movement, and when he saw his amicable demonstration,
he rose, and made him a signal to come on. The young man quietly
returned his handkerchief to his pocket, lit a cigar, stuck his glass
in his eye, and after drawing on his gloves, walked resolutely on. On
reaching the intrenchments, he found himself in front of Black, who was
waiting for him, leaning on his rifle.

"What do you want of me?" the American said, roughly. "Make haste! I
have no time to lose in conversation."

The Count surveyed him haughtily, assumed the most insolent posture he
could select, and puffing a cloud of smoke into his face, said dryly--

"You are not polite, my dear fellow."

"Halloa!" the other said. "Have you come here to insult me?"

"I have come to do you a service; and if you continue in that tone, I
am afraid I shall be obliged not to do it."

"We'll see to that--do me a service! And what may it be?" the American
asked with a grin.

"You are a low fellow," the Count remarked, "with whom it is offensive
to talk. I prefer to withdraw."

"Withdraw--oh, nonsense! You are too valuable a hostage. I shall
keep you, my gentleman, and only give you up at a good figure,", the
American continued.

"What! Is that the way you comprehend the law of nations? That's
curious," the Count said, still sarcastic.

"There is no law of nations with bandits."

"Thanks for your compliment, master. And what would you do to keep me,
if I did not think proper?"

"Like this," the American said, laying his hand roughly on his shoulder.

"What!" the Count said. "I really believe, Heaven forgive me! that you
dared to lay a hand on me!"

And ere the emigrant had time to prevent it, he seized him round the
waist, lifted him from the ground, and hurled him over the barricade.
The giant fell all bruised in the middle of his camp. Instead of
withdrawing, as any other might have done in his place, the young man
crossed his arms, and waited, smoking peacefully. The emigrant, stunned
by his rough fall, rose, shaking himself like a wet dog, and feeling
his ribs, to assure himself that there was nothing broken. The ladies
uttered a cry of terror on seeing him re-enter the camp in such a
peculiar way, while his son and servants looked toward him, ready to
fire at the first signal.

"Lower your guns," he said to them; and leaping once more over the
barricade, he walked towards the Count. The latter awaited him with
perfect calmness.

"Ah! there you are," he said, "Well, how did you like that?"

"Come, come," the American replied, holding out his hand; "I was in the
wrong; I am a brute beast; forgive me."

"Very good; I like you better like that; we only need to understand
each other. You are now prepared to listen to me, I fancy?"

"Quite."

There are certain men, like John Black, with whom it is necessary to
employ extreme measures, and prove your superiority to them. With such
persons you do not argue, but smash them; after which it always happens
that these men, before so intractable, become gentle as lambs, and do
all you want. The American, possessed of great strength, and confiding
in it, thought he had a right to be insolent with a slight and weak
looking man; but so soon as this man had proved to him, in a peremptory
manner, that he was the more powerful of the two, the bull drew in his
horns, and recoiled all the distance he had advanced.

"This night," the Count then said, "you were attacked by the Blackfeet;
I wished to come to your aid, but it was impossible, and, besides, I
should have arrived too late. As, however, for some reason or other;
the men who attacked you feel a certain amount of consideration for me,
I have profited by my influence to make them restore the cattle they
stole from you."

"Thanks; believe that I sincerely regret what has passed between us;
but I was so annoyed by the loss I had experienced."

"I understand all that, and willingly pardon you, the more so as I,
perhaps, gave you rather too rude a shock just now."

"Oh, do not mention it, I beg."

"As you please; it is all the same to me."

"And my cattle?"

"Are at your disposal. Will you have them at once?"

"I will not conceal from you that--"

"Very good," the Count interrupted him; "wait a minute, I will tell
them to bring them up."

"Do you think I have nothing to fear from the Indians?"

"Not if you know how to manage them."

"Well, then, shall I wait for you?"

"Only a few minutes."

The Count went down the hill again with the same calm step he had gone
up it. So soon as he rejoined the Indians, his friends surrounded him;
they had seen all that passed, and were delighted at the way in which
he had ended the discussion.

"Good heavens! how coarse those Americans are," the young man said.
"Pray give him his cattle, chief, and let us have done with him. The
animal all but put me in a passion."

"He is coming toward us," Natah Otann replied, with an undefinable
smile. Black, indeed, soon came up. The worthy emigrant, having been
duly scolded by his wife and daughter, had recognized the full extent
of his stupidity, and was most anxious to repair it.

"Really, gentlemen," he said, "we cannot part in this way. I owe you
great obligations, and am desirous to prove to you that I am not such a
brute as I probably seem to be. Be kind enough to stay with us, if only
for an hour, to show us that you bear no malice."

This invitation was given in a hearty, but, at the same time, cordial
manner, and it was so evident that the good man was confused, that
the Count had not the heart to refuse him. The Indians camped where
they were. The chief and the three hunters followed the American into
his camp, where the cattle had already been restored. The reception
was as it should be in the desert; the ladies had hastily prepared
refreshments under the tent, while William and the two serving men made
a breach in the barricade, to give passage to his father's guests. Lucy
Black and Diana awaited the newcomers at the entrance of the camp.

"You are welcome, gentlemen," the Americans wife said, with a graceful
bow; "we are all so much indebted to you, that we are only too happy to
receive you."

The chief and the Count bowed politely to the lady, who was doing all
in her power to repair the clumsy brutality of her husband. The Count,
at the sight of Diana, felt an emotion which he could not, at the first
blush, understand; his heart beat on regarding this charming creature,
who was exposed to so many dangers through the life to which she was
condemned. Diana blushed at the ardent glance of the young man, and
timidly drew nearer her mother, with that instinct of modesty innate
in woman's heart, which makes her ever seek protection from her to whom
she owes existence.

After the first compliments, Natah Otann, the Count, and Bright-eye,
entered the tent where Black and his son were awaiting them. When the
ice was broken, which does not take long among people accustomed to
prairie life, the conversation became more animated and intimate.

"So," the Count asked, "you have left the clearings with the intention
of never returning?"

"Oh, yes," the emigrant answered; "for a man having a family,
everything is becoming so dear on the frontier, that he must make up
his mind to enter the desert."

"I can understand your doing so as a man, for you can always manage to
get out of difficulties; but your wife and daughter--you condemn them
to a very sorrowful and dangerous life."

"It is a wife's duty to follow her husband," Mrs. Black said with a
slight accent of reproach. "I am happy wherever he is, provided I am by
his side."

"Good, madam; I admire such sentiments; but permit me an observation."

"Certainly, sir."

"Was it necessary to come so far to find a suitable farm?"

"Certainly not; but we should have run the risk of being someday
expelled from the new clearing by the owners of the land, and compelled
to begin a new plantation further away," she said.

"While now," Black continued, "at the place where we are, we have
nothing of that sort to fear, as the land belongs to nobody."

"My brother is mistaken," the chief said, who had not yet spoken a
word; "the country, for ten days' march in every direction, belongs to
me and my tribe; the Paleface is here on the hunting grounds of the
Kenhas."

Black regarded Natah Otann with an air of embarrassment.

"Well," he said, after a moment's pause, as if speaking against the
grain; "we will go further, wife."

"Where can the Palefaces go to find land that belongs to nobody?" the
chief continued, severely.

This time the American had not a word to say. Diana, who had never
before seen an Indian so close, regarded the chief with a mingled
feeling of curiosity and terror. The Count smiled.

"The chief is right," Bright-eye said, "the prairies belong to the Red
men."

Black had bowed his head on his chest, in perplexity.

"What is to be done?" he muttered.

Natah Otann laid his hand on his shoulder.

"Let my brother open his ears," he said to him; "a chief is about to
speak."

The American fixed an inquiring glance on him.

"Does this country suit my brother then?" the Indian continued.

"Why should I deny it? This country is the finest I ever saw; close to
me I have the river, behind me, immense virgin forests. Oh yes, it is a
fine country, and I should have made a magnificent plantation."

"I have told my Paleface brother," the chief went on, "that this
country belonged to me."

"Yes, you told me so, chief, and it is true; I cannot deny it."

"Well, if the Paleface desires it, he can obtain so much ground as he
wishes," Natah Otann said, concisely.

At this proposition, which the American was far from suspecting, he
pricked up his ears; the squatter's nature was aroused in him.

"How can I buy the land when I possess nothing?" he said.

"That is of no consequence," the chief replied.

The astonishment now became general; each looked at the Indian
curiously: for the conversation had suddenly acquired a grave
importance which no one expected. Black, however, was not deceived by
this apparent facility.

"The chief has doubtless not understood me," he said.

The Indian shook his head.

"The Paleface cannot buy the land, because he has not wherewith to pay
for it; those were his words."

"True; and the chief answered that it was of little matter."

"I said so."

There was no mistake, the two men had clearly understood one another.

"There is some devilry behind that," Bright-eye muttered in his
moustache; "an Indian does not give an egg, unless he expects an ox in
return."

"What do you want to arrive at, chief?" the Count asked Natah Otann,
frankly.

"I will explain myself," the latter said; "my brother interests himself
in this family, I believe?"

"I do," the young man answered, with some surprise, "and you know my
reasons."

"Good; let my brother pledge himself to accompany me during two moons,
without asking any explanation of my actions, and give me his aid
whenever I require it, and I will give this man as much ground as he
needs to found a settlement, and he need never fear being annoyed by
the Redskins, or dispossessed by the Whites, for I am really the owner
of the land, and no other can lay claim to it."

"A moment," Bright-eye said, as he rose; "in my presence, Mr. Edward
will not accept such a bargain; no one buys a pig in a poke, and it
would be madness to submit his will to the caprices of another man."

Natah Otann frowned, his eye flashed fire, and he rose.

"Dog of the Palefaces," he shouted, "take care of thy words--I have
once spared thy life."

"Your menaces do not frighten me, Redskin," the Canadian replied,
resolutely; "you lie if you say that you were master of my life; it
only depends from the will of God; you cannot cause a hair of my head
to fall without His consent."

Natah Otann laid his hand on his knife, a movement immediately imitated
by the hunter, and they stood opposite each other, ready for action.
The ladies uttered a shriek of terror, William and his father stood
before them, ready to interfere in the quarrel, if it were necessary.
But the Count had already, quick as thought, thrown himself between the
two men, shouting loudly--

"Stop! I insist on it!"

Yielding to the ascendency of the speaker, the Blackfoot and the
Canadian each fell back a step, returned their knives to their girdles,
and waited. The Count looked at them for a moment, then, holding out
his hand to Bright-eye, said, affectionately--

"Thank you, my friend, but for the present I do not require your aid."

"Good, good," the hunter said; "you know I am yours, body and soul. Mr.
Edward, it is only deferred." And the worthy Canadian sat down again
quietly.

"As for you, chief," the young man continued, "the proposals are
unacceptable. I should be mad to agree to them, and I hope I am not
quite in that state yet. I wish to teach you this, that I have only
come on the prairie to hunt for a short time; that time has passed;
pressing business requires my presence in the United States, and
dispels my desire to be useful to these good people; so soon as I have
accompanied you to the village, according to my promise, I shall say
good-bye to you, and probably never return."

"Which will be extremely agreeable to me," Bright-eye said, in
confirmation.

The Indian did not stir.

"Still," the Count went on, "there is, perhaps, a way of settling the
matter to the satisfaction of all parties; land is not so dear here;
tell me your price, and I will pay you at once, either in dollars, or
in bills on a New York banker."

"All right," the hunter said; "there is still that way open."

"Oh! I thank you, sir," Mrs. Black exclaimed, "but my husband cannot
and ought not to accept such a proposal."

"Why not, my dear lady, if it suits me, and the chief accepts my offer?"

Black, we must do him the justice to say, satisfied himself by
signifying his approval by a gesture; but the worthy squatter, like
a true American, was very careful not to say a word. As for Diana,
fascinated by such disinterestedness, she gazed on the Count with eyes
sparkling with gratitude, not daring to express aloud what her secret
thoughts were about this noble and generous gentleman. Natah Otann
raised his head.

"I will prove to my brother," he said, in a gentle voice, and bowing
courteously, "that the Red men are as generous as the Palefaces. I sell
him eight hundred acres of land, to be chosen where he pleases along
the river, for one dollar."

"A dollar?" the young man exclaimed, in surprise.

"Yes," the chief said, smiling, "in that way I shall be paid, my
brother will owe me nothing; and if he consents to stay a little while
with me, it will be of his own accord, and because he likes to be with
a true friend."

This unforeseen result to a scene which had for a moment threatened to
end in blood, filled all persons with surprise. Bright-eye alone was
not duped by the chief's courtesy.

"There's something behind it," he muttered to himself, "but I will
watch, and that demon must be very cunning to cheat me."

The Count was affected by this generosity, which he was far from
expecting.

"There, chief," he said, handing him the stipulated dollar, "now we are
quits; but be assured that I will not be outdone by you."

Natah Otann bowed courteously.

"Now," the Count continued, "a last favour."

"Let my brother speak, he has the right to ask everything of me."

"Make peace with my old Bright-eye,"

"As my brother desires it," the chief said, "I will do so willingly;
and, as a sign of reconciliation, I beg him to accept the dollar you
have given me."

The hunter's first impulse was to decline it; but he thought better of
it, took the dollar, and carefully placed it in his belt. Black knew
not how to express his gratitude to the Count, who had really made him
a landed proprietor; and the same day the American and his son chose
the land on which the plantation should be established. The Count drew
up on a leaf of his pocketbook a regular deed of sale, which was signed
by himself, Bright-eye, and Ivon, as witnesses, by Black as purchaser,
and at the foot of which Natah Otann drew the totem of his tribe, and
an animal intended to represent a bear, which formed his speaking but
most emblematical signature. The chief, had he pleased, could have
signed like the rest, but he wished to hide from all the instruction he
owed to the White Buffalo. Black preciously placed the deed between the
leaves of his family bible, and said to the Count, while squeezing his
hand hard enough to smash it--

"Remember that you have in John Black a man who will let his bones be
broken for you, whenever you think proper."

Diana said nothing, but she gave the young man a look which paid him
amply for what he had done for the family.

"Attention," Bright-eye said, in a whisper, the first time he found
himself alone with Ivon; "from this day watch carefully over your
master, for a terrible danger threatens him."



CHAPTER XII.

THE SHE-WOLF OF THE PRAIRIES.


About four or five hours after the various events we have described
in the previous chapters, a horseman, mounted on a powerful steed,
caparisoned in the Indian fashion, that is to say, bedizened with
feathers, and painted of glaring colours, crossed a streamlet, and
galloped over the prairies, proceeding in the direction of the Virgin
forest, to which we have several times alluded. The rider, dressed
in the war costume of the Blackfoot Indians, and whom it was easy to
recognize as a chief by the eagle feather fastened over his right ear,
incessantly bent over his horse's neck, and urged it to increased speed.

It was night, but an American night, full of sharp odours and
mysterious sounds, with a dark blue sky, studded with an infinite
number of dazzling stars; the moon profusely spread her silvery rays
over the landscape, casting a deceitful brightness, which imparted a
fantastic appearance to objects. All seemed to sleep on the prairies;
the wind even hardly shook the umbrageous tops of the trees; the wild
beasts, after drinking at the river, had returned to their hidden dens.
The horseman alone moved on, gliding silently through the darkness;
at times he raised his head, as if consulting the sky, then, after a
seconds rest, he galloped onwards.

Many hours passed ere the horseman thought of stopping. At length
he reached a spot where the trees were so interlaced by creepers
which enfolded them, that a species of insurmountable wall suddenly
prevented the rider's progress. After a moment's hesitation, and
looking attentively around to discover a hole by which he could pass,
seeing clearly that all attempts would be useless, he dismounted. He
saw that he had arrived at a canebrake, or spot where a passage can
only be made by fire or axe. The Indian chief fastened his horse to the
trunk of a tree; left within its reach a stock of grass and climbing
peas; then, certain that his horse would want for nothing during this
long night, he began thinking of himself.

First he cut down with his bowie knife the bushes and plants which
interfered with the encampment he wished to form; then he prepared,
with all the stoicism of a prairie denizen, a fire of dry wood, in
order to cook his supper, and keep off wild beasts, if anyone took it
into his head to pay him a visit during his sleep. Among the wood he
collected was a large quantity of what the Mexicans call _palo mulato_,
or stinking wood; this he was careful to remove, for the pestiferous
smell of that tree would have denounced his presence for miles round,
and the Indian, judging from the precautions he took, seemed afraid of
being discovered; in fact, the care with which he had placed sand-bags
round his horse's hoofs, to dull the sound, sufficiently proved this.

When the fire, so placed as not to be visible ten yards off, poured
its pleasant column of flame into the air, the Indian took from his
elk-skin pouch a little Indian wheat and pemmican, which he ate with
considerable appetite, looking round continually in the surrounding
gloom, and stopping to listen attentively to those noiseless sounds
which by night trouble the imposing calmness of the desert, without any
apparent cause. When his scanty meal was ended, the Indian filled his
pipe with kinne-kinnick, and began smoking.

Still, in spite of his apparent calmness, the man was not easy;
at times he took the pipe from his lips, looked up, and anxiously
consulted the sky, through a break in the foliage above his head. At
length he appeared to form an energetic resolution, and raising his
fingers to his lips, imitated thrice, with rare perfection, the cry of
the blue jay, that privileged bird that sings in the night; then he
bent his body forward and listened, but nothing proved to him that his
signal had been heard.

"Wait a while," he muttered.

And crouching again before the fire, into which he threw a handful of
dry branches, he began smoking again. Several hours passed thus: at
length the moon disappeared from the horizon, the cold became sharper,
and the sky, in which the stars expired one after the other, was tinted
with a rosy hue. The Indian, who had been slumbering for a while,
suddenly shook himself, turned a suspicious glance around, and muttered
hoarsely,--

"She cannot be far off."

And he again gave the signal. The last cry had scarce died out in the
distance, when a roar was heard close by. The Indian, instead of being
alarmed by this ill-omened sound, smiled, and said in a loud and firm
voice,--

"You are welcome, She-wolf; you know it is I who am awaiting you here."

"Ah! you are there, then!" a voice answered.

A rustling of leaves was now heard in the bushes opposite the spot
where the Indian was seated; the reeds and creepers were pulled back by
a vigorous hand, and a woman appeared in the space left free. Before
advancing, she thrust her head forward cautiously, and looked.

"I am alone," the Indian said; "you can approach without fear."

A smile played over the newcomer's lips at this answer, which she did
not expect.

"I fear nothing," she said.

Before going further, we will give some indispensable details about
this woman--vague, it is true, as we can only supply what the Indians
said about her, but which will be useful to the reader in comprehending
the facts that will follow. No one knew who she was, or whence she
came. The period when she was first seen on the prairie was equally
unknown. All was an inexplicable mystery connected with her. Though
she spoke fluently, and with extreme purity, most of the prairie
idioms, still certain words she at times used, and the colour of her
skin, not so brown as that of the natives, caused the supposition that
she belonged to another race from theirs. It was only a supposition,
however, for her hatred of the Indians was too well known for the
bravest among them ever to venture to see her sufficiently closely to
render themselves certain on that head.

At times she disappeared for weeks, even for months, and it was
impossible to discover her trail. Then she was suddenly seen again
wandering about, talking to herself, marching nearly always by night,
frequently accompanied by an idiotic and dumb dwarf, who followed her
like a dog, and whom the Indians, in their credulous superstition,
suspected strongly of being her familiar. This woman, ever gloomy and
melancholy, with her wild looks and startling gestures, could not be
accused of doing anyone harm, in spite of the general terror she
inspired. Still, owing to the strange life she led, all the misfortunes
that happened to the Indians, in war or hunting, were imputed to her.
The Redskins considered her a wicked genius, and had given her the name
of the _Spirit of Evil_. Hence the man who had come so far to see her
must necessarily have been gifted with extraordinary courage, or some
powerful reason impelled him to act as he was doing.

As this Blackfoot chief is destined to play a great part in this
narrative, we will give his portrait in a few words. He was a man who
had reached middle life, or about forty-five years. He was tall, well
built, and admirably proportioned. His muscles, standing out like
whipcord, denoted extraordinary vigour. He had an intelligent face; his
features expressed cunning, while his eyes were rarely fixed on any
object, but gave him an expression of craft and brutal cruelty, which
inspired an unenviable repugnance towards him, if you took the trouble
to study him carefully: but observers are rare in the desert, and with
the Indians this chief enjoyed a great reputation, and was equally
beloved for his tried courage and inexhaustible powers of speech,
qualities highly esteemed by the Redskins.

"The night is still gloomy; my mother can approach," the Indian chief
said.

"I am coming," the woman said, drily, as she advanced.

"I have been waiting a long while."

"I know it, but no matter."

"The road was long to come."

"I am here; speak!"

And she leaned against the stem of a tree, crossing her arms on her
chest.

"What can I say, if my mother does not first question me?"

"That is true. Answer me then."

There was a silence, only troubled by the wind sighing in the leaves;
after a few moments' reflection, the woman at length began,--

"Have you done what I ordered?"

"I have."

"Well?"

"My mother guessed rightly."

"Is it so?"

"All is preparing for action,"

"You are sure?"

"I was present at the council."

She smiled triumphantly.

"Where was the meeting place?"

"At the tree of life."

"Long ago?"

"The sun has set eight hours since."

"Good! What was resolved?"

"What you already know."

"The destruction of the whites?"

"Yes."

"When will the war signal be given?"

"The day is not yet fixed."

"Ah!" she said in a tone of regret.

"But it cannot be long," he added quickly.

"What makes you think so?"

"The Grizzly Bear is eager to finish."

"And I, too," the woman muttered in a low voice.

The conversation was again broken off. The woman paced up and down the
clearing in thought. The chief followed her with his eyes, carefully
examining her. All at once she stopped before him, and looked him In
the face.

"You are devoted to me, chief?" she said.

"Do you doubt it?"

"Perhaps."

"Still, only a few hours ago, I gave you a decided proof of my
devotion."

"What?"

"This!" he said, pointing to his left arm, which was wrapped in strips
of bark.

"I do not understand you."

"You see I am wounded?"

"Well! what then?"

"The Redskins attacked the Palefaces some hours ago; they were scaling
the barricade which protected their camp, when they suddenly retired
on your appearance, by order of their chief, who was wounded, and
thirsting for revenge."

"It is true."

"Good. And the chief who commanded the Redskins--does my mother know
him?"

"No."

"It was I, the Red Wolf: does my mother still doubt?"

"The path on which I am walking is so gloomy," she replied sorrowfully;
"the work I am accomplishing is so serious, and of such import to me,
that at times I feel fear enter my heart, and doubt contract my chest,
when I think I am alone, a poor weak woman, to wrestle with a giant.
For long years I have been ripening the plan I wish to accomplish
today; I have occupied my whole life to obtain the result I desire, and
I fear failure at the moment of succeeding. Then, if I have no longer
confidence in myself, can I trust a man whom self-interest may urge to
betray, or at any rate abandon me at a moment."

The chief drew himself up on hearing these words; his eye flashed fire,
and, with a gesture of wounded pride, he said,--

"Silence! my mother must not add a word. She insults at this moment
a man who is most anxious to prove his truth to her: ingratitude is
a white vice, gratitude a red virtue. My mother was ever kind to me;
Red Wolf cannot count the occasions on which he owes his life to
her. My mother's heart is ulcered by misfortune; solitude is an evil
counsellor: my mother listens too much to the voices which whisper in
her ear through the silence of night; she forgets the services she has
rendered, only to remember the ingratitude she has sowed on her road.
Red Wolf is devoted to her, he loves her; the She-wolf can place entire
confidence in him, he is worthy of it."

"Dare I believe in these protestations? Can I put faith in these
promises?" she muttered.

The chief continued passionately,--

"If the gratitude I have vowed to my mother is not enough, another and
stronger tie attaches us, which must convince her of my sincerity."

"What is it?" she asked, looking fixedly at him.

"Hatred," he answered.

"That is true," she said, with a sinister burst of laughter. "You hate
him too?"

"Yes; I hate him with all the strength of my soul: I hate him, because
he has robbed me of the two things I held most to on earth,--the love
of the woman I adored, and the power I coveted."

"But are you not a chief?" she said significantly.

"Yes!" he exclaimed proudly, "I am a chief, but my father was a sachem
of the Kenhas; his son is brave, he is crafty, the scalps of numberless
Palefaces dry before his lodge. Why then is Red Wolf only an inferior
chief, instead of leading his men to battle as his father did?"

The woman seemed to take a delight in exciting the anger of the Indian,
instead of calming it.

"Because doubtlessly," she said, "a wiser man than the Red Wolf has
gained the votes of his brothers."

"Let my mother say that a greater rogue stole them from him, and
her words will be true," he exclaimed violently. "Grizzly Bear is a
Comanche dog, the son of an exile, received through favour into my
tribe; his scalp will soon dry on the girdle of the Red Wolf."

"Patience!" the woman said in a hoarse voice. "Vengeance is a fruit
which is only eaten ripe: the Red Wolf is a warrior; he can wait."

"Let my mother order," the Indian said, suddenly calmed; "her son will
obey."

"Has the Red Wolf succeeded in obtaining the medicine which
Prairie-Flower wears round her neck?"

The Indian bowed his head in confusion.

"No," he said hoarsely. "Prairie-Flower never leaves the White Buffalo;
it is impossible to approach her."

The woman smiled ironically.

"What! did Red Wolf ever keep a promise?"

The Blackfoot shuddered with rage.

"I will have it," he cried, "even if I must use force in obtaining it."

"No," she replied; "cunning alone must be employed."

"I will have it," he repeated. "Before two days I will give it to my
mother."

"No," she said quickly; "in two days is too soon. Let my son give it me
on the fifth day of the new moon, which will begin within three days."

"Good; I swear it! My mother shall have the great medicine of
Prairie-Flower."

"My son will bring it to me at the tree of the bear, near the great
lodge of the Palefaces, two hours after sunset. I will await him there,
and give him my final instructions."

"Red Wolf will be there."

"Till then, my son will carefully watch every movement of the Grizzly
Bear; if he learns anything new, which appears to him important, my
son will form on this very spot a pyramid of seven buffalo heads, and
come back two hours after to wait for me. I shall have understood his
signal, and will reply to his summons."

"_Oche_, my mother is powerful; it shall be done as she desires."

"My son has quite understood?"

"The words of my mother have fallen on the ears of a chief; his mind
has received them."

"The sky on the horizon is covered with red bands, the sun will soon
appear: let my brother return to his tribe; he must not arouse the
suspicions of his enemy by his absence."

"I go; but before leaving my mother, whose wisdom has discovered all
the schemes of the Palefaces, has she not made a great medicine to know
if our enterprise will succeed, and if we shall conquer our enemy?"

At this moment a loud noise was heard in the canebrake, and a shrill
whistle traversed the air; the Indian's horse laid hack its ears,
made violent efforts to break the rope that fastened it, and trembled
all over. The woman seized the chiefs arm firmly, and said in a gloomy
voice,--

"Let my brother look!"

Red Wolf stifled a cry of surprise, and gazed, motionless and
terrified, at the strange sight before him. A few paces off, a tiger
cat and a rattlesnake were preparing for a contest. Their metallic
eyeballs flashed, and seemed to emit flames. The tiger cat, crouching
on a branch, with hair erect, was meowing and spitting, while closely
following every move of its dangerous enemy, and awaiting the moment
to attack it advantageously. The Crotalus, coiled up, and forming
an enormous spiral, with its hideous head thrown back, whistled, as
it balanced itself to the right and left, with a movement full of
suppleness and grace, apparently trying to fascinate its enemy. But
the latter did not allow it a long rest; it suddenly bounded on the
serpent, which, however, moved nimbly on one side, and when the cat,
after missing its leap, returned to the charge, gave it a fearful sting
on the face.

The tiger cat uttered a yell of rage, and buried its long and sharp
claws in the eyes of the serpent, which, however, wound round its
enemy with a convulsive movement. Then the two rolled on the ground,
hissing and howling, but unable to loose their hold. The struggle was
long; they fought with extraordinary fury; but at length, the rings of
the snake became unloosened, and its flaccid body lay motionless on
the ground. The tiger cat escaped, with a meow of triumph, from the
monster's terrible embrace, and bounded on a tree; but its strength
was unequal to its will, and it could not reach the branch on which
it wished to climb, but fell back exhausted on the ground. Then the
ferocious animal, struggling with death and overcoming its agony,
crouched back to the body of its enemy, and stood upon it. It then
uttered a final yell of triumph, and fell, itself a corpse, by the side
of the snake. The Indian had followed all the moving incidents of this
cruel contest with ever-increasing interest.

"Well," he asked the unknown, "what does my mother say?"

She shook her head.

"Our triumph will cost us our life," she replied.

"What matters," the Red Wolf said, "so long as we conquer our enemies?"

And, drawing his knife, he began skinning the catamount. The woman
looked at his operations for a while; then making him a parting sign,
she re-entered the canebrake, where she was speedily lost to view. An
hour later, the Indian chief, laden with the cat's head and the snake's
skin, started off toward his village at full gallop. An ironical smile
played around his lips; he needed no excuse to explain his absence, for
the spoils he brought with him proved that he had spent the night in
hunting.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE INDIAN VILLAGE.


Now that the exigencies of our story compel us to enter into closer
relations with the Prairie Indians, we will introduce to the reader
the primitive population of that territory, generally called Blackfoot
Indians. The Blackfeet formed, at the period when this history
occurred, a powerful nation, divided into three tribes, speaking the
same language. First, the tribe of the Siksekai, or Blackfeet proper;
next, the Kenhas, or Blood Indians; and lastly, the Piékanns. This
nation, when the three tribes were united, could bring under arms
nearly eight thousand warriors, which enables us to estimate the
population at twenty-five thousand souls. But, at the present day,
smallpox has decimated these Indians, and reduced them to a very much
smaller number. The Blackfeet traverse the prairies adjoining the Rocky
Mountains, sometimes even scaling those mountains between the three
forks of the Missouri, called Gallatin, Jefferson, and Madison rivers.
The Piékanns, however, go as far as Marine river, to trade with the
American Fur Company; they also barter with the Hudson's Bay Society,
and even with the Mexicans of Santa Fé. This nation, continually at
war with the whites, whom they attack whenever they have the chance,
are very little known, but greatly feared, especially for their skill
in stealing horses, and, more than that, for their notorious cruelty
and bad faith. As we have to deal principally with the Kenhas, we will
occupy ourselves more particularly with that tribe. The following is
the origin of the name "Blood Indians," given to the Kenhas:--

Before the Blackfeet were divided, they happened one day to be encamped
a short distance from seven or eight tents of the Sassi Indians. A
quarrel arose between them about a woman carried off by the Sassis,
in spite of the opposition of the Piékanns, and the Kenhas resolved
to kill all their neighbours, a project which they carried out with
extraordinary ferocity and cruelty. In the middle of the night they
attacked the tents of the Sassis, and massacred them all during their
sleep, without sparing even women, children, or old men; they scalped
their victims, and regained their tents, after daubing their faces and
hands with blood.

The Piékanns reproached them for this act of barbarity; a quarrel
ensued, which speedily degenerated into a combat, in consequence of
which the three Blackfoot tribes separated. The Kenhas then received
the name of Blood Indians, which they still retain, and feel a pride
in it, saying that no one insults them with impunity. The Kenhas are
the most active and indomitable of the Blackfeet: they have always
displayed more sanguinary and rapacious instincts than the other
members of their nation, especially than the Piékanns, who are justly
regarded as comparatively gentle and humane.

As the three Blackfoot tribes generally live far apart, Natah Otann
must have acted with great skill, and displayed great patience, ere
he succeeded in making them join, and consent to march under the same
banner. At every moment he was constrained to employ all the resources
suggested by his fertile mind, and evince great diplomacy, in order to
prevent a rupture, which was always imminent between these men, whom
no tie attached, and whose pride revolted at the least appearance of
humiliation.

After the events which occurred at the pioneer's camp, Natah Otann
resolved to lead the Count de Beaulieu and his comrades to the chief
summer village of the Kenhas, situated at no great distance from Fort
Mackenzie, one of the principal depôts of the American Fur Company.
The Kenhas had constructed this village only a year previously, and
their vicinity at first alarmed the Americans; but the conduct of
the Indians had ever been so loyal--apparently, at least, in their
transactions with the white men--that the latter, at length, did not
trouble themselves about their Redskin neighbours, except to buy their
furs, sell them whisky, and visit their village when they wanted some
amusement.

After selling Black an immense territory for a dollar, Natah Otann
reminded the young man of his promise to visit his tribe, and the
Count, though secretly vexed at the obligation he Was under of
accepting an invitation which bore a great likeness to a command,
still yielded, and followed the chief, after bidding farewell to the
pioneers. Black, with his hand resting on the trigger of his rifle,
looked after the Kenha horsemen, who, according to their custom,
galloped across the prairie, when a rider turned back, and came up
to the American's camp. The pioneer recognised, with some surprise,
Bright-eye, who stopped before him.

"Have you forgotten anything?" the pioneer asked him.

"Yes," the hunter answered.

"What?"

"To say a word to you."

"Ah!" the other said, in surprise. "Go ahead, then."

"I have no time to lose; answer me as plainly as I question you."

"Very good! speak."

"Are you grateful for what the Count has done for you?"

"More than I can express."

"In case of need, what would you do for him?"

"Everything."

"Hum! that is a heavy pledge."

"It is even less than I would do; my family, my servants, all I
possess, are at his disposal."

"Then you are devoted to him?"

"For life and death! Under any circumstances, by day or night; whatever
may happen, at a word from him I am ready."

"You swear it?"

"I swear it."

"I hold your promise."

"I will keep it."

"I expect so. Good bye."

"Are you off already?"

"I must rejoin my companions."

"Then you have some suspicions about your Red friend?"

"You must always be on your guard with Indians," the hunter said,
sententiously.

"Then you are taking a precaution?"

"Perhaps."

"In any event, count on me."

"Thanks, and good bye."

"Good bye."

The two men parted; they understood each other.

"By heaven!" the pioneer muttered, as he threw his rifle over his
shoulder, and returned to the camp; "I would not be the Indian to touch
a hair of the head of a man to whom I owe so much."

The Indians had stopped on the bank of a stream, which they were about
to ford, when Bright-eye rejoined them. Natah Otann, busy talking with
the Count, threw a side glance at the hunter, but did not say a word to
him.

"Yes," the latter muttered, with a crafty smile, "my absence has
bothered you, my fine fellow; you would like to know why I turned
back so suddenly; but, unluckily, I am not disposed to satisfy your
curiosity."

When the ford was crossed, the Canadian took his post by the
Frenchman's side, and, by his presence, prevented the Indian chief
renewing his conversation with the Count. An hour passed, and not a
word was exchanged. Natah Otann, wearied with the hunter's obstinacy,
and not knowing how to make him retire, resolved at last to give up to
him: and, digging his spurs into his horse's flank, galloped forward,
leaving the two white men together. The hunter watched him depart, with
that caustic laugh which was one of the characteristics of his face.

"Poor horse!" he said, sarcastically, "he must suffer for his master's
ill temper."

"What ill temper do you mean?" the Count said, absently.

"Why, the chief's, who is flying along over there in a cloud of dust."

"You do not seem to have any sympathy for each other."

"Indeed, we are as friendly as the grizzly bear and the jaguar."

"Which means?--"

"That we have measured our claws; and, as we find them at present of
the same strength and length, so we stand on the defensive."

"Do you feel any malice against him?"

"I? not the least in the world. I do not fear him more than he does
me; we are only distrustful because we know each other."

"Oh, oh!" the young man said, with a laugh; "that conceals, I can see,
something serious."

Bright-eye frowned, and took a scrutinizing glance around. The Indians
were galloping on about twenty paces in the rear; Ivon alone, though
keeping at a respectful distance, could hear the conversation between
the two men. Bright-eye leant over to the Count, laid his hand on the
pommel of his saddle, and said, in a low voice--"I do not like tigers
covered with a fox's skin; each ought to follow the instincts of his
nature, and not try to assume others that are fictitious."

"I must confess, my good fellow," the young man replied, "that you are
speaking in enigmas, and I cannot understand you at all."

"Patience!" the hunter said, tossing his head; "I will be clear."

"My faith! that will delight me, Bright-eye," the young man said, with
a smile; "for ever since we have again met the Indian chief, you have
affected an air of mystery, which bothers me so, that I should be
charmed to comprehend you for once."

"Good! What do you think of Natah Otann

"Ah! that is where you are galled still!"

"Yes."

"Well, I will reply that this man appears to me extraordinary; there is
something strange about him, which I cannot understand. In the first
place, is he an Indian?"

"Yes."

"But he has travelled; he has been in white society; he has been in the
interior of the United States?"

The hunter shook his head. "No," he said, "he has never left his tribe."

"Yet--"

"Yet," Bright-eye quickly interrupted him, "he speaks English, French
and Spanish, as well as yourself, and perhaps better than I do, eh?
Before his warriors he feigns profound ignorance; like them, he
trembles at the sight of one of the results of civilization--a watch,
a musical box, or even a lucifer match, eh?"

"It is true."

"Then, when he finds himself with certain persons, like yourself, for
instance, sir, the Indian suddenly disappears, the savage vanishes,
and you find yourself in the presence of a man whose acquirements
are almost equal to your own, and who confounds you by his thorough
knowledge."

"That is true."

"Ah, ah! Well, as you consider that extraordinary as I do, you will
take your precautions, Mr. Edward."

"What have I to fear from him?"

"I do not know yet; but be at your ease; I shall soon know. He is
sharp, but I am not such a fool as he fancies, and am watching him.
For a long time this man has been playing a game, about which I have
hitherto troubled myself but little; now that he has drawn us into it,
he must be on his guard."

"But where did he learn all he knows?"

"Ah! that is a story too long to tell you at present; but you shall
hear it someday; suffice it to say, that in his tribe there is an old
chief called the White Buffalo; he is a European, and he it was who
educated the Grizzly Bear."

"Ah!"

"Is not that singular! a European of immense learning; a man who, in
his own country, must have held a high rank, and who thus becomes, of
his own accord, chief of the savages?"

"Indeed, it is most extraordinary. Do you know this man?"

"I have often seen him; he is very aged now; his beard and hair are
white; he is tall and majestic; his face is fine, his look profound;
there is something about him grand and imposing, which attracts you
against your will. Grizzly Bear holds him in great veneration, and
obeys him as if he were his son."

"Who can this man be?"

"No one knows. I am convinced that the Grizzly Bear shares the general
ignorance on this head."

"But how did he join the tribe?"

"It is not known."

"He must have been long with it."

"I told you so; he educated the Grizzly Bear, and made a European of
him instead of an Indian."

"All that is really strange," the Count murmured, having suddenly grown
pensive.

"Is it not so? But that is not all yet; you are entering a world you
do not know, accident throws you among interests you are unacquainted
with; take care; weigh well your words, calculate your slightest
gesture, Mr. Edward; for the Indians are very clever; the man you have
to deal with is cleverer than all of them, as he combines with Redskin
craft that European intelligence and corruption with which his teacher
has inculcated him. Natah Otann is a man with an incalculable depth of
calculation; his thoughts are an abyss; he must be revolving sinister
schemes; take care; his pressing you to promise a visit to his village;
his generosity to the American squatter, the secret protection with
which he surrounds you, while being the first to pretend to take you
for a superior being; all this makes me believe that he wishes to lead
you unconsciously into some dark enterprise, which will prove your
destruction. Believe me, Mr. Edward, beware of this man."

"Thanks, my friend, I will watch," the Count said, pressing the
Canadian's honest hand.

"You will watch," the latter said; "but do you know the way to do it?"

"I confess--"

"Listen to me," the hunter interrupted him; "you must first--"

"Here is the chief," the young man exclaimed.

"Confusion!" Bright-eye growled. "Why could he not stop a few minutes
longer? I am sure that red devil has some familiar spirit to warn him;
but no matter, I have told you enough to prevent your being trapped by
false friendliness; besides, I shall be there to support you."

"Thanks. When the time comes--"

"I will warn you; but it is urgent that you should now compose your
countenance, and pretend to know nothing."

"Good; that's settled; here is our man. Silence."

"On the contrary, let us talk; silence is ever interpreted either well
or ill, but generally in the latter sense. Be careful to reply in the
sense of my questions."

"I will try."

"Here is our man. Let us cheat the cheater."

After casting a cunning glance at the chief, who was only a few paces
off at the moment, he continued aloud, and changing his tone,--

"What you ask, Mr. Edward, is most simple. I am certain that the chief
will be happy to procure you that pleasure."

"Do you think so?" the young man asked, not knowing what the hunter was
alluding to.

Bright-eye turned to Natah Otann, who arrived at the moment, and rode
silently by their side, though he had heard the two men's last remarks.

"My companion," he said to the chief, "has heard a great deal of, and
longs to see, a caribou hunt. I have offered him in your name, chief,
one of those magnificent battues, of which you Redskins have reserved
the scent."

"Natah Otann will be happy to satisfy his guest," the sachem replied,
bowing with Indian gravity.

The Count thanked him.

"We are approaching the village of my tribe," the chief continued; "we
shall be there in an hour; the Palefaces will see how I receive my
friends."

The Blackfeet, who had hitherto galloped without order, gradually grew
together, and formed a compact squadron round their chief. The little
party continued to advance, approaching more and more the Missouri,
which rolled on majestically between two high banks, covered with osier
beds, whence, on the approach of the horsemen, startled flocks of pink
flamingoes rose in alarm. On reaching a spot where the path formed
a bend, the Indians stopped, and prepared their weapons as if for a
fight; some taking their guns out of their leathern cases, and loading
them; others preparing their bows and javelins.

"Are the fellows afraid of an attack?" the Count asked Bright-eye.

"Not the least in the world," the latter answered; "they are only a
few minutes' ride from their village, into which they wish to enter in
triumph, in order to do you honour."

"Come, come!" the young man said; "all this is charming; I did not
expect, on coming to the prairies, to be present at such singular
scenes."

"You have seen nothing yet," the hunter said, ironically: "wait, we are
only at the beginning."

"All the better," the Count answered, joyfully.

Natah Otann made a sign, and the warriors closed up again at the same
moment; although no one was visible, a noise of conchs, drums, and
chichikouès was heard a short distance off. The warriors uttered their
war yell, and replied by raising to their lips their war whistles.
Natah Otann then placed himself at the head of the party, having the
Count on his right, the hunter and Ivon on his left; and, turning
towards his men, he brandished his weapon several times over his head,
uttering two or three shrill whistles. At this signal the whole troop
rushed forward, and turned the corner like an avalanche.

The Frenchman then witnessed a strange scene, which was not without a
certain amount of savage grandeur, A troop of warriors from the village
came up, like a tornado, to meet the newcomers, shouting, howling,
brandishing their arms, and firing their guns. The two parties charged
each other with extraordinary fury and at full speed; but when scarce
ten yards apart, the horses stopped, as if of their own impulse, and
began dancing, curvetting, and performing all the most difficult
tricks of the riding school. After these manoeuvres had lasted a
few moments, the two bands formed a semicircle opposite each other,
leaving a free space between them, in which the chiefs collected.
The presentations then began. Natah Otann made a long harangue to
the chiefs, in which he gave them an account of his expedition, and
the result he had obtained. The sachems listened to it with thorough
Indian decorum. When he spoke to them of his meeting with the white
men, and what had occurred, they bowed silently, without replying; but
one chief, of venerable aspect, who seemed older than the rest, and
appeared to be treated with great consideration by his companions,
turned a profound and inquiring glance at the Count, when Natah Otann
spoke of him. The young man, troubled, in spite of himself, by the
fixed glance, stooped down to Bright-eye's ear, and asked him, in a low
voice, who the man was.

"That is White Buffalo," the hunter answered, "the European I spoke to
you about."

"Ah, ah!" the Count said, regarding him, in his turn, attentively; "I
do not know why, but I believe I shall have a serious row with that
gentleman before I have done."

The White Buffalo then took the word.

"My brothers are welcome," he said; "their return to the tribe is a
festival; they are intrepid warriors; we are happy at hearing the way
in which they have performed the duties entrusted to them." Then he
turned to the white men, and, after bowing to them, continued,--"The
Kenhas are poor, but strangers are always well received by them: the
Palefaces are our guests, all we possess belongs to them."

The Count and his companions thanked the chief, who so gracefully did
the honours of his tribe; then the two parties joined, and galloped
toward the village, which was built some five hundred paces from the
spot where they were, and at the entrance of which a multitude of women
and children could be seen assembled.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE RECEPTION.


Like all the centres of Indian population near the American clearings,
the Kenha village was more like a fort than an open town. As we said
before, the Kenhas had only a short time previously established
themselves there, by the advice of Natah Otann. The spot was
magnificently selected, and owing to the precautions taken, the hill
was completely protected from a sudden attack. The wigwams were built
without any order, on both sides a stream, and the fortifications
consisted of a sort of intrenchment formed of dead trees. These
fortifications formed an inclosure, having several angles, and the
gorge or open part rested on the spot where the stream fell into the
Missouri. A parapet of tree stems and piled up branches, built up
on the edge of a deep ditch, completed a very respectable defensive
system, which few would have expected to find in the heart of the
prairies.

In the centre of the village, a wide, vacant spot served as the meeting
place for the chiefs. In the centre there was a wigwam of wood, in the
shape of a sugar loaf. On either side of the building, maize, wheat,
and other cereals kept for winter consumption were drying. A little in
advance of the village were two block houses, formed of arrow-shaped
intrenchments, covered with wickerwork, provided with loopholes, and
surrounded by an enclosure of palisades. They were intended for the
defence of the village, with which they communicated by a covered
way, and to command the river and the plain. To leeward of these
block houses, and about a mile to the east, might be seen a number of
_Machotlé_, or scaffoldings, on which the Blood Indians lay their dead.
At regular distances on the road leading to the village, long poles
were planted in the ground, from which hung skins, scalps, and other
objects offered by the Indians to the Master of Life and the first man.

The Indians made their entrance into the village amid the cheers of the
women and children, the barking of dogs, and the deafening clamour of
drums, shells, chichikouès, and war whistles. On reaching the square,
at a signal from Natah Otann, the band halted, and the noise ceased. An
immense fire had been prepared, before which stood an aged chief, still
robust and upright. A shade of melancholy was spread over his face. He
was in mourning, as was easily to be seen by the ragged clothes that
covered him, and his hair cut short and mingled with clay. He held in
his hand a Dacotah pipe, the stem of which was long and adorned with
yellow glistening beads. This man was Cloven Foot, the first and most
renowned sachem of the Kenhas. So soon as the band had halted, he
advanced two paces, and with a majestic gesture invited the chiefs to
dismount.

"My sons are at home," he said, "let them take their seats on the
buffalo robes around the council fire."

Each obeyed silently, and sat down, after bowing respectfully to the
sachem. Cloven Foot then allowed each to take a few puffs from his
pipe, still holding it in his hand. When it was returned to him, he
emptied the burning ash into the fire, and turning with a kind of smile
to the strangers, said:--

"The Palefaces are our guests. There are fire and water here."

After these words, which ended the ceremony, all rose and retired
without uttering a word, according to the Indian custom. Natah Otann
then went up to the Count.

"Let my brother follow me," he said.

"Where to?" the young man asked.

"To the cabin I have had prepared for him."

"And my companions?"

"Other wigwams await them."

Bright-eye made a sign, immediately checked by the Count.

"Pardon, chief," he said, "but with your permission my comrades will
live with me."

The hunter smiled, as a shade of dissatisfaction crossed the Indian's
face.

"The young Pale chief will be uncomfortable, for he is accustomed to
the immense huts of the whites."

"That is possible; but I shall be more uncomfortable if my comrades do
not remain with me, in order to keep me company."

"The hospitality of the Kenhas is great. They are rich, and could give
each a private cabin, even if their guests were more numerous."

"I am convinced of it, and thank them for their attention, by which,
however, I decline to profit. Solitude frightens me. I should be
worried to death had I not with me someone to talk with."

"Be it then as the young Pale chief desires. Guests have a right to
command. Their requests are orders."

"I thank you for your condescension, and am ready to follow you."

"Come."

With that rapidity of resolution which the Indians possess in so
eminent a degree, Natah Otann shut up his vexation in his heart, and
not a trace of emotion again appeared on his stoical countenance. The
three men followed him, after exchanging a meaning glance. A handsome,
lofty cabin had been built in the square itself, near the hut of the
first man, a species of cylinder formed in the earth, and surrounded
with creeping plants. To this cabin the chief now led his guests. A
woman was standing silently in the doorway, fixing on the newcomers a
glance in which admiration and astonishment were blended. But was it a
woman? this angelic creature, with her vague outline, whose delicious
face, blushing with modesty and simple curiosity, turned towards the
Count with anxious timidity. The young man asked himself this very
question on contemplating this charming apparition, which resembled one
of those divine virgins in the mythology of the ancient Sclavons. On
seeing her, Natah Otann paused.

"What is my sister doing here?" he asked her, roughly.

The girl, startled from her silent contemplation by this brusque
address, shuddered, and let her eyes fall.

"Prairie-Flower wishes to welcome her adopted father," she replied
gently, in a sweet melodious voice.

"Prairie-Flower's place is not here, I will speak with her presently:
let her go and rejoin her companions, the young maidens of the tribe."

Prairie-Flower blushed still deeper, her rosy lips pouted, and after
shaking her head petulantly twice, she flew away like a bird, casting
at the Count, as she fled, a parting glance, which caused him an
incomprehensible emotion.

The young man laid his hand on his heart, to suppress its beating, and
followed the girl with his eyes till she disappeared behind a cabin.

"Oh!" the chief muttered aside, "can she have suddenly recognized a
being of that accursed race to which she belongs?"

Then turning to the white men, whose eyes he felt instinctively were
fixed on him,--

"Enter," he said, raising the buffalo skin, which served as a door to
the cabin.

They went in. By Natah Otann's care the cabin had been cleaned,
and every comfort it was possible to find placed in it, that is to
say--piles of furs to serve as a bed, a rickety table, some wooden
clumsy benches, and a species of reed easy chair, with a large back.

"The Paleface will excuse the poor Indians if they have not done more
to welcome him as he deserves," the chief said, with a mixture of irony
and humility.

"It is all famous," the young man answered with a smile; "I certainly
did not expect so much; besides, I have been on the prairie long enough
to satisfy myself with what is strictly necessary."

"Now I ask the Pale chiefs permission to retire."

"Yes, go, my worthy host; do so: do not put yourself out of the way.
Attend to your business. For my part I intend taking that rest I need
so sadly."

Natah Otann bowed in reply, and withdrew. So soon as he was gone,
Bright-eye made his comrades a sign to remain motionless, and began
inspecting the place, peering into every corner. When he had ended
this inspection, which produced no farther result than proving to him
they were really alone, and that no spy was on the watch, he returned
to the centre of the hut, and calling the Count and Ivon toward him,
said in a low voice:--

"Listen: we are now in the wolfs throat by our own fault, and we must
be prudent; in the prairies the leaves have eyes and the trees ears.
Natah Otann is a demon, who is planning some treachery, of which he
intends to make us the victims."

"Bah!" the Count said, lightly. "How do you know it, Bright-eye?"

"I do not know it, yet I feel sure of it; my instinct never deceives
me, Mr. Edward. I have known the Kenhas a long time; we must get out of
this as adroitly as we can."

"Eh! what use are such suspicions, my friend? The poor devils, I am
convinced, only think of treating us properly; all this appears to me
admirable."

The Canadian shook his head.

"I should like to know the cause of the strange respect the Indians pay
you; that conceals something, I repeat."

"Bah! they are afraid of me; that's all."

"Hum! Natah Otann does not fear much in this world."

"Why, Bright-eye, I never saw you in this state before. Did I not know
you so thoroughly, I should say you were afraid."

"Hang me! if I'll try to conceal it," the hunter replied, quickly. "I
am afraid, and terribly so."

"You?"

"Yes; but not for myself; you know that during the time I have
journeyed on the prairies, if the Redskins could have killed me, they
would have done so. Hence, I am perfectly calm on my own account, and
were there only myself--"

"Well?"

"I should not be at all embarrassed."

"Whom are you afraid for, then?"

"For you."

"Me!" the Count exclaimed, as he reclined carelessly in the easy chair.
"You do these scamps a deal of honour. With my whip I would put all
these hideous people to flight."

The hunter shook his head.

"You will not, Mr. Edward, persuade yourself thoroughly of one thing."

"What?"

"That the Indians are different men from the Europeans with whom you
have hitherto had dealings."

"Nonsense, were a man to listen to you wood rangers, he would be, at
every two steps, in danger of death, and it would be impossible to
move, except by crawling on all fours, like the wild beasts; that is
all trash, my good fellow. I fancy I have already twenty times proved
to you that such precautions are useless, and that a man, who boldly
meets danger, will always get the best of the most warlike Redskins."

"It is exactly the reason that makes them act toward you in that way, I
wish to discover."

"You would do better to try and discover something else."

"What is it?"

"Who that charming girl is, of whom I only had a glance, and whom the
chief sent away so brutally."

"Good! then I suppose you have fallen in love now; that's the last
thing wanting."

"Why not? She is a charming girl."

"Yes; she is charming, sir; but, believe me, do not trouble yourself
about her."

"And why so, if you please?"

"Because she is not what she seems to be."

"Why, it's a perfect romance of the Anne Radcliffe school; we have been
advancing from mystery to mystery during the last few days."

"Yes, and the further we go, the more gloomy matters will become around
us."

"Bah, bah! I do not believe a word. Ivon, take off my boots."

The man-servant obeyed. Since his entry into the village, the worthy
Breton had been in one continued trance, and trembled in all his
limbs. All he saw seemed to him so extraordinary and horrible, that he
expected every moment to be massacred.

"Well," the Count asked him, "what do you think of it all, Ivon?"

"Your lordship knows that I am a great coward," the Breton stammered.

"Yes, yes, that is agreed; go on."

"I am terribly afraid."

"Naturally."

"And if your lordship will allow me, I will carry my furs over there,
and sleep across the doorway."

"Why so?"

"Because, as I am very frightened, I shall not sleep soundly; and if
anyone comes in the night, with ill intentions, he will be obliged to
step over me; I shall hear him, and, in that way, be able to warn you,
which will give you time to defend yourself."

The young man threw himself back, and burst into a Homeric laugh, in
which Bright-eye joined, in spite of his thoughtfulness.

"By Jove!" the Count exclaimed, looking at his servant, who was in
amazement at this gaiety, which seemed to him unsuitable at so grave
a moment--"I must confess, Ivon, that you are the most extraordinary
poltroon I ever saw."

"Ah, sir," he answered with contrition, "it is not my fault; for I do
all I can to gain courage, but it is impossible."

"Good, good!" the young man went on, still laughing. "I am not angry
with you, my poor fellow; as it is stronger than yourself, you must put
up with it."

"Alas!" the Breton said, uttering an enormous sigh.

"Well, you can sleep how and where you like, Ivon; I leave it entirely
to you."

The Breton, without further reply, began transferring the furs to the
place he had selected, while the Count went on talking with the hunter.

"As for you, Bright-eye," he said, "I leave you at liberty to watch
over our safety as you may think proper, promising not to disarrange
your plans in any way, and even to promote them, if necessary--but on
one condition."

"What?"

"That you will arrange so that I may meet again that charming creature,
of whom I have already spoken to you."

"Take care, Mr. Edward!"

"I want to see her again, I tell you, even if I am obliged to go and
look for her myself."

"You will not do so, Mr. Edward."

"I will do so, on my soul! and at once, if you continue in that tone."

"You will reflect."

"I now reflect, and find it the best plan."

"But do you know who that girl is?"

"By Jove! you have just said it; she is a girl, and a charming one in
the bargain."

"Granted; but I repeat, she is loved by Natah Otann."

"What do I care?"

"Take care!"

"I will not: I must see her again."

"At any risk?"

"At all."

"Well, listen to me, then."

"I will, but be brief."

"I will tell you this girl's history."

"You know her then?"

"I do."

"Go on; I am all attention."

Bright-eye drew up a bench, eat down with an air of dissatisfaction,
and, after a moment's reflection, began.

"Just fifteen years ago, Natah Otann, who was hardly twenty years of
age, but already a renowned warrior, left his tribe, at the head of
some fifty picked warriors, to attempt a _coup de main_ on the Whites.
At that period, the Kenhas did not live where they now are; the Fur
Company had not advanced so far on the Missouri, and Fort Mackenzie did
not exist. The Blood Indians hunted freely on the vast territories from
which the Americans have since expelled them. Up to that moment, Natah
Otann had never been the commander in chief of an expedition; like all
young men of his age and circumstances, his brow shone with pride; he
burned to distinguish himself, and prove to the sachems of his nation
that he was worthy to command brave warriors. So soon as he entered
on the war trail, he scattered his spies in every direction, and even
forbade his men smoking, lest the light of their pipes might betray his
presence. In short, he took, with extreme wisdom, all the precautions
employed in similar cases. His expedition was brilliant; he surprised
several caravans, and plundered and burned the clearings; his men
returned laden with booty, and the bits of their horses garnished with
scalps. Natah Otann only brought back, as his share, a weak creature
of two or three years of age at the most, whom he bore tenderly in his
arms, or laid on the front of his saddle. That child was the tall and
lovely girl you saw today."

"Ah! Is she white or red, American or Spanish?"

"No one knows; no one will ever know. You are aware that many Indians
are born white, thus colour is of no avail in finding her relations
again. In short, the chief adopted her; but, strange to say, as she
grew up, she gained such an ascendency over Natah Otann's mind,
that the chief of the tribe grew alarmed; besides, the life led by
Prairie-Flower--that is her name--"

"I knew it," the Count interrupted him.

"Good," the hunter continued, "I say, then, that this girl's life is
extraordinary; instead of being sportive and laughing, like girls of
her age, she is gloomy, dreamy, and wild, wandering ever alone on the
prairie, flying over the dew-laden grass like a gazelle; or else, at
night, dreaming in the moonlight, and muttering words no one hears. At
times, from a distance (for no one ventures to approach her), another
shadow may be traced by the side of her's, and moving for hours at her
side: then she returns alone to the village; if questioned, only shakes
her head, and begins crying."

"That is really strange."

"Is it not? so much so, that the chiefs assembled in council, and
agreed that Prairie-Flower had cast a charm over her adopted father."

"The asses!" the Count muttered.

"Perhaps so," the hunter went on, turning his head; "at any rate, they
agreed that she should be left alone to perish in the desert."

"Poor child! Well, what happened then?"

"Natah Otann and White Buffalo, who were not summoned to the council,
went there on learning this decision, and succeeded by their deceitful
words in so thoroughly altering the chiefs' sentiments, that they not
only gave up all idea of deserting her, but she has since been regarded
as the tutelary genius of the tribe."

"And Natah Otann?"

"His condition is still the same."

"Is that all?"

"It is."

"Well, then, Bright-eye, within two days I shall know whether that
girl is the enchantress you fancy her, and what I am to think on the
subject."

The hunter only answered by an unintelligible grunt, and, saying no
more, lay down on his furs.



CHAPTER XV.

THE WHITE BUFFALO.


So soon as Natah Otann emerged from the cabin into which he had
conducted the Count, he proceeded towards the hut inhabited by White
Buffalo. The night was beginning to fall; the Kenhas, collected round
fires kindled at the door of each wigwam, were conversing gaily while
smoking their long calumets. The chief replied by a nod of the head, as
a friendly sign to the affectionate salutations the warriors made him
whom he met; but he did not stop to talk with anyone, and continued his
walk with greater rapidity as the darkness grew denser. He at length
reached a cabin, situated at the extremity of the village, on the banks
of the Missouri. The chief, after taking a scrutinizing glance around,
stopped before this hut, and prepared to enter. Still in the act of
raising the buffalo curtain that served as a doorway, he hesitated for
a few seconds, and appeared to be collecting his courage.

This dwelling, externally, had nothing to distinguish it from the
others forming the village; it was round, with a roof shaped like a
beehive, made of intertwined branches, with clay stuffed between them,
and covered with matting. Still, after a moment's reflection, Natah
Otann raised the curtain, walked in, and stopped at the threshold,
saying in French--

"Good evening, my father."

"Good evening, child, I was awaiting you impatiently: come, sit down by
my side, we have to talk."

These words were uttered in the same language, and in a gentle voice.

Natah Otann took a few steps forward, and let the curtain fall behind
him. If, externally, the hut the Chief had just entered was not
distinguished from the others, that was not the case with the interior.
All that human industry can imagine, when reduced to its simplest
expressions, that is to say, when deprived of tools and matters of
primary necessity to express its thoughts, had been as it were invented
by the master of this house. Hence the interior of this hut was a sort
of strange pandemonium, in which were collected the most discordant
articles, apparently least suited to be side by side. Differing from
the other wigwams, this cabin had two windows, in which oiled paper
was substituted for glass; in one corner was a bed, in the centre a
table, a few scattered chairs, and armchair by the table, but all these
articles carved with an axe, and clumsily. Such was the furniture of
this singular room.

On shelves, some forty volumes, for the most part out of their binding;
stuffed animals hanging by cords, insects, &c.; in a word, an infinite
number of things without name, but classified, arranged, and labelled,
completed this singular abode, which more resembled the cell of an
anchorite, or the secret den of a mediaeval alchemist, than the abode
of an Indian chief; and yet this hut belonged to White Buffalo, one
of the first Kenha chiefs. But, as we have said, this chief was a
European, and had, doubtlessly, kept up some reminiscences of his past
life, the last rays of a lost existence.

At the moment when Natah Otann entered the hut, White Buffalo, seated
in the easy chair at the table, with his head resting on his hands,
was reading by the light of a lamp, whose smoky wick only spread a
flickering and uncertain light around, from a large folio, with yellow
and worn leaves. He raised his head, took off his spectacles, which
he placed in the book, and, turning the chair half round, the old man
smiled, and, pointing to a chair in a kindly way, said--

"Come, my child, sit down there."

The Chief took a chair, drew it to the table, and sat down, without any
reply. The old man looked at him attentively for a few moments, and
then said:--

"Hem! you appear to me very thoughtful for a man who, as I suppose, has
just obtained a grand result so long expected. What can render you so
gloomy? Would you hesitate, now you are on the point of success? or are
you beginning to understand that the work which, in spite of me, you
wished to undertake, is beyond the strength of a man left to himself,
and who has only an old man to support him?"

"Perhaps so," the Chief answered, in a hollow voice. "Oh why, my
father, did you let me taste the bitter fruit of that accursed
civilization, which was not made for me? Why have your lessons made
of me a man differing from those who surround me, and with whom I am
compelled to live and die?"

"Blind man! when I showed you the sun, you allowed yourself to be
dazzled by the beams; your weak eyes could not endure the light; in
the place of that ignorance and brutalization in which you would have
vegetated all the days of your life, I developed in you the only
feeling which elevates man above the brute. I taught you to think, to
judge, and this is the way in which you recompense me. This is the
reward you give me for the pains I have taken, and the cares I have
never ceased to bestow on you."

"My father!"

"Do not attempt to exculpate yourself, child," the old man said, with
a shade of bitterness. "I should have expected what now happens,
ingratitude and egotism are deposited in man's heart by Providence,
as his safeguard. Without those two supreme virtues of humanity, no
society would be possible. I am not angry with you; I have no right to
be so; and, as the sage says, you are a man, and no human feeling must
be alien to you."

"I make neither plaint nor recrimination, my father; I know that you
have acted towards me with good intentions," the Chief replied, "but,
unfortunately, your lessons have produced a very different result
from what you awaited: in developing my ideas, you have, without your
knowledge or mine, increased my wants; the life I lead preys upon
me: the men who surround me are a burden to me, because they cannot
understand me, and I can no longer understand them. As respects myself,
my mind rushes towards an unknown horizon. I dream wide awake of
strange and impossible things. I suffer from an incurable malady, and
cannot define it. I hopelessly love a woman, of whom I am jealous,
and who can never be mine, save by a crime. Oh, my father, I am very
wretched!"

"Child!" the old man exclaimed, shrugging his shoulders in pity. "What,
you are unhappy! Your grief inclines me to laughter. Man has in himself
the germ of good and evil; if you suffer, you have only yourself
to blame. You are young, intelligent, powerful, the first of your
nation: what do you want for happiness? Nothing. If you wish to be so
permanently, stifle in your heart that insensate passion which devours
it, and follow, without looking to the right or left, the glorious
mission you have traced for yourself. What can be more noble or grander
than the deliverance and regeneration of a people?"

"Alas! can I do it?"

"What! you doubt?" the old man shouted, striking the table with his
fist and looking him in the face; "then you are lost: renounce your
plans, you will not succeed; on a road like that you follow, hesitation
or stoppage is ruin."

"Father!"

"Silence," he said, with redoubled energy, "and listen to me; when you
first revealed your plans to me, I tried by all arguments possible
to make you abandon them. I proved to you that your resolves were
premature. That the Indians, brutalized by a lengthened slavery, were
only the shadow of their former selves; and that to attempt to arouse
in them any noble or generous feeling was like galvanizing a corpse.
You resisted; you would hear nothing; you went Headlong into intrigues
and plots of every description--is it not so?"

"It is true."

"Well! now it is too late to return; you must go on at all risks. You
may fall, but you will do so with honour; and your name, cherished by
all, will swell the martyrology of the chosen men who have devoted
themselves to their country."

"Things are not yet sufficiently advanced, I think, for me----"

"Not to be able to withdraw--you mean?" he interrupted him.

"Yes."

"You are mistaken; while you were engaged in collecting your partisans,
and preparing to take up arms, do you fancy I remained inactive?"
"What do you mean?"

"I mean that your enemies suspect your plans; are watching you; and if
you do not prevent them, will lay a trap, into, which you will fall."

"I?" the chief said, violently. "We shall see."

"Then redouble your activity; do not let yourself be taken unawares;
and, above all, be prudent, for you are closely watched, I repeat."

"How do you know it?"

"That I know it, is sufficient, I imagine; trust to my prudence. I am
on the watch. Let the spies and traitors fall asleep in a doubtful
security; were we to unmask them, others would take their place,
and we are better off with those we know; in that way none of their
movements escape us, we know what they are doing and what they want,
and while they flatter themselves with the idea of knowing our plans,
and divulging them to their paymasters, we are their masters, and amuse
them with false information, which conceals our real plans. Believe me,
their confidence produces our security."

"You are always right, my father. I trust entirely to you. But may I
not be permitted to know the names of the traitors?"

"For what end, since I know them? When the time arrives, I will tell
you all."

"Be it so."

There was a lengthened silence; the two men, absorbed in thought,
did not notice a grinning head over the curtain in the doorway, and
which had for a long time been listening to their conversation. But
the man, whoever he might be, who indulged in this espial, every now
and then gave signs of ill temper and disappointment. In fact, while
listening to the two chiefs, he had forgotten one thing, that he could
not understand a word of what they said, for they spoke in French, and
that was a sad disappointment to the spy. Still he did not despair, but
continued to listen, in the hope that they might at any moment revert
to his idiom.

"And now," the old man continued, "give me an account of your trip.
When you went away, you were happy, and hoped, as you told me, to bring
back with you the man you wanted to play the principal part in your
conspiracy."

"Well, you saw him here today, my father. He is here. This evening he
entered the village by my side."

"Oh! oh! explain that to me, my child," the old man said, with a
gentle smile, and settling himself in the easy chair to listen at his
ease. By an imperceptible movement, and while seeming to listen with
the greatest attention, he drew towards him the heavy pistol that lay
before him.

"Go on," he said; "I am listening."

"About six months ago, I do not know if I told you of it then, I
succeeded in capturing a Canadian hunter, to whom I owe an old grudge."

"Wait a minute. I fancy I have a confused remembrance of it. A certain
Bright-eye, I think, eh?"

"The very man. Well! I was furious with him, because he had mocked us
so long, and killed my warriors with extraordinary skill. So soon as he
was in my power I resolved he should die by violence."

"Although, as you know, I do not approve of that barbarous custom, you
were in the right, and I cannot offer any opposition to it."

"He, too, made no objection; on the contrary, he derided us; in a
word, he rendered us so mad with him, that I gave the order for the
punishment. At the moment that he was about to die, a man, or rather a
demon, appeared all at once, rushed among us, and careless as it seemed
of the risk he ran, unfastened the prisoner."

"Hum! he was a brave man, do you know?"

"Yes, but his daring action would have cost him dear; when suddenly, at
a signal from myself, all my warriors fell at his feet, with marks of
the most profound respect."

"Oh! what are you telling me now?"

"The strictest truth: on looking this man in the face, I perceived on
his face two extraordinary signs."

"What?"

"A scar over the right eyebrow, and a black mark under the eye, on the
same side of the face."

"That is strange," the old man muttered, pensively.

"But what is still more so, this man exactly resembles the portrait
which you drew, and which is in that book."

"What did you do then?"

"You know my coolness and rapidity of resolution. I let the man depart
with the prisoner."

"Well! and afterwards?"

"I pretended as if I did not wish to meet him."

"Better and better still," the old man said, with a nod of his head,
and with a movement swift as thought, he cocked the pistol he held in
his hand, and fired. A cry of pain was heard from the door, and the
head disappeared suddenly under the curtain. The two men jumped up, and
rushed out, but saw nothing, except that a rather large pool of blood
clearly indicated that the shot had told.

"What have you done, my father?" Natah Otann exclaimed, in astonishment.

"Nothing. I have merely given a lesson, rather a rough one, to one of
those spies I mentioned to you just now."

And he went back coolly, and eat down again. Natah Otann wished to
follow the bloody trail left by the fugitive, but the old man checked
him.

"Stay! what I have done is sufficient; continue your story, which is
deeply interesting. Still you can see you have no time to lose, if you
wish to succeed."

"I will lose none, father, you may be assured," the Chief exclaimed,
wrathfully, "but I swear that I will know the scoundrel."

"You would do wrong to seek him. Come, proceed with your narrative."

Natah Otann then described in full detail his meeting with the Count,
and in what way he had made him consent to follow him to his village.
This time no incident interrupted his story, and it seemed as if the
lesson read by White Buffalo to the listener was sufficient for the
present. The old man laughed heartily at the experiment with the
matches, and the Count's surprise when he perceived that the man he had
hitherto taken for a coarse and half-idiot savage was, on the contrary,
a man endowed with an intellect and education at least equal to his own.

"And what shall I do now?" Natah Otann added, in conclusion. "He is
here; but with him is Bright-eye, in whom he places the greatest
confidence."

"Hum!" the old man answered, "all this is very serious. In the first
place, my son, you did wrong to let him know you as you really are: you
were much stronger than he, so long as he merely fancied you a stupid
savage: you allowed your pride to carry you away through the desire to
shine in the eyes of a European. It is a great fault, for now he doubts
you, and keeps on his guard."

The young man looked down, and made no reply.

"However," the old man went on, "I will try to arrange matters; but I
must first see this Bright-eye and have a talk with him."

"You will obtain nothing, my father; he is devoted to the Count."

"The greater reason, child. In which hut have you lodged them?"

"In the old council lodge."

"Good! they will be convenient there, and it will be easy to hear all
they say."

"That is what I thought."

"Now, one last remark."

"What is it?"

"Why did you not kill the She-wolf of the Prairies?"

"I did not see her. I was not in the camp; but I would not have done
so."

The old man laid his hand on his shoulder.

"Natah Otann, my son," he said to him, in a stern voice, "when a man
like yourself is intrusted with the fortunes of a people, he must
recoil before nothing. A dead enemy makes the living sleep quietly. The
She-wolf of the Prairies is your enemy. You know it; and her influence
is immense over the superstitious minds of the Redskins. Remember these
words, uttered by an old, experienced man:--As you would not kill her,
she will kill you."

Natah Otann smiled contemptuously.

"Oh!" he said, "a wretched, half-mad woman."

"Ah!" White Buffalo replied, with a shrug of his shoulders, "are you
ignorant that a woman lurks behind every great event? They kill men of
genius for futile interests, and paltry passions cause the finest and
boldest prospects to fail."

"Yes; you are, perhaps, right," Natah Otann said; "but I feel I cannot
stain my hands with that woman's blood."

"Scruples, poor child," White Buffalo said, with disdain; "well, I do
not insist; but be assured that scruples will ruin you. The man who
wishes to govern others must be made of marble, and have no feelings of
humanity, else his prospects will be nipped in the bud, and his foes
will ridicule him. That which has ever ruined the greatest geniuses
is, that they would not comprehend this fact; but worked for their
successors and not for themselves."

In speaking thus, the old man had involuntarily let himself be carried
away by the tumultuous feelings that still agitated his mind. His eye
sparkled; his brow was unwrinkled; his glance had an irresistible
majesty; he had returned, in thought, to his old days of struggling
and triumph. Natah Otann listened to him, yielding to the dominating
ascendency of this prostrated giant, who was so great even after his
fall.

"What am I saying? I am mad! pardon me, child," the old man continued,
sinking in his chair despondingly. "Go, leave me; tomorrow, at sunrise,
I may, perhaps, have some news for you."

And he dismissed the Chief with a sign. The latter, accustomed to these
outbursts, bowed, and departed.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE SPY.


The pistol shot fired by the White Buffalo had not quite produced the
result the latter expected from it. The man was wounded; but the haste
with which the chief had been obliged to fire, injured the precision
of his aim, and the listener escaped with a slight wound; the bullet
grazed his skull, and only produced a copious hemorrhage. Still this
hurt had been enough for the spy, who saw that he was unmasked, and
that a longer stay at the spot would inevitably produce a catastrophe;
hence he ran off at full speed. After running for several minutes,
feeling certain that he had thrown off any persons inclined to follow
him, he stopped to draw breath, and attend to his wound, which still
bled profusely. In consequence, he looked anxiously around him; but
all was silent and solitary. A dense snowstorm, which had been falling
for many an hour, had compelled the Indians to seek shelter in their
lodges The firing of the pistol had caused no panic, for the Redskins,
accustomed to nocturnal disputes in their villages, had not stirred.
No other noise could be heard but the barking of a few straying dogs,
and the hoarse cries of the wild beasts that wandered over the prairie
in search of prey. The spy, reassured by the calm prevailing in the
village, set about bandaging the wound, in his heart thanking the snow
for falling, as it effaced the traces of blood left in his flight.

"Come," he muttered, in a low voice, "I shall know nothing this night;
the genius of evil protects those men; I will go into the cabin."

He turned a parting glance around, and prepared to start; but, at the
same moment, a white shadow, gliding over the snow like a phantom,
passed a short distance from him.

"What is that?" the Indian muttered, suddenly assailed by a
superstitious terror. "Is the 'Virgin of the dark hours' wandering
about the village? What terrible misfortune is menacing us then?"

The Indian bent forward, and, as if attracted by a superior power,
followed with his eyes the strange apparition, whose white outline was
already blending with the distant gloom.

"That creature is not walking," he said to himself, with terror;
"she leaves no footfall on the snow. Is she a Genius hostile to the
Blackfeet? There is a mystery about this which I must fathom."

The instinct of the spy heightening the curiosity of the Indian, the
latter soon forgot his terror for a moment, and rushed boldly in
pursuit of the phantom. After an interval of a few minutes, the shadow
or spectre stopped, and looked around with evident indecision. The
Indian, lest he might be discovered, had just time to hide himself
behind the wall of a cabin; but a pale gleam of moonlight, emerging
between two clouds, had, for a second, lighted up the face of the
person he was pursuing.

"Prairie-Flower!" he muttered, suppressing with difficulty a cry of
surprise.

In fact, that was the person thus wandering about in the darkness.
After some hesitation, the maiden raised her head, and walked
resolutely toward a cabin, the buffalo skin of which she lifted with
a firm hand. She entered, and let the curtain fall behind her. The
Indian bounded up to the cabin, walked round it, thrust his knife up
to the hilt in the wall, turned it round twice or thrice, to enlarge
the hole, and, placing his ear to it, listened. The most complete quiet
continued to prevail in the village.

At the first step the young girl took in the lodge, a shadow suddenly
rose before her, and a hand fell upon her shoulder; instinctively she
recoiled.

"What do you want?" a menacing voice asked. This question was asked in
French, which rendered it doubly unintelligible by the Indian girl.

"Answer! or I'll blow out your brains," the voice continued.

And the sharp sound produced by cocking a pistol could be heard.

"Wah!" the girl replied in her gentle, melodious voice, "I am a friend."

"It is evidently a woman," the first speaker growled, "but no matter,
we must be prudent. What on earth does she want here?"

"Halloh!" Bright-eye suddenly shouted, aroused by this short
altercation, "what's the matter there, what have you caught, Ivon?"

"My faith, I don't know; I believe it is a woman."

"Eh, eh," the hunter said, with a laugh, "let us have a look at that:
don't let her escape."

"Don't be alarmed," the Breton replied, "I have hold of her."

Prairie-Flower remained motionless, not making the slightest effort to
escape from the clutch of the man who held her. Bright-eye rose, felt
his way to the fire, and began blowing it up. In a few minutes a bright
flame burst forth, and illumined the interior of the lodge.

"Stay, stay," the hunter said, with surprise, "you are welcome, girl;
what do you want here?"

The Indian maid blushed, and replied:--

"Prairie-Flower has come to visit her friends, the Palefaces."

"The hour is a strange one for a visit, my child," the Canadian
continued, with an ironical smile; "but no matter," he added, turning
to the Breton, "let her loose, Ivon; this enemy, if she is one, is not
very dangerous."

The other obeyed with ill grace.

"Come to the fire, girl," the hunter said, "your limbs are frozen; when
you have warmed yourself, you can tell us the cause of your presence
here at this late hour."

Prairie-Flower smiled sadly, and sat down by the fire, Bright-eye
taking a place by her side. The girl had with one glance surveyed the
interior of the lodge, and perceived the Count sleeping tranquilly on a
pile of furs. Bright-eye's whole life had been spent in the desert; he
was thoroughly acquainted with the character of the Redskins, and knew
that circumspection and prudence are their two guiding principles. That
an Indian never attempts anything without having first calculated all
the consequences, and that he never decides on doing a thing contrary
to Indian habits, except from some pressing motive. The hunter,
therefore, suspected that the object of the young girl's visit was
important, though unable to read, beneath the mask of impassibility
that covered her face, the motive that caused her to act.

The Redskins are not, like other men, easy to question; cunning and
finesse obtain no advantage over these doubtful natives. The most
skilful Old Bailey practitioner would get nothing out of them, but
confess himself vanquished, after making an Indian undergo the closest
cross-examination. If one of these shades of character were unknown to
the hunter; hence he was careful not to let the girl suppose that he
took any interest in her explanation.

With a nod of the head, Bright-eye soon gave Ivon the order to go to
sleep again, which he did immediately. The girl was sitting by the
fire, warming herself mechanically, while every now and then taking a
side glance at the hunter. But the latter had lit his pipe, and, nearly
concealed by the dense cloud of smoke that surrounded him, appeared
completely absorbed in his agreeable occupation. The two remained
thus face to face nearly half an hour, and did not exchange a word;
at length Bright-eye shook out the ash on his left thumbnail, put his
pipe in his belt, and rose. Prairie-Flower followed his every movement,
without appearing to attach any importance to it; she saw him collect
furs, carry them to a dark corner of the lodge, where he spread them so
as to form a species of bed; then, when he fancied it was soft enough,
he threw a coverlid over it, and returned to the fire.

"My Pale brother has prepared a bed," Prairie-Flower said, laying her
hand on his arm, just as he was about to draw out his pipe again.

"Yes," he replied.

"Why four beds for three persons?"

Bright-eye looked at her with a perfectly natural amazement.

"Are we not four?" he said.

"I only see the two Pale hunters and my brother--for whom is the last
bed?"

"For my sister, Prairie-Flower, I suppose; has she not come to ask
hospitality of her Pale brothers?"

The girl shook her head.

"The women of my tribe," she said, with an accent of wounded pride,
"have their cabins for sleeping, and do not pass the night in the
lodges of the warriors."

Bright-eye bowed respectfully.

"I am mistaken," he said; "I did not wish to vex my sister; but
on seeing her enter my lodge so late, I supposed she came to ask
hospitality."

The girl smiled with finesse.

"My brother is a great warrior of the Palefaces," she said; "his head
is grey; he is very cunning; why does he pretend not to know the reason
that brings Prairie-Flower to his lodge?"

"Because I am really ignorant of it," he replied; "how should I know
it?"

The Indian girl turned towards the place where the young man was
sleeping, and said, with a charming pout--

"Glass-eye knows all: he would have told my brother the hunter."

"I cannot deny," the hunter said, boldly, "that Glass-eye knows many
things, but in this matter he has been dumb."

"Is that true?" she asked, quickly.

"Why should I deny it? Prairie-Flower is not an enemy to us."

"No, I am a friend: let my brother open his ears."

"Speak."

"Glass-eye is powerful."

"So it is said," the hunter replied, evasively, too honest to stoop to
a lie.

"The elders of the tribe regard him as a genius superior to other men,
arranging events as he pleases, and able, if he will, to change the
course of the future."

"Who says so?"

"Everybody."

The hunter shook his head, and pressing the girl's dainty hands in his
own, he said, simply--

"You are deceived, child; Glass-eye is only a man like the others; the
power you have been told of does not exist: I know not for what reason
the chiefs of your nation have spread this absurd report; but it is a
falsehood, which I must not allow to go further."

"No, White Buffalo is the wisest sachem of the Blackfeet; he possesses
all the knowledge of his fathers on the other side of the Great
Saltlake, he cannot err. Did he not announce, long ago, Glass-eye's
arrival among us?"

"That is possible; although I cannot guess how he knew it, as only
three days ago we were quite ignorant that we were coming to this
village."

The maiden smiled triumphantly.

"White Buffalo knows all," she said; "besides, for many thousand moons
the sorcerers of the nation have announced the coming of a man exactly
like Glass-eye: his apparition was so truly predicted, that his arrival
surprised nobody, as all expected him."

The hunter recognized the inutility of contending any longer against a
conviction so deeply rooted in the young girl's heart.

"Good," he replied; "White Buffalo is a very wise sachem. What is there
he does not know?"

"Nothing! Did he not predict that Glass-eye would place himself at the
head of the Redskin warriors, and deliver them from the Palefaces of
the East?"

"It is true," the hunter said, though he did not know a word of what
the girl was revealing to him; but he now began to suspect a vast
plot formed by the Indians, and he naturally desired to know more.
Prairie-Flower looked at him with an expression of simple joy.

"My brother sees that I know all," she said.

"That is true," he answered; "my sister is better informed than I
supposed; now she can explain to me, without fear, the service she
desires from Glass-eye."

The girl took a long glance at the young man, who was still sleeping.

"Prairie-Flower is suffering," she said, in a low and trembling voice;
"a cloud has passed over her mind and obscured it."

"Prairie-Flower is sixteen," the old hunter answered, with a smile; "a
new feeling is awakened in her; a little bird is singing in her heart;
she listens unconsciously to the harmonious notes of those strains
which she does not yet understand."

"It is true," the maiden murmured, suddenly growing pensive; "my heart
is sad. Is, then, love a suffering?"

"Child," the hunter answered, with a melancholy accent, "creatures
are thus made by the Master of Life. All sensation is suffering. Joy,
carried to an excess, becomes pain; you love without knowing it; loving
is suffering."

"No," she said, with a gesture of terror, "no, I do not love, at least
not; in the way you say. I have come, on the contrary, to seek your
protection from a man who loves me, whose love frightens me, and for
whom I shall never feel aught but gratitude."

"You are quite certain, poor child, that such is the feeling you
experience for that man?"

She bowed assent. Without saying anything further, Bright-eye rose.

"Where are you going?" she asked, quickly.

The hunter turned to her.

"In all that you have told me, child," he answered, "there are things
so important, that I must without delay arouse my friend, that he may
listen to you in his turn, and, if it be possible, come to your aid."

"Do so," she said, mournfully, and let her head sink on her breast.
The hunter went up to the young man, and bending over him, touched him
gently on the shoulder. The Count awoke at once.

"What is it? What do you want?" he said, rising and seizing his
weapons, with the promptness that a man constantly exposed to danger so
soon acquires.

"Nothing that need frighten you, Mr. Edward. That young girl wishes to
speak to you."

The Count followed the direction in which the hunter pointed, and his
glance met that of the maiden. It was like an electric shock; she
tottered, laid her hand on her heart, and blushed. The Frenchman rushed
toward her.

"What is the matter? What can I do to help you?" he asked.

Just as she was about to reply, the curtain was lifted; a man bounded
suddenly over Ivon, and reached the centre of the hut. It was the spy;
the Breton suddenly aroused, flung himself on him, but the Indian held
him back with a firm hand.

"Look out!" he said.

"Red Wolf!" the girl exclaimed, joyfully, as she stepped before him;
"lower your weapons, it is a friend."

"Speak!" the Count said, as he returned the pistol to his belt.

The Indian had made no attempt to defend himself; he awaited stoically
the moment to explain himself.

"Natah Otann is coming," he said to the maiden.

"Oh! I am lost if he find me here."

"What do I care for the fellow?" the Count said, haughtily.

"Prudence," Bright-eye interposed; "are you a friend, Redskin?"

"Ask Prairie-Flower," he answered, disdainfully.

"Good; then you have come to save her?"

"Yes."

"You have a way?"

"I have."

"I don't understand anything about it," Ivon said to himself, aside,
quite confounded by all he saw; "what a night!"

"Make haste!" said the Count.

"Neither Prairie-Flower nor myself must be seen here," the Red Wolf
continued; "Natah Otann is my enemy; there is deadly war between us.
Throw all those furs on the girl."

Prairie-Flower, crouching in a corner, soon disappeared beneath the
skins piled over her.

"Hum! it is a good idea," Bright-eye muttered: "and what are you going
to do?"

"Look!"

Red Wolf leaned against the buffalo hides that acted as door, and
concealed himself amid their folds. Hardly had all this been done, ere
Natah Otann appeared on the threshold.

"What! up already?" he said, in surprise, turning a suspicious glance
around him.

Red Wolf profited by this movement to go out unseen by the Chief.

"I am come to receive your orders for the hunt," Natah Otann resumed.



CHAPTER XVII.

FORT MACKENZIE.


Fort Mackenzie, built in 1832 by Major Mitchell, Chief Agent to the
North American Fur Company, stands like a menacing sentry, about one
hundred and twenty paces from the north bank of the Missouri, and
seventy miles from the Rocky Mountains, in the midst of a level plain,
protected by a chain of hills running from north to south. The fort
is built on the system of all the outposts of civilization in the
western provinces; it forms a perfect square, each side being about
forty-five feet in length: a ditch, eight fathoms in depth and about
the same in width; two substantial blockhouses; and twenty guns--such
are the defensive elements of this fortress. The buildings contained
in the enceinte are low, with narrow windows, in which parchment is
substituted for glass. The roofs are flat, and covered with turf. The
gateways of the fort are solid, and lined with iron. In the middle of
a small square, in the centre of the fort, rises a mast, from which
floats the star-spangled banner of the United States, while two guns
are stationed at the foot of the mast. The plain surrounding Fort
Mackenzie is covered with grass, rarely more than three feet high.
This plain is almost constantly invaded by Indian tribes, that come
to traffic with the Americans, especially the Blackfeet, Assiniboins,
Mandans, Flatheads, Gros-ventres, Crows, and Koutnikés.

The Indians displayed a repugnance in allowing the white men to settle
in their domains, and the first agent the Fur Company sent to them had
a narrow escape with life. It was only by dint of patience and cunning
that they succeeded in concluding with the tribes a treaty of peace
and barter, which the latter were disposed, indeed, to break, through
the slightest pretext. Thus the Americans were always on the watch,
considering themselves in a perpetual state of siege. It still happened
at times, in spite of the Indians' protestations of amity, that some
_engagé_ or trapper of the Company was brought to the fort scalped and
murdered, and they were obliged, through policy, to refrain from taking
vengeance for such murders, which, however, were becoming rare. The
Indians, with their greedy instincts, at length understood that it was
better to live in good intelligence with the Palefaces, who supplied
them with abundant provisions, spirits, and money, in exchange for
their furs.

In 1834, Fort Mackenzie was commanded by Major Melville, a man of
great experience, who had spent nearly his whole life among the
Indians, either fighting or trafficking with them, so that he was
thoroughly versed in all their habits and tricks. General Jackson, in
whose army he had served, put great reliance in his courage, skill,
and experience. Major Melville combined with uncommon moral energy
rare physical strength; he was the very man to keep in check the
fierce tribes with which he had to deal, and to command the trappers
and hunters in the Company's service, thorough ruffians, only
understanding the logic of the rifle and the bowie knife; he based
his authority on inflexible severity and an irreproachable justice,
which had contributed greatly to maintain the good relations between
the inhabitants of the fort and their crafty friends. Peace, with the
exception of the mutual distrust that was its basis, appeared for
some few years past to be solidly established between the Palefaces
and the Redskins. The Indians camped annually before the fort, and
generally exchanged their peltry for spirits, clothes, gunpowder, &c.
The seventy men who formed the garrison had gradually relaxed their
usual precautions, for they felt so confident of having induced the
Indians to renounce their plundering inclinations by kind treatment and
concessions. Such was the respective positions of the whites and the
Redskins on the day when the exigencies of our story take us to Fort
Mackenzie.

The scenery round the fort is exquisite and charmingly varied. On the
day after that in which the events we have described took place in the
Kenha village, a leather canoe, manned by only one rower, descended
the Elk river, in the direction of the American fort. After following
the numerous bends of the stream, the canoe at length entered the
Missouri, and coasted the northern bank, studded with magnificent
prairies at least thirty miles in depth, on which countless herds of
buffaloes, antelopes, and bighorns were grazing, which, with ears
erect and startled eyes, watched the silent boat pass with gloomy
dissatisfaction. But the person, man or woman, in the boat seemed too
anxious to reach the destination, to waste any time in firing at these
animals, which it would have been easy to do.

With his eyes imperturbably fixed ahead, and bowed over the paddles,
the rower redoubled his energy the nearer he approached the fort,
uttering at times hoarse exclamations of anger and impatience,
though never checking the speed of the boat. At length an "ah!" of
satisfaction escaped his lips on turning one of the numberless bends of
the river: a magnificent scene was suddenly displayed before him.

Gentle slopes, with varied summits, some rounded, others flat, of a
pleasant green colour, occupied the centre of the picture. In the
foreground were tall forests of poplars of a vivid green, and willow
trees on the banks of the river, which meandered through a prairie to
which the twilight had given a deep olive hue. A little further on, on
the top of a grassy mound, stood Fort Mackenzie, where the handsome
flag of the United States floated in the breeze, gilded by the parting
beams of the setting sun; while on one side an Indian camp, on the
other, herds of horses, tranquilly grazing, animated the majestic
tranquillity of the scene.

The canoe drew nearer and nearer to the bank, and at last, when
arrived under the protection of the guns, was run gently ashore. The
individual occupying it then leaped on the sand, and it was easy to see
that it was a woman. It was the mysterious being to whom the Indians
gave the name of the She-wolf of the Prairies, and who has already
appeared twice in this story. She had altered her dress. Although still
resembling that of the Indians in texture, as it was composed of elk
and buffalo skins sown together, it varied from it in shape; and if, at
the first glance, it was difficult to recognize the sex of the person
wearing it, it was easy to perceive that it was a white, through the
simplicity, cleanliness, and, above all, the amplitude of the folds
carefully draped round the strange being hidden in these garments.

After leaving the canoe, the She-wolf fastened it securely to a large
stone, and without paying further attention to it, walked hastily in
the direction of the fort. It was about six in the evening; the barter
with the Indians was over, and they were returning, laughing and
singing, to their tents of buffalo hide; while the _engagés_, after
collecting the horses, led them back slowly to the fort. The sun was
setting behind the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains, casting a purple
gleam, over the heavens. Gradually, as the planet of day sank in the
distant horizon, gloom took possession of the earth. The songs of the
Indians, the shouts of the _engagés_, the neighing of the horses, and
the barking of the dogs, formed one of those singular concerts which
in these remote regions impress on the mind a feeling of melancholy
reflection. The She-wolf reached the gate of the fort at the moment
when the last _engagé_ had entered, after driving in the laggards of
his troop.

At these frontier posts, where momentary vigilance is necessary to
foil the treachery constantly lurking in the shadows, sentinels
especially appointed to survey the gloomy and solitary prairies, that
stretch out for miles around their garrisons, stand watching day and
night with their eyes fixed on space, ready to signalize the least
unusual movement, either on the part of animals or of men, in the vast
solitudes they survey. The She-wolf's canoe had been detected more than
six hours before, all its movements carefully watched, and when the
She-wolf, after fastening her boat up, presented herself at the gate
of the fort, she found it closed and carefully bolted; not because she
personally caused the garrison any alarm, but because the order was
that no one should enter the fort after sunset, except for overpowering
reasons.

The She-wolf repressed with difficulty a gesture of annoyance at
finding herself thus exposed to spend the night in the open air; not
that she feared the hardship, but because she knew the importance
of her news, and desired no delay. She did not allow herself to be
defeated, however, but stooped, picked up a stone, and struck the gate
twice. A wicket immediately opened, and two eyes glistened through the
opening it left.

"Who's there?" a rough voice asked.

"A friend," the She-wolf replied.

"Hum; that's very vague at this hour of the night," the voice
continued, with a grin that augured ill for the success of the
mediation the She-wolf had commenced.

"Who are you?"

"A woman, and a white woman too, as you can see by my dress and accent."

"It may be, but the night is dark, and it is impossible for me to see
you: so if you have no better reasons to give, good night, and go your
ways; tomorrow we will meet again at sunrise."

And the speaker prepared to close the wicket, but the She-wolf checked
him with a firm hand.

"One moment," she said.

"What's up now?" the other remarked, ill-temperedly; "I cannot pass the
night in listening to you."

"I only want to ask you one question, and one favour."

"Plague take it!" the man went on; "well, you are going on at a fine
rate; that's nothing, eh? Well; let me hear it; that binds me to
nothing."

"Is Major Melville in the fort at this moment?"

"Perhaps."

"Answer, yes or no."

"Well, yes; what then?"

The She-wolf gave a sigh of satisfaction, hurriedly drew a ring from
her right hand, and passing it through the wicket to the unknown
speaker, said--

"Carry that ring to the Major; I will wait for your answer here."

"Mind what you are about; the Commandant does not like to be disturbed
for nothing."

"Do as I tell you. I answer for the rest."

"That's a poor bail," the other growled; "but no matter--I'll risk it.
Wait."

The wicket closed. The She-wolf seated herself on the side of the
moat, and with elbows resting on her knees, buried her head in her
hands. By this time night had completely set in; in the distance, the
fires lighted up by the Indians on the prairies shone like lighthouses
through the gloom; the evening breeze soughed hoarsely through the
tops of the trees, and the howls of the wild beasts were mingled
at intervals with the strident laughter of the Indians. Not a star
sparkled in the sky, which was black as ink; nature seemed covered with
a cerecloth; all presaged an approaching storm. The She-wolf waited,
motionless, as one of those patient sphynxes which have watched for
thousands of years at the entrance of the Egyptian temples. A quarter
of an hour elapsed, then a sound of bolts was heard, and the gates of
the fort slightly opened. The She-wolf sprung up, as if moved by a
spring.

"Come!" a voice said.

She entered, and the door was immediately closed after her. An
_engagé_--the same who had spoken to her through the wicket--stood
before her with a torch in his hand.

"Follow me," he said to her.

She walked after her guide, who crossed the entire length of the
courtyard, and then turning to the She-wolf, said--

"The Major is waiting for you here."

"Rap," she said.

"No, do so yourself; you no longer need me; I will return to my post."

And, after bowing slightly, he withdrew carrying the torch with him.
The She-wolf remained alone in the darkness; she passed her hand over
her damp forehead, and making a supreme effort--

"I must," she muttered, hoarsely.

She then struck the door.

"Come in," a voice said from within.

She turned the key, pushed open the door, and found herself in the
presence of an elderly man, dressed in uniform, and seated near a
table, who gazed fixedly at her. This man, by the position he occupied,
and the way in which the light was arranged, could see her perfectly;
while, on the other hand, the She-wolf could not distinguish his
features, hidden as they were by the gloom. The She-wolf walked
resolutely into the room.

"Thanks for having received me," she said; "I was afraid you had
utterly forgotten."

"If that is meant for a reproach, I do not understand you," the officer
said, sternly; "and I should feel obliged by a clear explanation."

"Are you not Major Melville?"

"I am."

"The way in which I entered the fort proves to me that you recognised
the ring I sent you."

"I recognized it; for it reminds me of a very dear person," he said,
with a suppressed sigh; "but how is it in your hands?"

The She-wolf regarded the Major sadly for a moment, then walked up to
him, gently took his hand, which she pressed in hers, and replied, with
an accent full of tears--

"Harry, I must be changed by suffering, if you do not even recognise my
voice."

At these words a livid pallor covered the officer's face; he rose with
a movement quick as lightning; his body was agitated by a convulsive
tremor, and seizing, in his turn, the woman's hands, he exclaimed
madly--

"Margaret! Margaret! my sister! Have the dead come from the tomb? Do I
find you again at last:"

"Ah!" she said, with an expression of joy impossible to render, as she
sank in his arms, "I was certain he would recognise me."

But the shock she had received was too strong for the poor woman, whose
organization was worn out by sorrow; accustomed to suffering, she could
not endure joy, and fell fainting into her brother's arms. The Major
carried her to a species of sofa that occupied one side of the room,
and, without calling anyone to his aid, paid her all that attention
her case required. The She-wolf remained for a long time insensible;
but she gradually came to herself again, opened her eyes, and, after
muttering a few incoherent words, burst into tears. Her brother did
not leave her for a moment, following, with an anxious glance, the
progress of her return to life. When he perceived that the height of
the crisis was past, he took chair, sat down by his sister's side,
and by gentle words sought to restore her courage. At length, the poor
woman raised her head, dried her eyes--reddened by tears, and hollowed
by fever--and turning to her brother, who watched her every movement,
said in a hoarse voice--

"Brother, for sixteen years I have been suffering an atrocious
martyrdom, which never ceased for an instant."

The Major shuddered at this fearful revelation.

"Poor sister!" he muttered. "What can I do for you?"

"All, if you will."

"Oh!" he exclaimed, with energy, as he struck the woodwork of the sofa
with his fist, "could you doubt me, Margaret?"

"No, since I have come," she answered, smiling through her tears.

"You will avenge yourself, I think?" he went on.

"I will."

"Who are your enemies?"

"The Redskins."

"Ah! ah!" he said, with a bitter smile; "I, too, have an old account to
settle with those demons. To what nation do your enemies belong?"

"To the Blackfeet. They are the Kenha tribe."

"Oh," the Major continued, "my old friends, the Blood Indians; I have
long been seeking a pretext to give them an exemplary punishment."

"That pretext I now bring you, Harry," she answered, passionately; "and
do not fancy it a vain pretext invented by hatred. No, no! 'tis the
revelation of a plot formed by all the Missouri Indians against the
whites, which must break out within a few days, perhaps tomorrow."

"Ah!" the Major observed, thoughtfully, "I do not know why, but, for
the last few days, suspicions have invaded, my mind; my presentiments
did not deceive me, then. Speak, sister, at once, I conjure you; and
since you have come to me, in order to appease your hatred of these red
devils, I promise you a vengeance, the memory of which will make their
grandsons shudder."

"I thank you for your promise, brother, and will not forget it," she
answered. "Listen to me, then."

"One word first."

"Speak, brother."

"Has the narrative of your sufferings any connexion with the conspiracy
you are about to reveal to me?"

"An intimate one."

"Well, it is scarce ten o'clock, we have the night before us; tell me
all that has happened to you since our separation."

"You wish it?"

"Yes, for it will be by your narrative that I shall regulate my
treatment of the Indians."

"Listen, then, brother, and be indulgent to me, for I have suffered
bitterly, as you are about to hear."

The Major pressed her hand; he took a chair, sat by her side, and after
bolting the door, to prevent any interruption of the story, he said--

"Speak, Margaret, and tell me everything; I do not wish to be ignorant
of any of the tortures you have endured during the long years that have
elapsed since our parting."



CHAPTER XVIII.

A MOTHER'S CONFESSION.


"It is just seventeen years ago, you will remember, Harry; you had
recently received your commission as lieutenant in the army; you were
young, enthusiastic; the future appeared to you to be drawn in the
brightest colours. One evening, during weather like the present, you
came to my husband's clearing, to tell us the news, and bid us an
affectionate farewell; for you hoped, like ourselves, not to be long
away from us. The next morning, in spite of our entreaties, after
embracing the children, pressing the hand of my poor husband, who
loved you so, and giving me a parting kiss, you galloped off, and soon
disappeared in a whirlwind of dust. Alas! who could have foretold that
we should not meet again till today, after seventeen years' separation,
upon Indian territory, and under terrible circumstances? However,"
she added, with a sigh, "God has willed it so, may His holy name be
blessed! It has pleased Him to try His creatures, and let His hand fall
heavily on them."

"It was with a strange contraction of the heart," the Major said, "that
six months after that parting, when I returned among you with a joyous
heart, I saw, on dismounting in front of your house, a stranger open
your door, and answer, that the white family had emigrated three months
before, and proceeded in a western direction, with the intention of
founding a new settlement on the Indian frontier. It was in vain that I
tried to gain any information about you from your neighbours; they had
forgotten you; no one could or would, perhaps, give me the slightest
news about you, and I was forced to retrace, heartbroken, the road I
had ridden along so joyfully a few days before. Since then, despite all
the efforts I have made, I never was able to learn anything about your
fate, or lift the mysterious veil that covered the sinister events to
which I was convinced you had fallen victims during your journey."

"You are only half deceived, my brother, in your supposition," she went
on. "Two months after your visit, my husband, who had long desired to
leave our clearing, where he said the land was worth nothing, had a
grave dispute with one of his neighbours about the limits of a field
of which he believed, or pretended to believe, that neighbour had cut
off a corner: under any other circumstances, the difference would have
been easily settled, but my husband sought an excuse to go away, and
having found it, did not let it slip again. He would listen to nothing,
but quietly made all his arrangements for the expedition he had so long
meditated, and at length told us one day that he should start the next.
When my husband had once said a thing, all I could do was to obey, for
he never recalled a determination he had formed. On the appointed day
at sunrise, we left the clearing, our neighbours accompanying us for
the first day's journey, and at nightfall left us, after hearty wishes
for the success of our expedition. It was with inexpressible sorrow I
quitted the house where I was married, where my children were born,
and where I had been happy for so many years. My husband tried in
vain to console me, and restore me that courage which failed me; but
nothing could efface from my mind the gentle and pious recollections I
previously kept up: the deeper we buried ourselves in the desert, the
greater my sorrow became. My husband, on the other hand saw everything
in a bright light; the future belonged to him; he was about to be his
own master, and act as he thought proper. He detailed to me all his
plans, tried to interest me in them, and employed all the means in his
power to draw me from my gloomy thoughts, but could not succeed. Still
we went onwards without stopping. The distance became daily greater
between ourselves and the last settlements of our countrymen. In vain
did I show my husband how remote we were from all help in case of
danger, and the isolation in which we should find ourselves; he only
laughed at my apprehensions; repeated incessantly that the Indians
were far from being so dangerous as they were represented, and that we
had nothing to fear. My husband was so convinced of the truth of his
assertions, that he neglected the most simple precautions to defend
himself against a surprise, and said each morning, with a mocking air,
at the moment of starting, 'You see how foolish you are, Margaret; be
reasonable, the Indians will be careful not to insult us,' One night
the camp was attacked by the Redskins, we were surprised during our
sleep; my husband was flayed alive, while his children were burned at a
slow fire before his face."

While uttering these words, the poor woman's voice became more and more
choked. At the last sentences, her emotion grew so profound, that she
could not continue.

"Courage!" the Major said, as much moved as herself, but more master of
his feelings.

She made an effort, and continued in a harsh, unmodulated voice,--

"By a refinement of cruelty, the barbarism of which I did not at first
understand, my youngest child, my daughter, was spared by the Pagans.
On seeing the punishment of my husband and children, at which I was
forced to be present, I felt such a laceration of the heart, that I
imagined I was dying. I uttered a shriek, and fell down. How long I
remained in that state, I know not: but when I regained my senses,
I was alone. The Indians, doubtlessly, fancied me dead, and left
me where I lay. I rose, and not conscious of what I was doing, but
impelled by a force superior to my will, I returned, tottering and
falling almost at every step, to the spot where this mournful tragedy
had been enacted. It took me three hours--how was I so far from the
camp?--at length I arrived, and a fearful sight presented itself to
my horror-struck eyes. I looked unconscious upon the disfigured and
half carbonized bodies of my children--my despair, however, restored
my failing strength. I dug a grave, and, half delirious with grief,
buried in it husband and children, all that I loved on earth. This
pious duty accomplished, I resolved to die at the spot where the
beings so dear to me had perished. But there are hours during the long
nights in which the shades of the dead address the living, and order
them to take vengeance! That terrific voice from the tomb I heard on a
sinister night, when the elements threatened to overthrow nature. From
that moment my resolution was formed. I consented to live for revenge.
From that hour I have walked firm and implacable on the path I traced,
requiting the Pagans, on every opportunity that presents itself, for
the evil they had done me. I have become the terror of the prairies.
The Indians fear me as an evil genius. They have a superstitious
invincible dread of me; in short, they have surnamed me the Lying
She-wolf of the Prairies; for each time a catastrophe menaces them, or
a frightful danger is hanging over their heads, they see me appear. For
seventeen years I have been nursing my revenge, without ever growing
discouraged, certain that the day will come when, in my turn, I shall
plant my knee on the heart of my enemies, and inflict on them the
atrocious torture they condemned me to suffer."

The woman's face, while uttering these words, had assumed such an
expression of cruelty, that the Major brave as he was, felt himself
shudder.

"And your enemies," he said, after a moment's delay, "do you know them,
have you learned their names?"

"I know them all!" she said, in a piercing voice; "I have learned all
their names!"

"And they are preparing to break the peace?" Mrs. Margaret smiled
ironically.

"No, they will not break the peace, brother, but attack you suddenly.
They have formed among themselves a formidable league, which--at least
they fancy so--you will find it impossible to resist."

"Sister!" the Major exclaimed energetically, "give me the name of
these wretched traitors, and I swear that, even were they concealed
in the depths of Hades, I will seek them, to inflict an exemplary
chastisement."

"I cannot give you these names yet, brother; but be at ease, you shall
soon know them; you will not have to seek them far, for I will lead
them under the guns of your soldiers and hunters."

"Take care, Margaret," the Major said, shaking his head, "hatred is
a bad counsellor in an affair like this; he who grasps at too much,
frequently risks the loss of all."

"Oh," she replied, "my precautions have been taken for a long time:
I hold them, I can seize them whenever I please, or, to speak more
correctly, when the moment has arrived."

"Do as you think proper, sister, and reckon on my devoted aid: this
vengeance affects me too closely for me to allow it to escape."

"Thanks," she said.

"Pardon me," he continued, after a few minutes' reflection, "if I
revert to the sad events you have just narrated; but you have, it
strikes me, forgotten an important detail in your story."

"I do not understand you, Harry."

"I will explain: you said, I think, if my memory serves me, that your
youngest daughter escaped from the frightful fate of her brothers, and
was saved by an Indian."

"Yes, I did say so, brother," she replied in an oppressed voice.

"Well, what has become of the unhappy child? Does she still live? Have
you any news of her? Have you seen her again?"

"She lives, and I have seen her."

"Ah!"

"Yes; the man who saved her educated her, even adopted her," she said,
sarcastically. "Do you know what this wretch would do with the daughter
of the man he murdered, whom he flayed alive before my eyes?"

"Speak; in Heaven's name!

"What I have to say is very dreadful! it is so frightful, indeed, that
I hesitate to reveal it to you."

"Good God!" the Major ejaculated, recoiling involuntarily before his
sister's flaming glance.

"Well," she continued, with a strident laugh, "this girl has grown up,
the child has become a woman, as lovely as it is possible to be. This
man, this monster, this demon, has felt his tiger heart soften at the
sight of the angel; he loves her to distraction, he wishes to make her
his wife."

"Horror!" the Major exclaimed.

"Is that not truly hideous?" she continued, still with that nervous,
spasmodic laugh which it pains one to hear: "he has pardoned his
victim's daughter. Yes, he is generous, he forgets the atrocious
torture he inflicted on the father, and now covets the daughter."

"Oh, that is frightful, Margaret; so much infamy and cynicism is
impossible, even among Indians!"

"Do you believe, then, that I am deceiving you?"

"Far from me be such a thought, sister; the man is a monster."

"Yes, yes, so he is."

"You have seen your daughter; you have talked with her?"

"Yes; well, what then?"

"You have, doubtless, turned her from this monstrous love?"

"I!" she replied, with a grin, "I did not say a word to her about it."

"What!" he said, in amazement.

"By what right could I have spoken?"

"How, by what right--Are you not her mother?"

"She does not know it!"

"Oh!"

"And my vengeance?" she said, coldly. This word which so thoroughly
explained the character of the woman, had before struck the heart of
the old soldier with terror.

"Unhappy woman!" he exclaimed.

A smile of disdain curled the She-wolf's lip.

"Yes, so you are," she said, with a bitter voice, "you men of cities,
with natures worn out by civilization. To understand a passion, it
must be kept within certain limits, traced beforehand. The grandeur of
hatred, with all its fury and excesses, terrifies you; you only admit
that legal and halting vengeance which the criminal code sanctions.
Brother, he who wishes the end, wishes the means. To arrive at my
object, what do I care, do you think, whether I walk over ruins or wade
through blood? No, I go straight before me, with the fatal impetuosity
of the torrent which breaks down and overthrows all the obstacles which
rise in its passage. My object is vengeance! blood for blood, eye
for eye; that is the law of the prairies. I have made it mine, and I
will obtain that vengeance, if for it I--. But," she added, suddenly
breaking off, "what need of this useless discussion between us,
brother? Reassure yourself my daughter has been better warned by her
instincts than all the advice I could have given her. She does not love
this man. I know it, she told me so; she will never love him."

"Heaven be praised!" the Major exclaimed.

"I have only one desire; only one," she continued with a melancholy
air; "it is after the accomplishment of my vengeance, to recover my
daughter, press her to my heart, and cover her with kisses, while at
length revealing to her that I am her mother."

The Major shook his head sorrowfully.

"Take care, sister," he said, in a stern voice; "God has said,
'Vengeance is mine!' take care, lest, after wishing to assume the
office of Providence, you may be cruelly chastised by it in some of
your dearest affections."

"Oh, say not so, Harry!" she exclaimed with a sign of terror; "you
would turn me mad."

The Major let his head sink on hid breast. For a while brother and
sister remained opposite each other, not uttering a word; they were
both reflecting. The She-wolf was the first to renew the conversation.

"Now, brother," she said, "if you will permit me, we will leave this
mournful subject for a moment, and allude to what concerns you more
particularly, that is, the formidable conspiracy formed against you by
the Indians."

"On my word," he replied, with a sigh of relief, "I confess, sister,
that I ask nothing better; my head is confused, and I believe that if
this went on much longer, I should be unable to re-collect my thoughts,
so much am I affected by what you have told me."

"Thanks,"

"Night is drawing on, Margaret; indeed, it has almost entirely slipped
away, we have not a moment to lose, so pray continue."

"Is the garrison complete?"

"Yes."

"How many men have you?"

"Seventy, without counting some fifteen hunters and trappers occupied
without, but whom I will recall without delay."

"Very good: do you require the whole of the garrison for the defence of
the fort?"

"That is according. Why?"

"Because I want to borrow twenty men of you."

"Hum I for what object?"

"You shall learn; you are alone here, without any hopes of help, and
for this reason: while the Indians are burning the fort, they will
intercept your communication with Fort Clarke, Fort Union, and the
other posts scattered along the Missouri."

"I fear it, but what can I do?"

"I will tell you; you have doubtless heard of an American squatter, who
settled hardly a week back about three or four leagues from you?"

"I have; a certain John Black, I think."

"That is the man; well, his clearing will naturally serve you as an
advanced post?"

"Famously."

"Profit by the short time left you; under pretence of a buffalo hunt,
send twenty men from the fort, and conceal them at John Black's, so
that when the moment for action arrives, they may make a demonstration
in your favour, which will place the enemies between two fires, and
make them suppose that reinforcements have reached you from other
posts."

"That is a good idea," the Major said. "You must choose men on whom you
can count."

"They are all devoted to me; you shall see them at work."

"All the better; then that is settled!"

"It is."

"Now, as it is urgent that no one should know of our relations, as it
might compromise the success of our scheme, I must ask you to open the
gates of the fort for me.

"What, so soon, in this frightful weather?"

"I must, brother, it is of the utmost importance that I should start at
once."

"You insist."

"I beg it of you, Harry, for our common benefit."

"Come, then, sister, I will detain you no longer."

Two minutes later, in spite of the storm which still howled with the
same fury, the She-wolf was rowing from Fort Mackenzie at full speed.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE CHASE.


When Natah Otann entered the lodge inhabited by the white men, under
pretext of warning them to prepare for the chase, his searching eye in
a few seconds had explored every corner of the building. The Indian
Chief was too clever to omit noticing the Count's constraint and
embarrassment: but he understood that it would be impolitic to show the
suspicions he had conceived. Hence he did not in the slightest degree
affect to notice the annoyance caused by his presence, and continued
the conversation with that politeness the Redskins can display when
they choose to take the trouble. On their side the Count and Bright-eye
at once regained their coolness.

"I did not hope to find my White brother already risen," Natah Otann
said with a smile.

"Why not?" the young man replied; "a desert life accustoms one to
little sleep."

"Then the Palefaces will go and hunt with their red friends?"

"Certainly, if you have no objection."

"Did I not myself propose to Glass-eye to procure them a true chase?"

"That is true," the young man said, with a laugh; "but take care,
Chief, I have become uncommonly fastidious since I have been in the
prairie; there is hardly any game I have not hunted, as it was the love
of sport alone that brought me into these unknown countries; hence, I
repeat, I shall expect choice game."

Natah Otann smiled proudly.

"My brother will be satisfied," he said.

"And what is the animal we are about to follow?" the young man asked.

"The ostrich."

The Count made a sign of amazement.

"What, the ostrich?" he exclaimed, "that is impossible, Chief--"

"Because?"

"Oh, simply because there are none."

"The ostrich, it is true, is disappearing; it fled before the white
men, and becomes daily rare, but it is still numerous on the prairies;
in a few hours my brother will have a proof of it."

"I desire nothing better."

"Good, that is settled: I will soon come and fetch my brother."

The Chief bowed courteously and retired, after taking a parting look
around. The curtain had scarcely fallen behind the Chief ere the pile
of furs that covered the young girl was thrown off, and Prairie-Flower
ran up to the Count.

"Listen," she said to him, seizing his hand, which she pressed
tenderly, "I cannot explain to you now, for time fails me; still,
remember, you have a friend who watches over you."

And before the Count could reply, or even think of replying, she fled
with the bound of an antelope. He passed his hand several times over
his brow, his eye being fixed on the place where the Indian girl had
disappeared.

"Ah!" he at length murmured, "have I at last met with a true woman?"

"She is an angel," the hunter said, replying to his thought. "Poor
child! she has suffered greatly."

"Yes; but I am here now, and will protect her!" the Count exclaimed,
with exaltation.

"Let us think of ourselves first, Mr. Edward, and try to get away from
here with whole skins; it will not be an easy task, I assure you."

"What do you mean, my friend?"

"It is enough that I understand it all," the hunter said, shaking his
head; "let us only think now of our preparations: our friends, the
Redskins, will soon arrive," he added, with that derisive smile which
caused the Count to feel increased embarrassment.

But the impression caused by the Canadian's ambiguous language was
promptly dissipated, for love had suddenly nestled in this young, man's
heart; he only dreamed of one thing, of seeing the woman again whom he
adored with all his strength.

In a man like the Count, who was gifted with a fiery organization,
every feeling must necessarily be carried to an excess; and it was the
case in the present instance. Love is born by a word, a sign, a look,
and scarcely born, suddenly becomes a giant. The Count was fated to
learn this at his own expense.

Scarcely half an hour after Natah Otann's departure, the gallop of
several horses was heard, and a troop of horsemen stopped in front of
the cabin. The three men went out, and found Natah Otann awaiting them
at the head of sixty warriors, all dressed in their grand costume, and
armed to the teeth.

"Let us go," he said.

"Whenever you please," the Count answered.

The Chief made a signal, and three magnificent horses, superbly
caparisoned in the Indian fashion, were led up by children. The whites
mounted, and the band set out in the direction of the prairie.

It was about six in the morning, the night storm had completely swept
the sky, which was of a pale blue; the sun, fully risen in the horizon,
shot forth its warm beams, which drew out the sharp and odoriferous
vapours from the ground, The atmosphere was wondrously transparent, a
slight breeze refreshed the air, and flocks of birds, lustrous with a
thousand hues, flew around, uttering joyous cries. The troop marched
gaily through the tall prairie grass, raising a cloud of dust, and
undulating like a long serpent in the endless turnings of the road.

The spot where the chase was to come off was nearly thirty miles
distant from the village. In the desert all places are alike, tall
grass, in the midst of which the horsemen entirely disappear; stunted
shrubs, and here and there clumps of trees, whose imposing crowns rise
to an enormous height;--such was the road the Indians had to follow up
to the spot where they would find the animals they proposed chasing.

In the prairies of Arkansas and the Upper Missouri, at the time of
our story, ostriches were still numerous, and their chase one of the
numerous amusements of the Redskins and wood rangers. It is probable
that the successive invasions of the white men, and the immense
clearings effected by fire and the axe, have now compelled them to
abandon this territory, and retire to the inaccessible desert of the
Rocky Mountains, or the sands of the Far West.

We will say here, without any pretence at a scientific description, a
few words about this singular animal, still but little known in Europe.
The ostrich generally lives in small families of from eight to ten,
scattered along the banks of marshes, pools, and streams. They live
on fresh grass. Faithful to their native soil, they never quit the
vicinity of the water, and in the month of November lay their eggs in
the wildest part of the plain, fifty to sixty at a time, which are
brooded, solely at night, by male and female in turn, with a touching
tenderness. When the incubation is terminated, the ostrich breaks the
barren eggs with its beak, which are at once covered with flies and
insects, supplying nourishment to the young birds. The ostrich of the
Western prairies differs slightly from the _Nandus_ of the Patagonian
prairies and the African species. It is about five feet high, and four
and a half long, from the stomach to the end of the tail; its beak is
very pointed, and measures a little over five inches.

A characteristic trait of the ostriches is their extreme curiosity.
In the Indian villages, where they live in a tamed state, it is of
frequent occurrence to see them stalking through groups of talkers,
and regarding them with fixed attention. In the plain this curiosity
is often fatal to them, for it leads them to look unhesitatingly
at everything that seems strange or unusual to them. We will give a
capital Indian story here in proof of this.

The jaguars are very fond of ostrich meat, but unfortunately, though
their speed is so great, it is almost impossible for them to run the
birds down; but the jaguars are cunning animals, and usually obtain
by craft what they cannot manage by force. They, therefore, employ
the following stratagem. They lie on the ground as if dead, and raise
their tails in the air, where they wave them in every direction; the
ostriches, attracted by this strange spectacle, approach with great
simplicity--the rest may be guessed; they fall a prey to the cunning
jaguars.

The hunters after a hurried march of three hours, reached a barren
and sandy plain; during the journey, very few words were exchanged
between Natah Otann and his white guests, for he rode at the head of
the column, conversing in a low voice with White Buffalo. The Indians
dismounted by the side of a stream, and exchanged their horses for
racers, which the chief had sent to the spot during the night, and
which were naturally rested and able to run for miles. Natah Otann
divided the hunting party into two equal troops, keeping the command
of the first himself, and courteously offering that of the second to
the Count. As the Frenchman, however, had never been present at such
a chase, and was quite ignorant how it was conducted, he courteously
declined. Natah Otann reflected for a few moments, and then turned to
Bright-eye:--

"My brother knows the ostriches?" he asked him. "Eh!" the Canadian
replied, with a smile; "Natah Otann was not yet born when I hunted
them on the prairie."

"Good," the chief said; "then my brother will command the second band?"

"Be it so," the hunter said, bowing: "I accept with pleasure."

On a given signal, the first band, under Natah Otann's command,
advanced into the plain, describing a semicircle, so as to drive the
game towards a ravine, situated between two moving downs. The second
band, with which the Count and Ivon remained, was echelonned so as
to form the other half of the circle. This circle, by the horsemen's
advance, was gradually being contracted, when a dozen ostriches showed
themselves; but the male bird, standing sentry, warned the family of
the danger by a sharp cry like a boatswain's whistle. At once the
ostriches fled in a straight line rapidly, and without looking back.
All the hunters galloped off in pursuit.

The plain, till then silent and gloomy, grew animated, and offered the
strangest appearance. The horsemen pursued the luckless animals at full
speed, raising in their passage clouds of impalpable dust. Twelve to
fifteen paces behind the game, the Indians, still galloping and burying
their spurs in the flanks of their panting horses, bent forward,
twisted their formidable clubs round their heads, and hurled them
after the animals. If they missed their aim, they stooped down without
checking their pace, and picked up the weapon, which they cast again.

Several flocks of ostriches had been put up, and the chase then assumed
the proportions of a mad revel. Cries and hurrahs rent the air; the
clubs hurtled through the space and struck the necks, wings, and legs
of the ostriches, which, startled and mad with terror, made a thousand
feints and zigzags to escape their implacable enemies, and buffeting
their wings, tried to prick the horses with, the species of spike
with which the end of their wings is armed. Several horses reared,
and, embarrassed by the ostriches between their legs, fell with their
riders. The ostriches, profiting by the disorder, fled on, and came
within reach of the other hunters, who received them with a shower of
clubs.

Each hunter leaped from his horse, killed the victim he had felled,
cut off its wings as a sign of triumph, and renewed the chase with
increased ardour. Ostriches and hunters rushed onwards like the
_cordonazo_, that terrible wind of the Mexican deserts, and forty
ostriches speedily encumbered the plain. Natah Otann looked round him,
and then gave the signal for retreat; the birds which had not succumbed
to this rude aggression, ran off to seek shelter. The dead birds were
carefully collected, for the ostrich is, excellent eating, and the
Indians prepare, chiefly from the meat on the breast, a dish renowned
for its delicacy and exquisite savour. The warriors then proceeded to
collect eggs, also highly esteemed, and secured an ample crop.

Although the chase had scarce lasted two hours, the horses panted and
wanted rest before they could return to the village; hence Natah Otann
gave orders to stop. The Count had never been present at so strange
a hunt before, although ever since he had been on the prairie he had
pursued the different animals that inhabit it; hence he entered into it
with all the excitement of youth, rushing on the ostriches and felling
them with childlike pleasure. When the signal for retreat was given by
the Chief, he reluctantly left off the amusement, which at the moment
caused him such delight, and returned slowly to his comrades. Suddenly
a loud cry was raised by the Indians, and each ran to his weapons. The
Count looked around him with surprise, and felt a slight tremor. The
ostrich hunt was over; but, as frequently happens in these countries, a
far more terrible one was about to begin--the chase of the cougar.[1]

Two of these animals had suddenly made their appearance. The Count
recovered at once, and, cocking his rifle, prepared to follow this
new species of game. Natah Otann had also noticed the wild beasts;
he ordered a dozen warriors to surround Prairie-Flower, whom he had
obliged to accompany him, or who had insisted on being present; then,
certain that the girl was, temporarily at least, in safety, he turned
to a warrior standing at his side.

"Uncouple the dogs," he said.

A dozen mastiffs were let loose, which howled in chorus on seeing the
wild beasts. The Indians, accustomed to see the ostrich hunt disturbed
in this way, never fail, when they go out for their favourite exercise,
to take with them dogs trained to attack the lion. About two hundred
yards from the spots where the Indians had halted, two cougars were
now crouching, with their eyes fixed on the Redskin warriors. These
animals, still young, were about the size of a calf; their heads bore
a strong, likeness to a cat's, and their soft smooth hide of silvery
yellow was dotted with black spots.

"After them!" Natah Otann shouted.

Horsemen and dogs rushed on the ferocious beasts with yells, cries,
and barks, capable of terrifying lions unused to such a reception.
The noble animals, motionless and amazed, lashed their flanks with
their long tails, and drew in heavy draughts of air; for a moment they
remained stationary, then suddenly bounded away. A party of hunters
galloped in a straight line to intercept their retreat, while the
others bent over their saddles, and guiding their horses with their
knees, fired their arrows and rifles, without checking the cougars
which turned furiously on the dogs, and hurled them ten yards from
them, to howl with pain. Still the mastiffs, long habituated to this
chase, watched for a favourable moment, leaped on the lions' backs,
and dug their nails in their flesh; but the latter, with one stroke
of their deadly claws, swept them off like flies, and continued their
flight.

One of them, pierced by several arrows, and surrounded by the dogs,
rolled on the ground, raising a cloud of dust under its claws, and
uttering a fearful yell. This one the Canadian finished by putting a
bullet through its eye, but the second lion remained still unwounded,
and its leaps foiled the attack and skill of the hunters. The dogs,
now wearied, did not dare assail it. Its flight had led it a few paces
from the spot where Prairie-Flower stood: it suddenly turned at right
angles, bounded among the Indians, two of whom it ripped up, and
crouched before the young girl, ere making its leap. Prairie-Flower,
pale as a corpse, clasped her hands instinctively, uttered a stifled
cry, and fainted. New cries replied to hers, and at the moment the lion
was about to leap on the maiden, two bullets were buried in its chest.
It turned to face its new adversary; it was the Count de Beaulieu.

"Let no one stir!" he exclaimed, stopping by a sign Natah Otann and
Bright-eye, who ran up, "this game is mine--no other than I shall kill
it."

The Count had dismounted, and with his feet firmly planted, his rifle
at his shoulder, and eyes fixed on the lion, he waited. The lion
hesitated, cast a final glance at the prey lying a few paces from it,
and then rushed on the young man with a roar. He fired again: the
animal bit the dust, and the Count, hunting knife in hand, ran up
to it. The man and the lion rolled together on the ground, but soon
one of the combatants rose again--it was the man. Prairie-Flower was
saved. The maiden opened her eyes again, looked timidly around her, and
holding out her hand to the Frenchman.

"Thanks!" she exclaimed, and burst into tears.

Natah Otann walked up to her.

"Silence!" he said, harshly; "what the Paleface has done Natah Otann
could have achieved."

The Count smiled contemptuously, but made no reply, for he had
recognized a rival.


[1] The _felis discolor_ of Linnæus, or American lion.



CHAPTER XX.

INDIAN DIPLOMACY.


Natah Otann feigned not to have perceived the Count's smile.

"Now that you have recovered," he said to Prairie-Flower, in a gentler
tone than he at first assumed towards her, "mount your horse, and
return to the village. Red Wolf will accompany you; perhaps," he added,
with an Indian smile, "we may again come across cougars, and you are
so frightened at them, that I believe I am doing you a service in
begging you to withdraw."

The young girl, still trembling, bowed and mounted her horse. Red Wolf
had involuntarily made a start of joy on hearing the order the chief
gave him, but the latter, occupied with his thoughts, had not surprised
it.

"One moment," Natah Otann went on, "if living lions frighten you, I
know that in return you greatly value their furs; allow me to offer you
these."

No one can equal the skill of Indians in flaying animals; in an instant
the two lions, over which the vultures were already hovering and
forming wide circles, were stripped of their rich hides, which were
thrown across Red Wolfs horse. That animal, terrified by the smell that
emanated from the skins, reared furiously, and almost unsaddled its
rider, who had great difficulty in restraining it.

"Now go," the Chief said, drily, dismissing them with a haughty gesture.

Prairie-Flower and Red Wolf departed at a gallop; Natah Otann watched
them for a long time, then let his head fall on his breast, as he
uttered a deep sigh, and appeared plunged in gloomy thought. A moment
later he felt a hand pressing heavily on his chest; he raised his
head--White Buffalo was before him.

"What do you want with me?" he asked, angrily.

"Do you not know?" the old man said, looking at him fixedly.

Natah Otann quivered.

"It is true," he said, "the hour has arrived, you mean?"

"Yes."

"Are all precautions taken?"

"All."

"Come on then; but where are they?"

"Look at them."

While uttering these words, White Buffalo pointed to the Count and his
comrades lying on the grass, at the skirt of a wood, about two hundred
yards from the Indian encampment.

"Ah, they keep aloof," the Chief observed, bitterly.

"Is not that better for the conversation which we wish to have with
them?"

"You are right."

The two men then walked up to the hunters without speaking again. The
latter had really kept away, not through contempt for the Indians, but
in order to be more at liberty. What had occurred after the death of
the cougars, the brutal way in which the Chief spoke to Prairie-Flower,
had vexed the Count, and it needed all the power he possessed over
himself, and the entreaties of Bright-eye, to prevent him breaking out
in reproaches of the Chief, whose conduct appeared to him unjustifiably
coarse.

"Hum," he said, "this man is decidedly a ruffian: I am beginning to be
of your opinion, Bright-eye."

"Bah! that is nothing yet," the latter replied, with a shrug of his
shoulders; "we shall see plenty more, if we only remain a week with
these demons."

While speaking, the Canadian had reloaded his rifle and pistols.

"Do as I do," he continued; "no one knows what may happen."

"What need of that precaution? are we not under the protection of the
Indians, whose guests we are?"

"Possibly; but no matter, you had better follow my advice, for with
Indians you can never answer for the future."

"There is considerable truth in what you say; what I have just seen
does not at all inspire me with confidence."

The Count, therefore, began reloading his weapons; as for Ivon, he had
not used his. The two Indian Chiefs came up at the moment the Count
finished loading the last pistol.

"Oh, oh!" Natah Otann said, in French, saluting the young man
with studied politeness, "have you scented any wild beast in the
neighbourhood?"

"Perhaps so," the latter replied, as he returned his pistols to his
belt.

"What do you mean, sir?"

"Nothing but what I say."

"Unfortunately for me, doubtlessly, that is so subtile, that I do not
understand it."

"I am sorry for it, sir; but I can only reply to you by an old Latin
proverb."

"Which is?"

"What need to repeat it, as you do not understand Latin?"

"Suppose I do understand it?"

"Well, then, as you insist upon it, here it is--_si vis pacem para
bellum_."

"Which means--" the Chief said, impertinently, while White Buffalo bit
his lips.

"Which means--" the Count said.

"If you wish for peace, prepare for war," White Buffalo hurriedly
interrupted.

"It was you who said it," the Count remarked, bowing with a mocking
smile.

The three men stood face to face, like skilful duellists, who feel
the adversary's sword before engaging, and who, having recognized
themselves to be of equal strength, redouble their prudence before
dealing a decisive thrust.

Bright-eye, though not understanding much of this skirmish of words,
had still, through the distrust which was the basis of his character,
given Ivon a side-glance, and both, though apparently inattentive,
were ready for any event. After the Count's last remark there was a
lengthened silence, which Natah Otann was the first to break.

"You believe yourself to be among enemies, then?" he asked, in a tone
of wounded pride.

"I did not say so," he replied, "and such is not my thought; still, I
confess that all I have seen during the last few days is so strange to
me, that, in spite of all my attempts, I can form no settled opinion
either about men or things, and that causes me deep reflection."

"Ah!" the Indian said, coldly, "and what is it so strange you see
around you? Would you be kind enough to inform me?"

"I see no harm in doing so, if you wish it."

"You will cause me intense pleasure by explaining yourself."

"I am quite ready to do so; the more so, as I have ever been accustomed
to express my thoughts freely, and I see no reason for disguising them
today."

The two Chiefs bowed, and said nothing; the Count rested his hands on
the muzzle of his gun, and continued, while regarding them fixedly--

"My faith, gentlemen, since you wish me to unveil my thoughts, you
shall have them in their entirety: we are here in the wilds of the
American prairies, that is, in the wildest countries of the new
Continent; you are always on hostile terms with the whites; you
Blackfeet are regarded as the most untameable, savage, and ferocious of
the Indians; or, in other words, the most devoid of the civilization of
all the aboriginal nations."

"Well," Natah Otann remarked, "what do you find strange in that? Is
it our fault if our despoilers, since the discovery of the new world,
have tracked us like wild beasts, driven us back in the desert, and
regarded us as beings scarcely endowed with the instinct of the brute?
You must blame them, and not us. By what right do you reproach us with
a brutalization and barbarism, produced by our persecutors and not by
ourselves?"

"You have not understood me, sir: if, instead of interrupting me, you
had listened patiently a few minutes longer, you would have seen that I
not merely do not reproach you for that brutalization, but pity it in
my heart; for, although I have been only a few months in the desert,
I have been on several occasions in a position to judge the unhappy
race to which you belong, and appreciate the good qualities it still
possesses, and which the odious tyranny of the whites has not succeeded
in eradicating, despite all the means employed to attain that end."

The two Chiefs exchanged a glance of satisfaction; the generous words
uttered by the young man gave them hopes as to the success of their
negotiation.

"Pardon me, and pray continue," Natah Otann said, with a bow.

"I will do so:" the Count went on: "I repeat it, it was not that
barbarism which astonished me, for I supposed it to be greater than
it really is: what seemed strange to me was to find in the heart of
the desert, where we now are, amid the ferocious Indians who surround
us, two men, two Chiefs of these self-same Indians--I will not say
civilized, for the word is not strong enough--but utterly conversant
with all the secrets of the most advanced and refined civilization,
speaking my maternal tongue with the most extreme purity, and seeming,
in a word, to have nothing Indian about them, save the dress they
wear. It seemed strange to me that two men, for an object I know not,
changing in turn their manners and fashions, are at one moment savage
Indians, at another perfect gentlemen; but instead of trying to raise
their countrymen from the barbarism in which they pine, they wallow in
it with them, feigning to be as ignorant and cruel as themselves. I
confess to you, gentlemen, that all this not only appeared strange to
me, but even frightened me."

"Frightened!" the two Chiefs exclaimed, simultaneously.

"Yes, frightened!" the Count continued, quickly; "for a life of
continual feints, such as you lead, must conceal some dark plot.
Lastly, I am frightened, because your conduct towards me, the urgency
with which you sought to attract me amongst you, causes involuntary
suspicions to spring up in my heart as to your secret intentions."

"And what are those suspicions, sir?" Natah Otann asked, haughtily.

"I am afraid that you wish to make me your accomplice in some
scandalous deed."

These words, pronounced vehemently, burst like a thunderbolt on the
ears of the two strange Chiefs; they were terrified by the perspicuity
of the young man, and for several moments knew not what to say, to
disculpate themselves.

"Sir!" Natah Otann at length exclaimed, violently.

White Buffalo checked him by a majestic gesture.

"It is my duty," he said, "to reply to our guest's words: in his turn,
after the frank and loyal explanation he has given us, he has a right
to one equally frank on our side."

"I am listening to you," the young man said, coolly.

"Of the two men now standing before you, one is your fellow countryman."

"Ah!" the Count muttered.

"That countryman is myself."

The young man bowed coldly.

"I suspected it," he said, "and it is a further reason to heighten my
suspicions."

Natah Otann made a gesture.

"Let him speak," White Buffalo said, holding him back.

"What I have to say will not be long, sir: it is my opinion that the
man who consents to exchange the blessings of European civilization for
a precarious life on the prairie; who breaks all the ties of family
and friendship which attached him to his country, in order to adopt an
Indian life--in my opinion that man must have many disgraceful actions
to reproach himself with, and his remorse forces him to offer society
expiation for them."

The old man's brow contracted, and a livid pallor covered his face.

"You are very young, sir," he said, "to have the right to bring such
accusations against an old man whose actions, life, and even name are
unknown to you."

"That is true, sir," the Count answered, nobly. "Pardon any insult my
words may have conveyed."

"Why should I be angry with you?" he continued, in a sad voice; "a
child born yesterday, whose eyes opened amid songs and fêtes, whose
life, which counts but a few days, has been spent gently and calmly in
the peace and prosperity of that beloved France which I weep for every
day."

"Who are you, sir?" he asked.

"Who I am?" the old man said, bitterly. "I am one of those crushed
Titans who sat in the Convention of 1793."

The Count fell back a pace, letting fall the hand he had taken.

"Oh!" he said.

The exile looked at him searchingly.

"Enough of this," he said, raising his head and assuming a firm and
resolute tone; "you are in our hands, sir, any resistance will be
useless; so listen to our propositions."

The Count shrugged his shoulders.

"You throw off the mask," he said, "and I prefer that; but allow me one
remark before listening to you."

"What is it?"

"I am of noble birth, as you are aware, and hence we are old enemies;
on whatever ground we may meet, we can only stand face to face, never
side by side."

"They are ever the same," the other muttered; "this haughty race may be
broken, but not bent."

The Count bowed, and folded his arms on his breast.

"I am waiting," he said.

"Time presses," the exile continued; "any discussion between us would
be superfluous, as we cannot agree."

"At least, that is clear," the Count remarked, with a smile; "now for
the rest."

"It is this: in two days, all the Indian nations will rise as one man
to crush the American tyranny."

"What do I care for that? Have I come so far to dabble in politics?"

The exile repressed a movement of anger.

"Unfortunately, your will is not free; you are here to obey our
conditions, and not to impose your own: you must accept or die."

"Oh, oh, always your old means, as it seems, but I will be patient:
come, what is it you expect from me?"

"We demand," he went on, laying a stress on every word, "that you
should take the command of all the warriors, and direct the expedition
in person."

"Why I, rather than anyone else?"

"Because you alone can play the part we give you."

"Nonsense--you are mad."

"You must be so, if, since your stay among the Indians, you have not
seen that you would have been killed long ago, had we not been careful
to spread reports about you, which gained you general respect, in spite
of your rashness and blind confidence in yourself."

"Eh, then, this has been prepared a long time?"

"For centuries."

"Hang it!" the Count went on, still sarcastically, "what have I to do
in all this?"

"Oh, sir, not much," the White Buffalo answered, with a sneer; "and
anyone else would have suited us just as well; unfortunately for you,
you have an extraordinary likeness to the man who can alone march at
our head; and as this man died long ago, it is not probable that he
will come from his grave expressly to guide us to battle; hence you
must take his place."

"Very well; and would there be any indiscretion in asking you the name
of the man to whom I bear so wonderful a likeness?"

"Not the slightest," the old man replied, coldly; "the more so, because
you have doubtlessly already heard his name; it is Motecuhzoma."

The Count burst into a laugh.

"Come!" he said, "it is a capital joke; but I find it a little too
long. Now, a word in my turn."

"Speak."

"Whatever you may do, whatever means you may employ, I will never
consent to serve you in any way. Now, as I am your guest, placed under
the guarantee of your honour, I request you to let me pass."

"That resolution is decided."

"Yes."

"You will not change it."

"Whatever happens."

"We shall see that," the old man remarked, coldly.

The Count looked at him contemptuously.

"Make way there," he said, resolutely.

The two Chiefs shrugged their shoulders.

"We are savages," Natah Otann said, gibingly.

"Make way!" the Count repeated, as he cocked his rifle.

Natah Otann whistled; in an instant, some fifteen Indians rushed from
the wood, and fell on the white men, who, however, though surprised,
endured the shock bravely. Standing instinctively back to back, with
shoulder supported against shoulder, they suddenly formed a tremendous
triangle, before which the Redskins were constrained to halt.

"Oh, oh," Bright-eye said, "I fancy we are going to have some fun."

"Yes," Ivon muttered, crossing himself piously; "but we shall be
killed."

"Probably," the Canadian said.

"Fall back!" the Count ordered.

The three men then began to retire slowly toward the wood, the only
shelter that offered, without separating, and still pointing their
rifles at the Indians. The Redskins are brave, even rash; that question
cannot be disguised or doubted; but with them courage is calculated;
they never fight save to gain an object, and are not fond of risking
their lives unprofitably. They hesitated.

"I fancy we did well to reload our arms," the Count said, ironically,
but with perfect calmness.

"By Jove!" Bright-eye said, with a grin.

"No matter, I am very frightened," Ivon groaned his eyes sparkling and
his lips quivering.

"_Eha_, sons of blood!" Natah Otann shouted, as he cocked his gun. "Do
three Palefaces frighten you? Forward! Forward!"

The Indians uttered their war yell, and rushed on the hunters. The
other Indians, warned of what was happening by the shouts of their
comrades, ran up hurriedly to take part in the fight.



CHAPTER XXI.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.


We must leave our three valiant champions for a few moments in their
present critical position, to speak of one of the important persons of
this story, whom we have neglected too long.

Immediately after the departure of the Indians, John Black, with
that American activity equalled in no other country, set to work,
beginning his clearing. The peril he had incurred, and which he had
only escaped by a miracle incomprehensible to him, had caused him to
make very earnest reflections. He understood that in the isolated spot
where he was, he could not expect assistance from anyone; that he
must alone confront the danger that would doubtlessly menace him; and
that, consequently, he must, before all else, think about defending
the settlement against a _coup de main_, Major Melville had heard,
through his _engagés_ and trappers, of the colonist; but the latter was
perfectly ignorant that he was only ten miles from Fort Mackenzie. His
resolution once formed, John Black carried it out immediately.

To those people who have not seen American clearings, the processes
employed by the squatters, and the skill with which they cut down
the largest trees in a few moments, would appear as prodigies. Black
considered that he had not a moment to lose, and, aided by his son
and servants, set to work. The temporary camp, as we have seen, was
situated on a rather high mound, which commanded the plain for a
long distance. It was here that the colonist determined to build his
house. He began by planting all round the platform of the hill a row
of enormous stakes, twelve feet high, and fastened together by large
bolts. This first enceinte finished, he dug behind it a trench about
eight feet wide and fifteen deep, throwing up the earth on the edge,
so as to form a second line of defence. Then, in the interior of this
improvised fortress, which, if defended by a resolute garrison, was
impregnable, unless cannon were brought up to form a breach--for the
abrupt slope of the hill rendered any assault impossible--he laid the
foundation of his family's future abode. The temporary arrangements
he had made allowed him to continue his further labours less hastily;
through his prodigious activity, he could defy the attacks of all the
prowlers on the prairie.

His wife and daughter had actively helped him, for they understood,
better than the rest of the family, the utility of these defensive
works. The poor ladies, little used to the rude toil they had been
engaged in, needed rest. Black had not spared himself more than the
rest. He understood the justice of his wife and daughter's entreaties,
and as he had nothing to fear for the present, he generously granted a
whole day's rest to the little colony.

The events that marked the squatter's arrival in the province had left
a profound impression on the hearts of Mrs. Black and her daughter.
Diana, especially, had maintained a recollection of the Count, which
time, far from weakening, rendered only the more vivid. The Count's
chivalrous character, the noble way in which he had acted, and--let us
speak the truth--his physical qualities, all combined to render him
dear to the young girl, whose life had hitherto passed away calmly,
nothing happening to cast a cloud over her heart. Many times since the
young man's departure she stopped in her work, raised her head, looked
anxiously around her, and then resumed her toil, while stifling a sigh.

Mothers are quick-sighted, especially those who, like Mrs. Black,
really love their daughters. What her husband and son did not suspect,
then, she guessed merely by looking for a few minutes at the poor
girl's pale face, her eyes surrounded by a dark ring, her pensive look,
and inattention.

Diana was in love.

Mrs. Black looked around her. No one could be the object of that love.
So far back as she could remember, she called to mind no one her
daughter had appeared to distinguish before their departure from the
clearing, where she had passed her youth. Besides, when the little
party set out in search of a fresh home, Diana seemed joyful, she
prattled gaily as a bird, and appeared to trouble herself about none of
those she left behind.

After these reflections, the mother sighed in her turn; for, if she had
divined her daughter's love, she had been unable to discover the man
who was the object of that love. Mrs. Black resolved to cross-question
her daughter as soon as she happened to be alone with her; till then
she feigned to be in perfect ignorance. The day of rest granted by John
Black to his family would probably offer her the favourable opportunity
she awaited so impatiently. Hence she joyfully received the news which
her husband gave her in the evening after prayers, which, according to
the custom of the family, were said in common before going to bed.

The next morning, at sunrise, according to their daily habit, the two
ladies prepared the breakfast, while the servants led the cattle down
to the river.

"Wife," the squatter said, at breakfast, "William and I intend, as
work is suspended for today, to mount our horses, and go and visit the
neighbourhood, which we have not seen yet."

"Do not go too far, my friend, and be well armed; you know that in the
desert dangerous meetings are not rare."

"Yes; so be at ease. Although I believe that we have nothing to fear
for the present, I will be prudent. Would you not feel inclined to
accompany us, as well as Diana, and take a look at your new domain?"

The girl's eyes glistened with joy at this proposition; she opened her
lips to reply; but her mother laid her hand on her mouth, and spoke
instead of her.

"You must excuse us, my dear," she said, with a certain degree of
vivacity, "but women, as you know, have always something to do. Diana
and I will put everything in order during your absence, which our busy
labours of the last few days have prevented us doing."

"As you please, wife."

"Besides," she continued, with a smile; "as we shall probably remain a
long time here--"

"I fancy so," the squatter interrupted.

"Well, I shall not lack opportunity of visiting our domains, as you
call them, another day."

"Excellently argued, ma'am, and I am quite of your opinion; William
and I will therefore take our ride alone; I would ask you not to feel
alarmed if we do not come home till rather late."

"No; but on condition that you return before night."

"Agreed."

They spoke of something else; still, towards the end of the meal, Sam,
without suspecting it, brought the conversation back nearly to the same
subject.

"I am certain, James," he said to his comrade, "that the young man was
not a Canadian, as you fancy, but a Frenchman."

"Who are you talking about?" the squatter asked.

"The gentleman who accompanied the Redskins, and made them give us back
our cattle."

"Yes, without counting the other obligations we are under to him, for
if I am now the owner of a clearing, it was through him."

"He is a worthy gentleman," Mrs. Black said, with a purpose.

"Yes, yes," Diana murmured, in an indistinct voice.

"He is a Frenchman," Black asserted. "There cannot be a doubt of that:
those Canadian scoundrels are incapable of acting in the way he did to
us."

Like all the North Americans, Black heartily detested the Canadians;
why he did so, he could not have said, but this hatred was innate in
his heart.

"Bah!" William said, "what matter his country, he has a fine heart,
and is a true gentleman. For my part, father, I know a certain William
Black, who is ready to die for him."

"By heaven!" the squatter exclaimed, as he struck the table with his
fist, "you would be only doing your duty, and discharging a sacred
debt: I would give anything to see him again, and prove to him that I
am not ungrateful."

"Well spoken, father," William said joyously; "honest men are too rare
in the world for us not to cling to those we know; if we should meet
again, I will show him what sort of man I am."

During this rapid interchange of words, Diana said nothing; she
listened, with outstretched neck, beaming face, and a smile on her
lips, happy to hear a man thus spoken of, whom she unconsciously loved
since she first saw him. Mrs. Black thought it prudent to turn the
conversation.

"There is another person to whom we owe great obligations; for if
Heaven had not sent her at the right moment to our help, we should have
been pitilessly massacred by the Indians; have you already forgotten
that person?"

"God forbid!" the squatter exclaimed, quickly, "the poor creature did
me too great a service for me to forget her."

"But who on earth can she be?" William said.

"I should be much puzzled to say; I believe even that the Indians and
trappers, who cross the prairies, could give us no information about
her."

"She only appeared and disappeared," James observed.

"Yes, but her passage, so rapid as it was, left deep traces," Mrs.
Black said.

"Her mere presence was enough to terrify the Indians. That woman I
shall always regard as a good genius, whatever opinion may be expressed
about her in my presence."

"We owe it to her that we did not suffer atrocious torture."

"May God bless the worthy creature!" the squatter exclaimed; "if ever
she have need of us, she can come in all certainty; I and all I possess
are at her disposal."

The meal was over, and they rose from the table. Sam had saddled two
horses. John Black and his son took their pistols, bowie knives, and
rifles, mounted their horses, and after promising once again not to be
late, they cautiously descended the winding path leading into the plain.

Diana and her mother then began putting things to rights, as had been
arranged. When Mrs. Black had watched the couple out of sight on the
prairie, and assured herself that the two servants were engaged outside
in mending some harness, she took her needlework, and requested her
daughter to come and sit by her side. Diana obeyed with a certain
inward apprehension, for never had her mother behaved to her so
mysteriously. For a few minutes the two ladies worked silently opposite
each other. At length Mrs. Black stopped her needle, and looked at her
daughter; the latter continued her sewing, without appearing to notice
this intermission.

"Diana," she asked her, "have you nothing to say to me?"

"I, mother?" the young girl said, raising her head with amazement.

"Yes, you, my child."

"Pardon me, mother," she went on, with a certain tremor in her voice,
"but I do not understand you."

Mrs. Black sighed.

"Yes," she murmured, "and so it ever must be; a moment arrives when
young girls have unconsciously a secret from their mothers."

The poor lady wiped away a tear; Diana rose quickly, and throwing her
arms tenderly round her mother--

"A secret? I, a secret from you, mother? Oh, how could you suppose such
a thing?"

"Child!" Mrs. Black replied, with a smile of ineffable kindness, "a
mother's eye cannot be deceived;" and putting her finger on her
daughter's palpitating heart, she said, "your secret is there."

Diana blushed, and drew back, confused.

"Alas!" the good lady continued, "I do not address reproaches to you,
poor dear and well-beloved child. You unconsciously submit to the laws
of nature; I too, at your age, was as you are at this moment, and when
my mother asked my secret, like you, I replied that I had none, for I
was myself ignorant of that secret."

The girl hid her face, all bathed in tears, in her mother's breast. The
latter gently moved the flowing locks of light hair which covered her
daughter's brow, and giving her a kiss, said, with that accent which
mothers alone possess--

"Come, my dear Diana, dry your tears, do not trouble yourself so; only
tell me your feelings during the last few days."

"Alas! my kind mother," the girl replied, smiling through her tears,
"I understand nothing myself, and suffer without knowing why; I am
restless, languid; everything disgusts and wearies me, and yet I fancy
there has been no change in my life."

"You are mistaken, child," Mrs. Black answered, gravely, "your heart
has spoken without your knowledge; thus, instead of the careless,
laughing girl you were, you have become a woman, you have thought, your
forehead has turned pale, and you suffer."

"Alas!" Diana murmured.

"Come, how long have you been so sad?"

"I know not, mother."

"Think again."

"I fancy it is--."

Mrs. Black, understanding her daughter's hesitation, finished the
sentence for her.

"Since the day after our arrival here, is it not?"

Diana raised to her mother her large blue eyes, in which profound
amazement could be read.

"It is true," she murmured.

"Your sorrow began at the moment when the strangers, who so nobly aided
us, took their leave?"

"Yes," the girl said, in a low voice, with downcast eyes and blushing
forehead.

Mrs. Black continued smilingly her interesting interrogatory.

"On seeing them depart, your heart was contracted, your cheeks turned
pale, you shuddered involuntarily, and, if I had not held you--I who
watched you carefully, poor darling--you would have fallen. Is not all
this true?"

"It is true, mother," the girl said, with a more assured voice.

"Good; and the man from whom you regret being separated--he who causes
your present sorrow and suffering, is--?"

"Mother!" she exclaimed, throwing herself into her arms, and hiding her
shamed face in her bosom.

"It is--?" she continued.

"Edward!" the girl said, in an inarticulate voice, and melting into
tears.

Mrs. Black directed on her daughter a glance of supreme pity, embraced
her ardently several times, and said, in a soft voice,--

"You see that you had a secret, my child, since you love him."

"Alas!" she murmured, naively, "I do not know it, mother."

The good lady nodded her head with satisfaction, led her daughter back
to her chair, and herself sitting down, said to her,--

"And now that we have had a thorough explanation, and there is no
longer a secret between us, suppose we have a little talk, Diana."

"I am quite willing, mother."

"Listen to me, then; my age and experience, leaving out of sight the
position in which I stand to you, authorize me in giving you advice.
Will you hear it?"

"Oh, mother! you know I respect and love you."

"I know it, dear child; I know too, as I have never left you since your
birth, and have incessantly watched over you, how generous your mind
is, how noble your heart, and how capable of self-devotion. I must
cause you great pain, poor girl; but it is better to attend to the
green wound, than allow time to render the evil incurable."

"Alas!"

"This raging love, which has unconsciously entered your heart, cannot
be very great; it is rather the awakening of the mind to those
gentle feelings and noble instincts, which embellish existence and
characterize the woman, than a passion; your love is only in reality
a momentary exaltation of the brain's feverish imagination; like all
young girls, you aspire to the unknown, you seek an ideal, the reality
of which does not exist for you; but you do not love. Nay, more, you
cannot love; the feeling you experience at the moment is entirely in
the head, and the heart goes for nothing."

"Mother!" the young girl interrupted.

"Dear Diana," she continued, taking her hand, and pressing it, "let
me make you suffer a little now, to spare you at a later date the
horrible pangs which would produce the despair of your whole existence.
The man you fancy you love you will probably never see again; he is
ignorant of your attachment, and does not share it. I am speaking cold
and implacable reason; it is logical, and spares us much grief, while
passion is never so, and always produces pain; but supposing for a
moment that this young man loved you, you could never be his."

"But if he love me, mother," she said, timidly.

"Poor babe!" the mother continued, with an accent of sublime pity.
"Do you know even whether he be free? Who has told you that he is not
married? But I will allow it for a moment: this young man is noble;
he belongs to one of the oldest and proudest families in Europe;
his fortune is immense. Do you believe that he will ever consent to
abandon all the social advantages his position guarantees him?--that he
will bow his family pride to give his hand to the daughter of a poor
American squatter?"

"It is true," she murmured, letting her head fall in her hands.

"And even if he did so, though it is impossible, would you consent to
follow him, and leave in the desert a father and mother, who have only
you, and who would die of despair ere your departure? Come, Diana,
answer, would you consent?"

"Oh, never, never, mother!" she exclaimed, madly "Oh, I love you most
of all!"

"Good, my darling; that is how I wished to see you. I am happy that my
words have found the road to your heart. This man is kind; he has done
us immense service; we owe him gratitude, but nothing more."

"Yes, yes, mother," she murmured, with a sob.

"You must only see in him a friend, a brother," she continued, firmly.

"I will try, mother."

"You promise it me?"

The girl hesitated for a moment. Suddenly she raised her head, and
said, bravely,--

"I thank you, mother. I swear to you not to forget him, that would
be impossible, but so thoroughly to conceal my love, that, with the
exception of yourself, no one shall suspect it."

"Come to my arms, my child; you understand your duty; you are noble and
good."

At this moment James entered.

"Mistress," he said, "the master is coming back, but there are several
persons with him."

"Wipe your eyes, and follow me, dear; let us go and see what has
happened."

And, stooping down to her daughter's ear, she whispered,--

"When we are alone, we will speak of him."

"Yes, mother," Diana said, almost joyfully, "Oh, how good you are, and
how I love you."

They went out, and looked in the direction of the plain. At a
considerable distance from the fort, they noticed a party of four or
five persons, at the head of whom were John Black and his son William.

"What is the meaning of this?" Mrs. Black said, anxiously.

"We shall soon know, mother; calm yourself; they seem to be riding too
gently for us to feel any alarm."



CHAPTER XXII.

IVON.


The Count and his two companions, as we have seen, bravely awaited the
attack of the Indians; it was terrible. For an instant there was a
horrible mêlée hand to hand; then the Indians fell back to draw breath,
and begin again. Ten corpses lay at the feet of the three men, who were
motionless and firm as a block of granite.

"By heavens!" the Count said, as he wiped away, with the back of his
hand, the perspiration mingled with blood that stood in large beads on
his forehead, "it is a glorious fight."

"Yes," Bright-eye replied, carelessly; "but it is mortal."

"What matter, if we die like men?"

"Hum! I am not of that opinion. As long as there is a chance, we must
seize it."

"But none is left us!"

"Perhaps there is; but let me act."

"I ask no better. Still I confess to you that I find this fight
glorious."

"It is really very agreeable; but it would be much more so, if we lived
to recount it."

"On my word, that is true. I did not think of that."

"Yes, but I did."

The Canadian stooped down to Ivon, and whispered some words in his ear.

"Yes," the Breton replied, "provided I am not afraid."

"Bravo!" the hunter said, with a smile; "you will do what you can. That
is agreed?"

"Agreed."

"Look out, comrades," the Count shouted; "here are the enemy!"

In truth, the Indians were ready to renew the attack. Natah Otann and
White Buffalo were resolved on taking the Count alive, and without a
wound; they had consequently given their warriors orders not to employ
their firearms, content themselves with parrying the blows dealt them,
but take him at every risk. During the few moments' respite which the
Indians had allowed the white men, the other Indians had run up to take
part in the fight; so that the hunters, surrounded on all sides, had to
make head against at least forty Redskins. It would have been madness
or blind temerity to attempt opposing such a mass of enemies; and yet
the white men did not appear to dream of asking quarter. At the moment
Natah Otann was going to give the signal for attack, White Buffalo, who
had hitherto stood aloof, gloomy and thoughtful, interposed,--

"A moment!" he said.

"For what good?" the Chief remarked.

"Let me make the attempt. Perhaps they will recognize that a struggle
is impossible, and consent to accept our propositions."

"I doubt it," Natah Otann muttered, shaking his head; "they appear very
resolute."

"Let me try it. You know how necessary it is for the success of our
plans that we should seize this man?"

"Unfortunately; if we do not take care, he will be killed."

"That is what I wish to avoid."

"Try it then; but I am convinced you will fail."

"Who knows? I can try, at any rate."

White Buffalo walked a few paces in advance, and was then about six
yards from the Count.

"What do you want?" the young man said. "If I did not involuntarily
know that you are a Frenchman, I should have long ago put a bullet into
your chest."

"Fire!--what stops you?" the exile replied, in a sad voice. "Do you
believe that I fear death?"

"Enough talking. Retire! or I will fire."

And he levelled his rifle at him.

"I wish to say one word to you."

"Speak quickly, and be off."

"I offer you and your comrades your lives, if you will surrender."

The Count burst into a laugh.

"Nonsense," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders; "do you take us for
fools? We were the guests of your companions, and they have impudently
violated the law of nations."

"That is your last word, then?"

"The last, by Jove! You must have lived a long time among the Indians
to have forgotten that Frenchmen would sooner die than be cowards."

"Your blood be on your own heads, then."

"So be it, odious renegade, who fight with savages against your
brothers."

This insult struck the old man to the heart; he bent a fearful glance
on the young man, turned pale as death and withdrew, tottering like a
drunkard, and muttering, in a low voice,--

"Oh, these nobles!"

"Well?" Natah Otann asked him.

"He refuses," he answered quickly.

"I was sure of it. Now it is our turn."

Raising to his lips his war whistle, he produced a shrill and
lengthened sound, to which the Indians responded with a frightful yell,
and rushed like a legion of demons on the three men, who received them
without yielding an inch. The mêlée recommenced in all its fury; the
three men clubbed their rifles, and dealt crushing blows around. Ivon
performed prodigies of valour, rising and sinking his rifle with the
regularity of a pendulum, smashing a man at every blow, and muttering,--

"Ouf, there's another: holy Virgin, I feel my terror coming upon me."

Still the circle drew closer round the three men; others took the
places of the Indians who fell, and were in their turn pushed onward by
those behind. The hunters were weary of striking. Their arms did not
fall with the same vigour; their blows failed in regularity; the blood
rose to their heads; their eyes were injected with blood, and they had
a dizziness in their ears.

"We are lost!" the Count muttered.

"Courage!" Bright-eye yelled, as he smashed in the skull of an Indian.

"It is not courage that fails me, but strength," the young man
answered, in a fainting voice.

"Forward, forward!" Natah Otann repeated, bounding like a demon round
the three men.

"Now, Ivon, now!" Bright-eye cried out.

"Good bye," the Breton replied.

And turning his terrible weapon round his head, he rushed into the
densest throng of the Indians.

"Follow me, Count," Bright-eye went on.

"Come on then," the latter shouted.

The two men executed on the opposite side the manoeuvre attempted by
the Breton. Ivon, the coward you know, seemed to have at the moment
entirely forgotten his fear of being speared; he appeared, like
Briareus, to have a hundred arms to level the numerous assailants who
incessantly rose before him, and cleft his way through the throng.
Fortunately for the Breton, most of the Indians had rushed in pursuit
of game more valuable to them, that is, the Count and the Canadian, who
had redoubled their efforts, though already so prodigious.

While still fighting, Ivon had reached the skirt of the wood, about
three or four yards from the spot where the horses were tied. This
was probably what the Breton wished for. So soon as he found himself
in a straight line with the horses, instead of pushing forward as he
had hitherto done, he began to fall back step to step, so as to arrive
close to them. Still, he always fought with that cold resolution which
distinguishes the Bretons, and renders them such terrible foemen.

Suddenly, when he found himself near enough to the horses, Ivon gave a
parting blow to the nearest Indian, sent him staggering backwards with
a dashed-in skull, took a panther leap, and reached the Count's horse.
In a second he had mounted, dug his spurs into the flanks of the noble
animal, and galloped off, after knocking down two Indians who tried to
stop him.

"Hurrah! saved! saved!" he shouted, in a voice of thunder, as he
disappeared in the forest, where the Blackfeet did not dare to follow
him.

The Redskins stood stupefied by such a prodigious flight. The cry
uttered by Ivon was doubtlessly a signal agreed on between him and
Bright-eye; for, so soon as he heard it, the hunter, by a hurried
movement, seized the Count's arm as he was in the act of striking.

"What on earth are you about?" the latter said, turning to him angrily.

"I am saving you," the hunter replied, coolly; "throw down your
weapon!--We surrender," he then exclaimed.

"You will explain your conduct, I presume?" the Count continued.

"Be of good cheer; you will approve it."

"Be it so."

And he threw the gun down. The Indians, whom the hunters' heroic
defence kept at a distance, rushed upon them so soon as they saw they
were disarmed, Natah Otann and White Buffalo hurried up; the two men
already were thrown down on the sand, when the Chief interposed.

"Sir," he said, "you are my prisoner; and you too, Bright-eye."

The young man shrugged his shoulders with contempt.

"Reckon up what your victory has already cost you," the hunter replied,
with a sardonic smile, and pointing to the numerous corpses that lay on
the plain. Natah Otann, however, pretended not to hear this remark.

"If you will give me your word of honour not to escape, gentlemen,"
White Buffalo said, "you will be unloosed, and your weapons restored to
you."

"Is this another trap you are laying for us?" the Count asked,
haughtily.

"Bah!" Bright-eye said, with a significant glance at his comrade, "we
will give our word for four-and-twenty hours; after that, we will
see."

"You hear, gentlemen," the young man said; "this hunter and myself
pledge our words for four-and-twenty hours. Does that suit you? Of
course, at the end of that time, we are free to recall it."

"Or to pledge it again," the Canadian added, with a smile; "what do we
risk by doing so?"

The two Chiefs exchanged a few whispered words.

"We accept," Natah Otann at length said.

At a sign from him, the prisoners' bonds were cut, and they rose.

"Hum!" Bright-eye said, stretching himself with delight, "it does one
good to have the use of his limbs. Bah! I knew they would not kill me
this time, either."

"Here are your horses and arms, gentlemen," the Chief said.

"Permit me," the Count remarked coolly, drawing his watch from his
pocket, "it is now half-after seven; you have our parole till the same
time tomorrow evening."

"Very good," White Buffalo said, with a bow.

"And now, where are you going to take us, if you please?" the hunter
asked, with a crafty look.

"To the village!"

"Thank you."

The two men jumped into their saddles, and followed the Indians, who
only waited for them to start. Ten minutes later, this place, on which
so many events had occurred during the day, became again calm and
silent.

We will leave the Count and the hunter returning to the village under
good escort, to follow the track of Ivon.

After leaving the battlefield, the latter rode straight ahead, not
caring to lose precious time in looking for a path; for the moment all
were good, provided that they bore him from the enemies he had so
providentially escaped. Still, after galloping for about an hour across
the wood, reassured by the perfect silence that prevailed around him,
he gradually checked his horse's speed. It was high time for this idea
to occur to him, as the poor horse, so harshly treated, was beginning
to break down. The Breton profited by this slight truce to reload his
weapons.

"I am not brave," he said in a low voice, "but by Jove! as my poor
master says, the first scamp that attempts to bar my way, I will blow
out his brains, so surely as my name is Ivon."

And the worthy man would have done as he said, we feel assured. After
advancing a few hundred yards, Ivon looked around, stopped his horse,
and dismounted.

"What is the use of going any farther?" he said, resuming his
soliloquy; "my horse wants rest, and I shall not be the worse for a
halt. As well here as elsewhere."

On this, he took off his horse's saddle, carried his master's
portmanteau to the foot of a tree, and began lighting a fire.

"How quickly night comes on in this confounded country," he muttered;
"it is hardly eight o'clock, and it is as black as in an oven."

While discoursing thus all alone, he had collected a considerable
quantity of dry wood; he returned to the spot he had selected for
camping, piled up the wood, struck a light, knelt, and began blowing
with all the strength of his lungs to make it catch. In a moment he
raised his head to breathe; but uttered a yell of terror, and almost
fell backwards. He had seen, about three paces from the fire, two
persons silently watching him. The first moment of surprise past, the
Breton bounded on his feet, and cocked his pistols.

"Confuse you," he shouted, "you gave me a pretty fright; but no matter,
we will see."

"My brother may be at rest," a soft voice replied, in bad English, "we
do not wish to do him any harm."

As a Breton, Ivon spoke nearly as good English as he did French. On
hearing these words, he bent forward, and looked. "Oh!" he said, "the
Indian girl."

"Yes, it is I," Prairie-Flower answered, as she stepped forward.

Her companion followed her, and Ivon recognized Red Wolf.

"You are welcome," he remarked, "to my poor encampment."

"Thanks," she answered.

"How is it that you are here?"

"And you?" she said, answering one question by another.

"Oh, I!" he said, shaking his head, "that is a sad story."

"What does my brother mean?" Red Wolf asked.

"Good, good," the Breton said, turning his head; "that is my business,
and not yours. First, tell me what brings you to me, and I will then
see if I may confide to you what has happened to my master and myself."

"My brother is prudent," Prairie-Flower answered, "he is right:
prudence is good on the prairie."

"Hum! I wish my master had heard you make that remark, perhaps he would
not be where he now is."

Prairie-Flower gave a start of terror.

"Wah! has any misfortune happened to him?" she said, in an agonized
voice.

Ivon looked at her.

"You appear to take an interest in him?"

"He is brave," she exclaimed, passionately; "this morning he killed
the cougars that threatened Prairie-Flower; she has a heart--she will
remember."

"That is true; quite true, young lady," he said; "he saved your life.
Tell me first, though, how it is we should have met in this forest."

"Listen, then, as you insist."

The Breton bowed. To all his other qualities Ivon added that of being
as obstinate as an Andalusian mule. Once the worthy man had taken a
theory into his head, nothing could turn him from it. We must grant,
however, that he had at present excellent reason to distrust the
Indians.

Prairie-Flower continued:--

"After Glass-eye had so bravely killed the cougars," she said, with
considerable emotion, "the great Chief, Natah Otann, was angry with
Prairie-Flower, and ordered her to return to the village with Red Wolf."

"I know all that," Ivon interrupted, "I was there; and that is why it
seems to me so extraordinary to meet you here when you should have been
on the road to the village."

The Indian girl gave one of those little pouts peculiar to her, and
which rendered her so seductive.

"The pale man is as curious as an old squaw," she said, with an accent
of ill-humour; "why does he wish to know Prairie-Flower's secret? She
has in her heart a little bird which sings pleasant songs to her, and
attracts her in the footsteps of the Paleface who saved her."

"Ah!" said the Breton, partly catching the girl's meaning; "that is
different."

"Instead of returning to the village," Red Wolf interposed,
"Prairie-Flower wished to return to the side of Glass-eye."

The Breton reflected for a long time; the two Indians watched him
silently, patiently waiting till he thought proper to explain himself.
Presently, he raised his head, and, fixing his cunning grey eye on the
girl, he asked her distinctly,--

"You love him, then?"

"Yes," she answered, looking down on the ground.

"Very good. Now listen attentively to what I am about to tell you; it
will interest you prodigiously, or I am greatly mistaken."

The two hearers bent down toward him, and listened attentively. Ivon
then related most copiously his master's conversation with the two
Chiefs; the dispute that arose between them; the combat that ensued
from it, and the way in which he had escaped.

"If I did run away," he said, in conclusion, "heaven is my witness that
it was not for the purpose of saving my life. Though I am a desperate
coward, I would never hesitate to sacrifice my life for him; but
Bright-eye advised me to act in this way, so that I may try and find
assistance for them both."

"Good," the girl said, quickly; "the Paleface is brave. What does he
intend to do?"

"I mean to save my master, by Jove!" the Breton said, resolutely. "The
only thing is, that I do not know how to set about it."

"Prairie-Flower knows. She will help the Paleface."

"Is what you promise really true, young girl?"

The Indian maid smiled.

"The Paleface will follow Prairie-Flower and Red Wolf," she said;
"they will lead him to a spot where he will find friends."

"Good; and when will you do it, my good girl?" he asked, his heart
palpitating with joy.

"So soon as the Paleface is ready to start."

"At once, then, at once!" the Breton exclaimed, hurriedly rising, and
hurrying to his horse.

Prairie-Flower and Red Wolf had concealed their steeds in the centre of
a clump of trees. Ten minutes later, and Ivon and his guides quitted
the clearing where they had met; it was about midnight when they
started.

"My poor master!" the Breton muttered. "Shall I be permitted to save
him?"



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE PLAN OF THE CAMPAIGN.


The night was black, gloomy, and storm-laden. The wind howled with a
mournful murmur through the branches; at each gust the trees shook
their damp crowns, and sent down showers, which pattered on the shrubs.
The sky was of a leaden hue; so great was the silence in the desert,
that the fall of a withered leaf, or the rustling of a branch touched
in its passage by some invisible animal, could be distinctly heard.

Ivon and his guides advanced cautiously through the forest, seeking
their road in the darkness, half lying on their horses, so as to avoid
the branches that lashed their faces at every moment. Owing to the
endless turns they were compelled to take, nearly two hours elapsed
ere they left the forest. At length they debouched on the plain, and
found themselves almost simultaneously on the banks of the Missouri.
The river, swollen by rain and snow, rolled along its yellowish waters
noisily. The fugitives followed the bank in a south-western direction.
Now that they had struck the river, all uncertainty had ceased for
them; their road was so distinctly traced that they had no fear of
losing it.

On arriving at a spot where a point of sand jutted out for several
yards into the bed of the river, and formed a species of cape, from
the end of which objects could be seen for some distance, owing to the
transparency of the water, Red Wolf made a sign to his companions to
halt, and himself dismounted. Prairie-Flower and Ivon imitated him.
Ivon was not sorry to take a few moments' rest, and, above all, make
some inquiries before proceeding further. At the first blush, carried
away by an unreflecting movement of the heart, which impelled him to
save his master by any means that offered, he had not hesitated to
follow his two strange guides; but, with reflection, distrust had
returned still more powerfully, and the Breton was unwilling to go
further with the persons he had met, until he possessed undoubted
proofs of their honesty.

So soon as he had dismounted then, and taken off his horse's bridle,
so that it should crop the tender shoots, Ivon walked up boldly to the
Redskin, and struck him on the shoulder. The Indian, whose eyes were
eagerly fixed on the rider, turned to him.

"What does the Paleface want?" he asked him.

"To talk a little with you, Chief."

"The moment is not good for talking," the Indian answered,
sententiously; "the Palefaces are like the mockingbird; their tongues
must be ever in motion; let my brother wait."

Ivon did not understand the epigram.

"No," he said, "we must talk at once."

The Indian suppressed an impatient gesture.

"The Red Wolf's ears are open," he said; "_the Chattering Jay_ can
explain himself."

The Redskins, finding some difficulty in pronouncing the names of
people with whom the accidents of the chase or of trade bring them into
relation, are accustomed to substitute for these names others, derived
from the character or physical aspect of the individual they wish to
designate. Ivon was called by the Blackfoot Indians the Chattering
Jay, a name whose justice we will refrain from discussing. The Breton
did not seem annoyed by what Red Wolf said to him; absorbed by the
thought that troubled him, every other consideration was a matter of
indifference to him.

"You promised me to save Glass-eye," he said.

"Yes," the Chief answered, laconically.

"I accepted your propositions without discussion; for three hours I
have followed you without saying anything; but, before going further, I
should not be sorry to know the means you intend to employ to take him
out of the hands of the enemy."

"Is my brother deaf?" the Indian asked.

"I do not think so," Ivon answered, rather wounded by the question.

"Then let him listen."

"I am doing so."

"My brother hears nothing?"

"Not the least, I am free to confess."

Red Wolf shrugged his shoulders.

"The Palefaces are foxes without tails," he said, with disdain; "weaker
than children in the desert. Let my brother look," he added, pointing
to the river.

Ivon followed the direction indicated, winking, and placing his hands
over his eyes, to concentrate the visual rays.

"Well," the Indian asked, after a moment, "has my brother seen?"

"Nothing at all," the Breton said, violently. "May the evil one twist
my neck, if it is possible for me to distinguish anything."

"Then my brother will wait a few minutes," the Indian said, perfectly
calm; "he will then see and hear."

"Hum!" the Breton went on, but slightly satisfied with this
explanation. "What shall I see and hear?"

"My brother will know."

Ivon would have insisted, but the Chief took him by the arm, pushed him
back, and hid with him behind a clump of trees, where Prairie-Flower
was already ensconced.

"Silence!" the Redskin muttered, in such an imperative tone that the
Breton, convinced of the gravity of the situation, deferred to a more
favourable moment the string of questions he proposed asking the Chief.

A few minutes elapsed. Redskin and Prairie-Flower, with their bodies
bent forward, and carefully parting the leaves, looked eagerly in the
direction of the river, while holding their breath. Ivon, bothered in
spite of himself by this sort of conduct, imitated their example. A
sound soon struck on his ears, but so slight and weak, that at first
he fancied himself mistaken. Still the noise grew gradually louder,
resembling that of paddles cautiously dipped in the water; next, a
black dot, at first nearly imperceptible, but which grew larger by
degrees, appeared on the river.

There was soon no doubt in the Breton's mind. The black dot was a
canoe. On arriving within a certain distance, the sound could be no
longer heard, and the canoe remained motionless about halfway between
the two banks. At this moment the cry of the jay broke the silence,
repeated thrice, with such perfection, that Ivon instinctively raised
his head to the upper branches of the tree that sheltered them. Upon
this signal, the canoe began drawing nearer the cape, where it soon ran
ashore; but upon landing, the person in it raised the paddle twice in
the air. The cry of the jay was heard again, thrice repeated.

Upon this, the rower, perfectly reassured, as it seemed, leaped on the
sand, drew the canoe half out of the water, and walked boldly in the
direction of the clump of trees that served Ivon and his comrades as
an observatory. The latter, deeming it useless to wait longer, quitted
their shelter, and walked toward the newcomer, after recommending the
Breton not to show himself without their authority. This order he
obeyed; but, with that prudence which distinguished him, he cocked his
pistols, took one in each hand, and, reassured by this precaution,
waited what was about to happen.

The new actor who had entered on the scene, and in whom the reader
will have recognised Mrs. Margaret, had left Major Melville only about
an hour previously, after having that conversation we have repeated.
Although she did not expect to meet Prairie-Flower at this spot,
she did not appear at all astonished at seeing her, and gave her a
friendly nod, to which the girl responded with a smile.

"What is there new?" she asked the Indian.

"Much," he replied.

"Speak."

The Red Wolf thereupon told her all that had happened during the chase;
in what way he had learned it, and how Ivon had escaped in order to
seek help for his master. Margaret listened to the long story without
letting a sign of emotion to be seen on her wrinkled, grief-worn face.
When Red Wolf had ceased speaking, she reflected for a few moments;
then raising her head, asked--

"Where is the Paleface?"

"Here," the Indian answered, pointing to the clump of trees.

"Let him come."

The Chief turned to fetch him, but the Breton, who had heard the last
word spoken in English, and judged that it was intended for him, left
his hiding place, after returning the pistols to his belt, and joined
the party. At this moment the first gleam of day began to appear,
the darkness was rapidly dissipated, and a reddish hue, which formed
on the extreme limit of the horizon, indicated that the sun would
speedily rise. The She-wolf fixed on the Breton her cunning eye, as if
desirous to read the depths of his heart. Ivon had nothing to reproach
himself with, and hence he bravely withstood the glance. The She-wolf,
satisfied with the dumb interrogatory to which she had subjected the
Breton, softened down the harsh expression of her face, and at length
addressed him in a voice she attempted to render conciliatory.

"Listen attentively," she said to him.

"I am listening."

"You are devoted to your master?"

"To the death," Ivon answered, firmly.

"Good: then I can reckon on you?"

"Yes."

"You understand, I suppose, that we four cannot save your master?"

"That appears to me difficult, I allow."

"But we wish to revenge ourselves on Natah Otann."

"Very good."

"For a long time our measures have been taken to gain this end at a
given moment; that moment has arrived; but we have allies we must warn."

"It is true."

She drew a ring from her finger.

"Take this ring; you know how to use a paddle, I suppose?"

"I am a Breton, that is to say, a sailor."

"Get into the canoe lying there, and without losing a moment, go down
the river till you reach a fort."

"Hum! is it far?"

"You will reach it in less than an hour if you are diligent."

"You may be sure of that."

"So soon as you have arrived at the fort, you will ask speech with
Major Melville; give him that ring, and tell him all the events of
which you have been witness."

"Is that all?"

"No; the Major will give you a detachment of soldiers, with whom you
will join us at Black's clearing: can you find your way there again?"

"I think so; especially as it is on the river bank."

"Yes; and you will have to pass it before reaching the fort."

"What shall I do with the canoe?"

"Abandon it."

"When must I start?"

"At once; the sun has risen, we must make haste."

"And what are you going to do?"

"I told you we were going to Black's clearing, where we shall wait for
you."

The Breton reflected for a minute.

"Listen, in your turn," he said; "I am not in the habit of discussing
orders, when I think those given us are just; I do not think that you
intend, under such grave circumstances, to mock a poor devil, whom
grief renders half mad, and who would joyfully sacrifice his life to
save his master's."

"You are right."

"I am therefore going to obey you."

"You should have done so already."

"Maybe; but I have a last word to say."

"I am listening."

"If you deceive me, if you do not really help me, as you pledge
yourself, in saving my master--I am, a coward, that is notorious; but
on my word as a man, I will blow out your brains: even were you hidden
in the bowels of the earth, I would go and seek you to fulfil my oath.
You hear me?"

"Perfectly! and now have you finished?"

"Yes."

"Then be off."

"I am doing so."

"Good-bye, till we meet again."

The Breton bowed once more, pulled the boat into the water, jumped
in, and hurried off at a rate which showed he would soon reach his
destination. His ex-companions looked after him till he was hidden by a
bend in the river.

"And now what are we going to do?" Prairie-Flower asked.

"Go to the clearing, to arrange with John Black."

Margaret mounted Ivon's horse, Prairie-Flower and Red Wolf each
took their own, and the three started at a gallop. By a fortunate
coincidence, it was a day chosen by the squatter to give his family a
rest, and, as we have said, he had gone out with William to take a look
at his property. After a long ride, during which the squatter had burst
into ecstasies only known to landed proprietors, they were preparing to
return to their fortress, when William pointed out to his father the
three mounted persons coming towards them at full gallop.

"Hum!" Black said, "Indians, that is an unpleasant meeting! let us hide
behind this clump, and try to find out what they want."

"Stay, father," the young man said, "I believe that precaution
unnecessary."

"Why so, boy?"

"Because of the party two are women."

"That is no reason," the squatter said, who, since the attack, had
become excessively prudent; "you know that in these bad tribes the
women fight as well as the men."

"That is true; but stay, they are unfolding a buffalo robe in sign of
peace."

In fact, one of the riders at this moment fluttered a robe in the
breeze.

"You are right, boy," the squatter observed, presently; "let us await
them; the more so, as, if I am not mistaken, I can recognize an old
acquaintance among them."

"The woman who saved us, I believe."

"Right; by Jove! the meeting is a strange one. Poor woman, I am
delighted to see her again."

Ten minutes later the parties joined; after the first salutations, the
She-wolf took the word.

"Do you recognize me, John Black?"

"Of course I do, my worthy woman," he replied, with emotion; "although
I only saw you for a few moments, and under terrible circumstances, the
remembrance of you has never left my heart and mind; I have only one
wish, and that is, that you will give me the opportunity to prove it."

A flash of joy shot from the She-wolfs eye.

"Are you speaking seriously?" she asked, quickly.

"Try me."

"Good; I was not deceived in you. I am glad of what I did. I see that
the service I rendered you has not fallen on ungrateful soil."

"Speak."

"Not here: what I have to tell you is too lengthy and serious for us to
be able to discuss it properly at this place."

"Will you come to my house? There you need not be afraid of being
disturbed."

"If you permit it."

"What, my good creature, permit it? Why, the house, all it contains,
and the owner in the bargain, all are yours, and you know it."

Margaret smiled sadly.

"Thanks!" she said, offering him her hand, which Black pressed gladly.

"Come," he said, "as we have nothing more to do here, let us be off."

They started in the direction of the house; but the return was silent;
each, absorbed in thought, rode on without thinking of addressing a
word to the other. They were but a short distance from the house, when
they suddenly saw some twenty horsemen debouch from a wood on the
right, dressed, as far as could be distinguished, as wood rangers.

"What is this?" Black said, with astonishment, as he pulled his horse
up.

"Eh!" the She-wolf said, not replying to the squatter. "The Frenchman
has been diligent."

"What do you mean?"

"I will explain all that presently; for the present you need only offer
your hospitality to these good people."

"Hum!" Black said, doubtingly. "I shall be glad to do it, but must know
who they are, and what they want of me."

"They are Americans; like yourself. I asked the commandant of the fort
where they are stationed to send them here."

"What fort and what garrison are you talking of, my good woman? On my
soul! I do not know what you mean."

"What! have you not learned to know your neighbours since you have been
here?"

"What! have I neighbours?" he said, in an angry tone.

"About ten miles off is Fort Mackenzie, commanded by a brave officer,
Major Melville."

At this explanation the squatter's face was unwrinkled; it was not a
rival, but a defender he had as neighbour, hence all was for the best.

"Oh, I will go and pay him my respects," he said; "the acquaintance of
a fort commandant is not to be neglected in the desert."

Major Melville sent off at once the detachment asked by his sister;
but reflecting that soldiers could not execute so well as hunters
the meditated _coup de main_, he chose twenty hardened and resolute
trappers and _engagés_ under the command of an officer who had been
a long time in the Fur Company's service, and was versed in all the
tricks of the crafty enemies he would have to fight.

At the foot of the hill the two parties combined. Black, though still
ignorant for what purpose the detachment had come, received most
affably the reinforcement sent to him. Ivon was radiant; the worthy
Breton, now that he could dispose of such a number of good rifles,
believed in the certainty of saving his master; all his suspicions
had disappeared, and he burst forth into apologies and thanks to the
She-wolf and her two Indian friends. So soon as all were comfortably
lodged in the building, Black returned to his guests, and, after
offering them refreshments, said--

"Now, I am waiting for your explanation."

As we shall soon see the development of the plans formed at this
meeting, it is useless to describe them.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE CAMP OF THE BLACKFEET.


Two days have elapsed since the events of our last chapter. It is
evening in the Kenhas' village. The tumult is great; all are preparing
for an expedition. The night is clear and starlit; great fires, kindled
before each cabin, spread around immense reddish gleams, which light
up the whole village. There is something strange and striking in the
scene presented by the village, crowded with a motley population. The
Count de Beaulieu and Bright-eye, apparently free, are conversing in a
low tone, sitting on the bare ground, and leaning against the wall of a
cabin.

The time fixed by the Count for his parole has long passed, still the
Indian Chiefs have satisfied themselves with taking away his weapons
and the hunter's, and pay no more attention to them.

On the large village square two immense fires have been kindled. Round
the first, placed in front of the Council Lodge, are seated White
Buffalo, Natah Otann, Red Wolf, and three or four other chiefs of the
tribe; round the second some twenty warriors are silently smoking the
calumet. Such was the appearance offered by the Kenhas' village at
about nine in the evening of the day we return to it.

"Why allow the Palefaces thus to wander about the village?" Red Wolf
asked.

Natah Otann smiled.

"Have the white men the eyes of the eagle and the feet of the gazelle,
to find again their trail lost in the desert?"

"My father is right, if he speaks of Glass-eye," Red Wolf urged; "but
Bright-eye has a Redskin heart."

"Yes; if he was alone he would try to escape, but he will not abandon
his friend."

"The latter can follow him."

"Glass-eye has a brave heart, but his feet are weak; he cannot walk in
the desert."

Red Wolf looked down, with an air of conviction, and made no reply.

"The hour has arrived to set out; the allied nations are proceeding to
the rendezvous," White Buffalo said, in a sombre voice. "It is nine
o'clock; the owl has twice given the signal, and the moon is rising."

"Good," Natah Otann said, "we will have the horses smoked, so as to set
out immediately after."

Red Wolf gave a shrill whistle. At this signal some twenty horsemen
galloped into the square, and went up to the second fire, round which
an equal number of warriors, naked to the waist, were crouching and
smoking silently. These men were warriors of the tribe who were
dismounted, either by accident or in action; the horsemen, at this
moment prancing round them, were their friends, and came up to make
each a present of a horse prior to the departure of the expedition.
While cantering round, the horsemen drew gradually nearer to the
smokers, who did not appear to notice them. Each horseman chose out the
man to whom he intended to give a horse, and a shower of lashes fell
on the naked shoulders of these stoical warriors. At each blow they
struck, the warrior shouted, each calling his friend by name.

"So and so, you are a beggar and wretched man. You desire my horse, I
give it to you; but you will bear on your shoulders the bloody marks
of my whip."

This performance lasted about a quarter of an hour, during which the
sufferers, although the blood ran down their backs, did not utter
a cry or a groan, but remained calm and motionless, as if they had
been metamorphosed into bronze statues. At length the Red Wolf gave a
second whistle, and the horsemen disappeared as rapidly as they came.
The patients then rose as if nothing had happened to them, and went
with radiant forehead and firm step, each to take possession of a
magnificent steed, held by the ex-scourgers, now become their friends
once more. This is what the Blackfeet call _smoking horses_.

When the tumult occasioned by this semi-serious episode was appeased,
an _hachesto_, or public crier, mounted the roof of the council lodge.
All the population of the village was drawn up silently on the square.

"The hour has struck! The hour has struck! The hour has struck!" the
hachesto cried. "Warriors, to your lances and guns! The horses are
neighing with impatience! Your chiefs are awaiting you, and your
enemies sleep. To arms! To arms! To arms!"

"To arms!" all the warriors shouted simultaneously.

Natah Otann, followed by his warriors, mounted like himself on
impetuous steeds, then appeared in the square, and uttered, in a
terrible voice, the war yell of the Blackfeet. At this cry every man
rushed on his weapons, mounted, and ranged under the respective chiefs,
who, within scarce ten minutes, found themselves at the head of five
hundred warriors, perfectly armed and equipped.

Natah Otann cast a triumphant glance around him; his eye fell
immediately on the two prisoners, who had remained quietly seated,
talking together, and apparently indifferent to all that happened. At
the sight of them the Chiefs thick eyebrows were contracted, he leant
over to the White Buffalo, who rode by his side, and muttered a few
words in his ear. The old man gave a sign of assent, and walked towards
the prisoners, while Natah Otann, taking the head of the war party,
gave the signal for departure, and went off, only leaving ten warriors
on the square to aid White Buffalo, if required.

"Gentlemen," the latter said, sharply, but courteously; "be good enough
to mount and follow me, if you please."

"Is this an order you give us, sir?" the Count asked, haughtily.

"What does that, question mean?"

"Because I am not in the habit of obeying anybody."

"Sir," the Chief answered, "any resistance would be insensate, and
rather injurious than useful to your interests: so to horse without
further delay."

"The Chief is right," Bright-eye said, with a significant look at the
Count; "why any obstinacy? we cannot be the stronger."

"But--" the young man remarked.

"Here is your horse," the hunter interrupted him, sharply.

"We obey the Chief," he added, aloud; then he added in a whisper,--

"Are you mad, Mr. Edward? Who knows the chances luck has in store for
us during the accursed expedition?"

"Still--"

"Mount! Mount!"

At length the young man, partly convinced, obeyed the hunter. When the
prisoners had mounted, the warriors surrounded them, and led them off
at a gallop, till they caught up the column, of which they took the
lead.

Despite the Count's resistance, Natah Otann and White Buffalo had not
given up their plan of making him pass for Motecuhzoma, and placing him
at the head of the Allied Nations. Still this plan had been modified,
in this sense, that, as the young Count refused his help, they would
force him to give it in spite of himself. The following is the way
in which they intended to act. They had succeeded in persuading the
Indians who accompanied them during the ostrich hunt, that the struggle
sustained by the Count, and which had struck them with stupor, owing
to the energetic resistance the two men had so long offered to fifty
warriors, was a ruse invented by them to display their strength and
power in the sight of all.

The Redskins, owing to their ignorance, are stupidly credulous. Natah
Otann's clumsy falsehood, which any man but slightly civilized would
have regarded with contempt, obtained the greatest success with these
brutalized beings, and enhanced, in their eyes, the personal value
of the men whom they saw continuing to live on good terms with their
Chiefs, and remaining apparently free in the village.

Matters were too far advanced, the day chosen for the outbreak of
the plot was too near, for the Chiefs to give counterorders to their
allies, and concoct some other scheme to replace the prophet they had
announced to the Missouri nations. If, on arriving at the rendezvous,
the man they had expected was not presented to them, it was evident
they would retire with their contingents, and that all would be broken
off with no hope of recombination; but a catastrophe must be guarded
against at all risks.

The resolution formed by the two Chiefs, desperate as it was, they were
compelled to adopt through the suspicious nature of the circumstances,
and they trusted to chance to make it succeed. The Count and his
companion would march, so long as the expedition lasted, at the head
of the attacking columns, without weapons it is true, but apparently
free, while guarded by ten picked warriors, who would never leave
them, and kill them on the slightest suspicious gesture. The plan was
absurd, and, with other men than Indians, the impossibility would
have been recognized in less than an hour; but, through its very
impracticability, it offered chances of success, and this was chiefly
owing to the belief the Indians held that the Count had no friends to
attempt his rescue.

Ivon's flight had troubled Natah Otann for a few moments: but the
discovery made in the forest, where he had sought shelter, of the body
of a man clothed in the servant's dress, and half devoured by wild
beasts, restored him all his serenity, by proving to him that he had
nought to fear from the poor fellow's devotion.

Three hours prior to the departure of the column, the Chief had,
on White Buffalo's revelations, had five spies secretly strangled.
Red Wolf, on whom Natah Otann and White Buffalo placed unbounded
confidence, and whose courage could not be doubted, was appointed head
of the detachment to watch over the prisoners. Hence matters were in
the best possible state. The two Chiefs marched about fifty paces ahead
of their warriors, conversing in a low voice, and definitely arranging
their final plans. White Buffalo described in a few words the position
and their hopes.

"Our prospect is desperate," he said, "chance may make it fail or
succeed: all depends upon the first attack. If, as I believe, we
surprise the American garrison, and seize Fort Mackenzie, we shall
have no further need of this Count, whose disappearance we can easily
account for, by saying that he has reascended to heaven, because we are
victors. However, we shall see; all will be decided in a few hours.
Till then, courage and prudence."

Natah Otann made no reply; but cast a glance at Prairie-Flower, who
cantered along in apparent carelessness on the flank of the column,
which she had asked leave to accompany, and the Chief had gladly
granted it. The warriors advanced in a long line, silently following
one of those winding paths formed on the desert for centuries by the
feet of wild beasts. The night was transparent and calm; the sky,
embroidered with millions of stars, shed down on the landscape floods
of melancholy light, harmonizing with the grand and primitive nature of
the desert. About four in the morning, Natah Otann halted on the top of
a wooded dell, in the centre of an immense clearing, where the entire
detachment disappeared, without leaving a trace.

Fort Mackenzie rose gloomy and majestic at about a gunshot off. The
Indians had effected their march with such prudence, that the American
garrison had given no sign of alarm. Natah Otann had a tent put up,
into which he courteously begged his prisoners to enter, and they
obeyed.

"Why so much politeness?" the Count said.

"Are you not my guests?" the Chief replied, with an ironical smile, and
then withdrew.

The Count and his comrade, when left alone, lay down on a pile of furs
intended for their bed.

"What is to be done?" the Count muttered, greatly discouraged.

"Sleep," the hunter said, carelessly. "Unless I am mistaken, we shall
soon have some news."

"Heaven grant it!"

"Amen," Bright-eye continued, with a laugh. "Bah! we shall not die this
time either."

"I hope so," the Count repeated, to say something.

"And I am sure of it. It would be curious, on my word," the hunter
said, with a laugh, "were I, who have traversed the desert so long, to
be killed by these red brutes."

The young man could not refrain from admiring, in his heart, the cool
certainty with which the Canadian uttered so monstrous an opinion; but
at this moment the prisoners heard a gentle sound near them.

"Silence!" Bright-eye commanded.

They listened attentively. A harmonious voice then sang to a melody,
full of gentleness and melancholy, the exquisite Blackfoot song
beginning with the verses:--

"I confide to you my heart, in the name of the Master of Life; I am
unhappy, and no one takes pity on me, yet the Master of Life is great
in my sight."

"Oh!" the Count muttered joyously, "I recognise that voice, my friend."

"And I too, by Jupiter! It is Prairie-Flower's."

"What does she say?"

"It is a warning she gives us."

"Do you believe so?"

"Prairie-Flower loves you, Mr. Edward."

"Poor child! and I love her too; but alas!--"

"Bah! after the storm comes fine weather."

"If I could but see her."

"For what good? She will contrive to make herself visible when it is
necessary. Come, wild or tame, all women are alike. But, look out, here
is somebody."

They threw themselves on the furs, and pretended to be asleep. A man
had quietly lifted the curtain of the tent. By the moon's ray, that
passed through the opening, the prisoners recognized Red Wolf. The
Indian looked outside for a moment; then, probably reassured by the
calmness that prevailed around, he let the curtain of the tent fall,
and took a few paces in the interior.

"The jaguar is strong and courageous," he said, in a loud voice, as if
talking to himself; "the fox is cunning; but the man whose heart is big
is stronger than the jaguar, and more cunning than the fox, when he
has in his hand weapons to defend himself. Who says that Glass-eye and
Bright-eye will allow their throats to be cut like tamed gazelles?"

"And not looking at the prisoners, the Chief laid at their feet two
guns, from which hung powder flasks, bullet bags, and long knives; then
he left the tent again, as calmly as if he had done the simplest matter
in the world. The prisoners looked at each other in amazement.

"What do you think of that?" Bright-eye muttered in stupefaction.

"It is a trap," the Count answered.

"Hum! trap or no, the weapons are there, and I shall take them."

The hunter seized the guns and the knives, which he immediately hid
under the furs. The arms were hardly in security, ere the curtain of
the tent was again raised, and Natah Otann walked in. He bore in his
hand a branch of ocote, or candlewood, which lit up his thoughtful
face, and gave it a sinister expression. The Chief dug up the ground
with his knife, planted his torch in the ground, and walked toward the
prisoners, who looked on without giving any sign.

"Gentlemen," the Chief then said, "I have come to ask for a moment's
interview with you."

"Speak, sir; we are your prisoners, and as such compelled to hear
you, if not to listen to you," the Count said, drily, as he sat up on
the furs, while Bright-eye rose carelessly, and lit his pipe at the
candlewood torch.

"Since you have been my prisoners, gentlemen," the Chief continued,
"you have not had, to my knowledge, any reason to complain of the way
in which I have treated you."

"That depends. In the first place, I do not admit that I am legally
your prisoner."

"Oh, sir," the Chief said, with a smile of mockery, "do you speak of
legality to a poor Indian? You know well that we are ignorant of that
word."

"That is true; go on."

"I have come to see you--"

"Why?" the Count interrupted him, impatiently. "Explain!"

"I have a bargain to propose to you."

"Well, I will frankly confess that your way of bargaining does not
impress me with great confidence."

The Indian made a move.

"No matter," the Count continued, "let us hear it."

"I should not like to be obliged, sir, to tie you again, as you were
when you were captured."

"I am extremely obliged to you."

"But; at this moment I absolutely need all my warriors, and I cannot
leave anybody to guard you two gentlemen."

"Which means?"

"That I ask your parole not to escape for the next twenty-four hours."

"But that is not a bargain."

"Wait; I am coming to it."

"Good; I am waiting."

"In return, I pledge myself--"

"Ah!" the Count said, contemptuously, "let us see to what you pledge
yourself; that must be curious."

"I pledge myself," the Chief continued, still cold and calm, "to give
you your liberty in twenty-four hours."

"And my comrade?"

The Indian bowed his head in affirmation; the Count burst into a loud
laugh.

"And suppose we did not accept?" he asked.

"But you will do so," he said, with an ironical smile.

"Possibly; but suppose the contrary for a moment."

"At daybreak you will both be attached to the stake, and tortured until
sunset."

"Oh, oh! Is that your final word?"

"The last; in half an hour I will come for your answer."

And he turned to go out. The Count bounded like a jaguar, and stood
before the Chief, his gun in one hand, his knife in the other.

"A moment," he shouted.

"Wah!" the Chief said, crossing his hands on his wide chest, and gazing
at them sarcastically. "You had taken your precautions, it appears."

"By Jove!" Bright-eye said, with a grin; "I rather fancy it is our turn
to make conditions."

"Perhaps so," Natah Otann replied, coolly; "but I have no time to lose
in vain words; let me pass, gentlemen."

Bright-eye threw himself quickly before the door.

"Come, Chief," he said, "things cannot end like that; we are not old
women to be frightened. Before we are fastened to the stake, we will
kill you."

The Chief shrugged his shoulders disdainfully,

"You are mad; let me pass, old hunter, and do not oblige me to use
force."

"No, no, Chief," Bright-eye added, with an ironical laugh; "we shall
not part like that; all the worse for you; you should not have put your
head in the wolf's throat."

Natah Otann made an impatient gesture.

"You wish it; well, then, see!"

Raising to his lips his war-whistle, made of a human thigh bone, he
produced a shrill sound. All at once, before the two Europeans could
comprehend what was happening, the sides of the tent were cut open,
and the Blackfeet bounded into the interior. The Count and Bright-eye
were seized and disarmed. The Sachem, with his arms still crossed on
his chest, looked like a stoic, while the Kenhas, with their eyes fixed
on the Chief, and uplifted tomahawks, seemed to await from him a final
signal.

There was a moment of intense anxiety; though the two white men were
so brave, the attack had been so rapid and unexpected, that they
could not refrain from an inward shudder. For a few seconds the Chief
enjoyed his triumph; then, raising his hand, with a gesture of supreme
authority, he said,--

"Enough! Restore their weapons to these warriors. Are they not the
guests of Natah Otann?"

The Blackfeet retired as suddenly as they had appeared.

"Well," the Chief asked, with slight irony, "do you understand me at
last? Do you still fancy me in your power?"

"Very good, sir," the Count replied, coldly, still suffering from the
struggle he had gone through; "I am forced to recognize the advantage
that chance gives you over me; any resistance would be useless. I
consent to submit for the present to your will; but only on two
conditions."

"They are accepted beforehand, sir," Natah Otann said, with a bow.

"Do not be too certain, sir; for you do not yet know what I mean to ask
from you."

"I am awaiting your explanation."

"As it must be so, I will march at the head of your tribes; but alone,
unarmed, and on condition, that under no pretext you impose on me any
other character in the gloomy tragedy you are preparing to act."

The Chief frowned.

"And supposing that I refuse?" he said, in a hoarse voice.

"If you refuse," the young man answered, with his calmest air, "I will
employ sure means to compel you to assent."

"They are?"

"I will blow out my brains, sir, in the sight of all your warriors."

The Chief cast a viper's glance at him.

"Very good," he said, presently. "I accept; now let us have the other
condition."

"It is simply this: conqueror or conquered; and I hope sincerely that
the latter may be the case--"

"Thank you," the Chief interrupted him, with an ironical bow.

"After the battle, whatever its issue may be," the Count continued,
"you will fight me honourably with equal weapons."

"Why, Sir Count, you are proposing to me what white men call a duel!"

"Yes. Does that displease you?"

"Me? certainly not, and I accept gladly; the more so, as we Blood
Indians are accustomed to have such fights to settle our own personal
quarrels."

"Then you accept my conditions?"

"I do so."

"But who will guarantee your good faith?" the young man asked.

"I, Sir," a powerful voice said.

The three men turned. White Buffalo was standing motionless in the
doorway of the tent. At the unexpected appearance of this strange man,
whose features revealed at the moment an imposing majesty, the young
Count felt subdued, and bowed respectfully.

"Gentlemen," Natah Otann continued, "you are free within the limits of
the camp."

"Thanks," Bright-eye said coarsely; "but I have made no promise."

"You!" the Chief said carelessly; "go or stay, I care very little."

And after bowing ceremoniously to the Count, the two Chiefs withdrew.



CHAPTER XXV.

BEFORE THE ATTACK.


After leaving the tent, the two Chiefs walked for some moments side by
side, and did not exchange a word; both seemed plunged in deep thought,
doubtlessly caused by the serious events that were preparing--events
whose success would decide the fate of the Indian tribes of this
part of the continent. While walking along, they reached a point on
the hillock, whence a most extensive view could be enjoyed in every
direction.

The night was calm and balmy, there was not a breath in the air, not
a cloud on the sky, whose deep azure was enamelled with a profusion
of twinkling stars; an imposing silence reigned over this desert,
where, however, several thousand men were ambushed, only waiting a
word or a signal to out each other's throats. Mechanically the two men
stopped, and gazed at the grand landscape extended at their feet, in
the immediate foreground of which frowned Fort Mackenzie, throwing its
gloomy shadow far across the prairie.

"By sunrise," Natah Otann muttered, answering his own thoughts, rather
than addressing his companion, "that haughty fortress will be mine.
The Redskins will command at the spot where their oppressors are still
reigning."

"Yes," White Buffalo repeated, mechanically, "tomorrow you will be
master of the fort, but will you manage to keep it? Conquering is
nothing; the white men have been several times defeated by the
Redskins, and yet they have enslaved, decimated, and dispersed them
like the leaves the autumn breeze bears away."

"That is only too true," the Chief said, with a sigh; "it has ever been
so, since the first day the white men set foot in this unhappy land.
What is the mysterious influence that has constantly predicted them
against us?"

"Yourselves, my child," White Buffalo said, mournfully shaking his
head; "you are your own greatest enemies. You can only impute to
yourselves your continued defeats, for you are so obstinate for
internecine warfare; the whites have taken care to foster strongly your
headstrong passions, by which they have skilfully profited to conquer
you in detail."

"Yes, you have told me that often, my father, so you see I have
profited by your advice; all the Missouri Indians are now united, they
obey the same chief, and march under one totem; thus, believe me, this
union will be fertile in good results, we shall drive these plundering
wolves from our frontiers, we shall send them back to the villages of
stone; and henceforth only the moccasin of the Redskins will tread our
native prairies, and the echoes will only be aroused by the joyous
laughter of the Redskins, or repeat the war cry of the Blackfeet."

"No one will be happier than I at such a result; my most ardent
desire is to see men free, from whom I have received such paternal
hospitality; but, alas, who can foresee the future? These Sachems,
whom you have succeeded in combining by attention and patience, are
agitating darkly; they fear to obey you; they are jealous of the power
themselves gave you, so there is a chance they will abandon you."

"I will not; give them the time, my father; for the last few days
I have known all their designs, and followed their plans; up to
the present, prudence has closed my mouth. I did not wish to risk
the success of my enterprise; but so soon as I am master of this
fortress below us, believe me, I shall speak loudly, for my voice
will have exercised an authority, my power a strength, which the most
turbulent will be compelled to recognize. Victory will render me
great and terrible: will trample under foot those who now conspire
in the darkness, and who would not hesitate to turn against me, if I
experienced a defeat. Go, my father, let all be ready for the attack so
soon as I give the signal, visit the outposts, watch the movements of
the enemy, for in two hours I shall utter my war cry."

White Buffalo regarded him for a moment with a singular expression, in
which friendship, fear, and admiration struggled in turn; then laying
his hand on his shoulder he said, with much emotion,--

"Child, you are mad; but it is a sublime madness: the work of
reformation you meditate is impossible--but, whether you triumph or
succumb, your attempt will not be useless. Your passage on earth will
leave a long, luminous trace, which may one day serve as a beacon to
those who succeed in accomplishing the liberation of your race."

After a few seconds of silence, more eloquent than vain words, the two
men fell into each other's arms, and held each other in a firm embrace;
they then separated, and Natah Otann remained alone.

The young Chief did not conceal from himself in any way the
difficulties of his position. He recognized the justice of his adopted
father's observations; but now it was too late to recoil, he must push
onward at all risks. Now that the moment had arrived to descend into
the arena, all hesitation had ceased, all fear had died out in the
young Chief's bosom, to give way to a cold and invincible resolution,
that imparted to him the lucidity of mind required to play skilfully
the great part on which the fate of his race would depend.

When White Buffalo left him alone, Natah Otann sat down on a rock, and,
resting his head on his hand, fixed his eyes on the place, and fell
into a serious contemplation. For a long time he had been dreaming,
with a vague consciousness of external objects, when a hand was gently
laid on his shoulder. The Chief quivered, as if he had received an
electric shock, and quickly raised his head.

"_Ochtl?_" he said, with an emotion he could not master.
"Prairie-Flower here at this hour?"

The young girl smiled sweetly.

"Why is my brother astonished?" she replied, in her gentle and
melodious voice; "does not the Chief know that Prairie-Flower loves to
wander about at night, when nature is slumbering, and the voice of the
Great Spirit can be more easily heard? We girls love to dream at night,
by the melancholy light that comes from the stars, and seems to give
reality to our thoughts, at times, in the mist."

The Chief sighed in reply.

"You are suffering?" Prairie-Flower asked him, gently; "You, the first
Sachem of our nation, the most renowned warrior of our tribes--what
reason can be powerful enough to draw a sigh from you?"

The Chief seised the dainty hand the girl yielded to him, and pressed
it gently between his own.

"Prairie-Flower," he said at length, "you are ignorant why I suffer
when I am by your side?"

"How should I know it? Although my brothers call me the _Virgin of
Sweet Love_, and suppose me to be in relation with the spirits of air
and water, alas! I am only an ignorant young girl. I should like to
know the cause of your grief; perhaps I could succeed in curing you."

"No," the Chief answered, shaking his head, "it is not in your power,
child; to do that the beating of your heart ought to respond to mine,
and the little bird, which sings so melodiously in the hearts of
maidens, and murmurs such gentle words in their ears, should have flown
near you."

The girl blushed and smiled; she let her eyes fall, and, making an
effort to disengage her hand, which Natah Otann still held in his,--

"The little bird, of which my brother speaks, I have seen: its song has
already been chanted near me."

The Chief sprung up, and fixed a flashing glance on the maiden.

"What!" he exclaimed, with agitation, "you love? Has one of the young
warriors of our tribe known how to touch your heart, and fill it with
love?"

Prairie-Flower shook her charming head petulantly, while a sweet smile
parted her coral lips.

"I know not if what I experience is what you call love," she said.

Natah Otann had, by a painful effort, checked the emotion which made
his limbs tremble.

"Why should it not be so?" he continued, thoughtfully. "The laws
of nature are immutable, no one can prevent it; the child's hour
was destined to arrive. By what right can I quarrel with what has
happened? Have I not in my heart a sacred feeling, which fills it, and
before which every other must be extinguished? A man in my position is
too far above vulgar passions; the object he proposes to himself is too
great for him to allow himself to be ruled by love of a woman. The man
who lays claim to become the saviour and regenerator of a people, no
longer belongs to humanity. Let me be worthy of the task I have taken
on myself, and forget, if possible, the mad and hopeless passion that
devours me. That girl can never be mine; everything separates us. I
will be to her what I ought never to have ceased to be--a father."

He let his head hang despairingly on his chest, and remained for a few
moments absorbed in gloomy meditation. Prairie-Flower regarded him
with an expression of tender pity; she had only imperfectly caught the
words the Chief muttered, and understood but little of them. Still she
felt a deep friendship for him; she suffered in seeing him, and sought
vainly some consolation to afford. She waited anxiously till he should
remember her presence, and speak to her again. At length he raised his
head.

"My sister has not told me which of our young warriors she prefers to
all the rest."

"Has not the Sachem guessed it?" she asked, timidly.

"Natah Otann is a chief. If he is the father of his warriors, he is no
spy on their deeds or thoughts."

"The man of whom I speak to my brother is not a Kenha warrior," she
continued.

"Ah!" he said in surprise, and looking scrutinizingly at her, "Can it
be one of the Palefaces who are Natah Otann's guests?"

"My brother would say his prisoners," she murmured.

"What mean these words, girl? Have you, born but yesterday, any right
to try and explain my actions? Ah!" he added, with a frown, "now I
understand how the Palefaced Chiefs had weapons when I visited them an
hour ago. It is useless for my daughter to tell me now the name of him
she loves, for I know it."

The girl hung her head, with a blush.

"_Achtsett_--it is good," he continued, in a rough voice, "my sister is
free to place her affections where she pleases; but her love must not
lead her to betray her friends for the Palefaces. She is a daughter of
the Kenhas. Was it to give me this news that Prairie-Flower came to me?"

"No," she answered timidly; "another person ordered me to come here,
where she will also come herself, as she has an important secret to
reveal to me in the presence of the Sachem."

"An important secret?" Natah Otann repeated. "What do you mean? Of what
woman is my sister speaking?"

"I am speaking of her who is called the She-wolf of the prairies; she
has ever been gentle, good, and affectionate to me, in spite of the
hatred she bears to the Indians."

"That is strange," the Chief muttered. "So you are waiting for her?"

"I am."

"But that woman is mad," the Chief exclaimed. "Do you not know it, my
poor child?"

"Those whom the Great Spirit wishes to protect he deprives of reason,
that they may not feel grief," she replied, softly.

For some minutes an almost imperceptible rustling had been going on
in the bushes; this sound, though so slight, the Chiefs practised
ear would have detected, had he not been entirely absorbed by his
conversation with the girl. All at once the branches were violently
torn asunder; several men, led by the She-wolf of the prairies, rushed
toward the Chief, and, before he had recovered from the surprise caused
by this sudden attack, he was thrown down, and securely pinioned.

"The mad woman!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, yes, the mad woman," she repeated, in a hoarse voice. "At length
I hold my vengeance! Thanks," she added, addressing the three men who
accompanied her; "I will now take his guard on myself, he shall not
escape."

The men withdrew without replying. Although they wore the Indian
dress, a panther skin drawn over their faces rendered them perfectly
secure from detection. Only three persons remained on the top of the
hill--Prairie-Flower, Margaret, and Natah Otann, who tried to break
his bonds, while uttering hoarse and inarticulate sounds. The She-wolf
surveyed her enemy, prostrated at her feet, with a joy impossible to
describe, while Prairie-Flower, standing motionless by the Chief, gazed
on him sorrowfully and thoughtfully.

"Yes," the She-wolf said, with a glance of satiated vengeance, "howl,
panther; bend the bonds you cannot break. I hold you at last; it is my
turn to torture you, to repay you all the suffering you lavished on
me. Oh! I can never be sufficiently avenged on you, the assassin of my
whole family. God is just: tooth for tooth, eye for eye, wretch!"

She picked up a dagger that had fallen on the ground near her, and
began to prick him all over.

"Answer me--do you not feel the cold steel piercing your flesh?" she
asked him. "Oh! I should like to make you suffer death a thousand
times, were it possible."

A smile of contempt played over the Chief's lips. The She-wolf,
exasperated, raised the dagger to strike him; but Prairie-Flower held
her arm. Margaret turned like a tiger; but, recognizing the girl, she
let the weapon fall from her trembling hand, and her face assumed an
expression of infinite gentleness and tenderness.

"You here?" she exclaimed. "Then you did not forget the meeting I
arranged with you? It is Heaven that sends you!"

"Yes," the young girl replied, "the Great Spirit sees all. My mother
is good; Prairie-Flower loves her. Why thus torture the man who acted
as father to the abandoned child? The Chief has ever been kind to
Prairie-Flower; my mother will pardon him."

Margaret gazed at the girl with an expression of mad stupor; then her
features were suddenly distorted, and she burst into a strident laugh.

"What!" she exclaimed, in a piercing voice, "you, Prairie-Flower,
intercede for this man?"

"He was a father to Prairie-Flower," the girl answered, simply.

"But you do not know him then?"

"He has been kind to me."

"Silence, child! do not implore the She-wolf," the Chief said, in a
gloomy voice. "Natah Otann is a warrior; he knows how to die."

"No, the Chief must not die," the Indian girl said, resolutely.

Natah Otann laughed.

"It is I who am avenged," he said.

"Dog!" the She-wolf yelled, stamping her heel on his face, "silence! or
I will tear out your viper's tongue."

The Indian smiled with contempt.

"My mother will follow me," the girl said: "I will unfasten the Chief,
in order that he may rejoin his warriors, who are about to fight."

She picked up the dagger, and knelt down near the prisoner; but the
She-wolf checked her.

"Before cutting his bonds, listen to me, child," she said.

"Afterwards," the girl objected. "A Chief must be with his warriors in
battle."

"Listen to me for a few minutes," She-wolf continued, earnestly; "I
implore it of you, Prairie-Flower, by all I may have done for you;
then, when I have ceased speaking, if you still wish it, you shall
deliver that man. I swear to you that I will not prevent it."

The girl looked at her fixedly.

"Speak," she said, in her gentle and sympathizing voice.
"Prairie-Flower is listening."

A sigh of relief escaped from the She-wolf's oppressed chest. There was
a moment's silence: nothing could be heard, save the panting of the
prisoner.

"You are right, girl," the She-wolf at length said, in a mournful
voice, "that man took care of your infancy, was kind to you, and
brought you up tenderly; you see that I do him justice! But he never
told you how you fell into his hands."

"Never," the maiden said, in a melancholy voice.

"Well," the She-wolf continued, "that secret, which he has not dared to
reveal to you, I will tell you. On just such a night as this, at the
head of his ferocious warriors, the man you call your father attacked
your real father, and while your two brothers, by that monster's
orders, were burned alive, your father fastened to a tree, and there
was flayed alive."

"Horror!" the young girl shrieked, as she sprang up.

"And if you do not believe me," she continued, in a shrill voice, "tear
from your neck that bag made of your unhappy father's skin, and you
will find in it all that remains of him."

With a feverish movement the young girl drew out the bag, which she
squeezed convulsively.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "no! no! it is impossible; such atrocities could
not be committed."

Suddenly her tears ceased, she looked fixedly at the She-wolf, and
said, in a harsh voice--

"How do you know all this? The man who told it you lied."

"I was present," the She-wolf said, coldly,

"You were present? You witnessed this horrible scene?"

"Yes, I did."

"Why?" she asked, madly. "Answer, why?

"Why?" she said, with an accent of supreme majesty; "because I am your
mother, child."

At this unexpected revelation the girl's features were convulsed, her
voice failed her, her eyes seemed ready to start from their sockets,
her body was agitated by a convulsive tremor; for an instant she tried
to utter a shriek, but then suddenly broke into sobs, and fell into
Margaret's arms, exclaiming, with a piercing accent,--

"My mother! My mother!"

"At last," the She-wolf said, deliriously, "I have found you again, and
you are really mine."

For some moments mother and daughter, yielding to their tenderness,
forgot the whole world. Natah Otann tried to profit by the opportunity,
and seize the chance of safety which accident offered him. He
noiselessly began rolling over to gain the top of the enclosure; but
the young girl suddenly noticed him, and sprang up as if a serpent had
stung her.

"Stop, Natah Otann!" she said to him.

The chief remained motionless: he imagined, from the girl's accent,
that he was lost, and he resigned himself to his fate with that
fatalism which forms the base of the Indian character.

Still he was mistaken.

Prairie-Flower, with burning eyes and pallid brow, turned a haggard
glance from her mother on the man extended at her feet, asking her
heart if she had a right, after all the kindness he had shown her, to
avenge her father's death upon him. She felt that her arm was too weak,
her heart too tender for such a deed. For several seconds the three
actors of this terrible scene remained plunged in a gloomy silence,
which was only interrupted by the dull and mysterious noises of the
night.

Natah Otann did not fear death; but he trembled at leaving uncompleted
the glorious task he had taken on himself; he was ashamed at having
fallen into so clumsy a snare, set by a half insane woman. With his
head stretched out, and frowning brow, he anxiously read on the girl's
face the feelings in turn reflected on it as in a mirror, in order to
calculate the chances of saving a life so precious to those he wished
to render free. Though resigned to his fate, like all great men, he
did not despair, but struggled to the last moment. Prairie-Flower
at length raised her head; her lovely face had assumed a strange
expression her brow glistened, her gentle blue eyes seemed to flash
forth flames.

"Mother," she said, in her melodious voice, "give me those pistols you
have in your hand."

"What will you do with them?" the She-wolf asked.

"Avenge my father! Was it not for that you summoned me here?"

Without replying, the She-wolf gave her the weapons. The girl, at
first, threatened Natah Otann, and then, with a gesture as rapid as
thought, threw them down the hill.

"Unhappy girl," Margaret yelled, "what have you done?"

"I avenge my father," she answered, with an accent of supreme dignity.

"Unhappy child, he is the assassin of your father."

"I know it; you have told me so. This man, in spite of his crimes, has
been kind to me--he watched over my childhood. Although he obeyed the
feeling of hatred his race entertains for the Palefaces by murdering my
father, he took his place with me as far as was possible, and almost
changed his Indian nature to protect and support me. The Great Spirit
will judge us, He whose eye is eternally fixed on earth."

"Woe is me! Woe is me!" the She-wolf yelled, wringing her hands in
despair.

The girl bent over the Chief, and cut the bonds that fettered him.
Natah Otann sprang to his feet with the bound of a jaguar. The She-wolf
made a movement, as if to rush upon him, but she checked herself.

"All is not over yet," she shrieked, "yes! yes! I will have my revenge,
no matter at what cost."

And she rushed into the thicket, where she disappeared.

"Natah Otann," the maiden continued, turning to the Chief, who stood
by her side, calmly and stoically, as if nothing extraordinary had
happened; "I leave vengeance to the Great Spirit--a woman can only
weep. Farewell! I loved you as that father you deprived me of. I do not
feel the strength to hate you, I will try to forget you."

"Poor child," the Sachem replied, with much emotion; "I must appear
to you very culpable. Alas! it is only today that I understand the
atrocity of the deed of which I allowed myself to be guilty: perhaps, I
may succeed one day in obtaining your pardon."

Prairie-Flower smiled sorrowfully.

"Your pardon does not depend from me," she said, "Wacondah alone can
absolve you."

And, after giving him a parting glance of sadness, she withdrew slowly,
and thoughtfully entered the wood.

Natah Otann looked after her for a long while.

"Can the Christians be right?" he muttered, when done; "do angels
really exist?"

He shook his head several times, and, after attentively looking at the
sky, in which the stars were beginning to shine,--

"The hour has arrived," he said, hoarsely; "shall I be the victor?"



CHAPTER XXVI.

RED WOLF.


To understand the facts we are now about to narrate, we must retrace
our steps a short distance, and return to the tent which served as a
temporary abode to the Count and Bright-eye.

The two white men were somewhat discontented by the way in which the
interview had terminated. Still the Count was too thorough a gentleman
not to allow, honourably, that on this occasion the Chief had been the
victor in magnanimity. As for Bright-eye, however, he could not see
so far. Furious at the check he had sustained, and especially at the
slight value the Chief appeared to set on his capture, he revolved the
most terrible schemes of vengeance while biting his nails savagely.

The Count amused himself for a few minutes in watching his comrade's
manoeuvres, as he walked up and down the tent, growling, clenching his
fists, dashing the butt of his rifle on the ground, and looking up to
heaven with comic despair. At last the young man could stand it no
longer, but burst into a hearty laugh. The hunter stopped in amazement,
and looked around the tent, to discover the cause for such untimely
gaiety.

"What has happened, Mr. Edward?" he at length asked, "Why do you laugh
so?"

Naturally this question, asked with a startled air, had no other result
than to augment the Count's hilarity.

"My good fellow," he said, "I am laughing at the singular faces you
cut, and the strange manoeuvres you have been indulging in during the
last twenty minutes."

"Oh, Mr. Edward!" Bright-eye said, reproachfully; "how can you jest so?"

"Why, my boy, you seem to take the affair seriously to heart, and
to have lost that magnificent confidence which made you despise all
dangers."

"No, no, Mr. Edward! you are mistaken. My opinion has been formed a
long time. Look you, I am certain these red devils will never succeed
in killing me; but I am furious at having been so thoroughly duped by
them. It is humiliating, and I am now racking my brains to discover a
way to play them a trick."

"Do so, my friend, and I would help you, were it possible; but, for the
present, at least, I am forced to remain neutral--my hands are tied."

"What?" Bright-eye said, with astonishment; "you mean to remain here,
and serve their diabolical jugglery?"

"I must, my good fellow; have I not pledged my word?"

"You certainly pledged it, and I do not know why. Still, a pledge given
to an Indian counts for nothing. The Redskins are tribes who understand
nothing about honour; and, in a similar case, I am certain that Natah
Otann would consider himself in no way bound to you."

"That is possible, although I am not of your opinion. The Chief is no
ordinary man. He is gifted with a great intellect."

"What good is it to him? None. Except to be more cunning and
treacherous than his countrymen. Take my advice, and do not stand on
any ceremony with him. Take French leave, as they say in the South, and
leave them in the lurch. The Redskins will be the first to applaud your
conduct."

"My good fellow," the Count said, seriously, "it is useless to discuss
the point; when a gentleman has once given his word, he is a slave to
it, no matter the person to whom he has given it, or the colour of his
skin."

"Very good, then, Mr. Edward, pray act as you think proper. I have no
right to thrust my advice on you. You are a better judge than myself of
how you are bound to act. So, be easy. I will not mention it again."

"Thank you."

"All that is very good, but what are we going to do now?"

"What we are going to do? I suppose you mean what are you going to do?"

"No, Mr. Edward, I said exactly what I meant; you understand that I am
not going to leave you alone in this nest of serpents, I hope!"

"On the contrary, you will do so directly."

"I?" the hunter said, with a loud laugh.

"Yes, you, my friend; you must."

"Bah! why so, pray, if you remain?"

"That is the very reason."

The hunter reflected for a moment.

"You know that I do not understand you at all," he said.

"Yet it is very clear," the Count answered.

"Hum! that is possible, but not to me."

"What, you do not understand that we must avenge ourselves?"

"Oh, of course, I understand that, Mr. Edward."

"How can we hope to succeed, if you insist on remaining here?"

"Because you remain," the hunter said, obstinately.

"With me it is very different, my good fellow. I remain, because I have
given my word; while you are free to go and come, and must therefore
profit by it to leave the camp. Once in the prairie, nothing can be
easier for you than to join some of our friends. It is evident that
my worthy Ivon, coward as he fancies himself, is working actively at
this moment for my deliverance; so see him, come to an understanding
with him, for though it is true I cannot leave this place, I cannot, on
the other hand, prevent my friends liberating me; if they succeed, my
parole will be suspended, and nothing will hinder my following them. Do
you understand me now?"

"Yes, Mr. Edward; but I confess that I cannot make up my mind to leave
you alone, among these red devils."

"Do not trouble yourself about that, Bright-eye; I run no danger by
remaining with them; they have too much respect for me; besides, Natah
Otann well knows how to defend me, should it be needful. So, my friend,
start at once. You will serve me better by going, than by insisting on
remaining here, where your presence, in the event of danger, would be
more injurious than useful to me."

"You are a better judge than I in such a matter, sir; as you insist on
it, I will go," the hunter said, with a mournful shake of his head.

"Above all, be prudent, do not expose yourself to risk in quitting the
camp."

The hunter smiled disdainfully.

"You know," he said, "that the Redskins cannot harm me."

"That is true; I forgot it," the young man said, laughingly; "so,
good-bye, my friend, stay no longer, but go, and joy be with you."

"Good-bye, Mr. Edward; will you not give me a shake of the hand before
we part, not knowing whether we shall ever meet again?"

"Most gladly, for are we not brothers?"

"That is famous," the hunter said, joyfully, as he pressed the Count's
offered hand.

The two men presently separated. The Count fell back on the pile of
furs that served as his bed, while the hunter, after assuring himself
that his arms were in good condition, quitted the tent. With his rifle
under his arm, and head erect, he crossed the camp. The Indians did not
seem at all to trouble themselves at the hunter's presence among them,
and allowed him to depart unimpeded.

Bright-eye, when he had gone about two musket shots from the camp,
stopped, and began reflecting on what was best to be done to liberate
the Count; after a few moments' reflection, his mind was made up, and
he proceeded toward the squatter's settlement with that long trot
peculiar to the hunters.

When he reached the clearing, the squatter was holding a conference
with Ivon and the party sent by Major Melville. His arrival was greeted
with a hurrah of delight.

The North Americans were considerably embarrassed. Mrs. Margaret, in
spite of the exclusive details she had obtained about Natah Otann's
plans, and the movements of the Indians, had only made an incomplete
report to the Major, from the simple reason, that the old Sachems of
the Allied Nations kept their deliberations so secret, that Red Wolf,
despite all his cleverness and craft, had himself picked up but a
slight part of the plan the Chiefs proposed to follow. The scouts,
sent out in all directions, had brought in startling reports about the
movements of the Blackfeet; the Indians appeared resolved to strike
a grand blow this time; all the Missouri nations had responded to
Natah Otann's appeal; the tribes arrived one after the other, to join
the coalition, so that their number now attained four thousand, and
threatened not to stop then.

Fort Mackenzie was surrounded on all sides by invisible enemies, who
had completely cut off the communication with the other settlements of
the Fur Company, and rendered the Major's position extremely critical.
Thus the hunters were greatly perplexed; and during the many hours
they had been deliberating, they had only hit on insufficient or
impracticable means to relieve the fortress.

The White men have only succeeded in holding their own in Western
America by the divisions they have managed to sow among the aborigines
of the continent; whenever the latter have remained united, the
Europeans have failed, as witness the Araucanos of Chili, whose small
but valiant republic has maintained its independence to the present
day; or the Seminoles of Louisiana, who have only lately been conquered
after a desperate contest, carried on with all the rules of modern
warfare, and many other Indian nations, whose names we could easily
quote, if necessary, in support of our arguments.

This time the Indians seemed to have understood the importance of open
and energetic action. The several Chiefs had, ostensibly at least,
forgotten all their hatred and jealousies, to destroy the common enemy.
Thus the Americans, in spite of their approved bravery, trembled at
the mere thought of the war of extermination they would have to sustain
against enemies exasperated by a long series of vexations, when they
counted their numbers, and saw how weak they were, compared to the
warriors preparing to crush them. The council, interrupted for a moment
by Bright-eye's arrival, immediately assembled again, and the debate
was continued.

"By heaven!" John Black exclaimed, angrily, as he smote his thigh with
his fist, "I confess that I have no luck, everything turns against
me; hardly have I settled here, whither everything made me forebode a
prosperous future, than I am dragged, in spite of myself, into a war
with these vagabond savages. Who knows how it will end? It is plain to
me that we shall all lose our scalps. That is a pleasant prospect for a
man who is anxious to raise his family honourably by his labour."

"That is not the question at this moment," Ivon said; "we have to save
my master at all risks. What! you are all afraid to fight when it is
almost your trade? and you have done hardly anything else during your
lives; while I, who am known to be a remarkable coward, do not hesitate
to risk my scalp to save my master."

"You do not understand me, Master Ivon; I do not say that I am afraid
to fight the Indians; heaven guard me from fearing these Pagans, whom
I despise. Still, I believe that an honest and laborious man, like
myself, may be permitted to deplore the consequences of a war with
these demons. I know too well all I and my family owe to the Count,
to hesitate in hurrying to his help, whatever the result may be. The
little I possess was his gift, I have not forgotten it, and even were I
to fall, I would do my duty."

"Bravo! that is what I call speaking," Ivon replied, joyously; "I was
certain you would not hang back."

"Unfortunately," Bright-eye objected, "all this does not advance
matters much. I do not see how we can serve our friends. These red
devils fall upon us more numerous than locusts in June. We may kill
many of them, but in the end they will crush us by their weight."

This sad truth, perfectly understood by the auditors, plunged them into
dull grief, A material impossibility cannot be discussed; it must be
submitted to. The Americans felt an imminent catastrophe coming on, and
their despair was augmented by the consciousness of their impotence.
Suddenly the cry "To arms!" several times repeated outside, made
them bound on their seats. Each seized his weapons, and ran out. The
cry, which had broken up the conference, was raised by William, the
squatter's son.

All eyes were turned on the prairie, and the hunters perceived, with
secret terror, that William was not mistaken. A large band of Indian
warriors, dressed in their grand war paint, was galloping over the
plain, and rapidly approaching the clearing.

"Hang it!" Bright-eye muttered, "matters are getting worse. I must
confess that these most accursed Pagans have made enormous progress in
military tactics. If they continue, they will soon give us a lesson."

"Do you think so?" Black asked, anxiously.

"Confound it!" the hunter replied, "it is evident to me that we
are about to be attacked, I now know the plan of the Redskins as
thoroughly as if they had explained it to me themselves."

"Ah!" Ivon said, curiously.

"Judge for yourselves," the hunter continued; "the Indians intend to
attack simultaneously all the posts occupied by white men, in order to
render it impossible for them to help one another. That is excessively
logical on their parts. In that way they will have a cheap bargain of
us, and massacre us in detail. Hum! the man who commands them is a
rough adversary for us. My lads, we must make up our minds gaily. We
are lost, that is as plain to me as if the scalping knife was already
in our hair. All left to us is to fall bravely."

These words, pronounced in the cool and placid tone usual with the wood
ranger, caused all who heard them to shudder.

"I alone, perhaps," Bright-eye added, carelessly, "shall escape the
common fate."

"Bah!" Ivon said; "you, old hunter, why so?"

"Why?" he said, with a sarcastic smile, "because, as you are perfectly
aware, the Indians cannot kill me."

"Ah!" Ivon remarked, stupefied by this reason, and gazing on his friend
with admiration.

"That is the state of the case," Bright-eye ended his address, and
stamped his rifle on the ground.

In the meanwhile the Redskins advanced rapidly. The band was composed
of one hundred and fifty warriors at least, the majority armed with
guns, which proved they were picked men. At the head of the band, and
about ten yards in advance, galloped two horsemen, probably Chiefs. The
Indians stopped just out of range of the entrenchments; then, after
consulting together for a few minutes, a horseman left the group, and,
riding within pistol shot of the palisades, he waved a buffalo robe.

"Eh! eh! Master Black," Bright-eye said, with a cunning smile, "that
is addressed to you as the chief of the garrison. The Redskins wish to
parley."

"Ah!" the-American said, "I have a great mind to send a bullet after
that rascal parading down, as my sole answer," and he raised his rifle.

"Mind what you are about," the hunter said, "you do not know the
Redskins. So long as the first shot is not fired, there is a chance of
treating with them."

"Suppose, old hunter," Ivon said, "you were to do something?"

"What is it, my prudent friend?" the Canadian asked.

"Why, as you are not afraid of being killed by the Redskins, suppose
you go to them. Perhaps you could arrange matters with them."

"Stay! that is a good idea. No one can say what may happen. I will go.
That will be the best, after all. Will you accompany me, Ivon?"

"Why not?" the latter answered; "with you, I am not afraid."

"Well, that is settled, then. Open the gate for us, Master Black; but
keep a good lookout during our absence, and, on the first suspicious
movement, fire on these heathens."

"Do not alarm yourself, old hunter," the latter said, squeezing his
hand cordially; "I should not like any harm to happen to you, for you
are a man."

"I believe so," the Canadian said, with a laugh; "but what I say to you
is more for this worthy fellow's sake than mine, for I assure you I am
quite easy on my own account."

"No matter, I will watch these demons carefully."

"That can do no harm."

The gate was opened. Bright-eye and Ivon went down the hill, and went
toward the horseman, who was patiently awaiting them.

"Ah! ah!" Bright-eye muttered, as soon as he drew near enough to
recognize the rider; "I fancy that our affairs are not quite so well as
I suspected."

"Why so?" Ivon asked.

"Look at that warrior. Do you not see it is Red Wolf?"

"That is true. Well?"

"Well, I have reasons for believing that he is not so great an enemy as
he appears to be."

"Are you sure of it?"

"Silence! we shall soon see."

The three men saluted each other courteously in the Indian fashion, by
laying the right hand on the heart, and holding out the other open,
with the fingers apart and the palm turned outwards.

"My brother is welcome among his Paleface brothers," Bright-eye said;
"does he come to sit at the council fire, and smoke the calumet in my
wigwam?"

"The hunter will decide. Red Wolf comes as a friend," the Indian
answered.

"Good," the Canadian remarked; "did Red Wolf then fear treachery from
his friend, that he brought so large a body of warriors with him?"

The Blackfoot smiled cunningly.

"Red Wolf is a chief among the Kenhas," he said, "his tongue is not
forked. The words that pass his lips come from his heart. The Chief
wishes to serve his Pale friends.

"Wah!" Bright-eye said, "the Chief has spoken well. His words have
sounded pleasantly in my ears. What does my brother desire?"

"To sit at the council fire of the Palefaces, and explain to them the
reasons that bring him here."

"Good. Will my brother go alone among the white men?"

"No! another person will accompany the Chief."

"And who is this person in whom so great a Chief as my brother places
confidence?"

"The She-Wolf of the prairies."

Bright-eye suppressed a movement of joy.

"Good," he went on, "my brother can come with the She-Wolf. The
Palefaces will receive them kindly."

"My brother, the hunter, will announce the visit of his friends."

"Yes, Chief, I will go at once and do so."

The conference was over. The three men separated, after again saluting,
and Bright-eye and Ivon hurried back to the entrenchments.

"Victory!" the hunter said, on arriving, "we are saved!"

All pressed round him, greedy to learn the details of the conference,
and Bright-eye satisfied the general curiosity without a moment's delay.

"Ah!" Black said, "if the old lady is with them we are, indeed, saved,"
and he rubbed his hands joyfully.

After having failed so unluckily in the snare she had laid for Natah
Otann, Mrs. Margaret, far from being discouraged, felt her desire of
revenge increased; and, without losing time in regretting the check she
had undergone, she immediately drew up her plans, for she had reached
that pitch of rage when a person is completely blinded by hatred, and
goes onward regardless of consequences. Ten minutes after leaving the
Sachem, she quitted the camp, accompanied by Red Wolf, who, by her
orders, led off the warriors he commanded and started for the clearing.

Bright-eye had scarce given his friends the information they desired,
ere Margaret and Red Wolf entered the stockade, where they were
received with the greatest affability by the trappers, and especially
by Black, who was delighted to find that his clearing was not menaced,
and that the storm was turning from him to burst elsewhere.

Let us now return to Fort Mackenzie, where, at this very moment, events
of the utmost importance were occurring.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE ATTACK.


White Buffalo and Natah Otann had drawn up their strategic arrangements
with remarkable skill. The two Chiefs had scarce formed their camp in
the clearing, ere they assembled the Sachems of the other tribes camped
not far from them, in order to combine their movement, so as to attack
the Americans simultaneously from all points.

Though the Redskins are excessively cunning, the Americans had
succeeded in thoroughly deceiving them, in the gloom and silence that
prevailed through the fort, for not a single bayonet could be seen
glistening behind its parapets. Leaving their horses concealed in the
forest, the Indians lay down on the ground, and, crawling through the
tall grass like reptiles, began crossing the space that separated them
from the ramparts.

All was still apparently gloomy and silent, and yet two thousand
intrepid warriors were crawling up in the shadow to attack a fortress
behind which forty resolute men only waited for the signal to be given,
and commence the attack. When all the orders had been given, and the
last warriors had quitted the hill, Natah Otann, whose perspicuous
eye had discovered a certain hesitation of evil omen in the minds of
the allied chiefs, resolved to make that final appeal to the Count to
secure his co-operation. We have already seen the result. When left
alone, Natah Otann gave the signal for attack; the Indians rushed like
a hurricane down the sides of the hill, and ran towards the fort,
brandishing their arms, and uttering their war yell. Suddenly a heavy
discharge was heard, and Fort Mackenzie was begirt with smoke and
dazzling flashes. The battle had commenced.

The plain was invaded, as far as eye could trace, by powerful
detachments of Indian warriors, who, converging on one point, marched
resolutely toward the fort, incessantly discharging their bullets at
it; while new bands could be seen constantly arriving from the place
where the chain of hills abuts on the Missouri. They came up at a
gallop, in parties of from three to twenty men; their horses were
covered with foam, which led to the presumption that they had come a
long distance. The Blackfeet were in their war attire, loaded with all
sorts of ornaments and arms, with bow and quiver on their backs, and
musket in hand, while their heads were crowned with feathers, some
of which were the magnificent black and white eagle plumes. They were
seated on handsome saddle cloths of panther skin, lined with red; the
upper part of the body was naked, with the exception of a long strip
of wolf skin passing over the shoulder as a cross belt, while their
bucklers were adorned with feathers and cloth of various colours.

These men, thus accoutred, had something imposing and majestic about
them, which affected the imagination, and inspired terror.

The struggle seemed most obstinate in the environs of the fort, and on
the hill. The Blackfeet, sheltered by tall palisades planted during
the night, replied to the Americans' fire with an equally rapid fire,
exciting each other, with wild cries, courageously to resist the attack
of their implacable foes. The defence was, however, as vigorous as the
assault, and the combat did not appear destined to terminate so soon.
Already many corpses lay on the ground, startled horses galloped in
every direction, and the shrieks of the wounded mingled at intervals
with the defiant shouts of the assailants.

Natah Otann, so soon as the signal had been given, ran off to the tent
where his prisoner was.

"The moment has arrived," he said to him.

"I am ready," the Count answered, "go on. I will keep constantly at
your side."

"Come on, then!"

They went out, and at once rushed into the thickest fight. The Count,
as he had said, was unarmed, raising his head fiercely at each bullet
that whistled past his ear, and smiling at the death which he, perhaps,
invoked in his heart. In spite of his contempt for the white race,
the Indian could not refrain from admiring this courage, which was so
frankly and nobly stoical.

"You are a man," he said to the Count.

"Did you ever doubt it?" the latter remarked, simply.

Still the combat became, with each moment, more obstinate. The Indians
rushed forward, roaring like lions, against the palisades of the fort,
and were killed without flinching; their bodies almost filled up the
moat. The Americans, compelled to make a front on all sides, defended
themselves with the methodical and resolute impassiveness of men who
know they have no help to expect, and who have made up their minds to
sell their lives dearly.

From the beginning of the fight, White Buffalo had, with a picked body
of men, held the hill that commanded Fort Mackenzie, which rendered
the position of the garrison still more precarious, for they were
thus exposed to a terrible and well-sustained fire, which caused them
irreparable loss, regard being had to the smallness of their numbers.
Major Melville, standing at the foot of the flagstaff, with his arms
crossed on his breast, a pallid brow and compressed lips, saw his men
fall one after the other, and he stamped his foot with rage at his
impotence to save them.

Suddenly, a terrific shriek of agony rose from the interior of
the buildings, and the wives of the soldiers and _engagés_ rushed
simultaneously into the square, flying, half mad with terror, from an
enemy still invisible. The Indians, guided by White Buffalo, had turned
the fortress, and discovered a secret entrance which the Major fancied
known to himself alone, and which, in case of a serious attack and
impossibility of defence, would serve the garrison in effecting its
retreat. From this moment the Americans saw that they were lost; it
was no longer a battle, but a massacre. The Major, followed by a few
resolute men, rushed into the buildings, and the Indians scaled on all
sides the palisades, now deprived of protection.

The few surviving Americans collected round the flagstaff, from the top
of which floated the starry banner of the United States, and strove to
sell their lives as dearly as possible, for they feared most falling
alive into the bands of their implacable enemies. The Indians replied
to the hurrahs of their foes by their terrific war cry, and bounded
on them like coyotes, brandishing over their heads the blood-stained
weapons.

"Down with your arms!" Natah Otann shouted, on reaching the scene of
action.

"Never!" the Major replied, rushing on him at the head of the few
soldiers still left him.

The mêlée recommenced, more ardently and implacable than before. The
Indians rushed about in every direction, throwing torches on the roofs,
which immediately caught fire. The Major saw that victory was hopeless,
and tried to effect his retreat. But that was not so easy; there was
no chance of climbing over the palisades; the only prospect was the
gate; but before that gate, the Blackfeet, skilfully posted, repulsed
with their lances those who tried to escape by it. Still there was no
alternative. The Major rallied his men for a final effort, and rushed
with incredible fury on the enemy, with the hope of cutting his way
through.

The collision was horrible--it was not a battle, but a butchery; foot
to foot, chest against chest--in which the men seized each other
round the waist, killed each other with knives, or tore the foe with
teeth and nails: those who fell did not rise again--the wounded were
finished at once. This frightful carnage lasted about a quarter of an
hour; two-thirds of the Americans succumbed; the rest managed to force
a passage and fled, closely pursued by the Indians, who then commenced
a horrible manhunt. Never, until this day, had the Redskins fought the
Whites with such fury and tenacity. The presence among them of the
Count, disarmed and smiling, who, although rushing into the thickest
of the contest by the side of the Chief, appeared invulnerable,
electrified them, and they really believed that Natah Otann had told
them the truth--and that the Count was that Motecuhzoma they had waited
so long, and whose presence would restore them for ever that liberty
which the White men had torn from them. Thus they had kept their eyes
constantly fixed on the young man, saluting him with noisy shouts of
joy, and redoubling their efforts to secure the victory. Natah Otann
rushed toward the American flag, tore it down, and wound it over his
head.

"Victory--victory!" he shouted, joyfully.

The Blackfeet responded to this cry with yells, and spread in every
direction to begin plundering. A few men still remained in the fort,
among them being the Major, who did not wish to survive his defeat.
The Indians, rushed upon him with loud yells, to massacre him, but the
veteran remained calm, and did not offer to defend himself.

"Stay!" the Count shouted; and turning to Natah Otann, said,--"Will you
let this brave soldier be assassinated in cold blood?"

"No," the Sachem answered, "if he consents to surrender his sword to
me."

"Never!" the old gentleman said, with energy, as he broke across his
knee his weapon, blood-stained to the hilt, threw the pieces at the
Chief's feet, and, crossing his arms, he regarded his victor with
supreme contempt, as he said--

"Kill me now; I can no longer defend myself."

"Bravo!" the Count exclaimed; and, not calculating the consequences
of the deed, he went up to the Major, and cordially pressed his hand.
Natah Otann regarded the two for an instant with an indefinable
expression.

"Oh!" he muttered to himself, with sorrow; "we may beat them, but we
shall never conquer them: these men are stronger than we; they are born
to be our masters."

Then raising his hand above his head.

"Enough!" he said, in a loud voice.

"Enough!" the Count repeated, "respect the conquered."

That which the Sachem could not have obtained, in spite of the respect
the Indians had for him, the Count obtained instantaneously, through
the superstitious veneration he inspired them with; they stopped, and
the carnage finally ceased; the Americans were disarmed in a second,
and the Redskins remained masters of the fort.

Natah Otann then took his totem from the hands of the warrior who bore
it, and, after swinging it several times in the air, hoisted it in the
place of the American flag, in the midst of the frenzied shouts of the
Indians, who, intoxicated with joy, could hardly yet believe in their
victory.

White Buffalo had not lost a moment in assuring himself of the
peaceful possession of a conquest which had cost the confederates so
much blood and toil. When the Sachems had restored some little order
among their warriors; when the fire, that threatened the destruction
of the fort, had been extinguished; and all precautions taken against
any renewal of the attack by the Americans--though that was very
improbable--Natah Otann and White Buffalo withdrew to the apartment
hitherto occupied by the Major, and the Count followed them.

"At length," the young Count exclaimed, with delight, "we have proved
to these haughty Americans that they are not invincible."

"Your weakness caused their strength," White Buffalo replied. "You have
made a good beginning, and now you must go on; it is not enough to
conquer; you must know how to profit by that victory."

"Pardon my interrupting you, gentlemen," the Count said; "but I fancy
the hour has arrived to settle our accounts."

"What do you mean, sir?" White Buffalo asked, haughtily.

"I will explain myself, sir," the Count continued, and, turning to Natah
Otann, "you will do me the justice to allow that I have scrupulously
kept the promise I made you; in spite of the grief and disgust I felt,
I did not fail once; you ever found me cold and calm at your side. Is
this not so?--answer, sir."

"It is true," Natah Otann replied, coldly.

"Very good, sir; it is now my turn to ask from you the fulfilment of
the promises you made me."

"Be a little more explicit, sir," the Chief said. "During the last
few hours I have been actor in and witness of so many extraordinary
things, that I may possibly have forgotten what I did promise you."

The Count smiled with disdain.

"I expected such trickery," he said, drily.

"You misinterpret my words. I may have forgotten, but I do not refuse
to satisfy your just claims."

"Very good; I admit that, so I will remind you of the stipulations made
between us."

"I shall be glad to hear them."

"I pledged myself to remain by yourself unarmed during the action,
to follow you everywhere, and ever to go in the first rank of the
combatants."

"That is true, and it is my duty to allow that you have nobly performed
that perilous task."

"Very well; but in doing so I only acted as my honour dictated; you,
on your part, pledged yourself whatever the issue of the battle might
be, to grant me my liberty, and give me an honourable satisfaction,
in reparation for the unworthy treachery of which you rendered me the
victim, and the odious part you forced me unconsciously to play."

"Oh, oh!" White Buffalo said, frowning, and striking the table with his
fists. "Did you really make such a promise as that, child?"

The Count turned to the old man with a gesture sovereign contempt.

"I believe, sir," he said, "that you are doubting the honour of a
gentleman."

"Nonsense, sir," the republican said, with a grin "How can you talk to
us of honour and nobility? You forget that we are in the desert, and
that you are addressing savage Indians, as you call us. Do we recognize
your foolish caste distinctions here? Have we adopted your laws and
absurd prejudices?"

"What you treat so cavalierly," the Count sharply retorted, "has
hitherto been the safeguard of civilization, and the cause of
intellectual progress; but I have nothing to discuss with you; I am
addressing myself to your adopted son; let him answer me, yes or no,
and I shall then know what remains for me to do."

"Be it so, sir," White Buffalo said, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Let my son answer, and, according to his reply, I shall then know what
remains for me to do."

"As this affair concerns me alone," Natah Otann interposed, "I should
feel mortally offended, my friend, if you interfered in any way in it."

The White Buffalo smiled with contempt, but made no reply. Natah Otann
continued--

"I will employ no subterfuges with you, sir; you have spoken the truth;
I promised you liberty and satisfaction, and I am prepared to keep my
word."

"Oh, oh!" White Buffalo said.

"Silence!" the Chief ordered, peremptorily. "Listen, my friend;
prove to these Europeans, so vain and so proud of their so-called
civilization, that the Redskins are not the ferocious brutes they
imagine them, and that the code of honour is the same among nations
who are regarded as the most barbarous. You are free, sir, from this
moment, and, if you please, I will myself lead you in safety outside
the lines. As for the duel you desire, I am equally ready to satisfy
you in any way you may indicate."

"Thank you, sir," the Count answered, with a bow, "I am happy to hear
your determination."

"Now that affair is arranged between us, allow me to add a few words."

"I am listening to you, sir."

"Am I in the way?" White Buffalo asked, ironically.

"On the contrary," Natah Otann said, with emphasis, "your presence is
at this moment more necessary than ever."

"Ah, ah! what is going to happen?" the old man went on, in a sarcastic
tone.

"You will learn," the Chief said, still cold and impassive; "if you
will take the trouble to listen to me for five minutes."

"Be it so; speak."

Natah Otann seemed to be collecting himself for a few moments, and
said, in a voice which, spite of all his efforts to conceal it,
trembled slightly, through some hidden emotion,--

"Owing to events too long to narrate here, and which I would probably
possess but slight interest for you, I became the guardian of a child,
who is now a charming maiden. This girl, to whom I have ever paid the
greatest attention, and whom I love as a father, is known to you; her
name is Prairie-Flower."

The Count quivered, and made a gesture in affirmation, but no other
reply. Natah Otann continued,--

"As I am entering now on a hazardous expedition, in which I may meet
my death, it is impossible for me to watch longer over this girl; it
would be painful to me to leave her alone, and without support, among
my tribe, if destiny were to cause my plans to fail. I know that she
loves you, I entrust her to you frankly and honestly; I have full faith
in your honour--will you give to her protection? I know that you will
never abuse the trust I offer you; I am only a brutalized Indian,
a monster, perhaps, to your civilization; but, believe me, sir, the
lessons a great man has consented to give me have not been all lost,
and my heart is not so dead, as might be supposed, to finer feelings."

"Good, Natah Otann," White Buffalo said, joyfully; "good, my son. Now I
recognize my pupil, and I am proud of you; the man who succeeds in each
a victory over self is really born to command others."

"You are satisfied," the Chief answered; "all the better. And you, sir?
I await your answer."

"I accept the sacred trust you offer me, sir. I will be worthy of your
confidence," the Count answered, with much emotion. "I have no right to
judge your actions; but, believe, sir, that whatever may happen, there
will be always one man to defend your memory, and proclaim aloud the
nobility of your heart."

The Chief clapped his hands, the door opened, and Prairie-Flower
appeared, led by an Indian woman.

"Child," Natah Otann said to her, nothing evincing the violence he did
to his feelings, "your presence among us is henceforth impossible;
this Chief of the Palefaces consents to watch over you for the future;
follow him, and if at times you are reminded of your stay with the
tribe of the Kenhas, do not curse them or their Chief, for all have
been kind to you."

The maiden blushed, the tears rose to her eyes, a nervous tremor
agitated her limbs, and, without uttering a word, she took her place by
the Count's side. Natah Otann smiled sorrowfully.

"Follow me," he said, "I will escort you out of the camp."

And he went out, accompanied by the two young people.

"We shall soon meet again, I presume, noble Count?" White Buffalo
called out, after his countryman.

"I hope so," the latter answered, simply.

Guided by Natah Otann, the Count and his companion left the fort, and
entered the prairie, passing through groups of Redskins, who stood back
respectfully to make room for them. Their walk was silent; it lasted
about half an hour, until the Chief stopped.

"Here you have nothing more to fear," he said; and going to a dense
thicket, and pulling back the branches, "Here are two horses I had
prepared for you; take also these weapons, perhaps you will need them;
and now, if you wish to fight with me, I am ready."

"No," the Count answered, nobly, "any combat is henceforth impossible
between us; I can no longer be the enemy of a man whom honour orders me
to esteem; here is my hand, I will never lift it against you; I offer
it you frankly, and without any afterthought; unfortunately, too deep
a hatred divides our two races to prevent us being ere long opposed to
each other, but if I fight your brothers, I shall not the less remain
personally your friend."

"I ask no more of you," the Chief replied, as he pressed the hand
offered him; "farewell! be happy!"

And without adding a word, he turned away, and hurried back by the road
he had come; he soon disappeared in the darkness.

"Let us go," the Count said to the maiden, who was pensively watching
the departure of the man she had so long loved as a father, and whom
now she did not feel strong enough to hate. They mounted and went off,
after a parting glance at the scattered fire of the Blackfoot camp.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

CONCLUSION.


The night was gloomy, cold, and mournful; not a star shone in the sky,
and the young people only forced their way with extreme difficulty
through the shrubs and creepers, in which their horses' feet were
continually caught. They advanced very slowly, for both were too
absorbed by the strange situation in which they found themselves, and
the extraordinary events of which they had been actors or witnesses, to
break the silence they had maintained since leaving the fort. They went
on thus for about an hour, when a great noise was suddenly heard in the
bushes. Two men rushed to the horses' heads, and, seizing the bridles,
compelled them to stop. Prairie-Flower gave a shriek of terror.

"Halloh, brigands!" the Count shouted, as he cocked his pistols, "back,
or I fire."

"Do not do so, for goodness sake, sir, for you would run the risk of
killing a friend," a voice at once answered, which the Count recognized
as the hunter's.

"Bright-eye?" he said, in amazement.

"By Jove!" the latter said, "did you fancy, pray, that I had deserted
you?"

"My master, my kind master!" the Breton shouted, leaving hold of
Prairie-Flower's bridle, and rushing toward the young man.

"Halloh!" the Count continued, after the emotion caused by the first
surprise was slightly calmed, "what on earth are you doing here in
ambush, like pirates of the prairie?"

"Come to our encampment, Mr. Edward, and we will tell you."

"Very good; but lead the way."

They soon reached the entrance of a natural cavern, where, by the
uncertain light of an expiring fire, they perceived a large number
of white and half-bred hunters, among whom the Count recognized John
Black, his son, his wife, and daughter. The worthy squatter had left
the clearing under the charge of his two servants, and fearing lest his
wife and daughter might not be in safety during his absence, he asked
them to accompany him; and though this offer was somewhat singular,
they gladly accepted it. Prairie-Flower immediately took her place by
the side of the two ladies.

Bright-eye, the squatter, and above all Ivon, were impatient to learn
what had happened to the Count, and how he had succeeded in escaping
from the Redskin camp. The Count made no difficulty in satisfying their
curiosity; the more so, as he was eager to learn for what reason his
friends were ambuscaded so near the camp.

What the hunter had foreseen had really happened; scarce victors
over the Americans, and masters of the fort, disunion had set in
among the Redskins. Several Chiefs had been dissatisfied at seeing,
to their prejudice, Natah Otann, one of the youngest Sachems of the
Confederates, claim the profits of the victory, by installing himself,
with his tribe, in the fort, which all had captured at such an effusion
of blood; a dull discontentment had begun to prevail among them; five
or six of the most powerful even spoke, hardly two hours after the
victory, of withdrawing with their warriors, and leaving Natah Otann to
continue the war as he thought proper with the Whites.

Red Wolf had found but slight difficulty in commencing the work of
defection he meditated; thus, at nightfall, he entered the camp with
his warriors, and began fanning the flame which at present only
smouldered, but which must soon be a burning and devouring fire, owing
to the means of corruption the Chief had at his disposal. Of all
the destructive agents introduced by Europeans in America, the most
effective and terrible is, indubitably, spirits. With the exception of
the Comanches, whose sobriety is proverbial, and who have constantly
refused to drink anything but the water of their streams, all the
Indians are mad for strong liquors. Drunkenness among their primitive
race is terrible, and attains the proportions of a furious mania.

Red Wolf, who burned to avenge himself on Natah Otann, and who,
besides, blindly obeyed the insinuations of Mrs. Margaret, had
conceived an atrocious plan, which only an Indian born was capable of
forming. John Black had brought with him into the desert a considerable
stock of whiskey. Red Wolf had asked for this, placed it on sledges,
and thus entered the camp. The Indians, when they knew the species of
merchandize he brought with him, did not hesitate to give him a hearty
reception.

The Chief, while indoctrinating them, and representing Natah Otann to
them as a man who had only acted from personal motives, and with the
intention of satiating his own wild ambition, generously abandoned to
them the spirits he had brought with him. The Indians eagerly accepted
the present Red Wolf made them, and, without the loss of a moment, took
hearty draughts. When Red Wolf saw that the Indians had reached that
state of intoxication he desired, he hastened to warn his allies, so
that they might attempt a bold _coup de main_ on the spot.

The hunters at once mounted their horses, and proceeded toward the
fortress, concealing themselves about two hundred paces from it, so as
to be ready for the first signal.

Natah Otann, in crossing the camp after escorting the two young people,
perceived the effervescence prevailing among his allies, and several
unpleasant epithets struck his ear. Although he did not suppose that
the Americans, after the rude defeat they had suffered during the
day, were in a condition to assume the offensive immediately, still,
his thorough knowledge of his countrymen's character made him suspect
treachery, and he resolved to redouble his prudence, in order to avoid
a conflict, whose disastrous results would be incalculable for the
success of his career. Agitated by a gloomy foreboding, the young Chief
hurried on to reach the fort; but at the moment he prepared to enter,
after opening the gate, a heavy hand was laid on his shoulder, while a
rough voice hissed in his ear--

"Natah Otann is a traitor."

The Chief turned, as if a serpent had stung him, and wheeling his heavy
axe round his head, dealt a terrible blow at this bold speaker; but the
latter avoided the stroke by springing on one side, and raising his
axe in his turn, he directed a blow, which the Sachem parried with the
handle of his weapon, and then the two men rushed on each other. There
was something singularly startling in this desperate combat between two
men dumb as shadows, and in whom their fury was only revealed by the
hissing of their breath.

"Die, dog!" Natah Otann suddenly said, his axe crashing through the
skull of his adversary, who rolled on the ground, with a yell of agony.
The Chief bent over him.

"Red Wolf," he shouted, "I suspected it."

Suddenly an almost imperceptible sound in the grass reminded him of the
critical situation in which he was; he made a prodigious bound back,
entered the fort, and bolted the gate after him. It was high time; he
had scarce disappeared, ere some twenty warriors, rushing in pursuit
of him, ran their heads against the gate, stifling cries of rage
and deception. But the alarm had been given, the general combat was
evidently about to begin.

Natah Otann, immediately on entering the fort, perceived, with a groan,
that this victory, which he had so dearly bought, was on the point of
slipping from him. The Kenhas had done within the fort what the other
Blackfeet, incited by Red Wolf, had effected on the prairie.

After the capture of the fortress they spread in every direction, and
the spirits did not long escape their search; they had rolled the
barrels into the square, and tapped them, availing themselves of the
White Buffalo being asleep, and the absence of Natah Otann, the only
two men whose influence would have been great enough to have kept
them in subordination. A frightful orgy had then commenced--an Indian
orgy, with all its incidents of murder and massacre. As we have said,
drunkenness in the Redskins is madness carried to the last paroxysm of
fury and rage; there had been a frightful scene of carnage, at the end
of which the Indians had fallen on the top of one another, and gone to
sleep in the midst of the confusion.

"Oh!" the Chief muttered, in despair. "What is to be done with such
men?"

Natah Otann rushed, into the room where he had left White Buffalo; the
old Chief was quietly sleeping in an easy chair.

"Woe! woe!" the young man yelled, as he rushed toward him, and shook
him vigorously, to rouse him.

"What is the matter?" the old man asked, opening his eyes, and sitting
up. "What news have you?"

"That we are lost!" the Chief replied.

"Lost!" the White Buffalo said, "what is happening then?"

"The six hundred men we had here are drunk, the rest of our
confederates are turning against us, and the only thing left to us is
to die."

"Let us die then, but as brave men," the old man said, rising.

He asked Natah Otann for details, which he soon gave him.

"The situation is grave, but all is not lost, I hope," he said; "let us
collect the few men still capable of fighting, and make head against
the storm."

At this moment a tremendous fusillade was heard, mingled with war cries
and shouts of defiance.

"The final struggle has commenced!" Natah Otann exclaimed.

"Forwards!" the old Chief said.

They rushed out. The situation was most critical. Major Melville,
taking advantage of the intoxication of his keepers, had broken out of
his prison at the head of some twenty Americans, and boldly charged the
Redskins, while the hunters outside tried to scale the barricades.

The Indians of the prairie, ignorant of Red Wolf's death, and believing
they were carrying out his plans, advanced, in a compact body, on the
fort, with the intention of carrying it. Natah Otann had to contend
against the enemies without and those within; but he did not despair;
his energy seemed to increase with peril; he was everywhere at once;
encouraging some, rebuking others, and imparting some of his own nerve
to all. At his voice, many of his warriors sprang up, and joined him;
then the battle was organized, and became regular.

Still the hunters, excited by the Count and Bright-eye, redoubled their
efforts; climbing on each other's backs, they reached the top of the
palisades, which they wished to scale. The Americans, though themselves
surprised, when they expected to surprise their enemies, fought with
indescribable fury, returning instantly to the attack in spite of the
bullets that decimated them, and seemed resolved to fall to the last
man, rather than give way an inch.

During the two hours that night still lasted, the fight was maintained
without any decided advantage on either side; but when the sun
appeared on the horizon, matters changed at once. In the darkness it
was impossible for the Indians to recognize the enemies against whom
they were fighting; but so soon as the gloom was dissipated, they saw,
combating in the first rank of their enemies, and pitilessly cutting
down the Redskins, the man on whom they counted most, whom their chiefs
and medicine men had announced to them as their leader to victory, who
would render them invincible. Then they hesitated, disorder broke out
among them, and, in spite of the efforts made by Chiefs, they gave way.

The Count, having at his side Bright-eye, the squatter and his son,
and Ivon, made a frightful butchery of the Indians; he was avenging
himself for the treachery of which they had made him their victim,
and, at each stroke, cut them down like corn ripe for the sickle. The
Count at length reached the gate of the fort; but there he came in
contact with a band of picked warriors, commanded by White Buffalo,
who was effecting his retreat in good order, and without turning his
back, closely pursued by Major Melville, who was already almost master
of the interior of the fortress. There was a moment, we will not say
of hesitation, but of truce between the hostile bands; each of them
understood that the fate of the battle depended on the defeat of the
other.

Suddenly Natah Otann made his appearance, mad with grief and rage;
brandishing in one hand his totem, he guided with his knees a
magnificent steed, with which he had already ridden several times into
the thickest of the enemies' ranks, in the vain hope of reanimating
the courage of his men, and turning the current of the action. Horse
and rider were bathed in blood and perspiration; the shadow of death
already brooded over the Chiefs contracted face; but his forehead
still shone with enthusiasm. His eyes seemed to flash forth lightning,
and his hand wielded an axe, the very handle of which dripped gore.
Some twenty devoted warriors followed him, wounded like himself, but
resolved, like him, not to survive defeat.

On reaching the front of the American line, Natah Otann stopped; his
eyebrows were contracted, a nervous smile played round his lips; and,
rising in his stirrups, he bent a fascinating glance around.

"Blackfeet, my brothers," he shouted, in a strident voice, "as you
know not how to conquer, learn at least from me how to die!"

And burying his spurs in the flanks of his steed, which shrieked with
pain, he rushed on the Americans, followed by a few warriors who
had sworn not to abandon him. This weak band, devoted to death, was
engulfed in the ranks of the hunters, when it entirely disappeared;
for a few minutes there was a sullen contest, a horrible butchery, an
ebb and flow of courage impossible to describe, a Titanic struggle of
fifteen half naked men against three hundred; gradually the agitation
ceased, the calm returned, and the ranks of the hunters were reformed.
The Blackfeet heroes were dead, but they had a sanguinary funeral, for
one hundred and twenty Americans had fallen, burying their enemies
under their corpses.

White Buffalo's band alone resisted; but, attacked in the rear by
Major Melville, and in front by the Count, its last hour had struck:
still the collision was rude, the Indians resisted obstinately, and
made the whites purchase their victory dearly; but, attacked on all
sides at once, and falling helplessly under the unerring bullets of the
white men, disorder entered their ranks, they disbanded, and the rout
commenced.

One man alone remained calm and impassive on the field of battle. It
was White Buffalo, leaning on his long sword; with pallid brow and
haughty look, he still defied the enemies he could no longer combat.

"Surrender!" Bright-eye shouted, as he rushed upon him; "surrender, or
I will shoot you like a dog."

The Chief smiled disdainfully, and made no reply. The implacable hunter
seized his rifle by the barrel, and whirled it round his head. The
Count seized him sharply by the arm.

"Stay, Bright-eye," he said.

"Let the man alone," White Buffalo said, coldly.

"I do not wish him to kill you," the young man replied.

"I suppose you wish to kill me yourself, noble Count of Beaulieu," he
said, in a cutting voice.

"No, sir," the young man said, with disdain; "throw down your weapons;
I spare your life."

The exile gave him a withering glance. "Instead of telling me to throw
down my weapons," he said, ironically, "why do you not try to take them
from me."

"Because I pity your age and your grey hair,"

"Pity? confess rather, O noble Count, that you are afraid."

At this insult the young man trembled, and his face became livid. The
Americans formed a circle round the two men, and anxiously awaited what
was going to happen.

"Put an end to this!" Major Melville exclaimed, "kill that mad brute."

"One moment, sir, I beg; let me settle this affair,"

"As you wish it, air, act as you think proper."

"You desire a duel then?" the Count said, addressing White Buffalo, who
still stood perfectly calm.

"Yes," he answered, through his clenched teeth, "a duel to the death!
two principles, and not two men, will contend here. I hate your race,
and you hate mine."

"Be it so."

The Count took two sabres from the hands of the men nearest him, and
threw one at the exile's feet. The latter stooped to pick it up, but as
he rose again, Ivon aimed a pistol at him, and blew out his brains.

The young man turned furiously on his servant.

"Wretched fellow," he shouted, "what have you done?"

"Kill me, if you will, sir," the Breton replied, simply, "but indeed it
was stronger than myself, I was so frightened."

"Come, come," the Major said, interposing, "you must not be angry with
the poor fellow, he fancied he was acting for the best, and for my part
I think he was."

The incident had no other result; the exile died on the spot, taking
with him the secret of his name.

While this scene was taking place in the courtyard of the fort, John
Black, who was anxious to reassure his wife and daughter, went to look
for them; but though he went through all the rooms and outbuildings of
the fort, where he had concealed them for a few minutes previously, he
could not possibly find them anywhere.

The poor squatter returned, with lengthened face and despair in his
soul, to announce to the Major the disappearance of his wife and
daughter, probably carried off by the Indians. Without losing a moment,
the Major ordered a dozen hunters to go in search of the ladies; but
just as the band was about to start, they arrived, accompanied by
Bright-eye and two American hunters. Margaret and her daughter were
with them. So soon as Prairie-Flower perceived the Count, she uttered a
cry of joy, and rushed toward him.

"Saved!" she exclaimed.

But all at once she blushed, trembled, and went in confusion to seek
refuge by her mother's side. The Count went up, took her hand, and
pressed it tenderly.

"Prairie-Flower," he said to her, softly, "do you no longer love me now
that I am free?"

The maiden raised her head, and looked at him for a moment with
tear-laden eyes.

"Oh! ever, ever!" she answered.

"Look, daughter," Mrs. Black said to poor Diana.

"Mother," she replied, in a firm voice, "did I not tell you that I
should forget him?"

The squatter's wife shook her head, but made no further remark. The
Indians had fled without leaving a man, and a few hours later the fort
returned to its old condition.

The winter passed away without any fresh incident, for the rude lesson
given the Indians had done them good. Prairie-Flower, recognized by
her uncle, remained at Fort Mackenzie. The girl was sorrowful and
pensive; she often spent long hours leaning over the parapets, with
her eyes fixed on the prairie and the forests, which were beginning to
reassume their green dress. Her mother and the Major, who were so fond
of her, could not at all understand the gloomy melancholy that preyed
upon her. When pressed to explain what she suffered from, she replied,
invariably, that there was nothing the matter with her.

One day, however, her face brightened up, and her joyous smile
reappeared. Three travellers arrived at the fort. They were the Count,
Bright-eye, and Ivon; they were returning from a long excursion in
the Rocky Mountains. As soon as he arrived, the Count went up to the
maiden, and took her hand, as he had done three months before.

"Prairie-Flower," he asked her once again, "do you no longer love me?"

"Oh! yes, and for ever!" the poor child answered, gently, for she had
grown timid since she gave up her desert life.

"Thank you," he said to her; and, turning to the Major and his sister,
who were looking at each other anxiously, he added, without loosing
the hand he held,--"Major Melville, and you, Madam, I ask you for this
lady's hand."

A week later the marriage was solemnized; the squatter and his family
were present. And a month previously, Diana had married James. Still,
when the "yes" was uttered, she could not suppress a sigh.

"You see, Ivon, that you are never killed by the Indians--and here is a
proof of it," Bright-eye said to the Breton, on leaving the chapel.

"I am beginning to believe it," the latter made answer, "but no matter,
my friend, I shall never get accustomed to this frightful country; it
makes me so afraid."

"The old humbug!" the Canadian muttered; "he will never alter."

       *       *       *       *       *

And now, to satisfy certain curious readers who like to know
everything, we will add the following in the shape of a postscript.

A few months after the 9th Thermidor, several members of the
Convention, in spite of the part they played on that day, were not
the less transported to French Guyana. Two of them--Collot D'Herbois
and Billaud Varenne--succeeded in escaping from Sinnamori, and buried
themselves in the deserts, where they endured horrible sufferings.
Collot D'Herbois succumbed, and we have told his comrade's fate.

THE END.





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