Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Red River Half-Breed - A Tale of the Wild North-West
Author: Aimard, Gustave, 1818-1883
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Red River Half-Breed - A Tale of the Wild North-West" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously made
available by the Hathi Trust.)



THE RED RIVER HALF-BREED

A TALE OF THE WILD NORTHWEST

BY

GUSTAVE AIMARD

AUTHOR OF "PRAIRIE FLOWER," "THE TREASURE OF PEARLS,"
"PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIES," &c., &c.

LONDON

JOHN and ROBERT MAXWELL

MILTON HOUSE, SHOE LANE, FLEET STREET

AND

35, ST. BRIDE STREET LUDGATE CIRCUS


(From the Collected Novels--1860-1885)

(Translation by Henry Llewellyn Williams - edited by: Percy B. St John.)



CONTENTS

         I. THE CREST OF THE CONTINENT
        II. THE FALSE PILOT
       III. THE MOUNTAINEER'S SNUG CABIN
        IV. THE MAN WHO RAN RIGHT INTO TROUBLE
         V. THE LONE MAN'S STORY
        VI. IN HOSTILE HANDS
       VII. CHEROKEE BILL RECRUITING
      VIII. THE GOLD GRABBERS
        IX. THE RED RIVER HALF-BREEDS
         X. THE STORM KING
        XI. THE IRRESISTIBLE BAIT
       XII. UNDER THE MARK
      XIII. THE BEAUTIFUL PRISONER'S FRIEND
       XIV. THE COMPACT
        XV. AN INGENIOUS INTRODUCTION
       XVI. THE THORN OF ROSES
      XVII. HOW "FRENCH PAUL" GOT HURT
     XVIII. ROSARIO BEGINS TO HOPE
       XIX. THE NEST OF TRAITORS
        XX. THE UNDERMINER
       XXI. THE BEST WAY TO LEARN IS TO LOOK AND LISTEN
      XXII. THE LATE VISITOR TO THE LADIES
     XXIII. A FOREST LETTER
      XXIV. THE YAGER'S "TREATY TALK" WITH OUR HERO
       XXV. WE HEAR FROM CHEROKEE BILL
      XXVI. THE ALL-POWERFUL EMBLEM
     XXVII. THE MOUNTAIN MAN IS REINFORCED
    XXVIII. DRAWING TO A HEAD
      XXIX. ON THE EVE OF THE ATTACK
       XXX. THE HALF-BREED DIES GAME
      XXXI. THE WOMEN'S CAMP



CHAPTER I.

THE CREST OF THE CONTINENT.


We stand on the loftiest peak of the Big Wind River Mountains, that
highest and longest chain of the Northern Rockies, a chaos of granite
fifteen thousand feet towards the firmament from the sea.

Around us the lesser pinnacles hold up heads as fantastic in shape as
an Indian's plumed for battle, and, below a little, diamonds of ice
deck the snowy ermine of the colossal giant's robe.

Far beneath, the mosses are grown upon by sparse grasses, and they
by scrub evergreens, gradually displaced in the descent to the warm
alcoved valleys by taller and taller pines, spruce, larch, and cedar.
But the ancient ocean wash here shows lines alone of the constant west
and southwest winds, which never bring a seed or grain into this calm
frigidity.

In the placid afternoon, the beats are audible of the wings of the king
of the air, that proud eagle which Milton chose as the finest emblem
of the American people who, in their vigorous youth, had lit their
eyes in the unclouded sunbeams; and the song of the Arctic bluebird,
startled by the unwonted squeaking of the dry ice powder intermixed
with ground fossils and granite, as horses in the uneven line of a new
and breakneck trail crunch antediluvian shells to atoms as they follow
a daring man up the heights along chasms of ten thousand feet, from the
western acclivity to the actual summit divide, not two yards wide.

It was November, a time when the almost impossible crossing was alone
in the power of man, since in the thaws of summer the ravines are choke
full of resistless water, and, later, the snowstorms are overwhelming.

The guide of the little train stood on the monstrous pedestal, firm
and unblenching as a statue, and contemplated with an impassioned but
unflinching eye the sublime spectacle four hundred miles in diameter.
Like the jags of a necklace, the peaks of the sierra protruded, and
like gems glittered the pure lakes of the mountain tops, those that
feed to both hands the western and eastern rivers: towards the Pole,
the Athabasca's Devil's Punchbowl, and the Two-world Pond under our
eyes, into which the salmon trout leap from the Orient, and flash down
into the Missouri for the Mexican Gulf!

Like steps of an immense staircase, the Plains of the Missouri,
Cheyenne, and Laramie extended, monotonous, drying up the mountain
flow in insatiate rocks and sands, and heaving up stone barriers to
the prairie ocean. Like a thin thread of water gleams the rails of
the Pacific Railroad, twenty thousand miles of metal over which the
dolefully hooting steam engine capers to connect the Iron and Coal
States with those of Gold and Corn.

But the presumptuous pigmy soon ceases to be impressed with the
grandeur and the magnificence, and lets an admiring glance dwell on
the shining face of the never-freezing Lake of the Yellowstone Valley,
and seems to feel no such awe as an Indian would have at viewing the
inimitable hues and fanciful wreaths of smoke which overhung the
mysterious Firehole Basin--the Geyser land of the scientific, the haunt
of the red man's demons and gods.

"Huh-la!" he cries to the horses and mules, and up they come in his
dauntless footsteps, and, the loads telling on them in the rarity of
the air, gladly snicker as they take the downward path at last, spite
of the peril.

Sunset impends, and the adventurer still urges the train till the last
arrival appears, goaded by a second pioneer, who seems of Indian blood.

The two men silently exchange a grasp of the hand, as if their task
were nearly accomplished, and plunge into the darkness, commencing to
climb the steeps as they commence what appears a mad descent. The stony
spires and domes glow like orange shaded lamps at a Chinese festival
along the chain for hundreds of miles, and, after one moment of
mezzotint, so scant is the twilight here, the stars of the Great Bear
stand out sparkling so near and so detached in the dark blue ether,
that the sound of the auroral lights dancing seems the crackle of the
orbs' own axles.

Surely it is worth while to follow two men so daring as to surmount the
greatest obstacle of Nature, and who carry themselves as if they, and
not the grizzly bear and eagle, were monarchs of this weird domain.



CHAPTER II.

THE FALSE PILOT.


To the north of the trappers, approaching, but out of their reach of
vision, a singular train was skimming over the snows. From a distance
one might have supposed it a flight of birds, for no four-footed
creatures could have travelled at that surprising pace.

But it was a procession of _carrioles_, or dog sledges, preceded by two
large ones. These were impelled by the wind alone, caught in sails,
which would be the tent canvas by night, fastened to masts set in the
breadth of the beam like that of an "ice yacht." The runners, on the
principle of a mail coach's, shoes were formed of thin wood turned
up in front; their width prevented the sledges sinking materially.
But the speed was what saved them better from being submerged in the
twenty-five feet dead level snow. Moreover, the steersmen, so to call
them, of the queer craft, were both fitted for their posts. The second
sledge was governed, thanks to the adroit manipulation of a tough pole,
by one of those Scotch-Americans who are the indisputable rulers of
the Northwest. At the cold they never wince; they are sober, prudent,
rather silent than talkative, as firm as a rock in defence, and as
trusty as a dog.

In the foremost snow ship an Indian was pilot and helmsman too. Upon
him depended the lives of all in those two vehicles. Those following
might swerve off from any danger they met by whipping the dogs to turn
quickly.

This savage seemed less thickly clad than the white men, who, however,
crouched down, but he flinched as little from the cutting blast as a
bronze statue. Now and again a whirl of wind caught up the ice crystals
and encircled his erect figure within the cruel clouds. The next moment
he was seen again, his face as sternly set, his eyes as rigidly bent
ahead, as before his disappearance.

The sense of safety he inspired and the glorious thrill which the
rapidity of the course provided left the passengers in a placid joy.

The dog sledges contained the provisions necessary in these uninhabited
wilds, with the hunters, servants, and guards of the party leader.
The second snow ship carried the more valuable property and the "new
hands," who could not be trusted with the semiwild dogs; under the
steersman, it was commanded by the secretary of the chief.

This gentleman was in the foremost conveyance with his daughter and the
most "reliable" men.

He was an important man, as this escort, nearly thirty strong,
abundantly manifested.

Sir Archie Maclan was a retired shipping merchant, enriched by the
Eastern tea and silk trade. He was chairman of a land purchase company
that contemplated founding a city on the line of the British Pacific
Railway. He never invested his money on hearsay, and he would not
ask his friends to do so either. Hence, having volunteered to go and
investigate, at his own expense, the shareholders had voted him thanks
and unanimously approved.

He was a widower, and took with him the sole object of his affection in
his daughter.

Miss Ulla Maclan was one of those fair Northern beauties, born types
of "Norma," though the black-haired and swart-complexioned Italians do
their most to mar our proper conception of that ideal of the druidess.
At the officers' ball at Québec, and the Mayor and Council ball in
Montreal, she had carried away the palms for grace, amiability and
loveliness.

Ofttimes dreamy and somewhat superstitious, Ulla had insisted upon
not being left behind when her father prepared to push west for the
Red River. As she was indomitable, he compromised as usual when they
disputed. He put off the original project till spring; and, in the
meanwhile, assented to her wish to see something of the marvels which
were currently reported of the Yellowstone Basin. By the greatest good
luck, an Indian was at Fort Sailor King who had come up that way.
The officers recommended him. In a few days he had proven himself
weather-wise, brave, devoted, cautious as Sandy Ferguson himself, and
more ingenious than nine out of ten of his race.

Little by little he had risen in esteem till no one was hurt by his
having charge of the patron and his precious daughter, for whom any man
would gladly have died. If there were one exception to this universal
homage to talent in the scorned aborigine, it was the English secretary
of Sir Archie, and that distrust seemed to be caused by a kind of
jealousy at being consigned to the other sailing sledge, remote from
the charming girl. But then, had he exhaled any plaint, who would have
listened to him--a raw Old Country sportsman, who carried his rifle
slung across his shoulders when he went gunning?

There was one drawback to the full enjoyment of the fleet course: the
immense and oppressive silence. All the deer were stripping the trees
of bark and moss in secret coverts; even the Arctic fox kept secluded
behind the tops of trees buried in the snow, so that they seemed mere
topknots of Indians. The dogs wore no bells; the men talked in whispers.

Nevertheless, the complete desert offered no cause for alarm. But
the illimitable white field, the ice-clad mountains, the mighty
wind that hurried the two ponderous sledges onward as if they were
feathers--these struck the rudest with awe as the short day closed in.

As darkness threatened the men brightened in their chat. Visions of
hot tea made lips water, where, alas, the frost seized the moisture
instantly.

For hours the uninterrupted rush had been maintained. Few obstacles
cropped up which the Indian had not avoided with dexterity and warned
his successor of by a sharp cry.

The wind strengthened with the dusk. A faint dark blue line at length
revealed the limit of the snowy plateau. It was so swiftly "lifted"
that in an hour or so all believed they would be camping down in
shelter of a forest which would furnish the welcome fire.

The Indian himself relaxed his muscles, for they saw him faintly smile
too.

All at once he began to murmur, and then to utter audibly a curious
monotonous chant, which amused Miss Maclan. Her father had dozed off in
the warm furs that muffled them both.

"Oh, the Chippeway is singing," she remarked. "What a funny song! I
cannot call it lively, though."

"Lively be hanged!" burst out the Canadian at her elbow, who had never
been so rude before. "It's a death song. Look out, mates. _Au guet,
camarades!_" with a great shout, "This red nigger's turned 'bad!'"

The savage responded to the accusation by a defiant whoop. Fifty
different spots sent up its echo, and what seemed wolves bounded up out
of the snow here and there in the gathering gloom.

It was too late for the hunters to attempt a seizure of the steersman.
Already they were paralyzed, as they had partly arisen, by beholding
the snow plain unexpectedly end in a sheer descent. Two seconds after
the first sledge was over the precipice; in five the second followed.
Three or four men leaped out of this--of the other it was impossible
to do so in time, and it sank in the snow of which their leap broke
the crust. The conductors of the dog sledges began plying their whips,
and the yelping of the dogs rent the frosty air. Upon these fugitives,
scattered on each side, the fifty dark figures shot arrows with almost
a fatal aim.

By night, in about half an hour only, no living representative of the
party seemed forthcoming. Till then the assailing force had not relaxed
their murderous intentions. Dragging the dog sledges to a hollow,
where they could light a fire unobserved, they greedily feasted on the
provisions, with the additional dainty of one of the dogs roasted for
"fresh meat!"

In the morning they descended into the chasm where the Indian guide
had so deliberately wrecked the "canoes-that-slide-on-the-snow." None
of the fallen had survived the descent as far as they could be found
in the snow. They were smothered, or the cold had killed them in the
long night. Over the whites the Indians showed no emotion save a brutal
rejoicing. But it was different when they discovered the body of their
countryman. Not only were they a little perplexed how to regard a
suicide which so profited the tribe, for the Indian rarely commits that
crime, but Sandy Ferguson, chancing to be hurled near the villain, had
dragged himself, though his limbs were dislocated, so as to fall on
him, and had half torn off his scalp when death had fastened his icy
grip on him.

The joy of the victors was thus damped. They sang over their
martyr-hero, and, bestowing on his corpse the prizes he would have won
if alive, gave him a chief's burial.

"He was a great man, and _Ahnemekee_ (the Thunderbolt) gives up his own
trophy, the English gun, to adorn his last sleeping place. May the fear
inspiring Crow nation never know the son who would not do as much to
lead a prey into their grasp. Ahnemekee salutes thee!"

They had rigged up a kind of bed with crosspieces in the united apex of
fern pines. These were within reach of the men on the snow at present.
When the thaws came, the dead Crow, laid upon this platform, would be
forty feet in the air. About him was laid and hung his share of the
spoil due to his long and patient plotting.

In times of distress, the funereal offerings to any Indian of mark may
be as symbolical and worthless, intrinsically, as the cut paper of the
Chinese. But when valuables can be afforded, they themselves are left
with the dead, and dogs and horses are sacrificed.

On the completion of this mournful ceremony the Crows departed, sure
that they had made a clean sweep of the party, so skilfully and
daringly decoyed to their doom by the pretended Chippeway. Not till the
stealing up of the whitened wolves proved they had long since left the
wind untainted with their odour did the rubbish heap of a large decayed
tree move as if a gigantic mole were in operation, and the apprehensive
face of Miss Maclan showed itself.

Apparently she alone had escaped the butchery following the hurling of
the large sledges over into the snowy gulf.

Spilt out, like all the other occupants of the vehicle except two or
three, when it "turned turtle" in its leap, the sail had chanced to
embosom her in its folds as the circularly rising column of cold air
from below caught it and momentarily swelled it out. By this accident
the swiftness was lessened. Nevertheless, the sail was soon snatched
from her and rent to shreds, whilst she landed on the touchwood of the
storm felled cedar.

When she recovered consciousness it was night. She fancied she heard a
voice calling, but that may have been pure fancy. On the height above
she could hear only too plainly the ghoulish merriment of the Indians
over their carouse, and the moans of some wretch being tortured to add
a zest to their regale. All she had heard of the redskin's merciless
treatment of women captives impressed her. She crept still more deeply
into the cavity of the rotten tree, and waited with little hope. Not
a sound to cheer her in her neighbourhood. Absorbed in prayers, to
drive away the poignant anxiety for her father, she did not feel the
intense cold. As for that, she was well garbed in superb furs, the
double clothing which Canadian ladies had chosen for her with their
experience, when she announced her resolve to accompany her father.

When dawn came, her fears were harrowing. Around and even over her
head in her ambush, the ravenous foe scampered and scuttled like the
beasts of rapine and carnage they were. They probed the snow and every
cleft of the rocks to secure the hairy trophies from the hapless
crews of the snow ships. Not one could have been found alive, for at
each unearthing, Ulla judged by the tone that the finders experienced
disappointment. On the other hand, the spoil of the sledges was
embarrassing in its quantity for the band.

She dared not peep out; she dreaded that the feeble blue thread of
condensed breath from her nook would betray her. She did not see,
therefore, that, unable to bear away more than a tenth of the plunder,
the rest was hidden under the precipice.

At last came the time when hunger drove her forth. The desolation and
stillness in this hollow were overwhelming. The snow was trampled
and pulled about by the searchers. Dead bodies, gashed and unlimbed,
strewed the late virgin white expanse, amid the broken boxes and
disrupted cases.

Ulla shuddered to tread among these hideous corpses, where it was
impossible for her to recognise her late companions. To find her father
was a vain idea. She took a smashed tin of meat and some chocolate, and
ate ferociously.

On high, the stars glittered with a cold brightness, which revealed
they saw her misery and grief, but offered no consolation. On the edge
of the precipice, gorged wolves, that had devoured the _voyageurs_ up
there, were lazily contemplating the solitary form with motion in the
wreck, and among the human remains of the expedition so gay and gallant
fifty hours before.

Her ungovernable appetite appeased, and her thirst far from quenched by
sucking a snowball, she mournfully reflected on her plight.

A child of luxury, it was more a nightmare than reality that she could
be here, in the Northwestern desert, the great mass of the Rocky
Mountains looming up beyond, impressive, insurmountable, and on the
other three points, a thousand miles of snow! And she a young girl,
alone!

A company of sappers and miners would have had a week's work in the
ironbound soil under the snow to inter this mangled _débris_ of
mortality. For her to attempt the pious duty was a mockery.

Nevertheless, when the moon rose, a frenzied impulse to veil the poor
creatures, with at least a little shrouding snow, would have set her
in action. But at the first step towards the nearest corpse, with its
trunk bristling with arrows, and its eyeless sockets appealing to the
Creator against the barbarous outrage, Ulla stopped short.

She was fascinated by the spectacle presented at the junction of
protruding pines where the deceptive Indian guide reposed upon the
platform. The moon inundated it with tremulous beams.

Suddenly she was sure that the body was animated. So do the vampires
spring to life when the moon bathes them in radiance. Certainly the
figure sat up cautiously; the pale face was even visible; with a steady
hand some of the trophies which adorned the monument were unhanged
from the branches--the knife of Sandy Ferguson, the English rifle and
cartridge container of her father, diverse appurtenances which had been
left to equip the departing spirit for the happy hunting ground "over
the range" yonder.

Thus armed, the ghastly phantom leaped down, and threatened to march
upon the horrified observer. Already three wolves, descending the face
of the bluff, sniffed danger. As the spectre proceeded, the largest
squatted, and emitted a lugubrious howl. All the others echoed it. For
some minutes the scene was filled with this bloodcurdling concert, loud
enough to have awakened still more dead.

But Ulla did not hear the infernal chorus any longer. On beholding the
course of the appalling apparition to be aimed indubitably at her, the
conviction was too strong for her overtasked nerves. She murmured a
prayer, and turned to flee frantically; but the snow was treacherous,
and she slid down in a soft gap, where the feathery particles closed
over her head.

Perfectly unconscious, she did not hear the supposed Indian halt almost
at the edge of the sealed up cavity which concealed her from even his
eagerly questioning eyes.

"What a terrible tragedy," he exclaimed, with the deepest emotion, in
English.

It was the secretary of Sir Archie.

"All torn to pieces by those odious villains!" he continued. "On the
dead they vented their spite; on the goods they have inflicted all
the wanton damage possible, so that they might not benefit even some
starving traveller who came into this Pit of Abomination. That generous
old gentleman, these brave, patient, devoted, cheerful hunters and
campmen, that young lady never to be too much pitied! It brings the
tears into my eyes--miserable solitary mourner that I am to try to do
so much barbarity justice. Heaven knows that I came out here with no
prejudice against the red man. This same Indian who enlisted merely
to lure the expedition to destruction, accepted my courtesies with a
grateful mien. And yet he was a monster! I glory to have profaned his
resting place--to rob the robber of the weapons with which, God aiding
me, I shall avenge my massacred comrades!"

He perambulated the valley of death till sunrise. He called and
examined every spot with care; but all the time no response was given
him. Then, having made a meal on the height, where the same fatal tale
was displayed in the bones with which the wolves sported, he doggedly
took up the trail of the victors.

But at the woods, where the snow presented a different aspect and
was absent in tracts, he found that the wily savages were not to
be followed by an inexperienced man, however brave, vigorous, and
determined.



CHAPTER III.

THE MOUNTAINEERS' SNUG CABIN.


The two hunters, red and white, who had taken eight days to ascend
the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, were only one reaching a
reasonable approach to the level of the plateau of the Yellowstone
Basin.

A little above them shone the snow line belting the giants of granite,
and here the timberline spread in brown. The breath of numberless icy
caverns murmured of the stupendous crystal founts, sources of powerful
streams which would be on their way to enrich regions remote.

The declining sun glimmered along the smooth steeps and glittered on
the jagged ones, reflected from ice, softened by snows, sparkling in
torrents as the scattered diamonds leaped so far that finally they were
dissipated in humid dust.

Through all the difficulties of the way, where no trodden way existed,
the two guides and guards of the little train proceeded with the
perfection of experience to be acquired only by bearing fatigues and
danger with which that magnificent mountain chain abounds.

In fact, it was impossible, even among the host of Western pioneers,
more numerous than those imagine who never can see them collected, to
find two mountain men more keen, skilled, and resolute than "Old Jim"
Ridge and "Cherokee Bill."

Ridge was a taller man than ordinarily met, even in the West; but too
well proportioned, though a little spare, to reveal to the careless
eye how enviably he was gifted by nature. His features were handsome,
though worn and weather-beaten; after a course of Turkish baths and
fine toilet appliances, he would have eclipsed the showiest cavaliers
in a Paris, London, or Vienna opera house ball. His forehead, high and
broad, was creased rather by play of emotions than effect of age. His
blue eyes were mild enough in repose to charm the most timid maid; but
in action they became fierce and sharp as a buffalo's at bay. They were
eyes that could follow a trail without his getting out of the saddle or
leaning over much. His nose was long, rather curved than straight, with
pliant nostrils which rose and fell freely in his liberal respiration
for the supply of a massive chest. The mouth was full of teeth, strong,
sound and white, as only garnish those who are mostly meat eaters; the
lips were red, but almost concealed in a moustache and beard, trimmed
rarely, yet well kept, of a warm flaxen striped with silver; this tint
also gleamed in his long locks from under a blue fox skin cap. Erect,
something like a Mars who inclined towards Apollo rather than Hercules,
sturdy, firm, energetic, any beholder knew that he stood before an
exceptional man, full of goodness, courage, and simple belief in man
being no merely inspired _animal_.

In "citizen's dress" he would have seemed confined; hence, his hunting
costume suited him far better. It was--from the fur cap mentioned to
the moccasins fortified with rawhide soles--composed of a leather
frock, caught in at the waist to support his small arms by its belt,
fringed with its own buckskin; a red flannel shirt, with a black
silk neckerchief carelessly fastened by a diamond pin of California
gold, such as an ingenious miner himself may shape; the leggings were
also of buckskin, fringed like the frock, and similarly so "worked
up in grease" as to have lost the tendency to stretch in the wet
which plays the mischief with leather garments. Balancing a sword
bayonet on one hip, not unlike a machete, hung a hatchet, whilst his
six-shooters were of a size that promised damage at a longish range.
His gun was peculiar. It was a "yager," or short rifle of the old
United States dragoons, sending a large ball; he had had it converted
into a breechloader, a "fourteen shoot," with the availability to
reserve the store and load at the muzzle with any particular charge
independently. The stock was fortified with homemade rawhide bands.
Thanks to long and continual practice, knowing how to humour all "her
leetle peculiarities," as he would affectionately say, the rifle was
used by him afoot or on horse, offhanded or in a rest, with long and
calculated aim or at a snap shot with a fatality that made it dreaded.
As often as by any other title, Jim Ridge was called "the Yager of the
Yellowstone." As far south as the mysterious sun-worshipping Indians'
secluded homes, this name was the backbone of camp stories, in which
our mountaineer's marksmanship was not unduly praised.

Jim Ridge looked the man to make history, but his time had not come, he
would have modestly said, if reproached therefore.

As for his comrade, he was clad as an Indian rover, with better
underclothing and equipments than the red man obtains. His gun was
a formidable and costly Winchester rifle. He was tall and slender,
rather forbidding and haughty, gloomy and imperturbable; but his
small beadlike black eyes sparkled with daring cunning and a kind of
nourished hatred. Spite of his savage airs and war paint, the close
observer must have perceived that he had enjoyed civilisation at one
period. He was not an "unwashed Injin." Indeed, Cherokee Bill was the
best pupil in a St. Louis college, where his intelligence, courtesy
quite charming, kindliness, and devotion to study gained the esteem
of his tutor and the respect of the white students, who, Southerners
though they were, never objected to his blood.

One day, when he was about eighteen, an old Indian woman, whom he
passed at the college gate, followed him to a lonely street, and called
him affectionately. It was his mother, whom he had rarely seen, and
whose latest absence had lasted nearly a year. She had not wasted those
ten months; they were spent on his behalf.

She was a Cherokee, daughter of a chief; she had been united gladly to
the celebrated South and Northwestern trapper and mountain adventurer,
Bill Williams, one of those excellent shots whose gains in the fur
trade were seldom capped by any other three, though "there were giants
in those days"--1830-50. There was no doubt that he possessed some
secret knowledge of the winter refuges of the wild animals valuable in
commerce. Hither he went, always alone, to slay the pick at leisure.
Quaint, hearty, "whole-souled," "Old Bill" Williams had not an enemy,
spite of this "certainty," and even the hunters who tried to follow him
and discover the sources of his fortune, would turn away laughingly
when, at some mountain pass, where one man could keep back a multitude,
they would abruptly run up against Williams' trusty rifle, and hear him
challenge.

"D'ye h'ar, now, boys! Go 'way from fooling with the old mossback when
he has his shooting iron loaded--it may hurt some o' ye; mind that,
boys!"

Nevertheless, at last, Bill Williams failed to come to St. Louis or
Santa Fe with the well-known pack; and, as year after year passed,
the old hunters would sadly shake their frosting brows and feelingly
mutter, "Old Billy's gone up, sure! 'Tell 'ee for a true thing, they've
rubbed out the old marksman. See! H'yar goes for a sign on my stock;
I've a bullet for the nigger that sent him under, mind that!"

At length the mountains yielded up the mystery in part. Bill Williams'
squaw, penetrating snow filled gorges where, assuredly, no woman had
ever stepped, came into a glade where a skeleton of a horse gleamed
yellow like old alabaster in the icy crust. In a snowbank, half fallen
open like a split nut, was visible a kind of human figure, mummified
by dry cold. It was the veteran trapper. He was in the position of a
hunter awaiting a prowling foe ambushed in the shrub, his rifle in
advance, his shrunken face still leaning out eagerly. In the leather
shirt and breast, almost as tanned with sun and wind, was a bullet's
wound: the squaw could even chisel it out of the frozen flesh, where
blood had long since ceased to flow. That was the only clue to the
tracker and slayer of the trapper, and that was the single token and
heritage which altered the entire course of young Williams' life.
School and cities saw him no more; he took to the wilds, and lived on
the warpath as far as the still unpunished murderer of his father was
concerned.

He was rich, like Jim Ridge, for they had penetrated the very "mother
pocket" of the Rocky Mountains' gold store; but he, no more than his
pure white partner, would renounce the existence of peril, but also of
independence.

Suddenly a deep "Hugh!" of attention from Cherokee Bill attracted the
white man's ear.

"What?" said he, peering around, but seeing nothing to alarm him; nor
had the animals, usually acute observers, perceived anything even novel.

"A solitary man," answered Bill, who spoke good English, of course.

Ridge shook his head, not in doubt of his comrade's ability, but in
self-blame.

On the highlands, nothing but long habit endows one with the power
to calculate distances exactly. Rarefaction gives the atmosphere a
clearness which seems to bring the horizon to hand--the sight is
extended indefinitely, and masses of shadows in vast valleys look
like mere specks in the expanses of light, so that the space between
the standpoint and a distant object is usually mistaken. There are
also fantastic effects from the vapour being frozen or expanded, and
presenting apparently solid forms, where, in fact, unsubstantially
reigns.

"I am going for him," proceeded Cherokee Bill; "after all, it's no
odds--we are 'to home!'" with a smile at his own imitation of the
Yankee twang.

Wrapping his gun in his buffalo robes, taken off his pony, the
half-breed slid down the declivity at the side of the "road," so
to flatter it, and scrambling along an icy torrent of lovely blue
water, suddenly sprang in under the cascade from an arching rock and
disappeared.

Ridge did not even glance after him; besides, he had arrived, indeed.
He suddenly took the bell mare by the bridle, and swerved her into an
apparently impenetrable thicket--a "wind-slash," where the maze of
deadwood was increased by the prostration of many tough evergreens,
blown down by an irresistible tornado. But there had been traced here
a kind of way, through which the pack animals insinuated themselves
with the sureness of a cat, brushing off nothing of their loads. As
for the two horses, they were more familiar with the strange path, and
threaded its sinuosities like dogs tunnelling under the walls of a meat
smokehouse. It is probable they scented their stable, and knew rest
and food would shortly reward them for terrible toil and tribulation.
Having pierced the tunnel of vegetation, there was one of stone, still
more curious.

It was an almost regular tube, in black lava stone, four feet wide,
seven or eight in height, smooth as glass mostly. Invisible fissures,
however, must have supplied sweet air, for it was not hard breathing
in all the extent, nearer three quarters of a mile than a half on the
straight. No human hand had fashioned it; one must presume that, in
the days when Vulcan swayed over Neptune on the earth, a torrent of
lava was rushing down the steeps, when, suddenly, an immense snowfall
smothered the fiery river and chilled it into a casing of stone around
a still molten interior. That inner flow had continued, and left the
tubular crust intact.

The ground was a fine sand, heavy with iron, so that it did not rise
far. At the end of this channel a star suddenly gleamed, welcome in the
complete darkness, into which, assuredly, the bravest of men would have
hesitated to follow a foe. It was the outer air again, filling a basin,
rock-engirt to a great height. In this lonely spot there was not a
scrap of moss, not one blade of grass, and no shrub, however hardy. The
calcined "blossom rock" wore a yellow hue, streaked with red and black;
but here and there rose separate boulders of quartz, disintegrated by
time and rain and whirling winds, which danced these Titanic blocks
like thistles, and squeezed out those dull misshapen lumps. Those lumps
were gold, however; this was a "mother-source"--one of those nests of
Fortune for which the confirmed gold seeker quits home, family, wealth
itself in other mines that content the less ravenous. Ridge traversed
this placer--no pleasure to him, lonely Man of the Mountain--with a
foot as reckless as those of the string of animals. The night was
coming. He hurried them on into a second but short subterranean
passage, with a couple of turnings, which finally opened into a cavern.
At its far end a natural doorway afforded a view of the deep blue sky,
where the brilliant stars seemed all of a sudden to be strewn. In those
few moments the sun had gone down, and darkness come.

Ridge laid aside his gun, and started a fire, already laid, in a cavity
of the grotto. The walls gleamed back the rising firelight; here amber
studs in coal, there patches of mica-schist, varied gold and silver in
hue.

After unpacking the animals, whose stores he carefully placed in caves,
he sent them after the bell mare and the hunting horses, in through
a channel to a sort of enclosed pasturage. Returning, he put some
jerked meat down to broil, some roots to roast like so many potatoes,
and added to the setting-out of a rude but hearty meal several of the
delicacies brought in the train from Oregon. He was calmly smoking,
reclining at great ease, with the air of one who felt he had earned the
repose, lulled by the sweet murmur of underground streams, pouring out
of ancient glaciers. The approach of footsteps made him glance round.
The steps he knew to be Cherokee Bill's; so it was their being heavier
than usual that alone roused him.

The half-breed was carrying a man over his shoulder with no more
delicacy than if it had been a deer's carcase.

"Got him, Bill!" remarked Ridge.

"I should smile not to capture such a tenderfoot," was the rejoinder,
as he flung his human prize upon the cavern floor.



CHAPTER IV.

THE MAN WHO RAN RIGHT INTO TROUBLE.


The prisoner of the Cherokee half-breed was in a forlorn state, more
particularly as regarded apparel. Hardly suited for mountaineering at
their best, his clothes were sorry rags, which an attempt at mending
with bark fibre and rawhide had even rendered more lamentable. A
horsehair lasso, of remarkable fineness and strength, was wound round
and round him with a care which a Chinese would have envied. A handful
of moss was the gag which nearly choked him, but his eyes were more
full of rage than supplication, and they seemed to burn with enhanced
indignation when he found the Indian was in concert with a white hunter.

Young Bill Williams flung his captive down on some dry rushes, and,
laying aside his gun and the stranger's, which was broken, he sat down
at the fire.

"It was a coyote," he remarked, scornfully. "But the Cherokee did not
give him even time to yelp."

"Ah!" said Ridge, "I wonder you did not shoot him thar. Thar will
always be plenty of that game on the prairie for the greenhorn hunter,
I opine. It is all very well our discovering this country, but we don't
want any raw Eastern fellows, with Boston dressing, discovering _us!_"
Bill made no comment. He had pulled the soused bears' paws over to him,
poured out some coffee--from which the full aroma was extracted by a
sudden chill at the height of its boiling with cold water--and was thus
beginning his meal.

The silence that fell was broken only by the champing of the two men as
they repaid themselves for the travail since Monday. Each had a brandy
flask, and their supplies included spirits, but neither drank anything
but the sweet, pure water of the snow torrent. Ridge was naturally
abstemious, the half-Cherokee sober from having seen the mischief
wrought his mother's race by the firewater.

After the meal, the two smoked, and the white man faintly whistled a
lively tune. Neither gave heed to the prisoner, who had ample leisure
to gaze on the strange resort into which he had been unceremoniously
conveyed.

The firelight illuminated the grotto; several gaps were outlets or
storehouses; bales of furs, bundles of army and trade guns, kegs of
powder, pigs of lead, packages of fancy goods used in Indian trading,
harness, simple cooking utensils, these encumbered the place; but one
could guess that they would form a barricade at emergency in case the
enemy penetrated to this inmost hold. At first glance, and even at the
leisure gaze of the prisoner, it seemed the den of a bandit.

"What did you bring him into the ranche for, chief?" inquired Ridge, in
that pigeon-English of the Northwest, called the "Chinnook" dialect,
though composed of Chinnook, Scotch, English, and Canadian-French, as
well as hunters' English, to which confusing medley these two friends
imparted still another zest by an infusion of Cherokee, Creole, French,
and Spanish-American, for which good reason we forbear the sentences
verbatim.

"Because," replied the other, "it was too dark to see the trail, and
he must tell whether he is alone or the spy of a band. At all events,
it doesn't look as if he had been in to the fort for his pay lately,"
added Bill, with a quiet fleeting smile, "and bought any clothes!"

"You are right. Loose him, and we'll try him. By the way, that's a
beauty lariat, I can tell you."

Indeed, as before hinted, the lasso confining the captive was composed
of selected horsehair, and toilsomely and deftly plaited.

"I was still on the scout," said Bill, whilst engaged undoing the
bonds, rolling the man to and fro as suited his desires, "when suddenly
a movement of a scrub pine half a pistol shot off made me bring my
rifle to bear on it. I was just about to pull, when up pops my man,
crying: 'Hold hard, or you're a dead Injun!' _Me?_ It looked as if we
were going to make our bullets kiss in midair, but I reckon I was a
leetle the quicker, and while his ball whistled upon the top storeys
of the sierra, mine cut his barrel in half, right there at the stock,
which remained in his hand. So, as he staggered in surprise, I sprang
on him, took off from his belt the lasso--a real article, and no
mistake! Worth a war pony!--and girdled him like a papoose. Moreover,
I wrapped my robe round his head, so that he should not see how we
glide into the Rocky Mountain House, proprietors, Messrs. Ridge and
Williams, and here he is dumped down."

The man was hardly able to stand when unbound. He wiped his mouth with
the tattered sleeve of his old army overcoat, shook himself, and reeled
round toward the fire, whither the half-breed had given him a gentle
push.

"We don't often meet a white man away here," said Ridge, sitting up
like a judge. "Let me have a good long look."

The firelight fell full upon him. Already, whilst waiting, the stranger
had fortified himself: he was cold, calm, save for his lips curling in
a mocking smile, though he very well saw that his confronters were his
judges, and, possibly, executioners, if they determined on death.

He was a man about five and forty, rather tall, with legs "split up so
far" as to be as good a walker almost as Ridge himself. He was the more
gaunt from recent privations. His "weather skin" seemed newly assumed,
and, seen in the town, he would have been taken for a schoolmaster of
the Indian Reservations or a trader's bookkeeper.

"You are a white, an American, from the Eastern States," said Ridge,
after a couple of minutes. "You are not a hunter or trapper, a
gentleman sportsman, or a squaw man. What brings you out here up in the
mountains?"

"You are a white, an American of these Western States," returned the
other, quietly, "whence your right to pull me about and question me? If
this Indian is on the land of his forefathers, I will pay him tribute
as far as in my power. As for you, why stop my wandering? Have I sought
to run against you? Have I done anything more than essay to defend my
life when a firearm was levelled at my breast? State anything that
gives you a right to deal with a citizen of the United States in the
United States?"

"These are big words," replied Ridge, puzzled whether to be angry or
amused, though there was no doubt that Cherokee Bill felt the first
sentiment; "but I am not exchanging Fourth of July speeches with you,
but asking questions."

"To answer? 'Spose I don't choose?"

"You'll be made to, I guess," rejoined the mountaineer, hotly.

"You mean you two will cut my throat in this den, or hang me in my own
lasso! The latter will serve me right, as I took it at the cost of a
life from the redskin who hurled me off my horse with the same. Well,
suppose you do kill me, will you know more about me than you do now?"

"What! Killed an Indian for the rope?" said Ridge, turning to the
Cherokee. "What breed?"

"Comanche!" said the latter, examining the lasso critically.

"The lasso is of Comanche make," went on the mountain man, severely
frowning again. "And I'll swear your cheek has never been burnt south
of the Platte."

"That's so. It was a 'foot Indian' who tried to kill me. I boast no
knowledge of these gentry. That's one of his shoes. The other I wore to
death on these cursed flinty hills."

"Crow!" cried the Half-breed, with a glance at the moccasin. "Mountain
Crow! And a war shoe!"

"The Crows 'out,'" repeated Ridge, biting his lips. "You see, we are
getting information, though you are so stingy. Come, as your news leads
off so good, continue it. Who are you, I say? And what is your business
where few of us who are regular trappers venture?"

"A trapper?"

"An honest trapper! What did you take us for?--robbers and murderers?"
said the hunter, indignantly.

"Well, I kind o' don't know," rejoined the stranger, with a significant
glance at Cherokee Bill, whose savage eyes were not reassuring like the
other's. "My name is no value out here, four thousand miles from my
folks, I guess; but if you are a regular trapper--"

"I am called the Old Man of the Mountain," said Ridge, sadly rather
than proudly. "I am about the last of the old guard--I fear one of the
oldest men. I am Jim Ridge. That's the young man's best companion out
here, that's called the Yager--same name put on me, too, by the hearing
of it; the Yager of the Yellowstone. When I handled that first in '42,
I bent a trifle under the weight. Them was the grand, good old times!
The sort of men we get now don't grade up with the brand that passed
up to 1850. They don't hunt now--they butcher. They don't trap--they
surround and slaughter. They'll be clearing out a beaver lake with a
diving bell, next! I wonder! Yes, I am the Old Man, the Yager of the
Yellowstones," he repeated, a little piqued at his fame falling on a
dead ear--"Injin or white, they all know this child."

The stranger seemed easier; but, unfortunately, the ghost of a smile on
his wan features was assumed to be impudence.

"Answer, then," went on Ridge, testily, "for I don't want none of your
blood on my knife, though it is itching to be in at your ribs."

"Nonsense. You are neither hasty nor bloodthirsty, Mr. Ridge. One
question from me first, if you please--"

Old Jim waved his hand disgustedly at this polite address, and the
"Mistering."

"I just want to know if you know Mr. Brasher, of Varina?"

"Do I know 'Trading Jake?' Muchly; and ever so long. Those bales are
for him," pointing to a stack against the walls.

"Then I have a message for you, Mr. Ridge," went on the prisoner,
relieved entirely.

"A letter?"

"The letter is lost; I ate it up when a gang of Digger Indians played
the joke of making me exchange a good outfit for these rags. Luckily,
they thought it was a talisman, and that to cook me and eat me with
that medicine paper in my gullet was an error, and so I got away,
together with my gun. But I know the contents, and they are important,
Mr. Brasher said."

"Fire away!" said Ridge, more and more thawed out towards the speaker.

"But first, some proof I am not being deceived."

"Hang the man!" laughed Jim, amused at being an unknown to one person
in this world. "Show him my brand on those packs, Bill."

"'J. Ridge'--hem! Well," said the captive, "this is the communication:
'The man they call _Captain Kidd_ and a gang of border troublers slid
out of town with tools, stores, and firearms galore, and I want the
Old Man of the Mountain to know that they are bound for the Big Placer
in the Yellowstone Region.' That is what I was to tell every regular
hunter and trapper until Mr. Ridge heard of it."

"Oh, call me Jim! I am much obliged to Brasher. Well, stranger, you are
too deep for me if this is a getup of your'n. Resarve your own secret,
and meanwhile there's sage ile and snake grease for your bruises, and
fire and meat and Injin 'taters; and you can have whiskey if your
appetite calls that way. Fall on! As the soldiers say."

Then vacating the fireside, he drew aside with the Indian, and the two
eyed the captive inquisitorially while he devoured the supper, which
represented probably two or three meals he had missed.

"Drink free!" said Ridge, offering a horn cup. "You need fear nothing
now. One who has shared the trapper's hospitality has to be a precious
mean skunk to deserve kicking out."

"Nobody's going to say a word against your hospitality," retorted the
stranger, sarcastically. "The feed's capital, and the liquor a reviver,
for, though a temperance man, I need it as medicine, I can tell you.
But the way the trapper introduces guests to his hospitality by
shooting a welcome at him, trussing him up like a turkey, and tossing
him down on the floor like a roll of carpet to be beaten, is not what a
simple traveller from the Atlantic seaboard approves of."

"Stranger," said Ridge, sitting down on a buffalo skull stool covered
luxuriously with furs which a Russian grand duchess might give her
earrings to possess, "this is our home round here by all the rights the
first discoverer and the constant defender may claim. My _companyero_
was not to know with what intentions you were making yourself a
neighbour. You may think yourself lucky that his shot did not pierce
your brain or heart, and that he did not use the slipknot of your
lariat to decorate the nearest larch with you. It is necessary that
our mountain fort should be kept hid from everybody. Gentlemen like
Mr. Brasher do not know it, sir. Tell me your name, show that you are
no evildoer, and after you have rested you may equip yourself and go
your way. We can trust to your being led out, hoodwinked as you were
brought, to maintain our secret. So much I will do for Trading Jake's
messenger. Anything else, stranger?"

The ex-prisoner was surprised at so much confidence, and the promise to
place him on a fair footing for the task upon his shoulders.

"You will do this, eh?" cried he with frank joy; "A good rifle instead
of that broken musket, food and powder, clothes against this searching
air?"

"Jim Ridge never yet broke his word," remarked the Cherokee, for the
first time relenting in his suspicion so as to address his late captive.

"My name goes for nothing, but I will tell you my mission out here, and
why your gift will put me under a great obligation. Besides, you have
the experience which I lack, and who knows but that your comments on my
story may be of service."

"Make yourself at home, then," said the old mountaineer, pleasantly;
"there's a pipe for you, too, and the night is only begun. We so seldom
have company, eh, Bill? that a couple of hours for a storyteller will
be a real treat. Stranger, we listen, if the grub has put you in pretty
good shape again."

"One moment," demurred the other; "you talk of the need to guard this
place from spies. Now, I can't compliment you on your vigilance and
prudence when you squat here in the broad firelight with the cavern
gaping open yonder--an Indian boy could riddle us with arrows."

Ridge laughed.

"If you don't mind getting up and coming to the opening, you shall see
that--but not so near the brink--the crust is shaky. See, how readily
I detach a chunk. Don't lean forward. Look forth--it is a clear night."

It was serene and lovely. The stars shone unveiled, and that was all in
the deep indigo black, where, beneath, the deep-rooted pines could be
heard slowly swaying, not seen, like a field of grain in a zephyr.

"I see nothing."

"No trees, no rocks?"

"No. Nothing but stars."

"You would see nothing but stars if you were to step after that stone.
Hark!"

Jim trundled the rocky lump out of the cave; but not the faintest sound
or echo betokened that it touched bottom or anywhere.

"Heaven preserve us!" ejaculated the guest, recoiling. "'Tis the
Bottomless Pit!"

"Pretty nigh," answered the mountaineer, laughing; "that's fallen five
thousand feet. This is not a precipice sheer down, but a peak hollowed
out--a cut-off, _we_ say; the Injins say a devil's jump. Stranger, on
this side, we shall not be invaded. Now for your tale! Stir up the fire
brightly, Bill."

"Yes, for it is a dark and horrid story, gentlemen."



CHAPTER V.

THE LONE MAN'S STORY.


"Gentlemen," began the enforced guest of Jim Ridge and the half-breed,
"I was born in an Atlantic State, and my earliest memories relate to
home events of so little moment now, that I have almost forgotten them.
I remember, however, that a number of our young men formed a party
and went West, and that the reading of some of their letters home,
reflected into my boyish ears, fed the natural longings of one who
lived sufficiently remote from the crowded town to know what a lake and
the woods are like. Besides, an uncle of mine was said to have gone to
the same marvellous backwoods, and I used to be promised a real wild
Indian's bow-and-arrows at the least when he should return. All this is
common enough in the East. About the year 1850 my mother died, and my
father, as much to distract himself in his profound grief as to quench
a thirst for fortune which he shared with New Englanders, departed with
me, a stripling, around the Cape to California. Our ship was rather
better than those rotten tubs which unscrupulous men fitted out as
'superb clippers,' and we outstripped many vessels that had anticipated
our start. You must recall something of the sensation due to the
startling discovery of gold in the extreme West. Even the fables of old
whalers who visited the Pacific Coast, and who really had been blind,
were outdone by reality. With indescribable furious madness, people
flocked from the world's confines towards a tract hardly laid down
in charts. They seemed to have become monsters in human form, as the
playbooks say, with no impulse but avarice. We stepped ashore into a
field of carnage, though lately a peaceable grazing ground; men sought
to remove each other with steel and lead, whilst the few females, the
vilest of their sex, freely employed poison. Luckily, these demons slew
one another, and left no aftercrop of fiends and furies to blight the
Golden State."

"Father and I had no experience in gold seeking, and he saw that money
enough awaited an active, acute man, in supplying the returned miners
with table delicacies. He was used to fishing, trapping, and gunning,
and so we set to killing bears--any quantity on the Sierra Nevada
'spurs' then--and fishing in the Sacramento and San Joaquín. We built
a ranche on the banks of the former stream, in a lonely spot, and only
went to town to sell game and procure ammunition and other stores."

"One Saturday my father went on this duty, whilst I amused myself
with tracking a young grizzly, with the hope of securing him alive,
as a hotel keeper wanted a 'native attraction' for his barroom.
Unfortunately, a huge grizzly intercepted my course, and wounded me in
a scuffle, out of which I thought myself happy to escape so easily; and
almost made me lose my prize. However, as this wound stung me in pride
as well as flesh--for I daresay, gentlemen, you know how a grizzly's
claws leave a smart!" (the two hunters nodded animatedly)--"I pressed
on, after a circuit, at the tail of my first 'meat.' I overtook it at
dark, had to kill it--it was so stubborn--dressed it, and carried away
the paws and choice meat in the hide. The sun was down, and my load was
too heavy for me to show much speed, though I believed my father would
be impatiently awaiting me."

"It was nine o'clock when I sighted the ranche. The squally wind
presaged a tempest. As no light shone at the window, I concluded my
father, who must have got back, had gone to bed, weary of waiting. I
pulled up the latch, entered, flung down the game, and was making for
the hearth, to get a flare-up, when I heard a faint voice close by
falter--"

"'Is that you, Sam?' My father's voice! The tone sent a shiver all over
me till the blood ran cold from my heart."

"'Oh, that you had come an hour sooner!' he sighed."

"In an instant I had a blaze on the hearth with a handful of bears'
grease upon the embers."

"There lay the old man, having tried to crawl to his couch. His face
was livid; two wounds were on his breast--one of a firearm, one of
a knife; and he was scalped as well. The blood from these neglected
wounds painted him thickly and hideously. I fell on my knees beside
him, and tried, though vainly, to staunch those dreadful hurts."

"'It's no use, boy,' said he; 'nothing can fence off death. I thank
Heaven I was allowed to linger till you came. Now, dash away your
tears, and listen to me like a man. In half an hour I shall be no more;
but that will do if you mean to see justice done me.'"

"He had started for San Francisco at one, so as to be home early
enough to have a good meal against my return if I were out. He soon
got through his business, and was going to leave, when he met a native
Californian acquaintance--a _gambusino_, or confirmed gold hunter--a
man he liked very well. To have a friendly glass at leisure, they
dropped into the nearest public resort, the gamblers' and revellers'
hotel, called the 'Polka' saloon. The place was crammed with drinkers
taking their morning 'eye-openers,' or desperadoes relating their
night's exploits, or miscreants hatching fresh schemes. Several kept
'cruising' round my father and his friend."

"Both were objects of more general interest than either, perhaps,
believed; the Californian was suspected to have found more than one
gold vein worth tapping; and my father, as a hunter, was likewise
thought to have blundered upon the natural treasuries of the mountains
in his pursuit of b'ar. To both, schemes had been proposed by
blacklegs, and both had repulsed them--the Spaniard with pride, and
my father with some cutting jest or pure carelessness. Both had made
enemies thereby."

"Three of these enemies now buzzed round their table. One was
a Frenchman, known as 'Lottery Paul,' because he had drawn the
passenger's ticket of a Parisian 'draw,' to enable the chosen
subscriber to go free to San Francisco. He was a little bilious wretch,
low and sneering, a sort of lynx and fox in combination. His partners
were a huge English convict from Gibraltar, and called 'Quarry Dick,'
and a Mexican, who had committed so many homicides, that he was
glorified as 'Matamas the slayer.'"

"Perhaps it was too soon in the day for these debauched dogs to have
shipped enough spirit to fall foul of two men well armed. In any case,
they let my father and his friend leave the saloon unimpeded. The three
scoundrels hovered about them; but, finally, seemed to be disgusted at
their remaining on the alert, and left them."

"The two friends separated, and my father got home before dark without
alarm. He had hardly stepped indoors, however, than three men fell on
him, all in the dark. They were dressed like Indians; but, as they
threatened to kill him unless he revealed where he knew gold was
waiting for the digger, it was clear that was but a disguise 'for the
road.' My father had been doubled as a man by his mountain life, and
he gave them a serious half hour's diversion; twice he got free, and
laid about him with a long knife. At last, one shot and another stabbed
him; and, either from rage at having been baffled, or to carry out
their assumption of the Indian character, they scalped him. He had
the fortitude to pretend to be dead as he suffered this outrage. In
the encounter he had snatched away the scapulary worn by one ruffian,
laid open the cheek of another, and wounded a third in the side. The
latter might escape me; but I had a clue to the others. Then, urging
me to bring these murderers to justice, my father expired, the storm
overwhelming his latest prayer and blessing."

"I buried him under the hearthstone, and fired the ranche over his
head, determined that no one should dwell in the house where his
blood had mingled with the murderers'. I went to San Francisco, but
those three bandits were laid up from the effects of the struggle, or
in mere terror of me, for the authorities were not yet in power to
punish even the notoriously criminal. I continued the search without
discouragement, being rather a pertinacious man, till, one day, my
Mexican friend, as he had been my father's, warned me that I was in
error: these three men were now _hunting me_, having transferred their
enmity from my father to my head: and, in fact, it was a wonder I had
not yet fallen a victim in one of their vicious circles where I had
penetrated. Being on my guard from this out, our warfare continued
long without result. At last, I heard they had separated, and gone who
knows where--over the mountains, on the sea, up in the mines? Besides,
the Mexican had opened his house to me, a favour not often accorded an
American by one who reckoned us invaders and heretics and no blessing
to the country; and he had a fair daughter whom, in short, I wedded. I
allowed my task of vengeance to rest, and the hatred of my foes seemed
in the same way to be shelved."

"One summer, a French gentleman, who said he was on a scientific
expedition, offered me remarkably handsome terms to be his guide to
Oregon. I did not care to leave my wife, but my father-in-law was
interested in the steamer line to the Columbia River, and I accepted
the mission. However, a little over a week gave Monsieur all he wanted
of roughing it in the sierras, and he said he had changed his mind, and
wanted to back out. I made no difficulty, of course, and we took the
back track merrily. When we left, and he handed me a forfeit, he said,
kindly enough: 'I hope you will find Madame and the family all well at
home!' and yet some presentiment made me take it as ironical."

"Within two weeks I returned to my _pueblo_. The forewarning was sound:
my father-in-law's hacienda was devastated, and the farm buildings
reduced to ashes; under that black heap my father-in-law, my wife and
children were indistinguishably consumed."

As he got these words out by an effort, the speaker covered his face
with his hands, and sobbed rather fiercely than mournfully. His two
hearers remained quiet, fastening their eyes on the strong man in
resentment, with irrepressible pity.

"This time they had overfilled my cup of woe," he resumed, lifting
his head, and showing burning, tearless eyes. "I would not leave the
punishment of their slaughter to the sworn minister of justice, but
avenge my fourfold wrongs in person to the uttermost."

"I took a horse and galloped to San Francisco, where I sought the
French consul. He knew nothing of the pretended scientific explorer:
that was a sham; he was one of the gang! But he was really a newcomer,
and had no skill in hiding his tracks. I was on them without any
repose. They led me by nightfall to a lone ranche, where the roll of
the sea came softly, and mingled with the whinnying of two horses
picketed by the door, which welcomed mine. I rode him in at that door
which I carried off the hinges. Two men were on stools at a dying
fire, chuckling and drinking. One was Matamas, the other the Frenchman
who had engaged me as guide. They sprang up in amazement. I flew at
them with a tigerish yell. No doubt fury increased my forces, for in
ten minutes I had trampled one down and lassoed the other. Both lay
helpless under my knife."

"'Mister Frenchy,' said I, 'how much were you paid beyond the sum you
gave me for guidance to lure me aside whilst your employers burnt my
house and killed all those dear to me?'"

"'What, what!' said he, 'Is this the practical joke you played,
Monsieur Matamas?'"

"The Mexican said not a word; his teeth were chattering with the
general tremor. As the Frenchman saw I was merciless, and knew he was
in my power, he told me the whole tale of how he had been hired in an
hour of starvation to decoy me away from my home. He had no hand in the
extreme consequences, and I let him go with the warning that I might
not be so lenient if ever we met again. Whilst he rode away like mad, I
returned to Matamas, whose hand I tied, open, on a plank, and I said:"

"'Well named as 'the killer,' tell me all about this plot, or I
shall cut you up joint by joint!' and, though you shudder at the
thought, sir," he interjected to Ridge, while Cherokee Bill greedily
listened, "I should have done it; but at the third of his finger being
severed, the coward fainted, and, on coming to, as I sawed at another
articulation, he whined the complete confession. His was the scapulary
which my father had inextricably grasped in the death 'scrimmage.' If I
had regretted my cruelty, the list of his crimes would have steeled me
anew. Worse than I suspected remained to tell, for his two accomplices
had not only fled with the valuables of my father-in-law, but with the
heart treasures of mine, which I had till then believed buried beside
their mother: my son and my daughter, at present fifteen and seventeen,
were abducted by these villains, and are now slaves to them and their
kind in some robbers' ranche of the plains or whiskey mill shanty in
these mountains. Never can I rest, you see, till they are rescued from
these chains of vice, and their persecutors feed the turkey buzzards
like Matamas did himself."

"Now, in telling you that a band of gold hunters are on their way
hither, and that I have recently crossed Indian trails, I have served
you. Help me, now, my friends, with your practical counsel--how can I
soonest overtake those men?"

There was a long silence. Bill and Ridge conferred in the sign language
as if their thoughts were too full of action to be diluted into
verbiage.

"One question?" said the trapper. "In all your story you have
manifested the greatest heed not to mention names except of the
villainous. Those are no clue to me. But, may happen, those of yourself
and kinsfolk may enlighten us. Who are you?"

"My name is Filditch, Samuel George Filditch, my father's George W.,
and my father-in-law's Don Tolomeo Peralta, well known in California
and Sonora."

"Enough. What was the name of your father's brother, whom you never
saw, but whom you remember to have heard spoken of in childhood. Was it
not James? Come, come!" continued the old hunter, rising and kicking a
log so that the freshened flame should flood him with radiance: "They
used to say we were like as boys; can you see no trace of a likeness
to my brother George in these features? Still silent? Ridge is only a
'mountain name'; but believe me, and Cherokee Bill will bear me out
with gun and knife--there never was a deed of mine done under it which
my real name would not proudly cover. It is Heaven that has brought
you to my bosom, Sam! Come to my heart, where I had clean given up
dreams of having a loving head pillowed! Heaven knows this was a wish
long gnawing at my bones! We'll chip in together. Don't you carry any
heaviness at your heart now. Your interests are mine. I am not a young
chicken, but I am game, and with this new spirit, I feel thar's a lot
o' living in me yet! We start on this manhunt together. Thar's my hand,
Sam!"

"And here is mine!" added the Cherokee. "The Old Man and me always hold
together like burrs," he continued, in a kind of apologetic tone. "And
if this ain't the most remarkable fact I ever struck, then I don't want
my breakfast in the morning."

Thereupon was sealed between the trio a compact that would bring about
strange events, hidden under the veil of the future, so that the most
imaginative could not foresee the incidents, far more surprising than
this meeting of kindred, not at all an uncommon event in the West,
where congregate the members of the Eastern families, so wondrously
disrupted and attracted West.

Ridge--still to use that name--and his nephew were evoking home
memories, when suddenly the latter felt a touch on the shoulder.
Cherokee Bill was making the sign for silence, and pointing out of the
cave opening.

There was a novel sound, indeed, in the stilly night air: music as from
a seraphic choir, for a score of women's voices were singing a hymn at
a distance which the limpidity of the air materially diminished:

"Come, tell the broken spirit That vainly sighs for rest There is a
home in glory, A home forever blest; Still sound the gospel trumpet
O'er hill and rolling sea, From chains of sin and blackness, To set the
captive free!"

"Saints in the Mountain!" murmured Jim Ridge, astonished. "I never
heard the likes hereabouts. It carries me away back fifty year', when
I was a boy in the church! But what are white women doing here? I am
staggered. And tuning up like that, too. That's first-class bait for
Crows. The angels must ha' taken a fancy to them, or they are cracked
to sing at top of the v'ice, an' redskins on the loose. What do you
make of it, Bill?"

"See!"

The hunter stared forth. A yellow light appeared as a lining to a cold
fog over a vale.

"Ah, a powerful camp! No Crow men will attack that in a hurry--those
dogs want to be twenty to one, and, then, somebody has to kick them on
to it. Things are bound to be interesting, but, I judge, we can wait
till morning. At least, that's my way. I am ready to drop, myself."

"And I," said Filditch, indeed exhausted.

"I will take the first watch," observed the Cherokee, calmly.

In another few minutes, wrapped in fur and blankets, the two white men
were profoundly reposing. Ridge chose the flat ground to which the body
accommodates itself, whilst his newfound kinsman, less wise, made a
kind of bed. The son of the assassinated trapper guarded them who had
now the same vow as himself to be their life task.



CHAPTER VI.

IN HOSTILE HANDS.


When Ulla Maclan came to her senses she found herself in darkness, but
it was not that of the grave. The snow had been falling again, and all
the night through; but the warmth of her body had hollowed out a cave
around her, in the roof of which her breath had maintained an aperture.
But, cruelly enough, the same blanched mantle that preserved her from
freezing had sheltered her from the eager eyes of the only other
survivor of her father's party.

With a suffocated feeling, she broke open the shell, and warily emerged
into the more than ever wintry landscape. All the breakage of the
sledge loads had been smoothly buried with the remains of the hapless
Canadians.

Not a mark on the level snow revealed the substantiality of the form
which she believed in her terror the spectre of the Indian Chief, but
which we know as the secretary, so nearly discovering her, but going on
his fruitless way, brokenhearted.

The musical trickling of melting snow tantalised her palate, and
she scrambled through the soft drift to a cleft where a rivulet was
beginning to run. The cool draught was delicious. She then set to
reviving herself with a dash of it over her face, and was binding
up her hair, when a loud and coarse laugh made her start and turn,
blushing.

Three white men in hunters' garb stood on a crest of the rocks swept
clear of the snow, where they travelled as well to avoid leaving traces
as to be free of step. The mountains rose behind them, a sweet faint
azure, with an opal edge, which was the last night's snow.

Two of the strangers were about the same age, some five-and-thirty;
harsh and angular of feature, brutal and bullying, tall and burly. In
their half wild, half border town dress, they were not to be taken for
genuine trappers by anyone less new to this region than our heroine.
They were what is called hide hunters, or skin scalpers, whose least
shameful occupation is the slaughtering buffaloes for the hide alone,
or even collecting their bones to be sent East for the best ivory knife
handles.

The third and superior was more than ten years older, with piercing
grey eyes and low forehead, a dirty yellow beard and long hair; the
aspect of a confirmed rogue, sly, base, and wicked. They were all armed
to the teeth, and their arms were a great deal better kept than their
teeth, innocent of any attentions whatever, which did not add any
attraction to their grins at surprising the young lady at her toilet.

Somehow, she would almost have preferred to see the red men themselves
than these representatives of her race. Nevertheless, she named
herself, related the disaster, and implored their help for Heaven's
sweet sake.

"A da'ter of one of these top-shelf hunting gentlemen," remarked the
old man, laughing; "and wants help mighty sudden? She's terribly fine,
boys! Narrerly 'scaped being gobbled by the _friendlies_," in sarcasm,
"and _corralled_ all night by that equal-knocks-sial storm. Yes, it'd
gi'n me a deal of cramp; but see what it _are_ to be young and spry!
She's 'mazingly lovely!" he exclaimed again in an audible aside to
his fellows, amused at his playing the gallant. "I hain't seen no
sech since I was an inch high and an hour old! It almost tempts a
lone hunter not to 'bach' it anymore, but go into pardnership. She's
'prime fur.' Yes, Miss, you can come along o' us--you're the kind to
be welcome anywhar' without a cent! How it will shorten up the ride, a
'greeable gal like you! Jerusha! We shall go back full-handed on the
queen o' hearts!"

"Are you captain of some party, sir?"

"Why, not today, Miss. We 'lect our cap'en, and I did not treat the
boys well enough to head the polls. But I am chief of the scouts; yes,
that's my rank. However, it's a considerable show of white men. The
cap's a gentleman, and you'll be as safe as in the Mint as soon as the
captain sees you."

The others exchanged a merry look.

"A large party?" she repeated. "Was that your singing I heard in the
night, or was that a dream?"

"Well, no, Miss, you never heard any singing in our camp. Stop a bit,
when I went on my guard thar was some singing out of Quarry Dick,
because they had sneaked away his pillow, which it was a whiskey
bottle--no offence, Miss! No, no singing."

"It sounded like church music--a hymn."

"Church moosic? You must 'a been on the dream, sartin sure. 'Sides,
thar are Injins squandrin' round hyar, a right few, say a leetle less
than a thousand ton, over an' above the band you mentioned. This is a
hard season for the redskin, and he's come up here to warm himself at
the Firehole, I reckon. The only singer we hev is one young lady about
your age, and she only sings to herself in Mexican lingo."

"A young lady," repeated Ulla, somewhat reassured. "At least, I see,
you are not friends of the savages."

"No; we are our own friends!" returned the old man, grinning again,
"And, individooally, our friends is in our belt," slapping his pistol
and his knife as he spoke.

"And will your captain help me to learn the fate of my poor father, and
the brave men he engaged--if any escaped from that horrid massacre?"

"The captain, miss, will do anything for a pretty face like yours. If
you'll step this way, we'll put you on a pony--there's no possibility
of your little feet gitting over this crust. It's not many miles, but
the milestones are pesky far apart in this country."

"I would prefer to walk."

"That's downright onpossible. Sol Garrod hyar's got a foot like an army
cartridge box lid; but even he would mire himself to the knees."

"Sol Garrod's foot can take care of itself, and you _sit down_ with
your opinions, unless you want to appreciate the beauties of it in
kicking!" growled the subject of the criticism.

"When a gentleman talks about kicking," returned the second man,
hitherto content to ogle the girl in silence, "he is to know that
'Niobraska Pete' is the champion kicker of the wide, wild West, and
hyar's my hat in the corral--"

"Close up!" thundered the eldest of the three, so very garrulous
himself, but not willing for the others to entertain the unfortunate
girl with their eloquence; "You have a mouth like a set beaver trap!
What's the drift of this stupid row? It's no use stringing it out, I
tell 'ee! We've enough to take the back track upon. Whar' do 'ee think
you are? Haven't we better things to do than go popping pistols off
when the rocks swarm with redskins who have made a raise?" and, as the
pair continued to glower at each other, their hands on their weapons,
he went on: "Must I knock you both down to l'arn you manners? Don't
you see we must cage this frightened bird, and then club up some of
the boys to see what the reds have left worth picking at the wreck of
the sporting swell? Ginerally these green 'galoots' yield up rich, and
those red idiots leave the best goods as beyond their comprehension.
Look at the gal trembling; what on airth must she think of your
broughtens up?"

"I am trembling with cold, not with apprehension," said Miss Maclan,
resolutely.

"Oh, hang her opinion; she's bright eyes, and she sees we are all
rogues!" Mr. Garrod observed carelessly.

"Don't you paint us so black, Sol," returned the old man, winking; "the
fact is, we only obey orders under our chief. If thar be any blame
flying about, it must fall on the captain. When we hand the young lady
over to the executive, I shall wash my hands of it, as she was a-doing
when we surprised her; and I advise you to do the same for your sweet
conscience!"

"You talk like an Injin orator, Mr. Cormick," said Sol Garrod; "if
ever we are put in the wrong box--ha, ha!--I shall let you conduct my
defence!"

"Come on, Miss," said Niobraska Pete; "in the meantime, them's the two
wust-eddicated brutes in the band, and no average specimen idiots!"

They had three horses in hiding, and the 'capture' was lifted upon one
behind Cormick, whom she was obliged to enclasp, spite of her loathing,
to save herself from falling. They rattled off at a good pace as long
as the soil was bare and stony. They soon had to traverse one of those
narrow vales between a couple of rocky "divides," which are commonly
halved themselves by a more or less broad ribbon of water, and which
terminate in a basin, a series of steps, or a "cutoff." The riders were
about to scramble down the ravine which yawned, in this case, to appal
less venturesome cavaliers, when Cormick ordered a pulling up.

"I want to look ahead, that's all," he said; "maybe, it's a fool
feeling; but we have been trotting along a leetle too smoothly for
Injin country, and too much quiet I reckon suspicious."

"Some joke o'your'n, to let our coffee and corn cakes git cold!"
sneered Pete.

"Say what you like; but let's have one of you scout up that hole."

"Very good, Cormick," said Garrod, tranquilly; "it's my turn. I'll
bring you back the nigger's top feather!"

"With his hair, too, my boy; but caution; caution never costs too much,
and it's a wise man that wakes up tomorrow morning, as the Spanish say."

"Oh, dry up, Cormick," cried Sol, impatiently reining in, after
starting. "Do you railly think the red devils would browse so near
_our_ camp?"

"Not I, my lad; only I repeat, you cannot poke the bushes with too much
prudence."

Garrod scrutinised the speaker's surly and scowling countenance with
a puzzled expression; but he must have been encouraged, for he pushed
his horse onwards and down, with a snatch of a Negro dance tune hummed
between his teeth, and a chew of tobacco.

"He's pretty much a daring chap," said Pete, with a mocking glance at
his companion as they slowly proceeded.

"Ay, ay, he does not go to market to sell courage with an empty
basket," replied the chief scout, with a dubious grin; "but I prefer
his showing the lead to this child."

Meanwhile Garrod had been spurred by the latter's air and tone into
taking the precautions indispensable on ground sown with hostilities.
His repugnance grew as he dived into the defile, though it was ample
for cavalry to have ridden two abreast. The sides were wooded with
pine, and gradually climbed to a fair height. The adventurer rode more
and more hesitatingly, looking about him on each hand, and as well
behind as before, his rifle ready to fire. But the complete calmness of
the untrodden wind trap mocked his fears. The gorge had many an awkward
turn; but nothing inimical appeared anywhere till the rider came clear
out on the edge of a plain, across which a daring smoke advertised the
site of his camp--one that defied attack, no doubt; for the wolf knows
his bones are not worth the picking.

"What trash!" he muttered, reining in testily. "Old Cormick is in a
cranky fit, or sick with too much alkali water in his whisky. Deuce
take me if I have seen anything to make a flying squirrel chatter! We
might have been at camp by this, where a darned good breakfast is about
ready. Hang the old scared crow!"

Perfectly reassured, but still grumbling, Solomon--without the wisdom
of his namesake--laid his rifle across his saddlebow, and slowly began
to retrace his steps. But hardly had he gone fifty strides, when his
horse's ears were trembling, and the animal pointed, like a dog, at the
head of an Indian, smeared with red clay and covered with feathers,
which arose in the thicket. Instantly a rude rope of bark fibre was
cast over the horseman's head, and he was pulled, half strangled, out
of the saddle, and dashed on the ground in the partly thawed mud and
snow. This done, a man leaped at the horse, and secured it before it
could turn away; when, no doubt, it would have exploded the gun against
the trees in its flight. The assailant was only a red man in looks--it
was Sir Archie Maclan's secretary. Thus far had he wandered, when he
perceived from the wind trap, where he was bewildered, the chief object
of his search. One glance at the ruffians, who affected to befriend
her, had enlightened him on their standing.

Mr. Ranald Dearborn was no fool, if he had not enjoyed prolonged
acquaintance with this region. The love for woodcraft had enlisted him
under the rich Scotchman's banner, almost as much as his great, though
sudden, admiration for his daughter.

For adventure, he had certainly a strong bitter taste at the outset;
and what immediately ensued bid fair to be worthy that sample in peril.

Ensconced by the path, he had seized an excellent moment to overthrow
Mr. Garrod.



CHAPTER VII.

CHEROKEE BILL RECRUITING.


Still upon the young Englishman were the rags which had been taken from
the dead Indian for the need of warmth. These he was glad to cast off,
donning in their stead, as a shade less repulsive, the outer garments
of the senseless scout.

He dragged him out of the way. He mounted the horse and, filled with
his idea of separating the two remaining bandits so as to have a
single-handed battle in the end for the young lady, he returned towards
the friends awaiting Garrod's report. They had come to a halt halfway
down the abrupt slope. As soon as he beheld them, Ranald waved Sol's
cap to beckon them to come on. The distance between, the gloom in the
defile, and the well-remembered garments and horse, sufficed to destroy
suspicion in any but Cormick.

"Thar you are," said Pete, laughing in relief, though he could not
descry the features of the horseman; "thar's Sol beckoning us on--he
hasn't been no time scouting the channel."

"He's been much too quick," objected Cormick, sulkily.

"Well, aren't you coming on? What's the matter? Does your _cayuse_ kick
at so little an added load as the young gal? 'Tell 'ee what, I'll be
proud to have the charge of her!"

The old ranger shook his head dubiously.

"Are you sure that's Sol?"

"Am I sure of my being in my boots? What new 'skeeter's bit you?"

"'Seems to this old man that Garrod bulks up larger in the saddle."

"So he will after the breakfast we are all sp'iling for. Let out your
pony--don't you see he is waving his hand that all's clear?"

"Why don't he come back all the way, then?"

"Because he's no such ass as to want double trouble. You'd tire out a
Salt Lake Saint, Cormick, you would! Car'fulness is the first thing
to put in your bag when you come out on the plains, but you don't
want to have car'fulness as pepper _and_ salt _and_ sugar in all your
messes, morn, noon and night; _and_ Thanksgiving, _and_ New Year's,
_and_ Independence Day! Why, old father, you're getting skeered o' your
shadder--which it ar' no beauty on the snow, by thunder! Here, I've had
my full measure of this hanging back from breakfast, and if you freeze
thar, I foller the thaw and let Sol carry me into camp."

"Go on, then!" replied Cormick. "I tell 'ee thar's some devilment awake
afore us this morning! And that's not Sol Garrod drawing us into a
trap. He's a bad egg, but he wasn't made to throw at a pardner's head.
You'll see, you'll see!"

"Eggs or no eggs, I am going on! Follow at your own pace! But mind! If
you gallop off with the young gal, in whose ransom I have my share as
the fellow finder, I'll report you to Captain Kidd--and you'll not be
safe this side o' the Jordan."

In very open order they resumed the march. The cavalier moved on away
as they started, stride for stride.

"Look at that!" cried Cormick, triumphantly; "See him ride away."

"Why should he not ride on in front of us, and keep the way clear? He
know's the picket's duty--a dragoon deserter, anyhow, he'd ought to."

Still wrangling, they penetrated the defile, where Niobraska Pete
taunted his elder to press on. At a third of the course, nothing
justified Cormick's apprehensions.

"Sol has got out of the way altogether now, though," he remonstrated.

"Pooh! He has darted on to tell cook to dish up, that's all."

"Well, I shan't be satisfied till I have had the first mouthful down,"
said the old man, with a still uneasy look around.

Presently he pulled up his horse, saying that he was in a good spot
for defence; the rising ground over a bulging root of a large cedar
crossing the narrowing path.

"You go on and give the call if all goes well and it is no bogus Sol,"
said he. "Here I stay till the way is safe to my belief."

"He's stubborn as a mule," muttered Pete. "A stamp crusher would not
shake him. Old man," he said, angrily, "I _shall_ git on, and tell the
captain you are up to some trick as regards the young lady. Don't you
fear, though, miss, the captain will stew him like a fish in the kettle
if he plays any tricks on the fair prize of the band represented by its
three scouters in company."

With that he disappeared in the forest cleft, and the snowy crust
ceased to crackle under his horse's hoofs.

The stillness became oppressive, broken only by the swishing of the
branches suddenly relieved of snowy burdens by the effect of the
sunbeams and springing up gaily. All the beasts were hibernating or
asleep; all the birds gone south except the Arctic robins and the
sedately soaring eagles, whose white heads seemed frosted and presented
to the sun to be freed of the chill.

Expectation weighed as poignantly upon the unfortunate girl as on the
old border ruffian. Insensibly yielding to the desire to battle anxiety
with even futile action, he was slowly pushing on his horse when a
peculiar sound at last in advance caused him to check it. Within a few
seconds, the horse of Niobraska Pete came back to its companion, with
no thought but refuge from some startling horror. Pete had not raised
an alarm; consequently that smear of blood on the mane denoted that
he had been unhorsed by a deathblow. Nor did Sol, nor his mysterious
personator appear, and Cormick felt assured that he was left alone, and
that foes were planted between him and the camp, of which he almost
inhaled the savory fumes. The situation was maddening.

"You are bad luck," he snarled at the girl, with the superstition of
the low sort of white men, who soon equal the reds in such fancies. "It
has cost two good men's lives just to have met you."

He waited a while longer, but there was no fresh alarm.

"Hark ye," said he, roughly. "I am going to put you on that horse, and
we must circle round out of this accursed glade. If you try to 'part
co.' I shall shoot you with my first shot. It strikes me, from the
way that we have been beset, it is because of you, and hence you are
worth as much money as I had concluded from your story; but thar's no
calculating on what anybody says nowadays."

As he drew the riderless steed towards him, and tried to make it sidle
up flank to flank, its ears were moved in affright. It sniffed some
alarming taint on the air, and set up so furious a kicking that the
headgear was detached, and left in the astonished bandit's grasp. Then,
emitting a scream like a maimed warhorse on the battle field, it dashed
into the first opening, and crashed on out of all perception.

"It smells the war paint, by all that's cruel! Injins!" muttered
Cormick. "But why did I hear no whoops when they made their 'coups' on
Sol and Pete?"

At the same instant, as if to warrant his reflection, a vibrating yell
of triumph burst forth so clearly as to seem at their elbows--a war
whoop of which Cormick had never heard the like. It was so provocatory
in tone that, irresistibly, at least a hundred savage cries answered it
inquiringly from all parts of the ravine traversed by the bandits.

"Why, it's a nest of them," groaned the old scoundrel, aghast, and only
mechanically restraining his plunging steed.

In the lull which followed--painful by contrast with that hideous
clamour--a horseman dashed into the glen and faced the paralysed
scout. The clothes were of Sol Garrod; but at the cry of "Oh, Mr.
Dearborn! You! Help, help!" from his saddle companion, Cormick was
relieved of any doubt as to his previous surmise of a deception.

"Ah, ah," grunted he, "now I know why he never came back."

With one man, and a young white only before him, he recovered full
sway of his homicidal acquirements, and his gun and that Ranald had
snatched from the burial place were levelled at each other.

"Don't fire!" appealed Ulla, though not in fear for herself, and "Don't
fire!" cried a louder and manly voice, as an additional personage for
the group leaped down from a rock and fell beside the restless horse.

How it reared at this unannounced apparition! That rearing disturbed
Cormick's aim, and whilst his shot passed above Dearborn's head, that
of the latter buried itself in his groin, after scarring the horse's
neck. The newcomer seized the bridle, and shook off the wounded man,
whilst Ranald gladly received the half-swooning lady.

"What the thunder did you fire for?" demanded he, angrily.

The young people stared at him in surprise. He spoke perfect English,
but, we know, Cherokee Bill as perfectly resembled a full-blooded
Indian when animated with ferocity. Besides, his buffalo robe was
tucked up into his belt to leave his legs free, and a ruddy scalp
dangled in a tuck of it.

"A dog of a Crow!" he explained, seeing that it caught their eyes.
"He'll beg no more powder and ball at the Agency to shoot the two
legged buffalo in 'store' clothes, that the wise style a _fresh_ from
the States."

Perplexed by this singular speech, so unlike either an Indian's or a
white man's, the young people had immediately turned their offended
eyes aloof. Ulla must have believed she was saved on ascertaining that
Dearborn had never relaxed his endeavours to come up with her and her
captors. She laughed and sobbed hysterically like one aroused from a
nightmare and excessively delighted; it was but a play of fancy. Alas!
There was to be another waking, and that not long delayed.

Suddenly the Cherokee's hand was laid upon the Englishman's shoulder,
and he said:

"Rouse, sir! That horse must have cantered into the gold seekers'
camp--they are already in the ravine."

"Gold seekers?"

"Robbers, thieves, and all that!" explained Bill Williams, hastily.
"There is no safety for you that way. On the other hand, there are the
Crows--four score at least. I have been counting their noses, so near
that I could have killed more than that one decently."

"Oh, what must we do?" ejaculated Miss Maclan.

"The lady asks you what'll we best do?" repeated the half-breed
sarcastically, eyeing the young man as if to "value him up."

"Cut our way through them!"

"That's good to say, but how can it be done? The gold seekers number
two hundred, and perhaps half of them are crowding in off the plain
now. You and I may trust these horses as far as horses can travel, but
encumbered with the lady, that one will run double risk as a bigger
mark of an arrow and bullet."

"I dare!" said Ulla simply.

But Dearborn shuddered at the idea.

"Take her, man! I will trust you," said he, "stranger though you are,
in all senses of the word; and leave me to detain them from an instant
pursuit."

"Oh, they have their own roasting pieces to spit," said Bill.

"What is your advice, sir? Your tone is that of a commander here," said
Ulla, regarding the Cherokee steadily as he bore himself nobly erect
and unaffected, though, better than either, he estimated the dangers of
the situation aright.

"I say, in the hands of these robbers you will run no risk for the
present, whilst I guarantee this man's safety if we but reach a certain
point on these horses."

"I flee, and abandon the lady into the power of disreputable men? No
such coward, sir!"

"Coward, when I want you to run the double gauntlet of Indians and
desperadoes! I don't see what she could despise you for. Hark! They
come on both sides--stealthily, but I hear them! The young woman cannot
accompany me where I must lead--are we all to be uselessly crumpled up,
or all to be saved?"

"Go!" said Ulla; "Who will save me if you are slain?" in a voice meant
for Dearborn's ear alone.

But the Cherokee overheard her, and instantly subjoined:

"You're the queen trump! I have offered to help you in this strait
because you are white, and your enemies are dogs! But now, on the soul
of my fathers! Supposed to be chasing the phantom buffalo in the aerial
realm which those mountaintops support--I swear to save you from this
hellish crew, or my bones shall swing in the hangman's loop!"

"I hear you, believe you, and I thank you!" exclaimed Miss Maclan,
forcing a smile through tears. "But _our_ enemies come! Hasten away,
in Heaven's name! Dearborn, we shall meet again under that heaven, or
within its golden gates!"

She threw him a kiss with a pretence of playfulness, and bounded away
in the direction of the plain, crying:

"Do not shoot! It is only a woman! I surrender!"

At the same time Cherokee Bill leaped on the free horse over the tail
up, _à l'Indienne_, and catching the other reins, plunged into the
thicket, bidding the Englishman bend low to elude thorns and missiles,
and heedless of his reproaches. In their rapid course, it seemed to the
latter that he saw groups and pairs of grappling men plying clubs and
knives, but no reports of firearms cracked the icicles off the boughs.
Each contesting party showed a respectful dislike to bringing on a
regular engagement.

"What's your horse good for still?" queried the half-breed in a whisper.

"Five or six minutes more at this headlong pace."

"We are nearing an ambush, through which we must cleave our way. Do no
less than I do, and we shall be safe!"

"With heaven my aid, I shall do more!"

The half-breed found a broad way by a miracle of knowledge and
faultless application.

"To the right--wheel to the right!" vociferated he abruptly, as half a
dozen arrows and a light spear or two whizzed under the noses of the
suddenly turned horses.

"Ride them down! Now! Hurrah!"

"Hurrah!" cried Dearborn, firing a shot and hurling his gun in his
frenzy at the row of dark faces that grinned with flaming eyes like a
wall before him.

Few men, except with a long spear, can steadily receive cavalry. Only
one Indian really awaited the English youth on his approach; his lance
snapped in in the horse's chest. It fell on him, enclosing him between
the forelegs. Dearborn was dismounted; but Bill was before him, on the
ground, steadied him as he rose, put a revolver in his hand, and bade
him fire "low and fast." They had passed through the ambuscade at the
cost of the two horses, and the ten shots they poured forth enabled
them to have a start in their retreat on foot. They were speedily in a
hollow of the rocky bluffs, where no sane Indian would follow an armed
foe. The ground was sandy, now mingled with dry snow as hard, and at
random rose needles of stone of varied dimensions, among which the half
Indian trapper serenely threaded his way. At the foot of a nearly
perpendicular mountain they were brought to a standstill. The face
seemed smooth as if polished at first glance, but there ran a ledge, or
cornice, as Alpine climbers call it, along that level spread.

"I see now why a woman could not have accompanied us in our flight,"
said Dearborn.

"No, you don't quite," replied Bill, drily, as he led the young man
slowly upwards on this narrow footway. No quadruped could have mounted,
for these men had to proceed with their backs to the wall, or face to
it, in the case of the inexperienced Englishman. (He feared vertigo if
he looked out or down on the abyss.) At last the ledge ended abruptly.
But, about breast high, the granite was cracked horizontally, just wide
enough for one's finger to be hid in it.

"Watch me," said Bill, calmly. "If you do not think you can follow me
in such a spider's way, cling where you are till I bring a friend and a
lasso that we may swing you over here. It was necessary that we should
leave no trail those dogs dare pursue," he added apologetically.

"Go on," said Ranald, who felt his blood boil with the determination to
show this strange hybrid that he had, at least the bravery of the white
race, if not the athletic craft of the aborigines.

Thus adjured, the Cherokee inserted his hands in the prolonged crevice,
let his body hang at the end of his arms with no other hold; and
gradually worked himself along some twenty feet.

The watcher suffered more than he with the suspense. After a period
seeming immeasurable, the way was clear; the rock was untenanted
save by the young man, and he might have believed he was abandoned
in this horrific site by a deluding demon. He looked up: a thousand
feet of granite seemed bowing out to fall and entomb him; he looked
outward--miles of ether intervened betwixt him and the tops of gigantic
trees; he looked down, just for an instant's fraction, and felt his
heart shrink; he was some three thousand feet over a cup of frozen
water--a lake diminished thus by the space.

"Come!" said the Cherokee's voice, designedly emotionless that he might
not affect the young man in any way.

The latter breathed a prayer to live for the sake of the bereaved
daughter of his patron, and steadily swung himself over the chasm by
his eight fingers alone; the thumbs seemed useless; the cliff fell away
insensibly beneath him, so that his feet failed to touch. It was the
dream of a man-fly acted out.

Finally, the end of the crack was attained. Here the climber without an
assistant was a doomed man, unless he could retreat as he came--almost
an impossibility. But, on this occasion, Cherokee Bill was waiting,
with the loop of a counterbalanced rope in his hand, which he lowered
over the young man and drew up so as to engirdle him. More than his
pair of arms were not needed, considering the size of the boulder which
weighed the farther end of the cord; but, none the less, two other
men were hauling on it. In a few minutes the young man stood on the
threshold of the cavern of the Old Nick's Jump. This was the only other
way in.

With a cordial wave of the hand, Cherokee Bill presented his protégé to
Jim the Yager and Mr. Filditch.

"A recruit," said he, laconically, "and _A one!_ We are going to have
some rare tussles, right soon and right here; but this friend o' ours
will keep up his end o' the board, and don't you forget who says so!"



CHAPTER VIII.

THE GOLD GRABBERS.


The Cherokee and his young friend had barely vanished from the defile
before some twenty men rushed in upon Miss Maclan. They had left
her in a growing trepidation lest she had committed a great blunder
in not sharing their flight. The newcomers were on horse and afoot.
In this rugged way, expert footmen could keep pace with the riders.
The principal was a tall, thin man, about fifty, rather bowed than
straight; his tawny hair fell in locks thickly upon his shoulders in
the style of the adopters of the Indian fashion; his face was bloodless
in the third part not hidden by a red beard; as a guard against snow
blindness, he wore green goggles, which gave him the air of a student
or professor on a most guileless scientific enterprise. Spite of this,
he was the Western desperado who had taken the notorious name of
"Captain Kidd," that of the most ferocious pirate known on the Atlantic
coast in the 18th century. He had already seen Sol Garrod inanimate,
and the view of Old Cormick, a much more prized member of his band,
doubled the malignity of his scowl. Nevertheless, he was surprised into
some courtesy on seeing nobody but the young lady, for he removed his
fur cap a little, and faltered:

"Who are you? This is never your work, is it?" pointing to the dead
bandit. "Oh, I see," he went on, quickly. "The rogues quarrelled over
the plum, and they would have deprived their captain of his option to
redeem it at the band's estimation."

"Sir," said she haughtily, "you are right to call them rogues; they
professed no great respect for me, and they have been punished for it
by men who, on the contrary, have acted like honourable gentlemen."

"That will do. This is no time or place for such pages out of the Book
of Elocution! What is it, my boys?" as his men returned quickly from
the track of the horses.

An uproar in the woods, where the flyers burst through the Indians,
enlightened them on the danger of prosecuting their researches too far.

"Our red brother!" he exclaimed, jestingly. "You'd better fall back
before he extends the tomahawk of friendship."

"But the slayers of our mates and stealers of their horses are not
Indians," added a scout who most recently came in.

"Never mind. Return to camp. Neither in the sky or along the land now
is the lookout serene, and we shall meet any mishap better there. Two
of you take care of that saucebox. Hang me if she be not, though fair
as a lily, as pert and disdainful as a Mexican."

Lighting a cigar, he rode back, meditatively smoking, among his sullen
and apprehensive men, without appearing to remember he had made a
prisoner.

They were not the kind of characters to whom a young lady's protection
should have been confided. On the contrary, their dissipated faces,
truculent carriage, and noisy talk, proclaimed them the scum of the
dross of the mining camp. Not worthy the name of gold seeker, they
deserved that of horse thief, secret stabber, and "gold grabber."

For her part, Ulla was overcome by violent emotions, after the brief
hope of being free of persecution. The persistent devotion of Mr.
Dearborn impressed her. Others who may have escaped apparently looked
to their own safety, but he had armed himself merely to follow her
steps and seek to deliver her against any odds. She ruefully reviewed
the events during which she had passed through hope, fear, and pain,
till plunged into a despair greater than any since her father's death.
On marking the number of her escort, and their villainous visages and
robust physique, she saw little possibility of her only friend, however
energetic his new associate, to save her from a miserable fate.

The retreating bandits did not seem to draw the Indians after them.
There was no event on the way, and the watch at their camp had none to
report.

The adventurers' "fort" presented a semicircle, the horns resting
on marshland and on an inaccessible ravine respectively. It had an
improvised musket battery gun, such as Prince Maurice of Holland
invented years ago, and modern armourers have perfected and adorned
with their generally unpronounceable names. Its rows of barrels, two
deep, could be fired simultaneously, and a light, strong, broad-wheeled
carriage allowed it to be quickly shifted in position. It defended the
only breach in a barricade of pickets. But it was evident the gold
seekers were fairly well content to entrust their surety to their
rifles and strong arms.

Captain Kidd responded carelessly to the questions of the men in camp,
waved them to stand back, and proceeded towards the rocks of the
ravine. Soon he stopped, alighted, and offered to assist Miss Maclan
down from a horse which a rider had resigned to her. She made no answer
to his speech of welcome, more or less satirical, and eluded his hand
by leaping lightly to the ground. He turned pale, frowned, and cried:

"Take her to the señorita. They are proud cats alike, and tell Doña
Rosario that you bring her a companion or a slave--I care not which she
makes of her."

"But, sir!" interrupted Miss Maclan, more alarmed at being thrown into
the power of a woman than heretofore, "You must know that I am the
daughter of Sir Archie Maclan! That he--"

"Oh, the frontier barrooms are full of such sirs!" he replied,
brutally. "I care not who you are, since you would not be civil. Know
that here you are like one of those tent poles--something I can snap
asunder and toast my cheese with. Take her away! Three men lost because
of her. I am _half froze for hair!_" and he made with his finger in the
air near her forehead the atrocious pantomime of scalping her.

She did not shrink, but looked at him steadily with her cold blue eyes,
and, with a lofty mien, followed the man in whose charge she was placed.

"And now that we have the petticoats out of the way," said one of the
bandits hastily, "I suppose we can launch out and punish those who have
wiped out poor Sol and his 'pardners?'"

"You will do nothing of the sort, Dick," replied Captain Kidd to the
coarse Englishman who addressed him.

"Why not? Are you afraid of the Crows who infest the wood? So it
appears."

"No, nor of the Blackfeet who are also in the neighbourhood."

"Of the Red River Half-breeds, then, who are camped yonder? Pooh, I
could eat the lot, three at a bite."

"No."

"Of the sledging train, whose unconcealed traces abounded to the
northeast, as Lottery Paul reported two days ago?"

"Of them still less. If this young woman's tale be true, they came
scooting along with sails on their sledges--what a notion! And scooted
into a cutoff! They were smashed, and the reds and the wolves have left
no more than their bones."

"I know now! You are afeard o' running up against the Old Man of the
Mountains!"

"Jim Ridge--"

"And his red-nigger companyero, Cherokee Bill!"

"No!" answered the captain, more warmly than with any of his negatives
before.

"'Tis the Yager and his blood brother! I am sure we are near that haunt
of theirs which no one has yet wormed out, and yet scores of daredevils
have left the settlements to try to discover their places, as we are
doing."

"My dear 'pal' Dick," replied Captain Kidd. "I do not underrate Old
Jim. He is wise, expert, brave, with an enormous influence over
all the prairie and mountain rangers from the Great Lakes to the
Waterless Desert of the Apache Country. I defy anyone to tell certainly
beforehand whether he will have the enmity or support of even those red
men who most hate us whites as a rule. He must be our prisoner--our
guide, by any means, mark, to the treasures of this region. Though
it is a hard task to master him, he shall fall into our clutches,
I promise you. But my fear is no more of him than of Canadians,
Blackfeet, or Crows."

"Of whom, then, captain?"

"Have you seen any eagles on the sierra today?"

"No!"

"Or wild beasts in the glens?"

"No! But yesterday they were out of their retreats."

"I believe it. The eagles were whetting their beaks; and the bears,
wolves, and wolverines sharpening their claws."

"Very like, because they have seen us and so many other gangs almost
jostling in these wilds, and they know there will be meat."

"No, Dick; our conflicts will not furnish them with a glut. It will
be a mightier devastator--one that we cannot resist, and we will be
lucky to dodge. See the clouds rolling over and over on the top of the
Rockies--above the snowbelt! That is the blizzard concentrating for a
rush down upon the valleys and plains. Go and set the men to making all
weatherproof. We shall be snowed up! And may the devil take care of his
own!"



CHAPTER IX.

THE RED RIVER HALF-BREEDS.


Whilst Ranald and Filditch reposed, the more restless trappers went out
reconnoitring all the day.

There was a rising wind, which boomed in the hollows, rattled the loose
stones, and soughed among the ice coated boughs.

Their first find was the lodgement of the Crow Indians. For over twenty
hours these had remained in a fireless camp in a gulch eastward, living
on "cold bites," so as not to betray themselves, and sending out no
scouts till the recent snow should be hardened.

At half past five in the morning, Cherokee Bill had heard a murmur in
this camp, like that of the bees in swarming, and thus it was pointed
out. The two crept as near as they dared. They could distinguish the
forms of the more prominent leaders as they drilled their followers,
and could recognise the head chief.

It was Ahnemekee--noted, though young. He was bold, vain of his good
looks and long hair, and very rapacious. His people esteemed him a
hero; but the frontiersmen set him down as one of the biggest thieves
in creation--which, by the way, is much the same thing. Ahnemekee made
a speech to his troop, rather at length, and with a confident bearing.
The two beholders conjectured, from the gestures, that he was planning
an attack on a grand scale. The subchiefs, having also addressed their
bands, a war whistle sounded the order to depart, and all the warriors
left the camp, except a strong guard over their few horses. Being
Mountain Crows, they were accustomed to fight on foot.

The two hunters had no more to learn there; but, by following the first
party, whose trail they came upon, they soon judged whither they all
converged; and running on in advance, by a wide circuit to the same
point, they discovered an encampment, and thereby the cause of the
hymns in the midnight.

At first sight, it looked like a caravan of emigrants. There were
carts, waggons, horses, oxen, mules, and even sheep, calves, and pigs.
The guardians of this valuable train, so far up in the mountains, were
nearly a hundred in number. There were many women, about the same age,
but few or no children; and, coming to examine closely, while the
men were all of an age, also, their dark tint was quite contrary to
the complexion of their charges. The conveyances showed a variety of
construction and brands, which showed to the acute scouts that it was
no legitimate grouping, but rather a conglomeration of spoil from a
raid on the edge of civilisation.

"It will be dog eating dog," observed the Yager; "for here is the
target of 'the Thunderbolt.' What do you make them out to be?"

"Red River Half-breeds," answered Bill--"_Bob Rulies_, sure as a gun.
The Crows will have a tough dinner to tackle if they trouble them!"

"Bob Ruly" is a burlesque pronunciation of _Bois Brulé_, or "burnt
wood;" that is to say, men of the colour of the red of a fire stick
between the black end and the unfired portion. It is applied to the
Half-breeds of Canada, French and Indian, who refused to accept their
transference under the Anglo-French treaty of 1763 to the English
flag, and withdrew to the west. Their realm of retirement, called the
Red River Territory, or Manitoba, is geographically in the British
Dominion; but they flourished there in freedom till the development
of Canada, and the project of a North Pacific Railway compelled the
Canadian Government to enforce their submission. At this time, it was
supposed that the Bois Brulés would maintain their independence, if
more or less helped by American adventurers, until the intervention of
the United States would confirm it, preliminary to their absorption
into the Great Republic. No one foresaw that the British troops, under
Sir Garnet Wolseley, would quickly suppress the rebels, and that
the United States Civil War would direct the Washington statesmen's
attention elsewhere.

The Bois Brulés, through their Indian blood, are friendly with many
northwestern tribes; and, being good trappers, and gay and easygoing
spirits, keep on pleasant terms with the white rovers.

"Tell 'ee what, chief," said Ridge, after prolonged observation,
"they're a band of villains there! Either they have been robbing, or
they are consignees of plunder. If it were not for those poor women,
whom anyone can tell are prisoners, I should cheer the Crows on to 'em!"

"Yes; Ahnemekee is a murderous thief--he thinks nothing of killing
women and babes--a bad Indian, Jim! He must not be let have his way
here!"

"We must hold a 'medicine council,'" continued the Old Man of the
Mountain; "so back to our friends!"

They had to take their return route with more caution than in coming,
since the Crows were no doubt at hand. But their intimate knowledge of
the ground enabled them to avoid any contact. Thanks to the detour they
traced, and to the infinite pains with which they scanned every square
yard of the scene, they perceived that a small party had come to a halt
in the rocks. These were not Blackfeet; and they thought at the first
that they might be the Crows, of whose presence Filditch's moccasin had
given an intimation. In any case, they crept up to the shallow dug out
den in the side of a shale and sandstone cliff, and, when the faces
were distinguishable, rose out of the cover, and boldly went forward,
waving their open right hands in token of peaceful intentions.

Indeed, the group of seven men was friendly. Two more were collecting
wood for a fire, luckily for them not yet burning.

It was the remnant of Sir Archie Maclan's hapless expedition.

Usually, a meeting place at a distance is agreed upon by a troop, in
order that, after dispersal by an attack, the rally may be made for a
reprisal or to affording a strong front in retreat. This precaution had
not been taken by the English gentleman's heterogenous company. Still,
by some natural law prevailing in the wilderness, the few who escaped
the savages had come together. Lame, weaponless, imperfectly clothed,
driven to eat roots painfully scratched out of the frozen soil, they
regarded the two trappers as almost superhuman, glowing, as they were,
with health, and formidably armed, and quite at home in the desolation.

At their first words--thanks to Ranald's account of the disaster--the
newcomers knew with whom they had to deal. These were, save one (a
Surcee Indian), the Scotch hunters. Though the Hudson's Bay Company men
are instructed to show no cordiality towards free trappers in actual
practice, they usually hobnob when they meet. Here, as Jim Ridge at
once promised them supplies if they would accompany him to a _cache_,
the fraternisation was speedily perfect, and when Cherokee Bill, bound
to the mountain home to bring back Ridge's nephew and Mr. Dearborn,
left the rejoicing fugitives, they were toasting the Old Yager in
trading whisky, and vowing to follow him to the edge of the Firehole
Basin, and then over.

Two hours afterwards, the Cherokee returned with the whites, and
the reception of Ranald was hilarious by his comrades, now equipped
and crammed to repletion. Whilst these lost ones "_found_ in every
comfort," as they said, were still recompensing themselves for their
sufferings in the unconstrained mode of the desert, the chiefs of this
now redoubtable band conferred on the plan of action.

Filditch was alone his own master, and placed himself at his relative's
orders; Cherokee Bill judged that the "old hoss knew best;" Ranald,
freely appointed leader of the Scotch contingent, offered their
services as blindly, and Jim had only to debate with himself.

"Gentlemen," said he, "that either the Crows or the Bob Rulies should
slaughter one another in a fight is no item for my book. But those
white women are innocent creatures, wives, and sisters, I daresay,
of poor settlers, who are now lamenting their unknown fate. We are
not numerous enough to match either band now, but when they thin one
another out with a general shoot, one vigorous charge might place the
captives in our hands. When we so charge Bill will look to the horses;
and once we can ride off, I answer for a safe haven for the whole
_cahoot_ (cohort) in a nest in the mountains. Woe to any that follow
us, for I am conceited on not letting Tom, Dick, and Harry collect on
my front doorstep. Is that a good notion, brothers?"

"It will do."

"Then look to your guns, whet your knives, and all be ready to march."

In half an hour the start was made, the men being allowed to finish
their pipes as they proceeded in single file. Down sloping ground,
Ridge led them into a valley, where an unseen river gurgled like a pond
of sunfish. A beaver dam had intercepted this flow, but the beaver
meadow was one sheet of perfectly unruffled ice, under which the
running water could be seen by the bubbles at the airholes. Like so
many schoolboys, the men, with a start down the bank, shot themselves
across this expanse to the wood of tender trees among the stumps cut
by the industrious natural engineer. Here Cherokee Bill took the head
of the Indian file. For twenty minutes the string of men advanced in
absolute quiet, forbearing to snap a dry twig, dislodge a stone, or
crush the ice crust. Bill guided them so skilfully that they were
always well sheltered, till finally they came out into a hodgepodge of
boulders in a sand black and fine as gunpowder, resembling the remains
of bones and vegetables in a giant's stew kettle out of which he had
drained the broth. It occupied the centre of the end of the beaver
meadow, and protected the rivulet channel.

It was the halting post, and a more unscalable and defensible position
it were difficult to select. Under them in front the level ground
extended where the Bois Brulés' caravan had been drawn through,
hindrances which any but western wagoners would deem insurmountable.
The hunters were shielded on all sides, and invisible. On the white
patches of snow they descried the unsuspecting red men leisurely
nearing the palisades of the Canadians to take up position for the
storming. The stockade showed that the Half-breeds intended no move,
and as Indians almost never attack in darkness, the little force on
observation placidly lay down to await their cue to intervene.

Streaks of fog and a dull greyish yellow cloudbank closed in the
setting sun. In the night the wolves called to one another, and seemed,
in their language, to exchange information on the movements of so many
men in the solitude, and laughed at the prospect of carnage on the
morrow.

When the moon shone wan and cold, it not only was adorned with a livid
snow ring, but was accompanied by four "dogs," or weird images of its
pale self, which made the superstitious red men shudder. As for the
whites, hardy as the Scotch-American becomes, they luxuriated under the
blankets and furs which Jim Ridge had generously offered, and mocked
at the glacial chill of the morning frost. A few showers of fine ice,
rather than snow, fell on the lookouts of the mountain men's "fort,"
of the Crows and of the Canadians, suffering with the feverish wakeful
sleepiness to which soldiers, seamen, and hunters are subjected at the
worst stage in the darkest and coldest hours of dawn.

At length stripes of pallid gold and blue announced a sunless day. None
but a snow owl saluted it, and that was a sneering, melancholy hoot
borne on the gusty breeze, laden with sleet, ice, and sand.

The twilight was of a milky opal hue, which concentrated in a midair
layer, while the ground air cleared up and allowed a tolerably extended
view. It seemed an ominous pall over the threatened camps.

Suddenly a vivid glare reddened the plain. A war drum thundered, and
the Crow war whoop furiously resounded.

Ahnemekee's war whistle piped his band on with piercing notes.



CHAPTER X.

THE STORM KING.


On the several signals, the mountaineers saw the Crows spring up even
from coverts where they had not suspected them to lurk. They shook off
the snow like so many feathers off a shot bird, as well as their robes,
which would encumber their onset. Immediately firearms of all sorts,
for the red men are rarely armed uniformly, began and kept up the sharp
continuous crackle of a firing at will.

"Thar she blazes!" said Cherokee Bill, with a ferocious grin.

Besides their bullets, the Crows had flung fireballs and fire tipped
arrows upon the waggons, and had followed them in at the openings of
the interlocked carts. But they had no timid emigrants to deal with,
whatever they might have thought. Quite otherwise, for the Bois Brulés
were on the alert, employing all defensive measures in their full
knowledge available in that site. Their firing was only done when they
pushed the Indians with the muzzles, and it was dead or wounded whom
they thus blew back without the barrier.

This repulse did not dishearten the marauders. They came on again as
boldly, but with more method. Some carried bunches of resinous twigs
smeared with elk fat, and using them first as shields by which to reach
the waggon wheels, dropped them between them and fired them before
retiring. The camp defenders were forced to detach several to put out
these flames, which soon caught the waggon canvas covers.

At one gap about forty of the savages clambered in, and plied knives
and hatchets to reach the horses, which they hoped to stampede, and
so augment the confusion, whilst relieving the owners of the power to
depart speedily. Their whoops were already impressed with the tone of
victory.

The main body of the Red River Half-breeds surrounded a large tent
which undoubtedly contained their valuables, including the captive
women, whose psalms had been heard by the mountain men. The rest of the
Half-breeds resisted the rush towards the cattle.

All at once several Indians were seen setting upon a young Canadian,
who had a keg under one arm, which he defended with a woodman's axe.

"Whisky! Whisky! The firewater; ha, ha!" cried these savages, laughing
and yelling in his face under the very axe which menaced to leave them
no heads into which to gulp their beloved liquor.

"You asses, it's powder!" he returned, contemptuous of their stupidity.

At the same moment, whilst his and half a dozen other pairs of hands
wrenched the keg asunder, one of the gusts of wind swept towards the
group the blazing shreds of a tarpaulin of a waggon being pillaged.
A spark kindled the outpouring grains, the explosion ensued, and the
cluster of redskins was horribly scattered, while the Bois Brulés fell
limbed.

Though almost conquerors, the unsuppressible screams of the victims
of this ravage intimidated the Crows, and nothing but the prompt
encouragement of their chiefs prevented a panic. On the other hand, the
view of so much harm wrought by a single hand revived the Half-breeds'
courage. They saw that, at least, they would not perish without
retaliation, and that they could evade death by torture by blowing
themselves up.

The death dealing explosion acted as a signal for an armed truce of
scanty duration.

Meanwhile the Scotch allies of the mountain men had watched the
struggle from their aerie with the burning impatience of boarhounds who
hear the beast gnashing his tusks. All but Ridge seemed thus chafing to
take a share in the sanguinary game. They only controlled their warlike
instincts till the bursting of the gunpowder keg forced them to applaud
the Canadian victim. Then, without a word, they bounded from among the
rocks and rushed down on the 'Plat.' All that Ridge could do was get
them under some restraint, so as to "plunge in" orderly.

The combatants had their attention so engaged within the camp, that the
new arrivals ran up to the waggon hubs without being noticed. Therefore
the Yager halted them behind two stumps, of which the trunk and limbs
had helped fence the enclosure, and went half round it to inspect the
smoking ruins, where gashed and mutilated bodies proved that neither
Canadian nor Indian struck with daintiness. Rejoining his companions,
he briefly explained how he wished them to aim, and they impatiently
awaited his word of command.

The pause was now over, for Ahnemekee was flourishing his spiked war
club and sounding the charging cry. In another moment the redskins who
survived the last shots of the Bois Brulés would be in the tent of the
women and raining merciless blows on their unresisting forms.

"Fire into the brown of them!" roared Ridge, furious at the scene, not
unknown to him, which he imagined.

At the back of the Crows, then, through the smoke and a few idly
falling flakes of spotless snow, a dozen shots resounded, and at least
ten of them pitched headfirst towards the Canadians, whose balls
whizzed over them and strewed death among their surprised companions.

Taken between two fires, the Crows felt they had lost the day. The
Bois Brulés, without wasting time in seeking whence were their timely
deliverers, shouted "_Vive la Canadienne!_" and bravely took the
offensive. But, casting aside their empty guns, the Crows scattered
through the camp, and tried to scramble out of the environment with
even more alacrity than they had shown in entering. Shot down by the
unknown foe and cut to pieces by the reanimated Half-breeds--it was a
"fix." Weaponless, stripped almost naked for the action, debarred from
speeding to the spot where their garments were stored, the Indians
must have been slaughtered to a man on the frigid waste had not their
frantic appeals to the patron of their tribe seemed to have obtained an
intervention.

That storm which had been two days breeding, and was unmistakably
threatened overnight, flew over the mountain crest and burst on the
tablelands with unmeasured violence. It was the "blizzard," to which
East Indian cyclones, West Indian tornadoes, and what Europe calls
tempests, are zephyrs to fan a baby's brow. One of those cataclysms
which befall poor earth as if destined to destroy it, and rage in the
desert so furiously that the aspect of the whole tract for thousands
upon thousands of miles is often transformed in a few hours. The wind
came out of gorges like a compacted bolt, and basalt was pierced
like putty; the eddies, or "screw wind," uprooted hoary pines and
waltzed away with them in the distance. The snow and hail clouds
were compressed to the tree and hill tops, and condensed the lower
atmosphere so that breathing was difficult, and cattle stopped in
frantic flight as if a colossal hand were laid on their backs. The snow
fell in balled up masses, and light absolutely disappeared so far as
any ability to fix its source existed. All the eye could perceive was a
variation in the density of the seams of gloom. As for hearing, any one
of the portentous sounds must have deafened--the roar of the wind, the
crash of the dethroned peaks, the ripping of the trees, the rush of the
avalanches of snow, sand, and rocks.

The Indians had scattered over the plain, trembling and moaning their
prayers indiscriminately to the Great Good Spirit and the Little Bad
One. On they fled, trampling on birds and beasts, whose lifelong
lairs and nests were wrecked, and which grovelled flat in agony of
apprehension. Most dreadful of all, now and then a fugitive was balled
up in a thick gust, and the packing flakes around him rapidly gathering
additional layers, he was soon thrown down, and thence forth, the core
of a rolling hill spun on for leagues over the tablelands.

Ridge had time to raise the cry, "With me, on our only chance, boys!"
and by a miracle, blindly, yet surely, led the band back to their
late post, however precarious was that refuge, attained over new and
terrible obstacles in the thick snow.

The lately smooth-as-glass beaver meadow lake was rough with stones
that had smashed the mirror; the subterranean stream, vastly swollen,
rose up like an entombed snake, bursting the surface and splashed about
impetuously for outlets which continual changes of the rocky barriers
offered and withdrew. As the torrent rose to the hunters, the snow
massively came down. But they were hardened border men, and far from
letting even justifiable awe paralyse their courage, arched their backs
against the piercing north wind, and listened to judge by its sinister
voice where would open an escape from the enwrapping danger.

Fortunately, the very violence of these Rocky Mountain snowstorms
lessen their duration, and they calm down more rapidly than they break
out--suddenly and without a warning lull. This the adventurers knew,
except Filditch and Ranald alone, perhaps, and though they were knee
deep in icy water and mere snowmen, they dwelt statuesque without a
murmur.

During three hours they huddled up, clinging to each other, merely
shifting, so that every now and then the more exposed should be
replaced by the best sheltered--a living bulwark, that built and
unbuilt itself for its own protection.

"Hurrah, boys!" shouted the Yager, as the wind died away sharply,
"We have weathered it. Old Rocky is some, though, when he pitches
snowballs!"

The snowflakes were soft at last, and not intermingled with icy atoms
that cut the cheek, ay, and even the leather of their dress, like a
sandblast. Soon that ceased, and they could view the dreadful medley of
the devastated country.

All the landmarks were removed, and the new ones were frightfully
fantastic. Trees were stripped into logs, and flung upon the bluffs,
and boulders were perched in the crotches of dismantled trunks. The
grove where the hunters had been ambushed among the stumps, to succour
the Half-breeds' captives, no longer existed even to the roots. No
sound arose where no breathing creature remained. Four feet deep the
snow and sleet spread as a blanched shroud over the level ground.

The survivors waited an hour for the frothy torrent to go down, so that
they could ford it by offering an angular resistance, all supporting
the upstream leader against the still raging current. Then, rigging up
temporary snowshoes out of fragments of elder and their ragged robes,
they began to glide over the fresh floor, hardly firm enough yet to
support even their restless skimming. They were five hours reaching a
place of refuge near the secluded cave which Ridge did not wish to make
of public knowledge.

Of the Crows and the Bois Brulés there was not a trace. Such a storm
could have made one huge snowball of waggons and cattle, and trundled
it irresistibly down the steppes into the gullies of the Bad Lands of
Montana.



CHAPTER XI.

THE IRRESISTIBLE BAIT.


The band of gold grabbers, whose prisoner Miss Maclan had become, had
met the snowstorm supinely. They had, besides, obeyed their prudent
leader by remaining buried in its protective mantle until the day was
broken. The ravine crest had quickly been banked up, so that shielded
them; and the marshland, offering no poor resistance to the tempest,
had turned no gusts back. They had suffered the least of any exposed
in that time of anguish. The danger over, they set to cleaning the
camp with coarse jokes, and thronged to breakfast at a bugle call,
after having worked on a cup of coffee alone with the wolfish appetite
of sojourners in that high latitude. They were well provisioned, none
of the wormy "crackers," rank pork, and burnt horse bean coffee of
commerce, but good flour bread, deer and bear meat, and honest salt
pork. Captain Kidd would have lost half the troop in this onerous
wintry expedition with an inferior table.

For the leaders a marquee had been erected, raised of the canvas that
sheltered them nightly, in which a folding table stood on picket pins
for legs, so that the guests could squat around. Well loaded with
hearty fare and various liquors, it was the article of furniture most
prominent.

The captain and his lieutenants were received by a youth of eighteen,
who took their rifles with the address of an experienced servant, and a
Negro.

As soon as he arrived Kidd bade the latter withdraw.

"_¡Vamos!_ 'moosey!" he cried, "For your big ears are not wanted. _The
Drudge_ will do the waiting. Tell the señora to breakfast with her new
toy! I have a business conference to make with my partners. Mind, none
of your sneaking curiosity, or I'll sell you to the Blackfeet for a
slave. They are swarming out there!"

The Negro dived under a flap of canvas with a terrified face, as much
afraid of his threat as of his master, thus evading a tin plate that
was wantonly skimmed after him, and might have cut his head.

"Sit to it, gentlemen," said Kidd, rubbing his hands, "and don't let
the good things get cold."

They had not waited for this apology for grace to begin the meal like
so many carnivora. For about a quarter of an hour no one uttered a
word except "Pass the mustard," "Don't let that bottle go to sleep
thar!" and so on, whilst "Drudge" was kept on the trot.

He was only about eighteen, we repeat; but he appeared older from being
tall, large in the joints, muscular, and especially from the resolution
on his manly countenance; he was sallow, and his restless eyes dark.
He seemed a prey to incurable melancholy. Though he was too crafty to
let his true sentiments be exposed, it was clear that he served these
ruffians with inward repugnance, not to say hatred. Two of them in
particular filled him with disgust, and they always spoke in a scornful
and threatening tone; they even struck him and kicked him, as if they
considered him their thrall. These were "Quarry Dick" and "Lottery
Paul," Kidd's next men, of whom Mr. Filditch has made an unflattering
mention. Their more intimate acquaintance is about to be given.

The chief was the first to break the silence with a remark that summed
up the prevailing sentiment, no doubt, as all growled or grinned
approvingly.

"The storm was no feather," he said, "but it has blown over nicely. Old
Nick has taken first-rate care of his chicks."

"I don't think anything less would have pulled us through so far," said
his right hand neighbour sarcastically.

"And so he ought. We work mighty hard for him, you bet!" said his
opposite, emphatically.

"To say nothing of what we are going to do pretty soon 'on,'" concluded
the one facing the captain, upon which all four laughed.

"Yes, it's blown over, and our old friends in Texas are catching it
about this time. I hope it will wash the slate of some of my unpaid
scores in barrooms I could tell you of! But care killed a cat; I'll
have none of that in my tumbler. There's only one thing kept me awake
last night, and that was not the thought of the storm."

"What, my friend Corky Joe?" inquired the captain, who seemed to feel
peculiar affection for this lieutenant.

This singular, or even comic title, that of the wolverine, otherwise
_carcajieu_ of the Canadian trappers, the wickedest wild beast of
Northwest American _fauna_, seemed no misnomer for a daredevil,
spirited, malicious, alert, quick to whip out a knife or draw a pistol
to back his impudent and defiant speech. The finest shot with either
hand was he, the best horseman and the most tireless and reliable
sentinel of the band.

"I only would like to know who cut off our friends in the narrow ways."

"Oh, as for that, the girl whom we brought in alone knows; but I
am sure they knew we were 'no good settlers,' to have laid our
representatives low. I am reserving the questioning of that girl till
our more important 'talk' is over. Light your pipes, gentlemen, if you
are done polishing your eyeteeth, and let us hold the council."

"There's one thing sure," observed the Frenchman, "the more I look
on this forsaken country, through smoke or with a clear eye, whither
the Cap. has brought us, the more firmly I wish I had it well behind
me. It's enough to make a man wish he was a grizzly; nothing else can
thrive here."

"Come, come, Frenchy," remonstrated the leader, "we are no more
delighted than you. It is not here I mean to lay out Kiddville! But
there is no other way to the port whereto I steer."

"Port! More like alkali water; there's not an ounce of anything worth
a man's stooping to pick up over all the tracks we've crossed. The
fact is, the hangers round Varina have 'stuffed' you with yarns of the
wonderland which gets farther away the nearer you come to it! Gammon
about the valley covered with surface gold! I know what gold bearing
earth is, having been in Californy in the good old years!" with a smack
of the lips. "This volcanic tract is burnt out. Any metal has long
since melted and run away miles below. Either you have swallowed the
old trapper's drunken mouthings for gospel, or you have let Corky Joe
here get you in a coil! The bigger lies he tells, the more you like
him, I believe! I wouldn't copper his layout one _sou!_ You hear me!"

"You keep my name out of it!" cried the individual alluded to, with an
unfriendly tone.

"I'll kick you out of it if you lead us astray! I am not to be bluffed
off by you, ugly face! This is a free country, ain't it? And my opinion
is that you fawn on the chief to have the longest pull at his bottle of
select brandy!"

Scarcely were the words spoken before the Wolverine reached across the
low board with a gleaming bowie knife. Luckily, the Frenchman knew the
man he had taunted, and threw himself back, which gave Kidd time to
shove himself between.

"Put up your knives," he roared. "What do you friends want to waste a
stab and a cut for when we are literally surrounded by the enemy? It's
only when we have eaten the last round of horseflesh that we should
carve one another, and we have not come to that corner yet. Come, come,
don't rile _me_ with your snarling!"

"All right, old man, that's past now," returned the Parisian, "only
we'll come to a settlement before we come to the settlement, or I am
much mistaken--"

"Still at it, confound you!" cried the captain, laying his hand on his
revolver butt.

"Oh, no, that's only a leetle friendly caution. Here's his health! All
I have to say is that if you had listened to Dick and me, who wanted to
'clean up' the new mines at Deadman, Wyoming, instead of this uncombed
savage, the _carcajieu_, who bolsters you up in your obstinate fit to
keep on going ahead, we should not be where snowstorms rage. Why, you
knew us down south, but the Wolverine was no acquaintance of yours a
month before you gathered the gang; my pile on that for a fact!"

"That's so, Paul," returned the leader, dreamily.

"Why not even have gone through the Mormon country? We all know they
are 'temperance folk'; but, bless you! It's next door to a teetotal
town that one drinks the best tarantula juice."

"That's true!" said Dick.

"I daresay," replied the chief bandit, "that I have gone a trifle out
of my way, but you ought to know that I was bound to leave no 'pointer'
on my path as to my true aim. Things were getting too hot for us on
the border--we are well out of sheriffs' and vigilance committees'
curiosity. I do not like there being so many folks afoot just where I
believed we should find a desert, but perhaps last night's blizzard has
scattered them like so many loose pebbles. What do you think of our
scrape?" he demanded of Corky Joe.

"About as bad as they make 'em," was the unhesitating answer.

"What's your opinion, Dick?"

The English ex-convict shook his head sulkily.

"It's a beast of a country," he grumbled. "There's more snow falls in
an hour here than would fill St. James' Park for a week! It will be
almost a treat to be a roast at a redskin's torture fire."

"I concur," added Lottery Paul, laughing. "All right, Quarryman, we are
two of a pair, and I'll stick to you when you say we must claw out of
this trap."

"What's the use of this bullying bounce?" cried the captain, "We are
all in the same box, aren't we?"

"I don't know so much about that. Paul and me are new to this wild
tramping business, and never came to such passes as these deuced
mountain passes before. The Californian Sierra is molehills to it!"

"In short," took up the Frenchman, "we believe your gold mine is a
fraud. Your course so far tends to take us over the Rockies, where many
a better man has left his bones, and though a solid chunk of gold as
big as a house awaits me yonder, I have my reasons not to go over to
the Pacific coast."

"Same here," subjoined the English felon, scowling.

"What I go on to say is, every step forward means harder fare--the
tracts you assured us were desolate are growing Injins, your gold mine
does not show up, and so, give us a couple of hundred dollars apiece
for having escorted you so far, and we'll march off on our own hooks."

"That's my say, too," coincided Dick, delighted with the Parisian's
eloquence.

"I have heard you out," proceeded the captain, smoothing his brow with
an effort. "Now, hearken to me. You are green to these parts--very
well. From my youth up I have heard stories of a Wonderland on whose
threshold we now are. The Indians regard it with awe, and only peer
into it from afar; but trapper and hunter have penetrated it by design
or hazard, and all their tales cannot be campfire lies. Moreover, they
have brought palpable evidences to the border. At Santa Fe I gambled
with a trapper, whose jacket was bright with diamond buttons, stones
that he found in a marvellous garden where the berries were turned
to petrifaction as they grew; the chokecherries were rubies, the
blueberries turquoises, the pigeon berries garnets, the Indian pears
flawless crystal. He had collected a pouchful in half an hour, for
which a Jew at St. Peter's gave him eight hundred dollars as they were
turned over to him in the rough."

"Did you ever meet 'Oregon Ol,'[1] in your rustling about? He's a
Nor'wester who has traversed this region more than most; he never
wants for gold, and he hardly takes a trap out with him, and often
brings back the powder he started with. And Marcellin's Choctaw
Boy, and Hopeful Ed., and Simmins the Knifer, all familiar with the
Yellowstone River to its uppermost forks. They have lined their pockets
without handling the spade, on surface flakes alone. And Jim Ridge,
the father of the Old Birds of the Sierras--with his copper face
companion the Cherokee!" he went on, with a deep and sudden frown and
a baleful glance, "Look at their equipments, at the way they buy the
cream of everything, and take two or three trains a year up into the
highlands. What is all that for? Provisioning themselves for staking
out all the best spots in an auriferous region--the motherland of the
gold and silver of which mere washings go down thither by driblets!
Those mountaineers are leagued with the Yager, and they have found
an enormously rich hole in the Yellowstone Basin. There's enough to
make each of us twenty times, ay, fifty times a millionaire, and those
dozen hunters selfishly stand us off! Go your way, if you are bent on
it, without any dollars from me. I will persevere, though I am left
alone, in striving to wrest this secret from that crew. I tell you,
boys, I have had enough of a hard life with the prospect of walking off
a mule's back till a rope round my neck brings me to a short stop. I
want, with the worst kind of want, to go see Europe with a big draft
on the Bank of England, and have some of these Eye-talian princelings
black my boots before I die in 'em."

Then, seeing that he had kindled his hearers with cupidity, he
concluded:

"Who loves gold galore, comes along with Mr. Pirate King!"

"I catch on," cried Joe, as if inspirited.

"They do say, though, that the Yellowstone Valley is haunted--spirits
of Injin devils guard the incalculable treasures, spit hot poison at
the invader, smother him in scalding mud, shower rocks upon him from
tall bluffs--so if you are afraid of what hasn't daunted Old Jim and
his band, why, leave me and Joe to have the first chop 'rise' on you
when we meet in Nevada City, me and Joe regularly bulging out with
whisky, good hotel grub, and gold and diamonds, and you scraping the
gutter for the dimes swept out of the stores! Look here! If in ten days
we are not knee deep in golden sands, in a vale where eternal summer
reigns, then lead me out and shoot me!"

There was a pause: the Frenchman's eyes blazed like fanned coals,
the Englishman panted noisily and ground his teeth with a bulldog's
anticipatory glee.

"We are on a sure soft thing now," pursued the captain, clinching
the nail which he had driven home. "I don't know how it is, but I
am confident our vein of bad luck has fined out to a hair, and that
fortune is going to do a smile."

"All right," said Dick, after a glance at the Frenchman, who nodded,
"we'll tail on for ten days."

"Then another drink round. Joe, pick me out four or five fellows
who can use snowshoes without laying themselves up with the _mal du
racquet_ (snowshoe lameness), and let them scout about to see if the
Indian sign crops up over the new snows."

The lieutenant having left the tent, the captain pulled out a map on
sheepskin, and explained in detail where he surmised the treasure of
the trappers to be, and where he also hoped to surprise Jim Ridge in
his mountain recess. His enthusiastic promises and the effect of the
liquors restored the recalcitrant pair to good-humoured allegiance.

In two hours' time, one of the scouts returned, pleading that his
snowshoes were unable to help him over a snow coated _ciénaga_, or bad
swampy stretch, where he would have sunk and been smothered. But, in
the captain's ear, he whispered a communication which set that worthy
to reflection. At the end of it, he directed Lottery Paul to take the
rackets and go off investigating in a certain direction, ordered Joe to
keep good guard over the camp, and took Dick with him on an exploration
of his own.

Installed without any hostile spies at his elbow as provisional
commander, Corkey Joe smiled to himself, and muttering: "Nothing could
have been better; hang them all three!" he proceeded towards the rocks,
where Drudge was standing on guard over a mysterious doorway.


[Footnote 1: See The Treasure of Pearls in this series.]



CHAPTER XII.

UNDER THE MASK.


When Corkey Joe had almost come up beside Drudge, the latter exchanged
a knowing glance with him, and, drawing a sheet of tarpaulin aside from
the doorway in the rocks, glided like a serpent within. As the canvas
fell behind him, the bandit captain's representative calmly took the
sentinel's place.

Drudge entered a kind of passage between rocks, covered over with tree
stuff and mud, with the snow heaped on that again to hermetically
roof it in. Thus to a second doorway of a cave, he found a hanging of
buffalo robes fastened on a cottonwood rod.

He hemmed and hawed a couple of times to give a polite notification of
his approach, and after making sure he was alone, stepped within the
fur _portière._

Prairie travellers are like the Turks in carrying with them such
furniture as may transform a cave or a hut into a nest of luxury.
Captain Kidd had, therefore, had a delightful snuggery made of the
dugout, lined with rugs, blankets and furs, so that cold, damp, and
wind were excluded. In the centre of this lair, too, a large silver
chafing dish, which might have been stolen from some Central American
church treasury, contained clear pine knots, which diffused rather an
agreeable and, certainly, a wholesome odour. The low seats were all
folding, to be transported readily, but were heaped with furs. A couch
of the same valuable material was occupied by a sleeping girl: it was
poor Miss Maclan, making up with a prolonged rest for her exhaustion.

In a hammock of grass cloth, hung low, another girl, younger and
slighter, with a truly American complexion and contour, gently was
swinging. She was well within her teens; a sweet and lofty type of
beauty such as Raphael and Murillo painted in their most inspired
moments. Her large black eyes seemed to reflect thoughts oftener of
heaven than of earth; her transparent skin, fine as satin, showed the
blue network of the delicate veins, and offered a violent contrast
to black hair in thick and long tresses. Her irresistible charm was
heightened by the permanent sadness which covered her lineaments and
compelled pity. She smiled faintly on beholding Drudge, and bade him
welcome in a tuneful voice as she gave him her little hand.

"But I ought to scold you, friend," she said, "for coming too often. If
that hateful man, whose very slave I am, should catch you here, where
you could find no excuse to be, ill would befall you."

"That's so, señorita," the youth replied, lightly enough, "but you
need not be alarmed about me this time. My only danger is that you
will think me intrusive. Captain Kidd has left the camp, and the depth
of the snow makes going so slow, that I should not wonder if he made
a long stay of it. They have been having another jangle, all in my
hearing, for," he went on, with a bitter smile, "they reckon me as an
idiot, and go on as if nobody were by."

"Poor Leon!" she sighed, kindly.

"Don't be sorry about that, señorita," he hastened to proceed, "for
that's my safeguard. Otherwise I could not watch over you as over a
sister. The hour is nigh for me to prove my devotion, methinks."

"I very well know that I can count on Leon with entire trust. Is not
our cause, our hope, the same? Misfortune unites us. But I must own
that, knowing your implacable hatred for this wretch who holds us
in his power, I am often afraid that you will burst out into some
imprudence that will destroy you and leave me without a friend in the
world. Unless," she added, with a glance at the sleeper, whom their
subdued tones did not affect, "this is a new friend whom heaven has
accorded me in my distress."

"Rather a spy whom the odious captain thinks to plant in your
confidence," returned Leon, with jealousy and doubt. "Coming from the
captain, I would not take an angel as a being of light."

"You are wrong there. We have not exchanged many words, Leon, but
already we are sisters. Think! She has lost a father lately, and has
been hunted by Indians! Poor girl! Her fate is at least as dreadful as
mine, and her heart wounds still bleeding. We can trust her, though I
have not told her all."

"Tell her nothing superfluous," he cried. "The slave must be cunning
and prudent, or he will never have the chance to obtain his freedom.
Many a time, though, I have let go the chance to obtain it alone."

"You were right! For what would have become of a boy like you in these
deserts in a storm such as shook the earth last night? You would be a
mite!"

Leon the Drudge smiled disdainfully, and his pale face was set in an
expression of energetic will.

"That is not the fear that held me, señorita," he replied. "I am young,
but Indian boys go on the warpath at my age. I have broken in horses
that great men about this camp have shrank from backing, and can back a
mule or fire a shot to the centre with any of them. But for my double
oath, I should have been alone--yes, but free on the prairie, long
before this!"

"Explain! For you speak beyond my comprehension."

"Señorita, I made a vow to be revenged on this horde of villainous men,
and not to fly save with you. You have not been spared so long but for
some fiendish end which a man of honour is bound to loathe beforehand
and baffle when discovered. That is why I remain, and why, however
tempting the opportunities to slip away, I shall remain until it is
possible for you to follow me."

"Alas! I am too closely guarded for that. A princess could not be more
narrowly watched if she were affianced to the grandest king on earth
and by her hand her father would be saved from ruin."

"Maybe you are more free than you imagine, señorita."

"Now, pray do not fill me with any baseless hopes. And talk less loud,
lest you awake that poor slumberer. Alas! I weep, it being only a
girl--a child who is incapable of doing anything but wail and pray for
deliverance."

"Your defenders, if not deliverers, are at hand."

"At hand? I see no one but you, poor boy, and this sorrowing woman, who
can only pray with me."

"I talk of men--men determined, able, and daring--one of whom you have
seen."

"The man they call the Wolverine!" she ejaculated, hiding her eyes like
a child to whom Bogey was promised to appear, "A man that terrifies me!
He is the second self of this horrid Captain Kidd. His name pourtrays
him, and his sight fills me with dread."

Drudge smiled softly.

"What has his name and his appearance got to do with it?" he cried.
"Both may be put on! The gem and gold are not at all prepossessing
when natural. How does the domestic dog escape being devoured by
the prairie wolves when abandoned at a camp? He joins them, frisks
with them, and howls more loudly than they! If Corkey Joe resembled
a missionary, he would stand pretty conspicuous out from our gang of
Border Terrors. It is by putting on their style that he has hoodwinked
them."

"Oh, if I could be sure that you are not cheated, and that this fright
of a man is truly what you say!"

"I say so straight. The Carcajieu may or may not be a beauty, but his
look is only skin-deep anyhow. I'll answer for his faithfulness with my
own head. I know what he is worth."

"Then, tell me--"

"No, I cannot, señorita," he interrupted sharply. "I promised to keep
the secret. No more, beyond his being your most devoted."

"Now, Leon, do not fill me up with a belief of which the removal would
be heartbreaking!"

"No fear of that, señorita!"

"Very well; spite of the repulsion he causes, I will be polite to him,
kind--I will even speak to him--"

"Why not at once?"

"Oh, not at once!"

"I say that is best, for it's a first-rate chance, the captain and the
chiefs being out of the camp, and Joe the ruling spirit. Do you consent
to receive him?"

"But I would rather--that is, a little preparation. Let me consult with
this young lady."

"It is not her secret! Do you waver? Do you recoil?"

"No!" she cried, at the taunt, with a decisive tone, which startled and
thrilled him; "Let him come! Go, bring him, Leon!"

"He waits yonder, as the sentry in my stead."

"Let him come, and heaven grant that you are not deceived!"

As Drudge departed the young girl leaned breathlessly forward with an
anxious gaze for the person who replaced him in the doorway.

Behind Corkey Joe the screen fell, forming a dark background to set
his figure off. The right-hand man of the gold seekers' leader had
not modified his aspect or apparel, and yet there was a change which
elicited an exclamation of surprise from the girl. His step was firm,
his usually stern and spiteful face beaming with pity and frankness.
The features that had originated invincible repulsion were still
there, but, with the morose and mocking expression, had vanished all
foundation for distrust and dread. He stepped forward and saluted her
respectfully.

She glanced towards the sleeper.

"Let her repose," he observed, with even more sympathy in his eyes of
cold steel blue; "she will need her strength restored for what we all
may have to pass through."

"No doubt," she sighed. Fixing a clear gaze on the man, she smiled
faintly, and promptly held out her hand, saying, "Heaven bless you,
unsuspected friend, for being alone in this host of heartless men, to
take some interest in a poor orphan!"

"Señorita," answered Joe, in Spanish-American, which tongue she had
used, "I have only joined this bad set at the peril of my life, in
pursuance of my duty, incidental to which comes in the rescue of you."

"Leon told me so."

"Then he spoke the truth."

The brief silence was broken by the prisoner.

"I am almost sorry, though, that you have ventured to speak to me,"
she said; "the captain is so jealous a tyrant, that anything makes me
tremble. Still, your voice inspires a confidence of which I was very
much in want, and, notwithstanding your not engaging appearance--" for
the sunshine seemed to have left Lieutenant Joe's countenance again, so
that he glowered unpleasantly as ever--"something within tells me that
your heart is too good to deceive me, and that you really intend to do
me a good service."

"The little bird in your bosom sings the truth, señorita. If needs
must, I shall lay down my life to save yours--though that's no more
than an American is brought up to do for the fair sex. As for my looks,
those artist fellows don't come out here to paint tailor's models and
opera lobby heroes. Besides, if you ever saw a church procession in
Mexico, you may remember the Devil that the monks flog and the boys
pluck by the tail. He's no pattern of manly beauty; but, very often, he
is the widow's son and the best young man of the town, come to shuck
off his mask and shear off the claws. 'Shouldn't wonder," he went on,
smiling, "but that, without paint and powder, your bridegroom would be
pretty jealous if he had me for best man and I drew the bridesmaids'
eyes to my corner. At present, my ugly mug, and my talk, and my warpath
gait are too useful to be laid on the shelf. I thank you sincerely,
young lady, for the confidence you are kind enough to put there, in my
hand, and it will not be a parrot's age before I shall try to justify
it."

"I believe you, señor, and I, too, shall be glad to have the time come."

"And now, moments being counted, to business! We may never get such a
chance again."



CHAPTER XIII.

THE BEAUTIFUL PRISONER'S FRIEND.


In quick, clear tones, the double playing lieutenant of the prairie
pirate resumed his speech.

"A full explanation about me would lead us afar, so come to the
essential point," said he. "To begin with, when you want to ask or tell
me something, let Drudge know it. He is completely devoted to you."

"I know that, señor."

"And as we must look ahead, it being likely that Captain Kidd may
be in a whim, or for good reasons forbid you visitors, here is a
little scroll in Spanish, with what is called a Table of Second Sight
Signals, used by conjurors. The questions are innocent and commonplace
enough, but they stand for phrases of meaning. You can address me thus
direct on the march, and not a soul can suspect we are carrying on a
correspondence."

"I'll soon have that by heart, señor," she exclaimed.

"And teach this young friend the same. The captain will have his work
cut out with two women leagued against him and a spy in the garrison,
I promise you. Nevertheless, you must bear in mind that patience and
stratagem will alone bring us success. Keep up your bearing of dislike
to me, in order that nobody can guess we are secretly in tie."

"Understanding all the importance of that advice, I shall conform to
it."

"Captain Kidd is sly, and at the faintest hint of our relations, it
would be all over with me."

"I shall obey you in all ways, señor, and you shall be satisfied with
your pupil," she said, gently, but firmly.

"One question: what is Captain Kidd's behaviour towards you?"

"So, so; his is an overbearing character of self-will, and he is
insensible to sentiment; often days pass without his thinking to throw
a word, good, bad or indifferent towards me; but I must honestly
confess that he never forgets the respect due to my sex, age, and
education. However impulsive, absurdly freakish, and even passionate he
might be too, many a daughter is less ill treated than me his prisoner."

"It's a comfort to learn that there is one bright spot in that dark
heart. My plans as regards him depend on the information I heap up. So
tell me if you ever knew the captain before he stole you away from your
boarding school at New Orleans, kept by the Misses Featherley?"

"I really cannot answer you with a certainty, señor. Still, there is
now and then a tone of his voice, and even a look of his eyes (which I
remarked to be very strong to require spectacles) not altogether new to
me. I may be deceiving myself as to that, but I am pretty sure that he
is disguised more or less."

"If he were known to you in your earliest years, where would that be?"

"Why, señor, as I speak Spanish and English as if they were born in
me, having only had to acquire French at New Orleans, I have always
believed what was told me, that my father was an English merchant,
who married a Mexican lady, and that I lost both of them by an Indian
attack."

"Who introduced you at that school, where the terms were high, I have
heard say?"

"It was, indeed, a fashionable seminary. I was an orphan, true, but
some near kinsman was taking care of my future."

"Who was this?"

"I never saw him, and his steward only once. I cannot even describe
him, but an elder schoolmate pictured him as a middle-aged man, stout
and strong, not particularly tall, stern and dark, with a shifting eye
and rough skin."

"And his name?"

"This _major-domo_ was called Mathias Corvino. One of the Miss
Featherleys told me that he had become an independent gentleman, and
lived in New York in great style."

"Do you suppose that in the husk of Captain Kidd could abide this same
Mathias Corvino, señorita?"

"I have not the skill to say so, but when the captain is angry, I am
reminded of that man."

"Your information is to the point, and has its value. Well, whatever
the disguise of our friend the captain, depend upon it that in time I
shall have him at bay, and he will show his real traitorous face!"

"And now, may I just put one question to you, señor?"

"Go ahead."

"You know many things," she observed, very gravely, and lapsing into
English unwittingly. "Pray tell me, have I parents, have I kinsfolk?"

"Yes. A mother, no; a father, yes--if he has not passed away during a
year. A brother younger than you too!"

"A brother! Oh, tell me about him."

"I am sorry to say that I am quite ignorant of the fate of your brother
Lewis."

"Lewis!"

"But you must not despair, señorita. Mark this, whatever mishap your
brother ran, you have been watched by at least one friend of your
father's, and had the villain who abducted you from your home attempted
to suppress you by murder, an avenger, if not a defender, would have
appeared by your side in the New Mexican gentleman named Don Gregorio
Peralta."

"I know him, the grey headed gentleman who spoke to me when the school
was out on promenade. He told me he was my friend. Where is he? Pray
tell me."

"The accomplices of your abductor tried to kill him to prevent Captain
Kidd being followed. His wound, however, was serious without being
mortal. I will warrant that, as soon as he could fork a steed, he set
out on the pursuit of you."

"Oh, then you hope he will overtake us?"

"He or another will be at our side soon," answered the false
lieutenant, ambiguously.

"You are not trifling with me?"

"I am not that kind of Wolverine," answered Master Corkey Joe with a
forced laugh. "I say Don Gregorio, spite of his age, is on our track,
because he loved your father. Your father is also afoot, and, at last
accounts, hoped to enlist in his aid some mountain trappers. They
are not sordid men--often have they been known to lay aside a whole
season's harvest of incredible toil to rescue a man or woman of their
colour from the red men, or to flock to the border when the cry of an
Indian outbreak commanded all gun bearers to fill a loophole in the
forts. But this troop which surrounds us is bent on a mission hostile
to the first explorers of this region, and its stores of fiery spirit
and ammunition are intended to be sold to the Indians, clean counter
to the laws of the United States and British Dominion, and to the
regulations of the fur trade companies. So Captain Kidd's organisation
is doomed! And you must be saved when it is crushed."

"Have I, indeed, friends in this vast loneliness?"

"In the midst of those mountains draped in untrodden snows, in those
unfathomable canyons, upon the plain and within the caverns that
profoundly tunnel the glaciers, upwards of fifty brave, strong, and
honest men, are invisibly repeating my call to them."

"Your calls?"

"I have been talking to them whilst we were conversing here."

"I do not understand, señor."

"On these immense wastes, the voice is insignificant, but the clear air
allows the vision to travel far. Not only is there one general code of
signals by fire at night and smoke by day, but the trappers, who are
now independent since the ruin of the American fur companies, retain in
use the alphabet they employed. Since the captain left me control of
the camp, I have had the fires placed as I chose, and their position as
the columns of smoke ascend has telegraphed for miles around that one
of their allies--I--is here in want of assistance. Not a soul suspects
it, but already I am sure some of the hunters are carefully proceeding
hither and inspecting the camp. Soon I shall sally out and meet one or
other of them, and the end will be arranged for."

"Oh, señor, this incredible good news fills me with joy! At last I am
happy!" she exclaimed, with her eyes full of tears. "Oh, be true to me,
man whom I have misjudged, and yet who evinces so much devotion! Be
true to me, for if this, is a cheat, you might as well have driven a
dagger through my heart!"

"Keep faith in me, señorita. I mean to save you as surely as to punish
a great scoundrel! This I have sworn, or the buzzards will have a meal
off my bones."

"I will rely on you, my friend," giving him her hand cordially.

"Besides," said he, "it looks as if my friends were already at work.
Three of the band have been cut off already."

"Nay, sir," interrupted a third voice, "you are only half right now.
Who the remover of two of them is, I can tell you: not a dweller in
these parts, but a young Englishman, who has done so much out of
attachment to--to my father."

It was Miss Maclan. Her sleep had been interrupted at last by the
dialogue, and, sitting up, she had listened for a few minutes before
she presumed it meet to interpose.

In well-chosen words, she hastened to inform Corkey Joe fully on the
attempt at her rescue, and of the abrupt apparition of the Half-breed
who had dragged away Mr. Dearborn.

"Cherokee Bill!" ejaculated the false bandit, in great glee. "What did
I tell you, señorita? Why, we are living right among friends!"

He seemed to forget the ladies, who affectionately embraced, as he
reflected on the incident no longer a mystery to him.

"Farewell," he said at last, "above all, do not let this joyous hope
of yours be manifested. You must wear a mask, too, whatever singular
events may occur. This Cherokee Bill is an inseparable companion of
the oldest trapper of the Rocky Mountains, and there is no trick too
artful or impudent that he may not essay. Rest assured the Yager of the
Yellowstone Valley, as this trapper is called, will give Kidd a teaser
before long."

He bowed and left the excavation. Soon after he might have been seen
perambulating the camp, cold, calm, and wary, directing the nourishing
of the fires, and puffing easily at a huge meerschaum pipe with a very
short stem, secured by a string to his buttonhole against loss. No one
suspected what a chat he had with the beautiful prisoner.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE COMPACT.


After leaving his camping ground, Captain Kidd soon parted from the
Englishman, whom he sent on through a valley, where he disappeared.
Kidd had not much practice in using snowshoes, for he was a horseman
of southern plains life; and the inevitable pain at the instep forced
him to reach the higher land of the valley divide or crest, and trudge
on with the rackets at his back. Here the wind had left but an inch or
two of snow; and he walked for a couple of hours without noteworthy
inconvenience. Finally, he came within half a mile of the Red River
Half-breeds' ill-fated encampment.

When "Quarry Dick" preceded him there, he found the Canadians still
digging out the wagons, and binding up their wounds and frostbites. He
was much surprised at seeing so many women and girls; and, at the first
words addressed to him, was still further filled with astonishment.
Instead of going on to the place where--whether he knew it or not--the
Botany Bay convict had prepared an enviable reception, his captain
chose an elevated knoll, cut some long sticks with his hatchet knife,
laid them upon the snow, and across one another in strata, so as to
form a platform, and kindled a fire upon this greenwood, a tolerably
familiar act in the winter. Soon the flame sprang up, hot enough to
roast a buffalo whole; but he threw a couple of handfuls of stinkwood
upon it to cause a black pillar of smoke.

On spying this token that his leader was at hand, the "Sydney Duck"
remained in the Bois Brulés' camp as a hostage, according to usage,
though the precaution would have been waived, and their captain came
forth to confabulate with the other commander. Gliding along over the
snow with the Canadians' expertness on what are national footwear to
them, the Half-breed speedily hailed the man quietly seated at his fire.

"Who comes?" challenged the latter, cocking his rifle, for form's sake.

"Dagard, the Bois Brulé, one of the leaders of the Red River Rovers!"

"I am the leader of a large band of gold hunters," was the reply. "Glad
to see you; come on."

Captain Dagard was one of those independent spirits, who would always
be in conflict with the town authorities in civilisation; and also, in
the wilds, did pretty much as he pleased, and executed, with delightful
nonchalance, many an unjustifiable deed. His mixed blood made him now
hate the whites--now scorn the reds--but all the time resist government
in general, and the British Colonial one in particular. It is to be
borne in mind, too, that never were two more incongruous elements in
one country than the Scotch and the French settlers of Canada--the
one sober, steady, strict Puritans; the other volatile, indolent for
periods out of proportion to their fits of activity, and staunch
upholders of the feasts of the Church.

Unprejudiced beholders cannot see any difference in the treatment
by the rulers of either people; but still the French Canadians, and
principally these Half-breeds, never cease complaining that they do not
enjoy the same privileges as the conqueror race.

Kidd and the Manitoban sat down by one another.

"You might as well have come on into my camp," said l'Embarrasseur,
reproachfully, "though we are a little upset by the storm. The moment
I learnt from your adherent--a stout fellow, eh? Though a bit of a
brute!--That you were so kind as to help me when the Crows were in our
midst, you could be sure you were as my brother!"

"Yes, of course," stammered Kidd, at a loss to understand the allusion.
"I--I came in--in the nick, didn't I?"

"Like a miracle! We thought we were gone under, sure, when you poured
in that volley, and made the Crows take the back track. By all that's
blue! You gave them such a share that we have seen not a feather of
them since! That is one kind thing for which we are all grateful. Now,
is it in our power to repay you?"

"That depends."

"You are prospecting; is our local knowledge any use to you?--it is
freely yours, captain."

"I can say neither yes nor no now, for my comrades must be consulted.
We are going into the Yellowstone Basin after gold--"

"Ha, ha!" laughed Dagard; "Another dive into the famous Northern El
Dorado, where the way is paved with gold and silver, and the fishponds
are boiling water whence one draws the _poisson d'avril_ ready cooked!"

"Do you not believe it is likely?" queried Kidd, earnestly.

"As you say, neither yes nor no. We gave the 'Firehole' a wide berth,
for we are not at home in sulphur marshes, soda lakes, and burning
pits, like that of the bad place. If there be gold there, though--"

"I promise you that," returned Kidd, confidently; "all points to it.
Will you join us--sharing and sharing alike--if my men agree to the
union? There is enough and to spare for all of us. Besides, blood being
spilt of the Indians, I am afraid my men need be five hundred, and yet
prove feeble. These mountain Indians are hardy, not given to the rum
bottle, and warlike above all their brethren of the plains."

"They fought like devils incarnate, I repeat. Half my command is
disabled or dead, and we were lost irretrievably but for your
intervention. I say that again. But what am I to do with the women?"

"What women?"

"I have under my charge sixteen women, that is, those over twenty-five
years, and fourteen young girls, to say nothing of still tenderer
children--"

"Oh, pshaw! If you are dragging your families about with you," began
the gold hunter, contemptuously.

"You are off the track. These are valuables, not encumbrances,"
rejoined Dagard, tartly. "In two words, they are the captives of the
Dakotas, taken away from their burnt cabins in recent raids, and they
were placed in my charge so that the Indian agents might discover no
traces of them. Thus I have secured the friendship of the Sioux, and
if the English come to attack our little Red River Republic, they will
find us reinforced by plenty o' fighting men!"

"And," proceeded Kidd, with a chuckle, "if the redcoats defeat you
and you take flight back into Uncle Sam's territory, you can obtain
his protection by a handing over of the captives whom you charitably
snatched from the wigwam. Well conceived, Captain Dagard!"

"Well or ill conceived, it is not my invention."

"Well, anyway, no fool thought of it."

"That's where you are wrong. It's the idea of a lubberly man of mine,
Dave Steelder, 'Daft Dave.' He's an _innocent,_ as we Bretons say, an
idiot, if you prefer the word."

"Oh, Daft Dave!" exclaimed Kidd, with a sparkle of the eye under his
snow goggles.

"Do you know him?"

"I met him at the Humboldt Washup when the flume burst and carried away
his hut and savings. They say that drove him stupid. That was in 1869,
or so, but others make out he was cranky before."

"If he is an acquaintance of yours, perhaps you would like to see him.
Shall I whistle him over?"

"Well, no, some other occasion! He may have the delusion that I look
like one of the awkward cusses that broke a plank in the flume and let
the flood spoil the diggings. Astonishing what a family likeness the
red flannel shirt, the patched pants, and the high up boots gave us
all at the gold mines. I have often been taken for another!" concluded
Kidd, with a wink.

"How unfortunate!" said l'Embarrasseur, drolly laughing. "Then, I
should not advise you to run against Dave. He's apt to tear when he's
mad. Still, his strength makes him useful about a camp, though he's not
bright, and though he's not trusted on guard, he throws out valuable
hints now and again, as these dullards do. But this is wind work, mere
talk. What have you come over to propose?"

"Well, I am thinking that you and I might work in double harness."

"Strike a bargain, eh? There's no knowing! There will be a stir up on
the frontier--the Britishers are pressing on that railroad. I want all
the friends I can cluster. What's your proposal?"

"Assist me to find the gold hoard in the Firehole, and I, who am not
without friends in Congress, will engage to restore your captives in
so glorious a manner to their relatives, that you will become a hero
and have a monument in every Western city! It is true the Sioux will
sharpen their knives to punish your breach of faith, but I never heard
that there were many Sioux in the hotels of the Eastern States!"

"Then we unite! And instead of my being a poor leader of only a score
hale men, I become a subchief of over two hundred!"

"My lieutenant! The sooner I reinforce you the better, eh? White women
in the mountains and Indians within rifle range: it's a temptation they
can't withstand. I ought to add that another danger exists. They say in
the towns that that old rogue, Jim Ridge, boasts that he regulates this
chain of the sierras."

"His friends the trappers lynch a horse thief now and then, and shoot
offhand anyone robbing cachés, but that's sound trapper law."

"If he and his friends block our entrance into the Yellowstone 'Park,'
what would you do?"

"Oh, when there's a man between me and what my empty pocket gapes for,
either he or I go under!"

"You're the true colour," ejaculated Kidd, using a gold miner's phrase,
and not, of course, reflecting on his colloquist's complexion--a sore
point with mixed bloods. "I will send you a dozen men from the camp
the moment I return, and you can join me at our next tent pitching, of
which they will bear you word. By the way, tell Quarry Dick to make
straight for that Blackstone of a Negro head shape as well as hue.
I will meet him there by a circuit, for I can make no way on these
confounded snowshoes."

"It comes by practice, my brave captain," said Dagard merrily, "like
spending money. _Au revoir!_ Our rally word is--"

"Gold!"

"And the countersign?"

"Beauty!"

They drank each from the others pocket flask in token of absolute
trust, and the gold hunter was left to raise his little camp after
carefully smothering the fire to prevent firing the brushwood of the
vale beneath.



CHAPTER XV.

AN INGENIOUS INTRODUCTION.


More uneasy about the Indians, whom Captain Kidd knew to be embittered
when repulsed at an almost victory, and about the trappers whom he
rightly conjectured to have interfered to save the Canadians from
annihilation, he moved leisurely to the rendezvous with the convict in
order to examine the ground. But nothing was visible to accentuate
his fears, and, spying the fantastic block of lava stone in question,
he hastened to congratulate Dick on the splendid lie by which the
gold seekers were given the credit of saving the Bois Brulés. As he
expected, the Englishman, not having his own cause to move slowly, was
already at the tryst. At all events, a figure in all points resembling
his was before the stone, clearly outlined against it, though he was
puzzled to account for a second object, human in form, but of an
abnormal flesh colour, like a "raw" corpse, pendant a foot or two from
the ground as if hung to a jutting point of the natural obelisk.

"Fool that I am!" suddenly ejaculated Captain Kidd, who had stopped
with a chill to the heart, "It's the strange light before nightfall
that is giving me a scare! Why, it's nothing but a young bear that he
has killed and flayed!--Bear's steak for supper! Ha, ha!"

Indeed, with their peculiar long paws, nothing more resembles a man,
excepting cousin monkey, than uncle bear, slim with wintering.

On a nearer approach, any doubt about Dick's identity with the form
calmly leaning on the rifle was impossible. Nevertheless, the silence
and the immobility of the bandit appalled the other, and the hanging
figure, drumming with its heels on the upright stone as the spinning
and unspinning of its cord of support oscillated it, increased in
ghastliness and its likeness to _homo_ rather than _ursa_.

Pausing again anew, he let himself be attracted to understand the
puzzle, and, as Dick made no movement, far less a reply to his now
frenzied appeal, he darted madly to the butte where the lava stone rose
like a monument. There the explanation was ample.

Some merciless hand had slain the Englishman, beheaded him, and flared
him, with the skin of the neck only left intact, and after suspending
the body like an artist's _écorché_ along the pillar, stuffed the human
hide out with snow so that not a wrinkle showed. The cold had frozen
this effigy into the semblance of a marble statue. Whilst the captain
gazed horrified, some scratches on the obelisk near the suspended
corpse caught his eyes. He read with redoubled apprehension:

      "--, known as 'the Sydney Duck,' 'Sydney Dick,' and 'the
      Convict,' escaped from Australian prisons, murderer of
      Californian miners, of Don Gregorio Peralta, and of his
      daughter, Mrs. Filditch, tried, found guilty, and executed
      by Us,"

      "THE MEN OF THE MOUNTAIN."

"_Hands off!_ This is the buzzard's bait, do you hear?"

Then the drawing of a rifle and crossed knives, and the fur trademarks
of Jim Ridge, Cherokee Bill, and the name "S. G. Filditch," firmly
graven.

At the end of reading this weird death sentence, which was a warning
too, Captain Kidd uttered a terrible execration, and clutching his
rifle and knife, as if he expected the wild justiceers to spring
out upon him from around the monolith, darted frenziedly from the
unhallowed eminence.

But he had no pursuers, and reflection came to him after half an hour's
mad floundering in the snow, that he would be safer among his men than
solitary. Besides, Lottery Paul had probably returned, and might, in
the chiefs absence, preach that doctrine of retreat to the gin palaces
of the frontier which was, on the face of it, superior to the present
outlook. His iron hand could alone contain the bandits if any could.

"Besides," murmured he, "what would 'Dave Steelder' say if he knew me
to turn such a skulk? After all, what a riddance that rough brute is!
As for me, I have had some very close calls, but fortune has carried me
through."

The grey sky was darkening, distant objects were already blending into
compact masses. Luckily, though not a proven trail finder, Kidd had
woodcraft in plenty, and soon hit on the proper homeward direction. On
spying an indubitable mark, he uttered a sigh of gratification, and
hurried to make up for lost time. He judged that within the hour he
would be in camp, when he came upon some fresh and bold prints in the
snow crust, hardening as the night brought coolness. No one could doubt
that they were made by a grizzly bear, not the black or the brown, but
the genuine "Uncle Ephraim" himself. This set the fugitive a-thinking.
A braver man than he does not foresee a meeting with Old Eph. without
pardonable misgiving.

The grizzly or the grisly--according to whether you name him after his
coat or the horror he inspires, is, far more than the lion, the king
of beasts, for he is perfect in courage, in strength, steadiness under
gunfire, and a noble good humour towards his folk. He is, perhaps, the
only animal that dances in sheer love of amusement, and his gambols at
a "bears' party" are the drollest sight a hunter ever knows. It is true
few have looked on and lived to tell. The Rocky Mountains are the home
of the veritable grizzly, and the frequency of his apparition among the
mines of the Sierra Nevada won the title of the Grizzly Bear State for
California.

Captain Kidd recovered from the recent shock that had unhinged him
before a danger that required coolness to temper bravery. He shook his
head like a Newfoundland coming out of the water, and growled.

"This lumbering fool has smelt the camp, and has put himself exactly in
my way back. I wish he had given those Canadians a visit where there
are plenty of dead bodies."

He carefully examined his rifle, slipped in a second bullet in a
greased wad, and resumed his march, but with extreme caution. The
difficulty was not to stumble on his foe, who, with razor sharp claws
six or seven inches long, would make a man look as if he had gone
through a "system of saws" in a mill.

He had proceeded some five hundred yards, so as to nearly get out of
the tangle wood of deciduous trees, distorted and stunted by the cold
winds, when a prolonged cavernous grumbling, arising not far from him,
sent an icy shiver all through him. He stopped short, bent forward,
and took a wary look. Before attaining a clearing, there was a narrow
canyon to cross, profoundly cleft between two perpendicular sides,
two yards deep and twenty paces long. About a third of the way up
this channel, leisurely sprawling on the snow, in which he was partly
embedded on account of his great weight, a grizzly was licking his fore
paws and smoothing pine burrs out of his harsh coat. Suddenly, the
animal winked its little savage eyes, pricked its snub ears up, and,
without glancing round or caring to listen, set to sniffing. Its subtle
scenting faculty had been aroused by some unwonted and consequently
disquieting emanation. Nevertheless, a fact delighting the captain, it
was not he to whom the bear was paying any heed.

"Good luck to the stir in the air that saves me!" he thought. "The
creature never imagines that a man is treading on his tail. 'Tis a
splendid fur coat; but I am not hunting grizzly just at present, thank
you! I don't care for any on my toast!"

Hence, he was taking a backward step and looking about him to try to
manage a circuit to avoid the encounter, when he heard what seemed
an echo, _only a little more so_, of the bear's growl. It came from
behind him, and was so angrily intoned that he was most surprised to
see a second grizzly, no doubt the mate of the first, slouching along
towards him, its head lowered in his track.

To be the shuttlecock between two ursine battledores is one of those
experiences of which few victims narrate the incidents.

The second antagonist was certain to arrive at him by its unerring
scent, and, moreover, was the nearer as well as the larger beast.
To shoot and run for his life was all the course which his fright
counselled, so he lifted his gun, levelled it steadily at the grizzly's
eye, partly veiled by its shaggy fore hair, and pulled the trigger.
Unfortunately, whether the piece had been tampered with, or the snow
had eaten away the barrel, the charge hung fire, and the peculiar
and frightfully loud detonation betokened that the barrel had burst.
Without being wounded, the captain pitched forward head foremost into
the snow, from not meeting the recoil which he had nerved himself to
resist.

Both bears howled together, rattled their claws and gnashed their
teeth, and, with a loud snarling, bounded towards the hapless captain.
Mechanically, he drew his knife, but, on scrambling to his feet,
experienced a fear so inexpressibly appalling that he forgot his
determination to resist to the inevitable death, and leaped away in a
mad scamper.

Accustomed to riding, he was not a good pedestrian; his winter garments
were unsuitable, and he was no longer blessed with youth. Besides,
to get over such ragged ground, and among tough, thorny, scrubby
_conifera_, was impossible for one in blind haste. He could tell by
their breathing that the two bears were nearing him, bound for bound.
He had lost his knife, and his revolver having been torn out of his
belt by a briar too, he was absolutely at the mercy--an unknown
element--of his pursuers. He dared not turn his head; in hunters'
phraseology, he felt them ruffle his hair with their breath; and, in
truth, Old Ephraim and his spouse were not a dozen steps off. His own
hair stood up, spite of a cold perspiration, for he felt that he was
irremediably lost. In two or three minutes, say five at most, he would
become that not unique subject of a well-worn Western epitaph--granting
that he was left in _buriable_ tatters--Unknown man gobbled up by
grizzly.

He was stopped by the inability to make a further move; both bears
reared up, and the least towered a head and shoulders above him. He
was, by the force of education, striving to recall a prayer, when a
human hand unexpectedly clutched him by the collar and dashed him down,
crying in a voice most energetic:

"_Lay_ down, you fool, and give a man a chance to shoot, will you not?"

As the captain again was buried in the snow, two rapid reports of a
gun extinguished in their reverberations the growls of the grizzlies.
Then arose a couple of painful lamentations from their hoarse throats,
and, as Kidd lifted his head, he beheld with stupefied eyes a man
disdainfully pursuing the bears and keeping them "on their run" with
panic by pelting them with snowballs and splinters of ice till they
disappeared over a mound and into some crevice, where the chaser deemed
it good sense not to follow further.

"What is this all?" the gold grabber demanded, sitting up, still half
dazed and wholly incredulous, and speaking Spanish, as one in dire
straits always uses the mother tongue.

"Talk English," responded the other, returning rapidly and recharging
his double-barrelled gun, according to hunters' rules, never to carry
unloaded firearms in a dangerous country. "And don't talk to me of the
courage of the grizzly any more. Are you alive? I mean, are you not
wounded?"

"I am not sure how I am," returned the chief of the gold seekers,
standing with difficulty, and staring at his rescuer.

It was Ranald Dearborn, clad as a regular hunter; but his face was not
burnt and weather beaten yet, like a veteran's, and he had an elegant
and almost dandified air, which his recent conduct belied.

He laughed as the captain brushed himself down, and "tried" all his
joints, doubtingly.

"Where are the bears?" inquired Kidd, anxiously.

"I drove them into a crack that probably leads to their lair. They shed
my shot and my bullet off like rain from a roof; but we may be more
lucky in another attack. Shall we have a turn at them?"

"Thank you very much, but I have had all I want of such diversion. Why,
when they reared, it was like looking up the side of a church! I am
sure their teeth were as long as a hunting knife. Who and what are you,
stranger?"

"A hunter--an Englishman wintering in Canada and hereabouts--came out
to this New World to see some sport."

"Alone!" cried Kidd, in the tone of one addressing a madman. "Stop,
though, I have heard--though I never believed it--that solitary hunters
of your nationality do come here with the notion that buffalo are
merely wild bullocks, the puma a large edition of the domestic cat, and
grizzly himself, a rough badger puffed into balloon size by _pinyon_
fruit. I say, friend," he went on, nervously glancing about, "kindly
lend me your arm as far as my encampment. I am in force here, and
promise you good entertainment. Not a man of my band but will welcome
the preserver of their leader. I owe my life to you doubly; you must
not go away till I shall have acquitted myself of the debt."

"Nonsense! It's all in the day's sport. You would do as much for me, if
it had been the other way about."

"I doubt it--I draw the line at grizzly. But you know that such a
service obliges the doer as much as the receiver. Come along."

"I tell you, I am used to camp down anywhere I feel sleepy. I have no
fear of rheumatism," returned the young man, gaily.

"I beg you to accompany me to my camp, for I am quite lame, and spend
at least a night there."

"Do you insist upon that?" inquired Dearborn, with a singular
expression.

"Certainly; we must drink to our better acquaintance;" dragging him
feverishly along.

"Have your own way."

"You Englishmen are all as rich as you are eccentric, but no man can be
too rich. I may be able to relieve myself of some of my obligation yet."

"Not a word of that! As for accompanying you to your camp, please to
observe that you entreated me to do so."

"I'd force you if I could."

"This is a queer world, and in this wilderness passions rule
unconstrained. Friends overnight shoot at one another at sight at noon
of the morrow! If we ever fall out, mind, you must not blame me, since
I wanted to be left alone, as I came."

"What trash! You are joking in that dry way which we Spanish well
understand. You have saved my life."

"It looks so, does it not? Still, I should feel more certain on that
point, and rate myself more of a hero if we had those bearskins--one
apiece!"

"I'll send twenty men to track them to the death, and you shall have
both. But come on."

Leaning upon the stranger's arm in an affectionate manner, Captain
Kidd pressed on as nimbly as his shattered nerves and really crippled
state permitted. Not one look behind did he give, and yet, had he been
able to see the other side of the rising ground, over which Ranald
had driven the terrified bruins, he would have been given food for
reflection.

In fact, sitting on their tails, without their heads, which they held
in their paws, the bears were laughing with supplementary inner mouths
belonging to quite human countenances. These bore a strong resemblance
to those of Cherokee Bill and Jim Ridge. They, of few men, had the
necessary knowledge of grizzly's fife and demeanour to play the part
which had completely deceived Captain Kidd, and would have succeeded
with a more skilled hunter. Presently the two disrobed themselves,
flung away the osier rods which had swelled out the skins, packed the
latter up, and winked drolly at one another.

"I say, Bill, mind you see the editor of the _Rocky Mountain
Squelcher_," observed the old trapper, humorously, "and insert the item
that Mr. R. Dearborn was introduced to Captain Kidd by Mr. and Mrs. G.
Bear!"



CHAPTER XVI.

THE THORN OF ROSES.


It was going on seven o'clock when the unhappy Captain of the gold
seekers and his deliverer, as he emphatically termed him, reached the
former's camp.

The weather kept cold, and the frost was biting. The cloudless sky of a
clear night was lavishly sprinkled with the brightest stars.

Lieutenant Carcajieu was on the point of sending out some scouts to
find the captain and missing men as he reappeared. He was warmly
greeted. Not that his fellows doated upon him; but, being like seamen
navigating an unknown sea, they would have been in a quandary if he
had eloped. After thanking them, the leader gave an account of his
adventure, upon which the congratulations broke forth afresh for one
who had escaped two grizzlies. Three or four men, as they were fully
equipped, were directed to go out and bring in the remains of the
English convict.

"By the way, where's the Frenchman?" enquired Kidd, though desirous of
repose.

"Paul has not returned," responded the lieutenant, to his surprise.
"Though it's blamed late for scrambling round in the district
overflowing with b'ar."

"I hope nothing's befallen him," observed Kidd, gravely. "Double the
force of scouts, and let them move most warily."

Leaving Joe to govern the camp, and seeking the recuperation of which
he felt in need, the captain and Dearborn proceeded towards the tent.
Wearied, aching, and meditative, Kidd did not remark a quick peculiar
sign of "friend!" from the young hunter to his right-hand man. A plate
additional was set for Dearborn, and the captain plied a good knife
and fork. Soon he gave the Negro Samson an order. In five minutes its
purport was made manifest, for the black man ushered in under the
canvas flap, Doña Rosario. She came forward in a singularly embarrassed
way, a feverish blush on her face, and her eyes curiously enkindled.
She seemed struggling between interest in the stranger and a resolve
not to exhibit it.

This caution was so quickly mastered, that it was invisible by the time
she had taken a seat prepared for her between the two men. Dearborn had
gazed at her with no other sentiment than admiration, unless, also,
some pity was involuntarily betrayed.

Ordinarily Captain Kidd let no incident escape him; but he was too
bruised and too famished not to be exceedingly self-concentrated.
Happily for them, therefore, nothing met his eye.

"I must ask your forgiveness, _Niña_," he said in Spanish, in a voice
which he tried to soften, "I ought to have notified you of a stranger
guest."

"As the ruler, sir, you can do just as you please," she returned, with
indifference.

"Nay, nay, my sweet! I don't want the gentleman to have a poor opinion
of me, and suppose I act tyrannically over you."

"I beg pardon, Mr. Kidd," interrupted Dearborn, playing carelessly
with his knife, "as everybody has his hands full in minding his own
business, I make it a rule never to go out of my way supposing things.
At the same time, this foreign language before a guest is not what
I was educated to call the correct etiquette. Besides, if you must
discuss family matters with this young lady, whom I take to be your
daughter, would it not be better to put that by till we are through the
meal?"

"Oh, I thought you knew Spanish," returned the captain, smoothly. "The
lady is not my daughter, but my ward--a far-removed relative--but I
love her as if she were my own child; and there is nothing that depends
on me that should not be hers to satisfy her in any way."

The girl smiled mockingly. The captain never moved a muscle as he went
on thus:

"I was merely observing, my pet--_querida Niña_--that I never should
have invited a complete stranger hither--one I have only known a few
hours--to be our guest but for his having rendered me one of those
services utterly unpayable. In plain English, he has saved my life."

"Delighted to hear it," rejoined the young lady, nibbling at the sweet
biscuit.

"It is only too true," took up the hunter, laughing, "that, without any
vaunt, my interpolation in your trialogue with the grizzly bears alone
prevented the last repartee being rather fatal than otherwise to you."

"Ugh! The bare idea makes me shudder!" said the captain, with no
intention to jest. "I am gooseflesh all over now!"

"Did this gentleman really save you from the monsters?" queried she,
apparently at length interested in the conversation.

"Save is the word!" ejaculated the bandit chief. "I was under the very
claws, between the teeth of the horrible beasts. So shake again, Mr.
Dearborn," he added, with a fine tragi-comic offering of his hand. "We
are brothers right on till death do us part! I am not much given to
speechifying, but I have a rare memory for good and evil deeds done me,
and as I live, you may ask anything of mine, and halves we go in it,
though 'tis my gold placer in the--well yonder!"

"Mind, I'm booking that offer, captain." said the young man, with
an Englishman's hearty joviality; "I am not a man to forget easily,
either, and I am a great fellow for taking people at their word. So,
though I am for claiming nothing just now, do you see, I should not
wonder if someday I remind you of your pledge. So hold yourself ready
to meet the demand, and cash up."

"There is no reminder needed in my case," said the captain, rather
coldly and proudly. "You will find me ready to act up to my pledges."

"Therefore, I shall not dwell on that point. Let us change the subject.
You were laughing at me as a foolhardy son of fortune who renounces old
country luxuries, and penetrates the American wilderness, _quite by
himself_," he said with a stress meant for the auditress to mark the
phrase; "but what the plague brings you into desolation? You have not
the look of a merchant. You would not haggle and bicker with Messrs. Lo
& Co., as the Yankees playfully call the noble son of the forest."

"Quite so, I am not here to trade. Oh, dear, no! I am just jogging
along."

"But whither? I do not want to be rude; but where there are no roads, I
should imagine one's route led nowhere."

"The proof that your inquiry is not impertinent is shown in my freely
answering you. My course is public property. On the border, everyone
knows that my mates and I are going to the gold fields."

"Oh, after gold," repeated the other with well-feigned surprise. "Over
the range into California? In that case, if there's any reliance in
maps--though when maps are made by geographers at a desk ten thousand
miles off, I have not too much faith in maps myself--well, you _are_
askew! Granting you the finding of a pass in the Rockies, you will be
three weeks reaching the eastern slope of the Nevada Range, and if you
go that way and can climb the Oregonian Heights, you will be three
months getting down to Portland. Either way, you will have so heavy and
fatiguing a 'jog,' that I wonder very much that you take a delicate
young lady with you."

"What you say may be very true, sir; but, to begin with, do not
run away with the wrong notion. This young lady would not be in my
company--I may better say, one of my company--if it were not absolutely
her wish and will."

"Oh, now I curl back into my shell," said the Englishman, with a
sardonic smile, "I cannot say I am amazed at the fair young lady's
determination. Your American girls have already a name in Europe for
daring, devotion, constancy, and--caprices."

"I beg your pardon, sir," broke in the young lady, looking at him
fixedly, "for intervening in your conversation unbesought, but you
should be fully informed on one point, Mr. Dearborn--I believe you are
so named--"

"Ranald Dearborn, at your service."

"Well, Mr. Ranald Dearborn, I do not deserve your eulogy in any
measure. Captain Kidd lies, and very well knows that he lies, when he
asserts that I wish to accompany him in his journey. I am here, in his
company--as he puts it--in spite of myself, against my will, because
I have been shamefully torn from all the semblance of home that I had,
and dragged thence I know not whither. I am no relative of his, not his
ward, but his slave!"

"Señorita!" began the captain violently, on recovering his tongue.

"Do you dare deny it!" she cried, energetically, looking him in the
eyes. "It is high time the truth came out! And that everybody knew
of what you are capable, and what my position is! I thank Heaven
you have at last brought a stranger to my hearing, not your hangdog
confederates. Too well, señor, you relied on my scorn and acquiescence
when you had the impudence to utter those words. I will not allow
my weakness to bring me in as your accomplice, Mr. Dearborn," she
continued, turning abruptly to the hunter, "this man has lied; he has
cowardly abducted me for reasons unknown, and he intends to leave my
dead body so far from civilization that it will never rise in judgment
of this world against him."

"Have a care, young lady," said the captain, moodily, "I can't let you
run on too far in this style--"

"One moment, captain," broke in Dearborn, sternly, "questions are
raised which do not come into my province. But I am obliged to observe
that you--or anybody else--has got to behave like a gentleman when a
lady is present--"

"But, sir, if--"

"I know no ifs or buts, sir, for none but a coward and a blackguard
would threaten a defenceless woman. You brought her here as the
ornament to the supper table, so it's your own fault. I warn you once
for all that, before me, you will have to treat the young lady with all
the respect due to her age and sex, or else we shall have to settle the
punctilio of etiquette with pistol or knife! And I doubt if you will
be lucky enough to have anyone burst in between you and me as I did
between you and the grizzlies."

"Good gracious, sir," the captain hastened to reply, the last turn of
the defiant speech making him cease to bite his lips till the blood
ran, "I am very sorry this awkward incident occurred--very! Nothing of
the kind did ever take place; and I shall take the greatest heed it
does not repeat itself," he went on, with a look of evil augury aside
at the girl, who was wringing her hands and tapping the ground with her
feet. "I allow that I let myself ramble farther than I ought. To show
you how much I regret having displeased the young lady, I beg her to
overlook the offence, and bear me no grudge."

Rosa tossed her head disdainfully.

"That's more like," said the English hunter, lightly; "since you
apologise, I haven't a word to say."

"Yes; I am thoroughly vexed. Let us drop the hot but dying coals of
dissention, therefore, and--what were we talking about when they flew
out of the fire?"

"I don't know now."

"Oh, señor, you were observing that it looked as if my present route
for the goldfields would bring me out in the Sacramento Valley, or at
Vancouver's. Are you sure?"

"Well, I am no resident; but, coming down from the North, few signs of
gold bearing tracts met my humble vision."

"Did you come through the Yellowstone Basin?" inquired the captain.

"What the Canadians called the 'Infernal Regions,' and the trappers the
'Fireholes?' Well, not what you can call through. I did--as I do when
a big band of Indians cross my trail--I skirted it. They say it is the
devil's own home on earth; and I have no wish, prematurely, to soak in
a sulphur bath!"

"Mr. Dearborn, are you the man to render me still a further service?"

"I want to know, you know," said the Englishman, humorously.

"_¡Diablo!_ You are in no hurry to contract yourself into a bargain,
señor;" commented Mr. Kidd, with a bitter grin.

"Being a foreigner--"

"It's prudent. I wish I had always been as slow to plunge at your age!
Tell me, where were you going when we met?"

"Southerly: I came to hunt. But the presence of Indians makes me fear
that a solitary man would be hunted here."

"If you have no disinclination to remain with a force around you at
which no Indian lances will tilt," said Captain Kidd, proudly, "I can
offer you something--a way to utilise your recently gained knowledge
in skirting the Yellowstone Basin; guide us inside it!"

"Why, what the--"

"Gold! That's the 'the!'"

"Gold there?"

The prairie rover leaned forward, resting both elbows on the board, and
fixing his glowing eyes on the Englishman, spoke earnestly as follows.



CHAPTER XVII.

HOW "FRENCH PAUL" GOT HURT.


"I am quite sure," said Kidd, "that the stories told to frighten
outsiders from the district, which lies there away, are invented by the
reds and by the few whites who have explored it, for the same end--to
keep its metallic treasures, perchance those of precious stones;
besides, here we shall perish in the storms. That horrid one nearly
laid us out stiff; I want to escape them. Within that charmed valley
volcanoes maintain the temperature of spring; grass is eternal for
cattle; the unfrozen ground can be broken up; the water always runs
for gold washing! I say, guide us into that natural garden; and in two
weeks, should no gold be found, you can depart. You shall name your
terms; and, with the goods and dollars, go your way. If we find gold,
you shall have your lot as a member of the band--reduced by losses,
so that the shares are not unreasonably many--as guide, and as the
leader's partner!"

"You are very frank. You do not understand that an English gentleman
does not let money influence him--"

"Bah, bah! An _hidalgo_, ay, a grandee of old Spain goes gold hunting
and never dreams of a reproach to his blue blood, for the royal metal
ennobles its seekers. That apart, if you are here for adventure, I
foresee that you will have no lack of that--more mustard than beef!"

"Allow me another remark: whatever my taste as regards money, there is
one thing I love more--my freedom."

"Great heavens! Then I am putting you in the place to be the freest in
the band. What a pilot is at sea, a guide is to a hunters' band. The
captain himself has to submit to many things onerous, which the guide
escapes. He gives no one an account of his doings when he has been
absent; he leaves at any hour and stays as long as he likes--the band
must await him or go on to the rendezvous which he arranged. You cry
'halt!' when you are tired, or hungry, or athirst, and we halt under
the tree you point out. Freedom? If I were not the captain, I'd rather
be the guide, upon my honour!"

"If that is how a guide can act," remarked Dearborn, as if wavering,
"I don't mind agreeing. It is fully understood that I accept out of
kindness, and because, having saved your life, I wish to complete the
work, and not leave you to be overwhelmed by a blizzard on the very
threshold of the Enchanted Valley, as you esteem it!"

The captain joined in the laugh.

"More frankness," he proceeded. "My men are rough rogues, not worth the
loop that will finish them, and I shall be the happier with a genuine
gentleman the more at my side. Whatever your conditions, I gladly will
pay them. Is it settled?"

"You shall be shown the Yellowstone Hole as if I were opening a drawing
room door, captain."

"When may we start?"

"Tomorrow, sunrise."

"That will be capital, for I expect a little reinforcement to come in."

"Then I shall give the word to start and go when I see you at dawn,"
observed the hunter, taking up his rifle as he rose.

"Do you mean you are going so untimely?"

"Yes. Look here, I haven't asked a question about the reinforcement you
mention, though that interests the guide. So don't you put any to me,"
returned Dearborn, ironically.

"Quite right. But whilst you may keep back what you please from the
chief, he must confide everything in the head scout. I am adding some
women and children to the band. They will weaken us, but be a tower of
strength by and bye. I can say no more at present."

"You need not have said so much."

"When you see them you will see all the women--that is, except a
companion of my dear niece--a Scotch lady, who came to our camp for
refuge from the Indians who destroyed her party."

"A regular 'squaw' band," remarked the Englishman, naturally enough
contemptuous if he had already imbibed the hunter's sentiments.

The captain approved with a smile, but Doña Rosario seemed to frown,
though she appreciated properly the sincerity of the speaker's raillery.

"Good hunting till tomorrow," said the bandit, seeing his friend and
partner clear to the outpost, and announcing his _status_ on the way to
all comers.

Without waiting for the captain's return, Rosario returned to her nook
in the rock.

"Good news, Ulla!" she exclaimed to the other girl, who was in some
anxiety. "I have had a perfect outbreak with our tyrant, but I have
seen your brave friend. What daring to walk into the camp among so many
villains! I declare I am quite proud of him myself, and you may well
be jealous till I have some idol of my own. Cheer up! Happiness is
beginning to smile on us!"

The leader returned slowly to the tent. On the way he met the
Carcajieu, who was walking up and down sulkily as if he disapproved of
the new addition to the party, and the quasi-superiority accorded him.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing new yet!" was the grumbling reply.

"None of the scouts come in?"

"Part have, bringing what is left of Sydney Dick in two pieces. The
Injins have been playing high old pranks with him, hide and head! And
the rest are probing the snowdrifts for the Frenchman. It will be a
windfall for us that blew him into fifty feet of never-melting snows!"

"You don't seem to waste any affection on him!"

"It's a liar who'd say so."

"I love him no better. His treacherous face imported good to no one.
But we are in no such luck to be rid of him, too."

In taking "the last squint" around, they saw pitch pine knot torches
flashing on the plain.

"What did I say? The boys have found him, you be sure."

Retracing their steps to the pickets, they found the torches coming on
as slowly as in a funeral procession.

"One can never tell," observed Joe; "maybe they've had a brush with the
Injins."

"Not in the dark, lieutenant. Besides, those red devils must be still
stiff with the freezing. It's those confounded bears, wild at having
been robbed of me."

It was quite half an hour before the solemnly silent watch brought
the torches near enough for their light, falling on the scouts, to
reveal that they carried on a handbarrow of pine poles a figure vaguely
resembling a man's.

"Have you found the Frenchman?"

"Yes, captain, but in damaged condition!"

"Do you mean to say he is hurt?"

"Have a little patience--or lend a hand, if you are in such a hurry!"
cried the men.

They laid their burden down tenderly enough by a watch fire.

"A little more gently, burn your bones!" groaned Lottery Paul, throwing
off the buffalo robe coats and blankets kindly laid over him; "Don't
you want to leave me one whole bone among 'em."

"What's come to you, friend?" queried the captain.

"A stupid question; better ask _who_ came _at_ me?--I can reply to
that, after a fashion."

"Thunder! My poor boy, your accident seems to have soured your usually
sweet temper."

"Oh, you call that an accident, do you, old man? Much obliged for an
explanation of your notion of an accident. What's your name for the
fire of a battery of nine-pounders and a charge of dragoons?"

"Why don't you speak out! Tell us, or go to death your own way--if we
can't do any good to you."

"I know you can. Hand over the whisky!"

"You ass! That would be a gulp of 'sudden death' in fact."

"More nonsense! How do you know what state I am in before I tell you? I
am dying of thirst, that's just what ails me--so pass along the bottle,
or I'll speak nothing."

"Give it him, and let him choke himself," said Kidd, enraged at the
obstinacy.

Paul snatched the bottle and drank a long draught, his laugh mingling
with the gurgling.

"Whoop!" cried he, dropping the nearly emptied flask with a grin of
content. "I feel better already. A poor idea you have of a scout's
outfit, to send that cahoot out without a drink in the herd!"

"Will you talk up now, you brute?"

"Orders received for a Fourth of July oration!"

"Well, where are you hurt, to begin with?"

"All over--a bullet through the right arm, another grazed my ribs, the
small of my back caught a rap from the butt end of a rifle, and I offer
a complete collection of scratches and bruises from a drop into a snow
pit, where a fire had melted it twenty feet--"

"My fire," ejaculated the captain.

"Oh, have I to thank you for that trick! My spirit must be pretty
tightly boxed up in my body, after all, not to have been bounced out.
However, it looks as if I should get round after a bit, and then
somebody will ask who exploded a giant cartridge next door to his
blanket."

"Who?"

"The man that served me so. Do you fancy I have been taking myself by
the throat and levelling the snow with me!"

"If you go on with such a rigmarole, we shall understand very little."

"That's so, captain. To put it short--you sent me out on the scout.
That's admitted?--Good. I spread myself to no purpose; not a trace on
the snow where even a witch wolf must have left some print. It got to
be after sun darkening, and my wolfish gnawing under my belt set me
campwards, a little careless I am afraid, for somebody heard me, and I
heard a nasty threatening voice challenge me with a 'Who goes there?'"

"'Twas a man," cried Captain Kidd.

"Unless the prairie dogs talk English," rejoined the Parisian, laughing
through a grimace of pain. "'It's a friend,' I answered, getting my gun
round to have first shot. 'Where from?' Here was a chance to get in
some big lie; but I thought a white man would be best bumped off by a
boast of our turnout. 'From the Montana Gold hunters! We're two hundred
strong, not twenty miles yonder.' 'I am no friend of scoundrels of your
kidney,' said this particular fellow. It looks as if he knew all about
us. 'Pull up and pull out while your scalp is on!' 'How long since you
staked out this territory,' said I, catching a glimpse of the muzzle of
his piece. 'I am not going to quit till you show me your papers,' and I
pulled the trigger. But the worst of it is, that when I could spy his
gun, he saw mine, and we fired together, with the shade of preference
to the stranger. That's about while I felt the ball through my arm, and
my gun had to drop. I had it up quick in my other hand, and leaped on
the shooter. But another bullet came on me in the side, from the flash,
and I was stretched on my back instantly. That fellow rushed right up
to me, and held me down with his foot till I had received this speech:
'You have your dose. The others will now get theirs; and, if it is a
little slow coming, it will be kept hot!'"

"The man said that?" cried Kidd.

"Clearly. That made me suppose, cap'n, that some of your acquaintances
are hovering round, and will stir you up yet."

"Go on," muttered the bandit chief, frowning, and becoming thoughtful.

"So did he--go on! I tried to get out my knife to learn how thick his
leggins were, when he turned me over and set to kicking me as if he was
bound to wear his boots out in the shortest possible time. I was rolled
over and over like a log towards the river, and he yelling out the most
abusive language. 'Take that, thief! And that, _pícaro!_ And that,
_voleur de trappes!_ And that, assassin!' There were enough and to
spare for ten apiece to all you rascals in the camp, captain included!
_Luckily_, in his blind fury, he kicked me over the ends of some burnt
logs, and down I fell into the pit which that fire of your'n had
melted. I thought it was an Injin b'ar trap when I came to my senses,
and I climbed out mighty rapid for fear either b'ar or Injin would drop
in on me. Somehow I crawled in the proper direction, afeared to raise
a woo-oo for Dick; and at last the boys hit upon me. Good boys, though
I have swore some at 'em. They deserve their quenchers, and, old man,
I'll take the balance in that flask."

He was given more drink; spirits is the panacea of such men.

"So," said Kidd, "you were unable to fulfil my charge, and have brought
back no information beyond this attack on you?"

"I saw nobody but that one man. If he who sent the second shot had
joined in that 'booting,' the boys would have only picked up a pancake."

"This is painfully strange!"

"Oh, I think it strangely painful!"

"What kind of man was your assailant?"

"That's the puzzle," replied the railing Parisian. "By the voice, a
white man. But I did not see him. It was so dark, and he was on me like
a tiger! And then he kept me rolling over and over, so that I had not
one fair peep at his nose. I shall only know him again by the length of
his foot and the tone of his voice."

"If that's all, bah!--We'll take care of him, mates."

After the excitement of his telling the misadventure, French Paul was
dull and lifeless; then he raved with pain, for he had not a dollar's
breadth of his body without a bruise. Yet he bore the dressing and
anointing with crude kerosene oil and snake juice with fortitude. Next
begging a drink, and "freezing" to the bottle, he went to sleep drunk.
His last words were: "Don't you fret, boys--any of you that I owe money
to. I shall come up smiling; for him that's borned to be hanged won't
be kicked to death no how."

Meanwhile Captain Kidd strayed into his tent very thoughtfully after
having enjoined Corky Joe to exercise the utmost vigilance.

For years upon years this desperado had struggled against society,
and sported with all laws and regulations; but now he saw the horizon
circle in upon him. He could not drive away the foreboding that the
hour of a terrible punishment was approaching. All night long he
walked up and down in the tent, revolving the most fantastic projects.
A few minutes before sunrise, a man coughed at the tent opening in
that warning way customary where men sleep with weapons in the hand,
and might, if abruptly awakened, put a bullet _mechanically_ in the
innocent arouser. The cloth was lifted and a man appeared, whom Captain
Kidd greeted with joy.

It was Dearborn.

At least here was a follower who punctually kept his word.



CHAPTER XVIII.

ROSARIO BEGINS TO HOPE.


The Captain went up to the hunter quickly, and briskly extending his
hand, bade him welcome. But the other was so busy filling his short
meerschaum pipe, that he did not apparently perceive the hand, and
simply thanked him.

"When do we make a start, captain?" he inquired.

"Right away," replied Kidd in a feverish voice.

He issued orders forthwith, so that the greatest animation soon stirred
the encampment, everybody being delighted to get out of the bad spot.
In a couple of hours subsequently the train was on the move, with
Dearborn scouting in the van.

A two-mule litter carried Doña Rosario, whilst the other women
were "piled in, somehow, anyhow" in the huge wagons covered with a
waterproof cloth.

Behind the captain, the men sauntered along, their guns quite ready on
their shoulders, keeping one eye on the wagons and the other on the
country, so to say.

From seven to midday nothing occurred of any moment. The roads, if they
could be called such where none were traced save by wild beasts going
to water, were in such a condition that wheeled traffic was bound to be
slow. Now and again a gang of men took to axes or spades, as the case
might be, and hewed or levelled a path.

In "the nooning," the cattle were breathed and rested. In five hours,
not twenty miles had been covered.

The halting place chosen was in a rather broad open land in the thick
of a cedar and piney wood, through which brawled a torrent having
accessible banks only in one spot.

A little on one side, a tent was hastily run up for Doña Rosario. The
other women were strictly, even cruelly severely guarded, and kept from
speaking together, still less to the adventurer, as much as possible.

Since the Englishman's introduction into the camp, Miss Maclan had
cheered up wonderfully. No nods or rebukes constrained her from
displaying her relief, and soon she set to singing. In a brief space
she became the licensed songstress of the band, for the rudest
Americans have a fondness for music. She was so liked after this, that
the men would have rebelled if she had been silenced by the Captain, or
Corky Joe, though, to tell the truth, these smiled patronizingly on her
efforts.

Ulla had conceived a genuine affection for Rosario, if only because
she was so sad and pale. On her part, the Southerner was touched by
her delicate attentions, and it was a great consolation for her to
meet with a loving soul and tender heart, to say nothing of a vigorous
intelligence. Once the ice was broken, they became inseparable.

Kidd marked this connection with pleasure; he favoured it rather than
fettered it. He had been vexed by his captive's pining away, and hoped
that the different temperament of the Scotch young lady would exert a
powerful influence on the Spaniard's mind, and act healthily on her
reflections.

The halt had hardly been cried before the scout looked close to his gun.

"In two hours we must be off again," he remarked; "this is no spot
to make a prolonged stay in. One good thing is, that the weather is
clearing up, and the ground will be good for travelling. We must do our
best whilst things are on our side."

"Excellent advice!" coincided the leader; "But how about dinner with
us?"

"No, no," returned the other, shaking his head; "your salt horse and
boiled beans do not go down with me. I am not tired, and I am not
hungry. So I prefer to sweep the country and try to find a bit of game
to tickle my palate."

"A good idea again," said the captain, laughing. "You are the first
scout I ever came across who had no appetite. Well, good luck!"

"Many thanks," replied the other, with one of those smiles which the
Spanish call half sour grapes, half-sweet figs, to which he seemed
addicted for Kidd's benefit.

He strode away rapidly, and was speedily lost to view.

"A queer character," observed the adventurer; "but they are all queer
the farther up north one gets! However, we must take men as we find
them. He seems true and faithful, and that's the main thing. Besides,
where's his interest in betraying me? What a fool I am! Is there not
always something to be gained by betraying a man like me? Tut, tut I am
I going daft like Dave Steelder, or, rather," he went on with a cunning
smile, "crazy in the real vein. It has come to this, that lately I am
worrying myself into a fever."

At this point up came Corky Joe.

"Oh, here you are, eh? How's that wretch Paul getting on?"

"Paul's as lucky as an Injin doctor!" answered the lieutenant,
laughing. "He hardly feels the knocking about. He heals up like a man
who never soaked in whisky. When I left him he was packing away cold
beef like an Injin warrior after a fast, and drinking like the Great
American Desert when the rum cask is staved. He's going to get round
it, don't you fret."

"I reckoned he would!"

"I'll be fair to him, besides--he don't want no nursing; he wants to
buckle to his work right off."

"No, no, stop that. Compel him to rest a day or two, which will make
him more useful and bother us less."

"Oh, I say, cap.! I've put extra sentinels out all round."

"You did quite right; though there's nothing _scary_, we had better be
on our guard. Those Red River Half-breeds are no more to be trusted
than the purebred red men; and I wish they were both drowned in the
nearest salt pool! But hurry up to dinner; I feel as sharp as a meat
saw freshly filed!"

"That's me!" added "Corky Joe," promptly as an echo.

Long before the men were through their meal, voraciously though they
ate, the two young ladies, who met in the wilderness from such opposite
directions, had finished theirs--of which they had made but a mockery.

"Something unusual is about us, señorita," said Miss Maclan to Rosario,
with an arch look. "There is a gay expression on your features, to
which they are not habituated. Surely, now, something new is at hand; I
hope you are going to tell me?"

"How curious we are!" returned the Southerner, smiling.

"Do not judge me wrongfully, indolent creature! It is not
inquisitiveness that moves me, but friendship."

"I am well aware of that, darling; so I shall not make you languish. I
am going to tell you everything."

"That is nice; and I do love you in the same frank way. But wait a bit,
until I make sure that we have no eavesdroppers. It is a sensible thing
to be prudent hereabouts, with persons handy who make no scruples about
listening!"

She set up a song to express unconcern, and went out of the tent for
a short absence. When she reappeared, she laid her finger on her lips
to impress caution, and sat down close beside her, so that they could
converse in whispers.

"Do you mean they are watching us?" queried Doña Rosario.

"We are always watched," was the answer; "but this time more sharply
than ever!"

"I wonder why?"

"I cannot say."

"But cannot you guess, as the Yankees do?"

"No; nor even suppose. What do you think of this?--There are sentries
posted all around the camp!"

"That's not strange, silly! That is done every time they stop."

"I daresay, señorita; but--"

"Why, that's to keep the Indians off--not to keep us in!"

"But why are they put everywhere except just behind this tent?"

"What do you say?"

"You can see for yourself, Rosario!"

"What do you conclude from this arrangement?"

"To my mind, for some hidden reason, they want to fill us with an idea
on which we should be gulled into acting. I am certain of this--that
Lieutenant Joe placed the men on the watch himself. It is some trick,
in spite, of that wretch, who hates you worse than the captain!"

"You are out of your wits, dear!" responded the Mexican, laughing.
"Your reasoning is all askew!"

"Much obliged! Does not the Lieutenant plague you all he can?"

The dark girl approached her lips to the other's quick car, and gently
breathed--

"Joe is our friend--our only friend!"

"Eh?" exclaimed Miss Maclan, unable to believe she had heard aright,
as she fastened a frightened look on the speaker; "The Lieutenant our
friend--you are jesting!"

"I repeat that he is our most devoted friend; I more than know it--I
hold the proof of it."

"Oh, dear me!" ejaculated Ulla, in almost comic surprise, it was so
extreme.

"Yes," went on Rosario, "when I was left by myself, he came to me,
profiting by Captain Kidd's absence. He made his true character known
to me, and pledged entire devotion. He said that he was in the caravan
to guard and save me. After recommending me to be as wise as possible,
he left me the most undeniable proof of his good faith, proof that
would turn terribly against him if he were to betray me instead of
serving me. What do you think of that?"

"Oh, that explains your having been so strange and excited when I came
back to you," cried Miss Maclan, clapping her hands incautiously.
"I understand now. But why did you not let me know before? This was
unkind, as I was so uneasy about you."

"Don't bear me any ill will, for I was distraught with sudden gladness."

"What an amazing thing. That Joe fellow is very ugly," said Miss
Maclan, merrily; "but I shall try to love him now!"

"Now it is you who are excited, girl. Calm yourself, lest we be
overheard."

"No, no, there is nothing to fear, at least, in the immediate present.
Oh, dear Rosario, what a blessing this is for you, and perhaps for me,
for I am to keep by you, am I not? What a mercy it will be to flit
through the grip of that nasty Captain Kidd, a gallows bird, who never
even blinks behind his spectacles."

"Yes, yes, no parting between us, dear Ulla. We will remain friends
always. Columbia and Caledonia forever. Hip, hip, hur--"

But she did not conclude her burlesque cheering. The two girls were in
one another's arms, weeping tears of hope and joyfulness, when a sharp,
yet low hiss pierced the silence, and made Doña Rosario prick up her
ears. She came from a climate where abounded reptiles making such a
sound.

Presently, a spent revolver cartridge shell was neatly cast so as to
roll in under the tent edge, almost to the girls' feet. Miss Maclan
picked up the cylinder, being the nearer and the more courageous. A
paper was curled up in it, and slightly protruded. She pulled it out
with trembling fingers. It opened, and she saw it was addressed to her.
She rapidly ran her eyes over it, and then slowly and thankfully read
it aloud.

These were the contents:--

"Dear Miss Maclan,--All obstacles are overcome, so that I have been
more than happy enough to discover your whereabouts, for I am even
close to you. I am on the watch, so hope! I may even succeed in getting
speech with you. Much to say. Ranald Dearborn."

There was a postscript, wishing her hope and courage, and bidding her
burn the note.

"That must come from a friend, no doubt?" observed Rosario, slyly.

"Oh, indeed," replied the Scotch girl, suppressing a sigh, "a very
dear, leal friend, in whose promises I can place complete trust."

"Why, things go better and better. I should not wonder if we were freed
before a great while."

"Heaven grant it."

"Don't you forget what was told you."

"What?"

"The burning the paper, goose. It is important, I rather agree."

"Must it be destroyed?"

"Decidedly, my dear; were the captain to find a line of it, you and
your friend would be lost. Dearborn is the name of the new guide, who
read Mr. Kidd a lesson in behaviour to a lady. He known as our friend,
too, and a correspondent, we would be separated."

"Very well, then, I shall not hesitate. It's a painful sacrifice, for,
somehow, that message seems written with a consoling angel's feather."

She began to tear the paper with an unsteady hand. But at that same
instant a heavy foot was heard at the door. Ulla dropped the writing.
But before it was half way to the ground, the Southerner had caught it,
and snatching some tobacco, shredded, she began to make a cigarette as
she lolled back with a good assumption of ease.

"Can a body come in without disturbing you too much?" inquired Captain
Kidd in his well-known and little-liked voice at the door.

"There is no need, captain, for you to feign a politeness you little
care for," was Rosario's reply. "Am I not your very slave, and as such
obliged to obey you? As you are the master, come in if you like."

In came the chief of the gold grabbers with a little bow.

"Really, young lady," he said, "my presence must be very odious to you
if you receive me always so poorly. Still, it does seem to me that I
am trying continually to please you in every way, I am not aware of
anybody round here failing to treat you properly."

"Moral constraint is a hundred times more irksome than physical, sir. I
am not free; that's the whole question; I cannot be contented as long
as I an prohibited from leaving your camp forever, and never setting
eyes on you or your scoundrelly followers."

"Poor little lady!" he answered, with ironical kindliness, "Whither
would she go if I were to present her with the freedom she longs for?
My child, you might not go five miles, nay, not three, before down
you would go--shot by an Indian, one of these Half-breeds, or into
some alkali sink pit, or wild beasts' lair. I should never have done
reproaching myself if I let you incur any such fate."

"Oh, it is not today that I have become acquainted with your humanity,
sir, and your love for your neighbour. But let us no longer discuss
fruitless subjects, which I daresay interest you most feebly. I beg you
rather to inform me of the object of your visit. Your time is valuable,
and you would not waste it chatting with a young lady."

This speech was made with so strong an accent of scornful fun, that her
hearer only overcame his anger by a powerful effort.

"I am still waiting," resumed his tormentor after a minute. "Have you
nothing, after all, to say?"

"You must forgive me, señorita," said he, "but your reception was so
surprisingly charming, that it made me forget what I came for."

"Perhaps I may smoke whilst it comes again, by your leave, of course?"
said the impudent minx, with a sly glance at Miss Maclan, whom Kidd
affected to regard as a mere companion, a kind of better class servant.
"I am in such a way, lately, of _palliating anything disagreeable_ with
a smoke, that I really cannot get along without my cigar while you are
by!"

She accepted a match from Ulla and lighted up.

"Now then, master, you can fire away too if you are ready!"

All this was said and done with the free and easy manner of an American
girl. The malicious thing thoroughly enjoyed puffing into the very face
of their persecutor the smoke of the letter which conveyed a vexation
to him. So much satisfaction was in this unsuspected revenge before the
only person able to measure it, that Rosario felt even a little less
spiteful towards the man who for once was her victim.

As he had not the ghost of a suspicion, the mute conference of the
girls had no meaning in his eyes, but he did notice with relief that
the American girl looked less angry.

"Señorita," he said, "a serious motive impels me here. I can put it
shortly. This morning we started off with the intention of turning our
backs on the cheerless wilds and striking for quarters rather more
hospitable."

"So far, sir, I do not hear anything much to interest me."

"I am coming to it. I hired a new guide, whom I presented to you--that
Mr. Dearborn."

"Well!" she inquired loudly, to keep attention on her and away from
Miss Maclan, who could not help colouring at the name. "What's this
cold Englishman to me?"

"Of no account to you, very likely, miss! But he's everything to me.
The worthy young fellow saved my life, as I told you. Over and above my
gratitude, there's any amount of confidence I have in him."

"Go on; go on, sir. If you will bore me with your private business, let
me hear all and be done with it. I suppose there's nothing to spur you
on; and my time belongs to you if to anyone."

"There you are, joking me again, señorita. Still, I am not talking at
random, and I would not go into these particulars if they could be
omitted."

"Have your own way, I tell you, captain. You were saying that you
entertained great confidence in your new guide, who had saved your
precious life. You see I remember what you said."

"So you do. Well, señorita, this guide promises to save us three days'
march and to take us in one day into a region almost temperate."

"A very good thing for you! But you will again allow my remark that it
does not concern me."

"But you have a vast interest in it! You shall see for yourself too. It
was the guide himself who suggested my coming to you."

"This is getting extremely interesting at last!"

"Yes, while we were on the move this morning."

"More and more interesting," she said seriously, whilst Miss Maclan
leaned forward eagerly.

"The guide said to me, then," went on the captain, smiling, "'I can,
if you like, avoid the long way round and drop you in four-and-twenty
hours into mild weather; but I must not hide from you that it is by
a breakneck road, so dangerous that the bravest men never go through
without an attack of ague. There's only two ways of doing it, on foot
or on horseback. Your band is lumbered up with women and children.
Reflect how you are going to get them along.' My answer to this was,
'There's no need to fret about the women and girls, as they are
frontier bred and know how to rough it. There is only one person whose
safety is important to me, and I do not care to endanger her in a risky
path. That person is the Spanish doña.' 'If she is enough of a rider to
stick to a horse, I warrant we'll get her through,' said he to that.
'Can't you ask her anyway? Then we shall know whether we are in a fix
or not.' So I said I would see about it; and here I am, señorita, come
to disturb you."

"If one is to go by your story, it was more you than the guide that led
to your coming."

"To tell the truth, my head is confused, and I do not carry a clear
memory of the exact phrases employed. But this does not matter much
one way or the other. The main point is to know, señorita, if you can
ride well enough to stay in the saddle in a bad bridle path."

"Either I am very dull, or you have left out part of your argument,
señor, though of importance."

"Ah! I know what you are alluding to. You mean, what is to become of
the baggage?"

"Yes, señor captain; you may even say 'plunder.' It's a popular word,
which well covers your belongings."

Kidd laughed at the jest. Things were coming round nicely, after all.

"The wagons and loads are going to follow on, under safe guard, by the
next best road. They will come up three or four days after me in our
nook."

"Oh, now I understand the whole matter clearly, and nothing can be
simpler."

"Well, what is your answer, young lady?"

"Captain," was the sad reply, "the life you believe so valuable is a
very mean thing to me. I attach little weight to it, so any road is the
same as another. I will go along with you anyway."

"I beg your pardon, señorita, but either you don't or you won't
understand. You are not answering me at all."

"No, captain? I thought I was! You asked me if I would go with you in a
new path, and I say yes. That's straight enough."

"Yes. You mean you would trust to your horse?"

She remained silent, finishing the cigarette.

"I pause for a positive reply."

"Well, I will give you the frank reply that you require," she said,
with an effort. "I am not only so poor a horsewoman that I should be
afraid to trust to a horse, but I am so ignorant as to be afraid to
trust myself on one. I never was in the saddle in my life. That was not
even among my 'extras' at the boarding school."

"That will do, señorita. I am going."

"What do you decide?"

"To push on in the original course. It's longer, but it's less
hazardous."

He made his bow and departed.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE NEST OF TRAITORS.


"Dear me, Rosa," exclaimed Miss Maclan, the tent being cleared once
more, "I thought all you Southern Americans rode horses like centaurs.
At least, you know my meaning though the simile is bad."

Rosario gave her a hug.

"Eh, darling!" she whispered; and added with a fine smile. "At present
I do not know how to ride."

"But I should have thought--"

"You are not good at the kind of thinking wanted out here, lassie! The
guide spoken of by the captain is devoted to us, eh? Yes; well, then,
if he got that idiot of a Captain Kidd to put these questions to me, it
is because he wanted no for an answer. Do you comprehend now?"

"Better than ever. Oh, you are keen, Rosario! They will not cheat you
easily!"

"Alas, dear, it is misfortune's grindstone that sharpens wits. When
even girls are constantly surrounded by tricks and stratagems, the
senses wear clear and bright. Cunning and dissimulation are the slave's
sole weapons. We can only baffle our enemies with skill and _finesse_."

When the starting time came Captain Kidd's bugle sounded it, and gave
orders for the movement. The guide had not come back from his hunt, but
as he had left precise directions, the leader showed no tokens of being
crossed by that absence, and took the lead himself.

It was a most painful journey.

Out of the snowlined woods issued a black damp frost, which cut to the
bone even the thickest wrapped. A few large snowflakes were spun out of
treetops and wandered about. The semblance of a road was dreadfully cut
up and flanked by deep chasms, which required the utmost heedfulness on
the part of the teamster lest the vehicles and pack animals were thrown
down and over. They seemed to have nothing but ups and downs, and the
worst of the downs was, it being through torrents or pools where the
water was excessively chilly.

The caravan proceeded noiselessly on the whole, excepting the groaning
and screaming of the wheels and the sonorous oaths of the drivers: men
who do not sleep happily unless they have invented a fresh blasphemy
every day.

Their disagreeable march, during which but scanty progress was made
after all, was kept on till half past four, when darkness came on. The
train had reached a natural clearing resembling that of their last halt.

Such a huge fire as served our ancestors to roast oxen whole, and as
their present-day descendants now and then use for the same purpose at
extraordinary meetings, was blazing in the open space. Right in front
stood the guide, leaning on his rifle as easily as if he little cared
for the pyre attracting Indians as a lantern does gnats on a summer
night.

The party quickened their gait as much as possible, enheartened by the
ruddy flame of which the mere reflection seemed to thaw their stiffened
limbs.

Soon were the wagons unlimbered and ranged in defensive order, the
mules unladen, and the encampment as swiftly installed as could
be. As the night was to be spent here, the measures of assurance
were unusually well taken. The wagons were chained in two crescents
connected by parallel bars, the interstices choked up with stake and
thorn bushes, and the tents set up within the enclosure. The sentries
were told to keep their eyes skinned. Plenty of watch fires were
kindled and provided with fuel.

Only when these precautions were concluded did the gold grabbers get
leave to prepare supper. Think what their appetite was with this hard
work on top of that excited by the long and arduous journey. They
"wolf'd" their meal.

After the captain had strictly inspected the camp, investigated the
surrounding scenery, and became convinced all was in order, he strolled
over to Ranald. He was at his own fire, smoking a pipe, the guide not
being an officer who "chums" with anyone; again a point of resemblance
with a sea pilot.

"My friend the hunter," said the captain, in a most amicable tone, "I
desire you to pass the night with us, and take supper with our chiefs."

"Many thanks, captain; I do not see any reason why I should go out on
the prowl tonight, and nothing bars me from putting my knife into your
Washington pie. But a little condition on that, captain."

"Name it, dear boy. If it depends on me, it is granted beforehand,"
said Kidd, who was becoming accustomed to Dearborn's "little whims."

"I only ask one thing, that there shall be none but men at the board."

"A 'stag party?' But what do you say that for?"

"That's not easy to explain. But the fact is, I haven't come out into
the wilderness to hear women squeak, and see them mince about and play
all those niminy-piminy lures and graces that city people think are
agreeable. I have no wish to say a word contrary to the respect I hold
for the young Southern lady in your charge; but, by Jove! I'll confess
that I prefer the wolf scaring faggot here to sitting at table over
against the fair sex."

"Oh, good," replied the captain, who knew that for every seven young
men whom a homicide, debt, loss at gambling, love of wild life, etc.,
drove into the desert, there were six whose first love affair turned
out disastrously; he thought he perceived at last the true cause of the
youth's reserved mood and peculiarities. "You'll not be bothered with
her, particularly as we are going to talk about her, and could not well
do that if she were by, or her Scotch attendant either."

"Attendant?"

"Yes, I've picked out the woman we rescued to be her companion. It
cheers her up. She was moping a little."

"Things being so, captain, I am your man."

In five minutes, the captain, Joe, and the Englishman were supping
together with hearty appetite. When this was a trifle allayed by the
first course, Kidd brought the conversation round upon Doña Rosario, by
reason of her having stopped the choice of the short cut.

"Women are always a bother," remarked the young misanthrope with a
sneer. "With no intention to offend you, I would not mind betting a
trifle that the young lady can ride as well as you or I."

"She says the other thing," returned the host, thoughtful of a sudden.

"Out of the spirit of contradiction, that's all."

"It's very certain," interposed Joe, "if she was educated at New
Orleans, that she must be a rare exception to the troops of schoolgirls
who go out riding on the Shell Road."

"It's all pure contradiction," resumed Dearborn; "who can say a thing
is black to a woman without her saying it is white?"

"Or grey, at least," added the lieutenant, sagely.

"That's why," continued the youngest man, "I have sworn off woman's
society. Though the best woman in creation came out here, I should
send her back to the nearest railway station! I'll never cumber myself
up with the baggage! They're a bad bargain, though they come with a
million in the Funds!"

"Whew!" exclaimed Joe, laughing, "Our guide does not strike me as a
very passionate adorer of the sex."

"No, no, don't put me down as either hating or liking them," went on
the hunter; "write me as indifferent. My father was a man of great good
sense; an oracle in his county. He used to say that the modern woman is
like the grand piano: it looks useful, but it takes up too much room,
and is always in the way. You cannot use the wires for a gridiron, the
top is badly shaped for a billiard table, and the legs are so hard, you
cannot chop them up in a sudden emergency for heating shaving water.
And when she is musical, the neighbours move out and leave the last
quarter's rent owing. I agree with my dear old dad."

The others laughed.

"The sad part of it all is, that we must pass three or four days we
might have saved in this dreary solitude," remarked the captain.

"Still, you might take the short cut," observed Joe.

"I don't see how."

"Well, my principle is, that the few must give in to the many. Sound
democratic maxim. Doña Rosario says she cannot ride. Never mind whether
she can or not, truly; but that does not bind us down from taking the
cutoff. Not a bit of it."

"I wish you would explain," said Kidd, testily. "What would you do in
my place, man full of dodges?"

"One thing--the easiest thing in the world," responded the Carcajieu,
playing with his knife on a bone. "I would pick out an old sure-foot
mule--we've several rare good ones--I'd put a sidesaddle on, well
filled with a bag of leaves, rugs, blankets, and such fixings, so the
lady should not get cold, and fasten her in."

"Not a bad notion. What do you think, guide?"

Dearborn laughed in the face of Joe.

"And when the mule slips, your hardbound lady rider would be dashed to
sausage meat in the gulf below. They run eight hundred feet deep round
here."

"Bah! That's nothing. Apparently, you do not know what a mule is--a
cat for clinging to the roughnesses, a fly for walking up a smooth
perpendicular."

"Oh, if you think the mule can scramble along--"

"A mule can go where we daren't."

"Then I will share in your lieutenant's suggestions," said Dearborn,
exchanging a secret glance of intelligence with Joe.

"That's fine, then! Tomorrow we will strike into the straight line you
proposed, guide. Are your horns full? Then, here's to the Yellowstone
Valley!"



CHAPTER XX.

THE UNDERMINER.


As it came on nine o'clock, Lieutenant Joe and Dearborn took leave of
their superior and of the table.

The former of the pair seemed to be overpowered by sleepiness, for he
had been blinking like an owl during the conversation, and, were he
not so polite a man, would have fallen forward and slumbered among the
dishes, his head on his arms.

The guide had altered his purpose; on second thoughts, he preferred to
make the circuit outside the camping ground for the better security of
all. So he bade the captain good night after announcing his changed
resolve, and promising to be back a bit before sun-peep.

Joe shook himself up, still polite, and volunteered to take the guide
round and show him where the lookouts lay, in order he might not get
shot by them at the dawn. During this short jaunt the two spoke very
little, and what they said were commonplaces. They knew quite well
that they were under the eyes of the leader, who came out to the tent
mouth ostensibly to finish his cigar.

After bidding one another good night bluffly, hunter and gold seeker
parted. The Englishman leaped over the barricade and glided into the
shadows. As Joe retraced his steps, he saw the captain disappearing in
the tent, where the loose flap fell and hid him.

The second officer had a green bough shelter run up for him against a
rock. Thither he proceeded and insinuated himself within; but, despite
the cold, he left the wagon tailboard, which might flatteringly be
styled the door, on one side. He would not have a fire, and showed no
light. He pulled out a horsehair covered trunk, sat on it, folded his
arms, and appeared to await being frozen stiff.

Not only, though, had all semblance of drowsiness quitted his features,
but, judging by his eyes, he was as wide awake as ever; these were
directed on the captain's tent. Its opening and that of his shed
faced, so that he could spy into it, protected himself by the complete
darkness in which he was lodged.

Kidd kept a lamp burning for quite half an hour. Joe tried his best
to see what he was doing, but that was not possible. Nevertheless, he
persevered in studying the tent which contained so many mysteries for
him. At length, the attraction of curiosity was so strong as to become
irresistible. He left his seat, and, stealing forth, scanned the scene
without.

Deep stillness reigned over the darkened camp, for a fine, cold rain
had lowered the fires. Rolled up in their blankets, the gold grabbers
had packed into shelter and slumbered soundly. The watchers themselves,
with only their noses and eyes exposed, were shrunk up into the best
covering the bushes and palisades afforded against the wet.

But the light still glittered in the captain's tent.

The Carcajieu would hold back no more.

And yet he knew that when the chief retired for the night, he blocked
himself in so that it was impossible to get at him without his leave or
knowledge. As for peering and prying, no one had tried what would lead
to discovery. Besides, what could the curious make of it; the tent was
double; there was full three inches space between the outer jacket and
inner canvas, a precaution taken along with others for serious reasons,
to the end that, when the captain did shut himself up, he could be
delivered of daily constraint and be himself unfettered.

Such were the more or less plausible suppositions to which Corky Joe
had arrived since he formed part of the expedition. He had often sought
without success to discover this puzzling mystery. But his repeated
failures, far from calming his curiosity, by proving the uselessness
of his abortive attempts, so pricked him on, that he determined at any
cost to tear the heart out of the enigma. The present occasion struck
him as so favourable, that he made up his mind to try again, whatever
the consequences, if he ran into a trap.

Sharp as was Kidd, Joe reckoned himself to be on a par with him. At
least, he rarely acted without forethought, sound, though not long,
perhaps. He was patient, preparing in advance the means for carrying
out his plans. He had never yet been taken in an unguarded moment.
Whenever he had failed, he set down the loss to chance, fate, or
whatever name it goes by.

Since too long a time had the faithless lieutenant been planning out to
learn what went on in the captain's snuggery when he was closeted in
for him not to have a better result, because he profited by previous
mischances.

Matters stood as follows this time--

Every time the train started the lieutenant took the advance with a
dozen picked men. Not only did they scout and roughly clear a road, but
they pushed on to the night camping ground. There they chopped bushes
and trees, built fires, or even lit them to warm the ground and drive
away vermin, as all small game is called, and put up the tents for Doña
Rosario, the women, and the leader. These they carried on led mules,
the cloth wrapped round their tools and eatables, so that part of the
load was exhausted on the way and at the end of the journey. When the
main body came up, it moved into position already traced, and completed
the entrenchment with the wagons and loads. A few shanties were knocked
together, and that was all. If the pickets had much of a start, they
did so much work whilst waiting, that the rest often did not have to
delay half an hour before meals.

The first act of the chief was to see if his tent was pitched to suit.
If not, he would have the site shifted, and overlook this being done
in person; this was of rare occurrence, but it had happened. Though,
in the beginning, his men had been curious about the tent, two months'
fatigue had blunted the feeling. Besides, what interest had tired men,
wet and muddy with fording, in puzzling out matters of no value to
them?--To say nothing of Kidd, notably "sudden with his pistol," being
always on the lookout. Besides, as he had often reflected, he was sure
enough of the relatively devoted nature of the principals of his band.
If he had to do with mere inquisitiveness his reasoning would have been
correct. Even Paul Pry will get fagged out in the end, but it was not
such a paltry nature that was pitted against him.

The Carcajieu had potent grounds for persevering in unearthing his
secret. Therefore, he would never stop till that secret lay under his
feet, or he was stretched dead upon it.

The captain was ignorant of this, and could not even dream of it.
He never once thought of doubting Joe, and conjecturing that he was
undermining him like a mole. Surrounding circumstances also forced him
to bestow on his second as much trust as lay in so wary a character.

On pushing ahead to the camping place, Joe had set his pioneers to use
their axes upon the brushwood, whilst he examined the land.

The position was intelligently selected by Dearborn, healthy and
easy to defend. It was an opening "park," in the midst of a thick
wood climbing the abrupt foothills of the Rockies. On the right, an
uncracked block of stone rose up sheer to an incalculable height, and
forefended any attack from that quarter.

Like the broken arch of a natural stone bridge, a huge rock, hollowed
out by water in ancient days, covered about a third of the clearing,
to the height of a score yards. On the left the mountain sides, well
wooded, gently sloped down.

The Carcajieu scanned the rocks alluded to. Hurled from the mountain
crest in some horrible cataclysm, they had crashed together
chaotically, and cheating moss and shrubs seemed to have knit them into
a solid mass. In reality, though nothing but a wonder of balancing kept
them in their arrangement. There was another discovery made by the
lieutenant, that almost forced him to whoop for joy, and did force the
whistling of a lively dance tune in an undertone.

When the bush work was formed, he went on usually to have the fires
laid and the tents reared.

The captain was set up under the natural arch, in a most advantageous
spot. Behind and on both sides the canvas was superfluous, for it was
in the hollow of the rock.

Kidd was so delighted with this solid nook for his night's lodging,
that he warmly thanked and congratulated his lieutenant, a surprising
thing to "the boys," as they knew him to be chary of compliments. Joe
bowed himself out of the flowers of speech in a modest way, and went
and hid his blushes in his greenwood shanty.

Scarcely had Joe, about to essay his dangerous undertaking, left his
ambush before he spied a shadow cross his path.

"Hist?" he demanded, putting his knife in readiness.

"Only me, the Drudge, master, coming to report," was the whispered
reply of the youth Leon.

"Oh, that's all right. What have you been about, boy?"

"Carrying out your orders, lieutenant," continued he, approaching.
"After lending the Foxface a hand to bandage up Lottery Paul, I
pretended to forget the camphorated spirits, as you instructed me."

"Good boy! What next?"

"I laid by to see what they would do. Just as you foresaw, lieutenant,
Foxface took up the keg, which was still pretty nigh full, and
laughingly showed it to the Frenchman. The next thing was, they swilled
at it, turn and turn about, making fun of me."

"How has it ended?"

"The keg is ended, lieutenant, that's a sure fact, and both the
scoundrels are dead drunk, not even snoring."

"Good; they are on the shelf. How about the others?"

"All are sleeping. There is nobody afoot but you and me, and the
captain, I reckon."

"Are you sure?"

"Quite; the sentinels are sawing gourds in the Land of Nod too."

"Very nice. You know what you are to do?"

"I do, lieutenant."

"Then get about it, my lad, and bear in mind that, in strictly
following my instructions, you are working for your good and your
freedom."

"I know that, lieutenant, and so you may rely on me doing anything you
direct."

"I know that too! Good, good--'tis time. You will see me ere long,
Leon."

The Drudge went his way without further observations.

"Now I am left to myself," remarked Joe, sliding his bowie knife in its
sheath and feeling that his revolvers were capped. "I shall never get
such another chance to shine or be snuffed out. If I do not succeed
in finding out some certainty to work upon, why, I'll--No, no, 'it'll
never do to gib it up so, Mr. Brown!'" he concluded, humming a nigger
minstrel song, which teaches the very American moral of Never Despair.

He took a full "square" look at the eternal lamp in the captain's
dwelling, but, instead of crossing the camp towards it, he turned away
and skirted the rocks. As soon as he reached a thorny bush rather
thick, he parted the twigs at the risk of tearing his hands, and
slipped into the very centre, as if, like the fools in the nursery
jingle, he meant to scratch out his eyes.

As one sometimes finds among those old natives of the Southwest, who
sit up all night at the gambling table, Joe was a true _noctambulist:_
he had the wild beasts' gift to see at night. Otherwise, it were
difficult to explain the unerring step with which he progressed through
the dusk. Probably he had clearly traced in his mind the line he was
following.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE BEST WAY TO LEARN IS TO LOOK AND LISTEN.


After gliding through the thorn brake, Joe lowered himself to the very
ground. Fairly creeping, he seemed at a loss, clever as he had shown,
himself. But, after thrice scrutinising the ground, he saw something
dully gleaming. He crawled up to it. It was a piece of tinfoil, such as
is used for enveloping chewing tobacco. It was roughly shaped into the
form of a dart, the head pointing in the direction which he immediately
took. It led him to another thorny bush, guarding an airhole about a
yard square, almost impossible to discover even close by in broad day.

Joe knew that the guide had laid the indicator there, and with joy and
confidence he dived into this kind of wild animals' burrow. It was a
dry water course, a natural culvert, or drain, six feet wide in the
best parts, and sometimes twelve high, ragged with worn rock, but also
floored most smoothly with the finest yellow sand. Spite of his haste,
he could not help carrying a pinch--spread out artistically on his
palm--to his mouth; he tasted it for metallic traces, and grinned as
he murmured, "Copper, I guess; silver, dead sure; and some gold. These
rocks would pay blasting up some day."

But he was not after gold this time. So far the sand had glowed faintly
orange from an unknown light. But soon the tunnel grew perfectly
lightless.

"Whew!" muttered the Carcajieu, smiling, "In this place the King of
Shades himself would stub his toe!"

As he pushed on he employed the minutest care not to make even the
faintest noise that could betray him.

Ten minutes seemed an interminable period thus. Only then, though,
did a luminous streaking show that he had actually arrived under the
captain's tent.

He stopped, so anxious that he quivered convulsively. He was ashamed at
himself for being so unstrung. He breathed long and regularly till he
had calmed himself, and being confident, he examined the rocky side of
his concealment as far up as possible. There were many fissures, but
few went clean through straight. Two or three gave him views of the
tent interior, useless to him. One, however, about four or five feet
up, offered a capital spy hole. He applied his eye and gazed in. Almost
at once he drew himself violently back in surprise, and a grin of
delight hard to depict. He turned pale, and large beads of perspiration
formed on his brow and slowly trickled down.

"Good heavens!" he thought to himself, "Can it be? I must have seen
awry!" But, having another peep, he murmured, "It's the man, and no
mistake! Doubt is not allowable. He is not in the grave, then. Hang
me!" he went on, clenching his fists mechanically, "But the devil
will have to take you, or this time I shall. 'Tis he, the outlaw, the
villain who robbed the miners. Oh, you wretch! Are you still in this
world? But I have your inmost secret now, and you may well tremble!
This is a wide desert, old boy, but on three sides there are railroads
now; law officers and courts of justice on all four. You are a goner,
this trip, Mr. Harry Brown!"

After having thus given vent to anger and indignation long contained,
Corky Joe felt calmness return to his mind. He wiped his forehead dry,
smoothed his features, and, this time, it was the serene, steady eye
as of an astronomer that he set to the gap.

As far as appearances went, there was nothing to justify the strange
wrath which blazed up in the false lieutenant. The tent and cavern
formed half a circle, which, if completed, would have spanned over
twenty yards from the apex to the base. An iron folding bedstead,
on which was a flock mattress, and a quantity of buffalo robes and
other furs, was set up at the back, trunks being piled near it. On a
folding table in the centre, between a bottle lantern and a candle in
a tin dish, a travelling case was opened, more filled with papers than
shaving utensils and toilet implements. It was supplied with secret
pockets and false bottom, so that, though the captain always carried
it on his horse and kept it by him, Joe had never suspected it was a
receptacle for documents.

There was no doubt that so much care was only expended on proofs
against the villain whose identity with a former and criminal self Joe
could hereby establish.

On the table lay writing materials. By means of these a man, seated on
a campstool, was "making notes." Not the harmless memos of business,
or private details, but with a sureness of hand and dexterity in every
finger that proved an experienced forger was here; the writer was
imitating notes of hand such as the army officers get discounted by the
Indian traders in anticipation of their salary. This man in no wise
resembled Captain Kidd save in stature, and even in that point there
was a difference, as being slighter--he seemed more tall. It was hard
to tell his exact age, as in the case of actors who are clean shaven,
he being so, and all white or grey hairs scrupulously extracted. Most
beholders would have set him down as thirty, but he might still be ten
years older. His face was oval, with a broad forehead, but pressed in
at the temples. His hair, of that blueish black suggesting dye, rolled
in ample curls down upon his shoulders, enframing handsome lineaments.
Under thick brows, large, widely opened eyes were continually in
movement, the pupils having that power of deepening or lightening in
shade as emotions affected the owner; often they were veiled almost
entirely, and then again they shot out lightning glances of unwonted
magnetic force. His nose was straight, and yet a little curved at the
tip, with tremulous nostrils. The ruddy, sensual mouth was overlarge,
with sound teeth. The cheekbones stood out a trifle, and there was the
cleft of a wound, or, perhaps, a congenital hare split on the square
chin.

As the æsthetic rule runs out West, this was a handsome man. But after
even only a few minutes' view, one would shrink with terror, there was
such a stamp of tigerish ferocity in the deep fine wrinkles of the
brow, the restlessness of the gaze, the flutter of the nostrils, as
though scenting carnage, and the cruelly mocking smile playing on the
lips.

His face was clean shaven, we say--"shaved under" for a week, as
barbers word it, so that every line and trait could be traced, and
by them, by the olive complexion, and by the contour, the name of
Harry Brown, much too Anglo-Saxon, applied by Corky Joe, seemed very
unbefitting. He was rather of Mexican-Spanish and Indian race.

Whatever he was, and whatever Joe had mentioned in relation to him,
this was no vulgar rogue. He still was an enigma whose veil was not
entirely stripped away because one of his _aliases_ was known.

Several minutes passed during which the forger went on with his work,
which seemed mere amusement, with all the tranquillity of a nobleman
in his study, well aware that nobody durst disturb him. It would have
been difficult for his retreat to have been intruded upon without
his leave, so well closed in was it. Besides, he had a brace of
revolvers near to give a lesson to any imprudent person who presented
himself unannounced. Finally, the stranger pushed the papers away from
him, laid down the pen more carefully, with that respect which the
high-class artisan has for his tools, rested his elbow on the table and
his cheek in his hand, and yielded to deep meditation. The attentive
observer could read nothing on the visage, as smoothly cold as marble.

Over a dozen times the false lieutenant felt tempted to "settle" this
man by putting a bullet into his brain, an easy matter; but each time
his prompting was checked by a higher force, like that which causes a
police officer to take his man alive, though the reward is the same for
the body in any condition.

The man was not his property. He belonged to society, unto which he
would have to render up accounts of his crimes; society alone had a
right to try him and make an example of him.

For all but a quarter of an hour the musing man dwelt motionlessly
staring into vacancy. It was a mute dialogue with himself. At the
end he flung up his head sharply, sprang to his feet, and stalked to
and fro in the narrow walk, his hands behind his back, and his head
hanging. When he stopped, he was at the table anew. He actively busied
himself in packing up the notes and papers in the toilet case, closed
it with a secret spring, and put it under his pillow.

Like men who have no confidants, he talked in a low voice to himself
whilst so occupied. It was rather mumbling than even muttering; but
Lieutenant Carcajieu's "good day for hearing" was come. He overheard
pretty well all. Two singular things: not only did the voice differ
from Captain Kidd's in tone and accents, but the man, thought to be
English, spoke fluent Spanish.

"_¡Caray!_" he exclaimed, "That infernal Corky Joe was lucky this
time; it is long since I have had a solid house where I could feel
comfortable and, mainly, safe. This confounded disguise began to
choke me like a corset on the Fat Woman in the Show; Richard actually
yearned to be himself again! By St. Antonio! What a jolly thing it is
not to have to play a part. Even for an hour it is a luxury to be able
to stretch one's legs mentally and bodily. But, pshaw! Still a few
more days and we shall be at ease if this providential guide is to be
depended on! He's a capital blade, a little blunt, like all English,
quaint, novel, but the right stuff. I can't tell why, but I feel warm
towards him."

The lieutenant could not help smiling at this confession.

"Besides, he saved my life," went on the other, "there's something in
that. It is true that if he had known who I was, he would have let
the bears chew me up, more than likely. Ugh! It gives me creeping all
over again to remember that fix. However, I was saved to live many a
day yet in and out of the cover of Captain Kidd. Kidd! Ha, ha! There's
one who never suspected he would be useful after his death, when our
partnership was suddenly cleft asunder by an insertion of my knife in
his jugular as he was sleeping with liquor. But what's the sense of
bringing his memory up? He's out of the battle of life; the secret is
buried out of mortal ken."

As he spoke he performed his metamorphosis, the arraying himself in
the shell, so to say of Captain Kidd. He dressed and "made up" so
artistically, that Joe himself, who was no mean actor, could not help
admiring.

The disguise was complete, nothing being omitted to aid illusion. The
transformation was executed quickly too.

"A rainy night, ugh!" muttered the re-become Captain Kidd. "But
prudence is the mother of security, and you don't catch me lying down
without going the rounds of my camp!"

As the speaker began to break down the rampart which fended the
doorway, the lieutenant abandoned his peephole. He crawled back as he
had come, slipped forth from the opening, made his painful way through
the thorn brake and came out into the clear ground. Convincing himself
that nobody was on the lookout for him, he went over to the tent of
Doña Rosario. Leon's blanket was in a heap by the door. He wrapped
it around him, leaving his pistol arm free, like a Highlander in his
plaid, and lay down, feigning to steep.

He had not been thus placed ten minutes before the tent doorway flap
was lifted, and out stepped the captain with the bottle lantern.

The latter went the rounds conscientiously, rousing more than one
drowsy sentinel with a swing of the lantern or a boot smartly applied.
As the men growled he chuckled, and so worked himself up into a good
humour like a bulldog who had had several successful scuffles. His
promenade brought him round to Rosario's tent, but just as he was
drawing back his leg to awaken the presumedly sleeping figure, there
was the _ku-klux_ of a large revolver going on full cock, and, without
taking the trouble to rise, Joe challenged:

"No tricks on travellers. Who are you with a light, and so free with
your boot?"

"A friend, a friend! Hold hard," the leader hastened to cry. "Here is
one who keeps a good guard."

"The chief!" ejaculated the other, pretending surprise.

"You bet. And," here he lowered the lantern over the man, sitting up
nonchalantly, but with the revolver ready, "it's Corky Joe."

"Same man, cap."

"But how do I find you here when Foxface was set over this tent?"

"Oh, that's all right, chief. 'Want to know?"

"Go on, I'm listening."

"Why, that young ass, the Drudge, sent to give Lottery Paul a rub down
with the camphorated spirits, as you prescribed--"

"Quite right, I did."

"Well, he forgot the keg."

"Then I understand the rest," returned the gold seeker, laughing,
"Foxface caught the Frenchman's complaint, and both took the remedy
internally?"

"You've hit it, old man, they never left what would wet a fly's eye in
the keg; the consequences are, that they are drunk as David's sow, and
snoring away. But as I knew you wanted this tent well looked after,
women being fine as needles, I took up my station here till relief
comes."

"You are a trump, Joe, and did the proper thing. I am sorry it is so
blamed cold and damp--I am frozen like a snow wolf myself, and have a
fit of sleep on me. Try to keep your eyes open till you are relieved,
and with that good night, lieutenant."

"Oh, I am not sleepy now, boss. Out in the open I git wide awake. Rest
easy, anyway," he said, dropping down again in that favourite attitude
of the veteran frontiersman, who knows that the prowling Indian will
scarce resist the temptation to shoot an arrow at the sentry who is
visible upright.

Kidd went into his tent, and the light was put out there. This marking,
the lieutenant rose a little and whistled part of a tune in a low tone.
The Drudge crawled up to him around the lady's tent, finishing the air.

"Take my place here in your own blanket, and let me have the signal if
anything new happens."

So saying, the lieutenant vanished within the tent of Doña Rosario.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE LATE VISITOR TO THE LADIES.


While Lieutenant Joe was so boldly spying upon his superior and
managing to get a look at him, notwithstanding his precautions to
preserve his incognito, there were other important events happening in
and about Doña Rosario's tent full worthy of record.

After Captain Kidd left them the prisoner had held a long conversation
with her fellow captive Ulla. They arranged that the latter should not
for once go and be confined for the night with the late prizes of the
Half-breeds, but keep with the Southerner, whether the captain approved
or not.

Rosario was a great deal more agitated than the Scotch girl, though it
was a question of receiving a call from Ranald Dearborn.

They were both ignorant at what hour he would come, and whether he
could get back into the encampment secretly. But as it was a promise,
Ulla assured her friend that he would not be easily impeded.

With the help of Leon, the girls lined the tent with rugs, furs, and
mats, so that the doubly thickening the wall not only increased the
warmth, which was no inconvenience, but prevented the least ray of
light filtering. This would have betrayed that Rosario was awake, and
not asleep, for the camp curfew was set at ten o'clock at the farthest.
That was one of the points Kidd made when he went round before going to
sleep himself.

The silver hanging lamp was muffled in gauze round its reflecting shade
so as to diminish the gleam, the while it added a mysterious green tint
to the soft twilight. Very little more than a pleasant glow arose from
the brazier, which burnt pine knots, diffusing an agreeable odour.

At length Drudge was sent away. The two girls sat on cushions, like the
beauties of the harem, too anxious to chat to pass the time away, and
glancing ever and anon at a French clock on a stand.

On this evening, as we know, Captain Kidd received the sentries and
ferreted about, but he came across none breaking his orders. Doña
Rosario's habitation, along with the rest, appeared to be plunged in
utter darkness.

As no doubt his captive reposed, the leader rubbed his hands gladly,
and went to shut himself in his tent, so that Old Nick could not get at
him, as the men playfully said.

We know by the foregoing chapter how the Carcajieu had made a mock of
his contrivances.

After quitting the lieutenant, Drudge, with the passive obedience he
showed, and the cunning he well concealed under seeming stupidity,
began carrying out the order received.

It was then about half after ten.

It was a black night, the fine rain never ceased to fall, and, whisked
under the natural vault by a rising wind, appeared to come from all
quarters at once. There was no evading it; but Leon seemed quite
heedless, though it must have pierced his insufficient garments. He
stole away like an eel along the rocky edge, crossing the whole camp
longwise till he attained the spot where the platform ended, and the
cliff formed an unfathomable gulf where darkness deepened. He stopped
short, and looked well about him to make sure he was alone.

Whether alone or not, neither he nor another could see any object
though at touching distance. Reasoning that any watcher would,
therefore, be perplexed to perceive him, the youth swiftly unwound a
leather rope from about his middle. A giant pine leaned out from the
precipice. To this he fastened one end of the lasso; coiling the slack
up clear for running out in one hand, he attached the loop around a
good-sized stone muffled with grass, which even frost had not killed,
in a cranny.

He leaned over the gulf, and imitated with rare perfection the
inquiring and rather mockingly intoned hiss of the whip snake calling
for a mate. Any listener would have imagined that the reptile Don Juan,
drowned out of his hole by the icy rain, was seeking with equal relish
to taunt a rival or a ladylove to leave its burrow and respond to his
challenge or advances. After having repeated this call several times,
but without impatience, a similar answer came from below--short, sharp,
shrill, angry, as if the rival snake was aroused and climbed up for a
fight.

Most of the sentries were asleep, we know; and the others, whether
experienced woodmen or not, would pay no attention to what seemed an
ordinary incident of the night.

On receiving his reply, though, the youth flung the stone and coils out
from him. Softened by the grassy matting, the stone could not be heard
to land; but the snake hissed afresh, and the lariat was drawn taut.

The Drudge exhaled a long breath, as one delivered from mortal anguish.

In fact, it had not been an easy task in the perfect gloom, and guided
by sound alone in a damp atmosphere, to swing a weighted cord to the
very hand of a man expecting it. If, instead of his catching it, it had
struck him in the face, he must have been full of fortitude not to have
cried out. But chance had favoured the plotters.

Very soon, indeed, a figure loomed up, pulling the cord as well as
clambering daringly up the cliff face, and with joyfulness leaped over
the edge on solid ground.

"Thanks, my boy!" he muttered.

"Thank our Father above, Mr. Dearborn--it is He who did it all!"
responded the youth.

"I beg your pardon, you have said the proper thing. It makes a fellow
religiously inclined to be in such straits and miraculously pulled
through them. Lead on, Leon, it is late--but first, let us undo the
lasso, and efface the marks of my coming up and over."

"Are you not going back this way?"

"Dear, no; much obliged. In that little climb I nearly broke my neck
a hundred times, short measure! Besides, it is not the getting out of
the camp that will worry me. Make haste--the young ladies must be just
dying from uneasiness."

Drudge unloosed the lasso and coiled it round him in a few minutes.

"Ready, sir?" he said.

"Show me the way. I am not able to get about--I cannot see at all."

"You need not fear, I know the road very well by this time."

"Where is Joe?"

"Don't know--want to see him?"

"Well, I should like to speak with him."

"_¿Quién sabe?_--who knows but we may run up against him?"

"Rather against him than a stranger. I feel like a housebreaker
somehow; I suppose it is the night time, for our motive is good--even
holy!"

"Come along. Take the bend of the lasso, and not a sound!"

"I am as mute as a statue."

Leon led the Englishman by the loop in the same direction he had taken
to come. Dearborn stared and listened, but seemed to be the blind man
in the game for all he perceived. On the other hand, the Drudge knew
his path instinctively. In daylight he could hardly have gone more
straight. After the still blundering march had continued some ten
minutes, the leader halted.

"Here we are!" he whispered.

"Near the ladies' tent?" inquired the other.

"Within a step or two of Doña Rosario's tent; yes. Now, the rest is
your affair."

"I suppose it is. But what can I do? I have never been further in than
the dining room, so to flatter it. If I stumble over anything and make
a noise, there will be an alarm, and all will be spoilt."

"That's true. I am sorry not to have thought of your having other eyes
than mine. Follow me still, therefore."

"Good again. But, half a minute, my boy--where am I to find you in case
I should require you?"

"Right here, sir, where we are standing. Must I not keep a lookout for
your retreat?"

"So you must. You are right every time. I hardly know what I am about
in saying or doing. The mere thought of speaking with the young lady
freely unhinges me so that I--I fluctuate like a door in the wind."

"Be a man, sir; remember that on what you arrange in this interview is
risked, not only your life, of which I do not know the value, but those
of the two young ladies, one of which is as precious to me, sir, as the
other, I daresay, to you."

"You touch my very heart, boy!--The idea terrifies me! But still it
gives me the pluck which was oozing out at my fingers' ends. I feel up
to the mark again. Come what may, I shall behave like a man, I believe.
On again."

"Come on, but, more than before, silently! Hush, hush!"

They penetrated the marquee, the thick curtain, made heavier by the
rain, falling behind them with a dull sound so sinister as to make them
shudder. So does a pall flap on the bier in a sepulchral vault.

For over half an hour the two girls had not exchanged a syllable. The
whizz and strokes of the timepiece bestirred them at last.

"Eleven," muttered Doña Rosario, impatiently and mournfully. "Oh, your
friend will never come."

"Stop, stop; he is here!" ejaculated Ulla, rising, and restraining her
deep joy from loud expression.

The pretended guide stood in the doorway, holding up the screen, and
contemplating the two lovely creatures, whose fate might be determined
by his mission, with as much love for one as pity for the other. After
his great excitement and the strain on his nerves, he was pale. His
right hand came round upon his heart to compress its throbbings; but
his eyes flashed brightly with bravery, and his manly face was covered
with gladness. His gaze centred on Miss Maclan, and approaching the
cushion which she quitted, he seemed about to fall on his knees,
thankful that they were met again. Rosario drew herself away into the
corner, smiling and thoughtful at this knightly reverence.

"I am afraid this captivity is chafing upon you," he said,
clear-sighted as a lover is to the least trace of sorrow on beloved
features.

"It is true," she answered softly, "but my misfortunes have but begun.
Think rather of what this poor young lady must have endured for a year,
all alone in misery with not one to share her burden; friendless, in a
strange, desolate region, far from all that makes living sweet. She
has to believe that she is absolutely ignored."

"No more than you has she been forgotten," returned Dearborn, though
without looking away from the person he addressed.

"Alas, sir, this being true," observed the Spanish girl gently, "at
least, grant that it is so much misfortune that makes me unjust. It
makes anyone hard, though with the best of tempers. I daresay I am
wilful, petulant. Oh, I am! And all that--but look at my having to keep
up the struggle all the time with misfortune. And I am only a girl
too--a child, they say in the North, whose early years were passed in
joyous, happy peace, surrounded by dear schoolmates, very kind to me.
When the storm unexpectedly burst upon me, I felt as if I should never
outlive it."

"Don't talk so, dear," cried Miss Maclan, with that proneness of
distressed females to forget the tangible danger in order to condole
over a sentimental grievance, which, in this case, simply maddened the
male bystander. "Your sorrows are well nigh at an end, I feel assured.
You are going to save her, are you not, Mr. Dearborn; and I love you,
Rosie, I love you very much."

"I am easier," said the Mexican girl, "ever since this gentleman came
into the camp; but still, you must not be too confident! The men you
are matched with are very wicked ones, and there are ever so many of
them too."

"Well, my friends count up to a good number. I have not started on this
errand without knowing what may be my support. Our friends are brave
and strong, and having their promise to help, I could be confident. To
say nothing of the remains of your father's company, Miss Maclan, there
is one man, the leader of the trappers--"

"You mean Mr. Ridge," exclaimed Rosario, sharply.

"Yes; they call him the Yager of the Yellowstone. He's an American--"

"That's the one! If he is on your side, you need not much fear."

"So you know him?"

"So does Ulla there, from my talking to her about him as a devoted
friend of my family. With that man on the lookout to save me, together
with his companion, the Cherokee, Mr. Williams, I do look up again with
the hope that I shall be rescued from this wretch, the Captain."

"Well, things stand thus. Before morning I expect to see Ridge, and to
concert with him on hurrying on the time for the removal of all you
ladies from this camp."

"Heaven hears you! I pray it will help you."

"It is possible we may find assistance among Kidd's men too."

"Have a care, sir! All I have seen are very hangdog fellows," and Ulla
shuddered.

"I know that. Be sure that I shall make no friends without the greatest
prudence. I only trust, too, so far the Captain's right-hand man."

"Oh, you mean Joe?" broke in Rosario, joyfully.

"He worked this round so that we are in communion. He suggested my
seeing you too. I do not know how he managed it, but he has levelled
off obstacles. Besides, he brought me into relations with a young
fellow, almost a boy, who has been most useful to me, I assure you.
Without his helping hand, I could not have gained this place."

"Ah! You allude to poor Drudge now," said the two girls, with the same
affectionate pity.

"That's the boy. But allow me to ask you, Doña, if you have had a long
knowledge of them?"

"Ever since I quitted the borders in charge of these ruffians."

"Well, what is your opinion of them; your cold drawn opinion of them,
as they say? You will readily understand that I am too much of a
stranger to this part of the world, and such queer uncommon persons as
I meet, to judge quickly."

"They bewilder me too," added Miss Maclan.

"They both have done me great services. They say they are devoted to
you, Doña Rosario, but as nothing proves to me yet that this devotion
is not assumed, I fear to be cheated, and even that I am cheated in
trusting them so far. Nothing more closely resembles a good servant
than a hypocritical one, and between ourselves, I must own that Corky
Joe has no winning countenance, better ones have hung a man."

The girls laughed, Rosario the heartier.

"Poor Joe!" she exclaimed, "His face is not a good passport, but he is
not to blame for that."

"I do not blame him for that, certainly," returned the Englishman, "and
I do not say that is sufficient grounds for mistrusting him."

"You would make a mistake in that case, Señor Dearborn," said the
Mexican, becoming serious. "He's a fine fellow, and I place my
confidence in him."

"What do you think, Miss Maclan?"

"I agree with my friend; she has the proof in her hands that the
Carcajieu stays near her to help her in case of dire need."

"Yes, but how and why? Do you mean to say he is placed near you by
someone?"

"By that Mr. Ridge, perhaps?" suggested Miss Maclan.

"That may be," answered Rosario, contemplatively.

"Ridge is an extraordinary man," said Ranald, thoughtful himself. "He
has a wonderful influence over the white trappers and hunters, wild
Indians, and these Red River Half-breeds, who hate the Canadians and
Americans alike, and yet respect him. They tell me that important
quarrels have been decided by his plain word, and never any murmuring
from the party who lost."

"But to return to the lieutenant," said Ulla.

"Yes," took up her friend, "of his true faithfulness I have ample
evidence. It is a secret which I have promised to keep. Please do not
doubt him any more."

"Here's another mystery! They talk of the plain, straight men of the
wild frontier life, and, on the contrary, every other man seems to
be a hero of romance or of the Newgate Calendar. This Joe makes me
uneasy, like the gentleman, spruce, trim, quiet, with a sharp eye, whom
one sees as a boy about one's father's house, and whom one imagines
fearfully to be a detective to arrest the butler for stealing spoons;
or a sheriff's officer to arrest papa, and who turns out to be a
picture dealer come to see if the smoky old picture, so long our target
for puffballs, in the library is a genuine Snyders or not. It is clear
for me that your lieutenant wears a mask, and no pretty one either!"

"Perhaps the better to suit the faces around us, sir," replied Ulla,
forcing a laugh. "These are white men's, but, really, the red Indian's,
painted for war, is not more intolerable!"

"_¡Dios mío!_" interjected Rosario, "What's the odds! Are we not all
other than what we seem here? Is not every one of us wearing a mask
from Captain Kidd down?"

"In his case, it has slipped aside a minute," broke in a deep voice.

The girls started back in alarm.

"Who's that?" cried Ranald, turning round, and putting his hand to his
belt, none too swiftly if there had been danger.

It was the subject of their former conversation, the Carcajieu.

"I mean to say," continued he, in a cold, stern voice, more
authoritative than they had ever heard before, "that though your
disguise and my own still preserve our identity, it is no longer so
with our good Captain Kidd. I have succeeded in having an unimpeded
look at his phiz."

"Can it be true?" ejaculated Rosario, clasping her hands.

"You have succeeded?" repeated Ranald.

"Yes; thanks to the clue you placed for me. Thank you very much."

"So you have fairly viewed him?"

"Yes; face to face--free from paint and feather--for upwards of half an
hour, without his having the faintest warrant for imagining that I had
him under the lens."

"Ah! That's why you announced yourself in that rather theatrical manner
you use out here?"

"Theatrical, eh? Well, if you mean tragic, you are right, sir. By the
way you were worried about who placed me on guard over this young
lady? I heard that too. Nothing to apologise for. Well; it is not over
the young lady that I am placed, and it is not Jim Ridge that orders
me here and there. I am _attached_ to Captain Kidd, ladies, and Mr.
Guide," said Joe, with an ominous smile, "and it is Uncle Sam that set
me on him. That is all I can say. As for listening to your talk, I did
it because of a powerful interest. It is only then I do play the spy, I
hope."

"It does not matter a bit, sir!" cried Rosario, in her impulsive way.
"This time, as a listener, you have heard good of yourself--but I shall
never have done praising you; but go on and tell us about that dreadful
man!"

"I came for that, and I waste no time, for it is valuable. To be
brief--the commander of these scoundrels, calling himself Kidd, is not
Kidd at all, but a younger man--looking thirty, but may be more. He's
dark enough to be taken for an Indian or Mexican. He's a handsome man
for those that like the King of the Gambler's type. I know that under
the name of 'Hank,' which is Harry, Brown, rather notorious down South,
he has been outlawed by the Government. Folks laugh at the District
Courts, but as their warrant commands the military to lend hand for an
arrest, I guess Mr. Brown thought it judicious to leave civilization.
But even that name may not be his original one, or really his. It may
conceal something blacker in the past. For one, may not Hank Brown be
Corvino, or Cornelio Bustamente, whose portrait you traced, señorita?"

"As you spoke the same idea struck me, I do not know why. The more I
think it over, the more solid the impression becomes. Besides, this
Cornelio Bustamente was the bounden friend of Don Miguel Tadeo de
Castel Leon."

"His agent in the shameful scheme to which you fell a victim," added
the lieutenant quickly; "but where is Don Miguel, then, the infernal
fiend who wrought out the plot? How is it he has contrived to get away
without leaving any traces? It is important to learn that. Well, well,
this is not interesting to you," he continued, looking over to Ulla
and Ranald, who were not engrossed in this turn of the conversation.
"We shall discover him, too, Heaven helping us! I have a clue that
satisfies me, and sooner or later the whole skein must be in my grip.
Ladies, have faith in me and in Jim Ridge; both, on our sides, are
going to see this game out, or our bones shall whiten the mountains."

"Mr. Joe, I have entire faith in you."

"And I!"

"I, too!"

In his hands the lieutenant pressed the three held out to him with the
same sincerity, Rosario's warmest with gratitude.

"Thank you all. But time is up! Say good bye, Mr. Dearborn, and follow
me close."

"Aren't we to know any more?"

"Nothing to tell," returned Joe, bluntly. "Mr. Dearborn, five minutes
to take your leave of the ladies. In your place, I should want ten!" he
added, gallantly.

Luckily, Ulla was not a weakling, and into whatever danger her friend
was about to plunge, she would not indulge in any demonstration of
emotion before the Mexican. After her kind, the Scotch girl was as calm
as an Indian. But the young man had been brought up in similar society,
and comprehended what was under the ice. He felt her hand quiver in
his, and noticed a faintly jealous glance when, in what he thought
obligatory courtesy in the Spanish mode, he kissed Rosario's little
hand.

"Six minutes!" said Joe at the door flap, in a railing tone.

Guided with brotherly care through the camp, Dearborn was taken to an
outlet where he went away unnoticed. Joe watched his figure melt into
the darkness, and muttered:

"That young man is awfully in love with the Scotch girl. They make a
good pair. We must save them as well as this fiery spark of a Mexican.
She's more my style. This would be no kind of a world if such as they
were tormented, and a vile creature like Brown had a good time of it in
the big cities."

Getting back to Rosario's tent, he relieved the Drudge for the last
time, and, throwing himself down in the damp, slept or pondered, which
none could say, till the peep of day.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A FOREST LETTER.


Leaving the amiable Captain Kidd for the time being, but promising not
to be slow in returning to him, we hasten to Old Nick's Jump, where we
left a character as important and far more agreeable.

After having carried out their project in favour of the white women
and their captors, the hunters deemed it wise to remain sheltered in
the cavern. It was not from any likelihood of the Crow Indians making
reprisals; it was clear enough that they had not recognized them, and
had not lately been trying to trace them. The reason of their "laying
low," _i.e._, lying perdu, was more powerful; Jim Ridge had to wait for
intelligence before he would strike out.

The only persons excepted from this embargo were Filditch and Cherokee
Bill, thanks to which exception Lottery Paul received the drubbing that
gave him "funny bones all over."

These two were outliers to the rest, beating the bushes beyond the
Jump-off incessantly.

In their exploration, they found out that they had not helped honest
emigrants but the Half-breeds, and that the women were more likely to
be their captives than their wives and children. They had been carried
almost too far in their love for humankind, and the border law that
colour must defend its own colour.

It is only fair to the Yager to admit that, even on learning that he
had defended mongrels he was not sorry. He did not trouble himself any
farther about them, but still thought of their prisoners.

Such was the state of things four days after the Crows had been
beaten off. Some forty trappers, hunters, and the Scotch Canadians
were actively cleaning up their firearms, and packing several days'
provisions, all in anticipation of an expedition.

It was about midday, and the remains of deer meat and broken biscuit
denoted that dinner had not long been finished.

"How are you getting on, boys?" demanded Jim, who had been busied in
the same way as the others.

"First-rate, all ready!" replied one for the troop.

"That's the prime article! Now then, put out your feet! We must camp
down tonight, a goodish stretch from here."

"You mean business?" inquired a Scot.

"Decided busy business," was the reply; "come this nightfall, we shall
know jest whar we are located."

"But Bill and the Californian left us, as usual, at sunrise; whar
'bouts do we gather 'em in?"

"Don't you flurry," said Jim, "they have run on ahead, not to frolic,
but to clear the trail and select a camping ground."

"Nothing to keep us here, eh?"

"Not a thing."

"Then we're off!" cried the party, all afoot, and everything buckled on.

"Come on!"

The whole band quitted the retreat by the subterranean way already
described.

It was a cold but fine morning, the air pure, the sky blue. The sun
had pretty well thawed the snow, and as a grizzled old trapper said:
"Just _the_ weather for a feller to go ten miles a-sparking his gal."
The party moved in Indian or single file at a good, regular pace, which
took them briskly away from the starting point. As the horses were
useless, they were left behind under guard.

The course brought the long string of men past the Red River company,
and Ridge remarked with some surprise that they who had been so long
quiet now showed signs of pulling up stakes and departing. It was to
coalesce with Kidd. This set Ridge thinking, and even made him uneasy.
Still, he let no evidence of this appear, but went on in meditation.
He was not the man to neglect any precaution, or learning what this
movement portended. Whilst walking on he was fingering several pebbles
which he had merely mechanically picked up, as an observer would have
thought.

On coming to a place where their route made an elbow, he stopped,
without saying anything to his followers, whom he let pass in review.
When the last had utterly gone from sight, and he was sure no one else
had an eye on him, he picked out three trees, which naturally formed
a very regular triangle. Into each of these three he climbed to the
crotch, where he scratched a ledge in the mossy bark, very like what
a bird would make hunting for grubs. He kept the moss and grated wood
carefully, and laid the stone in the little shelf, where it rested
almost invisible, unless to an experienced eye, and that, too, looking
for it. After having executed this operation on all three trees, we
say, the Yellowstone Yager made a heap of all the moss and _débris_
at the foot of the one which was apex to the trio. Leading up to this
cone, scattered over with leaves, he placed lines of stones, to say
nothing of other arrangements of pebbles which, though to all seeming
in disorder, undoubtedly conveyed a meaning, for he went over them,
and, like a printer correcting his types, modified them scrupulously.

Having once more scrutinised the neighbourhood, to be certain he had no
spy on him, he took up his rifle and strode off, merrily whistling to
himself, to overtake his comrades, who had not slackened their gait for
him.

As remarked, Bill the Cherokee and Filditch had gone out scouting at
daybreak. Ridge had given them particular instructions, and perhaps was
thinking of them when he accomplished the enigmatical work described.
It was presumably a signal message. The Yager was much too serious a
man to lose his time in jokes. When he rejoined his men he said never
a word on his doings, and no one questioned him; they do not question
"the old man" of a party when out on the warpath with a variety of
deaths at hand.

All the afternoon they marched on without anything notable happening
except that a couple of bucks were killed, but shot with arrows, so
that no noise was made.

About five p.m., a little after sunset, the band arrived where the halt
for the night was decided.

It was on the edge of a rather wide clearing, as generally is the case,
to prevent a surprise and attack under cover. Awaiting them, seated
near a fire only just kindled, Filditch was puffing at a cigar.

The Cherokee Half-breed was not visible.

Old Jim put no questions concerning him, and did not even seem
astonished at not seeing him.

A camp is not long being made by regular hunters. The two or three
fires soon burnt up in that clear, smokeless, intensely hot way which
is the despair of novices at camping. The supper being "put under the
belts," everyone not on watch wrapped up in blankets, and went to sleep
with feet to the fire.

At eleven o'clock Jim Ridge rose out of a reverie, went the rounds of
the sentries, and finally dived into the underbrush, dropping at once
so as to disappear promptly. As soon as he was well out of reach of the
low firelight rays, he looked up at the sky and mountain tops to get
his bearings, and then strode away, with wide opening of his long legs
like one who knew thoroughly what he was about, and how the country was
superficially formed.

His course was only an hour long.

Then he stopped at a rock overhanging a waterfall.

He felt that his weapons were in good condition before putting in each
side of his mouth one index finger, with which he so changed the shape
of that orifice that he was able to imitate to perfection the hooting
of the big blue owl. That was a night bird likely to be about at that
time.

Almost immediately a swish as of wings in the brambles responded. It
was as if a bird had been deluded and rushed to see a mate. But no
owl--merely a man emerged from the shadows scarcely twenty paces from
the old mountaineer. The man came on with extraordinary confidence,
keeping his gun only tolerably ready, and smoking a pipe with its cover
off.

"Oh, these young fellows!" muttered the Yager, with a low laugh; "They
won't learn nuthin', and it's no use talking to 'em, and, at the same
time, this is a most promising one among 'em."



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE YAGER'S "TREATY TALK" WITH OUR HERO.


In a few minutes the two met, and cordially gripped hands.

"Well?" demanded Jim, curtly.

"An hour after you and your company marched by, so the Cherokee said,
I met him. He was puzzling out something of a Chinese puzzle which you
left for his wits. He told me that I should meet you here, and the
time."

"Jes' so. Why didn't he come along?"

"Really, I do not know, Mr. Ridge," answered Ranald, smiling, for it
was our amateur woodman; "I will add, if you will allow it, that you
probably know better than I do. All he said was that you had given him
something to do that would oblige him to turn back."

"That's so, too. I was afeard he would not understand my 'collar of
wampum,' my forest letter," said Ridge.

"Oh, don't you cherish any alarm on that head. It struck me that
Williams read your forest letter, as you style it, as easily as I
should a page in a book--with this advantage, that he could do it
in the dark with his fingers if need be. You are wonderful with your
devices! But here I am; deal with me as you see fit."

"I want to hear you first," said Ridge. "We are quite alone here. You
have seen the young lady, towards whom I think you feel tenderly, and
have brushed up against Captain Kidd, the old pirate! Say your say
about them."

The young Englishman reflected a while, and not till then did he reply,
in a voice still unsteady with emotion, "If I were facing any other man
than one whom I esteem as the King of the Wilderness; if I supposed you
had any other sentiments in your heart than those which all, white,
red and yellow, acknowledge to be worthy, I should speak out thus--I
am a rich man in England, and will give you half my property for your
inestimable help to free that poor young lady."

He fixed an anxious gaze on the hunter.

"Well, I ain't that style of man," said the latter; "and seeing you are
facing me, what do you say?"

"To you, Jim Ridge," went on the young lover, with tears in his eyes,
"I have to say this--I am really in anguish, and my heart is aching
with apprehension. Those women surrounded by merciless reprobates--'tis
a horrible situation. Counting that lad Leon the Drudge as a man, he
and the Carcajieu and myself are a mere mouthful among the ogres.
Except yourself and friends and the kernel of Sir Archie's ill-fated
expedition, these wilds seem to swarm with dangers, not the least of
which are human. To enable me to help those ladies, I will pledge you
my life if I can only lay it down to save you and those dear to you
some day. I am a newcomer here, Mr. Ridge, but I have already perceived
that all bow to your will. Your incontestable superiority is owned by
your enemies themselves."

"Well, Mr. Dearborn, I am inclined to believe we shall weld up the
thing. Don't call it a bargain, that's all. But let us step away from
here lively. It is no place for a treaty talk. In a short time, by that
distant thunder, which is rolling snow and water, there will be a rise
here, and we may be drowned, ay and frozen."

Ranald followed the veteran Westerner without a word. This reading
signs of natural disturbances from afar impressed him powerfully. His
guide went round the worn boulder, ascended some steps rudely shaped by
time in the granite, and after gliding in at a cleft hardly at first
allowing them to squeeze through, reached a deep cave not perceptible
from without.

"One of my favourite nooks," observed Jim, taking matches from a dry
corner, with which he ignited an elk fat candle, and then kindling
a fire of ready piled wood behind a rocky mantle. "Nobody knows it
except Bill Williams and me. You are the first outsider let in. We
are quite secure. Neither inquisitive eyes nor greedy ears are open
on us here; nothing but the dead are at hand," stamping lightly on
a gentle eminence. "They, at any rate, keep a still tongue. Who are
they? Men like myself, who show the settler the way to the best sites
for towns where thousands of happy children will peacefully learn and
play and grow up without even hearing our names. Such is the explorer's
fate. But the flame mounts brightly--away with black thoughts. To our
concerns; speak out straight and clear. It is needful that I should
know your story completely, that I may see how you intend acting by
that young lady for whom you own a tenderness. Then, here's my hand."

"I have nothing to keep back, sir. I thank God that even my youthful
follies are not such as man blames harshly. My full title is Sir Ranald
Dearborn Ivyson, a baronet of Teviotdale. My family, my position in the
country and monetarily, are more than merely good. I was amusing myself
with travel without any particular aim, when I met Miss Maclan at a
garrison ball in Canada, and fell in love with her--at least, I thought
the passion not shallow, but its full depth was immeasurable till I
found her in danger."

"That's so, boy--it's like the freeze--go sudden to a fire, and mark
how it smarts."

"There's not a doubt of it now. When your friend, Williams, directed
her to give herself up to Captain Kidd's men, I felt my love almost
overthrow my reason, for, though that told me he was ordering the best
course, my sentiment urged me to disobey, and throw my life away by
desperately preventing her being touched by those scoundrels!"

"Bill is a wise man!" interpolated Ridge. "His father was a large
dictionary--he's the pocket-size--but the same amount of larning,
pretty nigh, in both. But go on, you must be back within Kidd's camp by
sunup."

"I have no more to say. When we rescue that young lady, and I place her
in civilisation once more, I shall give her time to let mere gratitude
die out, and then offer myself. If she accepts, I shall be a happy man.
If she rejects, I--I--well, either a soldier I'll be, or I'll come and
join you in your roving career--a miserable, heartbroken man!"

"A desirable recruit!" said Jim, with his low laugh. "Wall, it 'pears
you are bound to do the right thing. I believe you, and this is a more
solemn engagement than you had before. We shall help you."

"Thanks!"

"How are you thriving with the Cap.?"

"How am I getting on with Kidd? I have succeeded in deceiving him."

"Ah, but for how long? He's a cute devil. At the least suspicion, he
will pin you to a tree, or riddle you with a repeater!"

"I shall take care not to rouse his mistrust," answered Ranald, with a
smile of confidence.

"Heaven help you--you are the circus boy, who, seeing the lion tamer go
into the cage so easily every day, offers to perform the critters the
first day he falls sick. However, youth will be boastful. In any case,
rely on me. That American girl is the daughter of my brother's son. And
another belief of mine is all out of the tie if that poor young lad
is not her brother Lewis. This depends, perhaps, on finding out who
their gaoler is--this Kidd, in reality. Soon the means of identifying
the children will be at hand if the father's loving eyes are baffled.
There are more friends and allies yet to be seen by you. An old friend
of my nephew Filditch is due right here, and right now. His name is
Don Gregorio, Peralta, Lewis's uncle. From him, through a trader, come
the 'pointers' that have set me against Captain Kidd. I allow that, so
far, he has thrown me out, but I take a heap of beating, and then I am
not conquered. But he has even bigger enemies than this child. Into his
very camp, travelling along with his crowd from the very jump-off, is
one of his foes, sir. He must have been in communication with you first
off. He has been signalling to us all over the mountain, from smoke and
fires, and played with the axe on trees."

"You allude to the Carcajieu."

"Ay, the Wolverine. You can 'go to sleep in his blanket.' You must
put full confidence in him, for, otherwise, he might upset your plans
without intending it in performing his special duty."

"There's no fear about that. Joe and I have no secrets for one another."

"So much the slicker! Now, we are full forty strong. Before this gang
reaches the Yellowstone Valley, we shall be nearly a hundred, for the
trappers are rallying."

"We are certain to succeed!" exclaimed the Englishman, gleefully.

"Certainty is a brittle twig. But 'our cause it is just,' as the song
says, and we are going to do our utmost. Our enemies are the more to
be dreaded as 'gold or a grave' is a motto that pulls them far. They
are not the first band, though about the biggest, that have started for
the Wonderland. So far we have driven them back, or Nature's scared
them; but that cannot be etarnal. It is not more than a couple of days
that I found out that the leader of these banditti is the notorious
Captain Kidd. He is far down in my book for being the brother of one
Miguel Tadeo, a scoundrel who has dropped through somewhere, though the
frontier is alive with inquiries after him. Kidd is a pestilence, but
Don Miguel is the black plague itself! He is overflowing with spite
against his brother man. If he is hanging around me, why, I haven't
seen a trace yet, and that's bitter on an old trail hunter that's
consulted by guides with a big reputation. So be prudent, young sir,
for you are in the hornets' nest. Kidd will kill you straight, on the
faintest doubt, without any challenge. Other hostiles abound, keep
before you as a fact: the Indians, and those Canadian Half-breeds.
Their chief, Dagard, is a queer mix of good white and bad Injin, and a
crime no more burdens his conscience than the last drink he took. Add
that all the stray pirates of the prairie, hoss thieves, gold diggers,
robbers, and skulks ginerally will flock to Kidd the moment he has
an advantage over us which promises him undisputed passage into the
Enchanted Valley. You see the scales are pulled down agin us!"

"I even have an idee that there's a secret agreement between Kidd,
which includes Don Miguel, and this Dagard. I met more'n once down in
Montana, and even farther south, the Half-breed Margottet, now the
lieutenant of these Red River Rovers. Thar's some big scheme hatching
in the Nor'-West, for the Injins have knocked under to the railroad on
the plains as Big Bad Medicine; but cherish hopes, among the Apaches
away South and up here towards the Queen's country. Ever since the
Sioux were driven over the border, the Half-breeds have been saucy.
Wall, you are doubly, trebly warned, young sir, and must abide by the
consequences."

"Do all I can, I cannot pierce Kidd's game. Something in his
proceedings upsets my calculations. If he were not so notorious
during such a long time in the West, I should imagine him--but
that's all nonsense! Anyhow, sir, mind that forgetfulness, rashness,
blindness--they'll ruin, no--well, worse than that, they'll destroy all
those girls and women. There are young men who love as strongly as you,
whose sweethearts are in that band; fathers who sorrow like my nephew,
whose da'ters are there cooped up. But I am glad to know you, sir! We
have had gilt-edged Englishmen out here that brought servants from
London, things in the shape of men, but who my lorded them and your
graced them, and disgraced themselves!--They thought money would buy
every mortal thing even here! No, sir, I am offering you my life, and
Cherokee Bill's, and a score more, but not for cash! You have a manly
nature, that's enough; that kind comes among the same kind when they
talk to the hunter and trapper with no double tongue. The old country
is no decaying tree, sir, when thar's young shoots like you!"

The speaker had been so unusually eloquent, unlike his brief, measured
sentences, that not till now could his hearer get in a word which he
was eager to say.

"I wish to tell you, Ridge, that Joe, whom you praise so highly, while
rather mysteriously, assured me that Kidd is living literally behind a
mask, and that he has seen it laid aside."

"Do tell?" inquired the Old Man of the Mountain.

"He told me that last night, a little thanks to my having fixed on a
capital site over a burrow for the captain's tent, he was able to get
a good look at him after he had unsuspectedly laid aside his daily
disguise."

"Wagh! This is worth hearing."

"He says that the real face belongs to a noted criminal called Hank, or
Henry Brown, which in turn hides one Cornelio de Bustamente."

"Bustamente! Oh! We've heard of him; the great St. Louis Forger!" cried
Ridge. "Oh, why is not Don Gregorio on the spot? However, patience,
patience. But the time is over for our parting. Haste away. I shall not
forget that Kidd is Bustamente. In two days we shall meet again. Trust
to Joe, he's not to be tricked even by such hardened rogues."

"But you do not tell me where we meet?"

"There is a swamp and burnt wooded stretch called Winter Black, or the
Winter Burning."

"I can remember that."

"Good luck! Thank Joe for the clue he gives me. I'll question the boys
on the point. Hurry off to your camp, for you have a distance to go. In
two days, same hour, at Winter Black. Good-bye, boys!"

The two shook hands and left the cavern, departing oppositely at the
mouth.

The rest of the night passed tranquilly. An hour before the false dawn
an owl was heard lamentably hooting as if its night hunt had failed,
and it feared it must go supperless to its couch. But Jim Ridge stood
up, and answered in the same long-drawn, pitiful tones.

Those of the watch must have been more surprised than edified by
the singular dialogue that went on between Old Ridge and his unseen
interlocutor. All the wild beasts and birds of the field, forest,
and mountain seemed engaged in a concert. The calls and defiant
cries of various birds seemed to awaken bears and wild cats, and
the coyotes wailed to the sharply yelping prairie dogs. The sounds
were so arbitrarily arranged, that a conjurer would be puzzled to
distinguish the sense of a single sentence. But the Yager understood it
perfectly, of course, and what is more, seemed quite satisfied with the
information so strangely conveyed to him. When it was over, he went and
awoke an old beaver trapper to take his relief on guard, and remarked:

"Bill has done it! All goes lovely."

At sunrise the hunters resumed their march, though Cherokee Bill had
still not joined. But Ridge again passed no comment on the absence.



CHAPTER XXV.

WE HEAR FROM CHEROKEE BILL.


It is commonly in September that the savages "go in for the winter
hunt," in the region where our story takes place. These hunts are
the more important from the animals' fur being in prime condition,
and, of course, fetching a better price at the trading centres. The
picked hunters of various Indian nations come into the great northern
wilds, and are the more mixed up recently, as the railway pioneers
and settlers arrive in too strong force to pay much heed to treaty
restrictions. The upshot is, that while a tacit truce is tolerably
well maintained, so long as every arrow and bullet is required to make
"eatable meat," the view, often the contact of enemies, causes a stray
hunter of any race to thread his way as gingerly as a soldier advancing
among mines, countermines, and torpedoes. Unless under exceptional
circumstances, though, the main bodies do not fall on one another.
Personal interest, the only motor, imposes this restraint on their
ferocious habits.

In sooth, besides the furs they sell, the red men have to preserve some
for garments; moreover, there is the flesh of the prizes to be dried by
sun or fire, jerked, or crubbed up with salt, to enable them to pass
the rigorous winter so fatal to improvident tribes.

As the game gets crowded away from the farmers' axe and the locomotive
engine whistle, it thickens, naturally, in the final retreats. In this
quarter, it fairly swarms. The buffaloes run still in countless herds;
there is plenty of elk, beaver, deer, bear, musk ox, foxes of several
kinds, wolves, red, grey, and white, musquash, ermine, a few opossum;
and, for winged game, turkeys, prairie fowl, bustard, eagles, and so
on. And, besides, the clearer waters furnish fine fish--salmon, trout,
perch, sturgeons, the great white fish, and small fry profusely.

Hence the nomads guard this territory as narrowly as their unsteadiness
permits. As it is dishonourable for a warrior to use tillage
implements, only one or two people sow a little maize, without much
assurance they will themselves harvest in the crop. When there is a
failure of game, therefore, misery is acute, and famine soon appears to
decimate the decaying bands.

The inextinguishable hatred of the ancient possessors of the soil,
springs from the invasion and hacking away of the hunting grounds. The
trappers and hunters, who went rarely in large knots, were well armed
and too well able to take care of their heads to be molested; and,
besides, made, no great gaps in the herds. But of late years, selfish,
moneymaking, pitiless slaughterers have come out from the advance
posts of civilisation, and not only massacred the beasts wantonly for
hide and fancy heads and horns, for mere ornaments in millionnaires'
vestibules, but in their rear whisky sellers establish shanties. These
grow like Jonah's gourd, and wither as fast, it is true; but on their
ruins real settlers flock, and towns are speedily laid out. Deer will
not abide sheep, it is well known, and so the Indians hate the farmer
and grazier only a point less fiercely than these buffalo butchers.

As for the moral: the Indians say that the land was their fathers',
or that of the strong hand. When they uphold the latter doctrine, the
pioneers plead for the Government troops to take them at their word, or
let them wipe the _varmint_ out.

Closing this necessary digression sharply, we proceed with our tale.

The diverse aborigines assembled for the great winter hunt had never
been so annoyed before as by the almost simultaneous intrusion of Sir
Archie Maclan's sledging party from Canada, the Half-breeds from Red
River of the North, and Captain Kidd's gold grabbers from the South.

The Crows had fleshed their arrows the first in the Scotch party,
and the news had swiftly crossed the wastes of "a heap of scalps and
plunder" being obtained. The mock Chippeway guide had become a hero
of legend. The attack on the Half-breeds, though a repulse, was also
commended, and Ahnemekee had added laurels to his wreath.

Whilst this news was still fresh, an Indian camp was established on the
bank of Bear River, an affluent of Red River which does not always feed
it, being sometimes "lost" in a sinkhole on the way when the waters
fall low. Bears did not people the shore now; that was a tradition.

A considerable portion of the head tribe of Piegans occupied the score
and a half of buffalo hide tents, sodded at the bottom edge to keep
out the cold and wet. These Indians appertain to the great nation of
the Blackfeet, still one of the most warlike and, consequently, most
dreaded of the Nor'-Westers. They are a little free in their reading of
hunting law, as they are known to go and steal horses on the Mexican
frontier, whether the Apaches and Comanches like the inroad or not.

This troop comprised some two hundred "big braves." The
several headmen, or captains, obeyed a sachem called
"Knife-painted-with-Blood," or more concisely, "Red Knife." He had
valiantly won the title by preferring hand-to-hand struggles.

He was only about thirty, standing clear six feet, and not bowlegged,
more slender than bulky, but unusually active and skilful with
various weapons, though with the knife he could execute any feat.
His expression was a haughty one, rather majestic when not cruel and
scornful. His smallish, black, beadlike eyes, deep set, sparkled with
cunning, malice, and fearlessness. He was idolised by his followers,
and though the office of war chief is precarious, and such a one is
often forced to make concessions or be deposed, never had Red Knife met
discussion for his order. He reigned like an Asiatic monarch.

Ordinarily, as the women and children are indispensable for the meat
making, and fur and skin dressing, the Indians must have them and their
dogs and pack ponies along with them. The dogs, for once, get fully
fed, and so become too appetising with their round paunches, and are
sacrificed in feast when not required for burdens.

On this occasion the Piegans had no living impediments in their camp,
and the warriors had not replaced the war paint pictures with peaceful
emblems. This proved clearly that this party only pretended to be out
a-hunting, and sought an opportunity to outdo the Crows in an attack on
the white intruders.

For some ten days they had been located at their regular encampment. To
prevent quarrels, each hunting party occupies the same site from time
out of mind.

Among Indian beliefs is the singular one that each tribe has an animal
ancestor, whose image or present lineal representative is their
_totem_, or sacred standard. Its shape is tattooed on the bosom.
When the size or rarity of the actual animal prevents even its skin
being portable, its figure is painted on a banner, extremely revered,
and guarded by an old warrior, the counterpart to our ensign. Over
and above this public token is another one, only known to the upper
class of "men of the medicine," being a grand pass sign, practically
universal. We have only to add that the good sense which tempers the
superstition of the North American savage allows him, when hungry, to
hunt, kill, and eat the animal of his reverence, though, truly, he
always apologises by way of grace to the victim. But the supersacred
emblem would be respected in any emergency. Luckily, this is chosen
among such uncommon, even extinct, or, perhaps, fabulous creatures,
that it would be exempt from maltreatment in any case.

The tribe of Red Knife were convinced that the grizzly bear was their
great grandfather, and so always came to Bear River as a hunting home.

At sunrise of a fine day of dying September, the Piegans were rather
lazily attending to the morning labours, the more disgustedly as these
are usually turned over to the women.

The camp, intelligently placed on the water side, and otherwise
defended by a double row of stakes, presented the untidy aspect of such
places--"and smelt so, pah!"

War ponies, held by ropes to pegs, munched climbing peas. At the door
of his tent, Red Knife--squatted at a fire--was regaling himself with
a before-breakfast smoke. His eyes were half closed like a cat's. Two
subchiefs stood by him with the same seeming inattention. After the
horses had had their fill, they were taken to the watering place,
whereupon the men might eat. So goes the care for the war horses: much
like Arab rule.

Soon the chief was given his meat, simply enough composed of still
fresh meat, roe smashed up with wild fruit to acidify it, and a bowl
of hominy, or Indian corn hasty pudding, made savoury with bear's
fat and flavoured with meat powder and a dash of rock salt. It was
the hachesto, or crier, who was also the butler. When he had dished
up, the commander kindly invited his lieutenants to squat by him and
help him out with the repast. They nodded, laid by their pipes, and
all three went to work without uttering a word. A European might not
have relished the spread, even washed down with poor whisky and the
icy water, but an Indian is not fastidious. When he has food, he eats
gluttonously, absorbing an incredible quantity, for it is etiquette
to refuse nothing and leave no crumbs. On the other hand, probably
consoling their stomachs in privation by memory of past feasts and
prospects of more, our red brothers support themselves with great
fortitude.

Notwithstanding the quantity before them, the chiefs did not prolong
the meal, which was over in fifteen minutes or so. The crier came up
from where he was watching and handed the lighted pipe.

The other warriors, having finished breaking their fast, rolled
themselves up in their wraps and went off in a doze by the fires. Such
sleeping, eating, dozing, hunting, and fighting forms their life.

For two good hours all but the three leaders seemed reposing, and they
never shifted their positions.

At about eleven o'clock the gallop of several horses was audible at a
distance. The crier rose and hastened to the entrance of the palisadoed
camp.

Coming up swiftly, he perceived three mounted Indians. They were armed
for war, and by the foxtails on their leggings and by the grey eagle
feather stuck upright over the left ear, one could conclude they were
chiefs. They reined in when they arrived at the enclosure of pikes.
The principal, as was shown by his keeping a shade in advance of the
others, lifted his right hand open, the palm outwards, the four fingers
kept together, and the thumb bent in. The hachesto made the same sign,
and, going up nearer, saluted the newcomers respectfully enough, and
in a low, measured voice, inquired their business. Being answered, he
saluted again, and returned into the camp with his information.

Red Knife listened to the story in an unconcerned manner, but he
ordered the visitors to be shown to him.

At the sound of the horses the warriors had awakened. The outermost
went to take the horses from the guests who alighted. These then were
ushered up to the trio of commanders, who eyed them coldly. The other
three were in fighting dress, but were not painted in accordance.

"My brothers are welcome," remarked Red Knife. "Ahnemekee being a great
chief in his nation, he shall take his place beside his brother the
Piegan, and smoke the peace pipe."

Ahnemekee, for it was the Crow chief, bowed pleasedly at the
compliment, squatted down, and took the pipe. For a while the calumet
went the round. Etiquette directs that the guests must speak first
and may not be questioned. The pipe ended with Ahnemekee, who knocked
out the ashes on his nail and offered them ceremoniously to the earth
whence the tobacco had come, and thereupon, bending toward Red Knife
with a winning smile, wished him plenty of buffalo and success in
killing bear.

With the same bland smile, Red Knife returned the compliment.

"Unluckily," added he, "game is scarce. The wilderness is getting
swamped with 'the hatted men'--(Indians are self-distinguished as
hatless)--the feather-heads get only their leavings."

"Yes," returned the Crow, emboldened at no allusion being made to the
old-time enmity between the Crows and the Blackfeet nation, "not only
do the Long Knives capture the game as if it grew for them alone, but
the axe and the plough lessen the domains of our fathers. Soon will
we be crowded against the rocks, and there shall we die in snow and
ice for want of food. My heart aches to think of the miseries awaiting
the _Unishiniba_--all Indians. As I submit, it seems to me my blood is
weakened with water, that the marrow in my bones is swamp mud, that my
eyes are dimmed as one looking through the glass peepholes in the stone
cabins. I have gone into seclusion for eight days and there asked,
asked, asked if the just Great Spirit has really allowed the palefaces
to do what they like with what we deemed our very own."

"My brother is a wise warrior," said the Piegan, sorrowfully. "The
speech from his straight tongue chimes in with the Voice that speaks to
me in my meditation. Speak on, speak on, Ahnemekee--I hear not a Crow
Indian, but one of the whole red race--it is a friendly ear that drinks
in his words."

"Right! The chain of brotherhood still endures, and though time has
cankered it, it is strong under the rust. When _Yoheewah_ brought our
fathers from the Eye of the sky, O, glorious Sun, that warms the red
man and conserves his meat, then the Wacondah showed them the woods,
lakes, streams, and prairies, and bade him 'Take, all is thine!' The
warrior bowed to the Guide, and thanked Him. There were no white men
then, they had not come over the Alleghanies to be our tormentors, our
robbers, our slayers, with the fire in great guns. But the red men fell
out with one another, and would not see there was room for all. The
Great Spirit brought the palefaces hither to perplex them and punish
them. Soon did they scatter them, setting the Blackfeet Sioux against
the Mountain Blackfeet, the Crows against the Bloods. But still, the
redskins have learnt the new kind of warfare. We have horses and
weapons. All the route of flight of the Sioux through the Yellowstone
was strewn with the _cachés_ of the arms they could not carry, and
Crows and Blackfeet have dug them up, and have been buying powder and
ball with their furs."

"The hour of revenge has come, brother--I speak it! Why should we not
all profit by it? And if we must wrangle and clapperclaw amongst
ourselves, let it be over the spoil of the dead whites," said he,
subtly. "Hunting! For a week you have laid here empty-handed, whilst
I have pillaged a train and armed my men finely. It is true we have
come off second best in an encounter with another band of intruders,
but it was the snowstorm that drove us off. Let us unite and overwhelm
these Northerners, and then crush out the prairie pirates from the gold
mines. What does my brother think of my words? There are no more to
come."

"My brother speaks to the point, his words fall on mine ear as sweetly
as the eagle's scream, swooping upon its prey in its mate's hearing.
The Piegan braves are not here to run buffalo and follow deer. They are
gathered to drive the gold seekers into graves. But what can so small
a force do, however bold and cunning? It is a chief who asks this. Let
his brother answer."

"Red Knife is wise, though his hair is black. It is his wisdom that is
grey. Ahnemekee will go to the Bloods, the Small Robes, the Blackfeet,
and the Dacotahs. They will ally against the paleface robbers and
butchers. The hatchet will be buried as against the red men on all
sides, but the bundle of reeds, one for each tribe, will be hurled
within the white men's camps. In four suns after this, hundreds of red
warriors will gladly greet Red Knife at Elk's Leap, at the fifth hour
of the night."

"If it be not contrary to the will of the Master of Life, the
Knife-painted-with-Blood will be at the Elk's Leap."

It was as much of an acceptance as the Crow had anticipated. He rose,
and was escorted to his horse by the sachem, whose companions were
similarly polite to the other Crows.

The camp buzzed with a debate over the visit and the pledge, but was
settling down to fresh calm when, about an hour after Ahnemekee's
disappearance, an event occurred still more stirring.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE ALL-POWERFUL EMBLEM.


A loud noise was heard in the skirt of the woodland, of which the outer
brush came gently down to the opening of the vale, where the Piegans
were lodged. As the sound came nearer it assumed the dimensions of a
downright tumult. Besides the clatter of hoofs, there was the banging
of heavy articles against the saplings, which sprang back angrily, the
squealing of mules, and many random shots of pistols and rifles. The
latter made the Indians the more disquieted, as the screen of boughs
long hid the cause.

At Red Knife's order all ran with their arms to the defences, whilst
some got their horses ready at a secret outlet, in case, this being an
attack, they might rush round down upon their camp and pay them back in
their own coin.

Two young men were sent out as scouts, but they had hardly left before
a whole string of persons and animals emerged from the forest with
giddy rapidity. In the van was a mounted man, on a mare, who did not in
the least slacken his furious pace, though turning every little while
to fire his breech-loading rifle. He wore an Indian dress, and it was
reasonably surmised that he was a chief, but the distance and the dust
that sprang up from the alkali stretches among the scrub outside the
forest prevented particulars being defined of his tribe, or even his
nation.

He was followed by a girl in a sort of pannier seat on a large fleet
mule. A mantle enveloped her, but the wind flapped it back, so
that her sex was discernible as far as her attire and her mode of
riding revealed. Behind her, separated by such varied spaces as the
differences in their speed under burdens apportioned, six or eight
beasts of burden rushed. As in their mad course through the woods their
packs had been knocked about, pulled partly off, slewed to one side
or under the bellies, or even trailing after by the lashings, every
now and then one would be brought to a sudden stop, or hurled into
a natural pithole half full of decayed leaves and melting snow. The
squallings would redouble at these disasters.

After these fugitives upwards of a dozen horsemen came racing. Some
waved lariats, or snapped whips, to cow the runaways into a pause, or
to swerve from blindly following the leaders; some were using their
guns at the foremost of this queer procession. But, though they stopped
to take aim, they were not so expert or fortunate as he. The pursuers
were Red River Half-breeds.

The pack animals did not clear the wood; the scrub was more entangling
than the large growth, and they, at all events, were captured as they
struggled after their harness was caught.

The two fugitives, on debouching upon the open ground, were in extreme
peril. They had the river to cross under fire. Nevertheless, they did
not seem discouraged. At least, the dark-complexioned man drove the
lady's mule into the water, and halting himself on the bank crest,
fired five shots almost as quickly as one into the line of pursuers,
of which each emptied a saddle. The remainder howled with rage, and,
forced to stop among the riderless and plunging steeds, discharged all
their guns at the daring coverer of the girl's crossing.

The latter brandished his repeating rifle around his head, as if his
warriorlike exultation was uncontrollable; an act alone denouncing
him as no pure white. He then jabbed his heels into the flanks of the
mare, which leaped in a beautiful curve into the river. In the leap he
uttered a war cry new to that region:

"_Wo!-O-whoo-whoo!_" and it still resounded when he reappeared above
the surface after the plunge.

The mule was floundering, the girl clinging to it with nail and tooth,
so to say. But the mare, being directed to a shelving part of the other
bank, the mule whinnied, and hurried to climb out also.

The two galloped on towards the Piegan encampment at full speed,
letting the muddy water drip off them as it pleased. On seeing the
Indians watching them, the horseman, whose buffalo robe had been washed
away in the stream, shouted in a high, clear voice in Algonquin, the
most generally understood language among the pure Indians north:

"A brother!"

"Ho, ho, ho!" roared the Piegans, clapping their hands joyfully.

Red Knife dashed out of the shelter, having gazed with admiration on
their bold, brave flight, and neat shooting at full speed. At the
announcement of the new arrival, he waved his mantle in the sign of
welcome, and called,

"Come to our bosom!"

The two fugitives dashed up the gentle slope to the camp ingress.

In the meantime, the pursuers, having secured the pack animals and the
riderless horses, as well as seen to the wounded, came on apace, having
momentarily lost sight of their objects. On crossing the frothy stream
they beheld them cantering into the Piegan camp. They were convulsed
with impotent rage as they pulled up smartly. Slowly they continued
their march, only five of them now.

But as fifty Indians mounted and rode out from the entrenchments, they
stopped afresh to consult. At length one rode out of the mass and made
the sign of peace. There was no reply for two or three minutes. But the
Half-breed was not to be so easily disheartened, and making the sign
again, cried out in Chinook that he was a friend of the red man, who
requested a hearing of their rulers.

It was Red Knife, who haughtily demanded the grounds for his request.

"'Tis an important matter for the chief's own ear."

"Good! Let the hunter wait," and measured off on the sky so many
minutes with his forefinger.

The parleyers were forced to submit. But they were galled on perceiving
why the delay was imposed. Some forty of the Piegans, stealing out of
the secret gate, had gone over the river and were about surrounding the
wounded men and the lassoed horses. The Red River Rovers gazed at one
another "like crabs in a net," all eyes protruding; but knowing the
kind of folk they were dealing with, they had to pretend tranquillity.

As soon as Red Knife believed that his instructions were consummated,
he waved his hand to the parleyer, who was eyeing him anxiously.

"My friends are welcome. Let four of them come into the camp unarmed."

All resistance was useless. One solitary Half-breed was left in charge
of the five horses and his comrades' arms on the river brink. All
he could do, if the others were treacherously murdered, was make a
breastwork of the quadrupeds and fire away to his last shot, and then
be slain.

Red Knife and his lieutenants received the crestfallen Canadians
courteously, and conducted them silently to the council fire. There the
Piegans sat down and invited their guests to do likewise. During the
long silence that ensued the entrapped ones looked well about them. The
two fugitives had shaken themselves reasonably dry, exchanged their wet
outer garments for dry ones and were warming themselves at the priests'
holy fire in the medicine lodge, where the totem pole was standing
sentry, so to say, over the tribal ark within.

"Why have the palefaces come into my camp?" inquired the Piegan at
length, in a stern voice. "What is the news for us? There is no common
tie between the palefaces and the Blackfeet."

The tone, like the question, was not amicable. Moreover, the hunters
had noticed that the pipe had not been offered them, so that they knew
they were being treated as enemies, not as mere strangers even.

The leader of the Red River Half-breeds was their captain himself.
He was supported by David Steelder, to whom Kidd has alluded as an
undesirable acquaintance, whilst Margottet was guarding the horses and
weapons as one in a most trustworthy and ticklish post.

Steelder was a stout, herculean fellow, with flaming red hair and
beard, though his eyes were dark. But they so squinted, and shifted
their point of view so frequently, that most would not have remarked
this incompatibility. He alone looked round on the red men with the
idle curiosity of one whose brain was congested or softening.

Dagard was too learned in Indian ways not to appreciate the hostility
of the reception. But he was fearless, cunning, and accustomed to meet
emergencies without flinching.

"I have walked into the Piegan camp to sit at the council fire," he
said, firmly, "and put in a request that my red brothers are not the
fools to throw aside hastily."

"The Piegans are wise, and they can judge anything laid before them,"
responded Red Knife, emphatically.

"I know very well what the Piegans are like," went on Dagard, who
placed no faith whatever in them. "They are wise warriors, and to
claim justice, when prairie law is infringed, is to get it."

The chiefs bowed; it was flattering to be taken for arbitrators, and,
besides, the prairie and mountain arbitrator is entitled to take
payment out of the property in dispute. So l'Embarrasseur continued as
jauntily as if he felt secure now.

"I have so great a confidence in my red brother that I have put aside
all to a toothpick to come right in among ye. Besides, there's no blood
feud between the Half-breeds of Manitoba and the Blackfeet nation that
ever I heard of. The hatchet never was used against either in the
other's hand. Why, then, should I want to sit down with the knife in
my girdle, as you carry yours? If I had been your foe--why, I have a
good crowd left after a hot brush with the Crows that would have been
entirely rubbed out but for the blizzard breaking up the evening's
amusement; but I haven't come in any force. I knew perfectly well that
I was meeting friends."

There was a silence. The Indians were clearly aware that the Canadian
had been a tough bone for Ahnemekee, and that the remainder of his
troop was not despicable. They had not Winchester rifles such as that
which so rapidly disposed of half its owner's pursuers, and hoped no
such rare fortune.

"This is the point," concluded Dagard, with an angry glance at the
girl and her defender at the sacred fire of the sanctuary, "my men and
I, on the open ground, captured that white woman and some stampeded
animals that followed her mule; when in cut this renegade Half-breed,
on a mare that called away her mule, and away went the whole outfit,
helter-skelter. A stampede is fair enough--but not treachery. Either
this Half-breed stands up for one colour or the other--red or white. If
he hunts with the red, why, I am red. The Red River Half-breeds never
yet held for the King George's, or the Yankees. And he should have let
my prizes alone. Or, if he is a friend to the whites, either those gold
seekers or the mountain trappers, he is our foe. I claim the girl, I
claim the mongrel whom no race owns. My brother shall decide. That's my
say."

All eyes were turned towards the fugitive, who was now carelessly
leaning against the totem pole. The girl trembled with cold; he was
steady as the staff itself. The sachem beckoned him thither, and darted
a suspicious glance on him, inasmuch as, Half-breed for Half-breed,
there was nothing to vary the scales between them.

"There is an accusation, brother. What is the defence?" he asked.

The other smiled scornfully, but making an effort over himself, he
answered railingly, "In the land of my forefathers the mockingbird
was often heard, but I little thought to hear its deceitful voice
hereabouts. To what tribe does this patchwork man belong that he dares
class me with such as he? I am a Sagamore! But look at his skin--is it
white, is it red, is it even yellow? Can he name his father among men
renowned in battle? Can he name his mother? Some white thief, kicked
out of the frontier whisky room, and some squaw who hangs round the
ports, these were his progenitors, and they shrank from owning him!
By what right does he raise his voice in a council of dog soldiers,
elders, hallowed men who have been initiated in the inner circle of
secrets handed down from days when, from the White Ridge yonder to
the Blue Ridge (the Alleghenies) there, none but pure red men trod
the warpath, and fished and hunted. Because he commands a string of
curs. My nation is the ghost of what it was, but we can whip the Red
River mongrels any day! We are the Cherokees! I am a first chief among
them--I am _Quorinnah_, the Raven, and I wear the treasured Totem!"

So speaking, with a voice that grew thunderous with pride, Bill
Williams, for this was the man, ripped off the wet woollen shirt
covering his breast to the waist belt. On his bosom was tattooed the
"Great Round O," as the ignorant call it, which, however, by its rays,
signifies the Sun. It was traced in pitch pine soot pricked in and
only the high-class Cherokee, the very inspired one, _Cheer a dagee_,
or "fire filled," are so tattooed. If by chance any foolish or wicked
young man attempted even a rude imitation, the elders would scrub the
marks out of his skin with green corn juice to the very quick, and then
he might think he had got off lightly for the sacrilege.

The sun is an emblem understood and respected almost all over the two
Americas.

"A Son of the Sacred Fire!" cried the chiefs, bowing with reverence.

"Cherokee Bill, the mate of Jim Ridge the mountain man," sneered Dagard.

"Yes, I am the Cherokee. My father was made a chief of the nation
before me. If ever I come to the stake, and I am bled to the last
drop in my body, nothing will have issued but red blood! Well, I am
thousands of miles from the home and graves of my fathers--am I among
brothers or foes?"

Red Knife rose and bowed to the speaker, answering:

"We have heard none but a Cherokee speak. The place of the Sagamore is
in my stead. Let him command at the council fire, and all that here
surround us will obey him to the letter. Wisdom is in the Son of Fire,
and the Great Spirit loves him. To no one need he give an account of
his doings."

With a dignity that struck all beholders, the Cherokee sat in the
place Red Knife vacated, and lifting his hand to entreat silence, said
gravely?

"I thank my brother for not having required any explanation from me;
but my tongue is not forked, and my honour exacts my Piegan sons being
judges between this Canadian and me. The young woman whom you see
yonder was the captive of the gold seekers, commanded by Captain Kidd,
whose name smells bad in the nose of honest Indians on the border.
She escaped on the mule, and fell across the path of these Red River
Rovers. Yes, she would have been their fair capture if they were
independent. But that's not so. They are allied with Captain Kidd, and
this detachment was going to join him when they met the fugitive. Being
one and the same, any enemy had the right to cut in and cut out the
prize. I did so. Who is in the right? He?"

"No!" responded the unanimous voice.

"Will he even deny my statement?"

Dagard, insolently enough and impudently, too, considering he had no
weapons, was chatting with his three adherents.

"He cannot deny."

"Your conduct is right. The traitors are these Red River Half-breed
dogs, for allying themselves with a bandit who respects neither red nor
white, and then comes to a redskin camp and asks help and favour as
being a red man himself."

"Go!" said Cherokee Bill, with scorn so withering that the Indians did
not regret the four scalps thus rejected, and Dagard felt no joy at the
deliverance. "Should your feet take root here, you will be trees cut
down for the night fire! The girl is free! Until you cross that stream,
you are neither foe nor friend, merely dogs kicked out of camp! Go, it
is a chief that speaks."

The Embarrasseur seemed too much embarrassed himself this time to
even lift his head. Steelder squinted horribly as he shrunk past
the Cherokee. The four Canadians hastened to join the lieutenant,
impatiently holding the horses, and, mounting rapidly, they rushed over
the river. The Piegan party had contented themselves with examining the
pack animals, the dead and wounded, under orders in some way signalled
to them by the sun flash code. The Half-breeds put the wounded on the
beasts of burden and dolefully returned to their camp.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE MOUNTAIN MAN IS REINFORCED.


The Piegan captains remained squatted at the council fire, thoughtfully
smoking.

After directing Doña Rosario, for this was the young lady whom he had
saved from the Manitobans' clutches, to be attended to in a hut placed
wholly at her service, Cherokee Bill wrapped himself up in buffalo
robes to steam himself dry and drive away rheumatism. The others
respected his curative withdrawal from the conversational circle, but
evinced some anxiety lest his catching cold should spoil his voice.

The way things had come about was thus:--

We know that it was arranged that Doña Rosario should be put in the
pannier of a riding mule, so that the party of gold seekers might
travel by a straighter road. Meanwhile, Filditch and Williams were
hovering about them as closely as they dared, cautiously exchanging
brief confidence with Joe and Dearborn up to the critical moment. Then
the Spanish girl was to be aided by the two friends of Ridge.

The plan was so simple and infallible, that the girl gleefully adopted
it.

Soon after the second day's start in this order, whilst the mule was
yet fresh, Filditch and his companion sprang on two outriders and
pulled them to the ground. Unfortunately, Foxface, whom the Californian
had thrown, was up again like lightning and encumbered the other as he
was trying to mount in the warm saddle. The result was, that Bill was
on horseback and riding alone at the point in the file where he could
take Rosario's mule by the bridle.

It is true Filditch kicked the man away, but the delay was fatal. He
was compelled to plunge into the woods at the side of the ravine where
this occurred, or be the target for twenty rifle shots.

During this the Cherokee had executed his project. Thanks to his whoop,
which set the animals curveting, and the increase in the confusion
due to Joe, Leon, and Ranald, no one could get an effectual shot at
the abductor of the young girl as the two dived in at a gap in the
underwood.

But there was too much of a good thing. Rosario's mule was not alone in
attraction towards the coquettish mare which the Cherokee had stolen.
A number of the animals set up a cry at the mare's whinny, and for a
moment the stampede threatened to be general. To be left without a
hoof under them in the wild woods is the worst fate known to men like
Kidd's command. They flew to work with superhuman activity, daring, and
strength, and secured most of the frenzied animals. Still, a dozen had
tailed off after Bill and the girl, very deeply to his disgust. But the
only thing was to move on with the torrent of horseflesh of his own
originating. In time they could be beguiled into a steep path, where,
by dragging Rosario into a niche, the rest would hurl themselves by and
be gone irreturnably.

Here, again, calculations were upset by the Half-breeds on their way to
rendezvous with Kidd at the fixed place.

Bill saw them only in time to take a new course. But Dagard and a few
of the better mounted started off after the straggling line, of which
they at once cut off two or three hindmost. But the others freshened
up at being so harried, and the kind of wild hunt continued hotter
than ever. The thunder of the added coursers continually reminded the
Cherokee that these woodsmen were not easily to be outridden and thrown
off so broad a track.

"Are you brave?" inquired he of the girl, flushed and excited by the
mad gallop.

"I do not know, judged by your measure," she replied; "but there's
one thing sure, I would sooner kill myself than fall again into those
ruffians' power."

"That's the true talk? By the way, have a knife," he said, putting a
sheath dagger into her hand as if he were offering a bonbon to a child.
"You may want it, though I fancy you have no great shakes to fear. I am
responsible for you."

"Thank you. I believe in you."

The flight continued, only that the Canadians, being less wearied,
gained like a whirlwind on a fleeing wayfarer.

Cherokee Bill had his Winchester "fourteen shoot" and a brace of heavy
revolvers--a portable magazine.

"Keep on galloping," said he, "smack into the running water. You shall
have a warm-up beyond. I reckon it will also be hot enough here!"

So saying he blazed away at the Half-breeds for six shots. Down went
the men out of the saddles, the rest being terrified by the accuracy of
aim and the long, killing range. Meanwhile Bill and the girl effected
the crossing and came upon the plain where the Piegans were encamped.
The reader knows the sequel. For the nonce Doña Rosario was safe.

The day advanced, and yet the Cherokee seemed loth to check his
contemplation of mental pictures. Red Knife made up his mind to begin
the talking.

"Are the ears of my father open?" he asked.

Bill had become a father for wisdom after having been a brother for
valour.

"What is my son's desire?" was the counter query.

"The Piegans want the Cherokee sage's advice."

"The Piegans are boys of mine at my knee. Speak away."

"The Raven is a wise bird--a bird that scents a battlefield from afar.
He flies straight to the mark. As the coyotes and wolves join to track
the deer, so the bad whites and mixed bloods join to take hold of the
red man's territory. What is my father's opinion on this? What ought
the redskins to do when the mine robbers threaten to invade the holy
ground of the Basin of Fire?"

Without replying in words, the Cherokee looked about him. In one spot
a chalky seam cropping out was soaked with blood from the butchered
game. He pointed to the white earth on one side of the red stain, and
then scratched the soft substance up with his fingernail. But to scrape
the blood-caked chalk, hardened into stone, he was forced to use his
hunting knife. He took up a handful of the soft dust and slowly let it
fall through his open fingers.

"This dust is the Indians, uncemented by their blood; they are grains
that a child's breath could spin into the river. United by blood,
a block is formed which turns the edge of a knife. Do my brothers
comprehend?"

"I do," answered Red Knife. "The Raven of the Cherokee counsels us
to be one. Before now we have done the same, and waged war. Perhaps,
had not some weaklings and traitors fallen away, a great and lasting
victory would have been ours. But our enemies are powerful as they are.
What if the white trappers and hunters unite with these Canadians and
the Men of Montana?"

"You need not fear that. Oil and water do not blend."

"But the Old Man of the Mountain, the friend of the Cherokee, would he
not come to the aid of the Piegans?" asked the chief, subtly.

"But the white trapper is alone--" began Bill.

"He may be alone at this hour, but my spies speak of the lone trappers
converging to join him. Does not the Cherokee know--his moccasins have
crossed the traces of theirs?"

"I know what I know. The Old Man has no secrets from his brother. The
trappers are massing, that's a fact."

"To what end? Will he guide the gold seekers into the Enchanted Valley,
where the holy fire rages, which my father has drank."

"No. Jim Ridge loves the Yellowstone--he does not want a whole
_caboodle_ of scourings to be poured into its lovely glades and
peaceful parts, where the fawns come up and lick your hands."

"Ah! Does the old Yager wish the help of the Piegans to keep off the
whites? Is his Cherokee mate sent to ask that help?" came from the Red
Knife, in a coaxing voice.

"Lor', no," responded Bill, coldly. "On the other hand, the old man
never refused help to an Indian who played him fair. Many a poor
wretch, frozen out, has been succoured by him--more than fed, mark you;
clothed in fine fur, and given a gun and powder and ball, with the
promise only understood that he should not use them on any of Jim's
colour. But never has he craved any return for what he has done. That's
his style, chief. What the Raven says is dictated by the friendly
spirit in his very bones, with which his mother tempered them. He has
no mission from anyone. But still, if to drive away these gold thirsty
dogs, ay, and to crush them, the Piegans want the trapper's help, who
entertains no kindly feelings for the disgraces to their race, then
find out whether he will give it. It is a sachem that you have heard.
Ponder over his words."

Bill rose and retired to a tent made ready for him. He was left alone
to recruit till about sunrise, when the chiefs flocked round his tent
door with all the ceremony laid down by Indian etiquette. The medicine
man hallowed the tent, so that they could hold a council smoke, and
this was Red Knife's proposal:

"After considering the words of the Cherokee chief, the headmen of the
Piegans have come to this conclusion: _Quorinnah_ is a wise man; he
knows that only boys and squaws, having no keenness or experience like
trained men, who have made their mark, set about things unthinkingly,
and with no conception of their extent. The Piegans do not ask in this
fashion, being men of war. The chief, subchief, captains, and big
braves of the nation have resolved to say this: The Cherokee chief
loves his brothers, the Blackfeet. His heart is red, and prompts him to
speak good counsel, and that counsel has been debated on. It is true
the Old Man of the Mountain has punished trap robbers and ravagers of
the _cachés_, and that he has given shot for shot when fired on. But
if he has shed blood, he, too, has had his blood spilt. Let the rock
moss and the desert sands drink the blood up of both foe and friend
of ours, and say no more about it. On the other hand, the Yager has
helped many a naked, starved, gunless Indian about the Yellowstone,
and on the highland slope. He has defended the Enchanted Valley, and
never has he offered men to guide his white brethren within its bounds
of fire and steam and smoke. He is alone, yet he does not need help.
But we do. Never in our memory, or on the painted books of the tribe
history in the sacred lodge, have so many evil men been covering the
wilderness. Lo! The buffalo and the bear are driven away by the reek
of strange campfires, and the birds hurry from the uproar of carouses.
The Raven of the Cherokees speaks true. He comes on no errand from
the Great White Trapper. But the Piegans, proud to have the slayer of
six-at-full-gallop-under-their-own-eyes as their guest, claim a service
of him: the chiefs desire to see the Yager of the Yellowstone. Did
they know where to meet him, they would go forth in their best clothes
to greet him; but the Mountain Man is a great hunter--he disguises
his trail neatly, and his fort is an undiscoverable refuge. But the
Cherokee chief knows where his friend abides, and he will go to him,
and say, 'Old Man of the Mountain, your sons the Piegans have a weight
on the heart, a skin over their eyes--they beseech your help, with the
wondrous gun that sends death so far and so true. Come to their aid
against their enemies, who are yours; come quick; let your presence
console and make joy displace the grief that eats up their heart.'"

Bill did not in the faintest believe in the more than temporary
sincerity of the speaker, but he spoke so feelingly, that he joined in
the murmur of applause which hailed the final words.

"The saying of my brother, the renowned of the Piegans, ring sweetly in
my ear," returned the Cherokee half-breed. "What the Piegans wish, the
Raven will do this night. Away goes the cloud on my brother's heart!
Leaving the young paleface girl in his brother's keep, the Raven will
fly. I have spoken all that is in me."

"The young paleface maiden is not here, we see only a sister of the
Piegans," answered Red Knife, nobly. "She is in the shadow of the totem
pole of the tribe, her head is pillowed on the ark of the Blackfeet
Piegans. No danger shall befall her, though the Cherokee chief stayed
away till the moon and stars fell out of the sky, and the sun burnt
itself to a dead coal and dropped also into the lakes!"

An hour afterwards, at dusk, Bill Williams rode out of the camp,
confidently. As we know something of the singular telegraphing
and telephoning which the old trapper and his comrade employed to
correspond secretly, we need not describe how again they conferred
without the overhearers piercing the mystery. A little before sunrise,
the Cherokee was back at the Piegan resting place. Red Knife was awake,
and eagerly awaiting him at the inlet.

"What does the old father say?" queried he, after the customary
greeting.

"These are the trapper's words," returned Bill, gravely. "'Am I to
be deaf to the appeal of redskin brothers who are fighters and not
thieves? No! When the sun is so high that there is no shadow at the
base of the tree, then I shall be in the Piegan camp.'"

"Good, good!" said the sachem, cordially, "I thank my father for having
swiftly and fully kept his promise. The white trapper will be welcome."

At this moment, hearing Bill Williams' voice, the door flap of Doña
Rosario's tent house was pushed aside, and she came forth. Albeit she
was in complete safety among the red men, her precarious position
filled the dainty girl with restlessness. Throughout the night she had
been kept awake by excessive nervous excitement, caused by reflections
on recent events, and the pain from bruises and thorn scratches gained
during the flight. In the pannier she had been shaken about more than
in a cockboat in a chopping sea. She was glad to have her enfevered
forehead kissed by the cool morning breeze. She came out over to the
two principals, and saluted them with a grateful but still rueful smile.

Red Knife, with that innate delicate grace common to all men who live
unfettered in the open air, bowed to her respectfully, and kindly asked
how she rested. To encourage her, he repeated that she had nothing to
fear from her enemies, as she should never fall again into their hands.

"Thank you, chief," she rejoined; "but," she added, with a brightening
eye of deep proud determination, "if, in spite of your powerful
protection, those ruffians had succeeded in seizing me again, they
would have carried away merely the dead. I would have slain myself
rather than have yielded."

With a significant gesture, she flung aside the hem of a Mexican
blanket, showing the knife in her waistband.

"'Tis a brave girl," remarked Red Knife, smiling dubiously, for he had
his own ideas about using a dagger on himself before he had struck out
all he could; "but the steel was useless, my sister being under the
guard of the Sacred Emblem, and my warriors would have fought to the
last shot for her."

As, in our other Indian stories, we seem to have pourtrayed their
treatment of white women in a different light, we beg to say in this
digression that there is really no contradiction in sense. The southern
Indians are not to be trusted with women, but the northern races and
those descended from the ancient nations of the Northeast and Atlantic
coast are of opposite morality. The latter will make white women
slaves, but never their wives. The Half-breeds spring from the union
of red women and white men, it is to be remembered, which in no wise
gainsays our statement of an incontestable truth.

Cherokee Bill was too profound an observer and was too familiar with
the thoughts of white people and red people, to say nothing of Mexican
ones, not to understand Rosario's doubts and dreads. So he hastened
to inform her that Jim Ridge would soon be present. This intelligence
much exalted her; hope at once was kindled in her bosom and warmed her
heart with its beneficent rays. It seemed to her that this celebrated
adventurer's intervention must be advantageous to her. This was apart
from Mr. Dearborn's promising that he would confer with the Man of the
Mountain and compact for her rescue and Miss Maclan's. It is true the
Cherokee had only saved her; but, perhaps, already something had been
done in as effectual, if not in so dashing, a mode to save her dear
companion.

She found time to ask Bill about his partner in the friendly abduction,
but he had only spoken with Ridge, who had seen nothing more of
Filditch than himself.

"Patience," said he, calm as a "whole red man," "he would not have
travelled with me in the warpath unless he was capable of taking care
of himself alone."

Quite as impatient as the girl were all the Piegans to receive the
famous old explorer; but they had donned the motionless mask which the
savages use to hide even the deepest feelings on public occasions.

If we were in town, we should say the hour of twelve sounded when all
the Indians, questioning the country with glittering eyes, grunted
with pleasure. A horseman was seen to be clearing a piney wood at the
extreme limit of the horizon, and gallop in a beeline towards them. He
was alone. At a glance he was recognised as Jim Ridge.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

DRAWING TO A HEAD.


Red Knife blew his war whistle loudly. This was the cue for forty
men to spring on their ponies. The chief took the lead and all tore
away like fiends over the level ground. They soon "fanned out" there,
banishing their guns over their heads, tossing up war clubs and
catching them when all but touching the ground, juggling with their
knives and pistols, all without drawing rein; executing, in fact,
circus feats, after the manner of the Arabs, who employ this same
method, or _fantasia_, to greet a celebrity. On his part, the trapper
was riding a steed without any harness whatever--one that he had caught
astray from the unfortunate Half-breed detachment that "bunked up"
against the Cherokee. Except for the lasso which had ensnared it, and
which served as a halter, it obeyed the rider by his voice and slap of
the hand, and was restrained from rebellion by the threatening pressure
of his knees, with which he would have crushed in the ribs.

This simple show of arrogant horsemanship delighted the Piegans, who
journey oftenest on foot, and they all fired off their guns. Then,
forming a line abreast under cover of the smoke, they charged with a
prodigious howling, but when almost overwhelming the solitary rider,
they reined up by a miracle of skill, as if their poor broken-jawed
horses had suddenly taken root in the ground.

Jim had come on at the same round pace, as if the yelling cavalcade
were miles remote. He had been too long identified with Indian
customs not to see in this demonstration what it really was--a strong
manifestation of the regard he was held in, and their joy at his
venturing by himself in their midst.

Red Knife and the others now fell in as an escort, and so accompanied
him to the encampment, where the tedious ceremony of reception had to
be gone through. The _Grand Monarch_, in all his glories, was not more
punctilious than the Indians in their refined etiquette. The whole
performances, as Bill termed them to Doña Rosario, were bound to last
an hour, and they protracted them to half as much again.

Old Ridge supported them like a king to the manner born. No such trifle
was going to hinder him from his purpose.

Whilst the warriors continued their rejoicings, the chiefs went into
the medicine lodge, and more solemnly received Ridge there, the
Cherokee being his sponsor.

The Old Yager was in a predicament. The red men wanted him to
co-operate with them in a league of the Indians against the whites
east, south, and north; but as this would have been treachery, or at
least apostasy, they had to lessen their desires gradually during
a long discussion. As Jim said, he pared the proposition down till
it came to a smaller head! The Yellowstone Basin was to be defended
from all comers. On his side, Jim promised that none of the trappers,
hunters, Scotch Canadians, and whoever might rally to him should enter
the Firehole Region. Kidd, the Half-breeds of Red River, and any
scoundrels who flocked to them as the redskins advanced and swept the
country, were to be destroyed.

"You will have all the fighting you hunger for," remarked Jim drily,
"with these rascals, without wanting to go on and injure the _Bostons_,
or King George's men."

As the pact was clear for the morrow, and the savages do not look
forward beyond a day, the utmost good feeling remained.

Runners were sent out, and during the evening representatives came
in from the hunting parties allied to the Piegans. There were chiefs
of the Small Robes, Blackfeet proper, Blackfeet Sioux, which linked
the league with the Dacotahs and counterbalanced the Crows, in case
Ahnemekee objected to the new and narrow arrangement, and some Rovers.
These summed up as one hundred and fifty war men. The Yager counted
them and recognised the elders among them with relief and gladness.
He had resolved to crush out Kidd and his crew to the last man. He
had contemplated the march of events with secret satisfaction, having
prepared many of them; and the great progress made in a few days was
enormously gratifying.

A little while before he and his nephew and Cherokee Bill stood
against huge odds. Now they were commanding an army. If the reds were
not perfect matches to the gold grabbers, they were quite so to the
Manitobans, and the Scotch Canadians and Americans formed a reserve, or
backbone, which ensured success.

Now the intruders were being enveloped in a net of which the meshes
were self-plaiting themselves all around them. When the fowler pulled
the string, the game would be inextricably caught.

At a final council held at night the concord was perfected. Saying
nothing of hostilities against the border settlers, Montana miners,
railroad surveyors, and pioneers north, the objective point of the
allied reds, with Jim Ridge as mere counsellor and volunteer private,
was to be Elk's Leap, where Captain Kidd, reinforced by the French
Canadians, was tending to enter the Yellowstone Park.

Runners and riders went out to collect scouts and strayers. Messengers
were selected to throw a sheaf of arrows, a knife, and a bag of powder
and balls into the camp of Captain Kidd and that of the Red River
Rovers if separate. The war pole, forty feet high, was set up at the
Piegan camp, for the war dance to be performed round it. Jim Ridge
did not join in the capering, but the Cherokee, curtly remarking that
"it would do him good," stripped, and paraded, and leaped among the
dancers. The cut of his hatchet on the pole was a tie with Red Knife's
for height of the bound and cleanness of the chop. At the dawn, the
deputies hurried to their camps to marshal their braves and conduct
them to the rendezvous.

It is to be noted that the Red Indians spring sharply from their
laziness of peacetimes into the strain of warfare. They become other
men. Metamorphosed entirely, they endure with unflinching stoicism
the greatest fatigue and longest privations. The very men who were
ridiculous sloths and gluttons will never groan at having no sight of
food for two, three, or even four days, or even at having no water.

Then they are granite and stop for nothing, and are not surprised at
any disaster. Cold, heat, sun or rain, snow or hail, these are silently
mocked at. Hence the secret foundation of their rapid movements, the
fury of their attack, and their unconquerable energy in battle.

After the final talk, Ridge had a short conversation with Williams,
immediately after which the latter left the camp. The white trapper
had, we have remarked, kept himself out of the savage demonstration,
sitting at a watch fire without even dozing off. A white man with an
army of reds is like a chemist experimenting with an explosive of which
all the qualities have yet to be tested. In some unexpected manner the
whole may hoist the engineer himself.

About an hour after sunrise the Cherokee returned. He was accompanied
by two white hunters. They were to be the guards of Doña Rosario, who,
though she made a wry face about it, as if she personally wished to
assist in the deliverance of Miss Maclan, consented reluctantly to
being lodged in one of Jim Ridge's mountain refuges.

"Poor girl," murmured he, as she departed, "what a blessing that she
has no idea that I am her kinsman, and that her father has perhaps lost
his life in helping Bill to wrest her from that villain."

He was very thoughtful, and his chat with his comrades was more brief
and in shorter phrases than ever. If he was idle in his moodiness,
however, the Cherokee redoubled his activity in scouting.

There was already one screw loose in the machinery: the Crows had
lost connection with the Piegans. Their disappearance was perplexing,
ominous even. The Piegans were completely puzzled. And all Ridge
surmised was that somehow Ahnemekee had learnt, or strongly supposed,
that not Kidd, but the Mountain Men had interfered with his descent on
the Red River Half-breeds.

Red Knife, though, soon offered his opinion that the Crows were
cowards, and had skulked away from the prospective battlefield.

Apart from this defection, all went on merrily enough for six days,
when the concentration was perfected. Each day the border ruffians and
Canadians were kept under view, and camp for camp invisibly opposed
each other. It is true the mixed bloods and the whites had their scouts
and outliers busy, but they found nothing to alarm. The trappers and
Blackfeet seemed to be swallowed up in the mountain gorges.

The temperature became milder. The influence of the hot water springs
of the Yellowstone certainly affected the air. In four days or so,
toilsomely as the adventurers broke their way through the pathless
wilds, they would hail the promised golden land.

But one evening Cherokee Bill, as director of all the scouts, reported
that there were more ingredients for the stew. Instead of finding
Ahnemekee's band in the eastward, his spies had descried evidences of
a strong force of whites. And in the Northwest also another body of
whites were perceived.

This news very much disquieted Jim Ridge, and deepened his
thoughtfulness. According to the flag to which they held allegiance,
the newcomers might exert a preponderating influence on what was to
become a veritable war. Hesitation would be fatal. It was imperative
to have done with present opposing elements as quickly as possible, or
have a double force to contest. It is soundest reason in the wilderness
to believe enemies approach, and, anyway, white men would rather
combine with those of their complexion than the redskins.

This was strictly logical, but, as often happens in practical life,
that itself made it wrong; but the Yager could not suspect this. Always
in his fears was that of the lovely enclosed country of the Yellowstone
becoming the prey to land raiders and freebooters. He warded off
intruders from that garden like the dragon of antique fable.



CHAPTER XXIX.

ON THE EVE OF THE ATTACK.


Cherokee Bill was ill at ease as regards the newcomers, and, whilst
other scouts left the main body to discover what was the force
approaching from the north, he took the almost opposite direction. But
when a scout goes out thus "on his own hook," he makes sure of his way
back being clear. A scout must return with news, that is his ruling
motto. Besides, the Half-breed on the scouting path was very prudent.
His line led him across a trail to Old Nick's Cutoff, and there he
scrutinised the ground.

In a few minutes he frowned and stooped lower. He had perceived,
scarcely more than discernible though, the mark of a human foot,
invisible for other eyes. He gave some seconds' concentrated
examination to it, for it was not an Indian's tread, nor a white man's
in soft heelless shoes, but that of the wearer of pegged boots, such
as are common on the border. They are too heavy and require too much
reparation in dry weather to suit the hunters; they adopt the redskins'
lighter and pleasanter footgear, as do the Canadian Half-breeds.

There was no doubt that one of Captain Kidd's crew had been here, and
recently. Whence he came last and whither he was going now were the
questions. That this was a spy of the gold grabbers was clear to Bill.
Still, confirmation was far from easy. Except over a few square feet
where a shallow rock basin had preserved moist soil, there was nothing
but hard stone and dry rocks. The Cherokee chief was not disheartened
for all that, being rather too experienced in desert tricks.

This solitary footprint was on the skirt of the woodland, the toe
pointing thither.

"He's altogether too blamed cunning," muttered he, with an inward
chuckle. "This might scoop in a white man, but not even half an Injin."

He dropped to the ground, and lying thereon like a geographer intently
investigating a crabbedly written map, explored every inch of the soil.
After a long while he caught sight, a couple of yards distant from
the footmark--in the same direction--of a long thin scratch, made
evidently by an iron instrument which had lightly slid along. That
brought forth a smile, and he went back whence he came.

A huge old cedar rose at the wood border, and flung out protective
boughs, so that one waved majestically above the lone footstep. He
looked up at it without seeing anything out of the common. He shook his
head and fell a-thinking. Then, going all around the tree, he picked
out the best side for climbing, where weather had made it rugged, and
was at the first branch in two or three minutes. There he stopped to
have a look around. His lips curled in silent satisfaction. He crawled
along the bough like a panther going to drop on a fawn, and reached a
place where a cord had chafed half a ring on the round.

He could go down again--the mystery was solved.

One or more men had gone through the woods, monkey fashion, in the
trees, and when at the edge had wound a rope, probably a lasso, to the
bough by which to lower themselves to the ground, taking heed to land
with their toes towards the course they had followed. Once afoot, they
had used an ironshod staff to execute a giant's stride off the damp
place under the sheltering tree upon the hard, dry stone. Hence the
metallic line noticed by the hunter.

What they were and what their number little worried him. The main point
was that he could find them readily. They might conceal themselves
temporarily amongst the chaos of boulders, but escape was out of the
question! Beyond was an immensely deep abyss, of which the adventurers
were doubtless ignorant. They had entered into a no thoroughfare.

After overhauling his rifle, the hunter crept and glided among the
large stones, looking in all directions, and stopping now and anon to
listen avidly. He came to a spot where the whole of the rocky sea was
comprehended in one view. A strange sight was offered him, which filled
him with a kind of admiring surprise.

Two men had managed to throw a lasso over a jutting crag right over a
large fissure serving as window to the Grotto. One had wound the rope
about his middle, and with perfectly alarming boldness, was dangling
over the fathomless abyss of the Cutoff with the hope to pry into the
cavity.

At the nick when Bill Williams caught sight of this, the suspended man
was about climbing up, and with the help of his comrade, was hastening
to land on a ledge.

The Raven of the Cherokees allowed him to just get a footing, and
whilst he was uncoiling the cord from his waist, Bill aimed at the
second man and let the lead fly. It took him fair in the bosom, so that
he leaped up in the air tremendously, and fell over into the gulf with
an almost endless but more and more faint scream of agony.

Bringing another cartridge into readiness for an immediate shot, the
Half-breed strode steadily towards the second bandit, who trembled all
over in the greatest dread at his approach.

"My poor brother is shaky with too much weariness," remarked he, when
nearer. "It must be as near hard work as ever you tried to hang by the
girdle on a rope--and highly risky, too, for the string might snap, and
there's no telling how deep you might drop."

The man stared at him as though not understanding the bitter jest. It
was Bill who laughed.

"After such a job, you ought to have a rest," he went on. "Don't you
fret--you'll have plenty of rest before I get through with you."

Whilst uttering this promise he had disarmed the prisoner of the
weapons which he tossed over the precipice; then he used the lasso
to bind the man, who could not think of resistance on that perilous
shelf, all with a skill and dexterity that a European hangman might
envy. As soon as he was pinioned so that to shudder was almost an
impossibility, Bill gagged him so that his breathing was confined to
the nostrils, Indian mode, and shouldering him like a bale of furs, he
carried him to a cleft in the stone whence he could see nothing, and
dropped him down within.

"It's nigh as close a fit as a grave," said he ominously. "But the
coyotes won't touch you, never fear! And nobody else will. I'd advise
your putting in some sleep whilst awaiting my coming back; it will
prepare you for the long sleep you are fated to enjoy."

He left the wretch. He let a glance trace the circuit of the landscape,
and, carrying his valuable gun under his left arm in the savage's
fashion, he returned to discover the trail of the horsemen from the
southeast. He seemed to be fully pleased with the late incident.

"All the news those scouts bring to old Captain Kidd will not spoil
his slumber," he remarked, chewing some checkerberry leaves as if to
counteract the nauseating flavour of the gold hunter's name.

Having settled his object, he marched forward in the Indian style, as
the crow flies, all the more recommendable, as path there was none.
This plan has the advantage of considerably abridging the road; but
in a broken mountainous land most people would rather be excused. It
requires steel muscles and uncommon vigour, and the craft to employ
them properly; no fear of giddiness--the gifts of the mountain sheep,
in short.

Without appearing to give a second thought to the narrow squeaks he
had, turning angles in midair merely to reach cornices goats would have
evaded, the Cherokee went steadfastly on and on, though each fresh
hindrance seemed less surmountable than the easiest before. On the
whole he moved rapidly, so that in three half hours he had gone what
must have taken anybody else three or, maybe, four full ones.

About eleven, he bounded down on a broadish clearing, where an
extremely transparent rivulet ran shallowly, with a melodious murmur,
over pebbles where Californian diamonds and agates glowed in all
colours, between banks edged with lilies and other aquatic plants.

His piercing eye explored the scene till he was satisfied with the
profound stillness. He collected dead wood in a pile a little off from
the streamlet, and lit a fire. When it had taken good hold, he dug up
some edible roots, which he had found by the leaves as well as if they
were labelled, and put them in the ashes to roast. On a large bed of
hot coals he laid some strips of deer meat, and lighting his pipe, sat
down for a quiet smoke--his gun ever handy, however.

During twenty minutes he only shifted to turn the meat with the point
of his knife; both meat and the substitute for potatoes were soon
nicely cooked. But even after he dished the peeled tubers upon a leaf
and the meat on a strip of bark, with its satin lining equalled by no
Dresden china platter, he seemed to wait for the cue to eat.

Indeed, there was a faint rustle in the covert which he must have
heard, for he smiled and turned his face fully that way. A hunter crept
out of the brush, his gun barrel directed forward and his finger on the
trigger.

"Friend!" said Cherokee Bill, without further emotion.

"Well, I am knocked endwise!--The chief!" exclaimed the stranger, in
amazement. It was no other than Mr. Filditch.

"Just in time," said Bill Williams, waving his hands hospitably in a
kind of welcoming grace over the edibles, "though you are not precisely
the man or men I expected."

"Well, I hope he is not dying of hunger, as I am," answered the Yankee
Californian, dropping down joyfully in front of his friend. "We have
been pushing on with such forced marches that we don't know what
eating, sitting still, means!"

"We!" ejaculated the hunter, with what was great astonishment for him.

"What we? When we parted company you were about the lonesomest man in
the woods, I should allow."

"Lonesome and lost, chief! Well, I wandered about alone, but I came
back a hundred strong!"

"With these horse from the south'ard? I was expecting them."

"Perhaps Don Gregorio telegraphed to you overnight that he was about
due?" cried Filditch, jestingly, as well as a mouth full of food would
permit.

"Don Gregorio? That's all right, then! They are friends, for sure.
That's a weight off my mind!"

"They were glad to have me as guide. They might have had a better. But
you can take my office now. I resign with the utmost pleasure. But how
has my uncle and the rest been getting on?"

"They are beautifully posted, as you will see."

From the tone, Filditch did not press; he knew that Bill was not
communicative unless he pleased.

"What makes you prowl about alone?" inquired the hunter in a little
while.

"I thought I recognised a landmark, and wanted to verify it. The troop
is only a little beyond."

"Well, this is a good spot for the camp; but Jim and the boys are clean
'way up by the Yellowstone, where we must scoot in hot haste as soon as
your band is recruited. Go, fetch 'em up smart!"

Filditch had "gobbled" his share of the unexpected repast. He felt
ever so much better physically from that, and morally because he was
assisted out of his dilemma as an inexperienced pilot by the proffered
guidance of the Cherokee. He darted away in a delighted spirit.

In the meantime, Bill finished his pipe, muttered some remark on the
Mexicans wanting to pick their way for the horses' sakes, and leisurely
gathered fuel, of which he made a number of fires.

There was great glee among the four or five score Mexicans who rode
into the break in the wooded and rocky land at this brilliant token
of welcome. In another moment, old Gregorio Peralta, alighting with a
briskness hardly anticipated from his silver beard, shook hands with
Bill Williams cordially. Several of these Southerners knew Bill by
sight, and nearly all by hearsay. It was Hail-fellow, well met! And the
camp seemed in a festival.

Don Gregorio had been partly dispossessed of his prejudice against
all whose blood was intermixed, by Mr. Filditch's glowing account of
Bill Williams' excellences. He at once cast prejudices aloof, and felt
genuine sympathy and admiration as he understood him better. He had
pictured all reds to be savages fond of rapine and strong drink, with
no clear notion on good and evil; essentially devoted to a brutish
life, and only human in externals. In brief, ferocious bipeds incapable
of generous sentiments.

The sight of the Cherokee, more than ever an Indian since he was on the
warpath, so calm, fond of his comrades, handsome of his kind, able,
loyal, and wise, his natural gifts added to, not enhanced, by his
college training--these aspects made him believe that the Raven was an
exception to all the race hitherto seen by him. As time passed over the
meals, Don Gregorio learnt that the new guide was very human, with the
same passions, virtues, and vices as others of the great human family.

The rest being over, the column formed anew, directed by the
mixed-blood hunter, who "handled" them like a ship at sea with the
deepwater pilot at the helm. The night made no difference to him,
and he pressed them on. After two halts, he brought them to a point
whence all was plain riding. It was desirable, perhaps, that this
reinforcement should be kept a secret, from the gold grabbers in
particular. Such a body of cavalry was invaluable for a final charge,
or to pursue the fugitives after a defeat.

Don Gregorio impatiently expressed the wish to ride over towards the
Elk's Leap, and confer with Jim Ridge.

"I do not catch what the guide says," remarked he, interrogatively.

"Oh, he says that white folks are very knowing theoretically, but
lamentably fail in practice. I quite coincide."

"As how?"

"Well, we are not so near the camp of the Mountain Men and the united
Indians as you fancy. The air is very different here from that of the
southern plains. In the highlands the large masses absorb the lesser
and merge all asperities into smoothness. You are three days off from
the Yellowstone Basin, however fast your horses might scramble along."
Thus the Cherokee.

"Well?"

"You must wait till Jim comes or otherwise meets you and assigns your
place for the combat. Meanwhile, Don Gregorio, as you are eager to see
your grandniece Rosario, take a couple of men, an extra mule, and lend
me a horse. We will ride to where she is ensconced."

"What! You are never going to take her out of a place of shelter and
bring her into the fighting place," cried the old Californian, whilst
Filditch echoed the exclamation.

"Not so. I want the pack animal to bring my prisoner along to show Jim."

"A prisoner?"

"You shall see," answered Bill, curtly, turning away to select a
horse among the several offered him; whilst Filditch, who, of course,
went with them to see his daughter, despatched a messenger to Ridge's
command with the gladsome news.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE HALF-BREED DIES GAME.


Kidd was spending the night without any rest. Besides the tumultuous
emotions excited by the proximity of the treasure land, the
uncontrolability of his forces worried him exceedingly. He was
confident that on finding gold, admitting that they penetrated the
Firehole country unimpeded, it would be each man for himself. Even
now he felt lonely enough. Dan Steelder had determinedly set off on
a scouting expedition to see what had befallen Doña Rosario. He had
expressly charged his associate to watch Leon well; but lo! That
youth had slipped away as well as Lottery Paul, whether in company or
separately was unsettled. As for Joe, he was left behind to guard the
women and goods. And the departure of Dearborn increased Kidd's misery
at being abandoned, for the guide had shown him the promised goal and
departed.

"If only in cutting our way through these unknown enemies we lose the
bulk of this riffraff," he muttered, "I shall perhaps have a choice few
whom I can govern. All may yet be for the best, and Joe and me can set
up a hotel for summer tourists, with the richest gold mine in our wine
cellar, right there in the heart of the Yellowstone."

Leon had not gone away with the Frenchman, but the latter's departure
was directly the cause of his. The Drudge, angered at being divided
from the Carcajieu, was only awaiting an opportunity to leave the
captain. As payment for his long unremunerated services, he took a
horse from Foxface and arms and equipment, passing the outposts with
the truth seeming plea that he was sent on a special mission by the
leader.

"It's stuck him up high," muttered the outer guard. "The boy is quite
handsome all of a sudden!"

In fact, Leon was transformed, for, being of an eagle race, the
more doleful he was in captivity, the more haughty and noble he was
unfettered.

Long hours of meditation over the wilderness had "soaked" knowledge
into him of wood and desert craft almost unawares.

He rode at once into the high grass and canebrake in the wet pits at
the bottom of the canyon, for it was so high that he was hidden on the
horse's back.

He mocked at the night, confident that he could guide himself by
the stars. He ate in the saddle, and though he did not ride fast,
kept on ceaselessly till he had gone by the Medicine Rock, where the
Half-breeds were showing a fire in their ceremonies, pious perhaps, but
assuredly imprudent.

Here he halted. From all Dearborn and Joe had imparted to him, he knew
that friends were approaching and from the west. But should he proceed
thitherward on the chance of crossing the trail of their outliers, or
climb the other side of the giant defile and join Corky Joe, with whom
he could be comparatively at ease, and if anything befell Kidd, as free
as now?

His brooding was almost tragically put an end to by a gunshot above
him, and whilst he instinctively looked up, his poor horse leaped and
fell sidewise to the ground. In the flash he had recognised the face of
the Frenchman. He threw himself off the dying horse, and none too soon,
for a second shot, from a large pistol this time, carried away his hat,
and with a fragment of the bullet laid the flesh open on his cheekbone.
He stumbled at the shock, and rolled on the grass beside the stiffening
horse.

"Aha!" cried Paul, who could be heard descending in the brushwood, "So
I have served out my spy this time. Our dear captain, he does so hate
to lose a man, that he sends after him. Who is it, anyhow, that I've
peppered?"

Leon remained prone, but slewed his gun round ready. As he lay, the
dead steed formed a rampart: he was well posted.

"He's my meat," muttered the Frenchman, holding on by a bush and
peering down through the gloom.

"Not precisely!" interrupted another voice, on the same level; "It is
you, dog, who shall die!"

On this threat from an unexpected quarter, Paul dropped to the next
ledge and jumped behind a tree. Leon rose slowly and cautiously, and
looked up. By the stranger's voice he had, he believed, recognised
Dearborn.

He and the bandit were at the limits of a comparatively clear space.
The youth stole off obliquely to the right so as to left flank the
Frenchman. He aimed his rifle, and, leaving shelter, cried so loudly
that the Englishman could also know him by his voice:

"You are all wrong. Mr. Paul, it is you who must die."

Lottery Paul looked at him steadily and replied:

"Maybe--two to one is odds--but you shall lead the way to Kingdom come."

But before he had time to change the direction of his piece, bearing on
the Englishman, Leon fired, knowing what kind of murderous fellow he
was.

Over he rolled, clawing up the moss, with a fractured skull.

Dearborn ran up. But at the same time there was a noise in the thicket,
and several men appeared. Nothing was more impressive than this
peopling of the solitude in such obscurity.

"Drop your guns!" shouted one of the newcomers, authoritatively; "We're
all friends here, I reckon."

"Bill Williams!"

It was the Cherokee and Filditch, and his eight or ten men besides.

"What's the meaning of all this?" said Filditch, as there was a group
formed around the dead robber and the guide and the servant of Captain
Kidd.

"In the first place," said the hunter, "there's your son in that young
man. It is a sufficient card of introduction that he has rubbed out one
of the vermin anyway, though we are lucky if their confounded rattle of
shots does not spoil the scheme."

"My son!"

"Yes, Rosa's brother," went on the hunter. "We won't mind you two.
Well, Mr. Dearborn, out of the trap?"

"Yes. I was looking for some of you, when I found there was a horseman
below, and, on descending, was in time to see him overturned by a
couple of shots from that ruffian. But the boy did not require my
intervention. He avenged himself."

"Good boy! Well, now, all your information."

As soon as the hunter learnt details of the arrangement of the enemy,
he formed a fresh variation, or rather supplement to the plan.

"Gentlemen," said Bill, thereupon, "over there, across the canyon, are
the women and children. We will go straight to their camp. The guard
know Leon and Mr. Dearborn, and, anyhow, Joe, their lieutenant, will
accept them and remove any doubts. They will say they came back from
the captain, who requites every spare hand, and decoy them into the
bushes, where they must roaster them. The remainder should be but a
gulp and they're gone, to us."

All is fair in war as in love. Dearborn accepted the task.

"Can you spare your son?" asked Jim of Filditch, beside whom stood Leon.

"I would like to go with him, Jim. I want a good deal to see this young
lady who was such a comfort to Rosa."

"Go along, then."

Into the fog dived the detachment--Dearborn, Filditch, and Leon;
Cherokee Bill as conductor, and a few men.

The others concluded all preparations for the desperate fight.

But it was not till half after ten that the stubborn fog, torn and
drifted away by the sun and one of those strong gales which sweep up a
canyon so lofty at the sides, melted away like a playhouse gauze and
unmasked the sunny landscape.

Spite of this theatrical discovery, no one betrayed himself. Never had
the desert seemed more untroubled. An undisturbed calm soothed the
majestic solitude, and yet many men, strangers to one another, were
straining to fly at the throat with ferocious rage fur gains vaguely
defined.

At this moment, a red scout leaped up among the hunters' pickets, with
the sign of friendliness and that he was a Blood Indian.

"Well, brother?" demanded Ridge.

"The Half-breeds slipped us during the fog, and have joined the gold
robbers though not intermixing."

"They had some suspicion."

"The chiefs conjecture that something evil before them in the mad root
swamp appalled them."

"Maybe Ahnemekee is heading them off there."

The scout shook his head as if he did not believe the Crows would
venture so near the hallowed ground.

"In any case, we are ready. Return to your comrades and begin the
battle. We shall also advance if we are not attacked."

"Good!" and the grinning demon bounded away along the hillside.

Very soon the scream of the grey eagle arose, shrill and prolonged.

Firing was opened with that absence of unison betokening that both
sides were irregulars. The sound seemed to approach. All at once the
war whoops of the savage union resounded like a cannon shot. The
gunfire became more intense, and painful cries were tempering cheers
and yells of triumph.

Kidd had indeed found the Crows in the dwarf wood, and feared to
cross a mad root (Indian turnip) marsh in their teeth. He began a
feigned retreat and enticed them into the mouth of the canyon where
the Bois-Brulés fell on them, running down the slopes and almost
annihilating them in the charge. The few survivors were carried by the
impetus in among the rocks and pools of the bottomland, where they were
slaughtered almost to a man. But even as the Canadians raised a cry
of victory, the Piegans and their allies were rushing upon the white
men in much the same manner. The Half-breeds hastened to coalesce with
their confederates, and strengthen them against this onset. There was
an obstinate struggle, the Indians seeking to detain the whole whilst
they encircled them. Kidd, on the contrary, endeavoured to retire
up the canyon and regain the tableland on high, where Joe and the
rearguard were posted. It was a natural fort.

But suddenly, out of the most innocent bushes, but which had not been
planted there across the way when they passed along, a deadly fire
gushed from rifles far more potent than the Indians.

The bandits and the Manitobans were caught between two fires.
Nevertheless, whilst the red men seemed the more numerous, the firing
elsewhere allowed a sanguine man to believe that these new assailants
were so limited in force that they were obliged to ambush themselves.

Kidd flourished his Spanish rapier, rallied his men, and shouted:

"Over them! Through them! It's our only chance. Come on, boys, where
we have comrades!" and the column ran into the hunters' fire. At the
same time, common enough when an enemy falter, the Indians whooped
diabolically and charged the Half-breeds.

They and Kidd had not only the flank but the front fire to sustain, and
nearly every second man seemed to fall.

However, those who escaped death, if not wounds, scrambled into the
bushes. They were ungarrisoned, being merely a line beyond the real
entrenchment, moat, and brushwood _chevaux de frize_.

The conflict became horrible when the bandits and Half-breeds, now
serried together with little order, were brought up, all standing,
against the barricades. They gave up hope, and so furiously fought that
none dreamt of asking quarter. Forming a rampart of their own dead, and
of those of the redskins who had rushed on the guns too rashly, the
determined remnant held out, dumb, calm, and gloomy, like men of stone,
certain of death, but bravely selling their lives.

Overcome with horror and pity for such a sublime resolution, Jim Ridge
unexpectedly sprang over the breastwork, followed by Leon, who knew
most of the sufferers, and shouted in a voice everybody heard:

"Quit of shooting! It's too all-fired mean to butcher them when they
stand out so well."

On both sides he was obeyed; so much authority was in the voice of one
for whom the reds and whites felt a profound respect, and to whom they
knew they owed so much of success.

Without any weapons, the Yager, still accompanied by the generous boys,
advanced up to the resistants till near enough to pull hair. At the
wall of dead men they stopped.

Kidd was binding up a wound; Dagard was the ostensible leader.

"What do you want?" he asked, lowering his rifle and pistol, both hands
being thus occupied.

"We come to offer you life. Injins like 'sand' in a man, and your grit
is first brand."

"We asked no quarter," was the proud reply. "We would have given none,
I daresay. We are not plumb played out, and we mean to die pulling
trigger."

"Yes, we are 'on' that," chorused the others.

"Now, don't be silly. I grant you are not used up, and our spoiling
your hopes must 'stubborn' ye. But, by the Great Star! You have mighty
little to go on with. Look at the slope, full of Injins as a book of
letters; not the kind loud on a whoop and singing small when they have
revolvers and scalpers to meet. You had better hear my offers, for I am
'white' on this thing, and I am about the only man who can snatch ye
out of the burning."

"I'm thankful, old hunter, but your words now are like wheels of the
thistledown--they sail away on the wind. You have cut too deep for
balsam. You have allied yourself with those reds agin' your colour, and
all we want is revenge for your slaughtering our mates."

"Vengeance!" cried his men, and Kidd's.

"But, let me straighten out things," persisted Ridge, "in Heaven's
name! I offer you life and freedom too."

"You may straighten out our corpses if you like. Meanwhile, we attach
no faith in your words, and pledges, and good-for-nothing advice. Back
with you! We are going to hold our end of this unequal combat up to the
last."

He lifted his firearms so threateningly that the others interpreted
the action as a signal for resumed hostilities. A rattling discharge
ensued. Leon threw himself frantically before his granduncle, and
received at least one bullet which would not otherwise have missed him.
The youth fell, and the Yager dropped also, but this time to shield him
and out of prudence. Over their heads a double volley crossed. Upon
this sudden aggression, reasonably regarded as treachery, the battle
renewed itself with unequalled bloodthirstiness on the confederates'
part, and constant resolve on that of the foes.

Meanwhile, though under fire, Jim's first act was to see how his nephew
was hurt. He uttered an outcry in joy amid the whizzing bullets,
hurtling arrows, and falling boughs severed by the missiles: Leon was
pale, but unwounded. The ball had flattened itself on the buckle of
his belt, dented it, but not penetrated. The blow was a smart one, and
knocked all the breath out of his body; but in a few minutes he came
round, and was delighted to find that he had saved the old man's life.

During this the defenders had been hemmed in closely, fairly pushed out
of their little fort, and were being mowed down. It was no fight, but
carnage--a massacre which gives a name to the spot to this day.

Leon saw that the French Half-breed was literally pulled down, like a
bull on whom the dogs cluster, by several of the Piegans and trappers.

"Oh! I must save that brave fellow," cried he.

Springing like a panther into the medley, he pulled off and pushed off
the assailants, and embraced the Manitoban with both arms.

"My prisoner!" he shouted.

"His meat!" added Jim Ridge, who had closely followed.

"Back!" said Filditch, running up and repulsing the baffled men, who,
however, betook themselves to other game.

Dagard looked sadly about him. Of his own race, hardly another save
Margottet was upright anywhere near him. He shook his head despairingly.

"My poor children," said he in French, stifling a sob.

"Come out of this," cried Leon, offering to draw him away.

"I thank you, generous boy," was the answer with a noble courtesy,
repulsing him gently, "and you, too, brave old hunter," he subjoined,
addressing Ridge, "but your interference is useless. I am catching the
hot soup deservedly for having linked myself with a chain gang. Look
round! All the boys from Red River are dead, or gasping their last,
under our feet. I am not seeking to escape the massacre. But, anyhow,
here goes to save my top hair!"

And before anybody could thrust out a hand, he drew one of those pocket
pistols, loaded to the muzzle, which frontier men often carry expressly
to blow off the skull pan, in order to rend the scalp to shreds and
remove the suicide from the tortures. He clapped the muzzle to his
forehead, pulled the trigger, and fell headlong in the smoke, uttering
one word:

"My country!"

Ridge and the youth recoiled, and even the Piegans were stupefied into
inaction.

"Good notion, boys!" cried Captain Kidd in his sarcastic voice, "Let us
save our topknots same fashion!"

Half a dozen pistol shots cracked, and as many of the bandits dropped
to the earth. But what was the amazement, though only temporary, of the
savages, on rushing forward, to find that the supposed suicides had
crawled away in the smoke!

With marvellous presence of mind, Kidd, under pretence of imitating the
Half-breed's heroism, had turned the act into a "dodge." They heard the
laughing, taunting whoop of his little band of survivors as they raced
down the slope and glided among the boulders.

Some of the reds took up the chase, and others remained, hewing and
hacking the corpses with spite and pitiless malignity.

Ridge collected a few of his immediate followers and hastened after
the fugitive gold robber. The whole of the bottomland rang with the
yells of the pursuers, the red men delighting in the ruse of Kidd, whom
now they believed a foeman worthy of their fiendish ingenuity at the
torture stake.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE WOMEN'S CAMP.


Filditch and his son, with the other whites, crossed the gorge and
proceeded towards the bandits' camp, where some smoke was ascending in
a mass.

Men on the frontier are kept in so nearly the same condition by the
similitude of their habits, food, exercises, occupations, that when
a race for life ensues, the fugitive, with a reasonable start beyond
gunshot, is rarely overtaken. In this case, Kidd and his eight or ten
companions rather gained than lost by the pursuers being forced, for
prudence sake, not to rush on straight, but to circle each large stone
and tree stump where the enemy might have halted to fire.

At the end of the canyon Kidd's party were not only well ahead, but
they had even halted more than once to breathe freely. Two had fallen
and been secured, for the Indians had set up a yell of delight.

"Cheer up!" cried the captain, "We are out of the valley, and
the golden tract is only just beyond. The thing is fixed for our
satisfaction after all if we only press on pretty stiff."

But the words were hardly out of his pale lips and beginning to
inspirit his band as they emerged from the jaws of the long trough
before cheers arose behind them. From the high points Ridge and a few
Piegans saw a numerous corps of cavalry sweep round from the southeast,
clear the spurs of the east bluff, and gallop through the mad root
swamp to intercept the flying men.

Nevertheless, good cavaliers as were these Mexicans of Peralta, the
treacherous morass soon hampered and terrified the horses, and the
troop was thrown into disarray.

This sight warmed the frozen heart of Kidd once more.

"They are only 'greasers,'" cried he, scornfully. "And, after all,
better to perish having our revenge on them than waiting for those
murderous savages to come up. Who'll come on with me? Won't the fear of
hellish torture make any backward spirit brave? For the golden land,
right through the yallerfaces! Hurrah, boys!"

Whilst hesitating, two bullets of several shots whistled into the
bodies of a pair of his companions. The pursuers had arrived within
range. At this, more potent than the harangue, the gold grabbers ran
at the heels of their leader, straight along the firm ground forming
a natural bridge in the bog, firing at the floundering horsemen and
yelling to increase the alarm of the steeds.

Five ran the gauntlet successfully, though each was wounded by the
Mexicans' cutlasses, so close were the encounters. But Kidd seemed to
bear a charmed life. He turned, his bosom swelling with exultation. All
the foes were on the other side of him. The Yellowstone Region was at
his foot. Surely in his bounding heart he had not a doubt that he was
destined to conceal himself among the wonders in some enchanted cave,
in some petrified forest, in some hollow under a waterfall and baffle
the Yager of the Yellowstone himself.

Indeed, the trampling horses cut up the quaking morass; black water
and yellow slime oozed up and covered the grass. Where the bandits had
leaped along the mud rose, or the calamus root was sinking as if pulled
down by the hands of elves. The subtle obstacle was mysterious. All the
Indians paused on the solid ground, whilst Ridge and the trappers alone
were cool enough to assist the Mexicans to where they stood.

To add to the horror, bodies of the Crows slain in the previous battle,
till now submerged in the pitchy, sulfurous fen, slowly bubbled up, so
besmeared as but dimly to suggest the shapes of men.

Kidd and his companions, among whom was Margottet, the only Half-breed,
had impudently stopped, the swamp between. They were the more plainly
discernible as at their back the steam from a water volcano formed a
white veil.

Suddenly the wind died away. There was audible a mournful, tremendous
sound in the haunted realm, like a giant's breathing; it was the
pumping underground of the indescribable forces to extract and drive
to the surface tons upon tons of water for the colossal hot water
fountains, whose heat and moisture tempered the atmosphere even here.

Kidd made a contemptuous gesture, turned, and leisurely led the way
over the few score yards between the swamp's edge and the lovely
outskirts of an ever vernal wood. Already they caught glimpses of
startled but unterrified wild animals under beautiful boughs, fruit
laden, staring incredulously at the bloodstained, smoke blackened
strangers.

All at once they felt an excessive rise in temperature. They began
streaming with perspiration, and their wounds re-opened and bled
profusely. At each step a hollow sound arose. Then one foot, heavier
than another, sank as in a crust of snow in a calcareous soil. It was
no sooner drawn forth than the other was worse embogged, and those who
came to their comrade's help began to be mired. Kidd stopped; he looked
round to order a change of route, when a scream of terror burst from
his and every lip, frightening the animals into flight and curdling
the blood of the observers at the canyon's mouth. Margottet, both feet
entangled, had broken bodily through the unsafe surface, and where he
had been sucked down a flaming dust had been belched up, exactly as
when demons vanish down a trap on the stage.

With one accord, like men do instinctively upon thin ice, the wretches
threw themselves flat on the ground. With the same impulse--an
unaccountable one, stronger than mere interest in their disappeared
comrade--all heads were turned to the gap where he had found a gateway
to death. Blinded at first, their vision became accustomed to the
radiance that emanated from within. It seemed to them that they peered
into a chasm where a lake of pure glowing fire slowly moved in sullen
upheaval. Meanwhile, the heat increased. They were like men who had
crept into a limekiln for warmth, and by mischance were stupefied
by the fumes and were being roasted. They rolled away hither and
thither, only thinking to avoid contact, for the weight of two bodies
concentrated on one space might cause the repetition of Margottet's
fate. Their hair and beards were singed, their wounds were dried up now
and cauterised. They shrieked for help and mercy and that they would
surrender. Then unendurable anguish made them swoon. And helplessly
they were dragged thence by the lassoes of the Mexicans, who ventured
into the swamp to execute their deliverance this way.

"One of the wonders of the Yellowstone, gentlemen," said Jim Ridge. "I
never try to enter the Park that road."

"A manifestation of the Spirit of Fire," said Red Knife. "Where the
spirits of our fathers rove in enjoyment no such evil things could be
allowed to enter."

All was ended here. Leaving the miserable bandits to be brought on at
leisure, the chiefs retraced their steps to ascertain before nightfall
how the detachment sent to attack or outwit the reserve of gold
grabbers had executed their task. The column of smoke thence arising
must have a meaning.

The women's camp was in a flutter. Not only had all seen white jets of
smoke from the firearms on the opposite slope, amid patches of green,
brown, and grey, but Joe had, in passing among the captives, acquainted
Miss Maclan with the news that the final moment had come. Now or never
the joined forces of mongrels and ruffians were to be crushed on the
sill of the Yellowstone Region.

Suddenly Miss Maclan beckoned several of the more energetic women to
her side. Ferreting in one of the wagons, she had discovered packages
of weapons: there were cutlasses enough to arm all of them.

But hardly had she ranged the Amazons in defence before the war whoop
of the Cherokee split all ears as he and his band clambered upon the
plateau. It needed no more to start the ruffians into a rout, and those
deliverers not gone in hot pursuit were being thanked by the tearful
women.

In three days the victors had reposed from the strife, and the red men
feasted. In that period, too, the strange force from the north arrived,
being a band of Mormon "destroying angels," or police, in search of the
slayer of Gideon Kidd. Their captain was added to the tribunal formed
to try Kidd and Steelder, Jim's prisoner, sole survivors of the gold
grabbers' corps.

Both denied the charge that they were allies, forgers, horse thieves,
vendors of whisky to the Indians, and that they detained the women,
except to preserve them from the savages. But at the appearance of
the Carcajieu in the witness stand Kidd trembled and turned pale,
muttering, "I am a lost man!"

"Starr, detective," muttered Dave Steelder, only less disconcerted.
"Just so. John E. Starr, Chief of the U.S. Detective Police of
Louisiana," said the ex-Carcajieu, forcibly. "I have been hanging close
on you a long while, marking down everything you said and did. If you
will allow me, Judge, I'll _valet_ for these rogues."

Without giving time for anybody's opposition, he sprang upon the
two stupefied prisoners, tore off the false hair that muffled their
features, and rubbed their faces with his handkerchief, dipped in some
antigrease liquid. The "cleaning up process," as a miner would say,
resulted in a transformation even more remarkable than that of the
Government official from the bandit's lieutenant.

The judges immediately pronounced the pair worthy of death; only they
decreed that Kidd, or Hank Brown, or Mathias Corvino, should be the
Indians' prize for torture, and Steelder, or Don Miguel Tadeo, simply
hanged. At this, whilst Don Miguel smiled feebly, the rage of his
accomplice burst forth:

"Give me over to those red fiends!" he roared. "You must think me the
bigger villain, and I am not. I'll leave it to Bill Williams here. Is
any man so base as he who tracked a harmless old man up in the Lonely
Passes, and assassinated him, not for any grudge, but to possess the
secret lure by which beavers are decoyed into traps. Yes, gentlemen,
Don Miguel Tadeo, over thirty years ago, was plain 'Spanish Mike,' the
hanger-on at the Kansas trading forts. It was he who stole, upon old
Bill Williams and murdered him. Look in the deerskin shirt he wears,
and in the crescent piece at the armpit, which is double, you will
find the very recipe for mixing the beaver medicine, taken from the
old trapper's warm body. Now, am I to be torn to pieces for an Injin
holiday, and this cowardly slayer to be let off with a clean, easy,
smoothly greased rope? Come, Judge Lynch, fair play!"

All eyes turned towards Bill Williams, whose features were strongly
convulsed. By that moment of inattention the wretched Don Miguel
endeavoured to profit. He burst away from the guards, and bounded
thence in the only direction open. Alas, it led to the brink of the
abyss, for the tribunal was held at the Medicine Rock.

With a savage yell, the trapper's son leaped after him. The Californian
halted on the giddy verge. During that wavering the avenger reached
him, stabbed him, removed his scalp, lashed him in the face with it, so
that the blood blinded him, and, at the dagger point, goaded him on, on!

"Without pity for that old man, expect none now!" hissed the chief.
"Over! And be the sandworm's pickings!"

The unfortunate man walked into the air, and fell with a prolonged
scream.

Bill sat down on a projecting crag, muffled, his face in his blanket,
and seemed to sob convulsively. The white men regarded the mute
figure with awe and surprise. Taking advantage of this emotion, a
dozen Blackfeet rushed upon Corvino at a sign from Red Knife, and
overpowering him, despite a fierce resistance, bore him away to an
unspeakable fate.



EPILOGUE.--Sir Ranald and Ulla Maclan returned to the old country to
wed. But the memory of their American adventures does not fade, and
cannot perish and the parting words of the old hunter haunt them.

"The men with the felling axes and the railroad spike drivers are
tracking me up but I have not turned cold round the heart yet. I'll
name a big, bold mountain peak after you, sir, and a pure and pretty
lake after you, lady, and send you the newspaper with particulars. I've
nicked my rifle to that effect."

Leon, or Lewis, and his sister accompanied their father and Don
Gregorio to the latter's farms in Lower California, and dwell happily
there.


THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Red River Half-Breed - A Tale of the Wild North-West" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home