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Title: Red Cloud, The Solitary Sioux - A Story of the Great Plains
Author: Butler, William Francis, Sir
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                              RED CLOUD,
                         _THE SOLITARY SIOUX_.

                     A Story of the Great Prairie.


                                  BY
                      LIEUT.-COLONEL BUTLER, C.B.

        AUTHOR OF “THE GREAT LONE LAND,” “THE WILD NORTH LAND,”
                              ETC., ETC.


                             “Like a wind, that shrills
            All night in a waste land, where no one comes,

                                                  _Tennyson._


                                BOSTON:
                           ROBERTS BROTHERS.
                                 1882.



CONTENTS.


                                                                 PAGE

CHAPTER I.

  Our home in Glencar――A glimpse at the outside world――My
    parents――My schoolmasters――Donogh――Cooma-sa-harn――The
    eagle’s nest――“The eagle is coming back to the
    nest”――Alone in the world――I start for the Great
    Prairie――Good-bye to Glencar                                    1


CHAPTER II.

  Sunset in the wilds――Our first camp――Outlooks――The solitary
    Sioux――Losses――The Sioux again――A new departure――The
    _cache_ at the Souri――The story of Red Cloud――The red
    man’s offer                                                    28


CHAPTER III.

  To the West――Wapiti in sight――A stalk――A grand run――The
    sand-hills in sight――The finish――A noble beast――A gorgeous
    sunset――A vast landscape――The Hills of Life and Death          52


CHAPTER IV.

  We reach the hills of the Wolverine――Something moves far out
    upon the plains――The wounded Cree――His story――Adventure
    with a grizzly bear――Left alone――A long crawl for
    life――Hunger, thirst, and travail――A grizzly again――“The
    Great Spirit, like an eagle, looks down upon the
    prairie”――Saved――Watched                                       67


CHAPTER V.

  An Assineboine camp――The trader McDermott――The chief
    “Wolverine”――Fire-water and finesse――The Assineboine
    war-party――A chance of a Cree scalp――The trader hears a
    well-known name――A big bid for murder, two hundred skins!      82


CHAPTER VI.

  The Sioux forecasts our course――On the watch――Directions――We
    separate――Red Cloud is seen far out on the plains――Rival
    tactics――Scent _versus_ sight――A captured scout――The edge
    of the hills again――The signal fire                            97


CHAPTER VII.

  The watched one halts――A light to the north-east――The
    Stonies find their mistake――Distant thunder――A light in
    the dark――The fire wind――_Sauve qui peut_――How the fire
    was lighted――We ride across the fire field――Enemies in
    sight――A dilemma――Between friend and foe――The scout throws
    in his lot with us――We ride to the rescue                     111


CHAPTER VIII.

  The fight――The Sioux and the swamp――The trader’s triumph――Red
    Cloud fights on foot――The trader finds he has other foes
    to reckon with――The Assineboine draws a straight arrow――The
    trader’s flight――Our losses and gains――Winter supplies――Our
    party is completed――“All’s well that ends well.”              129


CHAPTER IX.

  We again go West――Hiding the trail――Red and white for once
    in harmony――Peace and plenty――An autumn holiday――We
    select a winter’s camp――The Forks――Hut-building――Our food
    supply――The autumn hunt――The Great Prairie――Home
    thoughts――Indian instincts――The Lake of the
    Winds――Buffalo――Good meat――A long stalk――The monarch of
    the waste――A stampede――Wolves――The red man’s tobacco          144


CHAPTER X.

  Winter――Wolves――A night’s trapping――A retreat――In the teeth
    of the north wind――The carcajou――A miss and a hit――News
    of Indians――Danger ahead――A friendly storm――The hut again     177


CHAPTER XI.

  Winter comfort――Snowshoe-making――Snow and storm――The
    moose woods――A night camp――Memories――A midnight
    visitor――Maskeypeton the Iroquois――Danger――A moose
    hunt――Indian stalking――The red man’s happy
    hunting-grounds――Plans――Raft-building                         191


CHAPTER XII.

  The winter draws to an end――A keen look-out――Signs――The
    break-up of the rivers――An ice block――The evening
    approaches――A noiseless arrow――The ice still fast――The
    ice-floes――The war-cry of assault――A parley――We embark
    on the rafts――The hut in flames――On shore
    again――Freedom――Winter gone                                   212


CHAPTER XIII.

  Horses wanted――New plans――We start south――The Prairie
    in Spring――No buffalo in sight――Starvation――A last
    resort――Buffalo at last――We fall in with Blood
    Indians――The camp――Tashota――A trade――Rumours of war――We
    depart from the Blood camp                                    228


CHAPTER XIV.

  On the trail――A pursuit――The mark is overshot――A night
    march――Morning――The curtain rises――We are
    prisoners――Blackfeet――Penoquam――The Far-Off Dawn――His
    history――His medicine robe――Interrogations――New
    arrivals――The trader again                                    247


CHAPTER XV.

  The council of the nation――The wager of battle――Signs of
    friendship――A private interview――A fair field and no
    favour――The trader on the scene――I leave the camp――I
    camp alone――The rock on the hill――The skulking
    figure――Preparations for the start――The race for
    life――The snake in the grass――A desperate strait――The
    odds are made even――Hand to hand――A last chance――Out
    of range                                                      260


CHAPTER XVI.

  Revulsion――Home again――New plans――We depart for the
    mountains――The Hand hills――The great range――Home
    memories――A murderous volley――Donogh sees “the land
    beyond the grave”――Vain regrets――We enter the
    mountains――The island――A lonely grave――The Indian’s
    home                                                          279


CHAPTER XVII.

  Signs of trouble――Reconnoitring――Precautions――We retire
    into the island――Daylight――The enemy shows himself――A
    search――He prepares to attack the island――A midnight
    storm――The raft――“Aim low, and fire fast”――In the whirl
    of waters――On the lip of the fall――The end of crime           297


CHAPTER XVIII.

  The beginning of the end――Deeper into the mountains――The
    western slope――On the edge of the snow――The golden
    valley――It is all mine――Night thoughts――Last words――I
    see him no more                                               315



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


[Illustration: decoration]

                                                                 PAGE

  Sergeant MacMahon                                                 7

  The rope was again within my grasp                               21

  The solitary Sioux                                               33

  At last the Sioux raised his head and spoke                      44

  The Sioux was now almost at the flank of the wapiti              63

  His eyes all at once became fixed upon one object set within
    the mid-distance                                               68

  A brisk trade is being carried on                                83

  Watching an opportunity, the trader addressed the leader of
    the band                                                       94

  Both dog and man were rolling together upon the ground          104

  Firing the prairie grass                                        120

  The white man was the trader McDermott                          125

  McDermott pulled up his horse                                   135

  It was a curious group this, that now held its course into
    the western wilds                                             148

  We both sprang to our feet, and ran with all speed towards
    the animals                                                   168

  Day after day the Sioux, with myself, or the scout, or
    Donogh, set out on a hunt for venison                         192

  Making snowshoes                                                193

  Strange footprints                                              214

  Ten minutes later we rode slowly from the camp                  246

  The tall and majestic figure of the Far-Off Dawn rose in
    the centre                                                    261

  I struck the iron butt heavily down upon the trader’s head      277

  One brawny savage had reached the spot where Donogh was
    lying                                                         288

  “Aim low, and fire fast”                                        309

  “Forbear,” I cried, striking up the levelled barrel             313

  “Look!” said Red Cloud, “there is the yellow dust for which
    the white man fights, and robs, and kills”                    320



 RED CLOUD,
 _THE SOLITARY SIOUX_.


[Illustration: decoration]


CHAPTER I.

 Our home in Glencar――A glimpse at the outside world――My parents――My
 schoolmasters――Donogh――Cooma-sa-harn――The eagle’s nest――“The eagle is
 coming back to the nest”――Alone in the world――I start for the Great
 Prairie――Good-bye to Glencar.


Far back as I can remember anything I can remember our cottage in
Glencar. It was a small thatched house, with plenty of June roses
and white jessamine trailing over two sides of it, through wooden
trellis-work. The ground rose steeply behind the house, until the trees
that covered it gave place to scattered clumps of holly bushes, which
finally merged into open mountain, heather-covered, and sprinkled here
and there with dwarf furze bushes. In front of the cottage the little
lawn sloped downwards to a stream, the bed of which was strewn with
great boulders of rock, which were bare and dry in summer, but in
winter scarcely showed over the surface. Between the big rocks there
were pools and shallows, in which trout rose briskly at the midges in
the early summer evenings. Whenever I think of that cottage home now,
it seems to me to be always sunshine there. There must have been dark
days, and wet ones, too, but I can’t call them to mind. There was a
large flat rock in the middle of the lawn half way down to the stream;
one end of this rock was imbedded in the earth, the other leant out
from the ground, giving shelter underneath. The only dark thing I can
remember about the whole place was that hollow under the big stone.
I used to sit in there on the very hot days, looking out across the
stream upon the one road that led from the outer world into Glencar.
When the weather was not too warm I lay on the top of the rock, looking
at the same view. The road came into the glen over a hill that was
four miles distant from our cottage; you could see the white streak
crossing the crest of ridge, flanked on each side by the dark heather
mountain. You caught sight of the road again as it came down the
hillside, and here and there at turns, as it wound along the valley to
the old five-arched bridge over the Carragh river, and then disappeared
around the hill on which our cottage stood. When in the summer days I
used to lie on the rock, or beneath its shadows, I was always thinking
of the country that lay beyond the boundary ridge, the land to which
the white road led when it dipped down behind the hill: that was the
outside world to me, the glen was the inside one. As I grew older I
came to know more of the outside world; I was able to climb higher
up the steep hill behind the house, to get beyond the holly bushes
out into the heather, and at last one day I reached the mountain-top
itself. That was a great event in my life. It took me a long while to
get up; the last bit was very steep; I had to sit down often amid the
rocks and heather for want of breath. At last I gained the summit, and
sank down quite exhausted on an old weather-beaten flat rock; I was
just ten years old that day. Thirty years have gone by since then.
I have climbed many a lofty mountain, lain down for weeks alone in
forests and on prairies, but never have I felt so proudly conscious of
success as I did that day. It was my first view of the outside world.
How vast it seemed to me. The glen, my world, lay below, winding away
amid the hills. All the streams, all the lakes, were unfolded to my
sight, and out beyond the boundary ridge was the great open country.
That was on one side――the glen side; but as I turned round to look
beyond the mountain I had come up, I saw a sight that filled me with
utter astonishment. Below me on that side there lay another glen,
smaller than ours; then the hill rose again, but not to the height of
the ridge on which I stood; and then, beyond the hill, there spread a
great, vast waste of blue water――out――out, until I could see no more,
where the sky came down upon it――the end of the world. It was the sea!

It was getting dark when I reached home that day. I went straight to my
mother. “Mother,” I said, “I have been to the top of Coolrue, and have
seen the end of the world.” I was fearfully tired; I had fallen over
rocks coming down, and was bruised and torn; but what did it matter?

From that day forth the glen seemed a small place to me, and my mind
was ever at work shaping plans for the future. About this time I began
to read well. There were many old books in our cottage――books of travel
and adventure, books of history, and one large old atlas that had maps
of every country in the world in it, and in the corner of each map
there was a picture of the people of the land, or of some wonderful
mountain, or waterfall in it.

I read all these books in the long winter evenings; and many a time I
sat poring over the maps, moving my finger up a long waving line of
river, and travelling in fancy from island to island in the ocean.

And now I must say something about the inmates of our home. They
were few. There was my mother, one old servant woman, and an old man
who kept the garden tilled, drove in the cow at nightfall, and took
care of everything. In truth there wasn’t much to be taken care of.
We were very poor, and we were all the poorer because we had once
been rich――at least my mother had been. My father had died before I
could remember him. His picture hung over the fireplace in our little
parlour; and I can almost say that I do remember him, because the
picture is confused in my mind with the reality, and I have a dim
recollection of a man, tall, pale, and dark haired; but I can’t add to
it voice or action; it is only a vague kind of shadow. I was four years
old when he died.

When I was seven years old my mother began to tell me about him. She
used to sit often in the winter evenings looking at his picture; and as
I sat at her feet, and she spoke of the old times, and how brave and
honourable he was, I remember her voice used to tremble, and sometimes
she would stop altogether.

As I grew older I learned more about him. I heard how we had first come
to Glencar. It had been a favourite spot with my father in his early
days, and whenever he could get leave of absence he used to come to
it, for the lakes held plenty of trout, and the mountains had snipe,
woodcock, and grouse upon them. After my father’s marriage he had built
the cottage. My mother was as fond of the glen as he was, and they
used to come here for two or three months every year. When they had
been three years married my father’s regiment was ordered to India. My
mother went too. I was only two years old at the time. When we reached
India the regiment was ordered up country, for war had broken out. At
the battle of Moodkee my father was severely wounded. After a while he
was able to be moved down to the coast, where my mother had remained
when the regiment went on service. From the coast he was invalided to
England. The voyage home was a long one. We arrived in England in the
end of summer.

The autumn and winter came. The cold told severely upon my father’s
weakened state, and when spring arrived it was evident he had but
a short time to live. He wished to see Glencar again. With much
difficulty he was brought to the cottage, to die.

In the upper end of the glen there was a wild secluded lake called
Lough Cluen. A solitary island stood under the shadow of a tall
mountain wall which overhangs the lake on one side. The island is
little more than a rock, with yew-trees and ivy growing over it. A
ruined church, half hidden in the trees, stood on this rock. It was my
father’s grave. He had wished to be buried in this lonely island, and
his wish was carried out.

The little cottage, a few acres of land, the rugged mountain and the
stream――now formed, with my mother’s scanty pension, all our worldly
possessions. Here, then, we took up our residence, and here I grew up,
as I have already described――the glen my world; the mountain, lake, and
stream my daily playground.

About a mile from our cottage there lived an old pensioner, who, forty
years earlier, had followed Wellington from the Tagus to Toulouse. He
had served his full term of twenty-one years, and being at the time of
his discharge a staff-sergeant, his pension was sufficient to secure
him a comfortable home for the rest of his days. He had a few acres of
land around his cottage. He was the best angler in the glen. He was my
earliest friend and guide with rod and gun on river, lake, and mountain
side.

Sergeant MacMahon, formerly of her Majesty’s 40th Regiment, was, when
I knew him, a man who had passed his sixtieth year. Yet time, despite
a score years of fighting and exposure, had dealt lightly with the old
soldier, who still stood as straight as the ramrod he had so often
driven home upon the bullet of his firelock. From him I got my first
lessons in other things besides fishing and shooting. He taught me the
“extension motions,” the “balance step without gaining ground,” the
manual and platoon exercises, and the sword exercise. He also showed me
the method of attack and defence with the bayonet.

[Illustration: Sergeant MacMahon.]

He had the battles of the Peninsula by heart, and day after day did
he pour forth his descriptions of how Busaco was won, and how Fuentes
d’Onore had been decided, and how Lord Wellington had outmarched
“Sowlt,” as he used to call him, at Pampeluna, or had out-manœuvred
Marmont at Torres Vedras. His personal adventures were told in another
style. He had stories of bivouac――“bivoocing” he used to call it――of
nights on outlying picquet, of escapes when patrolling, and of
incidents in action, that he loved to recount to me as we sat by the
river side waiting for a cloud to cross the sun before we tried a cast
of flies over some favourite stream.

Once every quarter he set off in his mule-cart for Killarney to draw
his pension. On these occasions I used to notice that his voice on
his return sounded a little thick, and his face generally appeared
flushed. But the next day all would be the same as usual. At the time
I fancied that the exertion of the journey had been too much for him,
or that the excitement of meeting some old comrades (there were three
other Peninsula heroes in the town) had overcome him. He had been a
great ally of my poor father’s in earlier days, and to my mother he
was equally attached. With all his stories of wars and fighting his
heart was true and gentle. He was fond of all animals, knew the notes
of every bird, and could tell the names of the trees in the wood, or
the wild flowers by the river side. He was my outdoor schoolmaster. I
learned from him many a pleasant lesson, and many a useful one too.

But I had another schoolmaster at this time. A mile down the glen from
our cottage stood the priest’s house, next to our own cabin-cottage
the most comfortable residence in Glencar. In summer the old man was
usually to be found in his garden, in winter in his little parlour,
always buried in some old volume from his well-stored shelves.

His had been a curious career. His early student days had been passed
in an old French city. In middle age he had been a missionary in the
East, and at last he had taken charge of the wild district of Glencar,
and settled down to the simple life of parish priest. Here he lived in
the memory of his past life. Nearly half a century had gone since last
his eyes had rested on the vine-clad slopes of the Loire, but it was
ever an easy task to him to fling back his thoughts across that gulf
of time, and to recall the great names that had risen in the sunrise
of the century, and flashed such a glory over Europe that the lustre
of succeeding time has shone faint and dim in contrast. He had seen
the great emperor review his guards in the courtyard of the Tuileries,
and had looked upon a group of horsemen that had in it Murat, Ney,
Soult, Lannes, and Massena. How he used to revel in such memories! and
what point such experience lent to the theme! He never tired talking
of the great campaigns of the Consulate and Empire. I followed him in
these reminiscences with rapt eagerness; the intensity of my interest
gave increased ardour to his narrative, and many a winter’s night sped
rapidly while the old man, seated before his turf fire, rambled on
from battle-field to battle-field, now describing to me the wonderful
strategy of some early campaign in Italy, now carrying my mind into
the snows of Russia, and again taking me back into the plains of
France, to that last and most brilliant effort of warlike genius, the
campaign of 1814.

At such times, the storm among the mountains would sometimes lend its
roar in fitting accompaniment to the old man’s story, and then the
scene would change to my mind’s eye as I listened. The little parlour
would fade away, the firelight became a bivouac, and I saw in the
grim outside darkness of the glen figures dimly moving; the squadrons
charged; the cannon rumbled by; and the pine-tops swaying in the storm,
were the bearskin caps of the old Guard, looming above smoke and fire!

Such were my schoolmasters; such the lessons they taught me.

The years passed quickly away. Notwithstanding my strong love of
outdoor life, I devoted a good many hours every day to reading and
study, and by the time I was fifteen years of age I had contrived to
master a curious amount of general knowledge, particularly of history
and geography, such as does not usually fall to the lot of boys of that
age. I had a slight knowledge of Latin, was tolerably well acquainted
with French, knew the habits, customs, and limits on every nation and
tribe under the sun, and could travel the globe in fancy with few
errors of time, distance, and position.

One companion I had in all these years who has not yet been
mentioned――poor Donogh Driscoll, a wild and ragged boy, two years my
junior.

In every adventure, in every expedition among the hills, Donogh was my
attendant. He it was who used to wade into the reeds of Meelagh river
to catch gudgeon for the baits for my night-lines in the Carragh; he
carried my bag, later on, when my shooting time came; he marked with
clear eye the long flight of the grouse pack down the steep slope of
Coolrue; he brought me tidings of wild duck feeding on the pools and
ponds amid the hills; he knew the coming of the wild geese to the
lonely waste that lay beyond Lough Acoose; he would watch the pools in
the Carragh river, and knew to a foot where the salmon lay. Faithful
companion through all my boyish sports and pastimes, he shared too with
me my dreams of enterprise, my hopes of adventure in the big outside
world. Often as we sat on some rock high up on the heather-covered side
of Seefin, looking out over the vast waste of ocean, he would wonder
what it was like over there “beyant the beyant.”

“You wont lave me here alone by myself, when you go away, sir?” he used
to say to me. “It’s lonely I’d be thin entirely.”

“You’d have the fishing and shooting, Donogh,” I would reply. “You’d
have the hares and the salmon all to yourself when I was gone.”

“What good would they be to me, ave you wasn’t here with them?” he’d
answer. “Sure the duck in November above in Cluen, and the salmon in
’Coose in April, and the grouse here on Seefin in August, would only
remimber me of the ould days when we hunted thim together.”

I used at such times to promise him that whenever I did set out on my
travels I would take him with me; and indeed, in all my plans for the
future his companionship was always reckoned upon.

At the upper end of the glen, a narrow pass, or gap between two
mountains, led out upon a wild and lonely lake, around the sides
of which the mountains rose in a gloomy precipice of rock for many
hundreds of feet.

Cooma-sa-harn, the name of the tarn that lay thus encompassed by
cliffs, was a place that in my earliest wanderings filled me with
feelings of awe and wonder. Strange echoes haunted it. Stones loosened
from the impending cliffs rolled down into the lake with reverberating
thunder, and their sullen splash into the dark water was heard repeated
for many seconds around the encircling walls. On one side only was the
margin of the lake approachable on level ground. Here loose stones and
shingle, strewn together, formed a little beach, upon which the sullen
waters broke in mimic waves; and here, too, the outflow of the lake
escaped to descend the mountain side, and finally add its tribute to
the many feeders of the Carragh river.

I was about twelve years of age when I first extended my wanderings
to this lonely spot. Later on, Donogh and I made frequent expeditions
to it. Its waters held no fish, and its shores rose too steep and
high for game. But for all these deficiencies, Cooma-sa-harn held one
wonder that sufficed to atone for every other shortcoming, and to
make it a place of unceasing interest to us. It had an eagle’s nest.
There, 600 feet over the lake, in a smooth piece of solid rock, was
a shelf or crevice, and in that hollow a golden eagle had built his
nest year after year. From the little beach already mentioned we could
see the birds at their work. From the top of the encircling cliffs we
could look down and across at them too; but the distance in either
case was great, and do what we would to obtain a closer view, we were
always baffled by the precipitous nature of the mountain. We tried the
mountain immediately above the nest, but could see nothing whatever
of the smooth rock. We worked our way along the edge of the water,
by the foot of the precipice, but were again baffled in the attempt.
Projecting rocks hid the whole side of the cliff. We were fairly
puzzled.

Many an hour we spent looking up from the shore at the coveted shelf,
which it seemed we were never likely to learn more about. The eagles
seemed to know our thoughts, for they frequently soared and screamed
high above our heads, as though they rejoiced in our discomfiture. It
was not alone in the spring and summer that we were reminded of our
enemies thus perched on their inaccessible fortress. In the last hour
of daylight of winter evenings a solitary speck over the valley would
often be seen sailing downwards through space. It was the golden eagle
going home to his ledge at Cooma-sa-harn.

It would be idle to deny that we both felt keenly our inability to get
to this eagle’s nest. During four years we had looked across the dark
waters, had watched the old birds flying in and out, had seen the young
ones sitting on the ledge, and had listened to their screams as their
mother came down to them with a prey from the surrounding hills. There
was in our cottage an old telescope that had belonged to my father in
his early days. This I brought out one day, and looking through it,
with elbows resting upon knees, and glass directed upon the shelf of
rock, I could discern plainly enough the inmates of the rough nest;
but all this only made more tantalizing our helplessness to scale
the rock, or to descend from above to the projecting ledge. The day
on which I brought out the telescope to make a closer survey of the
spot, was bright with sunshine. As the hours grew later the sun moving
towards the west, cast its light full upon the face of the nest, which
had before been in shadow. The inequalities of the surface, and the
formation of the cliffs around the large flat rock, became much more
apparent than they had ever been before to me. Among other things, I
observed that the ledge in which the nest was made was continued in a
shallowed state along the face of the cliff until it touched the end
at one side. I noticed also that on the top of the smooth-faced rock
there was a ridge, or kind of natural parapet, and that this ridge was
connected with a deep perpendicular cleft, or chimney, which opened at
top upon the accessible part of the mountain. Scanning with the utmost
attentiveness all these places, I began to see what I thought might
prove a practicable line of approach to the much-desired nest. That it
was possible to reach the top of the smooth-faced rock by means of the
chimney shaft appeared tolerably clear, but this top ridge or parapet
already mentioned, was fully forty feet above the ledge on which the
nest stood.

By the time I had fully investigated all these details, so far as they
could be examined by means of the telescope, the face of the cliff had
become again involved in shadow, and it was time to turn our faces
homewards for the evening; but enough had been discovered to give us
food for conversation that night, and to raise high hopes that our
efforts to reach the nest might yet prove successful.

We started early next morning for the top of the mountain ridge which
looked down upon Cooma-sa-harn. On the previous evening I had taken the
precaution of fixing the position of the top of the chimney, by getting
it in line with two large boulders――one on the beach by the lake, the
other some distance back from the shore. Arrived at the upper edge of
the encircling basin I had no difficulty in bringing the two boulders,
now at the further side from us, in line with each other, and then at
the edge of the rocky rim we found a break in the rock, as though water
in time of heavy rain had flowed down through it to the lake.

We entered this break, and descending cautiously soon found ourselves
on the top of the flat rock. Below us lay the black pool of
Cooma-sa-harn; on each side the flat parapet ended in steep mountain
side; above us was the mountain top, accessible only by the hollow
shaft through which we had descended. So far all had gone as the survey
through the telescope had led us to hope――we had reached the top of
the smoothed-faced rock; but the nest lay thirty or forty feet below
us, still, apparently beyond our reach. We sat down on the top of the
rock, reluctant to quit a spot so near to the long-coveted prize. The
rock on which we rested was flanked on one side by a broken slant of
mountain, down which a descent seemed possible if there was anything at
hand to hold fast by; it was, however, bare of vegetation. It occurred
to me now that a descent could be made down this slant by means of a
rope, held by a second person standing on the ridge where we stood. The
ledge which held the nest was situated so perpendicularly underneath
as to be hidden altogether from our standpoint; but if my survey
through the telescope had been correct, a person descending the slant
should be able to reach that end of the ledge which I had seen in the
sunlight extending on one side to the extremity of the rock. All that
was required to put this theory to the test of practice was a strong
rope some fifty feet long, which, held by one at the top, would act as
a support to one of us while going down the slanting rock, and would
afterwards afford help for a side movement along the narrow ledge to
the nest itself. As I sat thinking out this plan one of the birds came
soaring on moveless pinion from the mountain downwards towards the
nest. He saw us long before he reached the ledge, and his loud and
angry screams rang around the steep rock-walls, making strange echoes
over the gloomy water.

We went home that evening full of the thought that we had at last
discovered a means of getting to the eagle’s nest. It would take a
few days to obtain a rope of the length and strength necessary for
the undertaking, and then a final effort would be made to solve the
long-considered problem. It took me some days to procure the rope. I
had consulted Sergeant MacMahon vaguely on the subject, but finding
that he was opposed to it as being too dangerous, I had fallen back
upon my own resources and those of Donogh. At length all preparations
were completed; we had tested the rope by fastening one end of it to
the fork of a tree and swinging out on the other end; we had also
got an iron stake to fix in a crevice of the rock by which to attach
the rope; with these and a few other necessary articles we set out
early one morning for Cooma-sa-harn. We struck across the shoulders of
Meelagh mountain, dipped into Glentahassig, and breasting up the steep
side of Seefin came out on the edge of the cliff which looked down upon
the dark lake. Descending the chimney, we were soon in our old position
on the parapet rim of the large flat rock. We now set to work to fix
the iron stake firmly between two detached rocks; we fastened the rope
securely to the stake, letting the loose end fall down the mountain
by the edge of the perpendicular cliff. Now came the anxious moment;
holding on by the rope, I began to descend the steep slanting face of
the mountain. During the first twelve feet of the descent the work was
easy enough. I was in sight of Donogh, whom I had directed to remain at
the stake to see that all was right there. After a bit the hill side
became steeper, a piece of smooth rock occurred, and then there was a
drop of about six feet, that hid Donogh from my view. When I had passed
this drop the slant became again easier, and without much difficulty
I gained the end of the ledge or groove upon which, but still distant
from me, stood the nest. The real difficulty of the undertaking was now
before me. I had to move along the ledge, a narrow shelf on the face
of a perpendicular rock many hundred feet above the lake. It was now
Donogh’s work to unfasten the rope from the iron stake, and to move
along the top, keeping pace with my progress on the ledge beneath.
Everything depended upon his steadiness; but I had full faith in his
strength and skill. Up to this time all had been perfectly quiet at the
nest; there was no sign of the old bird, nor could we hear the young
ones screaming. I began very cautiously to move along the narrow ledge;
step by step I went along. As I proceeded forward the ledge became
wider, and I found sufficient room for both my feet to stand together
upon it. I could not yet see the nest, as the rock curved out towards
its centre cutting off the view beyond. Arrived at the bend of the
rock, I leant round the projection and peered anxiously forward. There,
on the bare shelf of the ledge, lay the eagle’s nest; two young eaglets
sat dozing on the rock; around lay fragments of bones, tufts of fur
torn from rabbits, feathers, and the dry stems of heather.

Another step and I was round the bend and at the nest. At this spot the
shelf deepened considerably into the rock, leaving space sufficient
to give standing-room without need of assistance. Intent only upon
securing the young birds, I let go my hold of the rope, and seized the
nearest eaglet before he was fully awake; the second one, hearing his
companion scream, retreated further into the hole. Then it was that,
looking outward, I saw the rope hanging, dangling loosely in mid-air.
It was beyond my reach. For a moment the fearful position in which I
so suddenly found myself caused me to sink upon the shelf. All the
reality of my situation rushed full upon my mind. The rope hung fully
five or six feet out over the abyss, for the rock above the ledge was
formed like the roof of a cavern, projecting outward between me and
Donogh’s standpoint, and when I had let go my hold of the line it had
swung out to its level fall. That I could get back over the space I had
come, and ascend again to the parapet where Donogh stood, I knew to be
impossible. To reach the line from the nest seemed quite hopeless. In
Donogh lay my sole chance of relief. If by any means he could convey
the rope to me, all would be well. If not, there seemed nothing save
the awful alternative of death by starvation or the precipice before
me. I shouted to Donogh what had happened. I told him that I could
not reach the rope by fully three feet――that my sole chance of escape
lay in his being able to follow my line of descent and bring the rope
to me, leaving it fixed at the other end, in some part of the parapet
above which would allow the line to pass from the nest to the end of
the ledge.

The minutes now passed in terrible suspense. Donogh shouted to me that
he was looking for a secure place to fasten the upper end of the rope
to. I remained seated in the hollow, scarcely daring to think what
the next few minutes might bring forth. Suddenly Donogh shouted to
me, “The eagle is coming back to the nest.” The news roused me from
my stupor――the eagle was coming back! I crouched into the inmost
recesses of the hollow. I still held one of the young birds in the bag
round my waist, the other bird kept on the ledge at the further side
from that by which I had approached. I had not much fear as to what the
bird could do; I had a knife in my belt, and while an arm was free I
knew I was more than a match for any bird. From the spot where I sat I
could see out over the lake into the blue and golden sunshine.

All at once a large dark object crossed the line of light――soon
recrossing it again as another wheel brought the huge bird nearer to
its nest. Loud screams were now audible as the eagle became aware of
something being wrong in the nest. Then there was the fierce beating
of wings close outside the aperture, and the bird was perched on the
edge of the rock, fiercely defiant, and making the echoes wild with her
tumult. But amid all these surroundings I was only conscious of one
fact. The eagle had struck the rope as it hung down in front of the
opening; it had caught in the large outstretched pinion, and it was
again within my reach, passing under the flapping wing of the bird as
she stood clasping the rock ledge in her talons. There was not a moment
to be lost; I thrust the young eagle at full arm’s length towards the
mother; she fluttered forward as I did so――the rope was again within my
grasp. In an instant the eagle had relaxed her hold upon the rock, and
clutching her young in her talons she went soaring downward to a lower
ledge amid the cliffs. I thought I could never get away fast enough
now. A complete change had come over my mind. I had learnt a lesson
never to be forgotten; and my life, forfeited in a vain and foolhardy
attempt to gain the eagle’s nest at Cooma-sa-harn, was given back to me
by the wild bird whose young I had come to rob from her. I now called
out to Donogh that all was again right, and that he was to reverse his
former practice to enable me to rejoin him. I passed safely back along
the ledge, reascended the slant, and gained once more the parapet.

[Illustration: The rope was again within my grasp.]

“Come, Donogh,” I said when I was again with my companion, “let us
leave this spot. Whatever happens, we will never again rob the nest or
kill the young of birds or beasts. There is sport enough in the world
for us without that.”

On the edge of the mountain side we paused for a moment to look down
upon Cooma-sa-harn, and the scene that lay beyond it. One eagle
was screaming loudly from the nest, the other was sweeping down on
outspread pinion from the purple wastes of Seefin.

I have dwelt long upon this episode in my early career, not so much
from its importance, but because it did more to bring home to my mind
certain truths that are often realized later on in life than anything
that had happened to me up to my sixteenth year. I had soon to learn
another, and a more bitter lesson.

The summer passed away; autumn came; the smell of dying leaves was in
the woods of Carragh, the wind sighed amid the sedgy grass of Lough
Cluen, the pine-trees by the priest’s house moaned in the breeze.
Things looked sad in the glen, but they wore even a sadder aspect in
our little cottage. My mother was leaving me for ever.

One evening in October I was sitting with her in our little parlour;
the flush was bright upon her cheek, her wasted hand was resting upon
mine; she spoke to me in a low voice.

“You will soon be alone in the world,” she said. “My life has only a
little while to run. It is better that I should go. I could have been
of little use to you in life, and I might have held you back in the
world. In any case we must have parted soon, for your days could not
have been spent here in this distant glen. The mountains and the lakes
have been good friends to you, but it is time for you to leave them,
and go forth to take your place in the work of the world. I should
have wished you in your father’s profession, but that could not be;
we are too poor for that. Of one thing I am satisfied, no matter what
the future may have in store for you, I feel you will be true to your
father’s name and to my memory. When I am gone you will have the world
all before you to choose from. Bear well your part in life whatever it
may be. Never be ashamed of your God, or of your country. And when the
day is over and you kneel down in prayer, do not forget the two graves
that lie far away in the little island of Lough Cluen.”

About a week after this she passed quietly away, her hand clasped in
mine, pressure still speaking her affection long after the power of
utterance had ceased.

When all was over I left the chamber of death, and moved out
mechanically into the open air. Night had fallen; the moon was high
over the glen. I walked onward, scarcely knowing whither I was going. I
saw all things around as though in a dream. I passed through the wood
behind the cottage; the moonlight shone bright upon the silver stems of
the birch-trees; streaks of vapour lay in the hollows where the trees
ended. I saw all these things, and yet my brain seemed unable to move.

I turned back from the end of the wood, passed the garden gate, and
entered the little plot of ground in which my mother had been wont to
tend flowers. It was now wild and desolate; grass grew on the walks;
weeds and dead leaves lay around; only a few chrysanthemums were still
in blossom――she had planted them in the past summer, and now their
short life had lasted longer than her own――their pale flowers in the
moonlight gave forth a sweet fragrance on the night air.

Death had chilled my heart; my eyes had been dry; my brain seemed to
have stopped its working; but here the scent of the flowers she had
planted seemed all at once to touch some secret sympathy, and bursting
into a flood of grief I bowed my head to the cold damp earth, and
prayed long and earnestly to God.

A footstep on the walk roused me. The old priest had sought me out.
“Weep not, my poor boy,” he said, as he took my arm in his own and led
me to the cottage. “You pray for your mother on earth. She is praying
for you in heaven.”

       *       *       *       *       *

My boyhood was over. I was alone in the world. The winter deepened
and passed, the spring dawned, and with its returning freshness and
sense of life my old dreams of distant travel came again upon me. I
determined to seek my fortune abroad, to go forth into the waste wilds
of the earth. Glencar had but trained my mind and body to further
flights. I must go forth to the struggle. It did not take long to
arrange matters for this great change. My worldly possessions were
easily realized; the cottage and little farm soon found a purchaser;
the few mementoes of my father’s life, the keepsakes which my mother
had left me, were put carefully away in charge of the old priest; and
I found myself the possessor of a few hundred pounds in money, a gun,
my father’s sword, a small case containing miniature portraits of my
parents――with which to face the new life that lay before me. What was
that life?

It was to be a life of wandering in the great wilderness of Western
America. I had formed from books a pretty accurate idea of the great
divisions of the Northern Continent of America which yet remained in
the domain of untamed nature. I knew that far beyond the last settler’s
hut there lay a vast region of meadow, which finally gave place to a
still vaster realm of forest, which in time yielded dominion to a wild
waste of rock and water, until the verge of the Polar Sea. I knew too
that these great divisions held roving and scattered tribes of Indians,
sometimes at war with each other, always engaged in the pursuit of the
wild beasts and birds whose homes were in those untamed wastes. More I
did not need to know. I had trust, firm trust, in this great Nature,
her lonely hill-tops, her wild lakes. The sigh of winds across November
moors had had for me no sense of dreariness, no kinship with sorrow.
Why should I dread to meet this world, whose aspects I loved so well,
in the still wilder and grander scenes of an empire where civilized man
was a total stranger?

Nor was I to be altogether alone in my travels. Donogh was to continue
in his old sphere of companion and attendant. Together we had roamed
the hill sides of Glencar; together we would tread the vast prairies,
pine forests, and mountains of the American wilderness.

The day of our departure came.

It was a bright morning in early summer. We put our small baggage on
Sergeant MacMahon’s mule-cart, said good-bye to all our friends, and
set out upon our road. The old sergeant insisted upon accompanying me
as far as Killarney, from which place the train would take us to Cork,
where the steamer for New York called. As we approached the priest’s
house, the old man stood at his gate waiting for us. His voice trembled
as he said good-bye, and gave us his blessing. “God is everywhere, my
boy,” he said, as he wrung my hand. “Remember Him, and He will not
forget you.”

At the crest of the hill where the road left the valley, we stopped a
moment to take a last look at the old glen. It lay deep in sunshine,
every peak clear and cloudless in the summer heaven.



CHAPTER II.

 Sunset in the wilds――Our first camp――Outlooks――The solitary
 Sioux――Losses――The Sioux again――A new departure――The _cache_ at
 the Souri――The story of Red Cloud――The red man’s offer.


A year passed away.

It was summer again――summer hurrying towards autumn――and the day
drawing near the evening.

The scene had changed.

Far away into the west stretched a vast green plain. No hills rose on
either side; sky and earth met at the horizon in a line almost as level
as though land had been water. Upon one side some scattered clumps of
aspens and poplars were visible; save these nothing broke the even
surface of the immense circle to the farthest verge of vision.

I stood with Donogh in the centre of this great circle, realizing for
the first time the grandeur of space of land. We had travelled all day,
and now the evening found us far advanced upon our way into the great
plains. It was our first day’s real journey. Early on that morning we
had left behind us the last sign of civilized settlement, and now, as
evening was approaching, it was time to make our first camp in the
silent wilds. The trail which we followed towards the west approached
some of those aspen thickets already mentioned. The ground, which at a
little distance appeared to be a uniform level, was in reality broken
into gentle undulations, and as we gained the summit of a slight ascent
we saw that a small sheet of blue water lay between the thickets,
offering on its margin a good camping-place for the night.

The sun had now touched the western edge of the prairie; for a moment
the straight line of the distant horizon seemed to hold the great ball
of crimson fire poised upon its rim; then the black line was drawn
across the flaming disc; and then, as though melting into the earth,
the last fragment of fire disappeared from sight, leaving the great
plain to sink into a blue grey twilight, rapidly darkening into night.

We stood on the ridge watching this glorious going down of day until
the last spark of sun had vanished beneath the horizon; then we turned
our horses’ heads towards the lake, still shining bright in the
after-glow, and made our first camp in the wilds. It was easy work.
We unloaded the pack-horse, unsaddled the riding-horses, hobbled the
fore-legs, and turned them adrift into the sedgy grass that bordered
the lakelet. Donogh had a fire soon going from the aspen branches,
the lake gave water for the kettle, and ere darkness had wholly wrapt
the scene we were seated before the fire, whose light, circled by the
mighty solitude, grew ever brighter in the deepening gloom.

While here we sit before our first camp fire, it will be well that I
should say something about our plans and prospects for the future.

Without adventure of any kind, and with only those difficulties to
overcome that lie in all undertakings of life where real effort has
to be made, we had reached the confines of civilization; a kind of
frontier settlement, half wigwam half village, had sprung up to meet
the wants of those traders in furs and peltries who form the connecting
link between the red man of the wilds and his white brothers in
civilization. This settlement marked, as it were, the limits of the
two regions――on one side of it lay judge and jury, sheriff, policemen,
court-house, and fenced divisions; on the other, the wild justice of
revenge held empire, and the earth was all man’s heritage.

I had only delayed long enough in this frontier settlement to procure
the necessary means of travel in the wilds. I had purchased four good
ponies, two for saddle use and two to act as pack animals for our
baggage――arms we already possessed――ammunition, blankets, knives,
a couple of copper kettles, a supply of tea, sugar, salt, pepper,
flour, and matches, a few awls, and axes. These I had obtained at one
of the Indian trading stores, and, keeping all our plans as much as
possible to ourselves, we had on this very morning set our faces for
the solitude, intent upon holding on steadily into the west during
the months of summer that yet remained. By winter time I counted upon
having reached the vicinity of those great herds of buffaloes which
kept far out from the range of man, in the most remote recesses of the
wilderness, and there we would build a winter hut in some sheltered
valley, or dwell with any Indian tribe whose chief would bid us a
welcome to his lodges.

Of the country that lay before us, or of the people who roved over it,
I knew only what I had pictured from books in the old glen at home,
or from the chance acquaintances I had made during our stay in the
frontier settlement; but when one has a simple plan of life to follow,
it usually matters little whether the knowledge of a new land which
can be derived from books or men has been obtained or not; time is the
truest teacher, and we had time before us and to spare.

We ate our supper that night with but few words spoken. The scene was
too strange――the outlook too mysterious, to allow thoughts to find
spoken expression.

Had I been asked that night by Donogh to define for him the precise
objects I had in view in thus going out into the wilds, I do not
think that I could have given a tangible reason. I did not go as
a gold-seeker, or a trapper of furs, or a hunter of wild animals.
We would follow the chase, trap the wild animals of the streams or
marshes, look for gold too; but it was not to do all or any of these
things that I had left civilization behind me. This great untamed
wilderness, this home of distance and solitude, this vast unbroken
dominion of nature――where no fence crossed the surface of the earth,
where plough had never turned, where lakes lay lapped amid shores
tenanted only by the moose and the rein-deer――all this endless realm of
prairie, forest, rock, and rapid, which yet remains the grandest domain
of savage nature in the world, had had for me a charm, not the less
seductive because it could not then find expression in words, or give
explanation for its fancy. Enough that we went forth with no sinister
object in view against man or beast, tree or plain; we went not to
annex, to conquer, nor to destroy; we went to roam and rove the world,
and to pitch our camps wheresoever the evening sun might find us.

Before turning in for the night I left the light of the fire, and
wandered out into the surrounding darkness. It was a wonderful sight.
The prairie lay wrapt in darkness, but above, in the sky, countless
stars looked down upon the vast plain; far away to the south, the
red glow of a distant fire was visible; our own camp fire flamed and
flickered, shedding a circle of light around it, and lighting up the
nearer half of the lakelet and the aspen clumps on the shore. At times
there passed over the vast plain the low sound of wind among grasses――a
sound that seemed to bring to the ear a sense of immense distance and
of great loneliness. For a moment I felt oppressed by this vague
lonely waste; but I thought of the old priest’s words, and looking up
again from the dark earth to the starlit heavens, I saw all the old
stars shining that I used to know so well in the far-away glen at home.
Then I knelt down on the prairie, and prayed for help and guidance in
the life that lay before me.

Daylight had broken some time when I awoke, and rose from my blanket
bed for a survey of the morning. How vast seemed the plain! Far away
it spread on all sides; all its loneliness had vanished; it lay before
me fresh, fair, and dew-sparkled――our trail leading off over distant
ridges, until it lay like a faint thread vanishing into the western
space.

As my eye followed this western path, I noticed a mounted figure moving
along it about a mile distant, approaching our camping-place at an
easy pace. I called to Donogh to get the fire going and make ready our
breakfast, and we had barely got the kettle on the flames when the
stranger had reached our camp.

[Illustration: The solitary Sioux.]

He rode right up to the spot where we stood, alighted from his horse,
and throwing the reins loose on the animal’s neck, came forward to meet
me. I advanced towards him and held out my hand in welcome. A large
shaggy hound, half deer half wolf-dog, followed closely at his heels.
We shook hands; the stranger seated himself near the fire, and silence
reigned for a few minutes. My experience in the settlement had taught
me the few rules of Indian etiquette, and I busied myself in helping
Donogh to complete the arrangement for breakfast before questioning the
new comer upon his journey or intentions.

Our breakfast was soon ready. I handed a cup of tea and a plate of
pemmican to the Indian, and sat down myself to the same fare. When we
had eaten a little, I addressed our guest, asking him his length of
journey and its destination.

He had come many days from the west, he said in reply. His destination
was the west again, when he had visited the settlement.

Then it was my turn to tell our movements. I said exactly what they
were. I told him that we had come from a land across the sea, and that
we were going as far as the land would take us into the north-west,
that we were strangers on the prairie, but hoped soon to learn its
secrets and its people.

While the meal proceeded I had opportunity of studying the appearance,
dress, and accoutrements of our guest. They were remarkable, and quite
unlike anything I had before seen.

He was a man in the very prime of life; his dress of deer-skin had been
made with unusual neatness; the sleeves fully interwoven with locks
of long black hair, were covered with embroidered porcupine-quill
work, which was also plentifully scattered over the breast and back;
the tight-fitting leggings and sharp-pointed moccasins were also
embroidered.

He carried across his saddle-bow a double-barrelled English rifle; but
the ancient weapons of his race had not been abandoned by him, for a
quiverful of beautifully shaped Indian arrows, and a short stout bow,
along the back of which the sinews of the buffalo had been stretched
to give it strength and elasticity, showed that he was perfectly
independent, for war or the chase, of modern weapons and ammunition.

As head covering he wore nothing, save what nature had given him――long
jet-black hair, drawn back from the forehead and flowing thickly over
the shoulders. A single feather from an eagle’s tail formed its sole
ornament. The end of the feather, turned slightly back, was tied with
the mystic “totem” of chieftainship. His horse, a stout mustang of
fourteen hands high, carried the simple trappings of the plains――the
saddle of Indian workmanship, the bridle, a single rein and small
snaffle with a long larêt attached, and from the neck was suspended
the leather band by means of which the rider could lay his length
along the horse’s flank farthest from his enemy while he launched his
arrows beneath the animal’s neck, as he galloped furiously in lessening
circles around his foe.

He spoke English with an accent that showed he had been taught in
western schools; but though the language was English the manner of its
utterance was wholly Indian; it was Indian thought put into English
words, and accompanied by the slow and dignified action of Indian
gesture. He took the tobacco pouch which I offered him when our meal
was finished, filled his greenstone pipe, drew a lighted stick from the
fire, and began to smoke quietly, while his dark eye seemed to rest
upon the ashes and embers of the fire before him. But the keen sharp
eye was not idle; and one by one the articles of our little kit, and
the horses which Donogh had now driven in preparatory to saddling for
the day’s journey, had been conned over in his mind.

After smoking for some time he spoke. “Does my brother know what he
will meet on the path he is following?” he asked. I told him that I had
only a very shadowy idea of what was before us; that I intended going
on from day to day, and that when the winter season came I hoped to
build a tent, and live in it until the snow went, and I could wander
on again. I told him, too, that I was not going to seek for gold, or
to trade for furs and peltries, but only to live on the prairies――to
meet the red men, to breathe the open air of the wilderness, and roam
the world. Then I asked some more questions about his own intentions.
I asked him how it was that he was all alone on this long journey; for
I knew that the Indians were in the habit of moving in parties, and
that it was most unusual for them to be seen travelling alone. He
replied that he travelled by himself partly from choice and partly from
necessity.

“I am the last of my people,” he said, “the last of the Mandan branch
of the Sioux race. It is true that I might find companions among the
Ogahalla or Minatarree branches of my nation, but then I would have to
dwell with them and live their lives. The work I have to do can only be
done by myself; until it is finished I must follow a single trail. I
have for companion this dog, an old and oft-tried friend.”

I then asked him if he had seen much of the prairie.

He replied that he knew it all; that from the Stony Mountains to the
waters of the Lake Winnipeg, from the pine forest of the north to the
sage-bush deserts of the Platte, he had travelled all the land. Shortly
after this he rose to depart. We shook hands again; he sprang lightly
into his saddle and rode off towards the east. When he was gone we
rolled up our blankets and traps and departed on our western way. It
was the morning after the second night from this time that we found
ourselves camped at break of day in the valley of a small stream which
flowed south toward the Souri river. So far, all had gone well with us.
We had met with no difficulty, and had begun to think that our western
course would continue to be marked by unchanging success. On this
morning, however, we awoke to other thoughts.

Two of our horses had disappeared. At first we thought that they had
strayed farther away than the others, but after searching far and near
over the prairie we came to the conclusion that they had been stolen.
It was a cruel blow. At first I felt stunned, but bit by bit I thought
the matter out and determined to face the difficulty. After all it
might have been worse, we had still two horses left; we would put all
our supplies on one animal, and ride by turns on the other. We would
camp early, let the horses feed while it was yet daylight, and keep
them picketted by our camp at night. So, putting a good face upon the
matter, we got our things together, and set out about mid-day on our
western road. Donogh was on foot leading the pack-horse; I rode slowly
on in front. It still wanted two full hours of sunset when we halted
for the evening. We turned out the horses to graze. I took my gun and
sat down on a ridge to watch them as they fed. It was then that the
loss we had suffered seemed to come heaviest to me. As I sat there I
thought over the length of time we must now take to reach the distant
prairies of the west, and my heart sank at the prospect of slow and
weary travel, with the chances of further losses that would leave us
helpless upon the vast plains.

As I sat thus brooding upon our misfortunes I noticed one of the horses
raise his head from feeding and gaze steadily back upon our trail.
Looking in that direction I saw a solitary figure approaching upon
horseback. A glance sufficed to tell me that it was the same man who
had visited our camp two mornings earlier. For a moment I involuntarily
connected his presence with our loss; but then it occurred to me that
he would not seek our camp again if he had stolen our horses, and
I remembered too that he had told me he was going west when he had
visited the frontier settlement.

He came up to where I was, and shook hands with me without dismounting,
his dog keeping close by his horse’s flank. I told him of our loss, and
spoke freely of its serious nature to us. I said we were now reduced to
only two horses, and asked him frankly if he could do anything to help
me. He listened quietly, and when I had done speaking he said,――

“The prairie without horses is like a bird without wings. When I left
you two days ago, I thought you would soon learn that life in the
wilderness was not all so easy. Your horses have been taken by some
Salteaux Indians. I saw their trail at mid-day to-day as I came hither.
They are far away from here by this time. I am sorry for you,” he went
on, “for you are the first white man I have ever met who came out to
this land of ours with the right spirit. You do not come to make money
out of us Indians: you do not come to sell or to buy, to cheat and to
lie to us. White men think there is but one work in life, to get money.
When you told me your story a couple of mornings since I thought it
was my own life you were telling me of. Now you ask me if I can help
you to get back the horses which have been taken from you. I could get
them back, but it would take time and long travel. I can do better for
you, my brother; I can get you new horses in place of the old ones.”

I scarcely believed the words I listened to, so good was the news they
told me.

“If you like,” he went on, “to learn the life of the prairie, I will
teach it to you. Do not sorrow any more for your loss; we will camp
here to-night, and to-morrow we will see what can be done.”

So saying he unsaddled his horse, and throwing saddle, bridle, and
blanket on the ground, sat down by the fire and began to smoke. When
supper was ready I gave him a share of our meal, and he camped with us
that night.

We were astir very early on the next morning. In order to travel with
greater speed the Indian divided our baggage into three portions, which
he placed equally on the three horses, adjusting the loads in front
and behind the saddles. This enabled Donogh to ride; and although it
put a heavy load on all the horses, it would only be for one day.
What plan the Indian had formed I had at this time no idea of, but I
already looked upon him in the light of a true benefactor, and I was
prepared to follow implicitly his guidance. The sun had just risen
when we quitted our camping-place and took the old trail to the west;
but an hour or so after starting, the Indian, who led the way, quitted
the trail and bent his course across the plain in a south-westerly
direction. During some hours he held his way in this direction; there
was no trail, but every hill and hollow seemed to be familiar to our
guide, and he kept his course in a line which might have appeared to me
to be accidental, had I not observed that when we struck streams and
water-courses the banks afforded easy means of crossing. About mid-day
we quitted the open prairie, and entered upon a country broken into
clumps of wood and small copses of aspen; many lakelets were visible
amid the thickets; and the prairie grouse frequently rose from the
grass before our horses’ feet, and went whirring away amid the green
and golden thickets of cotton-wood and poplars.

It was drawing towards evening when our little party emerged upon the
edge of a deep depression which suddenly opened before us. The bottom
of this deep valley was some two or three miles wide; it was filled
with patches of bright green meadow, and dotted with groups of trees
placed as though they had been planted by the hand of man. Amidst the
meadows and the trees ran a many-curved stream of clear silvery water,
now glancing over pebble-lined shallows, now flowing still and soft in
glassy unrippled lengths.

Drawing rein at the edge of this beautiful valley, the Indian pointed
his hand down towards a small meadow lying at the farther side of the
river. “There is the Souri river,” he said, “and those specks in the
meadow at the far side are my horses. Our halting-place is in the wood
where you see the pine-tops rise above the cotton-trees.” So saying he
led the way down the ridge. We soon became lost in the maze of thickets
in the lower valley; but half an hour’s ride brought us to the meadows
bordering upon the river, and soon we gained the Souri itself. The
Indian led the way into the stream, and heading for a shelving bank on
the other side ascended the opposite shore. On the very edge of the
stream at the farther side stood the grove of pines which we had seen
from the upper level half an hour before.

Into this grove we rode, pushing through some poplar brushwood that
fringed its outer edges. Once inside this brushwood, the ground beneath
the pine-trees was clear. Almost in the centre of the “bluff” an Indian
lodge was pitched. It stood quite hidden from view until we were
close upon it. I soon saw that the pine bluff occupied a “point” on
the river; that is to say, the stream formed almost a complete curve
around it, encircling the bluff upon three sides. From the doorway of
the lodge a view could be obtained of the ground within and beyond the
narrow neck formed by the river’s bend as they approached each other.

Immediately on arrival the Indian had dismounted.

“Here,” he said, “is my home for the present, and whenever I wander
into these regions. To-night we will rest here, and to-morrow continue
our way towards the west. This morning you gave me food from your small
store; to-night you will eat with me.”

So saying he set about his preparations for evening.

From a branch overhead he let down a bag of dry meat and flour; from
a pile of wood close by he got fuel for a fire in the centre of the
lodge; from a cache in the hollow trunk of one of the trees he took
a kettle and other articles of camp use; and before many minutes had
passed our evening meal was ready in the lodge, while the horses were
adrift in the meadow beyond the “neck,” with the others already grazing
there.

Before our meal was finished evening had closed over the scene, and in
the shadow of the spruce pines it was quite dark. An ample supply of
dry fuel was piled near the tent door, and the fire in the centre of
the lodge was kept well supplied. It burned bright and clear, lighting
up the features of the Indian as he sat before it cross-legged upon the
ground. He seemed to be buried in deep thought for some time. Looking
across the clear flame I observed his face with greater attention than
I had before bestowed upon it. It was a handsome countenance, but the
lines of care and travail showed deeply upon it, and the expression
was one of great and lasting sadness. In the moments of action in the
work of the prairie this sad look had been less observable; but now,
as he sat in repose, looking intently into the fire, the features had
relapsed into their set expression of gloom.

At last he raised his head and spoke.

[Illustration: At last the Sioux raised his head and spoke.]

“You must know my story. When you have heard it, you can decide for
yourself and your friend what course you will follow. I will tell you
how it has happened that I am here, and why I am going west so soon.
Listen to me well.”

Then, as we sat around the fire in the centre of the lodge, he thus
began:――

“Among men I am called ‘Red Cloud.’ It is now more than ten years since
I joined my people, the Mandan Sioux, on the shores of Minnie Wakan.
They had just been driven back by the soldiers of the United States.
My tribe had dwelt on the coteau by the edge of the great Pipe Stone
quarry. The buffalo were numerous over all the surrounding prairies.
We were then at peace with the Americans. They had purchased from
our chiefs the valley of the Bois des Sioux, the Red River, and the
land of the Otter Tail. We had given up all that fair region of lake
and meadow, hill and copse, which still carries the name we gave it,
“Minnesota,” or the Land of Sky-coloured Water. The white waves were
coming on faster and faster from the east, and we, the red waves, were
drifting before them farther and farther into the west. I dwelt with
my people at the Minnie Wakan, or the Lake of the Evil Spirit. It is
a salt and bitter water which lies far out in the great prairie; but it
was a favourite haunt of the buffalo, and the wapiti were many in the
clumps of aspen and poplar along its deep-indented shores.

“For a time after the surrender of Minnesota peace reigned between our
people and the white man; but it was a hollow peace; we soon saw it
could not last. Many of our old chiefs had said, ‘Take what the white
man offers you. Let us fix the boundaries of our lands far out towards
the setting sun, and then we will be safe from the white man, who ever
comes from the rising sun. We will then live at peace with him.’

“Well, we went far out into the prairie; but the white man soon
followed us. The buffalo began to leave us; the wapiti became scarce
around the shores of Minnie Wakan. We were very poor. At the time
when I joined my people an army had taken the field with the avowed
intention of driving the remnants of our once strong race across
the great Missouri river. I could not remain an idle spectator of a
struggle in which my people were fighting for home and for existence.

“It is true I had been brought up a Christian, educated in a school
far away in Canada with white people, and taught the uselessness of
contending with civilization; but what of that?

“Blood is stronger than what you call civilization; and when I got back
again into the prairie, and to the sky-bound plain――when I felt beneath
me the horse bound lightly over the measureless meadow――and when I knew
that my people were about to make a last fight for the right to live on
the land that had been theirs since a time the longest memory could not
reach――then I cast aside every other thought, and turned my face for
ever towards the wilderness and my home.

“The Mandans received me with joy. As a boy I had left them; as a man I
returned. My father was still a chief in the tribe, and from his horses
I had soon the best and fastest for my own.

“I had forgotten but few of the exercises which an Indian learns from
earliest childhood. I could ride and run with the best of them, and
in addition to the craft and skill of the wilderness, I had learned
the use of the weapons of civilization, and the rifle had become as
familiar to hand and eye as the bow had been in the days of my boyhood.

“Soon we heard that the Americans were advancing towards the coteau. We
struck our lodges by the Minnie Wakan, fired the prairie, and set out
for the south. By the edge of the coteau our scouts first fell in with
the white men. We did not fire, for the chief had decided that we would
not be the first to fight, but would seek a parley when we met. It was
my work to meet the white people and hear what they had to say. I was
able to speak to them.

“I approached their scouts with a few of my men, and made signs that we
wished to talk. Some of the white people rode forward in answer, and we
met them midway. I began by asking what they wanted in our land; that
they were now in our country, and that our chief had sent me to know
the meaning of their visit.

“One of them replied that they had come by order of the Great Father
at Washington; that the land belonged to him from sea to sea; and that
they could ride through it where they willed.

“While we spoke, one of my braves had approached a large, strongly-built
man who rode a fine black horse. All at once I heard the click of a
gun-lock. In token of peace we had left our guns in the camp; we carried
only our bows. The gun thus cocked was in the hands of the white man
riding the black horse. It has been said since that he did the act
fearing that the Indian who stood near meant harm; if so, his belief was
wrong, and it cost him his life. The Indian heard the noise of the
hammer. With a single bound he was at the horse’s shoulders, had seized
the barrel of the gun and twisted it from the white man’s hands. As he
did so, one barrel exploded in the air. An instant later the other was
discharged full into the white man’s breast, and before a word could be
uttered, the brave was in his saddle, driving the black horse furiously
over the plain. There was nothing for it but to gallop too; we were well
mounted, and the shots they sent after us only made our horses fly the
faster. We reached our people. The war had begun.

“I will not tell you of that war now. In the end we were beaten, as we
always must be. Two men will beat one man, twenty will do it faster.

“Many of us were killed; many more fled north into English territory.
My father was among the latter number. I remained with a few others in
the fastnesses of the Black Hills.

“Now listen to me.

“My father, the old chief, went, I have said, north into British land.
I never saw him again. A year later I also sought refuge in this
region, and this is the story I gathered from the few scattered people
of our tribe.

“My father, ‘The Black Eagle,’ had been invited to a trader’s house
on the banks of the Red River, not fifty miles from where we now are.
This trader had given him spirit to drink. In the spirit he had put
laudanum. My father drank unsuspectingly, and was soon plunged into
deep unconscious sleep. From that sleep he woke to find himself in the
hands of the Americans.

“It was the depth of winter. His betrayers had bound him while asleep
upon a sledge drawn by a fast horse. In the dead of night they had
carried him to the American lines at Pembina, and there sold him to
the Yankee officer, bound and helpless.

“The price paid was 500 dollars. A week later the old chief, my father,
was hanged as a traitor in sight of the very river by whose banks he
had been born.

“You wonder what has brought me to these northern lands? My father’s
spirit has brought me. Five times since that day I have sought my
father’s murderer, and each time my search has been fruitless. Yes,
through all these years, through many changes, and from far distant
places, I have come here to seek revenge. Again I have been baffled.
The man for whom I look has gone far out on the plains, trading
with the Crees and Blackfeet. I learned this two days ago, in the
settlement, and at once turned my horse’s head towards the west,
determined to seek this spot, get my horses, pack up, and follow the
trail of my father’s murderer into the great prairie.

“By chance I saw you again this morning. You are different from all
the white men I have ever met. You seem to love the wilderness for its
wildness, as a bird loves the air for its freedom. Well, it is for that
that I love it too. In our old times, when the Sioux were strong and
powerful, the young men of the tribe, the best and bravest, used to
swear an oath of brotherhood and lasting friendship to the young braves
of other tribes. That oath meant, that if they met in battle, or in
danger, the life of one was sacred to the other.

“To you I will give that promise and that oath. I have no friends
but my horse and dog. My people are scattered far and wide over the
wilderness. Most of those who were with me ten years ago are now dead.
I am an outcast on the earth; but I am free, and fear no man. We will
together roam the wilderness; at any time if you desire it, you are
free to part. I do not ask your assistance to revenge the wrongs I have
suffered. That shall be my own work. For the rest I have quarrel with
no man. Ever since that war with the Americans I have fired no hostile
shot at a red man of any race or tribe. When attacked I have defended
myself; but I have joined no tribe to fight another tribe. If I fall
into the hands of my enemies I know that my father’s death will be my
death――that as his bones were left to bleach in sight of the land in
which he was born, so mine would be also gibbeted, as a warning to the
wretched remnants of my race who yet live, spectral shadows, on the
land that once had owned the dominion of the Sioux.”

The Indian ceased speaking. The fire still burned bright and clear.

As the light of the evening grew fainter, and darkness closed over the
scene, the sounds of the wilderness fell distinctly upon our ears――the
ripple of the river, the lonely cry of grey owls, the far-off echo of
some prowling wolf.

For some minutes the silence of the lodge remained unbroken. I was too
much affected by the story I had listened to to speak, but I held out
my hand to the Sioux and shook his, in silent token that henceforth we
were brothers.



CHAPTER III.

 To the West――Wapiti in sight――A stalk――A grand run――The sand-hills
 in sight――The finish――A noble beast――A gorgeous sunset――A vast
 landscape――The Hills of Life and Death.


At dawn on the following morning we departed from the camp on the
Souri, holding our way towards the west.

It was a fair fresh morning; the summer, verging towards autumn, held
already in its nights and first hours of day the faint breathings of
the northern chill of frost; the dew lay upon the ground in silvery
sheen and glitter; all was yet green in meadow and willow copse; the
current of the river ran with fresh and sparkling eagerness, and from
its mimic rapids on the shallows little streaks of vapour rose――an
indication that the air of the morning was cooler than the water of the
river. Over all the scene, over the hill and the valley, on wood and
stream and meadow, there lay a sense of the perfect rest and ceaseless
quiet of the wilderness.

The path which the Indian took led for awhile along the valley of the
Souri. At times it climbed the higher ridges that bordered on the north
and south the alluvial meadows which fringed the river, and at times
it dived into the patches of poplar thicket and oak-wood copse that
dotted alike both hill and valley.

The Sioux was mounted on the same horse which he had ridden on the
previous day, but a change had fallen on the fortunes of Donogh and
myself. We now bestrode two close-knit wiry horses, whose sleek coats
and rounded flanks showed that the early summer had been to them a
season of rest, and that they had profited by the quiet of the last
few days to improve the “shining hours” on the fertile meadows of the
Souri. We went along now at an easy pace, half walk, half trot――a pace
which got over the ground with little fatigue to man and horse, and yet
made a long day’s journey out of the travel hours of daylight.

As the morning wore towards mid-day, and the trail led at times over
places which commanded a wider view of river and valley, the Indian
riding in front watched with keen glance each open space, and often
cantered his horse to the upper level for a better survey of the higher
plateau. All at once he stopped, and lay low upon his horse. He was
some distance ahead of us, but near enough to be seen by me. I at once
pulled up. Presently the Sioux came back to where we were standing.
There were wapiti in sight, he said; I could go forward with him on
foot and see them. We left our horses with Donogh, and went forward
very carefully to the spot from whence the Sioux had seen the game.
It was at the end of a willow copse. From here, looking partly through
and partly over the leaves of some small aspens, I now saw at the
farther side of an open space which was more than a mile across, a
herd of large dun-coloured animals, and high above all stood one stag,
erect and stately, looking in our direction, as though the echo of our
approach had apparently reached him.

These were the wapiti, the giant red-deer of North America. The monarch
of the group was evidently a gigantic specimen of his race, who, with
the true kingship of nature, kept watch and ward over his weaker
subjects, and did not, as in modern society, delegate that chiefest
function of leadership to other less favoured mortals. And now how was
this noble animal to be reached? The forest of antlers fixed and rigid
showed that his gaze was fixed too upon the spot from whence an attack
might be expected.

The Indian, surveying the ground for a moment, whispered to me, “We
cannot approach him from this side; his suspicions are already aroused.
And yet he is a noble prize, and well worth the trouble of the chase.
There is only one way it can be done. Where the ground rises to the
north, on the right of where we now stand, there is a large open
expanse of prairie, once on that level plain it would rest with our
horses to reach him; the few scattered clumps of trees growing upon it
cannot hide him from our view; he must be ours. So far, he has neither
seen nor winded us; he has simply heard a sound; he is watchful, not
alarmed. Let us see what can be done.”

Having said this, he drew back a little, plucked the heads of a few
long grasses growing near, and flung the dry light seeds into the air.
They floated towards the east; the wind was from the west. “Now,” he
said, having noted this, “we must retrace our steps along the path we
have come for some distance, then it will be possible to get round
yonder beast. We shall see.”

So saying, we fell back with easy and quiet footsteps, and, followed
by Donogh, were soon a long way from the open glade and its denizens.
Having gained the required distance, the Sioux stopped again to detail
to us the further plan of attack; it was simply this. We were to make a
long détour to the south; when the right position had been attained, we
would advance in the direction of the herd, emerging upon the clearing
full in view of the stag, whose course, the Indian said, would when
alarmed at once lead up the wind, or towards the west. This, however,
was not the direction in which the Indian wanted him to go. How then
was it to be done? We shall presently see.

Striking from the trail towards the south, we pursued our way through
mixed open and thicket country until the required distance had been
gained, then bending round to the west we gradually drew nearer to the
open ground on which the wapiti had last been seen.

When the neighbourhood of the open space was reached the Indian again
stopped, and spoke his last directions to us. “Wait here until you
hear a wolf cry twice; at the second call ride straight to the north
at an easy pace. When you emerge upon the open you will be in sight
of the big stag, but a long way from him; after looking at you for a
moment he will trot away to your left; then you must ride straight
up the hill until you gain the level plain on the summit; you will
then see the stag not very far from you. I will be there too. Let the
pack-horses follow quietly to the upper ground.” Having said this, the
Indian turned his horse to the west, and was soon lost to sight in the
thickets and undulations of the ground.

About a quarter of an hour passed; at length we heard the cry of a wolf
sounding a long way off to north and west. We listened anxiously for
the second signal. It soon came, and as it died away in the silence
of space we put our horses into a trot and rode straightforward. Two
minutes’ riding brought us to the edge of the prairie, on the other
side of which, but now some miles distant, we had first looked upon the
wapiti. As we entered upon the open ground we caught sight of the herd,
still in the same spot. The chief had apparently ceased to reconnoitre,
for his huge antlers no longer towered aloft; he was quietly feeding
like the others. We now rode at a walk straight for the herd. Our
presence in their area of vision was almost instantly detected, and all
heads were lifted from the ground to examine the enemy; then the leader
led the way, and the band, following his steps, filed off quietly
towards the wind.

I was sorely disposed to follow, but, remembering the directions of the
Indian I put my horse into a sharp canter, and held straight for the
high ground, the edge of which was visible in our front. As we crossed
the centre of the open space, a shot rang out some distance to our
left, and then there came a faint Halloo! borne down the west wind.
Still we held on our course, and climbing the steep ridge, gained the
open prairie land above. As our heads topped the ridge, we beheld a
sight that made our hearts beat fast with excitement. There, not half
a mile distant, going full across the plain, was the herd of wapiti,
still close grouped together; behind them, and not more than three
hundred yards distant from them, rode the Indian, his horse held full
within his pace but going at a free gallop across a level plain, on
which the grass grew short and crisp under a horse’s hoof. I did not
need the waving arm of the Indian to tell me what was to be done. My
horse seemed to realize the work too; I shook free his rein, and was
soon in fast pursuit of the flying stag.

There are many moments in wild life, the minute sensations of which are
worth the oft-indulged recollections of after time――moments when every
nerve is strained to action, when eye and ear and nostril are filled
with the sound, the sight and the scent of nature’s freshness――and when
the animate or inanimate thing that bears us, the horse or the canoe,
become sharers in the keenness of our progress, and seem to quiver with
the excitement of our impetuous onset; there are such moments in the
wild life of the wilderness, amply sufficient to outweigh the hardships
and privations of travel and exposure in a land where the sky is the
roof, and the ground the bed, the table and the chair of the wayfarer.

Much toil and trouble had befallen us since that distant day when we
had quitted the little roof of our far-away home; the goal aimed at had
often seemed a long way off, and many had been the obstacles that had
forced in between us and the wild life I had sought to reach; but now
it was ours――fully, entirely ours; and as my horse, entering at once
into the spirit of the chase, launched himself gamely along the level
sward I could not repress a ringing cheer, the natural voice of freedom
found, and of wild life fully realized.

I was now in wild pursuit. I directed my horse towards a spot far in
advance of the flying herd; the wapiti in turn, not slow to perceive
the advance of a fresh enemy from the flank, bent away in the opposite
direction, giving the Indian the advantages of a similar advance upon
an oblique line to cut them off, and so cause them to again alter
their course in my favour.

It is a singular fact in the hunting of wild game, that if a particular
animal of a herd be selected for pursuit, even though he may at the
time be in the midst of a number of other animals all flying from the
hunter, nevertheless, the one marked out as the special quarry will
quickly realize that he alone is the object of the hunter’s aim, and
he will soon become the solitary one, deserted by his companions, who
seem to understand his position. Such was now the case. One by one the
meaner ones in the little herd had dropped off to the right or to left,
and ere two miles had been ridden the monarch stag pursued alone his
wild career.

His pace was still the long rapid stride or trot peculiar to his breed.
To the inexperienced eye it looked a rate of speed which could be
easily overtaken by a horse; but, nevertheless, although a good horse
will always outrun a wapiti, it takes both time and open country to
enable him to do so. The long swinging trot is really the wapiti’s best
pace. When he is forced to change it for a gallop, his end is near――his
course is almost run.

Right on over the level prairie held the stag, and at full speed we
followed his flying steps. The prairie lay an almost unbroken level for
six or seven miles, then a succession of sand-ridges appeared in view,
and farther still rose the blue outlines of more distant hills. It was
toward this refuge that the stag now held his way.

When the last of his little band had fallen from him, and he was alone
with his pursuers, it seemed that his energies only reached their
fullest power; for, more than half way across the plain he not only
kept his distance in the race, but increased it by many lengths; nor
did he appear to labour in his stride, as with head thrown forward, and
antlers lying back almost upon his haunches, he spurned behind him the
light soil of the plains.

With rapid survey the Indian scanned the hills towards which his quarry
was now leading, and his practised eye soon caught the features of the
land, while he still maintained the same headlong speed. We knew that
if the stag once gained those ridges of light brown sand his chances
of final escape would be great. The yielding surface would give the
spreading cloven hoof the support which it would refuse to the more
solid pressure of the horse.

In all these things nature never fails to instruct her creatures in the
means of escape she provides for them in their hours of trouble. The
hare seeks the hill when coursed by the grey-hound, because the great
length of her hind legs gives her an increased power to traverse with
rapidity rising ground.

When the falcon is abroad, the birds know that their wings are their
weakest refuge, lying close hid on moorland or in cover.

The moose makes his place of rest for the day to the leeward of his
track during the night, so that he may have the wind of every hunter
who follows in his trail.

It is in that acute knowledge of all these various resources,
instincts, and habits, possessed by the wild game which they pursue,
that the Indian hunter surpasses all other hunters of the earth.

It is not too much to say that a good Indian hunter can anticipate
every instinct of the animal he is in quest of.

We have seen in the present instance how completely the Sioux had
forced the herd of wapiti to take the upper level. This he had achieved
by knowing exactly where they would run upon being first disturbed, and
then placing himself in such a position that they were enabled to scent
his presence before they could see that he meant to follow them. By
this means he caused them to abandon the partly wooded country before
they had become thoroughly frightened by a closer attack.

Under the different conditions of suspicion, fear, and absolute danger,
wild animals, like human creatures, show widely different tactics.
It is these finer distinctions of habit and emotion that the red man
has so thoroughly mastered, and it is this knowledge that enables him
almost invariably to outwit the keenest sense of animal cunning.

In most of the wisdom of civilized man he is only a child. His
perceptions of things relating to social or political life are bounded
by narrow limits. But in the work of the wilderness, in all things that
relate to the conquest of savage nature, be it grizzly bear, foaming
rapid, or long stretch of icy solitude, he is all unmatched in skill,
in daring, and in knowledge.

But while we have been speaking thus of Indian skill in the chase, our
stag has been nearing with rapid strides the sand-hills of his refuge.

We had now drawn closer to each other in the pursuit, and it seemed
that hunters and hunted were straining their every nerve, the one to
attain, the other to prevent, the gaining of this refuge.

I had thought that the horse ridden by the Sioux had been going at its
utmost speed. But in this I was mistaken, as the next instant proved.

All at once he shot forward, laying himself out over the prairie as I
had never before seen any horse do.

He was soon close upon the flying footsteps of the stag, which now,
finding himself almost outpaced, broke from his long-held steady trot
into a short and laboured gallop, while his great antlers moved from
side to side, as he watched over his flanks the progress of his pursuer.

The sand-hills were but a short half-mile distant. Another minute
would decide the contest. Just when I thought the stag must win, I
saw the Sioux urge his horse to a still faster effort. He was now
almost at the flank of the wapiti. Then I saw him with the quickness
of lightning unsling his short bow, and place an arrow on the string.
One sharp draw, apparently without any aim, and the shaft sped upon its
way, piercing the heart of the giant stag, which, with one great leap
forward into space, rolled dead upon the prairie.

[Illustration: The Sioux was now almost at the flank of the wapiti.]

He was a noble specimen of those gigantic animals now growing scarce on
the American prairies.

From fore hoof to tip of shoulders he stood seventeen hands high. His
antlers were the finest I ever saw. They branched from his frontlet in
perfect symmetry and regularity, each tier was the exact counterpart of
the opposite one. From brow to tip they measured more than five feet,
and their ribbed sides shone like roughened bronze, while the strong
tips were polished ivory. Standing breathless beside my breathless
horse, I looked on the dead animal in mute admiration, while the Sioux
set to at the more practical work of getting some meat for dinner.

“You may well look at him,” he said to me; “he is the finest of his
tribe I have yet seen.”

“It is almost a pity we have killed such a noble beast,” I replied; “to
lay such a proud head low.”

“Yes,” answered the Indian. “But it is in such things that we learn
the great work of war. To ride a chase to the end; to shoot an arrow
fast and true after a six-mile gallop; to watch every turn of the
game enemy, and to note every stride of the steed; to avoid the deadly
charge of the buffalo, and to wheel upon his flank as he blindly
pursues his impetuous onset; to stand steady before the advance of the
savage grizzly bear, and to track the wary moose with silent footfall
into the willow thickets,――these are the works by which, in times of
peace, the Indian learns his toil in the deeper game of war.

“And then, the health, the strength, the freshness of these things;
the pleasure they give us in after-time when by the camp fire in the
evening we run back in memory some day of bygone chase. Well, now we
have other work to do. This run has taken us far from our trail. The
sun gets low upon the plain. We must away.”

So taking with us a few tit-bits of the wapiti, we retraced our steps
to where the pack-horses had been left with Donogh when I joined the
pursuit, and then rode briskly towards the now declining sun.

By sunset we came in sight of a small creek, on the banks of which grew
a few dark pine-trees. Beneath one of these pines we made our camp; the
horses found good pasturage along the edge of the creek, and from a
high sand dune which rose behind the camp the Sioux pointed out to us
our course for the morrow.

As we stood together on the summit of the sand ridge, the scene that
lay to the west was enough to make even the oldest voyageur pause in
wonder as he beheld it. Many a long mile away, over a vast stretch
of prairie, the western sky blazed in untold hues of gold, saffron,
orange, green, and purple. Down to the distant rim of the prairie,
the light shone clear and distinct. No fog, no smoke blurred the vast
circle of the sky-line. Never before had we realized at a single
glance the vastness of earthly space. The lustrous sky made dim the
intervening distance, and added tenfold to the sense of immensity.

The Indian pointed his finger full towards the spot where the sun had
gone down.

“There lies our course,” he said. “Would that, like yon sunset, the
prairie land circled the world, then we might for ever travel into the
west.”

“Well, master, we’re in the big wilderness, surely,” said Donogh, as
he stood by my side watching intently this vast ocean of grass, slowly
sinking into night beneath the many-hued splendours of the western
skies. “When we used to sit together on the top of Seefin, talking of
the lands beyond the seas, I didn’t think that one short year would
carry us so far.”

“How do you like it, Donogh?” I asked him.

“Like it, sir! I like it as long as it holds you in it. And I like it
for all the fine wild birds and beasts it has. But I’d like it better
if it had a few more hills, just to remind me of Coolrue, and the rest
of the old mountains about Glencar!”

“We’ll come to the hills all in good time,” I replied. “There, beyond
where you see the sun has gone down, twenty long days’ riding from here
you will see hills that will make Seefin and Coolrue seem only hillocks
in comparison――mountains where the snow never melts.”

“What name do the Indians call the Rocky Mountains?” I asked Red Cloud,
who was listening to our conversation.

“The Blackfeet call them the Ridge of the World,” he answered.
“My people named them the Mountains of the Setting Sun; and the
Assineboines, who dwell at their feet, call them the Hills of Life and
Death, because they say that the spirits of the dead climb them to look
back on life, and forward on the happy hunting-grounds.”

“Do you hear, Donogh?” I said.

He laughed as he answered,――

“Who knows but we’ll see Glencar from there, sir?”



CHAPTER IV.

 We reach the hills of the Wolverine――Something moves far out upon
 the plains――The wounded Cree――His story――Adventure with a grizzly
 bear――Left alone――A long crawl for life――Hunger, thirst, and travail――A
 grizzly again――“The Great Spirit, like an eagle, looks down upon the
 prairie”――Saved――Watched.


In five days’ easy travel, riding each day at a kind of amble, half
trot half walk, we reached the hills of the Wolverine, a low range of
ridges surrounded upon all sides by a vast plain. We pitched camp close
beside a small lake which was situated nigh the western extremity of
the group of hills, and from the top of a ridge behind the lodge the
eye ranged over an expanse the greater part of which was destitute of
trees.

It was the Indian’s wont every evening, after camp had been made,
to make a long circuit around the camping-place armed with his
fowling-piece. From these excursions he usually returned at dusk,
bringing with him a brace of wild ducks or a few prairie grouse for the
morning meal.

On the evening of our arrival at the Touchwood Hills he and I set out
as usual upon this evening ramble, leaving Donogh to look after the
camp. Ascending the ridge I have spoken of, we surveyed intently the
plain which stretched from the base of the hill on which we stood until
it was lost to sight in the western horizon. It was so vast a prospect
that the eye wandered over it for a length of time ere it could note
even the nearer portion that lay well within the range of vision. The
Sioux took a long survey of the scene. Shading his eyes with his hands,
he slowly traversed the great circle of the horizon; then his gaze
sought the nearer landscape, passing along it in a manner that left
no portion of the field of sight unscanned. As thus he looked, his
slow-moving eyes all at once became steadily fixed upon one object set
within the mid-distance of the scene. To an ordinary eye it appeared a
speck, a rock, or a bush, or perhaps some stray wolf roving the plain
in search of food; to the quick eye of the Sioux it was none of these
things. It moved very slowly in the landscape; it appeared to stop at
times and then to go on again, keeping generally the same direction. It
was slowly approaching the Wolverine Hills. At last the Sioux seemed to
satisfy himself as to the nature of this slow-moving object. Quitting
the summit, he descended with rapid steps to the camp, caught his
horse, told me to secure mine, passed a piece of leather into his mouth
as bridle, and springing upon his bare back and calling upon me to
follow, set off at a gallop into the plain in the direction of the
strange object.

[Illustration: His eyes all at once became fixed upon one object set
within the mid-distance.]

It yet wanted about half an hour of sunset, and by riding hard we would
reach the spot ere night had closed in; for darkness comes quickly on
the heels of the day in the prairie, and though a lustrous after-glow
lives sometimes in the western sky, the great plain instantly grows
dim when the sun has gone beneath the horizon. From the lower level of
the plain at the foot of the hills no sign was visible of the object
which he had seen from the summit; but this mattered little to the
Sioux, whose practised eye had taken in the line of direction by other
objects, and his course was now held straight upon his mark.

When we reached the neighbourhood of the spot in which he had last
seen the moving object, he pulled up his horse and looked around him
on every side. There was nothing to be seen. The plain lay around us
motionless and silent, already beginning to grow dark in the decreasing
light. A man gifted with less acute sight would have rested satisfied
that the moving object which he had looked upon was a wild animal――a
wolf or a wolverine, whose sharp sense of sound alarmed at the
approach of man, had caused it to seek concealment; but the Indian had
noticed certain peculiarities in the object that led him to form other
conclusions regarding its nature. In a loud, clear voice he called out
in an Indian language that he was a friend, and that whoever was near
need have no fear to discover himself.

“It is the Red Cloud who speaks,” he said. “No Indian need fear to
meet him.” Scarcely had he thus spoken when from a dry watercourse
near at hand there rose up a figure which seemed in the twilight to be
that of a man who was unable to lift himself fully upon his feet. He
was distant about one hundred yards from us, and it was evident from
the manner in which he drew himself out of the depression in which
he had lain concealed from sight, that he had difficulty in making
any movement. As the figure emerged from the hollow, it resumed the
crouching attitude which had been first noticed. We were soon beside
this strange apparition. It proved to be a young Indian of the Cree
nation, a man so spent and worn, so thin in face and figure, and so
tattered in dress, that he scarcely resembled a human being. He was
utterly unable to rise from a kneeling position. One arm hung at his
side, broken below the elbow; one leg was painfully dragged after him
along the ground; his leather dress hanging in tatters upon his back
showed many cuts and bruises upon his body. The Sioux spoke a few words
to this wretched object; but the man answered in such a broken voice
and rambling manner that little could be gleaned from what he said.

The Sioux having dismounted for a better examination of this maimed
creature, now lifted him without difficulty on to his own horse; then
mounting himself, we set off at an easy pace for the camp. The man now
appeared quite senseless, his head and feet hanging down the horse’s
sides like that of a dead body. The night had quite closed in when we
rounded the base of the outer line of hills and came full into the
firelight of the camp. Donogh was astonished to see us bearing back to
camp an apparently lifeless body, which was immediately taken from the
horse and laid on the ground before the fire.

The warmth of the fire, and a drink of hot tea which was soon given
him, brought consciousness back again to the poor creature. For a while
he looked wildly and vacantly around, seemed slowly to take in the new
state of existence that had so quickly come to him, then he seized
the vessel of tea that Donogh was holding near his lips and drained
it to the dregs. Some time elapsed, however, ere he could answer in a
collected manner the questions put to him by the Sioux, but by degrees
the following story was elicited. It ran thus:――

“More than forty days ago I quitted a camp of Crees near the Lone
Mountain prairie to go south on the war-trail, there were fourteen of
us in all; our horses were fat, and we travelled fast. On the fifth day
we reached the woody hills. There were no Indians near, and we began to
hunt buffalo, which were numerous over all the prairies south of the
Qu’appelle river.

“It was about the tenth day that one of our party, who had gone out
with the horses in the morning, came back to camp saying that he had
struck the trail of a large grizzly bear some little distance from
where we lay. Four of us started out with him to hunt the bear; I was
one of them. We soon struck the trail. The bear had crossed a ravine
and ascended a steep bank beyond; the side of this bank was covered
with cotton-wood thicket. We followed the trail right into the thicket;
we were all on foot. All at once we heard, as we walked in file along
the trail, a heavy tread sounding close at hand, and a loud breaking
of branches and dry sticks. Then appeared in front the object of our
chase. He was a very large grizzly, and so wicked that he did not wait
for us to attack him, but came all at once full upon us.

“I stood second in the line. The foremost brave sprang aside to enable
me to fire, and also to get clear of our line himself. I levelled my
gun and fired full upon the huge beast; one or two other shots sounded
about me, but I saw through the smoke that the bear had not been killed
by them――he was advancing right upon me. I stepped back on one side,
with the intention of running until I could again load my gun, but at
that instant the upraised root of a tree caught my foot, and I fell
full upon the ground almost at the feet of the advancing animal, now
doubly maddened by the wounds he had received. I had only time to draw
my knife from my belt when he was full upon me. I struck blindly at
him, but it was no use, his claws and his teeth were fastened in my
flesh; I was bruised, wounded and torn ere I could repeat the blow
with my knife. Then I heard two or three shots above my head, a heavy
crushing weight fell upon me, and I knew no more.

“When next I knew what was passing around me everything was changed.
I was a helpless cripple; my leg and my arm had both been broken; I
was torn all over my body. My companions had carried me back to camp,
but what could they do with me? They were all braves whose work is
war and the chase; our women and old men lay far away, six long days’
riding, ten easy days’ travel. Besides we were on the war-path. At any
moment the Blackfeet might appear. I would be worse than useless to my
friends, I would be a burden to them. I read their thoughts in their
faces, and my mind was made up.

“‘Dry plenty of buffalo meat,’ I said to them; ‘put it where my hand
can reach it; lay me by the edge of the stream of water; then go away
and leave me to die here. Destroy the trail as you go away, so that no
one will ever find the spot, and my scalp will not hang in the lodge of
a Blackfoot.’

“They did as I told them; they put beside me a pile of dry buffalo
meat; they loaded my gun and left it at my right hand, so that I could
defend myself against a wild beast while my life lasted; and they laid
my blanket by the edge of a stream of water, so that I could get drink
without moving; then one by one they wished me good-bye, and I saw them
depart for ever.

“It was the middle of the day when they thus left me. When they were
all gone and I could no more hear the sound of man or horse, I felt
very lonely, and wished to die. I saw the daylight growing dim and the
night coming down through the trees. Then I felt hungry, and taking
some meat from the pile beside me, I ate it, drank some water, and
slept.

“When I awoke next morning I felt better. My leg and arm were both
useless, but my flesh-wounds were beginning to heal, and I did not seem
so weak as I had been. That day passed, and another, and another. I
began to get accustomed to the solitude, and to watch everything around
me. Two whiskey jacks came and sat looking at me on a branch close to
my head. I threw small bits of meat to them, and at last they came so
close that they took the food from my hand and hopped over my body. I
was glad to have them, they were company to me during the long daylight
hours. About ten days passed, and I was still alive――alive, and gaining
strength day by day. What was to be done? I looked at my store of meat,
and saw that it could not last more than ten days; after that time I
would starve to death. I began to think very anxiously on what I could
do to save myself from this death. To stay where I was, meant to die
a lingering death after ten days. I thought I would try to move and
practise myself in moving even on my hands and knees. Each day I crept
more and more about the thicket in which I had been. I crept to the
edge of it and looked out over the plains. They lay around me to the
north and west far as my eye could reach. They never seemed so large
to me before. I saw buffalo feeding a long way off towards the north;
that was the way we had come. My camp lay away in that direction――but
so far. I thought over the direction in my mind; I remembered all the
streams we had crossed, the places where we had camped, the hills and
the valleys we had passed: it seemed as long as a dream at night.

“For four days I kept moving to and fro, crawling on hands and knees
about the thicket. I began to go farther and farther away from it, and
each day I found I could move faster. I had the use of one leg and one
arm quite strong; the other arm was sound to the elbow, but the hand
was helpless; my left leg had been broken below the knee. I felt much
pain when I moved, but that did not matter; anything was better than
lying in the trees waiting for death. On the sixth day after this I
put together all that remained of my dry meat store, and with nothing
but my knife in my belt (I never could have carried my gun), I crawled
forth from the camp in which I had lain during so many days. I held my
slow way towards the north almost along the same line we had travelled
but a month earlier, when we swept so swiftly along over the prairie.

“For many hours I plodded on. It seemed as though I could never get out
of sight of the thicket; often I looked back, and there it was still
close to me; at last the night hid it from sight, and I stretched my
aching limbs upon the ground.

“All next day I went on. About noon I came to a stream, drank deeply,
and washed my wounds in the cool water; again I crawled on towards the
north, and slept again in the middle of the plain.

“By the fifth day I had finished the last scrap of my meat. I now
looked about anxiously for the bodies of buffalo that had been killed.
On our journey down we had killed many buffaloes, and I was now passing
over ground where we had hunted twenty days before; but it is one thing
to look for buffalo on horseback, and another thing to seek for it
lying level upon the ground. I could not see far before or around me;
sometimes I crawled to the top of a hillock for a wider survey of the
plain. The night came, I lay down without food or water. Next morning I
began to move as soon as it was light enough to see. I made for a small
hill that stood a little to one side of my line; from its top I saw, a
long distance away from my course, a small black speck. I knew it to be
a dead buffalo. I made for it, but it was noon when I had reached it. I
ate a little, then cut with my knife as much as I could carry, and set
out to find water, for I was very thirsty. I held on in the direction
of a valley I had noticed from the top of a hill. It was sunset when I
got to it, and to my great joy I found water; then I ate a great deal
of my meat and drank plentifully of the water, and lay down to sleep,
happy.

“The next morning I ate and drank again, and then set out once more.
Day by day I went on; sometimes I dragged myself all day along,
starving and thirsty; sometimes I had to lie down at night with burning
throat; sometimes I came to a buffalo, so long killed that of his flesh
the wolves had left nothing except the skin and muscle of the head and
hide. At night when I had got no food during the day I used to dream
of old times, when the camp had feasted upon freshly-killed buffalo,
when the squaws had dressed the tongues; and at other times I thought
I had some moose noses before me, and was seated in my lodge while
the briskets were being boiled over the fire in the centre; and then
my lips would open and close, and I heard my teeth strike together as
though I had been eating, and I woke to find I was weak and hungry, and
that only the great dark prairie lay around me.

“At last I lost all count of the days. I only thought of three
things――food, drink, and the course I had to travel. My pain had become
so much my life that I had ceased to think about it. One day I was as
usual dragging myself along when I noticed right in front of me an
object that filled my heart with terror. Before me, over the ridge of
an incline which I was ascending, appeared two small pointed objects.
They were sharply seen against the sky over the rim of the ridge.
I knew instantly what they were. I knew that under these two small
pointed objects there were the head and body of a grizzly bear. He
was lying there right in my onward path, watching for buffalo. I knew
that he had seen me while afar, and that he now awaited my approach,
thinking that I was some wild animal of whose capture he was certain.

“I laid myself flat upon the ground, and then I drew away to the left,
and when I had gained what I had deemed sufficient distance I again
tried to ascend the incline; but again, full in my front, I saw the
dreaded pointed tips over the prairie ridge. The bear had seen me as I
moved to the left, and he too had gone in that direction to intercept
me on the brow of the hill. Again I laid myself flat upon the prairie
and crawled away to one side, this time taking care not to attempt to
cross the ridge until I had gone a long way to the flank. Creeping very
cautiously up the hill, I looked over the ridge. The bear was nowhere
to be seen. I made all haste to leave behind the spot so nearly fatal
to me, and continuing to crawl long after night had fallen, I at length
lay down to sleep, feeling more tired, and hungry, and exhausted, than
I had yet been since I set out first upon my long journey. That was
only a few days since. Three days ago I came in sight of these hills,
they filled my heart with hope; but only last night I had again to lie
exposed to a great danger――a band of Indians passed me making for these
hills. I could hear them speaking to one another as they went by; they
were Assineboine Indians on the war-path; they were so close that some
of their horses scented me, for I heard one say, ‘Fool, it is only a
wolf you start from.’

“This morning I almost gave up hope of ever reaching succour. I knew my
people must have left these hills, or else the Stonies could not have
been there. Then I thought that some of their scouts would be sure to
see me on the plain, and that it would be better to lie down in some
watercourse and die there, than to die at the hands of my enemies and
have my scalp hung at the mane of an Assineboine’s horse; but when I
thought of all that I had gone through――of how, when I had been dying
of thirst, water had lain in my track――of how I had found food when
starving,――I took hope again, and said to myself, ‘The Great Spirit
sees me. Like an eagle in the mid-day, His eye is cast down upon the
prairie; He has put food and water on the plain; He has shielded me
from the grizzly, and wrapt the night around me when my enemies passed
near me. I will not lie down and die; I will go on still, in hope.’

“Well, I went on, and it grew dark once more. I was determined to drag
on until I reached these hills, for I knew that there was plenty of
water here. Then all at once I heard the noise of a horse’s hoofs, and
I hid myself, thinking it was an Assineboine scout; and then I heard
your voice, and I knew that I was safe.”

Such was the story.

The poor fellow spoke in his native tongue, which the Sioux understood,
and as to him many Indian dialects were familiar, interpreted to me
as we sat at the camp fire. The Red Cloud, familiar as his life had
made him with every phase of hardship of Indian existence on the great
prairie, had never before met with such a singular instance of Indian
fortitude and perseverance as this was; but the concluding portion of
the Cree’s narrative had roused other thoughts in his mind, and to
these he directed his questions.

“The Assineboines that passed by you last night,” he said, “how many
might they have numbered?”

“They were but few,” answered the Cree; “about fifteen men.”

“What part of the hills were they making for?”

“They were on a line that would lead them north of where we now are.”

The Sioux remained silent for some time. He was thinking deeply upon
the presence of this war-party. It boded trouble in the future. It
was true he had quarrel with no Indian tribe; but a small war-party
of fifteen braves is not particular on the score of cause of enmity,
and if horses are to be captured or scalps taken, it usually matters
little whether actual war has been declared beforehand; and the adage
that those who are not with me are against me, holds good on such wild
raids as that upon which the party seen by the Cree were now bound.
Thinking out many different courses, and weighing well their various
probabilities of success or failure, the Sioux at length wrapped
himself in his blanket and lay down to rest. We had spread a blanket
for the Cree, and had done all we could to make him comfortable. At
first the poor creature seemed scarcely to understand the meaning of so
much kindness and attention from a stranger. Under the influence of a
good supper he soon forgot the fearful hardships which he had so lately
passed through, and the full realization of his immediate safety seemed
to obliterate all anxiety for the future. And yet, as he now lay by the
camp fire of his preserver there was as much danger hanging over him as
ever had threatened him in the darkest moment of his terrible journey.

Over the brow of a hill close by, a pair of watchful eyes were looking
into the camp, intently noting every movement in and around it.



CHAPTER V.

 An Assineboine camp――The trader McDermott――The chief
 “Wolverine”――Fire-water and finesse――The Assineboine war-party――A
 chance of a Cree scalp――The trader hears a well-known name――A big bid
 for murder, two hundred skins!


The events that now began to unfold themselves in my life and in those
of my companions, took shape and context only after long lapse of time
had passed by.

It was frequently when months had vanished that I learned the various
threads of action which had led to incidents of more or less importance
to me. Hitherto I had been only a boy-actor in the drama of existence.
I was now about to become a sharer in a larger sphere of action, and to
participate in scenes of adventure the springs of which were involved
in the lives and actions of other men. Writing now as I do from a
standpoint of life which looks back across many years to those early
adventures, I am able to set down the record with its various parts
complete. I can see the lines of life upon which other men moved,
and can trace the impulses upon which they acted――can fill in, as it
were, the gaps between their action and mine own, and give to the
story of my life at that period an insight into events which then lay
veiled from me by distance. It will therefore be necessary, in order
that my readers may comprehend clearly the thread of the events I am
about to relate, that I should at times carry them away to scenes in
which personally I was not an actor, and that they should occasionally
o’erleap the boundaries of the moment to look upon a far wider theatre
of events than I myself had at the time beheld.

We will therefore leave the scene at the camp-fire in the Wolverine
hills, and travel in imagination a hundred miles to the south-west,
where, on one of the sources of the Qu’appelle river, a large camp of
Assineboines, or Stone Indians, is pitched.

The camp is a large one, for the buffalo have been numerous all the
summer long on the prairies south of the Qu’appelle, and many scattered
bands of the tribe have come together to hunt and feast upon the mighty
herd. A brisk trade is being carried on too in skins and robes; for
a rich trader has arrived in the camp, with goodly store of guns,
blankets, trinkets, powder and ball, and beads; and chief and brave,
and squaw and boy, are busy at the work of barter and exchange.

[Illustration: A brisk trade is being carried on.]

On the evening we speak of, the chief of the Assineboines was seated
smoking in his lodge, when the leather door was raised and the figure
of a white man entered. It was McDermott, the trader from the Red
River.

The Wolverine extended his hand to the new comer, the trader shook it,
seated himself on the opposite side of the small, clear wood fire that
burned in the centre of the lodge, and began to smoke in silence. The
Indian scarcely moved a muscle, but sat smoking too, his eyes fixed
upon the flame. At last the trader broke silence. “Has any news come of
the young men who are on the war-path?” he asked.

“No,” answered the Wolverine, “they will carry their own news; when
they have something to tell and to show, then they will return.”

McDermott had his own reasons for asking; he wanted horses, and he knew
that if the war-party was successful he would obtain them for a trifle.
Horses lightly got upon the war-path, are lightly parted with by their
captors. A trading gun and some ball and powder would purchase a good
horse in the camp; ten guns’ value would not buy him in the English
settlement on the Red river.

The Wolverine knew well that the trader did not ask these questions
without good reason; and although he had that day received news of the
war-party, both of their whereabouts and future movements, he was not
going to give the smallest item of that news to his questioner without
receiving some substantial return for it.

On his part McDermott was also aware that a messenger had come in
during the day from the war-party, but of the purport of the news, or
the movements of the party, he could not glean any tidings; but he had
brought with him to the lodge of the Wolverine a potent key to unlock
the secret store of that chief's mind, and as he now produced from his
pocket a bottle of the strongest fire-water, there came a look into the
impassive eye of the old Indian opposite that told the trader at once
that the information he sought for would soon be his.

Taking a small tin vessel, he poured out into it some of the fiery
poison, and handed the cup across the fire to the chief. As his hand
passed over the flame he shook a few drops of the spirit on the fire; a
bright blue flame shot quickly up, illuminating all the interior of the
lodge and lighting up the dusky features of the Wolverine, whose arm
was already outstretched to receive the drink he so deeply thirsted for.

“It is good fire-water,” he said as he saw the blaze, “so it will light
up the heart of the red man as it does this red stick.”

McDermott cautiously refrained for some moments from asking any more
questions of the whereabouts of the war-party. A perfect adept in the
ways of Indian trade, he knew the fire-water would soon do its work on
the brain of the Wolverine.

The Indian drank, and returned the empty cup to his visitor.

“I wished to learn the movements of your young men,” said McDermott
after a long pause, during which his sharp eye had noted the Indian’s
face as he sat glowering over the fire, “because I am about to quit
this camp, and I am afraid they may come upon my horses at night and
mistake them for those of an enemy.”

“What direction do you travel?” asked the chief.

“Towards the settlement,” replied the trader. “My supplies are nearly
exhausted, and it is time to return home.”

This was a lie. He had no intention whatever of leaving the plains,
and the best portion of his goods he had kept concealed from the
Assineboines in a cache on the Qu’appelle river. For the third time he
filled the cup, and already the eye, glistening in the firelight like
that of a serpent, told the effect the fiery liquor was having upon
the Wolverine’s brain. “I want you,” went on the trader, “to send with
me the Indian who came to-day from the war-party. He will protect my
horses from being taken, in case I should fall in with your young men.”

“There will be no danger to your horses,” said the Indian. “My young
men are far away from the trail that leads to the settlement; but you
want to get the horses they have taken, not to protect your own. Well,
give me the rest of that bottle, and you may take with you the young
man who to-day has come from the party. He will lead you where you
will find them.”

The bargain was soon struck, and as the trader quitted the lodge the
Wolverine was clutching in his bony fingers the fatal fire-water,
which, more than war, hunger, or exposure, has destroyed the red man’s
race over the wide continent of North America.

McDermott having obtained the chief’s consent to his taking the
brave lately arrived from the war-party away with him, without which
permission it would have been fatal to his future interests in trade
to have moved him, lost no time in setting out on his road. He put
together the greater portion of his goods, and leaving a half-breed
servant to continue the exchange of those things that it was impossible
for him to take away, he departed from the camp at midnight, and by
daybreak was far away from the last trace of the Assineboines.

He had with him the Assineboine scout as guide, and two retainers, a
French half-breed and a Salteaux Indian. The party rode rapidly; they
had a large band of horses, and packs and saddles were frequently
changed. By the evening of the first day they drew near the last
mountain range of hills. The scout led the way. When night fell upon
the plain they were on the edge of the hills; presently a small lake
was reached. It was now dark, but the guide knew the track, and he
pushed on into the hills.

A long ride further through rough and broken ground, on which they
had carefully to pick their way, brought them suddenly face to face
with a small fire burning in a glen between abrupt hills. Around the
fire were seated several figures. It was the camp of the war-party.
The braves sat late around their fires, but there was reason for their
doing so. A scout had only lately returned with news of importance. The
story he had to tell was to this effect. At sunset he had been looking
from a hill over the prairie to the west; he had suddenly observed two
horsemen riding from a point in the line of hills farther to the south,
out into the plain. Judging from the lateness of the hour, that a camp
must be in the neighbourhood of the place from whence those horsemen
had gone, the scout had ridden cautiously forward towards that portion
of the hills. He had soon discovered a fire, beside which a solitary
white man sat. Concealing himself effectually from sight, he had
watched and waited.

Soon there had come an Indian and another white man, bearing with them
what seemed the dead body of another Indian. But this man was not dead;
he shortly began to speak, to eat, to drink. He was a Cree, who told a
story of having crawled a long way over the prairies from the south.
The scout knew only a little of the Cree language, and he had been able
only to follow roughly what the wounded man had said. As for the other
men――the white men he had never seen before, but the red man was the
Red Cloud, the famous wandering Sioux.

Now the principal item of this story that had interest for the
Assineboines, who sat eager listeners around the fire, was that which
had reference to the wounded Cree Indian: the Crees were enemies; the
war-party had as yet taken no Cree scalps. How could they return to
their camp with no trophy to show? The women and children would laugh
at them; the old men would say, “Ah! it was different in our time; we
did not come in from the war-trail without horses or scalps.” Here then
was a great chance of supplying this most pressing want.

It was true that the Red Cloud was well known over all the northern
prairies. It would be no easy matter to carry off the Cree from his
protection; nor would it be safe to molest the white men who were with
him, for the noise of harm done to white men travelled sometimes far
over the prairies, and reached even the ears of the Great Mother who
dwelt beyond the big sea in the land where the sun rose.

These things considered made it wiser to attempt the capture of the
Cree while both the Indian and his white friends were absent from their
camp. If this could be effected, then indeed the party might return in
triumph to their friends and justly receive the rewards of bravery.

It will be seen from the foregoing summary of the conversation which
had been held over the fire by the Assineboines now grouped around it,
that the bravery of the party individually or collectively was not
of the highest order; but in truth the thing we call courage is much
the same among red men as among white all the world over. Confined to
no class or to no people, its examples will be found often mixed with
strange evidences of cowardice; and side by side with the man who dares
for the sake of daring, will be found the man in whose heart a bit of
cheap courage is only less cherished than his life.

It was while thus the party of Assineboines debated their future action
that the voice of the scout who had left them some days previously
was heard saluting from the darkness. The new arrivals came forward
into the circle of light. McDermott was an old acquaintance, and he
and his Salteaux were soon seated around the fire. The presence of
the trader did little to interrupt the flow of conversation between
the Assineboines. Too much engrossed by the prospect of such an easy
prey, they soon resumed the thread of their discussion, and after some
questions asked and answered the new comer was left to smoke in silence.

But as the Assineboines debated their plans, and mention had been made
once or twice of the two men in the other camp against whom the braves
had no quarrel, there came into the trader’s face an expression of rapt
attention, and he listened eagerly to every word that fell from his
companions. He might well start at the utterance of one name――the name
of the Red Cloud, the son of the man he had foully betrayed to his
doom.

Face to face he had never met the Sioux chief, but a vague undefined
fear had oppressed him whenever his name had been mentioned. He well
knew that the vengeance of the Sioux is deep and lasting; he knew too
that if any act merited revenge it was the act which he had committed
upon the father of this man with whom he had had no cause of quarrel,
with whom he had been on terms of long and deep intimacy, in whose tent
he had eaten in former times, when the Sioux had held their lands up to
the shores of the Otter Tail and to the sources of the Mississippi.

Nine years had passed since that foul deed had been wrought. In the
wild life of the prairies, and amid a society whose deeds of violence
were of too frequent occurrence, the memory of any particular act
of bloodshed is soon forgotten; but time had never blotted out the
recollection of the treachery of the trader McDermott. There was not a
Sioux on the most southern tributary stream of the great Missouri who
had not heard of that dark night’s work, when, drugged at the feast to
which he had gone in the confidence of old friendship, the chief Black
Eagle was carried through the snow of the winter night and yielded a
prisoner at the frontier post on the Red river.

Since that time the trader had grown rich. He had many successful
ventures on the plains; for the quarrels of the Sioux were not the
quarrels of the Crees, the Assineboines, and the Blackfeet, the Sircies
or the Salteaux; but through all these years he lived as it were in the
shadow of his own crime, and he felt that while a Sioux was left to
roam the prairie, the dead body of the man whose life he had sold was
still unburied. Many a time when the shadows darkened upon the great
landscape had he heard in his heart the mysterious voice of conscience,
upbraiding him with the deed of blood; but more than all had he
conceived, with the intuitive faculty of fear, a dread of the Red Cloud.

Whether there came tidings of a battle or a skirmish, fought between
the remnants of the Sioux, the Mandans, the Minatarree, or the Ogahalla
branches of that once mighty nation with the troops of the United
States, McDermott longed to learn that this wandering chief, whose
presence ever haunted his imagination, had at last met his end. But he
ever seemed to bear a charmed life.

At one time he was heard of in a raid upon the American post on the
great bend of the Missouri; again came tidings that he had led a small
band of the Ogahalla against a detachment of soldiers in the fort hills
of Montana, and that not one living soul had escaped to tell the fate
of the American soldiers; and again there came news that a solitary
Indian had been seen by the Touchwood hills, or in the broken ridges of
the Mauvais Bois, and that this roving red man was the Red Cloud.

That curious instinct which danger frequently gives to the mind long
before any actual symptom of its approach is visible, had warned the
trader McDermott that while the Sioux lived he had reason to dread at
his hands a fate as cruel as the one to which he had consigned the old
chief.

Now all at once, sitting here at this camp fire, he heard the dreaded
name of his enemy, and gathering from the conversation that only a
few miles away from where he sat lay camped the man he feared more
than anything on earth, it is little wonder that his heart beat loudly
within his breast, and his face showed unmistakable traces of the
conflict of passion that raged within him. For with the news of this
proximity of his hated enemy there was also a chance not to be lightly
lost. Here was the Sioux in company with a wounded Cree, close to a
war-party of Assineboines hungry for trophies and for plunder. His
course was plain. Could he succeed in inducing the Assineboines to
attack the Sioux camp, and end for ever his hated enemy? It would go
hard with him if he could not.

Listening to the conversation of the braves, and at the same time
endeavouring to frame his plans for the destruction of the Sioux, he
sat silent for some time. The presence of white men in the camp of the
Sioux alone disquieted him; it prevented his openly proposing to the
Indians who were with him to attack the camp, and joining them himself
in doing so.

The death on the prairies of two Indians would have mattered little,
but the murder of two white men was an event that might give rise
to unpleasant questions being asked in the Red River; and when next
he visited his home there, it might be to find himself charged with
complicity or actual share in the crime.

He pretended therefore not to have heard much of what the Assineboines
had been speaking among themselves, but to approach his object from an
outside point altogether.

Watching an opportunity, and addressing himself to the leader of the
band, he began.

[Illustration: Watching an opportunity, the trader addressed the leader
of the band.]

“I see no trace of war,” he said, “and I hear of no horses having
been captured. Are the Crees too strong, that your braves have feared
to encounter them? or do they watch their horses so closely that you
cannot get near them?”

The taunt struck the mark it had been aimed at. “We have not taken
scalps,” replied the leader, “because the Crees keep together and shun
our presence. The horses of the Crees are fleet to run away; but it may
not be long,” he added, “before we have horses, and scalps too.”

“I want some good horses,” went on the trader, “and I will give a large
price for them; but they must be of the right kind――not small, starved
ponies, but mustangs of size and power, fit for a chief to ride.”

He well knew the horses which the Red Cloud usually rode and used, and
in mentioning the style of horse he now required he painted exactly
those of his enemy.

“And what would you give for such a horse?” asked the Assineboine
leader.

The trader thought for a moment. Here was his opportunity. Now or never
he would name a price dazzling to the Indian――cheap to him, since it
might for ever rid him of the man he feared and hated.

“I would give for such a horse,” he slowly replied, “two hundred skins.”

Two hundred skins! Never had horse fetched such a price since the
mustang breed had reached these northern prairies from the great
plateau of New Mexico and the Spanish frontier, two hundred years ago.
The Indian was dumb with astonishment――for three such horses he and his
band would get 750 skins. Why they would be rich for evermore. They
would be the envy of every young Assineboine in the tribe. The fairest
squaws would be their wives, for they could lay such a pile of presents
at the lodge doors of the parents that it would be impossible to deny
their suit. What guns, too, they could buy, and fancy rifles, and
store of beads and gaudy dress, with porcupine quills, and blankets of
brightest hue!

All these things flashed through the minds of the war-party as they
listened to the trader’s offer. The bid was too high; the last doubt
about attempting to kill the Cree and carry off the horses of the
Sioux vanished, and already they began to speculate upon their future
disposal of so much wealth and so much finery. So far as they were
concerned the doom of the Cree, and for that matter of the Sioux, and
his associates if resistance was offered, was settled.

The trader saw with suppressed joy this realization of his fondest
hopes. He well knew the Sioux would fight to the bitter end sooner
than lose friend or horse. He had only one fear, and that was that the
murder of the Cree and the capture of the horses might be effected
while the Sioux was absent from his camp, and that thus the life of his
enemy might be saved.

As he wrapt himself in his robe a little later on in the night, and lay
down to sleep by the still smouldering embers of the camp fire, he felt
at last that his long fear was wearing to an end, and that the fate of
his enemy was sealed.



CHAPTER VI.

 The Sioux forecasts our course――On the watch――Directions――We
 separate――Red Cloud is seen far out on the plains――Rival tactics――Scent
 _versus_ sight――A captured scout――The edge of the hills again――The
 signal fire.


And now the reader must come back to our own camp, where we have all
this time been comfortably settled for the night. The concluding
portion of the Cree’s story had thoroughly alarmed the Sioux. From the
few words in which the Cree had described the passing of the war-party,
he had easily been able to put together all that was needful for
thoroughly understanding the situation. His knowledge of the prairies,
and his complete mastery of every detail of Indian thought and habit,
made easy to him the task of tracking the further progress of the
party, and guessing their whereabouts almost to exactness.

They were camped, he thought, only some seven or eight miles distant,
in the same range of hills, and not far from where the level prairie
bordered on the west the broken ground.

Of course he knew nothing of the arrival, in the camp of the war-party,
of his deadly enemy, the trader; but he had long surmised the
whereabouts of that individual to be not very remote, and from the
information which he had gained when in the neighbourhood of the
settlement, he was led to conjecture that the first large Indian camp
he came to would have the trader as one of its inmates.

But as to the probable movements of the party, he formed a very
correct anticipation. Their scouts would be sure to discover our camp
at furthest on the morrow, even if they had not already done so; the
Cree would prove to them too strong a temptation to be resisted, and
the near presence of such good horses would be sure to give rise to
some attempt at robbery. He did not communicate any of these thoughts
to us, his companions, now. He determined to wait quietly until we
were asleep, then to drive in the steeds, and to remain on watch until
daybreak. With these precautions there would be little danger.

Departing quietly from the camp when our easy and regular respiration
told him that we were asleep, he drove in the hobbled horses to the
fire; then hobbling them so that the neck and forelegs were fastened
together in addition to the fastening of the two forelegs, he withdrew
to the shelter of a small thicket which commanded a view of the camp
and its neighbourhood, and wrapping himself in his robe sat down, with
his rifle between his knees and his dog beside him, to pass the night
on guard.

How weary such a night to a white man! How slowly the long dark hours
would roll by! How anxiously the first gleam of light would be looked
for in the east! Not so with the red man; night after night will he
thus sit, watching with eyes that never close, with ears that never
deaden in their keen sense of sound. Sometimes in his lodge, sometimes
as here in the thicket on the plain, thus will he sit hour after hour
until the grey light steals into the east, grows broader over the sky,
and the night is done.

At the first gleam of daylight Red Cloud moved gently back to camp,
threw wood upon the fire, roused me from my slumbers, and got breakfast
ready.

The meal over, he took me aside and unfolded to me his plan of action.

“To-day,” he said, “we are sure to be found out by the war-party of
Assineboines. They will not venture openly to attack us during the
day, but they will reconnoitre our camp, and probably to-night they
will attempt to run off the horses and kill this Cree. We cannot wait
here, they are too many for us; neither can we move out into the plain,
they would instantly see us and give chase; and though you and your
companion might make a good stand with me by ourselves, yet with this
Cree we could not do it. What I propose doing is this: the Cree is
able to sit a horse; you three will start at once, taking the hound
with you, heading straight into the hills. The Cree will know the line
to follow, and how to keep the bottom of the valley. Until one hour
before noon you must hold your course deep into the hills due east,
then you will turn to the north and ride fast for three hours until the
sun is half-way to the prairie. Then turning quickly to the west, you
will continue your way until you come again to the edge of three hills;
by this course you will have followed three sides of a square. Within
that square lies the camp of the Assineboines. This evening, if you do
all I say, you will be as far to the north of that camp as we are to
the south of it now. Look how the grass falls.”

So saying, he threw some dry grass into the air. It fell towards the
south, the wind was blowing from the north.

“To-night,” he said, “that wind will blow in the direction I want. You
will reach the edge of the hills before the sun has set. When it is
quite dark make a small fire on the slope of one of the hills facing
towards the plain; let it be in such a position that while visible to a
person out on the prairie, it will be concealed from the sight of any
one in the hills to the south. Keep the fire burning for half an hour
after dark; then extinguish it, and make your camp near the spot, but
within the shelter of the hills. Soon after that time I will be with
you. For the rest, fire no shot during the day unless you should happen
to be attacked, and move silently in your course through the hills.”

The preparations for moving were soon made; there was no time to be
lost. We took three horses and set off into the hills. The Sioux spoke
a word to the dog, ordering him to go with us; the dog reluctantly
obeyed, but his training was perfect and he trotted on after the Cree.
Having seen us out of the camp and behind the first intervening rise of
ground, he turned his horse’s head full for the plains, and taking the
lariat of a loose pack-horse carrying only a few light articles, he set
off at a sharp pace into the great prairie.

He had kept his own plans to himself, but they will unfold themselves
to view as we follow his steps.

Keeping for some time along the base of the hills, he had at length
begun to edge farther and farther out into the plain, until after a
couple of hours’ riding he was many miles in a diagonal line from his
starting-point. Then he began to direct his horse more to the west,
making a wide curve the base of which was the range of hills, then
turning towards the north he continued for some time to hold a course
in that direction. He was now fully ten miles out in the plain, a
distance which made him and his horse appear mere specks in the immense
range of vision.

Small as these specks of life were, they did not escape, however,
the watchful glance of a scout, who from the neighbourhood of the
Assineboine camp scanned the plains; but not even Indian sight
could resolve at that distance these objects. Horsemen or horseman
certainly――but what horsemen? No human eye could tell.

The scout’s report brought quickly to the standpoint some more of the
braves, but no additional light could be gleaned from their opinions as
to who the distant specks might be, or where their course was laid for.
At break of day that morning the trusty scout who had first discovered
the camp, and had brought tidings of the Cree to his companions, had
started to again reconnoitre the place and its occupants.

While Red Cloud is thus slowly making his way across the plain, under
the distant range of vision of the Assineboines, we will follow for
a time the fortunes of this single scout, whose work it was to watch
during the day the camp, the attack of which had been fixed for the
following night.

In his survey of the previous evening, the Assineboine scout had
observed that at the farther side of the camp to the one on which he
had approached it, there stood a hill partly covered with brushwood,
which would afford him, if he could gain its shelter, a better position
for watching the movements and hearing the conversation of the
occupants of the camp. His only means of reaching the cover of this
hill was to make a long détour through the broken ground lying towards
the east, and by coming out south of the camp approach it from its most
distant side: this he determined to attempt.

Estimating the two camps to be ten miles from each other, the course
the Assineboine proposed to travel would take him about fifteen or
twenty miles. He pushed rapidly along, keeping to the hollows between
the ridges, and at times leading his horse through thickets and
copsewood, and ever and anon in wet and boggy ground, stopping to
listen, or ascending some ridge higher than others for a wide view
around.

Thus it happened that about the same time of the morning the
Assineboine scout and our little party were pursuing two circular
courses, the lines of which must intersect each other at one point.
Whoever came to that point last would be made aware of the passage of
the others. No eye could fail to see a trail in the soft turf of the
valleys.

Leaving the scout to pursue his way, we will now follow our own
fortunes along our path. Without incidents of any kind, we had
continued our course through the hills towards the east. It was almost
time for that change of direction which the Sioux had enjoined upon us.

I led the way, closely followed by Donogh; the Cree was in the rear
with the dog. Between them ran two pack-horses. The Cree was mounted on
the other pack-horse whose load was now light, inasmuch as the supplies
of meat had been considerably lessened by the consumption of the past
three days, no large game having fallen since the death of the wapiti;
the wild ducks and prairie grouse so plentiful in this part of the
plains having amply sufficed to keep our party in food.

As we now journeyed on, the Cree, who was in rear of all, saw by the
attitude of the dog that it suddenly betokened the presence of some
animal to the left. He called my attention to the fact.

The dog showed unmistakable signs of having either seen or smelt some
living thing. He stood with head turned towards the left, and ears
pointed forwards, as though he partly expected an advance from that
quarter of man or beast. At times a low growl escaped his half-closed
mouth.

Determined to discover what it could mean, I spoke a few words to the
dog. Instantly he bounded forward full into a thicket, which stood
only some sixty paces distant. There was a loud noise and breaking of
branches in the thicket; a succession of fierce barks were succeeded
by a sharp howl of pain, and there broke forth from one side of the
thicket the figure of an Indian on horseback closely followed by the
hound. Ere the horseman had got quite clear of the wood the dog was
upon him, upon the side nearest to us. With a terrific spring he
fastened upon the right leg of the Indian. In vain the man struck him
with a short bow and a handful of arrows which he held in his right
hand. In an instant the dog had dragged him from his pony, and both dog
and man were rolling together upon the ground.

[Illustration: Both dog and man were rolling together upon the ground.]


At this moment we rode in upon the struggle. Ere the Indian could rise
and shake himself loose from his savage assailant I had struck him a
violent blow upon the head with the butt of my gun, which effectually
put a stop to all power of resistance; then ordering the dog to loose
his hold, we had time to take note of both dog and captive. The
first-named was bleeding profusely from an arrow, which the Indian had
shot at him at the moment he had entered the thicket. The shaft had
struck full upon his breast between his fore legs, but the direction
of the arrow fired from on horseback was downwards, and the point had
penetrated the flesh and muscle of his chest, coming out again beneath
his ribs. Still it was an ugly wound, one half-inch higher, or fired
even from the level of a man on foot instead of on horseback, and the
poor dog must have been a dead animal.

But it is these half-inches that make all the difference between a dead
dog and a captured Assineboine; for, as the reader must be aware, the
Indian was no other than the scout on his way to reconnoitre from the
south the camp we had so lately quitted.

And now the question presented itself to our minds what was to be done
with the captive. The Cree’s solution was perfectly simple――it was to
instantly despatch him as he lay, and with his scalp and his horse in
our possession (for the steed had in true Indian fashion stopped when
his rider fell) resume our way; but I could not hear of this proposal.
First tying the Assineboine, so that no attempt at escape could become
possible even if he were sufficiently recovered from the vigorous
application of the butt of the gun, I next examined carefully the dog’s
wound, and having extracted the arrow by breaking the shaft outside the
wound and drawing the head fully out, we saw that it was not dangerous.
Then we caught the Assineboine’s pony, and bringing the steed to its
fallen rider――who by this time had sufficiently recovered consciousness
to be fully aware of all that had passed and was passing around him――we
made him mount his horse, his arms still remaining tied; then passing
a leather line tightly round his legs, we strapped our prisoner to the
horse’s girth, and passing a double line through the animal’s mouth,
remounted our own horses, and set out on our road――first having given
the Assineboine a pretty intelligible hint that any attempt to escape
would quickly cause the revolver in my holster to speak its mind.

The course was now to the north, and for some hours we held our way in
silence, through the small hills and deep valleys in which thickets of
alders and cotton-wood trees abounded. In many places the grass rose
above our horses’ knees thick and dry, the hot sun of the summer, now
nearly over, had made it as sere and yellow as straw, and it sounded
against the horses’ legs like stalks of corn, as our file of horsemen
came along at a good pace through hill and dale.

I now realized as I rode through this tangled mass of dry vegetation
what a prairie fire must be when it has such a material to feed on in
its rapid flight across the plains in autumn. For the first time, too,
as I rode along this day, the idea of my being the leader of a separate
movement of the character of a branch expedition became present to my
mind. I felt elated to think that in such a very short space of time I
had reached the real home of adventure, and was bearing my part in the
wild work of the wilderness. I had each day learned something of that
life I had so often longed for, and as my experience had widened out,
it seemed that each item of knowledge gained had also lengthened out
the time, and distance.

I could scarcely believe that it was but a week since we had started
on this journey with only the hope of toiling on day by day into the
prairie. Already we had become actors in a real adventure, and were
engaged in the performance of those things the mere recital of which at
home had so often given me the keenest pleasure.

While thinking these pleasant thoughts now as we rode along, I
nevertheless watched with jealous eye the security of our prisoner. I
was especially anxious to take the Assineboine alive into camp; the
Cree’s method would on no account have suited me. I desired to be
able to hand over the prisoner to Red Cloud, and to say, “Here is an
Assineboine brave taken by your dog. The Cree wanted to kill him. Dead
men tell no tales; but neither can they give any information. From this
man you will hear all news――the Assineboine plans will be laid bare to
you.”

Thus ruminating within myself we held our way, until the time had come
for changing the course towards the west.

Taking advantage of a valley running through the hills in that
direction, we turned abruptly to our left, and riding for about two
hours began to draw nigh the edge of the broken ground.

The sun, now low upon the horizon, poured along the little valley the
full flood of his evening splendour. Soft and still the landscape lay,
tinged in many a colour of green and gold; for the first shades of
autumn on the cotton-wood trees gave back the salute of the sunset from
their bronzed and yellow leaves, and the green of longer-lived foliage
lay still intermixed among them, as fresh as though spring had but
lately left these quiet hillsides.

At last we reached the edge of the hills; before us the great plain
lay in the glory of the sunset, stretching into what seemed an endless
west: it was an ocean of green shored by a sky of gold.

But I had other things to think of, and leaving the prisoner in a
hollow in Donogh’s charge, I rode to the summit of one of the hills
and began anxiously to scan the plain beneath. No trace of life
met my eye; the great ocean of grass held upon its bosom no sign of
existence. Then I set myself to do all that Red Cloud had told me. The
camp was made some little distance in rear amid the shelter of the
hills. Donogh with gun in hand sat sentry over the prisoner, and the
dog lay alternately licking his wounded chest and gazing ominously at
his enemy, as though the very smallest provocation would induce him to
repeat his onslaught of the mid-day.

By the time camp was made night had fallen. I had already selected my
ground for the signal fire; it was a saddle-back depression between
two ridges, it was fully open to the plain west and south-west, but a
higher ridge hid it from the direct south. Here I made a small bright
fire, continuing to feed the flames with dry wood, which cast up a
bright clear light about three feet in height. For half an hour I kept
the flame steadily burning; then quenching it, I returned to our camp
to find supper nearly ready.

We could as yet only communicate with the Cree by signs, but Donogh
was quickly becoming an adept in the sign language of the wilds, and
he and the Cree had exchanged much information. The prisoner evidently
regarded me as his sole guarantee for safety, and his face brightened
considerably when I returned to camp.

Another half-hour passed; supper had been ready some time, and the Cree
and the Assineboine had already fallen to upon their portions of dry
meat. I began to look anxiously towards the western darkness for the
arrival of the Sioux.



CHAPTER VII.

 The watched one halts――A light to the north-east――The Stonies find
 their mistake――Distant thunder――A light in the dark――The fire
 wind――_Sauve qui peut_――How the fire was lighted――We ride across the
 fire field――Enemies in sight――A dilemma――Between friend and foe――The
 scout throws in his lot with us――We ride to the rescue.


I must leave our little group round the camp fire, anxiously awaiting
the arrival of the absent one, and carry my readers away to follow the
fortunes of Red Cloud, whom we left far out upon the plains, under the
vision, at a long distance, of the watchful eyes of many Assineboine
enemies.

About the mid-day hour he halted by the edge of a small pool of
brackish water, let his horses crop the short grass, and lay down
himself as though he fully intended to camp upon the spot for the
remainder of the day and the ensuing night. He well knew that all his
movements were now under the closest observation from the distant line
of hills, and each move he made was the result of much forethought; bit
by bit the entire line he was pursuing, had been thought out during the
previous night as he sat watching our camp in the aspen thicket. And
this curious course which he had held to-day, as well as the lines
upon which he had directed us to travel, were alike the result of
careful plans long considered in every detail.

The Assineboines who watched his progress had, in fact, planned an
expedition to intercept his further course, when suddenly they observed
him halt, and camp upon the open plain. His capture now appeared to
them to be certain; they had only to wait for nightfall, and then make
a dash from the hills upon him, carry off the horses, and, if he was an
enemy, take his scalp.

They therefore, watched with impatience the decline of day, and as soon
as the first shades of twilight were thrown across the prairie they
were riding hard for the spot where the last gleam of light had shown
them the solitary traveller camped in fancied security.

But no sooner had these first shades fallen, than the seemingly
unsuspecting traveller had sprung to his feet and made a rapid movement
towards departure. As he jumped into his saddle a faint speck of light
began to glow far off towards the north-east; soon it was seen to burn
into a steady flame. Full upon the beacon Red Cloud held his way. It
was his object to make as much distance as possible while the little
ray of light still burned, so he galloped hard over the level ground.
All at once it disappeared as suddenly as it had arisen, but the line
it had given him he had marked by a star in the north-east heavens, and
he kept on with unfaltering pace.

Anticipating every move of his enemies, he felt assured they would
leave the hills as soon as twilight promised cover to their approach.

If he had allowed the fire to be continued in our camp, the Assineboines
could not fail to see it when they reached the neighbourhood of his
resting-place in the plains; but he had calculated all things exactly,
and when about an hour after nightfall they sought in vain for trace of
man or horse upon the very ground where, during the daylight, they had,
as they thought, marked their prey, nothing save the dim blank of the
prairie wrapped in darkness met their eyes, and no sound came to their
listening ears save the long sigh of the night-wind through the dry
grass of the plains.

Then all at once it flashed upon them. It was Red Cloud, the Sioux,
whom they had watched all day upon the prairie; he had placed himself
thus as a decoy to distract their attention from the camp where lay the
sick Cree and the horses. While they had been watching this solitary
Indian, doubtless the others had slipped away to some distant place of
meeting, and the much-coveted prize of horses and scalp were lost to
them for ever.

But men who have set their hearts upon gaining something which they
eagerly long to obtain do not easily relinquish all hope of success.
After a short consultation the Assineboines determined to return to
their camp, and early on the morrow to set out on a vigorous pursuit
of the fugitives, who, they reasoned, encumbered by stores and a
wounded comrade, would be able only to move slowly along. At the Sioux
camp it would be easy to strike the trail, and a couple of days’ riding
would place them upon the skirts of the party again.

Arguing thus amongst themselves, and feeling that the much-coveted
prize might still be theirs, the Assineboines returned to their camp.
The rage of the trader McDermott knew no bounds when he heard the
result of the stratagem by which the Sioux had eluded his enemies.
Never had such a chance been given him of freeing himself for ever from
the terror of his life――never had chance been so utterly and foolishly
thrown away. Bitterly he reviled the Assineboines for their want of
sagacity in thus letting slip a prize almost within their grasp.

“I gave ye,” he said, “a chance of becoming at one stroke chiefs among
your tribe. Ye have lost that chance; but your enemies can’t be far
away. To-morrow, if ye set out at daybreak, and do not rest until ye
have overtaken them, ye will yet return to your people as big Indians.”

But meantime a fresh cause for anxiety arose amongst the Assineboines.
Their comrade who had gone out in the morning to spy the camp had not
returned. Some mishap must surely have befallen him; and yet it seemed
difficult to imagine how he could have suffered harm at the hands of
a wounded Cree and a couple of young white men. The morning would,
perhaps, bring him forth safe and sound.

While thus around the camp-fire of the Assineboine war-party various
surmises were afloat, and different plans were being formed for
reversing on the morrow the mishaps of the day just passed, there
was heard a low, distant noise――a sound seemingly far away in the
night――that caused the Indians to spring suddenly to their feet, and
gaze anxiously out into the darkness. And then they beheld a sight
which the glare of their own fire had hitherto concealed from them. It
was a lurid glow which overspread the entire northern heaven. Against
this red light the trees and thickets of the nearer hills showed black
and distinct. A fresh breeze was blowing from the north, and on its
wings came the low roar of flame――that terrible noise which, when
echoed in the full volume of a prairie fire, is one of the most awful
sounds the human ear can listen to. And now, as the Assineboines looked
and listened, the roar grew each moment louder, the glare spread into
broader sheets of light across the north. For behind the fire there was
rising the well known fire-wind, which came to fan into furnace flame
the devouring element, and to hurl it in more furious bounds along the
quivering earth.

Borne on this hot blast, the roar of the many-tongued flame came louder
than the waves against the rocks in winter tempest. Within the vast
volume of sound could be distinguished the sharper crackle of the
dry trees as the tide of fire reached some thickets, and at a single
bound swept through them, from end to end, shooting out great tongues
of flame high into the heavens, and sending others to leap madly on
towards the south in strides that mocked the speed even of wild birds
to escape before them.

A glance had been sufficient to tell the Assineboines of their danger.
Wildly they rushed for their horses, and strove to get together their
arms. Many of the horses had been only lately turned adrift, and these
were easily caught; but the animals belonging to the trader were
further away, and his pack-saddles, containing his provisions and
several articles of trade――gunpowder, lead, flour, tea, sugar, and a
small bale of blankets――lay on the ground near the camp. Amidst the
dire confusion of the scene, while the Indians ran hither and thither,
and the horses, already frightened at the roar of the approaching fire,
began to snort in terror, the wretched trader might have been seen
rushing frantically amid his packs, shouting orders that were unheeded,
and vainly trying to get his goods together.

His Indian and half-breed attendants meantime rushed to the spot where
the horses had been left, and managing to secure the five, came riding
back in all haste with them to the camp. But the confusion and terror
of all concerned had now reached the wildest pitch. In the great glare
of the approaching fire faces and figures were plainly visible. Each
man seemed only to think about his own safety, and all were so busy at
their own work that they had no time to think of another’s. One by one
they began to get away from the scene, all taking the direction of the
plains, and soon only the trader and his two attendants remained in the
camp. By dint of great exertions the saddles were placed upon three of
the horses; but it was impossible to get the heavier packs on to the
animals.

The near approach of the fire, and the multitude of sparks that already
filled the air around where they stood, caused the horses to kick and
plunge violently, and it soon became apparent that a longer delay would
only engulf the entire party in ruin. A last hope seemed to seize
McDermott. There was a small pond of water near the camp; into this he
would put his goods. Much would be hopelessly spoiled; but many of the
articles would sustain but little damage, and he would return again
to succour them. Hastily acting upon this idea he carried the packs
into the pond, and laid them in about two feet of water, not far from
the shore. The half-breed helped him with the work. The Salteaux stood
ready with the horses. Then the trader sprang into the saddle, and all
three rode wildly from the scene. It was a close shave. As they cleared
the hills the tongues of flame were licking the air above their heads.
The fragments of fire were falling in showers around them. Once out in
the plain they were safe; the grass was short and crisp, and the flames
could make only a slow progress upon it.

When the trader and his two companions were safe beyond the range of
the fire, they looked around on every side for their late friends; but
no trace could be seen of man or beast. The great mass of flame made
visible a wide circle of prairie; beyond that circle all was profound
darkness.

They rode on farther into the gloom. The circle of light began to
decrease in area as they got farther away from the blazing hills. Still
there was no sign of life. Their companions had evidently deserted them.

McDermott determined to encamp where he was, and to trust to daylight
to show him his friends or restore to him at least some portion of his
lost goods. The Assineboines had indeed acted in a cowardly manner.
They had ridden straight away into the plains to a spot many miles
distant. A sudden panic appeared to have possessed them. Abandoning
the trader to his fate, they had retired to concoct amongst themselves
fresh plans for the future.

Leaving McDermott, gloomily watching from his bleak bivouac the raging
fire as it flew along its course to the south, we must come back to our
camp, where sat the Cree, Donogh, the Assineboine prisoner, and his
capturers, by the fire in the Wolverine hills.

The Cree and his prisoner had just finished their meal of dry meat
and tea――the latter a luxury which Donogh gave them as a great treat,
making no distinction between his ally the Cree and his captive
the Assineboine――when from the hill close by there sounded the low
plaintive cry of a wolf.

I recognized instantly my friend’s signal, and made answer in the
fashion the Sioux had taught me. Then Red Cloud came riding up into the
circle of light which surrounded the camp-fire, and safe after a long
and adventurous day our little prairie party stood once more united.

The Sioux did not lose time, however, in asking questions or in
listening to the recital of the day’s work. There was still much to be
done ere it was time to sit down and eat or rest. The questions and
answers would keep.

Bidding me follow him, and telling Donogh and the Cree to keep watch,
with his gun at the “ready,” over the prisoner, whose legs were still
firmly fastened together, he walked straight from the camp into the
dark hills towards the south.

Walking close behind him in his footsteps, I waited anxiously to know
what this new movement portended. I had not long, however, to wait.
Some little distance to the south of the camp a chain of lakelets,
partly joined together by swamps, ran through the hills from east to
west. Passing over one of the causeways of hard, dry ground which lay
at intervals through this chain, and going round a small lake until he
had reached the farther side of the water, the Sioux stopped and turned
to me.

“Now,” he said, “I am going to fire the grass along the edge of this
water. The wind blows strongly from the north――it will blow stronger
when this grass is on fire. Standing in the wet reeds you will be
perfectly safe from the flames; they will quickly burn away from you.
I will fire the grass in many places along this line. I want you to do
the same to the east while I do it to the west. The flames will not
burn back towards the north in the face of this wind, and across these
wet swamps, but to the south! Ah! there you will see such a blaze as
you never before saw in your life!”

[Illustration: Firing the prairie grass.]

So saying, he struck a match and applied it to the dry and withered
grass. For an instant it flickered low amid the blades and stems; then
it caught fully. A sudden gust of north wind smote it and drove it down
amid the roots of the grass, and then it rushed wildly away up the
inclined plane which rose from the water and spread out to either side
in widening circles of vivid fire.

The Sioux tore some dry grass from the ground, held it in the blaze,
and then ran quickly along, touching the grass as he went, and leaving
behind him a trail of fire. On the other side I did the same. Wider
grew the void――faster down the wind sped the rushing flame. In a
very short time an immense band of fire lay across the hills――a band
that moved to the south with a pace that momentarily grew more rapid――a
roar that increased in volume every instant, until, in a great surge of
flame, fanned by the full strength of the fire-wind, the torrent fled
southward over hill and valley towards the camp of the Assineboines.

Half an hour later we met again in the camp, and as the roar of the
fire grew fainter in the hills we sat together over our supper, and had
full time to talk of the adventures of the day.

Before daybreak next morning a thick rain began to fall. The Sioux
roused me, and told me that he intended to reconnoitre the site of the
Assineboine camp, to which he would make the prisoner lead the way. He
explained to the captive that his people had of necessity fled from the
fire; that he did not desire to be brought into contact with them, but
that he wished to see the line of their retreat. He also explained to
the prisoner, that while he had no intention of taking his life in cold
blood, yet that nevertheless any attempt at escape, or any appearance
of treachery, would at once lead to his (the prisoner’s) being shot.
Donogh and the Cree were left in the camp, and as they were fully armed
there was no danger to apprehend from attack.

The ground lying south of the chain of marshes was now one vast black
waste. It would have been impossible to have ridden over it if the
rain had not extinguished the glowing ashes at the roots of the burnt
grass and cooled the surface of the ground. Here and there a thicket
still smoked, or the trunk of a fallen tree smouldered in the morning
air; but the rain had blotted out all signs of fire save the blackened
earth, which, under the influence of the damp, made the entire
landscape appear as if it had been overspread with ink.

Guided by the Assineboine, who was securely tied in his saddle, and
whose left arm was firmly fastened to his side, we drew nigh to the
site of the abandoned camp. As we gained the summit of a hill which
commanded a view of the place from the north side, the Sioux, who led
the way with the prisoner at his side, pulled in his horse abruptly,
and motioned me to hold back; for there, by the edge of a small pond
at the foot of the hill were three dark figures, and some spare horses
on the darker ground. A glance had sufficed to show the Sioux that one
of these figures was a white man; making a significant gesture to the
prisoner, he whispered for a moment into his ear. A dark shadow crossed
the face of the Sioux as he listened to his captive’s reply. Here,
within four hundred yards of him, stood his hated enemy, the man whose
life he sought, the murderer of his father. And yet it was not thus he
had longed to meet him. For the two men who were with his enemy he
cared little. A sudden attack upon the three he would not have shrunk
from, even though the odds would have been desperate; but how could
he involve another in such a struggle? and what should he do with the
Assineboine prisoner, who at the first symptom of attack would turn
against his captors?

Rapidly he had taken in all these things; but for a moment he was
unable to frame his course amid so many conflicting thoughts. Soon,
however, his mind appeared made up, and he began to retrace his
steps in the direction from which we had come. When we had gained a
sufficient distance from the scene he again halted, and spoke to me.
“There are some people in front whom it will be better that I should
examine alone. Return with the prisoner to our camp; if I fail to
rejoin you there before sunset, you may know that I have ceased to
live. My horses and all I possess will then be yours. I am sorry that I
should be forced to leave you thus; but you will not be worse off than
when we met one week ago.”

Then taking my hand, he shook it in silence, and turned back towards
the ridge from whence he had seen the strange figures.

I was dumb with astonishment. What was the meaning of this strange
conduct on his part? I tried in vain for an explanation. I remembered
that the Assineboine had spoken to the Sioux, and that it was the
information he had given which had first caused the change in my
friend’s plan. Instinctively I now looked towards my prisoner in the
hope of finding an explanation of the mystery. The prisoner met my look
with an expression of face that seemed to say, “I know what you are
thinking of; but I cannot speak your tongue.”

The Indian is, however, an adept in the art of communicating his
thoughts by sign and gesture. There are few incidents of life on the
plains that he cannot portray by the motion of his hands, the attitudes
of his body, or the expression of his features. There is in fact a
universal sign language common to all the various tribes over the
vast wilderness, and when Sioux meets in peace Arrapahoe, or Crow and
Blackfoot come together, they are able by means of their sign language,
to exchange with each other all news of war, chase, or adventure,
though no spoken word will have passed between them.

As the Assineboine now looked me full in the face, he began by instinct
to express his meaning by signs. He placed his head resting on one
side with his eyes closed, to indicate a camp or resting-place; then
he pointed to himself, and held up the fingers of one hand twice, to
show that it was the camp of his friends the Assineboines that he
meant; then he touched me on the cheek and held up one finger, at the
same time pointing in the direction of the ridge which they had just
quitted, and moving his hand in the form of a circle, to show that
he wished to carry his companion in thought beyond the circle of that
ridge. Again he pointed to my face and repeatedly held up one finger.
This was easily understood, it meant a white man; and following this
clue I arrived at the fact that in the camp of the Assineboines there
had been a white man. That was enough for me; my friend guessed, and
guessed quickly, the rest. The white man was the trader McDermott. One
of the three men seen by the Sioux from the ridge-top was the enemy he
had so long sought for, and now he had gone back to risk his life in a
desperate and unequal struggle with this inveterate foe.

[Illustration: The white man was the trader McDermott.]

I looked towards the ridge, and noticed that the figure of the Sioux
was no longer visible upon its black surface. He was evidently
following the valley, to gain some point from which he might make a
closer onslaught upon the party.

I had small time left for reflection; but when a man keeps one great
object steadily in view, it is ever an easy matter to decide upon the
general outline of the course he has to follow; that great object in
this case was to help my friend――to save him, if possible, in the
desperate venture in which he was about to engage. I could not accept
quietly the part which in this instance the Sioux would have assigned
to me. Friendship is no limited liability, and in the peril of the work
we had undertaken it should be all and all alike. The presence of the
Assineboine was, however, a fact not to be overlooked in the affair.
It would have been an easy matter to have rid myself of this prisoner,
and then galloped direct to the assistance of my friend; but I could
not entertain such a thought for a second. Life taken in fair fight had
little terror for me; but not even the safety of my friend’s life, or
of my own, could induce me to slay in cold blood a fellow-creature.

One sign I made to the Assineboine. Holding up two fingers, I pointed
to the Assineboine and then motioned with my hand across the ridge. The
question was understood, and the prisoner shook his head in reply――the
other two men whom we had seen were not Assineboines. That was all I
wanted to know. In an instant I had severed the cords which bound the
prisoner in his saddle, and had cut free his left arm from its binding;
then I motioned with my hand that he was free to go whither he pleased.
Since the prisoner’s capture many things had caused him unutterable
astonishment. His life had been spared, he had been well fed; his leg,
which had sustained only a trifling injury from his encounter with
the dog, had been carefully looked after by the man who had taken him
prisoner; and here now, when he could fully read in that white man’s
face the reasons why he (that white man) might have taken his life in
order to be free to assist his comrade, liberty was given to him, and
he was told to go which way he might select.

He was a bold and adventurous Indian, this Assineboine――perhaps of his
party the best and bravest. Still he would not have scrupled at any
moment, had occasion offered, to make an effort for his freedom at
the expense of the lives of those around him; but now, the generous
act of the white man struck him in a totally new light, and he sat on
his horse unable to shape a distinct line of action amidst the many
conflicting thoughts that thronged his brain.

There had existed, in days when his people, the Assineboines, were
one of the most formidable tribes on the northern prairies――when
Teltacka, or the Left-handed, ruled from the Souri to the South
Saskatchewan――there had been, he knew, a custom in the tribe for young
men to show unexpected clemency to a vanquished foe; but never had he
heard, amid the stories told over the camp fire of deeds of bygone
battle or of ancient prowess, such an example of generosity and courage
as that now before him. As a boy he had heard his father tell how once,
in a battle with the Gros Ventres near the Knife river, he had spared
the life of a young man whose horse had plunged into a snow-drift,
leaving its rider completely at his mercy, and how years after the same
Gros Ventre had repaid the gift by saving his former benefactor from
the fury of the victors, when the might of the Assineboines was crushed
by the same band on the banks of the Missouri. These things now all
flashed through the mind of the Assineboine, in a tenth of the time it
has taken me to put into words the scene in which he found himself
suddenly set at liberty, and free to follow what course he pleased.

I did not wait to see what my late prisoner would decide upon, but
turning my horse quickly from the spot I rode in the direction of the
place where the Sioux had been last seen. I had not gone very far
before I was aware that my late prisoner was following in my wake. An
idea of treachery at once crossed my mind; but looking back I saw the
Assineboine making signs of friendship. I pulled up and awaited his
approach. As he came up he pointed to his defenceless state; then to
the bow and arrows which I had taken on the previous day, and which
I still carried slung over my shoulder; then the Assineboine’s arm
was directed towards the ridge, and placing his hands in the attitude
of those of a man drawing an arrow to full stretch at the moment of
firing, he indicated plainly enough his meaning. He would help in the
coming struggle if he had arms to do so. I handed him his bow and
quiver, and then we two, so lately captor and captive, rode forward as
comrades to the fight.



CHAPTER VIII.

 The fight――The Sioux and the swamp――The trader’s triumph――Red Cloud
 fights on foot――The trader finds he has other foes to reckon with――The
 Assineboine draws a straight arrow――The trader’s flight――Our losses and
 gains――Winter supplies――Our party is completed――“All’s well that ends
 well.”


There was no time now for reconnoitring the ground before the attack
began. There was in fact nothing for it but to ride straight over the
ridge, and lunge at once into the struggle, for, as we rode briskly
up the black incline towards the top of the hill the sharp report of
a shot already echoed through the hills, a signal that the fray had
begun. It was even so.

The Sioux, following the valley round the foot of the ridge, had
debouched close to his foe, and had put his horse straight for the spot
where the trader was still engaged, on the edge of the pool, in loading
the stores which he had just carried from the water, upon the backs of
his pack animals.

The presence of the Sioux became instantly known to his enemy.
Relinquishing his work, the trader seized his gun from the ground where
it was lying, and dropping upon one knee he took deliberate aim at the
advancing horseman. The Sioux bent low upon his horse’s neck as the
white smoke flashed from the muzzle, and the bullet whistled over his
lowered head, burying itself in the hill-side.

Meanwhile the trader’s two attendants had sprung to their saddles,
apparently more ready for flight than for fight. The onslaught of the
Sioux was so sudden and so unexpected that these men had no time to
realize the fact that there was only one assailant; more than this,
they had engaged with their master to trade, not to fight; and, though
neither of them was thoroughly deficient in courage, the first impulse
of both on this occasion, was to fly; and had the Sioux been permitted
to continue his onward career full upon McDermott he would have found
himself alone face to face with his hated foe; but such was not to be.

Between the Sioux and the trader there lay a small swampy spot, half
stagnant water, half morass, not more than six paces across; it ran
inland from the pool for some distance. The blackened ground lying on
every side had completely hidden from the keen eye of the Indian the
dangerous nature of the spot. All at once he saw before his horse, now
at full gallop, this fatal obstacle. To have checked his horse would
have been no easy matter, so impetuous was his rate of motion; but
had it been possible to have stayed his own charger, he would have
presented such a sure mark for the keen eyes of the men on the further
side of the pond as to ensure the destruction of both horse and rider.
There was nothing for it then but to go full at the dangerous spot, and
trust to strength of horse and skill of rider to come through.

Raising the horse a little in his pace, the Sioux held straight upon
his course; the soft ground broke beneath the horse’s feet, but so
rapid were the movements of his legs, and so strong were his efforts
to draw himself clear of the spongy soil, that for a second or two it
seemed as though he would pull through and win the other side. At the
far edge, however, a softer and deeper spot opened beneath the vigorous
hoof, and, despite all efforts, the brave little animal sank helpless
to his girths.

The Sioux sprang to his feet, and in another second he had gained
the dry, firm ground at the farther side; but the water of the swamp
had for a moment covered his gun, the priming had become hopelessly
clogged, and the weapon utterly useless to him. The mishap had given
his adversary time for reflection and preparation; and the two
retainers, realizing the fact that they were attacked by only one
assailant, and that even that one was already half engulfed amid a
swamp, took heart and came down to the assistance of their employer;
while the trader himself had profited by the delay to jump into his
saddle and to fall back out of reach of the Sioux in order to reload
his gun.

Long practice in following the herds of buffalo over the prairies at
headlong speed, had made him an expert hand at rapid loading and
firing on horseback. To throw from his powder-horn a charge of powder
loosely into the gun; to spit from his mouth a ball down the muzzle,
so that the action caused at the same instant the powder to press out
into the priming-pan and the bullet to fit against the powder――these
motions of the buffalo-hunter took him but a few seconds, and wheeling
his horse at the charge, he now came thundering down full at the Sioux.
But though little time had been lost in these movements of loading,
enough had passed to enable Red Cloud to change his tactics and to
secure himself from the first furious onslaught which he saw impending.
Springing across the treacherous morass, he gained the side on which he
had first entered it, and with his bow at the “ready” he calmly awaited
the charge of his enemy.

While yet fully one hundred yards distant, McDermott saw and realized
the change on the part of the Sioux, and knowing the fatal nature of
the ground, he forbore not only to risk his horse across the swamp, but
to approach within fifty yards of its nearer side――a distance which
would have brought him within range of his enemy’s fire; he however
looked upon the fate of the Sioux as certain; and well it might appear
so to him.

All chance of escape was now cut off; the horse still lay helpless in
the morass, buried to the girths; his rider, active and expert though
he was on foot, could only hope to delay his fate when pitted in fight
against three horsemen, and with nothing but a bow and arrow to oppose
to their fire-arms. If the position could not be forced in front, there
was ample room to turn its flank and move round it on the hill side.
Thus menaced in front and attacked in rear, the position of the Sioux
might well seem desperate.

Fully did Red Cloud in these few seconds of time realize the dangers
that encompassed him; nevertheless, he thought far less of his own
peril than of his inability to meet his deadly foe. Bitterly he
repented of his rash onslaught, and still more bitter were his regrets
that he should have left his trusty double-barrelled rifle――which he
usually carried slung upon his back――in the camp that morning, and that
he had no more effective weapon now than the bow and arrows, which
he could so dexterously handle, but which were only of use at fifty
or sixty yards, while his rifle would have enabled him to cover his
enemies at four times that distance. McDermott was, as we have said, no
novice in the art of prairie war or chase. He quickly saw the strength
or weakness of his adversary’s position.

Calling to his attendants to watch the side of the small swamp nearest
to where he stood, and thus prevent the Sioux from again executing a
movement across it, he wheeled his horse rapidly to one side, and rode
furiously towards the base of the hill, so as to pass round upon the
dry ground at the end of the swamp, and bear down upon his foe from
behind. As he passed his retainers, he shouted to them to ride up and
fire upon the Sioux, promising that the horse and all that belonged to
its rider should be the reward of him who would bring the foe to the
ground.

The French half-breed showed little inclination, however, to render
the already long odds against the Sioux still more desperate; but the
Salteaux belonged to a tribe long at deadly enmity with the Sioux
nation, and he also inherited much of the cowardly ferocity of his own
tribe, who, unable to cope in the open country with their enemies,
never scrupled to obtain trophies which they could not win in war, by
the aid of treacherous surprise or dastardly night attacks. The present
was a kind of warfare peculiarly suited to his instincts, and he now
rode forward to fire upon the Sioux across the swamp, at the moment
when he would be engaged with a more formidable enemy on his own side.

These movements, quickly as they passed, were all noted by the watchful
eye of the Sioux. He cast one quick look at his horse, in the hope that
it might be possible to extricate him from the swamp ere the trader
had yet got round the northern side; but a glance was enough to tell
him that all hope in that quarter was gone, for the ooze had risen
higher upon the poor animal, and nothing but the united labour of two
or three hands, could now draw him from the quicksand. His head was
still free, however, and Red Cloud had time to notice in his own moment
of peril how the eye of his faithful friend and long-tried servant
turned upon him what seemed a look of sympathy in his great extremity.
But now the trader had gained the end of the swamp and was already
beginning to wheel his horse towards where the Sioux stood. A natural
impulse bid the latter move forward to meet his foe. Short as was the
space that separated the two men, rapid as was the pace at which one
was momentarily lessening that distance, Red Cloud rushed forward to
meet the advancing horseman. The trader’s plan was to keep just out of
the range of the Sioux’ arrows, and to manœuvre his horse so that he
could get frequent shots at his enemy without exposing himself to the
slightest danger. He knew too well with what terrible accuracy the red
man can use his bow at any object within fifty yards of his standpoint.
McDermott was a true shot, whether on horseback or on foot; he knew,
too, all those shifts of body by which the Indian manages to partially
cover himself by his horse at moments of attack; but on the present
occasion he intended simply to continue hovering round the Sioux, who
was just in the angle formed by the swamp and the lake, and to take
his time in every shot he would fire. Pulling up his horse at about
eighty yards’ distance, he placed his gun to his shoulder and laid his
head low upon the stock, aiming right over the ears of his horse upon
the advancing figure of the Sioux. But while yet his finger paused
ere pressing the trigger, the sharp ring of a bullet smote his ear;
his horse gave a convulsive spring upwards, and the trader, retaining
his seat with difficulty, fired wildly and harmlessly into the air.
Then, ere he could sufficiently recover his suddenly startled senses,
there came loud shouts of advancing men from the ridge upon his left.
Turning his head in that direction, he beheld two horsemen riding at
a furious gallop down upon him. His life was dearer to him than the
hope of destroying his enemy. Fortunate at finding that his horse had
only received a flesh wound, and that he was still able to carry a
rider, McDermott wheeled quickly to the rear, to retire the way he had
come. As he did so, an arrow grazed his shoulder, and whistled past
into the ground; then, from the ridge another shot rang out, this time
fired in the direction of the Salteaux, who had advanced to within
sixty paces of the Sioux on the opposite side of the swamp. The ball
went sufficiently near its mark to cause that worthy to abandon his
attempt at murder, and to execute a rapid retrograde movement; indeed,
so thoroughly did he appear convinced that the battle was irrevocably
lost, that he ceased not to continue his flight, quite unmindful of any
fate which might overtake either his master or fellow-servant.

[Illustration: McDermott pulled up his horse.]

McDermott seeing that the game was up, now made a final effort to
save his pack animals from capture; but my blood was now thoroughly
roused――the fever of fight was on me, and no power on earth could stay
my onward career.

Followed closely by the Assineboine, I swept round by the head of the
swamp, and made straight for the spot where the trader was endeavouring
to get his pack animals into motion. As I rode along at full gallop,
I passed the French half-breed at some distance; the latter dropped
his gun across his bridle arm and fired in front of my horse. The ball
struck the animal in the neck, and plunging forward, horse and rider
were instantly stretched upon the ground in one confused mass. But the
Assineboine was riding close in my wake.

Seeing the action of the half-breed, he turned his horse slightly to
the right, and with an arrow drawn to the fullest stretch of his stout
Indian bow, he bore full upon the flank of this new enemy.

Too late the half-breed saw his danger, and turned to fly. At thirty
paces’ distance the Assineboine let fly his shaft, with so true an aim
that the arrow pierced the half-breed’s leg and buried itself deeply
in his horse’s side. He did not await another shot; drawing a pistol,
he fired wildly at the Assineboine, and followed the Salteaux in his
flight.

Meantime the Sioux had crossed the swamp, and was approaching swiftly
on foot to this new scene of combat. The trader beheld with rage the
sudden turn which the fight had taken. His horse had suffered little
from his flesh wound, and now that the only two steeds whose pace and
mettle were matches for his own were disposed of, he could still easily
distance any attempt at pursuit; but to delay longer in endeavouring to
save his goods would soon have cost him his life. Red Cloud was drawing
rapidly near――the Salteaux and the half-breed had fled. For a moment he
thought of falling back to continue the fight at longer range, using
his horse to carry him from ridge to ridge; but now another rider
suddenly appeared upon the sky-line on the side from which the first
attack had been delivered. It was Donogh riding down to the rescue.
This fresh accession to the strength of his enemies decided him.

Utterly beaten at all points, and flinging an impotent malediction
towards his enemies, McDermott hastened from the scene of the disaster,
leaving two pack-horses and all his stores in the hands of the victors.

Donogh now joined us. He was wild with excitement, and his joy at
finding me safe knew no bounds. For some time after our departure
from camp he had sat quiet, but the Cree had told him by signs that a
fight was probable, and then he could stand inaction no longer. He had
followed our trail; as he neared the scene of action, the report of
fire-arms had told him the struggle had already begun; and then he had
galloped straight to the rescue. Seeing me on the ground, his first
idea was to charge the trader, and it was this new and impetuous onset
that finally decided McDermott’s flight.

The Sioux made it his first care to ascertain what damage had befallen
his friend. I had half risen from the ground; but the violence of
the shock had been so great that it was some little time before I
fully understood what was passing around. As soon as Red Cloud had
ascertained that I had sustained no greater injury than the concussion
the fall had given me, he turned his attention to the Assineboine,
whose aid, at the most critical moment, had completely turned the
fortunes of the day. It was in his own noble nature to comprehend the
change which had worked upon our late prisoner and made him a staunch
and firm friend; he took the hand of the Assineboine, and shook it
warmly. “I owe you much for this day,” he said; “I shall begin to repay
it from this moment. Help me to draw my horse from yonder swamp, and
then we shall see to our prizes.”

So saying, but first securing the pack animals, and giving the lariat
which held them into my hands, the Sioux, Donogh, and the Assineboine
turned to rescue the horse from the swamp where he had lain, sinking
gradually deeper, since that disastrous moment when first breaking
through the spongy soil he had so nearly ended for ever the career of
his rider.

By dint of great exertions, working with leather lines passed around
the neck and quarters of the horse, they at length succeeded in
drawing him from the morass. The Sioux was overjoyed at once more
recovering his long-tried horse; for a moment he half forgot the
bitterness of having lost his enemy, in the pleasure of finding himself
still the owner of this faithful friend.

But the full importance of the victory just gained only burst upon
our little party when we came to examine the goods that had fallen to
us as victors. The two pack-horses had only been partly loaded, and
many of the parcels and bags still lay in loose heaps upon the ground;
they were all dripping with water, having been only recently brought
from out of the lake, where they had lain since the alarm of fire on
the previous night; but a careful examination showed that they had
sustained little damage from the water. It is well known that flour
lying closely packed in a sack resists for a great time the action of
damp, the portion nearest to the sack becomes a soft sort of cement,
which prevents the water from penetrating more than a couple of inches
further in. Thus, the three sacks of fine Red River flour formed a
most precious treasure to men whose winter hut was to be built still
farther among the vast solitudes than the spot they were now on. A
small barrel of gunpowder, coppered on the inside, was of course
perfectly water-tight; a case of knives, with some axe-heads and saws,
only required to be dried and cleaned to be again in perfect order; a
few hours’ exposure to sun and wind would suffice to dry the blankets
and flour; the tea, most precious article, was to a great extent saved
by being made up in tin canisters――only that portion of it which was
in lead paper had suffered injury; and the sugar, though the wet had
quite penetrated through the bag, could still be run down by the
action of fire to the consistency of hard cakes, which would be quite
serviceable for use in that state. Two bags of salt, though wet, were
also serviceable.

Of course such things as shot, bullets, and a few hardware articles,
had suffered no injury whatever.

Thus as, one by one, all these things were unpacked and laid out upon
the ground, we realized how fortunate had been the chance that had
thrown so many valuable essentials of prairie life into the possession
of our party.

“We are now,” said the Sioux, “quite independent of every one. We have
here supplies which will last us for the entire winter and far into
next year. You, my friend,” he said to the Assineboine, “will continue
with us, and share all these things; they are as much yours as they are
ours. If you decide to join us, even for a while, you will live as we
do. We are on our way far west, to hunt and roam the plains; we will
winter many days’ journey from here. If it should be your wish to go
and rejoin your people, one of these horses and a third of these things
shall be yours to take away with you; but if you remain with us, you
will share our camp, our fire, our food.”

The Assineboine did not ponder long upon his decision; to return to
his people would have been to open many causes of quarrel with them or
with the trader or his agents. The new life offered everything that
an Indian could covet. Red Cloud was a chief of the Sioux――a people
who had ever been as cousins to his people――whose language closely
resembled his own. “Yes he would go west with these men, even to where
the sun set.”

The Assineboine――who in future shall bear the name by which he
was first known to us, of the scout――had possessed himself of the
half-breed’s gun, which that worthy had dropped at the moment he
received the arrow wound. His steed, a thoroughly serviceable Indian
pony, had both speed and endurance, and was therefore suited for any
emergency which war or the chase might call forth. My horse had been
the only loss in the affair; but in his place there had been a gain of
two good steeds, and there were spare goods in the packs sufficient to
purchase a dozen horses from any Indian camp the party might reach.

While the Sioux and the scout were busily engaged in looking through
the trader’s captured stores, I sat revolving in my mind every incident
of the recent struggle. On the whole I felt well-pleased; it was my
first brush with an enemy, and I had not flinched from fire or charge.

From the moment of my first shot from the ridge top――a shot fired at
two hundred yards’ range――to my last onslaught upon the retreating
trader, I had never lost my head; eye, hand, and brain had worked
together, and I had unconsciously timed every move to the demand of the
passing moment.

I fully realized the reasons why Red Cloud had decided not to involve
me in his struggle with the trader, but I could not help saying to my
friend when we were about to leave the spot, “We were to have been
brothers in war, as well as in peace. You have not kept your word
fairly with me.”

“All’s well that ends well,” said the Sioux. “Henceforth our fights
shall be shared evenly between us.”

Having stripped the dead horse of his saddle and trappings, I mounted
one of the captured animals, and his load divided between the other
animals, the whole party set out at a rapid pace for our camp.



CHAPTER IX.

 We again go West――Hiding the trail――Red and white for once in
 harmony――Peace and plenty――An autumn holiday――We select a winter’s
 camp――The Forks――Hut-building――Our food supply――The autumn hunt――The
 Great Prairie――Home thoughts――Indian instincts――The Lake of the
 Winds――Buffalo――Good meat――A long stalk――The monarch of the waste――A
 stampede――Wolves――The red man’s tobacco.


As we rode back to camp, the Sioux learned from the scout all that had
happened in the camp of the Assineboines, from the time that he had
himself brought news of the presence in the hills of the disabled Cree
and his protectors, until the moment when he had been captured by the
united efforts of the dog and his masters.

The Sioux listened eagerly to the story of the trader’s having
literally set a price upon his head; and when he reflected that all the
precautions which he, Red Cloud, had taken had been done in complete
ignorance of the machinations of his enemy, and only from casually
learning from the Cree that a party of hostile Indians had passed him
on the previous night, he felt how true is that lesson in war which
enjoins never neglecting in times of danger to guard against the worst
even though the least may only be threatened.

But Red Cloud learned from the story of the scout information for
future guidance, as well as confirmation of the course he had already
followed. He realized the fact that though the fire had already freed
him from the presence of the Assineboines, yet, that it could only
be a short respite; the bribe offered by the trader was too high to
allow these men to relinquish all hope of taking prizes which were to
make them great Indians for the rest of their lives. The necessity of
quickly shifting his ground, and of leaving altogether that part of
the country, became so fully apparent to him that he lost no time in
communicating to us his plan of action.

It was, to march that evening about ten miles towards the north, and
then to strike from the hills due west into the great plain. Being
heavily loaded with stores, we could not hope by dint of hard marching
to outstrip our enemies; but by taking unusual precautions to hide our
trail, we might succeed in successfully eluding the watchful eyes of
the Assineboines.

A hasty dinner followed the return of the party to camp, and then
preparations for departure were at once made. The Cree had made, in the
rest and care of the last two days, more progress to recovery than in
the whole period of his former convalescence, and he was now well able
to take his share in the work of striking camp.

When men bivouac in the open it takes but little time to make a camp or
to quit it, and ere the sun had set the whole party had got in motion,
and, led by the Sioux, were threading their course through the hills
farther towards the north.

The rain had ceased, but the grass was still too wet to burn, so that
the simple expedient of setting fire to the prairie in order to hide
a trail, was in this instance impossible. As, however, the point of
departure from the hills for the west was the point most essential to
obliterate, the Sioux did not so much care that our trail while in the
hills could easily be followed.

Not until midnight did he give the word to camp, and the first streak
of dawn found us again in motion. While the morning was still young
we arrived at a small river which flowed out from the hills into the
plain, and pursued, far as the eye could determine to the west, a
course sunken in a narrow valley deep beneath the level of the prairie.
Here was the point of departure. The stream was shallow, and the
current ran over a bed of sand and pebbles. The Sioux, Donogh, and I,
led the pack-horses along the centre of this river channel, while the
scout and the Cree were directed to ride many times to and fro up the
farther bank, and then to continue their course towards the north for
some miles.

It was Red Cloud’s intention to camp about fifteen miles lower down the
stream; he would only keep his horses in the bed of the channel for one
hour, by that time he would have gained a considerable distance down
stream; then selecting a dry or rocky place, we would have left the
channel and continued our course along the meadows on one side.

When the scout and the Cree had put some miles between them and the
stream they were to turn sharp to their left hand; first one, and later
on the other, and then rejoin us some time during the following day. By
these plans the Sioux hoped to foil any pursuers who might be on his
trail, and he would certainly succeed in delaying a pursuit until the
fine weather would again make the grass dry enough to allow it to burn.

Down the centre of the stream we led the pack-horses in file, and away
to the north went the scout and the Cree. It was toilsome work wading
along the channel of the river, which in some places held rocks and
large loose stones; but by little and little progress was made, and
ere sunset the dry ground was once more under foot, and our party was
pursuing a rapid course along the meadows to the west.

Red Cloud had told the scout that he would await him at the Minitchinas,
or Solitary Hill, a conical elevation in the plains some twenty miles
away to the west. At the north side of this hill our whole party came
again together about the middle of the following day, and after a hearty
meal we turned our faces towards that great plain which stretches from
the base of this solitary mound into what seemed an endless west.

Everybody was in high spirits; even the dog had quite recovered from
the effects of his arrow-wound, and the scout and he had become firm
friends.

It was a curious group this, that now held its course into the western
wilds.

[Illustration: It was a curious group this, that now held its course
into the western wilds.]

There were representatives of three of those strange families of the
aboriginal race of North America――that race now rapidly vanishing
from the earth, and soon only to be known by those wild names of soft
sound and poetic meaning which, in the days of their glory, they gave
to ridge, lake, and river, over the wild wilderness of their vast
dominions; and two white men from a far-distant land, alien in race,
strange in language, but bound to them by a sympathy of thought, by
a soldier instinct which was strong enough to bridge the wide gulf
between caste and colour, and make red and white unite in a real
brotherhood――a friendship often pictured in the early dreams of the
red race when the white man first sought the wilds, but never fully
realized in all these long centuries of war and strife, save when
the pale-faced stranger whom they called the Black Robe, came to
dwell amongst them and to tell them of a world beyond the grave, more
blissful than their fabled happy hunting-grounds, where red men and
white were to dwell, the servants of One Great Master.

And now days began to pass of quiet travel over the autumn prairies――days
of real enjoyment to me, who hour by hour read deeper into the great book
which nature ever holds open to those who care to be her students――that
book whose pages are sunsets and sunrises, twilights darkening over
interminable space, dawns breaking along distant horizons, shadows of
inverted hill-top lying mirrored in lonely lakes, sigh of west wind
across measureless meadow, long reach of silent river, stars, space, and
solitude.

Ten days of such travel carried our little party far into the west. We
had reached that part of the northern plains which forms the second of
those sandy ridges or plateaux which mount in successive steps from the
basin of the great lake Winnipeg, to the plains lying at the base of
the Rocky Mountains.

In this great waste game was numerous. Buffalo roamed in small bodies
hither and thither; cabri could be seen dotting the brown grass, or
galloping in light bounds to some vantage hill, from whence a better
survey of the travellers could be had; wolves and foxes kept skulking
in the prairie depressions, and dodged along the edges of ridges to
scent or sight their prey. The days were still fine and bright; but the
nightly increasing cold told that winter was slowly but surely coming
on.

It was now the middle of September, early enough still for summer travel,
but it would soon be necessary to look out for some wintering-ground,
where wood for a hut and fuel could be easily obtained, and where the
grass promised food for the horses during the long months of snow.

Almost every part of this vast ocean of grass had become thoroughly
known to Red Cloud. Land once crossed by a red man is ever after a
living memory to him. He can tell, years after he has passed along a
trail, some of the most trifling landmarks along it; a bush, a rock, a
sharply marked hill, will be all treasured in his memory; and though
years may have elapsed since his eye last rested upon this particular
portion of the great prairie, he will know all its separate features,
all the little hills, courses, or creeks which lie hidden amid the
immense spaces of this motionless ocean.

For some days the Sioux had been conning over in his mind the country,
seeking some spot lying within easy reach of where he was now moving
which yielded what our party required――timber, fuel, and grass. A few
years earlier he had camped at the point of junction of two rivers,
the Red Deer and the Medicine, not more than four days’ journey to
the north-west of where he now was. He remembered that amid a deep
thicket of birch, poplar, and cotton-wood, there stood a large group
of pine-trees. If fire had spared that part of the prairie, he knew
that the alluvial meadows along the converging rivers, would yield
rich store of winter food for the horses. He knew, too, that in other
respects the spot had many recommendations in its favour; it lay
almost in the centre of that neutral zone between the Cree country and
the sandy wastes of the Blackfeet nation, and that it was therefore
safe in winter from the roving bands of these wild tribes, whose
warfare is only carried on during the months of spring, summer, and
autumn. All these things combined made him fix upon this spot for the
winter camping-ground, and he began to shape the course of the party
more to the north, to see if the place held still in its sheltered
ridges all the advantages it had possessed when he had seen it for the
first and last time.

Riding along one sunny mid-day, he explained to me the prospect before
us.

“It is getting late in the season,” he said; “all the grass is yellow;
the wind has begun to rustle in the dry seeds and withered prairie
flowers; the frost of night gets harder and colder. At any moment we
may see a great change; that far off sky-line, now so clear cut against
the prairie, would become hidden; dense clouds would sweep across the
sky, and all the prairie would be wrapped in snow-drift.

“The winter in this north land is long and severe; the snow lies for
months upon the plains, in many feet in thickness it will rest upon yon
creek, now so full of bird-life. The cold will then be intense; all the
birds, save the prairie-grouse, the magpie, and the whisky jack, will
seek southern lands; the buffalo will not, however, desert us, they
may move farther north into the Saskatchewan, and wolves, foxes, and
coyotes will follow in their wake. Neither horse nor man can then brave
for any time the treeless plains.

“We must prepare for the winter,” he went on, “and my plan is this:
some days’ march from this is a spot which, when I last saw it, had
around it all that we shall require for our winter comfort. Where two
rivers come together there stands, sheltered among hills, a clump of
pine-trees. The points of the rivers are well wooded, and the marshes
along the banks hold wild vetch, and the pea plant of the prairie grows
through the under-bush, high above the snow, giving food to horses in
the worst seasons of the year.

“I don’t know any fitter place for winter camp in all the hundreds of
miles that are around us. We are now bound for that spot, and if things
are as I last saw them, we shall make our hut in the pine wood and
settle into our winter-quarters ere the cold has come. We have still
much to do, and it is time we set to work.”

I heard with joy these plans for the winter. The life was still so new
to me――the sense of breathing this fresh bright atmosphere, and of
moving day by day through this great ocean of grass, was in itself such
pleasure, that I had latterly ceased almost altogether to think much
about the future, feeling unbounded confidence in my Indian friend’s
skill and forethought.

Donogh and I had in fact been enjoying the utmost bliss of perfect
freedom――that only true freedom in life, the freedom of fording
streams, crossing prairies, galloping over breezy hill-tops, watching
wild herds in their daily habits of distance, seeing them trail along
slowly into golden sunsets, or file in long procession to some prairie
stream for the evening drink; or better still, marking some stray wolf
into a valley where he thought himself unseen, and dashing down upon
him with wild hulloo ready for the charge, while the silent echoes wake
to the clash of hoof and ring of cheer. All these things, and many
more, had filled the hours of our life in the past month to such a
degree, that our spirits seemed to have widened out to grasp the sense
of a freedom as boundless as the wilderness itself.

It was on the third day following the conversation above recorded, that
we came in sight of a low dark ridge, showing itself faintly above the
northern horizon.

Flowing in many serpentine bends, a small creek wound through the
prairie at our left hand, cotton-wood clusters fringed the “points” of
this stream, and long grass grew luxuriantly between the deep bends,
which sometimes formed almost a figure eight in the roundness of their
curves. Our party moved in a straight line, which almost touched the
outer points of these deep curves, and from the higher ground along
which we marched, the eye could at times catch the glint of water amid
the ends of grasses, and mark the wild ducks sailing thickly on the
rushy pools. I had used my gun frequently during the morning, and
when the mid-day hour had come we had a plentiful supply of wild ducks
hanging to our saddles.

In this life in the wilderness I had early learned the lesson of
killing only what was needed to supply the wants of the party. When
wild ducks were so plentiful, it would of course have been easy to
shoot any quantity of them; but that habit of civilized sport which
seeks only the “bag” had long since ceased to influence me, and I had
come to regard the wild creatures of the prairie, birds and beasts, as
far more worthy of study in life than in death. That terrible misnomer
“good sport” had for me a truer significance. It meant watching the
game by little and little, and killing only what was actually required
for the use of our fellow travellers and myself. During the mid-day
halt on this day Red Cloud held a long conversation with the other
Indians upon the place they were now tending to. The Assineboine had
never visited the spot, the Cree had been there on a war-party two
summers ago; but it was now, he thought, so late in the season that
there would be little danger of meeting any roving bands of Blackfeet,
and the Crees he knew to be far away towards the eastern prairies.

It would have been difficult to have imagined a more perfect scene
of a mid-day camp than that in which our little party found itself
on this bright autumnal day. The camp fire was made at the base of a
round knoll, which ran from the higher plateau of the prairie into
one of the deep bends of the creek; upon three sides a thick fringe of
cotton-wood lined the edges of the stream; the golden leaves of poplars
and the bronzed foliage of the bastard maple hung still and bright
in the quiet September day. Immediately around the camp grew small
bushes of wild plum, covered thickly with crimson and yellow fruits of
delicious flavour.

Ah, what a desert that was! When the wild ducks and the flour gelettes
had been eaten, a single shake of the bush brought down showers of wild
sweet fruit, and when we had eaten all we could, bags were filled for
future use.

But even such prairie repasts must come to an end, and it was soon
time to saddle and be off. So the horses were driven in, and resuming
our course, the evening found us on the banks of the Red Deer river,
not far from its point of junction with the Medicine. We camped that
night upon the banks of the stream, and early next day reached the
point of junction. A ford was soon found, and to the Sioux’ great joy
no trace of fire was to be seen in the meadows between the rivers, or
on the range of hills that lay to the north and east; all was still
and peaceful as he had last seen it. The pine bluff yet stood dark and
solemn at the point where the rivers met, and the meadows, as our party
rode through them, were knee-deep in grasses and long trailing plants.

And now began in earnest a period of hard work. First the small lodge
of dressed skins was pitched upon a knoll amid the pine-trees; then the
saddles and stores were all made safe, upon a rough stage supported
upon poles driven fast into the ground. Next began the clearing of
trees and brushwood on the site selected for the hut. It was a spot
close to the point formed by the meeting of the two rivers, but raised
about twenty feet above the water, and partly hidden by trees and
bushes. Tall pines grew on the site, but the axe of the Sioux and the
scout soon brought down these giants, and made clear the space around
where the hut was to stand.

It was wonderful to watch the ready manner in which the Indians worked
their hatchets; never a blow missed its mark, each falling with
unerring aim upon the spot where the preceding one had struck; then a
lower-struck cut would cause the huge splinters to fly from the trunk,
until, in a few moments the tree crashed to the earth in the exact line
the Indians wished it to fall.

Although a novice at woodman’s craft, I was no idle spectator of the
work. If a man has a quick eye, a ready hand, and a willing heart,
the difficulties that lie in things that are unknown to us are soon
overcome. Every hour’s toil made a sensible improvement in my work. I
soon learnt how to roughly square the logs, and to notch the ends of
them so that one log fitted closely to the other.

Donogh and the wounded Cree meantime looked after the horses, gathered
fuel for the fire, and cooked the daily meals of our party, and often
gave a hand at the lifting of log or labour of construction. Thus the
work went on without intermission, and day by day the little hut grew
in size. All day long the sound of wood-chopping echoed through the
pine wood at the point, over the silent rivers, causing some passing
wolf to pause in his gallop and listen to the unwonted noise; but no
human ear was there to catch it, or human eye to mark the thin column
of blue smoke that rose at eventime above the dark pine-tops when the
day’s work was over. There was no lack of food either. With a few
hooks and lines Donogh managed to do good work among the fishes in the
rivers. The creeks and ponds still held large flocks of wild ducks,
and many a fat black duck fell to a steady stalk of the Cree, whose
crawling powers were simply unmatched. The black-tailed buck were
numerous in the thickets around, and with so many things the larder
never wanted for game, venison, wild fowl, or fish.

Thus the days went by, and at last the hut was finished and ready for
occupation. It was an oblong structure, measuring twenty-five feet by
twenty. A low door gave admission upon the south side; east and west
held windows of parchment-skin drawn over a wooden frame that opened
and shut on leather hinges. At the north side stood the fireplace, a
large hearth, and a chimney capable of holding a quantity of pine logs.
Half the wooden door frame was also bound with parchment skins; thus
plenty of light could be obtained in rough weather, and when the days
would be still and fine both door and windows could be open.

“When the snow has fallen,” said Red Cloud to us, “the light from the
ground will be very great. The snow hanging on the pine boughs will
also light up the place, and the winter’s day will be brighter than you
can imagine. At night our logs will blaze brightly upon the hearth.”

The fireplace and chimney were built of stones and mud. The Indians had
carefully mixed the latter so as to ensure its standing the great heat
of the winter fires. The logs composing the walls were all of pines,
or, more properly speaking, of white spruce; they had been roughly
squared and notched at the end, to allow of their catching each other
and fitting tightly together; mud and moss had then been pressed into
the interstices so as to make them perfectly air-tight. The roof was
composed of long reed-grass, cut from a neighbouring swamp and dried
in the sun. The floor was plastered with a coating of mud, which, when
fully dry, made a smooth and firm surface. Altogether the interior
presented an aspect of great comfort――rude, it is true, but still
clean, bright, and cheerful.

It was a marvel to me how all this labour had been done, and this
result achieved, with only a few rude implements――a couple of axes,
a saw, a few gimlets and awls, and those wonderful knives which the
Indians themselves make from old files――those knives with which a ready
man can fashion a canoe, a dog-sled, or a snow-shoe, with a beauty of
design which no civilized art can excel.

But although shelter for the winter had been thus provided, an equally
important want had still to be attended to; a supply of meat sufficient
to last three months had to be obtained.

The Red Cloud had often spoken to me of the expedition which we had
still before us in the first month of the winter, and now that the hut
was finished the time had come for setting out in quest of buffalo.

“Of all the winter food which the prairie can give,” said he to me,
“there is no food like the meat of the buffalo. The time has now come
when the frost is sufficiently keen all day to keep the meat frozen,
therefore all we kill can be brought in; none of it will be lost. The
last buffalo we saw,” he continued, “were on the plains south of the
Elk river; they were scattered herds of bulls. The cows were then
absent three days’ march south of that ground; the herds were moving
very slowly to the west. About a week’s journey from here there is
a small lake in the plains, called the Lake of the Wind, from the
ceaseless movement of its waters. Day and night, even when the winds
are still, the waters of that lake move and dash with noise against
the pebbles on the shore. It is a favourite haunt for buffalo. To that
lake we shall steer our course; for four days we shall have to cross a
bare plain, on which no tree or bush grows; but at the lake there will
be wood in the caverns around the shores, and we can get shelter for
our tent, and fuel for fire, there. The horses are now all strong and
fat, and they will be able to stand the cold, no matter how severe it
may come.”

The Sioux spoke truly; a prairie horse is all right if he be fat. It
matters little in winter what he may be in speed, or strength, or
activity; as long as he is thick fat there is always a month’s work in
him.

Early on the day following the completion of the hut, all the horses
were driven in from the meadows in which they had spent the last three
weeks. They all looked fat and strong.

During some days past the Cree had been busy preparing sleds, for light
snow had now fallen; and although it had not lain long upon the ground,
it was, nevertheless, likely that ere the time for the return of our
party had arrived the ground would be white with its winter covering.
These sleds would be carried crossways upon a horse until the snow
would allow of their being drawn along the ground; they would each
carry about 500 pounds of meat, and that would form an ample supply for
the winter, with the venison and wild game that could be obtained in a
ten-mile circle around the hut.

All preparations having been finished, Red Cloud, Donogh, the scout,
and myself started on the following morning, bound for the south-west.
We took with us a small tent, six horses, and plenty of powder and
ball. The Cree and the dog remained to take charge of the hut. We
expected to be absent about one month. It was the 20th of October,
a bright, fair autumn day; hill and plain lay basking in a quiet
sunlight, the sky was clear and cloudless, the air had in it that crisp
of frost which made exercise a pleasure.

Winding along the meadows of the Red Deer, the pine bluff at the Forks
was soon lost to sight behind its circling hills.

The evening of the third day after quitting the hut at the Forks found
our little party camped on the edge of that treeless waste which
spreads in unbroken desolation from the banks of the Eagle Creek near
the North Saskatchewan to the Missouri. The spot where the lodge was
pitched bore among the half-breed hunters of the plains the title of
Les Trois Arbres.

It would have been difficult to have found a wilder scene than that
which spread itself to the south and west from this lonely group of
trees.

“Beyond the farthest verge of sight,” said the Sioux, as he pointed out
the general direction he proposed to follow on the morrow, “lies the
lake which the Indians have named the Lake of the Wind. From yonder
group of trees to the shore of that lake, four long days’ journey,
there does not grow one tree or bush upon the prairie. We must halt
here to-morrow, to bake bread and cut wood, to carry on the sleds,
sufficient to last us across this bare expanse. Once at the lake we
shall find wood in plenty, and I think the buffalo will not be far
distant.”

The sight upon which we now gazed was in truth almost sublime in its
vast desolation. The sun, just descended beneath the rim of the western
prairie, cast up into the sky one great shaft of light.

The intense rarity of the atmosphere made the landscape visible to its
most remote depths. A few aspen clumps, and the three trees already
mentioned, grew near the standpoint from which we looked; but in front
no speck of tree met the eye, and the unbroken west lay waiting for the
night in all the length and breadth of its lonely distance.

Never before had I beheld so vast an extent of treeless ground. The
other prairies over which we had journeyed were dwarfed in my mind
by the one now before me. I seemed to be standing upon the shore of
a rigid sea――an ocean, whose motionless waves of short brown grass
appeared to lie in a vast torpor up to, and beyond, the sunset itself;
and this sense of enormous space was heightened by the low but profound
murmur of the wind, as it swept by our standpoint, from vast distance,
into distance still as vast.

The whole of the following day was spent in preparations for crossing
this great waste. A quantity of dry poplar sticks were cut into lengths
suitable for packing upon the sleds.

The fire in the leather tent was kept briskly going, and a good supply
of gelettes was baked before it.

“We will need all the wood we can carry with us,” said the Sioux, “for
the work of boiling the morning and evening kettle.”

When the sunset hour had again come, I was out again upon the hill top
to watch the sun set over the immeasurable waste. My wanderings had
taught me that it was at this hour of sunset that the wilderness put
on its grandest aspect; and often was it my wont to watch its varying
shades, as, slowly sinking into twilight, the vagueness of night stole
over the prairie.

It was at these times of sunset, too, that I seemed to see again all
the well-remembered scenes of my early days in the old glen. Out of
the vast silent wilderness came the brown hill of Seefin, and the
gorse-covered sides of Knockmore. I could fancy that my ear caught
the murmur of the west wind through the heather. How far off it all
seemed――dreamlike in its vividness and its vast distance!

Very early next morning the tent was struck, the horses were driven
in, loads packed, and all made ready for the launch of the little
expedition upon the great prairie sea.

The Sioux led the advance. Long ere mid-day the last glimpse of the
Trois Arbres had vanished beneath the plain. In the afternoon a
snow-storm swept across the waste, wrapping earth and heaven in its
blinding drift. Still the Indian held his way at the same steady pace.

“It is well,” he said to me as I rode close behind him. “If there are
any roving bands on the borders of this great prairie, they will not
see us in this storm.”

Before sunset the storm ceased, the clouds rolled away to the south,
and the boundless plain lay around us on all sides, one dazzling
expanse of snow.

Camp was pitched at sunset in the bottom of a deep _coulee_. A night of
intense cold followed the storm; but within the leather lodge the fire
soon gave light and warmth; and as soon as supper was over we lay down
on each side of the embers, wrapped in our robes.

Thus we journeyed on for some days, until, on the afternoon of the
fourth from quitting Les Trois Arbres, we drew near the Lake of the
Wind.

The weather had again become fine, and, for the season, mild. The snow
had partly vanished, and the sun shone with a gentle lustre, that made
bright and golden the yellow grasses of the great waste.

For several hours before the lake was reached, the trees that grew
near its shores had become visible. I had noticed that these clumps
had risen out of the blank horizon straight in front of us, showing
how accurate had been the steering of the Sioux across a waste that
had presented to the eye of the ordinary beholder apparently not one
landmark for guidance.

I asked the Indian by what marks he had directed his course.

“I could not tell you,” replied the Sioux. “It is an instinct born in
us; it comes as easy to us as it does to the birds, or to the buffalo.
Look up,” he went on; “see that long line of ‘wavies’ sailing to the
south. Night and day they keep that line; a week ago they were at the
North Sea; in a few days they will be where winter never comes. Before
man gave up this free life of the open air, while yet the forest and
the plain were his homes, he knew all these things better even than did
the birds or the beasts; he knew when the storm was coming; the day
and the night were alike to him when he travelled his path through the
forest; his course across the lake was clear to him: but when he grew
to be what you call civilized then he lost the knowledge of the sky,
and of the earth; he became helpless. It is so with the red men; year
by year, we lose something of the craft and knowledge of wood, plain,
and river. One hundred years ago, our young men hunted the buffalo and
the wapiti with the weapons they had themselves made; now it is the
gun or the rifle of the white man that is used by them. Without these
things, which they buy from the traders, they would die, because they
have mostly forgotten the old methods of the chase. Before the horse
came to us from the Spaniard, we hunted the buffalo on foot, and our
young men could chase the herds from sunrise until dusk of evening;
before the gun came to us from the French we killed even the grizzly
bears with our arrows, and straight and true they flew from the bow
drawn on horseback or on foot.”

As thus the Sioux showed how deeply he had studied the past history of
his race, the scattered woods that fringed the lake took better defined
form, and soon the sheen of water became visible through openings in
the belts of forest.

As we drew still nearer, the whole outline of the lake was to be seen.
It lay between deeply indented shores at its northern, or nearer end,
but farther off to the south it stretched out into a broader expanse of
water. The evening was perfectly calm, the branches of the trees did
not move, but the water, still unfrozen in the centre of the lake, was
agitated with many waves, and a restless surge broke upon the edges
of ice with a noise which was plainly audible on the shore. It was a
singular scene, this restless lake lying amid this vast rigid waste.
The Sioux bent his way into one of the long promontories, and soon a
spot was selected amid a thick screen of aspens and maple, where the
tent was pitched in shelter, and all made comfortable against the now
approaching night.

Next day broke fresh and fair; the air was keen and cold, but the dry
fuel, now obtainable in plenty, had kept the lodge warm; and soon
after sunrise the sun came out, glistening upon the white branches of
the leafless trees, and the hoar-frosted grass, and shallow snow of
the plain, and making all things look bright and cheerful. We were
soon in the saddle. The Sioux led the advance, and swinging round by
the southern end of the lake we gained some high and broken ground.
The Sioux had ridden on some distance in advance, and I was about to
quicken my pace in order to overtake him, when suddenly I caught sight
of a dark object appearing above a depression in a ridge some way to
my right; the ridge itself concealed lower ground beyond it, and the
object, which for a second had caught my eye was the back of some
animal that was standing partially hidden within this lower space.

I was glad to have thus caught first sight of game, before even the
quick eye of the Sioux had lighted upon it. Keeping low upon my
horse, I galloped forward, and told my companion what I had seen. He
immediately reconnoitred the hollow, and came back to say that it held
three animals, two buffalo cows and one calf! As I had first discovered
the game, I was to have first shot. We both dismounted, and crept
cautiously up to the edge of the ridge and looked over. From this edge
to where the animals stood was about one hundred and fifty yards. I
laid my rifle over the ridge top, took a steady aim, and fired at the
cow that stood nearest to me. Then we both sprang to our feet, and ran
with all speed down the hill towards the animals. The cow I had fired
at moved off with difficulty, the others bounded away up the opposite
ridge. It was now the Sioux’ turn. Stopping short in his long stride
he fired quickly, and ran on again. The buffalo at which he fired had
gained the summit of the distant ridge, and was for a moment clearly
shown on the white hill-top and against the blue sky beyond it. I was
so intent upon watching my own animal that I had no time to take note
of whether his shot had struck; but, reloading as I ran, I soon reached
the bottom of the little valley. My buffalo was still moving quietly up
the incline, evidently sorely wounded. Another shot from my rifle ere
the beast had reached the top of the ridge brought her to the ground,
no more to rise. We breasted quickly up the incline until the top was
gained, and there, just beyond the summit, lay the Sioux’ buffalo,
quite dead in the snow. What a scene it was as we stood on this prairie
ridge! Away on all sides spread the white and yellow prairie, the
longer grasses still showing golden in the sunlight above the sparkling
layer of snow; there was not a cloud in the vast blue vault that hung
over this glistening immensity; the Lake of the Wind lay below us, its
line of shore-wood showing partially dark against its snow, and its
centre of open water lying blue as the sky above it, set in a frame of
snow-crusted ice. Close at hand, on either side of the ridge where we
stood, lay the dark bodies of our buffalo, stretched upon the shallow
snow.

[Illustration: We both sprang to our feet, and ran with all speed
towards the animals.]

Both animals proved to be in very good condition. “You will taste
to-night,” said the Sioux to me, “the best bit of meat to be got in the
prairie――the flesh of a fat cow buffalo; the finest beef is but poor
food compared to it.”

We were still so near our camp that we determined to get the sleds
out and drag it in, before night would give the wolves a chance of
plundering our winter store of meat. The Sioux began to skin and cut up
the buffalo, and I went back to where we had left the horses, and then
rode to the camp to bring Donogh, the scout, and the sled to the scene.
It was astonishing to see the rapid manner with which the two Indians
cut up these large animals. Early in the afternoon we were all back
in the camp, with three sled-loads of primest meat; we brought skins,
marrow-bones, tongues, and tit-bits; and the remainder of the daylight
was spent in arranging the supplies safe from the ravage of prowling
wolves and in preparing for a good feast after the labours of the day.

Pleasant it was that night, when the darkness had fallen over the
silent wilderness, to look at the cosy scene presented by our camp.
We had swept clear of brushwood and snow a large space on one side of
our leather lodge. Maple-trees grew thickly around it; in the centre
burned clear and bright a fire of dry logs. Steaks were roasting
before glowing embers, the kettle was steaming from a cross-stick,
marrow-bones were toasting, gelettes were baking in a pan set facing
the fire and backed up with hot embers, while, seated on buffalo robes,
around the fire we sat, canopied by the starlight, circled by the vast
and lonely wilderness.

The next morning found us again in the saddle, but this time Donogh
came to share our sport. Our course now lay in a westerly direction
from the lake. It was in that line that the yearling calf had retreated
on the previous day, and there it was likely we should fall in with
buffalo. It was mid-day however before the sight of buffalo gladdened
our eyes. Far away to the south dim dark specks were visible. Ascending
a ridge in the direction of the animals, we had a better view of the
plains. A large herd was distinctly visible, moving slowly towards the
north-west. We watched them for some minutes. “We must cross them on
their line of march,” said the Sioux to me; then we rode briskly off
towards the south-west keeping our horses along the hollows of the
prairie. It was his intention to take up a position in advance of the
herd, and then await its coming. He preferred this mode of attack in
the present instance to running the buffalo upon horseback: the light
covering of snow was sufficient to render the prairie dangerous, since
it had partially hidden the badger holes, and the surface was hard with
frost. “Our horses have to carry us home to the Red Deer river,” he
said as we cantered along; we must be careful how we use them. We soon
reached the edge of what seemed to be a channel of a stream through
the prairie; but there was no water in the wide grassy hollow that ran
in sweeping curves over the plains, nor could a stream of water ever
have flowed in it, because it followed the general undulations of the
land around, although the floor or bottom of it was always lower than
the land that bordered it on either side. We now saw that the line of
the buffalo’s advance was up this grassy hollow, and as the wind was
favourable we would only have to conceal ourselves in the floor of this
depression and to await the approach of the herd. Leaving the horses in
a deep hollow, we gained a spot in the grassy channel where we could
lie concealed behind tufts of grass and snow; here we lay down to await
the buffalo. It was not very long before the leading ones came in sight
of our hiding-place, round a curve in the depression about four hundred
yards distant.

Then in scattered files more came into view, walking slowly and
deliberately forward in that complete unconstraint with which the wild
animals of the earth take their leisure when they fancy their great
enemy, man, is far away from them.

A very old bull led the advance, moving some distance in front of any
other beast.

The snow of many a winter’s storm, the gleam of many a summer’s sun,
had matted and tangled his shaggy mane and sweeping frontlet.

As he approached nearer to us we could see his eyes gleaming brightly
from beneath the thick masses of hair that hung from his forehead; but
there was no trace of that anger or fright such as the hunter sees when
in pursuit of a flying herd. The look now was calm and tranquil; the
great beast was at home in this solitary waste, as his race through
countless generations had been at home here; for in these wilds, so
green in summer, so white in winter, he and his had roamed since time
began.

“Do not fire at him,” said the Sioux in a low tone to me. “He would be
useless to us.”

The old veteran had now come to a halt, about thirty paces in front
of where we lay. He was so close to us that we could mark with ease
every movement of his shaggy head, every expression of his eye. Some
vague idea that there was danger in front seemed to have come upon him,
for once or twice he turned his head round, as if to see whether his
comrades were close at hand.

As they came closing up to him from behind, the same vague feeling
of fear or suspicion seemed to have communicated itself to them, for
they also paused irresolute on their way. That the suspicion was not
directed towards any particular point, was evident from the looks which
the huge animals continued to turn to either side. As thus they stood,
gradually closing up from behind upon the leader, a storm that for some
time had been threatening, broke over the prairie, whirling snow in
dense drifts before it, and wrapping the scene in chaotic desolation.

Truly, a weird wild picture was that before us――the great waste
narrowed for the moment by the curtain clouds of wintry tempest, the
dark animals vaguely seen through the wrack of drift, and the huge form
of the monarch of the prairie standing out against the background of
gloom. It is many a long day now since I looked upon that scene, but I
see it still before me, through time and distance.

The old buffalo, as though reassured by the proximity of his friends,
now began to move forward again.

The Sioux whispered to me to aim at a young bull that had come up
towards the front. He was some little way behind the old leader, but
his side was partly visible to me. I aimed low behind his shoulder, and
fired. In a second, the scene had changed; all was wild confusion among
the herd. Where all had been torpor, all became movement; to sense of
security followed intense fright; and away in wild stampede, through
drift and storm, fled the suddenly startled animals. The young bull
had, however, received his death-wound; he soon dropped from the ranks
of the flying herd, and lay down to die.

It was now so late in the day that we could not hope to get the beast
home to our camp before the morrow. But to leave the dead animal as
he was, on the prairies, exposed for the night to the ravage of wolves
and foxes, would have been to find little remaining save his bones
next day. The Sioux stuck his ramrod into the ribs of the buffalo, and
fastened his powder-flask to the rod, letting it swing in the wind.
This precaution made the carcase safe from attack, at least for one
night; for keener than the scent of food with the wolf is his scent for
powder, and he will long continue to circle around meat thus protected,
ere his greed will bring him close to it for plunder.

As we rode home to the camp, the snowstorm that had swept the plains
abated; but a bitterly cold wind was blowing across the prairie, and a
lurid sunset foreshadowed a continuance of wild weather.

The stock of dry wood for fuel was, however, large; and sheltered amid
the thickets, our camp-fire blazed brightly, while again we brought
back from our long day’s work those keen appetites to relish the good
things of steak and bone and tit-bit that only the prairie hunter can
ever know. Pleasant used it to be on such nights to sit before the camp
fire and watch the wind, as, blowing in gusts, it whirled the yellow
flames through the dry logs, while the peeled willows baked by the
embers.

On this evening the scout brought out a plentiful supply of willow
rods, which he had cut during our absence along a part of the lake
shore to which he had wandered. The outer bark of these willows was a
bright red colour. This outer bark the scout had peeled off, leaving
beneath it a soft inner skin. Having carefully peeled down this inner
skin, so as to make it form ringlets or curls of bark at the knots on
the willow rods, the ends of the rods were now stuck in the ground
close by the fire. The heat soon caused the strips of bark to become
crisp, and fit for smoking. It is in this manner that the Indians make
their “Kinni-kinnick” tobacco.

Wherever the red willow grows, by margin of lake or shore of river,
along the edge of swamp or thicket, there the tobacco pouch of the red
man is easily replenished; and mixed with real tobacco, this inner bark
of the willow forms the universal smoking-mixture of the tribes that
roam the northern wastes.

In the “thick wood” country, lying between lakes Superior and Winnipeg,
the red willow is scarce, but a weed not unlike dwarf box is found.
Dried before a fire, its leaves form kinni-kinnick, like the willow
bark. True to his habit, of taking a last look at the horses before
lying down for the night, the Sioux arose from his robe at the fire
and went out into the open. The horses had sought the shelter of
the thicket; the wind was beginning to rise; no stars were visible,
the branches of the dwarf trees sent forth a mournful sigh as the
night-winds passed through them.

“To-morrow,” he said, when he came back to the tent, “winter will be on
all the land.”

It did not matter. We wrapped ourselves in our robes and lay down to
sleep, heedless alike of rising storm and falling snowflake.



CHAPTER X.

 Winter――Wolves――A night’s trapping――A retreat――In the teeth of the
 north wind――The carcajou――A miss and a hit――News of Indians――Danger
 ahead――A friendly storm――The hut again.


The next morning, plain and thicket, hill and lake, lay wrapt in a
white mantle. The storm had sunk to calm, the snow had ceased, but
winter was on all the land, no more to leave it until the winds and
showers of spring should come from the south to chase him back into
his northern home. It was piercingly cold when we issued from the tent
to begin the day’s work. The cold was different from anything I had
yet experienced. The slightest touch of metal sufficed instantly to
freeze the fingers. A gun-barrel, the buckle of a girth, the iron of a
bit, struck so deadly cold upon the hands, that I found it was only by
running to the embers of the fire, and holding my fingers for a moment
in the blaze that I could restore them to working power.

Red Cloud and the Assineboine appeared, however, to take slight notice
of this great cold. The work was done as usual, quickly and neatly;
packs and saddles were arranged, the two spare horses were got ready to
bring back the buffalo killed on the previous evening, and in a very
short time our little party trooped out from the sheltering thicket
into the great prairie.

All was now a dazzling sheet of most intense white. The clouds had
cleared away, and the sun shone out, making the vast surface glisten
as though millions of diamonds had been scattered over it. The snow
was not yet deep upon the prairie; the wind of the preceding night had
driven it into the hollows, or flattened it down amid the grass, so
that the horses were able to make their way along.

About two hours’ ride brought us in sight of the dead buffalo. It was
visible a long way off, showing very dark upon the white surface of the
plain. The scene around it was a curious one. Fully a score of wolves
were circling and dodging around the carcase, some looking anxiously at
the longed-for meat, others sitting farther away, as though they had
determined to await the discoveries of their more venturesome comrades
ere they would approach the dead animal.

Red Cloud looked at them for some time.

“There are a good many warm skins,” he said, “in that lot, and they
are easily carried compared with the skin of those buffalo cows we
shot yesterday. If we had a few of those wolf robes, we could make our
winter beds warm enough in the hut at the Forks.”

He thought a moment, and then continued,――

“There are so many wolves here that it would be worth while to camp
near this to-night and trap some of them. We will take two loads of
meat back to the camp at the lake, then return here, bringing with us
the tent, and wood sufficient for the night. We will fetch hither all
the traps we have with us, and then see if we cannot catch some of
these white and grey wolves.”

We had now reached the buffalo, and the work of skinning and cutting up
went on apace. Soon light loads for the horses were ready, and I and
the scout set out for the lake, leaving the Sioux to keep watch over
the carcase.

When we had departed, the Sioux set to work to outwit the cunning
wolves, who still lurked around, hiding behind the hillock, and
looking every now and again over the sky-line of a hill to watch their
much-coveted food.

Noticing that a small ravine ran curving through the prairie within
easy rifle-shot of the dead buffalo, he followed our tracks for some
distance, until reaching a depression in the ground, he turned aside
into it; then bending down so as to be completely hidden from the
wolves, he gained the ravine at a considerable distance from where the
buffalo lay. Following the many windings of this _coulee_, he reached
at last the neighbourhood of the animal. He did not need to look up
above the ledge of the ravine, because ere he set out upon his stalk he
had marked a tuft of tall dry grass which grew at the curve which was
nearest the buffalo, and now keeping the bottom of the ravine, he saw
this tuft appear in view as he rounded a bend in the hollow. Looking
cautiously up from the base of the dry tuft, he saw, about a hundred
yards distant, several wolves busily engaged at tearing at the hide
and legs yet remaining of the buffalo. Singling out the largest wolf,
he took a quick but steady aim, and as the report rang out, he saw the
wolf spring into the air and fall dead beside the buffalo carcase.
A second shot, fired as the other wolves galloped rapidly away, was
not so successful. The bullet cut the snow beneath their feet, and in
another few seconds they were out of range.

When we again appeared upon the scene, bringing the tent and traps, we
found a magnificent wolf’s skin added to our stock of winter goods.

Pitching the leather lodge in the shelter of the ravine, all was made
comfortable against the night. The spare horses had been left at the
old camping-place, and only those ridden by the hunters had been
brought to this exposed place.

Just before nightfall the Sioux set his traps in a circle round the
spot where the buffalo lay. I watched with interest the precautions by
which he hoped to baffle the cunning of the wolves. To the chain of
each trap a heavy stick was attached. This weight would prevent the
wolf dragging the trap any considerable distance; but both the trap and
the stick had to be concealed in the snow, and care taken to prevent
the fine powdery snow drifting in underneath the plate, so as to allow
the pressure of an animal’s foot to spring the trap.

The circle of traps was soon complete, and just at dusk we were all
ensconced within our lodge, busily preparing the evening meal.

“About an hour after dark the wolves will grow bold,” said the Sioux.
“They are circling round now, but they are too cautious to go near just
at first. We will go round the traps when supper is done, and again
before we turn in for the night.”

When supper was finished, we crept out of the lodge and went to visit
the traps. The night was intensely cold; the stars were shining with
wonderful brilliancy over the vast white prairie. The first trap we
approached held nothing,――and so on until we reached the fourth. Here
we saw a dark object struggling hard in the snow. As we drew nearer to
it I was able to distinguish an animal closely resembling a huge grey
dog. The Sioux had brought with him a stout pole four feet in length.
Coming close to the wolf he struck him a violent blow with this pole,
killing him instantly. Then he re-set the trap, and dragging the dead
wolf along, we proceeded to finish our round. All the other traps were
empty. But two hours later, when another visit was made, a coyote and
a kit fox were found, so that the stock of winter skins began to
increase rapidly.

Another wolf was captured during the night; but when morning came we
found that he had succeeded in dragging the trap, and the stick to
which it was attached, a long way over the prairie. It was the trap
which had been set by me.

“Curious,” said I. “The wolf caught last night was just able to move
the trap, and now this one carries trap and stick far over the prairie.
He must be a stronger wolf than the first one.”

“No,” replied the Sioux. “But do you see the track that the stick has
made in the snow? Does it not run straight, end on, after the wolf?”

I noticed that it did so.

“Well,” said Red Cloud, “that is because you did not select the exact
centre of the stick in which to place the chain. The consequence
is that one end of the stick is heavier than the other. This heavy
end trails after the chain, so that the wolf has less difficulty in
dragging it along. It glides over the snow easily, whereas when both
ends of the stick are evenly balanced, it lies across the animal’s line
of flight. That is the reason why this wolf has got away so far. But we
will reach him yet.”

Following rapidly along, we overtook the trapped animal in the bottom
of a _coulee_, in the soft snow of which he could not make much way. He
was quickly despatched, and dragged back to the tent, his skin to be
added to those already taken.

The weather was now so intensely cold that Red Cloud began to fear the
horses would be unable to drag the load of meat back to the Forks.
There was meat fully sufficient to load the three sleds we had brought
to their utmost capacity. Fortunately the spare horses had had an easy
time of it up to the present. They were still in fair condition; but
the riding horses already showed signs of feeling the terrible severity
of these exposed treeless plains, and to delay the return to the Forks
longer than was absolutely necessary, would only be to imperil the
lives of the most valuable animals possessed by us.

Accordingly the lodge was struck, and the retreat to the hut at the
Forks began.

During four days our line of sleds and men toiled slowly over the
treeless waste, dark specs upon a waste of white. The north wind blew
with merciless rigour. Sometimes the air was still, and the sun shone;
but at other times terrible storms swept the wild landscape, whirling
powdery snow over hills and ravines. With downbent heads men and horses
plodded on; at night the lodge was pitched in some _coulee_ for better
shelter, and in the early morning so black and cold and desolate looked
all visible nature, that I used to long to be again in the tent. Still
I struggled hard to keep a bold front before my Indian comrades; they
did not complain, why should I? One good thing was, we had plenty of
buffalo meat, and we could be fairly warm at night by lying close
together in the “lodge.”

At last, on the fifth day, the wood at Les Trois Arbres was reached,
and piling on the firewood, that night the tent was made warm and
comfortable.

The poor horses were now very weak. On the treeless plains the grass
had been short and covered in many places with snow; but in the
thickets wild vetch and pea grew, twining, through the brushwood, and
these succulent grasses, sweetened by the frost, were eagerly sought
for by the hungry steeds. It was decided to give a day’s rest here, for
the worst portion of the journey was now over. Accordingly the lodge
was pitched in a sheltered spot amid thickets, and the horses turned
adrift in what at this season of the year was good pasturage.

The next day we spent in a long hunt on foot amid the thickets and open
prairies. The “poire” tree grew in many places amid the aspen groves,
and the Indians declared that where the poire flourished there the bear
was to be found――so our hunt this day was to the sleeping-place of the
bear. When the last berry has disappeared, and the first snow has come,
Bruin begins to bethink himself of seeking a place wherein he can sleep
away the long winter months.

Beneath the trunk of a fallen tree, under a rock, oftentimes on the
level ground of aspen or poplar thicket, he digs his hole. When it is
deep enough to hold his fat body he backs into it, and placing his
nose between his fore paws goes fast asleep. Sometimes the sleep is for
four or five months duration; but at other times, when the sun comes
out warm and bright in mid-winter, he will crawl forth from his burrow,
roam a little way around, and then retire again into his den. It is no
easy matter to find his nest. Like all wild things he selects his place
of rest with an eye to security; but hide it as he may, the Indian’s
sharp eye pierces through all disguises, and in the time before the
snow has fallen deep enough to cover tree stumps and hollow in one
undistinguishably level of white, the couch which Bruin has made with
so much care for his winter’s sleep becomes his death-bed ere his first
doze has well begun.

Red Cloud and I took one direction, the scout set off in another. The
day was calm and fine; scarcely a breath of wind stirred over the
prairie, and the rays of the sun fell brightly upon the snowy surface,
through which the yellow grass still showed in many places. Dressed in
a light leather shirt, and Indian leggings and moccasins to match, I
stepped briskly along, following in the footsteps of the Sioux. In and
out of aspen thickets, over open patches of prairie land, along the
tops of small ridges quite bare of snow, the Indian held his way with
rapid stride. At length we emerged upon the edge of a deep _coulee_.
In the bottom of this ravine a few pools of frozen water were visible.
The sides of the ravine were steep, but in the bottom the ground was
level; some stunted bushes grew at intervals along it. As we stood on
the sharp edge of the prairie looking down this depression, the eye
of the Indian suddenly caught sight of a moving object some distance
away to his right. It was an animal that had plunged over the edge and
quickly disappeared in the valley. Before many seconds had elapsed a
second object crossed over the ridge and dived into the _coulee_. The
Indian exclaimed, “Lie down, it is a carcajou; he is hunting a deer.
The deer will follow the _coulee_, and will pass right beneath where
we stand; we should get them both.” We lay flat upon the prairie edge
with rifles ready. Presently along the bottom of the gorge appeared a
large jumping moose. He was evidently sorely pressed by his pursuer,
who, only about fifty yards behind, came along at that slouching gallop
peculiar to his species. Red Cloud whispered to me, “Fire as the deer
passes. Aim in front, and low, for it is down hill. I’ll take the
carcajou.” My heart beat fast; the distance was under seventy yards,
but the pace was good. A shot rang out. “Missed,” cried the Sioux as
the deer went bounding by. Quick as thought I pulled again, this time
aiming well in front and very low. The deer staggered――fell――rose again
to his feet, and then plunged over upon his side, dead. Meantime the
wolverine was coming along at a tremendous pace. All at once a shot
rang out in front; then another. His pace was too rapid to be checked
in an instant; but the reports from the ridge to his left caused him
to swerve from the bottom of the _coulee_, and to ascend the bank
nearly opposite the spot where we lay. As he went up the steep bank he
presented a beautiful mark to the Indian’s rifle. For an instant the
weapon followed the upward course of the animal, then it poured forth
its unerring fire. The carcajou staggered in his gallop, and slipped
back a short way down the steep hill side; then he recovered himself,
and began again to ascend. But now a second report rang out, and, shot
quite dead, the beast rolled down the shingly side, and lay still,
within a few yards of the deer he had followed to the death.

My first shot had not allowed sufficiently for the depth of the
_coulee_; the bullet had just gone over the deer’s back, but the second
had passed clean through the animal’s ribs.

And now to carry the game home to camp. It was no easy matter; the
Sioux, however, proved himself, as usual, fully equal to the difficulty.

In a very short time he had skinned both the animals. The flesh of the
wolverine was useless, but the skin was a very fine one.

When the skin of the deer was removed, it was placed upon the snow,
with the side that had been next the body of the animal turned
downwards upon the ground. Then the venison was packed upon the hairy
side, and the ends of the skin wrapped over it to prevent the pieces
falling off; then to the two fore-legs of the skin the Sioux fastened
the string of leather called “shagganappi,” which he always carried
with him, and passing the band of the line round his shoulders, he
drew the load of meat easily over the snow. We followed the _coulee_
for some distance, until coming to a spot where the bank was less
abrupt, we were able to draw the load to the level of the prairie; then
trudging along over snow and grass, we arrived at the lodge ere yet the
winter’s sun had touched the horizon.

It was still later when the scout returned. He had much to say about
his day’s work. Soon after setting out in the morning he had struck
the trail of a moose, and had followed it for a long distance. The
moose had travelled far, and ere the day was half done the scout found
himself a long way from camp. Still he persisted in keeping the trail.
At last he beheld a sight that made him think of other things besides
his game. From a ridge over which the trail led, he espied some Indian
lodges pitched on the edge of the woods. The hunter instantly became
the brave; he approached the neighbourhood of the tents with the
utmost caution. He waited long enough until he discovered the tribe to
which the Indians belonged; then he returned with all speed to tell
his tidings to his comrades. The band, he said, belonged to the Cree
tribe; they were trapping and hunting in the vicinity of the elbow of
the South Saskatchewan, and had now been here for some days. This was
bad news for us. We had hoped that our winter hut at the Forks would
remain unknown to any Indians; and now this band of Crees were close
upon us. Unless a fall of snow would quickly come, our homeward trail
to the hut must be struck by some Cree brave in the next few days, and
once struck it was sure to be followed. The Crees were not hostile, but
that was a fact upon which we could not long count. Besides, the news
of the existence of a hut at that point would soon spread among the
tribe, and other Indians would hear of it before the winter was over.
Mischief might easily come from it. We must endeavour to hide our trail
by some stratagem.

For hours that evening the Sioux sat silently before the tent fire,
buried in deep thought. A snow-storm would have put an end to all his
difficulties; but the night looked fine and clear, the stars were
shining over the prairie, the yellow lustre of the sunset still hung in
the western sky.

It was possible to branch away at right angles from our present line,
and to continue that course until the weather changed, and then to
resume the old direction and make straight for the hut; but that
would entail much extra marching upon the horses already thin and
weak, and would probably lead to the loss of some of them. Under all
circumstances the best course to adopt seemed to be to remain camped in
the neighbourhood until a change of weather would obliterate the trail.
Accordingly next morning a move was made a few miles further away from
the Crees, and camp was again pitched in a spot not likely to catch
the eye of any roving Indian.

The next night brought a change in the weather; the wind began to rise,
clouds came drifting up from the north-east, and ere midnight came the
snow was falling over the plain. We were ready for it; the horses had
all been driven in at nightfall; the sleds got ready for the march.
By the light of the fire the tent was struck and packed, and long ere
morning began to break upon the driving scene of snow and storm our
little cavalcade was far away on its march to the hut. All day the
storm blew, the snow fell; and all day too, Red Cloud led the march
through blinding drift, and small chance was there of keenest eyes ever
finding our trail. The wind blew the surface of the snow before it,
quickly filling every cavity, and piling up the fine drift in dazzling
heaps. We carried on all day, and camp was only made long after
nightfall, when many a mile of snow-clad wilderness lay between us and
the Crees.

Another day’s march brought us within sight of the pine-bluff at the
Forks, and that night the tired horses were turned adrift in the
sheltered meadow by the river, and we lay down to rest in the hut at
the Pascopee.



CHAPTER XI.

 Winter comfort――Snowshoe-making――Snow and storm――The moose
 woods――A night camp――Memories――A midnight visitor――Maskeypeton the
 Iroquois――Danger――A moose hunt――Indian stalking――The red man’s happy
 hunting-grounds――Plans――Raft-building.


All was well in the hut; the Cree had kept watch and ward. No Indians
had found the place. Everything promised a quiet, peaceful winter, with
ample time to mature plans for the spring. The stage which had been
built soon after our first arrival at the spot was now filled with
prime buffalo meat; the flour, blankets, and other stores taken from
the trader, were stored carefully away on shelves in the hut. The Cree
and the scout dried and rough-tanned the wolf, carcajou, and buffalo
skins; rude bedsteads were put up along the walls, and upon them dried
grass, skins, and blankets made most comfortable beds. A large store of
fuel was chopped, and piled outside the door; and harness, guns, skins,
axes, &c., gave a furnished appearance to the interior, which, when
lighted up by the pine-logs in the evening presented a look of comfort,
in striking contrast with the savage desolation of the wilderness
without when the mid-winter rigour came full upon it.

As the end of the year drew nigh the storms increased in intensity. The
snow deepened over all the land, but the meadow chosen for the horses
held such an abundance of food that the animals stood the cold well.
When the vetch and wild peas were exhausted, a swamp, which in summer
grew a thick sedge-like grass, gave excellent sustenance to them. The
snow was easily pawed away by the horses’ fore-feet, and the coarse
grass, sweetened by the frost, was laid bare beneath. Day after day
the Sioux, with myself, or the scout, or Donogh, set out on a hunt for
venison, and many a buck fell to our rifles in the valleys and thickets
of the surrounding hills.

[Illustration: Day after day the Sioux, with myself, or the scout, or
Donogh, set out on a hunt for venison.]

As the snow deepened over the land, the use of the snow-shoe became a
necessity in walking. Before the want had arisen the Indians had taken
measures to supply it. Birchwood had been cut and seasoned, the gut
of the jumping moose dried and prepared, and the rough framework put
together, afterwards to be strung, and turned into the required shape.

As I watched the clever manner with which the wood was pared down
and shaped, and with what beautiful accuracy the cross-pieces, the
toes and heels, were fitted, turned, and made ready for the sinew
strings――all done too with only a small knife and an awl, and done with
such apparent ease, I felt tempted to say, “I too will make a pair of
snowshoes;” but it was only to find how futile was the effort to
imitate the handicraft of the wild man in the work of the wilderness.

[Illustration: Making snowshoes.]

By the time the snowshoes were finished the snow was deep enough on the
river and the plains to fully test their capabilities. I determined
to accustom myself early to the use of the shoes, so that I might be
able to keep pace with my friends, whose power of snowshoe-walking had
grown from infancy. With this object I was out every morning as soon as
breakfast was over, tramping along the frozen and snow-covered expanse
of the rivers, or forcing my way through the thicket-lined shores, and
up the hills and slopes of the surrounding country. At first I found
it no easy matter to tread my way over soft and deep snow, or through
places where the brambles and weeds lay half-buried in the drifts and
dazzling banks; but in a few days my step grew more firm, my stride
became longer and more rapid, and after a week I was not ashamed to
join Red Cloud for a hunt after game.

Thus we four denizens of this wild and lonely spot ranged over the
land surrounding our solitary dwelling; and ere the new year had come
there was not a pine-bluff or a thicket of aspens――there was not a bend
on the rivers, or a glade among the hills, which was not known and
explored. It was a strange, wild life, this winter roving over the
great untamed wilderness of snow.

At times the days were bright and calm――the sun shone with dazzling
lustre upon the unspotted surface of the earth. The branches of the
trees glistened in the white rime of the morning, the dry powdery snow
sounded hard as sand under the shoe.

Again the scene would change, and wild storms swept sky and earth; the
bitter blast howled through the thickets, the pine-trees rocked and
waved, and the short daylight closed into a night of wrack and tempest.
Such days and nights would run their courses, and again the scene would
change; the wild wind would sink away, the snow would cease to fall or
to drift, a death-like stillness would ensue, and with a brilliancy
of untold beauty the moon would be seen above the still and tapering
pine-tops, and the white light of frosted silver, set with myriad
sparkling gems, would overlay all the land.

The new year came; January drew to a close. Colder and colder the iron
hand of winter seemed to grasp the forest and the ridge, the silent
frozen rivers, and the lonely hills.

One day the Sioux set out with me to visit a large wood of pines and
poplars, the tops of which could be discerned from a ridge lying a few
miles away from the hut. It was a long tramp, and the dogs were taken
to carry kettle, blankets, and food, in preparation for camping during
the night in the wood in order to continue the hunt on the following
day.

As the morning was fine, the sun shone brightly on the snow, and the
dogs followed closely in the footsteps of the Sioux, as with rapid
strides he passed over the white ridges and intervening gullies drifted
deep in snow. I walked behind the sled that carried the supplies for
the camp.

The day passed away, varied by nothing save exercise, broken only by
the mid-day halt for food. It was the middle of the afternoon when we
drew near the broad belt of wood which was to be our home for the night.

For some miles we had followed a tract of low meadow-land along the
river; but now the Sioux led across the frozen stream, and slipping his
feet from the snowshoe-strings as he gained the farther shore, he began
to ascend a very steep ridge that rose directly from the opposite bank.

The dogs worked might and main to follow their leader. I urged them
with voice and whip from behind; and up the slippery ridge we scrambled
until the top was gained. Here a halt was made, to recover breath and
take a survey of the scene.

Beneath, spreading away for many a mile, lay a broken and wooded
region, over which patches of dark green pine-trees stood in marked
contrast to the snowy surface of level and ridge. Here and there the
eye caught glimpses of unbroken sheets of snow, telling the presence
of frozen lakelets beneath. Indeed, the pine-trees were themselves
sufficient to indicate the fact of water in abundance being there, for
it was water alone that had protected them in the dry autumn days from
the wild ravage of the prairie fire.

The Sioux scanned with careful sweep of vision all the wide scene from
east to west. Then seemingly satisfied with his scrutiny, he resumed
his snowshoes, and struck down a long gradual incline towards the belt
of woodland.

It wanted but an hour of sunset when the first pine-trees were reached;
and shortly after, the small grey owl’s hoot sounding through the vast
solitude bade us select a thick clump of firs, in the midst of which a
cosey camp was quickly made.

Few who have not experienced it can realize the full measure of
comfort which the wilderness, even in the depth of winter, can hold
forth to its denizens. It seems difficult to believe that a camp,
made in the open snow, amid a clump of fir-trees, with nought save
the branches between the traveller and the sky, with only the frozen
earth swept clear of snow for his floor, and with blankets and a skin
for bed and covering, could be anything save the most miserable of
lodging-places. But it is marvellous how quickly the wild hunter will
change these unpromising materials into a spot where genial warmth can
be felt, where rest can come to weary limbs, where food can fill hungry
stomachs, and the pipe of peace can be smoked in pleasant repose.

At first the night was still and fine; but as the midnight hour drew on
the wind arose, and the tree-tops began to bend their heads, and the
melancholy cadence of the swaying branches fell upon our ears as we
slept.

Long habit had given the Sioux the faculty of consciousness in sleep;
the senses, all save that of sight, still carried to his brain their
various messages.

The swaying of the branches soon roused him to wakefulness, and
throwing aside his robe he looked out at the night. The fire had burned
down to ashes, which the night-wind, when its gusts came strongly now
and again, blew into dull red embers. The snow-light made visible the
tree-trunks around. Overhead he could mark the clouds moving rapidly
from the east; the storm was rising.

He got up, raked the ashes together, threw some wood upon the embers,
and sat down to watch the flickering flames and to wait for the dawn.
The noise awoke me, and I watched him from where I lay. Oftentimes it
was his wont thus to sit watching in those hours of the late night.
More than once I had, on other occasions, looked out from my robe, to
see thus seated before a few embers the figure of my friend. Who can
tell the thoughts that at such moments passed through the mind of this
strange man? Memories of that great wilderness he loved so well――of
these vast solitudes, which to him had nothing awful. Glimpses of
far-stretching prairies――of rivers flowing in wide curves through
endless distances――of trees sinking beneath waves of meadow-land. Such
were the scenes he saw in the pine-fire embers. Then too he would
listen to the voice of the tempest in far-off forests; and as the sound
swept through the lone hours of the night, there came to him many a
thought of boyhood in the land lost to his tribe. But always, as he
has often told me, his mind running along those grooves found the same
resting-place――the spot where, in the island of the mountains, lay the
bones of his murdered father. And then, with all the bitter wrath of
his heart fanned into flame, he would rise to his feet, and stalk away
into the dark forest or the silent prairie, and looking up at the cold
stars he would cry, “Father, thy son does not sleep. He wanders over
the earth only to revenge thy fate.”

As now he sat, with head sunken on his hands, and eyes fixed on the
embers, there sounded close by a noise as of human steps upon the snow.
The Sioux turned towards the side from whence the sound proceeded,
and saw in the dim light of the snow the figure of a man. Calm as he
habitually was――accustomed to regard the sudden indications of danger
with the outward semblance of repose, he nevertheless on this occasion
felt creep upon him the sensation of fear. Weird and ghostly, the
figure seemed to have risen out of the white ground. Instinctively the
Sioux grasped the rifle that lay near him. The strange figure seemed
to catch the movement: he spoke.

“As a friend I have sought your camp,” he said. “Had I come as an
enemy, you would not have seen me.”

Red Cloud relinquished his half-grasped rifle, and rose to meet the
stranger.

“Who are you?”

“I am Maskeypeton the Iroquois.”

The wind still rising, now blew a strong gust, which swept the camp,
causing the flames to flare for a moment through the dry wood of the
fire. The light fell full upon the face of the stranger, revealing
features well known to the Sioux.

“Maskeypeton the Iroquois,” he said, “no matter what has brought your
steps at this hour to my camp, you are welcome. Sit down and share my
fire.”

The stranger answered, “There was a day, years ago, when you turned
your horse’s head to take a wounded Iroquois from under the guns of
the Long-knives by the banks of the Yellowstone. Maskeypeton is here
to-night because of that day. Last evening,” he said, “I struck your
trail on the ice of the Pascopee. I was then bound for where I had
heard your hut lay. I followed your trail while daylight lasted, rested
until the moon rose, and then kept the track that led me hither.”

The Sioux listened in silence.

“I have not come,” went on the Iroquois, “without a reason; that reason
is a warning. Enemies watch for you. They have found the spot where you
have built your winter hut; and when the snow leaves the prairies, and
the ice breaks in the rivers, the Sircies will seek your life.”

“But I have no quarrel with the Sircies,” answered the Sioux. “No man
of the tribe has ever known injury at my hand. Why should they now try
to harm me?”

“Because there is another enemy hidden behind them,” said the Iroquois.
“The white trader finds many weapons with which he strikes his blows.”

The eyes of the Sioux reflected with a strange wild glare, the fitful
light of the fire, but he said nothing. After a while he asked,――

“Is the trader with the Sircies?”

“No, he is living at the white man’s fort by the river of the Gros
Ventres.”

The Sioux thought in silence over the tidings the Iroquois had unfolded
to him, and already his mind had formed its plan, but he did not even
thank his informant for the timely warning.

Looking towards the northern sky, he saw by the position of the Great
Bear that morning was drawing near, and that it was time to prepare
for the work of the coming day. The conversation with the new comer
had been carried on in a low tone. To me it was unintelligible at the
time, but later on I became aware of its meaning.

Of the purport of the stranger’s visit; Red Cloud now said nothing, he
simply explained the presence of the Iroquois, by remarking that he
had struck and followed our trail of the previous day, that he was an
old friend, and would join them in hunting the moose during the next
few days. The morning already gave every indication of being followed
by a day well suited to the pursuit of the moose; the trees rocked and
swung under the gusts of storm, and the moan of the wind through the
stretch of pine forest promised the hunters the best guarantee of a
noiseless approach to the resting-place of that most suspicious and
far-hearing denizen of the waste. Breakfast over, we set out from the
camp, leaving the sled and harness suspended in the fork of a tree to
save the leather fastenings from the attacks of the dogs. Red Cloud
led the way, plunging directly into a labyrinth of wood, which soon
opened upon a frozen and snow-covered lakelet. At the farther side
of this open, a profusion of willow bushes were seen; along these we
bent our steps, and soon, in the deep snow that had drifted around the
willow stems, a series of large hoof-prints became visible, now leading
around the edge of the thickets, now into the midst of them, while the
tops in many places hung down, bruised and broken, as though some tall
animal had been browsing upon them as he travelled along. The Indians
looked at the tracks intently, and then pushed their way through the
thicket to the edge of the forest at the farther side; here a perfect
network of footmarks seemed to lead in every direction, crossing each
other in apparently hopeless confusion. But the Sioux did not appear
to have any doubt as to the line he should follow. Passing again
into the forest, he held his way without pause through tangled brake
and thicket. I, however, noticed that we were now following a double
track, that is to say, a track made by an animal which had gone to and
returned from the willows by the same line, but the double marks were
not always distinctly defined. On the contrary, it required the most
careful scrutiny to discover the existence of a double footprint in the
holes, so exactly had the animal appeared to place one footstep in the
impression already made by him in the snow. I noted that the Sioux,
when he did bend down to examine the holes, paid particular attention
to the edge of the snow at the point where the hoof of the moose had
last quitted the track. At this edge a few fine grains of snow lay on
the surface of the older fallen mass, and these light particles seemed
to give to the tracker his test of proximity to his game. Sometimes he
would blow gently upon them, sometimes he would content himself with
pushing the muzzle of his leather-covered gun into the footmarks.

All at once a change passed over his mode of pursuit. His pace
slackened; his step was more carefully planted, and his eye scanned
more closely the surroundings of copse, brake, and thicket. He now
motioned the Iroquois to stay in one spot, and whispering me to keep
close behind him, and to tread as much as possible in his footsteps,
he turned aside at a right angle and bore away deep into the forest,
apparently following no track of any kind.

Following closely behind, I noticed that the course was not straight――it
bent inwards in a wide circle, so that if continued it must again strike
the trail of the moose. It was so; with long drawn steps the Sioux came
back again upon his old line at a point some quarter of a mile from
where he had quitted it. Arrived near the line of tracks he made a most
careful study of the ground, and noted each footprint with great care;
then he bent his steps back again in the way he had come, and again bent
round so as to make another half circle, this time a considerably
shorter one. His course I can but illustrate by the following diagram――

[Illustration]

The straight lines representing the original track of the moose,
and the curved ones the course which we followed, in lessening
half-circles, that ended and began again some few yards short of the
trail.

The object of these curious tactics was not at once apparent to me;
but I noted two points that threw some light upon them. One was the
fact that the circles were always made to the side away from the wind;
and the other was, that the Sioux on arriving near the line of trail
invariably directed his scrutiny of bush and thicket to the space lying
between us and the line, little care being taken to examine the forest
directly along the trail to the front.

Three circles had thus been made without any result, and we had once
more drawn nigh the line of trail. A few steps, more carefully taken
than any that had gone before, brought us to their limit, some few
yards short of the line.

To the left front as we looked towards the trail there stood a small
clump of broken and tangled wood, lying within twenty paces of the
trail. The Sioux looked long and steadfastly, then he advanced
half-a-dozen paces to his front, noiseless as the footfall of a hare in
a thicket; all at once he stopped. As yet the gun-cloth had not been
taken from his gun, but now I noticed that the barrel was uncovered;
still the hammer remained upon half-cock. I had not gone forward the
last ten paces, for I instinctively realized from the manner of my
companion that the final moment of the stalk was at hand.

Without changing his position Red Cloud now beckoned me to his side,
with a gesture impressing the utmost caution. Both of us had long
since taken off our snowshoes, and our moccasined feet scarcely sounded
in the snow. When we were close together Red Cloud said, in a low
whisper,――

“Look in the centre of yonder thicket.”

I looked, and saw nothing beyond the maze of tangled branch half-sunken
in soft snow. Red Cloud now raised his gun, but it still remained at
the half-cock. I looked, and looked again, but could make out nothing.
All at once the sharp click of the hammer, drawn to full cock with
somewhat unusual strength, and therefore noise, struck the ear; a
second later and there rose up in the thicket centre, fifty yards from
where he stood, a huge, dusky animal. The Sioux seemed in no hurry, he
took matters as coolly as though the moose was working in obedience to
his own movements; the moose stared blankly at us, the Sioux looked
quietly at the moose. The pause was only for four seconds, but to me
it seemed an age. All at once the spell was broken. Quick as lightning
the gun was raised to the shoulder, the shot rang out, and the moose
bounded like a ball from a cannon, crashing out of the thicket.
“Missed,” thought I――no; not a bit of it. Thirty paces were not covered
ere the great beast plunged forward in the snow, a struggling mass amid
the spotless white.

We drew near the quarry. He was a noble animal. The Sioux regarded him
with looks of pride. It was a stalk well done; it had been a triumph
fairly gained over an animal remarkable over all the wild animals of
the North American forest for cunning and sagacity.

And now as we waited for the Iroquois, I had fully explained to me
the tactics I had just witnessed. When the time for lying down comes,
in the early dawn, the moose selects a safe spot to the leeward side
of the trail he has followed; in fact, he retraces his trail for some
distance before deviating from it. He takes up his resting-place
for the day, guided by instinct to select a spot from which he can
catch the wind of any person following his footsteps. To defeat this
excessive caution was the object of those curious lines of approach
taken by the Sioux; each time he came out within sight of the line on
which he knew that the moose was to be looked for in some adjoining
thicket. Thus each brake had been scanned. To have followed the trail
would have been to have given the animal warning of our approach. It
was only by cautiously examining all possible lurking-places from
behind them, _i. e._ to leeward of them, that the result we have seen
could be attained.

The work of skinning and cutting up the moose was now proceeded with.
The distance from the camp was not far, and while the Sioux made ready
the carcase, I went back along our track to bring the dogs for the
meat. When I got back from the camp with the sleds all was ready. Skin,
marrow-bones, and meat were all packed away, and before the low-set sun
had touched the pine-tops in the west we were back again in our camp.

It was a grand feast that evening for both dogs and men. We sat long
in the red light of the fire, frying the delicious marrow-bones, and
toasting rich bits of meat. The Iroquois looked the picture of content.
He had had a hard time of it for some weeks he told us; his gun had not
shot straight; the moose had been wild, the days calm; but now plenty
had come, and he seemed determined to make up for past misfortunes. He
spoke English fairly well.

“White Brother,” he said to me, amid one of the pauses in our repast,
“these are the happy moments in our lives; these are the moments which,
when we think of them in civilization, draw us out again into the
wilds. Months of hunger and cold are forgotten in a day such as we have
spent to-day.”

“But,” said I, “you are a stranger here; your people dwelt far away
beyond the great lakes, where the white man’s cities now cover
the land, and where the rivers are furrowed by the wheels of his
fire-boats.”

“Yes,” he answered, “that was my home, and a remnant of my race still
dwell by the shores, of the St. Lawrence; but for me it would not do. I
came here twenty years ago, a youth, in the canoe of a trader. I have
lived in these woods and prairies ever since. In my own land I was a
stranger, in this strange land I found myself at home.”

Next morning the return march to the hut was begun. The Iroquois formed
one of our party. We moved over the snow-clad wilderness in silence.
Red Cloud was busily engaged in forming plans by which we might hope
to elude the designs of his enemies. The Iroquois, always reserved and
taciturn, moved along wrapped in his blanket, silent and impassive; and
I felt in no humour to break in upon the plans or meditations of my
companions.

Darkness had quite fallen when the dogs, tired by the weight of the
moose meat which they were hauling, came in sight of the hollow in
which the hut lay. Then the weary load grew light in anticipation of
home, and, pulling vigorously at the traces, the fire-lit doorway of
the little hut was soon reached.

But long before the journey was over, Red Cloud had fully matured
in his brain a plan which promised him escape from the toils that
encompassed him. That plan he briefly explained to me as follows,――

On the ice-covered little indentation, or mimic bay, close beneath the
east wall of the hut, we would construct a large and solid raft of dry
pine-trees. The raft when finished would be lashed to the trees on the
shore to await the disruption of the frozen river. The ice once gone
and the structure afloat, the work of loading goods and chattels, guns
and ammunition, would begin; then, at the first signal of assault from
hostile Sircies, the hut and its fixtures would be fired, and down
the swift-rolling flood of the loosened rivers would glide the ark,
bearing to realms of safety our little party from the ruined site of
our winter home. Such were the means by which he hoped to defeat once
more the machinations of his foes.

The next morning saw the beginning of the refuge raft. The pine bluff
echoed with the ringing strokes of well-wielded axes, and soon a dozen
dead and dry pine-trees had fallen, and their trunks were rapidly being
cleared of branches and cut into even lengths of fourteen feet, and
others of ten and twelve. The dry trees were the only ones fit for the
work; the green ones, heavy with sap, would have floated too low in the
water to allow of weights being placed on them.

When a sufficient number of dry trees had been felled and cut into
lengths, the work of drawing them to the little bay began. Every
one worked with a will; but many of the trees had been cut at a
considerable distance from the hut, and it was laborious work to get
the larger pieces into position upon the ice. Then was done the work
of notching and shaping the various parts of the raft, and forming the
outer framework upon which the higher platform was to be built. The two
longest and thickest trunks were placed as outside pieces, these two
were connected together by cross sticks at either end, and all formed
a massive frame twenty feet in length by eight feet across; over these
in turn were placed eight pieces of lesser bulk and size, crossed and
held together by transverse sticks.

While these preparations were going on, the Cree was busily engaged
in cutting up and stretching into pliable lengths long strips of
“Shahanappi,” or buffalo and moose skin; these, when fully stretched,
were passed around the trunks, lacing the entire structure into a most
compact and powerful raft.

In three days’ time the raft was finished, and as it had been in the
first instance laid upon the exact spot on the ice which it was meant
to occupy when afloat, no further labour was necessary to drag the
ponderous mass into position, and nothing remained but to complete the
arranging and sorting of the stores, and many minor details, and to
make everything ready for rapid embarkation when the hour of movement
would have arrived.

The first object aimed at by Red Cloud was to avoid leaving in the
hands of his enemies any token of his defeat. He was determined that,
if he could help it, not a gun or trophy should be shown as things
that had been taken from the wandering Sioux. Nothing in fact save
the possession of a barren site should be left to his enemies. The
chief difficulty lay in the horses. How were they to be removed? There
could be no reason to expect that the Sircies would allow a day of
practicable weather to elapse after the melting of the snow before
their scouts would be on the alert, around a wide circle of the banks,
to prevent the escape of the party by land. It looked as if all the
horses must be sacrificed. The idea of killing his favourite horse, his
long-tried, faithful friend, was a thought that Red Cloud could not
endure. He spent many hours in thinking out some method of escape. At
last he hit upon what seemed to promise success. He would build another
raft, and putting himself upon it, and his steed swimming behind it, he
would run the river alone; the others would go on the first raft. He
told me his plan. I proposed that the raft should be made large enough
to carry two people, and that I should also take my horse, and still
continue to share the fortunes of my friend.

The Sioux consented to this arrangement, and the work of building
soon began. Some changes were made in the shape and construction of
the second raft, to enable it to bear the unequal strain likely to
be put on it. In the course of a few days it was declared finished,
and, moored side by side with the one first built, was in readiness
to receive its cargo whenever the moment would arrive. Thus we found
ourselves ere the close of winter preparing to meet as best we could a
formidable attack from powerful enemies. The forewarning given by the
Iroquois had enabled us to forearm, and it now only remained to await
the attack when the breaking up of the ice would let loose the passions
of our enemies, and the flood-gates of our friends――the Pascopee and
the Red Deer rivers.



CHAPTER XII.

 The winter draws to an end――A keen look-out――Signs――The break-up of the
 rivers――An ice block――The enemy approaches――A noiseless arrow――The ice
 still fast――The ice-floes――The war-cry of assault――A parley――We embark
 on the rafts――The hut in flames――On shore again――Freedom――Winter gone.


The end of the long winter was drawing nigh: the snow yet lay on plain
and forest, the ice held dominion as firm as ever over lake and river,
the frost at night was still severe; nevertheless, there were many
signs of approaching spring. The knolls and edges facing the mid-day
sun had become bare of snow; the air, during the hour of noon, felt
warm and balmy; the surface of the snow became soft under the sun; and
there was in the atmosphere an indescribable sense of freshness, that
presaged the near retreat into more northern realms of the grim winter
king who had so long ruled with iron grasp the subject land.

As the first symptom of the enemy’s approach might now be looked for in
the neighbourhood, it became necessary to adopt all precautions against
surprise, and to get the horses under the protection of the hut.

There remained from last summer a total of five horses, two having been
lost after the prairie expedition in the end of November. The five were
now driven in from their wintering ground; they were found to be in
excellent condition after their three-and-a-half months in the snow;
two of them were, however, of little value, and it was decided that
it would be better to sacrifice these at once――not only because their
ultimate fate was sealed, but also because the means of keeping the
remainder in food were extremely limited, no supply of hay having been
stored in the previous autumn.

The roof of the hut held, however, a large stock of the long reedy
grass that horses love so well to feed upon, and the thick covering of
snow which, during the entire winter had overlaid this thatch had kept
the grass clean and succulent. One side of the roof was now divested
gradually of its covering, and enough of provender was obtained to keep
the three horses alive during the few remaining days they had to wait.
We had already erected a small stockade, which covered the approach to
the rafts, in case an attempt should be made to rush the place.

It was the habit of Red Cloud to spend many hours of the day in
reconnoitring the line by which alone it was possible for any hostile
party to approach the hut. The time had now arrived when signs of
scouts must be evident if the expected attack was to take place. The
ice had begun to loosen in the rivers, and the snows were vanishing
quickly from the face of the prairies.

About the fourth day after the Sioux had begun to reconnoitre, the
Iroquois started out to examine the country along the North river.
Keeping the low ground between ridge and river, he watched intently the
drifts and open spaces by which a scout would have been likely to pass.
At a spot lying about a mile from the Forks, he came upon a footprint
that had not, he thought, been made by any denizen of the hut. He
brought the Sioux to the place, and a comparison of the snow-shoes of
the party with that of the impression in the snow, showed the surmise
to be correct. There had been strange Indians lurking about.

[Illustration: Strange footprints.]

But the Sioux was now quite prepared for any movement of his enemies.
The ice still held in the rivers, but each hour gave increasing
symptoms of its disruption; great seams and rents had opened in it;
in the central portion channels of open water were to be seen, where
the current ran with immense velocity, escaping for a moment from
the superincumbent weight of ice, and again vanishing beneath it.
The ravines that seamed the plain were daily pouring down streams of
water to swell the volume of the river, causing the ice to rise, and
producing the rents and chasms already spoken of.

At last the change occurred. It was night-time. A great tremor seemed
to vibrate along the entire surface; water sprang in innumerable places
through the fissures; great blocks of ice reared up and fell crashing
upon their fellows, and the mighty mass began slowly to move.

When daylight came a whirling volume of crashing ice-floe was seen, and
the rapidly rising river told the story of a complete break-up along
the entire channels.

The rafts held well to their moorings. A few hours more must settle the
question of escape. The river had now risen to a height of seven or
eight feet above its frozen surface, and soon it must begin to subside;
then the larger ice would rapidly disappear. Red Cloud watched the
water-mark; so long as the floes kept drifting, the water was rising,
or stationary; when the floes would show stranded along the shores,
then the time of subsidence had come.

At last the tide turned and the river began to fall. The ice in the
little bay had been rent and broken, and the water rising, from
beneath, had submerged it; the rafts were half floating.

And now began the work of loading stores: saddles, food, guns,
blankets, kettles, and sundries, were ranged in carefully prepared lots
upon the raft destined for them, and in an hour’s time everything was
ready for departure――everything save the river; another block had taken
place in the ice below the junction, and the pent waters were again
beginning to rise.

Mid-day came, and yet the block continued; fortunately the rising water
had ample room to spread itself over the low-lying grounds along the
rivers, and the rise was not sudden. Still the danger of some huge
block of ice being forced upon the rafts was considerable, and it was
necessary to watch narrowly the rising tide, and to stand by the rafts,
with poles ready, to keep them afloat in case of a rapid subsidence
setting in.

The evening was drawing near. All day the Iroquois had watched the
plain at the top of the point, from the screen of forest that fringed
its edge. The Sioux and I had spent the time between this advanced post
and the scene at the rafts, and the scout had stood ready with rifle
and pole. Donogh and the Cree had charge of the horses. Dry grass and
wood shavings had been piled inside the now empty hut, ready for the
match; but still the scene remained unchanged――no enemy appeared; the
river was yet blocked.

All at once there came a low signal-call from the Iroquois upon the
ridge. Red Cloud and I rapidly ascended to the look-out point. The
Iroquois had seen a strange figure emerge from a thicket half-a-mile
distant, and disappear over the edge of the ridge. Then half-a-dozen
others followed, one by one, and glided over the edge. The sight had
been for an instant only; but it was enough――the enemy was at hand.

Leaving the Iroquois at his post, Red Cloud and I turned off along the
slope of the ridge, on the side towards which the figures had been seen
to disappear. About one hundred yards from the hut, a landslip on the
steep bank had carried away all trees and brushwood, leaving the sandy
sloping bank quite bare of cover. This open space of fifty yards across
had already been marked by us as a _glacis_ over which an advancing
enemy must expose himself to view. On the edge of this open, we now
awaited the further approach of our enemies. It was in fact the only
vulnerable side; the rivers protecting the point upon two sides, while
the rest of the angle was completely commanded by the look-out ridge.

Keeping now well within cover, we silently watched the open landslip.
The Sioux carried his double-barrelled rifle, his short bow, and a
quiverful of arrows.

“They make no noise,” he whispered to me, “and at this distance are
better than bullets.”

It was now sunset: there was still about half an hour of good light.
Would the hostile party await darkness, or make its advance without
further delay?

“Had they meant to attack after dark,” said the Sioux, “they would not
have shown in the open. They will come on at once.”

He had scarcely whispered this to me, when from the brushwood on the
opposite side of the slip appeared the dark figure of an Indian. He
was quickly followed by others. They came full into the open, heading
directly across for the spot where we stood; they thus presented only a
single file to us. Ere the leading figure had gained a quarter of the
way, a noiseless arrow sped from the bow of the Sioux. The aim was a
true one! The shaft struck the leader in the shoulder, and brought the
whole party to a halt.

At forty yards the arrows from a practised hand will follow each
other in rapid succession. Scarcely had the first arrow struck, ere
another was winging its way, narrowly grazing the now startled band.
Instinctively the entire party fell back upon the cover which they had
just quitted, and ere they had gained its shelter another shaft found
its billet amongst their rearmost ranks.

“Go quickly to the rafts,” whispered Red Cloud to me; “see if the river
runs. I shall remain here; the enemy will not attempt to cross the open
again for some time. When it is quite dark I will fall back upon the
hut, and before morning the channel must be clear.”

The war party of Sircies made no further attempt to cross the open.
They formed, in fact, only an advanced party of the main war-trail,
and they decided to wait the arrival of the entire force before making
any onward move. They had hoped to surprise us; but we were fully upon
the alert, and neither the hour nor the strange silent method of our
defence induced them to advance.

The river still remained fast. Darkness came on. We were now within
the hut. The hostile Indians had as yet made no further sign of their
proximity; but any moment might find them full upon the place, and
all depended upon their method of attack. If they decided to make an
assault in force upon the defences, their numbers must prevail; but as
they were in ignorance of the existence of the rafts, and looked upon
the ultimate capture of the little party at the hut as a certainty,
there was every reason to suppose that they would not press an assault
upon what in time, they deemed, must be their own.

Slowly the night wore on. Towards midnight the river showed symptoms
of subsiding; the water slowly ebbed along the edge of the little bay,
and the ice began to strand upon the shore; but the subsidence was so
gradual that it was impossible to say whether it really meant a final
break in the barrier below. About three hours before daylight, however,
the decrease in the water-level grew more rapid; not only did the shore
give its symptoms, but the central portions of the streams were heard
in movement. At first slowly the downward motion began, then faster and
faster it became, until soon, in many a wild whirling eddy, the vast
mass of broken ice poured along.

The river had fully broken up, and the time of escape was at hand.

Just at this moment there sounded from the high ridge above a wild and
well-known cry. It was the war-whoop of the Sircies.

The hills at the opposite side caught up the sound, and sent it ringing
back in answering echoes. It was the signal for assault upon the hut.

The main body of the war party had in fact arrived upon the scene, and
there no longer existed any reason for delaying the attack. The cry was
rapidly followed by a ringing volley from the brushwood at the farther
side of the stockade. The bullets struck right and left among the
trees, but did no damage to any of our little party. As yet we made no
sign by voice or weapon of our existence. Screened behind the stockade,
the Sioux and the Iroquois watched with eagle eyes the open space
around the hut. The Cree stood by the horses, Donogh and I watched the
raft.

Another volley came crashing around the hut, but still no response was
made; no shot sounded from the stockade.

The first silent flight of arrows had made the Sircies careful in
their advance, and now not a brave ventured to show himself outside
the sheltering screen of wood. While thus the enemy contented himself
with firing at random into the surrounding trees, the river continued
to pour down its flood of ice-floes, and to decrease in level; but the
difficulties of withdrawing from the position in front of a watchful
foe during daylight were so great that the Sioux determined to
abandon the stockade before day had set in, and to attempt the work of
embarkation under cover of darkness.

In order to prevent the enemy from making an assault during the
last moments of night he now engaged in a pretended negotiation for
surrender with them. He began by inquiring the reason for this attack.
He reminded them that he had no quarrel with them, but that he was
fully prepared to resist to the utmost every attack, and to sell his
life as dearly as possible.

After a time a response came from the leader of the Sircies. It is easy
to find cause of quarrel when quarrels be once determined on. In this
respect the wild man is not a whit behind his more civilized brother;
so on the present occasion there was little difficulty in showing, to
the satisfaction at least of the Sircie braves, that there existed
ample reasons for the attack upon our hut at the Forks.

“Why was the hut there at all?” demanded the Sircie leader. “Was the
ground on which it stood Sioux ground? Was it Cree ground? And had not
the Sircies hunted over it for many generations?”

To these questions Red Cloud replied,――

“That he had come to winter there, believing the place to be neutral
territory; but that if the Sircies could prove to him their right
to it, he was willing to pay compensation for his occupancy; but,”
he continued, “this compensation must be the result of peaceful
negotiation and not evoked from him by war. He would meet peace with
peace, and he was equally ready to oppose war with war.”

These sentiments, expressed at much greater length than I have here
recorded, carried the waning hours of the night further towards the
day, darkness still blotted out the features of the landscape, but
the stars told us there was not much time to lose. Ere the harangues
were finished, the work of embarkation had begun and was being swiftly
proceeded with; the raft with the baggage was ready, save to take on
board its human freight, and the horses were to be led into the water
astern of the second raft at the moment it was to be shoved from the
shore, and allowed to swim after it in its descent of the stream.

A low whistle from the little bay now announced to the Sioux that all
was ready for the final move. He again expressed aloud to the enemy
his resolve to defend himself to the last, then falling back silently
and swiftly to the rafts he saw that all was ready; so far as we could
see, the river was now free of ice. Then the Sioux went back to the hut
again, struck a match, and threw it into the dry hay and shavings which
had been piled against the wooden walls. The blaze kindled rapidly, but
we had previously taken the precaution to close up the windows with
clay and pieces of skins so that no appearance of light could be seen
from without; leaving the hut, the Sioux closed the door carefully
behind him. In another moment he was with us at the raft. The word was
given to shove out from the little cove. As the first raft glided into
the current we unfastened the horses from the tree and stepped upon our
own raft; a word of encouragement, a tightening of the reins, and the
two horses followed us into the flood.

Then we pushed cautiously out; the current caught the raft and bent
its course down river. At first the horses as they began to lose their
footing showed many signs of fright, snorting and breathing fast; but
after a few seconds they seemed assured, by the low-spoken words of
encouragement as well as by the facility with which they swam.

And now, as the distance lengthened out between the point and our raft,
a change occurred in the scene. From out the dark grove of pines there
came a bright flame; at first it broke in fitful flashes from amid the
trees; but anon it cast a clear and steady light on trunk and branch.
Quickly it grew in strength; up through the motionless pines at last it
rose, a pyramid of flame, so bright and clear that no longer could even
the Sircies doubt its cause.

It was the hut in flames!

Struck with astonishment, and deeming the conflagration to be a ruse of
the Sioux for some further onslaught upon them, they still hesitated
what to do.

At last one or two, bolder than their comrades, pushed over the
open space and passed the stockade. All was silence save the sharp
crackling of the still rising flame. Then others followed; and at last
the whole band approached the point. The enemy was gone! No horse, no
gun remained; and as the fire poured forth through roof and door and
walls, the discomfited Sircies ran hither and thither, vainly seeking
for that prey whose capture, but a few moments before, they had counted
upon as assured.

Far down the river by this time we stood on the raft, spectators of
this strange scene. The leading raft, a few yards ahead, also held its
course undisturbed; and as now the towering flame shot up high above
the pine clump, and cast its reflection on the steep bordering ridges,
every point of which was so well known to us, I knelt upon the moving
raft, and thanked God for an escape from a terrible situation which but
a short time before had seemed hopeless enough.

Gamely the horses held their way down the river in the wake of the last
raft. Every now and again the Sioux spoke some well-known Indian word
to them. Both horses had been so fully accustomed to obey a single word
of command from their masters that the instinct had reached that stage
when it becomes the highest form of discipline――perfect obedience.

The rafts reached the end of the long river-reach that lay below the
Forks. Another minute, and the bend of the river would hide from our
eyes the last glimpse of flaming hut and surrounding hill. There was
a strong temptation on the part of some of the men on board the first
raft to fire back a parting salute of defiance and triumph; but it was
wiser to give the Sircies no token or trace of their flight. Doubtless
the daylight would reveal the track which we had taken, by showing the
footprints in the soft mud of the shore where the rafts had touched;
but by that time many miles would intervene between us and our foes,
and all chance of pursuit would be impossible for the present. So round
the curve the rafts ran swiftly, and then nothing was visible but the
river, showing grey under the sky, and the dark outline of the wooded
shores on either side.

After half an hour’s work, Red Cloud hailed the leading raft to carry
on until mid-day, and then to put in to the south side of the river;
to make camp by the shore, and to send the scout up to the high ground
where the more open country began, to watch for our approach by land.

The horses had had quite enough of the water. We would put to shore,
select a good landing-place, and leaving the raft, follow the upper
bank of the river for the remainder of the journey.

The two rafts now separated, and were finally lost to each other.

Cautiously drawing near the south side, the horses soon found their
feet upon a bank, which in the summer would have been dry ground. The
shore was but ten yards beyond; it shelved up in an easy ascent from
the water. We pushed in until the end of the raft grounded, then we
stepped into the water and led our dripping and tired horses on to dry
earth.

We had taken with us from the hut only saddles, arms, and ammunition,
and some pemmican, and tea, and axes; these were soon brought on shore,
then moving further into the wood, we made a fire. The horses stood
close to the flame, which soon dried their dripping flanks. Here we
passed half an hour; the morning air was very cold, and it was pleasant
to sit before the genial warmth of the fire. Often we spoke of the past
escape, and often our conversation wandered on to the future, with its
plans and outlooks.

As the daylight began to show objects distinctly we set out, leading
our horses by the bridles through the tangled maze of thicket, up the
steep ridge that rose directly from the river bank.

The summit gained, the course lay to the east, along the edge of woods
that here filled the space between the prairies and the water. But
now the horses carried their owners, and right glad were we to feel
ourselves once more in the saddle, free to steer where we pleased over
the open plains. Right glad too seemed the horses to find themselves on
firm ground.

The snow yet lingered in hollow places, but the prairie was clear and
dry. The grass of last year lay in yellow tufts around; the leafless
trees and bushes looked bright in the early sun; and the earth smelt
fresh and pure as it once more gave forth its odours to the air. The
long winter at last was gone.



CHAPTER XIII.

 Horses wanted――New plans――We start south――The prairie in Spring――No
 buffalo in sight――Starvation――A last resort――Buffalo at last――We fall
 in with Blood Indians――The camp――Tashota――A trade――Rumours of war――We
 depart from the Blood camp.


Riding quietly along the edge of the open ground for many hours, we
drew in sight of the spot where the first raft had stopped at mid-day.

The camp had been made in the low ground near the river, and the
Iroquois was at his post on the upper level, alert and watchful.

By evening our little band was again united together, and a substantial
meal was laid out, at which we all joined, with appetites not the less
keen because of the exertions and anxieties of the past twenty-four
hours. A long council followed the meal.

It was necessary to decide upon a course which should embrace in its
plans the next six months of the summer season.

The latest acquisition to the strength of the party――the Iroquois――had
declared his wish to share the fortunes of our band for some months.
To this no one objected. Indeed, it might have been said that all owed
to him their safety. Had it not been for his timely warning, it was
impossible to say what fate might not have befallen us, unsuspicious as
we had been of attack or molestation.

We therefore numbered four on the raft, and two horsemen. Now in the
season which was beginning horses would be a necessity of life on the
plains; therefore the first and most pressing want was a horse for each
of the dismounted men.

Another necessity was the safe stowing away of the surplus goods which
we possessed. These could not be carried without seriously retarding
the freedom of movement across the prairie. It was therefore decided
that the stock should be placed in _cache_ some four days’ journey
further down the stream, and that at the point where they would be
stored the four men would wait in camp the arrival of the other two,
whose duty it would be to go in search of horses for the complete
equipment of the whole band.

After every man had in his possession a horse, then it would be time to
form plans for future action.

But it was one thing to say that each man should possess a horse, and
quite another thing to provide the required number. True, horses could
be obtained from many bands of Indians by barter; but to hit off the
whereabouts of a band on the open plains was no easy matter.

Out of many courses open to him the Sioux determined upon one. He would
start with me on the following morning, and directing his course due
south would seek for buffalo in the great prairie. Once with the herds,
he need have no further difficulty on the score of food. They might
then wander on as the buffalo moved, keeping the great herd in sight;
by this means they would be certain to fall in with Indians out upon
their spring hunting expeditions. From some of these bands horses could
readily be exchanged for some articles of arms, which we could easily
carry on the horses in addition to our own weapons.

So far went the plan.

It was computed that in three days we should fall in with buffalo, that
a week more might elapse ere Indians were met with, and that perhaps
a month might altogether intervene ere we would be back again at the
point agreed upon for the _cache_.

All these matters having been talked over and arranged, preparations
for the journey were next undertaken.

A couple of revolvers and an American repeating rifle, together with a
few other items――all of which had originally formed a portion of the
trader’s cargo――were taken from the raft and packed between the two
horses. Blankets, a kettle, two tin cups, two axes, extra flints and
steels, provisions to last four days――all the requisites, in fact, for
prairie travel――were packed in bundles easily attached to the saddles,
and everything made ready for a start at daybreak the following morning.

These preparations, together with the arrangements to be made by the
party at the _cache_, occupied the remainder of the afternoon, and soon
after dark we all lay down to sleep――the sleep to which our long-borne
exertions had so well entitled us.

The dawn of a very fair spring morning saw Red Cloud and myself on the
move; nor had its light long to shine ere the raft was bearing the
other four down the swift current of the Red Deer river.

From the edge of the ridge where wood and plain met, we looked back to
the river bank to catch a last glimpse of our friends. The raft was
well in the centre of the stream going merrily along. The keen eyes of
its occupants caught quick sight of the horsemen on the sky-line above
them; there was a wave of hands, a faint shout of farewell, and then
the frail link of sight was broken.

All day we held our southern way at an easy pace.

The horses were all too unused to work, to allow of more than a walk or
trot being used; but the calculations of time had been based upon easy
going, and there was no necessity for rapid movement.

I have already spoken of the general character of the prairie through
which we travelled. Here and there small copsewood studded the face of
the great expanse of rolling grass-land; at times, the sheen of a blue
lakelet caught the eye; and as the morning sun flashed over the scene,
strange glimpses of hill-top, rock, and large trees were visible on the
far-away horizon――those tricks of mirage which so frequently deceive
the sight of the traveller while the morning and evening beams are
slanting along the wilderness.

Pleasant is this every-day life of travel over these great northern
prairies, when the spring has come up from his southern home, bringing
all his wealth of bird and bud to deck his roadway to the Polar Sea.

How fresh are the cotton-wood thickets where the paired partridges
nestle, and roll in the dry scented leaves of last year’s autumn! How
sweet are the early flowers that seem to burst all at once from the
yellow grass, specking the knolls with pale blue buds, that open to
look at the mid-day sun as he passes overhead, and then close again as
the evening chills creep over the scene!

Over the ridge-line to the south, long V-shaped lines of wild geese
come sailing on their northern way, some trailing behind as though they
fain would cry halt along the margins of many of these soft and quiet
lakes, whose blue waters spread invitingly below them; but inexorable
instinct bids them follow on behind the wide arms of the moving
wedge-shape column, into regions where yet the spring is a laggard,
but in which man is a total stranger.

Yes, it is pleasant work that daily routine of prairie travel――work
that brings to the heart of man as much of the simple satisfaction that
exists in breathing, seeing, living, as can perhaps be found the whole
earth over.

Over such a scene we now held our way, and evening found us camped by a
tiny lake many miles from the starting-point.

The next day and the next day beheld us still holding south. But a
change had gradually crept over the landscape. The thickets had become
few, the lakelets scarce. Long stretches of unbroken plain lay before
us, and, rolling away to east and west, the same treeless and yellow
grassy hills spread out to the farthest verge of vision.

But there were no buffalo to be seen. Far and near the eye of the
Sioux scanned in vain for a trace of those dark specks so welcome to
the hunter’s sight――those moving specks, so infinitely small on the
horizon, so impressive in the nearer distance, that tell him the great
herds are at hand.

The fourth day had arrived, the last day for which food had been
brought. More than 100 miles had been travelled, and yet not one trace
of buffalo was visible on any side. From the evening camp that day we
made a long survey of the plains. A ridge higher than its neighbours
gave us a far extending view over the prairies, and as we stood upon
its summit while the sun was nearing the western horizon, vast indeed
was the scene that lay within the compass of a single glance. If ever
the mere fact of space can be thoroughly realized by man on earth,
instantly embodied as it were in a single sweep of vision, brought
home to the mind by the simple process of sight, it is when the eye
sweeps over such a scene as this upon which we now looked. Not a cloud
obscured it; no mist arose from stream or river; no blur of smoke
crossed its immense depth. To the west, all was brilliant colour; to
the east, the pale tints of the coming night were faintly visible above
the horizon.

A grand sight surely! but one, nevertheless, upon which we now looked
with a keen sense of disappointment; for all this scene of lonely
distance held in its vast area no hope of food.

Still the Sioux was determined to hold his course further out into the
waste.

“For two days more,” he said, as we finished the last bit of pemmican
in a hollow beneath the hill from which our survey had been made――“for
two days we will journey on to the south.”

“And then,” I inquired, “if we should not fall in with buffalo what
will you do?”

“And then,” said the Sioux, “I will show you how we still can live and
still can travel.”

Next morning we were off at daybreak, and all the long day through
a steady pace was maintained to the south. Evening fell――morning
dawned――and yet no food or sign of food appeared. The bird-life of
the park-like prairie that lay to the north had wholly vanished. The
lakelets lay at long intervals apart. Trace of buffalo there was none.

Still the Sioux kept his course unchanged, and so confidently had he
spoken of the certainty of finding food that evening, that I never
doubted for an instant that all would yet be well.

Each ridge that lay before us seemed to me to be the one that would
bring to view the much desired game; but as ridge after ridge was
passed and yet no sign of life became visible, I often bent my gaze to
the west in order to measure the moments of daylight yet remaining.

At last, from one of those innumerable eminences that dot the surface
of the prairie the Sioux drew rein and dismounted. All was unchanged.
The vast circle of sky-line held no living creature in its embrace.
Close by there lay a small sheet of water, and by its margin we two
hungry men, unsaddled for the night.

But this time the Sioux did not perform the usual process of hobbling
and turning adrift his horse.

“I promised you that you should have food to-night,” he said to me,
“and now you shall see how it is to be done.”

So saying, he drew from his leather coat a small pocket-knife, and took
from the pack of his saddle a tin cup holding about a pint. Then he
passed the larêt with a running noose round his horse’s neck, drawing
it tight as he did so. He then spoke a few words of encouragement to
the horse, and the faithful animal answered by turning his head and
rubbing his nostrils against his master’s arm.

Watching these proceedings with great interest, I saw to my astonishment
the Sioux open a vein in the horse’s neck, and begin to draw from it a
thin stream of blood. The horse never winced at the puncture, nor indeed
did he appear to be aware of what was going on. In a few minutes the
little vessel was quite full; the cord was slackened, and the drain
ceased.

Approaching the small fire of old buffalo chips and small sage stalks,
which had just been lighted, the Sioux placed the vessel of blood upon
the flame. Into it he crushed a few leaves of the wild sage which grew
so profusely around. When the mixture had simmered for some minutes, he
handed the cup to me. It did not look an inviting repast; but hunger
borne for two days will make palatable most of the dishes that it is
possible to put before a man.

The feeling that gnawed my stomach was something more than mere
hunger, and urged by its raging pangs I took with eagerness what would
otherwise have been to me a nauseous compound. Strange as it may
appear, it really was palatable, and what was still more important, it
was nourishing and sustaining. While half of the contents of the tin
yet remained, I handed it to the Indian, and our supper was soon over.

Strange shifts are those the red man learns in order to sustain his
life amid the perils of the wilderness. Many of these shifts I had been
taught in the past year, but none so strange as this one.

“See,” said the Sioux, when the scanty meal was finished, “the white
man would have killed his horse when hunger had come upon him; he would
have lived for three days, or four, and then he would have died. On
these two horses we can live, if necessary, for many days, and they
will still carry us along our way.”

At dawn next morning we were astir.

The Sioux ascended the hill at once. I remained in the camp. It was yet
indistinct light, and the eye failed for a time to reach even midway
across the vast field of vision that lay around. But at length the
reddening eastern sky cast its reflection deeper into the west, and
pierced the prairie in every direction. Suddenly the Sioux waved his
hand, and shouted a wild whoop of triumph! The buffalo were in sight!

Far off and faint, dwarfed down by distance to mere dark specks, they
dotted the horizon to the south-west, and spread nearer into the scene
in atoms that were ever growing more distinct.

I was quickly at his side. Well indeed might the Indian have called his
war-note. The sight would have been one to call forth no scant measure
of enthusiasm, even had it been looked upon by men whose minds had not
been strung by hunger to most anxious intensity, for in itself it was a
glorious prospect.

Upon this vast silent plain had come, during the dark hours, a mighty
invasion. The frontier of the horizon had been passed; the columns had
spread out like some great fan-shaped cloud, and where the evening sun
had gone down over a landscape lonely and untenanted, the glory of the
morning beams had come flushing up upon the myriad surges of that wild
animal life which, in size, majesty, and numbers, stands all unequalled
over the earth.

“How far are they away?” I asked, after I had for some moments gazed
upon this grand scene.

“Three hours’ riding will take us to the foremost bulls,” answered the
Indian. “The cows are a day or two farther off; but we cannot afford to
pick our animals. We must take the first that comes.”

Descending the ridge we were soon in movement towards the sky-line of
the south-west.

Towards mid-day the leading files of the herd were close at hand.

The ground was broken into many ridges, having between them valleys
that afforded perfect facilities for approach. It was not long,
therefore, ere a shot from the rifle of the Sioux had brought down a
young bull, near whose prostrate body our camp was at once made, and
hunger fully satisfied――the tongue and some of the marrow bones being
quickly put to roast over a fire made of sage sticks and dry grass.

The plan now formed by Red Cloud was to keep along the outskirts of the
main body of the advancing column, which he judged to be many miles in
length.

It was not, he thought, necessary to proceed much farther on our
present course, as the Indians with whom he hoped to fall in, would be
sure to follow the movements of the buffalo, and to have their camp one
day or so behind the main body.

In this his surmises were perfectly correct. The next day saw the herd
moving steadily towards the north-east; but it also brought a body
of Indians into sight, whose quick eyes were not slow to detect the
presence of strangers in the vicinity.

Having scouted for a time along ridges that commanded a view of our
camp, a body of six braves, satisfied with their observations, came
riding up at a gallop. They proved to belong to a branch of the Blood
Indians, the main body of which tribe was now “pitching” two days
farther south, near the range of wooded hills known as the Cypress
Mountains.

The buffalo, they said, had only recently passed the American
boundary-line; and there had been some conflicts between Indian bands
which had followed them over British territory, and the people of their
own (the Blood) tribe.

Their cousins and allies, the Peaginoos, Blackfeet, and Sircies, were
away to the west and north; but doubtless they would all soon draw near
the buffalo, when they heard the news that they had reached “the great
prairie.”

These were not altogether cheering tidings for us. The presence of
the Sircies would undoubtedly lead to hostilities; and although there
existed no actual cause of quarrel between the Sioux and the Blackfeet
or their kindred tribes, still their known hostility to almost all
other races of red men around the wide circle of their boundaries,
made it more than likely they would not hesitate to attack a solitary
wanderer in their midst.

To the inquiry of the Sioux as to their having horses to barter, they
replied that there were many horses with their tribe; and that if the
Sioux and the white man would visit the camp, they had little doubt but
that a trade could be readily entered upon.

It was arranged that the visit would be paid, and then the braves rode
away in the direction from which they had come.

The object which the Sioux had hoped to attain was to procure the
horses he stood in need of before any of the kindred tribes already
mentioned had joined the Bloods.

Once in possession of half-a-dozen horses, and with one day’s start,
he would defy the united efforts of all the Sircies, Blackfeet, and
Peaginoos to overtake him; but our position he well knew would be most
hazardous if one or all of these bands should arrive ere his trade was
concluded.

Early next morning, accordingly, we moved in the trail of the six Blood
Indians, and by evening drew near the camp of the main body at the base
of the Cypress hills.

The lodges were pitched along a level piece of ground a short distance
away from a stream, which had its source in the neighbouring hills.
The banks of this stream held growth of poplar, and bastard maple, and
willow, which kept the camp in fuel, and yielded materials for the work
of hide stretching and pemmican making――all which operations were in
full swing in front of the lodges.

The arrival of the strangers was the signal for the coming forth of
many braves; but etiquette did not permit the chief to come out from
his lodge until the visit of ceremony had been duly paid to him by the
strangers.

As we entered the camp we shook hands with the warriors and men of
lesser note, who stood around on every side.

Finally dismounting near the chief’s lodge, and beckoning me to follow
him, Red Cloud passed in beneath the low opening, and shaking hands
with the chief, sat down on a buffalo robe at the farther side of the
fire which smouldered in the centre.

The chief Tashota, or the Left-handed, was a tall and powerful-looking
man, just past the prime of life. He sat reclining on his robe, looking
straight into the fire before him, and blowing slow puffs from a
calumet of green pipestone, curiously carved into the body and head of
a bird. I also shook hands, and then seated myself in silence.

A minute or two passed, and Tashota, taking his pipe from his lips,
spoke.

“Have my friends come far?”

“Yes. Seven days have passed since we left the Red Deer river.”

Then followed questions at slow intervals on most of the subjects of
interest in prairie land――the game, the news of war, the movements of
tribes, the doings of the white traders; but all semblance of curiosity
on the part of the chief to know the objects of the present visit was
carefully avoided, and that eagerness which, in civilization, is so
prone to go at once “to the point” was nowhere observable.

Nor was the Sioux, anxious though he felt on the score of time, over
hasty to develope his object. Of course he said nothing about the party
left at the cache. He merely accounted for his presence in that part
of the country by his desire to fall in with buffalo after the winter;
and while expressing his willingness to become the purchaser of a few
horses, he also adroitly touched upon the chances of the other tribes
shortly expected to arrive, being possessed of many superfluous animals
which they would be eager to dispose of.

This was a clever bit of trade tactics. Tashota was not anxious to
see a customer go even to his cousins; so after a time he asked what
kind of animals the Sioux might require, and what he had to offer in
exchange for them?

He wanted five or six animals of average size and speed. He had only
a few weapons to offer in exchange; but they were good ones. He would
show them to the chief.

Whereupon he took out a short but very handy American repeating rifle,
carrying in its magazine fourteen cartridges, which, by a simple action
of the trigger-bar, were passed one by one into the barrel, and fired
in succession with great rapidity; and he also laid on the ground a bag
of cartridges and three revolver pistols.

The eyes of Tashota glistened as they looked at these weapons, and in
his mind he resolved that they should be his.

Calling in one of his braves he ordered his band of horses to be driven
in. Meantime his wife had been busily engaged in preparing dinner for
us strangers. A plentiful supply of the best bits of the buffalo were
put to boil over the replenished fire, and a meal was soon ready, to
which the memory of the long fast so recently endured caused ample
justice to be done.

A lodge had been pitched for us, and when dinner was over we withdrew
to it for the night, to await the arrival of the horses on the
following morning.

But Red Cloud well knew that our position was anything but secure;
there were other dangers threatening him besides those that lay in the
expected arrival of the Blackfeet or of the Sircies. He reckoned that
at least a week must elapse ere that portion of the Sircies which had
attacked the hut at the Forks could reach the Cypress hills; so far as
they were concerned he was safe. But the stray rumours he had caught
of war between the Ogahalla branch of his own race and the Bloods were
ominous of trouble to him.

If the Bloods had suffered at the hands of his race, they would not
hesitate to revenge their injuries or their losses upon him. One thing
was certain, and that was that the sooner he got away from his present
position the better.

These thoughts gave him ample material for reflection during the night.
Early next morning the horses had been driven in, and word came to the
hut where we were lodged that Tashota was ready to do a trade.

It was not long before the Sioux had selected five horses from the
band. The terms of barter were quickly settled, and the chosen horses
having been caught, were duly handed over to their new owner, whose
rifles, revolvers, and ammunition passed over to the Blood chief.

By this time it was mid-day. The camp was quiet, but the mind of the
Sioux was not easy. Things seemed to him to have run too smoothly in
their exchange. His quick eye had detected what he considered to be
faint indications of an intention to take back, if possible, the horses
now bartered. In the camp he knew he was safe; the laws of hospitality
forbade a guest, once received, being ill-treated; but once outside
the last lodge he would have all his tact and watchfulness put to the
test――so at least he surmised, and we shall soon see how true were his
fears.

It was necessary for him, however, to hide completely from our hosts
all tokens of suspicion. If our escape was to be effected it must be
done soon, and before the Bloods could have taken steps to secure our
capture. He determined, however, to make no secret of his intention to
depart, judging truly that it would have been impossible to have got
away unnoticed, and that it was better to maintain a show of confidence
in the good faith and loyalty of the Bloods until the moment of any
hostile act of theirs had actually arrived.

His plan was to leave the camp two hours before nightfall, so that our
movements might be fully visible to the Bloods, and that they might see
the direction we had chosen to take; for the rest, his real intention
would be developed only when night had fallen.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon when we directed our steps
to the lodge of Tashota. The chief was alone; not a movement of eye or
feature betrayed that he meant mischief to the person or property of
his visitors. Yet all the while a deep-laid plot had been arranged, to
rob, and if necessary to kill, the Sioux after he had quitted the camp.

“I am starting this evening,” said the Sioux as he seated himself at
the fire. “I am going north to the posts of the white traders, and the
journey is long. I have come to bid my brother farewell.”

The chief nodded, and Red Cloud continued: “I have heard rumours of war
between the Ogahalla Sioux and your people. For myself, I raise my hand
against no red man; the quarrel of the Ogahallas is their own.”

The chief still kept silence.

Red Cloud arose, and held out his hand across the fire; the Blood shook
it. Then the Sioux lifted the door-curtain of the lodge, and we passed
out into the open.

Ten minutes later we two men, with seven horses, rode slowly from the
camp.

[Illustration: Ten minutes later we rode slowly from the camp.]



CHAPTER XIV.

 On the trail――A pursuit――The mark is overshot――A
 night march――Morning――The curtain rises――We are
 prisoners――Blackfeet――Penoquam――The Far-Off Dawn――His history――His
 medicine robe――Interrogations――New arrivals――The trader again.


Well watched by sharp and restless eyes were we that evening as our
figures grew fainter in the grey of the prairie.

Tashota had already laid his plans; and although no overt act had yet
been taken, everything was ready to ensure a rapid pursuit when the
proper moment had arrived.

Two hours passed, and darkness began to close over the plains. Then
over both sides――the travellers and the camp――a marvellous change
suddenly passed.

It is true that, long before darkness had begun, preparations must have
been rife within the camp; and horses ready for a foray, and braves
busy getting arms and ammunition together, must have been visible on
all sides. The red man is ever more or less equipped for war, and it
takes little time for twenty men to be in all respects ready for a
week’s raid.

As the sun went down, each man of the war-party stood ready by the
lodges for the signal to pursue, and many anxious eyes doubtless
followed us and our band of led horses, grudging every step that
daylight permitted us to take farther on our way.

But darkness was not thus descending upon us to find us wrapt in a
false sense of security. Scarcely had the camp been left behind, ere
the Sioux imparted to me all his forebodings of evil and his plans for
averting it.

“When night has come,” he said, “these men will pursue us. If they fail
to overtake us to-night, they will continue on our trail day after day.
It is impossible we can escape them by fair riding, encumbered as we
are with these horses. They will, in the long-run be certain to outpace
us.

“At the same time it is impossible for us to leave the direction we
are now following and to strike on a new line home. We have not food
sufficient to last us six days, and we could not draw upon our horses
for more, except in case of actual starvation. What I intend to try is
this. When it is quite dark, we will turn abruptly from the present
line and seek shelter in the ravine of that stream on our left. The
pursuing party will push on in the darkness thinking we will have
travelled all through the night.

“At daybreak they will separate to seek our trail. They will search
all day, but will not find it; their horses will then be dead tired;
they will rest, but they will not give up the attempt to overtake us.
As we have not been found in front or to the right or left, they will
determine to seek us on the back trail; but they will not have come
to that decision until to-morrow evening, when their horses will be
useless for pursuit.

“On to-morrow evening at nightfall we will start from here with horses
all fresh, and we will direct our course to the right of the line we
followed when leaving the camp. So as to hit off the buffalo two days
from here. We will travel all night, change saddles at daybreak, and
travel all day to-morrow; by that time we should be far away from our
pursuers.”

Soon the evening hour drew on. The short twilight rapidly deepened into
night, and as the last glimmer of light vanished, the plan was put into
operation. Turning sharp to the left, we plunged down amid some broken
ground that led to the ravine by the stream, and were soon securely
ensconced amid the bluffs and rocks that fringed its lowest levels.

It was a dark moonless night, and once amid the broken ground all
objects became a shapeless blank.

The Sioux pulled up as soon as he found himself at the bottom of the
ravine. He dismounted, and gave me his horse and the larêt which ran
through the bits of the three he led.

“I will go back on foot and lie near the trail,” he said. “Sit you down
here until I return.” So saying he vanished on foot into the darkness,
and reaching the neighbourhood of his former trail, lay down in the
grass to watch.

He had not long to wait.

Through the gloom there suddenly passed, riding at a hard pace, a body
of men. They had swept by almost as soon as the keen ear of the Sioux
had detected their approach, and quick as they had come they were gone.

The Sioux came back to the ravine and the night passed slowly away.

When dawn revealed the features of the surrounding neighbourhood, we
moved into a more sheltered position, where, amid rock and bushes, we
remained perfectly screened even from any observer who might have stood
at the edge of the ravine. Here during the day we relieved each other
in the work of allowing the horses to graze with a larêt passing from
one to another.

At length evening came again. The meal of dried meat was eaten, with
water from the rill that trickled through the bottom of the glen; then
saddles were adjusted; girths were drawn, and as night wrapped its
black mantle around the waste, we emerged upon the level prairie to
begin our long march to the north.

It was quite dark; not a sound stirred over the wilderness. The Sioux
led the advance; he had three horses to his larêt. I followed, leading
two. The pace was a sharp trot, and the course lay with undeviating
precision to the east of north.

At last the long monotony of the night was over.

Light, faint enough it is true, but still light, began to show itself
along the line where the prairie and the sky touched each other in
the east; then it grew into a broader band of pale yellow, and soon
stray tints of rose began to streak it, and to push the first faint
reflection still higher into the heavens.

How weird and distant it used to look, that first dawn over the
virgin wilderness! Shadow-land, grim darkness going, glorious light
approaching――approaching so stilly, with such solemn steps that seemed
ever to hesitate as they trod the gloomy sands of the shore of the
night! Then gradually growing bolder, they rolled back the waves of
darkness, and drew from the abyss hill-top after hill-top, until all
the wondrous beauty of the sun was flashed upon the silent land.

Little time had I to think of these things as now, in hot haste, the
saddles were taken from the two old horses and placed upon the backs of
two of the recent purchases.

Then away we went again, and the morning wore on to mid-day, and the
evening came and found us still moving to the north-east.

When night again fell we stopped, unsaddled, and turned the weary
horses out to rest.

We were one hundred miles from the camp of the Indians.

Morning again; a thin rain fell. The south-west wind carried with it
fleecy folds of mist, that at times completely obscured the prairie and
wrapt ridges and hollows in veils of vapour.

As we pursued our course and the mid-day sun began to exercise more
influence upon the vapoury clouds, the mists drew up from the valleys
and drifted slowly along from the ridges and elevations. All at once
the wind changed; a light, dry breeze swept over the land, driving
before it all traces of fog and mist, until the whole plain stood
revealed to its depths before our eyes.

The first sight that greeted us was ominous. A little to the west a
long cavalcade of Indians was passing towards the south. Scarcely a
mile intervened between us and them; the ground on all sides was bare
and open; recognition by the cavalcade was immediate; from its front,
centre, and rear braves were seen to start simultaneously towards
us, and ere five minutes had elapsed twenty or thirty Indians had
surrounded us. The meeting was not a hostile one; the Indians were not
on a war-trail. It was the whole camp which was on the move, and though
trouble might afterwards arise from the meeting no violence was now
offered or threatened. Still there was a display of force on the part
of the new comers that made compliance with their wishes necessary, and
when they turned their horses’ heads back towards the cavalcade it was
evident that the Sioux and I were virtually prisoners.

“There is trouble before us,” said Red Cloud to me, as we rode towards
the spot where already, in anticipation of our arrival, camp was being
pitched. “These are Blackfeet; but they will not detain you.”

Upon reaching the camp, we were conducted at once into a circle of
Indians who were seated upon the ground, apparently waiting to receive
us. Prominent amid the circle sat a powerful Indian, whose dress and
bearing proclaimed him chief. He wore a deer-skin shirt beautifully
embroidered on the breast with stars, and circles of coloured
porcupine-quill work. The sleeves were fringed with human hair. On
his head he carried a sort of helmet or cap, of ermine tails and
eagle feathers, and his leggings and moccasins bore similar tokens of
elaborate handiwork.

In common with many of the surrounding braves he smoked in solemn
silence.

Penoquam, or the Far-Off Dawn, was indeed a savage well worthy of the
name he bore, and of the power which he wielded. His fame had for years
spread far over prairie land. Twenty years before the time we speak of,
his reputation for dauntless bravery had been for ever established by
an extraordinary raid which he had made alone, far down the Missouri
River, into the countries of the Mandan and Minatarree Sioux. A few
years later he had engaged in single combat with a celebrated Crow
chieftain named Octoo, or the Lightning. The combat had been in full
view of the rival tribes, and both Blackfeet and Crows had fairly kept
the conditions of the conflict and abided faithfully by its issue.

A favourite tale by Blackfeet camp-fire for many years after, was that
long and varying struggle. The old men loved to dilate upon the joy
that filled the hearts of the onlookers when they saw the horse of the
Crow chief fall pierced by an arrow, leaving his rider on foot, almost
at the mercy of his still mounted antagonist; and how that feeling of
wild exultation changed to anxious suspense when they beheld their
champion spring from his horse, disdaining to accept the fortunes thus
given to him, and advance on foot to meet his foe on equal terms of
ground and weapon.

Not less terrible were the feelings with which they watched the closing
moments of the fight. When the combatants met in the last deadly
embrace, from which one should never rise; and how at last that deadly
struggle ended in the victory of the Far-Off Dawn, who, bleeding at
many wounds, rose alone from the sandy soil, gained with a great effort
his saddle, and rode slowly back to his people, to fall into their
ready arms, while their shouts of triumph fell unheard upon his ears.

On the medicine robe of the Far-Off Dawn’s history, the central figure,
representing a man standing over the prostrate form of another man, and
holding aloft the scalp of his enemy, still commemorated that great
victory.

At the time of which I write, his power over the Blackfeet and their
confederates was very great. His possessions too, in the light of
Indian wealth, were very large. Fully four hundred horses ran in his
bands. His weapons for war and for the chase included almost every
specimen of modern fire-arms. His generosity was said to be in keeping
with his courage; he gave freely away his share of the booty that
fell to his lot. Altogether Penoquam was a chief whose reputation for
valour, capacity, and wealth, might favourably compare with that of any
Indian leader from Texas to the great Sub-Arctic Forest.

Such was the man in whose presence we now found ourselves. A buffalo
robe was spread for us in a break of the circle directly facing the
spot where Penoquam sat, and the discourse began at once.

Interrogated as to place from whence we had come, destination, and
object of our journey, the Sioux replied in answers as short as they
could well be made, consistently with replying to the main questions
put to him. He was coming from a camp of the Blood Indians near the
Cypress hills. He was returning to the banks of the Red Deer river, and
the object of his journey had been to get horses. He had purchased some
of his present band from the chief.

When Red Cloud had finished replying to the questions which had been
put to him in the Sioux language, some conversation was carried on in
Blackfeet among the men who sat around. Presently one of them spoke:――

“Our young men who have lately been to their cousins the Sircies, have
spoken about a wandering Sioux having built himself a hut at the forks
of the Red Deer and Pascopee rivers, and of war that was carried on
between him and their tribe. Are you not that Sioux against whom our
cousins have had war?”

To which Red Cloud replied,――

“I built a hut at the spot you speak of, and dwelt in it during the
past winter; but I made no war on the Sircies or with any other tribe.”

The others consulted together for a few minutes, and then the chief
spoke,――

“Our cousins the Sircies are only two camps’ distance behind us on this
trail,” he said; “they can be here by to-morrow’s sunset. If they have
no quarrel with you, I shall be your friend; but my cousins’ quarrel
must be mine also. You can stay in my lodge until our cousins have
arrived, and then you shall be free to go if your hands are clean of
their blood. As for the white man who is your companion, we have no
quarrel with him; he is at liberty to depart or to stay with you, as he
pleases.”

In fact the Sioux was a prisoner. His horses and arms were taken away,
and he found himself treated, it is true, with no indignity of durance,
but bereft of any means of flight or of fight, and constrained to
await the arrival of those very foes whose unprovoked attack on him a
few days before was now to be brought as evidence against him of enmity
to the Blackfeet confederated tribes.

In the lodge which was now given to us (for it is needless to say
I gave not a second thought to the permission to depart) there was
ample time to con over the position, and to realize fully its dangers.
The arrival of the Sircies would undoubtedly be the signal for an
outbreak of angry feeling against the Sioux on the part of the united
camps of Blackfeet and Sircies. The defeat and disappointment which
the latter had suffered at his hands, to say nothing of the wounds he
had inflicted upon at least two of their braves, would now be counted
heavily against him――all added to whatever incentive to his destruction
the trader had originally held before them. These thoughts were by no
means reassuring as we sat moodily through the night in the lodge;
but long before morning he had determined upon a plan which would at
least defeat in some measure the machinations of his enemies, and might
eventually be the means of freeing him altogether from danger.

From two quarters next day there arrived at the Blackfeet camp enemies
to the Sioux. A party of Bloods from the Cypress hills, and the Sircies
from the Medicine, appeared upon the scene ere the sun had set.

As may be supposed, their joy at hearing of the capture of the Sioux
was very great; but there was this difference between them――that
whereas the Bloods only sought the property of their enemy, the Sircies
longed for his life.

The trader had laid his schemes this time with no uncertain purpose,
and the price to be paid to the Sircie chief was for the life of his
enemy, not for his horses or weapons. Little wonder was it then that
when they found actually in their possession the same man who had
recently completely baffled all their machinations, escaping from their
snares in a most mysterious and unaccountable manner at the very moment
they had deemed his capture most assured, that they should give vent to
their feelings in loud yells and shouts of savage triumph, the sounds
of which told but too surely to Red Cloud the confirmation of his worst
anticipations.

In a large council held this evening, and at which all the chiefs and
leading men were present, it was almost unanimously resolved that the
Sioux was a lawful prize. Firstly, by reason of the aggression made
by the Ogahalla tribe upon the Bloods; and secondly, by the wounds
inflicted upon the bodies of two Sircies at the hut at the forks of the
Red Deer river.

It was decided, however, that before any final decision was come to
with reference to the punishment which the captive was to suffer he
should be heard in full council, and an opportunity given him of
putting forward anything he had to say in his defence. This was done
more on account of my presence in the camp than from any idea of
justice to the Sioux. It was thought that the white man might carry to
the forts on the Saskatchewan information that might afterwards lead
to trouble between the white man and the Indians, and it was therefore
advisable to carry out as many of the forms of justice as it was
possible to arrange.

This council was to meet on the following day, and to it were summoned
the chiefs and leading men of the Bloods, Sircies, and Blackfeet here
assembled.



CHAPTER XV.

 The council of the nation――The wager of battle――Signs of friendship――A
 private interview――A fair field and no favour――The trader on the
 scene――I leave the camp――I camp alone――The rock on the hill――The
 skulking figure――Preparations for the start――The race for life――The
 snake in the grass――A desperate strait――The odds are made even――Hand to
 hand――A last chance――Out of range.


It was an imposing spectacle this council of the Blackfeet on the
next morning. On the rounded top of a prairie knoll sat the chief
and old men of the tribes; the space surrounding the knoll held the
fighting-men seated in circles. I sat with the Sioux on the slope.
Penoquam occupied the centre of all. For a time the silence was only
broken by low murmurs of voices; everybody smoked. At length the tall
and majestic figure of the Far-Off Dawn rose in the centre; every eye
became fixed upon him. Wrapping his robe around his body, he spoke,――

[Illustration: The tall and majestic figure of the Far-Off Dawn rose in
the centre.]

“Chiefs and braves of the Blackfeet nation. When the father of our
tribes crossed the mountains of the setting sun, and pitched his lodge
in this great prairie, he traced for his sons the paths they were to
follow in life. To one he gave fleetness of foot, to another he gave
strength of arm, to another he gave sight to track the buffalo,
the elk, and the moose; but to all alike he said, Be thy courage big
in battle, and thy tongue just in council. Brothers, we are here in
council to speak the straight word. Our brothers the Sircies are here;
our cousin the Sioux is here; they have had quarrel with each other.
We will ask our brothers the Sircies to tell us why there has been war
between them and our cousin; and we will ask our cousin to say why he
has quarrelled with our brothers. Then, when we have heard each the
word which he has to speak, our judgment will be given with a straight
tongue.”

Then Penoquam called upon the Sircie chief to state the cause of his
quarrel with the Sioux.

The Sircie now told his version of the attack upon the hut at the
Forks, dwelling at length upon the wounds suffered by his braves,
but keeping carefully concealed the part played by the trader in the
affair. He represented the attack as made because the ground on which
the hut had been built was a portion of the hunting-grounds of the
Sircie tribe; and he also spoke of the presence at the hut of Indians
belonging to tribes that were at war with his people. In conclusion he
demanded that the Sioux should be given up to him for punishment.

Then the Sioux, rising from the ground to his feet, spoke in answer.

“Chiefs and men of the great Blackfeet nation. It is true that I fought
against the Sircies, but I fought only in self-defence. Who is there
among you who will not push aside a falling tree, or hold his shield
against a hostile arrow? I am known to you all. My hand has never been
raised against a red man’s life, save to defend my own; but if this
Sircie thinks I owe him blood for blood, I am free to offer him the
trial of my life against his own. Here, on horseback or on foot, I am
ready to meet him in the combat.”

A murmur of approval ran round the dusky circle. The Sircie was for the
moment abashed; this was the last turn he could have wished the affair
to take. The Sioux, he was well aware, was more than a match for him
at any weapon; nevertheless he could not openly decline the proferred
combat. He would pretend to accept the battle wager. When he announced
his readiness to fight, his followers at once demurred.

It was not combat they wanted, they said, but the death of their enemy.
The Sioux had already shed the blood of their brethren; why should he
be given an opportunity of shedding more? His own life should now be
the penalty.

It was clear that a considerable portion of the Blackfeet shared this
view. Nor was it to be wondered at; their brotherhood with the Sircie
was stronger than their cousinship with the Sioux. But as I watched
the faces around, and took note of each varying expression, I thought
I could see in the face of the chief Penoquam indications of other
feelings towards my friend. It seemed to me that he wished if possible
to stand between the Sircies and their prey.

The face of the red man is slow to betray his thoughts, but the eye of
true friendship is quick to read sign of favour or affection towards a
friend, when the balance of fate hangs suspended between his life and
his death.

I was right in my surmise. Penoquam wished well to the Sioux. He had
heard through his spies the true story of the under-current which
the trader had set to work for the destruction of Red Cloud, and he
was determined if possible to save him; but neither his power over
his own people, nor his influence with other tribes, great though
they undoubtedly were, could enable him openly to avow his intention.
He must dissemble his real motives, and pretend acquiescence in the
demands of the Sircies. His voice was now heard above the murmurs of
the chiefs and braves.

“It is right,” he said “that our brothers the Sircies should ask the
blood penalty, but it is also right that our cousin should be given
the chances of the custom of our people. The Blackfeet are strong in
battle, they do not fear any tribe on the prairie, or in the thick
wood; but as they are brave, so are they just. This Sioux has offered
fight; our brother is ready to meet him in the combat; but if the Sioux
should gain the battle, the reckoning for the blood already shed would
still be due. No; we will not grant the combat to the Sioux, nor shall
we give to the Sircies the life of our cousin. Seven days from to-day
we will say what shall be done with the Sioux; until that time he is
our prisoner.”

The council now broke up, and I was soon alone with Red Cloud in our
lodge. It was after nightfall that a messenger came to say Penoquam
desired our presence in his tent.

It was only a few yards distant.

We found the chief alone, seated before a small fire, smoking. He
motioned us to sit by him, and when we had all smoked for a while in
silence, he spoke. He had only a few words to say, but they meant a
great deal to us.

“In seven days,” he said, “the Sioux would be given a chance of his
life. He would have his own horse again, and his freedom would then
rest with himself. He would be given a clear start of three bow-shots’
distance. His enemies, the Sircies might catch him if they were able.
For four days Penoquam would say nothing to the tribe of this resolve,
but on the fifth day he would announce to them his decision.”

We went back to our tent and silently thought over this proposal. It
had many things to recommend it, so far as the chances of ultimate
safety were concerned. It is true the horse of the Sioux was yet unused
to trial of speed after the winter’s snow, but those of the Sircies
were no better prepared, perhaps not so well. But on the other hand,
the proud heart of my friend revolted at the idea of having to fly
before his enemies. So galling did this thought seem to him that he
actually determined to refuse the chance offered to him, and to tell
Penoquam that he was ready to die facing his foes, but not to fly with
his back towards them.

I tried to dissuade him from this resolve, but all my efforts were
useless, and I lay down to sleep that night with the gloomiest
forebodings of approaching evil.

It was yet early on the following morning when there arrived in the
Sircie camp one whose presence soon caused a change in the resolution
formed by the Sioux; it was the trader McDermott. What connexion this
arrival could have with the determination of Red Cloud to accept the
offer of Penoquam I could not discover, but that the presence of the
trader was the cause of this acceptance I could not doubt; indeed it
was easy to see that the resolution to decline the chance of flight was
at once abandoned when the news of McDermott’s arrival was received.

So far things began to look brighter. I had such complete faith in my
friend that I felt he could not fail unless the odds were altogether
against him, and I knew that there could not be many horses on the
plains whose speed would outmatch his. So the few days passed away, and
at last came the morning that was to announce, to Blackfeet, Sircies,
and trader alike, the judgment of Penoquam.

The announcement was received by the braves with much excitement. It
promised them a spectacle that was dear to the red man’s heart; for the
Sircies or the Sioux the majority cared little, but their interest in
the race for life was keen. Three days had still to elapse before the
race.

It was necessary that I should decide upon some line of movement for
myself. If the Sioux escaped, I would still be a denizen of the camp.
If he fell, I felt that I could not meet his enemies save as my own.
And yet I could not bear the idea of leaving him to face alone this
ordeal. True, I could be of no service to him; but that did not seem
to lessen the horror of deserting him at such a time. It was on the
evening of this day that he spoke his wishes to me,――

“I want you, my friend, to do me a great service. Penoquam has told me
that I am to be set free on the east side of this camp. I will make for
the east at first. If I find that I am not likely to be overtaken I
will bend away to the north in the direction of our _cache_. You must
go before me on that course. You have three spare horses besides the
one you ride. Take these horses at nightfall to-morrow out of camp.
Depart on your way to the north. Halt some little way to the east of
north. When morning breaks choose some ground where you can remain safe
during the day and night, and then on the forenoon of the second day
from to-morrow look out to the south for me. If the Sircies follow me
with fresh horses I may want your help then. If I should not come by
the evening of that day, wait for me no longer, but endeavour to get to
the _cache_ as best you can, and tell them what has happened.”

The next day I made my preparations quietly for departure, and when
evening came I quitted the camp. A son of Penoquam came to see me clear
of the lodges. I had not dared to do more than silently press the
hand of my friend. He sat in his tent composed and quiet, as though
to-morrow was to bring to him the usual routine of prairie life. Once
clear of the camp, I held on straight towards the north, steering by
the pole star. I travelled without halting all night, and the first
streak of dawn found me many miles from the Blackfeet camp. I turned
off towards the light, and held on for some time longer. The sun was
now drawing near the horizon. It was time to halt, I looked about for
hollow ground in which to camp, and soon found it; then I hobbled the
horses, spread out a robe, and lay down. But I could not sleep; the
thought of what was so near at hand kept my mind on the stretch, and
the confidence which I had before felt as to the result of the race
for life, seemed now to vanish in swift-recurring fears of disaster
to my friend. The dew lay wet upon the prairie. I pulled the short
green grass, and bathed my feverish forehead in it; then I arose and
began to ascend a ridge that lay to the southward of my camping-place.
From the top I could see far over the prairie; dew-freshened and
silent it spread around; not a sign of life was to be seen upon any
side. Far away to the south, and somewhat to the east of where I was,
a ridge stood out high over other elevations; there appeared to be
on its summit something like a large boulder. I remembered, one day
when strolling around the Blackfeet camp, having noticed a similar
object far away to the north-east; it was the same hill. A thought now
struck me; I might go in the night towards this hill, and at daylight
gain its northern side. The camp would then be in view, and I would
see something of what took place. I determined to do this as soon as
darkness had come.

I descended the hill and lay down again on my robe. Still I could
not rest. The trader McDermott seemed to haunt my mind; his presence
in the camp filled me with vague apprehensions. I felt that he would
strain every effort to destroy the man he held in so much dread, and
who was now almost in his power. At last the day wore to an end. When
it was quite dark I set out for the rock hill. I only took my own
riding-horse; I carried a double rifle. I steered a course slightly
east of south. When the night was about two-thirds over I stopped to
wait for daylight. I was afraid lest in the darkness I should overshoot
the rocky hill. When day broke I saw the rock still before me, but
further off than I had expected. Keeping the hollow ground as well as
I could, I went on. It was sunrise when I reached it. I then haltered
my horse in a hollow on the north side of the ridge, and went up the
hill on foot. The rock at the top proved to be a granite boulder, here
stranded cycles ago from some iceberg fleet sailing south, when this
ocean of grass had been a still vaster ocean of water. I did not then
trouble myself much to think what it had been in the past; to me now it
was everything I wanted――vantage-point, shelter, position.

I looked out from the edge of the rock over the prairie to the south
and west. Far off, I saw the lodges of the Blackfeet camp, with thin
pillars of light blue smoke ascending in the morning air.

The atmosphere was very clear, and objects were visible to a great
distance; everything was quiet in the intervening distance. I stood
some time leaning against the boulder, surveying the scene outspread
beneath. Suddenly I saw a figure on horseback appear in the middle
distance. It was only for a moment, and he was lost again in some
prairie hollow. Keeping my eyes on the place I soon saw the figure show
again――this time the head and upper part of a man’s body. This also
soon vanished, but only to reappear again and again at intervals. The
man, whoever he was, seemed to be making across the line that led to
the camp. He was nearly midway between the camp and my standpoint.
At first I thought it might be the Sioux, but a little reflection
told me it could not be my friend. At last I saw the figure stop, and
dismount from his horse. Following with my eyes the line he had taken,
I noticed that there seemed to be a marked depression in the prairie
in that quarter. Standing on high ground, I could see into portions of
this depression, but to a person on the level the figure would have
been almost wholly invisible. It was evident the figure was that of
some person who desired, like myself, to keep concealed from view.
What object could he have in thus keeping so far out in the plain
from the camp on the line the Sioux would take. Then it occurred to
me that this man might be the trader McDermott. Could it be? Every
circumstance I had noted――the line followed――the care taken to conceal
himself――all tended to convince me that it must be the trader. My
heart sank within me at the thought; a cold perspiration broke upon
my forehead, and I leant against the granite rock for support. Then
came the thought――could I not do something to defeat this stealthy
scoundrel, who was thus hiding to intercept the escape of my friend and
strike him a traitor’s blow? Alas, what could I do? Fully five miles of
open prairie lay between me and the hollow where this wolf had taken
up his ground. Long before I could reach the spot I must be observed
from the camp. While I was yet thinking what to do, I observed in the
far distance, on the confines of the camp, signs as of the movement
of men and horses. I could see specks moving to and from on the level
plain of grass that lay on the side of the camp nearest to me. It was
not long before I saw these specks assume shape. A line of horsemen
was distinguishable, with one mounted figure in advance; this was only
for a moment. Then I saw the whole move forward almost in an easterly
direction, and to the left front of where I stood. My heart beat so
that I could hear its throbbing like the tick of a clock. I was wildly
excited, but with the fever of heart and brain came strength and power
of thought such as I had never before experienced. Concealment was no
longer necessary. I ran back to the hollow where I had left my horse,
drew tight the saddle-girths, jumped into the saddle, and rode up to
the rock again. The short interval had changed the scene. The horsemen
had come on, but the line was no longer uniform; there were stragglers
already dropping behind, and there were others who, at the distance
from which I saw them, seemed to be almost nearer the leading horseman
than they had been before.

I saw that the direction of the leading horseman was changing a little
towards the north, but for what reason it was impossible to say. This
change of direction if continued would leave the place where I had last
observed the skulking figure considerably to the right.

I now observed that this man appeared to be aware of the alteration of
direction, for he began to move further to the west on the line he
had already been pursuing.

In the time I have taken to tell these changes and movements the
main scene itself was sweeping rapidly along. Scarcely two miles now
separated the Sioux from the figure in ambush, but I saw with joy that
in his efforts to keep concealed from view the horseman in the hollow
was quickly losing the great advantage of position which he had first
held, and that there was every chance that instead of being able to
cut off the Sioux on a line at right angles to that of the original
pursuit, he would be compelled to strike at him on the longer course of
an acute angle. On the other hand, I knew that while the horse ridden
by my friend must now be showing signs of the pace at which he had come
for four miles, that belonging to the man in ambush was almost fresh.

All at once the horseman in the hollow came out into full view. He rode
at topmost speed to cross the line on which the Sioux was moving. To
avoid the fresh attack I saw the Sioux bend further away to his left,
and I noticed that his course was now directed almost straight upon my
standpoint.

Nearer and nearer he came; the original pursuers were now far behind,
in fact only four or five of them were still in the race; the rest
had ridden their horses to a standstill. But I thought little about
these Sircie braves; my eyes followed the course of the new enemy, my
heart sank as I marked the rapidity of his advance, and the evident
freshness of his strong black horse.

As I have already remarked, the line upon which he advanced was
calculated to meet that upon which the Sioux was moving; and the point
at which they would meet if continued as they were now directed, would
be not very far away from where I was standing.

Of the two horsemen, the trader was the nearest to me; he was still a
couple of miles away, but I judged that when he passed the western base
of my hill he would not be half a mile distant.

Red Cloud was evidently in no hurry to edge away to his left and thus
make the chase a stern one. Perhaps he feared that any change of
direction westward would throw him back up to the Sircies, or it may
have been that he felt his gallant horse still strong beneath him.
Anyhow, on he held his course, apparently little heeding his dangerous
enemy on the right.

It is difficult for me to tell the exact process of thought which my
brain went through while my eyes were fastened on this scene. What I
must have thought the subsequent action proves; but I cannot recall any
distinct effort of thinking, or any line of reasoning guiding me to
action. I saw and acted. After all, in the real crises of existence it
is on such action that our lives turn.

I hastily turned my horse down the northern slope of the hill, and
sweeping round by the north-west base, galloped out into the open
prairie.

And now I beheld a strange sight. Less than a mile distant, straight in
front of me, the trader was riding furiously, following hard upon the
Sioux. The latter had turned his horse full towards the west. There did
not seem to be two hundred yards interval between pursuer and pursued;
and judging by the terrific pace at which the trader’s horse was going,
that short distance was rapidly being lessened. No other figures were
anywhere to be seen.

I took in all this as, with spurs hard set into my horse’s flanks, I
flew in pursuit of the trader.

Once or twice I saw him raise his gun to his shoulder to fire at the
Sioux; but he dropped it again to await a nearer and more certain shot.

Fast as the two men were flying before me, my horse was going even
faster still. I was gaining at every stride upon them; but of what use
was my effort when any moment a shot might end the life of my friend?
I was too far off to render assistance. I might, however, avenge his
death if he fell.

And now, as straining every nerve, I rode along, expecting every
instant to see the puff of white smoke, and hear the report of the
fatal shot, I beheld the strangest sight of all that I had looked upon
during this eventful morning.

Suddenly I saw the Sioux swerve to the right from his onward course,
and, wheeling with the rapidity which only the Indian can turn, bear
down full upon the trader.

So unexpected was the movement, so quick was its execution, that the
trader was completely thrown out. Had the Sioux made his wheel to his
left hand the advantage of shot across the bridle arm would have been
with the trader; but now this wheel to the right brought the Indian
upon the off side of his enemy, and put McDermott in a disadvantage,
which was instantly increased by the still forward movement of his own
horse.

Just as the Sioux’s horse had completed his wheel, the trader fired a
snap-shot, his gun held straight at the full stretch of his right arm.
The range was under one hundred yards, but the rapid motion of his own
horse made the shot a difficult one, and I shouted with joy when I saw
that neither man nor horse was harmed.

Still the odds were terribly against the Sioux. He had neither gun,
nor bow, nor knife, while his opponent was fully armed. More in the
hope of distracting McDermott’s attention and confusing his aim, than
with any expectation of hitting him at the distance I was still away, I
now fired two shots at him as he stood out clear from the Sioux, whose
wheel had placed him well to one side. Both shots missed their object,
but I saw that he turned a quick glance in my direction just as the
Sioux came thundering across the short space that still lay between
them.

The career which McDermott had long followed made him an expert in
all the exercises of wild life on the prairies. He could pull a cool
trigger amid the fierce stampede of buffalo, and take a sure aim in
battle or in the chase. He would have wagered the best horse in his
possession that an unarmed enemy charging him on the open prairie, if
such a man were found mad enough to attempt the venture, would have
been a dead man within twenty paces of his standpoint; and even now,
although coward conscience trembled in his heart as he faced his enemy,
his levelled gun was pressed firmly to his shoulder, and held steady in
the bridle-hand, while his horse stood true to the teaching of Indian
tactics, the obedient servant and trained auxiliary of its rider.

I saw the Sioux low bent upon his horse; I saw the smoke flash forth
from the trader’s gun; and then for an instant all was confusion. With
a wild convulsive leap forward, the Indian’s horse fell, crashing
almost at the feet of the trader’s steed; and then――so quick was the
upward spring that I could mark no interval of time――the red man’s
grasp was round his enemy, and the game of life or death was at last
being played on even terms.

I reached the spot at the final moment. The Sioux, with one knee firmly
planted against the trader’s saddle, had clasped both arms around his
enemy, wrenching him by a mighty effort from his horse. In the struggle
McDermott had flung aside his empty gun in order to better grapple
with his assailant; so the fight was now without weapons. Both men
rose from the ground still locked in a fierce embrace. For a moment it
seemed that the heavier frame and greater bulk of the white man must
prevail over the lither figure of the Indian. Once or twice the trader
lifted his assailant almost off his feet; but the marvellous agility of
the Sioux again gave him the advantage, and after a long and desperate
rally the white man was borne backward and forced upon his knees.

So far not a word had escaped the two men; they had fought in grim
silence. But now when victory seemed about to declare itself for the
Sioux, a savage laugh broke from the trader, and with a mighty effort
he locked his arms around the Indian, intent only upon holding him in
his grasp. Well might he think the game was still his own. A low ridge
three hundred yards to the south, suddenly darkened with galloping
horsemen and with loud war-cries of triumph, a dozen Sircies came
sweeping down upon us. One chance yet remained to us. I pushed my horse
close to the struggling men, and with my gun held by the barrel, I
struck the iron butt heavily down upon the trader’s head. The strong
tension of his grasp relaxed, and he sank, apparently lifeless, to the
ground.

[Illustration: I struck the iron butt heavily down upon the trader’s
head.]

But so intent was the Sioux upon his enemy that he resented my
interference, and glared at me for a moment; then I saw him seeking for
a weapon, heedless of the approaching danger, now so close upon us.

“Quick,” I cried to him, “or we are lost! Jump upon the trader’s horse.”

My word recalled him from the frenzy of passion which had absorbed
every faculty of heart and brain.

The horse had stood quietly during the struggle, as his old training
had taught him; the trader’s gun lay at his feet. To seize the gun
from the ground and spring into the vacant saddle was the work of an
instant, and ere the headmost braves were quite upon us, we were off at
headlong speed towards the north; one arrow quivering through the flesh
of my right leg, and two or three others hurtling harmlessly around us.
Twenty seconds more, and our fleet horses had carried us out of range.



CHAPTER XVI.

 Revulsion――Home again――New plans――We depart for the mountains――The Hand
 hills――The great range――Home memories――A murderous volley――Donogh sees
 “the land beyond the grave”――Vain regrets――We enter the mountains――The
 island――A lonely grave――The Indian’s home.


We rode hard for a couple of hours. I led the way towards the place
where, on the previous evening, I had left my three horses. Long ere we
reached it, the Sircies had abandoned their pursuit, and turned back
towards their camp. Now we had time to talk over the past. For many
hours that morning, and all the previous night, I had been moving as
though in a dream. During the past two hours I seemed to have lived an
age; there had been moments of agony so acute, that my brain reeled
when I thought over them. But now all was past; the long night of doubt
and captivity was over, and the fair morning of hope and freedom shone
full upon us.

My heart soon answered the helm of such thoughts, and my spirits rose
in unison with them. Not so with the Sioux. The abstraction of the
flight seemed to be still upon him; for a long time he rode on, looking
vacantly before him. Once or twice I spoke to him, but he did not seem
to hear what I said. At length he roused himself and spoke.

“If you had ever said to me that one day I should have had that man
within my grasp, and that I would have failed to take his life, I
would have told you that it was impossible. And yet,” he went on, “it
is better that he should still live. Had he fallen at the hands of
another, my father’s spirit would have remained unavenged.”

“Live?” I answered. “He fell, when I struck him with my gun, as though
life had left him.”

“For all that he is not dead. Men like him do not die so easily. He was
stunned by the blow; he will be laid up for a week, and then he will be
as well as ever.”

I confess to feeling glad at this. Although I had struck the trader to
save my friend’s life, I cared not to have on my hands his blood. It is
true that had my gun been loaded at the moment when he held the Sioux
tightly locked in his embrace, I would not have hesitated shooting him
dead to set free my friend, but I would always have regretted being
compelled to do so.

It was better as it was; the Sioux was safe. McDermott still lived.

We then spoke of the earlier events of the morning. I heard how Red
Cloud had always counted upon his enemy forming part of the pursuing
force. It was that belief which had induced him first of all to accept
the chance of flight offered by the Blackfoot chief. I asked him how
he had hoped to resist the trader successfully, seeing that he was
without arms of any kind.

“The spirit of his dead father would watch over him,” he said. And when
I told him of my fears and anxieties on the previous day, and how I
had determined to turn back to the rock hill, with a vague purpose of
helping him in his need, he again remarked,――

“It was the spirit of my father that led you.”

Of the loss of his favourite horse he thought much.

“Had I done my work as well as he did his,” he said, “my enemy would
not have escaped me.”

“But you have gained even a better animal,” I said, “than the one lost.”

“No, not better to me,” he replied. “For three years, through every
change of land and season, through danger and difficulty, through fight
and chase, that poor beast bore me――and all only to fall at last by the
bullet of my enemy. Well, it adds another name to the list. It will
perhaps be longer before it is closed.”

We now reached the place where I had left the horses. They were feeding
together almost on the same ground; and without any delay longer
than was necessary to get them together, we started for the _cache_.
Although the events of the morning made the time appear an age, the
day was yet young. I had dry meat sufficient for both our needs, a
lake gave us water; with only a halt of a minute or two we held on
until long after nightfall, and when daylight broke next morning the
woods were in sight. Bearing away to the east we kept in sight of these
woods all day, and at evening drew in towards their shelter, camping
once more amid the pleasant leaves of trees, and enjoying a couple of
partridges for our supper.

We were at a point considerably below where we had left our party less
than three weeks before, but still above the place where the _cache_
was to have been made.

Continuing our course next day, we reached, early in the afternoon,
a spot which commanded a long view of the river valley. Far winding
between partly wooded banks, it lay for many a mile amid the silent
wilderness――the shallows at curves catching the sunlight, the quiet
reaches reflecting the clear blue sky.

How calm and tranquil it all looked! The contrast between its
peacefulness and the strife I had just witnessed struck me with
profound wonder. Here was a bit of the earth as it came from the
Creator’s hands, bright with the glow of summer, decked in the dress of
leaf and blossom, sweet with the perfume of wild flower, fresh with the
breezes of untold distance; and there below the southern horizon, but
two days’ riding away, man’s passion, guilt, and greed ruled rampant in
the land. According to the directions which the Sioux had given as to
the place for the _cache_ to be formed, we must now be near the camp
of our comrades.

So indeed it proved. On the edge of the woods we came suddenly upon
the Iroquois; he had seen us from a lofty look-out point which he had
established on the far side of the river, and had crossed over to meet
us and show the way to the camp. It was formed upon an island in the
river. There we found Donogh, the scout, and the Cree, all well, and
longing for our return. They were amply provided with food; moose were
plentiful, they had trapped several young beavers, and smaller game was
abundant. We sat late that evening talking over our adventures.

The Indians listened with breathless interest to the story of the
capture by the Blackfeet――the pursuit, the fight, and the escape.
Donogh was never tired asking questions about my share in the final
struggle with the trader. Had he been there to help, he said, McDermott
would not have got off so easily.

A week now passed quietly away; the horses wanted rest after their
arduous travel; plans had to be made for future movements. It was not
likely that we should be left long unmolested in this neighbourhood. If
the Sioux was right in the belief that a week or ten days would suffice
to cure the injuries which the trader had suffered, then the Blackfeet,
the Sircies, or Bloods, would soon beat up our quiet camp. Besides,
the life of the wilderness must ever be a life of wandering. The bird
seeks the sunlit atmosphere to try his wings; the horseman on the
prairie roams because he cannot sit down and call a patch of the earth
his home. His home is sky-bound; and when he can no longer wander, his
grave is not far off.

Farther to the west there yet lay a vast region, into which we had
not entered. At its western extremity rose the pine-clad sides and
icy peaks of the Rocky Mountains, whose deep-rent valleys and vast
glaciers fed this stream upon which we were now camped, as well as
countless other streams and rivers, whose waters eventually seek the
far separated seas of Hudson’s Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. To this
region of prairie bordering upon mountain we would direct our course,
and remain until the autumn must again make us think of winter-quarters.

We had four full months of summer before us; we had horses, arms, and
goods; our guns would give us food.

So we were once more on the move. We divided our stores and goods
evenly among the five horses, and being one horse deficient, Donogh,
the Iroquois, and the scout took it in turn to walk. As the weather
was now very fine and warm, we _cached_ the leather tent, and some
other items for which there was no use. We travelled quietly, but by
starting early and camping late managed to make good distances each
day. Our course lay along the line of mixed wooded and prairie country
which bordered the Red Deer river. We kept a sharp look out for hostile
Indians, and took precautions at night to secure the horses from
attack.

As thus we journeyed towards the west, we entered upon a very beautiful
land; grassy hills spread away beyond each other in a constant
succession, long winding lakes came in view as we gained the summits of
ridges, and the valleys and lake shores held groves of mixed cottonwood
and pine-trees, which gave camping grounds of fairy-like beauty amid
the vast stillness of the wilderness. One evening, it was about the end
of June, we gained a range of hills which during two days had bounded
our horizon on the west.

Long ere we reached them, Red Cloud had promised me a view from their
ridges surpassing anything I had yet looked at in the great prairie.

Slowly up the east side of the hill we held our way, while every now
and again a long-eared hare sprang from the grass before us, and
vanished into brake or coppice. At last the top was gained. The sun
yet shone on the bare ridge, but the prairie beneath on either side
was in shadow, and already the blue line of shade was creeping up the
hill to where we stood. Fifty miles away to the west the vast plain
came to an end. A huge rampart mountain rose up into the sunset skies,
poising for a moment the great orb of the sun on its loftiest pinnacles
of snow. Far away to north and south this rampart range was laid along
the horizon, until the edges of mountain tops were only faintly visible
above the plain on the verge of vision to south-west and north-west.

“The Rocky Mountains at last,” I said, half musing, to myself, as thus
I beheld this grand range lying in all the glory of the summer sunset.

“That is the name the first fur-traders gave them,” said Red Cloud;
“but the Indian has better titles for them; ‘The Mountains of the
Setting Sun,’ ‘The Ridge of the World.’ He who would scale the icy
peaks, they say, would see the land beyond the grave.”

As now I looked across the great intervening plain, slowly fading into
twilight, and saw the glittering edge of the long line of mountain top,
clear cut against the lustrous after-glow, the red man’s thought which
would make this giant range the line of separation between life and
death seemed to be no far-fetched fancy. Here ended the great prairie.
There was the shore of that vast wilderness, over which my steps had
wandered through so many varied scenes of toil, tumult, and adventure.
Beyond, all was unknown. And then came back to me a vision of those
well-remembered hill-tops of my early days; the heather-covered slopes
of Seefin, the wild crags of Cooma-sa-harn, the flat rock that marked
the giant’s grave on Coolrue.

The sound of a footstep approaching from behind roused me from my
reverie of home. I turned; Donogh stood beside me; there was a strange
wistful look in his eyes.

“Ah, master!” he said, “it makes me think of the old home again, to
look at those mountains, and the sun going down behind them as he used
to do in Glencar.”

The tone of his voice was sad. I asked him if he felt home-sick?

“No, not home-sick,” he replied; “but I have been dreaming for nights
past of all the old places――the eagle’s nest over Cooma-sa-harn, the
rocks that hung over Lough Cluen, the island in the south end of the
lake. I saw them just as they were in the old times. It was only last
night that I dreamt we were climbing the face of the cliff to the
eagle’s nest, and I thought the old bird came suddenly swooping down,
and that I fell into the lough below.”

“Would you like to be back again in the old glen?” I asked him.

“Not unless you were to come too,” he answered. “This is a lonesome
country sure enough, but I don’t mind it so long as you are near.”

We made our camp that night in a hollow, lower down on the west slope
of the hill. We had killed some hares during the day, and had boiled
them into a thick kind of soup, which, flavoured with wild sage, gave
us an excellent supper. The meal over, we were sitting around the fire
chatting and smoking, when suddenly a volley of musketry rang forth
close at hand, and half a dozen bullets struck around us. In the wild
confusion that followed, I only remember springing to my feet, and
seeing the others spring up too. Not all, alas! for poor Donogh had
fallen forward from the place where he was sitting, and the Cree only
rose, to fall again. Seizing my gun, I sprang to where Donogh was
lying; but at this moment I felt my hand suddenly grasped with iron
strength, and I was dragged forward into the dark.

“Lie down,” hissed Red Cloud in my ear, “or we are all lost. Look at
the fire, and shoot when you see them in the light.”

The whole thing had happened so quickly, that ere I had time to collect
my senses I was lying in darkness, just over the brow of a knoll
fifteen paces from the fire.

I had not long to wait. Suddenly there came a wild war-whoop of savage
triumph, and a dusky group of men swept down into the circle of light
from the outer darkness.

They thought that the first volley had given them undisputed possession
of our camp, and that scalps and spoils had only to be gathered. Now it
was our turn. Quick from our dark shelter the shots rang out; but few
were thrown away. One brawny savage, with knife in hand, had reached
the spot where Donogh was lying, but a bullet from my gun stopped his
deadly purpose, and laid him low beside my poor friend.

[Illustration: One brawny savage had reached the spot where Donogh was
lying.]

Another fell dead near the fire, and we saw two more stagger ’neath our
bullets. This unexpected reception checked the ardour of the attack,
and drove back our assailants.

We took advantage of their repulse to drag our stricken comrades from
the light.

Alas! one had already passed from the light of life to the darkness of
death. The Cree had ceased to breathe, but Donogh was still alive.

When we had breathing time to think of other matters than our lives,
Red Cloud sent the Iroquois and the scout to drive the horses to a
place of safety.

“We have given these Sircies something to occupy them,” he said; “but
after a while they may try to get our horses, since they have failed to
take all our lives.”

Soon the fire burned itself out, and the darkness of the short summer’s
night lay around.

Yet how long it seemed to me, as sitting by poor Donogh’s side, and
with his hand fast in mine, I waited for the dawn. He was quite
conscious, but every now and again a stifled moan broke from his lips,
and as the night wore on I felt the hand growing cold and clammy. When
daylight came I saw that the poor boy’s end was near.

The shot had struck him in the chest, and his life-blood was ebbing
fast.

I could not trust myself to speak. I could only hold his hand in mine,
and try to stanch the red stream from his death-wound.

“Master,” he said to me, in a very faint voice, “I never knew father
nor mother, brother nor sister, and so there’s no one that will miss
me, except it’s yourself. You’ll sometimes think of me, sir, won’t
you――when you see the deer on the hill-top, and the wild ducks on the
pond, and the grouse on the mountain side, all the things that we used
to hunt together? And master,” he went on, “if ever you go back to the
old glen again, you’ll say to the priest that the poor boy he used to
teach of a Sunday didn’t forget the lesson at the end. You’ll bury me
up on the hill-top, where we first saw the mountain from?” he said
again, after a pause. “It’s something like the top of Seefin, where we
used to sit looking out on the world――the big lonesome world.”

Then his voice hushed, and after a time the lips only moved as the poor
boy repeated some prayer of his childhood.

It was the long summer dawn that had looked upon the scene. As the
boy’s life ebbed away the glory of the morning had been growing
brighter; and the sun, whose setting lustre had recalled the home
scenes to his memory on the previous evening, was now close beneath the
horizon on the east. But never more was my faithful Donogh to see the
sun. When its level rays struck upon our camp on the Red Deer hill, he
had gone before us to the icy peaks of the “Mountains of the Setting
Sun”――he had crossed the “Ridge of the World,” and was already in “the
land beyond the grave.”

On the hill-top near at hand we laid the two bodies in a single grave.
With knife and axe we dug a trench in a small clump of cottonwood, and
there the red man and his white brother slept side by side.

Then we made haste to leave the fatal spot; not from fear of pursuit,
as our assailants had suffered too severely to make it likely they
would soon follow us up. An examination of the ground convinced Red
Cloud that the Sircies had not numbered more than seven men. They
had evidently followed us for some time past, and had probably made
their attack as much because we were now within the country of their
enemies, the Rocky Mountain Assineboines, into which they did not wish
to penetrate, as because of the ground being favourable for a surprise.
At least five out of the seven had suffered from our fire――two had
fallen, and the traces of their retreat showed unmistakable evidence
that three others had been wounded. That they were the hired assassins
of the trader, there was little doubt. The gun and knife belonging to
one of the fallen were similar in pattern to those we had captured from
McDermott in the preceding year. He had evidently outfitted this party,
as probably he had done the same by many others. That the survivors
would fall back upon their main camp, many days’ travel distant, was
now nearly certain.

Nevertheless, although the chances of immediate molestation were
remote, we were in haste to quit a spot that had been so fatal to our
fortunes. As for myself, I literally felt heart-broken at the thought
that I was no more to have in life the companionship and faithful
service of my earliest friend. Never before had I seen death brought
home to me with such vividness. Only yesterday I had spoken to Donogh
in the full pride of his youth and strength. The fire at which he met
his death still smouldered in its ashes; yet he who had gathered its
fuel and set it alight was gone, his flame of life extinguished; his
gun, bullet-bag, and powder-horn, his saddle and bridle, the horse he
used to ride――all were there, yet he had disappeared. My heart was
wrung with grief; I felt as though life had been a long dream, and that
now I had suddenly awakened to its grim realities. Then there came
upon me a thousand bitter thoughts, and unavailing regrets of the long
hours we had spent together. Why had I not made more of my poor friend?
Why had I not treasured those hours when he was with me? It seemed as
though death, in taking him away from me had taken away too all the
mist of selfishness, and that I saw clear and distinctly the worth of
the friendship I had lost.

I had remained for some time sitting by the lonely grave, sunk in these
sad thoughts, when I felt a hand laid upon my shoulder. Red Cloud stood
beside me.

“It is time to go,” he said. “Your poor brother’s name is one more
added to the long list that cry for vengeance.”

Mechanically I obeyed. The horses were already saddled and loaded.

The Indians moved silently about; the light of our little party seemed
to have gone out.

Slowly we filed off from the fatal spot, winding down the long incline
towards the mountains, until the lonely thicket was lost in the
distance.

About three days after this fatal day we entered one of the gorges that
led into the mountains.

The scenery had undergone a complete change. The trail led along the
bank of the Red Deer river, which had now shrunken to the dimensions
of a small and shallow stream; on each side the hills rose steep and
pine-clad, while, as side valleys opened upon the larger gorge along
which we were travelling, the eye caught glimpses of snow-clad summits
far above the world of pine-trees.

Often, as we rode along, my mind kept going back to that fatal night on
the Hand hills. Here we were now amid those mountains whose fastnesses
Donogh had so often wished to reach, while he, poor boy, was lying out
in the great wilderness. But the work of travel, and the rough road our
horses had now to follow, kept my mind engaged, and gave distraction to
my thoughts.

Pursuing our course for a couple of days deeper into the mountains,
we gained at last a beautiful level meadow, set round on all sides
by lofty hills, backed by still loftier mountains. A small clear lake
occupied one end of this level plain.

We had quitted the valley of the Red Deer river, and crossing a
height of land had entered the valley of the parent stream of the
Saskatchewan, which here, after passing through the lake, foamed down
a ledge of rock, precipitating its waters perpendicularly from a great
height into a deep pool, with a roar that was audible at the farther
end of the valley.

Above this fall a small rocky island stood, in the centre of the river.
One end of this island was level with the edge of the cataract, the
other was in smooth water, not very far from where the river issued out
of the lake. As the water approached the edge of the fall it ran in
many eddies and rapids, but at the end nearest to the lake the stream
was smooth enough to permit a canoe to reach the island.

This rocky wedge, set between the lake and the cataract, was covered
with trees, and, excepting at the upper end in the smooth river, its
sides were steep and water-worn. I noticed that as soon as we came in
sight of this wooded isle Red Cloud’s usually passive face wore a look
of unwonted interest.

I inquired if he knew the spot.

“Know it?” he replied. “Yes, it is the only place I can call my home in
all this great wilderness. To-morrow we shall reach it, and then you
will know why I call it my home.”

We camped that evening near the spot where the river came out of the
lake. There was a clump of pine-trees close at hand, and before night
had closed in the well-wielded axes of the Sioux and the Iroquois had
felled some dead trees, and lopped their trunks into lengths of twelve
feet.

Early next morning, they had put together a small raft. Dropping down
stream on this raft, Red Cloud landed alone on the little island. I
had rambled off to the upper end of the lake while the morning was yet
young; when I got back to camp I found the Sioux had returned, and that
a small canoe was moored to the river bank, where the raft had been
built.

Our mid-day meal over, Red Cloud asked me to visit the island with him.
He dropped down the stream as before, and steered dexterously into the
small spot of quiet water which lay at the head of the island. I then
noticed what before I had not seen, that this quiet water was of very
limited extent, and that the current on either side of it ran with a
speed that became momentarily of greater velocity as it drew nearer the
rapid. I saw in fact that it required knowledge of the spot, and skill
in the use of the paddle, to hit off this little eddy of waters.

A small indentation between two rocks gave shelter to our canoe, and
also held the raft which Red Cloud had built during the morning. The
canoe he had found on the island. We landed on the rock, fastened the
canoe to a tree, and struck into the forest that covered the entire
space. I could tell by the increasing sound of the waterfall, that we
were approaching the end of the island which overhung the cataract. We
soon reached this spot; a few old pine-trees grew upon it; the density
of their branches had destroyed the undergrowth, and the ground between
the massive trunks was clear of brushwood. In the centre of this clear
space, shadowed by the sombre arms of these old pines, there was a
solitary mound. Red Cloud stood before it.

“It is my father’s grave,” he said. “Eight years ago I carried his
bones all that long way from where he was killed to this distant
spot. I had intended bearing them with me wherever I wandered as an
ever-present reminder of the oath I had sworn, but on first seeing this
spot I selected it as a resting-place. Here I made my home; hither have
I come when, baffled by my enemy, I have sought for a time rest for
myself and my horses; and again from here have I gone forth to seek my
enemy, only to find him always too strong or too cunning for me.”



CHAPTER XVII.

 Signs of trouble――Reconnoitring――Precautions――We retire into the
 island――Daylight――The enemy shows himself――A search――He prepares to
 attack the island――A midnight storm――The raft――“Aim low and fire
 fast”――In the whirl of waters――On the lip of the fall――The end of
 crime.


When we got back to the camp near the lake the scout had news that at
once excited the suspicions of Red Cloud. He had gone, he said, back
upon our trail towards where we had entered the valley, to look for one
of our horses which had strayed in that direction. He had found the
missing animal, but during the search he had observed a single white
wolf standing on the edge of a thicket some distance away. Endeavouring
to approach the place in order to get a shot at this beast, he had
found the animal gone, and no trace of trail or footmark could he see,
but he had noticed the impression of a moccasined foot in the soft
clay of the thicket. When he first had noticed this solitary wolf, it
appeared to him to be standing three parts within the thicket, only the
head and portion of the neck being visible.

Such was the story which roused the suspicions of the Sioux.

The north side of the valley was bounded by a wooded ridge, which
commanded a view of the trail by which we had approached our present
camp. To this ridge Red Cloud directed his steps, having first taken
the precaution to have the horses driven in from the farther end of the
meadow to the close vicinity of the camp, and our baggage made ready
for any sudden shift of quarters that might be necessary. The Iroquois
remained in camp; the scout was to join us on the look-out ridge.

As Red Cloud was fully convinced that our movements were even now under
the observation of hostile eyes, he directed that we were to separate
as though in pursuit of game, and by circuitous routes gain the points
of observation selected. He believed that the object seen by the scout
had been a Sircie disguised under the head and skin of a white wolf;
these masks were often adopted by the plain Indians, when reconnoitring
previous to an attack. They enabled the Indian scout to approach a
camp, to lurk along a ravine, or to show himself upon the sky-line of a
hill-top, when no other means of concealment could be used.

If the Sioux’s surmise was correct, the hostile party to which this
wolf-scout belonged was not far away, and it was likely that ere the
evening closed in some indication of its presence would be noticeable.

From the top of the look-out hill a view was obtained of the trail
leading to our camp, the only path by which men coming from the east
could enter the valley of the lake and meadow; but no sign of man,
hostile or peaceful, was visible; and the summer winds as they stole
gently through the whispering pines, alone made audible sound in the
solitude. Nevertheless the suspicions of the Sioux were not to be
allayed by the quiet aspect of the trail by which our camp could be
approached.

None knew better than he that if the Sircies had really followed us
into these hills, they would have come in all the craft and concealment
of their race, keeping within the cover of the woods by day, and moving
when night hid their presence. He knew too that any party venturing
into these solitudes would be strong in numbers, and that nothing but
the most powerful incentive could induce men whose natural sphere of
life lay in the open prairie country, to venture among those rough
rocks and tangled woods.

The day was yet young; there was plenty of time to examine the trail
further towards the east; the scout would push his way quietly through
the woods, and return by nightfall to our camp. Red Cloud gave him a
few directions as to his movements, and we returned back to the meadow,
to prepare for action in the event of attack. We at once proceeded to
ferry our goods across to the island; the horses were swum one by one
in the wake of the canoe, and landed in the little bay between the
rocks.

At this season of the year there was ample forage for them among
the rocks and trees, and in several places, where the soil was low
and swampy, the goose-grass, so greedily sought for by horses, grew
plentifully.

It was evening by the time we had finished this work, and the shadow
of the great mountain that rose between us and the west was already
darkening our little meadow. The lake surface was broken in a hundred
places, by the rising of many trout at the midges and flies brought
forth by the approach of night. We still kept our fire lighted at the
place of our first camp, but we were ready to fall back at a moment’s
notice upon the island; in fact, we only awaited the return of the
scout before returning to that secure resting-place for the night.

We had not long to wait. The light was still good when his signal-cry
sounded from the entrance to the valley, and he was with us a few
minutes later. His news was soon told. The Sircies were in force below
the ridge which ended the valley of the Red Deer river――they were in
fact not six miles distant. He had counted a score of braves, and there
were others whom he could not see. There was a white man with them――at
least he had seen an English saddle on the back of a strong horse
picketted under the trees.

All this was conclusive; our preparations had not been made a moment
too soon; the night now closing around us would scarcely pass without
an attack.

The small dug-out canoe just held three persons. At the first trip the
Iroquois and I landed on the island, then Red Cloud returned to fetch
over the scout, who had remained at our camp. The Sioux was absent
longer than I had expected; the daylight had now all gone, and it was
too dark to discern his movements, but soon we saw the fire burning
brightly, and in its red reflection upon the water I made out the
canoe, dropping quietly down for the island.

Red Cloud and the scout now landed, and then we all sat quiet in the
shade of the trees, waiting for what the night would bring forth. The
hours passed by――nothing appeared; the fire still burned at our old
camp. Save the rushing of the water by the island shores, and the dull
thunder of the cataract below its plunge, all was silent.

Three of us lay down to sleep. The Iroquois remained alone to watch.
How long I had slept I could not say, but I was deep in dreams when
a touch was laid upon my shoulder, and I awoke instantly to that
consciousness to which wild life in the wilderness soon accustoms its
followers.

“Look out,” whispered Red Cloud. “They are come at last.”

I looked out over the water, but I could see nothing. It was yet night,
but the first faint ray of light was in the east behind us as we looked
from the island, and its indistinct hue made vague and shadowy the
whole range of vision. The fire was no longer visible.

As I strove to pierce the gloom, there suddenly flashed forth in the
darkness a long volley of musketry, and the echoes from a hundred
mountain cliffs rolled in tumultuous thunder around our island; nor had
they ceased ere their reverberations were blended in the fierce war-cry
of the Sircies, which pealed forth close to our old camp. We lay within
our shelter while this wild storm of shot and shout died away. We could
then hear a scurrying of feet, and voices raised in tones of rage and
disappointment; then all was again quiet.

The daylight was now gaining rapidly upon the darkness; soon we could
distinguish figures moving to and fro where our camp had been, and
then we could make out with greater precision the dress and faces of
individual Indians, some on the borders of the lake, others in the
clump of trees, and others along the banks of the river, within one
hundred paces of where we lay.

And now as the dawn momentarily filled the valley with increasing
light, there appeared upon the scene a figure which centred upon it
all our attention. I looked at Red Cloud, to mark how he bore himself
within sight of his arch-enemy, for the mounted man who now rode up
to our camping-place was none other than the villain trader; but
neither in feature nor in gesture did the Sioux show symptoms of those
long-cherished feelings which must have filled his heart. There,
within easy rifle-shot of where we lay, stood this man, whose slowly
accumulated crimes and long-pursued hatred, had brought him even to
this remote resting-place of one whose life he had betrayed――to this
home of him whose murder he had so often tried to compass; yet the
rifle of Red Cloud remained lowered, and his eye betokened neither rage
nor astonishment as he thus beheld his enemy.

As yet there seemed to have occurred to the war-party no suspicion
that we had retired to the island. Our disappearance from camp was
evidently an event which they had not calculated upon; and even now,
when the camp was found deserted, while traces of its recent occupation
were numerous, they did not imagine that we had done more than conceal
ourselves in the surrounding woods.

That our ultimate destruction was assured, naturally appeared certain
to them, for excepting the trail by which they had entered the valley,
no outlet was apparent to them; and as they now held that sole means of
egress, a thorough search seemed certain to promise our capture.

They therefore set to work at once when daylight enabled them to see
the ground, to hunt us up amid the rocks and woods that lay between
the meadow and the loftier hills, whose rugged and precipitous sides
forbade all chance of escape.

At the upper end of the valley, where the river first entered the
level space, the perpendicular walls of a cañon prevented horses
going further into the mountains in that direction. It is true that by
scrambling over the boulders and many rocks which lay piled on each
side at the base of these walls, a man on foot might force his way at
low water; but at this time the snows of the upper mountains, the vast
glaciers which here formed the parent spring of the Saskatchewan river,
were pouring forth their volumes under the influence of the midsummer
sun, and the snow-fed river was foaming full through the rocky aperture
into the prairie valley.

If they could have found our horses, then the question of the
possibility of our escaping on foot up some cleft or landslip in the
mountain wall would still have remained an open one; but wherever we
had got to, there also must be our horses, and the horses must still
be within the confines of the valley. They now set to work diligently
to seek us out; while some remained near our old camping-place,
the greater number spread themselves along both sides of the lake.
Meantime the sun had risen. All through the forenoon the search went
on and when mid-day came there was not a spot in the valley which
had not been visited, excepting the island on which we stood. It was
now that, returning from their fruitless quest, they turned their
attention with more persevering examination to the ground around our
old camp. The spot where the little raft had been constructed showed
more signs of wood-cutting than the supply of the summer camp would
have necessitated; the bank of the river also betrayed our trail at the
water’s edge. Then we saw them consult together, while their looks and
gestures, as they pointed towards the island, clearly told us that the
next attempt would be made in our direction.

Coming down upon both sides of the river, they tried to find a place
where they could cross the water, and we could see them endeavouring
to peer through the close-set branches that fringed the rocks, for
indications of our presence. The central portion of our rocky refuge
was, however, more depressed in level than the edges, so that our
horses would have been quite concealed from view even had the bordering
screen of brushwood been less dense.

When they found the current flowing on both sides of the island was
everywhere too rapid to permit a man to cross, we saw them gather
again about our old camping-place, and again we could discern by their
actions that the idea of making a descent upon the point of the island
above the rapid――the point where we ourselves had landed――had not
escaped their notice.

But to think of the descent was one thing, to carry it out was another.
No man could hope to swim to that point, and carry his life to the
island, if the men whom they sought were there; on the other hand,
a landing in force from a raft would promise far greater chance of
security even in daylight, and if made at night there was no reason
why they could not gain the island without loss.

That they reasoned thus was evident to us, for they now set to work to
cut down several trees, and the remainder of the day was spent by them
in drawing out the felled tree-trunks, and putting them together in a
raft. That this raft was to be a large one we could tell by the number
of trees carried out to the place at which it was being built. So the
day passed away, the long evening closed in twilight, and darkness at
last lay upon the scene.

The night came very dark. The shadow cast by the lofty mountains was
rendered still more obscure by a thick canopy of clouds which drifted
across the sky as the night closed in. At first this veil of clouds
came unaccompanied by wind; but soon we heard a noise of pine-trees
swaying in the upper valleys, and later came the crash of storm, as the
thunder tempest drew nearer to our glen.

Intense as were the feelings of excitement with which I looked forward
to the night that had now begun, I nevertheless could not help almost
forgetting the peril of our position, and the proximity of our enemies,
in the stupendous spectacle of the warfare of the elements to which we
were now spectators.

At first the rapidly succeeding flashes of lightning were at the
farther side of the mountains that encircled our valley; but as the
storm rolled on, broad sheets of flame filled the vault above us, and
streams of jagged fire poured down on crag and pinnacled pine; while
the crash of thunder, multiplied tenfold by echo, seemed to shake the
massive mountains to their base. At last the full fury of the storm
burst upon us: the rain splashed down in blinding torrents, the trees
swayed wildly in the rush of the tempest, and the roar of the cataract
grew louder as the swollen waters, hissing under the rainfall, poured
down past our island.

It must have been some time after midnight, when the fury of the storm
having spent itself, there came a lull in the wind and rain. Everything
was still dark――it was the gloom before the dawn: it was also the hour
at which we might expect our enemies to attempt a landing upon the
island.

We had lain exposed to all the rain and storm during the night. We
did not want for food, for we had the meat of an elk, killed by the
Iroquois when we first entered the valley; but as a fire lighted on the
island would have been seen by the Sircies, we had of course to lie
exposed to the violence of the tempest, without chance of drying our
dripping clothes or of warming our chilled bodies.

At first I had thought little of these hardships; the expected attack
had kept me fully awake and on the alert. But now, as the small hours
of the night drew on, a sense of drowsiness began to overcome me,
and insensibly I found myself falling into fitful snatches of sleep
upon the wet rock against which I was lying. In these brief moments
of slumber, the outward surroundings of our position, the rush of
the river, the drip of leaves, the occasional flash of still vivid
lightnings, and the rumble of the receding thunder, all found semblance
in a vague sense of the danger that menaced us, and I would start to
sudden wakefulness, to find the reality and the dream so much alike
that it was difficult to distinguish one from the other.

I was in this state, the result of overstrung toil and anxiety, when
I felt a hand laid upon my shoulder. I started to full wakefulness.
Red Cloud whispered in my ear, “Make ready; they are coming down upon
us.” I seized my gun, and looked out over the edge of the rock behind
which I had been lying. There was nothing to be seen; all seemed inky
darkness; the rushing river was alone audible.

All at once there came a flash of lightning; it burst from a cloud that
had rolled down the valley behind us. It lighted up the rocks, the
trees, and the whole valley above us. For an instant the surface of the
river shone out in dazzling brilliancy, and upon it, full in the centre
of the stream, flowing with the current right in the direction of the
spot where we were lying, was the raft, crowded with dark figures.

This flash of light was only instantaneous, but it sufficed to reveal
to me the full reality of our position.

Immediately behind where we lay the ground rose, and the top of the
high bank held a few lofty pine-trees, whose dark cones thrown out
against the eastern sky, now streaked with the first pale hue of coming
day, gave the Sircies a point to steer for amid the darkness.

At the moment of the flash the raft appeared to be distant from the
island about 100 or 150 yards. We were all lying behind the same rock,
which was immediately over the landing-place, and only a few feet
raised above it.

A faint glimmer of light fell now upon the water; we could distinguish
the surface some fifty yards away, where it was still glassy and
unbroken; beyond that all was still in gloom.

“When you see the raft,” said Red Cloud, “I will give the word, and
then fire at it as quickly as you can.”

During the storm we had kept the locks of our guns carefully covered
with leather hoods; these had been now removed, and all was ready. With
eyes levelled upon the streak of light water we waited for the Sioux’s
word.

Out of the darkness into the lighter water came the raft, faint and
shadowy.

“Aim low, and fire fast,” said the Sioux.

[Illustration: “Aim low, and fire fast.”]

My double gun was stretched along the top of the rock. I dropped the
muzzle well below the line of the approaching floating object; then
I pulled first one trigger, and then the other. To my right and left
shots rang out in quick succession. Again I loaded; and again I fired.
We could see nothing now, for the smoke hung in the damp night air.
Then Red Cloud called out to stop firing. Eagerly we looked through
the murky atmosphere where the raft had been.

It was no longer in the direct line of our landing-place; it had
drifted to the left-hand side, and was now in rapid water but still
close to the rock, going down stream with momentarily increasing speed.
We could see many confused figures, trying with might and main to get
the unwieldy craft, to the side of our rock. It was only for a short
second, and then the raft was borne along into still rougher and faster
waters, to be caught in the remorseless grasp of the furious torrent
above the falls, now swollen by the thunder deluge of the night.

We could see no more, the trees hid it from sight; but we had no need
for further eye-witness or ear-witness of the fate of raft and crew.
Once in the grasp of that torrent, there could be no escape. High above
the roar of the cataract one loud cry did indeed reach us a very few
seconds later, and then there was silence, only broken by the swirl of
eddy, the rush of water against the rock, and the dull thunder of the
fall.

As the dawn broadened into day I went down to the lower end of the
island. From the grave of the Sioux chief the ground sloped steeply up,
until it dropped abruptly to the rapid, forming a bold front of rock
immediately over the edge of the fall. The top of this rock stood out
bare of trees; beneath it was the rapid, the edge of the fall, and the
seething whirlpools below the cataract.

Red Cloud had preceded me to this place; when I reached the grave I saw
him on the bare summit beyond, looking fixedly down upon the fall. His
arms were folded across his breast. I was beside him a moment later.
My eyes, following his fixed glance, rested upon a strange spectacle.
Almost in the centre of the fall a rock stood, right on the edge of
the descending flood. I had seen it on the previous day, when it had
been more exposed to view; now the rising water had covered three parts
of its surface, and only the top showed above the flood. On this rock
there was a figure.

The light was still too indistinct to allow us to discern features, we
could only see that some wretched creature was clinging to the rock,
on which he had been cast at the moment the fated raft had taken its
plunge into the dark abyss.

But although I was unable at this moment to identify this unfortunate
castaway, there flashed across my mind, at the first instant of my
seeing him, the thought that it was the trader McDermott who was before
me in this terrible position, now hopelessly hanging between life and
death.

For a glance at the raging mass of water was sufficient to tell me that
escape was impossible, and that no hope of extrication remained to the
doomed man.

The sight filled me with a strange dread. I feared to think that it
was our enemy, our bitter enemy, who had thus been reserved, as it
seemed, for a death more awful than any that had already overtaken
the poor dupes of his evil counsel and the recipients of his bribes.
Then I thought of my poor murdered Donogh, and my heart grew hard; and
then again came the whispering of a better nature, and the terrible
spectacle before me chased away the promptings of revenge. That the
figure was really that of McDermott there could no longer be any
doubt. Turning his head wildly towards either shore in the vain hope
of obtaining assistance, he had now observed us as we stood on the
projecting rock, and his voice, raised in cries for assistance, reached
us, even through the din of the cataract and above the whirl of waters.

“Help, help!” he cried, in tones that rang with the terror and the
horror that had seized upon him. But the merciless torrent rolled down
in a volume ever increasing, still rising higher, and momentarily
breaking the frail link that bound him to life. The sight was all too
much for me. I forgot everything of the past in the horrible fact
before me of a human being in this awful extremity, and turning to the
Sioux I exclaimed,――

“Can we save him? Can we reach him by any means?”

But I had little counted on the real depth of the animosity with which
Red Cloud regarded his enemy.

“Save him? Reach him?” he cried. “Do you imagine that if I could reach
him I would let yon torrent rob me of his death?”

As he spoke, his eyes glared, his frame shook with passion, and in the
grasp which he laid upon my arm his fingers closed in iron strength.
Wild with rage, he let go my arm only to seize his gun, as he cried in
tones of savage exultation,――

“Ho, villain trader, who is it to whom you cry for help? It is the son
of him whom you sold to a cruel death. It is he whose life you have
sought through years of blood. It is Red Cloud, the Sioux. Behold, you
are at the grave of the man you sold and murdered. His spirit is in the
air that surrounds you, in the trees that mock at your agony, in those
waters that are dragging you to death. But they shall not take you from
me. You shall die, villain, by my hand.”

He raised his rifle. His hand was now steady, his eye seemed calm;
another instant, and the trader’s death would have been certain; but I
could stand it no longer.

“Forbear,” I cried, striking up the levelled barrel. “He is in the
hands of Him who has said, Vengeance is Mine. See, through all these
long years you strove to compass his punishment, and you failed; but
now here, within sight of the grave of his victim, a mightier Power has
brought him to his doom.”

[Illustration: “Forbear,” I cried, striking up the levelled barrel.]

Red Cloud dropped his rifle――a deep shadow passed over his face.

“You are right,” he said slowly. “We are but the children of the Great
Spirit. We see the beginning of the trail; He alone can foresee the
end.”

While he thus spoke the rising waters had completed their task; the
trader had been swept into the terrible abyss, and only a splash of
spray shooting outwards from the lip of the fall marked the presence of
the sunken rock.



CHAPTER XVIII.

 The beginning of the end――Deeper into the mountains――The western
 slope――On the edge of the snow――The golden valley――It is all
 mine――Night thoughts――Last words――I see him no more.


Two days passed away. They had been days of peace and rest. No further
attempt had been made to molest us. Awed by the terrible fate of so
many of their bravest men and leaders, who had lost their lives on
the raft over the cataract, the Sircies had abandoned the valley and
returned to their own country.

When the fact of their departure was fully ascertained by the scout, we
moved out again to the meadow by the lake; but before we quitted the
island Red Cloud had a long conversation with me regarding our future
movements. Seated by his father’s grave on the evening next but one
after the events recorded in the last chapter had taken place, he began
by telling me that the object of his life was now achieved, and that
henceforth he was careless as to what might happen to him, or whither
he would go. He would probably turn his face towards the south again,
and join some scattered remnant of his tribe at the headwaters of the
Platte, or in the country of the Yellowstone.

I told him that it was all the same to me which way he turned his
steps; I was ready to follow him.

But he replied that it must not be. Already his companionship, he
said, had cost me heavy. My faithful friend had lost his life, my own
had often been in hazard. He had still many enemies. The Sircies, the
Bloods, the Blackfeet, and the Peaginoos, would all bear to him in
future an enmity, not the less active because it was based upon wrongs
done to him by them in the first instance. For himself, it mattered
little now what his enemies might do; his father’s spirit could rest
in peace. But for me it was different. I had been a true brother to
him; he could no longer lead me into danger. There was yet one place to
which we would travel on the same road, and when that place was reached
we would part.

Such was the substance of what he said to me.

It is needless to say that I felt terribly cast down by this threatened
ending of our companionship. It seemed impossible to think of life
without Red Cloud. True, only a year had elapsed since he and I had
met, but that year had been equal to five. From him I had learnt all I
knew about the prairie and its wild things. Would it be possible for me
now to face its chances and its trials alone? And where else could I
go? I had literally no home.

This wild life, while it taught the lessons of bravery, hardihood,
endurance, activity, and energy, did not bring worldly wealth to those
who followed it. I had come to the prairie poor. I would leave it even
poorer still. As these thoughts crowded upon me, my face no doubt
betrayed to the Sioux their presence. He spoke in a cheerier tone,――

“Our parting time,” he said, “has not yet come. Wait until it is at
hand, and the path you will have to follow will be clearer to you.”

Next day, as I have said, we quitted the island, and made our camp
again by the lake. On the following day we packed our horses, and moved
off to the upper end of the valley. I had thought that there was no
outlet in that direction, but in this I had been mistaken, for shortly
after mid-day we came to where a steep face of cliff rose before us.
The front of this slanting wall held a zigzag narrow path, just wide
enough for a single horse or man to move along it. Its beginning in
the valley was hidden by a growth of firs and underbush, and was known
only to Red Cloud. We ascended by this trail, and having gained the top
of the cliff, hit upon a well-defined path, winding in and out between
wooded hills. Following this for some hours, we reached before sunset a
wild glen high up in the mountains.

On the next day we followed up this glen until evening, and camped
amid some dwarf fir-trees at a spot where a small spring trickled
from the hill-side and flowed out towards the west. All the other
streams had flowed eastwards, but we were now on the “divide,” and this
westward-flowing spring was one of the parent rills of some mighty
Pacific river.

The snow-line was not very far above our camping-place; we could see
the mountain sheep upon a bare ridge of hills; and the “bleating” cry
of the ptarmigan reached our ears when, next morning, the sunrise was
glistening on the snowy summits around us.

We remained at this camp all that day. The scout and the Iroquois set
out for a long hunt after mountain sheep, and Red Cloud asked me to go
with him in another direction. No one stayed to watch the camp, for we
were now high above the usual haunts of men, where the great hill-tops
dwelt in utter loneliness. We reached, after a toilsome walk, a deep
secluded valley, opening upon the one that held our camp.

A ragged forest of pine-trees fringed its sides, through which we
pushed our way for a considerable distance. At length, the Sioux began
to look around him, as though he was seeking for some landmark, or
spot known to him in other times, and once or twice he looked to the
right or left for some remembered mountain peak by which to mark his
whereabouts.

The valley had now closed in, until it was only a narrow cleft between
steep overhanging cliffs. It looked as though some long ago convulsion
of nature had split open this fissure, over which in time had grown
a sparse old forest. Large stone rocks and _débris_ half-imbedded in
the earth, cumbered the floor of this valley. With a few strokes of
his small axe Red Cloud now cut down a dry pine stick, off which he
knocked the side branches; then he sat down on one of the rocks, and
said, “The valley which holds our camp leads down to the west side of
the mountain. If you follow it down for three days you would come to
a river flowing for a time towards the north, then bending west, and
at last turning south, until it falls into the sea. Far down on that
river, on the sandbanks and bars of its course, there are many white
men at work. They are washing the sand and the gravel for a yellow
dust; that yellow dust is gold. They have killed the Indians, who lived
in that part of the country since the world began, but who thought more
about the salmon in the river than of the yellow dust that lay amongst
its sands. The water that carried that gold to these sand-bars, came
from this mountain range where we now are, the gold came from it too.”

As he spoke he began to wedge the pine stick between a fragment of
rock and the bank to which it partly adhered. The stone, loosened from
its place, rolled down to a lower level. Where it had been, there lay
exposed to view a hollow space, in which a number of dull yellow lumps
were seen, mixed with white stones and withered pine-moss.

Red Cloud laid his stick upon this hollow in the darker rock.

“Look,” he said, “there is the yellow dust for which the white man
fights, and robs, and kills. There it is in plenty――not in dust, but
in stones and lumps; take it. A white man without that yellow stone is
like an Indian who has no buffalo. Take it, my friend. You have been a
brother to me; you have fought for me, you have lost much for me: here
is all I have to give you. Around where we stand this gold lies thick
among these rocks. Five years ago an old Shuswap Indian, who had once
been in the mining camps of the lower country, showed me this spot,
which he had long kept secret, dreading lest the white man should find
it out, and come here to kill the Indians as he had done elsewhere.
That old Shuswap is dead, and I alone know of this place. See! all
around you these white veins run through the rocks! Look up overhead,
you will see them glistening in the sun! See below, where the dry
stream-bed is choked with the broken masses, and the golden lumps lie
thickly about! In a few hours you can knock out from these crumbling
pieces gold enough to load a horse with. It is all yours. To me it
would be of no use. I would not track the moose better if I had it; my
aim with my arrow or rifle would not be truer, my eye would not see
clearer, my arm would not be stronger; but you are nothing if you have
it not. All your courage, your friendship, your energy, will count
for little if you have not plenty of these yellow stones. There, fill
this saddle-bag to-day; to-morrow we will come here again, and then
on the next day we will move away. Where the valley divides below our
camp, our paths in life must separate.”

[Illustration: “Look!” said Red Cloud, “there is the yellow dust for
which the white man fights, and robs, and kills.”]

I seemed to be in a dream as I listened to all this. I looked around,
and saw plainly enough the truth of what he said. There, running in
every direction through the rocks, were the white seams of quartz; and
thick amid their snowy surface shone the rich yellow lumps of gold. A
few yards away, where the splintered rocks lay piled together, small
nuggets lay mixed with gravel and broken stones; and in the hollow
beneath the stone which he had at first moved from its position, was
the hoard, long since gathered and hidden there by the old Indian who
had discovered the place. And now all this was mine――mine to do what
I liked with. I who but a day since was a poor wanderer, possessing
only a horse, a gun, and a few items of prairie trappings, was now the
owner of this golden glen, with enough to purchase all Glencar twice
over. And yet I was not elated at the sudden change in my fortunes.
I saw that the end of my wild life had come. I saw the future, with
its smoke of cities, its crowds chained to the great machine called
civilization, pulling slowly along the well-beaten road. No more the
great wilderness; no more those vast and gorgeous sunsets; no more my
companionship with this strange lonely man.

The Sioux read my thoughts. “You think the wild life would be better
than this gold I have given you. You look upon your life as closed. My
friend, you are wrong. Your life is still all before you. You are only
setting out upon its prairies. Many long years from now, when you are
in sight of the Mountains of the Setting Sun, you will know that I, Red
Cloud the Sioux, showed you the right trail, though he could not follow
it himself. We cannot change our colours. The red man cannot give up
the wilderness; he dies amid the city and the fenced field. You cannot
make this wild life your own, even though you may wish to do so. You
have other work to do; you must go back and do it.”

“And you?” I said, rousing myself from the dream into which I had
fallen, “will you not come with me, and share the wealth you have given
me? With the hundredth part of the gold lying around us here, we can
traverse the earth from side to side. There are vast spaces in other
lands as well as in this one. Asia has wilds as lonely as America.
There are sky-bounded plains in Southern Africa, where the wild animals
roam in savage freedom. Come with me, and we will seek these huge
horizons, far away from the bustle of crowds and the smoke of cities.”

He shook his head. “My brother,” he said, “it would not do. The great
prairies are dying; the buffalo are going. The red man must pass away
too. Come, let us to work while there is yet time.”

He began to collect together several pieces of gold in the hollow where
the old Shuswap had made his store. When many pounds’ weight had been
gathered, he filled two saddle-bags; but there was still remaining
enough to fill two more leather wallets. The Shuswap’s store held
pieces of pure gold of every shape and size――some flattened pieces,
others rugged knobs like walnuts, and rounded nuggets as large as eggs.

It was indeed a wonderful sight, all this treasure lying hidden away
in this remote and desolate valley, thousands of feet above the sea
level! “Curious!” I thought. “Man struggles and strives for this metal,
lives for it, dies for it, forgets every other pursuit, gives up health
for it; and here it lies a stone amid other stones. The winds blow
heedlessly upon it; the sun looks down in summer; the snow covers it in
winter, and the pine-tree rustles in the evening breeze unmindful of
its presence.”

The sun was getting down behind the western ridges as we started on
our way back to camp laden with our golden loads. When we reached the
camp the two Indians had returned, both bringing loads of mountain
mutton, the result of their hunt. Red Cloud said nothing to them about
our day’s work. The fewer persons who knew the secret of the Golden
Valley, the better would it be, he thought, for mankind in general,
and for Indians in particular. So we ate our supper of wild mutton that
night, and lay down under the stars, wrapped in our robes; but all the
golden wealth that lay beside me could not reconcile me to accept with
contentment the prospect of abandoning this wild roving life for the
smoother roads and softer beds of civilized existence.

For a long while I tried in vain to sleep; my mind was dwelling too
strongly upon the events of the preceding day to allow my eyes to
close in rest. Our camp lay facing towards the east; right opposite,
a great tooth-shaped mountain top lifted itself high into the starlit
heavens. The stars, wondrously clear in the transparent atmosphere of
our lofty position, rose from behind the triple peaks of this giant.
I lay watching them as the night wore on; at last there came one
lustrous star; right between the forked peaks it rose, throbbing in
many-coloured rays of light, until it looked like a gigantic diamond
glistening in the icy crown of the mountain king. Then I fell asleep,
and dreamt that I had scaled the summits of the Rocky Mountains, and
was looking down upon the great prairies of eternity.

The following day was a repetition of the one that preceded it. Again
we sought the golden valley, and again we returned to camp with loads
of the precious metal. The whole treasure when packed in wallets made a
load just sufficient for one horse to carry. Red Cloud did the work of
packing the loads himself.

All was completed early on the morning of the second day, and quitting
our high camp, we began to descend the valley in a western direction.
We soon came in sight of the low country upon that side. It was
different in every aspect to the prairie region of the east. There the
green meadows had spread out into measureless distance, here ridge
after ridge of pine-trees stretched away into the west. Many a rugged
range of mountain rose amid the wilderness of pines, and bold summits
of naked rock, or snow patch glistened, above the sombre world of
endless forest.

Winding along a descending trail we often lost sight of this panorama,
as some projecting ridge of our mountain closed the outward view.

By sunset we had reached a spot where the trail forked――one branch
descending still westward towards the mining camp on the Fraser river,
the other bearing away in a northern direction.

Here we camped. We had come down many hundreds of feet during the day.
The forest growth was large and lofty, and the pine grouse and the
partridges were again around us. Far down in the plain a light haze of
smoke hung above the tree tops.

On the next morning we were to separate. The Iroquois and the scout
would accompany me to the first mining camp, from whence they would
recross the mountains to their own peoples. Red Cloud would take the
northern trail to the Athabasca valley. The preparations were soon
ready, but we delayed the moment of parting to the last. At length Red
Cloud rose, and began to unfasten his horse from the tree to which it
had been tied. It was the signal of separation.

We shook hands in silence.

“See,” he said, “the smoke of your people’s fires far below; there is
your road, and here is mine”――he pointed to the mountain trail. “I
could not go with you, I would have to begin life again;――I am too old
to change now. There is no one to come after me. The Sioux are nearly
all gone, the Buffalo are fast going; but the wilderness will last long
enough for me.”

“And is there nothing then that I can do for you?” I said. “You have
done everything for me: let me do something in return.”

“Well, my friend,” he replied, “sometimes think of me. When I am camped
at night far out on the great prairie, I would like to say to myself,
my white brother remembers me. That is all.”

Then he turned off to the north, leading his horse by the bridle up
the mountain path. I stood watching him as step by step the void of
space grew wider between us. How lonely it all seemed, this solitary
man turning off into the mountains to go back from the shore of
civilization into the great prairie sea! As thus I watched his slowly
receding figure, memory was travelling back over the long trail of
our companionship――back through all the varied scenes of strife, and
chase, and travel, to that distant day when first on the shore of the
wilderness our lives came together. “Think of you!” I said, speaking
half aloud my thoughts. “Yes, that I will. Whenever the wind stirs the
tree-branch, or rustles the reeds and meadows――wherever the sun goes
down over distance of sea or land――in the moonlight of nights, in the
snow of long winters, you will be near me still.”

At a bend in the trail he turned to look back: it was but a moment, and
then the mountain path was vacant, and I saw him no more.


THE END.


       *       *       *       *       *


 Transcriber’s Notes:

 ――Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

 ――Illustrations have been moved to follow the text that they
   illustrate.

 ――Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 ――Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 ――Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.





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