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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 4. The Big Chief
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The Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 4. The Big Chief Post by :tshattuck Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :3401

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The Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 4. The Big Chief

CHAPTER IV. THE BIG CHIEF

When on the return journey they arrived upon the plateau skirting the Piegan Reserve the sun's rays were falling in shafts of slanting light upon the rounded hilltops before them and touching with purple the great peaks behind them. The valleys were full of shadows, deep and blue. The broad plains that opened here and there between the rounded hills were still bathed in the mellow light of the westering sun.

"We will keep out a bit from the Reserve," said Cameron, taking a trail that led off to the left. "These Piegans are none too friendly. I've had to deal with them a few times about my straying steers in a way which they are inclined to resent. This half-breed business is making them all restless and a good deal too impertinent."

"There's not any real danger, is there?" inquired his wife. "The Police can handle them quite well, can't they?"

"If you were a silly hysterical girl, Mandy, I would say 'no danger' of course. But the signs are ominous. I don't fear anything immediately, but any moment a change may come and then we shall need to act quickly."

"What then?"

"We shall ride to the Fort, I can tell you, without waiting to take our stuff with us. I take no chances now."

"Now? Meaning?"

"Meaning my wife, that's all. I never thought to fear an Indian, but, by Jove! since I've got you, Mandy, they make me nervous."

"But these Piegans are such--"

"The Piegans are Indians, plain Indians, deprived of the privilege of war by our North West Mounted Police regulations and of the excitement of the chase by our ever approaching civilization, and the younger bloods would undoubtedly welcome a 'bit of a divarshun,' as your friend Mike would say. At present the Indians are simply watching and waiting."

"What for?"

"News. To see which way the cat jumps. Then--Steady, Ginger! What the deuce! Whoa, I say! Hold hard, Mandy."

"What's the matter with them?"

"There's something in the bushes yonder. Coyote, probably. Listen!"

There came from a thick clump of poplars a low, moaning cry.

"What's that?" cried Mandy. "It sounds like a man."

"Stay where you are. I'll ride in."

In a few moments she heard his voice calling.

"Come along! Hurry up!"

A young Indian lad of about seventeen, ghastly under his copper skin and faint from loss of blood, lay with his ankle held in a powerful wolf-trap, a bloody knife at his side. With a cry Mandy was off her horse and beside him, the instincts of the trained nurse rousing her to action.

"Good Heavens! What a mess!" cried Cameron, looking helplessly upon the bloody and mangled leg.

"Get a pail of water and get a fire going, Allan," she cried. "Quick!"

"Well, first this trap ought to be taken off, I should say."

"Quite right," she cried. "Hurry!"

Taking his ax from their camp outfit, he cut down a sapling, and, using it as a lever, soon released the foot.

"How did all this mangling come?" said Mandy, gazing at the limb, the flesh and skin of which were hanging in shreds about the ankle.

"Cutting it off, weren't you?" said Allan.

The Indian nodded.

Mandy lifted the foot up.

"Broken, I should say."

The Indian uttered not a sound.

"Run," she continued. "Bring a pail of water and get a fire going."

Allan was soon back with the pail of water.

"Me--water," moaned the Indian, pointing to the pail. Allan held it to his lips and he drank long and deep. In a short time the fire was blazing and the tea pail slung over it.

"If I only had my kit here!" said Mandy. "This torn flesh and skin ought to be all cut away."

"Oh, I say, Mandy, you can't do that. We'll get the Police doctor!" said Allan in a tone of horrified disgust.

But Mandy was feeling the edge of the Indian's knife.

"Sharp enough," she said to herself. "These ragged edges are just reeking with poison. Can you stand it if I cut these bits off?" she said to the Indian.

"Huh!" he replied with a grunt of contempt. "No hurt."

"Mandy, you can't do this! It makes me sick to see you," said her husband.

The Indian glanced with scorn at him, caught the knife out of Mandy's hand, took up a flap of lacerated flesh and cut it clean away.

"Huh! No-t'ing."

Mandy took the knife from him, and, after boiling it for a few minutes, proceeded to cut away the ragged, mangled flesh and skin. The Indian never winced. He lay with eyes closed, and so pallid was his face and so perfectly motionless his limbs that he might have been dead. With deft hands she cleansed the wounds.

"Now, Allan, you must help me. We must have splints for this ankle."

"How would birch-bark do?" he suggested.

"No, it's too flimsy."

"The heavy inner rind is fairly stiff." He ran to a tree and hacked off a piece.

"Yes, that will do splendidly. Get some about so long."

Half an hour's work, and the wounded limb lay cleansed, bandaged, packed in soft moss and bound in splints.

"That's great, Mandy!" exclaimed her husband. "Even to my untutored eyes that looks like an artistic bit of work. You're a wonder."

"Huh!" grunted the Indian. "Good!" His piercing black eyes were lifted suddenly to her face with such a look of gratitude as is seen in the eyes of dumb brutes or of men deprived of speech.

"Good!" echoed Allan. "You're just right, my boy. I couldn't have done it, I assure you."

"Huh!" grunted the Indian in eloquent contempt. "No good," pointing to the man. "Good," pointing to the woman. "Me--no--forget." He lifted himself upon his elbow, and, pointing to the sun like a red eye glaring in upon them through a vista of woods and hills, said, "Look--He see--me no forget."

There was something truly Hebraic in the exultant solemnity of his tone and gesture.

"By Jove! He won't either, I truly believe," said Allan. "You've made a friend for life, Mandy. Now, what's next? We can't carry this chap. It's three miles to their camp. We can't leave him here. There are wolves all around and the brutes always attack anything wounded."

The Indian solved the problem.

"Huh!" he grunted contemptuously. He took up his long hunting-knife. "Wolf--this!" He drove the knife to the hilt into the ground.

"You go--my fadder come. T'ree Indian," holding up three fingers. "All right! Good!" He sank back upon the ground exhausted.

"Come on then, Mandy, we shall have to hurry."

"No, you go. I'll wait."

"I won't have that. It will be dark soon and I can't leave you here alone with--"

"Nonsense! This poor boy is faint with hunger and pain. I'll feed him while you're gone. Get me afresh pail of water and I can do for myself."

"Well," replied her husband dubiously, "I'll get you some wood and--"

"Come, now," replied Mandy impatiently, "who taught you to cut wood? I can get my own wood. The main thing is to get away and get back. This boy needs shelter. How long have you been here?" she inquired of the Indian.

The boy opened his eyes and swung his arm twice from east to west, indicating the whole sweep of the sky.

"Two days?"

He nodded.

"You must be starving. Want to eat?"

"Good!"

"Hurry, then, Allan, with the water. By the time this lad has been fed you will be back."

It was not long before Allan was back with the water.

"Now, then," he said to the Indian, "where's your camp?"

The Indian with his knife drew a line upon the ground. "River," he said. Another line parallel, "Trail." Then, tracing a branching line from the latter, turning sharply to the right, "Big Hill," he indicated. "Down--down." Then, running the line a little farther, "Here camp."

"I know the spot," cried Allan. "Well, I'm off. Are you quite sure, Mandy, you don't mind?"

"Run off with you and get back soon. Go--good-by! Oh! Stop, you foolish boy! Aren't you ashamed of yourself before--?"

Cameron laughed in happy derision.

"Ashamed? No, nor before his whole tribe." He swung himself on his pony and was off down the trail at a gallop.

"You' man?" inquired the Indian lad.

"Yes," she said, "my man," pride ringing in her voice.

"Huh! Him Big Chief?"

"Oh, no! Yes." She corrected herself hastily. "Big Chief. Ranch, you know--Big Horn Ranch."

"Huh!" He closed his eyes and sank back again upon the ground.

"You're faint with hunger, poor boy," said Mandy. She hastily cut a large slice of bread, buttered it, laid upon it some bacon and handed it to him.

"Here, take this in the meantime," she said. "I'll have your tea in a jiffy."

The boy took the bread, and, faint though he was with hunger, sternly repressing all sign of haste, he ate it with grave deliberation.

In a few minutes more the tea was ready and Mandy brought him a cup.

"Good!" he said, drinking it slowly.

"Another?" she smiled.

"Good!" he replied, drinking the second cup more rapidly.

"Now, we'll have some fish," cried Mandy cheerily, "and then you'll be fit for your journey home."

In twenty minutes more she brought him a frying pan in which two large beautiful trout lay, browned in butter. Mandy caught the wolf-like look in his eyes as they fell upon the food. She cut several thick slices of bread, laid them in the pan with the fish and turned her back upon him. The Indian seized the bread, and, noting that he was unobserved, tore it apart like a dog and ate ravenously, the fish likewise, ripping the flesh off the bones and devouring it like some wild beast.

"There, now," she said, when he had finished, "you've had enough to keep you going. Indeed, you have had all that's good for you. We don't want any fever, so that will do."

Her gestures, if not her words, he understood, and again as he watched her there gleamed in his eyes that dumb animal look of gratitude.

"Huh!" he grunted, slapping himself on the chest and arms. "Good! Me strong! Me sleep." He lay back upon the ground and in half a dozen breaths was dead asleep, leaving Mandy to her lonely watch in the gathering gloom of the falling night.

The silence of the woods deepened into a stillness so profound that a dead leaf, fluttering from its twig and rustling to the ground, made her start in quick apprehension.

"What a fool I am!" she muttered angrily. She rose to pile wood upon the fire. At her first movement the Indian was broad awake and half on his knees with his knife gleaming in his hand. As his eyes fell upon the girl at the fire, with a grunt, half of pain and half of contempt, he sank back again upon the ground and was fast asleep before the fire was mended, leaving Mandy once more to her lonely watch.

"I wish he would come," she muttered, peering into the darkening woods about her. A long and distant howl seemed to reply to her remark.

It was answered by a series of short, sharp yelps nearer at hand.

"Coyote," she said disdainfully, for she had learned to despise the cowardly prairie wolf.

But again that long distant howl. In spite of herself she shuddered. That was no coyote, but a gray timber wolf.

"I wish Allan would come," she said again, thinking of wakening the Indian. But her nurse's instincts forbade her breaking his heavy sleep.

"Poor boy, he needs the rest! I'll wait a while longer."

She took her ax and went bravely at some dead wood lying near, cutting it for the fire. The Indian never made a sound. He lay dead in sleep. She piled the wood on the fire till the flames leaped high, shining ruddily upon the golden and yellow leaves of the surrounding trees.

But again that long-drawn howl, and quite near, pierced the silence like the thrust of a spear. Before she was aware Mandy was on her feet, determined to waken the sleeping Indian, but she had no more than taken a single step toward him when he was awake and listening keenly. A soft padding upon the dead leaves could be heard like the gentle falling of raindrops. The Indian rolled over on his side, swept away some dead leaves and moss, and drew toward him a fine Winchester rifle.

"Huh! Wolf," he said, with quiet unconcern. "Here," he continued, pointing to a rock beside him. Mandy took the place indicated. As she seated herself he put up his hand with a sharp hiss. Again the pattering feet could be heard. Suddenly the Indian leaned forward, gazing intently into the gloom beyond the rim of the firelight, then with a swift gliding movement he threw his rifle up and fired. There was a sharp yelp, followed by a gurgling snarl. His shot was answered by a loud shout.

"Huh!" said the lad with quiet satisfaction, holding up one finger, "One wolf. Big Chief come."

At the shout Mandy had sprung to her feet, answering with a loud glad halloo. Immediately, as if in response to her call, an Indian swung his pony into the firelight, slipped off and stood looking about him. Straight, tall and sinewy, he stood, with something noble in his face and bearing.

"He looks like a gentleman," was the thought that leaped into Mandy's mind. A swift glance he swept round the circle of the light. Mandy thought she had never seen so piercing an eye.

The Indian lad uttered a low moaning sound. With a single leap the man was at his side, holding him in his arms and kissing him on both cheeks, with eager guttural speech. A few words from the lad and the Indian was on his feet again, his eyes gleaming, but his face immobile as a death mask.

"My boy," he said, pointing to the lad. "My boy--my papoose." His voice grew soft and tender.

Before Mandy could reply there was another shout and Allan, followed by four Indians, burst into the light. With a glad cry Mandy rushed into his arms and clung to him.

"Hello! What's up? Everything all right?" cried Allan. "I was a deuce of a time, I know. Took the wrong trail. You weren't frightened, eh? What? What's happened?" His voice grew anxious, then stern. "Anything wrong? Did he--? Did anyone--?"

"No, no, Allan!" cried his wife, still clinging to him. "It was only a wolf and I was a little frightened."

"A wolf!" echoed her husband aghast.

The Indian lad spoke a few words and pointed to the dark. The Indians glided into the woods and in a few minutes one of them returned, dragging by the leg a big, gray timber wolf. The lad's bullet had gone home.

"And did this brute attack you?" cried Allan in alarm.

"No, no. I heard him howling a long way off, and then--then--he came nearer, and--then--I could hear his feet pattering." Cameron drew her close to him. "And then he saw him right in the dark. Wasn't it wonderful?"

"In the dark?" said Allan, turning to the lad. "How did you do it?"

"Huh!" grunted the lad in a tone of indifference. "See him eyes."

Already the Indians were preparing a stretcher out of blankets and two saplings. Here Mandy came to their help, directing their efforts so that with the least hurt to the boy he was lifted to his stretcher.

As they were departing the father came close to Mandy, and, holding out his hand, said in fairly good English:

"You--good to my boy. You save him--to-day. All alone maybe he die. You give him food--drink. Sometime--perhaps soon--me pay you."

"Oh," cried Mandy, "I want no pay."

"No money--no!" cried the Indian, with scorn in his voice. "Me save you perhaps--sometime. Save you--save you, man. Me Big Chief." He drew himself up his full height. "Much Indian follow me." He shook hands with Mandy again, then with her husband.

"Big Piegan Chief?" inquired her husband.

"Piegan!" said the Indian with hearty contempt. "Me no Piegan--me Big Chief. Me--" He paused abruptly, turned on his heel and, flinging himself on to his pony, disappeared in the shadows.

"He's jolly well pleased with himself, isn't he?" said Cameron.

"He's splendid," cried Mandy enthusiastically. "Why, he's just like one of Cooper's Indians. He's certainly like none of the rest I've seen about here."

"That's true enough," replied her husband. "He's no Piegan. Who is he, I wonder? I don't remember seeing him. He thinks no end of himself, at any rate."

"And looks as if he had a right to."

"Right you are! Well, let's away. You must be dog tired and used up."

"Never a bit," cried Mandy. "I'm fresh as a daisy. What a wonderful ending to a wonderful day!"

They extinguished the fire carefully and made their way out to the trail.

But the end of this wonderful day had not yet come.

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