ASTONISHING THE BLACKFEET

“Hurrah for Oregon! says I. That’s the place for Denny, and mesilf is
the boy who is bound to have a good shlice av the fine lands, and who
has a better right?”

“What’s the fool talkin’ about? Thar’s no sech place as Oregon, greeny.
That kentry thar is called Oregon, and it’s an Injun name, I reckon.”

“An Injun name! The ignorance av yez! It was named for Michael O’Regan,
who first diskivered it, as ye might read in the histories, if ye could
read at all. He was an Irishman, from the county Donegal, and was me
grandfather’s first cousin on the mother’s side. We dhropped the O’
whin we kim across the say; but that don’t hindher me from claimin’ a
shlice av the fine lands that once belonged to me grandfather’s cousin.”

“I don’t believe a word of it, Denny Regan. Of all the liars that were
ever turned loose in this yere kentry, I reckon you are about the
infarnalest.”

“Is it a liar ye are callin’ me, Misther Pap Byers? Ye’ve got it to
take back, or feel the edge av me knife.”

“You had better shut up, both of you. Captain Benning gave orders that
there should be no talkin’ around the camp to-night, and he’ll give
you a proper good blowin’ up if he ketches you at it. Here he is, by
thunder!”

The first speaker was Dennis Regan, a young Irishman, who, although
he had turned trapper, had not discarded his brogue with his brogans,
or his natural character with his corduroys. The second was John
Byers, commonly called Pap Byers, a middle-aged free trapper, of long
experience on the plains and in the mountains. In person he was tall,
gaunt, sinewy and solemn, while the Irishman was short and stout,
with fat cheeks and a merry face. The third speaker was Sam Glass, a
hired trapper, in the employ of Mr. Robinette, the fur-trader to whose
company all were attached.

Captain Benning, who came up just as Sam Glass mentioned his name,
was a tall young man, well built and fine looking, with an appearance
of activity, nerve and daring. He was one of the leaders of the party
under Mr. Robinette, and was regarded as an excellent “partisan.”

“What is the meaning of this noise?” asked the captain, frowning upon
the group. “Don’t you know that orders were given to keep the camp
quiet to-night?”

“It was Denny Regan here,” replied Pap Byers. “The durned fool was
tryin’ to make us believe that Oregon was diskivered by an Irishman,
and named arter him.”

“And this ould sinner called me a liar, capt’in dear, and that’s what
ye wouldn’t like to be called yersilf.”

“No matter who began it, or what it was about; it must be stopped.
There are Indians all around us, and they may be down upon us at any
moment. I have been obliged to leave my patrol to come and put a
stop to your noise, and there is no telling what may happen during
my absence. Hark! I believe something is already the matter with the
horses.”

In an instant the attitude and air of the four men were changed. With
countenances expressive of anxiety, they leaned forward, listening
intently to catch the slightest sound that might indicate an alarm.

“You’re right thar, cap’n!” exclaimed Byers, seizing his rifle and
jumping up; “the red-skins are among the hosses.”

All rushed toward the camp, to give the alarm, and to search for the
wily enemy; but they were too late.

The horses were already stampeded, and came bursting through the camp
like an avalanche, overthrowing every thing before them. After them,
with terrific yells and whoops, poured a crowd of half-naked savages,
splendidly mounted, galloping like mad after the frightened herd.

Captain Benning and his companions fired at the Indians, and a few
straggling shots from the camp showed that some attempt at defense was
made there; but the furious rush of the animals prevented any thing
like an organized resistance. It is probable that the assailants had
not intended, at first, any thing more than a stampede; but the route
taken by the horses had thrown the camp into such confusion, that the
massacre and plunder of the party of white men seemed to follow as a
matter of course.

The voices of the leaders were heard, far above the din, directing the
movements of their followers. A few of the warriors rode on after the
herd, to keep the animals together and guide their course; while the
others turned and dashed upon the scattered and bewildered whites,
hoping to slay them before they could recover from their confusion.

But a party of more than thirty mountain men was not to be so easily
discomfited. The hardy trappers and hunters, accustomed to savage
combats, availing themselves of the shelter of the wagons and packs,
stood gallantly on the defensive, loading and firing their rifles with
a rapidity and precision that soon checked the fury of the onset. The
savages, who fought at a disadvantage on horseback, were in their turn
thrown into confusion and forced back.

Again the voices of the leaders rung out, and a portion of the warriors
dismounted, to renew the combat on foot, while others circled around
the wagons, for the purpose of driving the trappers from their defenses.

The white men were quickly outflanked, and were gradually forced back,
until they were compelled to take refuge in a thicket, leaving the camp
in the possession of their assailants.

Having accomplished this much, the savages, as has sometimes happened
to more civilized warriors, made a poor use of their victory. Instead
of pursuing their advantage, part of them fell to plundering the camp
and securing the scalps of the slain.

It was at this juncture that Benning and his companions, who had been
compelled to make a circuit in order to find their friends, reached
the camp, and poured in a volley upon the flank of the savages. The
trappers in the thicket, profiting by this diversion in their favor,
rushed out, and charged boldly upon the enemy. A few volleys from their
terrible rifles changed the face of affairs, and the savages were soon
flying from the camp as swiftly as they had entered it. Being unable to
pursue them, from lack of horses, the trappers collected in the midst
of the ruins, vowing vengeance against the midnight marauders.

Out of thirty-five men, six had been killed outright, including Mr.
Robinette, the head of the expedition. It was impossible to say how
many lives had been lost on the side of the Indians, as they had
carried off all their dead and wounded, besides a large amount of
plunder. A few of the remaining white men were wounded, but none
severely.

After a hurried survey of the field, the question arose by what means
the savages had been enabled to creep upon the camp without being
observed. Angry recriminations ensued, and hard words seemed likely to
lead to hard blows.

“Perhaps you can tell us who was at fault, Captain Benning?” said Mr.
Laurie, the principal agent of Mr. Robinette. “You should know, if any
man knows.”

“What good will it do to argue that matter now?” tartly replied
Benning. “Somebody was careless, of course, and perhaps I might put my
finger on the man; but of what use would that be now? The mischief has
been done, and no one knows the extent of it yet. Has anybody seen Miss
Flora?”

The faces of all changed, and greater consternation than they had yet
shown was now visible among the rough trappers.

Flora Robinette was the only child of her father, a beautiful
dark-haired and dark-eyed girl of nineteen. Since the death of her
mother, the trader had been so strongly attached to her, that it had
seemed almost impossible for him to separate himself from her. As it
was part of the object of this expedition to establish a post west of
the Rocky Mountains, at which he expected to spend the greater part of
his time, he had at last yielded to her entreaties, and permitted her
to accompany him and share his home in the wilds. He believed that his
party was strong enough to furnish a safe escort, and that she could be
in no danger when the post was established. Her only hardships, as he
supposed, would be such as would result from traveling over the plains,
and from deprivation of the comforts and luxuries of civilization; but
these she had professed herself able and willing to endure.

She had endured them, so far, without grumbling, and with all apparent
cheerfulness. She had manifested, also, a spirit of daring and love of
adventure, together with a real delight in the fresh air and free life
of the plains, that had charmed the rough men into whose company she
was thrown, and rendered her the idol of them all. It was no wonder
that their cheeks blanched when they were asked if they had seen her.

No one _had_ seen Flora Robinette since the commencement of the fray.
At the usual hour she had retired to the wagon in which she slept, and
was supposed to have been there when the horses were stampeded and
broke through the camp; but an examination showed that the wagon was
empty.

On the ground, near the wagon, lay the body of her father, his head,
from which the gray hair on the top had been stripped, surrounded by a
pool of his own blood; but no trace of Flora could be found. A careful
search was made by the disheartened trappers; but it disclosed nothing.
They could only suppose that she had been awakened by the tumult, had
looked out of the wagon, and had thus been espied by the Indians, who
would lose no time in taking possession of such a prize. It was certain
that she had disappeared, leaving no trace.

When the fruitless search was ended, a great change had come over
George Benning. He stood like a statue, silent and motionless, and one
would have thought, from the expression of his countenance, that every
thing that was worth living for in the world had been taken from him.
His demeanor was so strange, that Martin Laurie, the agent, took him
aside and spoke with him.

Laurie was a Scotchman, whose age might have been anywhere between
forty and forty-five. He had the sandy hair, red eyes and watery
complexion peculiar to many of his race; but was not really
ill-looking. He was sedate and precise, a shrewd and methodical man of
business, and as such had been highly esteemed by Mr. Robinette.

“What is the matter with you, Benning?” he asked. “You act very
strangely, and you look as if you had lost all the friends you had in
the world. Can it be possible that the death of Mr. Robinette affects
you so strongly?”

“No. He was a good man, and I respected him highly; but I have no
special reason to grieve for him.”

“It must be, then, that it is the loss of Miss Flora that troubles you.”

“I confess it. If she had been killed, it would have been relief to
know it; but she has been carried away, we know not where, and it is
terrible to think of the fate that may be reserved for her.”

“You seem to take it harder than any of the rest of us, although you
are in no way related to her. I have noticed, during this journey, that
you were much interested in Miss Flora, and I intended to tell you, as
I now must, that it was her father’s wish that she should become my
wife.”

“Indeed! Was she aware of it?”

“I don’t know that she was. She was an only child, as you know, and Mr.
Robinette was possessed of considerable property. It was his desire
that she should marry a careful and prudent man of business, such as
he considered me to be, who would take care that her means were not
wasted.”

“Be that as it may, Mr. Laurie–and I do not mean to dispute your
word–it is useless to say any more about it now. She is gone, and it
is doubtful if either of us will be permitted to see her again in this
world. There is a chance, however, that she may still be living. I mean
to search for her, and shall never abandon the search while life is
left to me. I will not hinder you, of course, from devoting yourself to
the same object, if you wish to do so.”

“Now that Mr. Robinette is dead, it is my duty, under his instructions,
to take this party on to the rendezvous west of the mountains, and
follow the plan that he had formed for this season’s work. If I can do
any thing to help you, I will gladly do it.”

“I only ask for three men.”

“You may take any three who are willing to follow you. If you succeed,
I suppose you will join us at the rendezvous.”

“I hardly dare to hope for success. I can only say that I will do my
best.”

When Laurie and Benning returned to the trappers, they found them
inquiring what Indians they were that had made the attack.

“They were Blackfeet, I suppose,” said Benning. “How can there be any
doubt about it?”

“Easy enough, cap’n,” replied Byers. “Do Blackfeet wear Crow blankets
and moccasins?”

“No.”

“We have found a Crow blanket and a Crow moccasin on this yere ground,
and that settles the p’int, I reckon.”

“But the Crows are the friends of the white men, and never attack them.”

“Wal–I ain’t so sartin of that as you seem to be. I know that they
steal white men’s hosses, and thar’s no end to an Injun’s devilment,
nohow.”

Some of the party were of the opinion that the assailants had been
Blackfeet; but the majority sided with Byers, convinced by the Crow
blanket and moccasin.

The next morning, after the bodies of the dead had been buried, Laurie
and his party pushed on with the train toward the west, and Benning set
off on the trail of the midnight assailants, accompanied by Pap Byers,
Sam Glass and Dennis Regan. They were on foot, as no horses had been
left except such as were absolutely necessary for the train; but they
hoped soon to be able to secure a remount.

The prairie was limitless. As far as the eye could see, and as much
further as fancy cared to picture, it spread out like an ocean, endless
and eternal. In wave upon wave of many-colored luxuriance, it rolled
onward, until all color melted into the purplish hue of the horizon.
There was, it is true, a thin line of low cottonwoods, marking the
course of some little creek; but that might have been a mere coral
reef in the ocean, or a swath of drifting seaweed. There were, also,
two small islands of trees in the distance; but islands are necessary
to prove the existence of ocean. Far away to the westward could be
dimly descried the shadowy outlines of lofty mountains; but their snowy
peaks, resting among the clouds, could not be distinguished from the
clouds, and fancy could easily suppose that the prairie rolled under
and beyond them, instead of bathing their rough feet in its flowery
waves. As well as vision could decide, the prairie was a limitless
ocean.

Only a speck in this vast ocean was the figure of a man on horseback,
riding toward the west. He rode slowly, almost listlessly, seeming
absorbed in the beauty of the variegated landscape, given up to the
sweet influences of the exhilarating and odorous atmosphere.

A fine specimen of a man was this rider, whose age might have been
a few years on the sunny side of thirty. He was fully six feet in
hight, well formed and athletic, with features that a woman would
call handsome, in spite of his bronzed skin. His gray eyes were keen
and restless; his chestnut hair, worn long, after the fashion of the
Indians and trappers, flowed down upon his shoulders in wavy masses;
his mouth was well cut, shaded by a silky mustache; and his beard,
long and full, had the same rich color as his hair. His hunting-shirt
and leggings were of the finest dressed deer-skin, and were richly and
tastefully ornamented. His moccasins, also, showed the patient labor
of some Indian woman, and must have cost the wearer a good quantity
of trinkets or of scarlet cloth, if, indeed, they had not been a
love-gift. His pipe-holder must surely have been a _gage d’amour_;
for it was a triumph of Indian workmanship, such as the squaws of the
plains were not in the habit of selling. A double-barreled rifle,
short, heavy, and richly finished, was his principal weapon, and
rested across his right leg and the pommel of his saddle. A bright and
keen-edged hatchet, or small ax, was stuck in his belt, flanked by a
hunting-knife in an embroidered sheath. From his appearance, he might
have been an independent trapper; but he carried no traps or sack of
“possibles,” and had no animal except the fine jet-black horse which he
bestrode.

“Nearly noon,” he soliloquized, looking up at the sun. “If I do not
strike the trail of old Robinette’s party before long, I shall conclude
that they are behind me, and it will be necessary to wait for them. I
had better join them, I suppose, as I want an outfit for the coming
season, and I am curious to see whether his daughter is as beautiful as
she has been represented to be. As if that was a matter that concerned
me at all! It is possible that I might find some woman who could
persuade me to quit this wild life; but it lacks a great deal of being
probable. It is possible, though, that I may have strayed from my
course, and I must consult my little true-pointer.”

Stopping his horse, he drew from the bosom of his hunting-shirt a small
pocket-compass, rested it in the palm of his hand, and watched its
indications.

“No; I’m on the right track–no mistake about that. I must cross the
trail soon, if they have got this far. Ha! what is coming yonder? A
red-skin, I suppose, and one who wants my scalp. Now, Samson, who knows
but we may have a little brush to stir our blood?”

The horse pricked up his ears, whinnied, and seemed to anticipate a
combat as eagerly as his master.

It was a mere speck that attracted the attention of the rider; but it
was a moving speck, and he could easily guess what it meant. When he
caught sight of it, he might have mistaken it for a solitary buffalo;
but a brief inspection showed him that its movements were not those of
the buffalo. Soon something white came into view, and the rays of the
sun, shining upon it, made the speck look like a moving star.

Within a short time the speck was no longer a speck, but had assumed
the form and proportions of an Indian on horseback. The white man
reined in his horse, took his rifle in his right hand, and awaited the
approach of the stranger.

When the Indian had come within rifle-shot, the white man judged it
best to signal him and ascertain his intentions. Accordingly, he raised
his right hand, with the palm in front, and pushed it back and forth a
few times. This was a signal to halt; but the savage, after shaking his
head furiously, paid no further attention to it, but put his horse to
full speed, and commenced to circle around his foe.

Mounted on a jet-black horse, the exact image of that which carried the
white man, he presented a fine appearance as he galloped swiftly over
the plain. He was nearly naked, his blanket being under him, and his
skin shone as if it had been freshly oiled. With fine features, eyes as
fierce and keen as lightning, and supple and sinewy limbs, every motion
showing the play of his muscles, he presented an excellent object for
the study of the painter or the sculptor. His scalp-lock, adorned with
feathers, showed that he held a high rank as a brave. In his right
hand he carried a gun, a bow and a quiver of arrows were slung at his
back, and an Indian battle-ax hung at his left side. On his left arm he
carried a shield, round and white, which was dazzling to the beholder
when the rays of the sun were reflected from it.

“That red-skin don’t want to talk,” muttered the white man. “He is keen
for fight, and won’t be satisfied until he gets his fill. Well, I think
I can accommodate him.”

As the Indian circled over the prairie, the white man, with his
rifle at his shoulder, kept turning, so as continually to face his
antagonist. His horse, obedient to the slightest pressure of his knee,
turned where he stood, as if he comprehended, as well as his master,
the best position for defense.

It was the object of the Indian to draw the fire of the white man; but
he soon perceived that his foe was too wary for him, and he changed
his tactics. Slinging his gun, he took his bow and some arrows from
his shoulder. He then fastened one foot in his wooden stirrup, threw
his body over on the right side of the horse, and again commenced to
ride around the white man, drawing nearer at every circle, until he
was within easy bow-shot, when he began to discharge his arrows at his
antagonist.

This position of affairs soon became unpleasant to the white man, as
the arrows flew uncomfortably near him, and he was obliged to change
his position. He dismounted, and stood at the side of his horse,
turning as the Indian wheeled, so as to make a breastwork of the
animal. Still the Indian sent his arrows flying, and one of them struck
the horse in the shoulder.

Smarting with pain, the wounded animal went off at a gallop. As the
Indian raised himself to his seat with a cry of triumph, the indignant
white man discharged one of the barrels of his rifle at him; but the
wily savage had dropped down by the side of his horse.

Supposing that he had drawn the fire of his enemy, the exultant Indian
again raised himself to his seat, and fired quickly. The white man’s
rifle cracked again at the same instant, and the Indian’s horse fell
upon him. Seeing his enemy entangled by his horse, the white man rushed
upon him with his tomahawk; but, before he could reach him, the Indian
was up, with his battle-ax in his hand.

The contest was now one of skill and strength; but both parties, having
tried each other’s mettle, fought slowly and warily, husbanding their
wind for an effective stroke. The blows of each were so well parried,
that the combatants became wearied in the encounter before either had
sustained any serious injury, and they drew back, as if by mutual
consent, to recover breath.

At this juncture a sudden thought seemed to strike the Indian, who
raised both of his hands above his head, with the forefingers locked.
This, in the pantomimic language of the plains, understood by all the
prairie Indians, was a sign of friendship. He then threw his battle-ax
behind him, and stepped forward three paces, extending his right arm
with the hand open.

The white man hesitated a moment, and then, as if ashamed of himself
for mistrusting his late adversary, dropped his tomahawk, and advanced
in his turn with extended hand.

“If you really are a friend, red-skin,” he said, in the Dacotah
dialect, “you have a strange way of showing it; but I am willing to
forget and forgive.”

“My white friend is a warrior,” replied the Indian. “He is a great
brave, and I am glad that I have met him. Let him come with me, and he
shall share my lodge, and shall be my brother.”

“Perhaps we had better wait a little before going so far. I am not
quite so ready to join hands with a man who has just sought my life.
You are a Blackfoot, I should say, judging from your paint. What name
do you go by?”

“My brother has guessed well. I am a Blackfoot, and am a great brave
among my people, who have named me White Shield. What is my brother
called?”

“My name is Fred Wilder, and the red-skins call me Silverspur, because,
I suppose, I have always worn one of those articles among them.”

The young man reached out his foot, showing a large silver spur, with a
steel rowel, strapped upon his moccasin.

“I have heard of Silverspur from the Grovans and the Kickarees, as
well as from the Sioux. He is a great warrior, and I am proud to know
him. Let him share my lodge and be my brother. My people will be glad
to see him.”

“But the Blackfeet are enemies of the whites. How do I know but they
may take my scalp.”

“White Shield is a great brave, and the Blackfeet will do what he tells
them to do. They will never harm his brother, but will love and honor
him.”

“But I am a trapper, and must hunt beaver and otter. I am looking for
the party of Mr. Robinette, which is on its way to the mountains. I
must get traps and an outfit from them. Has White Shield seen them or
heard of them?”

“I have heard of them; but they have not yet come into this country. My
brother need give himself no trouble about them. Let him come with me,
and he will find traps, and I will show him better beaver-streams than
he has ever seen. He can live among the Blackfeet and trade with them,
and can get more skins than any other trader.”

It may have been the love of adventure that moved Fred Wilder, or it
may have been the desire of gain, stimulated by the prospect that the
Blackfoot held out to him. Impulsively he grasped the hand of White
Shield, and the two pledged eternal friendship and brotherhood after
the Indian fashion.

“My brother was fighting me a few moments ago,” said Wilder. “Why was
he so anxious to kill me? It is seldom that you red-skins dare to
attack a white man singly, unless you have an advantage over him.”

“White Shield is no coward,” replied the Blackfoot. “It is long since I
have taken a scalp, and my people have lately suffered many reverses.
I wished to carry home a scalp, so that the Blackfeet in my village
might wash the mourning paint from their faces. I did not know that my
brother had the advantage of me, in owning a rifle that would shoot
twice. I never saw such a rifle.”

“I had the advantage of you in another point, after your horse was
killed. You were afoot, while I might have mounted at any moment.”

Wilder whistled, and his horse, which was grazing at a little distance,
came running to him. He examined the wound, which was a slight one,
and transferred to the back of the horse the Indian’s saddle and
blankets and bridle. The two then set out toward the north-west, White
Shield leading the way on foot.

When George Benning and his three companions set out on the trail of
the marauders who had attacked their camp, they were all afoot; but
they hoped soon to be able to get a remount, at the expense of some
Indian horse-owners. The Indians always did their horse-stealing on
foot, and there was no good reason why white men should not imitate
their example.

“That sounds very well, cap’n,” said Sam Glass, when Benning had
presented this view of the subject, “and it will be easy enough to do,
no doubt, purvided that we ken find the Injuns; but we may hev to tramp
many a mile, afore we came up on a village.”

“No trouble about that, boy,” replied Pap Byers. “We’ll find Injuns
enough, I warrant ye. The only p’int is, that we must be cautions and
quiet, and I’d like to know how this yere Irishman’s tongue is to be
kep’ still.”

“Is it me tongue that you’re spa’kin’ of?” snapped Dennis Regan. “Sure,
me tongue is as ready as your hand, any day.”

“That’s the trouble, Denny. It is a heap too ready, and is sartin to
shoot off when it ain’t wanted to.”

“It hits the cinter ivery time, and that’s more’n can be said av your
rifle.”

“We won’t quarrel about it,” interposed Captain Benning. “It is certain
that Denny must learn to keep quiet, or he may bring us all into
another scrape. Tramp is the word, boys.”

It was not until the evening of the second day after they had started
on the trail, that the party perceived indications which led them to
believe that they were in the vicinity of an Indian village. Proceeding
a little further, they heard the sound of bells, which the Indians
sometimes attach to their horses, proceeding from a ravine a short
distance to the left of the trail.

By a careful reconnoissance it was discovered that there was a large
drove of horses in the ravine, feeding loose, on both sides of a little
stream. The party withdrew to lay their plans, and it was arranged
that they should enter the ravine, where each should select two horses
from the drove, and should bring them to the head of the ravine, where
all were to rendezvous. Benning was especially careful to warn his
companions to be cautious and quiet, and to take no more horses than
were necessary.

The four men entered the ravine at different points, and proceeded
to select and secure their horses. This was accomplished without any
misadventure, and Benning was the first to reach the head of the
ravine, where he was soon joined by Pap Byers and Sam Glass, each
mounted and leading a horse.

“We have succeeded very well so far,” said the captain. “With these
horses under us, and fresh ones to rest them, we ought to have the
heels of any red-skins. Where is Dennis?”

“He’ll be along directly, I reckon,” replied Byers. “Thar he comes, on
a run! What in thunder has the durned fool been doin’?”

The Irishman came up the ravine at a gallop, mounted on a fine mare,
and leading two horses. The mare had a bell fastened to her neck,
which clattered furiously as he rode up to his companions. Benning’s
face turned pale with anger, but he controlled himself and spoke quite
composedly.

“Why have you brought three horses when I told you to take but two? And
why did you choose that bell mare? Don’t you know that the noise will
bring the Indians down upon us?”

“The mare was the finest av the lot, capt’in dear. She’s betther than
both the others, if I’m a jidge av horseflesh.”

“That bell will be the ruin of us. It is a wonder that the whole drove
has not stampeded after her.”

“I was m’anin’ to take it aff, sir, as soon as I could git the cratur’
quiet,” replied Dennis, as he dismounted.

The head of the ravine, where the four men were collected with their
horses, was quite narrow, with steep sides, which were covered pretty
thickly with trees and undergrowth. Darkness was rapidly succeeding to
dusk, and all were impatient to be off.

As Dennis dismounted, one of his led horses slipped its thong, and
started off. When he turned hastily to catch it, he loosed the mare,
which galloped away at full speed, her bell clattering noisily as she
went. Directly there was a great commotion among the herd of horses
down in the ravine, and it was evident that they were stampeding.

“Tare an’ ouns!” exclaimed the indignant Irishman. “The bloody divil
has got away, afther all me throuble. May ivery hair on her tail turn
to a hickory sthick, to bate her as long as she can dhraw a breath.”

“Hold your clattering tongue!” exclaimed Benning. “You make more noise
than the infernal bell. The Indians will be down on us in no time, and
we may thank our stars if we get out of this scrape. Mount the horse
you are holding, and ride as if fire were behind you.”

Dennis was about to mount, when he was suddenly seized from behind, and
dragged into the bushes. The next instant the ravine was vocal with
savage yells, and the white men found themselves surrounded with savage
Indians.

Escape seemed impossible; but Benning was not a man to lose his life
without an effort to preserve it. Loosing his led animal, he discharged
his rifle at the group of Indians before him, and then, putting his
horse to the top of his speed, dashed down the ravine, overturning and
scattering his antagonists as he went.

Bullets and arrows flew after him; but he sped on unhurt, until he
had gone about a quarter of a mile, when his horse suddenly stopped,
in front of a perpendicular wall of rock, that seemed to close up the
ravine.

Bewildered at meeting this unexpected obstacle, he was about to turn
and endeavor to cut his way back in the opposite direction, when he
reflected that he had been following the bed of a stream, which must
surely cañon at the wall of rock.

Straining his sight through the growing darkness he saw what seemed
to be an opening, and pushed his horse for it, bending down upon the
horse’s neck, to save his head from contact with the rocky roof. The
horse went forward, slowly but surely, and Benning thought that he was
about to emerge from the cañon, when, to his great dismay, he found
himself wedged fast in the opening. With words and kicks he tried to
force his steed forward, but it would not budge. He had given himself
up for lost; but an arrow from behind struck his horse in the rear,
and, with a violent effort, it squeezed through the aperture.

Hardly had Benning issued from the cañon, when another peril confronted
him. The horse stopped at the brink of a precipice. The rider could see
that a prairie stretched out below him; but he could not guess how far
down it might be, or what might await him at the foot of the rock.

There was no time for consideration. His pursuers were close
behind him. He had to choose between certain death at the hands of
the savages, and a fearful leap in the dark. He chose the latter
alternative; but his horse refused to take the leap, backing away from
the abyss, and snorting and trembling with terror. Drawing his knife,
he struck it into the haunch of the animal. Maddened by the pain, the
horse sprung forward into the gloom, and alighted, unhurt, upon the
soft turf below.

Benning rode away, slowly, thankful that his life had been preserved,
and reflecting sadly upon the fate of his companions.

Of these, Dennis Regan had been pinioned as soon as he was seized, Sam
Glass had been shot dead while attempting resistance, and Pap Byers had
been soon overpowered and bound.

After relieving Glass of his scalp, the Indians took their two captives
to the village, which was situated a short distance from the ravine in
which their horses were kept.

In order to confine the captives, they were laid on their backs in the
middle of the village, with their arms and legs stretched out, and
tied by the hands and feet to stakes driven in the ground. In this
uncomfortable position they were obliged to pass the night, while the
savages made merry over their victory.

“See what a fix you have brought us into, you crazy little red-headed
wretch!” exclaimed Pap Byers, after he had chafed and cursed himself
into a perspiration.

“It’s none of my bringin’, you spider-shanked, pickle-faced ould
drumhead!” replied Dennis. “It was jist that murtherin’ divil av a
sorrel mare that up-ended us and stretched us out here; but, fur all
that, who knows but I’m the boy who will bring us safe out av this?”

“Talk’s cheap, boy. Ken ye bring Sam Glass back to life? Thar’s Cap’n
Benning too; it’s likely that he’s got his pill afore this. Ken ye do
any thin’ fur him?”

“The mithers av ’em can’t be more sorry fur the boys than is Denny
Regan; but it’s the divil’s own tongue that says I fotched ’em into
the scrape. If I was on me feet, I’d make yez swaller that same, you
dried-up old wolf-skin.”

“Quarrelin’ won’t mend the matter; but you know as well as I do, Denny,
that it was your loose tongue and your crazy ways that made all the
trouble.”

“I know it jist as well as you do, and that’s not at all. Tell me, now,
Pap Byers, what Injuns is these that’s got us?”

“Blackfeet–the bloodiest, meanest and most savagerous of all the
red-skins in these parts.”

“And what will they do wid us?”

“Kill us–tortur’ us–burn us, most likely.”

“Is it burnin’ ye say? Och, be the powers! it makes me flesh crawl to
think av it. The bloody haythins! Is it sure enough burnin’ that they
do, or do they jist bother a man and let him go?”

“It’s burnin’, I tell ye–burnin’ by a slow fire–roastin’, fryin’,
br’llin’. Thar ain’t any let go about it; it holds on fur hours, and
you suffer death a dozen times afore you die onst.”

“Howly mither of Moses! That bates purgatory, intirely. To think that
one av the ould shtock av the O’Regans should be roasted alive! I
vow to the blissed Vargin, if I can only git clare of this shcrape,
I’ll not shpake a mortal word to any livin’ man–or woman, fur that
matter–fur a long six months, and I’ll begin at onst to kape me vow.”

The Irishman was silent. Byers spoke to him after a while; but Dennis
did not reply. Again Byers spoke to him; but a snore was the only
answer he received.

“I do believe,” said he, “that the durned fool has gone to sleep. I
wouldn’t hev thought that burnin’ would set so easy onto his stummick.”

Fred Wilder accompanied his new friend without any doubt or hesitation.
He knew that the word of an Indian was sacred, when pledged to his
adopted brother, and he felt no uneasiness as to the treatment he would
receive among the Blackfeet.

In the course of three days they arrived safely at the Blackfeet
village, where White Shield introduced his brother, Silverspur, as a
great warrior, a man wonderful for strength of arms, keenness of eye,
activity of limb, and bigness of heart. He related the particulars of
the encounter in which he had formed the acquaintance of the white man,
and gave him credit for extraordinary bravery and skill. He concluded
by declaring that Silverspur was his sworn brother, and must be treated
as such; that he must have full liberty to live among the Blackfeet, to
hunt, fish and trade as he pleased, and to go and come as might suit
his pleasure.

Instead of being displeased at the arrival of the white man, the
Blackfeet appeared to be very well satisfied, and passed many encomiums
upon White Shield for having brought such a valuable accession to their
tribe. Some of them had heard of Silverspur, and could echo the praise
that White Shield bestowed upon him. His rifle had sent death to more
than one Blackfoot warrior, and they knew it; but that only added to
his glory as a warrior, and they were proud to claim him as one of
themselves. Good Ax, the head chief, granted him unlimited trading
privileges, and invited him to “marry and settle”–in other words, to
select a wife, or as many wives as he wanted.

Silverspur, whose heart had not been enamored by the fair-skinned
beauties of his own race, and who was not likely to yield to
the fascinations of any dusky damsel, evaded the matrimonial
responsibility, saying that he thought it best to wait until he became
better known, and that, in the mean time, he would share the lodge of
White Shield, who happened to be a bachelor.

A few days after his introduction to the Blackfeet, on his return from
a hunting-excursion, he found that a war-party, which had been absent
for some time, had arrived at the village. They had been victorious
over their adversaries, but had lost a few of their number, for which
reason they were debarred from dancing, or rejoicing over their
victory. On the contrary, the village was filled with mourning, and the
wailing of the mourners, together with the horrible manner in which
they mangled themselves, so disgusted the young man that he did not
care to inquire further concerning the affair.

Soon after this, there was an alarm at the village, occasioned by the
attempt of some marauders to steal horses. Most of the warriors went
out to meet the enemy; but Fred Wilder, who did not care to expose his
life in the quarrels of the red-men, remained in his lodge, smoking
his pipe, and mentally abusing himself for the roving disposition that
brought him into “the tents of Ishmael.”

The affair was soon quieted, and the warriors returned in high glee.
They had captured two prisoners, as White Shield informed his friend,
and had taken a scalp. The mourning in the village, therefore, was
at an end. All washed their faces, and prepared for a dance and a
jollification.

As sleep was out of the question, in the midst of such an uproar,
Wilder sallied out and joined the dancers. The scalp which was the
occasion of the revelry, together with one which had been brought in
by the war-party, was suspended upon a pole, and Wilder inspected
them with the others. The hair of one of the scalps was short, black
and curly. That of the other was short, thin and silver gray. It was
evident to the young trapper that neither was the scalp of an Indian,
and he called White Shield aside to speak to him concerning them.

“That black scalp yonder,” said he, “is not the scalp of an Indian.”

“No; it is the scalp of a white man.”

“They were white men, then, who came to steal horses?”

“Yes; and the two prisoners are white men.”

“Is the gray scalp the scalp of a white man, too?”

“Yes. We would have had a big dance over that scalp, if we had not lost
two warriors in the fight. It is the scalp of the white-haired chief.”

“And who was he?”

“I thought you knew him. You call him Robinette, the trader.”

“Whew! The old fellow is dead, then,” said Wilder, musingly. “He was a
strange man, shrewd, daring, but rather unscrupulous, as I have heard.
Did your braves capture his train?”

“No. They came across his party, and stampeded the horses. As they had
surprised the camp, they thought they might do more; but the white men
beat them off at last. The men who came to-night were his men. They
wanted to get back some of their horses, or to look for the white girl.”

“What white girl?”

“The daughter of the white-haired chief.”

“Is she here?”

“She is in the village. Has not my brother seen her?”

“No. I know nothing of her.”

“You will not be likely to see her for a while, as Good Ax, the head
chief, means to take her into his lodge, and she has been shut up from
the village.”

Wilder mused a little, and his musings were in this wise:

Why had Paul Robinette brought his daughter into that wilderness? Why
had he, Fred Wilder, given himself up to an aimless and roving life?
It was very foolish in both of them; but fate had led them to it. It
was the fate of Mr. Robinette to be killed and scalped, and it might be
the fate of him, Fred Wilder, to have come among the Blackfeet to be of
service to the daughter of the murdered man. At all events, she was a
woman, and it was his duty to befriend her. It was his duty, also, to
befriend the two white captives, and their turn might come first. It
would be well for him to see how far he might go with the Blackfeet.

Turning to White Shield, he said:

“What will be done with the white prisoners?”

“They will be burned.”

“Do you think so?”

“I am sure of it. They are to be burned early to-morrow morning.”

“I will bet you, White Shield, ten packs of beaver-skins, that they
will not be burned while Silverspur lives.”

“What does my brother mean?”

“I mean that I will not allow them to be burned.”

“What will you do?”

“Perhaps I will do nothing; but they shall not be burned.”

“Has my brother lost his senses? He surely does not mean what he says.”

“You will see that I mean it. I am going to the lodge, White Shield. I
am tired of this deviltry.”

Wilder turned his back upon the crowd of dancing and yelling Indians,
and retired to his lodge, where he pondered his own situation and that
of Flora Robinette, until he fell asleep.

In the morning there was a great commotion in the village. Preparations
were made for the torture of the two white captives, and all the
Blackfeet were early astir. Two stout stakes were set in the ground,
near the middle of the village, and the victims were brought to them,
surrounded and followed by a motley throng of Indians, of all ages and
both sexes.

Dennis Regan, who had not spoken a word since his vow of the previous
night, was bound to one post, and Pap Byers to the other, and what may
be called the small torturing commenced. Women and children assailed
the white men with all sorts of opprobrious epithets, beat them with
sticks, kicked them, pinched them, pulled their hair, and provoked them
by every means in their power.

Byers hurled back their taunts indignantly, and abused the Blackfeet
to the best of his ability. He knew what sort of a death they intended
for him, and he hoped to arouse them to such fury that, in a moment of
anger, they might kill him at once. He boasted of the number of their
braves that he had slain, and accused them of cowardice, taunting them
with not daring to take the life of a white man, even when he was bound
before them. They could not hurt him, he said, and he dared them to
do their worst, as a white warrior could teach them how to die. The
Irishman remained silent. When he was spoken to, he pointed to his
tongue, and shook his head; but not a word escaped his lips.

The warriors soon put a stop to this play. Scattering the women and
children, they brought poles and twigs, which they piled in a circle,
nearly waist high, around the victims. Then, amid diabolical yells and
screeches, fire was put to the piles, and the torture commenced.

It was not to last long. Hardly had the flames begun to crackle among
the twigs, when Fred Wilder, fully armed, strode into the throng,
kicked away the burning poles, stamped out the fire, and took his stand
near the prisoners, gazing defiantly at the crowd of savages.

The Blackfeet were astonished at his audacity. Some of them laid their
hands upon their weapons; but all drew back, as if bewildered, and
wondering what might happen next. After a few moments, Good Ax, the
head chief, stepped forward and addressed the intruder.

“Why does Silverspur seek to interfere with his brothers? Has he
forgotten that when he became a Blackfoot, he ceased to be a white man?”

“My heart is white, and always will be,” fiercely replied Wilder. “I
can not stand by and see men of my own race murdered. What have these
white men done to you, that you wish to burn them?”

“We caught them stealing our horses.”

“They had a right to try to recover the property which you had taken
from them.”

“But the white men are the enemies of the Blackfeet.”

“Say, rather, that, the Blackfeet are the enemies of the white men,
who have never mistreated you, and have never fought you except when
you have compelled them to do so. Look at these men! One of them, as
you can see, is not able to speak. Would you slay a man who has been
stricken by the Great Spirit? I say that they shall not be burned while
I live, and I know well that more than one of you will fall before I
die.”

It is said that a wild beast will shrink from the steady glance
of a brave man. So did the savages quail before the fearless eye
and undaunted demeanor of Fred Wilder. His audacity seemed almost
supernatural, and made them fear that he might have something to back
him which they could not even guess at.

In a few minutes, however, this feeling passed away. They saw that he
was but a man, as they were, and they began to think of punishing him
for his bold attempt to spoil their sport. Their threatening looks and
hostile attitudes caused him to raise his rifle and level it at the
most demonstrative. In another moment there might have been bloodshed;
but White Shield suddenly changed the face of affairs. Bursting through
the throng, he took his stand by the side of his friend.

“White Shield is a warrior!” he exclaimed. “He is a great brave, and he
never feared the face of an enemy. There is none who can lay cowardice
or crime to the charge of White Shield. Shall he hang back, like a dog,
when his brother is in danger? Silverspur is his sworn brother, and
he is ready to die for his brother, whether he is right or wrong. He
is not wrong. These white men are his friends, and the Blackfoot who
would not try to save the life of his friend would be called a coward.
Come, my brothers! Who will go to the spirit-land with White Shield and
Silverspur?”

A number of the relatives of White Shield, both old and young, came
forward, with their weapons in their hands, and ranged themselves by
his side. As the hostile parties confronted each other, the affair
seemed about to assume a serious aspect, when the head chief stepped
forward and spoke.

“This is a small matter to us,” he said, “and we would do wrong to kill
each other about it. One of these prisoners, as Silverspur has said,
has been stricken by the Great Spirit, and we can easily give the life
of the other to our white brother. Loose them from the stakes, but let
them be securely guarded. They shall live, but they must not leave us
until we move the village. Is Silverspur satisfied?”

Wilder expressed his satisfaction, and pressed the hand of the chief.
When the prisoners had been led away, and the crowd had dispersed, he
returned to his lodge with White Shield.

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