CROSS-PURPOSES

In the morning Fred Wilder set out to seek for the trail of his
companions; but, after a long and careful search, he was unable to find
it, and he abandoned the quest in despair. As he had seen or heard
nothing of the Blackfeet, he concluded that they had given up the
pursuit, and had returned to their village.

The disappearance of the Blackfoot and Flora Robinette was not
incomprehensible to him, for it was very likely that he had lost the
trail; but he could not help fearing that it was to be attributed to
some other cause. It was possible that White Shield had been troubled
in conscience concerning the manner in which he had left his tribe, and
that he might have gone back to meet the pursuers, hoping to make peace
with them by delivering Flora to Good Ax. It was possible, also, that
he might have taken a fancy to the fair prize, and that he might have
determined to secure her for himself, thus cheating his white brother,
as well as his tribe.

Fred Wilder’s manly heart made him reject these unworthy suspicions as
fast as they arose in his mind. He could not believe that the Indian,
who had sworn brotherhood to him, and who had so thoroughly proved
his friendship, would so easily turn traitor. In fact, he felt sure
that he could trust him, whatever appearances might be against him.
The probability was, Wilder thought, that he had lost their trail,
which must lead direct to Mr. Robinette’s rendezvous. Still, it seemed
strange that they had not waited for him, or tried to find him, as he
supposed they might easily have done.

Stifling his fears as well as he could, he rode toward the south,
shaping his course for the rendezvous, where he hoped to find his
missing companions.

It was a long journey, and there was not a little peril connected with
it; but, by the use of vigilance and caution, he contrived to keep
clear of any predatory bands of Indians, and the end of two weeks found
him on a stream which he believed to be one of the head branches of
Green River.

The sun was nearly on the meridian when he was riding along the
pleasant stream, in the shade of the cottonwoods and willows,
meditating on his vagrant life, and wondering whether he would ever
settle down and become a quiet and steady citizen. Thoughts of dinner
were also in his mind, and were further provoked by the sight of a thin
column of blue smoke, curling up above the tree-tops before him. He
stopped at once, with a true woodman’s caution, and speculated upon the
smoke and its cause.

He thought that he could not be far from the rendezvous, and it was not
likely that there would be any hostile Indians so near a large assembly
of white men. It was more probable that some hunters had chosen the
spot for the purpose of enjoying their noon meal. Wilder was willing
enough to join them; but he thought it best to use caution, as he could
not be certain whether he was to meet friends or enemies.

He dismounted, tethered his horses, and quietly picked his way through
the undergrowth toward the smoke. He was soon near enough to perceive
two white men seated by the remains of a fire. Near them was the
carcass of an antelope, from which they had made their meal. Both men
were smoking, and a flask that lay between them denoted that they were
not destitute of another creature comfort much prized in the wilderness.

Wilder was about to step forward and join them, when he was stopped by
an exclamation that one of them made. He heard Flora Robinette’s name,
used in a manner that strongly attracted his attention, and made him
anxious to hear more of the conversation.

Crawling up closer, and concealing himself behind the trunk of a large
cottonwood, he looked and listened. He knew both of the men, one of
whom was Martin Laurie, Mr. Robinette’s agent, and the other was Jacob
Farnsworth, also one of the trader’s employés.

“You think, then, that you can find the girl?” asked Farnsworth.

“I am pretty certain of that,” replied the Scotchman.

“What will you do with her when you get her?”

“It seems to me, my friend, that you are becoming inquisitive.”

“I suppose I am; but it is a matter that concerns me a little.”

“How so?”

“Look here, Martin Laurie. You might as well be open and
straight-forward; for I know you as well as you know yourself. You
expect to rescue the girl, and to have the fingering of old Robinette’s
money.”

“You may think what you please about it. Suppose that what you say were
true, how would it affect you?”

“More than you may think. I might hinder or help you as I chose. You
don’t want to tell me your plans; but you will have to do it. The
Scotch are very keen; but they are no sharper than the Yankees. I can
tell you that you will never touch the old man’s money-bags, unless
you change your plans.”

“You are only trying to pump me, Jake Farnsworth.”

“I am not. I am speaking for your own interest. I know what I am
saying; for I have the will.”

“The will! What will?”

“Paul Robinette’s will.”

“The deuce! I didn’t know that he left a will.”

“I have one copy, and the other copy is in St. Louis.”

“What does it say?”

“Don’t you wish you knew? I will tell you, on condition that you will
give me a third of what you make by the operation. Your plans will
amount to nothing, unless you know what is in the will. You might go to
St. Louis, and examine the other copy; but your chances would be all
gone before you could get back. If you will come to terms I will tell
you what I know, and will help you with your plans. If you won’t, you
may as well load up your traps and quit the ground.”

“I will agree to what you say, if your information really causes me to
change my plans.”

“That is fair enough. I will guarantee that it will surprise you.”

“Very well. Out with it.”

“The will is a strange one, and perhaps there is a touch of hypo in it;
but I have no doubt that it would stand in the courts. In fact, it was
drawn by a lawyer, who ought to have known his business. It seems that
the old man was quite a monomaniac on the subject of being killed by
Indians. He had a presentiment that he would be scalped by them some
day, and the fear that his scalp would remain in their possession, and
be smoke-dried in their lodges, always preyed upon his mind.”

“It may have been second-sight, for he was killed and scalped after
escaping for so many years.”

“I know that; but listen to the arrangement he made by his will. He
divided his property into two equal portions, one of which is to be
given to the man who recovers his scalp from the Indians. The other
half is to be his daughter’s, on condition she marries the man who
recovers his scalp.”

Fred Wilder uttered an involuntary exclamation, and felt in the
breast-pocket of his hunting-shirt, to see whether the gray scalp was
secure.

“I thought I heard something,” said Farnsworth, looking around. “It
must have been one of our horses. If she refuses to marry that man, she
will get but the income of her share during life, and at her death it
will go to a charity in St. Louis.”

“Suppose the scalp should not be recovered.”

“Then that share is to go to the same charity. You can judge, now,
whether the will changes your plans.”

“I must confess that it will change them considerably. It will be of
more importance to me to secure the scalp than the girl. It is a queer
will. The old man must have been crazy.”

“His head was clear enough, as you well know, and we need make no
question about the will. If you can recover the scalp, the girl will be
obliged to marry you, or she will get nothing from the property worth
speaking of. The two halves, put together, would make a right handsome
pile.”

“They would, indeed, and I could afford to give you a share. I must
secure both the scalp and the girl. I see no objection that Miss Flora
could have to marrying me. I have always been considered a proper man.”

“Proper enough, no doubt; but young ladies have strange fancies
sometimes. Where do you expect to find her?”

“Among the Crows.”

“That is strange.”

“Rather strange, I admit, but none the less true. Pap Byers, who was
one of the party when we were attacked, picked up a Crow blanket and a
Crow moccasin after the fight, and he was sure that they were Crows who
stampeded us.”

“But the Crows never molest white people.”

“Very seldom, it is true; but this may have been a party of young
braves who were returning from an expedition which had not resulted
to suit them, and they may have wanted to carry home a few horses or
scalps, thinking that they would not be found out. War-parties dislike
to return empty-handed.”

“That is true, and you are probably right in supposing that the
assailants were Crows. If so, they have the scalp and Miss Flora. But
how will you get them?”

“George Benning wanted to go in search of the young lady, and I let him
take Pap Byers and Sam Glass and a green young Irishman. If they found
her, they were to bring her to the rendezvous; but I have neither seen
nor heard any thing of them.”

“Perhaps they have been rubbed out.”

“It is very likely. They were afoot, and their first movement would
have been to steal some horses from the Indians. That might have
brought them into trouble.”

“If Benning is out of the way, it will be all the better for you, as I
have heard that he was getting fond of Miss Flora, and he is, or was, a
likely young fellow.”

“It would pain me greatly to hear of his death.”

“None of your hypocrisy, Martin Laurie. We know each other too well for
that. What do you mean to do now?”

“I can do nothing until after the next rendezvous, in August. Then I
shall go up among the Crows, and have no doubt that I shall be able
to trade with them for both the girl and the scalp, giving them to
understand that they shall not be troubled about that little affair.”

“Very well. I will keep your counsel, and will help you all I can. We
had better be getting back to camp, before they send out a party to
search for us. Shall we take the rest of this antelope?”

“It is not worth while. We will leave that much for the wolves.”

The two men mounted their horses, and rode down the stream. Fred Wilder
waited until they were out of sight, when he also mounted, and followed
them slowly, reflecting on what he had heard.

He soon reached the camp, where he saw both Laurie and Farnsworth,
together with a number of trappers and friendly Indians; but he kept
his own counsel, saying nothing of his late adventures, or of Flora
Robinette or the gray scalp.

It was evident to Wilder, from the first of the conversation that he
listened to, between Laurie and Farnsworth, that White Shield had not
brought Flora Robinette to the rendezvous. He was not really surprised
at this; but his fears were awakened and strengthened, and he could
not avoid an oppressive feeling of anxiety. He made no inquiries about
them, but remained a week at the encampment, hoping that they might
come in.

At the end of that time, as he had heard nothing of them, he was forced
to the conclusion that his suspicions had been too well founded, and
that White Shield had betrayed him. It was possible that they might
have been captured by some roving band of Indians; but it was not at
all probable that so brave and wily a warrior as the Blackfoot would
have suffered himself to be taken by any enemy. Wilder could only
believe that he had gone back to the Blackfeet, or that he had taken
possession of Flora for purposes of his own.

Quite despondent, the young man sallied out one morning on a
hunting-excursion. He went alone, hoping to meet with some excitement
that would prevent his mind from brooding over his half-accomplished
achievement. He was by no means prepared to abandon the object with
which he had left the Blackfeet. On the contrary, he was determined
that he would not be so easily outdone, and it was his intention to
seek for the missing companions of his flight, to rescue Flora from the
Indians, and to punish White Shield for his treachery.

He had poor luck with his hunting that morning, the reason being,
probably, that his mind was too much occupied with other matters.
Somewhat discouraged, he ascended a hill, from which he could have a
good view of the surrounding country, and looked to see whether any
game was visible.

In the distance he descried a dark object, slowly moving over the
plain. He was sure that it was no four-legged animal, and was soon
convinced that it was a man on foot; but he could not tell whether it
was an Indian or a white man.

Curious to know who the solitary traveler could be, he descended the
hill, and rode toward the object. The man discovered him, and seemed to
wish to avoid him; but there was no way of escaping on the prairie, and
at last he stopped, waiting the approach of the horseman.

As he drew near to the stranger, Wilder perceived that he was an
Indian. Nearer yet, he thought that he discovered a resemblance in his
features to those of White Shield. Yes; it must be his red brother;
for the Indian recognizes him, and runs eagerly forward to meet him.
Wilder is surprised; he can not believe that this is the athletic
and fine-looking warrior from whom he lately separated; for the form
of White Shield is fearfully emaciated, his eyes are hollow, he is
entirely without arms, and the few garments that remain to him hang
about him in tatters.

Instead of advancing to meet him, Wilder reined in his horse, and
leveled his rifle at the Indian.

“Shall I shoot you now?” he said; “or shall I wait until I hear what
you have to say?”

The Blackfoot, who did not attempt to conceal his surprise, advanced no
further, but looked steadily at the leveled rifle.

“If my brother wishes to kill me,” he replied, “let him shoot. White
Shield is ready to go to the spirit-land.”

“Are you sure that you are ready? Is there nothing you have done that
frightens you?”

“White Shield is not afraid. His heart is clean, and his tongue is
straight. The path is broad before him. Let my brother shoot.”

“Why have you betrayed me?”

“White Shield betrayed his own people, to please his brother. Is it for
that reason that he is called a traitor? Let Silverspur shoot.”

Wilder could not contain himself any longer. The truth and affection
of the Indian were so manifest, that he felt that he could not blame
himself sufficiently for his suspicions. He leaped from his horse,
threw his rifle upon the ground, ran to the Indian, and fairly hugged
him.

“The heart of Silverspur was hot,” he said. “A little bird whispered
to me, and told me lies. I have done wrong; but my brother will forgive
me.”

“The heart of White Shield is warm. What did the little bird say to my
brother?”

“Where is the white maiden?”

“With the Indians of the south–with the Arapahoes.”

“Why is she there?”

The Indian proceeded to relate his adventures since he had parted from
his friend.

He had gone to the peak which he had pointed out, and had waited
there a while. Fearing that Silverspur had been killed, and that
the Blackfeet might follow on the trail, he had judged it best–for
the safety of Flora Robinette, which he supposed to be the chief
consideration with his friend–to continue his flight toward the south,
and he left an arrow to indicate that he had gone in that direction.

When night came on, he encamped, and waited for his friend. There could
be no doubt that Wilder had wandered widely from the trail, as White
Shield, when he considered himself out of danger from the pursuing
Blackfeet, had searched for him in vain. Concluding that Silverspur had
lost his life in the defense of the pass, the Indian had no alternative
but to push on toward the rendezvous, to which his friend had promised
to take the young lady. Flora was greatly grieved at the loss of
her friend and deliverer, but made no other complaints, and went on
bravely, trusting implicitly in her Blackfoot guide.

It was a long journey, the Indian said, and the young lady could not
travel very rapidly. He guarded her as well as he was able to; but it
was impossible to ride all day and watch all night. One night, when
he had fallen asleep, he awoke to find himself surrounded by Indians.
He discovered them before he was seen by them; but they were in such
numbers that escape was impossible, and he and his charge were captured
by them.

The captors were Arapahoes, who were on their way home, whither they
carried their prisoners. White Shield was recognized as a Blackfoot
brave who was responsible for the death of many of their warriors, and
he was reserved for the torture. He succeeded in escaping, and set out,
without food or weapons, toward Robinette’s rendezvous, where he hoped
to find Silverspur. He had experienced great sufferings and privations,
and had eaten nothing but roots for three days previous to meeting his
friend.

Wilder could not control his emotion at this recital.

“Is it possible,” he exclaimed, “that I was on the point of shooting
you, after you had endured so much for me? You must be starving, and
I have been with you nearly an hour, without offering you a morsel to
eat!”

He opened his haversack, and spread its contents before his
half-famished friend, who devoured them greedily. He gave the Indian
his pipe to smoke while he rested, and then forced him to mount his
horse, and walked by his side to the rendezvous.

Wilder persuaded White Shield to remain at the rendezvous until his
strength was recruited, and furnished him, in the mean time, with a
full outfit of clothing, weapons, ammunition and horses. The Indian
appeared to be even more anxious than Wilder to recover Flora Robinette
from the Arapahoes, and they soon set out in search of her, without
informing any one of their purpose.

The young lady was still among the Arapahoes, and that was all that
White Shield could say upon the subject with certainty. He had not seen
her while he was among them, but did not doubt that she was safe, nor
did he believe that she had suffered any harm.

Wilder and his friend crossed the mountains at the South Pass, and
struck out in a southerly direction. After passing the Republican
Fork of the Platte, they found themselves in the heart of the country
claimed by the Arapahoes.

White Shield took his companion in a direct course to the village to
which he had been carried as a prisoner, but discovered, upon his
arrival at the place where it had stood, that it had recently been
removed. Following the lodge-pole trail, which was plain enough, they
found the village in its new location, near the base of the mountains.

At nightfall the two friends prepared to reconnoiter, for the purpose
of discovering the whereabouts of Flora Robinette. It was arranged that
White Shield should disguise himself and enter the village, where he
should saunter about and mix with the Arapahoes as much as possible,
while Silverspur remained and awaited his return, at the place where
their horses were concealed.

The Indian threw his blanket over his head, and walked boldly toward
the village, leaving Wilder to wait and watch. The night was dark,
quite favorable to the purposes of the spy, and Wilder had no doubt
that he would soon see him returning in safety, whether he made any
discovery or not. But hours passed away; the night grew darker,
until it was so black that the outlines of the neighboring trees
could scarcely be discerned, and the young man became anxious and
impatient. Notwithstanding White Shield’s experience and reputation
as a woodman and warrior, it was possible that he might have lost his
way in endeavoring to return to his friend, or that he might have been
discovered and captured by the Arapahoes.

At last Wilder heard a rustling in the timber. He bent forward and
listened, striving to look through the darkness, but not doubting that
it was his friend who was approaching.

The noise ceased, and again it commenced; but it did not seem to draw
any nearer. It might be some animal scratching among the leaves, or it
might be White Shield feeling his way in the darkness. Wilder thought
it best to try to find out what it really was.

“Is that you, White Shield?” he asked, in a whisper.

In reply, he was startled by the growling of an Indian dog, and
the next instant the animal came running up to him, barking most
vociferously.

“Confound this noisy little pest!” he exclaimed. “I must put a stop to
his racket, or he will bring the red-skins on me.”

He aimed a blow at the brute with the butt of his rifle, but missed
it, and the dog ran toward the village, and then ran back, barking as
spitefully and as loud as it could.

Wilder knew well that he would be compelled to change his location; but
he greatly disliked to do so before the return of White Shield, as they
would then be separated, and might not be able to come together again.
He had no doubt that the noise would be heard at the village, and that
the Indians, knowing from the dog’s manner of barking that it had not
started any game, would sally out to see what was the matter. In that
event he would be compelled to fly; but he hoped that White Shield
might arrive before that step should become necessary.

Soon he heard steps approaching, and an Indian speaking to the dog.

“It is only one,” thought Wilder, and he decided that he could easily
put that one out of the way, and might then wait a little longer for
his friend. He concealed himself, therefore, behind the trunk of a
large tree, confident that the dog would bring the Indian to him.

So it happened. The Indian followed the dog to the tree, which he
approached, cautiously at first, and then boldly, having convinced
himself that the dog had only discovered some animal, which had taken
refuge there. As soon as he was near enough, Wilder stepped out, and
struck at him with his knife.

In the darkness the blow was badly aimed. It made a mortal wound;
but the Arapaho had strength enough before he fell to clinch his
adversary, and to utter a piercing yell. Wilder hastened to give him
his death-blow; but the mischief was done, and the dog ran toward the
village, barking more violently than ever.

It was time to be gone. With a muttered imprecation on his bad luck
and on the miserable dog, Wilder hastened to his horse, cast loose the
hopple, and sprung upon his back. He was none too soon. Already the
air resounded with the shouts of the Arapahoes, and he could hear them
hastening through the forest toward the point from which the yells had
proceeded. He spurred his horse and rode rapidly away from the voices,
with the villainous dog close at his heels.

The timber was so close, the darkness was so dense, and the overhanging
boughs were so troublesome, that Wilder did not make such progress as
he wished to make, and he knew that his pursuers were gaining on him.
The dog would keep them on the trail, in spite of the darkness, and it
was evident that they must overtake him, unless fortune should favor
him in some way.

It was with great joy, therefore, that he emerged from the forest, and
found himself on a level plain, unbroken by tree or shrub. The dog
was still barking at his heels; but he felt that he could now easily
distance his pursuers, and with a shout of triumph, he gave his horse
the spur, and galloped furiously away.

He had kept up this headlong pace but a few minutes, when his horse
suddenly stopped, with his fore feet planted on the verge of a
precipice, and stood still as a stone, trembling all over with fear.

Wilder, carried on by the momentum which he had acquired from the rapid
motion of his horse, did not participate in this sudden stoppage, but
was thrown violently forward over the head of the animal. He felt
himself falling swiftly through the air; then his breath left him, and
he knew no more.

George Benning thought himself compelled to remain with the Crows until
he could learn the intentions of Bad Eye, their chief. He was confident
that the Blackfeet warriors would return from their pursuit with Flora
Robinette, if not with Silverspur and his red companion. He must look
for Flora among them, and, as he could not expect to effect any thing
alone, he was obliged to seek the aid of the Crows.

Bad Eye expressed, and appeared to feel, a great interest in Benning’s
enterprise, but was in no haste to afford him such aid as he desired.
He frequently declared his belief that Silverspur (whose name had
become really hateful to George Benning) would not fail to accomplish
any thing that he undertook, and that the girl was probably safe,
if she had not been carried to her friends. But the scalp of the
white-haired chief, he said, should not dry in the lodges of the
Blackfeet, and sooner or later he would wrest that trophy from them.

Although this promise had been often made, the chief seemed to be in
no hurry to keep it, and Benning, discouraged and out of patience,
had resolved to leave the village, when Bad Eye at last yielded to his
importunities. A war-party was dispatched to the Blackfoot village,
with orders to attack if a fair opportunity should present itself. One
of the first of the Crow warriors headed the expedition, and Benning
accompanied it as a volunteer.

The Blackfoot village was found to be deserted, its occupants having
removed further to the north. The Crows followed the trail, and
discovered that the village had been united with another, and that the
combined force was too formidable to justify an attack. After hovering
a few days in the vicinity, during which time they captured some
Blackfeet women, and ran off some horses, the Crows returned to their
own village, to avoid reprisals from their enemies.

The chief and George Benning questioned the prisoners, and learned from
them that the former had been correct in his surmises concerning the
escape of Silverspur and the safety of Flora Robinette. Their warriors
had returned from the pursuit, the women said, after suffering great
losses. They had followed the fugitives into the mountains, and had
nearly overtaken them, when they were stopped at a narrow pass, which
was obstinately defended by Silverspur. They were at last obliged to
send a party around to turn his position, when he had decamped. They
then followed the trail a considerable distance, but at last gave up
the pursuit in despair, and returned to mourn their losses. As for the
scalp of the white-haired chief, they had danced over it; but it was
not drying in any Blackfoot lodge. It had disappeared; no one knew what
had become of it, and the heart of Good Ax was very hot.

Thoroughly convinced that Silverspur had accomplished the object upon
which his own heart had been set, and grieved that he had uselessly
spent so much time among the Crows, Benning decided to set out at once
to join Flora. Whatever his feelings toward Wilder might be, he could
not doubt that Flora had requested him to convey her to the place which
her father had appointed as a rendezvous, and that he would faithfully
obey her request. Benning had no fear that his supposed rival would
act toward Flora otherwise than as a gentleman and a true friend; but
therein lay the peril of his own hopes. Wilder was so evidently a
gentleman, and had had such a splendid opportunity to prove himself
a friend! Flora could not fail to be touched by his chivalry and
devotion, and, if he should press his suit, it was not to be supposed
that she could have the heart to refuse him, especially as Benning had
never declared his love.

In this mood the young partisan had bid farewell to Bad Eye, and was
about to leave the country of the Crows, when there was an arrival
at the village, the new-comers being Mr. Martin Laurie and a band of
trappers.

Benning was greatly surprised to see the agent at that time and place,
and Laurie was no less surprised at meeting the partisan.

“I was afraid you were dead,” said the Scotchman. “I heard nothing
of you, and all of us supposed that you had been rubbed out by the
red-skins.”

“Not yet,” coolly replied Benning, who was suspicious of the Scotchman,
and felt unwilling to give him any information until he could learn
what his intentions were.

“Have you been able to do any thing for Miss Flora?”

“Nothing at all.”

Laurie, to whom Flora had now become a secondary object to the
possession of her father’s scalp, here dropped the subject, which he
found Benning quite willing to avoid. He was shrewd enough to guess
that the young partisan would not be so cool and unexcited about the
matter, unless he knew that Flora was safe. If she was safe, and
Benning was remaining quietly among the Crows, it was reasonable to
suppose that the young lady was not far off. Laurie had as yet heard
nothing to move him from the belief that a party of Crows had made the
night-attack upon Mr Robinette’s encampment, and he was still convinced
that Flora was to be found among them. Benning doubtless knew where she
was; but he was not rich enough to buy her from them, or influential
enough to insure them immunity for the outrage. If the Crows had
Flora, it was probable that they also had the scalp of Paul Robinette.
The way seemed clear to Martin Laurie, who soon left the young man,
and hastened to the lodge of the chief, for the purpose of opening
negotiations.

George Benning had been led to quite different conclusions, which were
as groundless as those of Laurie. When we reason upon false premises,
the reasoning can not fail to deceive. Convinced that Silverspur
had taken Flora to the rendezvous, he saw, from the light and easy
manner in which Laurie mentioned her, that he knew of her safety and
had seen her. It was evident to him that the shrewd Scotchman wished
him to remain ignorant of her rescue, in order that he might be kept
away from her as long as possible. He could not help smiling at the
shortsightedness of Laurie, in expecting to conceal the truth from him,
when he could so easily learn it from the trappers whom he had brought
from the rendezvous.

He went among them to satisfy himself, but was doomed to
disappointment. None of the men who came with Laurie had been at the
rendezvous while Silverspur was there, and they knew nothing about him.
Consequently they were unable to understand the hints which Benning
(not wishing to ask openly about Flora) threw out concerning that
person.

At last he was compelled to ask them openly whether Flora had reached
the rendezvous, and the answers that he received were decidedly in the
negative. None had seen her, none knew any thing about her, and all
were sure that Laurie was as ignorant as themselves.

Benning could not help believing the statements of the trappers,
except so far as they related to Laurie’s ignorance, on which point he
reserved a doubt. Whatever he might think of Silverspur, he was sure
that he was not a man whom Martin Laurie could buy. It was possible,
however, that the Scotchman might have convinced him of the justness of
his claim upon Flora, and that Silverspur had given her up, in which
case Laurie had concealed her for purposes of his own. Filled with this
thought, the young man hastened to seek Laurie, and met him as he was
coming out of the chief’s lodge, looking crestfallen and indignant.

As both were angry, they gave utterance to their thoughts with less
coolness than had marked their first interview.

“I think we had better have an understanding, Mr. Benning,” said Laurie.

“I have come here for the purpose of having an understanding with you.
I want to know what crooked purpose has brought you to this place.”

“Don’t be angry, my young friend. It will be to your interest to keep
on the right side of me, and I am sure that you will gain nothing by
flying into a passion. I don’t know why you should impute crooked
purposes to me.”

“I supposed, from the way you spoke about Miss Robinette, that she was
safe at the rendezvous.”

“I don’t know how she should have got there. I supposed, from your
manner of speaking, that she was safe here, among the Crows; but the
old chief tells me that she has not been here. He says that none of his
people have ever attacked any party of white men, and that no white
scalps have been brought into the village.”

“Did he tell you nothing more?” asked Benning, as the Scotchman paused.

“He said that he had learned that they were Blackfeet who made the
attack upon our camp, and that he had no doubt that Miss Flora had been
carried off by them.”

“Was that all?”

“That was all. I am afraid that the old rascal has been lying to me.
Can you tell me whether he spoke the truth?”

“I suppose he did,” replied Benning, wondering at the reticence of Bad
Eye. “He ought to know whether his own people are clear.”

“He may know, but may be unwilling to speak the truth. Come, Benning; I
am convinced that you know more about this matter than you are ready to
tell. We are in the same boat, and you will lose nothing by rowing with
me. Do you know any thing about Miss Flora?”

“First answer me a question or two, and then I will tell you what I
know.”

“Shoot them out.”

“Will you promise to answer them truly?”

“I will, so help me God!”

“Do you know a man named Fred Wilder, whom the Indians call Silverspur?”

“Yes.”

“Has he been at the rendezvous lately?”

“Yes.”

“Did he not bring Miss Flora with him?”

“Miss Flora? No, indeed. Why do you ask such a question?”

“Did he say nothing about her?”

“Nothing at all. He remained with us a few days, and then went away
with a stray Indian.”

“Of what tribe was the Indian?”

“I think he was a Blackfoot.”

“It is plain enough now. I feared as much. We have both been cheated,
and Silverspur has carried off the prize.”

Benning then related his own adventures, and what he knew of those of
Flora, winding up his account by declaring that he had had no doubt
that the young lady had arrived safely at the rendezvous, until Laurie
had convinced him to the contrary. Both agreed in thinking it very
strange that Wilder had not spoken of Flora at the rendezvous, and
could only attribute his silence to the intention of foul play.

“The old chief told me the truth; then,” remarked Laurie, “and the
Blackfeet were the rascals who stampeded our camp. Do you think it
likely that that young chap, when he stole Miss Flora away from them,
would also have carried off the old man’s scalp?”

“Of course not. That is a strange question to ask.”

“To tell you the truth, Benning, I am interested in obtaining that
scalp. If you can manage to get it for me, by trading or in any other
way, I will resign my claim to Flora in your favor.”

“Of what use can the scalp be to you?” asked Benning, thinking that the
agent had suddenly become very generous.

“If you had known Paul Robinette as well as I knew him, you would have
known that he had some very queer points. One of his queer points was
the fear that he would be scalped. He could not bear to think that
his scalp should dry in an Indian lodge. He made me promise him most
solemnly that if he should be killed, I would recover his scalp, and he
gave me three thousand dollars as a fund to be applied to that purpose.
I have no need of the money, but I am a man of my word, George Benning,
and I will gladly transfer the amount to you if you will carry out the
wish of my old friend, and will deliver the scalp to me. As for Flora,
I don’t suppose that I am giving you much in that quarter. The desire
of her father would weigh with her, no doubt, and I have told you what
that was; but the young are not likely to mate with the old.”

“Nor the eagle with the buzzard,” thought Benning; but he did not put
his thought into words. It seemed to him that the Scotchman was rather
too generous, and he was silent, wondering what motive had urged this
strange proposition.

As he stood there, looking at Laurie, he felt a hand laid on his
shoulder. He turned, and was confronted by the Crow chief.

“I have heard the talk of my white friends,” he said. “They seem to
think that Silverspur is a bad man; but I know him. The sun may rise
in the west some day. When it does so, I may believe that the ways of
Silverspur are crooked; but not until then. In what direction did he go
after leaving the rendezvous?”

“I heard that he recrossed the mountains by way of the South Pass,”
replied Laurie. “He was seen traveling toward the south.”

“To the country of the Cheyennes, or the Arapahoes, or perhaps further.
Wherever he is, he can be found. Bad Eye has said that the scalp of the
white-haired chief shall not remain in a Blackfoot lodge, and the words
of Bad Eye are not wind. Let my young friend stay with me. As for you,
Red Hair, your tongue is not straight, and your talk does not please
me.”

Martin Laurie, rebuffed by the Crow chief, left the village in high
dudgeon, and George Benning remained, waiting impatiently for the
development of Bad Eye’s intentions.

Fred Wilder, after his involuntary leap, remained a long time
insensible. When he awoke, he thought that he might as well have
remained insensible. It was so dark that he could not see what sort of
a place he was in. If he had seen, he could have not explored it, as he
soon discovered that he was unable to move. He knew that his left leg
was broken, and he feared that his left arm was as badly injured. He
felt bruised and sore all over; but that was nothing; the wonder was
that he was alive.

As he could not get away, he tried to resign himself to his situation;
but the more he reflected upon it, the less resigned he became. The
Indians, believing that he had been killed by the fall, would surely
come to seek him as soon as it was light, and it would be impossible
for him to escape. All his peril and suffering would be for nothing, as
he would at last fall into their hands an unresisting victim.

Hours of darkness must have an end. Light will come, though suffering
does not cease. Daylight came to Fred Wilder; but he could not feel
that he ought to be thankful for it, as it would bring his enemies in
search of him. It enabled him to see the location into which his lot
and his body had fallen.

On one side was a precipice, so lofty that he shuddered as he thought
of his fearful fall from its brink. Just around him was a green and
grassy spot, upon the soft turf of which he had fallen. The grass
stretched toward the east, until it melted into the prairie. In all
other directions were ragged and rocky hills, beyond which towered
grand mountain ranges.

It was near the head of a ravine that the young man had fallen. A
crystal spring bubbled up near him, and its plentiful waters formed a
little stream, that ran laughing down the ravine. By the side of the
stream, a few steps from the wounded man, lay the body of the Indian
dog that had been the cause of his trouble. Wilder smiled grimly as he
looked at the dead animal.

“You are dead, then, you miserable little wretch,” he said. “There must
be what my old tutor used to call a providential dispensation in this.
I, who was the heaviest, have fallen upon a soft spot, and am alive.
You, who were the lightest, and the most likely to survive the fall,
struck your head upon a stone, and dashed out your wretched brains.
It follows, that you were in the wrong, and I was in the right. Your
death is a judgment upon you for having given me an overdose of bark.
Ah, well! I ought not to exult over you, as my fix will be worse than
yours.”

Having seen all that was within the range of his vision, Wilder had
nothing to do but to make himself as easy as possible, and to wait for
the coming of the Indians. This was unpleasant occupation, and he soon
fretted himself into such a weak and feverish state, that he fainted.

When he again opened his eyes, a rare vision greeted them. By his side
stood an Indian girl, who seemed to him, at that moment, the most
beautiful creature he had ever seen.

Her features were perfect, and her complexion was a delicate brunette,
very different from that of any forest maiden he had yet seen. She
had not the high cheek-bones peculiar to the aboriginal race, and her
nose was decidedly of the Grecian order. Her hair, too, though black
as the raven’s wing, was wavy, with a strong inclination to curl. Her
lips were rosy and rich, and there was an evident dimple on her chin;
but her large brown eyes, as they were opened to their widest, with
an expression of amazement and compassion, were to Wilder her most
wonderful feature.

He ran over these particulars with an artistic eye; but he had only an
instant to observe them, as the girl uttered a little startled scream
when he looked up at her, and turned to fly.

He called to her, in the Dahcotah dialect, as loudly as his weak state
would permit him to call; but his voice was very feeble. She stopped,
and after a little hesitation, came to him.

“I am wounded,” he said. “I fell from the top of that cliff last night,
and am badly hurt. I can not move.”

This appeal was sufficient to excite the sympathy of the girl. Telling
Wilder that she would soon return, she hastened away.

Within half an hour–though it seemed much longer to Wilder, who was
anxious to see her again, and who feared that the Indians might arrive
before she returned–she came back, accompanied by two men. One of
these was a negro, and the other was an old Indian, whose hair was as
white as snow, and whose face and hands and garments were painted with
strange devices.

They brought with them a sort of litter, upon which the wounded man was
laid very carefully and tenderly. The negro carrying one end of the
litter, and the old man and the girl the other, they ascended a steep
hill, and, after winding in and out among the rocks, came to a lodge,
made of skins stretched upon poles, at the foot of the cliff. They
entered the lodge, and Wilder saw nothing more. His rough journey had
exhausted him, and he fainted.

When he again awoke, he found himself in a dark apartment, lying upon a
couch of furs. From what the darkness permitted him to see, he judged
that the apartment was a cavern, or a portion of a cavern; but he was
not able to form any opinion of its shape or size.

He heard voices near him, which he believed to be those of the old
Indian and the girl; but he could see no one, and he concluded that
they were in another room. They were talking in the Indian tongue, of
which he understood enough to enable him to follow their conversation.

“It shall be as you say, my child,” said the old man; “but if I do this
thing, you must promise me that you will not leave me while I live.”

“You know that I have no wish to leave you, my father; but I will
promise; only save the life of this white man. It must be him whom the
warriors were chasing last night, when there was such a noise in the
direction of the village. He was nearly killed by the fall from that
cliff.”

“I will dress his wounds, and we will take care of him.”

“But the warriors will seek for him this morning. They will go to the
spot where we found him, to see his body and to take his scalp. Not
finding him there, they will follow our trail, and will come here.”

“It is true. He must be hid.”

“But where can he be hid? He is too weak to be moved.”

“He shall remain where he is, in the sacred room, which the warriors
never enter. I will tell them that the white man was killed by his
fall, and that I buried him. I found a scalp upon him, which I will
give to the warriors, and I will tell them that it is his scalp.”

The old man drew from the breast of his robe the scalp of Paul
Robinette, and showed it to the girl, who shuddered as she looked at it.

“But that is a gray scalp,” she said, “and this is a young man.”

“The warriors had not seen him, José tells me, and they do not know
whether he is young or old.”

“But this is not a fresh scalp. It is old, and the warriors will know
that they are imposed upon.”

“I will tell them that I have dried it, and they will believe me.”

“They always believe you. I now believe that the young man will be
safe. Do you think that he took that scalp–that he killed the man to
whom it belonged?”

“Why not?”

“He looks too good to take scalps.”

“I am afraid that it is because of his looks that Dove-eye wishes to
save his life.”

“Listen, my father! The warriors are coming!”

When the question of the gray scalp was brought up, Wilder felt a very
lively interest in the conversation. The possession of that article
seemed to him, at the moment, of more importance than the preservation
of his life. He was about to speak to his red friends and to demand the
restoration of the trophy, when the announcement that the warriors were
coming compelled him to hold his peace.

The announcement was immediately followed by the arrival of a large
party of Indians, whom he could easily hear as they entered the lodge,
talking volubly in their own tongue. A curtain of skins was let fall
over the opening of the apartment in which he lay, and he was left in
total darkness.

Darkness was favorable to meditation, and he soon convinced himself
that it was for the best to let the scalp go. If the hair of Paul
Robinette could save his own, that was probably the best use it could
be put to. Besides, if the Indians should discover him, they would
take his own scalp and that of the old trader, and he would be none the
better off for having kept it.

A great jabbering was kept up in the outer room for a while; but the
warriors seemed to be satisfied, as they soon left, and the man and the
girl came to his couch.

After a little conversation, in which Wilder informed his friends that
he had overheard their plan for saving his life, and thanked them for
their successful efforts, the old Indian sent away the girl, and called
in the negro. An examination of Wilder’s wounds was then made, and the
old man, to his great astonishment, set the broken limb in very good
style. His leg was properly bandaged, his bruises were attended to, and
he soon felt quite comfortable. His situation was so much better than
it had been at night, when he was lying on the ground alone, in pain,
and in expectation of death at the hands of merciless savages, that
he felt that he could desire nothing more, except the company of the
beautiful Indian girl.

She soon came, and another came with her. The room was so dark that
Wilder could not see her face or that of her companion; but he was sure
that the latter was a woman.

“Perhaps he is sleeping, and we had better not disturb him,” said
Dove-eye, as she came in.

“Oh no! I must see him and speak to him.”

Surely Wilder knew that voice. There was no mistaking its low, but
clear and melodious tones.

“Flora! Miss Robinette!” he exclaimed. “Can it be you?”

“And who are you, sir? Is it Mr. Wilder?”

“It is what is left of him.”

“You are badly wounded. Perhaps it was in trying to assist me that you
were injured. Let me have some light, Dove-eye. I must see him.”

“My sister knows him,” said the Indian girl. “Perhaps she loves him.”

“He has been very good to me, Dove-eye; but he is no lover of mine.”

The curtain was removed from the opening, and Wilder was able to
distinguish the faces of his friends, who seated themselves at his
side. Flora Robinette expressed the deepest sympathy when he related
the manner in which he had been injured, and was hardly less anxious
concerning White Shield. In response to his questions, she gave an
account of her adventures since she had parted from him the mountains.
The Arapahoes had brought her to their village, where she had been seen
by Dove-eye, who had taken such a fancy to her, that she had begged the
old medicine-man to bring her to his lodge. As he was easily persuaded
by her, and as his influence was great in the tribe, the request was
granted, and Flora had since been the constant companion of Dove-eye.
A warm affection had sprung up between the two, and Flora, although a
captive, had become somewhat reconciled to her captivity, as she was
happy in the friendship of the Indian girl.

Wilder, whose thoughts and eyes had been wandering to Dove-eye while
Flora was speaking, thanked her for her kindness, and could not avoid
calling to Flora’s remembrance an expression which he had used in
conversation with her.

“Do you remember that I said to you, that if you happened to have a
sister, and she happened to be as beautiful as yourself, and a little
older, and not quite so highly civilized, I might fancy her? If
Dove-eye was your sister, my words would now be verified.”

“But we are sisters; are we not, Dove-eye?” said Flora, taking the hand
of her companion.

“We are sisters,” replied the Indian girl, looking down and blushing.

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