Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Joseph A. Altsheler > Great Sioux Trail: A Story of Mountain and Plain > This page

The Great Sioux Trail: A Story of Mountain and Plain, a novel by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 1. The Sioux Warning

Table of content
Next >

The scene cast a singular spell, uncanny and exciting, over young Clarke. The sweep of plains on one side, and on the other the dim outline of mountains behind which a blood-red sun was sinking, gave it a setting at once majestic and full of menace. The horizon, as the twilight spread over its whole surface, suggested the wilderness, the unknown and many dangers.

The drama passing before his eyes deepened and intensified his feeling that he was surrounded by the unusual. The fire burned low, the creeping dusk reached the edge of the thin forest to the right, and soon, with the dying of the flames, it would envelop the figures of both Sioux and soldiers. Will's gaze had roved from one to another, but now it remained fixed upon the chief, who was speaking with all the fire, passion and eloquence so often characteristic of the great Indian leaders. He was too far away to hear the words, as only the officers of the troop were allowed at the conference, but he knew they were heavy with import, and the pulses in his temples beat hard and fast.

"Who is the Indian chief?" he said to Boyd, the scout and hunter, who stood by his side. "He seems to be a man."

"He is," replied Boyd with emphasis. "He's a man, and a great man, too. That's Red Cloud, the war chief of the Ogalala Sioux, Mahpeyalute, they call him in their language, one of the bravest warriors that ever lived, and a thinker, as well. If he'd been born white he'd be governor of a big state by this time, and later on he might become president of 'em all."

"I've heard of him. He's one of our most dangerous enemies."

"So he is, Will. It's because he thinks we're going to spread over the Sioux country--in which he's right--and not because he hates us as men. I've known him in more peaceful times, and we've done each other good turns, but under that black hair of his beats a brain that can look far ahead and plan. He means to close to us the main trail through the Sioux country, and the Sioux range running halfway across the continent, and halfway from Canada to Mexico. Mountain and plain alike are theirs."

"I can't keep from having a certain sympathy with him, Jim. It's but natural that they should want to keep the forests and the great buffalo ranges."

"I share their feelings, too, though white I am, and to the white people I belong. I hate to think of the continent ploughed into fields everywhere, and with a house always in sight. Anyhow, it won't happen in my time, because in the west here there are so many mountains and the Sioux and Cheyennes are so warlike that the plough will have a hard time getting in."

"And the country is so vast, too. But watch Red Cloud. He points to the west! Now he drops his hand, doubles his fist and stretches his arm across the way. What does it mean, Jim?"

"It's a gesture telling Captain Kenyon that the road is barred to soldiers, settlers, hunters, all of us. Far to the south we may still follow the gold trails to California, but here at the edge of this mighty wilderness we must turn back. The nations of the Dakota, whom we call the Sioux, have said so."

Mahpeyalute lowered his arm, which he had thrust as a barrier across the way, but his fist remained clenched, and raising it he shook it again. The sun had sunk over the dim mountains in the north and the burning red there was fading. All the thin forest was clothed now in dusk, and the figure of the chief himself grew dimmer. Yet the twilight enlarged him and lent to him new aspects of power and menace. As he made his gesture of defiance, young Clarke, despite his courage, felt the blood grow chill in his veins. It seemed at the moment in this dark wilderness that the great Indian leader had the power to make good his threats and close the way forever to the white race.

The other Indians, ten in number, stood with their arms folded, and they neither stirred nor spoke. But they listened with supreme attention to every word of their redoubtable champion, the great Mahpeyalute. Will knew that the Sioux were subdivided into nations or tribes, and he surmised that the silent ones were their leaders, although he knew well enough that Red Cloud was an Ogalala, and that the Ogalalas were merely one of the Tetons who, federated with the others, made up the mighty Sioux nation. But the chief, by the force of courage and intellect, had raised himself from a minor place to the very headship.

Red Cloud was about fifty years old, and, while at times he wore the white man's apparel, at least in part, he was now clothed wholly in Indian attire. A blanket of dark red was looped about his shoulders, and he carried it with as much grace as a Roman patrician ever wore the toga. His leggings and moccasins of fine tanned deerskin were decorated beautifully with beads, and a magnificent war bonnet of feathers, colored brilliantly, surmounted his thick, black hair.

He was truly a leader of wild and barbaric splendor in surroundings that fitted him. But it was not his tall, powerful figure nor his dress that held Will's gaze. It was his strong face, fierce, proud and menacing, like the sculptured relief of some old Assyrian king, and in very truth, with high cheek bones and broad brow, he might have been the reincarnation of some old Asiatic conqueror.

The young officer seemed nervous and doubtful. He switched the tops of his riding boots with a small whip, and then looked into the fierce eyes of the chief, as if to see that he really meant what he said. Kenyon was fresh from the battlefields of the great civil war, where he had been mentioned specially in orders more than once for courage and intelligence, but here he felt himself in the presence of an alarming puzzle. His mission was to be both diplomat and warrior. He was not sure where the duties of diplomat ceased and those of warrior began.

Meanwhile his protagonist, the Indian chief, had no doubt at all about his own intentions and was stating them with a clearness that could not be mistaken. Captain Kenyon continued to switch his boot uneasily and to take a nervous step back and forth, his figure outlined against the fire. Young Clarke felt a certain sympathy for him, placed without experience in a situation so delicate and so full of peril.

The Ogalala stopped talking and looked straight at the officer, standing erect and waiting, as if he expected a quick answer, and only the kind of answer, too, that he wished. Meanwhile there was silence, save for an occasional crackle of burning wood.

Both young Clarke and the hunter, Boyd, felt with all the intensity of conviction that it was a moment charged with fate. The white people had come from the Atlantic to the great plains, but the mighty Sioux nation now barred the way to the whole Northwest, it was not a barrier to be passed easily. Will, as he said, understood, too, the feelings of Mahpeyalute. Had he been an Ogalala like the chief he would have felt as the Ogalala felt. Yet, whatever happened, he and Boyd meant to go on, because they had a mission that was calling them all the time.

The Captain at last said a few words, and Red Cloud, who had been motionless while he waited, took from under his blanket a pipe with a long curved stem. Will was surprised. He knew something of Indian custom, but he had not thought that the fierce Ogalala chief would propose to smoke a pipe of peace at a time like the present. Nor was any such thought in the mind of Red Cloud. Instead, he suddenly struck the stem of the pipe across the trunk of a sapling, breaking it in two, and as the bowl fell upon the ground he put his foot upon it, shattering it. Then, raising his hand in a salute to Captain Kenyon, he turned upon his heel and walked away, all the other Indians following him without a word. At the edge of the thin forest they mounted their ponies and rode out of sight in the darkness.

Captain Kenyon stood by the fire, gazing thoughtfully into the dying coals, while the troopers, directed by the sergeants, were spreading the blankets for the night. Toward the north, where the foothills showed dimly, a wolf howled. The lone, sinister note seemed to arouse the officer, who gave some orders to the men and then turned to meet the hunter and the lad.

"I've no doubt you surmised what the Indian meant," he said to Boyd.

"I fancy he was telling you all the trails through the Northwest were closed to the white people," said the hunter.

"Yes, that was it, and his warning applied to hunters, scouts and gold-seekers as well as settlers. He told me that the Sioux would not have their hunting grounds invaded, and the buffalo herds on which they live destroyed."

"What he told you, Captain, is in the heart of every warrior of their nation. The Northern Cheyennes, a numerous and warlike tribe, feel the same way, also. The army detachments are too few and too scattered to hold back the white people, and a great and terrible war is coming."

"At least," said Captain Kenyon, "I must do my duty as far as I may. I can't permit you and your young friend, Mr. Clarke, to go into the Sioux country. The Indian chief, Red Cloud, showed himself to be a fierce and resolute man and you would soon lose your lives."

Will's face fell, but the hunter merely shrugged his great shoulders.

"But you'll permit us to pass the night in your camp, Captain?" he said.

"Of course. Gladly. You're welcome to what we have. I'd not drive anybody away from company and fire."

"We thank you, Captain Kenyon," said Will warmly. "It's a genuine pleasure to us to be the guests of the army when we're surrounded by such a wilderness."

Their horses were tethered nearby with those of the troop, and securing their blankets from their packs they spread them on dead leaves near the fire.

"You'll take breakfast with us in the morning," said Captain Kenyon hospitably, "and then I'll decide which way to go, and what task we're to undertake. I wish you'd join us as scout, hunter and guide, Mr. Boyd. We need wisdom like yours, and Mr. Clarke could help us, too."

"I've been independent too long," replied the hunter lightly. "I've wandered mountain and plain so many years at my own free will that I couldn't let myself be bound now by military rules. But I thank you for the compliment, just the same, Captain Kenyon."

He and Will Clarke lay down side by side with their feet to the fire, their blankets folded about them rather closely, as the air, when the night advanced and the coals died completely, was sure to grow cold. Will was troubled, as he was extremely anxious to go on at once, but he reflected that Jim Boyd was one of the greatest of all frontiersmen and he would be almost sure to find a way. Summoning his will, he dismissed anxiety from his mind and lay quite still, seeking sleep.

The camp was now quiet and the fire was sinking rapidly. Sentinels walked on every side, but Will could not see them from where he lay. A light wind blowing down from the mountains moaned through the thin forest. Clouds came up from the west, blotting out the horizon and making the sky a curving dome of blackness. Young William Clarke felt that it was good to have comrades in the immense desolation, and it strengthened his spirit to see the soldiers rolled in their blankets, their feet to the dying coals.

Yet his trouble about the future came back. He and Boyd were in truth and reality prisoners. Captain Kenyon was friendly and kind, but he would not let them go on, because the Sioux and Cheyennes had barred all the trails and the formidable Red Cloud had given a warning that could not be ignored. Making another effort, he dismissed the thought a second time and just as the last coals were fading into the common blackness he fell asleep.

He was awakened late in the night by a hand pushing gently but insistently against his shoulder. He was about to sit up abruptly, but the voice of Boyd whispered in his ear:

"Be very careful! Make no noise! Release yourself from your blanket and then do what I say!"

The hand fell away from his shoulder, and, moving his head a little, Clarke looked carefully over the camp. The coals where the fire had been were cold and dead, and no light shone there. The figures of the sleeping soldiers were dim in the dusk, but evidently they slept soundly, as not one of them stirred. He heard the regular breathing of those nearest to him, and the light step of the sentinel just beyond a clump of dwarf pines.

"Sit up now," whispered Boyd, "and when the sentinel passes a little farther away we'll creep from the camp. Be sure you don't step on a stick or trip over anything. Keep close behind me. The night's as black as pitch, and it's our one chance to escape from friends who are too hospitable."

Will saw the hunter slowly rise to a stooping position, and he did likewise. Then when the sound of the sentinel's step was lost at the far end of his beat, Boyd walked swiftly away from the camp and Will followed on his trail. The lad glanced back once, and saw that the dim figures by the dead fire did not stir. Weary and with the soothing wind blowing over them, they slept heavily. It was evident that the two who would go their own way had nothing to fear from them. There was now no bar to their departure, save the unhappy chance of being seen by the sentinel.

A rod from the camp and Boyd lay flat upon the ground, Will, without the need of instruction, imitating him at once. The sentinel was coming back, but like his commander he was a soldier of the civil war, used to open battlefields, and he did not see the two shadows in the dusk. He reached the end of his beat and turning went back again, disappearing once more beyond the stunted pines.

"Now's our time," whispered Boyd, and rising he walked away swiftly but silently, Will close behind him. Three hundred yards, and they stopped by the trunk of a mountain oak.

"We're clear of the soldiers now," said the hunter, "but we must have our horses. Without 'em and the supplies they carry we'd be lost. I don't mean anything against you, Will. You're a likely lad and you learn as fast as the best of 'em, but it's for me to cut out the horses and bring 'em here. Do you think you can wait patiently at this place till I come with 'em?"

"No, Jim, I can't wait patiently, but I can wait impatiently. I'll make myself keep still."

"That's good enough. On occasion I can be as good a horse thief as the best Sioux or Crow or Cheyenne that ever lived, only it's our own horses that I'm going to steal. They've a guard, of course, but I'll slip past him. Now use all your patience, Will."

"I will," said the lad, as he leaned against the trunk of the oak. Then he became suddenly aware that he no longer either saw or heard Boyd. The hunter had vanished as completely and as silently as if he had melted into the air, but Will knew that he was going toward the thin forest, where the horses grazed or rested at the end of their lariats.

All at once he felt terribly alone. He heard nothing now but the moaning of the wind that came down from the far mountains. The camp was gone, Boyd was gone, the horses were invisible, and he was the only human being in the gigantic and unknown Northwest. The air felt distinctly colder and he shivered a little. It was not fear, it was merely the feeling that he was cut off from the race like a shipwrecked sailor on a desert island. He took himself metaphorically by the shoulders and gave his body a good shake. Boyd would be coming back soon with the horses, and then he would have the best of comradeship.

But the hunter was a long time in returning, a half hour that seemed to Will a full two hours, but at last, when he had almost given him up, he heard a tread approaching. He had experience enough to know that the sound was made by hoofs, and that Boyd was successful. He realized now, so great was his confidence in the hunter's skill, that failure had not entered his mind.

The sound came nearer, and it was made by more than one horse. Then the figure of the hunter appeared in the darkness and behind him came four horses, the two that they rode, and the extra animals for the packs.

"Splendidly done!" exclaimed the lad. "But I knew you could do it!"

"It was about as delicate a job as I ever handled," said Boyd, with a certain amount of pride in his tone, "but by waiting until I had a good chance I was able to cut 'em out. It was patience that did it. I tell you, lad, patience is about the greatest quality a man can have. It's the best of all winners."

"I suppose that's the reason, Jim, it's so hard to exercise it at times. Although I had nothing to do and took none of the risk, it seemed to me you were gone several hours."

Boyd laughed a little.

"It proves what I told you," he said, "but we want to get away from here as quick as we can now. You lead two of the horses, I'll lead the other two, and we won't mount for a while yet. I don't think they can hear us at the camp, but we won't give 'em a chance to do so if we can help it."

He trod a course straight into the west, the ground, fortunately, being soft and the hoofs of the horses making but little sound. Although the darkness hung as thick and close as ever, the skillful woodsman found the way instinctively, and neither stumbled nor trod upon the fallen brushwood. Young Clarke, just behind him, followed in his tracks, also stepping lightly and he knew enough not to ask any questions, confident that Boyd would take them wherever they wished to go.

It was a full two hours before the hunter stopped and then they stood on a low hill covered but thinly with the dwarfed trees of that region. The night was lightening a little, a pallid moon and sparse stars creeping out in the heavens. By the faint light young Clarke saw only a wild and rugged country, low hills about them and in the north the blur that he knew to be mountains.

"We can stand up straight now and talk in our natural voices," said Boyd, in a clear, full tone, "and right glad I am, too. I hate to steal away from friends, as if you were running from the law. That Captain Kenyon is a fine fellow, though he and his men don't know much about this wild country."

"Isn't this about the same direction that Red Cloud and his warriors took?" asked Will.

"Not far from it, but we won't run into 'em. They're miles and miles ahead. There's a big Sioux village two or three days' journey farther on, and it's a certainty that their ponies are headed straight for it."

"And we won't keep going for the same village?"

The big hunter laughed infectiously.

"Not if we know what is good for us," he replied, "and we think we do. Our trail leads far to the north of the Sioux town, and, when we start again, we'll make an abrupt change in our course. There's enough moonlight now for you to see the face of your watch, and tell me the time, Will."

"Half-past one, Jim."

"And four or five hours until morning. We'll move on again. There's a chance that some pursuing soldier might find us here, one chance in a thousand, so to speak, but slim as it is it is well to guard against it. Mount your horse. There's no reason now why we shouldn't ride."

Will sprang gladly into the saddle, leading his pack-animal by the lariat, and once more followed Boyd, who rode down the hill into a wide and shallow valley, containing a scattered forest of good growth. Boyd's horse raised his head suddenly and neighed.

"What does that mean?" asked Will, startled. "Sioux?"

"No," replied the hunter. "I know this good and faithful brute so well that he and I can almost talk together. I've learned the meaning of every neigh he utters and the one you have just heard indicates that he has smelled water. In this part of the world water is something that you must have on your mind most of the time, and his announcement is welcome."

"If there's a stream, do we camp by it?"

"We certainly do. We won't turn aside from the luck that fortune puts in our way. We're absolutely safe from the soldiers now. They can't trail us in the night, and we've come many miles."

They descended a long slope and came into the valley, finding the grass there abundant, and, flowing down the centre, a fine brook of clear cold water, from which horses and horsemen drank eagerly. Then they unsaddled and prepared for rest and food.

"Is there no danger here from the Sioux?" asked Will.

"I think not," replied the hunter. "I've failed to find a pony track, and I'm quite sure I saw a buck among the trees over there. If the Indians had passed this way there would have been no deer to meet our eyes, and you and I, Will, my lad, will take without fear the rest we need so much."

"I see that the brook widens and deepens into a pool a little farther on, and as I'm caked with dust and dirt I think I'll take a bath."

"Go ahead. I've never heard that a man was less brave or less enduring because he liked to keep clean. You'll feel a lot better when it's done."

Will took off his clothes and sprang into the pool which had a fine, sandy bottom. The chill at once struck into his marrow. He had not dreamed that it was so cold. The hunter laughed when he saw him shivering.

"That water comes down from the high mountains," he said, "and a few degrees more of cold would turn it into ice. But splash, Will! Splash! and you'll feel fine!"

Young Clarke obeyed and leaped and splashed with great energy, until his circulation grew vigorous and warm. When he emerged upon the bank his whole body was glowing and he felt a wonderful exhilaration, both physical and mental. He ran up and down the bank until he was dry, and then resumed his clothing.

"You look so happy now that I'll try it myself," said Boyd, and he was soon in the water, puffing and blowing like a big boy. When he had resumed his deerskins it was almost day. A faint line of silver showed in the east, and above them the sky was gray with the coming dawn.

"I'll light a little fire and make coffee," said Boyd, "but the rest of the breakfast must be cold. Still, a cup of coffee on a chill morning puts life into a man."

Will, with the zeal characteristic of him, was already gathering dead brushwood, and Boyd soon boiled the grateful brown liquid, of which they drank not one cup but two each, helping out the breakfast with crackers and strips of dried beef. Then the pot and the cups were returned to the packs and the hunter carefully put out the fire.

"It's a good thing we loaded those horses well," he said, "because we'll need everything we have. Now you roll up in your blanket, Will, and get the rest of your sleep."

"And you feel sure there is no danger? I don't want to leave all the responsibility to you. I'd like to do what I can."

"Don't bother yourself about it. The range of the Sioux is farther west mostly, and it's not likely we could find a better place than this for our own little private camp."

The coming of a bright, crisp day removed from Will the feeling of desolation that the wilderness had created in his mind. Apprehension and loneliness disappeared with the blackness of the night. He was with one of the best scouts and hunters in the West, and the sun was rising upon a valley of uncommon beauty. All about him the trees grew tall and large, without undergrowth, the effect being that of a great park, with grass thick and green, upon which the horses were grazing in deep content. The waters of the brook sang a little song as they hurried over the gravel, and the note of everything was so strongly of peace that the lad, wearied by their flight and mental strain, fell asleep in a few minutes.

It was full noon when he awoke, and, somewhat ashamed of himself, he sprang up, ready to apologize, but the hunter waved a deprecatory hand.

"You didn't rest too long," said Boyd. "You needed it. As for me, I'm seasoned and hard, adapted by years of practice to the life I lead. It's nothing to me to pass a night without sleep, and to catch up later on. While you were lying there in your blanket I scouted the valley thoroughly, leaving the horses to watch over you. It's about two miles long and a mile broad. At the lower end the brook flows into a narrow chasm."

"What did you find in the valley itself, Jim?"

"Track of bear, deer, wolf and panther, but no sign of human being, white or red. It's certain that we're the only people in it, but if we need game we can find it. It's a good sign, showing that this part of the country has not been hunted over by the Indians."

"Before long we'll have to replenish our food supply with game."

"Yes, that's certain. We want to draw as little on our flour and coffee as we can. We can do without 'em, but when you don't have 'em you miss 'em terribly."

The stores had been heaped at the foot of a tree, while the pack horses, selected for their size and strength, nibbled at the rich grass. Will contemplated the little mound of supplies with much satisfaction. They had not started upon the path of peril without due preparation.

Each carried a breech-loading, repeating rifle of the very latest make, a weapon yet but little known on the border. In the packs were two more rifles of the same kind, two double-barreled, breech-loading shotguns, thousands of cartridges, several revolvers, two strong axes, medicines, extra blankets, and, in truth, everything needed by a little army of two on the march. Boyd, a man of vast experience in the wilderness, had selected the outfit and he was proud of its completeness.

"Don't you think, Jim," said young Clarke, "that you might take a little sleep this afternoon? You've just said that we've nothing to dread in the valley, and I can watch while you build yourself up."

Boyd gave him a quick but keen glance. He saw that the lad's pride was at stake, and that he was anxious to be trusted with an important task. Looking at his alert face, and knowing his active intellect, the hunter knew that he would learn swiftly the ways of the wilderness.

"A good idea," he said in tones seemingly careless. "I'll change my mind and take a nap. Wake me up if you see strange signs or think anything is going to happen."

Without further word he spread his blanket on the leaves and in a minute or two was off to slumberland. Will, full of pride, put his fine breech-loader over his shoulder and began his watch. The horses, having eaten their fill, were lying down in the grass, and his own nuzzled his hand as he stroked their noses.

He walked some distance among the trees, and he was impressed more and more by the resemblance of the valley to a great park, a park hitherto untrodden by man. Although he was not lonely or depressed now he felt very remote from civilization. The cities of the East, so far as his mind was concerned, were now on the other side of the world. The unknown, vast and interminable, had closed about him.

Yet he felt a momentary exultation. Boyd and he would find a path through every peril. His walk brought him back to the edge of the brook, where for a little space thick bushes grew, and he heard a snarling growl, followed by a rush that could be made only by a heavy body. He started violently, the pulses beat hard in his temples and he promptly presented his rifle. Then he laughed at himself. He caught a glimpse of a long, yellowish body and he knew it was a mountain lion, much more alarmed than he, and fleeing with all speed to the hills.

He must be steadier of nerve and he gave himself a stern rebuke. Farther down the valley the brook widened again into a deep pool, and in the water, as clear as silver, he saw fine mountain trout, darting here and there. If they stayed a day or two in the valley he would come and catch several of the big fellows, as they were well provided with fishing tackle, which Boyd said would be a great resource, saving much ammunition.

He went farther, and then climbed the hill which enclosed the valley on that side, obtaining from its crest a northern view of rolling plains, with the dim blue outline of the high mountains far beyond. He surmised that the group of hills in which they now lay was of limited area, and that when they continued their journey they must take once more to the plains, where they would be exposed to the view of roving Sioux. His heart throbbed as he looked over that great open expanse, and realized anew the danger. The pocket in the hills in which they lay was surely a safe and comfortable place, and one need be in no hurry to abandon it.

When he went back to the camp Boyd was just awakening, and as he looked at Will his eyes twinkled.

"Well, what did you find?" he asked. "Anything besides tracks of animals?"

"I found an animal himself," replied the lad. "I scared him up in the bushes at the brook's edge. It was a mountain lion and he ran away, just as I felt like doing at first."

The hunter laughed with genuine pleasure.

"I'm glad you kept down the feeling and didn't run," he said. "You'll get over such tremors in time. Everybody feels 'em, no matter how brave, unless he has a lot of experience. Now, since you've been scouting about, what do you think we ought to do?"

"I looked from a hill and saw open plains, extending maybe forty or fifty miles. Red Cloud and his men may have gone that way and I'm in favor of giving 'em a good start. Suppose we stay here another night and day and let 'em reach the mountains."

"Seems a good plan to me."

"Besides, there's some fish in a pool farther down that I want to catch."

"That settles it. We stay. Everything else must stand aside when a real fisherman wants to show what he can do."

Will took the fishing tackle from his pack, and returned in a short time with three splendid trout. It was now nearly sunset and Boyd thought it safe to build a fire after dark and cook the catch.

"I think there's no doubt that Red Cloud and his warriors are now a full day's journey ahead," he said, "but, as a wandering Indian might come into the valley, we'll take no more chances than we can help."

A low fire of dead sticks was lighted in a gulch, well screened by bushes, and the fish were broiled, proving very welcome, as they were the first warm food Will and Boyd had tasted since their flight from the troops. The hunter made coffee again, and they were well satisfied with their supper.

"It's a good idea to help ourselves out with as much fish and game as we can," he said, "and it's likely that we can find plenty of it up here. The horses, too, have had all the grass they want and we'll tether 'em for the night, though there's not one chance in a thousand that they'll wander from the valley. Animals have instinct, and if there's no powerful enemy near they always stay where food and water are to be had. I tell you what, Will, if a man could only have all his own senses coupled with those of a deer or a wolf, what a mighty scout and hunter he could be. Suppose you could smell a trail like a wolf, and then think about it like a man! Maybe men did have those powers a hundred thousand years ago."

"Maybe they did, Jim, but they didn't have rifles and all the modern weapons and tools that help us so much."

"You're right, Will. You can't have everything, all at the same time, and just now you and me are not so bad off, lying here comfortable and easy in our own particular valley, having just finished some fine trout that would have cost us four or five dollars in a fine New York restaurant, but for which we paid nothing."

"You don't have any fear that the troops will come after us and make us go back?"

"You can clear your mind of that trouble and keep it cleared. We're in the Indian country, and Captain Kenyon has orders to make no invasion. So he can't pursue. Missing us he'll just have to give us up as a bad job."

"Then we'll have only the Indians to guard against, and your opinion, Jim, that they're far ahead, seems mighty good to me. Perhaps we ought to stay three or four days here."

The hunter laughed.

"I see you're falling in love with the valley," he said, "but maybe you're right. It will depend on circumstances. To-morrow we'll get out those big field glasses of yours, go to the highest hill, and examine all the country."

"Suppose it should rain, Jim. Then we wouldn't think so much of our fine valley."

"Right you are, Will. But lucky for us, it doesn't rain much up here at this time of the year, and we can call ourselves safe on that score. Full night is at hand, and there isn't a cloud in the heavens. We'll both sleep, and build up our nerves and strength."

"Don't we need to keep a watch?"

"Not now, I think, at least not either of our two selves. That horse of mine, that I ride, Selim, is a sentinel of the first class. He's been with me so much and I've trained him so long that he's sure to give an alarm if anything alarming comes, though he'll pay no attention to small game, or even to a deer."

Selim was at the end of a long lariat about fifty feet away, and having eaten for a long time and having rested fully he had taken position as if he realized thoroughly his duties as watcher of the little camp. He was a powerful bay with brilliant, alert eyes that young Clarke saw shining through the dusk, and he walked slowly back and forth within the range allowed by his tether.

"Didn't I tell you?" said Boyd, with delight. "Look at him now, taking up his duties as a man. That horse can do everything but talk, and for that reason, while he does many wise things, he never says a foolish one. Doesn't he fill you chock full of confidence, Will?"

"He certainly does, Jim. I know he'll be a much better sentinel than I could make of myself. I'll go to sleep, sure that we'll be well protected."

Although the hunter found sleep soon, Will, who did not need it so badly, lay awake long and he was interested in watching Selim, who was justifying his master's praise. The horse, for all the world like a vigilant sentinel, walked back and forth, and whenever his head was turned toward the little camp the lad saw the great eyes shining.

"Good Selim!" he said to himself. "Good and watchful Selim!"

In all the immensity and loneliness of the wilderness he felt himself drawn to the animals, at least to those that were not beasts of prey. It was true not only of Selim but of the other horses that they could do everything but talk, and they were the best friends of Boyd and himself.

His trust in the sentinel now absolute, he followed Boyd into peaceful oblivion, and he did not come out of it until dawn. _

Read next: Chapter 2. The Narrow Escape

Table of content of Great Sioux Trail: A Story of Mountain and Plain


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book