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

Chapter 13. The Reward Of Merit

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While he was yet dizzy and the motes were flying in millions before his eyes, he heard shouts, and warriors came running, attracted by the sound of the shots. They cried out in amazement and delight at the monstrous grizzly lying slain upon the ground, and then turned to Xingudan to compliment him upon his achievement. But the old warrior spoke tersely:

"It was not I," said he, "it was Wayaka, who has now become Waditaka, who slew the great grizzly with a spear. Rarely has such a deed been done. The life of your chief, Xingudan, has been saved by a slave."

Will, who now understood Sioux well, heard every word and his heart began to beat. The motes ceased to dance before his eyes and the blood flowed back into his veins. It was a strange thing, but he had begun to acquire a liking for these Indians, savage and wild though they were, and, as he judged, so far removed from the white people that they came into contact with them but seldom. Perhaps a lucky chance, a valiant impulse, was about to put him on their social plane, that is, he might be raised from the condition of a slave to that of a freeman, free, at least, to go about the village as he pleased, and not to do the work of a menial.

Several of the young warriors turned to him and spoke their approval. The trace of a liking that had appeared in him had found a response in them. Friendship replies to friendship, and Will, who six months ago would have laughed at the endorsement of blanketed wild men, now felt a thrill of pleasure. But Xingudan as yet said little more. He pointed to the great bear and said:

"The skin belongs to Waditaka and Inmutanka. The flesh will be divided among the people."

Will and the old warrior, with the help of some of the young men, removed the monstrous hide. He did not care for any of the flesh, although he knew that the people would use large portions of it. Then he and Inmutanka scraped it carefully, and, when it was well cured until it was soft and flexible, they put it in their lodge, where it spread so far over the bark floor that they were compelled to roll it back partly, to keep it out of the fire in the centre. It was the finest trophy in the village, and many came to admire it.

"Rota was the largest that any of us has ever seen," said Inmutanka, "but the farther north we go the larger grow the great bears. Far up near the frozen seas it is said they are so large that they are almost as heavy as a buffalo. It is true, too, of Ta (the moose). Word comes out of the far north that he has been found there having the weight of at least three of our ponies."

Will did not doubt what Inmutanka said, but his interest in his words was due chiefly to the inferences he drew from them. Inmutanka spoke of the immensity of the bear because they were in the far north, and it was only another confirmation of his belief that the great march after he was taken captive had been made almost due north. They must be in some valley in the vast range of mountains that ran in an unbroken chain from the Arctic to the Antarctic, more than ten thousand miles. Perhaps they had gone much beyond the American line, and this was the last outlying village of the Sioux.

But he did not bother himself about it now, knowing that he could do nothing until next spring, as the snow fell heavily and almost continuously. It was three or four feet deep about the lodges and he knew that it lay in unmeasured depths in the passes. All the world was gleaming white, but the crests of the mountains were seldom visible, owing to the driving storms.

Plenty and cheerfulness prevailed in the village. Will had an idea that he was seeing savage life under the most favorable conditions. It was too true that the Indian coming in contact with the white man generally learned his vices and not his virtues, and too often forgot his own virtues also, until he became wholly bad. But this village, save for its firearms and metal tomahawks, was in much the same condition that other Indian villages must have been four or five hundred years earlier.

Old Xingudan ruled with the alternate severity and forbearance of a patriarch, and now he showed his kindly side to Will, treating him almost as one of their own young warriors. The "almost" was soon turned to a fact, as old Inmutanka formally adopted Will as his son with the ceremonies customary on such occasions, and he knew therefore that his struggle had been achieved at last, that he had now attained a plane of social equality with the Indians of the village.

Whatever it may have seemed six months before, it was no small triumph now. His task was chiefly in the making of arms, along with the other warriors, and he soon become the equal of any of them. He also practiced with them the throwing of the tomahawk at trees, in which he acquired wonderful dexterity. But his best work was done among the ponies. Often in jest he called himself the horse doctor of the camp. He had studied their ailments and he knew how to cure them, but above all was his extraordinary gift of reaching into the horse nature, a power, derived he knew not whence or how, of conveying to them the sympathy for them in his nature. They responded as human beings do to such a feeling, and, with a word and a sign, he could lead a whole herd from one field to another.

This power of his impressed the Sioux even more than his slaying of the monstrous grizzly bear with only a spear. It was a gift direct from Manitou, and they were proud that an adopted warrior of their village should have such a mysterious strength. Will knew now that he was no longer in danger of torture by fire or otherwise. Old Xingudan would not do it. Heraka, who was his superior chief, might return and command it, but Xingudan and the whole village would disobey. Moreover, he was now the adopted son of Inmutanka, a young Sioux warrior with all the rights of a Sioux, and the law forbade them to torture him or put him to death. And Indian laws were often better obeyed than white man's laws.

Xingudan kept his repeating rifle, his revolver and his field glasses, but a bow and arrows were permitted to him, and he learned to use them as well as any of the Indians. The valley and the slopes that were not too high and steep, afforded an extensive hunting range, despite the deep snow, and Will brought down with a lucky arrow a fine elk that made for him a position yet better in the village, as he and Inmutanka, his father, were entitled to the body, but instead divided at least half of it among the older and weaker men and women.

Despite the favor into which he had come, Will could learn nothing of his location or of the progress of the war between the great Sioux nation and the whites. Yet of the latter he had a hint. Just before the winter closed in on them finally, a young warrior, evidently a runner because he bore all the signs of having travelled far and fast, arrived in the valley. He was taken into the lodge of Xingudan and he departed the next morning with five of the young warriors of the village, the best men they had. When Will referred to their absence he received either no answer or an ambiguous one. Inmutanka himself would say nothing about them, but Will made a shrewd surmise that the runner had come for help in the great war and that the last and uttermost village would be stripped in the attempt to turn back the white tide.

His growing appreciation of wild life caused him to have an increasing feeling of sympathy for the Sioux. The white flood would engulf them some day. He knew that just as well as he knew that he was in the valley, but as for himself, he had no wish to see the buffalo disappear from the plains. If his own personal desires were consulted the west would remain a wilderness and a land of romance. It was pleasant to think that there was an immense region in which one could always discover a towering peak, a noble river or a splendid lake.

Adopted now into the tribe, and far from the battle line, he might have drifted on indefinitely with the Indians, but there was the memory of his white comrades, whom he could not believe dead, and also the mission upon which he had started, the hunt for the great mine which his father had found. The reasons why he should continue the search were overwhelming, and despite the kindness of Inmutanka and the others he meant to escape from them whenever he could.

The winter shut down fierce and hard. Will had never before known cold so intense and continuous. In the valley itself the snow lay deep and its surface was frozen hard, but the Indians moved over it easily on their snowshoes, the use of which Will learned with much pain and tribulation. The river was covered with ice of great thickness, but the Indians cut holes in it and caught many excellent fish, which added a pleasant variety to their diet.

One of their hardest struggles was to keep alive the herd of ponies. At the suggestion of Will and of Xingudan, who was a wise man beyond his race, much forage had been cut for them before the winter fell, and in the alcoves of the mountains where the snow was thin they were continually seeking grass, which grew despite everything. Will led in the work of saving the herd, and gradually he directed almost his whole time to it. He insisted upon gathering anything they could eat, even twigs, and Indian ponies are very tough. The young boys, the old men and the old women helped him and were directed by him.

Scarcely any young warriors were left in the village and Will's strength and intelligence fitted him for leadership. The weaker people began to rely upon him and, as he learned the ways of the wild and fused them with the ways of civilization, he became a great source of strength in the village. He wore a beautiful deerskin suit which several of the old women had made for him in gratitude for large supplies of food that he had given to them, and he had a splendid overcoat which Inmutanka and he had made of a buffalo robe.

The lodge of Inmutanka and Waditaka, who had once been known as Wayaka, became the most attractive in the village. Will lined the fire hole in the centre with stones, and in the roof he made a sort of flue which caused the vent to draw so much better that they were not troubled by smoke. He reinforced the bark floor with more bark, over which the great bear robe was spread on one side of the fire, while the other side was covered with the skins of smaller bears, wolves and wildcats. Many small articles of decoration or adornment hung about the walls. Inmutanka had been in the habit of shutting the door tightly at night, but as Will insisted upon leaving it open partly, no matter how bitter the weather, they always had plenty of fresh air and suffered from no colds. Will, too, insisted upon the utmost cleanliness and neatness, qualities in which the Indian does not always excel, and his example raised the tone of the village.

A period of very great cold came. Will reckoned that the mercury must be at least forty degrees below zero, and, for a week, the people scarcely stirred from their lodges. Then occurred the terrible invasion of the mountain wolves, the like of which the oldest man could not recall. Will and Inmutanka were awakened at dawn by a distant but ferocious whining.

"Wolves," said Inmutanka, "and they are hungry, but they will not attack a village."

He turned over in his warm buffalo robes and prepared to go to sleep again, but the whining grew louder and more ferocious, increasing to such an extent that Inmutanka became alarmed and went to the door. When he pulled back the flap yet farther the howling seemed very near and inexpressibly fierce.

"It is a great pack," said the old Sioux. "I have never before heard so many wolves howl together, and their voices are so big and fierce that they must be those of the great wolves of the northern mountains."

"They're going to attack the village," said Will. "I can tell that by the way they're coming on."

"It is so," said Inmutanka. "They run on the snow, which is frozen so deep that it can bear their weight."

Will threw on rapidly his deerskin suit, his buffalo overcoat and took down his bow and quiver of arrows. Inmutanka meanwhile beat heavily on a war drum, and in the bitter cold and darkness all who were able to fight poured out of the lodges, Xingudan at their head, carrying Will's rifle and revolver.

Several of the Indian women brought torches and held them aloft, casting vivid lines of red upon the frozen snow. From the great corral came frightened neighs and whinnies from the ponies, that knew a terrible foe was at hand. It was probably the ponies that would have been attacked first, but it was not in the character of the Sioux to stay in their lodges and let their animals be devoured. Valiantly, they had rushed forth to meet the most formidable wolf pack that had ever come out of the north, and by the light of the torches Will presently saw the great, gaunt, shadowy forms and the fiery eyes of the huge wolves which, driven by hunger, had boldly attacked a village.

It was impossible for him to estimate even their approximate numbers, but he believed they could not be less than several hundred. They hovered a while at the north side of the village, and then old Xingudan opened fire with the repeating rifle. Howling savagely, the wolves made their rush. The Indians who had rifles fired as fast as they could, but the bows, much more numerous, did the deadlier work. Will, remembering to keep his nerves steady, and standing by the side of his foster father, Inmutanka, sent arrow after arrow, generally at the throats of the wolves, and he rarely missed.

But the great pack, evidently driven by the fiercest hunger, did not give way for bullet or arrows. Huge slavering beasts, they pressed on continually. Two or three of the older men were pulled down and devoured before the very eyes of the people, and Will, who was rapidly shooting away his last arrows, felt himself seized by an immense horror. If the savage brutes should break through their line they would all be killed and eaten. Save for a rifle or two, time had turned back ten or twenty thousand years, when men fought continually with the great flesh-eaters for a place on earth.

Seized by an idea, he rushed to the center of the village where a great fire was burning, and snatched up a torch, calling to others to do likewise. It was the old squaws who were the quickest witted and they obeyed him at once. Twenty women held aloft the flaming wood, and they rushed directly in the faces of the wolves, which gave back as they had not given back before either rifle or arrow. Then the arrows sang in swarms, and the pack, fierce though its hunger might be, was unable to withstand more and fled.

Xingudan urged forward a pursuit. Will had exhausted his arrows, but an old warrior loaned him a long lance, and with it he slew two of the brutes which were now panic stricken. Yet the chief, like a good general, still pressed the fleeing horde, although the wolves turned once and another old man was killed. Inmutanka himself came very near losing his life, as a monster whirled and sprang for him, but Will received the throat of the wolf on the point of the lance, and although he was borne to the earth, the raging brute was killed instantly.

When the wintry dawn came, none of the great pack was left alive near the village. At least half were slain, and the others had scrambled away in some fashion among the mountains.

The village had escaped a great danger, but it rejoiced in victory. The old men, or what was left of them, were buried decently and then there was an immense taking of wolf-skins, the fine pelts of the huge northern beasts, which would long adorn the lodges of the Sioux, and Will again received approval for his quick and timely attack with fire. Xingudan knew in his heart that the village might have been overpowered and devoured had it not been for the wit and courage of Waditaka. But he merely said "Waditaka has done well." Will, however, knew that the four words meant much and that the liberty of the village was his. He was a sharer of all things save one--that, however, being much--namely, the knowledge of their location, which was kept from him as thoroughly as in the beginning.

But for a day or two he did not have much time to think of the question, as the whole village was busily engaged in skinning the slaughtered wolves and dressing the hides. Never before had so many been obtained at once by a single Indian village, and they secured every one, scraping them carefully and then drying them on high platforms or the boughs of trees. Often at night they heard a distant growling and they knew that a few wolves, still hiding in the valley, came out at night to devour the bodies of their dead comrades.

Will, lying between the furs in the strong lodge, would hear sometimes the sound of these faint growls, but they troubled him not at all. He would draw the buffalo robes more closely about him, as the child in the farmhouse pulls up the covers when he hears the patter of rain on the roof, and feels an immense sense of comfort. The compulsion of the life he was leading was fast sending him back to the primitive. He would have read had there been anything to read, but, despite the limited world of the valley in which he now lived, his daily activities were very great.

There was the pony herd, of which he was the chief guardian. Food must be found for it, though the hardy animals could and did do a great deal for themselves under the most adverse conditions. They ate twigs, they dug under the snow with their sharp hoofs for grass that yet lived in sheltered nooks, and Will and the Indians, by persistent seeking, were able to add to their supplies. They also had to break the ice on the river that they might drink, and, under the severe and continuous cold, the ice was now a foot thick.

Will also helped with the fishing through holes in the ice, and acquired all the Indian skill. The fish formed a most welcome addition to their diet of dried meat and the occasional bread made from Indian corn. He helped, too, with the continual strengthening of the lodges, because all the old Indians foresaw the fiercest winter in a generation.

As Will reverted farther and farther into the primitive he retained a virtue which is the product of civilization. He was respectful and helpful to the very old and weak. The percentage of such in the village was much larger than usual, as nearly all the warriors had gone to the war. He invariably took food to the weazened old squaws and the decrepit old men, who presented him with another suit of beautifully decorated deerskin, and a coat of the softest and finest buffalo robe that he had ever seen.

"Waditaka big favorite," said Inmutanka when Will showed him the buffalo overcoat. "By and by all old squaws marry him."

"What?" exclaimed Will in horror.

"Of course," said Inmutanka, grinning slyly. "He make old squaws many presents. Leave venison, buffalo meat, bear meat at doors of their lodges. They marry him in the spring."

But Will caught the twinkle in Inmutanka's eyes.

"If they propose," he said, "I'll offer good old Dr. Inmutanka in my place. He's nearer their age, and with his medical skill he'll be able to take care of them."

"Inmutanka never had a wife. He always what you call in your language bachelor. Too late to change now."

"But since you've raised this question I'll insist," said Will formidably. "You've been a bachelor too long, and you a great medical man too. Men are scarce in this village, and you must have at least a dozen wives."

"You stop, I stop," said Inmutanka in a tone of entreaty.

"Very good, honored foster-father. It's a closed subject forever. I don't think I'd care to have a dozen stepmothers just now."

The cold remained intense. Everything was frozen up, but game, nevertheless, still wandered into the valley and the warriors continually hunted it. All their bullets, never in great supply, had been fired away in the battle with the wolves, and they relied now upon bow and arrow. Two of the old warriors, attacking a fierce grizzly with these weapons, were slain by it, and though a party led by Xingudan, with Will as one of his lieutenants, killed the monster, there was mourning in the village for several days. Then it ceased abruptly. The dead were the dead. They had gone to the happy hunting grounds, where in time all must go, and it was foolish and unmanly to mourn so long. Will did not believe that the primitive retain grief as the civilized do. It was a provision to protect those among whom life was so uncertain.

A few days later a warrior of the Sioux nation arrived in the valley, suffering from a wound and on the point of death from cold and starvation. He was put in one of the warmest lodges, his wounds were dressed carefully and when he had revived sufficiently he asked for the old chief, Xingudan.

"I was hurt in battle with the white men many, many days' journey away," he said, "and the great chief Heraka, knowing I would not be fit for march and fight for a long time, sent me here to recover and he also sent with me a message for you."

"What was the message, Roka (Badger)?"

"It was in regard to the white youth, Wayaka, our prisoner."

"Wayaka has become Waditaka, owing to his great bravery. With only a spear he fought and slew a monstrous grizzly bear that would have killed me the next instant. When we drove off the huge pack of giant mountain wolves his service was the greatest."

"Even so, Xingudan. Those are brave deeds, but they cannot alter the command I brought from Heraka."

"What was the command, Roka?"

"That Waditaka be burned to death with slow fire at the stake, and that other tortures of which we know be inflicted upon him. We lost many warriors in battle with the whites and the soul of Heraka was bitter."

Old Xingudan leaned his chin on his hand and looked very thoughtfully at the fire that blazed in the centre of the lodge.

"The command of Heraka is unjust," he said.

"I cannot help that, as you know, Xingudan."

"I do not blame you, but there is something of which Heraka is ignorant."

"What is it?"

"Waditaka is now the adopted son of the wise and good Inmutanka."

"But the orders of Heraka are strict and stern."

"The rite of adoption is sacred. Until Waditaka himself chooses to change he is a Sioux and must be treated as a Sioux."

"The consent of Heraka was not secured for the adoption."

"It was impossible to reach him. The laws of the Sioux have not been violated. Waditaka is a brave young warrior. The fire shall not touch him. A winter great and terrible is upon us and it may be before it is over that we shall need him much. He is a brave young warrior and few of them are left now in the village. I am old, Roka, and the old as they draw near to Manitou and all the gods and spirits that people the air, hear many whispers of the future. A voice coming from afar tells low in my ear that before the snow and ice have gone Waditaka, who was born white but who is now a Sioux, the adopted son of Inmutanka, will save us all."

"And does Xingudan see that?"

"Yes, Roka, I see it."

The wounded warrior raised himself on his pallet and a look of awe appeared on his face.

"If thou readest the future aright, Xingudan," he said, "it would be well to save this lad and brave the anger of Heraka, if he be so bold as to defy the law of adoption."

"I am old and my bones are old, but even though he is a chief above me I do not fear Heraka. Waditaka shall not burn. I have said it."

"I have but delivered my message, Xingudan. Now I will sleep, as my wound is sore. I have traveled far and the cold is great."

Will little knew how his fate had been discussed in the lodge, and how his good humor, his acceptance of conditions and his zeal to help had saved him from a lingering and horrible death. Old Xingudan, taciturn though he was and severe of manner, was his firm friend and would defend him against Heraka, or the great war chief, Red Cloud, himself. Will was not only by formal rite of adoption a Sioux, but in the present crisis he was, on the whole, the most valuable young warrior in a village where young warriors were so scarce, owing to the distant war with the whites.

"You have delivered your message, Roka," said Xingudan, finally, "and you have no right to deliver it to anybody but me. Therefore your duty is done. Do not mention it again while you are with us."

"I obey, O Xingudan," said Roka. "Here I am under your command, and now I will exert all my energies to get well of my wound."

Will, meanwhile, relapsed farther and farther into the primitive, all the conditions of extreme wildness exerting upon him a powerful influence. They no longer had bullets and gunpowder or cartridges, but must fight with bow and arrow, lance and war club. It was necessary, too, to defend themselves, as the tremendous cold was driving into the valley more beasts of prey, ravening with hunger.

And yet the primitive state of the youth and those around him was not ignoble. Just as the people of a village twenty thousand years before may have been drawn together by common dangers and the needs of mutual help, so were these. The women worked diligently on the wolf skins, making heavier and warmer clothing, the food supply was placed under the dictatorship of Xingudan, who saw that nothing was wasted. Will, with the superior foresight of the white man's brain, was really at the back of this measure.

To the most active and vigorous men was assigned the task of hunting the great wild beasts which now wandered into the valley, driven by cold and fierce, growing hunger.

The wolves were but the forerunners. Mountain lions of uncommon size and ferocity appeared. An old woman was struck down in the night and devoured, and in broad daylight a child standing at the brink of the river was killed and carried away. Then the grizzly bears or other bears, huge beyond any that they had ever seen before, appeared. A group came in the night and attacked the pony herd, slaying and partly devouring at least a dozen. All in the village were awakened by the stamping of the horses and in the bitter cold and darkness the brave children of the wild rushed to the rescue, the women snatching torches and hurrying with them to furnish light by which their men could fight.

The battle that ensued was fully as terrible as that with the wolves. The bears, although far fewer than the wolves had been, were the greatest of all the American carnivora, and they resented savagely the attempt to drive them from their food, turning with foaming mouths upon their assailants, who could not meet them now with bullets, but who fought with the weapons of an earlier time.

Will plied the bow and arrow, and, when the arrows were exhausted, used a long lance. He and Xingudan were really the leaders, marshalling their hosts with such skill and effect that they gradually drove the bears away from the ponies, leaving the animals to be quieted by the women and old men, while the warriors fought the bears. Among these men was Roka, now recovered from his wound, and using a great bow with deadly accuracy. He and Will at length drew up side by side, and the stout Indian planted an arrow deep in the side of a bear. Yet the wound was not fatal, and the animal, first biting at the arrow, then charged. Will struck with the lance so fiercely that it entered the animal's heart and, wrenched from his hands, was broken as the great beast fell.

"Behold!" shouted Xingudan in Roka's ear, "he has saved your life even as he saved mine!"

Not one of the bears escaped, but two of the men lost their lives in the terrible combat, and the strength of the village was reduced yet further. The two men, however, had perished nobly and the people felt triumphant. Will examined the bears by the numerous torchlights. He and Xingudan and Inmutanka agreed that they were not the true grizzly of the Montana or Idaho mountains, but, like the first one, much larger beasts coming out of the far north. Will judged that the largest of them all weighed a full three-quarters of a ton or more, and a most terrific creature he was, with great hooked claws as hard as steel and nearly a foot in length.

"One blow of those would destroy the stoutest warrior, Waditaka," said Xingudan.

"Our bows and arrows and lances have saved us," said Will. "I think they've been driven out of the Arctic by the great cold, and have migrated south in search of food."

"Then they smelled the horses and attacked them."

"Truly so, Xingudan, and they or other wild beasts will come again. The ponies are our weakest point. The great meat-eating animals will always attack them."

"But we must keep our ponies, Waditaka. We will need them in the spring to hunt the buffalo."

"Of course, Xingudan, we must save the ponies."

"How, O Waditaka?"

The youth felt a thrill. The chief was appealing to him to show the way and he felt that he must do it. He had already the germ of an idea.

"I think I shall have a plan tomorrow, O Xingudan," he said.

When Will departed for their lodge with Inmutanka, Xingudan said to Roka:

"What think you now, Roka, of Waditaka, once Wayaka, a captive youth, but now Waditaka, the brave young Sioux warrior, the adopted son of Inmutanka, who is the greatest curer of sickness among us?"

"He was as brave as any, as well as the most skillful of all those who fought against the great beasts," replied Roka, "and you spoke truly, Xingudan, when you said the village needed him. I make no demand that the command of Heraka be carried out. But can we keep him, Xingudan? Will he not go back to his own people when the chance comes?"

"That I know not, Roka, but it will be many a day before he has a chance to return to them. The distance is great, as you know, and we concealed from him the way we came. The knowledge of the region in which this village stands is hidden from him."

Will's idea, as he had promised, was developed the next day. The corral for the ponies, with one side of it against the overhanging cliff, was strengthened greatly with stakes and brush, and at night fires were lighted all about it, tended by relays. He knew that wild beasts dreaded nothing so much as fire, and if any of them appeared the guards were to beat the alarm on the war drum. There were enough people in the village to make it easy for the watchers, and the fires would keep them warm.

Xingudan expressed his full approval of the plan, and the watch was set that very night, Will, at his own request, being put in charge of it. Heavily wrapped in his buffalo coat over his deerskin suit, with two pairs of moccasins on his feet, a fur cap on his head and thick ear muffs, he walked from fire to fire and saw that they were well fed. There was no need to spare the wood, the valley having a great supply of timber.

His assistants were small boys, old men and old women. The intelligence, activity and strength of these ancient squaws always surprised William. They were terribly weazened and withered, and far from beautiful to look upon, but once having arrived at that condition they seemed able to live forever, and to take a healthy interest in life as they went along. Owing to the lack of men in the village their importance had increased also, and they liked it. Under Will's eye they worked with remarkable zeal, and a band of living light surrounded the entire corral. Other lights blazed at points about the village, as they intended to make everything safe.

Will was chief of the watch, until about three o'clock in the morning. Often he went among the ponies and soothed them with voice and touch, for they were generally restless. Out of the darkness, well beyond the light of the flames, came growls and the noises of fierce combat. They had skinned all the bears, and also had taken away all the eatable portions of their bodies, but other beasts had come for what was left. The Indians distinguished the voices of bear, mountain lion and wolf. From the slopes also came fierce whines, and the old squaws, shuddering, built the fires yet higher.

"Son of Inmutanka," said Xingudan at last to Will, "go to your lodge and sleep. You have proved anew that you are a man and worthy to belong to the great Dakota nation. The fires will be kept burning all through the night and see you, Inmutanka, that no one awakens him. Let his sleep go of its own accord to its full measure."

A year earlier Will would have been so much excited that sleep would have been impossible to him, but the primitive life he was leading had hardened all his nerves so thoroughly that he slumbered at once between the buffalo robes.

Old Inmutanka did not awaken him when the dawn came, although most of the people were already at work, curing the meat of the bears and scraping and drying the huge hides. They were also putting more brush and stakes around the great corral for the ponies, and many were already saying it was Waditaka who had saved their horses for them the night before. But the day had all the intense cold of extreme winter in the great mountains of North America. The mercury was a full forty degrees below zero, and the Indians who worked with the spoils had only chin, eyes and mouth exposed. Among them came old Inmutanka, very erect and strong despite his years, and full of honest pride. He thumped himself twice upon the chest, and then said in a loud, clear voice:

"Does anyone here wish to question the merit of my son, Waditaka? Is he not as brave as the bravest, and does he not think further ahead than any other warrior in the village?"

Then up spoke old Xingudan and he was sincere.

"Your words are as true as if they had been spoken by Manitou himself," he said. "The youth, Waditaka, the son of Inmutanka, was the greatest warrior of us all when the bears came, and his deeds stand first."

Then up spoke the messenger, Roka, also.

"It is true," he said. "I witnessed with my own eyes the great deeds of Waditaka. Our chief, Xingudan, must be proud to have such a brave and wise young warrior in his village."

The two talked later on about the matter and Roka fully agreed with Xingudan that the command of Heraka should be disregarded. Red Cloud, the great Mahpeyalute, would support them in it and, in any event, it was quite sure that the village itself would not allow it.

Will did not awake until the afternoon, and then he yawned and stretched himself a minute or two between the warm covers before he opened his eyes. He saw a low fire of big coals burning in the centre of the lodge, neutralizing the intensely cold air that came in where the door of the lodge was left open for a foot or more.

He surmised from the angle of the sun's rays that the day was far advanced. Pemmican, strips of venison and some corn cakes lay by the edge of the fire and he knew that good old Inmutanka had left them there for him. He began to feel hungry. He would rise in a few minutes and warm the bread and meat by the fire, but he first listened to a chant that came from the outside, low at first, though swelling gradually. His attention was specially attracted, because he caught the sound of his own name in a recurring note. At length he made out the song, something like this:

Lo, in the night the great bears came
Our horses they would crush and devour.
Mighty were they in their size and strength
And hunger fierce and terrible drove them on.
Bullets we had none, only the edge of steel and bone,
But the fires of Waditaka filled their souls with fear,
Waditaka, the wise, the brave son of Inmutanka,
Without him our herd would have been lost, and we, too.

Waditaka, the valiant and wise, showed us the way.
Young, but his arrow sings true, his lance strikes deep,
Waditaka, the thoughtful, the bold, the son of Inmutanka,
Proud we are that he belongs to us and fights for us.

Young Clarke lay back between the buffalo covers. The song, crude though it was, and without rhyme or metre in the Indian fashion, gave him a strange and deep thrill. It was in just such manner that the Greeks chanted the praises of some hero who had saved them from great disaster, or who had done a mighty deed against dragons. From his early reading came visions of Hercules and Theseus, of Perseus and Bellerophon. But he did not put himself with such champions. He was merely serving a primitive little village, carried by its primitive state farther back than that world in which the more or less legendary Greek heroes lived.

But it was pleasant, wonderfully pleasant, to hear the chant. This was his world and to know, for a time at least, that he was first among the people, was very grateful to young ears. Listening a while he rose, dressed, warmed his food, and ate it with the appetite of a young lion. _

Read next: Chapter 14. The Dreadful Night

Read previous: Chapter 12. The Captive's Rise

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