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The Last of the Chiefs - A Story of the Great Sioux War
by Joseph Altsheler
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Dick heard the hoofs of his pursuers thundering behind him, and more rifle shots came, but they ceased quickly. He knew that the Sioux would not fire again soon, because of the distance and the uncertain darkness. It was his object to increase that distance, trusting that the darkness would continue free from moonlight. He took one swift look backward and saw the Sioux, a dozen or more, following steadily after. He knew that they would hang on as long as any chance of capturing him remained, and he resolved to make use of the next swell that he crossed. He would swerve when he passed the crest, and while it was yet between him and his pursuers, perhaps he could find some friendly covert that would hide him. Meanwhile he clung tightly to his rifle, something that one always needed in this wild and dangerous region.

He crossed a swell, but there was no friendly increase of the darkness and he was afraid to swerve, knowing that the Sioux would thereby gain upon him, since he would make himself the curve of the bow, while they remained the string.

In fact, the hasty glance back showed that the Sioux had gained, and Dick felt tremors. He was tempted for a moment to fire upon his pursuers, but it would certainly cause a loss of speed, and he did not believe that he could hit anything under such circumstances. No, he would save his bullets for a last stand, if they ran him to earth.

The Sioux raised their war whoop again and fired three or four shots. Dick felt a slight jarring movement run through his pony, and then the animal swerved. He was afraid that he had trodden in a prairie-dog hole or perhaps a little gully, but in an instant or two he was running steadily again, and Dick forgot the incident in the excitement of the flight.

He was in constant fear lest the coming out of the moon should lighten up the prairie and make him a good target for the Sioux bullets, but he noted instead, and with great joy, that it was growing darker. Heavy clouds drifted across the sky, and a cold wind arose and began to whistle out of the northwest. It was a friendly black robe that was settling down over the earth. It had never before seemed to him that thick night could be so welcome.

Dick's pony rose again on a swell higher than the others, and was poised there for the fraction of a second, a dark silhouette against the darker sky. Several of the Sioux fired. Dick felt once more that momentary jar of his horse's mechanism, but it disappeared quickly and his hopes rose, because he saw that the darkness lay thickly between this swell and the next, and he believed that he now could lose his pursuers.

He urged his horse vigorously. He had made no mistake when he chose this pony as strong and true. The response was instant and emphatic. He flew down the slope, but instead of ascending the next swell he turned at an angle and went down the depression that lay between them. There the darkness was thickest, and the burst of speed by the pony was so great that the shapes of his pursuers became vague and then were lost. Nevertheless, he heard the thudding of their hoofs and knew that they could also hear the beat of his. That would guide them for a while yet. He thought he might turn again and cross the next swell, thus throwing them entirely off his track, but he was afraid that he would be cast into relief again when he reached the crest, and so continued down the depression.

He heard shouts behind him, and it seemed to him that they were not now the shouts of triumph, but the shouts of chagrin. Clearly, he was gaining because after the cries ceased, the sound of hoof beats came but faintly. He urged his horse to the last ounce of his speed and soon the sound of the pursuing hoofs ceased entirely.

The depression ended and he was on the flat plain. It was still cloudy, with no moon, but his eyes were used enough to the dark to tell him that the appearance of the country had changed. It now lay before him almost as smooth as the surface of a table, and never relaxing the swift gallop, he turned at another angle.

He was confident now that the Sioux could not overtake or find him. A lone object in the vast darkness, there was not a chance in a hundred for them to blunder upon him. But the farther away the better, and he went on for an hour. He would not have stopped then, but the good pony suddenly began to quiver, and then halted so abruptly that Dick, rifle and all, shot over his shoulder. He felt a stunning blow, a beautiful set of stars flashed before his eyes, and he was gone, for the time, to another land.

When Dick awoke he felt very cold and his head ached. He was lying flat upon his back, and, with involuntary motion, he put his hand to his head. He felt a bump there and the hand came back damp and stained. He could see that the fingers were red—there was light enough for that ominous sight, although the night had no yet passed.

Then the flight, the danger, and his fall all came back in a rush to Dick. He leaped to his feet, and the act gave him pain, but not enough to show that any bone was broken. His rifle, the plainsman's staff and defense, lay at his feet. He quickly picked it up and found that it, too, was unbroken. In fact, it was not bent in the slightest, and here his luck had stood him well. But ten feet away lay a horse, the pony that had been a good friend to him in need.

Dick walked over to the pony. It was dead and cold. It must have been dead two to three hours at least, and he had lain that long unconscious. There was a bullet hole in its side and Dick understood now the cause of those two shivers, like the momentary stopping of a clock's mechanism. The gallant horse had galloped on until he was stopped only by death. Dick felt sadness and pity.

"I hope you've gone to the horse heaven," he murmured.

Then he turned to thoughts of his own position. Alone and afoot upon the prairie, with hostile and mounted Sioux somewhere about, he was still in bad case. He longed now for his mountains, the lost valley, the warm cabin, and his brother.

It was quite dark and a wind, sharp with cold, was blowing. It came over vast wastes, and as it swept across the swells kept up a bitter moaning sound. Dick shivered and fastened his deerskin tunic a little tighter. He looked up at the sky. Not a star was there, and sullen black clouds rolled very near to the earth. The cold had a raw damp in it, and Dick feared those clouds.

Had it been day he could have seen his mountains, and he would have made for them at once, but now his eyes did not reach a hundred yards, and that bitter, moaning wind told him nothing save that he must fight hard against many things if he would keep the life that was in him. He had lost all idea of direction. North and south, east and west were the same to him, but one must go even if one went wrong.

He tried all his limbs again and found that they were sound. The wound on his head had ceased to bleed and the ache was easier. He put his rifle on his shoulder, waved, almost unconsciously, a farewell to the horse, as one leaves the grave of a friend, and walked swiftly away, in what course he knew not.

He felt much better with motion. The blood began to circulate more warmly, and hope sprang up. If only that bitter, moaning wind would cease. It was inexpressibly weird and dismal. It seemed to Dick a song of desolation, it seemed to tell him at times that it was not worth while to try, that, struggle as he would, his doom was only waiting.

Dick looked up. The black clouds had sunk lower and they must open before long. If only day were near at hand, then he might choose the right course. Hark! Did he not hear hoof beats? He paused in doubt, and then lay down with his ear to the earth. Then he distinctly heard the sound, the regular tread of a horse, urged forward in a straight course, and he knew that it could be made only by the Sioux. But the sound indicated only one horse, or not more than two or three at the most.

Dick's courage sprang up. Here was a real danger and not the mysterious chill that the moaning of the wind brought to him. If the Sioux had found him, they had divided, and it was only a few of their number that he would have to face. He hugged his repeating rifle. It was a fine weapon, and just then he was in love with it. There was no ferocity in Dick's nature, but the Sioux were seeking the life that he wished to keep.

He rose from the earth and walked slowly on in his original course. He had no doubt that the Sioux, guided by some demon instinct, would overtake him. He looked around for a good place of defense, but saw none. Just the same low swells, just the same bare earth, and not even a gully like that in which he had lain while the hunt of the buffalo wheeled about him.

He heard the hoof beats distinctly now, and he became quite sure that they were made by only a single horseman. His own senses had become preternaturally acute, and, with the conviction that he was followed by but one, came a rush of shame. Why should he, strong and armed, seek to evade a lone pursuer? He stopped, holding his rifle ready, and waited, a vague, shadowy figure, black on the black prairie.

Dick saw the phantom horseman rise on a swell, the faint figure of an Indian and his pony, and there was no other. He was glad now that he had waited. The horse, trained for such work as this, gave the Sioux warrior a great advantage, but he would fight it out with him.

Dick sank down on one knee in order to offer a smaller target, and thrust his rifle forward for an instant shot. But the Sioux had stopped and was looking intently at the boy. For fully two minutes neither he nor his horse moved, and Dick almost began to believe that he was the victim of an illusion, the creation of the desolate plains, the night, the floating black vapors, his tense nerves, and heated imagination. He was tempted to try a shot to see if it were real, but the distance and the darkness were too great. He strengthened his will and remained crouched and still, his finger ready for the trigger of his rifle.

The Sioux and his horse moved at last, but they did not come forward; they rode slowly toward the right, curving in a circle about the kneeling boy, but coming no nearer. They were still vague and indistinct, but they seemed blended into one, and the supernatural aspect of the misty form of horse and rider increased. The horse trod lightly now, and Dick no longer heard the sound of footsteps, only the bitter moaning of the wind over the vast dark spaces.

The rider rode silently on his circle about the boy, and Dick turned slowly with him, always facing the eyes that faced him. He could dimly make out the shape of a rifle at the saddlebow, but the Sioux did not raise it, he merely rode on in that ceaseless treadmill tramp, and Dick wondered what he meant to do. Was he waiting for the others to come up?

Time passed and there was no sign of a second horseman. The single warrior still rode around him, and Dick still turned with him. He might be coming nearer in his ceaseless curves, but Dick could not tell. Although he was the hub of the circle, he began to have a dizzy sensation, as if the world were swimming about him. He became benumbed, as if his head were that of a whirling dervish.

Dick became quite sure now that the warrior and his horse were unreal, a creation of the vapors and the mists, and that he himself was dreaming. He saw, too, at last that they were coming nearer, and he felt horror, as if something demonic were about to seize him and drag him down. He crouched so long that he felt pain in his knees, and all things were becoming a blur before his eyes. Yet there had not been a sound but that of the bitter, moaning wind.

There was a flash, a shot, the sigh of a bullet rushing past, and Dick came out of his dream. The Sioux had raised the rifle from his saddlebow and fired. But he had been too soon. The shifting and deceptive quality of the darkness caused him to miss. Dick promptly raised his own rifle and fired in return. He also missed, but a second bullet from the warrior cut a lock from his temple.

Dick was now alert in every nerve. He had not wanted the life of this savage, but the savage wanted his; it seemed also that everything was in favor of the savage getting it, but his own spirit rose to meet the emergency; he, too, became the hunter.

He sank a little lower and saved his fire until the warrior galloped nearer. Then he sent a bullet so close that he saw one of the long eagle feathers drop from the hair of the warrior. The sight gave him a savage exultation that he would have believed a few hours before impossible to him. The next bullet might not merely clip a feather!

The Sioux, contrary to the custom of the Indian, did not utter a sound, nor did Dick say a word. The combat, save for the reports of the rifle shots, went on in absolute silence. It lasted a full ten minutes, when the Indian urged his horse to a gallop, threw himself behind the body and began firing under the neck. A bullet struck Dick in the left arm and wounded him slightly, but it did not take any of his strength and spirit.

Dick sought in vain for a sight of the face of his fleeting foe. He could catch only a glimpse of long, trailing hair beneath the horse's mane, and then would come the flash of a rifle shot. Another bullet clipped his side, but only cut the skin. Nevertheless, it stung, and while it stung the body it stung Dick's wits also into keener action. He knew that the Sioux warrior was steadily coming closer and closer in his deadly circle, and in time one of his bullets must strike a vital spot, despite the clouds and darkness.

Dick steadied himself, calming every nerve and muscle. Then he lay down on his stomach on the plain, resting slightly on his elbow, and took careful aim at the flying pony. He felt some regret as he looked down the sights. This horse might be as faithful and true as the one that had carried him to temporary safety, but he must do the deed. He marked the brown patch of hair that lay over the heart and pulled the trigger.

Dick's aim was true—the vapors and clouds had not disturbed it—and when the rifle flashed, the pony bounded into the and fell dead. But the agile Sioux leaped clear and darted away. Dick marked his brown body, and then was his opportunity to send a mortal bullet, but a feeling of which he was almost ashamed held his hand. His foe was running, and he was no longer hunted. The feeling lasted but a moment, and when it passed, the Sioux was out of range. A moment later and his misty foe had become a part of the solid darkness.

Dick stood upright once more. He had been the victor in a combat that still had for him all the elements of the ghostly. He had triumphed, but just in time. His nerves were relaxed and unstrung, and his hands were damp. He carefully reloaded all the empty chambers of his repeating rifle, and without looking at the falling horse, which he felt had suffered for the wickedness of another, strode away again over the plain, abandoning the rifle of the fallen Sioux as a useless burden.

It took Dick sometime after his fight with the phantom horseman to come back to real earth. Then he noticed that both the clouds and the dampness had increased, and presently something cold and wet settled upon his face. It was a flake of snow, and a troop came at its heels, gentle but insistent, chilling his hands and gradually whitening the earth, until it was a gleaming floor under a pall of darkness.

Dick was in dismay. Here was a foe that he could not fight with rifle balls. He knew that the heavy clouds would continue to pour forth snow, and the day, which he thought was not far away, would disclose as little as the night. The white pall would hide the mountains as well as the black pall had done, and he might be going farther and father from his valley.

He felt that he had been released from one danger and then another, only to encounter a third. It seemed to him, in his minute of despair, that Fate had resolved to defeat all his efforts, but, the minute over, he renewed his courage and trudged bravely on, he knew not whither. It was fortunate for him that he wore a pair of the heavy shoes saved from the wagon, and put on for just such a journey as this. The wet from the snow would have soon soaked though his moccasins, but, as his thick deerskin leggings fitted well over his shoes, he kept dry, and that was a comfort.

The snow came down without wind and fuss, but more heavily than ever, persistent, unceasing, and sure of victory. It was not particularly cold, and the walking kept up a warm and pleasant circulation in Dick's veins. But he knew that he must not stop. Whether he was going on in a straight line he had no way to determine. He had often heard that men, lost on the plains, soon begin to travel in a circle, and he watched awhile for his own tracks; but if they were there, they were covered up by snow too soon for him to see, and, after all, what did it matter?

He saw after a while a pallid yellowish light showing dimly through the snow, and he knew that it was the sunrise. But it illuminated nothing. The white gloom began to replace the black one. It was soon full day, but the snow was so thick that he could not see more than two or three hundred yards in any direction. He longed now for shelter, some kind of hollow, or perhaps a lone tree. The incessant fall of the snow upon his head and its incessant clogging under his feet were tiring him, but he only trod a plain, naked save for its blanket of snow.

Dick had been careful to keep his rifle dry, putting the barrel of it under his long deerskin coat. Once as he shifted it, he felt a lump over his chest, and for an instant or two did not know what caused it. Then he remember the history and geography of the United States. He laughed with grim humor.

"I am lost to history," he murmured, "and geography will not tell me where I am."

He crossed a swell—he knew them now more by feeling than by sight—and before beginning the slight assent of the next one he stopped to eat. He had been enough of a frontiersman, before starting upon such a trip, to store jerked buffalo in the skin knapsack that he had saved for himself. The jerked meat offered the largest possible amount of sustenance in the smallest possible space, and Dick ate eagerly. Then he felt a great renewal of courage and strength. He also drank of the snow water, that is, he dissolved the snow in his mouth, but he did not like it much.

He stood there for a while resting, and resolved only to walk enough to keep himself warm. Certainly, nothing was to be gained by exhausting himself and the snow which was now a foot deep showed no signs of abating. The white gloom hung all about him and he could not see the sky overhead.

Just as he took this resolution, Dick saw a shadow in the circling white. The shadow was like that of a man, but before he could see farther there was a little flash of red, a sharp, stinging report, and a bullet clipped the skin of his cheek, burning like fire. Dick was startled, and for full cause—but he recognized the Sioux warrior who had fought him on horseback. He had stared too long at that man and at a time too deadly not to know that head and face and the set of his figure. He had followed Dick through all the hours and falling snow, bent upon taking his life. A second shot, quickly following the first, showed that he meant to miss no chance.

The second bullet, like the first, just grazed Dick, and mild of temper though he habitually was, he was instantly seized with the fiercest rage. He could not understand such hatred, such ferocity, such an eagerness to take human life. And this was the man whom he had spared, whom he could easily have slain when he was running! The Sioux was raising his rifle for a third bullet, when Dick shot him through the chest. There was no doubt about his aim now. It was not disturbed by the whitish mist and the falling snow.

The Sioux fell full length, without noise and without struggle, and his gun flew from his hand. His body lay half buried in the snow, some of the long eagle feathers in his hair thrusting up like the wing of a slain bird. Dick looked at him with shuddering horror. All the anger was gone from him now, and it is true that in his heart he felt pity for this man, who had striven so hard and without cause to take his life. He would have been glad to go away now, but forced himself to approach and look down at the Indian.

The warrior lay partly on his side with one arm beneath his body. The blood from the bullet hole in his chest dyed the snow, and Dick believed that he had been killed instantly. But Dick would not touch him. He could not bring himself to do that. Nor would he take any of his arms. Instead, he turned away, after the single look, and, bending his head a little to the snow, walked rapidly toward the yellowish glare that told where the sun was rising. He did not know just why he went in that direction, but it seemed to him the proper thing to walk toward the morning.

Two hours, perhaps, passed and the fall of snow began to lighten. The flakes still came down steadily, but not in such a torrent. The area of vision widened. He saw dimly, as through a mist, three or four hundred yards, perhaps, but beyond was only the white blur, and there was nothing yet to tell him whether he was going toward the mountains or away from them.

He rested and ate again. Then he recovered somewhat, mentally as well as physically. Part of the horror of the Indian, his deadly pursuit, and the deadly ending passed. He ached with weariness and his nerves were quite unstrung, but the snow would cease, the skies would clear, and then he could tell which way lay the mountains and his brother.

He rested here longer than usual and studied the plain as far as he could see it. He concluded that its character had changed somewhat, that the swells were high than they had been, and he was hopeful that he might find shelter soon, a deep gully, perhaps, or a shallow prairie stream with sheltering cottonwoods along its course.

Another hour passed, but he did not make much progress. The snow was now up to his knees, and it became an effort to walk. The area of vision had widened, but no mountains yet showed through the white mist. He was becoming tired with a tiredness that was scarcely to be born. If he stood still long enough to rest he became cold, a deadly chill that he knew to be the precursor of death's benumbing sleep would creep over him, and then he would force himself to resume the monotonous, aching walk.

Dick's strength waned. His eyesight, affected by the glare of the snow, became short and unsteady, and he felt a dizziness of the brain. Things seemed to dance about, but his will was so strong that he could still reason clearly, and he knew that he was in desperate case. It was his will that resisted the impulse of his flesh to throw his rifle away as a useless burden, but he laughed aloud when he thought of the map of the United States in the inside pocket of his coat.

"They'll find me, if they ever find me, with that upon me," he said aloud, "and they, too, will laugh."

He stumbled against something and doubled his fist angrily as if he would strike a man who had maliciously got in his way. It was the solid bark of a big cottonwood that had stopped him, and his anger vanished in joy. Where one cottonwood was, others were likely to be, and their presence betokened a stream, a valley, and a shelter of some kind.

He was still dazed, suffering partially from snow blindness, but now he saw a line of sturdy cottonwoods and beyond it another line. The stream, he knew, flowed between. He went down the line a few hundred yards and came, as he had hoped, into more broken ground.

The creek ran between banks six or seven feet high, with a margin between stream and bank, and the cottonwoods on these banks were reinforced by some thick clumps of willows. Between the largest clump and the line of cottonwoods, with the bank as a shelter for the third side, was a comparatively clear space. The snow was only a few inches deep there, and Dick believed that he could make a shelter. He had, of course, brought his blanket with him in a tight roll on his back, and he was hopeful enough to have some thought of building a fire.

He stooped down to feel in the snow at a likely spot, and the act saved his life. A bullet, intended for his head, was buried in the snow beyond him, and a body falling down the bank lay quite still at his feet. It was the long Sioux. Wounded mortally, he had followed Dick, nevertheless, with mortal intent, crawling, perhaps most of the time, and with his last breath he had fired what he intended to be the fatal shot.

He was quite dead now, his power for evil gone forever. There could be no doubt about it. Dick at length forced himself to touch the face. It had grown cold and the pulse in the wrist was still. It yet gave him a feeling of horror to touch the Sioux, but his own struggle for life would be bitter and he could spare nothing. The dead warrior wore a good blanket, which Dick now took, together with his rifle and ammunition, but he left all the rest. Then he dragged the warrior from the sheltered space to a deep snow bank, where he sank him out of sight. He even took the trouble to heap more snow upon him in the form of a burial, and he felt a great relief when he could no longer see the savage brown features.

He went back to his sheltered space, and, upon the single unprotected side threw up a high wall of snow, so high that it would serve as a wind-break. Then he began to search for fallen brushwood. Meanwhile, it was turning colder, and a bitter wind began to moan across the plain.



Chapter XII The Fight with Nature

Dick realized suddenly that he was very cold. The terrible pursuit was over, ending mortally for the pursuer, but he was menaced by a new danger. Sheltered though his little valley was, he could, nevertheless, freeze to death in it with great ease. In fact, he had begun already to shiver, and he noticed that while his feet were dry, the snow at last had soaked through his deerskin leggings and he was wet from knee to ankle. The snow had ceased, although a white mist hovered in a great circle and the chill of the wind was increasing steadily. He must have a fire or die.

He resumed his search, plunging into the snow banks under the cottonwoods and other trees, and at last he brought out dead boughs, which he broke into short pieces and piled in a heap in the center of the open space. The wood was damp on the outside, of course, but he expected nothing better and was not discouraged. Selecting a large, well-seasoned piece, he carefully cut away all the wet outside with his strong hunting knife. Then he whittled off large quantities of dry shavings, put them under the heap of boughs, and took from his inside a pocket a small package of lucifer matches.

Dick struck one of the matches across the heel of his shoe. No spark leaped up. Instead, his heart sank down, sank further, perhaps, than it had ever done before in his life. The match was wet. He took another from the pocket; it, too, was wet, and the next and the next and all. The damp from the snow, melted by the heat of his body, had penetrated his buckskin coat, although in the excitement of pursuit and combat he had not noticed it.

Dick was in despair. He turned to the snow a face no less white. Had he escaped all the dangers of the Sioux for this? To freeze to death merely because he did not have a dry lucifer match? The wind was still rising and it cut to his very marrow. Reality and imagination were allied, and Dick was almost overpowered. He angrily thrust the wet little package of matches back into the inside pocket of his coat—his border training in economy had become so strong that even in the moment of despair he would throw away nothing—and his hand in the pocket came into contact with something else, small, hard, and polished. Dick instantly felt a violent revulsion from despair to hope.

The small object was a sunglass. That wagon train was well equipped. Dick had made salvage of two sunglasses, and in a moment of forethought had given one to Albert, keeping the other for himself, each agreeing then and there to carry his always for the moment of need that might come.

Dick drew out the sunglass and fingered it as one would a diamond of great size. Then he looked up. A brilliant sun was shining beyond white, misty clouds, but its rays came through them dim and weak. The mists or, rather, cloudy vapor might lift or thin, and in that chance lay the result of his fight for life. While he waited a little, he stamped up and down violently, and threw his arms about with energy. It did not have much effect. The wet, cold, the raw kind that goes through, was in him and, despite all the power of his will, he shivered almost continually. But he persisted for a half hour and then became conscious of an increasing brightness about him. The white mist was not gone, but it was thinning greatly, and the rays of the sun fell on the snow brilliant and strong.

Dick took the dry stick again and scraped off particles of wood so fine that they were almost a power. He did not stop until he had a little heap more than an inch high. Meanwhile, the sun's rays, pouring through the whitish mist, continued to grow fuller and stronger.

Dick carefully polished the glass and held it at the right angle between the touchwood, that is, the scrapings, and the sun. The rays passing through the glass increased many times in power and struck directly upon the touchwood. Dick crouched over the wood in order to protect it from the wind, and watched, his breath constricted, while his life waited on the chance.

A minute, two minutes, three minutes, five passed and then a spark appeared in the touchwood, and following it came a tiny flame. Dick shouted with joy and shifted his body a little to put shavings on the touchwood. An ill wind struck the feeble blaze, which was not yet strong enough to stand fanning into greater life, and it went out, leaving a little black ash to mark where the touchwood had been.

Dick's nerves were so much overwrought that he cried aloud again, and now it was a cry of despair, not of joy. He looked at the little black ash as if his last chance were gone, but his despair did not last long. He seized the dry stick again and scraped off another little pile of touchwood. Once more the sunglass and once more the dreadful waiting, now longer than five minutes and nearer ten, while Dick waited in terrible fear, lest the sun itself should fail him, and go behind impenetrable clouds.

But the second spark came and after it, as before, followed the little flame. No turning aside now to allow a cruel chance to an ill wind. Instead, he bent down his body more closely than ever to protect the vital blaze, and, reaching out one cautious arm, fed it first with the smallest of the splinters, and then with the larger in an ascending scale.

Up leaped the flames, red and strong. Dick's body could not wholly protect them now, but they fought for themselves. When the wind shrieked and whipped against them, they waved back defiance, and the more the wind whipped them, the higher and stronger they grew.

The victory was with the flames, and Dick fed them with wood, almost with his body and soul, and all the time as the wind bent them over they crackled and ate deeper and deeper into the wood. He could put on damp wood now. The flames merely leaped out, licked up the melted snow with a hiss and a sputter, and developed the stick in a mass of glowing red.

Dick fed his fire a full half hour, hunting continually in the snow under the trees for brushwood and finding much of it, enough to start a second fire at the far end of the sheltered place, with more left in reserve. He spent another half hour heaping up the snow as a bulwark about his den, and then sat down between the two fires to dry and warm, almost to roast himself.

It was the first time that Dick understood how much pleasure could be drawn from a fire alone. What beautiful red and yellow flames! What magnificent glowing coals! What a glorious thing to be there, while the wind above was howling over the snowy and forlorn plain! His clothes dried rapidly. He no longer shivered. The grateful warmth penetrated every fiber of him and it seemed strange now that he should have been in despair only an hour ago. Life was a wonderful and brilliant thing. There was no ache in his bones, and the first tingling of his hands, ears, and nose he had relieved with the application of wet snow. Now he felt only comfort.

After a while Dick ate again of his jerked buffalo meat, and with the food, warmth, and rest, he began to feel sleepy. He plunged into the snow, hunted out more wood to add to his reserve, and then, with the two blankets, the Indian's and his own, wrapped about him, sat down where the heat of the two fires could reach him from either side, and with a heap of the wood as a rest for his back.

Dick did not really intend to go to sleep, but he had been through great labors and dangers and had been awake long. He drew up one of the blankets until it covered all of his head and most of his face, and began to gaze into the coals of the larger fire. The wind—and it was now so cold that the surface of the snow was freezing—still whistled over him, but the blanket protected his head from its touch. The whistle instead increased his comfort like the patter of rain on a roof to him who is dry inside.

The fire had now burned down considerable and the beds of coals were large and beautiful. They enveloped Dick in their warmth and cheer and began to pain splendid words of hope for him. He could read what they said in glowing letters, but the singular feeling of peace and rest deepened all the while. He wondered vaguely that one could be so happy.

The white snow became less white, the red fire less red, and a great gray mist came floating down over Dick's eyes. Up rose a shadowy world in which all things were vague and wavering. Then the tired lids dropped down, the gray mist gave way to a soft blackness, and Dick sank peacefully into the valley of sleep.

The boy slept heavily hour after hour, with his hooded head sunk upon his knees, and his rifle lying across his lap, while over him shrieked the coldest wind of the great northwestern plains. The surface of the frozen ground presented a gleaming sheet like ice, over which the wind acquired new strength and a sharper edge, but the boy in his alcove remained safe and warm. Now and then a drift of fine snowy particles that would have stung like small shot was blown over the barrier, but they only stuck upon the thick folds of the blankets and the boy slept on. The white mist dissolved. The sun poured down beams brilliantly cold and hard, and over them was the loom of the mountains, but the boy knew nothing of them, nor cared.

The fires ceased to flame and became great masses of glowing coals that would endure long. The alcove was filled with the grateful warmth, and when the sun was in the zenith, Dick still slept, drawing long, regular breaths from a deep strong chest. The afternoon grew and waned, twilight came over the desolate snow fields, the loom of the mountains was gone, and the twilight gave way to an icy night.

When Dick awoke it was quite dark, save for the heaps of coals which still glowed and threw out warmth. He felt at first a little wonderment that he had slept so long, but he was not alarmed. His forethought and energy had provided plenty of wood and he threw on fresh billets. Once more the flames leaped up to brighten and to cheer, and Dick, walking to the edge of his snow bank, looked over. The wind had piled up the snow there somewhat higher before the surface froze, and across the barrier he gazed upon some such scene as one might behold near the North Pole. He seemed to be looking over ice fields that stretched away to infinity, and the wind certainly had a voice that was a compound of chill and desolation.

It was so solemn and weird that Dick was glad to duck down again into his den, and resume the seat where he had slept so long. He ate a little and then tried to slumber again, but he had already slept so much that he remained wide awake. He opened his eyes and let them stay open, after several vain efforts.

The moonlight now came out with uncommon brilliancy and the plain glittered. But it was the coldest moon that Dick had ever seen. He began to feel desolate and lonely again, and, since he could not sleep, he longed for something to do. Then the knowledge came to him. He put on fresh wood, and between firelight and moonlight he could see everything clearly.

Satisfied with his light, Dick took from his pocket the History of the United States that was accompanying him so strangely in his adventures, and began to study it. He looked once more at the map of the Rocky Mountain territories, and judged that he was in Southern Montana. Although his curiosity as to the exact spot in which he lay haunted him, there was no way to tell, and turning the leaves away from the map, he began to read.

It was chance, perhaps, that made him open at the story that never grows old to American youth—Valley Forge. It was not a great history, it had no brilliant and vivid style, but the simple facts were enough for Dick. He read once more of the last hope of the great man, never greater than then, praying in the snow, and his own soul leaped at the sting of example. He was only a boy, obscure, unknown, and the fate of but two rested with him, yet he, too, would persevere, and in the end his triumph also would be complete. He read no further, but closed the book and returned it carefully to his pocket. Then he stared into the fire, which he built up higher that the cheerful light might shine before him.

Dick did not hide from himself even now the dangers of his position. He was warm and sheltered for the present, he had enough of the jerked buffalo to last several days, but sooner or later he must leave his den and invade the snowy plain with its top crust of ice. This snow might last two or three weeks or a month. It was true that spring had come, but it was equally true, as so often happens in the great Northwest, that spring had refused to stay.

Dick tried now to see the mountains. The night was full of brilliant moonlight, but the horizon was too limited; it ended everywhere, a black wall against the snow, and still speculating and pondering, Dick at last fell asleep again.

When the boy awoke it was another clear, cold day, with the wind still blowing, and there in the northwest he joyously saw the white line of the mountains. He believed that he could recognize the shape of certain peaks and ridges, and he fixed on a spot in the blue sky which he was sure overhung Castle Howard.

Dick saw now that he had been going away from the mountains. He was certainly farther than he had been when he first met the Sioux, and it was probable that he had been wandering then in an irregular course, with its general drift toward the southwest. The mountains in the thin, high air looked near, but his experience of the West told him that they were far, forty miles perhaps, and the tramp that lay before him was a mighty undertaking. He prepared for it at once.

He cut a stout stick that would serve as a cane, looked carefully to the security of his precious sun glass, and bidding his little den, which already had begun to wear some of the aspects of a home, a regretful farewell, started through the deep snow.

He had wrapped his head in the Indian's blanket, covering everything but eyes, nose, and mouth, and he did not suffer greatly from the bitter wind. But it was weary work breaking the way through the snow, rendered all the more difficult by the icy crust on top. The snow rose to his waist and he broke it at first with his body, but by and by he used the stick, and thus he plodded on, not making much more than a mile an hour.

Dick longed now for the shelter of the warm den. The cold wind, despite the protection of the blanket, began to seek out the crannies in it and sting his face. He knew that he was wet again from ankle to knee, but he struggled resolutely on, alike for the sake of keeping warm and for the sake of shortening the distance. Yet there were other difficulties than those of the snow. The ground became rough. Now and then he would go suddenly through the treacherous snow into an old buffalo wallow or a deep gully, and no agility could keep him from falling on his face or side. This not only made him weary and sore, but it was a great trial to his temper also, and the climax came when he went through the snow into a prairie brook and came out with his shoes full of water.

Dick shivered, stamped his feet violently, and went on painfully breaking his way through the snow. He began to have that dull stupor of mind and body again. He could see nothing on the surface of the white plain save himself. The world was entirely desolate. But if the Sioux were coming a second time he did not care. He was amused at the thought of the Sioux coming. There were hidden away somewhere in some snug valley, and were too sensible to venture upon the plain.

Late in the afternoon the wind became so fierce, and Dick was so tired, that he dug a hole in the deepest snow bank he could find, wrapped the blankets tightly around him, and crouched there for warmth and shelter. Then, when the muscles were at rest, he began to feel the cold all through his wet feet and legs. He took off his shoes and leggings inside the shelter of his blankets, and chafed feet and legs with vigorous hands. This restored warmth and circulation, but he was compelled after a while to put on his wet garments again. He had gained a rest, however, and as he did not fear the damp so much while he was moving, he resumed the painful march.

The mountains seemed as far away as ever, but Dick knew that he had come five or six miles. He could look back and see his own path through the deep snow, winding and zigzagging toward the northwest. It would wind and zigzag no matter how hard he tried to go in a straight line, and finally he refused to look back any more at the disclosure of his weakness.

He sought more trees before the sun went down, as his glass could no longer be of use without them, but found none. There could be no fire for him that night, and digging another deep hole in the snow he slept the darkness through, nevertheless, warmly and comfortably, like an Eskimo in his ice hut. He did not suffer as much as he had thought he would from his wet shoes and leggings, and in the night, wrapped within the blankets they dried on him.

Dick spent the second day in alternate tramps of an hour and rests of half an hour. He was conscious that he was growing weaker from this prodigious exertion, but he was not willing to acknowledge it. In the afternoon he came upon a grove of cottonwoods and some undergrowth and he tried to kindle a fire, but the sun was not strong enough for his glass, and, after an hour's wasted effort, he gave it up, discouraged greatly. Before night the wind, which had been from the northwest, shifted to the southwest and became much warmer. By and by it snowed again heavily and Dick, who could no longer see his mountains, being afraid that he would wander in the wrong direction, dug another burrow and went to sleep.

He was awakened by the patter of something warm upon his face, and found that the day and rain had come together. Dick once more was struck to the heart with dismay. How could he stand this and the snow together? The plain would now run rivers of water and he must trudge through a terrible mire, worse even than the snow.

He imagined that he could see his mountains through the rain sheets, and he resumed his march, making no effort now to keep anything but his rifle and ammunition dry. He crossed more than one brook, either permanent or made by the rain and melting snow, and sloshed though the water, ankle deep, but paid no attention to it. He walked with intervals of rest all through the day and the night, and the warm rain never ceased. The snow melted at a prodigious rate, and Dick thought several times in the night that he heard the sound of plunging waters. These must be cataracts from the snow and rain, and he was convinced that he was near the mountains.

The day came again, the rain ceased, the sun sprang out, the warm winds blew, and there were the mountains. Perhaps the snow had not been so heavy on them as on the plain, but most of it was gone from the peaks and slopes and they stood up, sheltering and beautiful, with a shade of green that the snow had not been able to take away.

The sight put fresh courage in Dick's heart, but he was very weak. He staggered as he plowed through the mixed snow and mud, and plains and mountains alike were rocking about in a most uncertain fashion.

In a ravine at the foot of the mountains he saw a herd of about twenty buffaloes which had probably taken refuge there from the snowstorm, but he did not molest them. Instead, he shook his rifle at them and called out:

"I'm too glad to escape with my own life to take any of yours."

Dick's brain was in a feverish state and he was not wholly responsible for what he said or did, but he began the ascent with a fairly good supply of strength and toiled on all the day. He never knew where he slept that night, but he thinks it was in a clump of pines, and the next morning when he continued, he felt that he had made a wonderful improvement. His feet were light and so was his head, but he had never before seen slopes and peaks and pines and ash doing a daylight dance. They whirled about in the most eccentric manner, yet it was all exhilarating, in thorough accord with his own spirits, and Dick laughed aloud with glee. What a merry, funny world it was! Feet and head both grew lighter. He shouted aloud and began to sing. Then he felt so strong and exuberant that he ran down one of the slopes, waving his cap. An elk sprang out of a pine thicket, stared a moment or two with startled eyes at the boy, and then dashed away over the mountain.

Dick continued to sing, and waved his fur cap at the fleeing elk. It was the funniest thing he had ever seen in his life. The whirling dance of mountain and forest became bewildering in its speed and violence. He was unable to keep his feet, and plunged forward into the arms of his brother, Albert. Then everything sank away from him.



Chapter XIII Albert's Victory

When Dick opened his eyes again he raised his hand once more to wave it at the fleeing elk and then he stopped in astonishment. The hand was singularly weak. He had made a great effort, but it did not go up very far. Nor did his eyes, which had opened slowly and heavily, see any elk. They saw instead rows and rows of furs and then other rows hanging above one another. His eyes traveled downward and they saw log walls almost covered with furs and skins, but with rifles, axes, and other weapons and implements on hooks between. A heavy oaken window shutter was thrown back and a glorious golden sunlight poured into the room.

The sunlight happened to fall upon Dick's own hand, and that was the next object at which he looked. His amazement increased. Could such a thin white hand as that belong to him who had lately owned such a big red one? He surveyed it critically, in particular, the bones showing so prominently in the back of it, and then he was interrupted by a full, cheerful voice which called out:

"Enough of that stargazing and hand examination! Here, drink this soup, and while you're doing it, I'll tell you how glad I am to see you back in your right mind! I tell you you've been whooping out some tall yarns about an Indian following you for a year or two through snow a mile or so deep! How you fought him for a month without stopping! And how you then waded for another year through snow two or three times as deep as the first!"

It was his brother Albert, and he lay on his own bed of furs and skins in their own cabin, commonly called by them Castle Howard, snugly situated in the lost or enchanted valley. And here was Albert, healthy, strong, and dictatorial, while he, stretched weakly upon a bed, held our a hand through which the sun could almost shine. Truly, there had been great changes!

He raised his head as commanded by Albert—the thin, pallid, drooping Albert of last summer, the lusty, red-faced Albert of to-day—and drank the soup, which tasted very good indeed. He felt stronger and held up the thin, white hand to see if it had not grown fatter and redder in the last ten seconds. Albert laughed, and it seemed to Dick such a full, loud laugh, as if it were drawn up from a deep, iron-walled chest, inclosing lungs made of leather, with an uncommon expansion. It jarred upon Dick. It seemed too loud for so small a room.

"I see you enjoyed that soup, Dick, old fellow," continued Albert in the same thundering tones. "Well, you ought to like it. It was chicken soup, and it was made by an artist—myself. I shot a fat and tender prairie hen down the valley, and here she is in soup. It's only a step from grass to pot and I did it all myself. Have another."

"Think I will," said Dick.

He drank a second tin plate of the soup, and he could feel life and strength flowing into every vein.

"How did I get here, Al?" he asked.

"That's a pretty hard question to answer," replied Albert, smiling and still filling the room with his big voice. "You were partly brought, partly led, partly pushed, you partly walked, partly jumped, and partly crawled, and there were even little stretches of the march when you were carried on somebody's shoulder, big and heavy as you are. Dick, I don't know any name for such a mixed gait. Words fail me."

Dick smiled, too.

"Well, no matter how I got here, it's certain that I'm here," he said, looking around contentedly.

"Absolutely sure, and it's equally as sure that you've been here five days. I, the nurse, I, the doctor, and I, the spectator, can vouch for that. There were times when I had to hold you in your bed, there were times when you were so hot with fever that I expected to see you burst into a mass of red and yellow flames, and most all the while you talked with a vividness and imagination that I've never known before outside of the Arabian Nights. Dick, where did you get the idea about a Sioux Indian following you all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with stops every half hour for you and him to fight?"

"It's true," said Dick, and then he told the eager boy the story of his escape from the Sioux band, the terrible pursuit, the storm, and his dreadful wandering.

"It was wonderful luck that I met you, Al, old fellow," he said devoutly.

"Not luck exactly," said Albert. "You were coming back to the valley on our old trail, and, as I had grown very anxious about you, I was out on the same path to see if I could see any sign of you. It was natural that we should meet, but I think that, after all, Dick, Providence had the biggest hand in it."

"No doubt," said Dick, and after a moment's pause he added, "Did it snow much up here?"

"But lightly. The clouds seem to have avoided these mountains. It was only from your delirium that I gathered the news of the great storm on the plains. Now, I think you've talked enough for an invalid. Drop you head back on that buffalo robe and go to sleep again."

It seemed so amazing to Dick ever to receive orders from Albert that he obeyed promptly, closed his eyes, and in five minutes was in sound slumber.

Albert hovered about the room, until he saw that Dick was asleep and breathing strongly and regularly. Then he put his hand on Dick's brow, and when he felt the temperature his own eyes were lighted up by a fine smile. That forehead, hot so long, was cool now, and it would be only a matter of a few days until Dick was his old, strong and buoyant self again. Albert never told his brother how he had gone two days and nights without sleep, watching every moment by the delirious bedside, how, taking the chances, he had dosed him with quinine from their medical stores, and how, later, he had cooked for him the tenderest and most delicate food. Nor did he speak of those awful hours—so many of them—when Dick's life might go at any time.

Albert knew now that the great crisis was over, and rejoicing, he went forth from Castle Howard. It was his intention to kill another prairie chicken and make more of the soup that Dick liked so much. As he walked, his manner was expansive, indicating a deep satisfaction. Dick had saved his life and he had saved Dick's. But Dick was still an invalid and it was his duty, meanwhile to carry on the business of the valley. He was sole workman, watchman, and defender, and his spirit rose to meet the responsibility. He would certainly look after his brother as well as anyone could do it.

Albert whistled as he went along, and swung his gun in debonair fashion. It would not take him, an expert borderer and woodsman, long to get that prairie chicken, and after that, as he had said before, it was only a step from grass to pot.

It was perhaps the greatest hour of Albert Howard's life. He, the helped, was now the helper; he, the defended, was now the defender. His chest could scarcely contain the mighty surge of exultation that heart and lungs together accomplished. He was far from having any rejoicings over Dick's prostration; he rejoiced instead that he was able, since the prostration had come, to care for both. He had had the forethought and courage to go forth and seek for Dick, and the strength to save him when found.

Albert broke into a rollicking whistle and he still swung his shotgun somewhat carelessly for a hunter and marksman. He passed by one of the geysers just as it was sending up its high column of hot water and its high column of steam. "That's the way I feel, old fellow," he said. "I could erupt with just as much force."

He resumed his caution farther on and shot two fine, fat prairie hens, returning with them to Castle Howard before Dick awoke. When Dick did awake, the second installment of the soup was ready for him and he ate it hungrily. He was naturally so strong and vigorous and had lived such a wholesome life that he recovered, now that the crisis was past, with astonishing rapidity. But Albert played the benevolent tyrant for a few days yet, insisting that Dick should sleep a great number of hours out of every twenty-four, and making him eat four times a day of the tenderest and most succulent things. He allowed him to walk but a little at first, and, though the walks were extended from day to day, made him keep inside when the weather was bad.

Dick took it all, this alternate spoiling and overlordship, with amazing mildness. He had some dim perception of the true state of affairs, and was willing that his brother should enjoy his triumph to the full. But in a week he was entirely well again, thin and pale yet, but with a pulsing tide in his veins as strong as ever. Then he and Albert took counsel with each other. All trace of snow was gone, even far up on the highest slope, and the valley was a wonderful symphony in green and gold, gold on the lake and green on the new grass and the new leaves of the trees.

"It's quite settled," said Albert, "that we're to stay another year in the valley."

"Oh, yes," said Dick, "we had already resolved on that, and my excursion on the plains shows that we were wise in doing so. But you know, Al, we can't do fur hunting in the spring and summer. Furs are not in good condition now."

"No," said Albert, "but we can get ready for the fall and winter, and I propose that we undertake right away a birchbark canoe. The dugout is a little bit heavy and awkward, hard to control in a high wind, and we'll really need the birch bark."

"Good enough," said Dick. "We'll do it."

With the habits of promptness and precision they had learned from old Mother Necessity, they went to work at once, planning and toiling on equal terms, a full half-and-half partnership. Both were in great spirits.

In this task they fell back partly on talk that they had heard from some of the men with whom they had started across the plains, and partly on old reading, and it took quite a lot of time. They looked first for large specimens of the white birch, and finally found several on one of the lower slopes. This was the first and, in fact, the absolutely vital requisite. Without it they could do nothing, but, having located their bark supply, they left the trees and began at the lake edge the upper framework of their canoe, consisting of four strips of cedar, two for either side of the boat, every one of the four having a length of about fifteen feet. These strips had a width of about an inch, with a thickness a third as great.

The strips were tied together in pairs at the ends, and the two pairs were joined together at the same place after the general fashion in use for the construction of such canoes.

The frame being ready, they went to their white birch trees for the bark. They marked off the utmost possible length on the largest and finest tree, made a straight cut through the bark at either end, and triumphantly peeled off a splendid piece, large enough for the entire canoe. Then they laid it on the ground in a nice smooth place and marked off a distance two feet less than their framework or gunwales. They drove into the ground at each end of this space two tall stakes, three inches apart. The bark was then laid upon the ground inside up and folded evenly throughout its entire length. After that it was lifted and set between the stakes with the edges up. The foot of bark projecting beyond each stake was covered in each case with another piece of bark folded firmly over it and sewed to the sides by means of an awl and deer tendon.

This sewing done, they put a large stone under each end of the bark construction, causing it to sag from the middle in either direction into the curve suitable for a canoe. The gunwale which they had constructed previously was now fitted into the bark, and the bark was stitched tightly to it, both at top and bottom, with a further use of awl and tendon, the winding stitch being used.

They now had the outside of the canoe, but they had drawn many a long breath and perspired many a big drop before it was done. They felt, however, that the most serious part of the task was over, and after a short rest they began on the inside, which they lined with long strips of cedar running the full length of the boat. The pieces were about an inch and a half in width and about a third of an inch in thickness and were fitted very closely together. Over these they put the ribs of touch ash, which was very abundant in the valley and on the slopes. Strips two inches wide and a half inch thick were bent crosswise across the interior of the curve, close together, and were firmly fastened under the gunwales with a loop stitch of the strong tendon through the bark.

To make their canoe firm and steady, they securely lashed three string pieces across it and then smeared deeply all the seams with pitch, which they were fortunate enough to secure from one of the many strange springs and exudations in the valley. They now had a strong, light canoe, fifteen feet long and a little over two feet wide at the center. They had been compelled to exercise great patience and endurance in this task, particularly in the work with the awl and tendons. Skillful as they had become with their hands, they acquired several sore fingers in the task, but their pride was great when it was done. They launched the canoe, tried it several times near the shore in order to detect invisible seams, and then, when all such were stopped up tightly with pitch, they paddled boldly out into deep and far waters.

The practice they had acquired already with the dugout helped them greatly with the birch bark, and after one or two duckings they handled it with great ease. As amateurs sometimes do, they had achieved either by plan or accident a perfect design and found that they had a splendid canoe. This was demonstrated when the two boys rowed a race, after Dick had recovered his full strength—Dick in the dugout and Albert in the birch bark. The race was the full length of the lake, and the younger and smaller boy won an easy triumph.

"Well paddled, Al!" said Dick.

"It wasn't the paddling, Dick," replied Albert, "it was light bark against heavy wood that did it."

They were very proud of their two canoes and made a little landing for them in a convenient cove. Here, tied to trees with skin lariats, they were safe from wind and wave.

An evening or two after the landing was made secure, Dick, who had been out alone, came home in the dark and found Albert reading a book by the firelight.

"What's this?" he exclaimed.

"I took it out of the inside pocket of your coat, when I help you here in the snow," replied Albert. "I put it on a shelf and in the strain of your illness forgot all about it until to-day."

"That's my History and Map of the United States," said Dick, smiling. "I took it from the wagon which yielded up so much to us. It wouldn't tell me where I was in the storm; but, do you know, Al, it helped me when I read in there about that greatest of all men praying in the snow."

"I know who it is whom you mean," said Albert earnestly, "and I intend to read about him and all the others. It's likely, Dick, before another year is past, that you and I will become about the finest historians of our country to be found anywhere between the Atlantic and Pacific. Maybe this is the greatest treasure of all that the wagon has yielded up to us."

Albert was right. A single volume, where no other could be obtained, was a precious treasure to them, and it made many an evening pass pleasantly that would otherwise have been dull. They liked especially to linger over the hardships of the borderers and of their countrymen in war, because they found so many parallels to their own case, and the reading always brought them new courage and energy.

They spent the next month after the completion of the canoe in making all kinds of traps, including some huge dead falls for grizzly bear and silver tip.

They intended as soon as the autumn opened to begin their fur operations on a much larger scale than those of the year before. Numerous excursions into the surrounding mountains showed abundant signs of game and no signs of an invader, and they calculated that if all went well they would have stored safely by next spring at least twenty thousand dollars' worth of furs.

The summer passed pleasantly for both, being filled with work in which they took a great interest, and hence a great pleasure. They found another rock cavity, which they fitted up like the first in anticipation of an auspicious trapping season.

"They say, 'don't put all your eggs in one basket,'" said Albert, "and so we won't put all our furs in one cave. The Sioux may come sometime or other, and even if they should get our three residences, Castle Howard, the Annex, and the Suburban Villa, and all that is in them, they are pretty sure to miss our caves and our furs."

"Of course some Indians must know of this valley," said Dick, "and most likely it's the Sioux. Perhaps none ever wander in here now, because they're at war with our people and are using all their forces on the plains."

Albert thought it likely, and both Dick and he had moments when they wondered greatly what was occurring in the world without. But, on the whole, they were not troubled much by the affairs of the rest of the universe.

Traps, house building, and curing food occupied them throughout the summer. Once the days were very hot in the valley, which served as a focus for the rays of the sun, but it was invariably cool, often cold, at night. They slept usually under a tent, or sometimes, on their longer expeditions in that direction, at the bark hut. Dick made a point of this, as he resolved that Albert should have no relapse. He could not see any danger of such a catastrophe, but he felt that another year of absolutely fresh and pure mountain air, breathed both night and day, would put his brother beyond all possible danger.

The life that both led even in the summer was thoroughly hardening. They bathed every morning, if in the tent by Castle Howard, in the torrent, the waters of which were always icy, flowing as they did from melting snows on the highest peaks. They swam often in the lake, which was also cold always, and at one of the hot springs they hollowed out a pool, where they could take a hot bath whenever they needed it.

The game increased in the valley as usual toward autumn, and they replenished their stores of jerked meat. They had spared their ammunition entirely throughout the summer and now they used it only on buffalo, elk, and mule deer. They were fortunate enough to catch several big bears in their huge dead falls, and, with very little expenditure of cartridges, they felt that they could open their second winter as well equipped with food as they had been when they began the first. They also put a new bark thatching on the roof of Castle Howard, and then felt ready for anything that might come.

"Rain, hail, sleet, snow, and ice, it's all the same to us," said Dick.

They did not resume their trapping until October came, as they knew that the furs would not be in good condition until then. They merely made a good guess that it was October. They had long since lost all count of days and months, and took their reckoning from the change of the foliage into beautiful reds and yellows and the increasing coldness of the air.

It proved to be a cold but not rainy autumn, a circumstance that favored greatly their trapping operations. They had learned much in the preceding winter from observation and experience, and now they put it to practice. They knew many of the runways or paths frequented by the animals, and now they would place their traps in these, concealing them as carefully as possible, and, acting on an idea of Albert's, they made buckskin gloves for themselves, with which they handled the traps, in order to leave, if possible, no human odor to warn the wary game. Such devices as this and the more skillful making of their traps caused the second season to be a greater success than the first, good as the latter had been. They shot an additional number of buffaloes and elk, but what they sought in particular was the beaver, and they were lucky enough to find two or three new and secluded little streams, on which he had built his dams.

The valuable furs now accumulated rapidly, and it was wise forethought that had made them fit up the second cave or hollow. They were glad to have two places for them, in case one was discovered by an enemy stronger than themselves.

Autumn turned into winter, with snow, slush, and ice-cold rain. The preceding winter had been mild, but this bade fair to break some records for severe and variegated weather. Now came the true test for Albert. To trudge all day long in snow, icy rain or deep slush, to paddle across the lake in a nipping wind, with the chilly spray all over him, to go for hours soaking wet on every inch of his skin—these were the things that would have surely tried the dwellers in the houses of men, even those with healthy bodies.

Albert coughed a little after his first big soaking, but after a hot bath, a big supper, and a long night's sleep, it left, not to return. He became so thoroughly inured now to exposure that nothing seemed to affect him. Late in December—so they reckoned the time—when, going farther than usual into a long crevice of the mountains, they were overtaken by a heavy snowstorm. They might have reached the Suburban Villa by night, or they might not, but in any event the going would have been full of danger, and they decided to camp in the broadest part of the canyon in which they now were, not far from the little brook that flowed down it.

They had matches with them—they were always careful to keep them dry now—and after securing their dry shavings they lighted a good fire. Then they are their food, and looked up without fear at the dark mountains and the thick, driving snow. They were partially sheltered by the bank and some great ash trees, and, for further protection, they wrapped about themselves the blankets, without which they never went on any long journey.

Having each other for company, the adventure was like a picnic to both. It was no such desperate affair as that of Dick's when he was alone on the plain. They further increased their shelter from the snow by an artful contrivance of brush and fallen boughs, and although enough still fell upon them to make miserable the house-bred, they did not care. Both fell asleep after a while, with flurries of snow still striking upon their faces, and were awakened far in the night by the roar of an avalanche farther up the canyon; but they soon went to sleep again and arose the next day with injury.

Thus the winter passed, one of storm and cold, but the trapping was wonderful, and each boy grew in a remarkable manner in strength, endurance, and skill. When signs of spring appeared again, they decided that it was time for them to go. Had it not been for Dick's misadventure on the plain, and their belief that a great war was now in progress between the Sioux and the white people, one might have gone out to return with horses and mules for furs, while the other remained behind to guard them. But in view of all the dangers, they resolved to keep together. The furs would be secreted and the rest of their property must take its chances.

So they made ready.



Chapter XIV Prisoners

It gave both Dick and Albert a severe wrench to leave their beautiful valley. They had lived in it now nearly two years, and it had brought strength and abounding life to Albert, infinite variety, content, and gratitude to Dick, and what seemed a fortune—their furs—to both. It was a beautiful valley, in which Nature had done for them many strange and wonderful things, and they loved it, the splendid lake, the grassy levels, the rushing streams, the noble groves, and the great mountains all about.

"I'd like to live here, Dick," said Albert, "for some years, anyway. After we take out our furs and sell 'em, we can come back and use it as a base for more trapping."

"If the Indians will let up," said Dick.

"Do you think we'll meet 'em?"

"I don't know, but I believe the plains are alive with hostile Sioux."

But Albert could not foresee any trouble. He was too young, to sanguine, too full now of the joy of life to think of difficulties.

They chose their weapons for the march with great care, each taking a repeating rifle, a revolver, a hunting knife, and a hatchet, the latter chiefly for camping purposes. They also divided equally among themselves what was left of the ball cartridges, and each took his sunglass and half of the remaining matches. The extra weapons, including the shotguns and shot cartridges, they hid with their furs. They also put in the caves many more of their most valuable possessions, especially the tools and remnants of medical supplies. They left everything else in the houses, just as they were when they were using them, except the bark hut, from which they took away all furnishings, as it was too light to resist the invasion of a large wild beast like a grizzly bear. But they fastened up Castle Howard and the Annex so securely that no wandering beast could possibly break in. They sunk their canoes in shallow water among reeds, and then, when each had provided himself with a large supply of jerked buffalo and deer meat and a skin water bag, they were ready to depart.

"We may find our houses and what is in them all right when we come back, or we may not," said Dick.

"But we take the chance," said Albert cheerfully.

Early on a spring morning they started down the valley by the same way in which they had first entered it. They walked along in silence for some minutes, and then, as if by the same impulse, the two turned and looked back. There was their house, which had sheltered them so snugly and so safely for so long, almost hidden now in the foliage of the new spring. There was a bit of moisture in the eyes of Albert, the younger and more sentimental.

"Good-by," he said, waving his hand. "I've found life here."

Dick said nothing, and they turned into the main valley. They walked with long and springy steps, left the valley behind them, and began to climb the slopes. Presently the valley itself became invisible, the mountains seeming to close in and blot it out.

"A stranger would have to blunder on it to find it," said Dick.

"I hope no one will make any such blunder," said Albert.

The passage over the mountains was easy, the weather continuing favorable, and on another sunshiny morning they reached the plains, which flowed out boundlessly before them. These, too, were touched with green, but the boys were perplexed. The space was so vast, and it was all so much alike, that it did not look as if they could ever arrive anywhere.

"I think we'd better make for Cheyenne in Wyoming Territory," said Dick.

"But we don't know how far away it is, nor in what direction," said Albert.

"No; but if we keep on going we're bound to get somewhere. We've got lots of time before us, and we'll take it easy."

They had filled their skin water bags, made in the winter, at the last spring, and they set out at a moderate pace over the plain. Dick had thought once of visiting again the scene of the train's destruction in the pass, but Albert opposed it.

"No," he said, "I don't want to see that place."

This journey, they knew not whither, continued easy and pleasant throughout the day. The grass was growing fast on the plains, and all the little steams that wound now and then between the swells were full of water, and, although they still carried the filled water bags, Dick inferred that they were not likely to suffer from thirst. Late in the afternoon they saw a small herd of antelope and a lone buffalo grazing at a considerable distance, and Dick drew the second and comforting inference that game would prove to be abundant. He was so pleased with these inferences that he stated them to Albert, who promptly drew a third.

"Wouldn't the presence of buffalo and antelope indicate that there are not many Indians hereabouts?" he asked.

"It looks likely," replied Dick.

They continued southward until twilight came, when they built in a hollow a fire of buffalo chips, which were abundant all over the plain, and watched their friendly mountains sink away in the dark.

"Gives me a sort of homesick feeling," said Albert. "They've been good mountains to us. Shelter and home are there, but out here I feel as if I were stripped to the wind."

"That describes it," said Dick.

They did not keep any watch, but put out their fire and slept snugly in their blankets. They were awakened in the morning by the whine of a coyote that did not dare to come too near, and resumed their leisurely march, to continue in this manner for several days, meeting no human being either white or red.

They saw the mountains sink behind the sky line and then they felt entirely without a rudder. There was nothing to go by now except the sun, but they kept to their southern course. They were not greatly troubled. They found plenty of game, as Dick had surmised, and killed an antelope and a fat young buffalo cow.

"We may travel a long journey, Al," said Dick with some satisfaction, "but it's not hard on us. It's more like loafing along on an easy holiday."

On the fifth day they ran into a large buffalo herd, but did not molest any of its members, as they did not need fresh meat.

"Seems to me," said Dick, "that Sioux would be after this herd if they weren't busy elsewhere. It looks like more proof that the Sioux are on the warpath and are to the eastward of us, fighting our own people."

"The Sioux are a great and warlike tribe, are they not?" asked Albert.

"The greatest and most warlike west of the Mississippi," replied Dick. "I understand that they are really a group of closely related tribes and can put thousands of warriors in the field."

"Bright Sun, I suppose, is with them?"

"Yes, I suppose so. He is an Indian, a Sioux, no matter if he was at white schools and for years with white people. He must feel for his own, just as you and I, Al, feel for our own race."

They wandered three or four more days across the plains, and were still without sign of white man or red. They experienced no hardship. Water was plentiful. Game was to be had for the stalking and life, had they been hunting or exploring, would have been pleasant; but both felt a sense of disappointment—they never came to anything. The expanse of plains was boundless, the loneliness became overpowering. They had not the remotest idea whether they were traveling toward any white settlement. Human life seemed to shun them.

"Dick," said Albert one day, "do you remember the story of the Flying Dutchman, how he kept trying for years to round the Cape of Storms, and couldn't do it? I wonder if some such penalty is put on us, and if so, what for?"

The thought lodged in the minds of both. Oppressed by long and fruitless wanderings, they began to have a superstition that they were to continue them forever. They knew that it was unreasonable, but it clung, nevertheless. There were the rolling plains, the high, brassy sky, and the clear line of the horizon on all sides, with nothing that savored of human life between.

They had hoped for an emigrant train, or a wandering band of hunters, or possibly a troop of cavalry, but days passed and they met none. Still the same high, brassy sky, still the same unbroken horizons. The plains increased in beauty. There was a fine, delicate shade of green on the buffalo grass, and wonderful little flowers peeped shy heads just above the earth, but Dick and Albert took little notice of either. They had sunk into an uncommon depression. The terrible superstition that they were to wander forever was strengthening its hold upon them, despite every effort of will and reason. In the hope of better success they changed their course two or three times, continuing in each case several days in that direction before the next change was made.

"We've traveled around so much now," said Albert despondently, "that we couldn't go back to our mountains if we wanted to do it. We don't know any longer in what direction they lie."

"That's so," said Dick, with equal despondency showing in his tone.

His comment was brief, because they talked but little now, and every day were talking less. Their spirits were affected too much to permit any excess of words. But they came finally to rougher, much more broken country, and they saw a line of trees on the crest of hills just under the sunset horizon. The sight, the break in the monotony, the cheerful trees made them lift up their drooping heads.

"Well, at any rate, here's something new," said Dick. "Let's consider it an omen of good luck, Al."

They reached the slope, a long one, with many depressions and hollows, containing thick groves of large trees, the heights beyond being crowned with trees of much taller growth. They would have gone to the summit, but they were tired with a long day's tramp and they had not yet fully aroused themselves from the lethargy that had overtaken them in their weary wanderings.

"Night's coming," said Albert, "so let's take to that hollow over there with the scrub ash in it."

"All right," said Dick. "Suits me."

It was a cozy little hollow, deeply shaded by the ash trees, but too rocky to be damp, and they did not take the trouble to light a fire. They had been living for some time on fresh buffalo and antelope, and had saved their jerked meat, on which they now drew for supper.

It was now quite dark, and each, throwing his blanket lightly around his shoulders, propped himself in a comfortable position. Then, for the first time in days, they began to talk in the easy, idle fashion of those who feel some degree of contentment, a change made merely by the difference in scene, the presence of hills, trees, and rocks after the monotonous world of the plains.

"We'll explore that country to-morrow," said Dick, nodding his head toward the crest of the hills. "Must be something over there, a river, a lake, and maybe trappers."

"Hope it won't make me homesick again for our valley," said Albert sleepily. "I've been thinking too much of it, anyway, in the last few days. Dick, wasn't that the most beautiful lake of ours that you ever saw? Did you ever see another house as snug as Castle Howard? And how about the Annex and the Suburban Villa? And all those beautiful streams that came jumping down between the mountains?"

"If you don't shut up, Al," said Dick, "I'll thrash you with this good handy stick that I've found here."

"All right," replied Albert, laughing; "I didn't mean to harrow up your feelings any more than I did my own."

Albert was tired, and the measure of content that he now felt was soothing. Hence, his drowsiness increased, and in ten minutes he went comfortably to sleep. Dick's eyes were yet open, and he felt within himself such new supplies of energy and strength that he resolved to explore a little. The task that had seemed so hard two or three hours before was quite easy now. Albert would remain sleeping safely where he was, and, acting promptly, Dick left the hollow, rifle on shoulder.

It was an easy slope, but a long one. As he ascended, the trees grew more thickly and near the ascent were comparatively free from undergrowth. Just over the hill shone a magnificent full moon, touching the crest with a line of molten silver.

Dick soon reached the summit and looked down the far slope into a valley three or four hundred yards deep. The moon shed its full glory into the valley and filled it with rays of light.

The valley was at least two miles wide, and down its center flowed a fine young river, which Dick could see here and there in stretches, while the rest was hidden by forest. In fact, the whole valley seemed to be well clothed with mountain forest, except in one wide space where Dick's gaze remained after it had alighted once.

Here was human life, and plenty of it. He looked down upon a circle of at least two hundred lodges, tent-shaped structures of saplings covered with bark, and he had heard quite enough about such things to know these were the winter homes of the Sioux. The moonlight was so clear and his position so good that he was able to see figures moving about the lodges.

The sight thrilled Dick. Here he had truly come upon human life, but not the kind he wished to see. But it was vastly interesting, and he sought a closer look. His daring told him to go down the slope toward them, and he obeyed. The descent was not difficult, and there was cover in abundance—pines, ash, and oak.

As he was very careful, taking time not to break a twig or set a stone rolling, and stopping at intervals to look and listen, he was a half hour in reaching the valley, where, through the trees, he saw the Indian village. He felt that he was rash, but wishing to see, he crept closer, the cover still holding good. He was, in a way, fascinated by what he saw. It had the quality of a dream, and its very unreality made him think less of the danger. But he really did not know how expert he had become as a woodsman and trailer through his long training as a trapper, where delicacy of movement and craft were required.

He believed that the Indians, in such a secure location, would not be stirring beyond the village at this late hour, and he had little fear of anything except the sharp-nosed dogs that are always prowling about an Indian village. He was within three hundred yards of the lodges when he heard the faint sound of voices and footsteps. He instantly lay down among the bushes, but raised himself a little on his elbow in order to see.

Three Indians were walking slowly along a woodland path toward the village, and the presence of the path indicated the village had been here for many months, perhaps was permanent. The Indians were talking very earnestly and they made gestures. One raised his voice a little and turned toward one of his companions, as if he would emphasize his words. Then Dick saw his face clearly, and drew a long breath of surprise.

It was Bright Sun, but a Bright Sun greatly changed. He was wholly in native attire—moccasins, leggings, and a beautiful blue blanket draped about his shoulders. A row of eagle feathers adorned his long black hair, but it was the look and manner of the man that had so much significance. He towered above the other Indians, who were men of no mean height; but it was not his height either, it was his face, the fire of his eyes, the proud eagle beak which the Sioux had not less than the Roman, and the swift glance of command that could not be denied. Here was a great chief, a leader of men, and Dick was ready to admit it.

He could easily have shot Bright Sun dead as he passed, but he did not dream of doing such a thing. Yet Bright Sun, while seeming to play the part of a friend, had deliberately led the wagon train into a fatal ambush—of that Dick had no doubt. He felt, moreover, that Bright Sun was destined to cause great woe to the white people, his own people, but he could not fire; nor would he have fired even if the deed had been without danger to himself.

Dick, instead, gave Bright Sun a reluctant admiration. He looked well enough as the guide in white men's clothes, but in his own native dress he looked like one to be served, not to serve. The three paused for a full two minutes exactly opposite Dick, and he could have reached out and touched them with the barrel of his rifle; but they were thinking little of the presence of an enemy. Dick judged by the emphasis of their talk that it was on a matter of some great moment, and he saw all three of them point at times toward the east.

"It's surely war," he thought, "and our army if somewhere off there in the east."

Dick saw that Bright Sun remained the dominating figure throughout the discussion. Its whole effect was that of Bright Sun talking and the others listening. He seemed to communicate his fire and enthusiasm to his comrades, and soon they nodded a vigorous assent. Then the three walked silently away toward the village.

Dick rose from his covert, cast a single glance at the direction in which the three chiefs had disappeared, and then began to retrace his own steps. It was his purpose to arouse Albert and flee at once to a less dangerous region. But the fate of Dick and his brother rested at that moment with a mean, mangy, mongrel cur, such as have always been a part of Indian villages, a cur that had wandered farther from the village than usual that night upon some unknown errand.

Dick had gone about thirty yards when he became conscious of a light, almost faint, pattering sound behind him. He stepped swiftly into the heaviest shadow of trees and sought to see what pursued. He thought at first it was some base-born wolf of the humblest tribe, but, when he looked longer, he knew that it was one of the meanest of mean curs, a hideous, little yellowish animal, sneaking in his movements, a dog that one would gladly kick out of his way.

Dick felt considerable contempt for himself because he had been alarmed over such a miserable little beast, and resumed his swift walk. Thirty yards farther he threw a glance over his shoulder, and there was the wretched cur still following. Dick did not like it, considering it an insult to himself to be trailed by anything so ugly and insignificant. He picked up a stone, but hesitated a moment, and then put it down again. If he threw the stone the dog might bark or howl, and that was the last thing that he wanted. Already the cur, mean and miserable as he looked, had won a victory over him.

Dick turned into a course that he would not have taken otherwise, thinking to shake off his pursuer, but at the next open space he saw him still following, his malignant red eyes fixed upon the boy. The cur would not have weighed twenty cowardly pounds, but he became a horrible obsession to Dick. He picked up a stone again, put it down again, and for a mad instant seriously considered the question of shooting him.

The cur seemed to become alarmed at the second threat, and broke suddenly into a sharp, snarling, yapping bark, much like that of a coyote. It was terribly loud in the still night, and cold dread assailed Dick in every nerve. He picked up the stone that he had dropped, and this time he threw it.

"You brute!" he exclaimed, as the stone whizzed by the cur's ear.

The cur returned the compliment of names with compounded many times over. His snarling bark became almost continuous, and although he did not come any nearer, he showed sharp white teeth. Dick paused in doubt, but when, from a point nearer the village, he heard a bark in reply, then another, and then a dozen, he ran with all speed up the slope. He knew without looking back that the cur was following, and it made him feel cold again.

Certainly Dick had good cause to run. All the world was up and listening now, and most of it was making a noise, too. He heard a tumult of barking, growling, and snapping toward the village, and then above it a long, mournful cry that ended in an ominous note. Dick knew that it was a Sioux war whoop, and that the mean, miserable little cur had done his work. The village would be at his heels. Seized with an unreasoning passion, he whirled about and shot the cur dead. It was a mad act, and he instantly repented it. Never had there been another rifle shot so loud. It crashed like the report of a cannon. Mountain and valley gave it back in a multitude of echoes, and on the last dying echo came, not a single war whoop, but the shout of many, the fierce, insistent, falsetto yell that has sounded the doom of many a borderer.

Dick shuddered. He had been pursued once before by a single man, but he was not afraid of a lone warrior. Now a score would be at his heels. He might shake them off in the dark, but the dogs would keep the scent, and his chief object was to go fast. He ran up the slope at his utmost speed for a hundred yards or more, and then remembering in time to nurse his strength, he slackened his footsteps.

He had thought of turning the pursuit away from the hollow in which Albert lay, but now that the alarm was out they would find him, anyway, and it was best for the two to stand or fall together. Hence, he went straight for the hollow.

It was bitter work running up a slope, but his two years of life in the open were a great help to him now. The strong heart and the powerful lungs responded nobly to the call. He ran lightly, holding his rifle in the hollow of his arm, ready for use if need be, and he watch warily lest he make an incautious footstep and fall. The moonlight was still full and clear, but when he took an occasional hurried glance backward he could not yet see his pursuers. He heard, now and then, however, the barking of a dog or the cry of a warrior.

Dick reached the crest of the hill, and there for an instant or two his figure stood, under the pines, a black silhouette against the moonlight. Four or five shots were fired at the living target. One bullet whizzed so near that it seemed to Dick to scorch his face.

He had gathered fresh strength, and that hot bullet gave a new impetus also. He ran down the slope at a great speed now, and he had calculated craftily. He could descend nearly twice as fast as they could ascend, and while they were reaching the crest he would put a wide gap between them.

He kept well in the shadow now as he made with long leaps straight toward the hollow, and he hoped with every heart beat that Albert, aroused by the shots, would be awake and ready. "Albert!" he cried, when he was within twenty feet of their camp, and his hope was rewarded. Albert was up, rifle in hand, crying:

"What is it, Dick?"

"The Sioux!" exclaimed Dick. "They're not far away! You heard the shots! Come!"

He turned off at an angle and ran in a parallel line along the slope, Albert by his side. He wished to keep to the forests and thickets, knowing they would have little chance of escape on the plain. As they ran he told Albert, in short, choppy sentences, what had happened.

"I don't hear anything," said Albert, after ten minutes. "Maybe they've lost us."

"No such good luck! Those curs of theirs would lead them. No, Al, we've got to keep straight on as long as we can!"

Albert stumbled on a rock, but, quickly recovering himself, put greater speed in every jump, when he heard the Indian shout behind him.

"We've got to shoot their dogs," said Dick. "We'll have no other chance to shake them off."

"If we get a chance," replied Albert.

But they did not see any chance just yet. They heard the occasional howl of a cur, but both curs and Indians remained invisible. Yet Dick felt that the pursuers were gaining. They were numerous, and they could spread. Every time he and Albert diverged from a straight line—and they could not help doing so now and then—some portion of the pursuing body came nearer. It was the advantage that the many had over the few.

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