Dick prayed for darkness, a shading of the moon, but it did not come, and five minutes later he saw the yellow form of a cur emerge into an open space. He took a shot at it and heard a howl. He did not know whether he had killed the dog or not, but he hoped he had succeeded. The shot brought forth a cry to their right, and then another to the left. It was obvious that the Sioux, besides being behind them, were also on either side of them. They were gasping, too, from their long run, and knew that they could not continue much farther.
"We can't shake them off, Al," said Dick, "and we'll have to fight. This is as good a place as any other."
They dropped down into a rocky hollow, a depression not more than a foot deep, and lay on their faces, gasping for breath. Despite the deadly danger Dick felt a certain relief that he did not have to run any more—there comes a time when a moment's physical rest will overweigh any amount of mortal peril.
"If they've surrounded us, they're very quiet about it," said Albert, when the fresh air had flowed back into his lungs. "I don't see or hear anything at all."
"At least we don't hear those confounded dogs any more," said Dick. "Maybe there was only one pursuing us, and that shot of mine got him. The howls of the cur upset my nerves more than the shouts of the Sioux."
"Maybe so," said Albert.
Then they were both quite still. The moonlight was silvery clear, and they could see pines, oaks, and cedars waving in a gentle wind, but they saw nothing else. Yet Dick was well aware that the Sioux had not abandoned the chase; they knew well where the boys lay, and were all about them in the woods.
"Keep close, Albert," he said. "Indians are sly, and the Sioux are the slyest of them all. They're only waiting until one of us pops up his head, thinking they're gone."
Albert took Dick's advice, but so long a time passed without sign from the Sioux that he began to believe that, in some mysterious manner, they had evaded the savages. The belief had grown almost into a certainty, when there was a flash and a report from a point higher up the slope. Albert felt something hot and stinging in his face. But it was only a tiny fragment of rock chipped off by the bullet as it passed.
Both Dick and Albert lay closer, as if they would press themselves into the earth, and soon two or three more shots were fired. All came from points higher up the slope, and none hit a living target, though they struck unpleasantly close.
"I wish I could see something," exclaimed Albert impatiently. "It's not pleasant to be shot at and to get no shot in return."
Dick did not answer. He was watching a point among some scrub pines higher up the slope, where the boughs seemed to him to be waving too much for the slight wind. Looking intently, he thought he saw a patch of brown through the evergreen, and he fired at it. A faint cry followed the shot, and Dick felt a strange satisfaction; they were hunting him—well, he had given a blow in return.
Silence settled down again after Dick's shot. The boys lay perfectly still, although they could hear each other's breathing. The silvery moonlight seemed to grow fuller and clearer all the time. It flooded the whole slope. Boughs and twigs were sheathed in it. Apparently, the moon looked down upon a scene that was all peace and without the presence of a human being.
"Do you think they'll rush us?" whispered Albert.
"No," replied Dick. "I've always heard that the Indian takes as little risk as he possibly can."
They waited a little longer, and then came a flare of rifle shots from a point farther up the slope. Brown forms appeared faintly, and Dick and Albert, intent and eager, began to fire in reply. Bullets sang by their ears and clipped the stones around them, but their blood rose the higher and they fired faster and faster.
"We'll drive 'em back!" exclaimed Dick.
They did not hear the rapid patter of soft, light footsteps coming from another direction, until a half dozen Sioux were upon them. Then the firing in front ceased abruptly, and Dick and Albert whirled to meet their new foes.
It was too late. Dick saw Albert struggling in the grasp of two big warriors, and then saw and heard nothing more. He had received a heavy blow on the head from the butt of a rifle and became unconscious.
Chapter XV The Indian Village
When Dick awoke from his second period of unconsciousness it was to awake, as he did from the first, under a roof, but not, as in the case of the first, under his own roof. He saw above him an immense sloping thatch of bark on poles, and his eyes, wandering lower, saw walls of bark, also fastened to poles. He himself was lying on a large rush mat, and beside the door of the great tepee sat two Sioux warriors cleaning their rifles.
Dick's gaze rested upon the warriors. Curiously, he felt at that time neither hostility nor apprehension. He rather admired them. They were fine, tall men, and their bare arms and legs were sinewy and powerful. Then he thought of Albert. He was nowhere to be seen, but from the shadow of the wall on his right came a tall figure, full of dignity and majesty. It was Bright Sun, who looked down at Dick with a gaze that expressed inquiry rather than anger.
"Why have you come here?" he asked.
Although Dick's head ached and he was a captive, the question made a faint appeal to his sense of humor.
"I didn't come," he replied; "I was brought."
Bright Sun smiled.
"That is true," he said, speaking the precise English of the schools, with every word enunciated distinctly. "You were brought, and by my warriors; but why were you upon these hills?"
"I give you the best answer I can, Bright Sun," replied Dick frankly; "I don't know. My brother and I were lost upon the plains, and we wandered here. Nor have I the remotest idea now where I am."
"You are in a village of the tribe of the Mendewahkanton Sioux, of the clan Queyata-oto-we," replied Bright Sun gravely, "the clan and tribe to which I belong. The Mendewahkantons are one of the first tribes of the Seven Fireplaces, or the Great Sioux Nation. But all are great—Mendewahkanton, Wahpeton, Sisseton, Yankton, Teton, Ogalala, and Hunkpapa—down to the last clan of every tribe."
He began with gravity and an even intonation, but his voice rose with pride at the last. Nothing of the white man's training was left to him but the slow, precise English. It was the Indian, the pride of his Indian race, that spoke. Dick recognized it and respected it.
"And this?" said Dick, looking around at the great house of bark and poles in which he lay.
"This," replied Bright Sun, pride again showing in this tone, "is the house of the Akitcita, our soldiers and policemen, the men between twenty and forty, the warriors of the first rank, who live here in common, and into whose house women and children may not enter. I have read in the books at your schools how the Spartan young men lived together as soldiers in a common house, eating rough food and doing the severest duty, and the whole world has long applauded. The Sioux, who never heard of the Spartans, have been doing the same far back into the shadowy time. We, too, are a race of warriors."
Dick looked with renewed interest at the extraordinary man before him, and an amazing suggestion found lodgment in his mind. Perhaps the Sioux chief thought himself not merely as good as the white man, but better, better than any other man except those of his own race. It was so surprising that Dick forgot for a moment the question that he was eagerly awaiting a chance to ask—where was his brother Albert?
"I've always heard that the Sioux were brave," said Dick vaguely, "and I know they are powerful."
"We are the Seven Fireplaces. What the Six Nations once were in the East, we now are in the West, save that we are far more numerous and powerful, and we will not be divided. We have leaders who see the truth and who know what to do."
The pride in his tone was tinged now with defiance, and Dick could but look at him in wonder. But his mind now came back to the anxious question:
"Where is my brother Albert, who was taken with me? You have not killed him?"
"He has not been hurt, although we are at war with your people," replied Bright Sun. "He is here in the village, and he, like you, is safe for the present. Some of the warriors wished to kill both you and him, but I have learned wisdom in these matters from your people. Why throw away pawns that we hold? I keep your brother and you as hostages."
Dick, who had raised himself up in his eagerness, sank back again, relieved. He could feel that Bright Sun told the truth, and he had faith, too, in the man's power as well as his word. Yet there was another question that he wished to ask.
"Bright Sun," he said, "it was you, our guide, who led the train into the pass that all might be killed?"
Bright Sun shrugged his shoulders, but a spark leaped from his eyes.
"What would you ask of me?" he replied. "In your code it was cunning, but the few and small must fight with cunning. The little man, to confront the big man, needs the advantage of weapons. The Sioux make the last stand for the Indian race, and we strike when and where we can."
The conscience of the chief was clear, so far as Dick could see, and there was nothing that he could say in reply. It was Bright Sun himself who resumed:
"But I spared you and your brother. I did that which caused you to be absent when the others were slain."
"Because you were different. You were not like the others. It may be that I pitied you, and it may be also that I like you—a little—and—you were young."
The man's face bore no more expression than carven oak, but Dick was grateful.
"I thank you, Bright Sun," he said, "and I know that Albert thanks you, too."
Bright sun nodded, and then fixed an intent gaze upon Dick.
"You and your brother escaped," he said. "That was nearly two years ago, and you have not gone back to your people. Where have you been?"
Dick saw a deep curiosity lurking behind the intent gaze, but whatever he might owe to Bright Sun, he had no intention of gratifying it.
"Would you tell me where you have been in the last two years and all that you have done?" the chief asked.
"I cannot answer; but you see that we have lived, Albert and I," Dick replied.
"And that you have learned the virtues of silence," said Bright Sun. "I ask you no more about it to-day. Give me your word for the present that you will not try to escape, and your life and that of your brother will be the easier. It would be useless, anyhow, for you to make such an attempt. When you feel that you have a chance, you can withdraw your promise."
Dick laughed, and the laugh was one of genuine good humor.
"That's certainly fair," he said. "Since I can't escape, I might as well give my promise not to try it for the time being. Well, I give it."
Bright Sun nodded gravely.
"Your brother will come in soon," he said. "He has already given his promise, that is, a conditional one, good until he can confer with you."
"I'll confirm it," said Dick.
Bright Sun saluted and left the great lodge. Some warriors near the door moved aside with the greatest deference to let him pass. Dick lay on his rush mat, gazing after him, and deeply impressed.
When Bright Sun was gone he examined the lodge again. It was obvious that it was a great common hall or barracks for warriors, and Bright Sun's simile of the Spartans was correct. More warriors came in, all splendid, athletic young men of a high and confident bearing. A few were dressed in the white man's costume, but most of them were in blankets, leggings, and moccasins, and had magnificent rows of feathers in their hair. Every man carried a carbine, and most of them had revolvers also. Such were the Akitcita or chosen band, and in this village of about two hundred lodges they numbered sixty men. Dick did not know then that in times of peace all guests, whether white or red, were entertained in the lodge of the Akitcita.
Impressed as he had been by Bright Sun, he was impressed also by these warriors. Not one of them spoke to him or annoyed him in any manner. They went about their tasks, cleaning and polishing their weapons, or sitting on rough wooden benches, smoking pipes with a certain dignity that belonged to men of strength and courage. All around the lodge were rush mats, on which they slept, and near the door was a carved totem pole.
A form darkened the doorway, and Albert came in. He rushed to Dick when he saw that he was conscious again, and shook his hand with great fervor. The warriors went on with their tasks or their smoking, and still took no notice.
"This is a most wonderful place, Dick," exclaimed the impressionable Albert, "and Bright Sun has treated us well. We can go about the village if we give a promise, for the time, that we'll not try to escape."
"He's been here," said Dick, "and I've given it."
"Then, if you feel strong enough, let's go on and take a look."
"Wait until I see if this head of mine swims around," said Dick.
He rose slowly to his feet, and his bandaged head was dizzy at first, but as he steadied himself it became normal. Albert thrust out his hand to support him. It delighted him that he could be again of help to his older and bigger brother, and Dick, divining Albert's feeling, let it lie for a minute. Then they went to the door, Dick walking quite easily, as his strength came back fast.
The warriors of the Akitcita, of whom fully a dozen were now present in the great lodge, still paid no attention to the two youths, and Dick surmised that it was the orders of Bright Sun. But this absolute ignoring of their existence was uncanny, nevertheless. Dick studies some of the faces as he passed. Bold and fearless they were, and not without a certain nobility, but there was little touch of gentleness or pity, it was rather the strength of the wild animal, the flesh-eater, that seeks its prey. Sioux they were, and Sioux they would remain in heart, no matter what happened, wild warriors of the northwest. Dick perceived this fact in a lightening flash, but it was the lightening flash of conviction.
Outside the fresh air saluted Dick, mouth and nostrils, and the ache in his head went quite away. He had seen the valley by moonlight, when it was beautiful, but not as beautiful as their own valley, the one of which they would not tell to anybody. But it was full of interest. The village life, the life of the wild, was in progress all about him, and in the sunshine, amidst such picturesque surroundings, it had much that was attractive to the strong and brave.
Dick judged correctly that the village contained about two hundred winter lodges of bark and poles, and could therefore furnish about four hundred warriors. It was evident, too, that it was the scene of prosperity. The flesh of buffalo, elk, and deer was drying in the sun, hanging from trees or on little platforms of poles. Children played with the dogs or practiced with small bows and arrows. In the shadow of a tepee six old women sat gambling, and the two boys stopped to watch them.
The Indians are more inveterate gamblers than the whites, and the old women, wrinkled, hideous hags of vast age, played their games with an intent, almost breathless, interest.
They were playing Woskate Tanpan, or the game of dice, as it is known to the Sioux. Three women were on each side, and they played it with tanpan (the basket), kansu (the dice), and canyiwawa (the counting sticks). The tanpan, made of willow twigs, was a tiny basket, about three inches in diameter at the bottom, but broader at the top, and about two inches deep. Into this one woman would put the kansu or dice, a set of six plum stones, some carved and some not carved. She would put her hand over the tanpan, shake the kansu just as the white dice player does, and then throw them out. The value of the throw would be according to the kind and number of carvings that were turned up when the kansu fell.
The opposing sides, three each, sat facing each other, and the stakes for which they played—canyiwawa (the counting sticks)—lay between them. These were little round sticks about the thickness of a lead pencil, and the size of each heap went up or down, as fortune shifted back or forth. They could make the counting sticks represent whatever value they chose, this being agreed upon beforehand, and the old Sioux women had been known to play Woskate Tanpan two days and nights without ever rising from their seats.
"What old harpies they are!" said Dick. "Did you ever see anybody so eager over anything?"
"They are no worse than the men," replied Albert. "A lot of warriors are gambling, too."
A group of the men were gathered on a little green farther on, and the brothers joined them, beginning to share at once the interest that the spectators showed in several warriors who were playing Woskate Painyankapi, or the game of the Wands and the Hoop.
The warriors used in the sport canyleska (the hoop) and cansakala (the wands). The hoops were of ash, two or three feet in diameter, the ash itself being about an inch in diameter. Every hoop was carefully marked off into spaces, something like the face of a watch.
Cansakala (the wands) were of chokecherry, four feet long and three fourths of an inch in diameter. One end of every wand was squared for a distance of about a foot. The wands were in pairs, the two being fastened together with buckskin thongs about nine inches in length, and fastened at a point about one third of the length of the wands from the rounded ends.
A warrior would roll the hoop, and he was required to roll it straight and correctly. If he did not do so, the umpire made him roll it over, as in the white man's game of baseball the pitcher cannot get a strike until he pitches the ball right.
When the hoop was rolled correctly, the opposing player dropped his pair of wands somewhere in front of it. It was his object so to calculate the speed and course of the hoop when it fell it would lie upon his wands. If he succeeded, he secured his points according to the spaces on each wand within which the hoop lay—an exceedingly difficult game, requiring great skill of hand and judgment of eye. That if was absorbing was shown by the great interest with which all the spectators followed it and by their eager betting.
"I don't believe I could learn to do that in ten years," said Albert; "you've got to combine too many things and to combine them fast."
"They must begin on it while they're young," said Dick; "but the Indian has a mind, and don't you forget it."
"But they're not as we are," rejoined Albert. "Nothing can ever make them so."
Here, as in the house of the Akitcita, nobody paid any attention to the two boys, but Dick began to have a feeling that he was watched, not watched openly as man watches man, but in the furtive dangerous way of the great wild beasts, the man-eaters. The feeling grew into a conviction that, despite what they were doing, everybody in the camp—warrior, squaw, and child—was watching Albert and him. He knew that half of this was fancy, but he was sure that the other half was real.
"Albert," he said, "I wouldn't make any break for liberty now, even if I hadn't given my promise."
"Nor I," said Albert. "By the time we had gone ten feet the whole village would be on top of us. Dick, while I'm here I'm going to make the best of it I can."
In pursuance of this worthy intention Albert pressed forward and almost took the cansakala from the hands of a stalwart warrior. The man, amazed at first, yielded up the pair of wands with a grin. Albert signaled imperiously to the warrior with the hoop, and he, too, grinning, sent canyleska whirling.
Albert cast the wands, and the hoop fell many feet from them. A shout of laughter arose. The white youth was showing himself a poor match for the Sioux, and the women and children came running to see this proof of the superiority of their race.
The warrior from whom he had taken them gravely picked up the cansakala and handed them back to Albert, the other warrior again sent canyleska rolling, and again Albert threw the wands with the same ill fortune. A third and fourth time he tried, with but slight improvement, and the crowd, well pleased to see him fail, thickened all the time, until nearly the whole village was present.
"It's just as hard as we thought it was, Dick, and harder," said Albert ruefully. "Here, you take it and see what you can do."
He handed cansakala to Dick, who also tried in vain, while the crowd enjoyed the sport, laughing and chatting to one another, as they will in their own villages. Dick made a little more progress than Albert had achieved, but not enough to score any points worth mentioning, and he, too, retired discomfited, while the Sioux, especially the women, continued to laugh.
"I don't like to be beaten that way," said Albert in a nettled tone.
"Never mind, Al, old fellow," said Dick soothingly. "Remember it's their game, not ours, and as it makes them feel good, it's all the better for us. Since they've beaten us, they're apt to like us and treat us better."
It was hard for Albert to take the more philosophical view, which was also the truthful one, but he did his best to reconcile himself, and he and Dick moved on to other sights.
Dick noticed that the village had been located with great judgment. On one side was the river, narrow but swift and deep; on the other, a broad open space that would not permit an enemy to approach through ambush, and beyond that the forest.
The tepees stood in a great circle, and, although Dick did not know it, their camps were always pitched according to rule, each gens or clan having its regular place in the circle. The tribe of the Mendewahkantons—a leading one of the Seven Fireplaces or Council Fires of the great Sioux nation—was subdivided into seven gentes or clans; the Kiyukas, or Breakers, so called because they disregarded the general marriage law and married outside their own clan; the Que-mini-tea, or Mountain Wood and Water people; the Kap'oja, or Light Travelers; the Maxa-yuta-cui, the People who Eat no Grease; the Queyata-oto-we, or the People of the Village Back from the River; the Oyata Citca, the Bad Nation, and the Tita-otowe, the People of the Village on the Prairie.
Each clan was composed of related families, and all this great tribe, as the boys learned later, had once dwelled around Spirit Lake, Minnesota, their name meaning Mysterious Lake Dwellers, but had been pushed westward years before by the advancing wave of white settlement. This was now a composite village, including parts of every gens of the Mendewahkantons, but there were other villages of the same tribe scattered over a large area.
When Dick and Albert reached the northern end of the village they saw a great number of Indian ponies, six or seven hundred perhaps, grazing in a wide grassy space and guarded by half-grown Indian boys.
"Dick," said Albert, "if we only had a dozen of those we could go back and get our furs."
"Yes," said Dick, "if we had the ponies, if we knew where we are now, if we were free of the Sioux village, and if we could find the way to our valley, we might do what you say."
"Yes, it does take a pile of 'ifs,'" said Albert, laughing, "and so I won't expect it. I'll try to be resigned."
So free were they from any immediate restriction that it almost seemed to them that they could walk away as they chose, up the valley and over the hills and across the plains. How were the Sioux to know that these two would keep their promised word? But both became conscious again of those watchful eyes, ferocious, like the eyes of man-eating wild beasts, and both shivered a little as they turned back into the great circle of bark teepees.
Chapter XVI The Gathering of the Sioux
Dick and Albert abode nearly two weeks in the great lodge of the Akitcita, that is, as guests, although they were prisoners, whose lives might be taken at any time, and they had splendid opportunities for observing what a genuine Spartan band the Akitcita were. Everyone had his appointed place for arms and his rush or fur mat for sleeping. There was no quarreling, no unseemly chatter, always a grave and dignified order and the sense of stern discipline. Not all the Akitcita were ever present in the daytime, but some always were. All tribal business was transacted here. The women had to bring wood and water to it daily, and the entire village supplied it every day with regular rations of tobacco, almost the only luxury of the Akitcita.
Both Dick and Albert were keenly observant, and they did not hesitate also to ask questions of Bright Sun whenever they had the chance. They learned from him that the different tribes of the Sioux had general councils at irregular intervals, that there was no hereditary rank among the chiefs, it being usually a question of energy and merit, although the rank was sometimes obtained by gifts, and ambitious man giving away all that he had for the prize. There were no women chiefs, and women were not admitted to the great council.
The boys perceived, too, that much in the life of the Sioux was governed by ancient ritual; nearly everything had its religious meaning, and both boys having an inherent respect for religion of any kind, were in constant fear lest they should violate unwillingly some honored law.
The two made friendly advances to the members of the Akitcita but they were received with a grave courtesy that did not invite a continuance. They felt daily a deepening sense of racial difference. They appreciated the humane treatment they had received, but they and the Sioux did not seem to come into touch anywhere. And this difference was accentuated in the case of Bright Sun. The very fact that he had been educated in their schools, that he spoke their language so well, and that he knew their customs seemed to widen the gulf between them into a sea. They felt that he had tasted of their life, and liked it not.
The two, although they could not like Bright Sun, began to have a certain deference for him. The old sense of power he had created in their minds increased greatly, and now it was not merely a matter of mind and manner; all the outward signs, the obvious respect in which he was held by everybody and the way in which the eyes of the warriors, as well as those of women and children, followed him, showed that he was a great leader.
After ten days or so in the great lodge of the Akitcita, Dick and Albert were removed to a small bark tepee of their own, to which they were content to go. They had no arms, not even a knife, but they were already used to their captivity, and however great their ultimate danger might be, it was far away for them to think much about it.
They observed, soon after their removal, that the life of the village changed greatly. The old women were not often to be found in the shadow of the lodges playing Woskate Tanpan, the men gave up wholly Woskate Painyankapi, and throughout the village, no matter how stoical the Sioux might be, there was a perceptible air of excitement and suspense. Often at night the boys heard the rolling of the Sioux war drums, and the medicine men made medicine incessantly inside their tepees. Dick chafed greatly.
"Big things are afoot," he would say to Albert. "We know that the Sioux and our people are at war, but you and I, Al, don't know a single thing that has occurred. I wish we could get away from here. Our people are our own people, and I'd like to tell them to look out."
"I feel just as you do, Dick," Albert would reply; "but we might recall our promise to Bright Sun. Besides, we wouldn't have the ghost of a chance to escape. I feel that a hundred eyes are looking at me all the time."
"I feel that two hundred are looking at me," said Dick, with a grim little laugh. "No, Al, you're right. We haven't a chance on earth to escape."
Five days after their removal to the small lodge there was a sudden and great increase in the excitement in the village. In truth, it burst into a wild elation, and all the women and children, running toward the northern side of the village, began to shout cries of welcome. The warriors followed more sedately, and Dick and Albert, no one detaining them, joined in the throng.
"Somebody's coming, Al, that's sure," said Dick.
"Yes, and that somebody's a lot of men," said Albert. "Look!"
Three or four hundred warriors, a long line of them, were coming down the valley, tall, strong, silent men, with brilliant headdresses of feathers and bright blankets. Everyone carried a carbine or rifle, and they looked what they were—a truly formidable band, resolved upon some great attempt.
Dick and Albert inferred the character of the arrivals from the shouts that they heard the squaws and children utter: "Sisseton!" "Wahpeton!" "Ogalala!" "Yankton!" "Teton!" "Hunkpapa!"
The arriving warriors, many of whom were undoubtedly chiefs, gravely nodded to their welcome, and came silently on as the admiring crowd opened to receive them.
"It's my opinion," said Dick, "that the Seven Fireplaces are about to hold a grand council in the lodge of the Akitcita."
"I don't think there's any doubt about it," replied Albert.
They also heard, amidst the names of the tribes, the names of great warriors or medicine men, names which they were destined to hear many times again, both in Indian and English—Sitting Bull, Rain-in-the-Face, Little Big Man, and others. Then they meant nothing to either Dick or Albert.
All the chiefs, led by Bright Sun, went directly to the lodge of the Akitcita, and the other warriors were taken into the lodges of their friends, the Mendewahkantons. Then the women ran to the lodges and returned with the best food that the village could furnish. It was given to the guests, and also many pounds of choice tobacco.
Dick and Albert had made no mistake in their surmise. The great council of the Seven Fireplaces of the Sioux was in session. All that day the chiefs remained in the lodge of the Akitcita, and when night was far advanced they were still there.
Dick and Albert shared the excitement of the village, although knowing far less of its nature, but they knew that a grand council of the Seven Fireplaces would not be held without great cause, and they feared much for their people. It was a warm, close night, with a thin moon and flashes of heat lightening on the hilly horizon. Through the heavy air came the monotonous rolling of a war drum, and the chant of a medicine man making medicine in a tepee near by went on without ceasing.
The boys did not try to sleep, and unable to stifle curiosity, they came from the little bark lodge. One or two Sioux warriors glanced at them, but none spoke. The Sioux knew that the village was guarded so closely by a ring of sentinels that a cat could not have crept through without being seen. The boys walked on undisturbed until they came near the great council lodge, where they stopped to look at the armed warriors standing by the door.
The dim light and the excited imaginations of the boys made the lodge grow in size and assume fantastic shapes. So many great chiefs had come together for a mighty purpose, and Dick was sure that Bright Sun, sitting in the ring of his equals, urged on the project, whatever it might be, and would be the dominating figure through all.
Although they saw nothing, they were fascinated by what they wished to see. The great lodge held them with a spell that they did not seek to break. Although it was past midnight, they stayed there, staring at the blank walls. Warriors passed and gave them sharp glances, but nothing was said to them. The air remained close and heavy. Heat lightening continued to flare on the distant hills, but no rain fell.
The chiefs finally came forth from the great council. There was no light for them save the cloudy skies and one smoking torch that a warrior held aloft, but the active imagination of the two boys were again impressed. Every chief seemed to show in his face and manner his pride of race and the savage strength that well became such a time and place. Some bore themselves more haughtily and were more brilliantly adorned than Bright Sun, but he was still the magnet from which power and influence streamed. Dick and Albert did not know why they knew it, but they knew it.
The chiefs did not go away to friendly lodges, but after they came forth remained in a group, talking. Dick surmised that they had come to an agreement upon whatever question they debated; now they were outside for fresh air, and soon would return to the lodge of the Akitcita, which, according to custom, would shelter them as guests.
Bright Sun noticed the brothers standing in the shadow of the lodge, and, leaving the group, he walked over to them. His manner did not express hostility, but he made upon both boys that old impression of power and confidence, tinged now with a certain exultation.
"You would know what we have been doing?" he said, speaking directly to Dick, the older.
"We don't ask," replied Dick, "but I will say this, Bright Sun: we believe that the thing done was the thing you wished."
Bright Sun permitted himself a little smile.
"You have learned to flatter," he said.
"It was not meant as flattery," said Dick; "but there is something more I have to say. We wish to withdraw our pledge not to attempt to escape. You remember it was in the agreement we could withdraw whenever we chose."
"That is true," said Bright Sun, giving Dick a penetrating look. "And so you think that it is time for you to go?"
"We will go, if we can," said Dick boldly.
Bright Sun, who had permitted himself a smile a little while ago, now permitted himself a soft laugh.
"You put it well," he said in his precise English, "'if we can.' But the understanding is clear. The agreement is at an end. However, you will not escape. We need you as hostages, and I will tell you, too, that we leave this village and valley to-morrow. We begin a great march."
"I am not surprised," said Dick.
Bright Sun rejoined the other chiefs, and all of them went back into the lodge of the Akitcita, while Dick and Albert returned to their own little tepee. There, as each lay on his rush mat, they talked in whispers.
"What meaning do you give to it, Dick?" asked Albert.
"That all the Sioux tribes are going to make a mighty effort against our people, and they're going to make it soon. Why else are they holding this great council of the Seven Fireplaces? I tell you, Al, big things are afoot. Oh, if we could only find a chance to get away!"
Albert rolled over to the door of the lodge and peeped out. Several warriors were pacing up and down in front of the rows of tepees. He rolled back to his rush mat.
"They've got inside as well as outside guards now," he whispered.
"I thought it likely," Dick whispered back. "Al, the best thing that you and I can do now is to go to sleep."
They finally achieved slumber, but were up early the next morning and saw Bright Sun's words come true. The village was dismantled with extraordinary rapidity. Most of the lighter lodges were taken down, but how much of the place was left, and what people were left with it, the boys did not know, because they departed with the warriors, each riding a bridleless pony. Although mounted, their chance of escape was not increased. Warriors were all about them, they were unarmed, and their ponies, uncontrolled by bridles, could not be made to leave their comrades.
Dick and Albert, nevertheless, found an interest in this journey, wondering to what mysterious destination it would lead them. They heard behind them the chant of the old women driving the ponies that drew the baggage on poles, but the warriors around them were silent. Bright Sun was not visible. Dick surmised that he was at the head of the column.
The clouds of the preceding night had gone away, and the day was cooler, although it was now summer, and both Dick and Albert found a certain pleasure in the journey. In their present of suspense any change was welcome.
They rode straight up the valley, a long and formidable procession, and as they went northward the depression became both shallower and narrower. Finally, they crossed the river at a rather deep ford and rode directly ahead. Soon the hills and the forest that clothed them sank out of sight, and Dick and Albert were once again in the midst of the rolling immensity of the plains. They could judge the point of the compass by the sun, but they knew nothing else of the country over which they traveled. They tried two or three times to open conversation with the warriors about them, trusting that the latter knew English, but they received no reply and gave up the attempt.
"At any rate, I can talk to you, Al," said Dick after the last futile attempt.
"Yes, but you can't get any information out of me," replied Albert with a laugh.
The procession moved on, straight as an arrow, over the swells, turning aside for nothing. Some buffaloes were seen on the horizon, but they were permitted to crop the bunch grass undisturbed. No Indian hunter left the ranks.
They camped that night on the open prairie, Dick and Albert sleeping in their blankets in the center of the savage group. It might have seemed to the ordinary observer that there was looseness and disorder about the camp, but Dick was experienced enough to know that all the Mendewahkantons were posted in the circle according to their clans, and that the delegates were distributed with them in places of honor.
Dick noticed, also, that no fires were built, and that the warriors had scrutinized the entire circle of the horizon with uncommon care. It could signify but one thing to him—white people, and perhaps white troops, were near. If so, he prayed that they were in sufficient force. He was awakened in the night by voices, and raising himself on his elbow he saw a group of men, at least a hundred in number, riding into the camp.
The latest arrivals were Sioux warriors, but of what tribe he could not tell. Yet it was always the Sioux who were coming, and it would have been obvious to the least observant that Dick's foreboding about a mighty movement was right. They were joined the next day by another detachment coming from the southwest, and rode on, full seven hundred warriors, every man armed with the white man's weapons, carbine or rifle and revolver.
"I pity any poor emigrants whom they may meet," thought Dick; but, fortunately, they met none. The swelling host continued its march a second day, a third, and a fourth through sunshiny weather, increasing in warmth, and over country that changed but little. Dick and Albert saw Bright Sun only once or twice, but he had nothing to say to them. The others, too, maintained their impenetrable silence, although they never offered any ill treatment.
They were joined every day by bands of warriors, sometimes not more than two or three at a time, and again as many as twenty. They came from all points of the compass, but, so far as Dick and Albert could see, little was said on their arrival. Everything was understood. They came as if in answer to a call, took their places without ado in the savage army, and rode silently on. Dick saw a great will at work, and with it a great discipline. A master mind had provided for all things.
"Al," he said to his brother, "you and I are not in the plan at all. We've been out of the world two years, and we're just that many years behind."
"I know it's 1876," said Albert, with some confidence, but he added in confession: "I've no idea what month it is, although it must be somewhere near summer."
"About the beginning of June, I should think," said Dick.
An hour after this little talk the country became more hilly, and presently they saw trees and high bluffs to their right. Both boys understood the signs. They were approaching a river, and possibly their destination.
"I've a feeling," said Dick, "that we're going to stop now. The warriors look as if they were getting ready for a rest."
He was quickly confirmed in his opinion by the appearance of mounted Indians galloping to meet them. These warriors showed no signs of fatigue or a long march, and it was now obvious that a village was near.
The new band greeted the force of Bright Sun with joy, and the stern silence was relaxed. There was much chattering and laughing, much asking and answering of questions, and soon Indian women and Indian boys, with little bows and arrows, came over the bluffs, and joining the great mounted force, followed on its flanks.
Dick and Albert were on ponies near the head of the column, and their troubles and dangers were forgotten in their eager interest in what they were about to see. The feeling that a first step in a great plan was accomplished was in the air. They could see it in the cessation of the Sioux reserve and in the joyous manner of the warriors, as well as the women. Even the ponies picked up their heads, as if they, too, saw rest.
The procession wound round the base of a hill, and then each boy uttered a little gasp. Before them lay a valley, about a mile wide, down the center of which flowed a shallow yellow river fringed with trees and also with undergrowth, very dense in places. But it was neither the river nor trees that had drawn the little gasps from the two boys, it was an Indian village, or rather a great town, extending as far as they could see—and they saw far—on either side of the stream. There were hundreds and hundreds of lodges, and a vast scene of animated and varied life. Warriors, squaws, children, and dogs moved about; smoke rose from scores and scores of fires, and on grassy meadows grazed ponies, thousands in number.
"Why, I didn't think there was so big an Indian town in all the West!" exclaimed Albert.
"Nor did I," said Dick gravely, "and I'm thinking, Al, that it's gathered here for a purpose. It must be made up of all the Sioux tribes."
Albert nodded. He knew the thought in Dick's mind, and he believed it to be correct.
Chance so had it that Bright Sun at this moment rode near them and heard their words. Dick of late had surmised shrewdly that Bright Sun treated them well, not alone for the sake of their value as hostages, but for a reason personal to himself. He had been associated long with white people in their schools, but he was at heart and in fact a great Sioux chief; he had felt the white man's assumption of racial superiority, and he would have these two with the white faces witness some great triumph that he intended to achieve over these same white people. This belief was growing on Dick, and it received more confirmation when Bright Sun said:
"You see that the Sioux nation has many warriors and is mighty."
"I see that it is so, Bright Sun," replied Dick frankly. "I did not know you were so numerous and so powerful; but bear in mind, Bright Sun, that no matter how many the Sioux may be, the white men are like the leaves of the tree—thousands, tens of thousands may fall, and yet only their own kin miss them."
But Bright Sun shook his head.
"What you say is true," he said, "because I have seen and I know; but they are not here. The mountains, the plains, the wilderness keep them back."
Dick forebore a retort, because he felt that he owed Bright Sun something, and the chief seemed to take it for granted that he was silenced by logic.
"This is the Little Big Horn River," Bright Sun said, "and you behold now in this village, which extends five miles on either side of it, the Seven Fireplaces of the Sioux. All tribes are gathered here."
"And it is you who have gathered them," said Dick. He was looking straight into Bright Sun's eyes as he spoke, and he saw the pupils of the Sioux expand, in fact dilate, with a sudden overwhelming sense of power and triumph. Dick knew he had guessed aright, but the Sioux replied with restraint:
"If I have had some small part in the doing of it, I feel proud."
With that he left them, and Dick and Albert rode on into the valley of the river, in whatsoever direction their bridleless horses might carry them, although that direction was bound to be the one in which rode the group surrounding them.
Some of the squaws and boys, who caught sight of Dick and Albert among the warriors, began to shout and jeer, but a chief sternly bade them to be silent, and they slunk away, to the great relief of the two lads, who had little relish for such attention.
They were full in the valley now, and on one side of them was thick undergrowth that spread to the edge of the river. A few hundred yards father the undergrowth ceased, sand taking its place. All the warriors turned their ponies abruptly away from one particular stretch of sand, and Dick understood.
"It's a quicksand, Al," he said; "it would suck up pony, rider, and all."
They left the quicksand behind and entered the village, passing among the groups of lodges. Here they realized more fully than on the hills the great extent of the Indian town. Its inhabitants seemed a myriad to Dick and Albert, so long used to silence and the lack of numbers.
"How many warriors do you suppose this place could turn out, Dick?" asked Albert.
"Five thousand, but that's only a guess. It doesn't look much like our own valley, does it, Al?"
"No, it doesn't," replied Albert with emphasis; "and I can tell you, Dick, I wish I was back there right now. I believe that's the finest valley the sun ever shone on."
"But we had to leave sometime or other," said Dick, "and how could we tell that we were going to run into anything like this? But it's surely a big change for us."
"The biggest in the world."
The group in which they rode continued along the river about two miles, and then stopped at a point where both valley and village were widest. A young warrior, speaking crude English, roughly bade them dismount, and gladly they sprang from the ponies. Albert fell over when he struck the ground, his legs were cramped so much by the long ride, but the circulation was soon restored, and he and Dick went without resistance to the lodge that was pointed out to them as their temporary home and prison.
It was a small lodge of poles leaning toward a common center at the top, there lashed together firmly with rawhide, and the whole covered with skins. It contained only two rude mats, two bowls of Sioux pottery, and a drinking gourd, but it was welcome to Dick and Albert, who wanted rest and at the same time security from the fierce old squaws and the equally fierce young boys. They were glad enough to lie a while on the rush mats and rub their tired limbs. When they were fully rested they became very hungry.
"I wonder if they mean to starve us to death?" said Albert.
A negative answer was given in about ten minutes by two old squaws who appeared, bearing food, some venison, and more particularly wa-nsa, a favorite dish with the Sioux, a compound made of buffalo meat and wild cherries, which, after being dried, are pounded separately until they are very fine; then the two are pounded together for quite a while, after which the whole is stored in bladders, somewhat after the fashion of the white man's sausage.
"This isn't bad at all," said Albert when he bit into his portion. "Now, if we only had something good to drink."
Neither of the old squaws understood his words, but one of them answered his wish, nevertheless. She brought cherry-bark tea in abundance, which both found greatly to their liking and they ate and drank with deep content. A mental cheer was added also to their physical good feeling.
"Thanks, madam," said Albert, when one of the old squaws refilled the little earthen bowl from which he drank the cherry-bark tea. "You are indeed kind. I did not expect to meet with such hospitality."
The Indian woman did not understand his words, but anybody could understand the boy's ingratiating smile. She smiled back at him.
"Be careful, Al, old man," said Dick with the utmost gravity. "These old Indian women adopt children sometimes, or perhaps she will want to marry you. In fact, I think the latter is more likely, and you can't help yourself."
"Don't, Dick, don't!" said Albert imploringly. "I am willing to pay a high price for hospitality, but not that."
The women withdrew, and after a while, when the boys felt fully rested, they stepped outside the lodge, to find two tall young Sioux warriors on guard. Dick looked at them inquiringly, and one of them said in fair English:
"I am Lone Wolf, and this is Tall Pine. You can go in the village, but we go with you. Bright Sun has said so, and we obey."
"All right, Mr. Lone Wolf," said Dick cheerfully. "Four are company, two are none. We couldn't escape if we tried; but Bright Sun says that you and your friend Mr. Pine Tree are to be our comrades on our travels, well and good. I don't know any other couple in this camp that I'd choose before you two."
Lone Wolf and Pine Tree were young, and maybe their youth caused them to smile slightly at Dick's pleasantry. Nor did they annoy the boys with excessive vigilance, and they answered many questions. It was, indeed, they said, the greatest village in the West that was now gathered on the banks of the Little Big Horn. Sioux from all tribes had come including those on reservations. All the clans of the Mendewahkantons, for instance, were represented on the reservations, but all of them were represented here, too.
It was a great war that was now going on, they said, and they had taken many white scalps, but they intimated that those they had taken were few in comparison with the number they would take. Dick asked them of their present purpose, but here they grew wary. The white soldiers might be near or they might be far, but the god of the Sioux was Wakantaka, the good spirit, and the god of the white man was Wakansica, the bad spirit.
Dick did not consider it worth while to argue with them. Indeed, he was in no position to do so. The history of the world in the last two years was a blank to him and Albert. But he observed throughout the vast encampment the same air of expectancy and excitement that had been noticeable in the smaller village. He also saw a group of warriors arrive, their ponies loaded with repeating rifles, carbines and revolvers. He surmised that they had been obtained from French-Canadian traders, and he knew well for what they were meant. Once again he made his silent prayer that if the white soldiers came they could come in great force.
Dick observed in the huge village all the signs of an abundant and easy life, according to Sioux standards. Throughout its confines kettles gave forth the odors pleasing to an Indian's nostrils. Boys broiled strips of venison on twigs before the fires. Squaws were jerking buffalo and deer meat in a hundred places, and strings of fish ready for the cooking hung before the lodges. Plenty showed everywhere.
Dick understood that if one were really a wild man, with all instincts of a wild man inherited through untold centuries of wild life, he could find no more pleasing sight than this great encampment abounding in the good things for wild men that the plains, hills, and water furnished. He saw it readily from the point of view of the Sioux and could appreciate their confidence.
Albert, who was a little ahead of Dick, peered between two lodges, and suddenly turned away with a ghastly face.
"What's the trouble, Al?" asked Dick.
"I saw a warrior passing on the other side of those lodges," replied Albert, "and he had something at his belt—the yellow hair of a white man, and there was blood on it."
"We have taken many scalps already," interrupted the young Sioux, Lone Wolf, some pride showing in his tone.
Both Dick and Albert shuddered and were silent. The gulf between these men and themselves widened again into quite a sea. Their thoughts could not touch those of the Sioux at any point.
"I think we'd better go back to our own lodge," said Dick.
"No," said Lone Wolf. "The great chief, Bright Sun, has commanded us when we return to bring you into his presence, and it is time for us to go to him."
"What does he want with us?" asked Albert.
"He knows, but I do not," replied Lone Wolf sententiously.
"Lead on," said Dick lightly. "Here, we go wherever we are invited."
They walked back a full mile, and Lone Wolf and Pine Tree led the way to a great lodge, evidently one used by the Akitcita, although Dick judged that in so great a village as this, which was certainly a fusion of many villages, there must be at least a dozen lodges of the Akitcita.
Lone Wolf and Pine Tree showed Dick and Albert into the door, but they themselves remained outside. The two boys paused just inside the door until their eyes became used to the half gloom of the place. Before them stood a dozen men, all great chiefs, and in the center was Bright Sun, the dominating presence.
Despite their natural courage and hardihood and the wild life to which they had grown used, Dick and Albert were somewhat awed by the appearance of these men, every one of whom was of stern presence, looking every inch a warrior. They had discarded the last particle of white man's attire, keeping only the white man's weapons, the repeating rifle and revolver. Every one wore, more or less loosely folded about him, a robe of the buffalo, and in all cases the inner side of this robe was painted throughout in the most vivid manner with scenes from the hunt or warpath, chiefly those that had occurred in the life of the wearer. Many colors were used in these paintings, but mostly those of cardinal dyes, red and blue being favorites.
"These," said Bright Sun, speaking more directly to Dick, "are mighty chiefs of the Sioux Nation. This is Ta Sun Ke Ka-Kipapi-Hok'silan (Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses)."
He nodded toward a tall warrior, who made a slight and grave inclination.
"I'd cut out at least half of that name," said Dick under his breath.
"And this," continued Bright Sun in his measured, precise English, "is Ite-Mogu'Ju (Rain-in-the-Face), and this Kun-Sun'ka (Crow Dog), and this Pizi (Gall), and this Peji (Grass)".
Thus he continued introducing them, giving to every one his long Indian appellation until all were named. The famous Sitting Bull (Tatanka Yotanka) was not present. Dick learned afterwards that he was at that very moment in his own tepee making medicine.
"What we wish to know," said Bright Sun—"and we have ways to make you tell us—is whether you saw the white troops before we took you?"
Dick shivered a little. He knew what Bright Sun meant by the phrase "we have ways to make you tell," and he knew also that Bright Sun would be merciless if mercy stood in the way of getting what he wished. No shred of the white man's training was now left about the Indian chief save the white man's speech.
"I have not seen a white man in two years," replied Dick, "nor has my brother. We told you the truth when you took us."
Bright Sun was silent for a space, regarding him with black eyes seeking to read every throb of his heart. Dick was conscious, too, that the similar gaze of all the others was upon him. But he did not flinch. Why should he? He had told the truth.
"Then I ask you again," said Bright Sun, "where have you been all this time?"
"I cannot tell you," replied Dick. "It is a place that we wish to keep secret. It is hidden far from here. But it is one to which no one else goes. I can say that much."
Rain-in-the-Face made an impatient movement, and said some words in the Sioux tongue. Dick feared it was a suggestion that he be put to the torture, and he was glad when Bright Sun shook his head.
"There are such places," said Bright Sun, "because the mountains are high and vast and but few people travel among them. It may be that he tells the truth."
"It is the truth. I swear it!" said Dick earnestly.
"Then why do you refuse to tell of this place?" asked Bright Sun.
"Because we wish to keep it for ourselves," replied Dick frankly.
The faintest trace of a smile was visible in Bright Sun's eyes.
"Wherever it may be it belongs to us," said the chief; "but I believe that you are telling the truth. Nor do I hesitate to tell you that we have asked these questions because we wish to learn all that we can. The soldiers of your people are advancing under the yellow-haired general, Custer, Terry, Gibbon, and others. They come in great force, but the Sioux, in greater force and more cunning will destroy them."
Dick was silent. He knew too little to make any reply to the statements of Bright Sun. Rain-in-the-Face and Crazy Horse spoke to Bright Sun, and they seemed to be urging something. But the chief again shook his head, and they, too, became silent. It was obvious to both boys that his influence was enormous.
"You can go," he said to Dick and Albert, and they gladly left the lodge. Outside, Lone Wolf and Pine Tree fell in on either side of them and escorted them to their own tepee, in front of which they stood guard while the boys slept that night.
Chapter XVII The Great Sun Dance
Dick and Albert remained in their tepee throughout the next morning, but in the afternoon they were allowed to go in the village a second time. Lone Wolf and Pine Tree, who had slept in the morning, were again their guards. Both saw at once that some great event was at hand. The excitement in the village had increased visibly, and a multitude was pouring toward a certain point, a wide, grassy plain beside the Little Big Horn. Lone Wolf and Pine Tree willingly took the captives with the crowd, and the two boys looked upon a sight which few white men have beheld in all its savage convulsions.
The wide, grassy space before them had been carefully chosen by the great medicine men of the nation, Sitting Bull at their head. Then the squaws had put up a great circular awning, like a circus tent, with part of the top cut out. This awning was over one hundred and fifty feet in diameter. After this, the medicine men had selected a small tree, which was cut down by a young, unmarried squaw. Then the tree, after it had been trimmed of all its branches and consecrated and prayed over by the medicine men, was erected in the center of the inclosed space, rising from the ground to a height of about twenty feet.
To the top of the pole were fastened many long thongs of rawhide reaching nearly to the ground, and as Dick and Albert looked a swarm of young men in strange array, or rather lack of array, came forth from among the lodges and entered the inclosed space. Dick had some dim perception of what was about to occur, but Lone Wolf informed him definitely.
"The sun dance," he said. "Many youths are about to become great warriors."
The greatest of sun dances, a sun dance of the mighty allied Sioux tribes, was about to begin. Forward went the neophytes, every one clad only in a breechclout ornamented with beads, colored horsehair and eagle feathers, and with horse tails attached to it, falling to the ground. But every square inch of the neophyte's skin was painted in vivid and fantastic colors. Even the nails on his fingers and toes were painted. Moreover, everyone had pushed two small sticks of tough wood under the skin on each side of the breast, and to those two sticks was fastened a rawhide cord, making a loop about ten inches long.
"What under the sun are those sticks and cords for?" asked Albert, shuddering.
"Wait and we'll see," replied Dick, who guessed too well their purpose, although he could not help but look.
The neophytes advanced, and every one tied one of the long rawhide thongs depending from the top of the pole to the loop of cord that hung from his breast. When all were ready they formed a great circle, somewhat after the fashion of the dancers around a Maypole, and outside of those formed another and greater circle of those already initiated.
A medicine man began to blow a small whistle made from the wing bone of an eagle, the sacred bird of the Sioux, and he never stopped blowing it for an instant. It gave forth a shrill, penetrating sound, that began after a while to work upon the nerves in a way that was almost unendurable to Dick and Albert.
At the first sound of the whistle the warriors began to dance around the pole, keeping time to the weird music. It was a hideous and frightful dance, like some cruel rite of a far-off time. The object was to tear the peg from the body, breaking by violence through the skin and flesh that held it, and this proved that the neophyte by his endurance of excessive pain was fit to become a great warrior.
But the pegs held fast for a long time, while the terrible, wailing cry of the whistle went on and on. Dick and Albert wanted to turn away—in fact, they had a violent impulse more than once to run from it—but the eyes of the Sioux were upon them, and they knew that they would consider them cowards if they could not bear to look upon that which others no older than themselves endured. There was also the incessant, terrible wailing of the whistle, which seemed to charm them and hold them.
The youths by and by began to pull loose from the thongs, and in some cases where it was evident that they would not be able to do so a medicine man would seize them by the shoulders and help pull. In no case did a dancer give up, although they often fell in a faint when loosed. Then they were carried away to be revived, but for three days and three nights not a single neophyte could touch food, water, or any other kind of drink. They were also compelled, as soon as they recovered a measurable degree of strength, to join the larger group and dance three days and nights around the neophytes, who successively took their places.
The whole sight, with the wailing of the whistle, the shouts of the dancers, the beat of their feet, and the hard, excited breathing of the thousands about them, became weird and uncanny. Dick felt as if some strange, deadly odor had mounted to his brain, and while he struggled between going and staying a new shout arose.
A fresh group of neophytes sprang into the inclosed place. Every one of these had the little sticks thrust through the upper point of the shoulder blade instead of the breast, while from the loop dangled a buffalo head. They danced violently until the weight of the head pulled the sticks loose, and then, like their brethren of the pole, joined the great ring of outside dancers when they were able.
The crowd of neophytes increased, as they gave way in turn to one another, and the thong about them thickened. Hundreds and hundreds of dancers whirled and jumped to the shrill, incessant blowing of the eagle-bone whistle. It seemed at times to the excited imaginations of Dick and Albert that the earth rocked to the mighty tread of the greatest of all sun dances. Indian stoicism was gone, perspiration streamed from dark faces, eyes became bloodshot as their owners danced with feverish vigor, savage shouts burst forth, and the demon dance grew wilder and wilder.
The tread of thousands of feet caused a fine, impalpable dust to rise from the earth beneath the grass and to permeate all the air, filling the eyes and nostrils of the dancers, heating their brains and causing them to see through a red mist. Some fell exhausted. If they were in the way, they were dragged to one side; if not, they lay where they fell, but in either case others took their places and the whirling multitude always increased in numbers.
As far as Dick and Albert could see the Sioux were dancing. There was a sea of tossing heads and a multitude of brown bodies shining with perspiration. Never for a moment did the shrill, monotonous, unceasing rhythm of the whistle cease to dominate the dance. It always rose above the beat of the dancers, it penetrated everything, ruled everything—this single, shrill note, like the chant of a snake charmer. It even showed its power over Dick and Albert. They felt their nerves throbbing to it in an unwilling response, and the dust and the vivid electric excitement of the dancers began to heat their own brains.
"Don't forget that we're white, Al! Don't forget it!" cried Dick.
"I'm trying not to forget it!" gasped Albert.
The sun, a lurid, red sun, went down behind the hills, and a twilight that seemed to Dick and Albert phantasmagorial and shot with red crept over the earth. But the dance did not abate in either vigor or excitement; rather it increased. In the twilight and the darkness that followed it assumed new aspects of the weird and uncanny. Despite the torches that flared up, the darkness was mainly in control. Now the dancers, whirling about the pole and straining on the cords, were seen plainly, and now they were only shadows, phantoms in the dusk.
Dick and Albert had moved but little for a long time; the wailing of the demon whistle held them; and they felt that there was a singular attraction, too, in this sight, which was barbarism and superstition pure and simple, yet not without its power. They were still standing there when the moon came out, throwing a veil of silver gauze over the dancers, the lodges, the surface of the river, and the hills, but it took nothing away from the ferocious aspect of the dance; it was still savagery, the custom of a remote, fierce, old world. Dick and Albert at last recovered somewhat; they threw off the power of the flute and the excited air that they breathed and began to assume again the position of mere spectators.
It was then that Bright Sun came upon them, and they noticed with astonishment that he, the product of the white schools and of years of white civilization, had been dancing, too. There was perspiration on his face, his breath was short and quick, and his eyes were red with excitement. He marked their surprise, and said:
"You think it strange that I, too, dance. You think all this barbarism and superstition, but it is not. It is the custom of my people, a custom that has the sanction of many centuries, and that is bred into our bone and blood. Therefore it is of use to us, and it is more fit than anything else to arouse us for the great crisis that we are to meet."
Neither Dick nor Albert made any reply. Both saw that the great deep of the Sioux chief's stoicism was for the moment broken up. He might never be so stirred again, but there was no doubt of it now, and they could see his side of it, too. It was his people and their customs against the white man, the stranger. The blood of a thousand years was speaking in him.
When he saw that they had no answer for him, Bright Sun left them and became engrossed once more with the dance, continually urging it forward, bringing on more neophytes, and increasing the excitement. Dick and Albert remained a while longer, looking on. Their guards, Lone Wolf and Pine Tree, still stood beside them. The two young warriors, true to their orders, had made no effort to join the dancers, but their nostrils were twitching and their eyes bloodshot. The revel called to them incessantly, but they could not go.
Dick felt at last that he had seen enough of so wild a scene. One could not longer endure the surcharged air, the wailing of the whistle, the shouts, the chants, and the beat of thousands of feet.
"Al," he said, "let's go back to our lodge, if our guards will let us, and try to sleep."
"The sooner the better," said Albert.
Lone Wolf and Pine Tree were willing enough, and Dick suspected that they would join the dance later. After Albert had gone in, he stood a moment at the door of the lodge and looked again upon this, the wildest and most extraordinary scene that he had yet beheld. It was late in the night and the center of the sun dance was some distance from the lodge, but the shrill wailing of the whistle still reached him and the heavy tread of the dancers came in monotonous rhythm. "It's the greatest of all nightmares," he said to himself.
It was a long time before either Dick or Albert could sleep, and when Dick awoke at some vague hour between midnight and morning he was troubled by a shrill, wailing note that the drum of his ear. Then he remembered. The whistle! And after it came the rhythmic, monotonous beat of many feet, as steady and persistent as ever. The sun dance had never ceased for a moment, and he fell asleep again with the sounds of it still in his ear.
The dance, which was begun at the ripening of the wild sage, continued three days and nights without the stop of an instant. No food and no drink passed the lips of the neophytes, who danced throughout that time—if they fell they rose to dance again. Then at the appointed hour it all ceased, although every warrior's brain was at white heat and he was ready to go forth at once against a myriad enemies. It was as if everyone had drunk of some powerful and exciting Eastern drug.
The dance ended, they began to eat, and neither Dick nor Albert had ever before seen such eating. The cooking fires of the squaws rose throughout the entire five miles of the village. They had buffalo, deer, bear, antelope, and smaller game in abundance, and the warriors ate until they fell upon the ground, where the lay in a long stupor. The boys thought that many of them would surely die, but they came from their stupor unharmed and were ready for instant battle. There were many new warriors, too, because none had failed at the test, and all were eager to show their valor.
"It's like baiting a wild beast," said Dick. "There are five thousand ravening savages here, ready to fight anything, and to-night I'm going to try to escape."
"If you try, I try, too," said Albert.
"Of course," said Dick.
The village was resting from its emotional orgy, and the guard upon the two boys was relaxed somewhat. In fact, it seemed wholly unnecessary, as they were rimmed around by the vigilance of many thousand eyes. But, spurred by the cruel need, Dick resolved that they should try. Fortunately, the very next night was quite dark, and only a single Indian, Pine Tree, was on guard.
"It's to-night or never," whispered Dick to Albert within the shelter of the lodge. "They've never taken the trouble to bind us, and that gives us at least a fighting chance."
"When shall we slip out?"
"Not before about three in the morning. That is the most nearly silent hour, and if the heathenish curs let us alone we may get away."
Fortune seemed to favor the two. The moon did not come out, and the promise of a dark night was fulfilled. An unusual stillness was over the village. It seemed that everybody slept. Dick and Albert waited through long, long hours. Dick had nothing by which to reckon time, but he believed that he could calculate fairly well by guess, and once, when he thought it was fully midnight, he peeped out at the door of the lodge. Pine Tree was there, leasing against a sapling, but his attitude showed laziness and a lack of vigilance. It might be that, feeling little need of watching, he slept on his feet. Dick devoutly hoped so. He waited at least two hours longer, and again peeped out. The attitude of Pine Tree had not changed. It must certainly be sleep that held him, and Dick and Albert prepared to go forth. They had no arms, and could trust only to silence and speed.
Dick was the first outside, and stood in the shadow of the lodge until Albert joined him. There they paused to choose a way among the lodges and to make a further inspection of sleeping Pine Tree.
The quiet of the village was not broken. The lodges stretched away in dusky rows and then were lost in darkness. This promised well, and their eyes came back to Pine Tree, who was still sleeping. Then Dick became conscious of a beam of light, or rather two beams. These beams shot straight from the open eyes of Pine Tree, who was not asleep at all. The next instant Pine Tree opened his mouth, uttered a yell that was amazingly loud and piercing, and leaped straight for the two boys.
As neither Dick nor Albert had arms, they could do nothing but run, and they fled between the lodges at great speed, Pine Tree hot upon their heels. It amazed Dick to find that the whole population of a big town could awake so quickly. Warriors, squaws, and children swarmed from the lodges and fell upon him and Albert in a mass. He could only see in the darkness that Albert had been seized and dragged away, but he knew that two uncommonly strong old squaws had him by the hair, three half-grown boys were clinging to his legs, and a powerful warrior laid hold of his right shoulder. He deemed it wisest in such a position to yield as quickly and gracefully as he could, in the hope that the two wiry old women would be detached speedily from his hair. This object was achieved as soon as the Sioux saw that he did not resist, and the vigilant Pine Tree stood before him, watching with an expression that Dick feared could be called a grin.
"The honors are yours," said Dick as politely as he could, "but tell me what has become of my brother."
"He is being taken to the other side of the river," said the voice of Bright Sun over Pine Tree's shoulder, "and he and you will be kept apart until we decide what to do with you. It was foolish in you to attempt to escape. I had warned you."
"I admit it," said Dick, "but you in my place would have done the same. Once can only try."
He tried to speak with philosophy, but he was sorely troubled over being separated from his brother. Their comradeship in captivity had been a support to each other.
There was no sympathy in the voice of Bright Sun. He spoke coldly, sternly, like a great war chief. Dick understood, and was too proud to make any appeal. Bright Sun said a few words to the warriors, and walked away.
Dick was taken to another and larger lodge, in which several warriors slept. There, after his arms were securely bound, he was allowed to lie down on a rush mat, with warriors on rush mats on either side of him. Dick was not certain whether the warriors slept, but he knew that he did not close his eyes again that night.
Although strong and courageous, Dick Howard suffered much mental torture. Bright Sun was a Sioux, wholly an Indian (he had seen that at the sun dance), and if Albert and he were no longer of any possible use as hostages, Bright Sun would not trouble himself to protect them. He deeply regretted their wild attempt at escape, which he had felt from the first was almost hopeless. Yet he believed, on second thought, that they had been justified in making the trial. The great sun dance, the immense gathering of warriors keyed for battle, showed the imminent need for warning to the white commanders, who would not dream that the Sioux were in such mighty force. Between this anxiety and that other one for Albert, thinking little of himself meanwhile, Dick writhed in his bonds. But he could do nothing else.
The warriors rose from their rush mats at dawn and ate flesh of the buffalo and deer and their favorite wa-nsa. Dick's arms were unbound, and he, too, was allowed to eat; but he had little appetite, and when the warriors saw that he had finished they bound him again.
"What are you going to do to me?" asked Dick in a kind of vague curiosity.
No one gave any answer. They did not seem to hear him. Dick fancied that some of them understood English, but chose to leave him in ignorance. He resolved to imitate their own stoicism and wait. When they bound his arms again, and his feet also, he made no resistance, but lay down quietly on the rush mat and gazed with an air of indifference at the skin wall of the lodge. All warriors went out, except one, who sat in the doorway with his rifle on his knee.
"They flatter me," thought Dick. "They must think me of some importance or that I'm dangerous, since they bind and guard me so well."
His thongs of soft deerskin, while secure, were not galling. They neither chafed nor prevented the circulation, and when he grew tired of lying in one position he could turn into another. But it was terribly hard waiting. He did not know what was before him. Torture or death? Both, most likely. He tried to be resigned, but how could one be resigned when one was so young and so strong? The hum of the village life came to him, the sound of voices, the tread of feet, the twang of a boyish bowstring, but the guard in the doorway never stirred. It seemed to Dick that the Sioux, who wore very little clothing, was carved out of reddish-brown stone. Dick wondered if he would ever move, and lying on his back he managed to raise his head a little on the doubled corner of the rush mat, and watch that he might see.
Bound, helpless, and shut off from the rest of the world, this question suddenly became vital to him: Would that Indian ever move, or would he not? He must have been sitting in that position at least two hours. Always he stared straight before him, the muscles on his bare arms never quivered in the slightest, and the rifle lay immovable across knees which also were bare. How could he do it? How could he have such control over his nerves and body? Dick's mind slowly filled with wonder, and then he began to have a suspicion that the Sioux was not real, merely some phantom of the fancy, or that he himself was dreaming. It made him angry—angry at himself, angry at the Sioux, angry at everything. He closed his eyes, held them tightly shut for five minutes, and then opened them again. The Sioux was still there. Dick was about to break through his assumed stoicism and shout at the warrior, but he checked himself, and with a great effort took control again of his wandering nerves.
He knew now that the warrior was real, and that he must have moved some time or other, but he did not find rest of spirit. A shaft of sunshine by and by entered the narrow door of the lodge and fell across Dick himself. He knew that it must be a fair day, but he was sorry for it. The sun ought not to shine when he was at such a pass.
Another interminable period passed, and an old squaw entered with a bowl of wa-nsa, and behind her came Lone Wolf, who unbound Dick.
"What's up now, Mr. Lone Wolf?" asked Dick with an attempt at levity. "Is it a fight or a foot race?"
"Eat," replied Lone Wolf sententiously, pointing of the bowl wa-nsa. "You will need your strength."
Dick's heart fell at these words despite all his self-command. "My time's come," he thought. He tried to eat—in fact, he forced himself to eat—that Lone Wolf might not think that he quailed, and when he had eaten as much as his honor seemed to demand he stretched his muscles and said to Lone Wolf, with a good attempt at indifference:
"Lead on, my wolfish friend. I don't know what kind of a welcome mine is going to be, but I suppose it is just as well to find out now."
The face of Lone Wolf did not relax. He seemed to have a full appreciation of what was to come and no time for idle jests. He merely pointed to the doorway, and Dick stepped into the sunshine. Lying so long in the dusky lodge, he was dazzled at first by the brilliancy of the day, but when his sight grew stronger he beheld a multitude about him. The women and children began to chatter, but the warriors were silent. Dick saw that he was the center of interest, and was quite sure that he was looking upon his last sun. "O Lord, let me die bravely!" was his silent prayer.
He resolved to imitate as nearly as he could the bearing of an Indian warrior in his position, and made no resistance as Lone Wolf led him on, with the great thong following. He glanced around once for Bright Sun, but did not see him. The fierce chief whom they called Ite-Moga' Ju (Rain-in-the-Face) seemed to be in charge of Dick's fate, and he directed the proceedings.
But stoicism could not prevail entirely, and Dick looked about him again. He saw the yellow waters of the river with the sunlight playing upon them; the great village stretching away on either shore until it was hidden by the trees and undergrowth; the pleasant hills and all the pleasant world, so hard to leave. His eyes dwelt particularly upon the hill, a high one, overlooking the whole valley of the Little Big Horn, and the light was so clear that he could see every bush and shrub waving there.
His eyes came back from the hill to the throng about him. He had felt at times a sympathy for the Sioux because the white man was pressing upon them, driving them from their ancient hunting grounds that they loved; but they were now wholly savage and cruel—men, women, and children alike. He hated them all.
Dick was taken to the summit of one of the lower hills, on which he could be seen by everybody and from which he could see in a vast circle. He was tied in a peculiar manner. His hands remained bound behind him, but his feet were free. One end of a stout rawhide was secured around his waist and the other around a sapling, leaving him a play of about a half yard. He could not divine the purpose of this, but he was soon to learn.
Six half-grown boys, with bows and arrows, then seldom used by grown Sioux, formed a line at a little distance from him, and at a word from Rain-in-the-Face leveled their bows and fitted arrow to the string. Dick thought at first they were going to slay him at once, but he remembered that the Indian did not do things that way. He knew it was some kind of torture and although he shivered he steadied his mind to face it.
Rain-in-the-Face spoke again, and six bowstrings twanged. Six arrows whizzed by Dick, three on one side and three on the other, but all so close that, despite every effort of will, he shrank back against the sapling. A roar of laughter came from the crowd, and Dick flushed through all the tan of two years in the open air. Now he understood why the rawhide allowed him so much play. It was a torture of the nerves and of the mind. They would shoot their arrows by him, graze him perhaps if he stood steady, but if he sought to evade through fear, if he sprang either to one side or the other, they might strike in a vital spot.
He summoned up the last ounce of his courage, put his back against the sapling and resolved that he would not move, even if an arrow carried some of his skin with it. The bowstrings twanged again, and again six arrows whistled by. Dick quivered, but he did not move, and some applause came from the crowd. Although it was the applause of enemies, of barbarians, who wished to see him suffer, it encouraged Dick. He would endure everything and he would not look at these cruel faces; so he fixed his eyes on the high hill and did not look away when the bowstrings twanged a third time. As before, he heard the arrows whistle by him, and the shiver came into his blood, but his will did not let it extend to his body. He kept his eyes fixed upon the hill, and suddenly a speck appeared before them. No, it was not a speck, and, incredible as it seemed, Dick was sure that he saw a horseman come around the base of the hill and stop there, gazing into the valley upon the great village and the people thronging about the bound boy.
A second and third horseman appeared, and Dick could doubt no longer. They were white cavalrymen in the army uniform, scouts or the vanguard, he knew not what. Dick held his breath, and again that shiver came into his blood. Then he heard and saw an extraordinary thing. A singular deep, long-drawn cry came from the multitude in unison, a note of surprise and mingled threat. Then all whirled about at the same moment and gazed at the horsemen at the base of the hill.
The cavalrymen quickly turned back, rode around the hill and out of sight. Dozens of warriors rushed forward, hundreds ran to the lodges for more weapons and ammunition, the women poured in a stream down toward the river and away, the boys with the bows and arrows disappeared, and in a few minutes Dick was left alone.
Unnoticed, but bound and helpless, the boy stood there on the little hill, while the feverish life, bursting now into a turbulent stream, whirled and eddied around him.
Chapter XVIII The Circle of Death
The quiver in Dick's blood did not cease now. He forgot for the time being that he was bound, and stood there staring at the hill where three horsemen had been for a few vivid moments. These men must be proof that a white army was near; but would this army know what an immense Sioux force was waiting for it in the valley of the Little Big Horn?
He tried to take his eyes away from the hill, but he could not. He seemed to know every tree and shrub on it. There at the base, in that slight depression, the three horsemen had stood, but none came to take their place. In the Indian village an immense activity was going on, both on Dick's side of the river and the other. A multitude of warriors plunged into the undergrowth on the far bank of the stream, where they lay hidden, while another multitude was gathering on this side in front of the lodges. The gullies and ravines were lined with hordes. The time was about two in the afternoon.
A chief appeared on the slope not far from Dick. It was Bright Sun in all the glory of battle array, and he glanced at the tethered youth. Dick's glance met his, and he saw the shadow of a faint, superior smile on the face of the chief. Bright Sun started to say something to a warrior, but checked himself. He seemed to think that Dick was secured well enough, and he did not look at him again. Instead, he gazed at the base of the hill where the horsemen had been, and while he stood there he was joined by the chiefs Rain-in-the-Face and Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses.
Dick never knew how long a time passed while they all waited. The rattle of arms, the shouts, and the tread of feet in the village ceased. There was an intense, ominous silence broken only, whether in fact or fancy Dick could not tell, by the heavy breathing of thousands. The sun came out more brightly and poured its light over the town and the river, but it did not reveal the army of the Sioux swallowed up in the undergrowth on the far bank. So well were they hidden that their arms gave back no gleam.
Dick forgot where he was, forgot that he was bound, so tense were the moments and so eagerly did he watch the base of the hill. When a long time—at least, Dick thought it so—had passed, a murmur came from the village below. The men were but scouts and had gone away, and no white army was near. That was Dick's own thought, too.
As the murmur sank, Dick suddenly straightened up. The black speck appeared again before his eyes. New horsemen stood where the three had been, and behind them was a moving mass, black in the sun. The white army had come!
Bright Sun suddenly turned upon Dick a glance so full of malignant triumph that the boy shuddered. Then, clear and full over the valley rose the battle cry of the trumpets, a joyous inspiring sound calling men on to glory or death. Out from the hill came the moving mass of white horsemen, rank after rank, and Dick saw one in front, a man with long yellow hair, snatch off his hat, wave it around his head, and come on at a gallop. Behind him thundered the whole army, stirrup to stirrup.
Bright Sun, Rain-in-the-Face, and Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses darted away, and then Dick thought of the freedom that he wanted so much. They were his people coming so gallantly down the valley, and he should be there. He pulled at the rawhide, but it would not break; he tried to slip his wrists loose, but they would not come; and, although unnoticed now, he was compelled to stand there, still a prisoner, and merely see.
The horsemen came on swiftly, a splendid force riding well—trained soldiers, compact of body and ready of hand. The slope thundered with their hoofbeats as they came straight toward the river. Dick drew one long, deep breath of admiration, and then a terrible fear assailed him. Did these men who rode so well know unto what they were riding?
The stillness prevailed yet a little longer in the Indian village. The women and children were again running up the river, but they were too far away for Dick to hear them, and he was watching his own army. Straight on toward the river rode the horsemen, with the yellow-haired general at their head, still waving his hat. Strong and mellow, the song of the trumpet again sang over the valley, but the terrible fear at Dick's heard grew.
It was obvious to the boy that the army of Custer intended to cross the river, here not more than two feet deep, but on their flank was the deadly quicksand and on the opposite shore facing them the hidden warriors lay in the hundreds. Dick pulled again at his bonds and began to shout: "Not there! Not there! Turn away!" But his voice was lost in the pealing of the trumpets and the hoof beats of many horses.
They were nearing the river and the warriors were swarming on their flank, still held in leash by Bright Sun, while the great medicine man, Sitting Bull, the sweat pouring from his face, was making the most powerful medicine of his life. Nearer and nearer they rode, the undergrowth still waving gently and harmlessly in the light wind.
Dick stopped shouting. All at once he was conscious of its futility. Nobody heard him. Nobody heeded him. He was only an unnoticed spectator of a great event. He stood still now, back to the tree, gazing toward the river and the advancing force. Something wet dropped into his eye and he winked it away. It was the sweat from his own brow.
The mellow notes of the trumpet sang once more, echoing far over the valley, and the hoofs beat with rhythmic tread. The splendid array of blue-clad men was still unbroken. They still rode heel to heel and toe to toe, and across the river the dense undergrowth moved a little in the gentle wind, but disclosed nothing.
A few yards more and they would be at the water. Then Dick saw a long line of flame burst from the bushes, so vivid, so intense that it was like a blazing bar of lightening, and a thousand rifles seemed to crash as one. Hard on the echo of the great volley came the fierce war cry of the ambushed Sioux, taken up in turn by the larger force on the flank and swelled by the multitude of women and children farther back. It was to Dick like the howl of wolves about to leap on their prey, but many times stronger and fiercer.
The white army shivered under the impact of the blow, when a thousand unexpected bullets were sent into its ranks. All the front line was blown away, the men were shot from their saddles, and many of the horses went down with them. Others, riderless, galloped about screaming with pain and fright.
Although the little army shivered and reeled for a moment, it closed up again and went on toward the water. Once more the deadly rifle fire burst from the undergrowth, not a single volley now, but continuous, rising and falling a little perhaps, but always heavy, filling the air with singing metal and littering the ground with the wounded and the dead. The far side of the river was a sheet of fire, and in the red blaze the Sioux could be seen plainly springing about in the undergrowth.
The cavalrymen began to fire also, sending their bullets across the river as fast as they could pull the trigger, but they were attacked on the flank, too, by the vast horde of warriors, directed by the bravest of the Sioux chiefs, the famous Pizi (Gall), one of the most skillful and daring fighters the red race ever produced, a man of uncommon appearance, of great height, and with the legendary head of a Caesar. He now led on the horde with voice and gesture, and hurled it against Custer's force, which was reeling again under the deadly fire from the other shore of the Little Big Horn.
The shouting of the warriors and of the thousands of women and children who watched the battle was soon lost to Dick in the steady crash of the rifle fire which filled the whole valley—sharp, incessant, like the drum of thunder in the ear. A great cloud of smoke arose and drifted over the combatants, white and red, but this smoke was pierced by innumerable flashes of fire as the red swarms pressed closer and the white replied.
Some flaw in the wind lifted the smoke and sent it high over the heads of all. Dick saw Custer, the general with the yellow hair, still on horseback and apparently unwounded, but the little army had stopped. It had been riddled already by the rifle fire from the undergrowth and could not cross the river. The dead and wounded on the ground had increased greatly in numbers, and the riderless horses galloped everywhere. Some of them rushed blindly into the Indian ranks, where they were seized.
Three or four troopers had fallen or plunged into the terrible quicksand on the other flank, and as Dick looked they were slowly swallowed up. He shut his eyes, unable to bear the sight, and when he opened them he did not see the men any more.
The smoke flowed in again and then was driven away once more. Dick saw that all of Custer's front ranks were now dismounted, and were replying to the fire from the other side of the river. Undaunted by the terrible trap into which they had ridden they came so near to the bank that many of them were slain there, and their bodies fell into the water, where they floated.
Dick saw the yellow-haired leader wave his hat again, and the front troopers turned back from the bank. The whole force turned with them. All who yet lived or could ride now sprang from their horses, firing at the same time into the horde about them. Their ranks were terribly thinned, but they still formed a compact body, despite the rearing and kicking of the horses, many of which were wounded also.
Dick was soldier enough to know what they wished to do. They were trying to reach the higher ground, the hills, where they could make a better defense, and he prayed mutely that they might do it.
The Sioux saw, too, what was intended, and they gave forth a yell so full of ferocity and exultation that Dick shuddered from head to foot. The yell was taken up by the fierce squaws and boys who hovered in the rear, until it echoed far up and down the banks of the Little Big Horn.
The white force, still presenting a steady front and firing fast, made way. The warriors between them and the hill which they seemed to be seeking were driven back, but the attack on their rear, and now on both flanks, grew heavier and almost unbearable. The outer rim of Custer's army was continually being cut off, and when new men took the places of the others they, too, were shot down. His numbers and the space on which they stood were reduced steadily, yet they did not cease to go on, although the pace became slower. It was like a wounded beast creeping along and fighting with tooth and claw, while the hunters swarmed about him in numbers always increasing.
Custer bore diagonally to the left, going, in the main, downstream, but a fresh force was now thrown against him. The great body of warriors who had been hidden in the undergrowth on the other side of the Little Big Horn crossed the stream when he fell back and flung themselves upon his flank and front. He was compelled now to stop, although he had not gone more than four hundred yards, and Dick, from his hill, saw the actions of the troops.
They stood there for perhaps five minutes firing into the Sioux, who were now on every side. They formed a kind of hollow square with some of the men in the center holding the horses, which were kicking and struggling and adding to the terrible confusion. The leader with the yellow hair was yet alive. Dick saw him plainly, and knew by his gestures that he was still cheering on his men.
A movement now took place. Dick saw the white force divided. A portion of it deployed in a circular manner to the left, and the remainder turned in a similar fashion to the right, although they did not lose touch. The square was now turned into a rude circle with the horses still in the center. They stood on a low hill, and so far as Dick could see they would not try to go any farther. The fire of the defenders had sunk somewhat, but he saw the men rushing to the horses for the extra ammunition—that was why they hung to the horses—and then the fire rose again in intensity and volume.