Confident in their numbers and the success that they had already won, the Sioux pressed forward from every side in overwhelming masses. All the great chiefs led them—Gall, Crazy Horse, Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses, Grass, and the others. Bright Sun continually passed like a flame, inciting the hordes to renewed attacks, while the redoubtable Sitting Bull never ceased to make triumphant medicine. But it was Gall, of the magnificent head and figure, the very model of a great savage warrior, who led at the battle front. Reckless of death, but always unwounded, he led the Sioux up to the very muzzles of the white rifles, and when they were driven back he would lead them up again. Dick had heard all his life that Indians would not charge white troops in the open field, but here they did it, not one time, but many.
Dick believed that if he were to die that moment the picture of that terrible scene would be found photographed upon his eyeballs. It had now but little form or feature for him. All he could see was the ring of his own blue-clad people in the center and everywhere around them the howling thousands, men mostly naked to the breechclout, their bodies wet with the sweat of their toiling, and their eyes filled with the fury of the savage in victorious battle—details that he could not see, although they were there. Alike over the small circle and the vast one inclosing it the smoke drifted in great clouds, but beneath it the field was lit up by the continuous red flash of the rifles. Dick wondered that anybody could live where so many bullets were flying in the air; yet there was Custer's force, cut down much more, but the core of it still alive and fighting, while the Sioux were so numerous that they did not miss their own warriors who had fallen, although there were many.
The unbroken crash of the rifle fire had gone on so long now that Dick scarcely noticed it, nor did he heed the great howling of the squaws farther up the stream. He was held by what his eyes saw, and he did not take them from the field for an instant. He saw one charge, a second and third hurled back, and although he was not conscious of it he shouted aloud in joy.
"They'll drive them off! They'll drive them off for good!" he exclaimed, although in his heart he never believed it.
The wind after a while took another change, and the dense clouds of smoke hung low over the field, hiding for the time the little white army that yet fought. Although Dick could see nothing now, he still gazed into the heart of the smoke bank. He did not know then that a second battle was in progress on the other side of the town. Custer before advancing had divided his force, giving a little more than half of it to Reno, who, unconscious of Custer's deadly peril, was now being beaten off. Dick had no thought for anything but Custer, not even of his own fate. Would they drive the Sioux away? He ran his tongue over his parched lips and tugged at the bonds that held his wrists.
The wind rose again and blew the smoke to one side. The battlefield came back into the light, and Dick saw that the white force still fought. But many of the men were on their knees now, using their revolvers, and Dick feared the terrible event that really happened—their ammunition was giving out, and the savage horde, rimming them on all sides, was very near.
He did not know how long the battle had lasted, but it seemed many hours to him. The sun was far down in the west, gilding the plains and hills with tawny gold, but the fire and smoke of conflict filled the whole valley of the Little Big Horn. "Perhaps night will save those who yet live," thought Dick. But the fire of the savages rose. Fresh ammunition was brought to them, and after every repulse they returned to the attack, pressing closer at every renewal.
Dick saw the leader at the edge of the circle almost facing his hill. His hat was gone, and his long yellow hair flew wildly, but he still made gestures to his men and bade them fight on. Then Dick lost him in the turmoil, but he saw some of the horses pull loose from the detaining hands, burst through the circle, and plunge among the Sioux.
Now came a pause in the firing, a sudden sinking, as if by command, and the smoke thinned. The circle which had been sprouting flame on every side also grew silent for a moment, whether because the enemy had ceased or the cartridges were all gone Dick never knew. But it was the silence of only an instant. There was a tremendous shout, a burst of firing greater than any that had gone before, and the whole Sioux horde poured forward.
The warriors, charging in irresistible masses from side to side, met in the center, and when the smoke lifted from the last great struggle Dick saw only Sioux.
Of all the gallant little army that had charged into the valley not a soul was now living, save a Crow Indian scout, who, when all was lost, let down his hair after the fashion of a Sioux, and escaped in the turmoil as one of their own people.
Chapter XIX A Happy Meeting
When Dick Howard saw that the raging Sioux covered the field and that the little army was destroyed wholly he could bear the sight no longer, and, reeling back against the tree, closed his eyes. For a little while, even with eyes shut, he still beheld the red ruin, and then darkness came over him.
He never knew whether he really fainted or whether it was merely a kind of stupor brought on by so many hours of battle and fierce excitement, but when he opened his eyes again much time had passed. The sun was far down in the west and the dusky shadows were advancing. Over the low hill where Custer had made his last stand the Sioux swarmed, scalping until they could scalp no more. Behind them came thousands of women and boys, shouting from excitement and the drunkenness of victory.
It was all incredible, unreal to Dick, some hideous nightmare that would soon pass away when he awoke. Such a thing as this could not be! Yet it was real, it was credible, he was awake and he had seen it—he had seen it all from the moment that the first trooper appeared in the valley until the last fell under the overwhelming charge of the Sioux. He still heard, in the waning afternoon, their joyous cries over their great victory, and he saw their dusky forms as they rushed here and there over the field in search of some new trophy.
Dick was not conscious of any physical feeling at all—neither weariness, nor fear, nor thought of the future. It seemed to him that the world had come to an end with the ending of the day.
The shadows thickened and advanced. The west was a sea of dusk. The distant lodges of the village passed out of sight. The battlefield itself became dim and it was only phantom figures that roamed over it. All the while Dick was unnoticed, forgotten in the great event, and as the night approached the desire for freedom returned to him. He was again a physical being, feeling pain, and from habit rather than hope he pulled once more at the rawhide cords that held his wrists—he did not know that he had been tugging at them nearly all afternoon.
He wrenched hard and the unbelievable happened. The rawhide, strained upon so long, parted, and his hands fell to his side. Dick slowly raised his right wrist to the level of his eyes and looked at it, as if it belonged to another man. There was a red and bleeding ring around it where the rawhide had cut deep, making a scar that took a year in the fading, but his numbed nerves still felt no pain.
He let the right wrist sink back and raised the left one. It had the same red ring around it, and he looked at it curiously, wonderingly. Then he let the left also drop to his side, while he stood, back against the tree, looking vaguely at the dim figures of the Sioux who roamed about in the late twilight still in that hideous search for trophies.
It was while he was looking at the Sioux that an abrupt thought came to Dick. Those were his own wrists at which he had been looking. His hands were free! Why not escape in all this turmoil and excitement, with the friendly and covering night also at hand. It was like the touch of electricity. He was instantly alive, body and mind. He knew who he was and what had happened, and he wanted to get away. Now was the time!
The rawhide around Dick's waist was strong and it had been secured with many knots. He picked at it slowly and with greatest care, and all the time he was in fear lest the Sioux should remember him. But the sun was now quite down, the last bars of red and gold were gone, and the east as well as the west was in darkness. The field of battle was hidden and only voices came up from it. Two warriors passed on the slope of the hill and Dick, ceasing his work, shrank against the trunk of the tree, but they went on, and when they were out of sight he began again to pick at the knots.
One knot after another was unloosed, and at last the rawhide fell from his waist. He was free, but he staggered as he walked a little way down the slope of the hill and his fingers were numb. Yet his mind was wholly clear. It had recovered from the great paralytic shock caused by the sight of the lost battle, and he intended to take every precaution needed for escape.
He sat down in a little clump of bushes, where he was quite lost to view, and rubbed his limbs long and hard until the circulation was active. His wrists had stopped bleeding, and he bound about them little strips that he tore from his clothing. Then he threw away his cap—the Sioux did not wear caps, and he meant to look as much like a Sioux as he could. That was not such a difficult matter, as he was dressed in tanned skins, and wind and weather had made him almost as brown as an Indian.
Midway of the slope he stopped and looked down. The night had come, but the stars were not yet out. He could see only the near lodges, but many torches flared now over the battle field and in the village. He started again, bearing away from the hill on which Custer had fallen, but pursuing a course that led chiefly downstream. Once he saw dusky figures, but they took no notice of him. Once a hideous old squaw, carrying some terrible trophy in her hand, passed near, and Dick thought that all was lost. He was really more afraid at this time of the sharp eyes of the old squaws than those of the warriors. But she passed on, and Dick dropped down into a little ravine that ran from the field. His feet touched a tiny stream that trickled at the bottom of the ravine, and he leaped away in shuddering horror. The soles of his mocassins were now red.
But he made progress. He was leaving the village farther behind, and the hum of voices was not so loud. One of his greatest wishes now was to find arms. He did not intend to be recaptured, and if the Sioux came upon him he wanted at least to make a fight.
A dark shape among some short bushes attracted his attention. It looked like the form of a man, and when he went closer he saw that it was the body of a Sioux warrior, slain by a distant bullet from Custer's circle. His carbine lay beside him and he wore an ammunition belt full of cartridges. Dick, without hesitation, took both, and felt immensely strengthened. The touch of the rifle gave him new courage. He was a man now ready to meet men.
He reached another low hill and stood there a little while, listening. He heard an occasional whoop, and may lights flared here and there in the village, but no warrior was near. He saw on one side of him the high hill, at the base of which the first cavalrymen had appeared, and around which the army had ridden a little later to its fate. Dick was seized with a sudden unreasoning hatred of the hill itself, standing there black and lowering in the darkness. He shook his fist at it, and then, ashamed of his own folly, hurried his flight.
Everything was aiding him now. If any chance befell, that chance was in his favor. Swiftly he left behind the field of battle, the great Indian village, and all the sights and sounds of that fatal day, which would remain stamped on his brain as long as he lived. He did not stop until he was beyond the hills inclosing the valley, and then he bent back again toward the Little Big Horn. He intended to cross the river and return toward the village on the other side, having some dim idea that he might find and rescue Albert.
Dick was now in total silence. The moon and the stars were not yet out, but he had grown used to the darkness and he could see the low hills, the straggling trees, and the clumps of undergrowth. He was absolutely alone again, but when he closed his eyes he saw once more with all the vividness of reality that terrible battle field, the closing in of the circle of death, the last great rush of the Sioux horde, and the blotting out of the white force. He still heard the unbroken crash of the rifle fire that had continued for hours, and the yelling of the Sioux that rose and fell.
But when he opened his eyes the silence became painful, it was so heavy and oppressive. He felt lonely and afraid, more afraid than he had even been for himself while the battle was in progress. It seemed to him that he was pursued by the ghosts of the fallen, and he longed for the company of his own race.
Dick was not conscious of hunger or fatigue. His nerves were still keyed too high to remember such things, and now he turned down to the Little Big Horn. Remembering the terrible quicksand, he tried the bank very gingerly before he stepped into the water. It was sandy, but it held him, and then he waded in boldly, holding his rifle and belt of cartridges above his head. He knew that the river was not deep, but it came to his waist here, and once he stepped into a hole to his armpits, but he kept the rifle and cartridges dry. The waters were extremely cold, but Dick did not know it, and when he reached the desired shore he shook himself like a dog until the drops flew and then began the perilous task of returning to the village on the side farthest from Custer's battle.
He went carefully along the low, wooded shores, keeping well in the undergrowth, which was dense, and for an hour he heard and saw nothing of the Sioux. He knew why. They were still rejoicing over their great victory, and although he knew little of Indian customs he believed that the scalp dance must be in progress.
The moon and stars came out. A dark-blue sky, troubled by occasional light clouds, bent over him. He began at last to feel the effects of the long strain, mental and physical. His clothes were nearly dry on him, but for the first time he felt cold and weak. He went on, nevertheless; he had no idea of stopping even if he were forced to crawl.
He reached the crest of a low hill and looked down again on the Indian village, but from a point far from the hill on which he had stood during the battle. He saw many lights, torches and camp fires, and now and then dusky figures moving against the background of the flames, and then a great despair overtook him. To rescue Albert would be in itself difficult enough, but how was he ever to find him in that huge village, five miles long?
He did not permit his despair to last long. He would make the trial in some manner, how he did not yet know, but he must make it. He descended the low hill and entered a clump of bushes about fifty yards from the banks of the Little Big Horn. Here he stopped and quickly sank down. He had heard a rustling at the far edge of the clump, and he was sure, too, that he had seen a shadowy figure. The figure had disappeared instantly, but Dick was confident that a Sioux warrior was hidden in the bushes not ten yards away.
It was his first impulse to retreat as silently as he could, but the impulse swiftly gave way to a fierce anger. He remembered that he carried a rifle and plenty of cartridges, and he was seized with a sudden vague belief that he might strike a blow in revenge for the terrible loss of the day. It could be but a little blow, he could strike down only one, but he was resolved to do it—he had been through what few boys are ever compelled to see and endure, and his mind was not in its normal state.
He turned himself now into an Indian, crawling and creeping with deadly caution through the bushes, exercising an infinite patience that he might make no leaf or twig rustle, and now and then looking carefully over the tops of the bushes to see that his enemy had not fled. As he advanced he held his rifle well forward, that he might take instant aim when the time came.
Dick was a full ten minutes in traveling ten yards, and then he saw the dark figure of the warrior crouched low in the bushes. The Sioux had not seen him and was watching for his approach from some other point. The figure was dim, but Dick slowly raised his rifle and took careful aim at the head. His finger reached the trigger, but when it got there it refused to obey his will. He was not a savage; he was white, with the civilized blood of many generations, and he could not shoot down an enemy whose back was turned to him. But he maintained his aim, and using some old expression that he had heard he cried, "Throw up your hands!"
The crouching figure sprang to its feet, and a remembered voice exclaimed in overwhelming surprise and delight:
"Dick! Dick! Is that you, Dick?"
Dick dropped the muzzle of his rifle and stared. He could not take it in for the moment. It was Albert—a ragged, dirty, pale, and tired Albert, but a real live Albert just the same.
The brothers stared at each other by the same impulse, and then by the same impulse rushed forward, grasped each other's hands, wringing them and shouting aloud for joy.
"Is it you, Al? How on earth did you ever get here?"
"Is it you, Dick? Where on earth did you come from?"
They sat down in the bushes, both still trembling with excitement and the relief from suspense, and Dick told of the fatal day, how he had been bound to the tree on the hill, and how he had seen all the battle, from its beginning to the end, when no white soldier was left alive.
"Do you mean that they were all killed, Dick?" asked Albert in awed tones.
"Every one," replied Dick. "There was a ring of fire and steel around them through which no man could break. But they were brave, Al, they were brave! They beat off the thousands of that awful horde for hours and hours."
"Who led them?"
"I don't know. I had no way of knowing, but it was a gallant man with long yellow hair. I saw him with his hat off, waving it to encourage his men. Now tell me, Al, how you got here."
"When they seized us," replied Albert, "they carried me, kicking and fighting as best I could, up the river. I made up my mind that I'd never see you again, Dick, as I was sure that they'd kill you right away. I expected them to finish me up, too, soon, but they didn't. I suppose it was because they were busy with bigger things.
"They pushed me along for at least two miles. Then they crossed the river, shoved me into a bark lodge, and fastened the door on me. They didn't take the trouble to bind me, feeling sure, I suppose, that I couldn't get out of the lodge and the village, too; and I certainly wouldn't have had any chance to do it if a battle hadn't begun after I had been there a long time in the darkness of the lodge. I thought at first that it was the Sioux firing at targets, but then it became too heavy and there was too much shouting.
"The firing went on a long time, and I pulled and kicked for an hour at the lodge door. Because no one came, no matter how much noise I made, I knew that something big was going on, and I worked all the harder. When I looked out at last, I saw many warriors running up and down and great clouds of smoke. I sneaked out, got into a smoke bank just as a Sioux shot at me, lay down in a little ravine, after a while jumped up and ran again through the smoke, and reached the bushes, where I lay hidden flat on my face until the night came. While I was there I heard the firing die down and saw our men driven off after being cut up badly."
"It's awful! awful!" groaned Dick. "I didn't know there were so many Sioux in the world, and maybe our generals didn't, either. That must have been the trouble."
"When the darkness set in good," resumed Albert. "I started to run. I knew that no Sioux were bothering about me then, but I tell you that I made tracks, Dick. I had no arms, and I didn't know where I was going; but I meant to leave those Sioux some good miles behind. After a while I got back part of my courage, and then I came back here to look around for you, thinking you might have just such a chance as I did."
"Brave old Al," said Dick.
"You came, too."
"I was armed and you were not."
"It comes to the same thing, and you did have the chance."
"Yes, and we're together again. We've been saved once more, Al, when the others have fallen. Now the thing for us to do is to get away from here as fast as we can. Which way do you think those troops on your side of the village retreated?"
Albert extended his finger toward a point on the dusky horizon.
"Off there somewhere," he replied.
"Then we'll follow them. Come on."
The two left the bushes and entered the hills.
Chapter XX Bright Sun's Good-by
Dick and Albert had not gone far before they saw lights on the bluffs of the Little Big Horn. Dick had uncommonly keen eyes, and when he saw a figure pass between him and the firelight he was confident that it was not that of a Sioux. The clothing was too much like a trooper's.
"Stop, Al," he said, putting his hand on his brother's shoulder. "I believe some of our soldiers are here."
The two crept as near as they dared and watched until they saw another figure pause momentarily against the background of the firelight.
"It's a trooper, sure," said Dick, "and we've come to our own people at last. Come, Al, we'll join them."
They started forward on a run. There was a flash of flame, a report, and a bullet whistled between them.
"We're friends, not Sioux!" shouted Dick. "We're escaping from the savages! Don't fire!"
They ran forward again, coming boldly into the light, and no more shots were fired at them. They ran up the slope to the crest of the bluff, leaped over a fresh earthwork, and fell among a crowd of soldiers in blue. Dick quickly raised himself to his feet, and saw soldiers about him, many of them wounded, all of them weary and drawn. Others were hard at work with pick and spade, and from a distant point of the earthwork came the sharp report of rifle shots.
These were the first white men that Dick and Albert had seen in nearly two years, and their hearts rose in their throats.
"Who are you?" asked a lieutenant, holding up a lantern and looking curiously at the two bare-headed, brown, and half-wild youths who stood before him in their rough attire of tanned skins. They might readily have passed in the darkness for young Sioux warriors.
"I am Dick Howard," replied Dick, standing up as straight as his weakness would let him, "and this is my brother Albert. We were with an emigrant trail, all the rest of which was massacred two years ago by the Sioux. Since then we have been in the mountains, hunting and trapping."
The lieutenant looked at him suspiciously. Dick still stood erect and returned his gaze, but Albert, overpowered by fatigue, was leaning against the earthwork. A half dozen soldiers stood near, watching them curiously. From the woods toward the river came the sound of more rifle shots.
"Where have you come from to-night? And how?" asked the lieutenant sharply.
"We escaped from the Sioux village," replied Dick. "I was in one part of it and my brother in another. We met by chance or luck in the night, but in the afternoon I saw all the battle in which the army was destroyed."
"Army destroyed! What do you mean?" exclaimed the officer. "We were repulsed, but we are here. We are not destroyed."
The suspicion in his look deepened, but Dick met him with unwavering eye.
"It was on the other side of the town," he replied. "Another army was there. It was surrounded by thousands of Sioux, but it perished to the last man. I saw them gallop into the valley, led by a general with long yellow hair."
"Custer!" exclaimed some one, and a deep groan came from the men in the dusk.
"What nonsense is this!" exclaimed the officer. "Do you dare tell me that Custer and his entire command have perished?"
Dick felt his resentment rising.
"I tell you only the truth," he said. "There was a great battle, and our troops, led by a general with long yellow hair, perished utterly. The last one of them is dead. I saw it all with my own eyes."
Again that deep groan came from the men in the dusk.
"I can't believe it!" exclaimed the lieutenant. "Custer and whole force dead! Where were you? How did you see all this?"
"The Sioux had tied me to a tree in order that the Indian boys might amuse themselves by grazing me with arrows—my brother and I had been captured when we were on the plains—but they were interrupted by the appearance of troops in the valley. Then the battle began. It lasted a long time, and I was forgotten. About twilight I managed to break loose, and I escaped by hiding in the undergrowth. My brother, who was on the other side of town, escaped in much the same way."
"Sounds improbable, very improbable!" muttered the lieutenant.
Suddenly an old sergeant, who had been standing near, listening attentively, exclaimed:
"Look at the boy's wrists, lieutenant! They've got just the marks than an Indian rawhide would make!"
Dick impulsively held up his wrists, from which the bandages had fallen without his notice. A deep red ring encircled each, and it was obvious from their faces that others believed, even if the lieutenant did not. But he, too, dropped at least a part of his disbelief.
"I cannot deny your story of being captives among the Sioux," he said, "because you are white and the look of your eyes is honest. But you must be mistaken about Custer. They cannot all have fallen; it was your excitement that made you think it."
Dick did not insist. He was the bearer of bad news, but he would not seek to make others believe it if they did not wish to do so. The dreadful confirmation would come soon enough.
"Take them away, Williams," said the lieutenant to the sergeant, "and give them food and drink. They look as if they needed it."
The sergeant was kindly, and he asked Dick and Albert many questions as he led them to a point farther back on the bluff beyond the rifle shots of the Sioux, who were now firing heavily in the darkness upon Reno's command, the troops driven off from the far side of the town, and the commands of Benteen and McDougall, which had formed a junction with Reno. It was evident that he believed all Dick told him, and his eyes became heavy with sorrow.
"Poor lads!" he murmured. "And so many of them gone!"
He took them to a fire, and here both of them collapsed completely. But with stimulants, good food, and water they recovered in an hour, and then Dick was asked to tell again what he had seen to the chief officers. They listened attentively, but Dick knew that they, too, went away incredulous.
Throughout the talk Dick and Albert heard the sound of pick and spade as the men continued to throw up the earthworks, and there was an incessant patter of rifle fire as the Sioux crept forward in the darkness, firing from every tree, or rock, or hillock, and keeping up a frightful yelling, half of menace and half of triumph. But their bullets whistled mostly overhead, and once, when they made a great rush, they were quickly driven back with great loss. Troops on a bluff behind earthworks were a hard nut even for an overwhelming force to crack.
Dick and Albert fell asleep on the ground from sheer exhaustion, but Dick did not sleep long. He was awakened by a fresh burst of firing, and saw that it was still dark. He did not sleep again that night, although Albert failed to awake, and, asking for a rifle, bore a part in the defense.
The troops, having made a forced march with scant supplies, suffered greatly from thirst, but volunteers, taking buckets, slipped down to the river, at the imminent risk of torture and death, and brought them back filled for their comrades. It was done more than a dozen times, and Dick himself was one of the heroes, which pleased Sergeant Williams greatly.
"You're the right stuff, my boy," he said, clapping him on the shoulder, "though you ought to be asleep and resting."
"I couldn't sleep long," replied Dick. "I think my nerves have been upset so much that I won't feel just right again for months."
Nevertheless he bore a valiant part in the defense, besides risking his life to obtain the water, and won high praise from many besides his stanch friend, Sergeant Williams. It was well that the troops had thrown up the earthwork, as the Sioux, flushed with their great victory in the afternoon, hung on the flanks of the bluffs and kept up a continuous rifle fire. There was light enough for sharpshooting, and more than one soldier who incautiously raised his head above the earthwork was slain.
Toward morning the Sioux made another great rush. There had been a lull in the firing just when the night was darker than usual and many little black clouds were floating up from the southwest. Dick was oppressed by the silence. He remembered the phases of the battle in the afternoon, and he felt that it portended some great effort by the Sioux. He peeped carefully over the earthwork and studied the trees, bushes, and hillocks below. He saw nothing there, but it seemed to him that he could actually feel the presence of the Sioux.
"Look out for 'em," he said to Sergeant Williams. "I think they're going to make a rush."
"I think it, too," replied the veteran. "I've learnt something of their cunnin' since I've been out here on the plains."
Five minutes later the Sioux sprang from their ambush and rushed forward, hoping to surprise enemies who had grown careless. But they were met by a withering fire that drove them headlong to cover again. Nevertheless they kept up the siege throughout all the following day and night, firing incessantly from ambush, and at times giving forth whoops full of taunt and menace. Dick was able to sleep a little during the day, and gradually his nerves became more steady. Albert also took a part in the defense, and, like Dick, he won many friends.
The day was a long and heavy one. The fortified camp was filled with the gloomiest apprehensions. The officers still refused to believe all of Dick's story, that Custer and every man of his command had perished at the hands of the Sioux. They were yet hopeful that his eyes had deceived him, a thing which could happen amid so much fire, and smoke, and excitement, and that only a part of Custer's force had fallen. Yet neither Custer nor any of his men returned; there was no sign of them anywhere, and below the bluffs the Sioux gave forth taunting shouts and flaunted terrible trophies.
Dick and Albert sat together about twilight before one of the camp fires, and Dick's face showed that he shared the gloom of those around him.
"What are you expecting, Dick?" asked Albert, who read his countenance.
"Nothing in particular," replied Dick; "but I'm hoping that help will come soon. I've heard from the men that General Gibbon is out on the plain with a strong force, and we need him bad. We're short of both water and food, and we'll soon be short of ammunition. Custer fell, I think, because his ammunition gave out, and if ours gives out the same thing will happen to us. It's no use trying to conceal it."
"Then we'll pray for Gibbon," said Albert.
The second night passed like the first, to the accompaniment of shouts and shots, the incessant sharpshooting of the Sioux, and an occasional rush that was always driven back. But it was terribly exhausting. The men were growing irritable and nervous under such a siege, and the anxiety in the camp increased.
Dick, after a good sleep, was up early on the morning of the second day, and, like others, he looked out over the plain in the hope that he might see Gibbon coming. He looked all around the circle of the horizon and saw only distant lodges in the valley and Sioux warriors. But Dick had uncommonly good ears, trained further by two years of wild life, and he heard something, a new note in the common life of the morning. He listened with the utmost attention, and heard it again. He had heard the same sound on the terrible day when Custer galloped into the valley—the mellow, pealing note of a trumpet, but now very faint and far.
"They're coming!" he said to Sergeant Williams joyfully. "I hear the sound of a trumpet out on the plain!"
"I don't," said the sergeant. "It's your hopes that are deceivin' you. No, by Jove, I think I do hear it! Yes, there it is! They're comin'! They're comin'!"
The whole camp burst into a joyous cheer, and although they did not hear the trumpet again for some time, the belief that help was at hand became a certainty when they saw hurried movements among the Sioux in the valley and the sudden upspringing of flames at many points.
"They're goin' to retreat," said the veteran Sergeant Williams, "an' they're burnin' their village behind 'em."
A little later the army of Gibbon, with infantry and artillery, showed over the plain, and was welcomed with cheers that came from the heart. Uniting with the commands on the fortified bluff, Gibbon now had a powerful force, and he advanced cautiously into the valley of the Little Big Horn and directly upon the Indian village. But the Sioux were gone northward, taking with them their arms, ammunition, and all movable equipment, and the lodges that they left behind were burning.
Dick led the force to the field of battle, and all his terrible story was confirmed. There were hundreds of brave men, Custer and every one of his officers among them, lay, most of them mutilated, but all with their backs to the earth.
The army spent the day burying the dead, and then began the pursuit of the Sioux. Dick and Albert went with them, fighting as scouts and skirmishers. They were willing, for the present, to let their furs remain hidden in their lost valley until they could gain a more definite idea of its location, and until the dangerous Sioux were driven far to the northward.
As the armies grew larger the Sioux forces, despite the skill and courage of their leaders, were continually beaten. Their great victory on the Little Big Horn availed them nothing. It became evident that the last of the chiefs—and to Dick and Albert this was Bright Sun—had made the last stand for his race, and had failed.
"They were doomed the day the first white man landed in America," said Dick to Albert, "and nothing could save them."
"I suppose it's so," said Albert; "but I feel sorry for Bright Sun, all the same."
"So do I," said Dick.
The Sioux were finally crowded against the Canadian line, and Sitting Bull and most of the warriors fled across it for safety. But just before the crossing Dick and Albert bore a gallant part in a severe skirmish that began before daylight. A small Sioux band, fighting in a forest with great courage and tenacity, was gradually driven back by dismounted white troopers. Dick, a skirmisher on the right flank, became separated from his comrades during the fighting. He was aware that the Sioux had been defeated, but, like the others, he followed in eager pursuit, wishing to drive the blow home.
Dick lost sight of both troopers and Sioux, but he became aware of a figure in the undergrowth ahead of him, and he stalked it. The warrior, for such he was sure the man to be, was unable to continue his flight without entering an open space where he would be exposed to Dick's bullet, and he stayed to meet his antagonist.
There was much delicate maneuvering of the kind that must occur when lives are known to be at stake, but at last the two came within reach of each other. The Sioux fired first and missed, and then Dick held his enemy at the muzzle of his rifle. He was about to fire in his turn, when he saw that it was Bright Sun.
The chief, worn and depressed, recognized Dick at the same moment.
"Fire," he said. "I have lost and I might as well die by your hand as another."
Dick lowered his weapon.
"I can't do it, Bright Sun," he said. "My brother and I owe you our lives, and I've got to give you yours. Good-by."
"But I am an Indian," said Bright Sun. "I will never surrender to your people."
"It is for you to say," replied Dick.
Bright Sun waved his hand in a grave and sad farewell salute and went northward. Dick heard from a trapper some time later of a small band of Sioux Indians far up near the Great Slave Lake, led by a chief of uncommon qualities. He was sure, from the description of this chief given by the trapper, that it was Bright Sun.
Their part in the war ended, Dick and Albert took for their pay a number of captured Indian ponies, and turning southward found the old trail of the train that had been slaughtered. Then, with the ponies, they entered their beloved valley again.
No one had come in their absence. Castle Howard, the Annex, the Suburban Villa, the Cliff House and all their treasures were undisturbed. They carried their furs to Helena, in Montana, where the entire lot was sold for thirty-two thousand dollars—a great sum for two youths.
"Now what shall we do?" said Albert when the money was paid to them.
"I vote we buy United States Government bonds," replied Dick, "register 'em in our names, and go back to the valley to hunt and trap. Of course people will find it after a while, but we may get another lot of the furs before anyone comes."
"Just what I'd have proposed myself," said Albert.
They started the next day on their ponies, with the pack ponies following, and reached their destination in due time. It was just about sunset when they descended the last slope and once more beheld their valley, stretching before them in all its beauty and splendor, still untrodden by any human footsteps save their own.
"What a fine place!" exclaimed Albert.
"The finest in the world!" said Dick.