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- The Prairie - 10/87 -
now! Here comes the Indian to put his questions."
The girl, whose apprehensions had quickened her senses, was not deceived. She was yet speaking when a tall, half naked savage, approached the spot where they stood, and after examining the whole party as closely as the dim light permitted, for more than a minute in perfect stillness, he gave the usual salutation in the harsh and guttural tones of his own language. The trapper replied as well as he could, which it seems was sufficiently well to be understood. In order to escape the imputation of pedantry we shall render the substance, and, so far as it is possible, the form of the dialogue that succeeded, into the English tongue.
"Have the pale-faces eaten their own buffaloes, and taken the skins from all their own beavers," continued the savage, allowing the usual moment of decorum to elapse, after the words of greeting, before he again spoke, "that they come to count how many are left among the Pawnees?"
"Some of us are here to buy, and some to sell," returned the trapper; "but none will follow, if they hear it is not safe to come nigh the lodge of a Sioux."
"The Siouxes are thieves, and they live among the snow; why do we talk of a people who are so far, when we are in the country of the Pawnees?"
"If the Pawnees are the owners of this land, then white and red are here by equal right."
"Have not the pale-faces stolen enough from the red men, that you come so far to carry a lie? I have said that this is a hunting-ground of my tribe."
"My right to be here is equal to your own," the trapper rejoined, with undisturbed coolness; "I do not speak as I might--it is better to be silent. The Pawnees and the white men are brothers, but a Sioux dare not show his face in the village of the Loups."
"The Dahcotahs are men!" exclaimed the savage, fiercely; forgetting in his anger to maintain the character he had assumed, and using the appellation of which his nation was most proud; "the Dahcotahs have no fear! Speak; what brings you so far from the villages of the pale-faces?"
"I have seen the sun rise and set on many councils, and have heard the words of wise men. Let your chiefs come, and my mouth shall not be shut."
"I am a great chief!" said the savage, affecting an air of offended dignity. "Do you take me for an Assiniboine? Weucha is a warrior often named, and much believed!"
"Am I a fool not to know a burnt-wood Teton?" demanded the trapper, with a steadiness that did great credit to his nerves. "Go; it is dark, and you do not see that my head is grey!"
The Indian now appeared convinced that he had adopted too shallow an artifice to deceive one so practised as the man he addressed, and he was deliberating what fiction he should next invent, in order to obtain his real object, when a slight commotion among the band put an end at once to all his schemes. Casting his eyes behind him, as if fearful of a speedy interruption, he said, in tones much less pretending than those he had first resorted to--
"Give Weucha the milk of the Long-knives, and he will sing your name in the ears of the great men of his tribe."
"Go," repeated the trapper, motioning him away, with strong disgust. "Your young men are speaking of Mahtoree. My words are for the ears of a chief."
The savage cast a look at the other, which, notwithstanding the dim light, was sufficiently indicative of implacable hostility. He then stole away among his fellows, anxious to conceal the counterfeit he had attempted to practise, no less than the treachery he had contemplated against a fair division of the spoils, from the man named by the trapper, whom he now also knew to be approaching, by the manner in which his name passed from one to another, in the band. He had hardly disappeared before a warrior of powerful frame advanced out of the dark circle, and placed himself before the captives, with that high and proud bearing for which a distinguished Indian chief is ever so remarkable. He was followed by all the party, who arranged themselves around his person, in a deep and respectful silence.
"The earth is very large," the chief commenced, after a pause of that true dignity which his counterfeit had so miserably affected; "why can the children of my great white father never find room on it?"
"Some among them have heard that their friends in the prairies are in want of many things," returned the trapper; "and they have come to see if it be true. Some want, in their turns, what the red men are willing to sell, and they come to make their friends rich, with powder and blankets."
"Do traders cross the big river with empty hands?"
"Our hands are empty because your young men thought we were tired, and they have lightened us of our load. They were mistaken; I am old, but I am still strong."
"It cannot be. Your load has fallen in the prairies. Show my young men the place, that they may pick it up before the Pawnees find it."
"The path to the spot is crooked, and it is night. The hour is come for sleep," said the trapper, with perfect composure. "Bid your warriors go over yonder hill; there is water and there is wood; let them light their fires and sleep with warm feet. When the sun comes again I will speak to you."
A low murmur, but one that was clearly indicative of dissatisfaction, passed among the attentive listeners, and served to inform the old man that he had not been sufficiently wary in proposing a measure that he intended should notify the travellers in the brake of the presence of their dangerous neighbours. Mahtoree, however, without betraying, in the slightest degree, the excitement which was so strongly exhibited by his companions, continued the discourse in the same lofty manner as before.
"I know that my friend is rich," he said; "that he has many warriors not far off, and that horses are plentier with him, than dogs among the red-skins."
"You see my warriors, and my horses."
"What! has the woman the feet of a Dahcotah, that she can walk for thirty nights in the prairies, and not fall! I know the red men of the woods make long marches on foot, but we, who live where the eye cannot see from one lodge to another, love our horses."
The trapper now hesitated, in his turn. He was perfectly aware that deception, if detected, might prove dangerous; and, for one of his pursuits and character, he was strongly troubled with an unaccommodating regard for the truth. But, recollecting that he controlled the fate of others as well as of himself, he determined to let things take their course, and to permit the Dahcotah chief to deceive himself if he would.
"The women of the Siouxes and of the white men are not of the same wigwam," he answered evasively. "Would a Teton warrior make his wife greater than himself? I know he would not; and yet my ears have heard that there are lands where the councils are held by squaws."
Another slight movement in the dark circle apprised the trapper that his declaration was not received without surprise, if entirely without distrust. The chief alone seemed unmoved; nor was he disposed to relax from the loftiness and high dignity of his air.
"My white fathers who live on the great lakes have declared," he said, "that their brothers towards the rising sun are not men; and now I know they did not lie! Go--what is a nation whose chief is a squaw! Are you the dog and not the husband of this woman?"
"I am neither. Never did I see her face before this day. She came into the prairies because they had told her a great and generous nation called the Dahcotahs lived there, and she wished to look on men. The women of the pale-faces, like the women of the Siouxes, open their eyes to see things that are new; but she is poor, like myself, and she will want corn and buffaloes, if you take away the little that she and her friend still have."
"My ears listen to many wicked lies!" exclaimed the Teton warrior, in a voice so stern that it startled even his red auditors. "Am I a woman? Has not a Dahcotah eyes? Tell me, white hunter; who are the men of your colour, that sleep near the fallen trees?"
As he spoke, the indignant chief pointed in the direction of Ishmael's encampment, leaving the trapper no reason to doubt, that the superior industry and sagacity of this man had effected a discovery, which had eluded the search of the rest of his party. Notwithstanding his regret at an event that might prove fatal to the sleepers, and some little vexation at having been so completely outwitted, in the dialogue just related, the old man continued to maintain his air of inflexible composure.
"It may be true," he answered, "that white men are sleeping in the prairie. If my brother says it, it is true; but what men thus trust to the generosity of the Tetons, I cannot tell. If there be strangers asleep, send your young men to wake them up, and let them say why they are here; every pale-face has a tongue." The chief shook his head with a wild and fierce smile, answering abruptly, as he turned away to put an end to the conference--
"The Dahcotahs are a wise race, and Mahtoree is their chief! He will not call to the strangers, that they may rise and speak to him with their carabines. He will whisper softly in their ears. When this is done, let the men of their own colour come and awake them!"
As he uttered these words, and turned on his heel, a low and approving laugh passed around the dark circle, which instantly broke its order and followed him to a little distance from the stand of the captives, where those who might presume to mingle opinions with so great a warrior again gathered about him in consultation. Weucha profited by the occasion to renew his importunities; but the trapper, who had discovered how great a counterfeit he was, shook him off in displeasure. An end was, however, more effectually put to the annoyance of this malignant savage, by a mandate for the whole party, including men and beasts, to change their positions. The movement was made in dead silence, and with an order that would have done credit to more enlightened beings. A halt, however, was soon made; and when the
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