|Part 2||Continued from Part 1: Chapters I - X|
|Chapter XI.||The Truth of the Eyes|
|Chapter XIII.||Playing With Fire|
|Chapter XIV.||In Love|
|Chapter XV.||Bringing in the Wolf|
|Chapter XVI.||A Hunt|
|Chapter XVII.||A Proposal|
|Chapter XVIII.||Man to Man|
|Chapter XX.||The End of All Things|
"I do not go to war for fifty dollars,But his more ardent admirers frowned on this doggerel, and reminded the songsters that no one of them would have made that courier's ride for a thousand acres of Monongahela rye in bottles. As for Wolf-Voice, they appreciated his attitude. "Business is business, and it takes money to buy marbles," said one to another.
You can bet your boots that isn't not me lay.
When I fight, it's only glory which I collars,
Also to get me little beans and hay."
But on the completion of the rude huts at the mouth of the Tongue, and when the last wagon train had come through, there was an ominous preparation for more serious things. It was in the air. Every white soldier went loping about, doing everything from greasing a wagon to making his will.
"Ah, sacre, John," quoth Wolf-Voice, "am much disturb; dese Masta-Shella (13) waas say dis big chief -- what you call de Miles? -- she medicin fighter; she very bad mans; she keep de soldiers' toes sore all de taime. She no give de dam de cole-moon, de yellow-grass moon; she hump de Sioux. Why for we mak to trouble our head? We have dose box, dose bag, dose barrel to heat, en de commissaire -- wael 'nough grub las' our lifetaime; but de soldier say sure be a fight soon; dat Miles she begin for paw de groun' it be sure sign. Wael, we mak' a skin dat las fight, hey, John?"
Ermine in his turn conceived a new respect for the white soldiers. If their heels were heavy, so were their arms when it came to the final hug. While it was not apparent to him just how they were going to whip the Sioux and Cheyenne, it was very evident that the Indians could not whip the soldiers; and this was demonstrated directly when Colonel Miles, with his hardy infantry, charged over Sitting Bull's camp, and while outnumbered three to his one, scattered and drove the proud tribesmen and looted their tepees. Not satisfied with this, the grim soldier crawled over the snow all winter with his buffalo-coated men, defying the blizzards, kicking the sleeping warriors out of their blankets, killing and chasing them into the cold starvation of the hills. So persistent and relentless were the soldiers that they fought through the captured camps when the cold was so great that the men had to stop in the midst of battle to light fires, to warm their fingers, which were no longer able to work the breech-locks. Young soldiers cried in the ranks as they perished in the frigid atmosphere; but notwithstanding, they never stopped. The enemy could find no deep defile in the lonely mountains where they were safe; and entrench where they would among the rocks, the steady line charged over them, pouring bullets and shell. Ermine followed their fortunes and came to understand the dying of "the ten thousand men." These people went into battle with the intention of dying if not victorious. They never consulted their heels, no matter what the extremity. By the time of the green grass the warriors of the northern plains had either sought their agencies or fled to Canada. Through it all Ermine had marched and shot and frozen with the rest. He formed attachments for his comrades that enthusiastic affection which men bring from the camp and battle-field, signed by suffering and sealed with blood.
The snow had gone. The plains and boxlike bluff around the cantonments had turned to a rich velvet of green. The troops rested after the tremendous campaigns in the snow-laden, wind-swept hills, with the consciousness of work well done. The Indians who had been brought in during the winter were taking their first heart-breaking steps along the white man's road. The army teams broke the prairie, and they were planting the seed. The disappearance of the buffalo and the terrible white chief Bear-Coat, (14) who followed and fought them in the fiercest weather, had broken their spirits. The prophecies of the old beaver-men, which had always lain heavily on the Indian mind, had come true at last the whites had come; they had tried to stop them and had failed.
The soldiers' nerves tingled as they gathered round the landing. They cheered and laughed and joked, slapped and patted hysterically, and forgot the bilious officialism entirely.
Far down the river could be seen the black funnel of smoke from the steamboat their only connection with the world of the white men. It bore letters from home, luxuries for the mess-chest, and best of all, news of the wives and children who had been left behind when they went to war.
Every one was in a tremor of expectancy except the Indians, who stood solemnly apart in their buffalo-robes, and John Ermine. The steamboat did not come from their part of the world, and brought nothing to them; still Ermine reflected the joyousness of those around him, and both he and the Indians knew a feast for their eyes awaited them.
In due course the floating house -- for she looked more like one than a boat -- pushed her way to the landing, safe from her thousand miles of snags and sandbars. A cannon thudded and boomed. The soldiers cheered, and the people on the boat waved handkerchiefs when they did not use them to wipe happy tears away; officers who saw their beloved ones walked to and fro in caged impatience. When the gang-planks were run out, they swarmed aboard like Malay pirates. Such hugging and kissing as followed would have been scandalous on an ordinary occasion; lily-white faces were quite buried in sunburnt mustaches on mahogany-brown skins. The unmarried men all registered a vow to let no possible occasion to get married escape them, and little boys and girls were held aloft in brawny arms paternal. A riot of good spirits reigned.
"For Heaven's sake, Mary, did you bring me my summer underwear?"
"Oh, don't say you forgot a box of cigars, Mattie."
"If you have any papers or novels, they will save me from becoming an idiot," and a shower of childish requests from their big boys greeted the women.
In truth, it must be stated that at this period the fashion insisted upon a disfigurement of ladies which must leave a whole generation of noble dames forgotten by artists of all time. They loosened and tightened their forms at most inappropriate places; yet underneath this fierce distortion of that bane of woman, Dame Fashion, the men were yet able to remember there dwelt bodies as beautiful as any Greek ever saw or any attenuated Empire dandy fancied.
"Three cheers for the first white women on the northern buffalo range!"
"See that tent over there?" asked an officer of his 'Missis,' as he pointed toward camp; "well, that's our happy home; how does it strike you?"
A bunch of "shave-tails" were marched ashore amid a storm of good-natured raillery from the "vets " and mighty glad to feel once again the grit under their brogans. Roustabouts hustled bags and boxes into the six-mule wagons. The engine blew off its exhaust in a frail attempt to drown the awful profanity of the second mate, while humanity boiled and bubbled round the great river-box.
The Indians stood motionless, but their keen eyes missed no details of the strange medley. Ermine leaned on a wagon-tail, carefully paring a thin stick with a jack-knife. He was arrayed for a gala day in new soldier trousers, a yellow buckskin shirt beautifully beaded by the Indian method, a spotted white handkerchief around his neck, buckskin leggings on the lower leg above gay moccasins, a huge skinning-knife and revolver in his belt, and a silver watch chain. His golden hair was freshly combed, and his big rakish sombrero had an eagle feather fastened to the crown, dropping idly to one side, where the soft wind eddied it about.
The John Ermine of the mountain den was a June-bug beside this butterfly, but no assortment of color can compete with a scarlet blanket when the clear western sun strikes on it; so in consequence Ermine was subdued by Wolf-Voice, who stood be side him thus arrayed.
As the people gathered their bags and parcels, they came ashore in small groups, the women and children giving the wild Indians the heed which their picturesque appearance called for, much of this being in the form of little shivers up and down the spine. A true old wolf-headed buffalo Indian would make a Japanese dragon look like a plate of ice-cream, and the Old Boy himself would have to wave his tail, prick up his sharp ears, and display the best of his Satanic learning to stand the comparison.
Major Searles passed on with the rest, beaming like a June morning, his arms full of woman's equipment -- Mrs. Searles on one side and his daughter on the other.
"How do, Major?" spoke the scout as he cast his whittling from him.
"This is John Ermine, who saved my life last winter, my dear. This is Mrs. Searles, John."
She bowed, but the scout shook hands with her. Miss Searles, upon presentation, gave Ermine a most chilling bow, if raising the chin and dropping the upper eyelids can be so described; and the man who pushed his pony fearlessly among the whirling savages recoiled before her batteries and stood irresolute.
Wolf-Voice, who had not been indicated by the Major, now approached, his weird features lighted up with what was intended as pleasantry, but which instead was rather alarming.
"How! how me heap glad to see you." And to Miss Searles, "How! how you heap look good." After which they passed on.
"My, my, papa, did you ever see such beautiful hair as that man Ermine has?" said Katherine Searles. "It was a perfect dream."
"Yes, good crop that -- 'nough to stuff a mattress with; looks better to-day than when it's full of alkali dust," replied the Major.
"If the young man lost his hat, it would not be a calamity," observed the wife.
" And, papa, who was that dreadful Indian in the red blanket?"
"Oh, an old scoundrel named Wolf-Voice, but useful in his place. You must never feed him, Sarah, or he will descend on us like the plague of locusts. If he ever gets his teeth into one of our biscuits, I'll have to call out the squad to separate him from our mess-chest."
A strange thought flashed through John Ermine's head -- something more like the stroke of an axe than a thought, and it had deprived him of the power of speech. Standing motionless and inert, he watched the girl until she was out of sight. Then he walked away from the turmoil, up along the river-bank.
Having gained a sufficient distance, he undid the front of his shirt and took out a buckskin bag, which hung depended from his neck. It contained his dried horse's hoof and the photograph of a girl, the one he had picked up in the moonlight on the trail used by the soldiers from Fort Ellis.
He gazed at it for a time, and said softly, "They are the same, that girl and this shadow." And he stood scrutinizing it, the eyes looking straight into his as they had done so often before, until he was intimate with the image by a thousand vain imaginings. He put it back in his bag, buttoned his shirt, and stood in a brown study, with his hands behind his back, idly stirring the dust with the point of one moccasin.
"It must have been -- it must have been Sak-a-war-te who guided me in the moonlight to that little shadow paper there in the road to that little spot in all this big country; in the night-time and just where we cut that long road; it means something it -- must be." And he could get no farther with his thoughts as he walked to his quarters.
Along the front of the officers' row he saw the bustle, and handshaking, laughter, and quick conversation. Captain Lewis came by with a tall young man in citizen's clothes, about whom there was a blacked, brushed, shaved appearance quite new on the Tongue.
"I say, and who is that stunning chap?" said this one to Lewis, in Ermine's hearing.
"One of my men. Oh, come here, Ermine. This is Mr. Sterling Harding, an Englishman come out to see this country and hunt. You may be able to tell him some things he wants to know."
"Oh, I suppose, Mr. Ermine, you have shot in this country."
" Yes, sir," -- Ermine had extended the "sir" beyond shoulder-straps to include clean shirts, -- "I have shot most every kind of thing we have in this country except a woman,"
"Oh! ha! ha ha!" And Harding produced a cigar-case.
"A woman? I suppose there hasn't been any to shoot until this boat came. Do you intend to try your hand on one? Will you have a cigar?"
"No, sir ; I only meant to say I had shot things. I suppose you mean have I hunted."
"Yes, yes exactly; hunted is what I mean."
"Well then, Mr. Sterling Harding, I have never done anything else."
"Mr. Harding, I will leave you with Ermine; I have some details to look after. You will come to our mess for luncheon at noon?" interjected Captain Lewis.
"Yes, with pleasure, Captain." Whereat the chief of scouts took himself off.
"I suppose, Mr. Ermine, that the war is quite over, and that one may feel free to go about here without being potted by the aborigines," said Harding.
"The what? Never heard of them. I can go where I like without being killed, but I have to keep my eyes skinned."
"Would you be willing to take me out? I should expect to incur the incidental risks of the enterprise," asked the Englishman, who had taken the incidental risks of tigers in India and sought "big heads" in many countries irrespective of dangers.
"Why, yes; I guess Wolf-Voice and I could take you hunting easily enough if the Captain will let us go. We never know here what Bear-Coat is going to do next; it may be 'boots and saddles' any minute," replied the scout.
"Oh, I imagine, since Madam has appeared, he may remain quiet and I really understand the Indians have quite fled the country," responded Harding.
"Mabeso; you don't know about Indians, Mr. Harding. Indians are uncertain; they may come back again when their ponies fill up on the green grass."
"Where would you propose to go, may I ask?"
Ermine thought for a time, and asked, "Would you mind staying out all one moon, Mr. Harding?"
"One moon? You mean thirty days. Yes, three moons, if necessary. My time is not precious. Where would you go?"
"Back in the mountains -- back on the Stinking Water; a long way from here, but a good place for the animals. It is where I come from, and I haven't been home in nearly a year. I should like to see my people," continued Ermine.
"Anywhere will do; we will go to the Stinking Water, which I hope belies its name. You have relatives living there, I take it."
"Not relatives; I have no relations anywhere on the earth, but I have friends," he replied.
"When shall we start?"
Ermine waved his hand a few times at the sky and said "So many," but it failed to record on the Englishman's mind. He was using the sign language. The scout noted this, and added, "Ten suns from now I will go if I can."
"Very well; we will purchase ponies and other necessaries meanwhile, and will you aid me in the preparations, Mr. Ermine? How many ponies shall we require?"
"Two apiece one to ride and the other to pack," came the answer to the question.
A great light dawned upon Harding's mind. To live a month with what one Indian pony could carry for bedding, clothes, cartridges, and food. His new friend failed, in his mind, to understand the requirements of an English gentleman on such quests.
"But, Mr. Ermine, how should I transport my heads back to this point with only one pack-animal?"
"Heads? heads? back here? "stumbled the light-horseman. "What heads?"
"Why, the heads of such game as I might be so fortunate as to kill."
"What do you want of their heads? We never take the heads. We give them to our little friends, the coyotes," queried Ermine.
"Yes, yes, but I must have the heads to take back to England with me. I am afraid, Mr. Ermine, we shall have to be more liberal with our pack-train. However, we will go into the matter at greater length later."
Sterling Harding wanted to refer to the Captain for further understanding of his new guide. He felt that Lewis could make the matter plain to Ermine by more direct methods than he knew how to employ. As the result of world-wide wanderings, he knew that the Captain would have to explain to Ermine that he was a crazy Englishman who was all right, but who must be humored. To Harding this idea was not new; he had played his blood-letting ardor against all the forms of outlandish ignorance. The savages of many lands had eaten the bodies of which the erratic Englishman wanted only the heads.
So to Lewis went Harding. "I say, Captain, your Ermine there is an artless fellow. He is proposing to Indianize me, to take me out for a whole moon, as he calls it, with only one pack-pony to carry my be longings. Also he fails, I think, to comprehend that I want to bring back the heads of my game."
"Ha! I will make that plain to him. You see, Mr. Harding, you are the first Englishman he ever encountered; fact is he is range bred, unbranded and wild. I have ridden him, but I use considerable discretion when I do it, or he would go up in the air on me," explained Lewis. "He is simple, but he is honest, faithful, and one of the very few white men who know this Indian country. Long ago there were a great many hunters and trappers in these parts; men who worked for the fur companies, but they have all been driven out of the country of late years by the Indians, and you will be lucky to get Ermine. There are plenty of the half-breeds left, but you cannot trust them. They might steal from you, they might abandon you, or they might kill you. Ermine will probably take you into the Crow country, for he is solid with those people. Why, half the time when I order Crow scouts to do something they must first go and make a talk with Ermine. He has some sort of a pull with them God knows what. You may find it convenient to agree with him at times when you naturally would not; these fellows are independent and follow their fancies pretty much. They don't talk, and when they get an idea that they want to do anything, they proceed immediately to do it. Ermine has been with me nearly a year now, but I never know what minute I am to hear he has pulled out."
Seeing Ermine some little distance away, the Captain sent an orderly
after him. He came and leant with one hand on the tent-pole of the fly.
"Ermine, I think you had better take one or two white packers and at least eight or ten animals with you when you go with Mr. Harding."
" All right, sir, we can take as many packers as he likes, but no wagons."
Having relieved the scout of his apprehensions concerning wagons, the bond was sealed with a cigar, and he departed, thinking of old Crooked-Bear's prediction that the white men would take him to their hearts. Underneath the happy stir of his faculties on this stimulating day there played a new emotion, indefinite, undefinable, a drifting, fluttering butterfly of a thought which never alighted anywhere. All day long it flitted, hovered, and made errant flights across his golden fancies -- a glittering, variegated little puff of color.
To the wild plainsman the land was not new; hunting had its old everyday look, and the stuffed heads of game had no significance. His attention was constantly interrupted by the little flutter of color made more distinct by a vesper before the photograph.
" Let us go and find your friend, Wolf-Voice," said Harding, which they did, and the newcomer was introduced. The Englishman threw kindly, wondering eyes over the fiercely suspicious face of the half-breed, whose evil orbs spitted back at him.
"Ah, yees you was go hunt. All-right; I weel mak' you run de buffalo, shoot dose elk, trap de castor, an you shall shake de han' wid de grizzly bear. How much money I geet hey?"
quot;Ah, you will get the customary wages, my friend, and if you give me an opportunity to shake hands with a grizzly, your reward will be forthcoming," replied the sportsman.
"Very weel; keep yur heye skin on me, when you see me run lak hell weel, place where I was run way from, dare ees mousier's grizzly bear, den you was go up shake han', hey?"
Harding laughed and offered the man a cigar, which he handled with four fingers much as he might a tomahawk, having none of the delicate art native to the man of cigars or cigarettes. A match was proffered, and Wolf-Voice tried diligently to light the wrong end. The Englishman violently pulled Ermine away, while he nearly strangled with suppressed laughter. It was distinctly clear that Wolf-Voice must go with them.
"Your friend Wolf-Voice seems to be quite an individual person."
"Yes, the soldiers are always joshing him, but he doesn't mind. Sometimes they go too far. I have seen him draw that skinning-knife, and away they go like a flock of birds. Except when he gets loaded with soldier whiskey, he is all right. He is a good man away from camp," said Ermine.
" He does not appear to be a thoroughbred Indian," observed Harding.
"No, he's mixed; he's like that soup the company cooks make. He is not the best man in the world, but he is a better man in more places than I ever saw," said Ermine, in vindication.
"Shall we go down to the Indian camp and try to buy some ponies, Ermine?"
"No, I don't go near the Sioux; I am a kind of Crow. I have fought with them. They forgive the soldiers, but their hearts are bad when they look at me. I'll get Ramon to go with you when you buy the horses. Ramon was a small trader before the war, used to going about with a half-dozen pack-horses, but the Sioux ran him off the range. He has pack saddles and rawhide bags, which you can hire if you want to," was explained.
"All right; take me to Ramon if you will."
"I smoke," said Ermine as he led the way.
Having seen that worthy depart on his trading mission with Harding in tow, Ermine felt relieved. Impulse drew him to the officers' row, where he strolled about with his hands in his cartridge-belt. Many passing by nodded to him or spoke pleasantly. Some of the newly arrived ladies even attempted conversation; but if the soldiers of a year ago were difficult for Ermine, the ladies were impossible. He liked them; their gentle faces, their graceful carriage, their evident interest in him, and their frank address called out all his appreciation. They were a revelation after the squaws, who had never suggested any of these possibilities. But they refused to come mentally near him, and he did not know the trail which led to them. He answered their questions, agreed with whatever they said, and battled with his diffidence until he made out to borrow a small boy from one mother, proposing to take him down to the scout camp and quartermaster's corral to view the Indians and mules.
He had thought out the proposition that the Indians were just as strange to the white people as the white people were to them, consequently he saw a social opening. He would mix these people up so that they could stare at each other in mutual perplexity and bore one another with irrelevant remarks and questions.
"Did Mr. Butcher-Knife, miss Madam Butcher-Knife? " asked a somewhat elderly lady on one occasion, whereat the Indian squeezed out an abdominal grunt and sedately observed to "Hairy-Arm," in her own language, that "the fat lady could sit down comfortably," or words that would carry this thought.
The scout who was acting as their leader upon this occasion emitted one loud "A-ha!" before he could check himself. The lady asked what had been said. Ermine did not violate a rule clearly laid down by Crooked-Bear, to the effect that lying was the sure sign of a man's worthlessness. He answered that they were merely speaking of something which he had not seen, thus satisfying his protégé.
After a round or two of these visits this novelty was noised about the quarters, and Ermine found himself suddenly accosted. By his side was the original of his cherished photograph, accompanied by Lieutenant Butler of the cavalry, a tall young man whose body and movements had been made to conform to the West Point standards.
" Miss Searles has been presented, I believe. She is desirous of visiting the scout camp. Would you kindly take us down?"
John Ermine's soul drifted out through the top of his head in unseen vapors, but he managed to say that he would. He fell in beside the young woman, and they walked on together. To be so near the reality, the literal flesh and blood of what had been a long series of efflorescent dreams, quite stirred him. He gathered slowly, after each quick glance into the eyes which were not like those in the photograph; there they were set and did not resent his fancies; here they sparkled and talked and looked unutterable things at the helpless errant.
Miss Searles had been to a finishing school in the East, and either the school was a very good one or the little miss exceedingly apt, but both more probably true. She had the delicate pearls and peach-bloom on her cheeks to which the Western sun and winds are such persistent enemies, and a dear little nose tipped heavenward, as careless as a cat hunting its grandmother.
The rustle of her clothes mingled with little songs which the wind sang to the grass, a faint freshness of body with delicate spring-flower odors drifted to Ermine's active nostrils. But the eyes, the eyes, why did they not brood with him as in the picture? Why did they arch and laugh and tantalize?
His earthly senses had fled; gone somewhere else and left a riot in his blood. He tripped and stumbled, fell down, and crawled over answers to her questions, and he wished Lieutenant Butler was farther away than a pony could run in a week.
She stopped to raise her dress above the dusty road, and the scout overrode the alignment.
"Mr. Ermine, will you please carry my parasol for me?"
The object in question was newer to him than a man-of-war would have been. The prophet had explained about the great ships, but he had forgotten parasols. He did not exactly make out whether the thing was to keep the sun off, or to hide her face from his when she wanted to. He retraced his steps, wrapped his knuckles around the handle with a drowning clutch, and it burned his hand. If previously it had taken all his force to manoeuvre himself, he felt now that he would bog down under this new weight. Atlas holding the world had a flying start of Ermine.
He raised it above her head, and she looked up at him so pleasantly, that he felt she realized his predicament ; so he said, "Miss Searles, if I lug this baby tent into that scout camp, they will either shoot at us, or crawl the ponies and scatter out for miles. I think they would stand if you or the Lieutenant pack it; but if I do this, there won't be anything to see but ponies' tails wavering over the prairie."
"Oh, thank you; I will come to your rescue, Mr. Ermine." And she did.
"It is rather ridiculous, a parasol, but I do not intend to let the sun have its way with me." And glancing up, "Think if you had always carried a parasol, what a complexion you would have."
"But men don't carry them, do they?"
"Only when it rains; they do then, back in the States," she explained.
Ermine replied, "They do -- hum!" and forthwith refused to consider men who did it.
"I think, Mr. Ermine, if I were an Indian, I should very much like to scalp you. I cannot cease to admire your hair."
"Oh, you don't have to be an Indian, to do that. Here is my knife; you can go ahead any time you wish," came the cheerful response.
"Mr. Butler, our friend succumbs easily to any fate at my hands, it seems. I wonder if he would let me eat him," said the girl.
" I will build the fire and put the kettle on for you." And Ermine was not joking in the least, though no one knew this.
They were getting into the dangerous open fields, and Miss Searles urged the scout in a different direction.
"Have you ever been East?"
"Yes," he replied, "I have been to Fort Buford."
The parasol came between them, and presently, "Would you like to go east of Buford -- I mean away east of Buford," she explained.
"No; I don't want to go east or west, north or south of here," came the astonishing answer all in good faith, and Miss Searles mentally took to her heels. She feared seriousness.
"Oh, here are the Indians," she gasped, as they strode into the grotesque grouping. " I am afraid, Mr. Ermine -- I know it is silly."
"What are you afraid of, Miss Searles?"
"I do not know; they look at me so!" And she gave a most delicious little shiver.
"You can't blame them for that; they're not made of wood." But this lost its force amid her peripatetic reflections.
"That's Broken-Shoe; that's White-Robe; that's Batailleur -- oh, well, you don't care what their names are; you probably will not see them again."
"They are more imposing when mounted and dashing over the plains, I assure you. At a distance, one misses the details which rather obtrude here," ventured Butler.
"Very well; I prefer them where I am quite sure they will not dash. I very much prefer them sitting down quietly -- such fearful-looking faces. Oh my, they should be kept in cages like the animals in the Zoo. And do you have to fight such people, Mr. Butler?"
"We do," replied the officer, lighting a cigarette. This point of view was new and amusing.
One of the Indians approached the party. Ermine spoke to him in a loud, guttural, carrying voice, so different from his quiet use of English, that Miss Searles fairly jumped. The change of voice was like an explosion.
"Go back to your robe, brother; the white squaw is afraid of you -- go back, I say!"
The intruder hesitated, stopped, and fastened Ermine with the vacant stare which in such times precede sudden, uncontrollable fury among Indians.
Again Ermine spoke: "Go back, you brown son of mules; this squaw is my friend; I tell you she is afraid of you. I am not. Go back, and before the sun is so high I will come to you. Make this boy go back, Broken-Shoe; he is a fool."
The old chieftain emitted a few hollow grunts, with a click between, and the young Indian turned away.
"My! Mr. Ermine, what are you saying? Have I offended the Indian? He looks daggers; let us retire -- oh my, let us go -- quick -- quick!" And Ermine, by the flutter of wings, knew that his bird had flown. He followed, and in the safety of distance she lightly put her hand on his arm.
"What was it all about, Mr. Ermine? Do tell me."
Ermine's brain was not working on schedule time, but he fully realized what the affront to the Indian meant in the near future. He knew he would have to make his words good; but when the creature of his dreams was involved, he would have measured arms with a grizzly bear.
"He would not go back," said the scout, simply.
"But for what was he coming?" she asked.
"For you," was the reply.
"Goodness gracious! I had done nothing; did he want to kill me?"
"No, he wanted to shake hands with you; he is a fool."
"Oh, only to shake hands with me? And why did you not let him? I could have borne that."
"Because he is a fool," the scout ventured, and then in tones which carried the meaning, "Shake hands with you!"
"I see; I understand; you were protecting me; but he must hate you. I believe he will harm you; those dreadful Indians are so relentless, I have heard. Why did we ever go near the creatures? What will he do, Mr. Ermine?"
The scout cast his eye carefully up at the sky and satisfied the curiosity of both by drawling, "A -- hu!"
"Well well, Mr. Ermine, do not ever go near them again; I certainly would not if I were you. I shall see papa and have you removed from those ghastly beings. It is too dreadful. I have seen all I care to of them; let us go home, Mr. Butler."
The two the young lady and the young man bowed to Ermine, who touched the brim of his sombrero, after the fashion of the soldiers. They departed up the road, leaving Ermine to go, he knew not where, because he wanted to go only up the road. The abruptness of white civilities hashed the scout's contempt for time into fine bits; but he was left with something definite, at least, and that was a deep, venomous hatred for Lieutenant Butler; that was something he could hang his hat on. Then he thought of the "fool," and his footsteps boded ill for that one.
"That Ermine is such a tremendous man; do you not think so, Mr. Butler?"
"He seems a rather forceful person in his simple way," coincided the officer. "You apparently appeal to him strongly. He is downright romantic in his address, but I cannot find fault with the poor man. I am equally unfortunate."
"Oh, don't, Mr. Butler; I cannot stand it; you are, at least, sophisticated."
"Yes, I am sorry to say I am."
"Oh, please, Mr. Butler," with a deprecating wave of her parasol, "but tell me, aren't you afraid of them?"
"I suppose you mean the Indians. Well, they certainly earned my respect during the last campaign. They are the finest light-horse in the world, and if they were not encumbered with the women, herds, and villages; if they had plenty of ammunition and the buffalo would stay, I think there would be a great many army widows, Miss Searles."
" It is dreadful; I can scarcely remember my father; he has been made to live in this beast of a country since I was a child." Such was the lofty view the young woman took of her mundane progress.
"Shades of the vine-clad hills and citron groves of the Hudson River! I fear we brass buttoners are cut off. I should have been a lawyer or a priest no, not a priest; for when I look at a pretty girl I cannot feel any priesthood in my veins."
Miss Searles whistled the bars of "Halt" from under the fortification of the parasol.
"Oh, well, what did the Lord make pretty women for?"
"I do not know, unless to demonstrate the foolishness of the line of Uncle Sam's cavalry," speculated the arch one. "Mr. Butler, if you do not stop, I shall run."
"All right; I am under arrest, so do not run; we are nearly home. I reserve my right to resume hostilities, however. I insist on fair play with your sage-brush admirer. Since we met in St. Louis, I have often wondered if we should ever see each other again. I always ardently wished we could."
"Mr. Butler, you are a poor imitation of our friend Ermine; he, at least, makes one feel that he means what he says," she rejoined.
"And you were good enough to remind me that I was sophisticated."
"I may have been mistaken," she observed. She played the batteries of her eyes on the unfortunate soldier, and all of his formations went down before them. He was in love, and she knew it, and he knew she knew it.
He felt like a fool, but tried not to act one, with the usual success of lovers. He was an easy victim of one of those greatest of natural weaknesses men have. She had him staked out and could bring him into her camp at any time the spirit moved her. Being a young person just from school, she found affairs easier than she had been led to suspect. In the usual girl way she had studied her casts, lures, and baits, but in reality they all seemed unnecessary, and she began to think some lethal weapon which would keep her admirers at a proper distance more to the purpose.
The handsome trooper was in no great danger, she felt, only she must have time; she did not want every thing to happen in a minute, and the greatest dream of life vanish forever. Besides, she intended never, under any circumstances, to haul down her flag and surrender until after a good, hard siege.
They entered the cabin of the Searles, and there told the story of the morning's adventures. Mrs. Searles had the Indians classified with rattlesnakes, green devils, and hyenas, and expected scenes of this character to happen.
The Major wanted more details concerning Ermine. " Just what did he say, Butler?"
"I do not know; he spoke in some Indian language."
"Was he angry, and was the Indian who approached you mad?"
"They were like two dogs who stand ready to fight, teeth bared, muscles rigid, eyes set and just waiting for their nerves to snap," explained Butler.
"Oh, some d---- Indian row, no one knows what, and Ermine won't tell; yet as a rule these people are peaceful among themselves. I will ask him about it," observed the Major.
"Why can't you have Mr. Ermine removed from that awful scout camp, papa? Why can't he be brought up to some place near here? I do not see why such a beautiful white person as he is should have to associate with those savages," pleaded the graceful Katherine.
"Don't worry about Ermine, daughter; you wouldn't have him rank the Colonel out of quarters, would you? I will look into this matter a little."
Meanwhile the young scout walked rapidly toward his camp. He wanted to do something with his hands, something which would let the gathering electricity out at his finger-ends and relieve the strain, for the trend of events had irritated him.
Going straight to his tent, he picked up his rifle, loaded it, and buckled on the belt containing ammunition for it. He twisted his six-shooter round in front of him, and worked his knife up and down in its sheath. Then he strode out, going slowly down to the scout fire.
The day was warm; the white-hot sun cut traceries of the cottonwood trees on the ground. A little curl of blue smoke rose straight upward from the fire, and in a wide ring of little groups sat or lounged the scouts. They seemingly paid no attention to the approach of Ermine, but one could not determine this; the fierce Western sun closes the eyelids in a perpetual squint, and leaves the beady eyes a chance to rove unobserved at a short distance.
Ermine came over and walked into the circle, stopping in front of the fire, thus facing the young Indian to whom he had used the harsh words. There was no sound except the rumble of a far-off government mule team and the lazy buzz of flies. He deliberately rolled a cigarette. Having done this to his satisfaction, he stooped down holding it against the coals, and it was ages before it caught fire. Then he put it to his lips, blew a cloud of smoke in the direction of his foe, and spoke in Absaroke.
" Well, I am here."
The silence continued; the Indian looked at him with a dull steady stare, but did nothing; finally Ermine withdrew. He understood; the Indian did not consider the time or opportunity propitious, but the scout did not flatter himself that such a time or place would never come. That was the one characteristic of an Indian of which a man could be certain.
His attitude toward mankind had always been patient and kindly except when urged into other channels by war. He even had schooled himself to the irksome labor at the prophet's mine, low delving which seemed useless; and had acquiesced while Crooked-Bear stuffed his head with the thousand details of white mentality; but now vaguely he began to feel a lack of something, an effort which he had not made a something he had left undone; a difference and a distinction between himself and the officers who were so free to associate with the creature who had borrowed his mind and given nothing in return. No one in the rude campaigning which had been the lot of all since he joined had made any noticeable social distinction toward him -- rather otherwise; they had sought and trusted him, and more than that, he had been singled out for special good will. He was free to call at any officer's quarters on the line, sure of a favorable reception; then why did he not go to Major Searles's? At the thought he lay heavier on the blanket, and dared not trust his legs to carry out his inclinations.
The camp was full of fine young officers who would trust their legs and risk their hearts he felt sure of that. True, he was subject to the orders of certain officials, but so were they. Young officers had asked him to do favors on many occasions, and he did them, because it was clear that they ought to be done, and he also had explained devious plains-craft to them of which they had instantly availed themselves. The arrangement was natural and not oppressive.
Captain Lewis could command him to ford a rushing torrent: could tell him to stand on his head and be d---- quick about it, and of course he would do anything for him and Major Searles; they could ask nothing which the thinker would not do in a lope. As for Colonel Miles, the fine-looking man who led "ten thousand" in the great white battles, it was a distinction to do exactly what he ordered -- every one did that; then why did he not go to Major Searles's quarters, he kept asking himself. He was not afraid of Colonel Miles or Captain Lewis or Major Searles or any officer, but -- and the thought flashed, he was wary of the living eyes of the beloved photograph. Before these he could not use his mind, hands, or feet; his nerves shivered like aspen leaves in a wind, and the blood surged into his head until he could see nothing with his eyes; cold chills played up and down his spine; his hair crawled round under his sombrero, and he was most thoroughly miserable, but some way he no longer felt contentment except while undergoing this misery.
He lay on the blanket while his thoughts alternately fevered and chilled his brain. So intense were his emotions that they did more than disorder his mind: they took smart hold of his very body, gnawing and constricting his vitals until he groaned aloud.
No wild beast which roamed the hills was less conscious, ordinarily, of its bodily functions than Ermine. The machinery of a perfect physique had always responded to the vital principle and unwound to the steady pull of the spring of life, yet he found himself now stricken. It was not a thing for the surgeon, and he gradually gave way before its steady progress. His nature was a rich soil for the seeds of idealism which warm imagination constantly sprinkled, and the fruits became a consuming passion.
His thoughts were burning him. Getting up from his bed, he took a kettle and small axe, saddled his pony, and took himself off toward the river. As he rode along he heard the Englishman call out to him, but he did not answer. The pony trotted away, leaving the camp far behind, until he suddenly came to a little prairie surrounded by cottonwoods, in the middle of which were numbers of small wick-e-ups made by the Indians for sweat-baths. He placed his blankets and ponchos over one, made a fire and heated a number of rocks, divested himself of his clothing, and taking his pail of water got inside, crouching while he dashed handfuls of water over the hot rocks. This simple remedy would do more than cleanse the skin and was always resorted to for common ills by the Indians. After Ermine came out he plunged into the cold waters of the Yellowstone and dressed himself, but he did not feel any better. He mounted and rode off, forgetting his axe, blankets, and pail; such furnishings were unconsidered now. In response to a tremendous desire to do something, he ran his pony for a mile, but that did not calm the yearning.
"I feel like a piece of fly-blown meat," he said to himself. "I think I will go to Saw-Bones and let him have a hack at me; I never was so sick before." And to the cabin of the surgeon he betook himself.
That gentleman was fussing about with affairs of his own, when Ermine entered.
"Say, doctor, give me some medicine."
"What's the matter with you?" asked the addressed, shoving his sombrero to one side and looking up incredulously.
"Oh, I'm sick."
"Well, where are you sick?"
Ermine brushed his hair from off his forehead, slapped his leggings with his quirt, and answered, "Sick all over kind of low fever, like a man with a bullet in him."
"Bilious, probably." And the doctor felt his pulse and looked into his bright, clear eyes.
"Oh, nonsense, boy you are not sick. I guess loafing around is bad for you. The Colonel ought to give you a hundred miles with his compliments to some one; but here is a pill which will cure you." Saying which, the physician brought out his box containing wheat bread rolled into small balls, that he always administered to cases which he did not understand or to patients whom he suspected of shirking on "sick report."
Ermine swallowed it and departed.
The doctor tipped his sombrero forward and laughed aloud in long, cadenced peals as he sorted his vials.
"Sick!" he muttered; "funny -- funny -- funny sick ! One could not kill him with an axe. I guess he is sick of sitting round -- sick to be loping over the wild plains. Humph -- sick!"
Ermine rode down the officers' row, but no one was to be seen. He pulled his horse's head up before Major Searles's door, but instantly slapped him with his whip and trotted on to his tent.
"If that fool Indian boy would only show himself," he thought; but the Indian was not a fool, and did not. Again Ermine found himself lying on his back, more discontented than ever. The day waned and the shadows on the tent walls died, but still he lay. Ramon stuck his head in at the flaps.
"Well -- ah got your British man hees pony, Ermine -- trade twenty-five dollar in goods for five pony."
" Oh, d---- the Englishman," was the response to this, whereat Ramon took a good long stare at his friend and withdrew. He failed to understand the abruptness, and went away wondering how Ermine could know that he had gouged Mr. Harding a little on the trade. Still this did not explain; for he had confidence in his own method of blinding his trail. He was a business man and a moral cripple.
The sun left the world and Ermine with his gloomy thoughts.
Late at night Captain Lewis sat at his desk writing letters, the lamp spotting on the white disk of his hat, which shaded his face, while the pale moonlight crept in through the open door. A sword clanked outside, and with a knock the officer of the guard hurriedly entered.
"Say, Bill, I have your scout Ermine down by the guard-house, and he's drunk. I didn't lock him up. Wanted to see you first. If I lock him up, I am afraid he'll pull out on you when he comes to. What shall I do?"
"The devil you say Ermine drunk? Why, I never knew him to drink; it was a matter of principle with him; often told me that his mentor, who ever he was, told him not to."
"Well, he's drunk now, so there you are," said the officer.
"Oh, good and drunk."
"Can he walk?" Lewis queried.
"No; all he can do is lay on his back and shoot pretty thick Injun at the moon."
"Does every one know of this?"
"No; Corporal Riley and Private Bass of Company K brought him up from Wilmore's whiskey-shack, and they are sitting on his chest out back of the guard-house. Come on," spoke the responsible one.
Lewis jumped up and followed. They quickly made their way to the spot, and there Lewis beheld Ermine lying on his back. The moonlight cut his fine face softly and made the aureole of his light hair stand away from the ground. He moaned feebly, but his eyes were closed. Corporal Riley and Private Bass squatted at his head and feet with their eyes fastened on the insensible figure. Off to one side a small pile of Ermine's lethal weapons shimmered. The post was asleep; a dog barked, and an occasional cow-bell tinkled faintly down in the quarter master's corral.
"Gad! " gasped Lewis, as he too stooped down. "How did this happen, Corporal?"
"Well, I suppose we might as well tell it as it is," Bass replied, indirectly conscious of the loyalty he owed his brother sinner. "We ran the guard, sir, and went down to Wilmore's, and when we got there, we found this feller pretty far gone with drink. He had his guns out, and was talking Injun, and he had Wilmore hiding out in the sage-brush. I beefed him under the ear, and we took his guns away, sir. I didn't hurt him much; he was easy money with his load, and then we packed him up here, and I told the officer of the guard, sir."
"Well," said Lewis, finally, "make a chair of your hands and bring him down to my quarters.quot;
The soldiers gathered up the limp form, while Lewis took the belt and pistols.
"No use of reporting this?"
"No," answered the officer of the guard.
The men laid him out on the Captain's bed after partially disrobing him, and started to withdraw.
"Go to your quarters, men, and keep your mouths shut; you will understand it is best for you."
The two saluted and passed out, leaving the Captain pacing the floor, and groping wildly for an explanation.
"Why, I have offered that boy a drink out of my own flask on campaign, when we were cold enough and tired enough to make my old Aunt Jane weaken on her blue ribbon; but he never did. That was good of the men to bring him in, and smart of Welbote not to chuck him in the guard-house. Sailor's sins! he'd never stand that; it would kill his pride, and he has pride, this long-haired wild boy. He may tell me in the morning, but I am not so sure of that. Laying down on his luck is not the way he plays it. I don't doubt it was an accident, and maybe it will teach him a d---- good lesson; he'll have a head like a hornets' nest to-morrow morning."
The Captain, after a struggle with the strange incident, sought his couch, and when he arose next morning betook himself to Ermine's room. He found him asleep amid the tangle of his wonderful hair, and he smiled as he pictured the scout's surprise when he awoke; in fact, he pulled himself together for a little amusement. A few remarks to reenforce the headache would do more good than a long brief without a big 'exhibit A,' such as would accompany the awakening.
The steady gaze of the Captain awoke the scout, and he opened his eyes, which wandered about the room, but displayed no interest; they set themselves on the Captain's form, but refused to believe these dreams, and closed again. The Captain grinned and addressed the empty room: --
"How would you like to be a millionnaire and have that headache? Oh, gee -- 'twould bust a mule's skull."
The eyes opened again and took more account of things; they began to credit their surroundings. When the scene had assembled itself, Ermine sat up on the bed, saying, "Where am I? what hit me?" and then he lay down again. His dream had come true; he was sick.
"You are in my bed, so stay there, and you will come out all right. You have been making the Big Red Medicine; the devil is pulling your hair, and every time he yanks, he will say, 'John Ermine, don't do that again.' Keep quiet, and you will get well." After saying which Lewis left the room.
All day long the young man lay on the bed; he was burning at the stake; he was being torn apart by wild horses; the regimental band played its bangiest music in his head; the big brass drum would nearly blow it apart; and his poor stomach kept trying to crawl out of his body in its desperate strife to escape Wilmore's decoction of high-wine. This lasted all day, but by evening the volcano had blown itself out, when a natural sleep overcame him.
Captain Lewis had the knowledge of certain magic, well enough known in the army, to alleviate Ermine's condition somewhat, but he chose not to use it; he wanted 'exhibit A' to wind up in a storm of fireworks.
As Ermine started out the next morning Lewis called, "Hey, boy, how did you come to do it?"
Ermine turned a half-defiant and half-questioning front to Lewis and tossed his matted hair. "I don't know, Captain; it all seems as though I must have fallen off the earth; but I'm back now and think I can stay here."
"Well, no one knows about it except myself, so don't say a word to any one, and don't do it again -- sabe ?"
"You bet I won't. If the soldiers call that drowning their sorrows, I would rather get along with mine."
"Yes, reckon I'll give this chair a vacation; wait a minute," and he mauled the contents of his ditty-box after the manner of men and bears when in search of trifles. A vigorous stirring is bound to upheave what is searched for, so in due course the Captain dug up a snaffle-bit.
"I find my horse goes against this better than the government thing -- when the idea is to get there and d---- formations."
"Well, shake yourself, Lewis; the people are pulling out."
"What, ahead of the scouts?" laughed the chief of them.
"Yes; and you know the line never retires on the scouts; so smoke up."
The orderly having changed the bits, the two mounted and walked away. "'Spose this is for the Englishman. Great people these Englishmen go trotting all over the earth to chase something ; anything will do from rabbits to tigers, and niggers preferred," said Lewis.
"Must be a great deprivation to most Englishmen to have to live in England where there is nothing to chase. I suppose they all have this desire to kill something; a great hardship it must be," suggested Shockley.
"Oh, I think they manage," continued Lewis; "from what I understand the rich and the great go batting about the globe after heads; the so-so fellows go into the army and navy to take their chance of a killing, and the lower orders have to find contentment in staying at home, where there is no amusement but pounding each other."
"There goes your friend Ermine on that war-pony of his; well, he can show his tail to any horse in cantonments. By the way, some one was telling me that he carries a medicine-bag with him; isn't he a Christian?"
"Oh, I don't know. He reminds me of old Major Doyle of ours, who was promoted out of us during the war, but who rejoined in Kansas and was retired. You don't remember him? He was an Irishman and a Catholic; he had been in the old army since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, and ploughed his way up and down all over the continent. And there was Major Dunham you know him. He and Doyle had been comrades since youth; they had fought and marched together, spilled many a noggin in each other's honor, and who drew the other's monthly pay depended on the paste-boards. Old Doyle came into post, one day, and had a lot of drinks with the fellows as he picked up the social threads. Finally he asked: "'Un' phware is me ole friend, Dunham? Why doesn't he come down and greet me with a glass?'
"Some one explained that old Dunham had since married, had joined the church, and didn't greet any one over glasses any more.
"'Un' phwat church did he join?'
"Some one answered, the Universalist Church.
"'Ah, I see,' said Doyle, tossing off his drink, 'he's huntin' an aisy ford.' So I guess that's what Ermine is doing."
They soon joined the group of mounted officers and ladies, orderlies, and nondescripts of the camp, all alive with anticipations, and their horses stepping high.
"Good morning, Mr. Harding; how do you find yourself?" called out Captain Lewis.
"Fine -- fine, thank you."
"How are you mounted?"
Harding patted his horse's neck, saying: "Quite well a good beast; seems to manage my weight, but I find this saddle odd. Bless me, I know there is no habit in the world so strong as the saddle. I have the flat saddle habit."
"What we call a rim-fire saddle," laughed Searles, who joined the conversation.
"Ah a rim-fire, do you call them? Well, do you know, Major, I should say this saddle was better adapted to carrying a sack of corn than a man," rejoined Harding.
"Oh, you'll get along; there isn't a fence nearer than St. Paul except the quartermaster's corral."
"I say, Searles," spoke Lewis, "there's the Colonel out in front -- happy as a boy out of school; glad there's something to keep him quiet; we must do this for him every day, or he'll have us out pounding sage-brush."
"And there's the quartermaster with a new popper on his whip," sang some voice.
"There is no champagne like the air of the high plains before the sun burns the bubble out of it," proclaimed Shockley, who was young and without any of the saddle or collar marks of life; "and to see these beautiful women riding along say, Harding, if I get off this horse I'll set this prairie on fire," and he burst into an old song: --
Now, ladies, good-by to each kind, gentle soul,And Shockley urged his horse to the side of Miss Katherine Searles.
Though me coat it is ragged, me heart it is whole;
There's one sitting yonder I think wants a beau,
Let her come to the arms of young Billy Barlow."
Observing the manoeuvre, Captain Lewis poked her father in the ribs. "I don't think your daughter wants a beau very much, Major; the youngsters are four files deep around her now."
"'Tis youth, Bill Lewis; we've all had it once, and from what I observe, they handle it pretty much as we used to."
"The very same. I don't see how men write novels or plays about that old story; all they can do is to invent new fortifications for Mr. Hero to carry before she names the day."
Lieutenant Shockley found himself unable to get nearer than two horses to Miss Searles, so he bawled: "And I thought you fellows were hunting wolves. I say, Miss Searles, if you ride one way and the wolf runs the other, it is easy to see which will have the larger field. My money is on you two to one. Who will take the wolf?"
"Oh, Mr. Shockley, between you and this Western sun, I shall soon need a new powder puff."
"Shall I challenge him?" called Bowles to the young woman.
"Please not, Mr. Bowles; I do not want to lose him." And every one greeted Shockley derisively.
"Guide right!" shouted the last, putting his horse into a lope. Miss Searles playfully slashed about with her riding-whip, saying, "Deploy, gentlemen," and followed him. The others broke apart; they had been beaten by the strategy of the loud mouth. Lieutenant Butler, however, permitted himself the pleasure of accompanying Miss Searles; his determination could not be shaken by these diversions; he pressed resolutely on.
"I think Butler has been hit over the heart," said one of the dispersed cavaliers.
"You bet, and it is a disabling wound too. I wonder if Miss Searles intends to cure him. When I see her handle her eyes, methinks, compadre, she's a cruel little puss. I wouldn't care to be her mouse."
"But, fellows, she's pretty, a d---- pretty girl, hey!" ventured a serious youngster. "You can bet any chap here would hang out the white flag and come a-running, if she hailed him."
And so, one with another, they kept the sacred fire alight. As for that matter, the aforesaid Miss Puss knew how her men valued the difficulties of approach, which was why she scattered them. She proposed to take them in detail. Men do not weaken readily before each other, but alone they are helpless creatures, when the woman understands herself. She can then sew them up, tag them, and put them away on various shelves, and rely on them to stay there; but it requires management, of course.
"I say, Miss Searles, those fellows will set spring guns and bear traps for me to-night; they will never forgive me."
"Oh, well, Mr. Shockley, to be serious, I don't care. Do you suppose a wolf will be found? I am so bored." Which remark caused the eminent Lieutenant to open his mouth very wide in imitation of a laugh, divested of all mirth.
"Miss Katherine Searles," he said, in mock majesty, "I shall do myself the honor to crawl into the first badger-hole we come to and stay there until you dig me out."
"Don't be absurd; you know I always bury my dead. Mr. Butler, do you expect we shall find a wolf? Ah, there is that King Charles cavalier, Mr. Ermine -- for all the world as though he had stepped from an old frame. I do think he is lovely."
"Oh, bother that yellow Indian; he is such a nuisance," jerked Butler.
"Why do you say that? I find him perfectly new; he never bores me, and he stood between me and that enraged savage."
"A regular play. I do not doubt he arranged it beforehand. However, it was well thought out downright dramatic, except that the Indian ought to have killed him."
"Oh, would you have arranged it that way if you had been playwright?"
"Yes," replied the bilious lover.
Shaking her bridle rein, she cried, "Come, Mr. Shockley, let us ride to Ermine; at least you will admire him." Shockley enjoyed the death stroke which she had administered to Butler, but saying to himself as he thought of Ermine, "D---- the curly boy," and followed his charming and difficult quarry. He alone had ridden true.
The independent and close-lipped scout was riding outside the group. He never grew accustomed to the heavy columns, and did not talk on the march a common habit of desert wanderers. But his eye covered everything. Not a buckle or a horse-hair or the turn of a leg escaped him, and you may be sure Miss Katherine Searles was detailed in his picture.
He had beheld her surrounded by the young officers until he began to hate the whole United States army. Then he saw her dismiss the escort saving only two, and presently she reduced her force to one. As she came toward him, his blood took a pop into his head, which helped mightily to illumine his natural richness of color. She was really coming to him. He wished it, he wanted it, as badly as a man dying of thirst wants water, and yet a whole volley of bullets would not disturb him as her coming did.
"Good morning, Mr. Ermine; you, too, are out after wolves, I see," sang Katherine, cheerily.
"No, ma'm, I don't care anything about wolves; and why should I care for them?"
"What are you out for then, pray?"
"Oh, I don't know; thought I would like to see you after wolves. I guess that's why I am out," came the simple answer.
"Well, to judge by the past few miles I don't think you will see me after them to-day."
"I think so myself, Miss Searles. These people ought to go back in the breaks of the land to find wolves; they don't give a wolf credit for having eyes."
"Why don't you tell them so, Mr. Ermine?" pleaded the young woman.
"The officers think they know where to find them ; they would not thank me, and there might not be anywhere I would go to find them. It does not matter whether we get one or none, anyhow," came Ermine's sageness.
"Indeed, it does matter. I must have a wolf."
"Want him alive or dead?" was the low question.
"What! am I to have one?"
"You are," replied the scout, simply.
"Well, Miss Searles, I can't order one from the quartermaster exactly, but if you are in a great hurry, I might go now."
"Mr. Ermine, you will surely kill me with your generosity. You have offered me your scalp, your body, and now a wolf. Oh, by the way, what did that awful Indian say to you? I suppose you have seen him since."
"Didn't say anything."
"Well, I hope he has forgiven you; but as I understand them, that is not the usual way among Indians."
"No, Miss Searles, he won't forgive me. I'm a-keeping him to remember you by."
"How foolish; I might give you something for a keepsake which would leave better memories, do you not think so?"
"You might, if you wish to."
The girl was visibly agitated at this, coming as it did from her crude admirer. She fumbled about her dress, her hair, and finally drew off her glove and gave it to the scout, with a smile so sweet and a glance of the eye which penetrated Ermine like a charge of buckshot. He took the glove and put it inside of the breast of his shirt, and said, "I'll get the wolf."
Shockley was so impressed with the conversation that he was surprised into silence, and to accomplish that phenomenon took a most powerful jolt, as every one in the regiment knew. He could talk the bottom out of a nose-bag, or put a clock to sleep. Ordinary verbal jollity did not seem at all adequate, so he carolled a passing line:
"One little, two little, three little Injuns,This came as an expiring burst which unsettled his horse though it relieved him. Shockley needed this much yeast before he could rise again.
Four little, five little, six little Injuns,
Seven little, eight little, nine little Injuns,
Ten little Injun boys."
"Oh, Mr. Shockley, you must know Mr. Ermine."
"I have the pleasure, Miss Searles; haven't I, Ermine?"
The scout nodded assent.
"We were side by side when we rushed the point of that hill in the Sitting Bull fight last fall; remember that, Ermine?"
"Yes, sir," said the scout; but the remembrance evidently did not cause Ermine's E string to vibrate. Fighting was easier, freer; but altogether it was like washing the dishes at home compared with the dangers which now beset him.
Suddenly every one was whipping and spurring forward; the pack of greyhounds were streaking it for the hills."Come on," yelled Shockley, "here's a run" And that mercurial young man's scales tipped right readily from his heart to his spurs.
"It's only a coyote, Miss Searles," said Ermine; but the young woman spatted her horse with her whip and rode bravely after the flying Shockley. Ermine's fast pony kept steadily along with her under a pull; the plainsman's long, easy sway in the saddle was unconscious, and he never took his eyes from the girl, now quite another person under the excitement.
Every one in the hunting-party was pumping away to the last ounce. A pack of greyhounds make a coyote save all the time he can; they stimulate his interest in life, and those who have seen a good healthy specimen burn up the ground fully realize the value of passing moments.
"Oh, dear; my hat is falling off!" shrieked the girl.
"Shall I save it, Miss Searles?"
"Yes! yes! Catch it!" she screamed.
Ermine brought his flying pony nearer hers on the off side and reached his hand toward the flapping hat, struggling at a frail anchorage of one hat-pin, but his arm grew nerveless at the near approach to divinity.
"Save it! save it! " she called.
"Shall I?" and he pulled himself together.
Dropping his bridle-rein over the pommel of his saddle, standing in his stirrups as steadily as a man in church, he undid the hat with both hands. When he had released it and handed it to its owner, she heard him mutter hoarsely, "My God!"
"Oh, Mr. Ermine, I hope the pin did not prick you."
"No, it wasn't the pin."
"Ah," she ejaculated barely loud enough for him to hear amid the rushing hoof-beats.
The poor man was in earnest, and the idea drove the horses, the hounds, and the coyote out of her mind, and she ran her mount harder than ever. She detested earnest men, having so far in her career with the exception of Mr. Butler found them great bores; but drive as she would, the scout pattered at her side, and she dared not look at him.
These two were by no means near the head of the drive, as the girl's horse was a stager, which had been selected because he was highly educated concerning badger-holes and rocky hillsides.
Orderlies clattered behind them, and Private Patrick O'Dowd and Private Thompson drew long winks at each other.
"Oi do be thinkin' the long bie's harse cud roon fasther eff the divil was afther him. Faith, who'd roon away from a fairy?"
"The horse is running as fast as is wanted," said Thompson, sticking his hooks into the Indian pony which he rode.
"Did yez obsarve the bie ramove the hat from the lady, and his pony shootin' gravel into our eyes fit to smother?" shouted O'Dowd, using the flat of his hand as a sounding-board to Thompson.
"You bet, Pat; and keeping the gait he could take a shoe off her horse, if she wanted it done."
"They say seein's believin', but Oi'll not be afther tellin' the story in quarters. Oi'm eaight year in the ahrmy, and Oi can lie whin it's convanient."
The dogs overhauled the unfortunate little wolf despite its gallant efforts, and it came out of the snarling mass, as some wag had expressed it, "like a hog going to war -- in small pieces." The field closed up and dismounted, soldier fashion, at the halt.
"What's the matter with the pony to-day, Ermine? Expected you'd be ahead of the wolf at least," sang out Lewis.
"I stopped to pick up a hat," he explained; but Captain Lewis fixed his calculating eye on his man and bit his mustache. Events had begun to arrange themselves; that drunken night and Ermine's apathy toward the Englishman's hunting-party and he had stopped to pick up her hat -- oho!
Without a word the scout regained his seat and loped away toward the post, and Lewis watched him for some time, in a brown study; but a man of his years often fails to give the ardor of youth its proper value, so his mind soon followed more natural thoughts.
"Your horse is not a very rapid animal, I observe, Miss Searles," spoke Butler.
"Did you observe that? I did not notice that you were watching me, Mr. Butler."
"Oh, I must explain that in an affair of this kind I am expected to sustain the reputation of the cavalry. I forced myself to the front."
"Quite right. I kept the only man in the rear, who was capable of spoiling your reputation; you are under obligations to me."
"That wild man, you mean. He certainly has a wonderful pony, but you need not trouble about him if it is to please me only."
"I find this sun becoming too insistent; I think I will go back," said Katherine Searles. Many of the women also turned their horses homeward, leaving only the more pronounced types of sportsmen to search for another wolf.
"Having sustained the cavalry, I'll accompany you, Katherine."
"Miss Searles, please!" she said, turning to him, and the little gem of a nose asserted itself.
"Oh, dear me! What have I done? You permitted me to call you Katherine only last night."
"Yes, but I do not propose to divide my friendship with a nasty little gray wolf which has been eaten up alive."
The officer ran his gauntlet over his eyes.
"I am such a booby. I see my mistake, Miss Searles, but the idea you advance seems so ridiculous -- to compare yourself with a wolf."
"Oh, I say, Miss Searles," said Shockley, riding up, "may I offer you one of my gauntlets? The sun, I fear, will blister your bare hand."
"No, indeed." And Butler tore off a glove, forcing it into her hand. She could not deny him, and pulled it on. "Thank you; I lost one of mine this morning."
Then she turned her eyes on Mr. Shockley with a hard little expression, which sealed him up. He was prompt to feel that the challenge meant war, and war with this girl was the far-away swing of that gallant strategic pendulum.
"Yes," Shockley added, "one is apt to drop things without noting them, in a fast rush. I dropped something myself this morning."
"Pray what was it, Mr. Shockley?"
"It was an idea," he replied with a shrug of the shoulders.
"An idea?" laughed she, appreciating Shockley's discretion. "I hope you have more of them than I have gloves."
"I have only one," he sighed.
"Are all soldiers as stupid as you are, my dear sir?"
"All under thirty, I am sorry to say," and this from Shockley too. Miss Searles applied the whip; but go as she would, the two officers did not lose again the idea, but kept their places beside her.
"You are not very steady under fire," laughed Shockley.
"You are such an absurd person."
"I may be a blessing in disguise."
"You may be; I am unable to identify you."
"The chaperon is waving her whip at us, Miss Searles," cautioned Butler.
"Private O'Dowd is my chaperon, and he can stand the pace," she replied.
The young woman drove on, leaving a pall of dust behind, until the little party made the cantonment and drew rein in front of the Searleses' quarters. Giving her hand to the orderly, she dismissed her escort and disappeared.
"Well, Katherine," said Mrs. Searles, "did you enjoy your ride?"
"Yes, mother, but my horse is such an old poke I was nowhere in the race."
"The Major says he is a safe horse; one which can be relied on, and that is more important than speed. I do not want your neck broken, my dear."
"Neither do I want my neck broken, but I should like to be somewhere in sight during a run. The young officers desert me once a wolf is sighted; they forget their manners at the first flash of a greyhound."
"I know, daughter, but what can you expect? They go out for that purpose."
"Mr. Ermine doesn't, or at least he is polite enough to say that he goes out to see me run, and not the wolf. If he is not sophisticated, he seems to have the primitive instincts of a gentleman."
"Mr. Ermine, forsooth!" And Madam Searles betrayed some asperity. "Is he presumptuous enough to present you with compliments? You had better maintain your distance."
"He is a perfectly delightful man, mother; so thoughtful and so handsome."
"Tut tut, Katherine; he is only an ordinary scout -- a wild man."
"I don't care; I like him."
"Katherine, what are you thinking of?"
"Oh, I don't know, mother; I am thinking what an absurd lot men are. They insist on talking nonsense at me. They do not seem to preserve their reserve; they are not a bit like the men back in the States."
"Well, my daughter, you must be careful not to provoke familiarity. Young women are rather scarce out here, and you are not without your charms. I believe you use your eyes more than you should. Have a care; do not forget that quiet modesty is the most becoming thing in the world for a woman."
"I am sure I do nothing; in fact, I have to be constantly menacing these military youths to keep them from coming too near, especially Mr. Shockley and Mr. Butler. I am in distress every minute for fear Mr. Butler will say more than I am ready to hear."
Mrs. Searles was by no means averse to Butler's attentions to her daughter. "A very fine young man," was her comment when she thought of him. Both women knew that the Lieutenant was ready to draw his sabre in Katherine's behalf.
Katherine had met Butler while visiting St. Louis the year before, had come to know him well, and didn't pretend to dislike him. His father and mother were dead, but his people were of consequence.
Mrs. Searles determined to ask the Major to make some inquiries about
her daughter's suitor, and meanwhile dismissed Katherine with the caution
not to tempt this midday sun overmuch; "It will soon turn your peach-blow
into russet apples," she told her, "and men, you know, like the peach-blow.
Without it you might be less troubled by the young officers."
The sun was about to depart. The families of the officers were sitting under their ramadas enjoying the cool. Butler and Shockley with two or three other men were seated with the Searleses when their attention was attracted by a commotion down by the quarters.
"What's the circus?"
"Don't make out; seems to be coming this way. It is why, it is the scout Ermine!"
The group sat expectantly and witnessed the approach of John Ermine on his horse. At some distance to one side rode Wolf-Voice, and gradually through the dusk they made out some small animal between them -- a dog-like thing.
The riders drew up before the Searleses' hut, and every one rose. The object was a scared and demoralized wolf with his tail between his legs. His neck was encircled by two rawhide lariats which ran to the pommels of the riders.
Touching his hat, Ermine said, "Miss Searles, I have brought you the wolf."
"Goodness gracious, Mr. Ermine! I only said that in fun. What can I possibly do with a wolf?"
"I don't know. You said you wanted one, so here he is."
"Yaes," said Wolf-Voice, with an oath," she was bite my harm hoff; you no want heem; I skin her alive." He had previously warned Ermine that no one but a d---- fool would want a live wolf.
"Well, daughter, what are you going to do with it? Start a Zoo? I don't know where we can put him," spoke Major Searles, in perplexity.
"He will have to roost high if the dogs find out about this visitation," observed Shockley.
"How did you get him, Ermine?"
"Dug him out of his den, and before we got him roped he pinched Wolf-Voice, and I had a hard time to keep him from killing the beast."
"Yaes; no want him, an' we dig a hole mile deep mabeso -- dig ever since sun she so high, ten-as tol-a- pas." And in his disgust Wolf-Voice was about to slacken his rope.
"Hold up there; don't turn that animal loose near here! Take him down to the corral and lock him up. We'll see to-morrow what can be done with him," spoke Searles.
Ermine and Wolf-Voice turned and drifted out into the gathering darkness with their forlorn tow, while a few soldiers with clubs fought the dogs off as they gradually began to gather around their natural enemy.
"Why, I only asked for a wolf in the most casual way in a joking way; you heard me, Mr. Shockley."
"Yes, I did hear you, but I also heard him say you should have one, and I thought at the time he looked serious about it."
"I was so astonished that I did not properly thank him," she added; "and the Indian was in a lovely humor over the whole episode; his disgust was most apparent. I must be more careful what I say to Mr. Ermine."
"I have it," cried the Major; "we'll make up a purse, buy the wolf, and run him so soon as he gets over the effects of his capture."
"No, no, papa, you must not offend Ermine with money. He would be awfully offended; that would be the very last thing to do to him."
"Hello! there goes Butler with his troop," said Mr. Harding to Captain Lewis, as they basked in the morning sun before that officer's quarters.
"Yes, he goes to escort some wagons; but the fact is, internecine war has broken out in the post, and he goes for the good of the service. It's all about a damn little yellow dog."
"A dog make a war! How, pray?"
" Oh gee! yes! Dogs and rum and women make all the trouble there is in the army, and particularly dogs. That sounds odd, doesn't it? Nevertheless, it's a hard, dry fact. Soldiers take to dogs, and it's always 'kick my dog kick me' with these bucks. That troop has a miserable runt of a fice, and he's smart the same as such pups often are. The cavalry men have taught him to nip at infantrymen, which they think is great fun. Some of the infantrymen got tired of sewing up three-cornered tears in their galligaskins and allowed they would assassinate said fice. Here is where these baby cavalry men lose their temper and threaten to fire on the company-quarters of any outfit which bags Fido and that's war. It has been fixed up. Some officer has arranged an armistice, and meanwhile the troop gets a few miles in the sage-brush, which, it is hoped, will be credited to the pup, whereat he won't be so popular."
"Ah, a very sad case for the doggie," added Harding;" he was taught to take wrong views of the service."
"Let us go down and take a look at Ermine's wolf, "said Lewis, and the two proceeded to the quarter master's corral, where they found a group standing about the wolf.
It was held by a stout chain and lay flat on the ground, displaying an entire apathy concerning the surroundings, except that it looked "Injuny," as a passing mule-skinner observed.
"When I see one of those boys, it makes my back come up like a cat's," said Lewis. "A bunch of them nearly pulled me down two years ago on the Canadian. I fired all my ammunition at them and got into camp just about the right time; a half a mile more and I would have got my 'final statement.'"
"Yes, I have hunted them in Poland, on moonlight nights. A wolf in the deep forests on a moonlight night harmonizes better than one tied by a chain, with twenty men staring at him in broad daylight."
An irrepressible private shoved his nose into the circle, looked at the captive, and departed saying:
"He enlisted in the army,Poor wolf! He possessed too many attributes of man to ingratiate himself. He did not admit their superiority, and lay stoically under the heel of the conqueror; all thumbs were down for him.
The bullets took their toll,
The wolves got his body,
And the divil got his soul.
He was apostrophized by a soldier: "Ah, me innocent-lukin' child of the divil -- wait till ye git thim hoop-shnake dawgs afther yez."
Major Searles rode in through the gate and sang out: "The Colonel has a few papers to sign, after which he says we will chase the wolf; so you can get ready, gentlemen, those who care to run." And then to Ermine, who stood near: "Miss Searles thinks that will be a proper disposition of your valuable present. Can you manage to turn him loose?"
"Why, yes, I suppose we can. Putting the ropes on him is easier than taking them off. I won't take him out until you are all ready; every dog in the camp will fly at him. Can I have four or five soldiers to drive them off? Wolf-Voice and myself will be on horseback, and can't protect him."
"Certainly, certainly!" And under the Major's directions various soldiers armed themselves with whips, and undertook to make a rear-guard fight with the garrison pups.
Horses were saddled, and went clattering to all points of the post. The certainty of a run drew every one out. Shockley aided Miss Scarles to mount, saying, "I am on duty to-day ; my thoughts will fly where my pony should. You cannot doubt where he would go."
"Poor man, do not look so woebegone; it does not become you. I like you better when you sing than when you cry."
"If you didn't make me cry, I should sing all the time."
" Oh, that would be bad for your voice, my dear Mr. Shockley, as we say on a letter head." And she mocked him beyond her rapier point, as she rode along, followed by the rapidly receding words:
"Don't forget me, Molly darling;The rest died behind her.
Put your little hand in mine.
Tell me truly that you love me,
And -- "
"He is such a nice fellow," she mused, "but there's more music in his soul than in his throat. I shall miss him to-day, but not so much as I shall Mr. Butler; and there is my knight of the yellow hair. Oh! I must be careful of him. He is such a direct person, there is no parrying his assault. His presence has a strange effect on me; I do not understand it; he is queer. What a pity he is not an officer, with short hair; but pshaw! I might not like him then; how absurd, I do not like him now." And thus the girlish emotions swayed her pretty head, not stopping to clarify, man fashion. They flitted about on every little wind, and alighted nowhere for more than a few seconds.
Other women joined her, and a few men, all making for the quartermaster's.
"Your mother finds herself past riding, Miss Katherine," spoke one merry matron, to whom age had been generous, and who was past it herself, did she but know it.
"Yes, mother takes that view. I am afraid I can not sustain the reputation of the Searles outfit, as the phrase goes here. My horse is a Dobbin -- papa is so absurdly careful. There is no fun in being careful."
"Oh, the Major is right. He knows the value of that little nose of yours, and doesn't want it ploughed in the dirt. Noses which point upward, just ever so little, lack the severity of those that point down, in women; that is what the men tell me, Katherine."
The girl glanced at her companion, and doubted not that the men had said that to her.
"I don't care to go through life thinking of my nose," she added.
"No, indeed; never think of your nose; think of what men think of it."
"I can go home and do that, Mrs. Gooding; out here my horse seems more to the point than my nose." At this juncture some men opened the corral gate, and the women passed in.
Seeing the wolf flattened out like an unoratorical man at a banquet, who knows he is next on the toast-list, Miss Searles exclaimed, "Poor creature! it seems such a shame."
And the others added, "Now that I see him I feel like a butcher."
"Let him go, Major; we will not have his murder on our conscience," continued a third.
"I should as soon think of killing a canary in a cage." And thus did the gentler sex fail at this stage; but when the Colonel rode out of the enclosure, they all followed.
The wolf rose to its feet with a snap as the half-breed and Ermine approached, curling their lariats. A few deft turns, and the ropes drew around the captive's throat. A man undid the chain, the horse started, and the wild beast drew after, a whizzing blur of gray hair.
There was some difficulty in passing the gate, but that was managed. The remembrance of yesterday's experience in the rawhide coils came back to the wolf. It slunk along, tail down, and with head turning in scared anxious glances. Behind followed the rear-guard, waving their whips at various feeble minded ki-yis which were emboldened by their own yelling.
"Colonel, give me a good start; this is a female wolf. I will raise my hat and drop it on the ground when it is time to let the dogs go! We may have trouble clearing away these ropes," talked Ermine, loudly.
"Sacre mi-ka-tic-eh muck-a-muck -- dees dam wolf he have already bite de hole in my rope ver near," and Wolf-Voice gave a severe jerk. To be sure, the animal was already playing havoc with his lariat by savage side-snaps which bade fair shortly to shred it.
"Watch my hat, Colonel; she may get away from us before we are ready."
Well outside of the post the Colonel halted his field and waited; all eyes bent on the two wild men, with their dangerous bait, going up the road. The nimble ponies darted about in response to the riders' swayings, while at intervals the wolf gave an imitation of a pin-wheel.
When well out, Wolf-Voice yelled, "Ah, dare go my rope!"
The wolf had cut it, and turning, fixed its eyes on Ermine, who stopped and shook his lariat carefully, rolling it in friendly circles toward the wolf. Wolf-Voice drew his gun, and for an appreciable time the situation had limitless possibilities. By the exercise of an intelligence not at all rare in wild creatures, the wolf lay down and clawed at the rope. In an instant it was free and galloping off, turning its head to study the strategy of the field.
"Wait for the people; she's going for the timber, and will get away," shouted Ermine, casting his big sombrero into the air.
The dogs held in leash never lost sight of the gray fellow, and when let go were soon whippeting along. The horses sank on their quarters and heaved themselves forward until the dusty plain groaned under their feet.
"Ki-yi-yi-yi," called the soldiers, imitating the Indians who had so often swept in front of their guns.
The wolf fled, a gray shadow borne on the wind, making for the timber in the river-bottom. It had a long start and a fair hope. If it had understood how vain the noses of greyhounds are, it might have cut its angle to cover a little; for once out of sight it might soon take itself safely off; but no wild animal can afford to angle much before the spider dogs.
The field was bunched at the start and kicked up a vast choking dust, causing many slow riders to deploy out on the sides, where they could at least see the chase and the going in front of them. Wolf-Voice and Ermine had gone to opposite sides and were lost in the rush.
Ermine's interest in the wolf departed with it. He now swung his active pony through the dirt clouds, seeking the girl, and at last found her, well in the rear as usual, and unescorted, after the usual luck she encountered when she played her charms against a wolf. She was trying to escape from the pall by edging off toward the river-bank. Well behind strode the swift war-pony, and Ermine devoured her with his eyes. The impulse to seize and bear her away to the inaccessible fastnesses of which he knew was overcome by a fear of her -- a fear so great that his blood turned to water when his passion was greatest.
Time did not improve Ermine's logistics concerning this girl; he wanted her, and he did not know in the least how to get her. The tigers of his imagination bit and clawed each other in ferocious combat when he looked at her back as she rode or at her pensive photograph in the quiet of his tent. When, however, she turned the battery of her eyes on him, the fever left him in a dull, chilly lethargy -- a realization of the hopelessness of his yearning; and plot and plan and assuage his fears as he might, he was always left in a mustache-biting perplexity. He could not at will make the easy reconnaissance of her fortresses which the young officers did, and this thought maddened him. It poisoned his mind and left his soul like a dead fish cast up on a river-bank.
Ermine had known the easy familiarity of the Indian squaws, but none of them had ever stirred him. The vast silence of his mountain life had rarely been broken by the presence of men, and never by women. The prophet had utterly neglected the boy's emotions in the interest of his intellect. The intense poverty of his experience left him with out any understanding of the most ordinary conven tions or casual affairs of white men's lives. All he knew was gathered from his observation of the rude relations of frontier soldiers on campaign. The visions of angels never exalted a fasting mediaeval monk in his cell as did the advent of this white woman to Ermine, and they were quite as nebulous.
The powerful appeal which Katherine Searles made to his imagination was beyond the power of his analysis ; the word Love was unknown to his vocabulary. He wanted her body, he wanted her mind, and he wanted her soul merged with his, but as he looked at her now, his mouth grew dry, like a man in mortal fear or mortal agony.
And thinking thus, he saw her horse stop dead sink and go heels up and over in a complete somersault. The girl fluttered through the air and struck, raising a dust which almost concealed her. A savage slap of his quirt made his pony tear the ground in his frantic rush to her aid. No one noticed the accident, and the chase swept around the bluffs and left him kneeling beside her. She showed no sign of life; the peach-blow left her cheeks an ivory white, set with pearls when the high lights showed, but there was no blood or wound which he could see.
Her mount struggled to extract his poor broken foreleg from a gopher-hole, where it was sunk to the elbow. He raised his head, with its eyes rolling, and groaned in agony.
If this had been a man, or even any other woman, Ermine would have known what to do. In his life a wounded or broken man had been a frequent experience. As he took her wrist to feel her pulse, his own hands trembled so that he gave over; he could feel nothing but the mad torrent of his own blood.
Turning his face in the direction where the hunt had gone, he yelled, "Help! help!" but the sound never reached the thudding hunt. Putting his arm under her shoulder, he raised her up, and supporting her, he looked hopelessly around until his eye fell on the Yellowstone only a short distance away. Water had always been what the wounded wanted. He slowly gathered her in his arms, gained his feet, and made his way toward the river. A gopher-hole had planned what Ermine never could; it had brought her body to him, but it might be a useless gift unless the water gave him back her life.
He bore the limp form to the sands beside the flowing river and laid it down while he ran to fill his hat with water. He made fast work of his restoration, rubbing her wrists and sprinkling her forehead with water; but it was long before a reward came in the way of a breath and a sigh. Again he raised her in a sitting position against his knee.
He bore the limp form to the sands
"Breathe, Katherine -- try again -- now breathe." And he pressed her chest with his hand, aiding nature as best he knew, until she sighed again and again.
The girl was half damp in death, while like a burning mine the pent-up fire-damp exploded and reverberated through the veins of the young man. Oh, if he could but impart his vitality to her. Possibly he did, for presently her weakness permitted her to note that the sky was blue, that the tree-tops waved in familiar forms, that the air flooded her lungs, and that a cooling rain was falling. Again she drifted some where away from the earth in pleasant passage through kaleidoscopic dreams of all a girl's subconsciousness ever offers.
Her eyes spread, but soon closed in complete rest against the easy cradle. She sensed kindly caresses and warm kisses which delighted her. The long yellow hair hung about her face and kept it shadowed from the hot sun.
"Oh my! Oh my! Where am I? Is that you -- How do I --" but the effort exhausted her.
"God -- God -- Sak-a-war-te come quick! It will be too late." He put
more water on her face.
The hunt missed the wolf in the cover of the river-bottom. It doubled on the dogs, and out of sight was out of mind with the fast-running hounds.
"She gave us a run, anyhow," sang out Major Searles to Wolf-Voice.
"Yaes, d---- him; she give me a bite and two run. What good was come of eet, hey why ain't you keel him first plass, by Gar?"
"Oh! you are a poor sport, Wolf-Voice."
"Am poor sport, hey? All right; nex' wolf she not tink dat, mabeso."
Laughing and talking, they trotted home, picking up belated ones who had strung behind the fastest horses.
"Where is Miss Searles, Major?" spoke one.
"That's so! don't know; had a slow horse; by Gad, we must look this up." And the now anxious father galloped his mount. The others followed sympathetically. Rounding the bluffs, they saw Ermine's pony quietly feeding.
"Where is Ermine?" came a hail of questions, and presently they almost ran over the girl's horse, now lying on its side, breathing heavily, and no longer trying to disengage his leg from the gopher-hole.
"The horse is in a gopher-hole," said some one;" and see here look at the dirt; he has thrown Miss Searles; here is where she struck."
"Yes, but where is she? where is she?" ejaculated the Major, in a nervous tremor of excitement. "Where is my girl?"
Wolf-Voice had dismounted and found Ermine's trail, which he followed toward the river.
"Come!" he called. "Am show you dose girl!"
While an orderly stayed behind to shoot the horse and get the empty saddle, the group followed hard on the half-breed.
"Done you ride on de trail, you was keep behine. Dey girl was broke his neck, an' Ermine am pack him."
Stepping briskly forward, the plainsman made quick work of empty moccasin tracks and burst through the brush. A pistol-shot rang in the rear; an orderly had shot the horse. A cry of "Help, help!" responded from the river beyond the cotton-woods, and the horses ploughed their way to the sands. The people all dismounted around the limp figure and kneeling scout. Her pale face, the hat with the water in it, and the horse in the gopher-hole made everything clear.
"Here, Swan, ride to the post for an ambulance,quot; spoke the Major, as he too knelt and took his daughter in his arms. "Ride the horse to death and tell the ambulance to come running." Some of the women brought their ministering hands to bear and with more effect.
"What happened, Katherine?" whispered her father amid the eager silence of the gathered people.
"What did I do?" she pleaded weakly.
"How was it, Ermine?"
"Her horse put his foot in a hole; he is out there now. I saw her go down. Then I tried to save her. Will she live?"
Ermine's eager interest had not departed because of the advent of so many people. He still continued to kneel and to gaze in rapture at the creature of his hopes and fears. No one saw anything in it but the natural interest of one who had been left with so much responsibility.
"If you men will retire, we will endeavor to find her injuries," spoke one of the older ladies; so the men withdrew.
Every one asked eager questions of the scout, who walked hat in hand, and had never before shown perturbation under the trying situations in which he and the soldiers had been placed.
"I knew that wolf would get away in the timber, and I wasn't going to ride my pony for the fun of seeing it, so I was behind. Miss Searles's horse was slow, and I noticed she was being left; then she went down and I didn't know what to do," which latter statement was true.
He had done as well under the circumstances as any man could, they all admitted. A magpie on an adjoining limb jeered at the soldiers, though he made no mention of anything further than the scout had admitted.
In due course the ambulance came bounding behind the straining mules. Mrs. Searles was on the seat with the driver, hatless, and white with fear. The young woman was placed in and taken slowly to quarters. Being the only witness, Ermine repeated his story until he grew tired of speech and wanted only silence which would enable him to think. The greatest event of his life had happened to him that morning; it had come in a curious way; it had lasted but a few moments, but it had added new fuel to his burning mind, which bade fair to consume it altogether.
Miss Searles's injuries consisted of a few bruises and a general shock from which she would soon recover, said the doctor, and the cantonment slowly regathered its composure, all except Shockley, who sat, head down, in most disordered thought, slowly punctuating events as they came to him, by beating on the floor with his scabbard.
"And she gave him her glove and she never gave me any glove and she never gave Butler her glove that I know of; and he gave her a wolf and he was with her when this thing happened. Say, Shockley, me boy, you are too slow, you are rusty; if you saw an ancient widow woman chopping wood, you would think she was in love with the wood-pile." And thus did that worthy arrive at wrong conclusions. He would not give himself the credit of being only a man, whom God in the wisdom of His creation did not intend to understand women and thus deaden a world.
The camp was in ignorance of the points of contact between Katherine Searles and the scout; it felt none of the concern which distressed Shockley.
Miss Searles had known Butler back in the States; they were much together here on the Yellowstone, and it was pretty generally admitted that in so far as she was concerned Lieutenant Butler had the biggest pair of antlers in the garrison. That young officer was a fine soldier one of the best products of West Point, and was well connected back East, which was no small thing in an affair of this nature. Also his fellows easily calculated that he must have more than his pay. Shockley, however, continued to study the strategy of the scout Ermine, and he saw much to fear.
"That's odd, Harding; I don't know of anything to detain him. But go slow; he's like all these wild men up here; when they will they will, and when they won't, they'll lay down on you. I'll go round and scout him up. What is the matter so far as you can determine?"
"I can't determine. He says he will go, but will not name any exact time; tells me to push on and that he will catch up. That is a curious proposition. He is willing to take my money --"
"Oh! whoa up, Mr. Harding! That fellow doesn't care anything about your money make no mistake about that. Money means no more to him than to a blue jay. He wanted to go back to his own country and was willing, incidentally, to take you. I'll see; you wait here awhile; " saying which, Captain Lewis went in search of his man, whom he found whittling a stick pensively.
"Hello, my boy, you don't seem to be very busy. Suppose your heart is out in the hills chasing the elk and bear."
"No, Captain; I don't care much about the hills."
"Or the Crow squaws?"
"D---- the Crow squaws!" And Ermine emphasized this by cutting his stick through the middle.
?"Want to stay here?"
"Yes, I am getting so I like this camp; like the soldiers -- like the wagons -- kind of like the whole outfit."
"Like to chase wolves?" interrupted the officer.
Ermine slowly turned up his head and settled his fathomless blue eyes on Lewis, but he said nothing.
"Well, Mr. Harding is all set. You said you would go with him; a soldier must keep his word."
"I will go with him."
Again Ermine shaved some delicate slivers off the stick; suddenly he threw it away, shut up his knife, and arose. "If Mr. Harding will pull out now, Wolf-Voice will show him the way. I shall know where the Indian takes him, and in four days I will walk into his camp. The pack-ponies travel slowly, I do not care to punch pack-horses; that will do for Ramon and the cook."
"Does that go?"
"I have said it. Did I ever lie, Captain Lewis?"
"All right. Mr. Harding will go now. I will attend to that." With this Lewis left him, and in two hours the little cavalcade trotted westward, out into the hot, sunlit plains, carrying faith in Ermine's word. The scout, leaning on a log stable, saw them go.
Three days took their slow departure, and on the morrow Ermine would have to make good his word to follow the Englishmen. He would have liked to stay even if his body suffered slow fire, but excuses would not avail for his honor. A soldier's honor was something made much of in these parts; it pegged higher than the affairs of the flesh.
He had not been able to see Miss Searles, and he wondered what she would feel, or think, or say. He was a thief when he remembered the stolen kisses, and he dared not go to the Searleses' home to inquire after her. All this diffidence the public put down to apathy; he had done his duty, so why further concern himself?
After supper he strolled along the officers' row, desperately forlorn, but hoping and yearning, barely nodding his head to passers-by.
Major Searles approached him with the nervous stride habitual to a soldier, and held out his hand, saying bluffly: "Of course, I can't thank you enough for your attention to my daughter, Ermine. But for your fortunate presence there at the time of the accident, things might have been bad; how bad I fear to contemplate. Come to my quarters, my boy, and allow my daughter to thank you. She is quite recovered. She is sitting out-of-doors. She hasn't been abroad much. Such a fall would have killed an older woman."
Together they made their way to the house, and Ermine passed under the ramada with his hat off. Mrs. Searles shook his hand and said many motherly things due on such occasions.
"Please forgive me if I do not rise; it is the doctor's orders, you know." And Miss Searles extended her hand, which the scout reverently took. To have seen him one would have fancied that, after all, manners must have been made before men; which idea is, of course, absurd.
In response to their inquiries, he retold the story of the accident and of his ministrations and perplexities. He did not embellish, but left out very important details, wondering the while if they were dead to all but his memory.
"She should not ride so poor a horse," ventured Ermine.
"She should not have been left unattended." And this severity was directed at Major Searles by his wife, to which he feebly pleaded vain extenuations, without hope of their acceptance.
"No, no, my dear; you were always a careless person; one is never safe to place dependence on you in minor matters. I declare, all men are alike -- leastwise soldiers are. A blanket and a haversack, and the world may wag at will, so far as they concern themselves." Rising, she adjusted her hat, saying: "I must run down to Mrs. Taylor's for a minute. Her baby is very ill, and she has sent for me. You will stay here, Major," and she swept out.
"When do you depart for your hunting with Mr. Harding, Ermine?" asked Searles.
"I must go soon. He left camp three days ago, and I have promised to follow."
"I should think you would be delighted to hunt. I know I should if I were a man," cheerfully remarked the young woman.
"I have always hunted, Miss Searles. I think I should like to do something else."
"Oh, I don't know, something with a white shirt in it."
"Isn't that foolish? There is no more fun in a white shirt than there is in a buckskin one, and there is no fun in either when it rains, I am told."
A passing officer appealed to the Major to come out; he was needed, together with other requests to follow, with reasons why haste was important.
"All right, I will be back in a moment, daughter." And the officer took himself off in complete disobedience of his wife's orders.
"Don't be gone long, father; there is no one here but Mary and the striker. You know I cannot depend on them."
"You keep the wolves off, Ermine; I won't be gone a minute." And Ermine found himself alone again with Katherine.
This time she was not pale unto death, but warm and tingling. Her lover's hands and feet took better care of themselves on a horse than in a chair, but the gloom under the porch at least stayed some of the embarrassment which her eyes occasioned him. Indeed, it is well known that lovers prefer night attacks, and despite the law and the prophets, they manage better without an audience.
She gained a particularly entrancing attitude in her chair by a pussy-cat wiggle which let the point of her very small foot out of concealing draperies. One hand hung limply toward Ermine over the arm of the chair, and it seemed to scream out to him to take hold of it.
"And when do you go, Mr. Ermine?"
This seemed safe, and along the lines of his self-interest.
"I go to-morrow; I have given my word."
"Very naturally there can be nothing to delay you here," she continued; "the fighting is over, I hear."
"There is something in the world beside fighting."
"Yes?" she evaded.
"Yes, you detain me."
"I!" and the little foot went back to its nest; the extended hand rose in protest. "I detain you! My dear Mr. Ermine, I do not understand how I detain you; really, I am quite recovered from my fall."
"You may have got well, Miss Searles, but I am not. Do you remember?"
"Remember -- remember -- do I remember? What should I remember? I am told you were very good to me, but I was laboring under such a shock at the time that you cannot expect much of my memory."
"I was but little better off."
"And were you injured also?"
"Yes, so bad that I shall never get well unless you come to my rescue."
"I come to your rescue! What can I do?" Her sword waved in tierce and seconde.
"Be my wife; come, girl, be my wife."
He had beaten down her guard; the whole mass was in the fire. The dam had broken; he led his forlorn hope into the breach. "Come, Katherine, say you will marry me; say it and save me."
"Oh," she almost screamed, "I can't do that; why, my mother would never consent to it," she appealed in bewilderment.
He had risen and taken a step forward. "What has your mother to say? Say you will be my wife, Katherine.quot;
"Careful, careful, Mr. Ermine; restrain yourself, or I shall call a servant. No, no, I cannot marry you. Why, what should we do if I did? We should have to live in the mule corral."
"No, come to the mountains with me. I will make you a good camp."
She almost laughed aloud at this. "But I should make a poor squaw. I fear you would have many quarrels with your dinner. Besides, my father would not let me marry you. I like you, and you have been very good to me, but I had no idea we had gotten so far as this. Don't you think you Western men cover the ground a little too fast? "
Ermine drew back. "Why did you kiss me?"
"I didn't," she snapped. Her manner grew cold and strange to him. He had never seen this mood before. It chilled him not a little, and he sat down again in the chair. His assault had been repulsed. They were now looking straight into each other's eyes. Fear had departed from Ermine's and all graciousness from hers. Divested of their seductive flashes, he saw the eyes of his photograph, and slowly reaching into the bosom of his shirt, drew out the buckskin bag and undid it. Turning to the straining light, he gazed a moment, and then said, "It is you!"
"I! what is I?"
"Yes! it is you!" and he handed the much-soiled photograph labelled "Bogardus" to her.
She regarded it. "Why, how on earth did you come by this, Mr. John Ermine?"
"Sak-a-war-te sent it to me in the night, and he made it talk to me and he made me swear that I would seek the woman until I found her. Then she would be my wife. I have found you I do not know my head is burning --"
She scanned the photograph, and said in an undertone: "Taken last year in New York, and for him; yet you have it away out here in the middle of this enormous desert. He surely would not give it away to you. I do not understand." And she questioned him sharply as she returned the card.
"Who is this Sak-a-war-te?"
"He is God," said the scout.
"Oh!" she started up. The little miss had never heard God connected with affairs of this sort. An active fear of the fire which burned this extraordinary man's head began to oppress her.
"It is very strange. What has your god got to do with me, with my oh, you are joking, Mr. Ermine," she again appealed, a shadow of her old smile appearing.
"No, no; I am not joking. I have found you. I must believe what the spirits say to me when they take my mind from me and give it to you," returned the excited man.
"But really I did not mean to take your mind. I haven't it anywhere about me. You have dreamed all this."
"Yes; it may be only a dream, Miss Searles, but make it come true; please make it all come true. I should like to live such a dream."
"Oh, my good man, I cannot make the dreams of casual people come true, not such serious dreams as yours."
"You say you would have to live in the corral with mules. Is that because I have so little money?"
"No, it is not money. I do not know how much you have."
"I have often taken enough gold out of the ground in a few days to last me a year."
"Yes, yes, but that is not the only thing necessary."
"What is necessary, then? Tell me what you want."
"There would have to be a great deal of love, you know. That is why any one marries. I have been flattered by the attentions of many cavaliers like yourself, Mr. Ermine, but I could not marry any one of them unless I loved him."
"And then you do not love me," this in a low, far-away voice, lopping each word off as though with an axe.
"No, I do not. I have given you no reason to think I did. I like you, and I am sorry for you, now that I know in what way you regard me. Sit down again and let me tell you." She crouched herself on the edge of her chair, and he sat in his, revolving his big hat in both hands between his knees. He was composed, and she vaguely felt that she owed him a return for his generous acts of the past. She had the light touch of mature civilization and did not desire her darts to be deadly. Now that one had laid this simple nature low, she felt a womanly impulse to nurse the wound.
"Some terrible mistake has been made. Believe me, I am truly sorry that our relationship has not been rightly understood." Here she paused a moment to take a long breath and observe the effect of her words on the one who had so easily lost his head. "No, I simply admired you, Mr. Ermine, as I do many of the brave men about here. I was not thinking of marrying any one. As for living in the mule corral, I was only joking about that. There might be worse places. I should dearly love a gold mine, but don't you understand there would have to be something else I should have to give you something before we thought of marrying."
"I see it; it all comes to me now," he labored.
"You would have to give me something, and you won't give me yourself. Then give me back my mind give me the peace which I always had until I saw you. Can you do that, Miss Searles? Can you make John Ermine what he was before the steamboat came here, and let him mount his pony and go away?"
It was all so strange, this quiet appeal, that she passed her hand across her forehead in despair.
"If you will not make my dreams come true; if you will not say the things which the photograph does; if you will not do what God intends, -- then I must take my body away from here and leave my shadow, my mind, and my heart to be kicked about among the wagons and the dogs. And I know now that you will soon forget me. Then I will be John Ermine, riding among the hills, empty as an old buffalo carcass, moving without life, giving no thought to the sunshine, not feeling the wind nor caring how the birds fly or the animals run. If you will not marry me --"
"Stop, please stop. I cannot stand this sort of thing, my dear Mr. Ermine. There are other young women besides myself. Go about the world, back in the States; you will find whole oceans of them, and without flattery, I feel you will soon find your mind again."
"You have my mind. You have all the mind I ever had." And his voice dropped until she could distinguish only wild gutturals. He was talking to himself in the Indian language.
Springing up quickly, she flew into the house, out through it to the rear steps, where she fell upon the neck of Mary, the cook, to the utter consternation of a soldier, who, to all appearances, was there with a similar ambition so to do. This latter worthy flung himself out into the darkness. The cook held Katherine, expecting the entire Sioux tribe to come pouring through the front door on the instant, and at this belated interval Mrs. Searles entered her own porch.
"Why, Mr. Ermine, where is Katherine, and where is the Major? Why, you are all alone!" And she came up standing.
"Yes, I am all alone," said the scout, quietly, rising from the chair and putting on his sombrero. Before she could comprehend, he was gone.
"What in the devil is the circus?" demanded the father.
"It's nothing, father; I am nervous, that is all."
"Now, Major Searles, I want you to sit down and keep quiet. You will drive me frantic. Why did you run away when I clearly told you to stay here?" Her tones were dry with formality.
Against all manner of people and happenings the Major joyfully pitted his force and cunning. His only thought in a great crisis was his six-shooter; but he always hesitated before anything which concerned Mrs. Searles and a military order. These impelled obedience from the very nature of things. "But what has happened? What must I do?"
"You must sit down," said his wife; and he sat down. Affairs of this kind could be cleared only by women; he was conscious that he could not hurry matters.
"Now what has happened, Katherine? Will you tell me? Who did it?" pleaded the mother.
"Why, it is nothing, only that horrible scout wanted to marry me. Did you ever hear anything so ridiculous?" said the girl, sitting up and made defiant by the idea.
"Did he do anything?" and the Major again forgot his orders and rose truculently.
"Benjamin!" said Mrs. Searles, with asperity; and he again subsided. Like most soldiers and sailors, he was imperfectly domesticated.
"He wanted to marry you?" she continued with questioning insistence.
"Yes, he said I must marry him; that God wanted me to, and he also said he had lost his mind"
"Well, I think he has," observed the mother, catching this idea, which was at least tangible to her. "Is that all, Katherine?"
"Is that all, mother? Why, isn't that enough?"
"I mean, he simply asked you to marry him -- properly -- he wasn't insulting -- insistent beyond --"
"No, he did nothing else, though he went about it in a most alarming way."
"I most emphatically did, mother."
" Then he began mumbling Indian and scared me nearly to death. I ran to Mary."
"Dade an' she did, mum; an' I'm afther loosin' my sinses thinkin' thim rid-divils what do be ploughin' the land down be the river was devastating the cantonmint for to pass the time. An' ets only some bye afther antin' to marry her -- the swate thing."
Mrs. Searles interposed, "Mary!" and the domestic retired to the sable silences of the rear steps, to split a joke with one Private O' Shane, should he venture to return.
"The social savagery of this place is depressing. To think of my daughter living in a log-cabin, cooking bear meat for a long-haired wild man. In the future, Benjamin Searles, I trust you will not feel called upon to introduce your fantastic acquaintances to this house. You can sit on the corral fence to entertain them. That is where they belong. I suppose next, an out-and-out Indian will want to be my son-in-law."
"I certainly will see that the man does not again obtrude himself. I do not understand his nerve in this matter. Lewis thinks the boy's ridgepole is crooked; but he is harmless and has done many good and gallant deeds. As for his proposing, I simply think he doesn't know any better. For my part, I think it is about time that the engagement to Mr. Butler is announced; it will put an end to this foolishness all round," added the father. "I am going out to see Lewis about this fellow now."
"Ben Searles, I hope you are not going to do any thing rash," pleaded the mother.
"Of course not, my dear; the situation doesn't call for any temperature beyond blood-heat. I only want to put a cooling lotion on the base of that scout's brain. He must stop this dreaming habit."
Having found Lewis at his quarters and seated himself, the Major began, "Now, Captain, what do you think of this Ermine of yours is he crazy?"
"Is he crazy? Why, what has he done now?"
"Well, by Gad, he came to my house this evening, and when I stepped out for a minute he proposed marriage to my daughter -- wanted her to marry him! Now, how's that strike you? Is it just gall, or does he need a physician?"
"Well, I will be d---d; proposed marriage, hey! Looks like he ought to have an opiate," concluded Lewis. "You know, now that I think of it, I have a little mistrusted him before. He has shown signs of liking your daughter, but I never regarded the matter seriously -- didn't ever credit him with being an entire fool. The boy's queer, Searles -- mighty queer, but he never did anything wrong; in fact, he is a pretty good boy -- a heap different from most of these double-belted, sage-bush terrors. Then, of course, he was born and raised in the wilderness, and there is a whole lot of things he don't savvy. Probably he has lost his head over your daughter and he can't see why he hasn't a chance. I will send for him, and we will make a big talk, and I'll send him away to Harding." Turning, the Captain yelled, "Orderly! Jones! Oh, Jones!"
"Yes, sir," responded Jones, as he appeared in the doorway.
"Go find the scout Ermine, if you can, and tell him to report to me immediately. If you don't find him in half an hour, let it go until to-morrow understand?
"As I was saying, you see, Major, if this thing wasn't vinegar, it would be sugar. When I think of him proposing say, I have to laugh. There is one thing about him which kept me guessing: it is the Indian reserve of the fellow. He goes round here like a blue-moon, and if you should hit him over the head with an axe, I don't think he would bat an eye. He never complains, he never questions, and when you are right up against it, as we were a half-dozen times last winter, he is Johnny-on-the-spot. So you see, if he fell in love, no one would hear the splash. Now that he is in love, we want to tighten the curb chain; he might well, he might take it into his head to do something, and that something might be just what we would never think of."
Thus the two speculated until the sandpaper grating of Ermine's moccasins on the porch warned them, and looking up they beheld the scout, standing with his rifle in the hollow of his left arm. This was unusual and produced several seconds of very bad silence. Captain Lewis held up his hand in mockery of the "peace sign," and said: "I see you're fixed for war, Ermine. Sit down over there. I want to talk to you."
The scout removed his hat and sat down, but with the ominous rifle in place. He had been told by the orderly whom he was to encounter; and it had come over him that wanting to marry Katherine Searles might be some crime against the white man's law. He had seen very natural actions of men punished under those laws during his sojourn in camp.
"Ermine, I understand that during the temporary absence of her father this evening, you asked Miss Searles to marry you."
"I did, sir."
"Very well. Don't you think you took an unfair advantage of her father's absence?"
" I don't know, sir. A man doesn't speak to a woman before other men," replied Ermine, dubiously.
The Captain emitted a slight cough, for the blow had staggered him a little. He knew the law of convention, and he knew the customs of men; but they did not separate readily in his mind.
"In any event, Ermine, the young lady had given you no encouragement which would warrant you in going to the length of proposing marriage to her."
This was an assertion which Ermine did not care to discuss. His views would not coincide, and so he fumbled his hat and made no reply.
"I may state that you are not warranted in aspiring to the hand of Miss Searles for many reasons; further, that she distinctly doesn't want attention of any kind from you. To this I will add, her father and mother forbid you all association in the future do you understand?"
This, also, failed to break the scout's silence.
"And," interpolated the father, "I may add that my daughter is already engaged to be married to Lieutenant Butler, which will end the matter."
If the evening's occurrences had set the nerves of the Searles family on edge, it had torn the scout's into shreds; but he managed his stoicism.
"Now, my boy," continued Captain Lewis, with a sense of benevolence, "we do not mean to be hard on you. We all, including Miss Searles, feel a great pity for you in this matter."
"Pity -- pity -- what is pity?" saying which the boy's eyes took on an unnatural glow and he rose to his feet. Lewis quickly added, "I mean that we feel for you."
"I know what you feel for me, Captain Lewis, and Major Searles," and it was evident that Ermine was aroused. "You feel that I am an uneducated man, without money, and that I do not wear a white shirt; that I tuck my pants in my leggings and that I sleep among the Indians. I know you think I am a dog. I know Miss Searles thinks I belong in the corral with the mules; but, by G----, you did not think I was a dog when the Sioux had your wagon-train surrounded and your soldiers buffaloed; you did not think I was a dog when I stood beside the Colonel, and neither did Sitting Bull. You did not think I was a dog when I kept you all from freezing to death last winter; but here among the huts and the women I am a dog. I tell you now that I do not understand such men as you are. You have two hearts: one is red and the other is blue; and you feel with the one that best suits you at the time. Your blue heart pities me. Me, a warrior and a soldier! Do you give pity with your coffee and sow-belly? Is that what you feed a soldier on? Hum-m -- G----!" And the scout slapped his hat on his head.
"Steady, steady, my boy; don't you go up in the air on us," said Lewis, persuasively. "I did not mean to offend you, and we want to be friends; but you keep your feet on the ground and don't go raring and pitching, or we may forget you."
"Yes; that is it, forget me; you may forget me. What's more, you can do it now. I am going far away, so that your eyes will not remind you."
"You are going to make your word good to Mr. Harding, are you not?" asked the chief of scouts.
"What good is a dog's word?" came the bitter reply.
The Major said little, but remained steadily studying the face of the scout; rising, he approached him with extended hand. "If you are going away, let us part friends, at least. Here is my hand, and I shall not forget you; I shall not forget your services to me or mine, and I do not think you are a dog. When you calm down you may find that you have been unjust to Captain Lewis and myself."
The scout took the Major's hand mechanically, and also that of Lewis, which the latter offered in turn, saying:--
"In the morning I will see that you get your pay, and if you conclude to return, I will find you employment."
"Thank you, sir; I care nothing for the pay. I did not come here for money; I came here to help you fight the Sioux, and to be a man among white men." And once more the young man relapsed into the quiet of his ordinary discourse.
"You certainly have shown yourself a man among men; no one has ever questioned that," said the Major.
" Then why is it wrong for a man among men to want your daughter to be his wife?"
"It is not wrong, but you have gone about the matter wrong. I have tried to make it plain that her hand is promised to Mr. Butler."
As this was said, two horses trotted up to Captain Lewis's quarters.
A man dismounted, gave his horse to the other, and Butler himself strode
heavily into the room. He was quite gray with dust, with a soiled handkerchief
about his neck, unshaven, booted, and armed.
"Hello, Major! Hello, Lewis! I'm just in with my troop, and if you will pardon me, I will have a word with Mr. Ermine here." His manner was strained, and knowing the situation as they all did, the two older officers were alarmed.
"Hold up there, Butler; never mind your word to night; wait until morning."
Butler paid no attention, but addressed the scout with icy directness. "May I ask, Mr. Ermine, if you have in your possession a photograph of Miss Searles?"
"Have you it about your person at present?"
"I have, sir."
"Then, Mr. Ermine, I have the word of Miss Searles for it, that the photograph in question was one she had taken, of which there is only one copy in the world; and which was given to me, and lost by myself, somewhere on the road between here and Fort Ellis. It must be my property. If you will let me see it, I can soon identify it. In which case I demand that you hand it over to me/"
" Mr. Butler, you will only get that photograph from off my dead body. You have Miss Searles; is not that enough?"
" I will then take it by force from you!" A tremendous bang roared around the room, and the little group was lost in smoke.
A tremendous bang roared around the room
Butler turned half round, his six-shooter going against the far wall with a crash. He continued to revolve until caught in the Major's arms. Lewis sprang to his desk, where his pistol lay, and as he turned, the smoke lifted, revealing Butler lying against the Major's chest, wildly waving his left arm and muttering savagely between short breaths. Ermine was gone.
"Fire on that man!" yelled Lewis to the orderly outside, taking one shot himself at the fleeing figure of the scout.
The soldier jerked his carbine and thrashed about the breech-block with a cartridge. "I can't see him, Captain!" he shouted.
"Fire at him, anyway! Fire, I tell you!" And the man discharged his rifle in the direction in which Ermine's figure had disappeared.
Simultaneously with the shots, the garrison bugles were drawling "Taps," but they left off with an expiring pop. The lights did not go out in quarters, and the guard turned out with much noise of shoe leather and rattle of guns. This body soon arrived, and Lewis spoke from the porch of his quarters.
"The scout, Ermine, has just shot Lieutenant Butler in the arm! He ran that way! Chase him! Go quickly, or he will get away. Shoot instantly if he resists; and he will, I think."
The guard shuffled off in the darkness and beat up the camp to no purpose. The soldiers stood about, speculating in low voices and gradually quieting as the word passed about on the uneasy wings of gossip that Ermine had shot Butler in the arm, wounding him badly, and that the scout had gone into the earth or up in the air, for divil the hide nor hair of him could the guard find.
When the orderly had come for Ermine and told him who wanted to see him, the scout scented trouble ahead. According to the immemorial practices of the desert at such times, he had saddled his pony, tying him in the darkest and most unlikely place he could find, which was between two six-mule wagons outside the corral. He armed himself and obeyed the summons, but he intended never to let a hand be placed on his shoulder; and he chose death rather than the military court which sat so gravely around the long table at headquarters. He fully expected to depart for the mountains on the morrow, but his hand was forced. The quick episode of Butler, ending in the shot and his flight, had precipitated matters. Shortly he found himself seated on his horse between the wagons, while the denizens of the cantonments swarmed around. A group searched the corral with lanterns, and he heard one soldier tell another what had happened, with the additional information that Butler was not seriously injured. Armed men passed close to him, and he knew that discovery meant probable death, because he would not hold up his hands. Despite the deadly danger which encompassed him, he found time for disappointment in the news that Butler was only wounded. Even now he would go to his enemy and make more sure, but that enemy was in the hospital surrounded by many friends. She, too, was probably there, weeping and hating the responsible one, a fugitive criminal driven into the night. The silken robes of self-respect had been torn from Ermine, and he stood naked, without the law, unloved by women, and with the hand of all men turned against him. The brotherhood of the white kind, which had promised him so much, had ended by stealing the heart and mind of the poor mountain boy, and now it wanted his body to work its cold will on; but it could have that only dead. This he knew as he loosed five cartridges, putting them between his teeth and clutching his loaded rifle. Would the search never cease? The lanterns glided hither and yon; every garrison cur ran yelping; the dull shuffling of feet was coming directly to the wagons which stood apart from other objects, and a dog ran under the wagon. With their eyes on the ground, an officer and two men towered above the light of a lantern. They were coming directly to the wagons. He kicked the pony and galloped softly out. Instantly the men began calling, "Halt! halt! G-- d---- you, halt!" but the ghostly pony only answered feebly the lantern light. "Bang! bang! bang!" came the shots, which " zee-weeped" about his ears. He doubled quickly in the dark and trotted to the edge of the camp, which buzzed loudly behind him. He knew he must pass the sentries, but he took the chance. His apprehensions were quickly answered. "Halt!" -- the man was very near, but it was very dark. "Bang!" -- it missed, and he was away. He stopped shortly, dismounted, and ran his hand completely over the body of the pony; it was dry. " Good!" For a half-hour he walked over the herd-grounds, crossing, circling, and stopping; then back as near to the post as he dared. At last he turned and rode away. He was thoroughly familiar with the vicinity of the camp, and had no trouble so long as the post lights guided him.
The mountain boy had brought little to the soldier camp but the qualities of mind which distinguished his remote ancestors of the north of Europe, who came out of the dark forests clad in skins, and bearing the first and final law of man, a naked sword on a knotted arm. An interval of any centuries intervened between him and his fellows; all the race had evolved, all the laws which they had made for the government of society, all the subtle customs which experience had decreed should circumscribe associates, were to him but the hermit's gossip in idle hours at the cabin. The bar sinister was on his shield; his credentials were the advice of an unreal person to fight in common with the whites. He came clad in skins on a naked horse, and could barely understand English when it was in the last adulteration; and still he had made his way without stumbling until the fatal evening. Now he was fleeing for life because he had done two of the most natural things which a man can do.
"Good-by, good-by, white men, and good-by, white woman; the frost is in your hearts, and your blood runs like the melting snow from the hills. When you smile, you only skin your fangs; and when you laugh, your eyes do not laugh with you. You say good words which mean nothing. You stroke a man's back as a boy does a dog's, and kick him later as a boy does. You, woman, you who pick men's hearts and eat them as a squaw does wild plums, I want no more of you. You, Butler, I wish were out here in the dark with me; one of us would never see the sun rise. You would force me!" and the scout vented himself in a hollow laugh which was chill with murder.
The lights were lost behind the rise of the land, and the pony trotted along. No horse or man not raised on the buffalo range could travel in that darkness; but both of them made steady progress.
"Those Indians will have to crawl on their knees a whole day to pick up my pony tracks on the hard ground. The Crows will never try to follow me; the Shoshone may when the white men offer a reward. That fool of a boy may see his chance to even up the insult which I gave before the woman.
He can shake her hand now for all I would do. I will ride for two hours before the sun comes, and then let the pony feed."
Patting his horse's neck, he added: "And then, my boy, we will blind our trail in some creek. I will rub the medicine on your heels, you shall gallop until dark, and no horse in that camp will get near enough to spoil my sleep."
Keeping along the river flats, floundering occasionally and dismounting to lead through the dry washes, he kept steadily on, impelled by the fear that the Indian scouts and cavalry might not stop for his trail, but deploy out at daybreak, and ride fast to the west, in the hopes that he had not yet made a long start in the darkness. There was only the danger that his horse might lame himself in the night; but then he could go back in the hills and make a skulk on foot. Even to be brought to bay had no great terror; Ermine held his life lightly in the hollow of his hand.
He mused as he rode: "They took my hair out of the braids and let it flow in the wind; then they said I was a white man. I may be one; but I wish now I had forgotten my color and I would not be so empty-handed this night. If I had followed my Indian heart, I could have stolen that girl out from under the noses of those soldiers, and I may do it yet. When she was riding, I could have taken her away from the hunting-party, rawhided her on to her horse, and left no more sign than a bird behind us; but when she looked at me, my blood turned to water. O Sak-a-war-te, why did you not take the snake's gaze out of her eyes, and not let poor Ermine sit like a gopher to be swallowed? God, God, have you deserted me?"
The gallant pony's blood was rich from the grain-sacks; he had carried a rider in the strain of many war-trails, and his heart had not yet failed. In the prime of life, he was now asked to do the long, quick distance that should lose the white man; those mighty people who bought the help of mercenary men; whose inexhaustible food came in the everlasting wagons; and who spoke to each other twenty sleeps apart. His rider had violated their laws, and they would have him. Only the pony could save.
Having walked the bed of the creek as far as he deemed necessary, Ermine backed his pony out of the stream into some low bushes, where he turned him about and rode away. All day over the yellow plains and through the defiles of the hills loped the fugitive. Once having seen buffalo coming in his direction, he travelled for miles along a buffalo path which he judged they would follow. If by fortune they did, he knew it would make the scouts who came after rub their eyes and smoke many pipes in embarrassment. Not entirely satisfied with his precautions, -- for he thought the Indians would cast ahead when checked, -- he continued to urge the pony steadily forward. The long miles which lay before his pursuers would make their hearts weak and their ponies' forelegs wobble.
He reflected that since he was indeed going to join Mr. Harding's party
at the secret place in Gap-full-of-arrow-holes, (15)
why would not Lewis's scouts follow the easy trail made by their ponies
and trust to finding him with them; and again, would the Englishman want
his company under his altered status? This he answered by saying that no
horse in the cantonment could eat up the ground with his war-pony; and
as for the Englishman, he could not know of the late tragedy unless the
accused chose to tell him. What of his word? Why was he keeping it? With
a quick bullet from his rifle had gone his honor, along with other things
more material. Still, the Gap lay in his way, so he could stop without
inconvenience, at least long enough for a cup of coffee and some tobacco.
The suddenness of his departure had left him no time to gather the most
simple necessities, and he was living by his gun. Only once did he see
Indians far away in the shimmer of the plains. He had dropped into the
dry washes and sneaked away. They might be Crows, but the arrows of doubt
made sad surgery in his poor brain; the spell of the white man's vengeance
was over him. Their arms were long, their purses heavy; they could turn
the world against him. From their strong log-towns they would conjure his
undoing by the devious methods which his experience with them had taught
him to dread. The strain of his thoughts made his head ache as he cast
up the events which had forced him to this wolfing through the lonely desert.
He had wanted to marry a pretty girl whose eyes had challenged him to come
on, and when he had ventured them, like a mountain storm the whole cantonment
rattled about his head and shot its bolts to kill. As the girl had fled
his presence at the mere extension of his hand, in swift response to her
emotions the whole combination of white humanity was hard on the heels
of his flying pony.
From the summit of the red cliffs Ermine looked down into the secret valley of his quest, and sitting there beside a huge boulder he studied the rendezvous. There were Ramon's pack-ponies he remembered them all. There curled the smoke from the tangle of brushwood in the bottom, and finally Wolf-Voice and Ramon came out to gather in the horses for the night. He rode down toward them. Their quick ears caught the sound of the rattle of the stones loosened by his mount, and they stopped. He waved his hat, and they recognized him. He came up and dismounted from his drooping horse, stiff-hided with lather and dust, hollow-flanked, and with his belly drawn up as tight as the head of a tom-tom.
"Are you alone in the camp? Has no one been here?"
"No; what for waas any one been here?" asked and answered the half-breed. "De King George Man, (16) she waas set by dose fire an' waas ask me 'bout once a minit when waas Ermine come."
The men drove the horses in while Ermine made his way through the brush to the camp-fire.
"Aha! Glad to see you, Mr. Ermine. Gad! but you must have put your horse through. He is barely holding together in the middle. Picket him out, and we will soon have some coffee going."
Ermine did as directed and was soon squatting before the fire with his cup and plate. To the hail of questions he made brief response, which Harding attributed to fatigue and the inclination of these half-wild men not to mix discourse with the more serious matter of eating.
"How did you leave every one at the camp?"
Ermine borrowed a pipe and interspersed his answers with puffs.
"Left them in the night and they were all sitting up to see me off. My pony is weak, Mr. Harding. Will you give me a fresh one in the morning? We ought to start before daylight and make a long day of it."
"My dear man, before daylight? Are we in such haste? It seems that we have time enough before us."
"This is a bad country here. Indians of all tribes are coming and going. We are better off back in the range. In two or three sleeps we will be where we can lie on the robe, but not here;" saying which, Ermine rolled up in his saddle blanket, and perforce the others did likewise, in view of the short hours in store.
The last rasping, straining pack-rope had been laid while yet the ghostly light played softly with the obscurity of the morning. The ponies were forced forward, crashing through the bushes, floundering in the creek, cheered on by hoarse oaths, all strange to the ear of Harding. The sedate progression of other days was changed to a fox-trot riding-whips and trail-ropes slapping about the close-hugged tails of the horses.
Harding congratulated himself on the unexpected energy of his guide; it would produce results later when wanted in the hunting. The ponies strung out ahead to escape the persecution of the lash, but Wolf-Voice saw something new in it all, and as he rode, his fierce little eyes gleamed steadily on Ermine. The half-breed knew the value of time when he was pushing the horses of the enemy away from their lodges, but these horses had no other masters. He turned his pony alongside of Ermine's.
"Say, John, what for you waas keep look behin'? Who you 'fraid foliar dese pony? Ain't dose Canada-man pay for dese pony -- sacre, what you was do back de camp dare? De Sioux, she broke hout?" And the half-breed's mischievous eye settled well on his confrère.
"Well, I did that back there which will make the high hills safer for me than any other place. Don't say anything to Mr. Harding until I feel safe. I want to think."
"You waas shoot some one, mabeso?"
"Yes -- that ---- ---- Butler. He said he would force me to give up the paper we found in the moonlight on the soldier trail down the Yellowstone a year ago. He pulled his pistol, and I shot him."
"You kiell heem hey?"
"No, caught him in the arm, but it will not kill him. I may go back and do that when the soldiers forget a little."
"Den you waas run away hey?"
"Yes; I made the grass smoke from Tongue River to here. I don't think they can follow me, but they may follow this party. That's why I look behind, Wolf-Voice, and that's why I want you to look behind."
"What for you waas come to de King George Man, anyhow?"
"I wanted coffee and tobacco and a fresh pony and more cartridges, and it will be many moons before John Ermine will dare look in a trader's store. If the white men come, I will soon leave you; and if I do, you must stay and guide Mr. Harding. He is a good man and does what is right by us."
"Ah!" hissed the half-breed, "old Broken-Shoe and White-Robe, she ain' let dose Engun foliar you. You spose dey let dose Crow tak de ack-kisr-attah(17) to Crooked-Bear's boy? Humph, dey 'fraid of hees medecin',"
"Well, they will pile the blankets as high as a horse's back, and say to the Shoshone, 'Go get the yellow-hair, and these are your blankets.' What then?"
"Ugh! ugh! -- a-nah," grunted the half-breed; "de ---- ---- Shoshone, we will leek de pony -- come -- come!"
The energy of the march, the whacking ropes, and scampering horses passed from satisfaction to down right distress in Mr. Harding's mind. He pleaded for more deliberation, but it went unheeded. The sun had gone behind the hard blue of the main range before they camped, and the good nature of the Englishman departed with it.
"Why is it necessary to break our cattle down by this tremendous scampering? It does not appeal to my sense of the situation."
"Wael, meester, wan more sun we waas en de hiell -- den we have long smoke; all you waas do waas sit down smoke your pipe -- get up -- kiell dose grizzly bear -- den sit down some more."
But this observation of the half-breed's was offset by Ramon, who was cleaning a frying-pan with a piece of bread, and screwing his eyes into those of Wolf-Voice. The matter was not clear to him. "What good can come of running the legs off the ponies? Why can't we sit down here and smoke?"
"You waas trader -- you waas spend all de morning pack de pony -- spend all the afternoon unpack heem -- a man see your night fire from stan where you waas cook your breakfast -- bah!" returned Wolf-Voice.
This exasperated Ramon, who vociferated, "When I see men run the pony dat way, I was wander why dey run dem." Wolf-Voice betook himself to that ominous silence which, with Indians, follows the knife.
Ermine was lame in the big white camp, but out here in the desert he walked ahead; so, without looking up, he removed his pipe, and said in his usual unemotional manner, "Shut up!" The command registered like a gong.
Wolf-Voice sat down and smoked. When men smoke they are doing nothing worse than thinking. The cook ceased doing the work he was paid for, and also smoked. Every one else smoked, and all watched the greatest thinker that the world has ever known -- the Fire.
The first man to break the silence was the Englishman. Whether in a frock coat, or a more simple garment, the Englishman has for the last few centuries been able to think quicker, larger, and more to the purpose in hours of bewilderment, than any other kind of man. He understood that his big purpose was lost in this "battle of the kites and crows." The oak should not wither because one bird robbed another's nest. As a world-wide sportsman he had seen many yellow fellows shine their lethal weapons to the discomfiture of his plans; and he knew that in Ermine he had an unterrified adversary to deal with. He talked kindly from behind his pipe. "Of course, Ermine, I am willing to do what is proper under any and all circumstances, and we will continue this vigorous travel if you can make the necessity of it plain to me. Frankly, I do not understand why we are doing it, and I ask you to tell me."
Ermine continued to smoke for a time, and having made his mind up he removed his pipe and said slowly: "Mr. Harding, I shot Butler, and the soldiers are after me. I have to go fast -- you don't -- that's all."
The gentleman addressed opened wide eyes on his guide and asked in low amazement, " D--- me -- did you? Did you kill him?"
"No," replied Ermine.
Rising from his seat, Mr. Harding took the scout to one side, out of reach of other ears, and made him tell the story of the affair, with most of the girl left out.
"Why did you not give him the photograph?"
"Because he said he would make me give it and drew his pistol, and what is more, I am going back to kill the man Butler -- after a while. We must go fast to-morrow, then I will be where I am safe, for a time at least."
All this gave Harding a sleepless night. He had neither the power nor the inclination to arrest the scout. He did not see how the continuance of his hunt would interfere with final justice; and he hoped to calm the mood and stay the murderous hand of the enraged man. So in half-bewilderment, on the morrow, that staid traveller found himself galloping away from the arms of the law, in a company of long-haired vagabonds; and at intervals it made him smile. This was one of those times when he wished his friends at home could have a look at him.
"Say, Wolf-Voice," said he, "Ermine says he is going back to kill Lieutenant Butler sometime later."
"He says dat -- hey?"
"Yes, he says that."
"Wiell den she wiell do eet var much, 'fraid what for she wan kiell dose man Butler? She already waas shoot heem en the harm."
"I think Ermine is jealous," ventured Harding.
"What you call jealous?" queried the half-breed.
"Ermine wants Butler's girl and cannot get her; that is the trouble."
"Anah-a! a bag of a squaw, ees eet?" and Wolf-Voice ran out to head a pack-horse into the line of flight. Coming back he continued: "Say, Meester Harding, dese woman he ver often mak' man wan' kiell some ozer man. I have done dose ting."
"Whew!" said Harding, in amazement, but he caught himself. "But, Wolf-Voice, we do not want our friend Ermine to do it, and I want you to promise me you will help me to keep him from doing it."
"'Spose I say, 'Ermine, you no kiell Meester Butler' -- he teel me to go to hell, mabeso -- what den? "
"Oh, he may calm down later."
"Na -- Engun she no forget," cautioned the half-breed.
"But Ermine is not an Indian."
"Na, but she all de same Engun," which was true so far as that worthy could see.
"If we do not stop him from killing Butler, he will hang or be shot for it, sooner or later, and that is certain," said Harding.
"Yees -- yees; deese white man have funny way when one man kiell 'nozer. Ermine ees brave man he eese see red, an' he wiell try eet eef he do hang. No one eese able for stop heem but deese Crooked-Bear," observed the half-breed.
"Is Crooked-Bear an Indian chief?"
"Na; she am' Enjun, she am' white man; she come out of the groun'. Hees head eet waas so big an' strong eet were break hees back for to carry eet."
"Where does this person live?" ventured Harding.
"Where she eese lieve, ah? where Ermine an' his pony can find heem," was the vague reply. "You no wan' Ermine for kiell deese Butler; weel den, you say, 'Ermine, you go see Crooked-Bear you talk wid heem.' I weel take you where you wan' go een de montaign for get de grizzly bear."
"I suppose that is the only solution, and I suppose it is my duty to do it, though the thing plays havoc with my arrangements."
Later the trail steepened and wound its tortuous way round the pine and boulders, the ponies grunting under their burdens as they slowly pushed their toilsome way upwards. When Ermine turned here to look back he could see a long day's march on the trail, and he no longer worried concerning any pursuit which might have been in progress. They found their beds early, all being exhausted by the long day's march, particularly the fugitive scout.
On the following morning, Harding suggested that he and Ermine begin the hunting, since fresh meat was needed in camp; so they started. In two hours they had an elk down and were butchering him. The antlers were in the velvet and not to the head-hunter's purpose. Making up their package of meat and hanging the rest out of the way of prowling animals, to wait a pack-horse, they sat down to smoke.
"Are you still intending to kill Mr. Butler?" ventured Harding.
"Yes, when you are through hunting, I shall begin begin to hunt Butler."
"You will find your hunting very dangerous, Ermine," ventured Harding.
"It does not matter; he has got the girl, and he may have my life or I shall have his."
"But you cannot have the girl. Certainly after killing Butler the young lady will not come to you. Do you think she would marry you? Do you dream you are her choice?"
"No, the girl would not marry me; I have forgotten her," mused Ermine, as he patiently lied to himself.
"Does this maiden wish to marry Butler?" asked Harding, who now recalled garrison gossip to the effect that all things pointed that way.
"Then why do you kill the man she loves?"
"Because I do not want to think he is alive."
The wide vacancy of the scout's blue eyes, together with the low deliberation in his peaceful voice, was somewhat appalling to Harding. He never had thought of a murderer in this guise, and he labored with himself to believe it was only a love-sickness of rather alarming intenseness; but there was something about the young man which gave this idea pause. His desperation in battle, his Indian bringing-up, made it all extremely possible, and he searched in vain for any restraining forces. So for a long time they sat by the dead elk, and Harding sorted and picked out all the possible reasons he could conjure as to why Ermine should not kill Butler, until it began to dawn upon him that he was not replying to his arguments at all, but simply reiterating his own intentions despite them. He then recalled cases in England where fists had been the arguments under a rude lover's code; only out here the argument was more vital, more insistent, and the final effect left the lady but one choice should she care to interest herself in the affair.
Resuming his talk, Harding suggested that his guide go to his own friends, who might advise him more potently than he was able, and ended by asking pointedly, "You have friends, I presume?"
"I have one friend," answered the youth, sullenly.
"Who is he?"
"Crooked-Bear," came the reply.
"Crooked-Bear is your friend; then you must listen to him; what he advises will probably be the thing to do."
"Of course I will listen to him. He is the only person in the world I care for now. I have often heard him talking to himself, and I think he has known a woman whom he cannot forget," spoke Ermine. "He will not want me to seek my enemy's life. I have talked too much, Mr. Harding. Talk weakens a man's heart. I will make no more talk."
"Well, then, my man, go to your friend; I can do nothing more," and Harding arose. They tied their meat on the saddles, mounted, and sought their camp. On the following morning Ermine had gone.
He feared to have it go on; he shut his eyes for a long time, and then rose to his feet and put his hands on the young man's shoulders. He sought the weak gleam of the eyes in the dusk of the cabin. "Tell me, boy, tell me all; you cannot hide it any more than a deer can hide his trail in the snow. I can read your thoughts."
Ermine did not immediately reply, but the leaden heart turned slowly into a burning coal. "Crooked-Bear, I wanted a white girl for my wife, and I shot a soldier, who drew a revolver and said he would force me to give him her picture which I had in my pocket, and then I ran away, everybody shooting at me. They may even come here for me. They want to stand me up beside the long table with all the officers sitting around it, and they want to take me out and hang me on a tree for the ravens and magpies to pick at. That is what your white people want to do to me, Crooked-Bear, and by God they are going to have a chance to do it, for I am going back to kill the man and get the girl or die. Do you hear that, Crooked-Bear, do you hear that?"
The hermit's arms dropped to his side, and he could make no sound or sign. "Sit down, be quiet, boy; let us talk more of this thing. Be calm, and I can find a reason why you will not want to stain your hands with this man's blood. When I sent you to the white men to do a man's work in a white man's way, I did not think you would lock horns with any buck you met on the trail, like the dumb things that carry their reason for being on the point of their antlers sit down." And the long arms of the hermit waved with a dropping motion.
Ermine sat down, but by no means found his composure. Even in the darkness his eyes gave an unnatural light, his muscles twitched, and his feet were not still. "I knew, Crooked-Bear, I knew you would talk that way. It is the soft talk of the white men. She made a fool of me, and he was going to put his foot on me as though John Ermine was a grasshopper, and every white man would say to me after that, 'Be quiet, Ermine, sit down.' Bah! I will be quiet and I will sit down until they forget a little, and then" Ermine emitted the savage snarl of a lynx in a steel trap. Slapping his knee, he continued: "The white men in the camp are two-sided; they pat you with a hand that is always ready to strike. When the girl looked at me, it lighted a fire in my heart, and then she blew the flame until I was burning up. She told me as well as any words can say, 'Come on,' and when I offered her my hand she blatted like a fawn and ran away. As if that were not enough, this Butler walked into the room and talked to me as though I were a dog and drew his gun; everything swam before my eyes, and they swim yet, Crooked-Bear. I tell you I will kill him as surely as day follows night. These soldiers talk as white and soft as milk when it suits their plan, but old Major Searles says that they stand pat in war, that they never give up the fight, that they must win if it takes years to do it. Very well, I shall not forget that."
"But, my boy, you must not see red in a private feud; that is only allowed against the enemies of the whole people. Your heart has gone to your head; you can never win a white woman by spilling the blood of the other man who happens to love her also. That is not the way with them."
" No, it is not the way with them; it is the way with their women to set a man on fire and then laugh at him, and it is the way with their men to draw a gun. What do they expect, Crooked-Bear? I ask you that!"
"Who was the girl, Ermine?"
The scout unwrapped the package from his bosom, and handed the photograph to the old man, saying, "She is like that."
The hermit regarded the picture and ventured, "An officer's daughter?"
"Yes; daughter of Major Searles."
"Who was the man you shot?"
"A young pony soldier, -- an officer; his name is Butler." And gradually Ermine was led to reveal events to the wise man, who was able to piece out the plot with much knowledge not natural to the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. And it was a tragedy. He knew that the girl's unfortunate shot had penetrated deeper than Ermine's, and that the Law and the Lawless were in a death grapple.
They sought their bunks, and in the following days the prophet poured much cold water on Ermine's determination, which only turned to steam and lost itself in the air. The love of the woman and the hate of the man had taken root in the bedrock of his human nature, and the pallid "should nots" and "must nots" of the prophet only rustled the leaves of Ermine's philosophy.
"He has taken her from me; he has made me lose everything I worked for with the white men; he has made me a human wolf, and I mean to go back and kill him. You say I may lose my life; ho! what is a dead man? A dead man and a buffalo chip look just alike to these mountains, to this sky, and to me, Crooked-Bear," came the lover's reply.
And at other times: "I know, Crooked-Bear, that you wanted a girl to marry you once, and because she would not, you have lived all your life like a gray bear up here in these rocks, and you will die here. I am not going to do that; I am going to make others drink with me this bitter drink, which will sweeten it for me."
Sadly the hermit saw this last interest on earth pass from him; saw Fate wave her victorious banners over him; saw the forces of nature work their will; and he sank under the burden of his thoughts. "I had hoped," he said to himself, "to be able to restore this boy to his proper place among the white people, but I have failed. I do not understand why men should be so afflicted in this world as Ermine and I have been, but doubtless it is the working of a great law, and possibly of a good one. My long years as a hunter have taught me that the stopping of the heart-beat is no great thing it is soon over; but the years of living that some men are made to undergo is a very trying matter. Brave and sane is he who keeps his faith. I fear for the boy."
After a few weeks Ermine could no longer bear with the sullen savagery of his emotions, and he took his departure. Crooked-Bear sat by his cabin door and saw him tie his blanket on his saddle; saw him mount and extend his hand, which he shook, and they parted without a word. They had grown accustomed to this ending; there was nothing in words that mattered now. The prophet's boy disappeared in the gloom of the woods, snapping bushes, and rolling stones, until there was no sound save the crackling of the fire on the lonely hearth.
As Ermine ambled over the yellow wastes, he thought of the difference between now and his going to the white man one year ago. Then he was full of hopes; but now no Crow Indian would dare be seen in his company not even Wolf-Voice could offer him the comfort of his reckless presence. He was compelled to sneak into the Absaroke camp in the night, to trade for an extra pony with his relatives, and to be gone before the morning. The ghostly tepees, in the quiet of the night, seemed to dance around him, coming up, and then retiring, while their smoke-flaps waved their giant fingers, beckoning him to be gone. The dogs slunk from him, and the ponies walked away. The curse of the white man was here in the shadows, and he could feel the Indians draw their robes more closely over their heads as they dreamed. The winds from the mountains blew on his back to help him along, and whispered ugly thoughts. All the good of the world had drawn away from Ermine, and it seemed that the sun did not care to look at him, so long was he left to stumble through the dark. But Nature did not paint this part of her day any blacker than she had Ermine's heart; each footfall of his pony took him nearer to death, and he whipped on impatiently to meet it. Hope had long since departed he could not steal the girl; he realized the impossibility of eluding pursuit; he only wanted to carry Butler with him away from her. All the patient training of Crooked-Bear, all the humanizing influence of white association, all softening moods of the pensive face in the photograph, were blown from the fugitive as though carried on a wind; he was a shellfish- eating cave-dweller, with a Springfield, a knife, and a revolver. He had ceased to think in English, and muttered to himself in Absaroke. As his pony stumbled at a ford in the river, he cut it savagely with his whip, the pony which was the last of his friends, -- and it grunted piteously as it scrambled for its foothold.
Day after day he crawled through the rugged hills far from the places where men might be; for every one was his enemy, and any chance rifle would take away from him his vengeance. The tale of his undoing had travelled wide -- he found that out in the Crow camp; Ba-cher-hish-a had told him that through her tears. He could trust no one; the scouts at Tongue River might be apathetic in an attempt to capture him, but they could not fail to report his presence if seen in the vicinity. Butler was probably in the middle of the log-town, which swarmed with soldiers, but it was there he must go, and he had one friend left, just one; it is always the last friend such a one has, -- the Night.
Having arrived in the vicinity of the post, he prowled out on foot with his only friend. It was early, for he must do his deed while yet the lights were lit. Any one moving about after "taps" would surely be investigated by the guard. The country was not yet tranquil enough to permit of laxity in the matter of sentry duty, and the soldiers counted "ten" very fast after they challenged. He had laid aside his big hat, and was wrapped in his blanket. Many Indians were about, and he was less apt to be spoken to or noticed. He moved forward to the scout fire, which was outside of the guard-line, and stood for a time in some brushwood, beyond the play of the flames. He was closely enveloped in his blanket, and although Indians passed quite near him, he was not noticed. Suddenly he heard a detail of wagons clanking up the road, and conjectured rightly that they would go into the post. He ran silently toward them, and stooping low, saw against the sky line that the cavalry guard had worked up in front, impatient to shave the time when they should reach their quarters.
It was a wood train, and it clanked and ground and jingled to the quartermaster's
corral, bearing one log on the last wagon which was John Ermine and his
fortunes. This log slid to the ground and walked swiftly away.
The time for "taps" was drawing near, and the post buzzed in the usual expectation of that approaching time of quiet. A rifle-shot rang loud and clear up on the officers' row; it was near Major Searles's house, every one said as they ran. Women screamed, and Tongue River cantonment laid its legs to the ground as it gathered to the place. Officers came with revolvers, and the guard with lanterns. Mrs. Searles and her daughter were clasped in each other's arms, while Mary, the cook, put her apron over her head. Searles ran out with his gun; the shot had been right under the window of his sitting-room. An Indian voice greeted him, "Don' shoot; me killi him."
"Who in h--- are you?" swore Searles, at a present.
"Don' shoot, me Ahhaeta -- all same Sharp-Nose -- don' shoot -- me killi him."
"Killi who? Who have you killed? Talk up quick!"
"Me killi him. You come -- you see."
By this time the crowd drew in with questions and eager to help. A sergeant arrived with a lantern, and the guard laid rude hands on the Crow scout, Sharp-Nose, who was well known. He was standing over the prostrate figure, and continued to reiterate, "Me killi him."
The lantern quickly disclosed the man on the ground to be John Ermine, late scout and fugitive from justice, shot through the heart and dead, with his blanket and rifle on the ground beside him. As he looked through the window, he had been stalked and killed by the fool whom he would not allow to shake hands with Katherine Searles, and a few moments later, when Sharp-Nose was brought into her presence, between two soldiers, she recognized him when he said, "Mabeso, now you shake hands."
"Yes, I will shake hands with you, Sharp-Nose," and half to herself, as she eyed her malevolent friend, she muttered, "and he kept you to remember me by."
Literature in their opinion has become a thing of the past, and story-telling alone remains. The public read for amusement or to kill time, and the successful book is the book that stirs the blood with its tale of adventure, the heart with its tale of love, or the risibility of the non-critical reader with its so-called humor or hackneyed character drawing.
The writing of essays, of peotry, of history and of travel has ceased, while the sale of historical novels or "back country" novels, novels written often to order, because the publisher has gauged the taste of the public, reaches enormous figures.
If, then, the reading public wishes merely to be amused and not instructed,
to kill time and not develop the intellect, Mr. Remington's John Ermine
of the Yellowstone will apeeal in a different way -- not because it
is a story of adventure, not because it interests, and above all, not because
it kills time, but because it is much more than a mere story, and Mr. Remington
is much more than a mere story-writer. To these few, NMr. Remington's book
will appeal because of the masterful way in which he has developed his
chief character, and because of the lesson he teaches. What that lesson
is, the average novel reader will not take time to discover. Nor will the
average novel reader let his thoughts dwell on the intense pathos of its
climax, not the pathos of the hero's tragic end, but the pathos of John
Ermine, the uncivilised white man, with all the purity of thoughts, all
the instincts of the primitive man hampered, insulted and condemned by
civilisation, the civilisation of his white brothers; the breaking of a
noble heart, because it could not understand falsehood and deceit. This
is the less that the book will bring to the few, though it will bring amusement
to the many.
It is always a little surprising to ordinary human beings when a man who has long done one thing superlatively well demonstrates that he has decided talents in another direction, and there may also be a little envy mingled with that surprise, and some regret that it always has been and always be true that "to him that hath shall be given." It certainly does not seem quite fair that one who draws and paints remarkably good pictures, as does Frederic Remington, should also be able to write a remarkably good story, but "John Ermine of the Yellowstone" is exactly that, and, as if to show that his hand is still as cunning at the old form of picturing as at the new, Mr. remington has most generously and satisfactorily illustrated the book with his own drawings.
The story itself makes one think of "The Virginian" and yet it is "The Virginian" with a thousand differences, and a much nearer approach to the reality of life on the Western prairies that was to be found in Mr. Wister's entirely satisfy presentation of it from the romantic point of view. If all the courage and virtue of all the brave and manly cowboys could be extracted and then condensed into one perfect specimen of the fascinating genus, no doubt the result would very closely resemble the magnificent figure which Mr. Wister impressed on his readers' minds and that cannot be done except as Mr. Wister has done it. His Virginian is a composite picture, and it is more than questionable if any one very nearly approaching him was ever seen in the West. On the other hand it is as nearly sure as such a thing can be without the author's own word for it that Mr. Remington has seen and known the man whom he calls John Ermine. That curious product of the plains bears all the marks of reality, the chief one being that he is not "too bright and good for human nature's daily food." His face does not shine as a god's, just because he is a white man among Indians, and his feats of strength and prowess are not superhuman, because he is also, at times, an Indian among the whites. But he is a thoroughly picturesque and human figure, and lives through Mr. Remington's pages with a vigor and reality not often displayed by fictitious characters. And not only does John Ermine live, but so do all the others who take part in the short drama of his life. The old Indian braves, the medicine man up in the mountains, the army officers, all fill in the written picture with the same satisfying sense of fidelity to "the real thing" that one of Mr. Remington's painted pictures invariably imparts. Moreover, the author brings the scene, the landscape of the plains, vividly before one, not by long and complicated descriptions, but by a word, a sentence here and there, as telling as the stroke of a brush in the same masterful hand.
John Ermine lived in the days when Sitting Bull was abroad in the land, and he was not a cowboy, but a scout in the United States Army. His antecedents were unknown, but although all his youth wasspent among Crow Indians and his training was like that of any other Absaroke boy, his long yellow hair proclaimed that some white mother mourned a stolen child. "White Weasel" was his name among the Crow, and his more civilised appellation was given to him by the great Crow medecine man, a mysterious paleface who exercised an enormous spiritual influence over the Indians and who demanded that White Weasel be allowed to live with him and learn the "white man mystery." Crooked bear was nebver disobeyed when he commanded, so White Weasel became John Ermine and learned many civilised ways -- to take care of a house, or at least a hut, to use a gun and cook the result of the hunt, even to speak English, to think English thoughts, and to feel the warmth of human kindness kindled in his Indian heart. This last was what Crooked beart had worked for most zealously, for without it all his teachings would have been of no avail in bringing his charge back to his own people.
Only four years of schooling had John Ermine when came the troubvles with the Sioux. He was sent down to a camp to help the soldiers as a scout, and then began the tragedy which must ever result when a man is lifted out of his own class, but not quite high enough to place him unquestionablyin the next above. As a soldier Ermine was acceptable. He marched and shot and bore hardships with the best of them, formed attachments for his comrades, became the pet of the officers; but when he presumed, not unnaturally, to fall in love with his Major's daughter, and even to propose to her, a halt was called in no hesitating voice upon his ambitions.
The author is to blame for the fact that any half fair reader's sympathy will be on the side of John Ermine, even though he will be a little bit dubious himself as to the wisdom of pretty Katherine's satisfying romantic instincts by actually marrying a long-haired scout. At any rate her romantic instincts did not lead her that way and poor Ermine's civilisation could not stand the test under which manya man with much better equipment has failed. What use was there in ambition when the logical rewards of his efforts were withheld? He put it thus when Capt. Lewis kindly told him he "felt for him,"
"I know what you feel for me, Capt. Lewis. You feel that I am an uneducated man, without money, and that I do not wear a white shirt; that I tuck my pants in my leggins, and that I sleep among the Indians. I know that you think I am a dog. I know Miss Searles thinks that I belong in the corral with the mules; but, by G__, you did not think I was a dog when the Sioux had your wagon-train surrounded and your soldiers buffaloed; you did not think I was a dog when I kept you all from freezing to death last Winter; but here, among the huts and the women, I am a dog. I tell you now that I do not understand such men as you are. You have two hearts -- one is red and the other is blue; and you feel with the one that best suits you at the time. Your blue heart pities me. Me, a warrior and a soldier!"There is surely something in Mr. Ermine's remarks, and yet his experience seems inevitable. Even now "a man is [not] a man for a' that an' a' that."
Mr. Frederic Remington is certainly to be thanked, however, for a most
entertaining story that could hardly be improved in the telling.
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