Chapter 20

Welcome, ancient Pistol.


It was not long before the trapper pointed out the commanding person of Mahtoree, as the leader of the Siouxes. This chief, who had been among the last to obey the vociferous summons of Weucha, no sooner reached the spot where his whole party was now gathered, than he threw himself from his horse, and proceeded to examine the marks of the extraordinary trail, with that degree of dignity and attention which became his high and responsible station. The warriors, for it was but too evident that they were to a man of that fearless and ruthless class, awaited the result of his investigation with patient reserve; none but a few of the principal braves, presuming even to speak, while their leader was thus gravely occupied. It was several minutes before Mahtoree seemed satisfied. He then directed his eyes along the ground to those several places where Ishmael had found the same revolting evidences of the passage of some bloody struggle, and motioned to his people to follow.

The whole band advanced in a body towards the thicket, until they came to a halt, within a few yards of the precise spot, where Esther had stimulated her sluggish sons to break into the cover. The reader will readily imagine that the trapper and his companions were not indifferent observers of so threatening a movement. The old man summoned all who were capable of bearing arms to his side, and demanded, in very unequivocal terms, though in a voice that was suitably lowered, in order to escape the ears of their dangerous neighbours, whether they were disposed to make battle for their liberty, or whether they should try the milder expedient of conciliation. As it was a subject in which all had an equal interest, he put the question as to a council of war, and not without some slight exhibition of the lingering vestiges of a nearly extinct military pride. Paul and the Doctor were diametrically opposed to each other in opinion; the former declaring for an immediate appeal to arms, and the latter was warmly espousing the policy of pacific measures. Middleton, who saw that there was great danger of a hot verbal dispute between two men, who were governed by feelings so diametrically opposed, saw fit to assume the office of arbiter; or rather to decide the question, his situation making him a sort of umpire. He also leaned to the side of peace, for he evidently saw that, in consequence of the vast superiority of their enemies, violence would irretrievably lead to their destruction.

The trapper listened to the reasons of the young soldier with great attention; and, as they were given with the steadiness of one who did not suffer apprehension to blind his judgment, they did not fail to produce a suitable impression.

“It is rational,” rejoined the trapper, when the other had delivered his reasons; “it is very rational, for what man cannot move with his strength he must circumvent with his wits. It is reason that makes him stronger than the buffaloe, and swifter than the moose. Now stay you here, and keep yourselves close. My life and my traps are but of little value, when the welfare of so many human souls are concerned; and, moreover, I may say that I know the windings of Indian cunning. Therefore will I go alone upon the prairie. It may so happen, that I can yet draw the eyes of a Sioux from this spot and give you time and room to fly.”

As if resolved to listen to no remonstrance, the old man quietly shouldered his rifle, and moving leisurely through the thicket, he issued on the plain, at a point whence he might first appear before the eyes of the Siouxes, without exciting their suspicions that he came from its cover.

The instant that the figure of a man dressed in the garb of a hunter, and bearing the well known and much dreaded rifle, appeared before the eyes of the Siouxes, there was a sensible, though a suppressed sensation in the band. The artifice of the trapper had so far succeeded, as to render it extremely doubtful whether he came from some point on the open prairie, or from the thicket; though the Indians still continued to cast frequent and suspicious glances at the cover. They had made their halt at the distance of an arrow-flight from the bushes; but when the stranger came sufficiently nigh to show that the deep coating of red and brown, which time and exposure had given to his features, was laid upon the original colour

  By PanEris using Melati.

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