Chapter 21

Dally not with the gods, but get thee gone.


Mahtoree had scarcely given the first intimation of his real design, before a general discharge from the borderers proved how well they understood it. The distance, and the rapidity of the flight, however, rendered the fire harmless. As a proof how little he regarded the hostility of their party, the Dahcotah chieftain answered the report with a yell; and, flourishing his carabine above his head, he made a circuit on the plain, followed by his chosen warriors, in scorn of the impotent attempt of his enemies. As the main body continued the direct course, this little band of the élite, in returning from its wild exhibition of savage contempt, took its place in the rear, with a dexterity and a concert of action that showed the manœuvre had been contemplated.

Volley swiftly succeeded volley, until the enraged squatter was reluctantly compelled to abandon the idea of injuring his enemies by means so feeble. Relinquishing his fruitless attempt, he commenced a rapid pursuit, occasionally discharging a rifle in order to give the alarm to the garrison, which he had prudently left under the command of the redoubtable Esther herself. In this manner the chase was continued for many minutes, the horsemen gradually gaining on their pursuers, who maintained the race, however, with an incredible power of foot.

As the little speck of blue rose against the heavens, like an island issuing from the deep, the savages occasionally raised a yell of triumph. But the mists of evening were already gathering along the whole of the eastern margin of the prairie, and before the band had made half of the necessary distance, the dim outline of the rock had melted into the haze of the back ground. Indifferent to this circumstance, which rather favoured than disconcerted his plans, Mahtoree, who had again ridden in front, held on his course with the accuracy of a hound of the truest scent, merely slackening his speed a little, as the horses of his party were by this time thoroughly blown. It was at this stage of the enterprise, that the old man rode up to the side of Middleton, and addressed him as follows in English—

“Here is likely to be a thieving business, and one in which I must say I have but little wish to be a partner.”

“What would you do? It would be fatal to trust ourselves in the hands of the miscreants in our rear.”

“Tut, for miscreants, be they red or be they white. Look ahead, lad, as if ye were talking of our medicines, or perhaps praising the Teton beasts. For the knaves love to hear their horses commended, the same as a foolish mother in the settlements is fond of hearing the praises of her wilful child. So; pat the animal and lay your hand on the gewgaws, with which the Redskins have ornamented his mane, giving your eye as it were to one thing, and your mind to another. Listen; if matters are managed with judgment, we may leave these Tetons as the night sets in.”

“A blessed thought!” exclaimed Middleton, who retained a painful remembrance of the look of admiration, with which Mahtoree had contemplated the loveliness of Inez, as well as of his subsequent presumption in daring to wish to take the office of her protector on himself.

“Lord, Lord! what a weak creatur’ is man, when the gifts of natur’ are smothered in bookish knowledge, and womanly manners! Such another start would tell these imps at our elbows that we were plotting against them, just as plainly as if it were whispered in their ears by a Sioux tongue. Ay, ay, I know the devils; they look as innocent as so many frisky fawns, but there is not one among them all that has not an eye on our smallest motions. Therefore, what is to be done is to be done in wisdom, in order to circumvent their cunning. That is right; pat his neck and smile, as if you praised the horse, and keep the ear on my side open to my words. Be careful not to worry your beast, for though but little skilled in horses, reason teaches that breath is needful in a hard push, and that a weary leg makes a dull race. Be ready to mind the signal, when you hear a whine from old Hector. The first will be to make ready; the second, to edge out of the crowd; and the third, to go—am I understood?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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