Chapter 25

What, are ancient Pistol and you friends, yet?


The curtain of our imperfect drama must fall, to rise upon another scene. The time is advanced several days, during which very material changes had occurred in the situation of the actors. The hour is noon, and the place an elevated plain, that rose, at no great distance from the water, somewhat abruptly from a fertile bottom, which stretched along the margin of one of the numberless water-courses of that region. The river took its rise near the base of the Rocky Mountains, and, after washing a vast extent of plain, it mingled its waters with a still larger stream, to become finally lost in the turbid current of the Missouri.

The landscape was changed materially for the better; though the hand, which had impressed so much of the desert on the surrounding region, had laid a portion of its power on this spot. The appearance of vegetation was, however, less discouraging than in the more sterile wastes of the rolling prairies. Clusters of trees were scattered in greater profusion, and a long outline of ragged forest marked the northern boundary of the view. Here and there, on the bottom, were to be seen the evidences of a hasty and imperfect culture of such indigenous vegetables as were of a quick growth, and which were known to flourish, without the aid of art, in deep and alluvial soils. On the very edge of what might be called the table-land, were pitched the hundred lodges of a horde of wandering Siouxes. Their light tenements were arranged without the least attention to order. Proximity to the water seemed to be the only consideration which had been consulted in their disposition, nor had even this important convenience been always regarded. While most of the lodges stood along the brow of the plain, many were to be seen at greater distances, occupying such places as had first pleased the capricious eyes of their untutored owners. The encampment was not military, nor in the slightest degree protected from surprise by its position or defences. It was open on every side, and on every side as accessible as any other point in those wastes, if the imperfect and natural obstruction offered by the river be excepted. In short, the place bore the appearance of having been tenanted longer than its occupants had originally intended, while it was not wanting in the signs of readiness for a hasty, or even a compelled departure.

This was the temporary encampment of that portion of his people, who had long been hunting under the direction of Mahtoree, on those grounds which separated the stationary abodes of his nation, from those of the warlike tribes of the Pawnees. The lodges were tents of skin, high, conical, and of the most simple and primitive construction. The shield, the quiver, the lance and the bow of its master, were to be seen suspended from a light post before the opening, or door, of each habitation. The different domestic implements of his one, two, or three wives, as the brave was of greater or lesser renown, were carelessly thrown at its side, and here and there the round, full, patient countenance of an infant might be found peeping from its comfortless wrappers of bark, as, suspended by a deer-skin thong from the same post, it rocked in the passing air. Children of a larger growth were tumbling over each other in piles, the males, even at that early age, making themselves distinguished for that species of domination which, in after life, was to mark the vast distinction between the sexes. Youths were in the bottom, essaying their juvenile powers in curbing the wild steeds of their fathers, while here and there a truant girl was to be seen, stealing from her labours to admire their fierce and impatient daring.

Thus far the picture was the daily exhibition of an encampment confident in its security. But immediately in front of the lodges was a gathering, that seemed to forbode some movements of more than usual interest. A few of the withered and remorseless crones of the band were clustering together, in readiness to lend their fell voices, if needed, to aid in exciting their descendants to an exhibition, which their depraved tastes coveted, as the luxurious Roman dame witnessed the struggles and the agony of the gladiator. The men were subdivided into groups, assorted according to the deeds and reputations of the several individuals of whom they were composed.

They, who were of that equivocal age which admitted them to the hunts, while their discretion was still too doubtful to permit them to be trusted on the war-path, hung around the skirts of the whole, catching, from the fierce models before them, that gravity of demeanour and restraint of manner, which in time

  By PanEris using Melati.

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