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CHAPTER IV FRIENDS OR FOES?
So sudden had been the attack when the two men were snatched from the waters of the treacherous Athabasca, that they were too confused to realise what was taking place. No signs of any prowlers had been previously evident, though possibly the fact that danger from that quarter was unconsidered might have secluded what would have been discernible by suspicious eyes.

Moreover, the men were so exhausted by the adventures through which they had just passed that they were only able to offer feeble resistance, and, by the time their scattered faculties were collected, they found themselves lying bound in the centre of a chattering throng of Indians.

Such conduct was certainly surprising in these days, when the redmen are a peaceable people who have learned to regard the pale-faces as[Pg 33] well-meaning friends, and have long since buried the hatchet of tribal feuds.

"What on earth can be the meaning of this?" Arnold questioned of his companion, who lay at his side.

"It's certainly extraordinary," the other man said. "Yet they don't seem particularly aggressive."

"No. They offered no indignities, such as would have been our fortune in olden days. But did you notice how that old warrior examined the knots himself? He seems to be a sort of head-man. I can remember a smattering of a few dialects, and I am sure I heard him say to the braves: 'Not too tight. Do not hurt the pale-faces, but keep them firm.'"

"It's certainly mysterious," said Holden. "Perhaps we have arrived in the middle of some sacred feast. Or perhaps we've come upon them when they were about to carry out some form of lawlessness."

Arnold shook his head decidedly.

"No. There are no signs of feasts. As for the latter, these are Dacotahs—one of the most law-abiding tribes. We'll have to look further than that for an explanation. Of this I am[Pg 34] certain: we are in no immediate danger. That they are chattering about us is evident from these side-glances; but there is nothing hostile in the looks."

"More like awe than hostility."

"Just what I was thinking. But see! That old warrior is coming our way again. We'll learn something this time, perhaps."

As Arnold spoke, an old Indian was seen to step from the chattering crowd. He was tall, well built, and still a fine specimen of manhood, though his face bore traces of many years.

That he received the homage due to rank as well as to years was made plain by the respectful way that a path was cleared, so that he might pass through the group of twenty or thirty redskins. He carried himself with the air of one who commands respect as his right.

All the same, though there was no hesitation in the steady stride with which the Indian approached the captives, nor in the stern set of his face, there was something in his eyes that indicated awe in the heart. The other Indians barely attempted to conceal their feelings. Throughout there was the expression that seemed[Pg 35] to say (to put it in plain English): "Plucky of you, old chap. But better you than me!"

Reaching the Englishmen, who were bound hands and legs, so that they were unable to adopt any position unaided except sitting or lying down, the old warrior stopped at a couple of yards' distance.

Drawing his blanket tightly round his figure, he folded his arms and thus addressed the strangers in excellent English—

"The tomahawk has been buried between the pale-faces and the redman for countless suns, and for many suns their hands have met as the hands of brothers. And the heart of Swift Arrow is sore within him this day, for the hands of the Dacotahs have been raised in their might against those whose faces shine as those of our pale-face brothers."

The old man paused, and Arnold jerked in—

"Then why on earth raise them? We did not bid you truss us up with these rawhide thongs?"

The Indian shook his head.

"The ears of Swift Arrow are old. They understand not as when he was a brave."

"Your idiom is too much for him, old man," said Holden quietly. "Try him with something[Pg 36] easier. Better not let him know that we can speak Indian, though. It might be to our advantage later to know without being known."

"Quite right," answered the elder man. Then he addressed the Indian again.

"We would ask, O Swift Arrow, for what good purpose your braves have bound us. We have been in peril from the waters; we seek the friendship of your land. Is this the way the Dacotahs treat their white brothers when they seek the friendship of your shores?"

The Indian felt the reproach, and his eyes fell for a moment with shame.

"The pale-face speaks words that go right into the heart like burning arrows. But Swift Arrow knows well that all things must be fulfilled. The sun must come and the darkness follow. Then darkness come, and after—the sun again. All things must be as Manito[1] will."

The Englishmen looked at one another with puzzled expressions.

"I wonder what he means by that?" questioned Holden. "'All things must be fulfilled.' What can that have to do with us?"

The Indian heard the question and understood.[Pg 37]

"All things must be as Manito will," he repeated; and Arnold, catching swiftly at the words, demanded sharply—

"Is it willed that we be bound, as the Dacotahs of old bound their captives for burning?"

This was evidently a point of view that had not occurred to the redskin, for he was at a loss for an immediate reply. He looked first at one man and then at the other, after which he repeated half aloud, half to himself, as if he were conning the exact meaning of the words—

"When the moon is round, and they rise out of the silver waters—— "

"Yes, yes!" interrupted Arnold, and speaking at guesswork. "That is true. We know that—'out of silver waters'—but is anything said about bonds?"

The old man shook his head. He was deeply puzzled.

"The pale-face speaks true, and it may be that the redman is wrong. There are many trails, but only one that leads to good hunting-ground. How shall the redman's eyes see right?"

Then Arnold assumed an air of indifference as he remarked carelessly, though not without a certain sneer in his tone[Pg 38]—

"Does Swift Arrow ask a question of his white brothers, or does he talk as old squaws chatter—foolish words like running water? We could tell him much, but it is well to know with whom one speaks. Words may be wasted as rain upon rocks."

"Let the pale-face speak," returned the Indian with dignity, though it was plain that he was moved by the sneering tones.

"Then listen. We who came 'out of the silver waters,' as you put it, can tell you much. But how can we speak in bonds? The pale-face is a chief. He will not speak as a slave to his master."

But the old man shook his head.

"It cannot be so, lest you return to the waters from whence you came——"

"Oh, that's it, is it?" exclaimed Arnold, with sudden enlightenment. "If that's all, it's easily settled. Look here—you know that when a pale-face says he will do a thing he will surely do it?"

"My white brother's word is ever truth."

"And when we say we will not do a thing, you know that we will keep our promise?"

The Indian bowed assent.

"Well, look here! If you will remove these[Pg 39] cords, my friend and I will promise not to fight and not to run away without telling you first that we intend to do so. We will go with you where you will. We are not foxes to hide behind bushes; we are no half-breeds to hide behind forked words. I have spoken."

The old man was immediately impressed by this view of the situation. He retired for a few minutes to consult with his friends, and afterwards solemnly returned, accompanied by a couple of young men.

"My white brother has spoken well," he said. "The redman will take the word of his white brother." Then he turned to the braves, gave a brief order in Indian, and the next moment Arnold and Holden stood up free.

"What next, I wonder?" questioned the latter, as he looked inquiringly at Swift Arrow.

He was not kept long in doubt, for the old man called the Indians together, signing to the Englishmen to take places in the centre of the group. Afterwards the company started on a trail that led away from the lake through the woods to the north-east.


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