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CHAPTER XIII THE PRICE OF A ROBE
Thunder-maker did not move while the strangers were watching him. To all outward appearance he was asleep.

Holden stepped forward and shook the Medicine Man roughly by the shoulder.

"Come along! Open your eyes, you old scoundrel. You are no more sleeping than we are," he said.

The Indian moved, slowly opened his eyes, and looked for a few moments at the speaker, just as a person would who had been suddenly roused from a deep slumber. Then a pleased smile broke over his face.

"My white brothers in the tent of Thunder-maker? They are very welcome," he said.

But Holden did not respond to the greeting, as he demanded—

"Does Thunder-maker think that we are fools?[Pg 142] Do you think we did not hear you piping to those vile serpents of yours?"

The Indian looked puzzled.

"My white brothers speak strange words, or it may be that the mind of Thunder-maker still sleeps——"

"Rot!" interrupted Arnold brusquely. "The Thunder-maker's mind is wide enough awake. What is the use of lying to us? We know that you put those snakes into our teepee, and we heard you call them back when you found that your purposes had failed."

For answer, the Indian raised one of the blankets and disclosed a basket against which he had been leaning during his pretended sleep. He raised the lid, looked in, and signed the Englishmen to do likewise.

"See? On their bed of grass my little papooses also sleep," he said, lifting the basket so as to show the tangle of green bodies that it contained.

"We can gain nothing by further talking," remarked Arnold to his companion in an undertone. "The fellow has done us this time, and we have nothing to support us if we accuse him before Mighty Hand."[Pg 143]

"That's true enough," returned Holden. "He is best man this time."

The Indian quietly closed the lid and again covered the basket with a blanket, after which he looked up with a cunning and triumphant leer.

"White men will eat; then—Mighty Hand take trail for Pleasant Valley!"

How he seemed to gloat over the thought of the terrible fate that awaited his enemies! Brave men though they were, they could not but feel a sense of shrinking at the picture that this man's attitude and tone conjured up. There are times when anticipations of pleasure seem to be rendered more alluring by reason of description. It is also so with expectancy of pain. Words may paint that picture in crimson colours so that our revulsion is intensified before we see it.

"We will gain nothing by remaining here," said Arnold abruptly, as he turned from the tent, whence he was followed by his companion. And as the Englishmen departed they heard the Indian saying aloud, purposely to be overheard—

"The pale-face no' think that he see Pleasant Valley, but fiery totem call. Fiery totem must be obeyed."[Pg 144]

Thunder-maker grinned evilly to himself as he watched the departure of his visitors. Then he rose up, folded around him a robe of deerskin that was covered with many strange designs, and crept with the sly movements of a prowling wolf among the various teepees. Reaching the farther side of the camp, he stopped in front of one of the tents that stood a little way apart from the others. Gently he raised the flap and looked in. An Indian of gigantic size was sitting by himself, adjusting his leggings and moccasins. He looked up to observe his visitor, and it was noticeable that as he did so Thunder-maker winced as though he were in pain.

There were few who could look upon that man's face without wincing. In early scalping-days it had been slashed on one side with a scalping-knife in such a way that the left eye was totally destroyed, and a livid scar ran from the eyebrow to the neck—drawing the flesh into creases that robbed that part of the face of any semblance to humanity. The other side was whole, but the entire expression was so horrible that even familiarity did little to prevent repulsion in the senses of the beholder.

"Thunder-maker is welcome to the tent of[Pg 145] Red Fox," the Indian remarked, returning again to the completion of his wardrobe.

"Thunder-maker would speak wise words with his brother," said the Medicine Man, entering, but not deigning to sit in the tent of that "brother." He seldom paid that honour to any teepee except his own and that of the chief.

"It is well," returned the other man. "Red Fox will gladly hear the wise words the Thunder-maker will speak."

The Medicine Man did not waste any time in needless palaver. The hours were precious to him, and even an Indian can cut time when his business is pressing.

"Red Fox is great warrior; Red Fox have eyes like father of his name," he said. "There is good work for Red Fox to do."

The listener had broken the cord of a moccasin, and was apparently concentrating all his attention on knotting the break. But his attention was mainly given to Thunder-maker all the same, and the latter knew it, so he continued—

"Thunder-maker have rich robe of ermine—better robe than Mighty Hand wear. Many dollars as leaves in tree not buy the robe of Thunder-maker. Yet—Red Fox may wear it."[Pg 146]

"Huh! Red Fox poor. He not have dollars to buy new traps for hunting."

That was what the Indian said. He pretended that he thought the Medicine Man had come to trade. But he knew differently, and waited for the visitor to "show his hand." Whatever bargain was to be proposed, he knew that his share would not be increased by any show of eagerness to possess the robe that even chiefs had coveted in vain.

Thunder-maker darted a keen glance at the other man as he said mockingly—

"The dollars of Red Fox stay in pouch, yet ermine robe lie on his shoulders—if he do what Thunder-maker say."

Still Red Fox made no sign to show interest, and the other went on—

"At Crane Creek two white papooses live in tent. Red Fox will find them—he will go as a friend, and he will say, gentle as the voice of a mother pigeon: 'White boys would find friends who are far away? Then Red Fox will lead them.' And Red Fox will take them by dark path through the forest—by long path that twine like path of serpent. Then, when sun sleep, Red Fox will creep away—soft—soft, that pale-faces[Pg 147] hear not. And when sun waken—Red Fox will be back at camp of Mighty Hand. I have spoken."

Red Fox had fastened the moccasin by now, though he still sat with body bent while he intently listened to the Medicine Man's proposal to cause the two boys to be lost in the forest. And as the story was ended he slowly raised his head to look into Thunder-maker's face. What he saw there evidently satisfied him, for his ghastly face moved with a sort of smile that indicated satisfaction.

"Then the—the fiery totem—foolish?" he questioned shyly, and the other Indian rejoined solemnly—

"The totem of the Dacotahs wise—very wise. It speak to Thunder-maker by night, and tell him this."

Red Fox nodded. But it was not the nod of agreement with the falsehood so much as at recognition of the lie.

"Thunder-maker great medicine," he said, with a slight sneer. "But Red Fox hear much. He hear water-spirits say to Mighty Hand that they have papooses. Water-spirits have not young. So these are pale-faces."[Pg 148]

Thunder-maker's face flushed angrily.

"Does the Red Fox insult the sacred totem of the Dacotahs?" he demanded, as he drew himself up as though it had been he to whom the insult was offered.

But the Indian also raised himself, and did so with the conscious knowledge that his gigantic body and bare limbs, which glistened like muscles of copper, were more than protection against any physical attack that the Medicine Man might offer. And his upper lip curled with a sneer as he stared straight into the eyes of the totem's champion.

"Red Fox is not fool. He live long among white men, and he know that totem cannot speak—that totem a lie. But Red Fox will do this for his brother Thunder-maker. Thunder-maker would have revenge against the pale-faces in yonder teepee, for they face Medicine Man—bravely when he would have had Dacotahs slay them. This will Red Fox do, for he would gladly wear the ermine robe."

"The papooses will never again see their fathers?" interrupted the Medicine Man eagerly. He forgot etiquette and totem alike in the excitement of knowing that the success of one part of[Pg 149] his evil plans was practically assured. Red Fox was known to be a man of little conscience though great determination, and it was only his enormous strength of arm that allowed him to keep a place within the clan of the really kindly Dacotahs.

"The Red Fox will blind the trail, that the white boys never follow? For Mighty Hand weak—like woman. He listen to soft words, and it may be that he will not light fire in Pleasant Valley. The robe must return to tent of Thunder-maker if boys find their fathers."

"Let Thunder-maker take his way in peace. By another sun Red Fox will have found the young pale-faces; by two suns he will return to the camp of Mighty Hand—alone. I have spoken."


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