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CHAPTER XVII THE FATE OF RED FOX
It may seem a little surprising that Alf did not make a better resistance when he found himself being carried away on horseback. It is no easy matter for even an Indian to carry a person lying in front of him on a bare-backed broncho when the person is helpless and still. It is a yet less easy matter—if not an impossibility—to do the same thing with a struggling captive.

Of course we know that Holden was at a disadvantage. He was powerless to use his arms, which were held close to his sides by the wrappings, and it was with difficulty that he breathed. But his legs were comparatively free, and it would not have required much energy to make such resistance as would have considerably hampered Red Fox in his purpose.

The reason for the lad's passive demeanour is not difficult to understand.[Pg 181]

Alf was no fool. Indeed, he possessed a more than usual degree of common sense, together with a gift for rapid reasoning. He quickly decided that, for the time being at least, he was at the Indian's mercy. His instinct told him that, for some unknown reason, he must have incurred the native's wrath; and, even though he might have struggled with a measure of success, the Indian was both powerful and passionate enough to murder him then and there.

No person, even in the direst straits, is anxious to incur a violent death. Holden was no exception to that rule, so he deemed it best to make pretence of fainting, on the chance that time might release him from his plight. It would only be a needless exhaustion to struggle now, when he would be easily overpowered. Moreover, a show of resistance might mean the sudden plunge of a hunting-knife.

So he lay still, and the Indian laughed aloud, believing the lad to be unconscious through fright.

"Huh! White dog laugh at Red Fox? He say Red Fox face hideous?" the redskin exclaimed jeeringly, as he pressed the horse to the race. "'Tis well. Red Fox face bad—very[Pg 182] bad; but white boy worse when Indian hand have used knife!"

Then the boy understood the mystery. His careless words had been understood, as Bob had suggested. And his fate was to be vengeance of a like mutilation of his own fair cheeks!

Not if he knew it!

It was little wonder if the lad felt his blood run cold as he listened to the Indian's vaunt, and it is little wonder that his head swam until he was near in reality to the very faintness that he had assumed.

But real pluck is never subdued for long. The very threat was enough to rouse a strong determination to thwart the brutal intention, and his mental decision was that which we have just recorded in the third person: "Not if I know it!"

Red Fox had quite forgotten about the ermine robe. That was quite Indian-like. The object of the moment was all that he cared about. To gain that aim he would have sacrificed a thousand robes of costliest fur—nay, even life itself, if he could have the satisfaction of vengeance first.

Guiding the broncho by the swaying of his[Pg 183] body and the occasional use of a halter-rope, the redskin did not permit the animal to slacken speed for an instant.

Once, owing to the stillness of his burden, he drew aside a portion of the blanket to look at the boy's face.

He saw that the eyes were closed, and a fear came into his heart that perhaps he was to be robbed of his pleasure after all.

But the lips trembled, and, on bending down the Indian could hear the sound of breathing.

"Huh!" he laughed, as he replaced the cloth. "That good! Pale-face—he sleep, but he wake soon when Red Fox make sign of totem. Then white boy laugh not again at Indian. Red Fox, he laugh at hideous white boy."

A peal of harsh, savage laughter rang through the woods at this delicious humour, and startled the horse so that it strained harder in the gallop.

Through the woods, the burnt clearing, across the marsh where Bob had tracked so steadily, the broncho passed in the mad race. It was rough riding for the boy as he lay on his back—half across the Indian's knee, with his head partly free of the blanket; but he set his teeth, determined to bear the ordeal without a whimper, that he[Pg 184] might be more ready for the later critical moment.

Then something (he never knew what) startled the horse. It sprang sideways from the path right into the bush, where a heavy branch caught Red Fox right in the forehead.

One cry the Indian gave. Next moment both the riders were thrown violently to the ground, while the broncho went off wildly and riderless.

The folds of the blanket considerably lessened the shock of Alf's fall, and as soon as he had collected his rudely scattered senses he did not take long to emerge from his chrysalis-like state.

He sprang to his feet, prepared to be instantly on the defensive.

To his surprise he was unaccosted, and on turning he saw the Indian lying face downwards upon the ground, while a red stream was making a ghastly pool around his head.

Holden was by his enemy's side in an instant. He knelt down and turned the man on his back. The movement was answered by a groan, but apparently the Dacotah was unconscious, for he did not attempt to move, and his eyes were closed.

A spring was close at hand. Alf tore off the scarf that he wore round his throat in bushman[Pg 185] fashion, soaked it in the water, and mopped the redman's brow. Still there was no sign of returning senses, and the lad was now grievously distressed at his enemy's disaster. He would have been rejoiced to have vanquished the man, had the adventure terminated in an unavoidable encounter. But now that Red Fox was in distress, all hard feelings and resentment had left the lad's heart. He was all sympathy for misfortune. That is the way of the truly brave.

Seeing that recovery was tardy, Alf tore the scarf in two pieces. With one strip he bound the ugly wound that gaped in the Indian's forehead; with the other he resumed his attentions by moistening his lips and temples.

And by and by the redman opened his eyes. He looked up vacantly before him, not seeming to understand what had taken place.

"That's good!" remarked Alf cheerfully. "You feel better now, don't you?"

Red Fox looked straight into the boy's face, but without appearing to recognise him. Then he muttered a few words in Indian and closed his eyes again.

For some time he lay with his head resting against his nurse, while Alf's thoughts began to[Pg 186] wander to his absent father and the chum whom he had left in such strange fashion.

Then he looked down again, and saw that the Indian was regarding him with eyes wide open—looking at him in a peculiar wondering fashion, as if he saw for the first time a being of some strange creation.

Holden smiled encouragingly as he touched the man's brow with the damp cloth.

"How does the head feel now?" he asked. "Does the cut pain you much?"

Red Fox did not answer immediately, but continued to stare at the lad with the same open-eyed wonder.

"Pale-face kind," he said at length, in quiet tones. "He touch Red Fox like wing of a dove. Why is the white boy so good?"

"Nonsense," returned Alf. "It's nothing at all. You don't think that Englishmen would leave a fellow to bleed to death, do you?"

"No—English boy good," said the redskin. Then he added, with a sort of wistfulness: "But Indian would leave pale-face——"

"Rot!" was the sharp interruption. "If I had been hurt as you have been, you would do just the same. Now lie quiet for a while. You'll feel[Pg 187] better soon, and then you can go back to your people."

The Indian shook his head slowly.

"Red Fox understand. Red Fox know English tongue good. But—he no' go back to people. He go—Manito—Happy Hunting-ground—soon."

Alf was silent. He had never been in the presence of death, and never before in the presence of the dying. The thought awed him.

"Yes—white papoose good," the redskin went on falteringly. "He kind to hand—that would have cut face for revenge. Ugh! Red Fox bad Indian, but—he sorry—now. Can brave white boy forgive poor Indian?"

"Of course," returned Alf huskily. "You did not understand. English people speak words that they do not mean to hurt. It is I who should ask forgiveness for what I said about you. I, too, am sorry."

"Then—white and red are—brothers. They bury the hatchet and—my white brother will stay with Red Fox while he go Happy Hunting-ground?"

"Yes, yes," the boy assented readily. "I won't leave you. Don't you be afraid of that."[Pg 188]

"It is well, for Red Fox would speak before he go. He would speak true words to the pale-face. He spoke forked words like serpent tongue when he say that white man sent Red Fox to bring papooses to Indian camp. But he speak well now when he say white men with Mighty Hand now——"

"Safe?" exclaimed Holden, as the information came to him with sudden joy and sudden dread.

And the answer was at once a relief and double anxiety.

"White men safe—now. But before another sun they—they die——"

"Die?" was the exclamation of horror that greeted this announcement.

"Yes," the Indian answered. "Dacotahs foolish. They say white men spirits that brought great trouble of water to Indian. They say that serpent totem call them to Pleasant Valley, and there they burn unless serpent appear to save them from fire." Here the Indian seemed to gather strength, for, without allowing the horrified boy time for utterance, he slightly raised himself and spoke with a flash of energy.

"But white boy brave—white boy good. He kind to Red Fox who would have used cruel[Pg 189] knife. But Red Fox no' papoose now. He know that white boy too brave to suffer; Red Fox too bad to live. And he would save the pale-face man—

"Go, my brother—go to the village of the Dacotahs and find Thunder-maker, the Medicine Man. Tell him that Red Fox die sorry that he made bad promise—that before he die he bid Thunder-maker speak true to foolish Dacotahs, and tell that white men no' spirits. Thunder-maker know. Thunder-maker can save white men, and——"

The last word choked in the Indian's throat. He gave a gasp, fell back into Alf's arms, while his eyes looked up hungrily into the lad's face.

"Be brave!" whispered the boy. "Be brave, Red Fox. Manito waits for you. I have forgiven you; He has forgiven you. All will be well."

"Red Fox understand. He—happy——" were the last words that the poor misguided redman spoke, as he died gazing lovingly in his young friend's tear-clouded eyes.

And it was thus that Bob found his chum—tenderly holding his red brother in his arms while the great journey was taken to Manito's happy land for the sorrowful.



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