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CHAPTER XIX THUNDER-MAKER'S DOWNFALL
During the rest of the journey through the hills and along Trapper's Pass, no further accidents occurred to hinder progress, and once free of the hills the trail was level and across a stretch of prairie.

Towards night the Pleasant Valley was reached, and the three travellers descended to the part of the river known to trappers as the Old Crossing, though it was a ford where no water flowed.

On reaching this camp-ground there were evidences of the recent presence of strangers. Moreover, these strangers were not travelling in any secret way, since they had taken no pains to conceal their tracks, and the ashes of trampled-out fires were still warm.

Mackintosh carefully examined the surroundings, and came to the decision, from certain signs, that it had been an Indian camp.[Pg 205]

"To my mind the best thing for us to do is to rest here for an hour or two," the man said.

"I shan't be sorry," said Bob. "We pressed on rather rapidly, and, to tell you the truth, I'm rather fagged."

"But what of the others—your father and mine?" questioned Alf. "They may need help——"

"Not yet," Mackintosh interrupted. "It's no' possible for them to reach Flood Creek before morning, and the—the ceremony must take place at moonlight. Oh yes, I ken fine how you are both feeling. You're wanting to be off until you break down with weariness. But that's no' the way to do things in the backwoods. Work until you are out-and-out weary, then rest, and you'll be able to work again. But to keep on slaving till you're worked out—that's nothing but a gowk's game, and can bring no good."

"I suppose you are right," said Holden slowly.

"Of course I am. Don't you fear, laddie. I'll no' be too late. I know the ways o' the Indian, and I know the Dacotahs. Depend upon it, your faithers are being kindly treated, as best the redskins know how to treat friends. The Dacotahs[Pg 206] are firm in their superstition, but they're kindly folk all the same."

So the boys resigned themselves to the ruling of their guide, though it was irksome to be idle when each was longing to be up and doing. And now that they were so near to the achievement of their quest, it was even more galling to be inactive than it had been when there was distance as an excuse.

It was a dreary place. The valley was deep, and there was a river-bed where once—before the memory of living man—water had flowed in a swift and wide flood, but where now there was nothing but dust. Not a tree was within sight. There was hardly any grass. Only a few cacti appeared to thrive on the barren soil. The rest was rocks, sand, and bordering precipices.

The boys shuddered as they looked around.

"It's a terrible spot," Bob commented, as he viewed the dreary scene. "It feels like being in prison."

"There's a well with the finest of cool water about six feet away," was Mackintosh's remark. It was his quiet way of forcing home the truth that there is a bright speck in everything, if we only take the trouble to look for it.[Pg 207]

A meal was made from the supplies with which each had been provided, and an hour or two later Haggis turned up with the pack-horse.

It was not considered necessary to pitch the tent that night, as a very early start was proposed to be taken at the streak of dawn. So each lay down as he was, with a sand-heap for a pillow, and soon the little camp was fast asleep. They needed no rocking. Sleep came almost with the closing of eyes.

As morning broke, Mackintosh was the first to waken. He quickly roused the others, and a swift "eve-of-battle" meal was served out. The business being ended, the pack-horse was once more loaded, and the journey resumed toward Flood Creek, which was now only about five miles distant.

The Dacotah camp was sighted some way off, and it may be imagined how excited the lads felt when they found themselves practically at the end of their journey.

But once there, what would be the result?

That was the question that was exercising the minds of both; and when Bob gave it voice, the Scotsman smiled grimly.[Pg 208]

"What'll happen? Well, no one can foresee the future, but I can imagine it."

"And what do you imagine?" asked Bob.

"That there will be a pickle o' bother before all comes out right. Superstition is no' that easy baulked; but if we ever have to fight for it, don't think that the ancient Highland blood of the Mackintosh is water in the veins of the clan."

"I hope it won't come to that," remarked Alf quietly, and the Highlander rejoined—

"That's my hope too. But there's no telling. We've got to conquer——"

"And conquer we shall!" added Bob, with determination.

On reaching the camp, the rescuers were met by a host of Indians, who were all filled with curiosity regarding the strangers. The white men looked around them, but no signs could they see of the captives.

Then Mackintosh recognised a friend in Swift Arrow.

"Ha, Nitchie!" he exclaimed, holding out his hand for the Indian to grasp.

"It is pleasant for the eyes of Swift Arrow to see the Black Bear in the camp of the Dacotahs," said the redskin as he returned the greeting.[Pg 209]

"And it's good for him to look upon the face o a friend," said the Scotsman. "I wish to speak with Mighty Hand. Where is he?"

"The chief of the Dacotahs is here," replied a voice from the crowd, and the great man himself stepped forward.

"H'm. That's good. Saves a deal of seeking when folk come of themselves." Then the speaker launched straight into the subject of their quest.

"Now then, Mighty Hand, you and me are old friends, and we can talk freely. You're wondering the noo what has brought us here, and you may ken without palaver. We have come for your captives."

"Captives?" The chief looked puzzled as he repeated the word.

"Ay, captives," emphasised Mackintosh. "Perhaps you don't know the meaning of the word."

"Mighty Hand knows the language of the pale-face. But there are no captives in the Dacotah camp."

At this the boys felt their hearts sink. Could it be that, after all, Mackintosh had been mistaken, or that Red Fox had deluded them? Could it be that they had come too late?[Pg 210]

But Mackintosh did not share these doubts. He understood the working of the native mind too well.

"That is good," he resumed. "If the Dacotahs have no captives, then the white men are free. They will travel back with me to their camp now!"

Instantly a stern change came over the face of the chief, and such of the other Indians as understood English began to murmur with ominous disapproval.

"My white brother speak not wise words," said Mighty Hand firmly. "The fiery totem call that water-spirits suffer. What the totem call must be answered. Only great medicine can bid the fire sleep now."

"Idiots! Fools!" exclaimed Mackintosh, for once allowing his irritation to betray him. "Do you think that we are going to allow our own people to suffer at the service of a lie? I tell you that we will take those white men from your hands whether you wish it or not!"

The Indian was unmoved by the Scotsman's outburst.

"My white brother speak hot words. It saddens heart of Mighty Hand to see anger in[Pg 211] face of his brother. But he is wrong. The call of the totem shall be answered when the moon is round—to-night."

How this strain of argument might have progressed it is hard to say, but it was cut short by a cry like that of a wild beast, as Thunder-maker sprang through the crowd, dressed in all the hideous regalia of his profession.

"Dogs!" he cried furiously. "Do the pale-faces come to insult the great chief of Dacotahs and say that the fiery totem lie? Ugh! Spit upon them, Mighty Hand! Chase these dogs from the camp!"

Mackintosh had resumed his temper by now, and he turned to greet the newcomer with a look of feigned amusement.

"Who's this?" he asked pleasantly. "Is it a monkey that Mighty Hand has caught to please him, or is it maybe a little dancing-bear tricked out in feathers for the braves and warriors to laugh at?"

Thunder-maker well understood the jibe, and he flung himself about with passion.

"Ma conscience! Don't go making all that noise," was the quiet reproof. "And if you'll take my advice, you'll go home and put on[Pg 212] warmer clothes. You've little enough on to keep you cosy when the wind blows chill."

Poor Thunder-maker! He had never been treated with such scant respect. Even the young papooses were putting "tongue in cheek" towards him, and some of the women could be seen pointing their fingers at his discomfited self.

Blind with passion the Indian threw himself upon the Scotsman. Instantly the boys had their guns ready to protect their friend. But the next moment they could not have pulled a trigger if it had been necessary to save their lives thereby, for they and the whole concourse of Indians were shaking themselves with laughter at what was taking place.

What was it?

Well, merely that Thunder-maker had not reckoned with the enormous strength that was latent in the Scotsman, nor the peculiar sense of his humour; for, no sooner had the Indian charged, than he found himself gripped by powerful hands, turned face downwards on a bent knee, and smacked in good old homely style of punishment, which the medicine man's scanty attire rendered exceedingly suitable.

Thunder-maker yelled and kicked, but he was[Pg 213] held as if in a vice, while the slaps rang out in rapid succession and the valley echoed with laughter.

At last Mackintosh released the delinquent, and the poor man slunk away amid jeers and laughter. His day was over, and from that hour our white friends saw him no more.

When the hum had subsided, Mackintosh once more appealed to the chief, but without success.

"We must obey the totem," was reiterated doggedly, though it was plain that the chief was sorry to be at enmity with the strangers.

"But how do you know that you are obeying the totem?" questioned Bob, who could remain silent no longer.

At this question Mighty Hand turned to the boy with an indulgent smile.

"White spirits come from waters that are silver when moon round. By this we know. But if redmen foolish, totem wise. Totem will not let redmen do wrong. Totem will appear serpent of fire to warn redmen no' light flames."

"We can do nothing more at present," said Mackintosh, as he turned to the lads. "We'll pitch our camp over yonder and talk things over."

After the camp was pitched and food partaken,[Pg 214] Mackintosh decided to pay a visit to Swift Arrow, to see if he could not manage to argue that old man into a state of reason, so as to support another appeal to Mighty Hand. It had not been considered advisable to press for an interview with the captives, lest they might be too closely watched, and any future attempt at rescue be thus frustrated.

"I'll just go by mysel'," the man explained. "Swift Arrow is an old friend o' mine, and no' a bad creature in many ways. Haggis is away cracking with some o' his friends also. You'll not mind being left alone for a time? I'll no' be long."

"We don't mind," said Bob. "Anything to see light in this difficulty. We'll be all right."

"Very well. I'll be back as soon as I can, and I'll hope to have good news for you."

Left to themselves, the lads did not speak much, for their hearts were very heavy, knowing that if some plan of rescue was not thought of within a few hours it would be too late.

For a considerable time they were absolutely silent, lying within the tent, surrounded by stores and the various tins and boxes of the naturalist's outfit.

Then Bob's mind began to wander over all the events that led up to the present day, and,[Pg 215] in wondering at the blind ignorance that could yield so much to a mere legend, he recalled the chiefs last words—

"'The totem will not let the redmen do wrong,'" he quoted mentally. "Fools! As if a serpent could tell them to do anything in the first place! How can any reasoning person be so—— Alf!"

Bob had suddenly sprung to his feet as he uttered the exclamation, and Holden started to look at his friend, as if he had suddenly lost his senses.

"Why, what's the matter, old man?" he exclaimed. "Have you been asleep?"

"Asleep? No! Never was wider awake in all my life. Why, I've got it. They are saved! They are saved!" And the boy laughed for very joy at the thought.

"What do you mean?" questioned Holden anxiously. It was little wonder that he believed for the moment that anxiety had brought his chum to a fever.

"Mean?" the elder boy echoed. "Simply this—that our fathers shall be saved, and you and I will do it. It's all so simple. We must have been fools not to think of it before!"


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