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CHAPTER XX THE FIERY TOTEM
The two men—Arnold and Holden—were sitting alone in the teepee that had been assigned for their use. Neither was speaking, for the day was drawing to a close, and they were almost hopeless of seeing any avenue of escape from the fate that the Indian superstition had ordained for them.

We said "almost hopeless." Of course it was necessary to make that proviso, for no one is ever hopeless in extremity, so long as he retains faith in Providence. But every scheme that they had planned had been proved void on consideration. Though free to a certain extent, they were well watched. Escape was impossible, and their only remaining hope was that when they were led forth for the sacrifice they might be able to take advantage of some opportunity to make a last stand for freedom.[Pg 217]

"It would not matter so much for ourselves, if it were not for the boys," Arnold said at last. "Their position is too terrible."

"Of course they will be able to find their way back to Edmonton, when they see that there is no hope of our returning——"

"No hope?" repeated Arnold. "Don't say that. I don't want to give up hope until the very last moment. Something may turn up, and in any case I intend to make a good fight for freedom."

"I suppose I do, too, when I think about it," returned Holden, with a short forced laugh. "We both mean to kick up a bit of a dust when the exciting moment comes——"

"And you may bet it will be exciting for the first redskin who comes against my fist. I promised myself to have a go at that skunk Thunder-maker, before I make my bow to the world. But for him, I believe this trouble would never have gone so far."

"He certainly did his best to pile it on," agreed the younger man. "I imagine that he was rather in hot water this morning, for I thought I heard him yelling. There's no mistaking that harsh voice of his. And there were[Pg 218] sounds, too, for all the world as if some person were getting a jolly good spanking. You were dozing at the time, so I didn't disturb you. But I know I nearly waked you with laughing at the thought of Thunder-maker receiving a good old-fashioned correction."

"It would take more than that to do him good," said Arnold, with a frown. "The man is a cheat and a scoundrel of the worst sort. He showed us what he was worth when he told us, two nights ago, that he had the tribe by the nose. Even now, after telling us that he knew better, I suppose he's working up the people for to-night's show."

Holden grunted contemptuously.

"He seems bad to the core. In my opinion it has been he who has kept Mighty Hand away. The chief was ready to reason, but I expect Thunder-maker's boast that he could lead the tribe was a true one."

"The old case of kings being ruled by their subjects," commented Arnold.

After this conversation again flagged. Having little to say of an encouraging nature, the men deemed that silence was best, and each sat engrossed with his own thoughts while the[Pg 219] daylight waned and the shadows began to creep over the valley that a joking fate had called "Pleasant."

As time went on the Englishmen seemed to become aware of a sort of disturbance in the camp. Feet were hurrying here and there, and voices were speaking rapidly in low tones. Now and then, as some one passed the teepee, the words "fiery totem" could be heard by those within, so naturally the Englishmen attributed the excitement to matters relating to the approaching sacrifice.

But presently the excitement seemed to grow more intense, and the voices were raised to a higher pitch.

Unable to restrain curiosity any longer, the men went to look out from the door of the teepee, and as they reached the opening a strange sight presented itself before them.

Gathered in many groups were all the Indians of the tribe, including all the squaws and papooses, while the tall figure of Mighty Hand could be seen through the gloaming, standing erect upon a hillock at a little distance to one side.

All had their backs turned towards the Englishmen.[Pg 220]

They were facing the towering blackness of a mighty cliff, while with a sudden wave of silence they stood doubly transfixed, with eyes directed to one portion of the dark wall, where a sort of light was dimly glimmering.

What could it be that had such a power to fascinate the whole tribe?

The Englishmen looked in the same direction, but the object seemed to be nothing more than an irregular line of light that might have been some reflection caused by the setting sun.

Still all watched in silence.

And, as the darkness deepened so did the light become clear. From an irregular line about ten feet long it seemed to take form gradually, while it undoubtedly intensified in brightness. Clearer and still more plainly was the outline revealed, until at last—when the sun had quite vanished—there stood out against the black wall the shape of a snake of fire, poised in the very act to strike, just as it was outlined on the breast of Mighty Hand!

Arnold and Holden were astounded at what they surmised to be some fresh trick on the part of Thunder-maker, or some special form of the impending ceremony. And at the same moment[Pg 221] a loud cry broke from the throats of the watching multitude.

"The fiery totem! The fiery totem!"

Then the Indians fell face downwards to the ground with fear.

Surely such a prodigy had never been seen before?

The sacred totem of the tribe had itself appeared, to warn the Dacotahs that the fire was not to burn that night; that the two prisoners were men, not evil spirits.

While the two men were standing watching the prostrate Indians, three figures crept round an adjacent tent—two of whom then darted forward, while the third followed at more dignified leisure.

"Bob!"

"Alf!"

These were the exclamations that burst from the lips of the captives as two boys launched themselves forward to receiving arms. Then came the dignified Skipper Mackintosh.

"You are saved, good sirs," he said, without waiting for an introduction. "My good phosphorus paint and the brains o' these fine laddies has called up the fiery totem. I'm thinking that there will be no sacrifice to superstition the—night, and that you'll a' be on your way back to Crane Creek the morn."

And when next day the time came for departure, and the fathers and sons had made their arrangements with the good wishes and help of Mighty Hand, Swift Arrow, and a host of eager redmen, it was Bob who was first to notice that Skipper Mackintosh and the half-breed seemed in no haste to accompany the party.

"Are you not coming with us?" the boy asked.

The Scot smiled and shook his head.

"No. I'm thinking to bide here for a few days, to hunt for yon hawk moth that I told you aboot. Besides, when you're safe out of the way, I mean to have a serious talk with Mighty Hand and his folk. I wouldn't have them think that yon was a real fiery serpent. That would be idolatry. We had to cheat them to save life, but—well, I'll no' leave the Dacotahs until I've ceevilised them into believin' that the legend of the fiery totem is false, and that there's better ways o' living than by believin' such gowk's nonsense."

THE END


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