Chapter 10 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

Changed Hostilities.

The freshly arrived horsemen, instead of alighting, remained seated in their saddles.

For a time neither spoke, though their silence might be for want of breath. Both were panting, as were also the horses that bore them.

“Theer’s somethin’ wrong, ’Lije Orton,” said Black Harris, after saluting an old comrade. “I can tell that by yur looks, as well’s by the purspiration on yur anymal. ’Tain’t often as you put the critter in such a sweet. What is it, ole hoss? Yeller belly, or Injun? It can’t be white.”

“White’s got somethin’ to do wi’ it,” replied the old trapper, having somewhat recovered his wind. “But Injun more.”

“Thar’s a riddle, boys! Which o’ ye kin read it? ’Splain yurself, ’Lije.”

“Thar ain’t much explinashin needed; only that a party o’ emigrants hez been attackted on Bijou Crik, an’ maybe all on ’em killed, fur as this chile kin tell.”

“What emigrants? Who attacked them?”

“Yur fust question, boys, I kin answer clar enuf. They were some planters from the State o’ Massissippi.”

“That’s my State,” interpolated one of the trappers, a young fellow, inclined to take part in the talking.

“Shet up yur head!” commanded Harris, turning upon the fellow one of his blackest frowns.

“Whether it air yur State or no,” continued the imperturbable ’Lije, “don’t make much diff’rence. What I’ve got to say, boys, air this: A karryvan o’ emigrant planters, boun’ for Californey, wi’ thar niggers along, camp’d last night on the bank o’ Bijou Crik. After sun-up this mornin’, they war set upon by Injuns, an’ I reck’n most, ef not all on ’em, hev been rubbed out. I chance to know who them emigrants war; but thet’s no bizness o’ yurn. I reck’n it’s enuf that they war whites, an’ thet Injuns hez dud the deed.”

“What Indians? Do you know what tribe?”

“That oughtn’t to make any diffrence eyther,” responded ’Lije. “Though I reck’n it will, when I’ve tolt ye who the attacktin party war, an’ who led ’em. I’ve alser got on the trail o’ that.”

“Who? ’Rapahoes?”

“No.”

“Tain’t the direction for Blackfeet.”

“Nor Blackfeet neyther.”

“Cheyennes, then? I’ll stake a bale o’ beaver it’s them same Injuns, in my opeenyun, the most trecher-most as scours these hyar perairies.”

“Ye wouldn’t lose yur skins,” quietly responded ’Lije. “It air Cheyennes es hez done it.”

“And who do you say chiefed ’em?”

“There’s no need asking that,” said one, “now we know it’s Cheyennes. Who should it be but that young devil they call Yellow Chief? He’s rubbed out more o’ us white trappers than the oldest brave among ’em.”

“Is it he, ’Lije?” asked several in a breath. “Is it the Yellow Chief?”

“’Taint nobody else,” quietly declared the trapper.

The declaration was received by a perfect tornado of cries, in which curses were mingled with threats of vengeance. All of them had heard of this Indian chieftain, whose name had become a terror to trapperdom—at least that section of it lying around the head waters of the Platte and Arkansas. It was not the first time many of them had sworn vengeance against him, if he should ever fall into their power; and the occasion appeared to have arrived for at least a chance of obtaining it. The air and attitude of ’Lije Orton led them to believe this.

All at once their mutual quarrels were forgiven, if not forgotten; and, with friendships fresh cemented by hostility to the common foe, they gathered around the old trapper and his companion—first earnestly listening to what these two had still to tell, and then as earnestly giving ear to the trapper’s counsels about the course to be pursued.

There was no question of their remaining inactive. The name of the Yellow Chief had fired one and all, from head to foot, rousing within them the bitterest spirit of vengeance. To a man they were ready for an expedition, that should end either in fight or pursuit. They only hesitated to consider how they had best set about it.

“Do you think they might be still around the wagons?” asked one, addressing himself to Orton.

“Not likely,” answered ’Lije; “an’ for reezuns. Fust an’ foremost, thar war some o’ you fellers, as passed the karryvan yesterday, ’bout the hour o’ noon. Ain’t that so?”

“Yes; we did,” responded one of the three trappers, who, standing silently in the circle, had not yet taken part in the hurried conversation. “We travelled along with them for some distance,” continued the man, “and stayed a bit at their noon halting-place. We didn’t know any of the party, except their guide, who was that Choctaw that used to hang about Bent’s Fort. Waboga, the Indjens call him. Well; we warned them against the fellur, knowing him to be a queer ’un. Like enough it’s him that has betrayed them.”

“Thet’s been the treetor,” said ’Lije. “Him an’ no other; tho’ it moutn’t ’a made much difference. They war boun’ to go under anyhow, wi’ Yellur Chief lookin’ arter ’em. An’ now, as to the lookin’ arter him, we won’t find him at the wagons. Knowin’ you’ve kim on hyar, an’ knowin’, as he’s sartint ter do, thet thar’s a good grist o’ trappers at the Fort, he’ll stay ’bout the plundered camp no longer than’ll take him an’ his party to settle up spoilin’ the plunder. Then they’ll streak it. They’ve goed away from thar long afore this.”

“We can track them.”

“No, ye can’t. Leastwise, ef ye did, it woudn’t be a bit o’ use. This chile hev thort o’ a shorter an’ better way o’ findin’ out thar warabouts.”

“You know where they are gone, ’Lije?” interrogated Black Harris.

“Putty nigh the spot, Harry. I reck’n I kin find it out, ’ithout much gropin’.”

“Good for you, ole hoss! You guide us to thar swarmin’-place; an’ ef we don’t break up thar wasps’ nest and strangle thar yellar hornet o’ a chief, then call Black Harris o’ the mountains a dod-rotted greenhorn!”

“Ef I don’t guide ye strait custrut into thar campin’-place ye may call ole ’Lije Orton blinder than the owls o’ a purairia-dog town. So git your things ready, boys; an’ kum right arter me!”

It was an invitation that needed no pressing. The hope of being revenged on the hated subchief of the Cheyennes—for deeds done either to themselves, their friends, or the comrades of their calling—beat high in every heart; and, in less than ten minutes’ time, every trapper staying at Saint Vrain’s Fort, with a half-score other hangers-on of the establishment, was armed to the teeth, and on horseback!

In less than five minutes more, they were hastening across the prairie with ’Lije Orton at their head, in search of the Yellow Chief.

They were only five-and-twenty of them in all; but not one of their number who did not consider himself a match for at least three Indians!

As for Black Harris, and several others of like kidney, they would not have hesitated a moment about encountering six each. More than once had these men engaged in such unequal encounters, coming out of them victorious and triumphant!

Twenty-five against fifty, or even a hundred, what signified it to them? It was but sport to these reckless men! They only wanted to be brought face to face with the enemy; and then let their long rifles tell the tale.

It was a tale to be told, before the going down of the sun.