Chapter 12 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

A Novel Mode of Punishment.

The sun was already past the meridian when the young Cheyenne chief, coming out from under the wagon tilt, once more showed himself to his captives. Since last seen by them there was a change in his costume. It was no more the scant breech-cloth worn in war; but a gala dress, such as is used by savages on the occasion of their grand ceremonies. His coat was the usual tunic-like shirt of the hunter, with fringed cape and skirt; but, instead of brown buckskin, it was made of scarlet cloth, and elaborately adorned by bead embroidery. Underneath were fringed leggings, ending in moccasins, worked with the porcupine quill. A Mexican scarf of crimson China crape was around his waist, with its tasselled ends hanging behind. On his head was a checkered Madras kerchief, tied turban fashion, its corners jauntily knotted on one side; while above the other rose a “panache” of bluish plumes, taken from the wings of the “gruya,” or New Mexican crane, their tips dyed scarlet.

Stuck behind his sash was a glittering bowie-knife, that might once have been the property of a Kansas regulator; and there were also pistols upon his person, concealed under the white wolf-skin robe that still hung toga-like from his shoulders. But for the emblematical painting on his face, freshly touched up, he might have appeared handsome. With this he was still picturesque, though terrible to look upon. His size—he was full six feet—gave him a commanding appearance; and his movements, easy and without agitation, told of a commanding mind. His followers seemed to acknowledge it; as, on the moment of emerging from the tent, even the most roysterous of them became quiet over their cups.

For some minutes he remained by the open end of the tent, without speaking to any one, or even showing sign that he saw any one around him. He seemed occupied with some mental plan, or problem; the solution of which he had stepped forth to seek.

It was in some way connected with the tiny waterfall, that fell like a spout from the cliff; for his eyes were upon it.

After gazing at it for some time, they turned suddenly up to the sun; and as if seeing in it something to stimulate him, his attitude became changed. All at once he appeared to arouse himself from a lethargy, like one who has discovered the necessity for speedily entering upon action.

“Waboga!” he called, addressing himself to the Choctaw.

The traitor was not one of the intoxicated, and soon stood before him.

“Take some of the young men. Cut down a tree—one of the pinons yonder. Lop off the branches, and bring it here.”

Waboga went about the work, without saying a word; and a couple of tomahawks were soon hacking at the tree.

It was but a slender one, of soft pine wood; and shortly fell. Then, lopped and topped, its trunk was dragged up to the spot where the chief stood, and where he had remained standing ever since issuing the order.

“It will do,” he said, looking at the felled piñon, as if satisfied of its being suitable for his purpose. “Now take it to the fall there, and set it up; behind the jet of the water, so that it just clears it. Sink a deep hole, and see you stake it firmly.”

The hole was sunk; the tree set upright in it; and then firmly wedged around with stones. The tiny stream, coming down from the cliff, fell vertically in front, according to the directions given, just clearing its top.

By further instructions from the chief, a stout piece of timber, taken from one of the limbs, was lashed transversely to it, forming a cross, about five feet above the ground.

During all these preparations no one knew for what they were intended. Even the Indians employed could not tell, and Waboga was himself ignorant.

The captives were equally at a loss to make out what was meant; though they surmised it to be the preliminary to some mode of punishment intended for themselves.

When they saw the erection taking the form of a crucifix, this of itself was suggestive of torture; but observing also the strange spot in which it was being set up, there began to glimmer on their minds a shadowy thought of its kind. Snively and one or two others—Blount Blackadder among them—in the upright post and its cross-piece, with the water-jet falling in front, were reminded of a mode of punishment they had themselves too often inflicted.

“I wonder what they can be after wantin’ with that,” said one of the planters to his fellow-captives.

None of them made reply. The same thought was in the minds of all, and it was terrifying them beyond the power of speech.

The interrogatory was answered in a different way. About a dozen of the Indians, who had been called up around the chief, appeared to receive some directions from him. They were given in the Cheyenne tongue, and the captives could not make out what was said; though they could tell by the attitude and gestures of the chief Indians it related to themselves.

They were not long before discovering its object. Five or six of the young braves, after listening to the commands of their leader, turned their backs upon him, and came bounding on to the spot where the prisoners lay. They appeared in high glee, as if some sport was expected; while the hostile glance from their fierce eyes proclaimed it to be of a malignant kind—some ceremony of torture. And so was it.

It could scarce have been by accident that Blount Blackadder was the first victim selected. He was behind the others, and half crouching in concealment, when he was seized by two of the painted savages; who, jerking him suddenly to his feet, undid the fastenings around his ankles.

It was not to set him free; only to save them the trouble of carrying him to the spot where he was to afford them a spectacle. And it was of the kind at which he had himself often assisted—though only as a spectator.

His fellow-prisoners had no longer a doubt as to the torture intended for him, and in store for themselves. If they had, it was soon settled by their seeing him conducted forward to the spot where fell the tiny cataract, and forced under it—with his back towards the tree-trunk.

In a few seconds, his ankles were bound around its base. Then his arms, set free, were pulled out to their full stretch, and fast lashed to the transverse bar, so that his attitude resembled that of one suffering crucifixion!

Something still remained to be done. A raw-hide rope was passed around his throat and the tree-trunk behind, to which it was firmly attached. His head was still untouched by the water-jet, that fell down directly in front of his face.

But he was not to remain thus. As soon as his position seemed satisfactory to the Indian chief, who stood examining it with a critical eye, and, so far as could be judged through the paint, with a pleased expression upon his face, he called some words of direction to a young warrior who was near. It was obeyed by the Indian, who, picking up an oblong block of stone, stood holding it above the head of him who was bound to the cross.

“So, Blount Blackadder!” cried the Cheyenne chief, no longer speaking in the Indian tongue, but in plain understandable English. “It’s your turn now. Give him a double dose!”

As he spoke, the Indian, who held the stone, sogged it down between the back of Blackadder’s neck and the trunk of the tree. Wedged there, it brought his head into such a position, that the stream of water fell vertically upon his crown!

The words pronounced by the Cheyenne chief produced a startling effect. Not so much upon him, who was transfixed under the jet; though he heard them through the plashing water, that fell sheeted over his ears.

For he well knew the purpose for which he had been so disposed, as well as the pain to be endured; and he was already in a state of mind past the possibility of being further terrified.

It was not he, but others, who heard them with increased fear; others who knew them to be words of dread import.

Snively started as they fell upon his ear; and so to Clara Blackadder. She looked up with a strange puzzled expression upon her countenance.

Give him a double dose!

What could it mean? Snively had heard the order before—remembered a day on which he was commanded to execute it!

And the words, too, came from the mouth of an Indian chief—a painted savage—more than a thousand miles from the scene that recalled them. Even among the blacks, huddled up in the rocky embayment, there were faces that expressed surprise, some the ashy pallor of fear, as if from a stricken conscience.

“Give him a double dose! Gollamity!” exclaimed one. “What do de Indyin mean? Dat’s jess wha’ Massa Blount say five year ago, when dey wa’ gwine to pump on de head ob Blue Dick!”

More than one of the negroes remembered the cruel command, and some also recalled how cruelly they had sneered at him on whom the punishment was inflicted. A speech, so strangely recurring, could not help giving them a presentiment that something was nigh at hand to make them repent of their heartlessness.

They, too, as well as Snively, looked towards the chief for an explanation, and anxiously listened for what he might next say.

For a time there was no other word to make the matter clearer! With his wolf-skin robe hanging from his shoulders, the chief stood contemplating the punishment he had decreed to his captive; a smile of exultation overspreading his face, as he thought of the pain his white victim was enduring.

It ended in a loud laugh, as he ordered the sufferer to be unloosed from his lashings; and dragged clear of the cross.

And the laugh broke forth again, as Blount Blackadder, half drowned, half dead from the aching pain in his skull, lay prostrate on the grass at his feet.

Then came from his lips an additional speech, the young planter might not have heard, but that smote upon the ears of the overseer with a meaning strangely intelligible.

“It’ll do for the present. Next time he offends in like manner, he shall be pumped upon till his thick skull splits like a cedar rail!”