Chapter 13 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

Making a Bolt.

At the new and still strange speech, Snively started again, and Clara Blackadder looked up with a yet still more puzzled expression; while among the blacks there ran a murmur of interrogatories and exclamations of terror.

It was on the overseer, however, that the words produced the strongest impression. He was a man of too much intellect—or that ’cuteness that passes for it—to be any longer in doubt as to the situation in which he and his fellow-captives, were placed. A clear memory, coupled with an accusing conscience, helped him to an explanation, at the same time telling him of a danger far worse than being captive in the hands of hostile Indians. It was the danger of death, with torture for its prelude. Both now appeared before his imagination, in their most horrid shape—an apprehension of moral pain, added to the physical.

He glanced at his fastenings; examined them, to see if there was any chance of setting himself free. It was nor the first time for him to make the examination; but never more earnestly than now.

The raw-hide thong, wetted with the sweat of his body—in places with his blood—showed signs of stretching. By a desperate wrench he might get his limbs clear of it!

What if he should succeed in untying himself?

His liberty could only last for a moment—to be followed by a renewal of his captivity, or by a sudden death?

Neither could be worse than the fate that now seemed to be awaiting him, and near? Even death would be preferable to the agony of apprehension he was enduring!

One more glance at his fastenings, and along with it the determination to set himself free from them.

And, without reflecting further, he commenced a struggle, in which all his strength and cunning were concentrated.

The raw-hide ropes yielded to the superhuman effort; and, clearing himself of their coils, he sprang out from among his fellow-prisoners; and off at full speed towards the prairie!

He did not continue far in the direction of the outward plain. With no other hope of getting clear, than that held out by mere swiftness of foot, he would not have made the attempt. With the Indians’ horses standing near, ready to be mounted at a moment’s notice, the idea would have been simply absurd. Even before he had made a half-score strides, several of the savages were seen rushing towards their steeds to take up the pursuit, for the prairie Indian never thinks of following a foe upon foot.

Had Snively kept on for the open plain, the chase would have been a short one. He had determined on a different course. While lying on the ground, and speculating on the chances of getting away, he had noticed a ravine that ran sloping up towards the summit of the cliff. Trees grew thickly in it. They were dwarf cedars, bushy and umbrageous. If he could only get among them, screened by their foliage, he might succeed in baffling his pursuers. At all events, their arrows and bullets would be aimed with less likelihood of hitting him.

Once on the mountain slope above, which was also forest-clad, he would have at least a chance for his life.

He was a man of great strength, swift too of foot, and he knew it. It was his knowledge of the possession of these powers that gave him hope, and determined him on the attempt he had made.

It was not so unfeasible, and might have succeeded, had his only pursuers been they who had taken to their horses.

But there was one who followed him on foot, of equal strength, and swifter of foot than he. This was the Cheyenne chief. The latter had noticed the prisoner as he gave the last wrench to the ropes, and saw that he had succeeded in setting himself free from their coils. At the same instant that Snively sprang out from among his fellow-prisoners, the chief was upon the hound after him, with his long spear poised and ready for a thrust. He had thrown off his wolf-skin cloak to obtain freedom of movement for his arms.

Snively, as he had intended, turned abruptly to one side, and struck up the ravine, with the chief close following him. Those who had taken to their horses were for the time thrown out of the chase.

In a few seconds, both fugitive and pursuer had entered the gorge, and were lost to view under the spreading fronds of the cedars.

For a time those remaining below could not see them, but by the crackling of the parted branches, and the rattle of stones displaced by their feet, it could be told that both were still struggling up the steep.

Then came loud words, proclaiming that the pursuer had overtaken the pursued.

“A step further, you accursed nigger-driver! one step further, and I’ll run my lance-blade right up through your body! Down again! or I’ll split you from hip to shoulder.”

Although they saw it not from below, a strange tragical tableau was presented at the moment when these words were spoken.

It was the chief who had uttered the threat. He was standing upon a ledge, with his spear pointed vertically upward. Above him, hanging from a still higher ledge, with one hand grasping the edge of the rock, was the long lathy form of the Mississippian overseer, outlined in all its ungainly proportions against the façade of the cliff!

He had been endeavouring to climb higher; but, not succeeding, was now overtaken, and at the mercy of his savage pursuer.

“Down!” repeated the latter, in a voice that thundered along the cliffs. “Why do you want to run away? You see I don’t intend to kill you? If I did, how easily I might do it now. Down, I say!”

For a moment Snively seemed to hesitate. A desperate effort might still carry him beyond the reach of the threatening spear. Could he be quick enough?

No. The eye of his enemy was too watchful. He felt, that on turning to make another attempt, he would have the iron blade, already red with his own blood, thrust through his body.

Another thought came into his mind. Should he drop down, grapple with the savage, and endeavour to wrest the weapon from his hands? He now knew whose hands held it.

It was a design entertained but for a moment. Ere he could determine upon its execution, half a dozen of the Indians, who had close followed their chief, came rushing up the ravine, and stood upon the ledge beside him.

Exhausted by long hanging, with but slight foothold against the cliff, Snively’s gripe became detached from the rock; and he fell back into their midst; where he was at once seized and tied more securely than ever.

“Drag him down!” commanded the Cheyenne chief, speaking to his followers. And then addressing himself to the overseer, he continued: “When we get below, Mr Snively, I’ll explain to you why you’re not already a dead man. I don’t wish that; I want to have you alive for awhile. I’ve a show for you, as well as the others—especially those belonging to old Blackadder’s plantation; but above all for yourself, its worthy overseer. Bring him below!”

The recaptured captive, dragged back down the ravine, though with fearful apprehensions as to what was in store for him, had no longer any doubt as to the identity of him with whom he had to deal.

When the Cheyenne chief strode up to the waterfall; washed the paint from his face; and, then, turning towards the other captives, showed them the bright yellow skin of a mulatto, he was not taken by surprise.

But there was profound astonishment on the countenances of the negro captives; who, on recognising the freshly washed face, cried out as with one voice:

“Blue Dick!”