Chapter 14 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

The Rescuers.

While the savage scenes described were being enacted in the mountain valley, a band of horsemen was fast approaching it, making their way around the skirting spurs that at intervals protruded into the prairie.

It is scarce necessary to say that these were the trappers from Saint Vrains, nor to add that they were riding at top-speed—fast as the horses and mules on which they were mounted could carry them.

Conspicuous in the front were two who appeared to act in the double capacity of leaders and guides. One of them seemed exceedingly anxious to press forward—more than any of the party. He was acting as if some strong urgency was upon him. It was the young Irishman, O’Neil. The man riding by his side, also seemingly troubled about time, was his old comrade, ’Lije Orton, the trapper.

The two kept habitually ahead, now in muttered converse with one another, and now shouting back to their companions, to urge them onward. Some of these came close up, while some, at times, showed a disposition to straggle.

The truth is, the “mountain men” had brought their whisky-flasks along with them, and, at every stream crossed, they insisted on stopping to “take a horn.”

O’Neil was the one who chafed loudest at the delay. To him it was excruciating torture.

“Arter all,” said Orton, with the intention less to restrain than comfort him, “it won’t make so much diffrence, Ned. A wheen o’ minutes ant neyther hyur nor thur, in a matter o’ the kind. In course, I know well o’ what ye’re thinkin’ about.”

He paused, as if expecting a rejoinder.

O’Neil only answered with a deep, long-drawn sigh.

“Ef anything air to happen to the gurl,” continued ’Lije, rather in the strain of a Job’s comforter, “it will hev happened long ’fore this.”

The young Irishman interrupted him with a groan.

“Maybe, howsomdever,” continued ’Lije, “she air all right yet. It air possible enuf the Injuns’ll all get drunk, as soon as they lay ther claws on the licker that must ’a been in the waggins; an’ ef that be the case, they won’t think o’ troublin’ any o’ thar keptives till thar carousin’ kums to a eend. This chile’s opeenyun is, ef they intend any torturin’, they’ll keep that sport over till the morrow: an’, shud they do so, darn me, ef we don’t dissapeint ’em. Oncst we git upon the spot, we’ll gi’e ’em sport very diff’runt from that they’ll be expectin’.”

There was reason in what ’Lije said. His words were consolatory to O’Neil; and, for a time, he rode on with a countenance more cheerful.

It soon became clouded again, as he returned to reflect on the character of the Indians who were supposed to have “struck” the caravan; more especially their chief, whose fame as a hater of white men was almost equalled by his reputation as a lover of white women. There was more than one story current among the trappers, in which the Yellow Chief had figured as a gallant among white-skinned girlish captives, who had fallen into his hands on their passage across the prairie.

With the remembrance of these tales coming freshly before his mind, O’Neil groaned again.

What if Clara Blackadder—in his memory still an angel—what if she should, at that moment, be struggling in the arms of a paint-bedaubed savage? Beauty in the embrace of a fiend! The reflection was fearful—odious, and, as it shadowed the young hunter’s heart, he drove the spurs deep into the flanks of his horse, and cried to his comrade, “Come on, ’Lije! come on!”

But the time had arrived when something besides haste was required of them. They were nearing the spot where the pillagers of the caravan were supposed to have made camp; and the trappers were too well acquainted with the wiles of prairie life to approach either men or animals in an open manner. They knew that no Indians, even in their hours of carousal, would leave their camp unguarded. A whole tribe never gets drunk together. Enough of them always stay sober to act as sentinels and videttes.

Safe as the Cheyenne Chief and his fellow-plunderers might deem themselves—far away from any foe likely to molest them—they would, for all this, be sure to keep pickets around their camping-place, or scouts in its vicinity.

There was a bright daylight, for it was yet early in the afternoon. To attempt approaching the bivouac of the savages across the open plain, or even close-skirting the mountains, could only lead to a failure of their enterprise. They would be sure of being seen, and, before they could get within striking distance, the Indians, if not disposed to fight, would be off, carrying along with them both their booty and their captives. Mounted on fresher horses than those ridden by the trappers, now panting and sweating after a long, continuous gallop, they could easily accomplish this.

There seemed but one way of approaching the Indian camp—by stealth; and this could only be done by waiting for the night and its darkness.

As this plan appeared to be the best, most of the trappers counselled following it. They could think of no other.

The thought of such long delay was agony to O’Neil. Was there no alternative?

The question was put to his comrade, ’Lije, while the discussion was in progress.

“Thur air a alturnative,” was the answer addressed to all, though to none who so welcomed it as his young friend.

“What other way?” demanded several voices, O’Neil’s being the first heard.

“You see them mountings?” said ’Lije, pointing to a range that had just opened to their view.

“Sartin; we ain’t all; blind,” replied one of the men. “What about them?”

“You see that hill that sticks out thur, wi’ the trees on top o’t, jest like the hump o’ a buffler bull.”

“Well, what of it?”

“Clost by the bottom o’ that, them Injuns air camped—that be, ef this chile hain’t made a mistake ’bout thar intenshuns. We’ll find ’em thur, I reck’n.”

“But how are we to approach the place without their spying us? There ain’t a bit o’ cover on the prairie for miles round.”

“But there air kiver on the mounting itself,” rejoined ’Lije. “Plenty o’ tree kiver, as ye kin see.”

“Ah! you mean for us to make a circumbendibus over the ridge, and attack ’em from the back-side. Is that it, ’Lije?”

“That’s it,” laconically answered the old trapper.

“You must be mistaken about that, Orton,” put in Black Harris, supposed to be the sagest among “mountain men.”

“We might get over the ridge ’ithout bein’ noticed, I reck’n; but not with our animals. Neyther hoss nor mule can climb up yonder. And if we leave them behind, it’ll take longer than to wait for the night. Besides, we mightn’t find any track up among the rocks. They look, from here, as if they had been piled up by giants as had been playing jack-stones wi’ ’em.”

“So they do, Harry,” responded ’Lije, “so do they, But, for all that, there’s a coon kin find a path to crawl through among ’em, an’ that’s ’Lije Orton. I hain’t trapped all roun’ hyur ’ithout knowin’ the neer cuts; an’ there’s a way over that ridge as’ll fetch us strait custrut to the Injun campin’-groun’, an’ ’ithout their purseevin’ our approach in the clarest o’ sunlight. Beeside, it’ll bring us into sech a pursishun that we’ll hev the skunks ’ithin reech o’ our guns, afore they know anythin’ ’bout our bein’ near ’em. Beeside, too, it’ll save time. We kin get thur long afore dark, so as to have a good chance o’ lookin’ through the sights o’ our rifles.”

“Let us go that way,” simultaneously cried several voices, the most earnest among them being that of O’Neil.

No one dissenting, the mountain-path was determined upon.

Continuing along the plain for a half-mile farther, the trappers dismounted, cached their animals among the rocks, and commenced ascending the steep slope—’Lije Orton still acting as their guide.