Chapter 15 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

Retaliation in Kind.

The thrill that passed through the captives as Blue Dick discovered to them his identity was not so startling to all. With Blount Blackadder and Snively, his words, as well as his acts, had long since led to his recognition. Also among the slaves were some who remembered that scene in the court-yard of the old home plantation, when he had been subjected to the punishment of the pump. Despite their supposed obtuseness, they were sharp enough to connect it with the very similar spectacle now before their eyes; and, on hearing the command, “Give him a double dose,” more than one remembered having heard the words before. Those who did were not happy, for they also recalled their own conduct on that occasion, and were apprehensive of just retaliation from the hands of him whom they had scoffed. Seeing how their young master had been served, they became sure of it; still more when the overseer, Snively, was submitted to the same dread castigation, and, after him, the huge negro who had worked the pump-handle when Blue Dick was being douched.

Both these received the double dose, and more than double. As Snively was unloosed from the cross, and dragged out beyond the water-jet, the hideous gash along his cheek looked still more hideous from its blanching.

And the negro, thick as was his skull, roared aloud, and felt as though his head had been laid open. He said so on recovering his senses. The grin upon his face was no longer that of glee, as when he himself was administering the punishment. It was a contortion that told of soul-suffering agony.

He was not the last to be so served. Others were taken from the crowd of slaves, not indiscriminately, but evidently selected one after another. And the rest began to see this, and to believe they were not to be tortured. Some were solaced by the thought that to others gave keen apprehension. They had not all jeered their fellow-slave, when he was himself suffering. Only the guilty were stricken with fear.

And need had they to fear; for, one after another, as the chief pointed them out, they were seized by his satellites, dragged from amongst their trembling fellow-captives, and in turn tied to the pine-tree cross. And there were they kept, till the cold melted snow from Pike’s Peak, descending on their crania, caused them to shriek out in agony.

All this while were the Cheyennes looking on; not gravely, as becomes the Indian character, but laughing like the spectators of a Christmas pantomime, capering over the ground like its actors, and yelling until the rocks gave back the mimicry of their wild mirth in weird unearthly echoes.

Never till now had they held in such high esteem the mulatto adopted into their tribe, who, by brave deeds, had won chieftainship over them. Never before had he treated them to such a spectacle, consonant to their savage natures, and still more in consonance with their hate for the pale face.

For, even at this period of their history, when the elders of the Cheyenne tribe were in a sort of accord with the white man, and professing a false amity, the young filibustering “bloods” were with difficulty restrained from acts of hostility.

The Yellow Chief, who had strayed among them coming from afar, who had married the belle of their tribe—the beautiful daughter of their “medicine man”—who surpassed all of them in his hatred of the white race, and more than once had led them in a like murderous maraud against their hereditary enemies was the man after their heart, the type of a patriotic savage.

Now, more than ever, had he secured their esteem; now, as they saw him, with cruel, unsparing hand, deal out castigation to their pale-faced captives; a punishment so quaintly original, and so terribly painful, that they would not have believed in it, but for the cries of keen agony uttered by those who had to endure it.

To Cheyenne ears they were sounds so sweet and welcome, as to awake the intoxicated from their alcoholic slumbers, and call them up to become sharers in the spectacle. Drunk and sober alike danced over the ground, as if they had been so many demons exhibiting their saltatory skill upon the skull-paved, floors of Acheron.

Nor was their laughter restrained when they saw that the punishment, hitherto confined to their male captives, was about to be extended to the women. On the contrary, it but increased their fiendish glee. It would be a variety in the performance—a new sensation—to see how the latter should stand it.

And they did see; for several of the female slaves—some of them still young, others almost octogenarian “aunties”—were ruthlessly led up to the stake, to that martyrdom of water painful as fire itself!