Chapter 16 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

The White Women.

For more than two hours was the fiendish spectacle kept up—a tragedy of many acts; though, as yet, none of them ending in death.

But neither actors nor spectators knew how soon this might be the termination of it.

So horrified were the captives, they could not calmly reflect; though, from the heartless revelry around them, instinct itself guided them to expect very little mercy.

The discrimination shown in their punishment led some to entertain a hope. All, both blacks and whites, now knew with whom they had to deal; for, in a whispered conversation among themselves, the story of Blue Dick was told to those of the emigrant party who had never heard of him before.

And the slaves who were not of the Blackadder plantation, as also the white men to whom these belonged, began to indulge in the belief that they were not to be made victims to the vengeance of the mulatto.

They were allowed time enough to reflect; for after some ten or a dozen of the female slaves had been douched, to the delight of the young Cheyennes, and the apparent satisfaction of their chief, there was an interlude in the atrocious performance. The renegade, as if contented with revenge—at least, for the time—had turned away from the waterfall, and gone inside his tent.

Among the three captive groups, there was none in which apprehension could be more keen than that composed of the white women. They had to fear for something dearer to them to life—their honour.

Several of them were young, and more than one good-looking. Not to know it they could not have been women.

Up to that hour the savages had not insulted them. But this gave them no assurance. They knew that these loved wine more than women; and the whisky taken from the despoiled wagons had hitherto diverted the savages from intruding upon them.

It could not long continue, for they had been told of something besides this. The character of cold incontinence given to the forest-Indian—he who figured in the early history of their country’s colonisation—has no application to the fiery Centaurs of the prairie. All they had ever heard of these savages led to this conclusion; and the white women, most of them wives, while thinking of danger to their husbands, were also apprehensive about their own.

She who had no husband, Clara Blackadder, suffered more than any of them. She had seen her father’s corpse lying upon the prairie sward, bathed in its own blood. She had just ceased to behold her brother subjected to a punishment she now knew to be fearfully painful; and she was reflecting what might be in store for herself.

She remembered Blue Dick well. As his master’s daughter—his young mistress—she had never been unkind to him. But she had never been specially kind; for some influence, exerted by the slave Sylvia, had rather turned her against him. Not to actual hostility; only to the showing of a slight disfavour. The truth was, that the heart of the planter’s daughter had been so occupied with its own affairs—its love for the young stranger, O’Neil—it had little room for any other thought.

The same thought was still there; not dead, but surrounded by a woe-begone despair; that, even now, hindered her from feeling, keenly as she otherwise might have done, the danger of the situation.

Still was she not insensible to it. The Cheyenne Chief, in passing, had glared angrily upon her, with an expression she remembered more than once to have seen in the eyes of Blue Dick. As Sylvia’s mistress, as the friend and confidant of the quadroon slave, more than all, as the sister of Blount Blackadder, she could not expect either grace or mercy from the mulatto. She knew not what she might expect. It was painful to think, still more to converse, upon it with the women around her.

These did not talk or think of her fate. It was sorrow enough for them to reflect upon their own. But she had more to dread than any of them, and she knew it. With that quick instinct peculiar to women, she knew she was the conspicuous figure in the group.

As the horror of the situation came palpably before her mind, she trembled. Strong as she was, and self-willed as through life she had been, she could not help having the keenest apprehensions.

But along with her trembling came a determination to escape, even with Snively’s example and failure before her face!

She might be overtaken. No matter. It could not increase the misery of her situation. It could not add to its danger. At the worst, it could only end in death; and death she would accept sooner than degradation.

She was but slightly tied. In this the Indians do not take much pains with their women captives. It is not often these make any effort to get free; and when they do, it costs but little trouble to track and recapture them.

Still have there been incidents in the history of the prairies where brave, heroic women—even delicate ladies—have contrived to escape from such captivity, and in a manner almost miraculous. The early history of the West teems with such episodes; and she, a child of the West, had heard them as part of her nursery lore. It was their remembrance that was partly inspiring her to make the attempt.

She did not communicate the design to her fellow-captives. They could not aid, but only obstruct her. Under the circumstances, it would be no selfishness to forsake them.

One might deem it a wild, hopeless chance. And so, too, would she, but for a thought that had stolen into her mind. It had been suggested by the sight of an animal standing near. It was her own horse, that had been appropriated by one of the Indians. He was standing with the saddle still on, and the bridle resting over the crutch. A riding-gear so new to them had caught the fancy of the Indians, and they had left it on for exhibition.

Clara Blackadder knew her horse to be a fleet one.

“Once on his back,” thought she, “I might gallop out of their reach.”

She had a thought beyond. She might get upon the trace which the wagons had followed from Bent’s Fort. She believed she could remember, and return along it.

And still another thought. At the Fort she had seen many white men. They might be induced to come back with her, and rescue her captive companions—her brother.

All this passed through her mind in a few short moments; and while it was so passing, she slipped off the thongs, that were but carelessly lapped around her delicate limbs, and prepared for a start.

Now was the time, while the chief was inside his tent.