Chapter 22 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

The Scene Re-arranged.

Edward O’Neil held Clara Blackadder in his arms. He now knew she loved and had been true to him, though not from any words that had passed between them.

There was scarce time for them to do more than pronounce one another’s names; but the glance exchanged was eloquent to the hearts of both. Each saw in the other’s eyes that the old fondness was still there, strengthened, if aught changed, by the trials through which they had passed.

Almost on the instant of their coming together they were again parted by the trappers; who, with ’Lije Orton and Black Harris directing them, had hastily commenced rearranging the ambuscade. Every moment they might expect the return of the Indians. A scout, who had hurried up to the crest of the ridge, telegraphed back why the savages had ridden off.

With the quick perception common to men of their calling, they at once understood all. They remembered that in their haste they had but slightly secured their horses. Something, some sort of wild beast, perhaps a grizzly bear, had got among them, causing the stampede. It was an occurrence not new to them.

It only increased their thirst for vengeance against the detested Cheyennes, and made them more than ever determined on a wholesale destruction of the predatory band.

“Let’s rub them out, every redskin of them!” was the counsel passed around.

“We must get back our horses anyhow!”

“We’ll do thet,” said Orton, “an’ thar horses, too, to redemnify us for the trouble. But, boyees, ’t won’t do to go foolich about it. Though thar’s no fear o’ these hyur skunks tellin’ tales, we must take percaushuns for all that. This nigger wants proppin’ up like the rest o’ ’em. When that air done, we’ll be riddy to gie ’em thar recepshun.”

The others knew what ’Lije meant, and hastened to reset the stage for the next scene of the sanguinary drama.

While the scout on the crest of the ridge kept them warned as to the movements of the Indians, the others were busy placing the tableau that was to greet them on their return. The young lady was directed to assume a half-recumbent attitude on the grass—her horse still saddled standing near. Close by, propped up, was the dead body of the savage to whose keeping she had been entrusted; not seeming dead, but life-like by the side of his own horse, as if still keeping guard over the captive. All was arranged in less than ten minutes of time. These rude mountain men are ready at such ruses. No wonder their wits should be quick and keen; their lives often depend upon the successful execution of such schemes.

They found time to make many changes in the arrangement previously made. In their haste the stage had not been set to their satisfaction. The other dead sentinels were placed in attitudes more life-like and natural, and all traces of the brief struggle were carefully blotted out or removed. The captives, both white and black, were cautioned to keep their places, and instructed how to act, in case of any unforeseen accident causing a change in the carrying out of the programme.

When everything was fixed to their satisfaction, the trappers returned to their ambush; as before, distributing themselves into two parties—one for each side of the gorge. A vidette was still kept upon the top of the ridge, though not the man first deputed for the performance of this duty. There were now two of them—Black Harris and ’Lije Orton.

It was an interval of strange reflection with the young Irishman, O’Neil. Before his eyes—almost within reach of his arms—upon the grassy sward, he saw lying that fair form which for long absent years had remained vividly outlined in his memory. How he longed to go nearer and embrace her! And all the more, that he could perceive her glance turned toward the spot where he lay concealed, as if endeavouring to penetrate the leafy screen that separated them. How he longed for the final event that would terminate this red tragedy, and bring them together again, in life never more to be parted! It was a relief, as well as joy to him, when his old comrade, Orton, close followed by Black Harris, was seen hastily descending the slope, their gestures showing that the horse-hunt was over, and the savages were riding back toward the encampment.

“Now, boyees!” said ’Lije, gliding to both sides of the gorge, and addressing the trappers in a cautious undertone, “ef ye’ll jest keep yerselves purfectly cool for about ten minutes longer, an’ wait till ye git the word from Black Harry or myself, ye’ll have a chance o’ wipin’ out any scores ye may hev run up ’twixt yur-selves an’ Yellow Chief. Don’t neer a one o’ ye touch trigger till the last of the cussed varmints hev got clar past the mouth o’ this hyur gully. An’ then wait till ye hear the signal from me. It’ll be the crack o’ my rifle. Arter thet, the Injuns aint like to hev any chief; an’ ye kin go in, an’ gie ’em eturnal darnation.”

In ten seconds after he had ceased speaking not a trapper was to be seen near the Indian encampment; only the captives with their sentinels standing over them, surrounded by a stillness as of death. It was like the ominous calm that comes between two gusts of a storm, all the more awful from the contrasting silence.