Chapter 24 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

Finale.

The sun was already close down to the summit of the sierra, when the Yellow Chief and his followers once more surmounted the ridge that brought them in sight of the encampment.

Although the daylight was still lingering around them, the little glen and the gap leading into it were obscured under the purple shadows of approaching night.

There was light enough left for the Indian horsemen to distinguish the salient features of the scene. They could see the various groupings of their prisoners, with their comrades standing sentry over them; the white men on one side; the women near; and on the opposite edge of the valley, the sable crowd, some seated, some standing, in all respects apparently as they had parted from them when starting on the pursuit of Clara Blackadder.

Apart from all the rest they saw her, with the Choctaw keeping watch close by, his hand clutching the withers of his horse.

The picture was complete. Nothing seemed wanting. No one was there who should not have been, nor any one missing. Who could have had suspicion, that close to those silent groupings there were others equally silent, but unseen and unsuspected? Not the young Cheyenne braves returning with their captured horses; not the daring chief who rode at their head.

Without the slightest warning of the surprise that awaited them, they pushed boldly through the gap, and on, over the level meadow, toward the spot occupied by their prisoners.

It was not till they had drawn up amidst the captive groups that things seemed a little strange to them. Why were their comrades so still, so silent? They did not think of those lying stretched along the grass—in all about a dozen. They had left them there, and knew that they were intoxicated. But the guards standing erect—why were these so undemonstrative? It was a thing unusual. Returning with such spoil, they might expect to have been hailed by a paean of congratulations. There was not even a salute!

It was a puzzle—a mystery. Had there been a better light, it might sooner have been solved. The blood sprinkled here and there over the grass, the gashes that would have been seen on the bodies of the sentinels, their stiff set attitudes and ghastly faces—all would have been apparent. But over all was the veil of a fast-darkening twilight, and through its obscurity only the outlines of their figures could be traced, in positions and attitudes seeming natural enough. It was the absence of all motion, coupled with the profound silence, that seemed strange, ominous, appalling!

“Waboga!” cried the chief, addressing himself to the Choctaw who stood guard over the girl, “what means this? Why do you stand there like a tree-stump? Why do you not speak?”

No answer from Waboga!

“Dog!” cried the mulatto, “if you don’t make answer, I’ll have you nailed to that cross, you have yourself erected. Once more I ask you, what is the meaning of this nonsense?”

The threat had no effect upon Waboga. It elicited no answer—not even the courtesy of a sign!

“Slave!” shouted the chief, leaping down from his horse, and rushing toward the silent sentry, “I shall not give you the grace of a trial. This instant shall you die!”

As he spoke, a blade glistened in his hand, which, as his gestures showed, was about to be buried in the body of Waboga.

The sentry stood staunch, apparently regardless of the death that threatened him!

The chief stayed his hand, surprised at the unparalleled coolness of the Choctaw.

Only for a moment; for as he stood regarding him, now close up to the body, he saw what explained all—a gash great as he could have himself inflicted!

Waboga was already dead!

The horse upon which the Choctaw was leaning, scared by the threatening gesture, shied to one side, and the lifeless form fell heavily to the earth!

The knife dropped from the hands of the Cheyenne chief, and, with a wild, distracted air, he turned toward his followers to seek an explanation. But before a word could be spoke all was explained.

A cordon of dark forms was seen closing up the entrance of the valley; the word “Fire!” was heard, followed by a serried sheet of flame, and the sharp “crack, crack, crack,” proclaiming the discharge of a score of rifles.

It was the last sight seen by the Yellow Chief—the last sound heard by him before passing into eternity!

And the same with his freebooting band. Not one of them went alive out of that valley, into which the trappers had decoyed them.

The emigrants continued on to California, now with diminished numbers; for, along with the leader, several others had been killed in the attack upon the caravan.

But, besides the dead, there was one living who went not with them.

Now that her father was no more, there was no one to hinder Clara Blackadder from staying behind, along with the man of her choice; no reason why she should not return with him to the seats of civilisation.

And she did so; not to share with him an humble home, but a residence far more splendid than the old plantation-house in the “Choctaw purchase.” As the Irish trapper had declared it, Edward O’Neil was one of the “Onales of Tipperary, a gintleman on both sides av the house;” and in due time the property belonging to both sides of the house became his.

It might be chivalry that he did not take his young Southern wife there, where she might feel lonely in a land of strangers. But it gave equal evidence of good sense, that he sold off his Tipperary estates, and invested the money in the purchase of town-lots upon an islet he had learned to love even more than the “gem of the seas.” It was the isle of Manhattan.

There he still lives, happy in the companionship of his beautiful and faithful wife; cheered by sweet children, and, at intervals, by the presence of his old comrade, ’Lije Orton, who, now that railroads have penetrated the far prairies, comes occasionally to pay him a visit, and keep him posted up in the lore of the “mountain men.”

The End.