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Chapter XXVIII 

  The witch, in Smithfield, shall be burned to ashes, And you three
  shall be strangled on the gallows.

The Siouxes had awaited the issue of the foregoing dialogue with commendable patience. Most of the band were restrained, by the secret awe with which they regarded the mysterious character of Obed; while a few of the more intelligent chiefs gladly profited by the opportunity, to arrange their thoughts for the struggle that was plainly foreseen. Mahtoree, influenced by neither of these feelings, was content to show the trapper how much he conceded to his pleasure; and when the old man discontinued the discourse, he received from the chief a glance, that was intended to remind him of the patience, with which he had awaited his movements. A profound and motionless silence succeeded the short interruption. Then Mahtoree arose, evidently prepared to speak. First placing himself in an attitude of dignity, he turned a steady and severe look on the whole assembly. The expression of his eye, however, changed as it glanced across the different countenances of his supporters and of his opponents. To the former the look, though stern, was not threatening, while it seemed to tell the latter all the hazards they incurred, in daring to brave the resentment of one so powerful.

Still, in the midst of so much hauteur and confidence, the sagacity and cunning of the Teton did not desert him. When he had thrown the gauntlet, as it were, to the whole tribe, and sufficiently asserted his claim to superiority, his mien became more affable and his eye less angry. Then it was that he raised his voice, in the midst of a death-like stillness, varying its tones to suit the changing character of his images, and of his eloquence.

"What is a Sioux?" the chief sagaciously began; "he is ruler of the prairies, and master of its beasts. The fishes in the 'river of troubled waters' know him, and come at his call. He is a fox in counsel; an eagle in sight; a grizzly bear in combat. A Dahcotah is a man!" After waiting for the low murmur of approbation, which followed this flattering portrait of his people, to subside, the Teton continued--"What is a Pawnee? A thief, who only steals from women; a Red-skin, who is not brave; a hunter, that begs for his venison. In counsel he is a squirrel, hopping from place to place; he is an owl, that goes on the prairies at night; in battle he is an elk, whose legs are long. A Pawnee is a woman." Another pause succeeded, during which a yell of delight broke from several mouths, and a demand was made, that the taunting words should be translated to the unconscious subject of their biting contempt. The old man took his cue from the eyes of Mahtoree, and complied. Hard-Heart listened gravely, and then, as if apprized that his time to speak had not arrived, he once more bent his look on the vacant air. The orator watched his countenance, with an expression that manifested how inextinguishable was the hatred he felt for the only chief, far and near, whose fame might advantageously be compared with his own. Though disappointed in not having touched the pride of one whom he regarded as a boy, he proceeded, what he considered as far more important, to quicken the tempers of the men of his own tribe, in order that they might be prepared to work his savage purposes. "If the earth was covered with rats, which are good for nothing," he said, "there would be no room for buffaloes, which give food and clothes to an Indian. If the prairies were covered with Pawnees, there would be no room for the foot of a Dahcotah. A Loup is a rat, a Sioux a heavy buffaloe; let the buffaloes tread upon the rats and make room for themselves.

"My brothers, a little child has spoken to you. He tells you, his hair is not grey, but frozen--that the grass will not grow where a Pale- face has died. Does he know the colour of the blood of a Big-knife? No! I know he does not; he has never seen it. What Dahcotah, besides Mahtoree, has ever struck a Pale-face? Not one. But Mahtoree must be silent. Every Teton will shut his ears when he speaks. The scalps over his lodge were taken by the women. They were taken by Mahtoree, and he is a woman. His mouth is shut; he waits for the feasts to sing among the girls!"

Notwithstanding the exclamations of regret and resentment, which followed so abasing a declaration, the chief took his seat, as if determined to speak no more. But the murmurs grew louder and more general, and there were threatening symptoms that the council would dissolve itself in confusion; and he arose and resumed his speech, by changing his manner to the fierce and hurried enunciation of a warrior bent on revenge.

"Let my young men go look for Tetao!" he cried; "they will find his scalp drying in Pawnee smoke. Where is the son of Bohrecheena? His bones are whiter than the faces of his murderers. Is Mahhah asleep in his lodge? You know it is many moons since he started for the blessed prairies; would he were here, that he might say of what colour was the hand that took his scalp!"

In this strain the artful chief continued for many minutes, calling those warriors by name, who were known to have met their deaths in battle with the Pawnees, or in some of those lawless frays which so often occurred between the Sioux bands and a class of white men, who were but little removed from them in the qualities of civilisation. Time was not given to reflect on the merits, or rather the demerits, of most of the different individuals to whom he alluded, in consequence of the rapid manner in which he ran over their names; but so cunningly did he time his events, and so thrillingly did he make his appeals, aided as they were by the power of his deep-toned and stirring voice, that each of them struck an answering chord in the breast of some one of his auditors.

It was in the midst of one of his highest flights of eloquence, that a man, so aged as to walk with the greatest difficulty, entered the very centre of the circle, and took his stand directly in front of the speaker. An ear of great acuteness might possibly have detected that the tones of the orator faltered a little, as his flashing look first fell on this unexpected object, though the change was so trifling, that none, but such as thoroughly knew the parties, would have suspected it. The stranger had once been as distinguished for his beauty and proportions, as had been his eagle eye for its irresistible and terrible glance. But his skin was now wrinkled, and his features furrowed with so many scars, as to have obtained for him, half a century before, from the French of the Canadas, a title which has been borne by so many of the heroes of France, and which had now been adopted into the language of the wild horde of whom we are writing, as the one most expressive of the deeds of their own brave. The murmur of Le Balafre, that ran through the assembly when he appeared, announced not only his name and the high estimation of his character, but how extraordinary his visit was considered. As he neither spoke nor moved, however, the sensation created by his appearance soon subsided, and then every eye was again turned upon the speaker, and every ear once more drunk in the intoxication of his maddening appeals.

It would have been easy to have traced the triumph of Mahtoree, in the reflecting countenances of his auditors. It was not long before a look of ferocity and of revenge was to be seen seated on the grim visages of most of the warriors, and each new and crafty allusion to the policy of extinguishing their enemies, was followed by fresh and less restrained bursts of approbation. In the height of this success the Teton closed his speech, by a rapid appeal to the pride and hardihood of his native band, and suddenly took his seat.

In the midst of the murmurs of applause, which succeeded so remarkable an effort of eloquence, a low, feeble and hollow voice was heard rising on the ear, as if it rolled from the inmost cavities of the human chest, and gathered strength and energy as it issued into the air. A solemn stillness followed the sounds, and then the lips of the aged man were first seen to move.

"The day of Le Balafre is near its end," were the first words that were distinctly audible. "He is like a buffaloe, on whom the hair will grow no longer. He will soon be ready to leave his lodge, to go in search of another, that is far from the villages of the Siouxes; therefore, what he has to say concerns not him, but those he leaves behind him. His words are like the fruit on the tree, ripe and fit to be given to chiefs.

"Many snows have fallen since Le Balafre has been found on the war- path. His blood has been very hot, but it has had time to cool. The Wahcondah gives him dreams of war no longer; he sees that it is better to live in peace.

"My brothers, one foot is turned to the happy hunting-grounds, the other will soon follow, and then an old chief will be seen looking for the prints of his father's moccasins, that he may make no mistake, but be sure to come before the Master of Life, by the same path, as so many good Indians have already travelled. But who will follow? Le Balafre has no son. His oldest has ridden too many Pawnee horses; the bones of the youngest have been gnawed by Konza dogs! Le Balafre has come to look for a young arm, on which he may lean, and to find a son, that when he is gone his lodge may not be empty. Tachechana, the skipping fawn of the Tetons, is too weak, to prop a warrior, who is old. She looks before her and not backwards. Her mind is in the lodge of her husband."

The enunciation of the veteran warrior had been calm, but distinct, and decided. His declaration was received in silence; and though several of the chiefs, who were in the counsels of Mahtoree, turned their eyes on their leader, none presumed to oppose so aged and so venerated a brave, in a resolution that was strictly in conformity to the usages of the nation. The Teton himself was content to await the result with seeming composure, though the gleams of ferocity, that played about his eye, occasionally betrayed the nature of those feelings, with which he witnessed a procedure, that was likely to rob him of that one of all his intended victims whom he most hated.

In the mean time Le Balafre moved with a slow and painful step towards the captives. He stopped before the person of Hard-Heart, whose faultless form, unchanging eye, and lofty mien, he contemplated long, with high and evident satisfaction. Then making a gesture of authority, he awaited, until his order had been obeyed, and the youth was released from the post and his bonds, by the same blow of the knife. When the young warrior was led nearer to his dimmed and failing sight, the examination was renewed, with strictness of scrutiny, and that admiration, which physical excellence is so apt to excite in the breast of a savage.

"It is good," the wary veteran murmured, when he found that all his skill in the requisites of a brave could detect no blemish; "this is a leaping panther! Does my son speak with the tongue of a Teton?"

The intelligence, which lighted the eyes of the captive, betrayed how well he understood the question, but still he was far too haughty to communicate his ideas through the medium of a language that belonged to a hostile people. Some of the surrounding warriors explained to the old chief, that the captive was a Pawnee-Loup.

"My son opened his eyes on the 'waters of the wolves,'" said Le Balafre, in the language of that nation, "but he will shut them in the bend of the 'river with a troubled stream.' He was born a Pawnee, but he will die a Dahcotah. Look at me. I am a sycamore, that once covered many with my shadow. The leaves are fallen, and the branches begin to drop. But a single sucker is springing from my roots; it is a little vine, and it winds itself about a tree that is green. I have long looked for one fit to grow by my side. Now have I found him. Le Balafre is no longer without a son; his name will not be forgotten when he is gone! Men of the Tetons, I take this youth into my lodge."

No one was bold enough to dispute a right, that had so often been exercised by warriors far inferior to the present speaker, and the adoption was listened to, in grave and respectful silence. Le Balafre took his intended son by the arm, and leading him into the very centre of the circle, he stepped aside with an air of triumph, in order that the spectators might approve of his choice. Mahtoree betrayed no evidence of his intentions, but rather seemed to await a moment better suited to the crafty policy of his character. The more experienced and sagacious chiefs distinctly foresaw the utter impossibility of two partisans so renowned, so hostile, and who had so long been rivals in fame, as their prisoner and their native leader, existing amicably in the same tribe. Still the character of Le Balafre was so imposing, and the custom to which he had resorted so sacred, that none dared to lift a voice in opposition to the measure. They watched the result with increasing interest, but with a coldness of demeanour that concealed the nature of their inquietude. From this state of embarrassment, and as it might readily have proved of disorganisation, the tribe was unexpectedly relieved by the decision of the one most interested in the success of the aged chief's designs.

During the whole of the foregoing scene, it would have been difficult to have traced a single distinct emotion in the lineaments of the captive. He had heard his release proclaimed, with the same indifference as the order to bind him to the stake. But now, that the moment had arrived when it became necessary to make his election, he spoke in a way to prove that the fortitude, which had bought him so distinguished a name, had in no degree deserted him.

"My father is very old, but he has not yet looked upon every thing," said Hard-Heart, in a voice so clear as to be heard by all in presence. "He has never seen a buffaloe change to a bat. He will never see a Pawnee become a Sioux!"

There was a suddenness, and yet a calmness in the manner of delivering this decision, which assured most of the auditors that it was unalterable. The heart of Le Balafre, however, was yearning towards the youth, and the fondness of age was not so readily repulsed. Reproving the burst of admiration and triumph, to which the boldness of the declaration, and the freshened hopes of revenge had given rise, by turning his gleaming eye around the band, the veteran again addressed his adopted child, as if his purpose was not to be denied.

"It is well," he said; "such are the words a brave should use, that the warriors may see his heart. The day has been when the voice of Le Balafre was loudest among the lodges of the Konzas. But the root of a white hair is wisdom. My child will show the Tetons that he is brave, by striking their enemies. Men of the Dahcotahs, this is my son!"

The Pawnee hesitated a moment, and then stepping in front of the chief, he took his hard and wrinkled hand, and laid it with reverence on his head, as if to acknowledge the extent of his obligation. Then recoiling a step, he raised his person to its greatest elevation, and looked upon the hostile band, by whom he was environed, with an air of loftiness and disdain, as he spoke aloud, in the language of the Siouxes--

"Hard-Heart has looked at himself, within and without. He has thought of all he has done in the hunts and in the wars. Every where he is the same. There is no change. He is in all things a Pawnee. He has struck so many Tetons that he could never eat in their lodges. His arrows would fly backwards; the point of his lance would be on the wrong end; their friends would weep at every whoop he gave; their enemies would laugh. Do the Tetons know a Loup? Let them look at him again. His head is painted; his arm is flesh; his heart is rock. When the Tetons see the sun come from the Rocky Mountains, and move towards the land of the Pale-faces, the mind of Hard-Heart will soften, and his spirit will become Sioux. Until that day, he will live and die a Pawnee."

A yell of delight, in which admiration and ferocity were strangely mingled, interrupted the speaker, and but too clearly announced the character of his fate. The captive awaited a moment, for the commotion to subside, and then turning again to Le Balafre, he continued, in tones conciliating and kind, as if he felt the propriety of softening his refusal, in a manner not to wound the pride of one who would so gladly be his benefactor--

"Let my father lean heavier on the fawn of the Dahcotahs," he said: "she is weak now, but as her lodge fills with young, she will be stronger. See," he added, directing the eyes of the other to the earnest countenance of the attentive trapper; "Hard-Heart is not without a grey-head to show him the path to the blessed prairies. If he ever has another father, it shall be that just warrior."

Le Balafre turned away in disappointment from the youth, and approached the stranger, who had thus anticipated his design. The examination between these two aged men was long, mutual, and curious. It was not easy to detect the real character of the trapper, through the mask which the hardships of so many years had laid upon his features, especially when aided by his wild and peculiar attire. Some moments elapsed before the Teton spoke, and then it was in doubt whether he addressed one like himself, or some wanderer of that race who, he had heard, were spreading themselves, like hungry locusts, throughout the land.

"The head of my brother is very white," he said; "but the eye of Le Balafre is no longer like the eagle's. Of what colour is his skin?"

"The Wahcondah made me like these you see waiting for a Dahcotah judgment; but fair and foul has coloured me darker than the skin of a fox. What of that! Though the bark is ragged and riven, the heart of the tree is sound."

"My brother is a Big-knife! Let him turn his face towards the setting sun, and open his eyes. Does he see the salt lake beyond the mountains?"

"The time has been, Teton, when few could see the white on the eagle's head farther than I; but the glare of fourscore and seven winters has dimmed my eyes, and but little can I boast of sight in my latter days. Does the Sioux think a Pale-face is a god, that he can look through hills?"

"Then let my brother look at me. I am nigh him, and he can see that I am a foolish Red-man. Why cannot his people see every thing, since they crave all?"

"I understand you, chief; nor will I gainsay the justice of your words, seeing that they are too much founded in truth. But though born of the race you love so little, my worst enemy, not even a lying Mingo, would dare to say that I ever laid hands on the goods of another, except such as were taken in manful warfare; or that I ever coveted more ground than the Lord has intended each man to fill."

"And yet my brother has come among the Red-skins to find a son?"

The trapper laid a finger on the naked shoulder of Le Balafre, and looked into his scarred countenance with a wistful and confidential expression, as he answered--

"Ay; but it was only that I might do good to the boy. If you think, Dahcotah, that I adopted the youth in order to prop my age, you do as much injustice to my goodwill, as you seem to know little of the merciless intentions of your own people. I have made him my son, that he may know that one is left behind him. Peace, Hector, peace! Is this decent, pup, when greyheads are counselling together, to break in upon their discourse with the whinings of a hound! The dog is old, Teton; and though well taught in respect of behaviour, he is getting, like ourselves, I fancy, something forgetful of the fashions of his youth."

Further discourse, between these veterans, was interrupted by a discordant yell, which burst at that moment from the lips of the dozen withered crones, who have already been mentioned as having forced themselves into a conspicuous part of the circle. The outcry was excited by a sudden change in the air of Hard-Heart. When the old men turned towards the youth, they saw him standing in the very centre of the ring, with his head erect, his eye fixed on vacancy, one leg advanced and an arm a little raised, as if all his faculties were absorbed in the act of listening. A smile lighted his countenance, for a single moment, and then the whole man sunk again into his former look of dignity and coldness, suddenly recalled to self-possession. The movement had been construed into contempt, and even the tempers of the chiefs began to be excited. Unable to restrain their fury, the women broke into the circle in a body, and commenced their attack by loading the captive with the most bitter revilings. They boasted of the various exploits, which their sons had achieved at the expense of the different tribes of the Pawnees. They undervalued his own reputation, and told him to look at Mahtoree, if he had never yet seen a warrior. They accused him of having been suckled by a doe, and of having drunk in cowardice with his mother's milk. In short, they lavished upon their unmoved captive a torrent of that vindictive abuse, in which the women of the savages are so well known to excel, but which has been too often described to need a repetition here.

The effect of this outbreaking was inevitable. Le Balafre turned away disappointed, and hid himself in the crowd, while the trapper, whose honest features were working with inward emotion, pressed nigher to his young friend, as those who are linked to the criminal, by ties so strong as to brave the opinions of men, are often seen to stand about the place of execution to support his dying moments. The excitement soon spread among the inferior warriors, though the chiefs still forbore to make the signal, which committed the victim to their mercy. Mahtoree, who had awaited such a movement among his fellows, with the wary design of concealing his own jealous hatred, soon grew weary of delay, and, by a glance of his eye, encouraged the tormentors to proceed.

Weucha, who, eager for this sanction, had long stood watching the countenance of the chief, bounded forward at the signal like a blood- hound loosened from the leash. Forcing his way into the centre of the hags, who were already proceeding from abuse to violence, he reproved their impatience, and bade them wait, until a warrior had begun to torment, and then they should see their victim shed tears like a woman.

The heartless savage commenced his efforts, by flourishing his tomahawk about the head of the captive, in such a manner as to give reason to suppose, that each blow would bury the weapon in the flesh, while it was so governed as not to touch the skin. To this customary expedient Hard-Heart was perfectly insensible. His eye kept the same steady, riveted look on the air, though the glittering axe described, in its evolutions, a bright circle of light before his countenance. Frustrated in this attempt, the callous Sioux laid the cold edge on the naked head of his victim, and began to describe the different manners, in which a prisoner might be flayed. The women kept time to his cruelties with their taunts, and endeavoured to force some expression of the lingerings of nature from the insensible features of the Pawnee. But he evidently reserved himself for the chiefs, and for those moments of extreme anguish, when the loftiness of his spirit might evince itself in a manner better becoming his high and untarnished reputation.

The eyes of the trapper, followed every movement of the tomahawk, with the interest of a real father, until at length, unable to command his indignation, he exclaimed--

"My son has forgotten his cunning. This is a low-minded Indian, and one easily hurried into folly. I cannot do the thing myself, for my traditions forbid a dying warrior to revile his persecutors, but the gifts of a Red-skin are different. Let the Pawnee say the bitter words and purchase an easy death. I will answer for his success, provided he speaks before the grave men set their wisdom to back the folly of this fool."

The savage Sioux, who heard his words without comprehending their meaning, turned to the speaker and menaced him with death, for his temerity.

"Ay, work your will," said the unflinching old man; "I am as ready now as I shall be to-morrow. Though it would be a death that an honest man might not wish to die. Look at that noble Pawnee, Teton, and see what a Red-skin may become, who fears the Master of Life, and follows his laws. How many of your people has he sent to the distant prairies?" he continued in a sort of pious fraud, thinking, that while the danger menaced himself, there could surely be no sin in extolling the merits of another; "how many howling Siouxes has he struck, like a warrior in open combat, while arrows were sailing in the air plentier than flakes of falling snow! Go! will Weucha speak the name of one enemy he has ever struck?"

"Hard-Heart!" shouted the Sioux, turning in his fury, and aiming a deadly blow at the head of his victim. His arm fell into the hollow of the captive's hand. For a single moment the two stood, as if entranced in that attitude, the one paralysed by so unexpected a resistance, and the other bending his head, not to meet his death, but in the act of the most intense attention. The women screamed with triumph, for they thought the nerves of the captive had at length failed him. The trapper trembled for the honour of his friend; and Hector, as if conscious of what was passing, raised his nose into the air, and uttered a piteous howl.

But the Pawnee hesitated, only for that moment. Raising the other hand, like lightning, the tomahawk flashed in the air, and Weucha sunk to his feet, brained to the eye. Then cutting a way with the bloody weapon, he darted through the opening, left by the frightened women, and seemed to descend the declivity at a single bound.

Had a bolt from Heaven fallen in the midst of the Teton band it would not have occasioned greater consternation, than this act of desperate hardihood. A shrill plaintive cry burst from the lips of all the women, and there was a moment, that even the oldest warriors appeared to have lost their faculties. This stupor endured only for the instant. It was succeeded by a yell of revenge, that burst from a hundred throats, while as many warriors started forward at the cry, bent on the most bloody retribution. But a powerful and authoritative call from Mahtoree arrested every foot. The chief, in whose countenance disappointment and rage were struggling with the affected composure of his station, extended an arm towards the river, and the whole mystery was explained.

Hard-Heart had already crossed half the bottom, which lay between the acclivity and the water. At this precise moment a band of armed and mounted Pawnees turned a swell, and galloped to the margin of the stream, into which the plunge of the fugitive was distinctly heard. A few minutes sufficed for his vigorous arm to conquer the passage, and then the shout from the opposite shore told the humbled Tetons the whole extent of the triumph of their adversaries.

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