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The purchase of a buffalo robe, blankets, boots, and a Colt's revolver occupied but a short time, but the rifle was a much more difficult matter.
"You can always rely upon a Colt," the miner said, "but rifles are different things; and as your life may often depend upon your shooting-iron carrying straight, you have got to be mighty careful about it. A gun that has got the name of being a good weapon will fetch four times as much as a new one."
Denver was but a small place; there was no regular gunsmith's shop, but rifles and pistols were sold at almost every store in the town. In this quest Jerry was assisted by Pete Hoskings, who knew of several men who would be ready to dispose of their rifles. Some of these weapons were taken out into the country and tried at marks by the two men. They made what seemed to Tom wonderful shooting, but did not satisfy Hoskings.
"I should like the youngster to have a first-rate piece," he said, "and I mean to get him one if I can. There are two of these would do if we can't get a better, but if there is a first-rate one to be had in this township I will have it." Suddenly he exclaimed, "I must have gone off my head, and be going downright foolish! Why, I know the very weapon. You remember Billy the scout?"
"In course I do, everyone knew him. I heard he had gone down just before I got back here."
"That is so, Jerry. You know he had a bit of a place up in the hills, four or five miles from here, where he lived with that Indian wife of his when he was not away. I went out to see him a day or two afore he died. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He said no, his squaw would get on well enough there. She had been alone most of her time, and would wrestle on just as well when he had gone under. He had a big garden-patch which she cultivated, and brought the things down into the town here. They always fetch a good price. Why more people don't grow them I can't make out; it would pay better than gold-seeking, you bet. He had a few hundred dollars laid by, and he said they might come in handy to her if she fell sick, or if things went hard in winter. Well, you remember his gun?"
"In course--his gun was nigh as well known as Billy himself. He used to call it Plumb-centre. You don't mean to say she hasn't sold it?"
"She hasn't; at least I should have been sure to hear if she had. I know several of the boys who went to the funeral wanted to buy it, and offered her long prices for it too; but she wouldn't trade. I will ride over there this evening and see what I can do about it. She will sell to me if she sells to anyone, for she knows I was a great chum of Billy's, and I have done her a few good turns. She broke her leg some years back when he was away, and luckily enough I chanced to ride over there the next day. Being alone and without anyone to help, she would have got on badly. I sent a surgeon up to her, and got a redskin woman to go up to nurse her. I don't wonder she did not like to sell Billy's piece, seeing he was so famous with it, and I feel sure money would not do it; but perhaps I can talk her into it."
The next morning the articles agreed upon as the price of the horses were packed on Jerry's pony, and they went out to the meeting-place.
"It is twenty minutes early," Jerry said, as Tom consulted his watch, "and the red-skins won't be here till it is just twelve o'clock. A red-skin is never five minutes before or five minutes after the time he has named for a meeting. It may have been set six months before, and at a place a thousand miles away, but just at the hour, neither before nor after, he will be there. A white man will keep the appointment; but like enough he will be there the night before, will make his camp, sleep, and cook a meal or two, but he does not look for the red-skin till exactly the hour named, whether it is sunrise or sunset or noon. Red-skins ain't got many virtues,--least there ain't many of them has, though I have known some you could trust all round as ready as any white man,--but for keeping an appintment they licks creation."
A few minutes before twelve o'clock three Indians were seen coming down the valley on horseback. They were riding at a leisurely pace, and it was exactly the hour when they drew rein in front of Tom and his companion. Jerry had already unloaded his pony and had laid out the contents of the pack. First he proceeded to examine the two ponies, to make sure that they were the same he had chosen.
"That is all right," he said; "they would hardly have tried to cheat us over that--they would know that it would not pay with me. There, chief, is your exchange. You will see that the blankets are of good quality. There is the keg of powder, the bar of lead, ten plugs of tobacco, the cloth for the squaws, and all the other things agreed on."
The chief examined them carefully, and nodded his satisfaction. "If all the pale-faces dealt as fairly with the red man as you have done there would not be so much trouble between them," he said.
"That is right enough, chief; it can't be gainsaid that a great many, ay, I might say the most part, of the traders are rogues. But they would cheat us just the same as they would you, and often do take us in. I have had worthless goods passed off on me many a time; and I don't blame you a bit if you put a bullet into the skull of a rogue who has cheated you, for I should be mightily inclined to do the same myself."
No more words were wasted; the lads who had ridden the ponies down made up the goods in great bundles and went up the valley with their chief, while Jerry and Tom took the plaited leather lariats which were round the ponies' necks and returned to Denver. A saddle of Mexican pattern, with high peak and cantle, massive wooden framework, huge straps and heavy stirrups, was next bought. Jerry folded a horse-rug and tried it in different positions on the horse's back until the saddle fitted well upon it.
"That is the thing that you have got to be most particular about, Tom. If the saddle does not sit right the horse gets galled, and when a horse once gets galled he ain't of much use till he is well again, though the Indians ride them when they are in a terrible state; but then they have got so many horses that, unless they are specially good, they don't hold them of any account. You see the saddle is so high that there is good space between it and the backbone, and the pressure comes fair on the ribs, so the ponies don't get galled if the blankets are folded properly. The Indians do not use saddles, but ride either on a pad or just a folded blanket, and their ponies are always getting galled."
"The saddle is tremendously heavy."
"It is heavy, but a few pounds don't make much difference to the horse one way or the other, so that he is carrying it comfortably. The saddles would be no good if they were not made strong, for a horse may put his foot in a hole and come down head over heels, or may tumble down a precipice, and the saddle would be smashed up if it were not pretty near as strong as cast-iron. Out on the plains a man thinks as much of his saddle as he does of his horse, and more. If his horse dies he will put the saddle on his head and carry it for days rather than part with it, for he knows he won't be long before he gets a horse again. He can buy one for a few charges of powder and ball from the first friendly Indians he comes across, or he may get one given to him if he has nothing to exchange for it, or if he comes across a herd of wild horses he can crease one."
"What is creasing a horse?" Tom asked.
"Well, it is a thing that wants a steady hand, for you have got to hit him just on the right spot--an inch higher, you will miss him; half an inch lower, you will kill him. You have got to put a bullet through his neck two or three inches behind the ears and just above the spine. Of course if you hit the spine you kill him, and he is no good except to give you a meal or two if you are hard-up for food; but if the ball goes through the muscles of the neck, just above the spine, the shock knocks him over as surely as if you had hit him in the heart. It stuns him, and you have only got to run up and put your lariat round his neck, and be ready to mount him as soon as he rises, which he will do in two or three minutes, and he will be none the worse for the shock; in fact you will be able to break him in more easily than if you had caught him by the rope."
Jerry then adjusted his own saddle to the other Indian horse.
"Can you ride?" he asked.
"No, I have never had any chance of learning at home."
"Well, you had better have a lesson at once. This is a good way for a beginner;" and he took a blanket, and having rolled it up tightly, strapped it over the peak of the saddle and down the flaps.
"There," he said. "You get your knees against that, and what with the high peak and the high cantle you can hardly be chucked out anyhow, that is, if the horse does not buck; but I will try him as to that before you mount. We will lead them out beyond the town, we don't want to make a circus of ourselves in the streets; besides, if you get chucked, you will fall softer there than you would on the road. But first of all we will give them a feed of corn. You see they are skeary of us at present. Indian horses are always afraid of white men at first, just as white men's horses are afraid of Indians. A feed of corn will go a long way towards making us good friends, for you may be sure they have never had a feed in their lives beyond what they could pick up for themselves."
The horses snuffed the corn with some apprehension when it was held out towards them, backing away from the sieves with their ears laid back; but seeing that no harm came to them they presently investigated the food more closely, and at last took a mouthful, after which they proceeded to eat greedily, their new masters patting their necks and talking to them while they did so. Then their saddles and bridles were put on, and they were led out of the stable and along the streets. At first they were very fidgety and wild at the unaccustomed sights and sounds, but their fear gradually subsided, and by the time they were well in the country they went along quietly enough.
"Now you hold my horse, Tom, and I will try yours."
Jerry mounted and galloped away; in ten minutes he returned.
"He will do," he said as he dismounted. "He is fresh yet and wants training. I don't suppose he has been ridden half a dozen times, but with patience and training he will turn out a first-rate beast. I could see they were both fast when those boys rode them. I don't wonder the chief asked what, for an Indian pony, was a mighty long price, though it was cheap enough for such good animals. He must have two or three uncommon good ones at home or he would never have parted with them, for when an Indian gets hold of an extra good pony no price will tempt him to sell it, for a man's life on the plains often depends on the speed and stay of his horse. Now, I will take a gallop on my own, and when I come back you can mount and we will ride on quietly together.
"There is not much difference between them," he said on his return. "Yours is a bit faster. Pete told me to get you the best horse I could find, and I fixed upon yours, directly my eye fell upon him, as being the pick of the drove. But this is a good one too, and will suit me as well as yours, for he is rather heavier, and will carry me better than yours would do on a long journey. Now climb up into your saddle."
Jerry laughed at the difficulty Tom had in lifting his leg over the high cantle. "You will have to practise presently putting your hands on the saddle and vaulting into it. Half a minute in mounting may make all the difference between getting away and being rubbed out. When you see the red-skins coming yelling down on you fifty yards away, and your horse is jumping about as scared as you are, it is not an easy matter to get on to its back if you have got to put your foot in the stirrup first. You have got to learn to chuck yourself straight into your seat whether you are standing still or both on the run. There, how do you feel now?"
"I feel regularly wedged into the saddle."
"That is right. I will take up the stirrups a hole, then you will get your knees firmer against the blanket. It is better to learn to ride without it, even if you do get chucked off a few times, but as we start to-morrow you have no time for that. In a few days, when you get at home in the saddle, we will take off the blanket, and you have got to learn to hold on by your knees and by the balance of your body. Now we will be moving on."
As soon as the reins were slackened the horses started together at an easy canter.
"That is their pace," Jerry said. "Except on a very long journey, when he has got squaws and baggage with him, a red-skin never goes at a walk, and the horses will keep on at this lope for hours. That is right. Don't sit so stiffly; you want your legs to be stiff and keeping a steady grip, but from your hips you want to be as slack as possible, just giving to the horse's action, the same way you give on board ship when vessels are rolling. That is better. Ah! here comes Pete. I took this way because I knew it was the line he would come back by--and, by gosh, he has got the rifle, sure enough!"
Pete had seen them, and was waving the gun over his head.
"I've got it," he said as he reined up his horse when he met them. "It was a stiff job, for she did not like to part with it. I had to talk to her a long time. I put it to her that when she died the gun would have to go to someone, and I wanted it for a nephew of Straight Harry, whom she knew well enough; that it was for a young fellow who was safe to turn out a great hunter and Indian fighter like her husband, and that he would be sure to do credit to Plumb-centre, and make the gun as famous in his hands as it had been in her husband's. That fetched her. She said I had been kind to her, and though she could not have parted with the gun for money, she would do it, partly to please me, and partly because she knew that Straight Harry had been a friend of her husband's, and had fought by his side, and that the young brave I spoke of, would be likely to do credit to Plumb-centre. Her husband, she said, would be glad to know that it was in such good hands. So she handed it over to me. She would not hear of taking money for it; indeed, I did not press it, knowing that she would feel that it was almost a part of her husband; but I will make it up to her in other ways. There, Tom; there is as good a shooting-iron as there is in all the territories."
"Thank you very much indeed, Pete. I shall value it immensely, and I only hope that some day I shall be able to do credit to it, as the poor woman said."
There was nothing particular in the appearance of the rifle. It was a plainly-finished piece, with a small bore and heavy metal.
"It don't look much," Jerry said, "but it is a daisy, you bet."
"We will try a shot with it, Jerry. She gave me the bag of bullets and a box of patches and his powder-horn with it. We will see what it will do in our hands, we are both pretty good shots."
He loaded the rifle carefully.
"You see that bit of black rock cropping out of the hill-side. I guess it is about two hundred and fifty yards away, and is about the size a red-skin's head would be if he were crawling through the grass towards us. Will you shoot first or shall I?"
"Fire away, Pete."
Hoskings took a steady aim and fired.
"You have hit it," Jerry exclaimed. "Just grazed it at the top."
They walked across to the rock; there was a chip just on the top.
"It was a good shot, Pete; especially considering how you are out of practice. If it had been a red-skin it would have stunned him sure, for I doubt whether it is not too high by a quarter of an inch or so, to have finished him altogether."
"It would have cut his top-knot off, Jerry, and that is all. I doubt whether it would have even touched his skin."
They returned to the spot where Pete had fired, and Jerry threw himself down on the grass and levelled his rifle.
"That is not fair, Jerry," Pete protested.
"It would not be fair if I was shooting against you, but we are only trying the rifle, and if that rock were a red-skin you may be sure that I should be lying down."
He fired: and on going to the stone again they found that the bullet had struck it fair, within an inch of its central point.
"That is something like a rifle," Jerry said delighted. "Now, Tom, you shall have a shot."
As they walked to the shooting-point, Jerry showed the lad how to hold the rifle, instructed him as to the backsight, and showed him how to get the foresight exactly on the nick of the backsight. "You must just see the bead as if it were resting in the nick, and the object you aim at must just show above the top point of the bead." He showed him how to load, and then told him to lie down, as he had done, on his chest, and to steady the rifle with the left arm, the elbow being on the ground. "You must be quite comfortable," he said; "it is of no use trying to shoot if you are in a cramped position. Now, take a steady aim, and the moment you have got the two sights in a line on the rock, press the trigger steadily. Press pretty hard; it is only a pull of about two pounds, but it is wonderful how stiff a trigger feels the first time you pull at it. You need not be at all afraid of the kick. If you press the butt tightly against your shoulder you will hardly feel it, for there is plenty of weight in the barr'l, and it carries but a small charge of powder. You won't want to shoot at anything much beyond this range, but sometimes you may have to try at four or five hundred yards when you are in want of a dinner. In that case you can put in a charge and a half of powder. Now, are you comfortable? You need not grip so hard with your left hand, the gun only wants to rest between your thumb and fingers. That is better. Now take a steady aim, and the moment you have got it press the trigger. Well done! that is a good shot for a first. You hit the dust an inch or two to the right of the stone. If it had been a red-skin you would have hit him in the shoulder. You will do, lad, and by the time we get to Fort Bridger I guess you will bring down a stag as clean as nine out of ten hunters."
"Don't get into the way of waiting too long before you fire, Tom," Pete Hoskings said. "Better to try to shoot too quick to begin with than to be too long about it. When you have made up your mind that you are going to shoot, get your bead on your mark and fire at once. You may want to hit a red-skin's head as he looks out from behind a tree, and to do that you must fire the instant you see him or he will be in again. One of the best shots I ever saw never used to raise his gun to his shoulder at all. He just dropped his piece into the hollow of his left hand, and would fire as he touched it. He did not seem to take any aim at all, but his bullet was sartin to hit the thing he wanted to, even if it were no bigger than an orange. He could not tell himself how he did it. 'I seen the thing and I fired, Pete,' he would say; 'the gun seems to point right of its own accord, I have not anything to say to it.' You see, shooting is a matter of eye. Some men may shoot all their lives, and they will never be more than just respectable, while others shoot well the first time that a gun is put in their hands. Want of nerve is what spoils half men's shooting; that and taking too long an aim. Well, it is time for us to be mounting and getting back. I have got to see that the dinner is all ready. I never can trust that black scoundrel, Sam, to do things right while I am away."
The preparations for the journey were completed by the evening.
"Now mind, Tom," Pete Hoskings said the last thing before going to bed, "if you don't find your uncle, or if you hear that he has got wiped out, be sure you come right back here. Whether you are cut out for a hunter or not, it will do you a world of good to stick to the life until you get four or five years older and settle as to how you like to fix yourself, for there ain't no better training than a few years out on the plains, no matter what you do afterwards. I will find a good chum for you, and see you through it, both for the sake of my old mate, Straight Harry, and because I have taken a liking to you myself."
"Why do you call my uncle Straight Harry?" Tom asked, after thanking Pete for his promise. "Is he so very upright?"
"No, lad, no; it ain't nothing to do with that. There are plenty more erect men than him about. He is about the size of Jerry, though, maybe a bit taller. No; he got to be called Straight Harry because he was a square man, a chap everyone could trust. If he said he would do a thing he would do it; there weren't no occasion for any papers to bind him. When he said a thing you could bet on it. You could buy a mine on his word: if he said it was good you need not bother to take a journey to look at it, you knew it was right there, and weren't a put-up job. Once when we were working down on the Yuba we got to a place where there were a fault in the rock, and the lode had slipped right away from us. Everyone in camp knew that we had been doing well, and we had only got to pile up a few pieces of rock at the bottom, and no one who would have seen it would have known that the lode was gone. That is what most chaps would have done, and a third chap who was working with us was all for doing it. Anyone would have given us five hundred ounces for it. Well, I didn't say nothing, it was what pretty nigh anyone on the mines would have done if he had the chance, but Harry turned on our partner like a mountain lion. 'You are a mean skunk, New Jersey' says he. 'Do you think that I would be one to rob a man only because he would be fool enough to take a place without looking at it? We've worked to the edge of the claim both ways, and I don't reckon there is a dollar's worth of gold left in it, now that it has pettered out at the bottom, and if there was I would not work another day with a man who proposed to get up a swindle.' So as soon as he got up to the surface he told everyone that the lode had gone out and that the claim weren't worth a red cent. He and New Jersey had a big fight with fists that evening. The other was bigger than Harry, and stronger, but he were no hand with his pistol, and Harry is a dead shot; so he told New Jersey he would fight him English fashion, and Harry gave him the biggest licking I ever saw a man have. I felt pretty mean myself, you bet, for having thought of planting the thing off; but as I hadn't spoken, Harry knew nothing about it. If he had, I doubt if he would ever have given me his hand again. Yes, sir, he is a straight man all round, and there is no man better liked than Harry. Why, there are a score of men in this town who know him as I do, and, if he came to them and said, 'I have struck it rich, I will go halves with you if you will plank down twenty thousand dollars to open her up,' they would pay down the cash without another word; and, I tell you, there ain't ten men west of the Missouri of whom as much could be said."
The next morning at daybreak Jerry and Tom started. They rode due north, skirting the foot of the hills, till they reached the emigrant route, for the railway had not been carried farther than Wabash, from which point it ran south to Denver. It was a journey of some five hundred miles to Fort Bridger, and they took a month to accomplish it, sometimes following the ordinary line of travel, sometimes branching off more to the north, where game was still abundant.
"That is Fort Bridger, Tom. It ain't much of a place to look at; but is, like all these forts, just a strong palisading, with a clump of wooden huts for the men in the middle. Well, the first stage of your journey is over, and you know a little more now than when you left Denver; but though I have taught you a good bit, you will want another year's practice with that shooting-iron afore you're a downright good shot; but you have come on well, and the way you brought down that stag on a run yesterday was uncommon good. You have made the most of your opportunities, and have got a steady hand and a good eye. You are all right on your horse now, and can be trusted to keep your seat if you have a pack of red-skins at your heels. You have learnt to make a camp, and to sleep comfortable on the ground; you can frizzle a bit of deer-flesh over the fire, and can bake bread as well as a good many. Six months of it and you will be a good plain's-man. I wish we had had a shot at buffalo. They are getting scarcer than they were, and do not like crossing the trail. We ain't likely to see many of them west of the Colorado; the ground gets too hilly for them, and there are too many bad lands."
"What are bad lands, Jerry?"
"They are just lands where Nature, when she made them, had got plenty of rock left, but mighty little soil or grass seed. There are bad lands all over the country, but nowhere so bad as the tract on both sides of the Green and Colorado rivers. You may ride fifty miles any way over bare rock without seeing a blade of grass unless you get down into some of the valleys, and you may die of thirst with water under your feet."
"How do you mean, Jerry?"
"The rivers there don't act like the rivers in other parts. Instead of working round the foot of the hills they just go through them. You ride along on what seems to be a plain, and you come suddenly to a crack that ain't perhaps twenty or thirty feet across, and you look down, if you have got head enough to do it, and there, two thousand feet or more below you, you see a river foaming among rocks. It ain't one river or it ain't another river as does it; every little stream from the hills cuts itself its canon and makes its way along till it meets two or three others, then they go on together, cutting deeper and deeper until they run into one of the arms of the Green River or the Colorado or the Grand.
"The Green and the Colorado are all the same river, only the upper part is called the Green. For about a thousand miles it runs through great canons. No one has ever gone down them, and I don't suppose anyone ever will; and people don't know what is the course of the river from the time it begins this game till it comes out a big river on the southern plains. You see, the lands are so bad there is no travelling across them, and the rapids are so terrible that there is no going down them. Even the Indians never go near the canons if they can help it. I believe they think the whole thing is the work of an evil spirit."
"But you said some of the valleys had grass?"
"Yes; I have gone down one or two myself from the mountains of Utah, where the stream, instead of cutting a canon for itself, has behaved for a bit in the ordinary way and made a valley. Wonderfully good places they were--plenty of grass, plenty of water, and no end of game. I have spent some months among them, and got a wonderful lot of skins, beavers principally of course, but half a dozen mountain lions and two grizzlies. I did not bring home their skins, you bet. They were too heavy, and I should not have troubled them if they had not troubled me. There was good fish, too, in the streams, and I never had a better time. The red-skins happened to be friendly, and I was with a hunter who had a red-skin wife and a dozen ponies. If it hadn't been for that I should soon have had to quit, for it ain't no good hunting if you can't carry away the skins. As it was I made a good job of it, for I got nigh a thousand dollars for my skins at Utah.
"Well, here we are at the fort. I guess we may as well make our camp outside. If you go in you have got to picket your horse here and put your baggage there and come in at gun-fire, and all sorts of things that troubles a man who is accustomed to act as he likes."
The horses were soon picketed. "I will go in first and see who is here, Tom. There are usually a lot of loafing Indians about these forts, and though it is safe enough to leave our traps, out on the plain, it will not do here. We must stay with them, or at any rate keep them in sight; besides, these two horses would be a temptation to any redskin who happened to want an animal."
"I will wait willingly, Jerry; I should know nobody inside the fort if I went in. I will see to making a fire and boiling the kettle, and I will have supper ready at seven o'clock."
"I shall be sure to be back by that time; like enough I sha'n't be a quarter of an hour away."
It was but half an hour, indeed, before Tom saw him returning, accompanied by a tall red-skin.
"This is a friend of mine, Tom. He was a chief of the Senecas, but his tribe are nearly wiped out, and he has been all his life a hunter, and there are few of us who have been much out on the plains who don't know him. Chief, this is Straight Harry's nephew I was telling you of, who has come out here to join his uncle. Sit down, we have got some deer-flesh. Tom here knocked one over on the run at two hundred and fifty yards by as good a shot as you want to see; while it is cooking we can smoke a pipe and have a chat."
The chief gravely seated himself by the fire.
"What have you been doing since I last saw you up near the Yellowstone?"
"Leaping Horse has been hunting," the Indian said quietly, with a wave of his hand, denoting that he had been over a wide expanse of country.
"I guessed so," Jerry put in.
"And fighting with 'Rappahoes and Navahoes."
"Then you've been north and south?"
The Indian nodded. "Much trouble with both; they wanted our scalps. But four of the 'Rappahoe lodges are without a master, and there are five Navahoe widows."
"Then you were not alone?"
"Garrison was with me among the 'Rappahoes; and the Shoshone hunter, Wind-that-blows, was with me when the Navahoes came on our trail."
"They had better have left you alone, chief. Do you know the Ute country?"
"The Leaping Horse has been there. The Utes are dogs."
"They are troublesome varmint, like most of the others," Jerry agreed. "I was telling you Straight Harry is up in their country somewhere. Tom here is anxious to join him, but of course that can't be. You have not heard anything of him, I suppose?"
"The Leaping Horse was with him a week ago."
"You were, chief! Why did you not tell me so when I was saying we did not know where he was?"
"My white brother did not ask," the chief said quietly.
"That is true enough, chief, but you might have told me without asking."
The Indian made no reply, but continued to smoke his hatchet pipe tranquilly, as if the remark betrayed such ignorance of Indian manners that it was not worth replying to.
Tom took up the conversation now.
"Was it far from here that you saw him?"
"Five days' journey, if travel quick."
"Was he hunting?" Jerry asked.
"Hunting, and looking for gold."
"Who had he with him?"
"Two white men. One was Ben Gulston. Leaping Horse had met him in Idaho. The other was called Sam, a big man with a red beard."
"Yes, Sam Hicks; he only came back from California a few months back, so you would not be likely to have met him before. Were they going to remain where you left them?"
The Indian shook his head. "They were going farther north."
"Farther north!" Jerry repeated. "Don't you mean farther south?"
"Leaping Horse is not mistaken, he knows his right hand from his left."
"Of course, of course, chief," the miner said apologetically; "I only thought that it was a slip of the tongue. Then if they were going farther north they must have come back in this direction."
"They were on the banks of the Big Wind River when Leaping Horse met them."
"Jerusalem!" the miner exclaimed. "What on airth are they doing there? Why, we thought they had gone down to the west of the Colorado. I told you so, chief, when I talked to you about it; and instead of that, here they are up in the country of the 'Rappahoes and Shoshones."
"They went south," the Indian said quietly, "and had trouble with the Utes and had to come back again, then they went north."
"Ah, that accounts for it. I wonder Harry didn't send word to Pete Hoskings that he had gone up to the Big Wind River. I ain't heard of there being any gold in that region, though some think that coming down through the big hills from Yellowstone Valley on the northwest, metal might be struck."
"Going to look for gold a little," the chief said, "hunt much; not stay there very long, mean to go down south again after a bit. Leaping Horse go with them."
"Oh, I see. The Utes had come upon them, and they knew that if they stopped there they would lose their scalps sooner or later, so they came up here and made north for a bit to hunt and fossick about in the hills, and then go back when the Utes had quieted down."
The chief nodded.
"Well, well, that alters the affair altogether. Whereabouts did you leave them?"
"Near the Buffalo Lake."
"Don't know it. Where does it lie?"
"On a stream that runs into the river from the west, from a valley running up near Fremont's Buttes. They were going up so as to follow the Riviere de Noir, and then either strike up across the hills to the Upper Yellowstone, or go out west and come down over the Grosventre range on to the Wyoming range, and then down through Thompson's Pass, or else skirt the foot-hills on to the Green River."
"Waal, chief, I reckon that among all those hills and mountains, one would have just about the same chance of lighting on them as you would have of finding a chipmunk in a big pine-forest."
"Couldn't find," the chief said, "but might follow. If they go fast never catch them; if wait about, hunt beaver, look for gold and silver, then might come up to them easy enough, if 'Rappahoes not catch and kill. Very bad place. Leaping Horse told them so. White brother said he think so too; but other men think they find gold somewhere, so they go on. They have got horses, of course. Three horses to ride, three horses to carry beaver-traps and food. Leaping Horse came back here to sell his skins. He had promised to meet a friend here, or he would not have left Straight Harry, who is a good man and a friend of Leaping Horse. Three men not enough in bad country."
"Do you think there would be any chance of my finding them?" Tom asked eagerly.
A slight gleam of amusement passed over the Indian's face.
"My brother is very young," he said. "He will be a brave warrior and a great hunter some day, but his eyes are not opened yet. Were he to try he would leave his scalp to dry in the 'Rappahoes' lodges."
"That is just what I told him, chief. It would be sheer madness."
The Indian made no reply, and Jerry turned the conversation.
"You don't drink spirits, chief, or I would go and get a bottle from the fort."
"Leaping Horse is not a madman," the Indian said scornfully, "that he should poison his brain with fire-water."
"Yes; I remembered, chief, that you had fallen into our ways and drink tea."
"Tea is good," the Indian said. "It is the best thing the white man has brought out on to the plains."
"That is so, chief, except tobacco. We did not bring that; but I reckon you got it from the Spaniards long ago, though maybe you knew of it before they came up from the south."
The meat was now cooked, and Tom took it off the fire and handed the pieces on the ramrod, that had served as a spit, to the others, together with some bread, poured out the tea from the kettle, and placed a bag of sugar before them. There was little talk until after the meal was over. Then the Indian and Jerry smoked steadily, while Tom took a single pipe, having only commenced the use of tobacco since he had left Denver. Presently the Indian arose.
"In the morning I will see my white friends again," he said, and without further adieu turned and walked gravely back to the fort.
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