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On the rampart of hills overlooking the Piegan encampment the sun was shining pleasantly. The winter, after its final savage kick, had vanished and summer, crowding hard upon spring, was wooing the bluffs and hillsides on their southern exposures to don their summer robes of green. Not yet had the bluffs and hillsides quite yielded to the wooing, not yet had they donned the bright green apparel of summer, but there was the promise of summer's color gleaming through the neutral browns and grays of the poplar bluffs and the sunny hillsides. The crocuses with reckless abandon had sprung forth at the first warm kiss of the summer sun and stood bravely, gaily dancing in their purple and gray, till whole hillsides blushed for them. And the poplars, hesitating with dainty reserve, shivered in shy anticipation and waited for a surer call, still wearing their neutral tints, except where they stood sheltered by the thick spruces from the surly north wind. There they had boldly cast aside all prudery and were flirting in all their gallant trappings with the ardent summer.
Seeing none of all this, but dimly conscious of the good of it, Cameron and his faithful attendant Jerry lay grimly watching through the poplars. Three days had passed since the raid, and as yet there was no sign at the Piegan camp of the returning raiders. Not for one hour had the camp remained unwatched. Just long enough to bury his new-made friend, the dead outlaw, did Cameron himself quit the post, leaving Jerry on guard meantime, and now he was back again, with his glasses searching every corner of the Piegan camp and watching every movement. There was upon his face a look that filled with joy his watchful companion, a look that proclaimed his set resolve that when Eagle Feather and his young men should appear in camp there would speedily be swift and decisive action. For three days his keen eyes had looked forth through the delicate green-brown screen of poplar upon the doings of the Piegans, the Mounted Police meantime ostentatiously beating up the Blood Reserve with unwonted threats of vengeance for the raiders, the bruit of which had spread through all the reserves.
"Don't do anything rash," the Superintendent had admonished, as Cameron appeared demanding three troopers and Jerry, with whom to execute vengeance upon those who had brought death to a gallant gentleman and his gallant steed, for both of whom there had sprung up in Cameron's heart a great and admiring affection.
"No, sir," Cameron had replied, "nothing rash; we will do a little justice, that is all," but with so stern a face that the Superintendent had watched him away with some anxiety and had privately ordered a strong patrol to keep the Piegan camp under surveillance till Cameron had done his work. But there was no call for aid from any patrol, as it turned out; and before this bright summer morning had half passed away Cameron shut up his glasses, ready for action.
"I think they are all in now, Jerry, he said. "We will go down. Go and bring in the men. There is that devil Eagle Feather just riding in." Cameron's teeth went hard together on the name of the Chief, in whom the leniency of Police administration of justice had bred only a deeper treachery.
Within half an hour Cameron with his three troopers and Jerry rode jingling into the Piegan camp and disposed themselves at suitable points of vantage. Straight to the Chief's tent Cameron rode, and found Trotting Wolf standing at its door.
"I want that cattle-thief, Eagle Feather," he announced in a clear, firm voice that rang through the encampment from end to end.
"Eagle Feather not here," was Trotting Wolf's sullen but disturbed reply.
"Trotting Wolf, I will waste no time on you," said Cameron, drawing his gun. "I take Eagle Feather or you. Make your choice and quick about it!" There was in Cameron's voice a ring of such compelling command that Trotting Wolf weakened visibly.
"I know not where Eagle Feather--"
"Halt there!" cried Cameron to an Indian who was seen to be slinking away from the rear of the line of tents.
The Indian broke into a run. Like a whirlwind Cameron was on his trail and before he had gained the cover of the woods had overtaken him.
"Halt!" cried Cameron again as he reached the Indian's side. The Indian stopped and drew a knife. "You would, eh? Take that, will you?" Leaning down over his horse's neck Cameron struck the Indian with the butt of his gun. Before he could rise the three constables in a converging rush were upon him and had him handcuffed.
"Now then, where is Eagle Feather?" cried Cameron in a furious voice, riding his horse into the crowd that had gathered thick about him. "Ah, I see you," he cried, touching his horse with his heel as on the farther edge of the crowd he caught sight of his man. With a single bound his horse was within touch of the shrinking Indian. "Stand where you are!" cried Cameron, springing from his horse and striding to the Chief. "Put up your hands!" he said, covering him with his gun. "Quick, you dog!" he added, as Eagle Feather stood irresolute before him. Upon the uplifted hands Cameron slipped the handcuffs. "Come with me, you cattle-thief," he said, seizing him by the gaudy handkerchief that adorned his neck, and giving him a quick jerk.
"Trotting Wolf," said Cameron in a terrible voice, wheeling furiously upon the Chief, "this cattle-thieving of your band must stop. I want the six men who were in that cattle-raid, or you come with me. Speak quick!" he added.
"By Gar!" said Jerry, hugging himself in his delight, to the trooper who was in charge of the first Indian. "Look lak' he tak' de whole camp."
"By Jove, Jerry, it looks so to me, too! He has got the fear of death on these chappies. Look at his face. He looks like the very devil."
It was true. Cameron's face was gray, with purple blotches, and distorted with passion, his eyes were blazing with fury, his manner one of reckless savage abandon. There was but little delay. The rumors of vengeance stored up for the raiders, the paralyzing effect of the failure of the raid, the condemnation of a guilty conscience, but above all else the overmastering rage of Cameron, made anything like resistance simply impossible. In a very few minutes Cameron had his prisoners in line and was riding to the Fort, where he handed them over to the Superintendent for justice.
That business done, he found his patrol-work pressing upon him with a greater insistence than ever, for the runners from the half- breeds and the Northern Indians were daily arriving at the reserves bearing reports of rebel victories of startling magnitude. But even without any exaggeration tales grave enough were being carried from lip to lip throughout the Indian tribes. Small wonder that the irresponsible young Chiefs, chafing under the rule of the white man and thirsting for the mad rapture of fight, were straining almost to the breaking point the authority of the cooler older heads, so that even that subtle redskin statesman, Crowfoot, began to fear for his own position in the Blackfeet confederacy.
As the days went on the Superintendent at Macleod, whose duty it was to hold in statu quo that difficult country running up into the mountains and down to the American boundary-line, found his task one that would have broken a less cool-headed and stout-hearted officer.
The situation in which he found himself seemed almost to invite destruction. On the eighteenth of March he had sent the best of his men, some twenty-five of them, with his Inspector, to join the Alberta Field Force at Calgary, whence they made that famous march to Edmonton of over two hundred miles in four and a half marching days. From Calgary, too, had gone a picked body of Police with Superintendent Strong and his scouts as part of the Alberta Field Force under General Strange. Thus it came that by the end of April the Superintendent at Fort Macleod had under his command only a handful of his trained Police, supported by two or three companies of Militia--who, with all their ardor, were unskilled in plain- craft, strange to the country, new to war, ignorant of the habits and customs and temper of the Indians with whom they were supposed to deal--to hold the vast extent of territory under his charge, with its little scattered hamlets of settlers, safe in the presence of the largest and most warlike of the Indian tribes in Western Canada.
Every day the strain became more intense. A crisis appeared to be reached when the news came that on the twenty-fourth of April General Middleton had met a check at Fish Creek, which, though not specially serious in itself, revealed the possibilities of the rebel strategy and gave heart to the enemy immediately engaged.
And, though Fish Creek was no great fight, the rumor of it ran through the Western reserves like red fire through prairie-grass, blowing almost into flame the war-spirit of the young braves of the Bloods, Piegans and Sarcees and even of the more stable Blackfeet. Three days after that check, the news of it was humming through every tepee in the West, and for a week or more it took all the cool courage and steady nerve characteristic of the Mounted Police to enable them to ride without flurry or hurry their daily patrols through the reserves.
At this crisis it was that the Superintendent at Macleod gathered together such of his officers and non-commissioned officers as he could in council at Fort Calgary, to discuss the situation and to plan for all possible emergencies. The full details of the Fish Creek affair had just come in. They were disquieting enough, although the Superintendent made light of them. On the wall of the barrack-room where the council was gathered there hung a large map of the Territories. The Superintendent, a man of small oratorical powers, undertook to set forth the disposition of the various forces now operating in the West.
"Here you observe the main line running west from Regina to the mountains, some five hundred and fifty miles," he said. "And here, roughly, two hundred and fifty miles north, is the northern boundary line of our settlements, Prince Albert at the east, Battleford at the center, Edmonton at the west, each of these points the center of a country ravaged by half-breeds and bands of Indians. To each of these points relief-expeditions have been sent.
"This line represents the march of Commissioner Irvine from Regina to Prince Albert--a most remarkable march that was too, gentlemen, nearly three hundred miles over snow-bound country in about seven days. That march will be remembered, I venture to say. The Commissioner still holds Prince Albert, and we may rely upon it will continue to hold it safe against any odds. Meantime he is scouting the country round about, preventing Indians from reinforcing the enemy in any large numbers.
"Next, to the west is Battleford, which holds the central position and is the storm-center of the rebellion at present. This line shows the march of Colonel Otter with Superintendent Herchmer from Swift Current to that point. We have just heard that Colonel Otter has arrived at Battleford and has raised the siege. But large bands of Indians are in the vicinity of Battleford and the situation there is extremely critical. I understand that old Oo- pee-too-korah-han-apee-wee-yin--" the Superintendent prided himself upon his mastery of Indian names and ran off this polysyllabic cognomen with the utmost facility--"the Pond-maker, or Pound-maker as he has come to be called, is in the neighborhood. He is not a bad fellow, but he is a man of unusual ability, far more able than of the Willow Crees, Beardy, as he is called, though not so savage, and he has a large and compact body of Indians under him.
"Then here straight north from us some two hundred miles is Edmonton, the center of a very wide district sparsely settled, with a strong half-breed element in the immediate neighborhood and Big Bear and Little Pine commanding large bodies of Indians ravaging the country round about. Inspector Griesbach is in command of this district, located at Fort Saskatchewan, which is in close touch with Edmonton. General Strange, commanding the Alberta Field Force and several companies of Militia, together with our own men under Superintendent Strong and Inspector Dickson, are on the way to relieve this post. Inspector Dickson, I understand, has successfully made the crossing of the Red Deer with his nine pr. gun, a quite remarkable feat I assure you.
"But, gentlemen, you see the position in which we are placed in this section of the country. From the Cypress Hills here away to the southeast, westward to the mountains and down to the boundary- line, you have a series of reserves almost completely denuded of Police supervision. True, we are fortunate in having at the Blackfoot Crossing, at Fort Calgary and at Fort Macleod, companies of Militia; but the very presence of these troops incites the Indians, and in some ways is a continual source of unrest among them.
"Every day runners from the North and East come to our reserves with extraordinary tales of rebel victories. This Fish Creek business has had a tremendous influence upon the younger element. On every reserve there are scores of young braves eager to rise. What a general uprising would mean you know, or think you know. An Indian war of extermination is a horrible possibility. The question before us all is--what is to be done?"
After a period of conversation the Superintendent summed up the results of the discussion in a few short sentences:
"It seems, gentlemen, there is not much more to be done than what we are already doing. But first of all I need not say that we must keep our nerve. I do not believe any Indian will see any sign of doubt or fear in the face of any member of this Force. Our patrols must be regularly and carefully done. There are a lot of things which we must not see, a certain amount of lawbreaking which we must not notice. Avoid on every possible occasion pushing things to extremes; but where it is necessary to act we must act with promptitude and fearlessness, as Mr. Cameron here did at the Piegan Reserve a week or so ago. I mention this because I consider that action of Cameron's a typically fine piece of Police work. We must keep on good terms with the Chiefs, tell them what good news there is to tell. We must intercept every runner possible. Arrest them and bring them to the barracks. The situation is grave, but not hopeless. Great responsibilities rest upon us, gentlemen. I do not believe that we shall fail."
The little company broke up with resolute and grim determination stamped on every face. There would be no weakening at any spot where a Mounted Policeman was on duty.
"Cameron, just a moment," said the Superintendent as he was passing out. "Sit down. You were quite right in that Eagle Feather matter. You did the right thing in pushing that hard."
"I somehow felt I could do it, sir," replied Cameron simply. "I had the feeling in my bones that we could have taken the whole camp that day."
The Superintendent nodded. "I understand. And that is the way we should feel. But don't do anything rash this week. This is a week of crisis. If any further reverse should happen to our troops it will be extremely difficult, if indeed possible, to hold back the younger braves. If there should be a rising--which may God forbid-- my plan then would be to back right on to the Blackfeet Reserve. If old Crowfoot keeps steady--and with our presence to support him I believe he would--we could hold things safe for a while. But, Cameron, that Sioux devil Copperhead must be got rid of. It is he that is responsible for this restless spirit among the younger Chiefs. He has been in the East, you say, for the last three weeks, but he will soon be back. His runners are everywhere. His work lies here, and the only hope for the rebellion lies here, and he knows it. My scouts inform me that there is something big immediately on. A powwow is arranged somewhere before final action. I have reason to suspect that if we sustain another reverse and if the minor Chiefs from all the reserves come to an agreement, Crowfoot will yield. That is the game that the Sioux is working on now."
"I know that quite well, sir," replied Cameron. "Copperhead has captured practically all the minor Chiefs."
"The checking of that big cattle-run, Cameron, was a mighty good stroke for us. You did that magnificently."
"No, sir," replied Cameron firmly. "We owe that to Raven."
"Yes, yes, we do owe a good deal to--to--that--to Raven. Fine fellow gone wrong. Yes, we owe a lot to him, but we owe a lot to you as well, Cameron. I am not saying you will ever get any credit for it, but--well--who cares so long as the thing is done? But this Sioux must be got at all costs--at all costs, Cameron, remember. I have never asked you to push this thing to the limit, but now at all costs, dead or alive, that Sioux must be got rid of."
"I could have potted him several times," replied Cameron, "but did not wish to push matters to extremes."
"Quite right. Quite right. That has been our policy hitherto, but now things have reached such a crisis that we can take no further chances. The Sioux must be eliminated."
"All right, sir," said Cameron, and a new purpose shaped itself in his heart. At all costs he would get the Sioux, alive if possible, dead if not.
Plainly the first thing was to uncover his tracks, and with this intention Cameron proceeded to the Blackfeet Reserve, riding with Jerry down the Bow River from Fort Calgary, until, as the sun was setting on an early May evening, he came in sight of the Blackfoot Crossing.
Not wishing to visit the Militia camp at that point, and desiring to explore the approaches of the Blackfeet Reserve with as little ostentation as possible, he sent Jerry on with the horses, with instructions to meet him later on in the evening on the outside of the Blackfeet camp, and took a side trail on foot leading to the reserve through a coulee. Through the bottom of the coulee ran a little stream whose banks were packed tight with alders, willows and poplars. Following the trail to where it crossed the stream, Cameron left it for the purpose of quenching his thirst, and proceeded up-stream some little way from the usual crossing. Lying there prone upon his face he caught the sound of hoofs, and, peering through the alders, he saw a line of Indians riding down the opposite bank. Burying his head among the tangled alders and hardly breathing, he watched them one by one cross the stream not more than thirty yards away and clamber up the bank.
"Something doing here, sure enough," he said to himself as he noted their faces. Three of them he knew, Red Crow of the Bloods, Trotting Wolf of the Piegans, Running Stream of the Blackfeet, then came three others unknown to Cameron, and last in the line Cameron was startled to observe Copperhead himself, while close at his side could be seen the slim figure of his son. As the Sioux passed by Cameron's hiding-place he paused and looked steadily down into the alders for a moment or two, then rode on.
"Saved yourself that time, old man," said Cameron as the Sioux disappeared, following the others up the trail. "We will see just which trail you take," he continued, following them at a safe distance and keeping himself hidden by the brush till they reached the open and disappeared over the hill. Swiftly Cameron ran to the top, and, lying prone among the prairie grass, watched them for some time as they took the trail that ran straight westward.
"Sarcee Reserve more than likely," he muttered to himself. "If Jerry were only here! But he is not, so I must let them go in the meantime. Later, however, we shall come up with you, gentlemen. And now for old Crowfoot and with no time to lose."
He had only a couple of miles to go and in a few minutes he had reached the main trail from the Militia camp at the Crossing. In the growing darkness he could not discern whether Jerry had passed with the horses or not, so he pushed on rapidly to the appointed place of meeting and there found Jerry waiting for him.
"Listen, Jerry!" said he. "Copperhead is back. I have just seen him and his son with Red Crow, Trotting Wolf and Running Stream. There were three others--Sioux I think they are; at any rate I did not know them. They passed me in the coulee and took the Sarcee trail. Now what do you think is up?"
Jerry pondered. "Come from Crowfoot, heh?"
"From the reserve here anyway," answered Cameron.
"Trotting Wolf beeg Chief--Red Crow beeg Chief--ver' bad! ver' bad! Dunno me--look somet'ing--beeg powwow mebbe. Ver' bad! Ver' bad! Go Sarcee Reserve, heh?" Again Jerry pondered. "Come from h'east-- by Blood--Piegan--den Blackfeet--go Sarcee. What dey do? Where go den?"
"That is the question, Jerry," said Cameron.
"Sout' to Weegwam? No, nord to Ghost Reever--Manitou Rock--dunno-- mebbe."
"By Jove, Jerry, I believe you may be right. I don't think they would go to the Wigwam--we caught them there once--nor to the canyon. What about this Ghost River? I don't know the trail. Where is it?"
"Nord from Bow Reever by Kananaskis half day to Ghost Reever--bad trail--small leetle reever--ver' stony--ver' cold--beeg tree wit' long beard."
"Yes--long, long gray moss lak' beard--ver' strange place dat--from Ghost Reever west one half day to beeg Manitou Rock--no trail. Beeg medicine-dance dere--see heem once long tam' 'go--leetle boy me--beeg medicine--Indian debbil stay dere--Indian much scare'-- only go when mak' beeg tam'--beeg medicine."
"Let me see if I get you, Jerry. A bad trail leads half a day north from the Bow at Kananaskis to Ghost River, eh?"
"Then up the Ghost River westward through the bearded trees half a day to the Manitou Rock? Is that right?"
Again Jerry nodded.
"How shall I know the rock?"
"Beeg rock," said Jerry. "Beeg dat tree," pointing to a tall poplar, "and cut straight down lak some knife--beeg rock--black rock."
"All right," said Cameron. "What I want to know just now is does Crowfoot know of this thing? I fancy he must. I am going in to see him. Copperhead has just come from the reserve. He has Running Stream with him. It is possible, just possible, that he may not have seen Crowfoot. This I shall find out. Now, Jerry, you must follow Copperhead, find out where he has gone and all you can about this business, and meet me where the trail reaches the Ghost River. Call in at Fort Calgary. Take a trooper with you to look after the horses. I shall follow you to-morrow. If you are not at the Ghost River I shall go right on--that is if I see any signs."
"Bon! Good!" said Jerry. And without further word he slipped on to his horse and disappeared into the darkness, taking the cross- trail through the coulee by which Cameron had come.
Crowfoot's camp showed every sign of the organization and discipline of a master spirit. The tents and houses in which his Indians lived were extended along both sides of a long valley flanked at both ends by poplar-bluffs. At the bottom of the valley there was a series of "sleughs" or little lakes, affording good grazing and water for the herds of cattle and ponies that could be seen everywhere upon the hillsides. At a point farthest from the water and near to a poplar-bluff stood Crowfoot's house. At the first touch of summer, however, Crowfoot's household had moved out from their dwelling, after the manner of the Indians, and had taken up their lodging in a little group of tents set beside the house.
Toward this little group of tents Cameron rode at an easy lope. He found Crowfoot alone beside his fire, except for the squaws that were cleaning up after the evening meal and the papooses and older children rolling about on the grass. As Cameron drew near, all vanished, except Crowfoot and a youth about seventeen years of age, whose strongly marked features and high, fearless bearing proclaimed him Crowfoot's son. Dismounting, Cameron dropped the reins over his horse's head and with a word of greeting to the Chief sat down by the fire. Crowfoot acknowledged his salutation with a suspicious look and grunt.
"Nice night, Crowfoot," said Cameron cheerfully. "Good weather for the grass, eh?"
"Good," said Crowfoot gruffly.
Cameron pulled out his tobacco pouch and passed it to the Chief. With an air of indescribable condescension Crowfoot took the pouch, knocked the ashes from his pipe, filled it from the pouch and handed it back to the owner.
"Boy smoke?" inquired Cameron, holding out the pouch toward the youth.
"Huh!" grunted Crowfoot with a slight relaxing of his face. "Not yet--too small."
The lad stood like a statue, and, except for a slight stiffening of his tall lithe figure, remained absolutely motionless, after the Indian manner. For some time they smoked in silence.
"Getting cold," said Cameron at length, as he kicked the embers of the fire together.
Crowfoot spoke to his son and the lad piled wood on the fire till it blazed high, then, at a sign from his father, he disappeared into the tent.
"Ha! That is better," said Cameron, stretching out his hands toward the fire and disposing himself so that the old Chief's face should be set clearly in its light.
"The Police ride hard these days?" said Crowfoot in his own language, after a long silence.
"Oh, sometimes," replied Cameron carelessly, "when cattle-thieves ride too."
"Huh?" inquired Crowfoot innocently.
"Yes, some Indians forget all that the Police have done for them, and like coyotes steal upon the cattle at night and drive them over cut-banks."
"Huh?" inquired Crowfoot again, apparently much interested.
"Yes," continued Cameron, fully aware that he was giving the old Chief no news, "Eagle Feather will be much wiser when he rides over the plains again."
"Huh!" ejaculated the Chief in agreement.
"But Eagle Feather," continued Cameron, "is not the worst Indian. He is no good, only a little boy who does what he is told."
"Huh?" inquired Crowfoot with childlike simplicity.
"Yes, he is an old squaw serving his Chief."
"Huh?" again inquired Crowfoot, moving his pipe from his mouth in his apparent anxiety to learn the name of this unknown master of Eagle Feather.
"Onawata, the Sioux, is a great Chief," said Cameron.
Crowfoot grunted his indifference.
"He makes all the little Chiefs, Blood, Piegan, Sarcee, Blackfeet obey him," said Cameron in a scornful voice, shading his face from the fire with his hand.
This time Crowfoot made no reply.
"But he has left this country for a while?" continued Cameron.
Crowfoot grunted acquiescence.
"My brother has not seen this Sioux for some weeks?" Again Cameron's hand shaded his face from the fire while his eyes searched the old Chief's impassive countenance.
"No," said Crowfoot. "Not for many days. Onawata bad man--make much trouble."
"The big war is going on good," said Cameron, abruptly changing the subject.
"Huh?" inquired Crowfoot, looking up quickly.
"Yes," said Cameron. "At Fish Creek the half-breeds and Indians had a good chance to wipe out General Middleton's column." And he proceeded to give a graphic account of the rebels' opportunity at that unfortunate affair. "But," he concluded, "the half-breeds and Indians have no Chief."
"No Chief," agreed Crowfoot with emphasis, his old eyes gleaming in the firelight. "No Chief," he repeated. "Where Big Bear--Little Pine--Kah-mee-yes-too-waegs and Oo-pee-too-korah-han-ap-ee-wee-yin?"
"Oh," said Cameron, "here, there, everywhere."
"Huh! No big Chief," grunted Crowfoot in disgust. "One big Chief make all Indians one."
It seemed worth while to Cameron to take a full hour from his precious time to describe fully the operations of the troops and to make clear to the old warrior the steady advances which the various columns were making, the points they had relieved and the ultimate certainty of victory.
"Six thousand men now in the West," he concluded, "besides the Police. And ten thousand more waiting to come."
Old Crowfoot was evidently much impressed and was eager to learn more.
"I must go now," said Cameron, rising. "Where is Running Stream?" he asked, suddenly facing Crowfoot.
"Huh! Running Stream he go hunt--t'ree day--not come back," answered Crowfoot quickly.
Cameron sat down again by the fire, poked up the embers till the blaze mounted high.
"Crowfoot," he said solemnly, "this day Onawata was in this camp and spoke with you. Wait!" he said, putting up his hand as the old Chief was about to speak. "This evening he rode away with Running Stream, Red Crow, Trotting Wolf. The Sioux for many days has been leading about your young men like dogs on a string. To-day he has put the string round the necks of Red Crow, Running Stream, Trotting Wolf. I did not think he could lead Crowfoot too like a little dog.
"Wait!" he said again as Crowfoot rose to his feet in indignation. "Listen! The Police will get that Sioux. And the Police will take the Chiefs that he led round like little dogs and send them away. The Great Mother cannot have men as Chiefs whom she cannot trust. For many years the Police have protected the Indians. It was Crowfoot himself who once said when the treaty was being made-- Crowfoot will remember--'If the Police had not come to the country where would we all be now? Bad men and whisky were killing us so fast that very few indeed of us would have been left to-day. The Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter.' This is what Crowfoot said to the Great Mother's Councilor when he made a treaty with the Great Mother."
Here Cameron rose to his feet and stood facing the Chief.
"Is Crowfoot a traitor? Does he give his hand and draw it back again? It is not good that, when trouble comes, the Indians should join the enemies of the Police and of the Great Mother across the sea. These enemies will be scattered like dust before the wind. Does Crowfoot think when the leaves have fallen from the trees this year there will be any enemies left? Bah! This Sioux dog does not know the Great Mother, nor her soldiers, nor her Police. Crowfoot knows. Why does he talk to the enemies of the Great Mother and of his friends the Police? What does Crowfoot say? I go to-night to take Onawata. Already my men are upon his trail. Where does Crowfoot stand? With Onawata and the little Chiefs he leads around or with the Great Mother and the Police? Speak! I am waiting."
The old Chief was deeply stirred. For some moments while Cameron was speaking he had been eagerly seeking an opportunity to reply, but Cameron's passionate torrent of words prevented him breaking in without discourtesy. When Cameron ceased, however, the old Chief stretched out his hand and in his own language began:
"Many years ago the Police came to this country. My people then were poor--"
At this point the sound of a galloping horse was heard, mingled with the loud cries of its rider. Crowfoot paused and stood intently listening. Cameron could get no meaning from the shouting. From every tent men came running forth and from the houses along the trail on every hand, till before the horse had gained Crowfoot's presence there had gathered about the Chief's fire a considerable crowd of Indians, whose numbers were momentarily augmented by men from the tents and houses up and down the trail.
In calm and dignified silence the old Chief waited the rider's word. He was an Indian runner and he bore an important message.
Dismounting, the runner stood, struggling to recover his breath and to regain sufficient calmness to deliver his message in proper form to the great Chief of the Blackfeet confederacy. While he stood thus struggling with himself Cameron took the opportunity to closely scrutinize his face.
"A Sarcee," he muttered. "I remember him--an impudent cur." He moved quietly toward his horse, drew the reins up over his head, and, leading him back toward the fire, took his place beside Crowfoot again.
The Sarcee had begun his tale, speaking under intense excitement which he vainly tried to control. He delivered his message. Such was the rapidity and incoherence of his speech, however, that Cameron could make nothing of it. The effect upon the crowd was immediate and astounding. On every side rose wild cries of fierce exultation, while at Cameron angry looks flashed from every eye. Old Crowfoot alone remained quiet, calm, impassive, except for the fierce gleaming of his steady eyes.
When the runner had delivered his message he held up his hand and spoke but a single word. Immediately there was silence as of the grave. Nothing was heard, not even the breathing of the Indians close about him. In sharp, terse sentences the old Chief questioned the runner, who replied at first eagerly, then, as the questions proceeded, with some hesitation. Finally, with a wave of the hand Crowfoot dismissed him and stood silently pondering for some moments. Then he turned to his people and said with quiet and impressive dignity:
"This is a matter for the Council. To-morrow we will discuss it." Then turning to Cameron he said in a low voice and with grave courtesy, "It is wise that my brother should go while the trails are open."
"The trails are always open to the Great Mother's Mounted Police," said Cameron, looking the old Chief full in the eye.
Crowfoot stood silent, evidently thinking deeply.
"It is right that my brother should know," he said at length, "what the runner tells," and in his deep guttural voice there was a ring of pride.
"Good news is always welcome," said Cameron, as he coolly pulled out his pipe and offered his pouch once more to Crowfoot, who, however, declined to see it.
"The white soldiers have attacked the Indians and have been driven back," said Crowfoot with a keen glance at Cameron's face.
"Ah!" said Cameron, smiling. "What Indians? What white soldiers?"
"The soldiers that marched to Battleford. They went against Oo- pee-too-korah-han-ap-ee-wee-yin and the Indians did not run away." No words could describe the tone and attitude of exultant and haughty pride with which the old Chief delivered this information.
"Crowfoot," said Cameron with deliberate emphasis, "it was Colonel Otter and Superintendent Herchmer of the Mounted Police that went north to Battleford. You do not know Colonel Otter, but you do know Superintendent Herchmer. Tell me, would Superintendent Herchmer and the Police run away?"
"The runner tells that the white soldiers ran away," said Crowfoot stubbornly.
"Then the runner lies!" Cameron's voice rang out loud and clear.
Swift as a lightning flash the Sarcee sprang at Cameron, knife in hand, crying in the Blackfeet tongue that terrible cry so long dreaded by settlers in the Western States of America, "Death to the white man!" Without apparently moving a muscle, still holding by the mane of his horse, Cameron met the attack with a swift and well-placed kick which caught the Indian's right wrist and flung his knife high in the air. Following up the kick, Cameron took a single step forward and met the murderous Sarcee with a straight left-hand blow on the jaw that landed the Indian across the fire and deposited him kicking amid the crowd.
Immediately there was a quick rush toward the white man, but the rush halted before two little black barrels with two hard, steady, gray eyes gleaming behind them.
"Crowfoot!" said Cameron sharply. "I hold ten dead Indians in my hands."
With a single stride Crowfoot was at Cameron's side. A single sharp stern word of command he uttered and the menacing Indians slunk back into the shadows, but growling like angry beasts.
"Is it wise to anger my young men?" said Crowfoot in a low voice.
"Is it wise," replied Cameron sternly, "to allow mad dogs to run loose? We kill such mad dogs in my country."
"Huh," grunted Crowfoot with a shrug of his shoulders. "Let him die!" Then in a lower voice he added earnestly, "It would be good to take the trail before my young men can catch their horses."
"I was just going, Crowfoot," said Cameron, stooping to light his pipe at the fire. "Good-night. Remember what I have said." And Cameron cantered away with both hands low before him and guiding his broncho with his knees, and so rode easily till safely beyond the line of the reserve. Once out of the reserve he struck his spurs hard into his horse and sent him onward at headlong pace toward the Militia camp.
Ten minutes after his arrival at the camp every soldier was in his place ready to strike, and so remained all night, with pickets thrown far out listening with ears attent for the soft pad of moccasined feet.
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