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   Chapter 3 THREE CHEYENNES

Scouting with Kit Carson By Everett T. Tomlinson Characters: 10837

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Reuben was aware that he was not far from the base of one of the highest mountains. As once more he looked up and peered intently in every direction, he was aware also that no one was within sight. The poor beast on which he had ridden was dead and there was no means by which the young trapper might return to the camp where he had left his friend. In the distance the herd of buffaloes still could be seen, a tiny mass moving across the plains in the dim light. Even while he was gazing at them they disappeared and were lost to sight among the foothills.

Reuben was aware that he had shot one cow, but where the animal had fallen or how far it was from the place where he now was standing he had no means of knowing. He looked behind him, but was unable to discover even his own trail in the sand. All traces had been destroyed by the hoof-prints of the mighty herd of fleeing animals.

In what direction had he come? Reuben was aware that in a general way he had followed the line of foothills, but it was plain to him now that the herd which he had pursued had not moved in a straight course. In and out over the uneven ground, the animals, frantic with fear, had fled for safety.

The young trapper was aware also that he was hungry, and yet he had no food. If he could secure the carcass of the buffalo cow he had shot his wants would be supplied. The light, however, was too dim to enable him to see far away, and even in clear daylight he was doubtful if he could see the body in the distance.

Again he tried to discover the fire or smoke of the camp which he and Jean had made. Not a trace of it, however, was to be seen. It was quite likely that the very fire itself had been scattered by the herd when they had dashed across the plains. The pack-horses, too, doubtless had fled, and Reuben shuddered as he thought what was likely to be their fate before the morning appeared. The pursuit of the buffalo calf by the gaunt, hungry wolves was only an indication of what might occur when the ponies, wearied by their efforts throughout the day, would be in no condition to escape from the attack of the savage animals.

For several minutes Reuben remained standing, slowly turning in his position until he had looked about the entire region. He listened intently, hoping that he might hear the sound of Jean's rifle. The oppressive silence of the great desert, however, was unbroken. Twinkling stars had appeared in the sky, the air was motionless, the solitude was almost appalling, and within a few minutes Reuben decided that he must take his rifle and saddle and proceed in the direction in which he thought the camp was located.

The boy, however, was now feeling the full force of the reaction after his strenuous day. Every muscle in his body seemed to be sore. He advanced with difficulty, and the saddle somehow appeared to be much heavier than when he had thrown it on the back of his pony.

It was impossible for him to think of remaining where he was. He was hungry as well as tired, and the fear of an attack by a pack of hungry wolves was more than a vague impression.

Suddenly Reuben saw the outline of three dim forms approaching on horseback. Startled by the unexpected sight, the boy remained motionless and waited for the strangers to come near him. The sight was not one to soothe the fears of the troubled young trapper, but he was convinced that his safest course was to await their coming.

Accustomed now to the dim light, not many minutes elapsed before the young man was able to see that the advancing party was composed, of three Indians. One of them was much smaller than his two companions and perhaps was a lad. Who they were or why they should be coming at that time he was unable to conjecture.

It was plain, however, that his presence had been discovered, for a slight divergence in the course the Indians were following showed that they were now approaching. In a brief time they drew near and one of them spoke. "How? How?" inquired the leader. At the same time he indicated, by extending his open hands, that no hostile action was intended.

Following their example, Reuben also held forth his hands in a way to indicate his peaceful intentions.

"Where go?" inquired the Indian that before had spoken.

"I want to find my camp," answered Reuben. He was relieved by his discovery that the three Indians were poorly mounted, the beasts which they were riding apparently being well-nigh exhausted. The smallest member of the party he now discovered was an Indian boy, perhaps fifteen years of age. It was manifest, too, that the spokesman was the only one able to speak English.

"Where go? Where go?" repeated the Indian.

"I want to find my camp," again answered Reuben. "I left my partner back yonder somewhere, while I went out to shoot buffaloes. My horse stumbled and fell in a prairie-dog village over here. The poor brute broke his leg and I had to shoot him. I thought I was not very far from camp, but I reckon now I am a good deal farther than I thought I was. Where are you going? Who are you?"

"Cheyenne," answered the Indian promptly. "We go home."

"How far do you go?" inquired Reuben.

The Indian held up three fingers of his right hand to indicate the distance which must be covered before they rejoined their tribe.

"Three miles!" said Reuben, startled by the suggestion.

The Indian laughed and, shaking his he

ad, again held up his three fingers.

"Three hundred miles, you mean?" said Reuben.

The Indian nodded his head several times to indicate that the young white had spoken correctly. Plainly the words "hundred" and "miles" were not in his vocabulary.

Patting himself upon the chest, the Indian said: "Me Breaker of Arrows. Come to Pawnee country. Try to get Pawnee ponies."

"You mean you came out here to steal their horses?" inquired Reuben.

"No steal; take horses."

"How many did you get? It doesn't look as if you had had very great success. These ponies you are riding look as if they had been turned loose by the Pawnees. They aren't worth feeding."

"Pawnee heap coward!" said the Indian grimly. "Pawnee shut up horses in lodges at night."

"Did they find you?" inquired Reuben.

"No find. Breaker of Arrows, Cheyenne. Dark Night, no find," added the warrior, pointing to the boy as he spoke.

The third member of the party apparently was ignored.

"Where did you get these ponies?"

"Ponies wild. Get horses on plains."

"They look as if they were wild," said Reuben. "Have you had anything to eat?"

"No eat," replied the warrior; at least the man was posing as a warrior, although the only weapons the three Cheyennes carried were bows and arrows and one long spear, which was in the hands of the spokesman.

"I shot a buffalo cow."

"Where buffalo?" demanded the Cheyenne quickly.

"I wish I knew," replied Reuben lightly. "I am hungry and tired. I ought to have stopped when I shot one, for one was enough, but I kept on, thinking I would get another, and so I passed the place where the cow fell. If you can find it you will have something for supper, for I will be glad to share with you."

The Cheyenne turned and spoke in his own tongue to his companions. After a hasty conversation the spokesman once more turned to Reuben and by the aid of signs and a few words intimated his desire for the young trapper to remain where he then was while the Indians searched for the body of the fallen buffalo.

Somewhat suspicious that if the strangers should succeed in finding the dead animal they might not return, Reuben nevertheless agreed to the suggestion, at the same time striving to conceal his own fears.

At once the Indians departed after they had secured from Reuben his impressions of the direction in which they should go. The boy watched them until the outlines of their forms no longer could be seen in the dim light. It was plain to him that they were moving in parallel lines at a considerable distance from one another.

Casting his saddle upon the ground, Reuben stretched himself on the sand, using the saddle as a pillow. His rifle was loaded and placed beside him, and in a brief time the young trapper was sleeping soundly.

How long he had slept he was unable to decide when he was suddenly aroused from his slumber by the sound of approaching footsteps. Lifting his head but still retaining his position, Reuben peered in every direction to discover the approaching party. At first he was unable to see what had awakened him, but in a brief time he saw a man approaching on horseback. In a little while he was convinced that the man was an Indian, and if so doubtless was one of the party which he recently had seen. His impression was confirmed when in a low voice the approaching Indian spoke: "Find um buffalo."

"Where is it?" inquired Reuben.

The Indian did not reply, but alighted from his pony, for by this time he had drawn near the place where Reuben was standing, and bade him follow.

"Where are you going?" inquired Reuben.

Still the Indian did not explain, and after a brief hesitation Reuben decided to obey the suggestion.

Slowly the Cheyenne, who still was on the back of his pony, led the way toward the foothills that now seemed to be nearer than before. In a brief time the desired point was gained and there Reuben discovered the Indian boy who had been with him a little while before. The third Indian, however, was no longer to be seen, and no explanations were given for his absence, although Reuben asked several times where the other member of the party was.

Sheltered by a huge rocky boulder, the Indians soon kindled a fire and parts of the buffalo tongue and steaks which they had cut from the carcass were roasting on sticks held over the flames.

Conversation ceased until the repast was prepared and eaten. Then Reuben inquired: "Did you see anything of my friend?"

"No see. What do now?"

"Do you mean what I am going to do?" inquired Reuben. "Well, I wish some one would answer that question for me."

"Breaker of Arrows go home. Black Night come, too. White boy want to go with us?"

"No," answered Reuben, "I must stay here. I must find my friend."

Apparently his explanation satisfied his companions, for in a brief time they mounted their ponies and prepared to leave Reuben alone in the little valley or defile where the buffalo meat had been roasted.

It was impossible for Reuben to resume his search for Jean. In the place where he then was he was protected from sudden attacks and he decided to remain there and await the coming of the morning.

The night passed without any adventures, but when morning came the light revealed to Reuben a sight even more startling than that of the preceding evening, when the three Cheyennes had discovered him alone on the plains.

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