In the stately white teepee, seen from afar, both grave and monument, there lay the fair body of Taluta! The bier was undisturbed, and the maiden looked beautiful as if sleeping, dressed in her robes of ceremony and surrounded by all her belongings.
Her lover looked upon her still face and cried aloud. "Hey, hey, hey! Alas! alas! If I had known of this while in the Ute country, you would not be lonely on the spirit path."
He withdrew, and laid the doorflap reverently back in its place. How long he stood without the threshold he could not tell. He stood with head bowed down upon his breast, tearless and motionless, utterly oblivious to everything save the bier of his beloved. His charger grazed about for a long time where he had left him, but at last he endeavored by a low whinny to attract his master's attention, and Antelope awoke from his trance of sorrow.
The sun was now hovering over the western ridges. The mourner's throat was parched, and perspiration rolled down his cheeks, yet he was conscious of nothing but a strong desire to look upon her calm, sweet face once more.
He kindled a small fire a little way off, and burned some cedar berries and sweet-smelling grass. Then he fumigated himself thoroughly to dispel the human atmosphere, so that the spirit might not be offended by his approach, for he greatly desired to obtain a sign from her spirit. He had removed his garments and stood up perfectly nude save for the breechclout. His long hair was unbraided and hung upon his shoulders, veiling the upper half of his splendid body. Thus standing, the lover sang a dirge of his own making. The words were something like this:
Ah, spirit, thy flight is mysterious!
While the clouds are stirred by our wailing,
And our tears fall faster in sorrow –
While the cold sweat of night benumbs us,
Thou goest alone on thy journey,
In the midst of the shining star people!
Thou goest alone on thy journey –
Thy memory shall be our portion;
Until death we must watch for the spirit!
The eyes of Antelope were closed while he chanted the dirge. He sang it over and over, pausing between the lines, and straining as it were every sense lest he might not catch the rapt whisper of her spirit, but only the distant howls of coyotes answered him. His body became cold and numb from sheer exhaustion, and at last his knees bent under him and he sank down upon the ground, still facing the teepee. Unconsciousness overtook him, and in his sleep or trance the voice came:
"Do not mourn for me, my friend! Come into my teepee, and eat of my food."
It seemed to Antelope that he faltered for a moment; then he entered the teepee. There was a cheerful fire burning in the center. A basin of broiled buffalo meat was placed opposite the couch of Taluta, on the other side of the fire. Its odor was delicious to him, yet he hesitated to eat of it.
"Fear not, kechuwa (my darling)! It will give you strength," said the voice.
The maid was natural as in life. Beautifully attired, she sat up on her bed, and her demeanor was cheerful and kind.
The young man ate of the food in silence and without looking at the spirit. "Ho, kechuwa!" he said to her when returning the dish, according to the custom of his people.
Silently the two sat for some minutes, while the youth gazed into the burning embers.
"Be of good heart," said Taluta, at last, "for you shall meet my twin spirit! She will love you as I do, and you will love her as you love me. This was our covenant before we came into this world."
The conception of a "twin spirit" was familiar to the Sioux. "Ho," responded the warrior, with dignity and all seriousness. He felt a great awe for the spirit, and dared not lift his eyes to her face.
"Weep no more, kechuwa, weep no more," she softly added; and the next moment Antelope found himself outside the mysterious teepee. His limbs were stiff and cold, but he did not feel faint nor hungry. Having filled his pipe, he held it up to the spirits and then partook of the smoke; and thus revived, he slowly and reluctantly left the sacred spot.
The main war-party also visited the old camp and saw the solitary teepee grave, but did not linger there. They continued on the trail of the caravan until they reached the new camping ground. They called themselves successful, although they had left several of their number on the field. Their triumph songs indicated this; therefore the people hurried to receive the news and to learn who were the unfortunates.
The father of Antelope was foremost among those who ran to meet the war-party. He learned that his son had distinguished himself in the fight, and that his name was not mentioned among the brave dead.
"And where, then, is he?" he asked, with unconcealed anxiety.
"He left us three days ago to come in advance," they replied.
"But he has not arrived!" exclaimed old Wezee, in much agitation.
He returned to his teepee, where he consoled himself as best he could by smoking the pipe in solitude. He could neither sing praises nor indulge in the death dirge, and none came in either to congratulate or mourn with him.
The sun had disappeared behind the hills, and the old man still sat gazing into the burning embers, when he heard a horse's footfall at the door of his lodge.
"Ho, atay (father)!" came the welcome call.
"Mechinkshe! mechinkshe!" (my son, my son), he replied in unrestrained joy. Old Wezee now stood on the threshold and sang the praise song for his son, ending with a warwhoop such as he had not indulged in since he was quite a young man.
The camp was once more alive with the dances, and the dull thud of the Indian drum was continually in the air. The council had agreed that Antelope was entitled to wear a war-bonnet of eagles' feathers. He was accordingly summoned before the aboriginal parliament, and from the wise men of the tribe he received his degree of war-bonnet.
It was a public ceremony. The great pipe was held up for him to take the smoke of high honor.
The happiest person present was the father of Antelope; but he himself remained calm and unmoved throughout the ceremony.
"He is a strange person," was the whisper among a group of youths who were watching the proceedings with envious eyes.
The young man was strangely listless and depressed in spirit. His old grandmother knew why, but none of the others understood. He never joined in the village festivities, while the rest of his family were untiring in the dances, and old Wezee was at the height of his happiness.
It was a crisp October morning, and the family were eating their breakfast of broiled bison meat, when the large drum at the council lodge was struck three times. The old man set down his wooden basin.
"Ah, my son, the war-chiefs will make an announcement! It may be a call for the enlistment of warriors! I am sorry," he said, and paused. "I am sorry, because I would rather no war-party went out at present. I am getting old. I have enjoyed your success, my son. I love to hear the people speak your name. If you go again upon the war-path, I shall no longer be able to join in the celebrations. Something tells me that you will not return!"
Young braves were already on their way to the council lodge. Tatoka looked, and the temptation was great.
"Father, it is not becoming for me to remain at home when others go," he said, at last.
"Ho," was the assent uttered by the father, with a deep sigh.
"Five hundred braves have enlisted to go with the great war prophet against the three confederated tribes," he afterward reported at home, with an air of elation which he had not worn for some moons.
Since Antelope had received the degree of war-bonnet, his father had spared neither time nor his meager means in his behalf. He had bartered his most cherished possessions for several eagles that were brought in by various hunters of the camp, and with his own hands had made a handsome war-bonnet for his son.
"You will now wear a war-bonnet for the first time, and you are the first of our family who has earned the right to wear one for many generations. I am proud of you, my son," he said as he presented it.
But when the youth replied: "Ho, ho, father! I ought to be a brave man in recognition of this honor," he again sighed heavily.
"It is that I feared, my son! Many a young man has lost his life for vanity and love of display!"
The evening serenades began early, for the party was to leave at once. In groups upon their favorite ponies the warriors rode around the inner circle of the great camp, singing their war-songs. All the people came out of the teepees, and sitting by twos and threes upon the ground, bedecked with savage finery, they watched and listened. The pretty wild maidens had this last opportunity given them to look upon the faces of their sweethearts, whom they might never see again. Here and there an old man was singing the gratitude song or thank-offering, while announcing the first warpath of a novice, for such an announcement meant the giving of many presents to the poor and aged. So the camp was filled with songs of joy and pride in the departing husbands, brothers, and sons.
As soon as darkness set in the sound of the rude native flute was added to the celebration. This is the lover' s farewell. The young braves, wrapped from head to foot in their finest robes, each sounded the plaintive strains near the teepee of the beloved. The playful yodeling of many voices in chorus was heard at the close of each song.
At midnight the army of five hundred, the flower of the Sioux, marched against their ancient enemy. Antelope was in the best of spirits. He had his war-bonnet to display before the enemy! He was now regarded as one of the foremost warriors of his band, and might probably be asked to perform some specially hazardous duty, so that he was fully prepared to earn further distinction.
In five days the Sioux were encamped within a day's travel of the permanent village of the confederated tribes – the Rees, Mandans, and Gros Ventres. The war-chief selected two men, Antelope and Eaglechild, to scout at night in advance of the main force. It was thought that most of the hunters had already returned to their winter quarters, and in this case the Sioux would have no mean enemy to face. On the other hand, a battle was promised that would enlarge their important traditions.
The two made their way as rapidly as possible toward the ancestral home of their enemies. It was a night perfectly suited to what they had to do, for the moon was full, the fleeting clouds hiding it from time to time and casting deceptive shadows.
When they had come within a short distance of the lodges unperceived, they lay flat for a long time, and studied the ways of the young men in every particular, for it was Antelope's plan to enter the great village and mingle boldly with its inhabitants. Even their hoots and love-calls were carefully noted, so that they might be able to imitate them. There were several entertainments in progress in different parts of the village, yet it was apparent that the greatest vigilance was observed. The lodges of poles covered with earth were partly underground, and at one end the war-horses were stabled, as a precaution against a possible surprise.
At the moment that a large cloud floated over the moon, casting a shadow large enough to cover the entire village, the drum in one of the principal lodges was struck in quick time, accompanied by boisterous war-whoops and singing. The two scouts adjusted their robes about them in the fashion of the strangers, and walked openly in that direction.
They glanced quickly from side to side as they approached, but no one paid any attention, so they came up with other young men and peeped through the chinks in the earth wigwam. It was a great gambling party. Among the guests were several distinguished warriors, and each at an opportune time would rise and recount his great deeds in warfare against the Sioux. The strangers could read their gestures, and Antelope was once or twice almost on the point of stringing his bow to send an arrow through the audacious speaker.
As they moved about the village, taking note of its numbers and situation, and waiting an opportunity to withdraw without exciting suspicion, they observed some of the younger braves standing near another large wigwam, and one or two even peeped within. Moved by sudden curiosity, Antelope followed their example. He uttered a low exclamation and at once withdrew.
"What is it?" asked his companion, but received no answer.
It was evidently the home of a chief. The family were seated within at their usual occupations, and the bright light of the central fire shone full upon the face of a most lovely maiden.
Antelope stood apparently motionless, but he was trembling under his robe like a leaf.
"Come, friend, there is another large cloud almost over the moon! We must move away under its concealing shadow," urged Eaglechild.
the other stood still as if undecided, but at last he approached the lodge and looked in a second time. There sat his sweetheart in human form once more! The maiden was attired in a doeskin gown set with elk's teeth like ivory. Her eyes were cast down demurely over her embroidery, but in every feature she was the living counterpart of Taluta!
At last the two got away unobserved, and hastened toward the place where they had concealed their horses. But here Antelope sent his companion on in advance, making the excuse that he wished to study further the best position from which to make the attack.
When he was left alone he stood still for a moment to decide upon a plan. He could think of nothing but that he must meet the Ree maiden before daylight! He realized the extreme hazard of the attempt, but he also recalled what he had been told by the spirit of Taluta, and the supernatural command seemed to justify him even in going thus upon the eve of battle to meet the enemy of his people.
He skirted the heavy timber and retraced his steps to a point from which he could see the village. The drum of the gambling party had ceased with the shouts and laughter of the players. Apparently the village was lost in slumber. The moon had set, and without pausing he advanced to the home of the girl. As he came near some dogs began to bark, but he silenced them after the manner of the Rees, and they obeyed him.
When Antelope softly raised the robe that hung over the entrance to the chief's lodge, he saw the fire smoldering in the center, and the members of the household lying in their respective places, all seemingly in a deep sleep. The girl lay opposite the entrance, where he had seen her seated in the early part of the evening.
The heart of the Sioux beat violently, and he glanced nervously to left and right. There was neither sound nor movement. Then he pulled his robe completely over his head, after the fashion of a Ree lover, and softly entered the wigwam.
The Ree maiden, having industriously worked on her embroidery until far into the night, had retired to rest. In her dreams, the twin sister came to her of whom she had had visions ever since she could remember, and especially when something of importance was about to happen.
This time she came with a handsome young man of another tribe, and said: "Sister, I bring you a Sioux, who will be your husband!"
The dreamer opened her eyes to behold a youth bending over her and gently pulling her robe, as a suitor is permitted to do to awaken his beloved.
When he saw that she was awake, the Sioux touched his breast, saying in a whisper, "Tatoka," and made the sign for Antelope. This pleased the Ree girl, for her own brother, who had died the year before, had borne that name. She immediately sat up and stirred the embers into a light blaze. Then she took hold of his blanket and drew it from his face; and there she seemed to see the very features of the man of her vision!
He took her hand in his, and she felt the force of love stream through his long, nervous fingers, and instinctively knew his thoughts. In her turn she touched her breast and made the sign for Shield, pronouncing in her own tongue the word, Stasu. This seemed to him also a name of good omen, and in the sign language which was common to all the people of the plains, he asked her to be his wife.
Vividly her dream came back to her, and she could not refuse the stranger. Her soul already responded to his; and for a few minutes they sat silently side by side. When he arose and beckoned, "Come with me," she had no question to make, and without a word she followed him from her father's lodge and out into the forest.
In the midst of his ascending fame, at a moment when opportunity seemed to favor his ambition, the brave Antelope had mysteriously disappeared! His companion scout returned with a favorable report. He said that the men of the three confederated tribes were gambling and feasting, wholly unconscious of danger, and that Antelope would follow him with a further report upon the best point of attack. The red warriors impatiently awaited his return, until it became apparent that they could wait no longer without sacrificing their chance of success. When the attack was made it was already rather late. The sun had fairly cleared the eastern hills, and most of the men were outside their lodges.
It was a great battle! Again and again the Sioux were repulsed, but as often they rallied and repeated the charge until sundown, when they effected their retreat with considerable loss. Had Antelope returned in due season, the charge would have been made before dawn, while the people were yet asleep.
When the battle was over, the Rees, Mandans, and Gros Ventres gathered their dead and wounded. The night was filled with mourning. Soon the sad news was heralded throughout the camp that the beautiful daughter of the Ree chief was among the missing. It was supposed that she must have been captured while driving her ponies to water in the early morning. The grief for her loss was mingled with horror, because of a fear that she might suffer humiliation at the hands of the Sioux warriors, and among the young men there were muttered threats that the Sioux would pay dearly for this.
Though partially successful, the Sioux had lost many of their bravest warriors, and none could tell what had happened to Antelope – he who had been believed the favorite of the gods of war. It was suggested by some envious ones that perhaps he had recognized the strongly entrenched position of the three tribes, and believing the battle would be a disastrous one, had set out for home without making his report. But this supposition was not deemed credible. On the other hand, the idea was entertained that he had reentered the village, was detected and slain; and therefore the enemy was on the lookout when the attack was made.
"Hay, hay, hay, mechinkshe (Alas, alas, my son)!" was the sorrowful cry with which his old father received the news. His head fell upon his breast, and all the others groaned in sympathy.
The sunset sky was a blanket of beautiful painting. There were camp-fires among the clouds in orange and scarlet, while some were black as night. So the camp fairly glowed in celebration of its heroes; yet there was deep grief in many families. When the evening meal had been eaten and the people were sitting outside their lodges, a tall old man, almost nude, appeared in the circle, riding a fine horse. He had blackened his face, his hair was cut short, and the horse also had been deprived of his flowing mane and tail. Both were in deep mourning, after the fashion of the Sioux.
"Ho ho!" exclaimed many warriors as he passed them, singing in a hoarse, guttural voice.
"Ugh, he sings a war-song!" remarked one.
"Yes, I am told that he will find his son's bones, or leave his own in the country of the enemy!"
The rain had fallen incessantly for two days. The fleeing lovers had reached this lonely mountain valley of the Big Horn region on the night that the cold fall rains set in, and Antelope had hurriedly constructed an arbor house or rude shelter of pine and cedar boughs.
It was enough. There they sat, man and wife, in their first home of living green! The cheerful fire was burning in the center, and the happy smoke went straight up among the tall pines. There was no human eye to gaze upon them to embarrass – not even a common language in which to express their love for one another.
Their marriage, they believed, was made by a spirit, and it was holy in their minds. Each had cast away his people and his all for the sake of this emotion which had suddenly overtaken them both with overwhelming force, and the warrior's ambition had disappeared before it like a morning mist before the sun.
To them a new life was just beginning, and they had all but forgotten the existence of any world save this. The young bride was enshrined in a bower of spicy fragrance, and her face shone whenever her eyes met those of her husband.
"This is as I would have it, kechuwa (darling)!" exclaimed the Sioux in his own language. She simply responded with a childlike smile. Although she did not understand his words, she read in the tones of his voice only happy and loving thoughts.
The Ree girl had prepared a broiled bison steak, and her husband was keeping the fire well fed with dry fagots. The odor of the buming fat was delicious, and the gentle patter of the rain made a weird music outside their wigwam.
As soon as her husband had left her alone – for he must go to water the ponies and conceal them at a distance – Stasu came out to collect more wood. Instinctively she looked all about her. Huge mountains towered skyward, clad in pines. The narrow valley in which she was wound its way between them, and on every side there was heavy forest.
She stood silent and awed, scarcely able to realize that she had begun her new life absolutely alone, with no other woman to advise or congratulate her, and visited only by the birds of the air. Yet all the world to her just now was Antelope! No other woman could smile on him. He could not talk to any one but her. The evening drum at the council lodge could not summon him away from her, and she was well content.
When the young wife had done everything she could think of in preparation for her husband's return, including the making of several birch-bark basins and pails for water, the rain had quite ceased, so she spread her robe just outside the lodge and took up her work-bag, in which she had several pairs of moccasin-tops already beaded.
While she bent over her work, getting up from time to time to turn the roast which she had impaled upon a sharp stick above the glowing coals, the bride had a stream of shy callers, of the little people of the woods. She sat very still, so as not to startle them, and there is much curiosity among these people concerning a stranger.
Presently she was startled by a footfall not unlike that of a man. She had not been married long enough to know the sound of her husband's step, and she felt a thrill of joy and fear alternately. It might be he, and it might be a stranger! She was loath to look up, but at last gave a furtive glance, and met squarely the eyes of a large grizzly bear, who was seated upon his haunches not far away.
Stasu was surprised, but she showed no fear; and fearlessness is the best shield against wild animals. In a moment she got up unconcernedly, and threw a large piece of meat to the stranger.
"Take of my wedding feast, O great Bear!" she addressed him, "and be good to me to bless my first teepee! O be kind and recognize my brave act in taking for my husband one of the warriors of the Sioux, the ancient enemy of my people! I have accepted a husband of a language other than mine, and am come to live among you as your neighbor. I offer you my friendship!"
The bear's only answer to her prayer was a low growl, but having eaten the meat, he turned and clumsily departed.
In the meantime Antelope had set himself to master the geography of that region, to study the outlook for game, and ascertain the best approaches to their secret home. It was already settled in his mind that he could never return either to his wife's people or to his own. His fellow-warriors would not forgive his desertion, and the Rees could not be expected to welcome as a kinsman one of the foremost of their ancient foes. There was nothing to be done but to remain in seclusion, and let them say what they would of him!
He had loved the Ree maiden from the first moment he beheld her by the light of the blazing embers, and that love must satisfy him. It was well that he had never cared much for company, but had spent many of his young days in solitude and fasting. It did not seem at all strange to him that he had been forced to retreat into an unknown and wild country with a woman whom he saw in the evening for the first time, and fled with as his own wife before sunrise!
By the afternoon he had thoroughly informed himself upon the nature of the surrounding country. Everything on the face of the map was surveyed and charted in his mind, in accordance with his habits and training. This done, he turned toward his secret dwelling. As he walked rapidly and noiselessly through the hidden valleys and along the singing streams, he noticed fresh signs of the deer, elk, and other wild tribes among whom he had chosen to abide. "They shall be my people," he said to himself.
Behind a group of cedars he paused to reconnoiter, and saw the pine-bough wigwam like a giant plant, each row of boughs overlapping the preceding circular row like the scales of a fish. Stasu was sitting before it upon a buffalo robe, attired in her best doeskin gown. Her delicate oval face was touched with red paint, and her slender brown hands were occupied with a moccasin meant for him to wear. He could scarcely believe that it was a mortal woman that he saw before him in broad day – the pride of No Man's Trail, for that is what the Crow Indians call that valley!
"Ho, ho, kechuwa!" he exclaimed as he approached her, and her heart leaped in recognition of the magnetic words of love.
"It is good that we are alone! I shall never want to go back to my people so long as I have you. I can dwell here with you forever, unless you should think otherwise!" she exclaimed in her own tongue, accompanied by graphic signs.
"Ho, I think of nothing else! I can see in every creature only friendly ways and good feeling. We can live alone here, happily, unless you should feel differently," he replied in his own language with the signs, so that his bride understood him.
The environment was just what it should be when two people are united in marriage. The wedding music was played by Nature, and trees, brooks, and the birds of the air contributed their peculiar strains to a great harmony. All of the people on No Man's Trail were polite, and understood the reserves of love. These two had yielded to a simple and natural impulse; but its only justification to their minds was the mysterious leading of the twin spirit! That was the sum total of their excuse, and it was enough.
Before the rigor of winter had set in, Tatoka brought to his bride many buffalo skins. She was thoroughly schooled in the arts of savage womanhood; in fact, every Indian maid was trained with this thought in view – that she should become a beautiful, strong, skillful wife and mother – the mother of a noble race of warriors!
In a short time within that green and pinescented enclosure there smiled a little wild paradise. Hard by the pine-bough wigwam there stood a new white buffalo-skin teepee, tanned, cut, sewed, and pitched by the hands of Stasu. Away in the woods, down by the rushing brook, was her tannery, and not far away, in a sunny, open spot, she prepared her sun-cured meats for winter use. Her kitchen was a stone fireplace in a shady spot, and her parlor was the lodge of evergreen, overhung on two sides by inaccessible ledges, and bounded on the other two by the sparkling stream. It was a secret place, and yet a citadel; a silent place, and yet not lonely!
The winter was cold and long, but the pair were happy in one another's company, and accepted their strange lot as one that was chosen for them by the spirits. Stasu had insisted upon her husband speaking to her in his own language, that she might learn it quickly. In a little while she was able to converse with him, and when she had acquired his language she taught him hers.
While Antelope was occupied with hunting and exploring the country, always keeping in mind the danger of discovery by some wandering scout or hunter, his wife grew well acquainted with the wild inhabitants of No Man's Trail. These people are as full of curiosity as man, and as the Sioux never hunted near his home, they were entirely fearless. Many came to the door of Stasu's lodge, and she was not afraid, but offered them food and spoke to them kindly. All animals judge by signs and are quick in reading tones and gestures; so that the Ree girl soon had grandfathers and grandmothers, after the Indian fashion, among the wolves and bears that came oftenest for food.
Her husband in the field had also his fellowhunters and friends. When he killed the buffalo he always left enough meat for the wolves, the eagles, and the ravens to feast upon, and these watched for the coming of the lonely wild man. More than once they told him by their actions of the presence of a distant campfire, but in each instance it proved to be a small war-party which had passed below them on the trail.
Again it was summer. Never had the mountains looked grander or more mysterious to the eyes of the two. The valley was full of the music and happiness of the winged summer people; the trees wore their summer attire, and the meadow its green blanket. There were many homes made happy by the coming of little people everywhere, but no pair was happier than Stasu and her husband when one morning they saw their little brave lying wrapped in soft deerskins, and heard for the first time his plaintive voice!
That morning, when Antelope set out on the hunt, he stopped at the stream and looked at himself seriously to see whether he had changed since the day before. He must now appear much graver, he said to himself, because he is the father of a new man!
In spite of himself, his thoughts were with his own people, and he wondered what his old grandmother would have said to his child! He looked away off toward the Black Hills, to the Sioux country, and in his heart he said, "I am a coward!"
The boy grew naturally, and never felt the lack of playmates and companions, for his mother was ingenious in devising plays for him, and in winning for him the confidence and kindness of the animal friends. He was the young chief and the hero of No Man's Trail! The bears and wolves were his warriors; the buffalo and elk the hostile tribes upon whom he went to war. Small as he was, he soon preferred to roam alone in the woods. His parents were often anxious, but, on the other hand, they entertained the hope that he would some day be "wakan," a mysterious or supernatural man, for he was getting power from his wild companions and from the silent forces of nature.
One day, when he was about five years old, he gave a dance for his wild pets upon the little plateau which was still their home. He had clothed Mato, the bear, in one of his father's suits as a great medicine-man. Waho, the wolf, was painted up as a brave; and the young buffalo calf was attired in one of his mother's gowns. The boy acted as chief and master of ceremonies.
The savage mother watched him with undisguised pride, mingled with sorrow. Tears coursed down her dusky cheeks, although at the same time she could not help laughing heartily at the strange performance. When the play was ended, and she had served the feast at its close, Stasu seemed lost in thought.
"He should not live in this way," she was saying to herself. "He should know the traditions and great deeds of my people! Surely his grandfather would be proud of the boy!"
That evening, while the boy slept, and Mato lay outside the lodge eagerly listening and sniffing the night air, the parents sat silent and ill at ease. After a long time Stasu spoke her mind.
"My husband, you ask me why I am sad. It is because I think that the Great Mystery will be displeased if we keep this little boy forever in the wilderness. It is wrong to allow him to grow up among wild animals; and if sickness or accident should deprive him of his father and mother, our spirits would never rest, because we had left him alone! I have decided to ask you to take us back, either to your people or to my people. We must sacrifice our pride, or, if needs be, our lives, for his life and happiness!"
This speech of Stasu's was a surprise to her husband. His eyes rested upon the ground as he listened, and his face assumed the proverbial stoical aspect, yet in it there was not lacking a certain nobleness. At last he lifted his eyes to hers, and said:
"You have spoken wise words, and it shall be as you have said. We shall return to your people. If I am to die at the hands of the ancient enemy of the Sioux, I shall die because of my love for you, and for our child. But I cannot go back to my own people to be ridiculed by unworthy young men for yielding to love of a Ree maiden!"
There was much feeling behind these words of Antelope. The rigid customs of his people are almost a religion, and there is one thing above all else which a Sioux cannot bear – that is the ridicule of his fellow-warriors. Yes, he can endure severe punishment or even death at the hands of the enemy rather than a single laugh of derision from a Sioux!
In a few days the houshold articles were packed, and the three sadly turned their backs upon their home. Stasu and her husband were very silent as they traveled slowly along. When they reached the hill called "Born-of-Day," and she saw from its summit the country of her people lying below her, she cried aloud, weeping happy tears. Antelope sat near by with bowed head, silently smoking.
Finally on the fifth day they arrived within sight of the great permanent village of the three tribes. They saw the earth lodges as of old, thickly clustered along the flats of the Missouri, among their rustling maize-fields. Antelope stopped. "I think you had better give me something to eat, woman," he said, smiling. It was the Sioux way of saying, "Let me have my last meal!"
After they had eaten, Stasu opened her buckskin bags and gave her husband his finest suit. He dressed himself carefully in the fashion of his tribe, putting on all the feathers to which he was entitled as a warrior. The boy also was decked out in gala attire, and Stasu, the matron, had never looked more beautiful in her gown of ceremony with the decoration of elks' teeth, the same that she had worn on the evening of her disappearance.
As she dressed herself, the unwelcome thought forced itself upon her, – "What if my love is killed by my own countrymen in their frenzy? This beautiful gown must then give place to a poor one, and this hair will be cut short!" for such is the mourning of the widow among her people.
The three rode openly down the long slope, and were instantly discovered by the people of the village. Soon the plain was black with the approaching riders. Stasu had begged her husband to remain behind, while she went on alone with the boy to obtain forgiveness, but he sternly refused, and continued in advance. When the foremost Ree warriors came within arrow-shot they began to shoot, to which he paid no attention.
But the child screamed with terror, and Stasu cried out in her own tongue:
"Do not shoot! I am the daughter of your chief!"
One of them returned the reply: "She is killed by the Sioux!" But when the leaders saw her plainly they were astounded.
For a time there was great confusion. Some held that they should all die, for the woman had been guilty of treason to her people, and even now she might be playing a trick upon them. Who could say that behind that hill there was not a Sioux war-party?
"No, no," replied others. "They are in our power. Let them tell their story!"
Stasu told it simply, and said in conclusion:
"This man, one of the bravest and most honorable men of his tribe, deserted on the night of the attack, and all because he loved a Ree maiden! He now comes to be your brother-in-law, who will fight henceforth for you and with you, even if it be against his own people.
"He does not beg for mercy – he can dare anything! But I am a woman – my heart is soft – I ask for the lives of my husband and my son, who is the grandson of your chief!"
"He is a coward who touches this man!" exclaimed the leader, and a thunder of warwhoops went up in approval of his words.
The warriors formed themselves in two great columns, riding twenty abreast, behind and in front of the strangers. The old chief came out to meet them, and took his son-inlaw's hand. Thus they entered the village in battle array, but with hearts touched with wonder and great gladness, discharging their arrows upward in clouds and singing peace-songs.