Days of listless longing followed the journey to the Inyan-kara in search of the offices of the Good God, and the worn body and fevered mind of White Otter recovered their normal placidity. The red warrior on his resting-mat sinks in a torpor which a sunning mud-turtle on a log only hopes to attain, but he stores up energy, which must sooner or later find expression in the most extended physical effort.
Thus during the days did White Otter eat and sleep, or lie under the cottonwoods by the creek with his chum, the boy Red Arrow--lying together on the same robe and dreaming as boys will, and talking also, as is the wont of youth, about the things which make a man. They both had their medicine--they were good hunters, whom the camp soldiers allowed to accompany the parties in the buffalo-surround. They both had a few ponies, which they had stolen from the Absaroke hunters the preceding autumn, and which had given them a certain boyish distinction in the camp. But their eager minds yearned for the time to come when they should do the deed which would allow them to pass from the boy to the warrior stage, before which the Indian is in embryo.
Betaking themselves oft to deserted places, they each consulted his own medicine. White Otter had skinned and dried and tanned the skin of the little brown bat, and covered it with gaudy porcupine decorations. This he had tied to his carefully cultivated scalp-lock, where it switched in the passing breeze. People in the camp were beginning to say "the little brown bat boy" as he passed them by.
But their medicine conformed to their wishes, as an Indian's medicine mostly has to do, so that they were promised success in their undertaking.
Old Big Hair, who sat blinking, knew that the inevitable was going to happen, but he said no word. He did not advise or admonish. He doted on his son, and did not want him killed, but that was better than no eagle-plume.
Still the boys did not consult their relatives in the matter, but on the appointed evening neither turned up at the ancestral tepee, and Big Hair knew that his son had gone out into the world to win his feather. Again he consulted the medicine-pouch and sang dolorously to lull the spirits of the night as his boy passed him on his war-trail.
Having traveled over the tableland and through the pines for a few miles, White Otter stopped, saying: "Let us rest here. My medicine says not to go farther, as there is danger ahead. The demons of the night are waiting for us beyond, but my medicine says that if we build a fire the demons will not come near, and in the morning they will be gone."
They made a small fire of dead pine sticks and sat around it wrapped in the skins of the gray wolf, with the head and ears of that fearful animal capping theirs--unearthly enough to frighten even the monsters of the night.
Old Big Hair had often told his son that he would send him out with some war-party under a chief who well knew how to make war, and with a medicine-man whose war-medicine was strong; but no war-party was going then and youth has no time to waste in waiting. Still, he did not fear pursuit.
Thus the two human wolves sat around the snapping sticks, eating their dried buffalo meat.
"To-morrow, Red Arrow, we will make the war-medicine. I must find a gray spider, which I am to kill, and then if my medicine says go on, I am not afraid, for it came direct from the Good God, who told me I should live to wear white hair."
"Yes," replied Red Arrow, "we will make the medicine. We do not know the mysteries of the great war-medicine, but I feel sure that my own is strong to protect me. I shall talk to a wolf. We shall find a big gray wolf, and if as we stand still on the plain he circles us completely around, we can go on, and the Gray Horned Thunder-Being and the Great Pipe-Bearing Wolf will march on our either side. But if the wolf does not circle us, I do not know what to do. Old Bear-Walks-at-Right, who is the strongest war-medicine-maker in the Chis-chis-chash, says that when the Gray Horned Thunder-Being goes with a war-party, they are sure of counting their enemies' scalps, but when the Pipe-Bearing Wolf also goes, the enemy cannot strike back, and the Wolf goes only with the people of our clan."
Thus the young men talked to each other, and the demons of the night joined in their conversation from among the tree-tops, but got no nearer because the fire shot words of warning up to them, and the hearts of the boys were strong to watch the contest and bear it bravely.
With the first coming of light they started on--seeking the gray spider and the gray wolf. After much searching through the rotting branches of the fallen trees, White Otter was heard calling to Red Arrow: "Come! Here is the gray spider, and as I kill him, if he contains blood I shall go on, but if he does not contain blood my medicine says there is great danger, and we must not go on."
Over the spider stooped the two seekers of truth, while White Otter got the spider on the body of the log, where he crushed it with his bow. The globular insect burst into a splash of blood, and the young savage threw back his shoulders with a haughty grunt, saying, "My medicine is strong--we shall go to the middle of the Absaroke village," and Red Arrow gave his muttered assent.
"Now we must find a wolf," continued Red Arrow, and they betook themselves through the pines to the open plains, White Otter following him but a step in rear.
|"O gray wolf of my clan--shall we have fortune?"|
Selecting this one, Red Arrow called: "O gray wolf of my clan, answer me this question. White Otter and I are going to the Absa-roke for scalps--shall we have fortune, or is the Absaroke medicine too strong?"
The wolf began to circle as Red Arrow approached it and the buffalo carcass. Slowly it trotted off to his left hand, whereat the anxious warrior followed slowly.
"Tell me, pretty wolf, shall White Otter's and my scalps be danced by the Absaroke? Do the enemy see us coming now--do they feel our presence?" And the wolf trotted around still to the left.
"Come, brother. Red Arrow is of your clan. Warn me, if I must go back." And as the Indian turned, yet striding after the beast, it continued to go away from him, but kept an anxious eye on the dead buffalo meanwhile.
"Do not be afraid, gray wolf; I would not raise my arm to strike. See, I have laid my bow on the ground. Tell me not to fear the Absaroke, gray wolf, and I promise to kill a fat buffalo-cow for you when we meet again."
The wolf had nearly completed his circle by this time, and once again his follower spoke.
"Do you fear me because of the skin of the dead wolf you see by my bow on the ground? No, Red Arrow did not kill thy brother. He was murdered by a man of the dog clan, and I did not do it. Speak to me--help me against my fears." And the wolf barked as he trotted around until he had made a complete circle of the buffalo, whereat Red Arrow took up his bow and bundle, saying to White Otter, "Now we will go."
The two then commenced their long quest in search of the victims which were to satisfy their ambitions. They followed up the depression in the plains where they had found the buffalo, gained the timber, and walked all day under its protecting folds. They were a long way from their enemies' country, but instinctively began the cautious advance which is the wild-animal nature of an Indian.
The old buffalo-bulls, elk and deer fled from before them as they marched. A magpie mocked at them. They stopped while White Otter spoke harshly to it: "You laugh at us, fool-bird, because we are boys, but you shall see when we come back that we are warriors. We will have a scalp to taunt you with. Begone now, before I pierce you with an arrow, you chattering woman-bird." And the magpie fluttered away before the unwonted address.
In the late afternoon they saw a band of wolves pull down and kill a fawn, and ran to it, saying, "See, the Pipe-Bearing Wolf is with us; he makes the wolves to hunt for us of his clan," and they despoiled the prey.
Coming to a shallow creek, they took off their moccasins and waded down it for a mile, when they turned into a dry watercourse, which they followed up for a long distance, and then stopped in some thick brush which lined its sides. They sat long together on the edge of the bushes, scanning with their piercing eyes the sweep of the plains, but nothing was there to rouse their anxiety. The wild animals were feeding peacefully, the sun sank to rest, and no sound came to them but the cry of the night-birds.
When it was quite dark, they made a small fire in the depths of the cut, threw a small quantity of tobacco into it as a sacrifice, cooked the venison and went to sleep.
It was more than mere extension of interest with them; it was more than ambition's haughtiest fight; it was the sun-dried, wind-shriveled, tried-out atavistic blood-thirst made holy by the approval of the Good God they knew.
The miniature war-party got at last into the Absaroke country. Before them lay a big camp--the tepees scattering down the creek-bottom for miles, until lost at a turn of the timber. Eagerly they studied the cut and sweep of the land, the way the tepees dotted it, the moving of the pony herds and the coming and going of the hunters, but most of all the mischievous wanderings of the restless Indian boys. Their telescopic eyes penetrated everything. They understood the movements of their foes, for they were of kindred nature with their own.
Their buffalo-meat was almost gone, and it was dangerous to kill game now for fear of attracting the ravens, which would circle overhead and be seen from the camp. These might attract an investigation from idle and adventurous boys and betray them.
"Go now; your time has come," said the little brown bat on White Otter's scalp-lock.
"Go now," echoed Red Arrow's charm.
When nothing was to be seen of the land but the twinkle of the fires in the camp, they were lying in a deep washout under a bluff, which overlooked the hostile camp. Long and silently they sat watching the fires and the people moving about, hearing their hum and chanting as it came to them on the still air, together with the barking of dogs, the nickering of ponies, and the hollow pounding on a log made by old squaws hacking with their hatchets.
Slowly before the drowse of darkness, the noises quieted and the fires died down. Red Arrow felt his potent symbols whispering to him.
"My medicine is telling me what to do, White Otter."
"What does it say?"
"It says that there is a dangerous mystery in the blue-and-yellow tepee at the head of the village. It tells me to have great care," replied Red Arrow.
"Hough, my medicine says go on; I am to be a great warrior," replied White Otter.
After a moment Red Arrow exclaimed: "My medicine says go with White Otter, and do what he says. It is good."
"Come, then; we will take the war-ponies from beside the blue-and-yellow tepee. They belong to a chief and are good. We will strike an Absaroke if we can. Come with me." White Otter then glided forward in the darkness toward the camp. When quite near, they waited for a time to allow the dogs to be still, and when they ceased to tongue, they again approached with greater caution.
Slowly, so as not to disturb the animals of the Indians, they neared the blue-and-yellow tepee, squatting low to measure its gloom against the sky-line. They were among the picketed ponies, and felt them all over carefully with their hands. They found the clip-maned war-ponies and cut the ropes. The Indian dogs made no trouble, as they walked their booty very slowly and very quietly away, as though they wandered in search of food. When well out of hearing, they sprang on their backs and circled back to the creek-bottom.
Nearing this, they heard the occasional inharmonious notes of an Indian flute among the trees. Instantly they recognized it as an Indian lover calling for his sweetheart to come out from the lodges to him.
"Hold the ponies, Red Arrow. My medicine tells me to strike," and White Otter slid from his horse. He passed among the tepees at the end of the village, then quickly approached the direction of the noise of the flute.
The lover heard his approaching footsteps, for White Otter walked upright until the notes stopped, when he halted to await their renewal. Again the impatient gallant called from the darkness to his hesitating one, and our warrior advanced with bared knife in one hand, and bow in the other with an arrow notched.
When quite near, the Absaroke spoke in his own language, but White Otter, not understanding, made no reply, though advancing rapidly. Alas for the surging blood which burns a lover's head, for his quick advance to White Otter discovered for him nothing until, with a series of lightning-like stabs, the knife tore its way into his vitals--once, twice, three times, when, with a wild yell, he sank under his deluded infatuation.
He doubtless never knew, but his yell had found its response from the camp. Feeling quickly, White Otter wound his hand among the thick black hair of his victim's head, and though it was his first, he made no bad work of the severance of the prize, whereat he ran fast to his chum. Attracted by the noise, Red Arrow rode up, and they were mounted. Cries and yells and barking came from the tepees, but silently they loped away from the confusion--turning into the creek, blinding the trail in the water for a few yards and regaining the hills from a much-tracked-up pony and buffalo crossing. Over the bluffs and across the hills they made their way, until they no longer heard the sounds of the camp behind them.
Filled with a great exultation, they trotted and loped along until the moon came up, when White Otter spoke for the first time, addressing it: "Pretty Mother of the Night--time of the little brown bat's flight--see what I have done. White Otter is no longer a boy." Then to his pony: "Go on quickly now, pretty little war-pony. You are strong to carry me. Do not lame yourself in the dog-holes. Carry me back to the Chis-chis-chash, and I promise the Mother of the Night, now and here, where you can hear me speak, that you shall never carry any man but White Otter, and that only in war."
For three days and nights they rode as rapidly as the ponies could travel, resting an hour here and there to refresh themselves. Gradually relaxing after this, they assumed the fox-trot of the plains pony; but they looked many times behind and doubled often in their trail.
Seeing a band of wolves around a buffalo-bull which was fighting them off, they rode up and shot arrows into it--the sacrifice to the brother of the clan who had augured for them. Red Arrow affected to recognize his old acquaintance in the group.
As they rode on, White Otter spoke: "I shall wear the eagle-feather standing up in my scalp-lock, for I struck him with a hand-weapon standing up. It shall wave above the bat and make him strong. The little brown bat will be very brave in the time to come. We took the clipped and painted war-ponies from under the chiefs nose, Red Arrow."
"Yes, I did that--but my medicine grew weak when it looked at the great camp of the Absaroke. Your medicine was very strong, White Otter; there is no old warrior in the Chis-chis-chash whose is stronger. I shall take the charcoal again, and see if the Good God won't strengthen my medicine."
Time brought the victors in sight of their village, which had moved meanwhile, and it was late in the evening.
"Stay here with the ponies, Red Arrow, and I will go into my father's lodge and get red paint for us. We will not enter until to-morrow."
So White Otter stole into his own tepee by night--told his father of his triumph--got a quantity of vermilion and returned to the hills. When he and Red Arrow had bedaubed themselves and their ponies most liberally, they wrapped the scalp to a lance which he had brought out, then moved slowly forward in the morning light on their jaded ponies to the village, yelling the long, high notes of the war-whoop. The people ran out to see them come, many young men riding to meet them. The yelling procession came to the masses of the people, who shrilled in answer, the dogs ki-yied, and old trade-guns boomed. White Otter's chin was high, his eyes burned with a devilish light through the red paint, as he waved the lance slowly, emitting from time to time above the din his battle-cry.
It was thus that White Otter became a man.