The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected. — G. K. Chesterton

With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin




The Chase of the Big Elk

Bang!

One of the American guards, stationed on a little rise, had fired his gun, as an alarm signal.

It was noon, of the second day, and Chief Pike had halted his men to eat, and graze the horses. At the signal, everybody looked.

"Injuns!" cried the Americans, while the guard pointed and called.

Scar Head likewise looked.

"Pawnee," he said. He knew them instantly, although they were still far off.

Chief Pike and the young sub-thief shouted orders. The soldiers seized their guns and formed to protect the horses; the guards came running in. Scar Head strung his bow and plucked a good arrow from his quiver. The "doctor "or medicine-man, standing with gun in hand, smiled and asked him a question, in French.

"What are you doing? Making ready to fight?"

"Yes."

"Good," praised the medicine-man. "You will fight for the Americans?"

"I am American," asserted Scar Head. "American. No Pawnee."

The medicine-man laughed, but he seemed pleased.

There were many of the Pawnees—fully three hundred. They approached swiftly, across the rolling prairie, from the north. They were horseback, but they acted like a war party—all were warriors, with guns and bows and lances. What did they want? Even Scar Head could not guess. Had Charakterik decided to let the Americans be attacked? That was foolish. The Americans were ready, and would fight hard.

Or, perhaps Iskatappe and Skidi and other hot-hearts had planned this without permission, and were determined to see what they might do.

The Americans stood in a half circle, facing the Pawnees, their horses tied short, behind them. Chief Pike stood in front of the center, his sword in his hand. His sub-chief was at one end and the medicine-man at the other end. Scar Head fitted his arrow upon his bow, twitched his quiver around so that he might reach it more easily, and ran closer to the medicine-man's end, where he could shoot better. The soldier Sparks was here, too.

Iskatappe led the Pawnees. They were nearing fast. Yes, Skidi was among them. Scar Head decided to loose his arrows upon Skidi, who had called him a liar and who was the mischief-maker. Now Chief Pike uttered a sharp command, and the gun-locks of the few Americans all clicked; he uttered another command, and the guns of the few Americans all rose to a level line. Scar Head lifted his bow and bent it, pointing his arrow upward, his eyes measuring the distance to Skidi.

But on a sudden the Pawnees stopped short, so that their ponies' fore-hoofs ploughed the sod, and Iskatappe and another chief rode forward more slowly, with the peace sign.

Chief Pike barked a command, so that the Americans' guns were lowered. Baroney went out and joined him, and they two met Iskatappe and the other chief.

After all, Iskatappe only gave Chief Pike a piece of meat. They rode in together, and the Pawnees came on, and the Americans let them.

"No war," smiled the medicine-man, over his shoulder, at Scar Head.

"Maybe," grunted Scar Head, but he was suspicious. When the Pawnees acted this way, they were of two minds. The Americans would do well to watch out. They did watch, but it was hard to keep so many Pawnees at a distance. They edged about, smiling and alert for chances.

"Hello, little sneak," greeted Skidi, of Scar Head.

"Hello, thief," Scar Head boldly answered. "You are the sneak. You give with one hand and take back with the other."

"You talk big," sneered Skidi. "Once you were a chief's son; now you are nothing. When I catch you, some day, you will be less than nothing."

"Why don't you catch me now?" Scar Head retorted. "I am with the Americans. I am not afraid of you."

"You are not worth the trouble. We are hunting meat. The Padoucah can have you and those Osages. They and the Spanish will eat you all, for us, and save us the bother. If we did not believe that, we would never have let the Americans come even this far."

It appeared to be true that the Pawnees were hunting, and not bent upon war. Iskatappe had brought Chief Pike a present of bear meat, to wipe out the memory of the horse-theft, he said. But the Americans stood ready, trying to see what the Pawnees really were up to—and Scar Head kept his eye upon the crafty Skidi.

Pretty soon Chief Pike and Iskatappe shook hands again. The Pawnees were to ride one way, the Americans another. Scar Head was just in time. As the Americans started, he brushed against the medicine-man, so as to warn, with his French words: "Knife. No knife."

The medicine-man instantly felt of the knife scabbard on his saddle. It was empty, as Scar Head well knew, for he had seen the clever Skidi steal the knife out. Now the "doctor "exclaimed, and spoke quickly to Chief Pike. They both reined aside, so did Baroney the interpreter

"Come," beckoned the medicine-man, to Scar Head; and while the column went on with the second chief, they turned back to the Pawnees.

"We have come for a knife that is lost," announced Chief Pike, to Iskatappe, with Baroney talking for him in bad Pawnee.

"We know nothing about any knife," asserted Rich Man, stiffly.

"A knife is missing from this man's saddle," Chief Pike insisted. "I ask you to get it for me."

"You grow angry about a very small thing,", Iskatappe replied. "What is one knife to you? Besides, you say it is lost. Very well; then you should find it. We know nothing about it."

Chief Pike flushed, angry indeed. His blue eyes looked hot.

"Whether or not it is a small thing, we Americans are not men who can be robbed. The knife may seem of little value, but it is ours. I am here to get it from you."

"That is strong talk," Iskatappe answered. "I have no knife of yours. Where is your knife?"

"Who has it?" the medicine-man asked, in quick low voice, of Scar Head.

"Skidi," whispered Scar Head.

The medicine-man pushed forward to Baroney, and spoke with him.

"This man says your warrior named Skidi has his knife," said Baroney, to Iskatappe.

"We will see," replied Iskatappe. He called Skidi, and told him to throw back his robe; and sure enough, there was the knife.

"I did not know that it was that man's knife," Skidi defended. "I found it on the trail. Now it is mine. If I give it up, I must have another to take its place."

"Your warrior lies," Chief Pike flatly retorted, to Iskatappe. "He stole the knife. Otherwise, how did we know that he had it?"

Matters looked bad. The Pawnees were surrounding thicker and thicker, and the other Americans had gone on. But Chief Pike gave no sign that he was afraid; neither did the medicine-man. Only Baroney acted uneasy, and Scar Head's heart beat rapidly.

"What the American chief says, sounds true," remarked Iskatappe, while Skidi glared and his friends jostled and murmured. "But maybe Skidi is right, too. He should have another knife."

"We are not here to trade knives. When an honest man finds what belongs to another, he returns it," Chief Pike replied.

"Much time is being wasted over a matter of no account," growled Iskatappe. "Here is your knife," and he plucked it from Skidi's waist. "I am not stingy, so I give him one to take its place." And so he did.

Chief Pike passed the knife to the medicine-man. The medicine-man was wise. He immediately passed it back to Iskatappe.

"It is now yours. Keep it. By this you see that we did not come for the knife; we came for justice."

"You show us that your hearts are good, after all," Rich Man granted. "I think you have done well."

The faces of the Pawnees cleared, even Skidi seemed satisfied, and after shaking hands once more Chief Pike led out for the column and left the Pawnees to go their way also.

The Americans under the second chief were a long way ahead. Chief Pike acted as if in no hurry. He and the medicine-man cantered easily and chatted and laughed like brothers; Scar Head and Baroney cantered together, behind them.

"Our scalps were loose, back there," uttered Baroney.

"Yes," said Scar Head. "I smelled blood."

"You are no Pawnee. They would scalp you, too. Were you afraid?"

"No. No one is afraid, with Chief Pike."

Baroney laughed. He was a small, dark, black-bearded man who spoke about as much Pawnee as Scar Head spoke French, but was good at the sign language; so by using all three means, with now and then a word of Spanish, he got along.

They had ridden about a mile, and were slowly overtaking the American column, when another band of figures came charging. The medicine-man sighted them, the first, for he pointed—and they indeed looked, at a distance, to be more Indians, issuing from ambush in a river bottom on the left and launching themselves to cut off the Chief Pike squad.

Scar Head himself read them with one keen stare.

"Elk," he grunted, in Pawnee, and stiffened with the hunt feeling.

Baroney called, excitedly; but Chief Pike had read, too. He shouted, turned his horse and shook his reins and flourished his gun, and away he dashed, to meet the elk. In a flash Scar Head clapped his heels against his pony's ribs, and tore after. The medicine-man and Baroney tore, too, on a course of their own.

The yellow pony was a fast pony, well trained. He had been stolen from the Comanches, whose horses were the best. Scar Head rode light—a boy in only a buffalo robe. The American horses all were poor horses, even those traded for with the Pawnees, and Chief Pike, in his clothes, weighed twice as much, on the saddle, as Scar Head.

The yellow pony over-hauled the Chief Pike horse—crept up, from tail to stirrup, from stirrup to neck, from neck to nose. Scar Head, his moccasined feet thrust into thong loops, clung close. Chief Pike glanced aside at him, with blue eyes glowing, and smiled.

"Good meat," he said, in French. "We two hunt.

"Kill," answered Scar Head.

"Can you kill?"

"Yes."

"What with?"

"This." And Scar Head shook his strung bow. Chief Pike laughed.

"They are large; you are small. With a gun—yes. With a bow—I think not."

"You will see," Scar Head promised. His heart was filled with the desire to prove himself to Chief Pike. But he had never killed an elk—nothing larger than a badger; he only knew that it might be done.

They raced. The elk were foolish things, and appeared to be thinking more of some danger behind than the danger before. No—now Baroney and the medicine-man had frightened them afresh, for they had swerved, they paralleled the trail, and were scouring on to gain the open.

Good riding might head them.

The yellow pony knew. He ran like a deer, himself. Chief Pike's horse lengthened bravely. Hi! Hi!" Scar Head urged.

"Hurrah!" cheered the chief.

They were veering in. The band of elk were led by a splendid buck, whose horns branched like a tree. The elk chief ran with his nose out and his horns laid upon his neck, but now and again he shook his head, and his horns tossed.

Baroney and the medicine-man were trying to close in, on the rear flank—the medicine-man had shot. Scar Head belabored his pony harder. The wind whistled in his ears, his white robe had dropped about his thighs, he rode with his legs and notched an arrow upon his bow-string. His eyes were upon the elk chief, and he almost lost sight of Chief Pike, although he knew that Pike was thudding close beside him.

The reports of the medicine-man and Baroney guns sounded, driving the elk before them. The elk chief saw the two enemies cutting him off before. He recoiled sharply, to turn, but the herd forced him on; they all bunched, confused. This was the chance, and in charged Scar Head, on his yellow pony.

"Le grand cerf (The large stag)!" Chief Pike gasped.

"Oui (yes)!" answered Scar Head.

The herd broke. On bolted the stag, tossing his great horns. After him pelted Scar Head and Chief Pike. It was another chase. But, see! The Pawnees were coming, from before. The chase was leading straight for them, they had seen, and fifty or sixty of their best hunters had galloped in a long line, for a surround.

The stag saw, too. Or else he smelled. He turned at right angles, to escape the net. A minute or two more, and the yellow pony was at his straining haunches, and Scar Head was leaning forward with bow bent to the arrow's head.

"Look out! Look out!" Chief Pike shouted. With a mighty leap the stag sprang aside, whirled, and charged the yellow pony. His bristling horns were down, his eyes shone greenly. Around whirled the yellow pony, also, and scrambled for safety. Scar Head, clinging and urging, gazed backward and laughed to show that he was not afraid. Chief Pike, his pistol held high, pursued, to the rescue.

But the elk chief changed heart. The yellow pony nimbly dodged, and he went on. Scar Head closed in on him once more. Chief Pike was coming; the arrow should be sped now or never.

The elk chief was spattered with froth from shoulder to haunch; his great horns, polished at the tips but still ragged with their velvet, lay flat, reaching to his back. Scar Head forged on farther and farther, his bow arched from arrow notch to arrow point; he leaned, aimed quickly, and loosed. It was a warrior's bow, and the recoil jarred his whole arm, but the arrow had sunk to its feathers in the right spot, just behind the elk's fore shoulder.

"Hi!" cheered Scar Head. He whipped another arrow from his quiver; without slackening speed he fitted it to the bow.

The elk chief had given a tremendous bound; for a moment it seemed as though he would get away yet. On thudded the yellow pony, in the rear at the other side on thudded Chief Pike, ready to use his pistol.

Before, the Pawnees were yelling. Scar Head feared that he was going to lose his kill to them, or to Chief Pike. That would never do. He kicked his pony fiercely. Ha! The old chief was failing, as the arrow point worked. The pony drew up on him. Now another arrow. Whang! It buried itself almost out of sight behind the elk chief's ribs.

The elk chief bounded high, screamed, turned blindly, and with one more bound crashed headlong to the ground. The yellow pony leaped right across him as he struggled to rise. But he rose only half way, still screaming with rage. Then, just as Chief Pike arrived, and Scar Head, twisting the yellow pony, leveled a third arrow, he collapsed, gushing blood from his mouth, and quivered and died.

Scar Head yelled the scalp halloo. He had killed the elk chief, a mighty animal indeed.

Chief Pike, out of breath, swung his hat and cheered, too. He got off his horse, and walked around the elk, examining it. He examined the arrow wounds, with the reddened feather tips just showing.

"That was well done," he said.

Scar Head sat happy, breathing fast. The scar under his white mark throbbed and burned, as it always did when he worked hard or played hard, but he was happy. His heart glowed at the praise by Chief Pike. He felt like a man.

"Yours," he panted. "I kill. You keep."

"It is much meat," replied Chief Pike.

Baroney and the medicine-man were chasing hither-thither. The Pawnees were killing. Chief Pike galloped away to see. But he would see no arrows buried deeper than these.

After the hunt was over, the Pawnees cut up their animals, and the Pike party cut up the big elk. With Scar Head riding proudly, they four caught the column under the second chief. The camp feasted, this night, upon a spot where the Spanish also had camped. There was only one alarm call, from the guard, on account of two Pawnees who came in by mistake. They had not eaten for three days and thought that this was a camp of their own people.

Chief Pike sent them out again, with food for a sick comrade. He was kind as well as brave.