The edge of the pile was lit, and the flames crackled through the hay below the faggots. The smoke rose in clouds, and made me sneeze. Suddenly there came a desperate tickling in my scalp where the knife had pricked. Little things began to tease me, notably the ache of my swollen wrists, and the intolerable cramp in my legs.
Then came a sharp burst of pain as a tongue of flame licked on my anointed ankles. Anguish like hell-fire ran through my frame. I think I would have cried out if my tongue had had the power. Suddenly I envisaged the dreadful death which was coming. All was wiped from my mind, all thought of Ringan, and home, and honour; everything but this awful fear. Happily the smoke hid my face, which must have been distraught with panic. The seconds seemed endless. I prayed that unconsciousness would come. I prayed for death, I prayed for respite. I was mad with the furious madness of a tortured animal, and the immortal soul had fled from me and left only a husk of pitiful and shrinking flesh.
Suddenly there came a lull. A dozen buckets of water were flung on the pile, and the flames fell to smouldering ashes. The smoke thinned, and I saw the circle of my tormentors.
The chief spoke, and asked me if my purpose still held.
With the cool shock of the water one moment of bodily comfort returned to me, and with it a faint revival of my spirit. But it was of no set intention that I answered as I did. My bones were molten with fright, and I had not one ounce of bravery in me. Something not myself took hold on me, and spoke for me. Ringan’s tunes, a brisk one this time, lilted in my ear.
I could not believe my own voice. But I rejoice to say that my reply was to consign every Indian in America to the devil.
I shook with fear when I had spoken. I looked to see them bring dry fuel and light the pile again. But I had played a wiser part than I knew. The chief gave an order, the faggots were cleared, my bonds were cut, and I was led away from the stake.
The pain of my cramped and scorched limbs was horrible, but I had just enough sense left to shut my teeth and make no sound.
The chief looked at me long and calmly as I drooped before him, for there was no power in my legs. He was an eagle-faced savage, with the most grave and searching eyes.
“Sleep, brother,” he said. “At dawn we will take further counsel.”
I forced some kind of lightness into my voice, “Sleep will be grateful,” I said, “for I have come many miles this day, and the welcome I have got this evening has been too warm for a weary man.”
The Indian nodded. The jest was after his own taste.
I was carried to a teepee and shown a couch of dry fern. A young man rubbed some oil on my scorched legs, which relieved the pain of them. But no pain on earth could have kept me awake. I did not glide but pitched headforemost into sleep.