Bent Horn seemed in no hurry to speak, as he looked keenly at the child who could not lift her eyes for fear.
“Is the girl of the weak Mandans to live, or to be a slave among our people?” asked the warrior.
Bent Horn was about to answer, as his daughter broke in: “Father, let her live. I wish it.”
The Chief turned toward the young girl with love in his eyes. He smiled as he said, “Sweet Grass shall have her wish.”
His face became stern, however, as he added: “That shrinking creature must be trained. Give her into the keeping of The Stone, and let this girl henceforth be known as Timid Hare.”
As Bent Horn spoke he motioned to Swift Fawn’s captor to take her away, and the man at once led her out of the lodge and through the camp to a small tepee on the outskirts, where the old woman, The Stone, lived with her deformed son, Black Bull.
THE NEW HOME
Drawing aside the heavy buffalo-skin curtain which covered the doorway, the man shoved his little captive inside and followed close behind her.
“Ugh, Timid Hare,” he said scornfully. “This is your new home. Does it please you?”
The child shuddered without answering, as she mustered courage to look about her. The fire on the hearth in the middle of the tepee was smouldering. With the help of its dim light the little girl could see piles of dirty buffalo robes on either side; the walls of the tent, also made of buffalo skins, were blackened by smoke. Long shadows stretching across the floor, seemed to take on fearful shapes in the child’s fancy as the low fire, now and then, gave a sudden leap upward. Furthermore, the tepee was empty,—no face looked out from any corner; no voice spoke to the new-comers.
“Ugh!” The man shrugged his shoulders as he grunted in displeasure. He was in haste to get to his own lodge where a supper of bear steak was no doubt awaiting him.
“Where can The Stone be that she is not here, now that darkness covers the earth?” he muttered. “And the crooked boy away too!”
The sentence was barely ended when the sound of quick, soft footsteps could be heard outside. The Stone and her son, Black Bull, were hurrying home. They had been gone all day, having gone to a clay pit miles away from the village to get a certain clay for making red dye with which The Stone wished to color some reeds for basket weaving. Night had taken then by surprise, and wolves howling in the distance made them travel as fast as the poor deformed youth could go.
[Illustration: The Stone and her son Black Bull were hurrying home.]
The Stone was the first of the two to enter the lodge. She was bent and wrinkled, and her cunning, cruel eyes opened wide with surprise as she saw her visitors.
“Ugh! what does this mean?” she asked sharply, as she looked from the brave to the cowering child still held in his strong grip. “Are you bringing a daughter of the pale-faces into my keeping?” She ended with a wicked laugh.