As the evening fell and the fires leaped against the darkness, sounds increased in the camp. Groups of warriors gathered and broke, voices rose; and shrill yells began to cut above the melee of the noise.
From time to time a brave would come running out of the bustle and, stopping near, glare ferociously at the captives. Twice a hatchet came flittering through the firelight, its bright blade flashing as it circled, to fall perilously close, and several times a squaw or two prodded one or the other with a moccasined toe.
Once a young brave, his black eyes alight with devilishncss, sprang out from the bushes behind and caught McElroy’s face in a pinching clasp of fingers. With one bound the factor was on his feet and had dealt the stripling a blow which sent him sprawling with his oiled head in a squaw’s fire. Instantly his long feather was ablaze and his yelp of dismay brought forth a storm of derisive yells of laughter.
McElroy sat quietly down again.
“It has begun, M’sieu,” he said grimly.
All night the liquor circled among the savages, as the spirit fired the brains in their narrow skulls the aproar became worse. A huge fire was built in the centre of the camp, tom-toms placed beside it in the hands of old men, and, forming in a giant circle, the braves began a dance.
At first it was the stamp-dance*, harmless enough, with bending forms and palms extended to the central fire and the ceaseless “Ah-a, ah-a-a, ah-a,” capable of a thousand intonations and the whole gamut of suggestion and portent, blood-chilling in its slow excitement.
I have witnessed this.—V. R.
Without the circle the squaws fought and quarrelled over the portion of liquor doled out to them by their lords, and their clamour was worse than the rest.
No sleep came to the two white men lying at the foot of a tree to the west of the camp, with a guard pacing slowly between them and liberty.
Instead, thoughts were seething like dalle’s foam in the mind of each.
If only this giant guard might drink deep enough of the libations of the others,—who knew?—there might be the faint chance of escape for which they had watched ceaselessly since leaving Red River.
But, with the irony of fate, this one Indian became the model warrior of the tribe. As the confusion and uproar grew in intensity, one after another joined the dancing circle, until it seemed that every brave in the camp was leaping around the fire. Blue-eyed Indians, Bois-Brules, Nakonkirhirinons, they circled and uttered the monotonous “Ah-a, ah-a,” and in the light could be seen the white lock on the temple of Bois DesCaut.
“I should have killed him long ago,” thought McElroy simply, “as one kills a wolf,—for the good of the settlement.”