Softfoot of Silver Creek - Robert Leighton - ebook

Softfoot of Silver Creek ebook

Robert Leighton

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Over the laughter of a nearby waterfall, over a long roar the distant herds of bison that crowded the prairie, and over the oily creak of his knife on a sharp stone on his knee, his keen ear knew the sound of her light stepped as she crawled out of the pines into a sunny glade on a bluff. He didn’t turn around, he only dropped the stone, threw back the thick locks that retreated, his long black hair, and then, with his thumb, meditatively checked the razor blade his blade Sitting very motionless, he raised his dreamy eyes to look forward through a sparkling stream and a billowing prairie to the dark sky behind the purple mountain.

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Liczba stron: 383

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Contents

CHAPTER I. A PLAYMATE’S PERIL

CHAPTER II. THE SHOOTING CONTEST

CHAPTER III. THE GIFT OF COURAGE

CHAPTER IV. THE BUFFALO HUNT

CHAPTER V. THE WHITE MAN’S MEDICINE

CHAPTER VI. THE MARKED ARROWS

CHAPTER VII. RED SQUAW CAÑON

CHAPTER VIII. GHOST PINE GULCH

CHAPTER IX. KIDDIE OF BIRKENSHAW’S

CHAPTER X. IN THE TOILS

CHAPTER XI. THE CRY FROM THE CLIFFS

CHAPTER XII. ON THE TRACK

CHAPTER XIII. THE BRIDGE OF PERILOUS ADVENTURE

CHAPTER XIV. SIGNAL FIRES

CHAPTER XV. A GIFT FOR THE CREES

CHAPTER XVI. SOFTFOOT’S LONE SCOUT

CHAPTER XVII. SOFTFOOT MEETS A FRIEND

CHAPTER XVIII. LITTLE CAYUSE

CHAPTER XIX. PALEFACE AND REDSKIN

CHAPTER XX. THE PRAIRIE FIRE

CHAPTER XXI. SOFTFOOT, SOFTHEART

CHAPTER XXII. ON THE LARAMIE TRAIL

CHAPTER XXIII. WAR TO THE KNIFE

CHAPTER XXIV. MESSAGE BY BONE

CHAPTER XXV. GATHERING FIRES

CHAPTER XXVI. SOFTFOOT’S WARNING

CHAPTER XXVII. THE DISASTER OF LONG TRAIL RIDGE

CHAPTER XXVIII. AFTER THE BATTLE

CHAPTER XXIX. KOSHINEE

CHAPTER XXX. SOFTFOOT’S RESOLUTION

CHAPTER XXXI. REDSKIN RECREATION

CHAPTER XXXII. THE EAVESDROPPER

CHAPTER XXXIII. ON THE WAR-PATH

CHAPTER XXXIV. THE DAWN OF BATTLE

CHAPTER XXXV. “ALL THAT WAS LEFT OF THEM”

CHAPTER XXXVI. BLUE EYE’S SANCTUARY

CHAPTER XXXVII. SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF

CHAPTER XXXVIII. FORE-WARNED, FORE-ARMED

CHAPTER XXXIX. THE BATTLE OF SILVER CREEK

CHAPTER XL. “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN”

CHAPTER I. A PLAYMATE’S PERIL

SOFTFOOT heard the girl’s stealthy approach through the long grass behind him. Above the laughing voice of the near waterfall, above the prolonged roar of the far-off buffalo herds that crowded the prairie, and above the oily rasping of his knife on the sharpening stone on his knee, his keen hearing knew the sound of her light tread as she crept out from among the pine trees into the sunlit clearing on the bluff.

He did not turn, but only dropped the stone, swept back the straying thick locks of his long, black hair, and then, with his thumb, meditatively tested the razor edge of his blade. Sitting very still, he lifted his dreamy eyes to glance forward across the glistening creek and the billowing prairie to the dark sky beyond the purple mountain peaks that were spanned by a magnificent rainbow.

A moving shadow crossed the brown tan of his fringed leggings; a ripe crimson berry dropped upon his bare arm, and on the turf at his side he saw a very small moccasin of pure white doeskin, encrusted with blue and white beads and edged with ermine.

“Wenonah has wandered far from the lodges to gather her berries,” he said, “and she has no blanket to shelter her if there is rain.”

“Softfoot did not look round,” the girl laughed. “How did he know that Wenonah was near?”

“He did not need to look round,” Softfoot explained. “He heard her walking in the forest. The birds told him that Wenonah was gathering odahmin berries.”

“Softfoot hears all things,” Wenonah responded. “I think he can hear the grass growing. He can hear the white clouds sailing across the sky.”

She propped her heavy parfleche of berries against a mossy boulder and seated herself at her playmate’s side.

“Oh, nushka–look, look!” she cried, now seeing the rainbow. “The sky god has brought out his bow! He is going on the buffalo trail. I like his bow. It is a very strong and beautiful bow–stronger than yours, Softfoot, and even more beautiful.”

“It is beautiful,” Softfoot agreed, gazing at the arched splendour. “Yes, it is beautiful.”

“Tell me, Softfoot, where does the rainbow find all his many colours?” Wenonah asked. “I want very much to know.”

Softfoot thrust his knife into the case at his belt.

“It is that when the wild flowers of the prairie die, they all go up there to live again in the rainbow,” he told her simply.

“If the sky god is not quick, the petzekee will all be gone,” said Wenonah, turning her eyes to the prairie.

On both sides of Silver Creek the plains were black with the moving shaggy monsters, all drifting westward. Great bulls were cropping the grass on the outskirts of the herd; yellow calves ran about their mothers or impatiently butted at them. The young cows and bulls were scattered all over the plain, steadily grazing, always moving in the same direction, sometimes in long, continuous lines, racing quickly down the slopes and climbing laboriously where the ground was steep. In crossing the river they swam in single file, like threaded black beads.

“They will not all be gone,” said Softfoot. “They are countless as the flowers of the prairie. For many days the herds have been crossing to their new feeding-grounds, as you see them now, moving, moving along and eating up the grass as they go. They are as a river that never stops running.”

“Why do not the Pawnees ride out and kill them?” asked Wenonah. “Every day they could kill more and more.”

“Our village is already red with meat,” Softfoot reminded her. “Our women have more buffalo robes than they can clean and dress–more beef and fat than they can make into pemmican. Why should more be killed when our buffalo runners are tired of killing?”

“Our medicine men should make the young braves and boys ride out on the buffalo hunt,” urged Wenonah. “Softfoot has never killed a buffalo.”

“No.” Softfoot shook his head sadly and drew a deep breath.

“I think the petzekee is a very stupid animal,” reflected Wenonah. “It should be easy to kill one. If I were a buffalo, I should not be so stupid as those that are crowded under the cut-bank there. Why does their medicine not tell them that it is too steep for them to climb? Why do they not swim to another place?”

She was watching a vast, writhing, bellowing mass of the hairy giants of the prairie. They had crossed the creek to a steep red wall of cliff which blocked their way. Instead of swimming back into the stream to find a good landing, they pressed all together in a panic bunch, to be trampled or gored to death by their companions, or to sink under their own weight into the silt. Many fell back and were drowned. Carcases could be seen floating down the current towards the cataract of Rising Mist.

“The fishes will eat them,” cried Wenonah. “But I am sorry that so many good buffalo robes should be spoilt.”

“We could do nothing with them,” said Softfoot.

“The Pawnees could sell them to the paleface people,” Wenonah argued. “They buy many robes and buffalo tongues.”

Softfoot shook his head.

“The paleface people would buy them, yes,” he acknowledged. “But what does the paleface give to the Indian in return for the buffalo robes and dried tongues and pemmican? We have our bows and arrows for the hunting. We do not need the white man’s guns, which only cause war. We can make our own clothing, build our own wigwams, and be happy. We have good drink from the streams. We do not need the firewater of the paleface. Why should we kill the buffalo to get things that we do not want–that only do us harm? Our fathers lived in peace; they were happy before the white man came into the land of the redskin. Eagle Speaker has said so, and he is wise.”

Wenonah displayed her two moccasined feet.

“It is from the paleface that we get our beautiful beads, our silk thread, our steel needles,” she stated. “Your knife, Softfoot, was made by the paleface. You would be proud to own a white man’s gun. And do not the Pawnees get from him the tea, the sugar, the pain-killer, and all the pretty and useful things that our braves bring home from Fort Benton in exchange for their furs and pemmican? In all our lodges, we have cooking pots that were made in the land of the paleface. We have too many buffaloes. Our braves should all have guns to kill them.”

As she spoke she bent forward, reached forth her left hand very quickly and seized a large, lustrous blue dragonfly that had alighted upon a flower beside her. She held the insect a prisoner, while with the fingers of her other hand she caught at one of the filmy wings, watching the creature’s struggle to get free.

“Stop,” cried Softfoot. “You are hurting the poor kwone-she. Let it fly away!”

Wenonah swiftly tore the wing from its socket and flung the injured insect into Softfoot’s face. The dragonfly fell into the grass and tried to take flight with awkward, lop-sided jumps.

“You make me very cross,” declared Softfoot angrily. “You are cruel, Wenonah. The beautiful kwone-she was happy drinking honey from the flower. It was doing no harm.”

“Ho, ho, ho!” laughed Wenonah, rising to her feet. “You call me cruel for hurting a useless fly? It is because Softfoot thinks it cruel that he will not go out on the buffalo trail? Poor buffalo! It would hurt so very much to be killed!”

Softfoot had risen also. The girl’s ridicule pained him. But he smiled.

“When Softfoot is no longer a boy he will go to the buffalo hunt,” he told her. “But the animals are his brothers. He loves them. He does not want to take life.”

“No,” retorted Wenonah, standing confronting him with her back towards the boulder, “that is why he is not as the other Pawnee boys, who set their traps and bring home many beaver tails, many ermine furs and fox skins. Softfoot is afraid to kill. When my father, the big chief Three Stars, gave him a good bow and a sheaf of arrows and told him to go hunting in the forest, he came back to the wigwams with empty hands. He had killed nothing.”

Softfoot glanced aside searchingly. He had heard something which seemed to fill him with alarm, coming from the rear of the boulder.

“He did not want to kill the pretty squirrels,” Wenonah went on, “or the rabbits at play among the leaves; the beavers at work in the pools, or the fawns with their soft eyes. He talked to them. He called them all his brothers. Pah! He is as his father before him. He is a coward! And a coward can never be a true Indian. I will tell the Pawnee warriors and squaws that Softfoot is a coward.”

She looked at him with contempt. She did not hear the ominous rattling sound at her feet, like the rustling of dry leaves in the rank grass. Softfoot leapt forward and flung the girl aside out of danger. He had seen the long brown rattlesnake sliding out from beneath the boulder, giving its harsh warning and coiling as it raised its head ready to strike at Wenonah’s bare hand as she stooped to pick up her parfleche of berries. And now as Wenonah turned to rebuke him for so roughly pushing her aside, she saw him draw his knife.

He had crouched, resting both his hands on his thighs. His moccasined feet were not two paces away from the venomous reptile’s brown, uplifted head; and again the crackling noise sounded.

The Indian boy’s knife flashed in the sun. His left hand darted forward and seized the snake in a tight grip of the thin neck behind the repulsive head. He held it pressed against the mossy surface of the boulder, and with one quick, determined slash of his blade he severed the head from the body that coiled itself, like the lash of a whip, around his bare left arm.

The severed head dropped at his feet. He drew back from it, flung the coiled snake from his arm, and then went down on his knees and with his knife dug a hole in the ground into which he thrust the still gaping head, burying it deep and stamping it down with his heel.

When he turned round from his work to pick up the parfleche of berries, Wenonah stood watching him with astonished eyes. But Wenonah was not alone. Beside her was the tall, majestic figure of Three Stars, wearing his red blanket and his medicine bonnet of many eagle plumes, ermine tails, and scalp locks.

Softfoot had known that the chief had come out from his lodge to watch the buffalo herds from the vantage-point of the high bluff; but he was not aware that Three Stars had dismounted and was walking back through the forest. Believing now that the chief must have heard Wenonah’s accusation of cowardice, he bent his head in shame as he moved to go away.

“Softfoot will carry the berries to Wenonah’s teepee,” he said in passing.

But the chief detained him.

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