CHAPTER XI. SCENES AT THE CAMP

Reynal heard guns fired one day, at the distance of a mile or two from the camp. He grew nervous instantly. Visions of Crow war parties began to haunt his imagination; and when we returned (for we were all absent), he renewed his complaints about being left alone with the Canadians and the squaw. The day after, the cause of the alarm appeared. Four trappers, one called Moran, another Saraphin, and the others nicknamed "Rouleau" and "Jean Gras," came to our camp and joined us. They it was who fired the guns and disturbed the dreams of our confederate Reynal. They soon encamped by our side. Their rifles, dingy and battered with hard service, rested with ours against the old tree; their strong rude saddles, their buffalo robes, their traps, and the few rough and simple articles of their traveling equipment, were piled near our tent. Their mountain horses were turned to graze in the meadow among our own; and the men themselves, no less rough and hardy, used to lie half the day in the shade of our tree lolling on the grass, lazily smoking, and telling stories of their adventures; and I defy the annals of chivalry to furnish the record of a life more wild and perilous than that of a Rocky Mountain trapper. With this efficient re-enforcement the agitation of Reynal's nerves subsided. He began to conceive a sort of attachment to our old camping ground; yet it was time to change our quarters, since remaining too long on one spot must lead to certain unpleasant results not to be borne with unless in a case of dire necessity. The grass no longer presented a smooth surface of turf; it was trampled into mud and clay. So we removed to another old tree, larger yet, that grew by the river side at a furlong's distance. Its trunk was full six feet in diameter; on one side it was marked by a party of Indians with various inexplicable hieroglyphics, commemorating some warlike enterprise, and aloft among the branches were the remains of a scaffolding, where dead bodies had once been deposited, after the Indian manner. "There comes Bull-Bear," said Henry Chatillon, as we sat on the grass at dinner. Looking up, we saw several horsemen coming over the neighboring hill, and in a moment four stately young men rode up and dismounted. One of them was Bull-Bear, or Mahto-Tatonka, a compound name which he inherited from his father, the most powerful chief in the Ogallalla band. One of his brothers and two other young men accompanied him. We shook hands with the visitors, and when we had finished our meal - for this is the orthodox manner of entertaining Indians, even the best of them - we handed to each a tin cup of coffee and a biscuit, at which they ejaculated from the bottom of their throats, 'How! how!" a monosyllable by which an Indian contrives to express half the emotions that he is susceptible of. Then we lighted the pipe, and passed it to them as they squatted on the ground. "Where is the village?" "There," said Mahto-Tatonka, pointing southward; "it will come in two days." "Will they go to the war?" "Yes." No man is a philanthropist on the prairie. We welcomed this news most cordially, and congratulated ourselves that Bordeaux's interested efforts to divert The Whirlwind from his congenial vocation of bloodshed had failed of success, and that no additional obstacles would interpose between us and our plan of repairing to the rendezvous at La Bonte's Camp. For that and several succeeding days, Mahto-Tatonka and his friends remained our guests. They devoured the relics of our meals; they filled the pipe for us and also helped us to smoke it. Sometimes they stretched themselves side by side in the shade, indulging in raillery and practical jokes ill becoming the dignity of brave and aspiring warriors, such as two of them in reality were. Two days dragged away, and on the morning of the third we hoped confidently to see the Indian village. It did not come; so we rode out to look for it. In place of the eight hundred Indians we expected, we met one solitary savage riding toward us over the prairie, who told us that the Indians had changed their plans, and would not come within three days; still he persisted that they were going to the war. Taking along with us this messenger of evil tidings, we retraced our footsteps to the camp, amusing ourselves by the way with execrating Indian inconstancy. When we came in sight of our little white tent under the big tree, we saw that it no longer stood alone. A huge old lodge was erected close by its side, discolored by rain and storms, rotted with age, with the uncouth figures of horses and men, and outstretched hands that were painted upon it, well-nigh obliterated. The long poles which supported this squalid habitation thrust themselves rakishly out from its pointed top, and over its entrance were suspended a "medicine-pipe" and various other implements of the magic art. While we were yet at a distance, we observed a greatly increased population of various colors and dimensions, swarming around our quiet encampment. Moran, the trapper, having been absent for a day or two, had returned, it seemed, bringing all his family with him. He had taken to himself a wife for whom he had paid the established price of one horse. This looks cheap at first sight, but in truth the purchase of a squaw is a transaction which no man should enter into without mature deliberation, since it involves not only the payment of the first price, but the formidable burden of feeding and supporting a rapacious horde of the bride's relatives, who hold themselves entitled to feed upon the indiscreet white man. They gather round like leeches, and drain him of all he has.