Short Stories » The Challenge
The Challenge - Page 5 of 8
“These people go in large bands from this time until the winter, when they scatter in smaller bands. The elk leads a bachelor's life from January until midsummer, and about July he begins to look for company." This was Antler's observation.
'There are two large herds near Smoky Hill, upon the river meadows. It will be easy to catch some of the does in the evening, when they return to their fawns. They hide the fawns well.
"Some leave them in the woods, others take them into the deep ravines. My wife is anxious that I should bring her a fawn's skin for a fancy bag," suggested Black Hawk.
' It will take some good running to catch a fawn at this time of the year. They are quite large now, and the earliest fawns are already out with the herds," remarked Many Arrows. ' The moon of strawberries is really the best time to catch the doe and fawn with a birchen whistle. However, there are some still hidden, and as long as the doe suckles her fawn she will always come back to it at evening."
Having received such encouraging reports from their advance scout, the wild hunters immediately removed their camp to the vicinity of the great herd. It was a glorious September morning, and the men all left for the field at daybreak to steal upon the game. They hurried along in single file until near enough, then they broke ranks, separated, and crept around an immense herd of elk. The river here made a quick turn, forming a complete semicircle. A lovely plain was bounded by the stream, and at each end of the curve the river and woods met the side of the upper plateau. The whole scene was commanded by the highest point of the ridge, called by the Indians Smoky Hill.
The elk people had now reached the climax of their summer gaycty and love-making. Each herd was ruled by a polygamous monarch of the plains a great chieftain elk ! Not a doe dared to leave the outskirts of the herd, nor could the younger bucks venture to face their mighty rival of the many-branched horns and the experience of half a score of seasons.
Of this particular herd the ruler was truly a noble monarch. He had all the majesty that we might expect of one who had become the master of a thousand does.
The elk women were in their best attire and their happiest spirits. The fawns were now big enough to graze and no longer dependent upon their mothers' milk, therefore the mothers had given themselves over wholly to social conquests. Every doe was on the alert, and used her keen sight, ear, and scent to the utmost to discover the handsomest elk young man, who, though not per- mitted to show himself within the kingdom of the monarch, might warily approach its boundaries.
Hehaka, the monarch, was dressed in his finest coat and had but lately rubbed the velvet from his huge and branchy antlers. His blood was richest and bluest of the elk folk. He stood upon the outer edge and continually circled the entire herd a faithful guardian and watchful of his rights.
Around this herd the wild hunters converged and, each taking up his assigned position, were ready to begin the attack. But they delayed long, because of their great admiration for the elk chieftain. His bearing was magnificent. The unseen spectators noted his every movement, and observed with interest the behavior of the elk women.