Short Stories » The Gray Chieftain
The Gray Chieftain - Page 2 of 5
The sun was well above the butte when she awoke, although it was cool and shadowy still in her concealed abode. She gave suck to the lamb and caressed it for some time before she reluctantly prepared its cradle, according to the custom of her people. She made a little pocket in the side of the cave and gently put her baby in. Then she covered him all up, save the nose and eyes, with dry soil. She put her nose to his little sensitive ear and breathed into it warm love and caution, and he felt and understood that he must keep his eyes closed and breathe gently, lest bear or wolf or man should spy him out when they had found her trail. Again she put her warm, loving nose to his eyes, then patted a little more earth on his body and smoothed it off. The tachinchana closed his eyes in obedience, and she left him for the plain above in search of food and sunlight.
At a little before dawn, two wild hunters left their camp and set out for Cedar Butte. Their movements were marked by unusual care and secrecy. Presently they hid their ponies in a deep ravine and groped their way up through the difficult Bad Lands, now and then pausing to listen. The two were close friends and rival hunters of their tribe.
" I think, friend, you have mistaken the haunts of the spoonhorn," remarked Wacootay, as the pair came out upon one of the lower terraces. He said this rather to test his friend, for it was their habit thus to criticise and question each other's judgment, in order to extract from each other fresh observations. What the one did not know about the habits of the animals they hunted in common the other could usually supply.
"This is his home I know it," replied Grayfoot. "And in this thing the animals are much like ourselves. They will not leave an old haunt unless forced to do so either by lack of food or overwhelming danger."
They had already passed on to the next terrace and leaped a deep chasm to gain the opposite side of the butte, when Grayfoot suddenly whispered, " In ahj in!" (Stop!). Both men listened attentively. " Tap, tap, tap," an almost metallic sound came to them from around the perpendicular wall of rock.
' He is chipping his horns!" exclaimed the hunter, overjoyed to surprise the chieftain at this his secret occupation. " Poor beast, they are now too long for him, so that he cannot reach the short grass to feed. Some of them die starving, when they have not the strength to do the hard bucking against the rock to shorten their horns. He chooses this time, when he thinks no one will hear him, and he even leaves his own clan when it is necessary for him to do this. Come, let us crawl up on him unawares."
They proceeded cautiously and with cat-like steps around the next projection, and stood upon a narrow strip of slanting terrace.
At short intervals the pounding noise continued, but strain their eyes as they might they could see nothing. Yet they knew that a few paces from them, in the darkness, the old ram was painfully driving his horns against the solid rock. Finally they lay flat upon the ground under a dead cedar, the color of whose trunk and that of the scanty soil somewhat resembled their clothing, and on their heads they had stuck some bunches of sage-bush, to conceal them from the eyes of the spoonhorn.
With the first gray of the approaching dawn the two hunters looked eagerly about them. There stood, in all his majesty, heightened by the wild grandeur of his surroundings, the gray chieftain of the Cedar Butte! He had no thought of being observed at that hour. Entirely unsuspicious of danger, he stood alone upon a pedestal-like terrace, from which vantage-point it was his wont to survey the surrounding country every morning. If the secret must be told, he had done so for years, ever since he became the head chief of the Cedar Butte clan.