Short Stories » The Mustering of the Herds

The Mustering of the Herds - Page 1 of 4

MOO! Moo!" rang out the deep, air-rending call the gathering call of the herds! Hinpoha, or Curly Hair, the young bison mother, threw back her head and listened nervously. She stood over her new- born baby in a hidden nook upon the Shaeyela River, that flows through the Land of Mystery.

No one was there to see, except two magpies which were loitering in the neighbor- hood, apparently waiting for the mother to go away that they might tease the helpless infant.

Tenderly she licked the moist hair of her dear one's coat, while the beautiful black- and-white bird with the long tail talked to his mate of mischief and plunder. Then the mother gently poked and pushed her little one, persuading her to get up and try her tiny, soft-soled feet. It was evident that she was not a common bison calf. Her color was not reddish brown, but a soft, creamy white, like that of a sheep the color of royalty !

She toddled about unsteadily upon the thick mat of buffalo-grass. As she learned to walk, step by step, the young mother followed her with anxious eyes. Presently the little creature made a feeble attempt at running. She lifted up her woolly tail, elevated a pair of transparent, leaf -like ears, and skipped awkwardly around her mother, who never took her black, limpid eyes from her wonderful first-born.

“ Moo ! Moo !" Again Hinpoha heard the impatient gathering call. Hastily she pushed her baby with caressing nose into an old buffalo - wallow overhung with tall grass, making a little cosey nest. The drooping grass, like the robe of the Indian, concealed the little calf completely.

'You must stay here," she signed. "Do not open your eyes to any stranger. Do not move at all."

Hinpoha trotted northward, following the ravine in which she had hidden her calf. No sooner had she disappeared from sight than those old plunderers, magpie and his mate, swooped down from the lone willow-tree that overhung the spot. Both perched lightly upon the edge of the buffalo-wallow. They saw and heard nothing. They looked at each other in surprise. ' Ka, ka, ka," they talked together, wondering what had become of the baby bison.

Up the long ascent Hinpoha ran, until she reached a point from which she could command the valley and the place where she had hidden away her treasure. Her watchful eyes ranged round the horizon and swept the surrounding country. There was not a wolf there, she thought. She could see the lone willow-tree that marked the spot. Beyond, the rough ridges and occasional buttes were studded with pines and cedars, while the white pillars and towers of the Bad Lands rose grandly in the distance.

As she went on to rejoin her herd upon the plains of the Shaeyela, she beheld upon the flats the bison women gathered in great, black masses, while on either side of them the buffalo men roamed in small groups or singly, like walking pine-trees. Shaeyela had never looked more lovely than on that morning in early spring --a warm, bluish haze brooding over it --the big, ungainly cottonwoods, their branches knotted and gnarled like the naked limbs of the old men, guarding the thin silver line of the river.

Hinpoha ran swiftly down the last descent, now and then pausing for a moment to announce her coming. Ordinarily she would have returned to her people quietly and un- noticed, but she was excited by the unexpected summons and moved to reply. As she entered the valley she saw other buffalo women returning from their spring nurseries in the gulches, giving their responses as they came. There was an undertone murmur throughout the great concourse. All seemed to be moving toward the edge of the belt of timber that clothed the river - banks. They pressed through a scattered growth of gray-green buffalo-berry bushes.

By the signs of the buffalo women and the sound of their lowings, Hinpoha knew that this was a funeral gathering. She hastened on with mingled curiosity and anxiety. Within a circle of the thorny buffalo-berry trees, under a shivering poplar, lay the lifeless form of Ptesanwee, the white buffalo cow, the old queen of the Shaeyela herd.

Here all the dusky woman of the plains had gathered to pay their last respects to their dead leader. Hinpoha pushed her way into the midst of the throng for a parting look. She joined in the wailing of the other bison women, and the noise of their mourning echoed like distant thunder from the opposite cliffs of the Shaeyela.

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