Short Stories » The Challenge
The Challenge - Page 6 of 8
Now and then a doe would start for the edge of the woods, and the ruler would have to run after her to remind her of his claim. Whenever this happened, a close scrutiny would reveal that a young buck elk had shown his broadside there for a moment, desiring to entice one of the monarch's elk women away. These young bucks do not offer a challenge; they dare not fight, for that would mean certain death ; so that they show the better part of valor in avoiding the eye of the jealous monarch. But they exert the greatest attraction over the susceptible elk women. All they need do is to show themselves, and the does will run towards them. So the Indians say of certain young men, "He has a good elk medicine, for he is always fortunate in courtship."
About the middle or end of August these young bucks begin to call. They travel singly over hill and plain, calling for their mates until their voices grow hoarse and fail utterly. All this finally ends in the breaking- up of the monarch's harem.
The call of the elk when new is a high-pitched whistle, pleasant to hear as well as fascinating and full of pathos. The love-call of the Indian youth is modelled upon the whistle of the elk.
Now, the Yanktons, unknown to our party, had routed a large herd of elk on the day before on the plains south of the high ridge, but the great chieftain of the herd had escaped into the hills.
His herd destroyed, the chief was all alone. He could not forget the disaster that had be-fallen his people. He came out upon the highest point of the ridge and surveyed the plains below the succession of beautiful hills and valleys where he had roamed as lord. Now he saw nothing there except that immediately below him, upon a grassy plateau, were one or two circular rows of the white, egg-shaped homes of those dreadful wild men who had destroyed or scattered all his elk women. He snorted and sniffed the air and tossed his immense horns, maddened by this humiliation.
"It is now calling-time. I have acquired the largest number of branches on my horns. It is my right to meet any king among my people who thinks himself better able than I to gather and keep a harem." Though weary and disappointed, he now grew bold and determined. 'It is now calling-time," he seemed to say to himself. ' To-morrow at sunrise my voice shall open the call upon the old elk hill! I know that there must be many elk women not far away. If any buck should desire to meet me in battle, I am ready!"
The lonely elk passed a wretched night. He could not forget what had happened on the day before. At dawn hunger seized him, and he ate of the fine dew-moistened grass until he was satisfied. Then he followed the oak ridges along the side of Smoky Hill, travelling faster as the day began to break. Pie thought he saw here and there- a hi-rd of elk women loom large through the misty air, but as the shadows vanished he discovered his mistake. At last he stood upon the summit, facing the sunrise.
The plains below were speckled far and wide with herds of antelope and of bison. The Big Sioux River lazily wound its way through the beautiful elk land. He saw five teepees upon a rich plain almost surrounded by a bend of the river, and not far away there grazed a great band of elk women, herded apparently by a noble buck.
The heart of the lonely one leaped with gladness, and then stung him with grief and shame. He had not heard one elk-call that year as yet. It was time. Something told him so. It would not break the elk's custom if he should call.
His blood arose. His eyes sparkled and nostrils dilated. He tossed his branchy, mighty antlers and shook them in the air, he hardly knew why, except that it was his way of saying, " I dare any one to face me!"