Short Stories » The Challenge
The Challenge - Page 7 of 8
He trotted upon the very top of Smoky Hill. The air was fresh and full of life. He forgot at that moment everything that had passed since his mother left him, and his mind was wholly upon the elk people who were gathered there below him in a glorious band. He felt that he must now call, and that his voice should sound the beginning of the elk-calling of that season upon the Big Sioux.
Flying Bee had notified his fellow-hunters by means of a small mirror of the presence of a grizzly in their midst, and each one was on the alert. Soon all had located him, and moved to a point of safety. They preferred to see him attack the herd rather than one of themselves, and they were certain that the monarch of the Big Sioux would give him a pitched battle. He was the protector of every doe in his band, and he had doubtless assured them of that when he took them into the herd.
" Whoo - o - o - o !" a long, clear whistle dropped apparently out of the blue sky. A wonderful wave of excitement passed through the great herd. Every tobacco-leaf-shaped ear was quickly cast toward Smoky Hill. The monarch at once accepted the challenge. He stepped in front of his elk women and lifted his immense head high up to sniff the morning air. Soon he began to paw and throw up the earth with his fore and hind hoofs alternately.
Just then the second call came a piercing and wonderful love-call! The whole band of elk women started in the direction of the challenger. Every one of them gave the doe's response, and the air was filled with their stamping and calling.
The monarch started to intercept them in great rage and madness. The hunters all ran for the nearest tall trees from which they might witness the pending duel, for they knew well that when two of these rulers of the wilderness meet at this season it can be for nothing less than a battle to death. As Bee settled himself among the boughs of a large ash that stood well up on the brow of the river-bank, he easily commanded the scene.
He saw the challenger standing upon the highest point of Smoky Hill. In a moment he descended the slope and ran swiftly to the level of the plain. Here he paused to give the third challenge and the love-call the call that the Indian youth adopted and made their own.
Again the elk women were excited and stamped their hoofs. The monarch now let them alone, and started on a run to meet the challenger. Bee could not restrain himself; he had to give a sympathetic whoop or two, in which his fellows willingly joined. The elk paid no attention, but when old grizzly found that he was among many warriors, he retreated to an adjoining creek to hide.
The challenger saw his adversary coming, and he hurried forward without a pause. The elk women were thrown into the greatest confusion, and even the five warrior-hunters became much excited, for they always ad- mired a brave act, whether the performer were a man like themselves or one of the four-footed folk.
When the monarch saw that the challenger was in earnest, he took up his position in front of his herd. On came the other, never pausing after the third call. When he was within a hundred paces, the monarch again advanced, and the two came together with a great clash of mighty antlers. Both trembled violently for an instant; then each became tense in every muscle of his body as they went into action.