Short Stories » The Gray Chieftain
The Gray Chieftain - Page 3 of 5
It is the custom of their tribe that when a ram attains the age of five years he is entitled to a clan of his own, and thereafter must defend his right and supremacy against all comers. His experience and knowledge are the guide of his clan. In view of all this, the gray chieftain had been very thorough in his observations. There was not an object anywhere near the shape of bear, wolf, or man for miles around his kingdom that was not noted, as well as the relative positions of rocks and conspicuous trees.
The best time for Haykinshkah to make his daily observations is at sunrise and sun- set, when the air is usually clear and objects appear distinct. Between these times the clan feed and settle down to chew their cud and sleep, yet some are always on the alert to catch a passing stranger within their field of observation. But the old chief spoon- horn pays very little attention. His duty is done. He may be nestled in a gulch just big enough to hold him, either sound asleep or leisurely chewing his cud. The younger members of the clan take their position upon the upper terraces and under the shade of projecting rocks, after a whole night's feasting and play upon the plain.
As spoonhorn stood motionless, looking away off toward the distant hills, the plain below appeared from this elevated point very smooth and sheetlike, and every moving object a mere speck. His form and color were not very different from the dirty gray rocks and clay of the butte.
Wacootay broke the silence. " I know of no animal that stands so long without move- ment, unless it is the turtle. I think he is the largest ram I have ever seen."
' I am sure he did not chip where he stands now," remarked Grayfoot. "This chipping- place is a monastery to the priests of the spoonhorn tribe. It is their medicine-lodge. I have more than once approached the spot, but could never find the secret entrance."
"Shall I shoot him now?" whispered his partner in the chase.
' No, do not do it. He is a real chief. He looks mysterious and noble. Let us know him better. Besides, if we kill him now we shall never see him again. Look! he will fall to that deep gulch ten trees' length below, where no one can get at him."
As Grayfoot spoke the animal shifted his position, facing them squarely. The two men closed their eyes and wrinkled their motionless faces into the semblance of two lifeless mummies. The old sage of the mountains was apparently deceived, but after a few moments he got down from his lofty position and disappeared around a point of rock.
" I never care to shoot an animal while he is giving me a chance to know his ways," explained Grayfoot. "We have plenty of buffalo meat. We are not hungry. All we want is spoons. We can get one or two sheep by-and-by, if we have more wit than they."
To this speech Wacootay agreed, for his curiosity was now fully aroused by Gray- foot's view, although he had never thought of it in just that way before. It had always been the desire for meat which had chiefly moved him in the matter of the hunt.
Having readjusted their sage wigs, the hunters made the circuit of the abyss that divided them from the ram, and as they looked for his trail they noticed the tracks of a large ewe leading down toward the in- accessible gulches.
"Ah, she has some secret down there! She never leaves her clan like this unless it is to steal away on a personal affair of her own.'