Short Stories » The Gray Chieftain

The Gray Chieftain - Page 4 of 5

So saying, Grayfoot with his fellow tracked the ewe's footprint along the verge of a deep gulf with much trouble and patience. The hunter's curiosity and a strong desire to know her secret impelled the former to lead the way.

"What will be our profit, if one slips and goes down into the gulch, never to be seen again?" remarked Wacootay, as they approached a leaping-place. The chasm below was of a great depth and dark. ' It is not wise for us to follow farther ; this ewe has no horns that can be made into spoons."

"Come, friend; it is when one is doubting that mishaps are apt to occur," urged his companion.

'Koda, heyu yo!" exclaimed Wacootay, the next moment, in distress.

"Hehehe, koda! Hold fast!" cried the other.

Wacootay 's moccasined foot had slipped on the narrow trail, and in the twinkling of an eye he had almost gone down a precipice of a hundred feet ; but with a desperate launch forward he caught the bough of an over-hanging cedar and swung by his hands over the abyss.

Quickly Grayfoot pulled both their bows from the quivers. He first tied himself to the trunk of the cedar with his packing-strap, which always hung from his belt. Then he held both the bows toward his friend, who, not without difficulty, changed his hold from the cedar bough to the bows. After a short but determined effort, the two men stood side by side once more upon the narrow foothold of the terrace. Without a word they followed the ewe's track to the cave.

Here she had lain last night. Both men began to search for other marks, but they found not so much as a sign of scratching anywhere. They examined the ground closely without any success. All at once a faint " Ba-a-a!" came from almost under their feet. They saw a puff of smokelike dust as the little creature called for its mother. It had felt the footsteps of the hunters and mistaken them for those of its own folk.

Wacootay hastily dug into the place with his hands and found the soil loose. Soon he uncovered a little lamb. 'Ba-a-a!" it cried again, and quick as a flash the ewe appeared, stamping the ground in wrath.

Wacootay seized an arrow and fitted it to the string, but his companion checked him.

“No, no, my friend! It is not the skin or meat that we are looking for. We want horn for ladles and spoons. The mother is right. We must let her babe alone."

The wild hunters silently retreated, and the ewe ran swiftly to the spot and took her lamb away.

"So it is," said Grayfoot, after a long silence, "all the tribes of earth have some common feeling. I believe they are people as much as we are. The Great Mystery has made them what they are. Although they do not speak our tongue, we often seem to understand their thought. It is not right to take the life of any of them unless necessity compels us to do so.

"You know," he continued, " the ewe conceals her lamb in this way until she has trained it to escape from its enemies by leaping up or down from terrace to terrace. I have seen her teaching the yearlings and two-year-olds to dive down the face of a cliff which was fully twice the height of a man. They strike on the head and the two fore-feet. The ram falls largely upon his horns, which are curved in such a way as to protect them from injury. The body re-bounds slightly, and they get upon their feet as easily as if they had struck a pillow. At first the yearlings hesitate and almost lose their balance, but the mother makes them repeat the performance until they have accomplished it to her satisfaction.

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