Chapter 13
 

When Allie Lee came back from that black gap in her consciousness she was lying in a circular tent of poles and hides.

For a second she was dazed. But the Indian designs and trappings in the tent brought swift realization--she had been brought captive to the Sioux encampment. She raised her head. She was lying on a buffalo robe; her hands and feet were bound; the floor was littered with blankets and beaded buckskin garments. Through a narrow opening she saw that the day was far spent; Indians and horses passed to and fro; there was a bustle outside and jabber of Indian jargon; the wind blew hard and drops of rain pattered on the tent.

Allie could scarcely credit the evidence of her own senses. Here she was alive! She tried to see and feel if she had been hurt. Her arms and body appeared bruised, and they ached, but she was not in any great pain. Her hopes arose. If the Sioux meant to kill her they would have done it at once. They might intend to reserve her for torture, but more likely their object was to make her a captive in the tribe. In that case Slingerland would surely find her and get her freedom.

Rain began to fall more steadily. Allie smelled smoke and saw the reflection of fires on the wall of the tent. Presently a squaw entered. She was a huge woman, evidently old, very dark of face, and wrinkled. She carried a bowl and platter which she set down, and, grunting, she began to untie Allie's hands. Then she gave the girl a not ungentle shake. Allie sat up.

"Do you--do they mean--to harm and kill me?" asked Allie.

The squaw shook her head to indicate she did not understand, but her gestures toward the things she had brought were easy to interpret. Allie partook of the Indian food, which was coarse and unpalatable, but it satisfied her hunger. When she had finished the squaw laboriously tied the thongs round Allie's wrists, and, pushing her back on the robe, covered her up and left her.

After that it grew dark rapidly, and the rain increased to a torrent. Allie, hardly realizing how cold she had been, began to warm up under the woolly robe. The roar of the rain drowned all other sounds outside. She wondered if Slingerland had returned to his cabin, and, if so, what he had done. She felt sorry for him. He would take the loss hard. But he would trail her; he would hear of a white girl captive in the Sioux camp and she would soon be free. How fortunate she was! A star of Providence had watched over her. The prayer she had breathed had been answered. She thought of Neale. She would live for him; she would pray and fight off harm; she would find him if he could not find her. And lying there bound and helpless in an Indian camp, captive of the relentless Sioux, for all she knew in peril of death, with the roar of wind and rain around her, and the darkness like pitch, she yet felt her pulses throb and thrill and her spirit soar at remembrance of the man she loved. In the end she would find Neale; and it was with his name trembling on her lips that she fell asleep.

More than once during the night she awoke in the pitchy darkness to hear the wind blow and the rain roar. The dawn broke cold and gray, and the storm gradually diminished. Allie lay alone for hours, beginning to suffer by reason of her bonds and cramped limbs. The longer she was left alone the more hopeful her case seemed.

In the afternoon she was visited by the squaw, released and fed as before. Allie made signs that she wanted to have her feet free, so that she could get up and move about. The squaw complied with her wishes. Allie could scarcely stand; she felt dizzy; a burning, aching sensation filled her limbs.

Presently the old woman led her out. Allie saw a great number of tents, many horses and squaws and children, but few braves. The encampment lay in a wide valley, similar to all the valleys of that country, except that it was larger. A stream in flood swept yellow and noisy along the edge of the encampment. The children ran at sight of Allie, and the women stared. It was easy to see that they disapproved of her. The few braves looked at her with dark, steady, unfathomable eyes. The camp appeared rich in color--in horses and trappings; evidently this tribe was not poor. Allie saw utensils, blankets, clothing--many things never made by Indians.

She was led to a big lodge with a tent adjoining. Inside an old Indian brave, grizzled and shrunken, smoked before a fire; and as Allie was pushed into the tent a young Indian squaw appeared. She was small, with handsome, scornful face and dark, proud eyes, gorgeously clad in elaborate beaded and fringed buckskin--evidently an Indian princess or a chief's wife. She threw Allie a venomous glance as she went out. Allie heard the old squaw's grunting voice, and the young one's quick and passionate answers.

There was nothing for Allie to do but await developments. She rested, rubbing her sore wrists and ankles, thankful she had been left unbound. She saw that she was watched, particularly by the young woman, who often walked to the opening to glance in. The interior of this tent presented a contrast to the other in which she had been confined. It was dry and clean, with floor of rugs and blankets; and all around hung beaded and painted and feathered articles, some for wear, and others for what purpose she could not guess.

The afternoon passed without further incident until the old squaw entered, manifestly to feed Allie, and tie her up as heretofore. The younger squaw came in to watch the latter process.

Allie spoke to her and held out her bound hands appealingly. This elicited no further response than an intent look.

Night came. Allie lay awake a good while, and then she fell asleep. Next morning she was awakened by an uproar. Whistling and trampling mustangs, whoops of braves, the babel of many voices, barking of dogs, movement, bustle, sound--all attested to the return of the warriors. Allie's heart sank for a moment; this would be the time of trial for her. But the clamor subsided without any disturbance near her tent. By and by the old squaw returned to attend to her needs. This time on the way out she dropped a blanket curtain between the tent and the lodge.

Soon Indians entered the lodge, quite a number, with squaws among them, judging by their voices. A harangue ensued, lasting an hour or more; it interested Allie, especially because at times she heard and recognized the quick, passionate utterance of the young squaw.

Soon Allie's old attendant shuffled in, and unbound her, then, lifting the curtain she motioned to Allie to come out. Allie went into the lodge. An early sun lighted the place brightly. It was full of Indians. In the center stood a striking figure, probably a chief, tall and lean, with scars on his naked breast. His face was bronze, with deep lines, somber and bitter, and cruel thin lips, and eyes that glittered like black fire. His head had the poise of an eagle.

His piercing glance scarcely rested an instant upon Allie. He motioned for her to be taken away. Allie, as she was led back, got a glimpse of the young squaw. Sullen, with bowed head, and dark rich blood thick in her face, with heaving breast and clenched hands, she presented a picture of outraged pride and jealousy.

Probably the chief had decided to claim Allie as his captive, a decision which would be fiercely resented by the young Indian bride.

The camp quieted down after that. Allie peeped through a slit between the hides of which her tent was constructed, and she saw no one but squaws and children. The mustangs appeared worn out. Evidently the braves and warriors were resting after a hard ride or fight or foray.

Nothing happened. The hours dragged. Allie heard the breathing of heavy sleepers. About dark she was fed again and bound.

That night she was awakened by a gentle shake. A hand moved from her shoulder to her lips. The pale moonlight filtered into the tent. Allie saw a figure kneeling beside her and she heard a whispered "'Sh-s-s-sh!" Then her hands and feet were freed. She divined then that the young squaw had come to let her go, in the dead of night. Her heart throbbed high as her liberator held up a side of the tent. Allie crawled out. A bright moon soared in the sky. The camp was silent. The young woman slipped after her, and with a warning gesture to be silent she led Allie away toward the slope of the valley. It was a goodly distance. Not a sound disturbed the peace of the beautiful night. The air was cold and still. Allie shivered and trembled. This was the most exciting adventure of all. She felt a sudden tenderness and warmth for this Indian girl. Once the squaw halted, with ear intent, listening. Allie's heart stopped beating. But no bark of dog, no sound of pursuit, justified alarm. At last they reached the base of the slope.

The Indian pointed high toward the ridge-top. She made undulating motions of her hand, as if to picture the topography of the ridges, and the valleys between; then kneeling, she made a motion with her finger on the ground that indicated a winding trail. Whereupon she stealthily glided away--all without a spoken word.

Allie was left alone--free--with direction how to find the trail. But what use was it for her to find it in that wilderness? Still, her star kept drawing her spirit. She began to climb. The slope was grassy, and her light feet left little trace. She climbed and climbed until she thought her heart would burst. Once upon the summit, she fell in the grass and rested.

Far below in the moon-blanched valley lay the white tents and the twinkling camp-fires. The bay of a dog floated up to her. It was a tranquil, beautiful scene. Rising, she turned her back upon it, with a muttered prayer for the Indian girl whose jealousy and generosity had freed her, and again she faced the ridge-top and the unknown wilderness.

A wolf mourned, and the sound, clear and sharp, startled her. But remembering Slingerland's word that no beast would be likely to harm her in the warm season, she was reassured. Soon she had crossed the narrow back of the ridge, to see below another valley like the one she had left, but without the tents and fires. Descent was easy and she covered ground swiftly. She feared lest she should come upon a stream in flood. Again she mounted a slope, zigzagging up, going slowly, reserving her strength, pausing often to rest and to listen, and keeping a straight line with the star she had marked. Climbing was hard work, however slowly she went, just as going down was a relief to her wearied legs.

In this manner she climbed four ridges and crossed three valleys before a rest became imperative. Now dawn was near, as was evidenced by the paling stars and the gray in the east. It would be well for her to remain on high ground while day broke.

So she rested, but, soon cooling off, she suffered with the cold. Huddling down in the grass against a stone, and facing the east, she waited for dawn to break.

The stars shut their eyes; the dark blue of sky turned gray; a pale light seemed to suffuse itself throughout the east. The valley lay asleep in shadow, the ridges awoke in soft gray mist. Far down over the vastness and openness of the plains appeared a ruddy glow. It warmed, it changed, it brightened. A sea of cloudy vapors, serene and motionless, changed to rose and pink; and a red curve slid up over the distant horizon. All that world of plain and cloud and valley and ridge quickened as with the soul of day, while it colored with the fire of sun. Red, radiant, glorious, the sun rose.

It was the dispeller of gloom, the bringer of hope. Allie Lee, lost on the heights, held out her arms to the east and the sun, and she cried: "Oh, God! ... Oh, Neale--Neale!"

When she turned to look down into the valley below she saw the white winding ribbon-like trail, and with her eyes she followed it to where the valley opened wide upon the plains.

She must go down the slope to the cover of the trees and brush, and there work along eastward, ever with eye alert. She must meet with travelers within a few days, or perish of starvation, or again fall into the hands of the Sioux. Thirst she did not fear, for the recent heavy rain had left waterholes everywhere.

With action her spirit lightened and the numbness of hands and feet left her. Time passed swiftly. The sun stood straight overhead before she realized she had walked miles; and it declined westward as she skulked like an Indian from tree to tree, from bush to bush, along the first bench of the valley floor.

Night overtook her at the gateway of the valley. The vast monotony of the plains opened before her like a gulf. She feared it. She found a mound of earth with a wind-worn shelf in its side and overgrown with sage; and into this she crawled, curled in the sand and prayed and slept.

Next day she took up a position a few hundred yards from the trail and followed its course, straining her eyes to see before and behind her, husbanding her strength with frequent rests, and drinking from every pool.

That day, like its predecessor, passed swiftly by and left her well out upon the huge, billowy bosom of the plains. Again she sought a hiding-place, but none offered. There was no warmth in the sand, and the night wind arose, cold and moaning. She could not sleep. The whole empty world seemed haunted. Rustlings of the sage, seepings of the sand, gusts of the wind, the night, the loneliness, the faithless stars and a treacherous moon that sank, the wailing of wolves--all these things worked upon her mind and spirit until she lost her courage. She feared to shut her eyes or cover her face, for then she could not see the stealthy forms stalking her out of the gloom. She prayed no more to her star.

"Oh, God, have you forsaken me?" she moaned.

How relentless the grip of the endless hours! The black night held fast. And yet when she had grown nearly mad waiting for the dawn, it finally broke, ruddy and bright, with the sun, as always, a promise of better things to come.

Allie found no water that day. She suffered from the lack of it, but hunger appeared to have left her. Her strength diminished, yet she walked and plodded miles on miles, always gazing both hopelessly and hopefully along the winding trail.

At the close of the short and merciful day despair seized upon Allie's mind. With night came gloom and the memory of her mother's fate. She still clung to a strange faith that all would soon be well. But reason, fact, reality, these present things pointed to certain doom--starvation--death by thirst--or Indians! A thousand times she imagined she heard the fleet hoof-beating of many mustangs. Only the tiny pats of the broken sage leaves in the wind!

It was a dark and cloudy night, warmer and threatening rain. She kept continually turning round and round to see what it was that came creeping up behind her so stealthily. How horrible was the dark--the blackness that showed invisible things! A wolf sent up his hungry, lonely cry. She did not fear this reality so much as she feared the intangible. If she lived through this night, there would be another like it to renew the horror. She would rather not live. Like a creature beset by foes all around she watched; she faced every little sound; she peered into the darkness, instinctively unable to give up, to end the struggle, to lie down and die.

Neale seemed to be with her. He was alive. He was thinking of her at that very moment. He would expect her to overcome self and accident and calamity. He spoke to her out of the distance and his voice had the old power, stronger than fear, exhaustion, hopelessness, insanity. He could call her back from the grave.

And so the night passed.

In the morning, when the sun lit the level land, far down the trail westward gleamed a long white line of moving wagons.

Allie uttered a wild and broken cry, in which all the torture shuddered out of her heart. Again she was saved! That black doubt was shame to her spirit. She prayed her thanksgiving, and vowed in her prayers that no adversity, however cruel, could ever again shake her faith or conquer her spirit.

She was going on to meet Neale. Life was suddenly sweet again, unutterably full, blazing like the sunrise. He was there--somewhere to the eastward.

She waited. The caravan was miles away. But it was no mirage, no trick of the wide plain! She watched. If the hours of night had been long, what were these hours of day with life and the chance of happiness ever advancing?

At last she saw the scouts riding in front and alongside, and the plodding oxen. It was a large caravan, well equipped for defense.

She left the little rise of ground and made for the trail. How uneven the walking! She staggered. Her legs were weak. But she gained the trail and stood there. She waved. They were not so far away. Surely she would be seen. She staggered on--waved again.

There! The leading scout had halted. He pointed. Other riders crowded around him. The caravan came to a stop.

Allie heard voices. She waved her arms and tried to run. A scout dismounted, advanced to meet her, rifle ready. The caravan feared a Sioux trick. Allie described a lean, gray old man; now he was rapidly striding toward her.

"It's a white gal!" she heard him shout.

Others ran forward as she staggered to meet them.

"I'm alone--I'm--lost!" she faltered.

"A white gal in Injun dress," said another.

And then kind hands were outstretched to her.

"I'm--running--away ... Indians!" panted Allie.

"Whar?" asked the lean old scout.

"Over the ridges--miles--twenty miles--more. They had me. I got-- away ... four--three days ago."

The group around Allie opened to admit another man.

"Who's this--who's this?" called a quick voice, soft and liquid, yet with a quality of steel in it.

Allie had heard that voice. She saw a tall man in long black coat and wide black hat and flowered vest and flowing tie. Her heart contracted.

"Allie!" rang the voice.

She looked up to see a dark, handsome face--a Spanish face with almond eyes, sloe-black and magnetic--a face that suddenly blazed.

She recognized the man with whom her mother had run away--the man she had long believed her father--the adventurer Durade! Then she fainted.