Frank Bird Linderman.

On a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest online

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cut him off at the bend.

He must beat them. Perhaps the river
would turn to his advantage if only he could
gain the next stretch ahead of the Indians.
Straining every muscle in his body, he
rounded the bend. The wind was nearly
dead ahead now. It almost smothered him
in its strength. But it was a race for life,
and with his heart pounding loudly he bent
lower and struggled grimly toward the next
turn. They were coming. They were gain-
ing. If only he could make the bend before
they did, he might have a chance. A rifle-

[ 210 ]


ball cut the ice in front of him and went
whining away into the bank. Then another
splintered the glare ice behind him and he
felt the spatter of ice on his hot neck. He
was straining every nerve. His temples
throbbed with the pressure of blood, and per-
spiration dripped from his face.

A wild yell sent a thrill through him. He
had rounded the bend made it, ahead of
the wild riders. But even as he sensed his
victory, his heart sank, for the bend was in
the Indians' favor. They were yet no-
where in sight. Madly he raced for the
next turn in the river made it; and there
they were. Fifty Indians on the ice before

Desperately he tried to stop, ran into the
bank, and fell, his head striking the ice
violently. A streak of flame and a cracking
sound came to him, and then he knew noth-

[211 ]


Softly the moccasined feet sped toward
him. An old warrior with an ugly scar on
his wrinkled face squatted near the prostrate
white man's feet and murmured. As the
rest pressed closer, the old fellow turned his
face toward the curious group, his puzzled
expression heightened by the sunken lids
of a sightless eye. There were soft-spoken
words among the others, heavy with wonder.
The old man gingerly touched the runners
of the skates. "Tst tst tst. Ahn-n-n-n-
n!" he said, covering his thin-lipped mouth
with the palm of his hand. Others squatted
beside him, and one by one they applied
their fingers to the skates and murmured.

At last Van opened his eyes. The group
fell back, leaving the old man and Van in
the centre of a circle. The white man's eye-
lids fluttered a moment and then closed.
The old fellow bent over him with a serious
look. Again Van opened his eyes, and, at
[ 212 ]


last conscious of his situation, tried to
regain his feet, but staggered and fell. Then
he sat up and saw the circle of painted faces
about him.

The old warrior with the scarred face
motioned to the others and they moved
back, forming an immense circle on the ice.
Van got to his feet. And then the old man
began to slide his moccasins over the ice in
imitation of the skater's strokes, at the same
time warning him not to try to break through
the circle.

Van understood and began to skate for
their amusement. He backed and twisted,
whirled and jumped, and cut figure eights and
pigeonwings. The Indians were amazed. As
new groups arrived, the old fellow as mas-
ter of ceremonies would induce Van to sit
down while, squatting at the performer's
feet, each newcomer touched the skate
runners with his fingers.

[ 213 1


"Tst-tst-tst. Ahn-n-n-n!" came from be-
hind the palms that covered their mouths.

Then, satisfied, the old fellow would bid
Van skate again.

A hundred Indians had gathered and with
rifles in the hollow of their arms stood watch-
ing his antics. Fatigue was weakening him.
His mind was tortured with thoughts of his
fate. And Tom, alone in the camp at Cow
Island what would become of him ?

Suddenly, at a wave of the old man's hand,
the circle parted up the stream.

"Ho!" cried he of the scarred face. And
Van was free.

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Online LibraryFrank Bird LindermanOn a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest → online text (page 8 of 8)