Read CHAPTER XXVII - GAH-HAW-GE of Camp-fire and Wigwam , free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on ReadCentral.com.

Naturally enough, when Jack Carleton found himself standing close to the frolicking Indian boys on the clearing, he became interested in the game they were playing, which he saw was systematic, and in which all took part.

Like amusements of that sort, it was simple in its character and he quickly caught its drift.  The boys divided themselves into two parties equal in numbers, one of which was ranged in line at the right of the clearing near the wood, while the other did the same at the other goal, which was a stump close to the stream.  Each boy held a stick with a forked end in his hand, that being the implement with which the game is played.

When all was ready, one of the youthful Sauks walked out from the party near the woods, holding the stick with the crotch of a small branch supported at the point of bifurcation.  This crotch was four or five inches in length, and as it was carried aloft, it looked like an inverted V, raised high so that all might see it.

Pausing in the middle of the clearing, the dusky lad with a flirt of the stick, flung the crotch a dozen feet in air and uttered a shout which was echoed by every one of the waiting players.  Both sides made a furious rush toward the middle of the playground, where they came together like two mountain torrents, and the fun began.  The strife was to get the crotch of wood to one of the goals, and each side fought as strenuously to help it along toward his own, as a side of foot-ball players struggle to do the opposite in a rough and tumble fight for the college championship.

Inasmuch as the only helps to be employed were the long, forked sticks carried in their hands, it will be seen that the game offered a boundless field for the roughest sort of play, mingled with no little dexterity and skill.  Some swarthy-hued rascal, while on a dead run, would thrust the point of his stick under the crotch, and lifting it high above his head, start or rather continue with might and main toward his goal.  At that time, as, indeed, at every minute, each young American was literally yelling like so many “wild Indians.”  Desperately as the youth ran, others more fleet of foot speedily overtook him, and one, reaching forward while going like a deer, lifted the crotch from the other stick, and circling gracefully about, sped for his own goal.  But some youth at his heels leaped in air and with a sweep of his own stick struck the other and sent the crotch spinning and doubling through the air.  A dozen other sticks were plunged after it, but it fell to the ground, and then the fight reached its climax.  The parties became one wild, desperate, shouting, yelling, scrambling mob.  Legs and arms seemed to be flying everywhere, and the wonder was that a score of limbs and necks were not broken.  But it rarely hurts a boy to become hurt, and though bruises were plenty, no one suffered serious harm.  After a few minutes’ struggle, the crotch would be seen perched on the stick of one of the boys, who, fighting his way through the mob, ran with astonishing speed, with friends and foes converging upon him, and the certainty that he would be tripped and sent flying heels over head, before he could reach safety.

After awhile, when the prize had been gradually worked toward the goal of the stronger party, some youth, by a piece of skill and daring, would make a dash for home and bear down all opposition.  It followed, of course, that his side had won, and, after a brief rest, the game was renewed and pressed with the same vigor as before.

This Indian boy’s game is still played by many Indian tribes.  Among the Sénecas it is called “Gah-haw-ge,” and I make no doubt that more than one reader of these pages has witnessed the exciting amusement, which so thrilled the blood of Jack Carleton that he could hardly restrain himself from taking part in the fun.  But he had no crotched stick, without which he would have been a cypher, and then, as he had never attempted the game, he knew he possessed no skill.  The venture would have been rash, for in the excited state of the Indian youths, and armed as they were with sticks, it is almost certain that at some stage of the game they would have turned on the pale face and beaten him to death.

The rough amusement lasted fully two hours, during which Jack Carleton and many of the warriors were interested spectators.  At last the youngsters became weary and the sport ended.  As the stumpy youths straggled apart, the perspiration on their faces caused them to shine like burnished copper.  All at once one of them emitted a whoop and broke into a swift run, the rest instantly falling in behind him, and speeding with the same hilarious jollity.

The heart of Jack Carleton stood still, for the leading Indian was coming straight toward him.

“They’re aiming for me,” was his conclusion, as he gripped the handle of his knife and half drew it from his girdle.

But the whooping youth swerved a little to the right, and was ten feet away from the terrified captive when he dashed by with unabated speed.  He did not so much as glance at Jack, nor did the procession of screeching, bobbing moon-faces, as they streamed past, give him the least attention.

The lad who set off with the lead, kept it up with undiminished speed, until he reached the edge of the river.  Then he made a leap high upward and outward.  Jack saw the crouching figure, with the head bent forward, the arms crooked at the elbow, and the legs doubled at the knees, during the single breath that it seemed suspended in the air.  Then describing a beautiful parabola, he descended, and striking the water, sent the spray flying in every direction, while the body went to the bottom.  The others followed, so fast that the dusky forms dropped like hailstones, tumbled over each other, splashed, dove, frolicked, shouted, and acted with the same abandon as before.

It is by such sports and training that the American Indian acquires his fleetness, high health, and powers of endurance.

But Jack had grown weary of watching the antics of the youngsters, and turned about and walked homeward.  He saw from the position of the sun that it was near noon, and he was hungry; but he was more impressed by the change of treatment since his last affray than by anything else.  He walked past five separate wigwams before reaching the imperial residence, which for the time being was his own.  There were warriors, girls, and squaws lounging near each one.  They raised their repellant faces and looked at the captive with no little curiosity, but offered him no harm.

When half way home, the flapping door of one of the conical wigwams was pushed aside, and the stooping figure of a large Indian boy straightened up and walked toward Jack, who, with an odd feeling, recognized him as the youth whom he had overthrown in wrestling, and afterwards knocked off his feet by a blow in the face.

“I wonder whether he means to attack me?” Jack asked himself, in doubt for the moment as to what he should do.  At first he thought he would turn aside so as to give the young Sauk plenty of room; but that struck him as impolitic, for it would show cowardice.

“No, I won’t give him an inch; he is alone, and if he wants another row, I’m agreeable.”

It was hard for Jack to restrain a smile when he looked at the face of the Indian.  It was exceptionally repulsive in the first place, but the violent blow on the nose had caused that organ to assume double its original proportion, and there was a puffy, bulbous look about the whole countenance which showed how strongly it “sympathized” with the injured part.

Although the American Indian, as a rule, can go a long time, like the eagle, without winking his eyes, this youth was obliged to keep up a continual blinking, which added to his grotesque appearance, as with shoulders thrown back and a sidelong scowl he strode toward the river.  Jack returned the scowl with interest, and it scarcely need be said that the two did not speak as they passed by.

Feeling some fear of treachery, the captive kept his ears open, and watched over his shoulder until he reached his own wigwam, where he stood for a moment and gazed in the direction of the river, which was partly shut out by one of the intervening lodges.  He was just in time to see the young Sauk of the battered countenance leap into the river, where, doubtless, he was able to do much toward reducing the inflammation of his organ of smell.

When the captive entered his home as it may be called, he saw the chieftain stretched flat on his back and snoring frightfully.  The dog was asleep on the other side the fire, and the squaw, after toiling so long in the “corn field,” was preparing the mid-day meal.  She was a type of her sex as found among the aborigines, as her husband, even though a monarch, was a type of the lazy vagabond known as the American warrior.

At the side of the queen lay the gourd which usually contained water.  Peeping into the round hole of the upper side, she shook the utensil, and the few drops within jingled like silver.  She snatched it up, looked toward Jack, and grunted and nodded her head.  If the lad could not understand the language of the visitor sometime before, he had no such difficulty in the case of the squaw.  With real eagerness he sprang forward and hastened out of the wigwam to procure what was needed.

The one visit which he made the spring in the morning had rendered him familiar with the route, and it took but a minute or two for him to fill the gourd and start on his return.  He found that a number of young girls had followed him, and were at his heels all the way back; but, though they talked a good deal about him, and displayed as much curiosity as their brothers, they did not molest him.  Once, when they ventured rather too close, Jack whipped out his knife, raised it on high, and made a leap at them, expanding his eyes to their widest extent, and shouting in his most terrifying tone, “Boo!”

It produced the effect desired.  The young frights scattered with screams of terror, and hardly ventured to peep out of their homes at the ogre striding by.

When Jack entered the lodge he found Ogallah awake.  Evidently he was not in good humor, for his manner showed he was scolding his much better half, who accepted it all without reply or notice.  No doubt she received it as part of the inevitable.

The chief, however, refrained from following the civilized custom of beating the wife, and when the meat and a species of boiled greens were laid on the block of wood which answered for a table, his ill-mood seemed to have passed, and he ate with his usual relish and enjoyment.

Jack Carleton crossed his legs like a tailor at his side of the board, but before he could eat a mouthful a violent nausea seized him, his head swam, and he was on the verge of fainting.  Ogallah and his squaw noticed his white face and looked wonderingly at him.

“I’m very ill!” gasped Jack, springing to his feet, staggering a few steps, and then lunging forward on the bison skin, where he flung himself down like one without hope.

The violence of the attack quickly subsided, but there remained a faintness which drove away every particle of appetite, and it was well that such was the case, for had he taken any food in his condition the result must have been serious.

Meanwhile the squaw had assumed her place at the table by her liege lord, and both were champing their meal as though time was limited, and there was no call to feel any interest in the poor boy who lay on his rude couch, well assured that his last illness was upon him.

“What do they care for me?” muttered Jack, his fright yielding to a feeling of resentment, as the violence of the attack subsided.  “I wonder that they spared my life so long.  They would have been more merciful had they slain me in the woods as they did Otto, instead of bringing me here to be tormented to death, and as I know they mean to do with me.”

Lying on his arm, he glared at the couple with a revengeful feeling that was extraordinary under the circumstances.  A morbid conviction fastened itself upon him that Ogallah had taken him to his lodge for the purpose of keeping him until he was in the best physical condition, when he would subject him to a series of torturing and fatal ceremonies for the amusement of the entire village.

In the middle of these remarkable sensations exhausted nature succumbed, and the captive fell asleep.