Read CHAPTER XXVIII - A PATIENT OF THE MEDICINE MAN of Camp-fire and Wigwam , free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on ReadCentral.com.

When Jack Carleton awoke, it was night and the rain was falling.  He was feverish and his brain was so overwrought that it was a full minute before he could call to mind where he was.  His slumber had been disturbed toward the latter part by dreams as wild, vague and unimaginable as those which taunt the brain of the opium eater.

When he remembered that he was in the wigwam of Ogallah, the chieftain, he turned upon his side and raised his head on his elbow.  The fire at the other end of the apartment that had been burning brightly, had gone down somewhat, but enough remained to light up the interior so that the familiar objects could be seen with considerable distinctness.

He observed the figure of the sachem stretched out in the dilapidated slouchiness peculiar to himself.  He did not bother to remove any of his clothing, and, though the place was quite chilly he drew none of the bison robes over him.  He had lain down on one, but had managed in some way to kick it half way across the lodge, and his couch, therefore, was the simple earth, which served better than a kingly bed of eider down could have done.

The favorite posture of the queenly consort was not a prone one, but that of crouching in a heap near the coals, where, with a blanket that had never been washed since it was put together years before, gathered about her shoulders, her skinny arms clasping her knees and her head bowed forward, she would sleep for hours at a time.  The reflection of the flickering flames against her figure caused it to look grotesque in the fitful light, and the captive gazed at her for a long time, led to do so by an infatuation which was not strange under the circumstances.

There, too, was the dog which, could he have been given his way, would have done nothing all his life but sleep and eat.  As was his custom, he was at the feet of his mistress, a position which he seemed to prefer above all others.  Then the blankets, deer and bison skins, and rude articles hanging about the room, the two columns in the center supporting the clumsy roof, the craggy logs and sticks at the side, the hanging skin which served as a door and was barely visible, the tumble down appearance of everything, and withal the solemn stillness which brooded within the lodge:  all these made the scene weird and impressive in a striking degree.

The fire burned so fitfully that it threw ghostly shadows about the apartment, sometimes flooding it with light, and again falling so low that the other end of the lodge could not be seen at all.  Without, the night could not have been more dismal.  There was no thunder or lightning, and the rain fell with that steady patter on the leaves, which at ordinary times forms the most soothing accompaniment of sleep, but which to Jack Carleton only added to his dismal dejection of spirits.

The roof of the lodge was so thick and diversified in its composition that the music of the patter on the shingles was lost.  At intervals the wind stirred the limbs, and, though none of the trees were very close, the lad could hear the soughing among the branches, as the hunter hears it in early autumn when the leaves begin to fall.

Could the melancholy croaking of frogs in the distance have fallen on the ears of the boy, he would have had all the factors that go to bring on the most absolute loneliness of which a human being is capable.  Unfortunately Jack did not need that addition to render his misery complete, for it was furnished by his own condition and situation.

“I am many long, long miles from home,” he reflected, as a sharp pain gyrated through his brain, and the flickering fire seemed to be bobbing up and down and back and forth in a witches’ dance; “and little hope is there of my ever seeing mother again.  Ah, if I was only there now!”

He let his head fall back and heaved a deep sigh.  He recalled his plain but comfortable bed, which became the most deliciously comfortable the mind can conceive, when his mother shoved the blankets in about him, or “tucked him up,” as she never failed to do every evening he was at home; the good-night kiss from those affectionate lips; the magic touch of those fingers which pushed back the hair from his forehead, ere she bent over him with the last salute; the loving, caressing care when he was threatened with the slightest illness, which made the boy long for illness for the sake of such care:  these and other blessed memories came back with a power which caused the eyes to overflow with sorrow.

Ah, fortunate is that boy, even though his years carry him to the verge of full manhood, who has his mother to watch over his waking and sleeping hours, and her prayers to follow his footsteps through life.

The pattering rain, the sighing wind, and the ghostly, semi-darkness soothed the sachem and his wife, but Jack Carleton was as wide awake as when pushing across the Mississippi in the half overturned canoe, with the fierce Shawanoes firing at him and his friends.  Probably, in the entire Indian village, he was the only one who was awake.  Had a band of Sioux or Iroquois stolen through the woods and descended on the Sauks they would have been found defenceless and unprepared.

Through one of the crevices behind Jack, came a draught of wind which, striking him on his shoulders, caused him to shiver.  He moved a little distance away, and drew the bison robe closer about him, for though a raging fever was coursing through his veins, he knew the danger of subjecting himself to such exposure.

He was consumed with thirst, and seeing the clumsy gourd by the side of the sleeping squaw, he crawled forward on his hands and knees in the hope of finding water in it.  Fortunately there was an abundance and he took a long, deep draught of the fluid, which was not very fresh nor cold, but which was the most refreshing he had ever swallowed.

Creeping back to his primitive couch, he continued a deep mental discussion of the question whether the best thing he could do was not to steal out of the lodge and make a break for home.  There could be little, if any doubt, as to the ease with which such a start could be made.  He had only to rise to his feet, pass through the deer-skin door, which was merely tied in position, and he could travel miles before morning and before his absence would be noted.  The falling rain would obliterate his trail, so that the keen eyes of the Sauks would be unable to follow it, and he could make assurance doubly sure by taking to the water until a bloodhound would turn up his nose in disgust.  Furthermore, he was confident that he would be able to obtain possession of his rifle and enough ammunition with which to provide himself food on the way home.

This was what may be called the rose-colored view of the scheme, which had a much more practical side.  While under ordinary circumstances Jack would have been able to take care of himself at a much greater distance from home, and in a hostile country, yet the alarming fact remained, that he was seriously ill and such exposure was almost certain to drive him delirious, with the certainty of death to follow very speedily.

Though he took such a gloomy view of his own position among the Sauks (whose tribal name, of course, he had not yet learned), he was not without a certain degree of hope.  He had suffered no harm thus far and it is always the unexpected which happens.  While he had declared to himself that Ogallah was simply training him for the torture, as it may be expressed, yet it might be the chieftain being without children, meant to adopt him as a son.  If such was his intention, manifestly, the best thing for Jack to do was to lie still and prayerfully await the issue of events.  No doubt if you or I were in his sad predicament, that is the course that would have been followed, but Jack could not bring himself to submit to such inactivity when the prospect of liberty was before him.  Allowance, too, must be made for the condition of the boy.  He was scarcely himself, when, compressing his lips, he muttered,

“I won’t stay here!  They mean to kill me and I may as well die in the woods!  I will take my gun and go out in the night and storm, and trust in God to befriend me as He has always done.”

Aye, so He had; and so He will always befriend us, if we but use our opportunities and fly not in His face.

Carefully he rose to his feet, and, gathering the bison robe around his fevered frame, glanced at the two unconscious figures, and then at the form of his rifle leaning against the side of the lodge and dimly revealed in the flickering firelight.

As he stepped forward to recover his gun, everything in the room swam before his eyes, a million bees seemed to be humming in his brain, and, clutching the air in a vague way, he sank back on his couch with a groan, which awakened Ogallah and his squaw.  The chief came to the sitting position with a surprising quickness, while the wife opened her eyes and glared through the dim firelight at the figure.  The dog slumbered on.

Ogallah seeing that it was only the captive who was probably dying, lay back again on the bare earth and resumed his sleep.  The woman watched the lad for several minutes as if she felt some interest in learning whether a pale face passed away in the same manner as one of her own race.  Inasmuch as the sick boy was so long in settling the question, she closed her eyes and awaited a more convenient season.

From the moment Jack Carleton succumbed, helpless in the grasp of the fiery fever, he became sick nigh unto death.  Those who have been so afflicted need no attempt to tell his experience or feelings.  Why he should have fallen so critically ill, cannot be judged with certainty, nor is it a question of importance; the superinducing cause probably lay in the nervous strain to which he was subjected.

He instantly became delirious and remained so through the night.  He talked of his mother, of Deerfoot, of Otto, and of others; was fleeing from indescribable dangers, and he frequently cried out in his fright.  The chief and his squaw heard him and understood the cause, but never raised their hands to give him help.

Jack became more quiet toward morning and fell into a fitful sleep which lasted until the day was far advanced.  Then, when he opened his eyes, his brain still somewhat clouded, he uttered a gasp of dismay and terror.

Crouching in the lodge beside him was the most frightful object on which he had ever looked.  It had the form of a man, but was covered with skins like those of a bear and bison, and a long thick horn projected from each corner of the forehead.  The face, which glared out from this unsightly dress, was covered with daubs, rings and splashes of red, white and black paint, applied in the most fantastic fashion.  The black eyes, encircled by yellow rings, suggested a resemblance to some serpent or reptilian monster.  The figure held a kind of rattle made of hollow horn in either hand, and was watching the countenance of the sick boy with close attention.  When he saw the eyes open, he made a leap in the air, began a doleful chant, swayed the rattles and leaped about the lodge in the most grotesque dance that can be imagined.  Ogallah and his squaw were not present, so Jack had the hideous creature all to himself.

Enough sense remained with the boy for him to know that he was the Medicine Man of the tribe, whom the chieftain had been kind enough to send to his help.  Instead of giving the youth the few simple remedies he required, he resorted to incantation and sorcery as has been their custom for hundreds of years.  The barbarian fraud continued to chant and rattle and dance back and forth, until Jack’s eyes grew weary of following the performance.  The mind, too, which was so nigh its own master in the morning, grew weaker, and finally let go its hold.  Sometimes the waltzing Medicine Man suddenly lengthened to the height of a dozen yards; sometimes he was bobbing about on his head, and again he was ten times as broad as he was long, and hopping up and down on one short leg.  From the other side of the lodge he often made a bound that landed him on the bison skin, which lay over the breast of the sick boy, where he executed a final tattoo that drove the last vestige of consciousness from him.

It was all a torturing jumble of wild and grim fancies, with occasional glimmerings of reason, which led Jack to clutch the air as if he would not let them go; but they whisked away in spite of all he could do, and a black “rayless void” descended upon and gathered round about him, until the mind was lost in its own overturnings and struggles, and all consciousness of being departed.