Read CHAPTER XXVI of The Rising of the Red Man A Romance of the Louis Riel Rebellion, free online book, by John Mackie, on ReadCentral.com.

A BOLD BID FOR LIBERTY

It was midnight, and Poundmaker’s prisoners, Douglas, Pasmore, Jacques, and Rory, were lying in their tepee under the charge of their armed guards. They knew the latter were asleep, and in answer to some proposition that Rory had just whispered to Jacques, the latter said

“So, that is so. Keel him not, but to make that he cry not. The knife to the throat, not to cut, but to silence, that is the thing.”

“S-sh! or by the powers it’s your throat the knife’ll be at. Now, you to the man at your feet, and I’ll to the man beyant... Ow, slape, ye gory babes!”

If the wind had not been whistling round the tepees just then, causing some of the loosely-laced hides to flap spasmodically, it is extremely unlikely that either of the two men would have ventured even to whisper. But the tepee was dark, and Rory had managed to tell his fellow-prisoners that, if they wanted to put their much-discussed scheme of overcoming their guards and making their escape into execution, now was their time. They might never have such another chance. Rory, by reason of his experience of such matters in the past, had insisted on leading off with the work. He had also intimated his intention of securing the arms of some of the other Indians after their guards had been overpowered.

Rory rolled over on his right side and looked at the Indians. He could only see two dark, prostrate forms outlined blackly against the grey of the doorway. Luckily the moon was rising, and that would somewhat assist their movements.

One of the Indians turned over and drew a long, throaty breath. He had indeed been asleep, and perhaps he was going to awake. The thought of the contingency was too much for the backwoodsman. He crawled forward as stealthily as a panther, and next moment one sinewy hand was on the Indian’s throat, the other was across the mouth, and a knee was planted on his chest Simultaneously Jacques was on top of the other Indian; Pasmore and Douglas jumped to their feet. In less time than it takes to write it, the hands of the Indians were secured behind their backs, gags were placed upon their mouths, their fire-arms and knives were secured, and the latter were flashed before their eyes. They were told that if they remained still no harm would come to them, but if they showed the slightest intention of alarming the camp their earthly careers would be speedily closed. Neither of them being prepared to die, they lay still, like sensible redskins. Then Rory left the tepee and in two minutes more returned with two rifles, which he had managed to purloin in some mysterious way.

Pasmore took the lead, then came Rory, and immediately after him Douglas and Jacques.

It was a miserable mongrel of an Indian dog that precipitated matters. They came full upon it as it stood close to a Red River cart, with cocked ears and tail in air. The inopportune brute threw up its sharp snout and gave tongue to a series of weird, discordant yelps after the manner of dogs which are half coyotes.

“Come on!” cried Pasmore, “we’ve got to run for it now. Let’s make a bee-line straight up the valley!”

With rifles at the ready they rushed between the tepees. It was run for it now with a vengeance. Next moment the startled Indians came pouring out of their lodges. Red spurts of fire flashed out in all directions, and the deafening roar of antiquated weapons made night hideous. Luckily for the escaping party they had cleared the encampment, so the result was that the Indians, imagining that they were being attacked by the Blackfeet or the British, at once began to blaze away indiscriminately. The results were disastrous to small groups of their own people who were foolish enough to leave their doorways. It would have been music in the ears of the fleeing ones had not three or four shots whizzed perilously close to their heads, thus somewhat interfering with their appreciation of the contretemps.

But their detection was inevitable. Before they had gone two hundred yards a score of angry redskins were at their heels. It seemed a futile race, for the Indians numbered some hundreds, and it was a moral certainty it could be only a question of time before they were run down. They knew that under the circumstances there would be no prisoners taken. It was not long before the pace began to tell on them.

“I’m afraid I’m played out,” gasped Douglas, “go on, my friends, for I can’t go any farther. I’ll be able to keep them back for a few minutes while you make your way up the valley. Now then, good-bye, and get on!”

He plumped down behind a rock, and waited for the advancing foe.

Pasmore caught him by the arm and dragged him to his feet. The others had stopped also. It was not likely they were going to allow their friend and master to sacrifice himself in such a fashion.

“Let’s make up this ravine, sir,” cried Pasmore. “Come, give me your arm; we may be able to fool them yet. There’s lots of big rocks lying about that will be good cover. There’s no man going to be left behind this trip.”

High walls of clay rose up on either side, so that at least the Indians could not outflank them. At first the latter, thinking that the troublesome escapers were effectually cornered, essayed an injudicious rush in upon them, but the result was a volley that dropped three and made the remainder seek convenient rocks. Taking what cover they could the white men retired up the narrow valley. It was becoming lighter now, and they could distinctly see the skulking, shadowy forms of the redskins as they stole from rock to rock. Suddenly they made a discovery that filled them with consternation. They had come to the end of the valley and were literally in a cul-de-sac! They were indeed caught like rats in a trap.

“I’m afraid we’re cornered,” exclaimed Douglas, “but we’ve got some powder and shot left yet.”

“Yes,” remarked Pasmore, “we’ll keep them off as long as we can. I can’t understand why the troops are not following those fellows up. There’s no getting out of this, I fear,” he looked at the crescent of unscalable cliff “but I don’t believe in throwing up the sponge. I’ve always found that when things seemed at their worst they were just on the mend.”

He did not say that there was a very powerful incentive in his heart just then that in itself was more than sufficient to make him cling to life. It was the thought of Dorothy.

Half-an-hour more and the Indians had crawled up to within fifty yards, and might rush in upon them at any moment, and then all would be over. As yet, thanks to their excellent cover, none of the little party had been wounded, though the redskins had suffered severely. There were few words spoken now; only four determined men waited courageously for the end. And then something happened that paled their cheeks, causing them to look at one another with startled, questioning eyes. There was a growing fusillade of rifle fire over their heads and the sound of British cheers!

“Hurrah!” exclaimed Douglas. “It’s the troops at last They’ve come up overnight to attack the camp, and they haven’t come a minute too soon.”

“So, that is so,” said Jacques, as he took deliberate aim at his late enemies, who, realising the situation, were scuttling in confusion down the ravine. “Mais, it is the long road that knows not the turn.”

But as for Pasmore, as on one occasion when he had been snatched from the Valley of the Shadow, and realised how beautiful was the blue between the columns of the pines, he now saw the sweet face of a woman smiling on him through the mists of the uncertain future.