[From] Chapter XX.
The second day after leaving Silver Creek, we suddenly encountered another specialty of the plains, the "Wild Huntress." So often has this personage and her male counterpart danced, with big letters and a bowie-knife, across yellow covers, that we met the "original Jacobs " of the tribe gleefully. She came to us in a cloud of buffalo, with black eyes glittering like a snake's, and coarse and uncombed hair that tangled itself in the wind, and streamed and twisted behind her like writhing vipers. A black riding habit flowed out in the strong breeze, its train snapping like a loose sail, and a black mustang fled from her Indian lash--the dark wild horse, a fit carrier for such somber outfit.
She was introduced to us by the bison herd, which came thundering across our front, with this strange figure pressing its flank and darting hither and thither from one outskirt of the flying multitude to the other. The reins lay loose on the neck of her mustang, which entered into the fierce chase like a bloodhound, doubling and twisting on its course with an agility that was wonderful.
One hand of the huntress held out a holster revolver, which she fired occasionally, but with uncertain aim, one of the bullets indeed whistling our way. The chase constituted the excitement that she sought, and the pistol was little more than a spur to urge it on.
"That's Ann, poor P----'s wife," said our guide. "Crazy since the Indians killed her husband. He was a contractor on the railroad; his camp used to be just above Hays. She lives in the old 'dug-out' on the line yet, and spends half her time chasing buffalo. She never kills none, but that isn't what she is after. She wants to be moving, and just as wild as she can; it sort o' relieves her mind."
The huntress had seen our outfit, and rode toward us. The face was a very plain one, with a vacant yet anxious expression, and the tightly-drawn skin seeming scarcely to cover the jaw-bones. She halted before us, and commenced conversation at once.
"Good day, gentlemen."
"Good day, madam."
"She always tells her story to every body," muttered the guide in a low voice.
"Have you seen any Cheyennes hereabouts, gentlemen? I sighted a party this morning, and you ought to have seen them run. Raven Dick, here, put his best foot foremost, but they shook him out of sight in a ravine. Haven't any thing better to do, friends, and so I 'm riding down some buffalo."
We could easily understand why superstitious savages should run when a maniac female of such dismal aspect flitted along their trail.
"Out from Hays, sirs?" she continued, after a pause. "I left there yesterday. Dick and I camped last night. We must be home when the men come in from work this eve. Up, Rave!" and she struck the mustang a cruel blow, from which he jumped with quivering muscles, only to be violently curbed. For the first time she had just noticed our guide, and sat for an instant with her wild eyes eating a way to his heart. Then she turned again to us.
"Sirs, you must aid me. Some say the Cheyennes killed my husband, and others there be who think Abe there did it. More shame to me who has to tell it, but the two had a fight about a woman, some months gone. It was just after pay-day, and husband was drunk; otherwise he'd never have bothered his head about any girl but the one he married.
"There were blows and black eyes, and being a rough man's quarrel, it ended with hand-shaking. My man came home, and we sat by the fire that night, and I took no notice that he'd been wrong, but spoke of our old home in Ohio, and asked him wouldn't he go back there when the contract was finished. And he put his hand on mine, and says 'Sis, if the cuts and fills on the next mile work to profit, we 'll go home.' Just then there came a hiss from the door at our backs, and husband turned sharp and quick. There was a knot-hole in the planks, and its round black mouth, gaping from out in the night at us, had spit the pound into our ears. Husband he rose and went to the door, and fell back dying, with an arrow in his breast. Some said it was a Cheyenne, and others said Abe did it. There were lots of Indian bows in camp, and Cheyennes don't kill for the love of it, but only to steal. I'm going to ask them, if I can catch them, did they do it, and if not, I know who did. I've a bow, Abe, and an arrow too, and I hope his blood isn't on your hands."
"I didn't do it, Ann. I don't shoot no man in the dark," replied our hostler guide, with a sullen defiance, which among that class stands equally well for innocence or guilt. We looked at the two, as they sat for an instant facing each other. The picture was a weird one--a wildcat, fronting the object of its chase, but undecided whether to spring or not. We felt that the dark maniac had been hovering around us, and that this meeting was not altogether accidental. Her disordered brain was yet undecided in which direction vengeance lay, and, like a tigress, she was watching and waiting.
Our policy developed, on the instant, into a noncommittal and a safe one. As she wheeled her horse, and left us without a word, we remarked to our guide that crazy folks were often suspicious of their best friends.
"That's so," he replied, and rode off to urge on the wagons. We shrank from the idea of living with a murderer, and acquitted him of the crime on the spot.