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“VANEETY," THE CHEROKEE MAID
BY LILLIAN MAY TROY
T WAS IN the obscure illumination which precedes the dawn that Brisbane woke from an uneasy slumber in the thicket under the tupelo trees bordering the river. The acute instinct of a man familiar with the Indian country told him something had awakened him. Turning cautiously on his side, he parted the brush noiselessly, and peered out on the river racing swiftly along under the canopy of overhanging boughs. A minute passed; two; three; and then the listening man heard the faint dip of a paddle. "Didn't think they would be after me so soon," he muttered, as he adjusted the sight on his rifle for close range. Of course they would discover him; he had been too weary and exhausted the night previous to cover his trail. It was contrary to the redskin nature to track at night, and he wondered grimly why they should have made an exception in his case. Three shots left. Well, that meant he would "pot" two of them; one for poor Murray and the other for Nelson, his two companions they had murdered yesterday. And the third shot they would have his scalp, but not until after the third shot-what then was left of it they were welcome to. He had been so positive of success, and now this was the end of it. The survey for the first tracks over the southern part of the continent had cost the railroad company dearly in money and the lives of their bravest men, and Brisbane had been the only one who had been successful in evading the Indians and completing the survey to the river. He had known the danger, and when his chief had told him to select the men to accompany him, he called for volunteers; refusing to order any man to go into the Indian country with him. When Murray and the boy Nelson stepped forward he was pleased; they knew the risks to be taken as well as
Brisbane did; they knew their business thoroughly, and if any three could succeed they could. It was not actually the survey for the roadbed, but the most important preliminary step in the science of railroad building; the mapping out of the prospective route. It was practically the primal intrusion of progress into the great Southwest, and the wondering eyes of the nation were upon the men who took the risks of death and torture in the Indian country, as well as upon the man who risked their all to further a project which many wiseacres were wont to term premature.
General Miles and his cavalry were kept busy with Sitting Bull and Geronimo some few hundred miles away, and so general was the uprising that a military escort could not be spared, and the three men had to depend upon themselves to do their own scouting and protect themselves as best they could.
Men had made the attempt before, but none had ever returned, and many of the Eastern stockholders had advised delay until such time as the Government could make peace with the redskin braves. The president of the company replied that both he and the stockholders risked their fortunes, and while he asked no man to risk his life, if men there were who were willing to do so, it was the business of the company to take advantage of every opportunity; and as to peace with the Indians-the company could not afford to gamble in futures.
Brisbane heard the scratching of a paddle on the rocks in the stream, as though a canoe had approached too near their sharp jaws. His rifle pointed up stream, and the stock was pressed firmly against his shoulder and the hammer lay back with his finger on the trigger. A steady eye ran along the barrel, as he brought the rifle into position for a shot as the first
canoe turned the bend in the river. The light was dim, but he was sure of himself now, and he knew he would have to shoot quickly. He heard the scraping against the rocks again, and he wondered why they didn't keep away from the rapids on the side, and get into the middle, where the current ran smoothly and swift.
As a canoe came sweeping around the bend, he took rapid aim, but as he would have pressed the trigger, he gasped with amazement, and sat bolt upright. The canoe had one occupant, a child-a girl! She came perilously near to the bank where the water lashed itself into white foam on the jagged rocks. Dexterously she avoided them without seeming to see them; her eyes scanning the bank as she gracefully balanced herself, feet apart in the frail craft. Brisbane's ears, trained to the silence, could hear no swishing of paddles up the river, and he thought the girl must be alone.
Suddenly she turned the canoe toward the bank, jumped out and beached it. With long, quick strides she reached the brush and undergrowth, and scanning the ground hastily, she came directly to where Brisbane knelt, and parted the bushes abruptly. She looked at the man a moment, and he fancied she appeared slightly satisfied as she muttered "huh." "Hello, youngster," ," Brisbane said cheerily, as he sprang up. "I suppose your whole tribe is out in your wake, taking the early morning air on the river, and as I'm a trifle solicitous about my health now, too, I'll ask you to pardon me if I relieve you of the canoe. Twill help me along."
Hope was once more dominant in Brisbane, as he sprang down the incline and shoved the canoe of skins and saplings into the stream, and sprang in.
"Huh," said the girl, with what seemed even more satisfaction, as she nimbly climbed in after him, just as he sent the craft swiftly into midstream.
"Here, you; get out," he said, as he paddled back to the bank: "Get out." As he would have assisted her out of the canoe by the arm, a brown hand shot up, and five long bleeding lines on his face marked the course of five finger nails. "You little tigress," he said, as he winced in pain.
"Huh," answered the girl with undis
guised satisfaction. He caught her by both arms, and would have put her on the bank, but he left her go as he saw two rows of glistening teeth in close proximity to his arm. She reminded him of a kitten who, when you want to put it down, hangs on with its teeth and claws.
"All right," he said, disgustedly, "you can stay-I haven't any time to remain here arguing the merits of the question. with you."
He pointed the nose of the canoe down stream, and commenced to paddle furiously, not knowing now where the painted braves were. He was surprised that the girl made no demonstration, but he watched her closely nevertheless. For three hours they went on thus; the man in the bow paddling with all his force; twice riding unfamiliar rapids, but going on, on, as only a man who had the rejuvenation of hope in his heart could; on until he was ready to faint with exhaustion and fatigue. He gave no thought to hunger, although no food had passed his lips for forty-eight hours. He had all he had hoped for a chance-and he was going to get every shred out of it he could. In his pocket were the maps the company needed they would not attempt to lay another foot of steel without them—and he had succeeded. If he could only outwit the redskins.
His stroke grew weaker, and it was sheer luck that the light craft was not dashed to pieces on the rocks that jutted out of the stream everywhere.
The canoe rocked ever so little, and a brown hand grasped the paddle.
"Let go there," he shouted.
Five little fingers sank into the cartilege of his ear, as the other hand grasped the paddle, and Brisbane relinquished his hold. A long, slender, childish hand pointed to the stern; and a strong pair of young arms held the canoe steady as the man sank down among the skins in the bottom of the canoe. When they reached a smooth stretch of the river, the girl drew some venison and a roasted quail from the twigs and leaves in the bow, and pressed the food into Brisbane's hands. He looked up in wonder! Her face was as immobile as a bronze statue, as she dipped a slender hand into the stream and wet his parched lips many times.
When he had refreshed himself with food, Brisbane would have taken the paddle, but the Indian child pressed him back among the skins, and threateningly held up five slender fingers near his ear, and with a tired sigh and a smile on his lips he drifted into slumber.
Many times the Indian maiden turned to look at him as he slept. Her face bore the stolid look of her people, but the depths of the dark eyes seemed to soften. and sparkle as she gazed. Was it the great length of shapeliness and muscle of the man that drew her admiration or the cluster of straight brown locks framing his clear-cut face? Was it the grey of the eyes or the laugh that lurked round the mouth even in sleep?
"Huh," was all she said, as she balanced herself in the bow, but there are many waves on the ocean that never shall boom on the sandy bars, and the thoughts of an Indian maiden-who knows?
It was late in the afternoon when the young surveyor woke from his refreshing sleep and sat up.
His eyes rested on the tall Indian child in the bow. He wondered what it all meant; was she taking him away from one hostile camp to deliver him to the Apaches farther down the river? Some devilish Indian ingenuity, he thought, as he wondered why he hadn't forcibly put her out of the canoe in the beginning. Then he remembered the food; trying to keep his strength up for some delectable jollification, no doubt-a tied-to-the-stake dance, perhaps.
"She certainly doesn't resemble the Apaches," he soliloquized, as he noted the straight nose, and splendid profile, as she turned sideways to sheer off from some rocks. Her hair was fine, not coarse like the Apache squaws, and hung over her shoulders in two long braids. As she stood in the bow, no easy task, balancing herself gracefully, she dipped the paddle steadily first on one side, then the other; she reminded Brisbane of-yes, a goddess. It was the only word fitting to the unconscious pride and grace of her whole bearing. He fancied she might be about fifteen years of age, possibly more. Her arms and shoulders were as developed as those of a strong boy, and the man reflected that if all women were only as
"Good afternoon, Lady-of-the-Claws," he smiled.
The girl paid no attention; her body was bent forward in an attitude of listening and instantly-Brisbane was alert. He had heard it, too! The unmistakable stomp of Indian ponies drinking by the river. It was not behind them—it was ahead. While he had been sleeping they had come into a camp of Apaches! He expected the girl would give the alarm, and he drew his rifle to his shoulder. He lowered it instantly. Hang it all! Let her shout if she wanted to; maybe she was doing the right thing according to her savage code. The two shots would be for men, not for a woman. As he would have snatched the paddle from her, by a quick turn the canoe shot noiselessly under the overhanging branches near the bank. "Well, I'll be"-Brisbane muttered, as she worked the craft up stream a little close to the bank, and under the low branches, until the thick foliage completely hid it from the view of any one passing on the river. Her face wore its stolid expression, but Brisbane noticed that her nostrils dilated slightly.
They lay hidden there until sunset. Painted braves led ponies to drink not fifty feet from their place of concealment, and Brisbane knew there must be a large camp near by. There seemed to be no squaws, children, or dogs, and he judged rightly that they were on the war path. He wondered whether they were reinforcements for Sitting Bull or only savage marauders preparing to attack some frontier village. At twilight, the faint sound of many paddles broke the appressive stillness, and through an aperture in the foliage he saw twenty or thirty canoes coming down the river.
Each canoe held four or six Indians; their bodies and faces were painted hideously, and many were armed with rifles and bow and arrow. Now, surely, the girl would give the alarm. The first canoe approached directly opposite their hiding place. There was a young, powerful buck in the stern, and Brisbane thought he had never seen so cruel and rapacious a face. This fellow would stop the first bullet. As he raised his rifle
the girl put her fingers under the hammer, and her white teeth gleamed near his nose, as she scarcely breathed: "No shoot-quiet."
Canoe after canoe passed, and it was not until the last one was beached down the stream near the allies' camp that she removed her fingers, and closed her lips over the small teeth. Brisbane stared at her in amazement. "What a wonderful child it is," he muttered slowly.
"See here, Little Claws," he said, "you speak English?"
Ignoring his question, she said, "Stay here. When dark, Apaches no see-go."
The young surveyor thanked his stars, -the moon would not rise until near morning. Here was another chance. His fingers passed over the papers in his breast with still more hope, and elation, which only a man who has surmounted difficulties can feel.
The night was dark, but he kept the canoe in the umbrage of the trees that banked the river, and midnight saw the redskin encampment miles astern, and the tired Indian girl asleep on the skins in the bottom of the canoe.
They journeyed thus for days; hiding by day and traveling by night. The small store of food gave out, but occasionally the girl would lie for hours in the bush waiting for a thirsty rabbit. Without a sound the slender fingers would close about the throat of the little animal and squeeze the life from it. And she would indifferently bring it to Brisbane to skin. They dared not light a fire, and there are worse things than raw rabbits when hunger taps insistently.
The last night on the river had passed, and Brisbane told the girl he must take to the trails to reach his people. The girl had only spoken twice, but he knew she understood. He had been sorely puzzled about her. They had not seen the smoke of signal fires for two days, and he felt he would be safe in leaving the river and taking to the trails. He was familiar with the country now, and he knew that he could reach the railroad camp in two days.
As he approached the girl, who had been screened from him by a bush, he stopped and smiled in amusement. She was kneeling on a flat rock, gazing into the reflect
He must be careful not to say anything to drive the pleased expression from those eyes-and what pretty lips she had!
"Why it means," she was watching him closely, "it means very, very nice-very pretty-beautiful. Does that please you, little Apache ?"
"No Apache!" she hissed, as the red blood glowed under her bronze skin. "Cherokee !"
"Whew, a Cherokee! An aristocrat!" "What's mean areestocrat?" she asked. "That means very proud. But what were you doing in an Apache camp?" asked Brisbane, as the explanation of her fine features and hair began to dawn upon him.
"Big fight-many scalps. Apache steal squaw.'
"When did you learn to speak English, little Cherokee ?"
"Now, don't be stubborn, child!" Suddenly she sprang up and the man backed away amusedly as he saw the slender fingers working nervously.
"No like Leetle Claws; no like Apache; no like Cherokee; no like child," she hissed.
"Oh, I see," he said, trying to look respectfully serious. "Now, what would you like me to call you ?”
"Vaneety," she answered shyly, and Brisbane thought he had never seen sweeter eyes or lips. There was something beguilingly childlike and yet womanly about the girl as she stood there smiling questioningly up at him. She moved closer to him, and indicated her satisfaction that the top of her head just reached his ear. "No child," she said softly, looking at him with clear, innocent eyes.
"You're a beautiful- " he began impetuously. "Tell me, chi-Vaneety,” he
asked quietly, "why did you try to help me get away from the Apaches?"
Quickly she rolled his shirt sleeve away from his tanned wrists, and touched the white skin on his arm lightly.
"My mother," she whispered proudly. "Your mother a white woman," he exclaimed. "Yes, my father very big Cherokee chief. Steal my mother. Like very much. Die sometime," she finished with trembling lips.
"Well, you dear little waif, and is that why you helped me?" the man asked softly. "Say to my mother, Snow-Squaw sometime maybe help white man
"What a pretty sentiment, child," the surveyor said, feelingly.
"No child," she corrected gently, "Vaneety."
"Oh, certainly! I beg your pardon, Vanity." She drew an old-fashioned flat needle case from her garment and handed it to Brisbane. He opened it, and removed his hat as he looked upon a faded daguerreotype the sweet, girlish face of a white woman.
"Her mother!" he breathed reverently, as he looked into the shining depths of the maiden's eyes.
"Vanity," he said unsteadily, as he handed her the little worn and faded needle case. "You must come with me. You must"No," she answered dully, the brightness leaving her eyes. "No;. Vaneety go back -you, go on." Her voice sounded so hopeless and sad. It reminded Brisbane of the low moaning of the wind at sea. She pointed to the mountain on the
other side of which was the railroad camp. "But, Vanity," Brisbane insisted, "the Apaches will kill you."
"What's care-who care?" she answered resignedly.
"I care, Vanity, darling," Brisbane answered, holding both her slender hands. and bending over her; "I care-I love you, dear little Cherokee-""
"What's love?" she asked quietly. "This, Vanity," he whispered, as he pressed his lips to hers.
"Vaneety like love very much," she said sweetly, after a little.
"I'm glad you do, you beautiful darling," Brisbane said joyously. "You're going to come with me and be my wife, Vanity, and I'll teach you everything your lovely mother knew. Maybe we can find out who she was, too. How old are you, anyway, sweetheart ?"
She indicated seventeen winters on her slender hands.
"And not any more summers, either, I'll vouch," Brisbane laughed.
"What a lucky fellow I am," he said, as he entered the railroad camp-two days later. "I have the maps and I have Vanity."
When the strange pale-faces came to meet them, the girl clung to Brisbane. "Come, sweetheart," he said, quietly, "they are your people as they are mine." With his arm around her, Brisbane approached the amazed and jubilant railroad men.
"Who in the world is this?" asked the superintendent, smilingly.
"Vaneety," the girl answered proudly, with a dazzling smile.