Down on his knees, bent over so that his chin was almost touching the ground, Rupert Giles intently examined the small rock through his magnifying glass. Staying totally motionless for several minutes, every bit of his concentration was devoted to studying the forces of geology that had shaped this minor hard mineral aggregate located at this exact spot of a small gulch along the Platte River in Nebraska.
The unaware man was being watched just as keenly as the Englishman was scrutinizing his object of attention. Finally, a decision was made.
Mumbling under his breath about igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic, Mr. Giles managed to miss the sounds coming nearer. Scooting along while shuffling his knees, the man switched his inspection of his original focus to a few more inches further up along the gulch towards another rock, which looked most fascinating. Again, the naturalist gazed through his lens with complete absorption, and he still didn’t hear the hoof steps that had stopped about twenty feet directly behind the man.
At last, something finally broke through his raptness, as a drop of sweat fell from Mr. Giles’ forehead, to splash onto the lens of the magnifying glass and spoil his examination. “Tch!” irritably murmured the man, who brought up his free hand to grasp a corner of his handkerchief that had been laid over the top of his head for protection from the sun, and he then used this cloth to dry off the lens, only after that wiping his forehead, and putting the handkerchief back into its former position. Then, Mr. Giles resumed his patient examination.
Behind him, someone was regarding with total fascination how that man had solved the problem of his rump being thrust upwards into the air in his current position, and becoming exposed to the blazing sun that had uncomfortably warmed his gluteus maximus. Rupert Giles had sensibly found a solution of keeping his rear cool by the simple expedient of perching his bowler hat onto that part of his body.
Not impressed at all by the human presenting a most strange appearance to itself, a horse snorted, and shook its head.
This finally got the Englishman’s attention, though the only sign he showed of his concentration being broken was a slight tightening of his lips. Otherwise, Mr. Giles remained in his absurd stance, still apparently preoccupied with his studies and unaware of whoever was behind him.
The horse flatulently relieved itself.
Mr. Giles actually gritted his teeth over that. After several weeks on the trail, that man had become used to being the one to have everybody bringing him their problems, as was usual for the captain of the wagon train. After all, it was what the former Oxford graduate had been expecting when he’d brought together the group of immigrants who were proposing to settle in a new town in California. However, having to deal with all the problems, difficulties, and other crises didn’t mean that Mr. Giles had to enjoy his responsibilities, nor to avoid seeking time off.
Lately, the Englishman had used the past weeks’ Sundays for short diversions from his task of leading the wagon train, when the group of vehicles had stopped for the whole day for rest, repairs, and refit. While everyone else was busy in their own chores and relaxation, Mr. Giles went off on his own for several hours, happily studying the flora, fauna, and geology of the area around himself. It was honestly soothing to expand his knowledge, plus there was the advantage of getting away from demanding, discontented, self-centered people expecting him to jump at their appeals and petitions and fix everything--
Someone grunted, and brought their horse nearer.
An actual scowl appeared on the face of the man still bent over. His free hand went back, behind himself, to grope for his bowler hat, and grasping the rim of this, he angrily lifted it off his rear, to bring it sweeping back to plop onto his head, covering the handkerchief still there. Then straightening up, Mr. Giles spun around on his knees, keeping his magnifying glass firmly in front of his face, and sending through this his coldest glare towards whoever had dared interrupt his leisure.
*Hmmm, quite passable metalwork, you can still see the beating marks on the steel, and both the point and the edges look most keen. Someone did a lot of effort on….*
As realization finally appeared, Rupert Giles’ sense of self-preservation now stopped prodding the rest of his consciousness, and went off to hide elsewhere in his brain. The Englishman slowly lowered his magnifying glass, and examined the lance head that was just a few inches from the tip of his nose. The man’s gaze slowly went past the razor-sharp wedge of metal lashed to the end of a ten-foot long pole gripped in a large, red hand, to follow upwards an extremely muscular arm to wide shoulders, a thick neck, and a painted, ferocious Indian face that was currently giving Mr. Giles a terrifying look that would have turned Genghis Khan’s bowels to water.
Several hours later, a small group of men watched nervously as one of their company rode towards the band of Lakota Sioux ready for war. All of these men were holding rifles and trying not to think of their wagon train circled up and bracing for whatever might happen if their negotiations with the Indians broke down.
Actually, one member of this group wasn’t a man, and she wasn’t all that nervous anyway. Not that anybody else there said a word against Faith joining them in the first place. Their acceptance might have been because that woman could casually punch out anybody’s lights there with a careless swing of her fist. It might have also been due to her personal weapon that the woman held in her right hand, as easily as any normal person holding a pencil.
The Sharps Big Fifty that Faith had ready was a lot more dangerous than any pencil ever made, being able to bring down a full-grown buffalo at the range of a mile or more. The woman carried this rifle with an expertise that at any other time would have been extremely worrying to all there. Now, it was a comfort.
Faith edged over her horse to Rowdy grimly watching Gil come to a stop before the middle of the line of Indians, holding out a hand in greeting and salute to the clear leader there, a massive Sioux dressed in full regalia and sitting impassively on his enormous horse. Right after that, Gil started making gestures with his hands and arms.
“Yo, Stretch, what’s your boss doin’ with his hands in front of Larry?”
Still keeping his eyes on the Indians, Rowdy absently opened his mouth, to suddenly stop before answering, looking puzzled. Glancing over at a curious Faith, Rowdy incredulously asked, “Larry?!”
The woman shrugged. “Looks kinda like a guy I knew back east, named Larry.”
“Oh.” Rowdy numbly shook his head at that, and his expression now became thoughtful, as he studied the colossal Indian unemotionally watching Gil’s gesticulations. The cowboy allowed, “He does look white. Maybe he’s a halfbreed. He’s about the right age for when the mountain men were around.”
Faith tilted her head, questioning, “Mountain men?”
“’Bout thirty to fifty years ago, white hunters came out here, looking for beaver to skin and sell to make beaver hats. During winters, when the creeks and ponds froze up so trapping couldn’t be done, they lived with friendly tribes, and took squaws for the season. It all ended when the beaver were wiped out, plus silk hats came into fashion. Anyway, a lot of half-white kids ended up with the tribes.” Rowdy considered this, and added a final comment, “If he’s one of them, his pappy must’ve been a big ‘un.”
“Gotcha,” nodded Faith, who went on, “Hey, ya never said what Gil’s doin’-- Larry, too, now.”
Rowdy flicked his attention back to his friend who’d stopped moving his arms and still facing the band of Indians, with their leader now also making gestures at an intently watching Gil. Without looking at Faith, Rowdy replied, “It’s sign-talk.”
Rubbing his thumb along the stock of his ready rifle, Rowdy answered, “Even before us whites came, the Injuns were trading and fighting with each other since forever, and they had to talk sometimes. But nobody could know all their languages, so the Plains tribes came up with sign-talk, where every wave, pointing and moving your fingers, and arm sweeps means something.”
“Huh. Do ya know it?”
Rowdy nodded. “Some, but not as much as Gil. Which is why he’s out there.” The cowboy’s teeth clenched at this, his jaw muscles standing out in both worry and anger for his friend.
“Hey,” softly said Faith, continuing when Rowdy glanced over at her placating tone. “He knows ya’ll back him up, whatever happens.” She grinned at seeing how the man’s stricken face lightened up at this acknowledgement of his loyalty. Now switching her own attention back to the band of Indians, Faith’s face turned into a cold mask, as she muttered while stroking her own rifle, “If it all goes to shit, I can take down the big guy from here, easily.”
Reassured by her competent, offhand remark, Rowdy still cautioned, “Let’s see how it turns-- Huh!”
Faith quickly looked over at the man’s gasp of relief, as Rowdy nodded towards the Indians, explaining, “I know THAT sign! It means ‘peace.’”
Snapping back her head, Faith watched with interest as the massive Indian was now looking behind himself, his mouth opening in clear commands. Right after, several of the other Indians’ horses moved out of the way, and Rupert Giles walked out of the space created by this.
Totally unharmed, and a most relieved look on his face, the Englishman headed towards a very deadpan Gil Favor awaiting him. A well-brought-up gentleman did not take to his heels while making his departures, so Mr. Giles maintained only a fairly brisk walk towards the trail boss. It seemed as if this would all end up happily for everyone on this rather exciting day.
In the next instant, a shriek of rage came from the band of Indians, and another figure dashed out from the line of horses, running right at the startled British native spinning around to see a most peculiar individual stop short in front of him.
A skinny man dressed only in a loincloth, at least twenty pounds of dirt, and dozens of rattlesnake skins hanging from cords wrapped around his arms and legs, waved a gourd rattle in front of Mr. Giles’ face, the clattering of seeds inside this hard-skinned fruit sounding remarkably like the buzzing of the poisonous snake’s vibrating tail. Crazed eyes glared at the astonished Englishman through slits in a leather mask covering his entire head, with numerous reptile fangs pushed through the skin of his covering.
As Rupert Giles recoiled from the bizarre man, other people reacted in their own ways. Gil looked worried, and his hand crept towards his pistol. Back with the other whites, Rowdy snapped a savage “NO!” as Faith brought up her rifle, and as she stared with astonishment at the man, he hastily explained, “If you shoot the medicine man, they might all attack at once!”
“Well, what the hell else are we gonna do?” yelled Faith.
Not having any good answer for this, Rowdy just grimaced with angry vexation, and stared at the others beyond him. For some reason, the cowboy looked at where the leader of the Indians was on his horse, and felt a flicker of optimism.
The face of that massive Sioux warrior was black with pure rage. Whatever influence the medicine man might have with the band, as shown by the other Indians’ nervousness at this moment, defying the authority of the chief of the group right in front of everyone was not a good idea. A kick of the Indian’s heels against the sides of his gigantic horse had that animal plod forward a few steps.
Still dancing in front of a wide-eyed Mr. Giles, the medicine man again shook his rattle and now began howling a chant suggesting it would be a good idea to sacrifice that hated white man. However, that maniac song was abruptly ended right in the middle, as the immense Indian leaned over from the top of his horse, to suddenly grab the medicine man by the back of his neck, and lift him up into the air, without any strain whatsoever. Kicking his legs in panic at what had just happened to him, the rattlesnake Indian was turned around by a simple twist of the chief’s huge hand, to look his leader right in the eye, just before a thunderous bellow of absolute wrath was roared right into the face of the medicine man.
Promptly becoming limp in terror, the Indian’s captive was contemptuously flung away, sailing through the air a dozen feet to finally land with a loud thud onto the ground, and rolling over and over until he finally came to a rest. Not even bothering to look, the chief turned his horse, glared at all of the rest of the band, and bellowed again. Every other Indian there promptly yanked their horses’ heads around and took off, galloping away, followed by a straight-backed, dignified chief heading away at a more stately pace.
Staggering up to his feet, the medicine man turned around, to shake his fist at Mr. Giles and the rest. His leather mask had been torn off during his tumble, so that a balding head with a triangular face, deep-set dark eyes above a large nose, and protruding ears were revealed to everyone staring back at the Indian giving everyone a deadly glare. Then the medicine man stumbled off to where a scrawny pony was awaiting him, scrambling onto this animal’s back, and viciously kicking it to make it follow the others of the Indian band.
All members of the wagon train then heaved a sigh of relief, and the group headed towards Gil and Mr. Giles. Coming with them was a spare mount that had been hopefully brought along, in case things managed to go well, as indeed they had done so.
A loud cheer came from the entire wagon train when all of their people were seen, particularly Mr. Giles, whose bowler hat was quite recognizable. By the time the rescuers had reached the wagons and dismounted, everybody waiting for them was crowding around to greet them. Smiling to himself, Gil stepped onto a nearby boulder, and looking at the crowd, he hollered, “Settle down, folks! I got something to say!”
All the people there quieted down, and looked expectantly at the guide, who cleared his throat, and then continued, “Well, things went better than we thought. We got Mr. Giles back,” with that, Gil waved at the thankful man standing there and looking a bit startled at another cheer sent out by the happy crowd. Gil brought his cupped hands up to his mouth and shouted over the uproar, “But, there’s really good news! See, during my talk with the Injun chief, I got his vow that not only won’t they attack us, but the word will be passed around the other tribes, so we’ll be left alone during our entire trek!”
An astonished breath was drawn in by everyone there listening to this, and Gil managed to rush out his next words, “And it’s all because of Mr. Giles there!”
The next roar of approval was the loudest one yet, with all members of the wagon train crowding around the astonished Englishman to shake his hand, pound his back, and even various women of the train kissing him, with their husbands beaming at this. Gil watched all this with amusement, particularly when he saw the congratulated man edging his way through the crush, nervously thanking everyone while eyeing the man standing on the boulder and coming near to the guide.
Finally, Mr. Giles reached the rock, and hastily stepped up, to stand next to Gil. Examining the waiting guide, the bewildered Englishman cleared his throat and asked in a baffled tone, “Er, how exactly did I do that, making our path safe?” The entire crowd quieted down again, listening with deep interest.
Gil grinned into his employer’s face. He was really gonna enjoy this, as that man chuckled, and began to explain. “See, the Injuns got strange customs ‘bout insane people. They think they’re touched by the Great Spirit, and instead of locking ‘em up in asylums, they leave ‘em alone as long as they don’t hurt themselves or anybody else. That Injun chief asked right off if you was one of ours, and I told him yes, so he said that after watching you ignoring everything else in the world to study little rocks with a piece of never-melting ice, you had to be the craziest white man on the whole plains!”
The roar of laughter by the entire crowd now nearly cracked the heavens, as Gil watched in delight as an appalled Rupert Giles realized that for the rest of his life, he was going to be known as ‘Crazy Giles.’
Seizing the chance, while the mob was still guffawing, Gil leaned over to a dazed Englishman, and muttered into his ear, “Hey, count your blessings. I could’ve told ’em ’bout your Injun name, Man-Who-Wears-Bonnet-On-Ass.”