WABISGAHA loved the tawny stretches of the prairie smiling like a rugged, honest face under the kiss of the sunlight; he loved the storm that frowned and shouted like an angry chief; he loved the south-wind and the scent of the spring, yet the love of woman he knew not, for his heart was given to his horse, Ingla Hota, which means Laughing Thunder.
Why should he have a squaw? Did not Laughing Thunder toss his mane and neigh when he heard the soft steps of his master? Was not Laughing Thunder his companion and his helpmeet? Ah, no, Wabisgaha would have no squaw.
And furthermore, his love for Laughing Thunder was not sentiment; it was religion. Many and weird were the tales that the wise old men told about the evening fires concerning the horse of Wabisgaha. It was said in a subdued voice, lest that some demon face should peer into the circle of the fire from the darkness, that Laughing Thunder contained an evil spirit; that Wabisgaha was secretly a great medicine man, who had learned the terrible words that tame the spirits of the thunder, and had made the black Power of the storm come down and be his horse. Yes, and there was one who had watched Laughing Thunder graze all day upon the hills and never a blade was nipped; but where the breath of his nostrils passed, the grass was seared as with lightning. Another had noticed how Laughing Thunder wasted away when the storms were few, like sunflowers pining for the rain; and how one night when the lightning flashed and the thunder howled, he had seen a burning horse leap from the top of a hill and gallop through the clouds, neighing half like the laugh of a man, half like the shout of the thunder.
"Some day Wabisgaha will ride to the land of the spirits," they would all agree, gazing wide-eyed at each other while the last blue flame struggled in the embers. Then they would shrug their shoulders as though the touch of an invisible hand chilled them; shaking their heads by which to say, "Ugh! there are many strange things."
It was the month of the sunflower. Wabisgaha one night, half asleep in his tepee, was aroused by a strange sound among the horses, which were left to graze upon the hills near the village. Creeping out of his tepee into the open air, he could hear nothing but the slumberous moan of the distant thunder, for the southeast was black and glaring by fits with a coming storm. Then there burst forth upon the dull sultry air of the night a shrill, clear neigh and the sound of many hurrying hoofs. That neigh! Ah, it was the neigh of Laughing Thunder. It came again, but this time dimmer, and the gallop of hoofs grew softer as with distance.
Wabisgaha rushed out into the night crying, "Ingla Hota, Ingla Hota." But for answer the storm howled on the hills. By the glare of the lightning he found the trail of the fleeing hoofs. He would take the trail and find his horse. "Ingla Hota, Ingla Hota," he cried. The big rain drops drummed upon the hills. It seemed to him that the thunder cried back, and ended with a sound like the neigh of a mighty steed. So all night he followed the trail of the hoofs southward, mingling his cries with the cries of the wind and the thunder; and when the storm lulled and the day dawned, he climbed to the top of a hill and scanned the drenched prairies, but no horse! Only the pathless brown sea of grass glinting in the sun; a maddening monotony, save for the occasional gulch like a battle-scar on the face of a warrior. No sound except the caw of a distant crow and the monotone of silence.
With a grunt of despair he again took up the trail. He noted that the trail