A Lodge In The Wilderness by Gilbert Parker

Story type: Literature

“Hai-yai, so bright a day, so clear!” said Mitiahwe as she entered the big lodge and laid upon a wide, low couch, covered with soft skins, the fur of a grizzly which had fallen to her man’s rifle. “Hai-yai, I wish it would last forever–so sweet!” she added, smoothing the fur lingeringly and showing her teeth in a smile.

“There will come a great storm, Mitiahwe. See, the birds go south so soon,” responded a deep voice from a corner by the doorway.

The young Indian wife turned quickly, and, in a defiant, fantastic mood–or was it the inward cry against an impending fate, the tragic future of those who will not see, because to see is to suffer?–she made some quaint, odd motions of the body which belonged to a mysterious dance of her tribe, and, with flashing eyes, challenged the comely old woman seated on a pile of deer-skins.

“It is morning, and the day will last forever,” she said, nonchalantly, but her eyes suddenly took on a far-away look, half apprehensive, half wondering. The birds were indeed going south very soon, yet had there ever been so exquisite an autumn as this, had her man ever had so wonderful a trade, her man with the brown hair, blue eyes, and fair, strong face?

“The birds go south, but the hunters and buffalo still go north,” Mitiahwe urged, searchingly, looking hard at her mother–Oanita, the Swift Wing.

“My dream said that the winter will be dark and lonely, that the ice will be thick, the snow deep, and that many hearts will be sick because of the black days and the hunger that sickens the heart,” answered Swift Wing.

Mitiahwe looked into Swift Wing’s dark eyes, and an anger came upon her. “The hearts of cowards will freeze,” she rejoined, “and to those that will not see the sun the world will be dark,” she added. Then suddenly she remembered to whom she was speaking, and a flood of feeling ran through her; for Swift Wing had cherished her like a fledgling in the nest till her young white man came from “down East.” Her heart had leaped up at sight of him, and she had turned to him from all the young men of her tribe, waiting in a kind of mist till he, at last, had spoken to her mother, and then one evening, her shawl over her head, she had come along to his lodge.

A thousand times as the four years passed by she had thought how good it was that she had become his wife–the young white man’s wife, rather than the wife of Breaking Rock, son of White Buffalo, the chief, who had four hundred horses and a face that would have made winter and sour days for her. Now and then Breaking Rock came and stood before the lodge, a distance off, and stayed there hour after hour, and once or twice he came when her man was with her; but nothing could be done, for earth and air and space were common to them all, and there was no offence in Breaking Rock gazing at the lodge where Mitiahwe lived. Yet it seemed as though Breaking Rock was waiting–waiting and hoping. That was the impression made upon all who saw him, and even old White Buffalo, the chief, shook his head gloomily when he saw Breaking Rock, his son, staring at the big lodge which was so full of happiness, and so full also of many luxuries never before seen at a trading-post on the Koonee River. The father of Mitiahwe had been chief, but because his three sons had been killed in battle the chieftainship had come to White Buffalo, who was of the same blood and family. There were those who said that Mitiahwe should have been chieftainess; but neither she nor her mother would ever listen to this, and so White Buffalo and the tribe loved Mitiahwe because of her modesty and goodness. She was even more to White Buffalo than Breaking Rock, and he had been glad that Dingan the white man–Long Hand he was called–had taken Mitiahwe for his woman. Yet behind this gladness of White Buffalo, and that of Swift Wing, and behind the silent watchfulness of Breaking Rock, there was a thought which must ever come when a white man mates with an Indian maid, without priest or preacher, or writing, or book, or bond.

Yet four years had gone; and all the tribe, and all who came and went, half-breeds, traders, and other tribes, remarked how happy was the white man with his Indian wife. They never saw anything but light in the eyes of Mitiahwe, nor did the old women of the tribe who scanned her face as she came and went, and watched and waited too for what never came–not even after four years.

Mitiahwe had been so happy that she had not really missed what never came; though the desire to have something in her arms which was part of them both had flushed up in her veins at times, and made her restless till her man had come home again. Then she had forgotten the unseen for the seen, and was happy that they two were alone together–that was the joy of it all, so much alone together; for Swift Wing did not live with them, and, like Breaking Rock, she watched her daughter’s life, standing afar off, since it was the unwritten law of the tribe that the wife’s mother must not cross the path or enter the home of her daughter’s husband. But at last Dingan had broken through this custom, and insisted that Swift Wing should be with her daughter when he was away from home, as now on this wonderful autumn morning, when Mitiahwe had been singing to the Sun, to which she prayed for her man and for everlasting days with him.

She had spoken angrily but now, because her soul sharply resented the challenge to her happiness which her mother had been making. It was her own eyes that refused to see the cloud which the sage and bereaved woman had seen and conveyed in images and figures of speech natural to the Indian mind.

Hai-yai,” she said now, with a strange, touching sigh breathing in the words, “you are right, my mother, and a dream is a dream; also, if it be dreamed three times, then is it to be followed, and it is true. You have lived long, and your dreams are of the Sun and the Spirit.” She shook a little as she laid her hand on a buckskin coat of her man hanging by the lodge door; then she steadied herself again, and gazed earnestly into her mother’s eyes. “Have all your dreams come true, my mother?” she asked, with a hungering heart.

See also  Footpaths by John Burroughs

“There was the dream that came out of the dark five times, when your father went against the Crees, and was wounded, and crawled away into the hills, and all our warriors fled–they were but a handful, and the Crees like a young forest in number! I went with my dream, and found him after many days, and it was after that you were born, my youngest and my last. There was also”–her eyes almost closed, and the needle and thread she held lay still in her lap–“when two of your brothers were killed in the drive of the buffalo. Did I not see it all in my dream, and follow after them to take them to my heart? And when your sister was carried off, was it not my dream which saw the trail, so that we brought her back again to die in peace, her eyes seeing the Lodge whither she was going, open to her, and the Sun, the Father, giving her light and promise–for she had wounded herself to die that the thief who stole her should leave her to herself! Behold, my daughter, these dreams have I had, and others; and I have lived long and have seen the bright day break into storm, and the herds flee into the far hills where none could follow, and hunger come, and–“

Hai-yo, see, the birds flying south,” said the girl, with a gesture toward the cloudless sky. “Never since I lived have they gone south so soon.” Again she shuddered slightly, then she spoke slowly: “I also have dreamed, and I will follow my dream. I dreamed”–she knelt down beside her mother and rested her hands in her mother’s lap–“I dreamed that there was a wall of hills dark and heavy and far away, and that whenever my eyes looked at them they burned with tears; and yet I looked and looked, till my heart was like lead in my breast; and I turned from them to the rivers and the plains that I loved. But a voice kept calling to me, ‘Come, come! Beyond the hills is a happy land. The trail is hard, and your feet will bleed, but beyond is the happy land.’ And I would not go for the voice that spoke, and at last there came an old man in my dream and spoke to me kindly, and said, ‘Come with me, and I will show thee the way over the hills to the Lodge where thou shalt find what thou hast lost!’ And I said to him, ‘I have lost nothing’; and I would not go. Twice I dreamed this dream, and twice the old man came, and three times I dreamed it; and then I spoke angrily to him, as but now I did to thee; and behold he changed before my eyes, and I saw that he was now become–” She stopped short, and buried her face in her hands for a moment, then recovered herself. “Breaking Rock it was I saw before me, and I cried out and fled. Then I waked with a cry, but my man was beside me, and his arm was round my neck; and this dream, is it not a foolish dream, my mother?”

The old woman sat silent, clasping the hands of her daughter firmly, and looking out of the wide doorway toward the trees that fringed the river; and presently, as she looked, her face changed and grew pinched all at once, and Mitiahwe, looking at her, turned a startled face toward the river also.

“Breaking Rock!” she said, in alarm, and got to her feet quickly.

Breaking Rock stood for a moment looking toward the lodge, then came slowly forward to them. Never in all the four years had he approached this lodge of Mitiahwe, who, the daughter of a chief, should have married himself, the son of a chief! Slowly, but with long, slouching stride, Breaking Rock came nearer. The two women watched him without speaking. Instinctively they knew that he brought news, that something had happened; yet Mitiahwe felt at her belt for what no Indian girl would be without; and this one was a gift from her man on the anniversary of the day she first came to his lodge.

Breaking Rock was at the door now, his beady eyes fixed on Mitiahwe’s, his figure jerked to its full height, which made him, even then, two inches less than Long Hand. He spoke in a loud voice:

“The last boat this year goes down the river to-morrow. Long Hand, your man, is going to his people. He will not come back. He has had enough of the Blackfoot woman. You will see him no more.” He waved a hand to the sky. “The birds are going south. A hard winter is coming quick. You will be alone. Breaking Rock is rich. He has five hundred horses. Your man is going to his own people. Let him go. He is no man. It is four years, and still there are but two in your lodge. How!”

He swung on his heel with a chuckle in his throat, for he thought he had said a good thing, and that in truth he was worth twenty white men. His quick ear caught a movement behind him, however, and he saw the girl spring from the lodge-door, something flashing from her belt. But now the mother’s arms were round her, with cries of protest, and Breaking Rock, with another laugh, slipped away softly toward the river.

“That is good,” he muttered. “She will kill him, perhaps, when she goes to him. She will go, but he will not stay. I have heard.”

As he disappeared among the trees, Mitiahwe disengaged herself from her mother’s arms, went slowly back into the lodge, and sat down on the great couch where for so many moons she had lain with her man beside her.

Her mother watched her closely, though she moved about doing little things. She was trying to think what she would have done if such a thing had happened to her, if her man had been going to leave her. She assumed that Dingan would leave Mitiahwe, for he would hear the voices of his people calling far away, even as the red man who went East into the great cities heard the prairies and the mountains and the rivers and his own people calling, and came back, and put off the clothes of civilization, and donned his buckskins again, and sat in the Medicine Man’s tent, and heard the spirits speak to him through the mist and smoke of the sacred fire. When Swift Wing first gave her daughter to the white man she foresaw the danger now at hand, but this was the tribute of the lower race to the higher, and–who could tell? White men had left their Indian wives, but had come back again, and forever renounced the life of their own nations, and become great chiefs, teaching useful things to their adopted people, bringing up their children as tribesmen–bringing up their children! There it was, the thing which called them back, the bright-eyed children, with the color of the brown prairie in their faces, and their brains so sharp and strong. But here was no child to call Dingan back, only the eloquent, brave, sweet face of Mitiahwe….. If he went! Would he go? Was he going? And now that Mitiahwe had been told that he would go, what would she do? In her belt was–but, no, that would be worse than all, and she would lose Mitiahwe, her last child, as she had lost so many others. What would she herself do if she were in Mitiahwe’s place? Ah, she would make him stay somehow–by truth or by falsehood; by the whispered story in the long night; by her head upon his knee before the lodge-fire, and her eyes fixed on his, luring him, as the dream lures the dreamer into the far trail, to find the Sun’s hunting-ground, where the plains are filled with the deer and the buffalo and the wild horse; by the smell of the cooking-pot and the favorite spiced drink in the morning; by the child that ran to him with his bow and arrows and the cry of the hunter–but there was no child; she had forgotten. She was always recalling her own happy early life with her man, and the clean-faced papooses that crowded round his knee–one wife and many children, and the old Harvester of the Years reaping them so fast, till the children stood up as tall as their father and chief. That was long ago, and she had had her share–twenty-five years of happiness; but Mitiahwe had had only four. She looked at Mitiahwe, standing still for a moment like one rapt, then suddenly she gave a little cry. Something had come into her mind, some solution of the problem, and she ran and stooped over the girl and put both hands on her head.

See also  Orpheus in Mayfair by Maurice Baring

“Mitiahwe, heart’s blood of mine,” she said, “the birds go south, but they return. What matter if they go so soon, if they return soon. If the Sun wills that the winter be dark, and he sends the Coldmaker to close the rivers and drive the wild ones far from the arrow and the gun, yet he may be sorry, and send a second summer–has it not been so, and the Coldmaker has hurried away–away! The birds go south, but they will return, Mitiahwe.”

“I heard a cry in the night while my man slept,” Mitiahwe answered, looking straight before her, “and it was like the cry of a bird–calling, calling, calling.”

“But he did not hear–he was asleep beside Mitiahwe. If he did not wake, surely it was good-luck. Thy breath upon his face kept him sleeping. Surely it was good-luck to Mitiahwe that he did not hear.”

She was smiling a little now, for she had thought of a thing which would, perhaps, keep the man here in this lodge in the wilderness; but the time to speak of it was not yet. She must wait and see.

Suddenly Mitiahwe got to her feet with a spring, and a light in her eyes. “Hai-yai!” she said with plaintive smiling, ran to a corner of the lodge, and from a leather bag drew forth a horseshoe and looked at it, murmuring to herself.

The old woman gazed at her wonderingly. “What is it, Mitiahwe?” she asked.

“It is good-luck. So my man has said. It is the way of his people. It is put over the door, and if a dream come it is a good dream; and if a bad thing come, it will not enter; and if the heart prays for a thing hid from all the world, then it brings good-luck. Hai-yai! I will put it over the door, and then–” All at once her hand dropped to her side, as though some terrible thought had come to her, and, sinking to the floor, she rocked her body backward and forward for a time, sobbing. But presently she got to her feet again, and, going to the door of the lodge, fastened the horseshoe above it with a great needle and a string of buckskin.

“O great Sun,” she prayed, “have pity on me and save me. I cannot live alone. I am only a Blackfoot wife; I am not blood of his blood. Give, O great One, blood of his blood, bone of his bone, soul of his soul, that he will say, ‘This is mine, body of my body,’ and he will hear the cry and will stay. O great Sun, pity me!”

The old woman’s heart beat faster as she listened. The same thought was in the mind of both. If there were but a child, bone of his bone, then perhaps he would not go; or, if he went, then surely he would return when he heard his papoose calling in the lodge in the wilderness.

As Mitiahwe turned to her, a strange burning light in her eyes, Swift Wing said: “It is good. The white man’s Medicine for a white man’s wife. But if there were the red man’s Medicine too–“

“What is the red man’s Medicine?” asked the young wife, as she smoothed her hair, put a string of bright beads around her neck, and wound a red sash round her waist.

The old woman shook her head, a curious, half-mystic light in her eyes, her body drawn up to its full height, as though waiting for something. “It is an old Medicine. It is of winters ago as many as the hairs of the head. I have forgotten almost, but it was a great Medicine when there were no white men in the land. And so it was that to every woman’s breast there hung a papoose, and every woman had her man, and the red men were like leaves in the forest–but it was a winter of winters ago, and the Medicine Men have forgotten; and thou hast no child! When Long Hand comes, what will Mitiahwe say to him?”

Mitiahwe’s eyes were determined, her face was set, she flushed deeply, then the color fled. “What my mother would say, I will say. Shall the white man’s Medicine fail? If I wish it, then it will be so; and I will say so.”

See also  "Jacky-My-Lantern" by Joel Chandler Harris

“But if the white man’s Medicine fail?” Swift Wing made a gesture toward the door where the horseshoe hung. “It is Medicine for a white man, will it be Medicine for an Indian?”

“Am I not a white man’s wife?”

“But if there were the Sun Medicine also, the Medicine of the days long ago?”

“Tell me. If you remember–Kai! but you do remember–I see it in your face. Tell me, and I will make that Medicine also, my mother.”

“To-morrow, if I remember it–I will think, and if I remember it, to-morrow I will tell you, my heart’s blood. Maybe my dream will come to me and tell me. Then, even after all these years a papoose–“

“But the boat will go at dawn to-morrow, and if he go also–“

“Mitiahwe is young, her body is warm, her eyes are bright, the songs she sings, her tongue–if these keep him not, and the Voice calls him still to go, then still Mitiahwe shall whisper, and tell him–“

Hai-yo–hush,” said the girl, and trembled a little, and put both hands on her mother’s mouth.

For a moment she stood so, then with an exclamation suddenly turned and ran through the doorway, and sped toward the river, and into the path which would take her to the post, where her man traded with the Indians and had made much money during the past six years, so that he could have had a thousand horses and ten lodges like that she had just left. The distance between the lodge and the post was no more than a mile, but Mitiahwe made a detour, and approached it from behind, where she could not be seen. Darkness was gathering now, and she could see the glimmer of the light of lamps through the windows, and as the doors opened and shut. No one had seen her approach, and she stole through a door which was open at the rear of the warehousing room, and went quickly to another door leading into the shop. There was a crack through which she could see, and she could hear all that was said. As she came she had seen Indians gliding through the woods with their purchases, and now the shop was clearing fast, in response to the urging of Dingan and his partner, a Scotch half-breed. It was evident that Dingan was at once abstracted and excited.

Presently only two visitors were left–a French half-breed called Lablache, a swaggering, vicious fellow, and the captain of the steamer Ste. Anne, which was to make its last trip south in the morning–even now it would have to break its way through the young ice.

Dingan’s partner dropped a bar across the door of the shop, and the four men gathered about the fire. For a time no one spoke. At last the captain of the Ste. Anne said: “It’s a great chance, Dingan. You’ll be in civilization again, and in a rising town of white people–Groise’ll be a city in five years, and you can grow up and grow rich with the place. The Company asked me to lay it all before you, and Lablache here will buy out your share of the business, at whatever your partner and you prove it’s worth. You’re young; you’ve got everything before you. You’ve made a name out here for being the best trader west of the Great Lakes, and now’s your time. It’s none of my affair, of course, but I like to carry through what I’m set to do, and the Company said, ‘You bring Dingan back with you. The place is waiting for him, and it can’t wait longer than the last boat down.’ You’re ready to step in when he steps out, ain’t you, Lablache?”

Lablache shook back his long hair, and rolled about in his pride. “I give him cash for his share to-night–some one is behin’ me, sacre, yes! It is worth so much, I pay and step in–I take the place over. I take half the business here, and I work with Dingan’s partner. I take your horses, Dingan, I take your lodge, I take all in your lodge–everyt’ing.”

His eyes glistened, and a red spot came to each cheek as he leaned forward. At his last word Dingan, who had been standing abstractedly listening as it were, swung round on him with a muttered oath, and the skin of his face appeared to tighten. Watching through the crack of the door, Mitiahwe saw the look she knew well, though it had never been turned on her, and her heart beat faster. It was a look that came into Dingan’s face whenever Breaking Rock crossed his path, or when one or two other names were mentioned in his presence, for they were names of men who had spoken of Mitiahwe lightly, and had attempted to be jocular about her.

As Mitiahwe looked at him, now unknown to himself, she was conscious of what that last word of Lablache’s meant. Everyt’ing meant herself. Lablache–who had neither the good qualities of the white man nor the Indian, but who had the brains of the one and the subtlety of the other, and whose only virtue was that he was a successful trader, though he looked like a mere woodsman, with rings in his ears, gayly decorated buckskin coat and moccasins, and a furtive smile always on his lips! Everyt’ing! Her blood ran cold at the thought of dropping the lodge-curtain upon this man and herself alone. For no other man than Dingan had her blood run faster, and he had made her life blossom. She had seen in many a half-breed’s and in many an Indian’s face the look which was now in that of Lablache, and her fingers gripped softly the thing in her belt that had flashed out on Breaking Rock such a short while ago. As she looked, it seemed for a moment as though Dingan would open the door and throw Lablache out, for in quick reflection his eyes ran from the man to the wooden bar across the door.

“You’ll talk of the shop, and the shop only, Lablache,” he said, grimly. “I’m not huckstering my home, and I’d choose the buyer if I was selling. My lodge ain’t to be bought, nor anything in it–not even the broom to keep it clean of any half-breeds that’d enter it without leave.”

There was malice in the words, but there was greater malice in the tone, and Lablache, who was bent on getting the business, swallowed his ugly wrath, and determined that, if he got the business, he would get the lodge also in due time; for Dingan, if he went, would not take the lodge–or the woman–with him; and Dingan was not fool enough to stay when he could go to Groise to a sure fortune.

See also  The Twins and a Wedding by L. M. Montgomery

The captain of the Ste. Anne again spoke. “There’s another thing the Company said, Dingan. You needn’t go to Groise, not at once. You can take a month and visit your folks down East, and lay in a stock of home-feelings before you settle down at Groise for good. They was fair when I put it to them that you’d mebbe want to do that. ‘You tell Dingan,’ they said, ‘that he can have the month glad and grateful, and a free ticket on the railway back and forth. He can have it at once,’ they said.”

Watching, Mitiahwe could see her man’s face brighten, and take on a look of longing at this suggestion; and it seemed to her that the bird she heard in the night was calling in his ears now. Her eyes went blind for a moment.

“The game is with you, Dingan. All the cards are in your hands; you’ll never get such another chance again; and you’re only thirty,” said the captain.

“I wish they’d ask me,” said Dingan’s partner, with a sigh, as he looked at Lablache. “I want my chance bad, though we’ve done well here–good gosh, yes, all through Dingan.”

“The winters, they go queeck in Groise,” said Lablache. “It is life all the time, trade all the time, plenty to do and see–and a bon fortune to make, bagosh!”

“Your old home was in Nova Scotia, wasn’t it, Dingan?” asked the captain, in a low voice. “I kem from Connecticut, and I was East to my village las’ year. It was good, seein’ all my old friends again; but I kem back content, I kem back full of home-feelin’s and content. You’ll like the trip, Dingan. It’ll do you good.”

Dingan drew himself up with a start. “All right. I guess I’ll do it. Let’s figure up again,” he said to his partner, with a reckless air.

With a smothered cry Mitiahwe turned and fled into the darkness, and back to the lodge. The lodge was empty. She threw herself upon the great couch in an agony of despair.

A half-hour went by. Then she rose, and began to prepare supper. Her face was aflame, her manner was determined, and once or twice her hand went to her belt, as though to assure herself of something.

Never had the lodge looked so bright and cheerful; never had she prepared so appetizing a supper; never had the great couch seemed so soft and rich with furs, so homelike and so inviting after a long day’s work. Never had Mitiahwe seemed so good to look at, so graceful and alert and refined–suffering does its work even in the wild woods, with “wild people.” Never had the lodge such an air of welcome and peace and home as to-night; and so Dingan thought as he drew aside the wide curtains of deerskin and entered.

Mitiahwe was bending over the fire, and appeared not to hear him. “Mitiahwe,” he said, gently. She was singing to herself, to an Indian air, the words of a song Dingan had taught her: [bb]!!!! “Open the door: cold is the night, and my feet are heavy, Heap up the fire, scatter upon it the cones and the scented leaves; Spread the soft robe on the couch for the chief that returns, Bring forth the cup of remembrance–” [bb] It was like a low recitative, and it had a plaintive cadence, as of a dove that mourned.

“Mitiahwe,” he said, in a louder voice, but with a break in it, too; for it all rushed upon him, all that she had been to him–all that had made the great West glow with life, made the air sweeter, the grass greener, the trees more companionable and human: who it was that had given the waste places a voice. Yet–yet, there were his own people in the East, there was another life waiting for him, there was the life of ambition and wealth, and, and home–and children.

His eyes were misty as she turned to him with a little cry of surprise, how much natural and how much assumed–for she had heard him enter–it would have been hard to say. She was a woman, and therefore the daughter of pretence even when most real. He caught her by both arms as she shyly but eagerly came to him. “Good girl, good little girl,” he said. He looked round him. “Well, I’ve never seen our lodge look nicer than it does to-night; and the fire, and the pot on the fire, and the smell of the pine-cones, and the cedar-boughs, and the skins, and–“

“And everything,” she said, with a queer little laugh, as she moved away again to turn the steaks on the fire.

Everything! He started at the word. It was so strange that she should use it by accident, when but a little while ago he had been ready to choke the wind out of a man’s body for using it concerning herself.

It stunned him for a moment, for the West, and the life apart from the world of cities, had given him superstition, like that of the Indians, whose life he had made his own.

Herself!–to leave her here, who had been so much to him? As true as the sun she worshipped, her eyes had never lingered on another man since she came to his lodge; and, to her mind, she was as truly sacredly married to him as though a thousand priests had spoken, or a thousand Medicine Men had made their incantations. She was his woman and he was her man. As he chatted to her, telling her of much that he had done that day, and wondering how he could tell her of all he had done, he kept looking round the lodge, his eye resting on this or that; and everything had its own personal history, had become part of their lodge-life, because it had a use as between him and her, and not a conventional domestic place. Every skin, every utensil, every pitcher and bowl and pot and curtain had been with them at one time or another when it became of importance and renowned in the story of their days and deeds.

How could he break it to her–that he was going to visit his own people, and that she must be alone with her mother all winter, to await his return in the spring? His return? As he watched her sitting beside him, helping him to his favorite dish, the close, companionable trust and gentleness of her, her exquisite cleanness and grace in his eyes, he asked himself if, after all, it was not true that he would return in the spring. The years had passed without his seriously thinking of this inevitable day. He had put it off and off, content to live each hour as it came and take no real thought for the future; and yet, behind all was the warning fact that he must go one day, and that Mitiahwe could not go with him. Her mother must have known that when she let Mitiahwe come to him. Of course; and, after all, she would find another mate, a better mate, one of her own people.

See also  The Party from Gibbet Island

But her hand was in his now, and it was small and very warm, and suddenly he shook with anger at the thought of one like Breaking Rock taking her to his wigwam; or Lablache–this roused him to an inward fury; and Mitiahwe saw and guessed the struggle that was going on in him, and she leaned her head against his shoulder, and once she raised his hand to her lips, and said, “My chief!”

Then his face cleared again, and she got him his pipe and filled it, and held a coal to light it; and, as the smoke curled up, and he leaned back contentedly for the moment, she went to the door, drew open the curtains, and, stepping outside, raised her eyes to the horseshoe. Then she said softly to the sky: “O Sun, great Father, have pity on me, for I love him, and would keep him. And give me bone of his bone, and one to nurse at my breast that is of him. O Sun, pity me this night, and be near me when I speak to him, and hear what I say.”

“What are you doing out there, Mitiahwe?” Dingan cried; and when she entered again he beckoned her to him. “What was it you were saying? Who were you speaking to?” he asked. “I heard your voice.”

“I was thanking the Sun for his goodness to me. I was speaking for the thing that is in my heart, that is life of my life,” she added, vaguely.

“Well, I have something to say to you, little girl,” he said, with an effort.

She remained erect before him waiting for the blow–outwardly calm, inwardly crying out in pain. “Do you think you could stand a little parting?” he asked, reaching out and touching her shoulder.

“I have been alone before–for five days,” she answered, quietly.

“But it must be longer this time.”

“How long?” she asked, with eyes fixed on his. “If it is more than a week, I will go too.”

“It is longer than a month,” he said.

“Then I will go.”

“I am going to see my people,” he faltered.

“By the Ste. Anne?

He nodded. “It is the last chance this year; but I will come back–in the spring.”

As he said it he saw her shrink, and his heart smote him. Four years such as few men ever spent, and all the luck had been with him, and the West had got into his bones! The quiet, starry nights, the wonderful days, the hunt, the long journeys, the life free of care, and the warm lodge; and, here, the great couch–ah, the cheek pressed to his, the lips that whispered at his ear, the smooth arm round his neck. It all rushed upon him now. His people! His people in the East, who had thwarted his youth, vexed and cramped him, saw only evil in his widening desires, and threw him over when he came out West–the scallywag, they called him, who had never wronged a man–or a woman? Never–wronged–a–woman? The question sprang to his lips now. Suddenly he saw it all in a new light. White or brown or red, this heart and soul and body before him were all his, sacred to him; he was in very truth her “chief.”

Untutored as she was, she read him, felt what was going on in him. She saw the tears spring to his eyes. Then, coming close to him, she said, softly, slowly: “I must go with you if you go, because you must be with me when–Oh, hai-yai, my chief, shall we go from here? Here in this lodge wilt thou be with thine own people–thine own, thou and I–and thine to come.” The great passion in her heart made the lie seem very truth.

With a cry he got to his feet, and stood staring at her for a moment, scarcely comprehending; then suddenly he clasped her in his arms.

“Mitiahwe–Mitiahwe, oh, my little girl!” he cried. “You and me–and our own–our own people!” Kissing her, he drew her down beside him on the couch. “Tell me again–is it so at last?” he said, and she whispered in his ear once more.

In the middle of the night he said to her, “Some day, perhaps, we will go East–some day, perhaps.”

“But now?” she asked, softly.

“Not now–not if I know it,” he answered. “I’ve got my heart nailed to the door of this lodge.”

As he slept she got quietly out, and, going to the door of the lodge, reached up a hand and touched the horseshoe.

“Be good Medicine to me,” she said. Then she prayed. “O Sun, pity me, that it may be as I have said to him. Oh, pity me, great Father!”

In the days to come Swift Wing said that it was her Medicine–when her hand was burned to the wrist in the dark ritual she had performed with the Medicine Man the night that Mitiahwe fought for her man; but Mitiahwe said it was her Medicine, the horseshoe, which brought one of Dingan’s own people to the lodge–a little girl with Mitiahwe’s eyes and form and her father’s face. Truth has many mysteries, and the faith of the woman was great; and so it was that, to the long end, Mitiahwe kept her man. But truly she was altogether a woman, and had good-fortune.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *