Story type: Literature
“But I’m white; I’m not an Indian. My father was a white man. I’ve been brought up as a white girl. I’ve had a white girl’s schooling.”
Her eyes flashed as she sprang to her feet and walked up and down the room for a moment, then stood still, facing her mother–a dark-faced, pock-marked woman, with heavy, somnolent eyes–and waited for her to speak. The reply came slowly and sullenly:
“I am a Blackfoot woman. I lived on the Muskwat River among the braves for thirty years. I have killed buffalo. I have seen battles. Men, too, I have killed when they came to steal our horses and crept in on our lodges in the night–the Crees! I am a Blackfoot. You are the daughter of a Blackfoot woman. No medicine can cure that. Sit down. You have no sense. You are not white. They will not have you. Sit down.”
The girl’s handsome face flushed; she threw up her hands in an agony of protest. A dreadful anger was in her panting breast, but she could not speak. She seemed to choke with excess of feeling. For an instant she stood still, trembling with agitation, then she sat down suddenly on a great couch covered with soft deer-skins and buffalo robes. There was deep in her the habit of obedience to this sombre but striking woman. She had been ruled firmly, almost oppressively, and she had not yet revolted. Seated on the couch, she gazed out of the window at the flying snow, her brain too much on fire for thought, passion beating like a pulse in all her lithe and graceful young body, which had known the storms of life and time for only twenty years.
The wind shrieked and the snow swept past in clouds of blinding drift, completely hiding from sight the town below them, whose civilization had built itself many habitations and was making roads and streets on the green-brown plain, where herds of buffalo had stamped and streamed and thundered not long ago. The town was a mile and a half away, and these two were alone in a great circle of storm, one of them battling against a tempest which might yet overtake her, against which she had set her face ever since she could remember; though it had only come to violence since her father died two years before–a careless, strong, wilful white man, who had lived the Indian life for many years, but had been swallowed at last by the great wave of civilization streaming westward and northward, wiping out the game and the Indian, and overwhelming the rough, fighting, hunting, pioneer life. Joel Renton had made money, by good luck chiefly, having held land here and there which he had got for nothing, and had then almost forgotten about it, and, when reminded of it, still held on to it with that defiant stubbornness which often possesses improvident and careless natures. He had never had any real business instinct, and to swagger a little over the land he held and to treat offers of purchase with contempt was the loud assertion of a capacity he did not possess. So it was that stubborn vanity, beneath which was his angry protest against the prejudice felt by the new people of the West for the white pioneer who married an Indian and lived the Indian life–so it was that this gave him competence and a comfortable home after the old trader had been driven out by the railway and the shopkeeper. With the first land he sold he sent his daughter away to school in a town farther east and south, where she had been brought in touch with a life that at once cramped and attracted her; where, too, she had felt the first chill of racial ostracism, and had proudly fought it to the end, her weapons being talent, industry, and a hot, defiant ambition.
There had been three years of bitter, almost half-sullen, struggle, lightened by one sweet friendship with a girl whose face she had since drawn in a hundred different poses on stray pieces of paper, on the walls of the big, well-lighted attic to which she retreated for hours every day, when she was not abroad on the prairies, riding the Indian pony that her uncle the Piegan Chief, Ice Breaker, had given her years before. Three years of struggle, and then her father had died, and the refuge for her vexed, defiant heart was gone. While he lived she could affirm the rights of a white man’s daughter, the rights of the daughter of a pioneer who had helped to make the West; and her pride in him had given a glow to her cheek and a spring to her step which drew every eye. In the chief street of Portage la Drome men would stop their trafficking and women nudge one another when she passed, and wherever she went she stirred interest, excited admiration, or aroused prejudice–but the prejudice did not matter so long as her father, Joel Renton, lived. Whatever his faults, and they were many–sometimes he drank too much, and swore a great deal, and bullied and stormed–she blinked at them all, for he was of the conquering race, a white man who had slept in white sheets and eaten off white tablecloths, and used a knife and fork, since he was born; and the women of his people had had soft petticoats and fine stockings, and silk gowns for festal days, and feathered hats of velvet, and shoes of polished leather, always and always, back through many generations. She had held her head high, for she was of his women, of the women of his people, with all their rights and all their claims. She had held it high till that stormy day–just such a day as this, with the surf of snow breaking against the house–when they carried him in out of the wild turmoil and snow, laying him on the couch where she now sat, and her head fell on his lifeless breast, and she cried out to him in vain to come back to her.
Before the world her head was still held high, but in the attic-room, and out on the prairies far away, where only the coyote or the prairie hen saw, her head drooped, and her eyes grew heavy with pain and sombre protest. Once in an agony of loneliness, and cruelly hurt by a conspicuous slight put upon her at the Portage by the wife of the Reeve of the town, who had daughters twain of pure white blood got from behind the bar of a saloon in Winnipeg, she had thrown open her window at night, with the frost below zero, and stood in her thin nightdress, craving the death which she hoped the cold would give her soon. It had not availed, however, and once again she had ridden out in a blizzard to die, but had come upon a man lost in the snow, and her own misery had passed from her, and her heart, full of the blood of plainsmen, had done for another what it would not do for itself. The Indian in her had, with strange, sure instinct, found its way to Portage la Drome, the man, with both hands and one foot frozen, on her pony, she walking at his side, only conscious that she had saved one, not two lives that day.
Here was another such day, here again was the storm in her heart which had driven her into the plains that other time, and here again was that tempest of white death outside.
“You have no sense. You are not white. They will not have you. Sit down–” The words had fallen on her ears with a cold, deadly smother. There came a chill upon her which stilled the wild pulses in her, which suddenly robbed the eyes of their brightness and gave a drawn look to the face.
“You are not white. They will not have you, Pauline.” The Indian mother repeated the words after a moment, her eyes grown still more gloomy; for in her, too, there was a dark tide of passion moving. In all the outlived years this girl had ever turned to the white father rather than to her, and she had been left more and more alone. Her man had been kind to her, and she had been a faithful wife, but she had resented the natural instinct of her half-breed child, almost white herself and with the feelings and ways of the whites, to turn always to her father, as though to a superior guide, to a higher influence and authority. Was not she herself the descendant of Blackfoot and Piegan chiefs through generations of rulers and warriors? Was there not Piegan and Blackfoot blood in the girl’s veins? Must only the white man’s blood be reckoned when they made up their daily account and balanced the books of their lives, credit and debtor–misunderstanding and kind act, neglect and tenderness, reproof and praise, gentleness and impulse, anger and caress–to be set down in the everlasting record? Why must the Indian always give way–Indian habits, Indian desires, the Indian way of doing things, the Indian point of view, Indian food, Indian medicine? Was it all bad, and only that which belonged to white life good?
“Look at your face in the glass, Pauline,” she added, at last. “You are good-looking, but it isn’t the good looks of the whites. The lodge of a chieftainess is the place for you. There you would have praise and honor; among the whites you are only a half-breed. What is the good? Let us go back to the life out there beyond the Muskwat River–up beyond. There is hunting still, a little, and the world is quiet, and nothing troubles. Only the wild dog barks at night, or the wolf sniffs at the door, and all day there is singing. Somewhere out beyond the Muskwat the feasts go on, and the old men build the great fires, and tell tales, and call the wind out of the north, and make the thunder speak; and the young men ride to the hunt or go out to battle, and build lodges for the daughters of the tribe; and each man has his woman, and each woman has in her breast the honor of the tribe, and the little ones fill the lodge with laughter. Like a pocket of deerskin is every house, warm and small and full of good things. Hai-yai, what is this life to that! There you will be head and chief of all, for there is money enough for a thousand horses; and your father was a white man, and these are the days when the white man rules. Like clouds before the sun are the races of men, and one race rises and another falls. Here you are not first, but last; and the child of the white father and mother, though they be as the dirt that flies from a horse’s heels, it is before you. Your mother is a Blackfoot.”
As the woman spoke slowly and with many pauses, the girl’s mood changed, and there came into her eyes a strange, dark look deeper than anger. She listened with a sudden patience which stilled the agitation in her breast and gave a little touch of rigidity to her figure. Her eyes withdrew from the wild storm without and gravely settled on her mother’s face, and with the Indian woman’s last words understanding pierced, but did not dispel, the sombre and ominous look in her eyes.
There was silence for a moment, and then she spoke almost as evenly as her mother had done.
“I will tell you everything. You are my mother, and I love you; but you will not see the truth. When my father took you from the lodges and brought you here, it was the end of the Indian life. It was for you to go on with him, but you would not go. I was young, but I saw, and I said that in all things I would go with him. I did not know that it would be hard, but at school, at the very first, I began to understand. There was only one, a French girl–I loved her–a girl who said to me, ‘You are as white as I am, as any one, and your heart is the same, and you are beautiful.’ Yes, Manette said I was beautiful.”
She paused a moment, a misty, far-away look came into her eyes, her fingers clasped and unclasped, and she added:
“And her brother, Julien–he was older–when he came to visit Manette he spoke to me as though I was all white, and was good to me. I have never forgotten, never. It was five years ago, but I remember him. He was tall and strong, and as good as Manette–as good as Manette. I loved Manette, but she suffered for me, for I was not like the others, and my ways were different–then. I had lived up there on the Warais among the lodges, and I had not seen things–only from my father, and he did so much in an Indian way. So I was sick at heart, and sometimes I wanted to die; and once–But there was Manette, and she would laugh and sing, and we would play together, and I would speak French and she would speak English, and I learned from her to forget the Indian ways. What were they to me? I had loved them when I was of them, but I came on to a better life. The Indian life is to the white life as the parfleche pouch to–to this.” She laid her hand upon a purse of delicate silver mesh hanging at her waist. “When your eyes are opened you must go on, you cannot stop. There is no going back. When you have read of all there is in the white man’s world, when you have seen, then there is no returning. You may end it all, if you wish, in the snow, in the river, but there is no returning. The lodge of a chief–ah, if my father had heard you say that–!”
The Indian woman shifted heavily in her chair, then shrank away from the look fixed on her. Once or twice she made as if she would speak, but sank down in the great chair, helpless and dismayed.
“The lodge of a chief!” the girl continued, in a low, bitter voice. “What is the lodge of a chief? A smoky fire, a pot, a bed of skins–aih-yi! If the lodges of the Indians were millions, and I could be head of all, and rule the land, yet would I rather be a white girl in the hut of her white man, struggling for daily bread among the people who sweep the buffalo out, but open up the land with the plough, and make a thousand live where one lived before. It is peace you want, my mother, peace and solitude, in which the soul goes to sleep. Your days of hope are over, and you want to drowse by the fire. I want to see the white man’s cities grow, and the armies coming over the hill with the ploughs and the reapers and the mowers, and the wheels and the belts and engines of the great factories, and the white woman’s life spreading everywhere; for I am a white man’s daughter. I can’t be both Indian and white. I will not be like the sun when the shadow cuts across it and the land grows dark. I will not be half-breed. I will be white or I will be Indian; and I will be white, white only. My heart is white, my tongue is white, I think, I feel, as white people think and feel. What they wish, I wish; as they live, I live; as white women dress, I dress.”
She involuntarily drew up the dark-red skirt she wore, showing a white petticoat and a pair of fine stockings on an ankle as shapely as she had ever seen among all the white women she knew. She drew herself up with pride, and her body had a grace and ease which the white woman’s convention had not cramped.
Yet, with all her protests, no one would have thought her English. She might have been Spanish, or Italian, or Roumanian, or Slav, though nothing of her Indian blood showed in purely Indian characteristics, and something sparkled in her, gave a radiance to her face and figure which the storm and struggle in her did not smother. The white women of Portage la Drome were too blind, too prejudiced, to see all that she really was, and admiring white men could do little, for Pauline would have nothing to do with them till the women met her absolutely as an equal; and from the other half-breeds, who intermarried with one another and were content to take a lower place than the pure whites, she held aloof, save when any of them was ill or in trouble. Then she recognized the claim of race, and came to their doors with pity and soft impulses to help them. French and Scotch and English half-breeds, as they were, they understood how she was making a fight for all who were half-Indian, half-white, and watched her with a furtive devotion, acknowledging her superior place, and proud of it.
“I will not stay here,” said the Indian mother, with sullen stubbornness. “I will go back beyond the Warais. My life is my own life, and I will do what I like with it.”
The girl started, but became composed again on the instant. “Is your life all your own, mother?” she asked. “I did not come into the world of my own will. If I had I would have come all white or all Indian. I am your daughter, and I am here, good or bad–is your life all your own?”
“You can marry and stay here, when I go. You are twenty. I had my man, your father, when I was seventeen. You can marry. There are men. You have money. They will marry you–and forget the rest.”
With a cry of rage and misery the girl sprang to her feet and started forward, but stopped suddenly at sound of a hasty knocking and a voice asking admittance. An instant later, a huge, bearded, broad-shouldered man stepped inside, shaking himself free of the snow, laughing half-sheepishly as he did so, and laying his fur cap and gloves with exaggerated care on the wide window-sill.
“John Alloway,” said the Indian woman, in a voice of welcome and with a brightening eye, for it would seem as though he came in answer to her words of a few moments before. With a mother’s instinct she had divined at once the reason for the visit, though no warning thought crossed the mind of the girl, who placed a chair for their visitor with a heartiness which was real–was not this the white man she had saved from death in the snow a year ago? Her heart was soft toward the life she had kept in the world. She smiled at him, all the anger gone from her eyes, and there was almost a touch of tender anxiety in her voice as she said:
“What brought you out in this blizzard? It wasn’t safe. It doesn’t seem possible you got here from the Portage.”
The huge ranchman and auctioneer laughed cheerily. “Once lost, twice get there,” he exclaimed, with a quizzical toss of the head, thinking he had said a good thing. “It’s a year ago to the very day that I was lost out back”–he jerked a thumb over his shoulder–“and you picked me up and brought me in; and what was I to do but come out on the anniversary and say thank you? I’d fixed up all year to come to you, and I wasn’t to be stopped, ’cause it was like the day we first met, old Coldmaker hitting the world with his whips of frost, and shaking his ragged blankets of snow over the wild West.”
“Just such a day,” said the Indian woman, after a pause. Pauline remained silent, placing a little bottle of cordial before their visitor, with which he presently regaled himself, raising his glass with an air.
“Many happy returns to us both!” he said, and threw the liqueur down his throat, smacked his lips, and drew his hand down his great mustache and beard, like some vast animal washing its face with its paw. Smiling, and yet not at ease, he looked at the two women and nodded his head encouragingly, but whether the encouragement was for himself or for them he could not have told.
His last words, however, had altered the situation. The girl had caught at a suggestion in them which startled her. This rough, white plainsman was come to make love to her, and to say–what? He was at once awkward and confident, afraid of her, of her refinement, grace, beauty, and education, and yet confident in the advantage of his position, a white man bending to a half-breed girl. He was not conscious of the condescension and majesty of his demeanor, but it was there, and his untutored words and ways must make it all too apparent to the girl. The revelation of the moment made her at once triumphant and humiliated. This white man had come to make love to her, that was apparent; but that he, ungrammatical, crude, and rough, should think he had but to put out his hand, and she in whom every subtle emotion and influence had delicate response, whose words and ways were as far removed from his as day from night, would fly to him, brought the flush of indignation to her cheek. She responded to his toast with a pleasant nod, however, and said:
“But if you will keep coming in such wild storms, there will not be many anniversaries.” Laughing, she poured out another glass of liqueur for him.
“Well, now, p’r’aps you’re right, and so the only thing to do is not to keep coming, but to stay–stay right where you are.”
The Indian woman could not see her daughter’s face, which was turned to the fire, but she herself smiled at John Alloway, and nodded her head approvingly. Here was the cure for her own trouble and loneliness. Pauline and she, who lived in different worlds, and yet were tied to each other by circumstances they could not control, would each work out her own destiny after her own nature, since John Alloway had come a-wooing. She would go back on the Warais, and Pauline would remain at the Portage, a white woman with her white man. She would go back to the smoky fires in the huddled lodges; to the venison stew and the snake dance; to the feasts of the medicine-men, and the long sleeps in the summer days, and the winter’s tales, and be at rest among her own people; and Pauline would have revenge of the wife of the prancing Reeve, and perhaps the people would forget who her mother was.
With these thoughts flying through her sluggish mind, she rose and moved heavily from the room, with a parting look of encouragement at Alloway, as though to say, a man that is bold is surest.
With her back to the man, Pauline watched her mother leave the room, saw the look she gave Alloway. When the door was closed she turned and looked Alloway in the eyes.
“How old are you?” she asked, suddenly.
He stirred in his seat nervously. “Why, fifty, about,” he answered, with confusion.
“Then you’ll be wise not to go looking for anniversaries in blizzards, when they’re few at the best,” she said, with a gentle and dangerous smile.
“Fifty–why, I’m as young as most men of thirty,” he responded, with an uncertain laugh. “I’d have come here to-day if it had been snowing pitchforks and chain-lightning. I made up my mind I would. You saved my life, that’s dead sure; and I’d be down among the moles if it wasn’t for you and that Piegan pony of yours. Piegan ponies are wonders in a storm–seem to know their way by instinct. You, too–why, I bin on the plains all my life, and was no better than a baby that day; but you–why, you had Piegan in you–why, yes–“
He stopped short for a moment, checked by the look in her face, then went blindly on: “And you’ve got Blackfoot in you, too; and you just felt your way through the tornado and over the blind prairie like a bird reaching for the hills. It was as easy to you as picking out a maverick in a bunch of steers to me. But I never could make out what you was doing on the prairie that terrible day. I’ve thought of it a hundred times. What was you doing, if it ain’t cheek to ask?”
“I was trying to lose a life,” she answered, quietly, her eyes dwelling on his face, yet not seeing him; for it all came back on her, the agony which had driven her out into the tempest to be lost evermore.
He laughed. “Well now, that’s good,” he said; “that’s what they call speaking sarcastic. You was out to save, and not to lose, a life; that was proved to the satisfaction of the court.” He paused and chuckled to himself, thinking he had been witty, and continued: “And I was that court, and my judgment was that the debt of that life you saved had to be paid to you within one calendar year, with interest at the usual per cent. for mortgages on good security. That was my judgment, and there’s no appeal from it. I am the great Justinian in this case!”
“Did you ever save anybody’s life?” she asked, putting the bottle of cordial away, as he filled his glass for the third time.
“Twice certain, and once divided the honors,” he answered, pleased at the question.
“And did you expect to get any pay, with or without interest?” she added.
“Me! I never thought of it again. But yes–by gol, I did! One case was funny, as funny can be. It was Ricky Wharton over on the Muskwat River. I saved his life right enough, and he came to me a year after and said, ‘You saved my life, now what are you going to do with it? I’m stony broke. I owe a hundred dollars, and I wouldn’t be owing it if you hadn’t saved my life. When you saved it I was five hundred to the good, and I’d have left that much behind me. Now I’m on the rocks, because you insisted on saving my life; and you just got to take care of me.’ I ‘insisted’! Well, that knocked me silly, and I took him on–blame me, if I didn’t keep Ricky a whole year, till he went north looking for gold. Get pay?–why, I paid! Saving life has its responsibilities, little gal.”
“You can’t save life without running some risk yourself, not as a rule, can you?” she said, shrinking from his familiarity.
“Not as a rule,” he replied. “You took on a bit of risk with me, you and your Piegan pony.”
“Oh, I was young,” she responded, leaning over the table and drawing faces on a piece of paper before her. “I could take more risks, I was only nineteen!”
“I don’t catch on,” he rejoined. “If it’s sixteen or–“
“Or fifty,” she interposed.
“What difference does it make? If you’re done for, it’s the same at nineteen as fifty, and vicey-versey.”
“No, it’s not the same,” she answered. “You leave so much more that you want to keep, when you go at fifty.”
“Well, I dunno. I never thought of that.”
“There’s all that has belonged to you. You’ve been married, and have children, haven’t you?”
He started, frowned, then straightened himself. “I got one girl–she’s East with her grandmother,” he said, jerkily.
“That’s what I said; there’s more to leave behind at fifty,” she replied, a red spot on each cheek. She was not looking at him, but at the face of a man on the paper before her–a young man with abundant hair, a strong chin, and big, eloquent eyes; and all around his face she had drawn the face of a girl many times, and beneath the faces of both she was writing Manette and Julien.
The water was getting too deep for John Alloway. He floundered toward the shore. “I’m no good at words,” he said–“no good at argyment; but I’ve got a gift for stories–round the fire of a night, with a pipe and tin basin of tea; so I’m not going to try and match you. You’ve had a good education down at Winnipeg. Took every prize, they say, and led the school, though there was plenty of fuss because they let you do it, and let you stay there, being half-Indian. You never heard what was going on outside, I s’pose. It didn’t matter, for you won out. Blamed foolishness, trying to draw the line between red and white that way. Of course, it’s the women always, always the women, striking out for all-white or nothing. Down there at Portage they’ve treated you mean, mean as dirt. The Reeve’s wife–well, we’ll fix that up all right. I guess John Alloway ain’t to be bluffed. He knows too much, and they all know he knows enough. When John Alloway, 32 Main Street, with a ranch on the Katanay, says, ‘We’re coming, Mr. and Mrs. John Alloway is coming,’ they’ll get out their cards visite, I guess.”
Pauline’s head bent lower, and she seemed laboriously etching lines into the faces before her–Manette and Julien, Julien and Manette; and there came into her eyes the youth and light and gayety of the days when Julien came of an afternoon and the riverside rang with laughter–the dearest, lightest days she had ever spent.
The man of fifty went on, seeing nothing but a girl over whom he was presently going to throw the lasso of his affection and take her home with him, yielding and glad, a white man and his half-breed girl–but such a half-breed!
“I seen enough of the way some of them women treated you,” he continued, “and I sez to myself, Her turn next. There’s a way out, I sez, and John Alloway pays his debts. When the anniversary comes round I’ll put things right, I sez to myself. She saved my life, and she shall have the rest of it, if she’ll take it, and will give a receipt in full, and open a new account in the name of John and Pauline Alloway. Catch it? See–Pauline?”
Slowly she got to her feet. There was a look in her eyes such as had been in her mother’s a little while before, but a hundred times intensified, a look that belonged to the flood and flow of generations of Indian life, yet controlled in her by the order and understanding of centuries of white men’s lives, the pervasive, dominating power of race.
For an instant she kept her eyes toward the window. The storm had suddenly ceased, and a glimmer of sunset light was breaking over the distant wastes of snow.
“You want to pay a debt you think you owe,” she said, in a strange, lustreless voice, turning to him at last. “Well, you have paid it. You have given me a book to read which I will keep always. And I give you a receipt in full for your debt.”
“I don’t know about any book,” he answered, dazedly. “I want to marry you right away.”
“I am sorry, but it is not necessary,” she replied, suggestively. Her face was very pale now.
“But I want to. It ain’t a debt. That was only a way of putting it. I want to make you my wife. I got some position, and I can make the West sit up and look at you and be glad.”
Suddenly her anger flared out, low and vivid and fierce, but her words were slow and measured. “There is no reason why I should marry you–not one. You offer me marriage as a prince might give a penny to a beggar. If my mother were not an Indian woman, you would not have taken it all as a matter of course. But my father was a white man, and I am a white man’s daughter, and I would rather marry an Indian, who would think me the best thing there was in the light of the sun, than marry you. Had I been pure white you would not have been so sure; you would have asked, not offered. I am not obliged to you. You ought to go to no woman as you came to me. See, the storm has stopped. You will be quite safe going back now. The snow will be deep, perhaps, but it is not far.”
She went to the window, got his cap and gloves, and handed them to him. He took them, dumbfounded and overcome.
“Say, I ain’t done it right, mebbe, but I meant well, and I’d be good to you and proud of you, and I’d love you better than anything I ever saw,” he said, shamefacedly, but eagerly and honestly, too.
“Ah, you should have said those last words first,” she answered.
“I say them now.”
“They come too late; but they would have been too late in any case,” she added. “Still, I am glad you said them.”
She opened the door for him.
“I made a mistake,” he urged, humbly. “I understand better now. I never had any schoolin’.”
“Oh, it isn’t that,” she answered, gently. “Good-bye.”
Suddenly he turned. “You’re right–it couldn’t ever be,” he said. “You’re–you’re great. And I owe you my life still!”
He stepped out into the biting air.
For a moment Pauline stood motionless in the middle of the room, her gaze fixed upon the door which had just closed; then, with a wild gesture of misery and despair, she threw herself upon the couch in a passionate outburst of weeping. Sobs shook her from head to foot, and her hands, clenched above her head, twitched convulsively.
Presently the door opened and her mother looked in eagerly. At what she saw her face darkened and hardened for an instant, but then the girl’s utter abandonment of grief and agony convinced and conquered her. Some glimmer of the true understanding of the problem which Pauline represented got into her heart and drove the sullen selfishness from her face and eyes and mind. She came over heavily and, sinking upon her knees, swept an arm around the girl’s shoulder. She realized what had happened, and probably this was the first time in her life that she had ever come by instinct to a revelation of her daughter’s mind or of the faithful meaning of incidents of their lives.
“You said no to John Alloway,” she murmured.
Defiance and protest spoke in the swift gesture of the girl’s hands. “You think because he was white that I’d drop into his arms! No–no–no!”
“You did right, little one.”
The sobs suddenly stopped, and the girl seemed to listen with all her body. There was something in her Indian mother’s voice she had never heard before–at least, not since she was a little child and swung in a deerskin hammock in a tamarac-tree by Renton’s Lodge, where the chiefs met and the West paused to rest on its onward march. Something of the accents of the voice that crooned to her then was in the woman’s tones now.
“He offered it like a lump of sugar to a bird–I know. He didn’t know that you have great blood–yes, but it is true. My man’s grandfather, he was of the blood of the kings of England. My man had the proof. And for a thousand years my people have been chiefs. There is no blood in all the West like yours. My heart was heavy, and dark thoughts came to me, because my man is gone, and the life is not my life, and I am only an Indian woman from the Warais, and my heart goes out there always now. But some great Medicine has been poured into my heart. As I stood at the door and saw you lying there, I called to the Sun. ‘O great Spirit,’ I said, ‘help me to understand, for this girl is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, and Evil has come between us!’ And the Sun Spirit poured the Medicine into my spirit, and there is no cloud between us now. It has passed away, and I see. Little white one, the white life is the only life, and I will live it with you till a white man comes and gives you a white man’s home. But not John Alloway. Shall the crow nest with the oriole?”
As the woman spoke with slow, measured voice full of the cadences of a heart revealing itself, the girl’s breath at first seemed to stop, so still she lay; then, as the true understanding of the words came to her, she panted with excitement, her breast heaved, and the blood flushed her face. When the slow voice ceased, and the room became still, she lay quiet for a moment, letting the new thing find secure lodgment in her thought; then, suddenly, she raised herself and threw her arms round her mother in a passion of affection.
“Lalika! O mother Lalika!” she said, tenderly, and kissed her again and again. Not since she was a little girl, long before they left the Warais, had she called her mother by her Indian name, which her father had humorously taught her to do in those far-off happy days by the beautiful, singing river and the exquisite woods, when, with a bow and arrow, she had ranged, a young Diana who slew only with love.
“Lalika, mother Lalika, it is like the old, old times,” she added, softly. “Ah, it does not matter now, for you understand!”
“I do not understand altogether,” murmured the Indian woman, gently. “I am not white, and there is a different way of thinking; but I will hold your hand, and we will live the white life together.”
Cheek to cheek they saw the darkness come, and afterwards the silver moon steal up over a frozen world, in which the air bit like steel and braced the heart like wine. Then, at last, before it was nine o’clock, after her custom, the Indian woman went to bed, leaving her daughter brooding peacefully by the fire.
For a long time Pauline sat with hands clasped in her lap, her gaze on the tossing flames, in her heart and mind a new feeling of strength and purpose. The way before her was not clear, she saw no further than this day, and all that it had brought; yet she was as one that has crossed a direful flood and finds herself on a strange shore in an unknown country, with the twilight about her, yet with so much of danger passed that there was only the thought of the moment’s safety round her, the camp-fire to be lit, and the bed to be made under the friendly trees and stars.
For a half-hour she sat so, and then, suddenly, she raised her head listening, leaning toward the window, through which the moonlight streamed. She heard her name called without, distinct and strange–“Pauline! Pauline!”
Starting up, she ran to the door and opened it. All was silent and cruelly cold. Nothing but the wide plain of snow and the steely air. But as she stood intently listening, the red glow from the fire behind her, again came the cry–“Pauline!”–not far away. Her heart beat hard, and she raised her head and called–why was it she should call out in a language not her own?–“Qu’appelle? Qu’appelle?”
And once again on the still night air came the trembling appeal, “Pauline!”
“Qu’appelle? Qu’appelle?” she cried; then, with a gasping murmur of understanding and recognition she ran forward in the frozen night toward the sound of the voice. The same intuitive sense which had made her call out in French, without thought or reason, had revealed to her who it was that called; or was it that even in the one word uttered there was the note of a voice always remembered since those days with Manette at Winnipeg?
Not far away from the house, on the way to Portage la Drome, but a little distance from the road, was a crevasse, and toward this she sped, for once before an accident had happened there. Again the voice called as she sped–“Pauline!”–and she cried out that she was coming. Presently she stood above the declivity, and peered over. Almost immediately below her, a few feet down, was a man lying in the snow. He had strayed from the obliterated road, and had fallen down the crevasse, twisting his foot cruelly. Unable to walk, he had crawled several hundred yards in the snow, but his strength had given out, and then he had called to the house, on whose dark windows flickered the flames of the fire, the name of the girl he had come so far to see.
With a cry of joy and pain at once she recognized him now. It was as her heart had said–it was Julien, Manette’s brother. In a moment she was beside him, her arm around his shoulder.
“Pauline!” he said, feebly, and fainted in her arms. An instant later she was speeding to the house, and, rousing her mother and two of the stablemen, she snatched a flask of brandy from a cupboard and hastened back.
An hour later Julien Labrosse lay in the great sitting-room beside the fire, his foot and ankle bandaged, and at ease, his face alight with all that had brought him there. And once again the Indian mother with a sure instinct knew why he had come, and saw that now her girl would have a white man’s home, and, for her man, one of the race like her father’s race, white and conquering.
“I’m sorry to give trouble,” Julien said, laughing–he had a trick of laughing lightly; “but I’ll be able to get back to the Portage to-morrow.”
To this the Indian mother said, however: “To please yourself is a great thing, but to please others is better; and so you will stay here till you can walk back to the Portage, M’sieu’ Julien.”
“Well, I’ve never been so comfortable,” he said–“never so happy. If you don’t mind the trouble!”
The Indian woman nodded pleasantly, and found an excuse to leave the room. But before she went she contrived to place near his elbow one of the scraps of paper on which Pauline had drawn his face, with that of Manette. It brought a light of hope and happiness into his eyes, and he thrust the paper under the fur robes of the couch.
“What are you doing with your life?” Pauline asked him, as his eyes sought hers a few moments later.
“Oh, I have a big piece of work before me,” he answered eagerly, “a great chance–to build a bridge over the St. Lawrence, and I’m only thirty! I’ve got my start. Then, I’ve made over the old Seigneury my father left me, and I’m going to live in it. It will be a fine place, when I’ve done with it, comfortable and big, with old oak timbers and walls, and deep fireplaces, and carvings done in the time of Louis Quinze, and dark-red velvet curtains for the drawing-room, and skins and furs. Yes, I must have skins and furs like these here.” He smoothed the skins with his hand.
“Manette, she will live with you?” Pauline asked.
“Oh no, her husband wouldn’t like that. You see, Manette is to be married. She told me to tell you all about it.”
He told her all that was to tell of Manette’s courtship, and added that the wedding would take place in the spring.
“Manette wanted it when the leaves first flourish and the birds come back,” he said, gayly; “and so she’s not going to live with me at the Seigneury, you see. No, there it is, as fine a house, good enough for a prince, and I shall be there alone, unless–“
His eyes met hers, and he caught the light that was in them before the eyelids drooped over them and she turned her head to the fire. “But the spring is two months off yet,” he added.
“The spring?” she asked, puzzled, yet half afraid to speak.
“Yes, I’m going into my new house when Manette goes into her new house–in the spring. And I won’t go alone if–“
He caught her eyes again, but she rose hurriedly and said: “You must sleep now. Good-night.” She held out her hand.
“Well, I’ll tell you the rest to-morrow–to-morrow night, when it’s quiet like this, and the stars shine,” he answered. “I’m going to have a home of my own like this–ah, bien sur, Pauline.”
That night the old Indian mother prayed to the Sun. “O great Spirit,” she said, “I give thanks for the Medicine poured into my heart. Be good to my white child when she goes with her man to the white man’s home far away. O great Spirit, when I return to the lodges of my people, be kind to me, for I shall be lonely; I shall not have my child; I shall not hear my white man’s voice. Give me good Medicine, O Sun and great Father, till my dream tells me that my man comes from over the hills for me once more.”