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- Northern Lights, Volume 1. - 4/13 -
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 favourite 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.
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-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--it is 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 horse-shoe.
"Be good Medicine to me," she said. Then she prayed. "O Sun, pity me that it may be as I have said to him. O 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 horse-shoe, 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.
ONCE AT RED MAN'S RIVER
"It's got to be settled to-night, Nance. This game is up here, up for ever. The redcoat police from Ottawa are coming, and they'll soon be roostin' in this post; the Injuns are goin', the buffaloes are most gone, and the fur trade's dead in these parts. D'ye see?"
The woman did not answer the big, broad-shouldered man bending over her, but remained looking into the fire with wide, abstracted eyes and a face somewhat set.
"You and your brother Bantry's got to go. This store ain't worth a cent now. The Hudson's Bay Company'll come along with the redcoats, and they'll set up a nice little Sunday-school business here for what they call 'agricultural settlers.' There'll be a railway, and the Yankees'll send up their marshals to work with the redcoats on the border, and--"
"And the days of smuggling will be over," put in the girl in a low voice. "No more bull-wackers and muleskinners 'whooping it up'; no more Blackfeet and Piegans drinking alcohol and water, and cutting each others' throats. A nice quiet time coming on the border, Abe, eh?"
The man looked at her queerly. She was not prone to sarcasm, she had not been given to sentimentalism in the past; she had taken the border-life as it was, had looked it straight between the eyes. She had lived up to it, or down to it, without any fuss, as good as any man in any phase of the life, and the only white woman in this whole West country. It was not in the words, but in the tone, that Abe Hawley found something unusual and defamatory.
"Why, gol darn it, Nance, what's got into you? You bin a man out West, as good a pioneer as ever was on the border. But now you don't sound friendly to what's been the game out here, and to all of us that've been risking our lives to get a livin'."
"What did I say?" asked the girl, unmoved.
"It ain't what you said, it's the sound o' your voice."
"You don't know my voice, Abe. It ain't always the same. You ain't always about; you don't always hear it."
He caught her arm suddenly. "No, but I want to hear it always. I want to be always where you are, Nance. That's what's got to be settled to-day--to-night."
"Oh, it's got to be settled to-night!" said the girl meditatively,
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