Fiction

That Beautiful Black-and-White Pinto

The Blackfeet camped by the creek and with them trotted the pony that won the boy's heart. Bat he couldn't let Grandpa pay the price they asked for

ELIZABETH ANN COOPER April 15 1952
Fiction

That Beautiful Black-and-White Pinto

The Blackfeet camped by the creek and with them trotted the pony that won the boy's heart. Bat he couldn't let Grandpa pay the price they asked for

ELIZABETH ANN COOPER April 15 1952

That Beautiful Black-and-White Pinto

The Blackfeet camped by the creek and with them trotted the pony that won the boy's heart. Bat he couldn't let Grandpa pay the price they asked for

ELIZABETH ANN COOPER

IRAN all the way home. When I got into the house Grandpa was playing with the puppy, and Chloe, the old bitch, was lying in front of the fire, watching as if she was proud of her son. Gramma was the only one who paid any attention to me.

“Go outside an’ get washed up fer supper, Buddy.”

So I had to go out in back without telling them what I had seen that afternoon. I pumped some water into the old tin basin and splashed it on my face and thrashed my hands around in it, and then I dried myself with the towel hanging from the nail by the back door. Grandpa was still playing with Cappy when I got inside, even though Gramma had supper on the table.

“C’mon, Tom, ’fore everythin’s so cold it can’t be eaten.” Gramma and I sat down at the table. “Tom!”

“All right, all right, Aggie, I’m cornin’.” Grandpa got up from the floor, brushed off the seat of his pants, and came over to the table. The puppy ran after him and grabbed the leg of his jeans. Grandpa said, “Down, Cappy,” and the little fellow flopped down, his legs spread in four directions and his muzzle flat on the floor.

“I think you’d ruther play with that dog than eat,” Gramma said, but she wasn’t really mad, just trying to be.

“Now, Aggie,” Grandpa said, and that settled it.

I waited for them to ask me what I’d been doing but they didn’t say a word to me. Gramma never did much talking during meals, and ever since Cappy was born Grandpa just watched him and gave him scraps from his plate and played with him. I didn’t blame him much, because that. Cappy was some pup. There’d been two others in the litter, but they died just a couple of days after they

.ere whelped. Grandpa said Cappy was the last puppy Chloe would ever have and, besides that , he was the best she had ever had.

“He’ll make a fine huntin’ dog,” Grandpa said.

“What kind of huntin’ will you do in this country?” Gramma asked. She always talked as if she didn’t like the west, but she really did.

“Why, ’coons an’ rabbits—plenty of huntin’ here.” Grandpa flipped a piece of venison into the air, and Cappy hopped up and caught it. “Smartest pup I’ve ever had. You watch ’im, Aggie. Another year and he’ll be better ’n any hunter you ever saw in the east.”

Gramma just made a funny noise and got up to fetch more potatoes. Then Grandpa looked over at me and winked.

I figured this was my chance to tell them about tod iy. “The Blackfeet, are settin’ up a camp down below (he creek.”

Gramma said, “That means they’ll be over hen beggin’ an’ I’ll have to give ’em some of our beef.” She came back to the table with the bowl of potatoes.

“Many of ’em?” Grandpa asked. He leaned down and scratched Cappy behind the ear.

“Must be twenty or thirty,” I said. “There’s a lot of kids an’ there must be fifty horses. There’s one pony—gee, he’s just beautiful ...” I floundered, wishing I could tell them how beautiful that pony was, the way things were described in the poetry Gramma liked to read out loud now and then, “Well, I wish you could see ’im.”

Grandpa straightened up and looked at me. “You still hankerin’ after a pony, Buddy?” They had told me I couldn’t have a horse of my own until I was bigger. But that had been last year. I was eight now and I figured that made a difference. Grandpa was looking straight at me so

1 looked straight, back at him without blinking.

“Yes, sir.”

I went to bed that night with their words singing in my head like a song you can’t forget: Gramma saying, “I don’t trust them Indian ponies”; Grandpa saying, “I figgered you’d be satisfied ridin’ Bess until you was big enough for your own horse”; Gramma saying, “No tellin’ what sort of a horse they’d pass off on you”; Grandpa saying, “Well, we’ll see.” We’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see—I fell asleep to that.

For two days Grandpa didn’t do anything about seeing and I lived with the fear that the Indians would move on before I got my pony. I even thought Grandpa had forgot about it, but I was afraid to say anything to pester him.

Both days, some of the men from the camp came to the house, and Gramma gave them a couple of sides of beef and some old jewelry that was

falling apart. The man who did the talking for the group was named John Walking Eagle, and I thought he was pretty wonderful. He was just like the Indians I had seen in picture books back in the east before my mother died. He said very little, and the other men said nothing, and none of them seemed to notice me, but the second day, after Gramma had given them the second side of beef, John Walking Eagle came over to me and handed me a small tomahawk. I just looked at it and couldn’t think of anything to say, not even a thank you, until after they had gone.

“That’s all right, Buddy,” Grandpa said. “Even if you didn’t know it you did the right thing.” Then he told me to go to bed. I was halfway up the ladder to my sleeping loft when he said, “Tomorrow I guess we’ll go down and take a look at that pony.”

I didn’t do much Continued on page 47

That Beautiful Black-and-White Pinto

Continued from page 11

sleeping that night. I know I was awake long before the light showed through the chinks in the wall by my bed. I lay there watching the light grow for hours before I heard Gramma get up and start fixing things for breakfast. I crawled over to the edge of the loft and watched her until the time was right for me to go down.

That morning was the longest I ever knew. After breakfast Grandpa went out to see to the cattle and chickens, and then went clear through the fields looking at the wheat that was still low and green. Then we had dinner, and Grandpa just dallied around until nearly three o’clock. I couldn’t eat, and l did all my chores backwards.

“You ready, Buddy?”

I was ready. I streaked out of the

house and started running. Grandpa called me back and made me walk with him. I felt as if we were crawling.

“Don’t go rushin’ up to th’horse you want like you was crazy,” he told me. “Don’t even act is if you’re interested. Don’t pick out the pony you want at first pick three or four of ’em before you go to th’ one you want.”

I nodded and tried to describe my pony. “He’s black an’ white, his tail’s blacker ’n Cappy’s nose, an’ it touches th’ ground, an’ his mane is white an’ falls in his eyes, so he tosses his head around to get it out.”

“Where ’d you hide when you saw ’im?”

I hadn’t told him about hiding. “In th’ bushes, this side of th’ creek.” Grandpa snorted. “I s’pose you figger they didn’t know you was there.” 1 didn’t say anything for the rest of the trip.

THE PLACE where the Indians had put up their camp was on the north side of the creek. All along the creek for a space of maybe fifty feet either side, cottonwoods and birches and different kinds of bushes grew in a series of groves that were thin in one place and thick in another. In one of the thin places the Blackfeet had put up their teepees and built their rope corral for some of the horses. Other horses they had turned loose to graze on the rangeland beyond—Grandpa’s range. When we got to the camp one squaw was picking berries and another was kneeling on a fiat stone by the creek washing some clothes. Neither of them looked at us as we crossed over the narrow plank bridge Grandpa had made a year ago.

When we went into the camp the children who had been playing near the fire pit in the middle of the clearing disappeared into teepees. Grandpa

walked up to a man who was sitting outside one teepee and asked for John Walking Eagle. The Indian got up and walked to the centre teepee. A moment later John Walking Eagle came out. Without speaking he and Grandpa shook hands and then we all went into the teepee and sat down on the ground.

Grandpa and John Walking Eagle talked for quite a while—with silences between every few words. Then John Walking Eagle filled and lighted a stone pipe with a long stem and a small bowl. He pointed the stem upward, toward the sun, then down to the earth. After this he smoked it—three long puffs — before passing it to Grandpa who was sitting on his left. Grandpa smoked it and passed it back to the Indian. All this was done in a solemn and important silence.

I had been in Indian camps before, but I’d never been a guest in a lodge, and I’d never seen the smoking of the pipe. I was plenty surprised when John Walking Eagle passed the pipe to me.

1 took it and looked over at Grandpa, but he didn’t make a move. 1 looked at the Indian, but his face was like a stone mask. So I put the stem in my mouth and sucked. The strong smoke came into my mouth and scorched its way down my throat. I thought 1 was going to choke and I handed the pipe back to our host, the smoke still hot in my chest. Then 1 let it out, slowly like Grandpa had done, and my eyes burned and watered, and my throat felt like it had been pared with a knife. I remember the struggle it was not to cough as the smoke came out of me. When the burning was gone and my eyes cleared I looked at Grandpa and John Walking Eagle. Grandpa was smiling, and the Indian was nodding as if he was pleased by something.

A little later Grandpa asked if John Walking Eagle had any horses he wanted to trade. We got up and went out to the corral. The children who had run away when we came now stood in clusters and watched us in the same unsmiling way the men watched. The women never looked at us at all, they just kept working.

I saw my pony, but 1 remembered what Grandpa said so I steered clear of the black-and-white pinto that stood so still in the middle of the milling horses. Grandpa told me to pick out a horse. I looked over a bay mustang until Grandpa suggested a flaw in him. Next I went to a roan, studied it, and decided against it. Finally 1 pointed to my pony. One of the young Indians went into the corral and looped a rope over the pony’s head and brought him out.

I turned to Grandpa to hear him tell me what a good pony I had picked, but he was standing with his mouth open.

“This one?” he asked in a funny voice.

1 nodded. “Isn’t he beautiful?”

BUDDY,” Grandpa said. “Buddy, he’s no good. He’s a wreck.”

I felt queer inside, like I was going to cry. I went over to my pony and touched him, and he didn’t shy away like most Indian ponies would. He ducked his muzzle at me, and I knew this was the only pony I ever wanted to have.

“Plenty good pony,” John Walking Eagle said.

Grandpa turned to him. “John, many years now I’ve known you. Many years we’re brothers. You’re an honest man.” The way Grandpa said it, it sounded like he was reminding John Walking Eagle, instead of praising him.

“Good pony,” the Indian said.

“Plenty good pony. Not mean.”

Grandpa said, “Look at his leg,” and I looked down and saw that the fetlock was swollen. “Look at his back,” Grandpa said, and I saw for the first time that there was a sore as big as a plate just below the withers, and it was as red as raw beef, and running. And Grandpa said, “Look at his eyes.”

I saw that his eyes weren’t bright, but kind of cloudy.

“Buddy,” Grandpa said, gently, “that pony’s no good, boy.”

“Very good pony,” John Walking Eagle insisted.

“You could make ’im all better,” 1 said. “You made that cow all better j last winter, an’ she was worse ’n him.” j I put my arms around the pony’s neck so no one would see that I’d started to cry.

1 didn’t listen while Grandpa tried to argue with me and with John Walking Eagle. The first words I really heard were, “Two dollars.” It was G randpa.

That’s when the bartering started. Two dollars was not enough. John Walking Eagle wanted a steer besides. Grandpa said two dollars and a gun. Two dollars and a gun would not be | enough. John Walking Eagle would j take two dollars and a gun and a dog. When I heard that I took my face away from the pony’s neck and looked at j Grandpa. I thought then that he was i sort of like the Indians. He didn’t show I any sign of being angry, or troubled, or sad.

“Bring the pony to me tomorrow,” Grandpa said. “C’mon, Buddy.”

We went home and it was nearly ; dark when we got there. Grandpa didn’t say anything to Gramma or me all through dinner. He didn’t even play with Cappy, though he looked at ; him a lot. After the dishes were done and the night chores, 1 was sent to bed. Maybe they figured I would sleep, but i couldn’t. I just cried, because j I didn’t feel happy about my pony any more, not when it made Grandpa sad.

I don’t know how long it was before Grandpa and Gramma started talking, but I listened, holding my breath tight inside me.

“They didn’t say which dog,” j Gramma said.

“They didn’t have to.”

“What’re you goin’ to do?”

Grandpa didn’t answer that one. The lamps were turned off and I heard Grandpa’s boots bang on the floor when he took them off.

f guess I got a big start in growing up, the next day. John Walking Eagle and three other Indians one old and I two young ones came to the house ; just before noon. They had the pony with them, and I saw now that he was a sorry pony with all his sores and his | cloudy eyes, instead of the beautiful | pony I had once believed him to be. i

1 went outside first. I just stood and looked and the Indians stood and • looked. Then Grandpa came out. He ! had an old flintlock under one arm, j

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and two silver dollars in his other hand, and Chloe was at his heels, trotting stiffly and unevenly. I thought I understood. Grandpa was going to try to make John Walking Eagle take old Chloe.

Grandpa gave the gun and the money to John Walking Eagle. Then everyone just stood there. Grandpa and the Indian faced each other and no one spoke. The pony was switching his tail back and forth, and right then,

I hated that pony.

“Cappy!” Grandpa called. “Come, Cappy!”

The puppy came scooting around the corner of the house. Grandpa took a piece of cord from his pocket. He tied one end around Cappy’s neck; the other end he handed silently to John Walking Eagle.

I don’t remember what I said, if anything, but I ran up and grabbed the string from the Indian. “I don’t want th’ pony,” I yelled. “It’s an ugly no good smelly pony an’ I don’t want ’im!”

“Go in th’ house, Buddy,” Grandpa said.

I WENT inside and up into the loft.

I lay down on my bed and put the pillow over my head so I wouldn’t hear anything, but when Grandpa finally came in—it was a lot later—I heard him, and I heard the old bitch whimpering for her puppy.

They called me for supper, but I didn’t go down. I didn’t answer even when Gramma got mad and yelled at me. 1 just stayed there with my head under the pillow, moving once in a while for a breath of fresh air. It was dark when Grandpa came up the ladder and sat down beside me. He pulled the pillow aside and told me quietly but firmly to sit up.

“You’ve smoked a pipe and you own a horse, Buddy. You’re too big to lie up here like a little boy.”

“I’m going to take that dirty old horse back. He smells an’ he’s ugly an’

¡ he’s no good

i Grandpa just said, “Your horse is ! : out in the barn. Someone ought to go 1 out an’ see if he’s all right.”

“I’d rather have Cappy back.”

But Grandpa made me get up and take the lantern and go out by myself ! to the barn.

My pony stood in the stall, half i asleep. His back had been smeared with some kind of ointment, and his j ankle was all wrapped up in white I cloths. I went into the stall and put j my hand on his flank. He side-stepped j and turned his head to look at me I through his cloudy eyes. I went up to his head, and he nuzzled me. I just ! leaned against him, not knowing whe ! ther to laugh or cry, whether to love him or hate him.

When Grandpa’s voice came fron; the door of the stall, I jumped. “It’s not goin’ to be so tough fixin’ ’im up,” he said. “We’ll keep ’im in th’ barn until his eyes get better, so he won’t get too much light. An’ those sores’ll be gone in no time.” Grandpa came inside and put his hand on my shoulder. “You’ve got good horse sense, Buddy You picked a good pony.”

“But Cappy

“You can’t tell,” Grandpa said

“Maybe old Chloe’ll have some more >>

j pups soon.

j But she didn’t, of course, and I know I now he never expected her to. She died i that winter, about the same time that the pony was well enough for me to start riding him. Grandpa got a dog later on, but he never bothered much with him. He never tried to train him for hunting.

As for the pinto—it was the best pony a boy ever had.