the alian CHAPTER THREE The Lure of the Big Parade
A MACLEAN'S NOVEL AWARD
W. O. MITCHELL
Slowly, Carlyle Sinclair thought, he was winning his struggle against the white man's neglect and the Indians' indifference. Then came the gala stampede to empty the reservation at the critical time when scanty crops were overdue for reaping
CARLYLE SINCLAIR had spent most of his life in a white man’s world, vaguely haunted by the knowledge that his blood was one-quarter Indian. Then, impelled by a sense of duty tinged with guilt, he made a public avowal of his ancestry and quit his job as a prairie school principal to take charge of the one-room schoolhouse at the Paradise Valley Reserve. At first the new life was more strange and disquieting to Carlyle than it was to his understanding wife, Grace, and their small son, Hugh. For a time the people he met on the reserve only seemed to heighten the uneasy conflict within himself and make it seem insoluble. In varying degrees they were all men of good will. Fyfe, the energetic white superintendent, and Old John, the aged Indian who made loafing a career; Sheridan, the white agent, and MacLean Powderface, the Indian handyman; Dingle, the white minister, and Ezra Shot-Close, the Indian lay preacher. But their ways and attitudes sometimes seemed centuries apart. Carlyle was almost reduced to despair in the first days of the term when he was confronted with an empty classroom and appeals to his absent pupils’ parents were greeted with silence or evasions. In the end it was the meticulously correct Fyfe and the imaginative and devout Ezra Shot-Close who showed him the solution: Hold up the parents’ treaty money until their children came to school. It was, Carlyle admitted, a shameful and unpromising compromise—but at least it had worked.
THE DAY before Christmas Ezra called to invite them to services in the dance tent. On Christmas Eve snow feathered down all night long; Hugh was up before light had entered the log house, coming in to Grace and Carlyle with the flat red sled which had been his main gift.
Almost before they had opened their presents and had their bx*eakfast the tapping began at the back door. Susan Rider had gauntlet gloves beaded in orange and blue and white, for Hugh; a fringed jacket for Grace; a white shirt of beautifully pliable deerskin for Carlyle, embroidered with yellow and orange butterflies that fluttered over the shoulder yoke, purple pencil flowers
forxxxal on the breast pockets and cuffs. Magdalexxe and MacLean Powderface called, drew from a flour sack slipper moccasins for every oxxe of them.
“More skixxs thaxi Cro-Magnon man,” Grace laughed. The house was filled with the sixxoldering sixiell of damp rawhide by the time Arthur Sheridan, the agent, and Mrs. Sheridan called with skates for Hugh.
At ten o’clock MacLean Powderface, the stuttering Indian, was back again, this time with a woolly bay team hitched to a bobsleigh. The Sheridans and the Sinclaii*s and the Reverend Dingle cliixibed aboard to sit on the ixxanure axxd straw-littered floor of the wagon box. Ahxiost a dozen other Iixdians, whose tents were close to the agexxcy buildings, got in as well: Fast Wolf with his grey page-boy bob, Old John looking like a festive deat h’s head, Joxxas One-Spot blind axxd shakixxg. They sat buttock faixxiliar with buttock oxx the side boards, browxx hands clutching, leaixiixg toward the ceixtre. Precisely oxx the cexxtre of the tail gate Old Joxxas perched with his clouded eyes uixder hoodixxg lids, fixed patiently ahead of hinx, the wild sixxile displaying his toothless gunxs . . .
Durixxg loading the sleigh had jerked with epileptic and abortive starts as the half-wild teaxxx lutxged aixd x'eared back in their harness. MacLeaix looked back to see that all were x*eady, tlxexx with a shout that the team hardly ixeeded, he slapped the reiixs; the sleigh gave a magnificent lurch; old hands gripped the sides ixxore tightly; exclaixxatory cries wexxt up.
They were away, runners hissiixg aixd creakiixg through the fresh snow, the backs and flaxxks of the horses steaixxiixg, their own breath rising in clouds before their faces. Bells oix harxxess, clinking halter shanks and clinkiixg traces, had huixg the team with a secoxxd loose harness of bright and rhythmic sound; the sleigh box caxxted daxxgerously now to oixe side, ixow to the other, but iix spite of their uncertain base maxxy of the Iixdians were still nxanagixxg to roll aixd light cigarettes.
When they reached the dance tent they found it hung with boughs. The end farthest from the flap opening held a small
Continued on page 38
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23
decorated spruce tree and a creche constructed of woven red willow of the kind the older men used for kinnikinnick for their pipes. While they took their places a number of Indian boys brought in the cases of pop, the half dozen tins of fine-cut tobacco, the box of apples and oranges, which constituted the Sheridans’ and Sinclairs’ Christmas presents to the Indians. A stern word from Ezra stopped Webster Lefthand in the act of prying open the apple box.
“That stuff’s for after church,” he warned.
Mr. Dingle had explained to them before they left that the service was to be the Indians’ own, that Ezra, the lay preacher, had planned it right down to the selection of the hymns, and that he would be in charge throughout. When there had come a lull in the conversation, the last cigarette had been stubbed out on the packed earth of the tent floor, the last shreddy cud of snoose had been spit into the empty baking powder tins that stood around the canvas walls, Ezra rose and announced the first hymn. Strangely familiar and alien at the same time they sang their own staccato version of Silent Night.
The service was short: a few words from Dingle, telling them that this was a time for rejoicing, but with dignity and solemnity. He had noticed the dance drum warming before the fire and he must tell them that the birthday of Christ was hardly the occasion for Prairie Chicken dancing; that he had hoped some of them would have decided this was a good day for having him announce the banns of marriage and that he was sorry none of them had asked him to do this for them. Then Sheridan stood up to tell them that there were five hundred pounds of department-confiscated elk waiting for them below so that they could be sure of a good Christmas dinner.
Carlyle saw Ezra look over to him, felt Grace nudge his side. He stood up, looked out to their dark faces, quite at a loss for words to say to them. And suddenly as his eyes traveled round the tent the strangeness of his being here at all swept over him; the feeling akin to nightmare panic just as suddenly melted under all those eyes hanging upon him. Jt was as though all of them, from the babies on mothers’ laps to wattled old men sightless in cataract and trachoma darkness, reached out and up to him.
These were his mother’s people; she had lived much of her life as they had lived under canvas and sky. In the Indian blood he had inherited from her, he knew now, there were other things than the misery and squalor of wild lives distorted and thrown out of joint by the stresses of the white way of civilization; at times these people achieved stoic dignity; they had a wonderfully steady understanding of birth and death and hunger; they loved their children; they were gentle and utterly unselfish; under the incredible load of their suffering born of disease and want and inadequate shelter, their cheerfulness never failed them.
He felt his throat stiff and his eyes stinging as he looked over to MacLean Powderface, beside him Howard, his youngest son. This was the child who had the same birth date as his own son, Hugh.
“I have a son,” he said, and paused for Ezra to translate for him.
“Born the same day as Howard
Powderface.” Ezra converted the words into their tongue.
“I love my son,” Ezra told them for him.
“I will do all I can for my own son.” He waited for Ezra and for the emotion within him to subside so he could go on.
“Who has some dark blood in him . . .
“That he got from me . . .
“And for MacLean Powderface’s son . . •
“And all other children in this band . . .
“I will do all I can . . .
“As though they were my own . . .
‘Sons and daughters . . .
“That’s all . . .
“Merry Christmas . . .”
He sat down in a storm of hand clapping, punctuated by shrill whahoos that rose all over the tent.
After another hymn Ezra told the story of the Nativity, sticking pretty well to the account of St. Matthew and St Luke, except for the interpolated explanations that the Three Wise Men were mounted on stud camels seventeen hands high, that there had not been room at the inn for Mary and Joseph to pitch their camp, that Mary had carried the infant Jesus in a mosspacked yo-kay-bo on her back out of Bethlehem, while Joseph with his snowshoes broke trail into Egypt.
After church they returned with MacLean Powderface, had their dinner with the Sheridans. That night as she lay beside him Grace knew that her husband had found his people and his home in Paradise Valley. Just as she dropped off to sleep the sound of the dance drum out on the hills carried through the open window just a touch of a pulse on the distant edge of the Christmas night.
ATTENDANCE at schooi was more
spotty as families began to move their camps off the reserve to take up spring work with nearby ranchers, but Carlyle was nearing the end of his first year there with a feeling of accomplishment. Both Sanders, the visiting department doctor, and Fyfe had congratulated him. His satisfaction weakened some days, for it was hard to get used to the shy and embarrassed refusal to look into his face, the bland and uncommunicative natures of children who thought and spoke in an alien tongue. The wild flick and dart of eyes, the sly withdrawal that met him always bothered him, sapped his confidence.
He had learned one lesson from Victoria Rider when he had tried to outwait her in a vain effort to get her to write down for him an addition answer he knew she had been capable of for months. For twenty minutes she stood alone at the board, holding the piece of chalk he had pressed into her hand. Head hanging, hair mercifully curtaining her mortified face, she worried the chalk, twisting it, turning it, as though she could bore right through the blackboard ledge with it. At the end of twenty minutes it broke, fell to the floor in bits. She whirled away with hair flying, pelted past her seat and right out the back door, to stay away from school for three days.
He knew Victoria now. She was a small and slender ten, the only girl to take off her kerchief in the schoolroom. Over the bridge of her finely proportioned nose lay a sprinkling of freckles; her hair fell free in gypsy points, caught above her ears with the sparkle of rhinestone barrettes. Again and again Carlyle felt his attention drawn to her. Her piquant face was pale, salient among the other dark faces. How could she be all Indian! Only the stark eyes doe-black and the faintly olive skin suggested wild ancestry.
He found out from Sanders that as near as the doctor could assess it the
child was half white. For that matter, Sanders explained, he doubted that any of them were free of a white touch. He was fairly sure of Victoria’s lineage; her mother, Susan Rider, was a Blood and the sister of a department scout known to be a half breed. Izaiah, her father, had the French blood of the Beleburts in his veins. At the same time, he told Carlyle, Victoria’s pallor was not a true gauge of her white or Indian blood; the child was anaemic. Carlyle showed concern; Sanders told him that it wasn’t serious; Susan was a good mother who bought the right
food for her family, was dosing them all religiously with cod-liver oil. Victoria would grow out of it all right.
He knew enough now never to bring her or any of the others to the front to do work alone; they came in twos and threes and whole grades, sliding one thin moccasined foot reluctantly ahead of the other. ’They stood around him with faces tilted over opened readers, the girls leaning and swaying as though the steady chinook of shyness moved their heads together then apart like the tips of communing pines.
For all their progress in reading and
in arithmetic and in handwriting, he knew that he had a long way to go. If only there wrere—if he could build a bridge between himself and them—if he could know what went on in their heads—behind the eyes that refused to hold his for a second! If he could get them to speak English during recess. In the last month of t he school year he discovered how much he had overestimated their understanding.
“Look at today,” lie told Grace. “It was like defeat to have to go to him to use their language. Hell—I can’t tell if they’re bright or dumb! If a
child’s backward, it may be just because he doesn’t understand English.”
“If they’d speak English in their homes . . .”
“They won’t—they won’t—or on the playground. The words don’t mean anything to them—they memorize the look of them—the sequence of the letters . . .”
“Then you’ll have to combine your spelling and reading with teaching them the language.”
The break for cocoa seemed the most natural time for him to step down from his position as teacher and become their pupil. Then as they relaxed with cups steaming on their desks, while fingers explored half-opened mouths for sticky remnants of hardtack, lodged behind back teeth and between lips and gums, he asked them for their word that stood for food. They were startled at first, no one answering him. He persisted; it became a delightful game to them. They laughed when he asked them for boy, for girl, mother, dog, horse, talking, yes, no. They told him and laughed again when he tried to repeat the words. He listened to their voices whispering hello and good-by and wood and mountain and stream and meat, trying to catch shades and tints of stress and accent too delicate for his ear, too complicated for his clumsy tongue.
By the end of the school term the bridge was in a fair way to being constructed.
ALTOGETHER the members of the Lband had among them two thousand acres of oats, spread over the reserve in small plots of from ten to a hundred acres. They sowed these crops for their horses; none of the grain was ever used for the cattle, for finishing or as insurance against a year of heavy snow when the stock might not be able to forage for themselves. This had been a particularly fine year with an early seeding; there had been a carryover of moisture from the wet year before; that spring had brought much rain. Now that the crops were nodding ripe Carlyle expected to see them any day cutting with the agency binders in a communal harvest, their wives stooping to stack the bundles in stocks. As summer wore on the crops reached the dead-ripe stage; it was almost, more than Carlyle could stand to keep from asking Sheridan when the harvest operations would start. The morning of the fifteenth he noted a great deal of activity, the passing of democrats and wagons loaded with women and children, man after man mounted and going by the schoolhouse and across the bridge. By noon he realized that a full-scale exodus was taking place. Finally he went to the bridge, stopped the next group.
It was Izaiah Rider with Susan and the family.
“What is this?” Carlyle asked him. “Coin’,” said Izaiah. “Everybody goin’ to town.”
“But why . . .”
“Stampede? Shouldn’t you people be getting to your oats?”
Izaiah shrugged. “I got no oats.” “How long will they be—just the day?”
“Stampede’s three days. P’rade tomorrow mornin’—then three days. Boys are ridin’—calf ropin’—wild cow milkin’. They always have flat races for us Indians. We got a chuck-wagon team too.”
“Three days — four — why in four days you’ll lose half the crop!”
“Stampede’s four days—prizes—then there’s the Hartley Rodeo after and the Bentham Pioneer Days after that one. Be gone a long time—go to all of ’em now.” He gave a tentative slap of the reins. “Me an’ Harry an’
MacLean got to put up the tepees.” The horses started to move. “I got no oats,” he called back to Carlyle.
He returned to the house, explained to Grace.
“But they can’t leave two thousand —all that—they can’t leave it to shell out!”
“Why doesn’t Mr. Sheridan stop them?”
“Perhaps he can’t. If he’s tried.” “Carlyle, we’ve got to . . .”
“I’ve already been told to mind my own business!”
“But it’s wicked! Oh, Car!” “There’s nothing . . .”
“Oh, there is—there is! Go to Mr. Sheridan . . .”
“I’m not going to Sheridan!” “You’ve got to, Car. Perhaps you can help him . . .”
“He doesn’t want my help. I don’t like it any better than you do but I don’t see how we can help things. It’s no use making them worse than they are.”
“They couldn’t be!” Grace said bitterly.
The crop was not out of their minds the rest of the day. The next morning he was tense, spoke shortly to Hugh several times. Finally at noon, Grace looked at him.
“I told you . . .”
“If you don’t, I’m going to.” “There’s no—ah!” He pushed back his chair angrily. “I’ll see him! I’ll see him !”
As he came around the Sheridan house to knock at the back door he saw Mrs. Sheridan.
“Mr. Sheridan—Arthur—I’ve come —is he around?”
“Taking his nap.”
She got up from the chair. “Anything I can do?”
He was at a loss how to begin. “It’s —Mrs. Sheridan—Grace and I noticed that the Indians had all left. Their oats should have been cut days ago. Grace and I are concerned about the oats — they should have been — the binder should have been going days ago. Now they’ve all left for the Stampede and the crop’s going just as sure as though it had been hailed out.” “Is that what you wanted to see Arthur about?”
“What do you expect him to do?” “I don’t know. Something.”
“But you don’t know what?”
He was silent. “I’ve been thinking about it.”
“And what have you decided?”
It was too much. “I’ve decided that this is probably the worst run reserve
in the Dominion. I’ve decided that the cattle, the land, the buildings and fences are a God-damned disgrace!” “I’m not disagreeing with you.” Her green eyes stared at him steadily. “Do you intend reporting it? The department? Ottawa?”
“I—well—no. 1 want to see those oats harvested.”
“So do I.”
“I can’t stand by and . . .” “Neither can 1. It’s no easier the tenth time than it is the first. Last, year 1 went the rounds of the ranchers myself—tried to get them to custom-
thresh it—take the cost out of the crop. They wouldn’t—couldn’t. It would never pay with the—the way it’s scattered all over the reserve. What had you decided?”
“Go into town and bring them back!” She stared at him a long time. “Can you?” It was a sincere question.
“1 can try. Anything’s better than staying here and doing nothing about it.”
“The keys are on the corner of the kitchen table. Get them. Take the truck. if you can do it, bring the Indians back.” She turned away. She
stopped after a few paces. “When you get back, I would like to have a talk with you.”
HE TOOK Grace and Hugh with him when he drove into town the next morning. The parade had already started when they got there; they watched the Paradise Valley Indians, behind two Mounties in their formal red coats, lead the way. First Old John on a bony grey, his skull face inscrutable under the shaggy buffalo horn headgear of the medicine man, Carl Youngman in Prairie Chicken dress,
naked except for a fringed breechclout and cape of blue-tinted eagle feathers, a crest of porcupine hair on his head, others in paint and war bonnets, Lucy Baseball with her bearded pinto pulling a travois.
They waited till the floats and chuck wagons had passed, then the town band brave and brassy, the endless entries of the implement companies’ bright tractors and combines and binders. They followed the parade out to the exhibition grounds on the western outskirts of the town. There the Indians had pitched four towering tepees; children and parents crowded round the Sinclairs, glad for the sight of people from home. Carlyle sent for Ezra and Jonas and John and MacLean Powderface. Already swept by a feeling of helplessness and failure, it was the only thing he could think to do, try to persuade their councilors to tell them to go back to the valley.
He got nowhere at all with MacLean and John and Jonas; even Ezra showed little enthusiasm. All he managed was a promise that they would hold a meeting at noon. He knew it was hopeless even before he met Ezra at the appointed place before the main entrance to the grandstand. They stood among the bright bubbles of balloons, the urgent hoarseness of barkers’ voices wooing for Crown and Anchor, Bingo, Wheel of Fortune, Darts; they argued against the merry-go-round’s up and down music. Ezra’s eyes never left the flinging arms of the airplane swings and the ferris wheel beyond.
“They don’t want to come back, Mr. Sinclair.”
“But they’ve got to!”
“They haven’t even run one flat race yet,” said Ezra. “Tomorrow’s the Indian day—pony relay—stake races.” “They won’t come hack.”
“Well, these people are pretty fussy about stampedes and fairs and the like of that. Tonight there’s a hundreddollar prize for the chuck-wagon race. Raymond’s got blooded horses in his now and he’s sure he can beat the time round the barr’ls.”
“But there’s thousands of dollars worth of oats!”
“I guess money isn’t everything, Mr. Sinclair.”
“It is to these people—will be this winter!”
“Another thing,” said Ezra, “there’s their word they give.”
“They get a dollar a day—kids too —comes to quite a lot—eleven dollars times three — for Judas Tailfeather —they made their bargain. Stampede wouldn’t be stampede without Indians. Folks got to photograph something. Can’t go back on their word now.” “With whom?”
“These men run the stampede—committee.”
“Who are they—do you know them?” “Some. There’s the drugstore-— Thompson — harness — ah — Briggs — the chairman — general store — I think that’s Mr. MacTaggart. He’s mayor too.” He pointed over the grandstand. “Some of them are over there—the platform by the chutes.” Ezra did not come with him; he found four of the committee there, judging calves. MacTaggart was pointed out to him; he walked up to the man.
“Mr. MacTaggart — these Indians should never have left the reserve.” MacTaggart stared at him with mouth half open, a questioning look on his face.
“I’m Sinclair—the Paradise Valley Reserve.”
“These people have just left their oat crop to shell out on the ground to come to your stampede.”
“If they lose it, you’re directly responsible.”
“Now — hold on — hold on, Mr. Sinclair.”
“I’ve come in to ask you to let them return so that they can harvest that crop.”
“Aren’t you being a little tough on us? This is all news to me. We’ve always had them. Had no notion anything like this was happening. Same time each year . . .”
“And each year their crop’s gone to hell!”
“Look here, Mr. Sinclair, you can’t blame ...”
“Just so you can trot them out in beads and paint and feathers display them for a few days—use them forget them till next year again.”
“Wait a minute—let’s be fair about this! We’re willing to co-operate we’ll do anything we can.”
“I want them back on the reserve.” “But we’ve got Indian day tomorrow. We have a whole program of events planned.”
“Mr. MacTaggart, it’s not just your stampede—it’s all the fairs and stampedes and Indian days the department considers them the most demoralizing—it’s not going to continue! If you want my people to take part in your stampede next year or any other year, you’ll schedule it so that it doesn’t interfere with their seasonal work. And for now—if you want them at all in the future, they’re pulling out within an hour.”
“Well, if you're taking them you’re taking them—go ahead!”
“It isn’t that simple. I’ve got to have your help.”
MacTaggart’s brows lifted. “Kind of sailed right in for a person that needs some help, didn’t you?”
“It’s a serious matter two thousand acres—”
“I have a farm. 1 was hailed out last week. What can I do?”
“You have a public-address system?” “Yes.”
“I’d like you to make an announcement for me.”
“Tell them they’re to strike camp and head for the reserve—that there’s no point in their staying—that you appreciate the part they’ve played in the parade—that you’ll welcome them next year at a time—ah—more convenient—that this is an order from the department and from the Stampede committee.”
“Mr. MacTaggart, I’ve got to get them back. They’ve helped your stampede in other years to their own loss, haven’t they? I think it’s the fair thing.”
MacTaggart nodded. “One hour.” He looked at Carlyle for a moment. “How’s Sheridan?”
“You taking over?”
“Why—I—I’m just the teacher.” “Ah-hah.” He spat. “You’d make a hell of a good agent, I’m thinking.”
THEY stayed in town until the last democrat had left, had lunch, then took the road west. Ten miles outside they caught up with the ragged line of returning Indians. Carlyle slowed down at the sight of them, waiting for them to pull aside, saw heads look back, rigs reluctantly pull over.
“Hang on, Grace—we may have trouble.”
The truck crept through the gauntlet of disappointed Indians. He saw eyes glittering; there were hoarse and heartfelt boos; imprecations called out that his scanty familiarity with their tongue could not translate for him; several
spat as they crawled past; a rock bounced off' the rear window.
Long after they had got back and gone to bed they heard the chink of harness through the night, the ring of hoof against stone as the last of the fairgoers rode by the house on their way to the tepees above. He fell asleep just as their window was lightening with dawn. He’d got them back; the oats would be harvested.
The next day he had Ezra tell them that the Hartley and the Bentham stampedes felt the same way as had the committee headed by Mr. Mac-
Taggart. A week would do their crop; they were free to leave then. They took him at his word, for none of them left the reserve for Hartley or for Bentham. And not one of them cut a sheaf of oats. That year—as it had other years—the crop shelled out on the ground.
When he realized what had happened, he wasn’t nearly so discouraged as he had thought he would be. He had brought them back; right now they hated him, had deliberately let the crop go to show him he had not won anything, but he knew differently. They
would get over it; next year the remembrance of what had happened would have its effect, and they would thresh their grain before stampede, or no stampede. The lesson had been learned and there would be no sullen pride then to spite themselves in an effort to get back at him. ★
Next Issue; CHAPTER FOI R
She's Special, That One . .