the alien CHAPTER SEVEN Was Victoria To Blame?
A MACLEAN'S NOVEL AWARD
W. O. MITCHELL
In the gathering darkness Carlyle fetched Victoria home from the Christmas dance. But they could not find words to ease the sharp tension between them
AT LAST Carlyle Sinclair’s persistent nagging at the government and scolding at his Paradise Valley Indian charges seemed to be bearing fruit. For the first time stout little houses outnumbered draughty canvas tents on the Reservation where he was agent and schoolteacher. And a plan was taking shape to provide new fertile land that would give the Indians something better than a bare existence. Above all, the girl in whom so many of his unspoken hopes rested the demure Victoria Rider with her budding beauty and shy intelligence had become the first Reservation student to complete primary schooling and go oil to high school in the city. Impatiently he faced the slow months and years until she became a nurse and returned to work at his side.
VICTORIA returned for the Christmas holidays; she had called on (he Sinclairs. None of her soft shyness had left her; it was as difficult as ever to
get her to talk, but there were changes. It would be hard, Carlyle thought to himself as he watched her with her cup of tea in the living room, to guess that she had Indian blood. With her hair no longer in l>raids, her navy suit, her high-heeled shoes that froth of lace at her throat. Just the eyes now. Not so much not nearly so much just a trace in the eyes.
But the day after her visit they received disturbing news. Her report came to them; Carlyle opened it. She had failed her English and one of her maths: algebra. The shock of the letter’s contents faded, strengthened, held, as Carlyle stared down at it. He turned to Grace.
Grace took the letter. “Oh, Car!”
“Why didn’t she say something about it when she was here? I asked her. I asked how it had gone!”
“English and . . .”
“Algebra! What’s she doing flunking algebra! She’s never had trouble with . . .”
“Her English . . .”
“I could understand that. It’s always been hard for her but algebra!”
“What do we what does ...”
“She’ll have to write supplementaries,” said Carlyle. “She’s not getting away with this! We’ve got to go to work on her! I have the texts we’ll have nearly ten days. I’ll take her algebra the English . . .”
“I can help her in the English, Car. She can come down every day . . .”
“That’s not good enough. She’s got to move in with us. I don’t care what Susan and I/.aiah . . .” He started for the door.
“Wait a moment, Car. It would be better if you sent word up that you wanted to see Susan I/.aiah. Tomorrow. It’s late almost dark.”
He pulled down his coat. “I’m seeing them right now !”
“But they have something on. Maclean said there was a party . . .”
“The dance Continued on next page
tent! I’ll call there first!”
“Don’t make a scene, Car—it wouldn’t do Victoria any good.”
He found her in the lamplit dance tent, stood in the doorway, watching the couples shuffling round in the Rahbit dance. She was not wearing her blue suit. Her hair was covered by a magenta kerchief. She was dancing with Johnny Education. Carlyle waited till the dance was over and Johnny had returned her to Susan and Izaiah, sitting in blankets at the far side of the tent.
He explained to them in a few words what had happened, what must be done quickly. Neither Susan nor Izaiah objected. Within fifteen minutes of his arrival at the tent, Carlyle was walking back to the house with Victoria.
He crammed her as he had never crammed a student before; when he had finished with her at noon, Grace took over. They went through examination papers for ten years back; in the evening Victoria’s books and her test papers were laid out for her in the living room.
Carlyle wrote immediately for supplementary papers; they came in a padlocked sack, were sealed inside. He sat in the schoolroom with Victoria while she wrote the mathematics examination in the morning, the English in the afternoon. After he had mailed her papers for her, he went over the tests with her. He was quite satisfied then that she had passed.
The day before Victoria was to leave, the results came.
She had been successful. in the Easter tests she got all her subjects; when she came home for the holidays, she stayed with the Sinclairs, going up to visit her family several times, on each occasion being warned by Carlyle that she must return early. She did not attend the Easter dance/
IN JUNE Victoria got her junior matriculation. She came home for a week, then returned to the city to begin her training as a nurse in Wesley Hospital. On their way to the coast to visit Grace’s mother in August, the Sinclairs were able to see Victoria receive her probationer’s cap, standing trim and pure in white with the other girls. And there was no trace of smoke in her eyes now! There was no trace at all!
During their six-week stay with Mrs. Brockman Carlyle received let-
ters from Fyfe and the Senator, each telling him that Western Power and Hydro had finally made a firm offer to Ottawa for the use of reserve land' for their power project. They had suggested an outright payment of one hundred thousand dollars, and the department was considering the matter. The Indians had held another meeting with the help of Fyfe and the Senator; their petition this time asked that the government arrange with Western Power and Hydro for the transfer of sixty thousand acres to the east in exchange for the land and privileges the power company was seeking.
A week later Carlyle received another letter, this one from Ezra Shot-Close. It told him that things went well in the valley, that the chokecherry, pincherry, saskatoons were boundyus, that he had married two more couples, that Old John had been helping himself liberally from the agency woodpile. He closed his letter: “I hope you and
Mrs. Sinclair are having happy days there in spit of this you" better come back soon tho her I cant say the reson for this Cod be prayzd Ezra.”
The first week of September they returned for a new year in Paradise Valley, stopping in the town only long enough to pick up the department truck MacLean had left at the garage for them. Just as they came to the reserve fence, they saw a democrat come over the hill ahead. It was an Indian rig; two hounds trotted ahead and behind it, their distance from the buggy neither increasing nor decreasing a fraction.
“It’s the Riders, Car.”
He stopped the truck, got out. The democrat and its bearded ponies drew near. Izaiah pulled them down. As Car walked up to the democrat he saw that there were three occupants, the third sitting in the back with her head held almost to pressing against the democrat seat. He knew only that it was a woman or a girl wearing a crimson kerchief.
“Mr. Sinclair.” Izaiah looked down to him. “You hack.”
“Just coming in, Izaiah. How is everything?”
“Good. Pretty good, Mr. Sinclair.”
“Lots of work?”
“Hey - uh. Lots work. Only few people on the reserve— others all away thrashin’—stockin’—we’re just cornin’
back now. Out agin tomorrow. Been stackin’ green feed Moon’s. Finished that. Tomorrow movin’ camp to the Walking Stick.”
For some reason he couldn’t identify, Carlyle had begun to feel uneasy as he stood by the stilled democrat, the dogs sniffing at his legs, Izaiah unusually garrulous. “MacLean away?” “He was. Back now I think.”
The far horse released wind lingeringly, slyly; the air held a scent of ferment that strengthened and faded. “Oats,” said Izaiah—“been on oats kinda rich for her, I guess. Not used to them. Well . . .” he lifted the lines. “Just a minute,” said Carlyle. “I want to—bow’s Victoria? How’s she . . .”
Izaiah cast a glance at his wife beside him, began to say something in his own language, looked at Carlyle, stopped. “We better get goin’, Mr. Sinclair.” “Wait a minute! 1 asked you about Victoria.”
“Is she all right? Is she . . .” “Hey-uh.” He clucked to the team. “When did ycu last see her? Has she been back for a visit since . . .”
The wheels ground in the gravel as the democrat started to move.
“Damn it, Izaiah, I said wait!” Carlyle leaped to the near horse, jerked on the bridle. “Now -do I hold them or do you de as I say!”
“What’s happened to Victoria7” Izaiah slightly turned his head, jerked it toward the back of the democrat.
“What’s happened . . .” And then he realized the import of Izaiah’s gesture.
“Victoria!” He made it to the back in three strides. “Victoria! What are you doing here? How long have you ...”
“She’s been home.” said Izaiah.
“A month! But your course your training—.”
“She decided she’d quit that . . “Shut up! Victoria what’s happened-whose idea Victoria! Look at me! Turnaround!”
She turned then; he could hardly believe what he saw. It was the lowered face under the kerchief of any young squaw; the fingers clutching at the neck of her figured cotton dress were bright with rings. He saw then that one foot protruded from under her skirt wrapped and bound with buckskin. This wasn’t the girl in starched white with her probationer’s cap riding high and pure on black hair. This wasn’t the girl who had come home at Christmas, trim in her blue suit with a froth of lace at the neck, carrying purse and
gloves . . . “Good Christ, Victoria —you—it isn’t—you haven’t . . .” “I’m sorry, Mr. Sinclair.” It was just a murmur, hardly distinguishable. “How did you . . .”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sinclair.”
“You’ve—you’ve got to go back! Did you—will they let you?”
“I’m ashamed, Mr. Sinclair.” “Ashamed?”
“I’m sorry. It was too hard. I failed.”
“They sent you back.”
“I came back. I couldn’t stay. I failed to stay. I let you down. I’m sorry.”
He stared at her, then turned to Izaiah. “Izaiah, if you had anything to do with this, I’ll . . .”
“We didn’t do this.” Mrs. Rider had spoken for the first time. “We didn’t want this, Mr. Sinclair. We’re ashamed too.”
“Then she’s going back!”
“She can’t go back. It isn’t any use,” Susan said sadly.
“But she—there’s no reason why she shouldn’t ...”
“It isn’t any use,” Izaiah echoed his wife’s words. He slapped the horses’ rumps with the lines. This time Carlyle did not stop them. He stood in the road staring after the democrat, its two hound dogs trotting each the same careful distance from the vehicle. He stood there ffir several moments, his eyes on the crouched figure sitting on the floor with head bowed and leaning as though to rest the cheek against the back of the democrat seat.
HE DROVE the quarter mile to the agency in silence, not answering Grace’s worried questions. Then, when they were in the house, he told her.
“But she couldn’t, Car! There must he some explanation!”
“She has. It’s happened.”
“Then her family must have brought pressure on her. I know she . .
“No -no—it isn’t Izaiah or Susjfn. I know that.”
“What are you going to do?” “Nothing. There’s nothing to do now.”
“There is, Car!”
“There is there is. This is no different from the from other times. It’s always "heer. a fight.. We’ve just got to straighten her out again. We’ll just have to . . .”
“There isn't anything we can do.” “Car, I don’t understand you at Christmas time when she . . .”
“This is different, Grace.!’
“I don’t see how it is.”
“Nothing would be gained at all
this time’s the one that shows me.” “Shows you what?”
“That it’s no use. That she—that there’s no end to it—that we can’t go on being a crutch for her. We can’t go on forcing her ...”
“Now look here! That’s not right!” “I’m afraid it is.”
“We’ll just have to . . .”
“Grace —it’s no use! There isn’t anything we can do!”
“When she came at Christmas when we worked with her all through the holidays, you didn’t talk like this . .
“This is final. It isn’t the same it isn’t the same at all.”
“Well, it is! We’ll pull her through this. Unless the hospital are unwilling to take her back . .
“It’s no use,” he said again, his voice quiet and expressionless.
“Car, stop it!” She was angry. “There’s too much at stake in Victoria for you to give up. You can’t! You mustn’t! You can’t let her quit! If you do you’re no better than she is it’s had enough now without your making it worse! You can’t fail too! Now!”
“It’s—it’s a month.”
“All right—one month—and you’ve spent years with her . . . she’s had years of . . .”
“She’s had centuries!” he lashed out. “She’s got her blood and she’s got her people and she . . .”
“And there’s no reason why she can’t go back and . . .”
“Oh, there is! There is! Can’t you see? It’s like teaching a bitch to walk on her hind legs! You can! And she’ll do it! As long as you tell her to as long as you’re there! There’s no point in it. She’ll go down on all fours again! That’s her way! Can’t you see? There’s nothing to do for her! If there was, I’d do it! God, I’ve not wanted anything more in my life my whole life!”
“Then why are you giving up now when . . .”
“In my whole life I haven’t! Wanting it isn’t going to do it! It’s hopeless and I know it! I always have! She’s lost now! You can talk about helping her, but it’s useless! Go tell help the mountains to turn upside down -tell the falls not to freeze up this winter stop the spring run-off . . .”
“Car . .
“Teach Old John not to spend his money in the—on raisin bread and Philip Morris cigarettes—blot MacLean’s stammer—get the drum out of their blood !”
“Car, I can’t talk to you if you . . .” “Talk—talk—talk’s going to do nothing! Go to Dingle if you want talk—prayers—they do nothing! She’s lost now! You’ll never save her! No one can save her!”
“We can. We’re going to.”
“Oh, Grace,’’ his voice broke. “What’s the use? What’s the use?” He lowered his head into his hands. “She’s the whole thing. I’ve she’s been the whole thing for a long time. FY>r a long time!”
“I know. I know.”
“I’ve lost all happy days now.”
“All right, dear.”
“I’m I’m beat.”
“That’s—you won’t be. Come to bed. We’ll talk it over tomorrow.” They had talked the next day. This was not different from the Christmas failure, Grace told him again and again. Nothing had changed; it was still as important as ever that Victoria succeed They had come the longestpjart of the way, hadn’t they? Why should they stop helping her now?
At least they could find out whether or not the hospital would have her back. And if it would —if it would . . .
“I don’t think they will,” said Carlyle.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because—there’s something—” His face and his voice showed his bafflement. “Something’s happened—I know her—I—it’s been a month.”
“And I know her too. She got lonely —it was hard—it got too much for her—she came home—other girls get homesick away from their families.” Grace’s voice took on firmness. “I want the girl to go back! I want her to finish . . .”
“So do I . . .”
“And she’s going to! She will finish and there will be a hospital here! I don’t even care if she ever works in it! I simply want her to get through. Show that an Indian girl can do it! She—I—have you any objection to my phoning the hospital—finding out?” “No—no . . .”
She got long distance immediately. Then she was talking with the matron of Wesley. There was no reason that Victoria Rider should not return. She had got two weeks’ leave because her mother was ill; that two weeks was over ten days ago. They too were taking a special interest in Victoria, were concerned about her absence, had heen just about ready to get in touch with the Indian department.
She turned away from tne phone. “It’s all right, Car! It’s all right!” “They’ll let her come back?”
“They want her—they’re just as interested as we are. She’s overstayed a two-week leave—she’ll have to make it up at the end of her training but she—oh, Car, get her— go and get her! Dr. Sanders is coming tomorrow she can go back with him!”
HE LEFT the house but he did not go to Riders’ cahin. Instead, he found himself sitting on Old John’s rock below the falls, the September sun warm on his forehead, the hoarseness of the river filling his mind, creating its own subtle tension pulling and swirling just under the surface of consciousness. He did not know what he waited for as he sat there, looking out across the valley to hills fawn under the fall sunlight, his traveling eye picking out a clump of cottonwood touched to flaming yellow by the idle nightfinger of frost, beside it another of lime reprieved. Down the draws ran the low crimson of fireweed like spilled embers; everywhere the darker green of spruce speared cool. He lifted his eyes to the mountains, smoke-blue, hazed—unreal and withdrawn. The high sky was clear and unsullied. The blue and gold days had lowered over the valley again and he must go to see Victoria, find out what had happened—really. And he was filled with inarticulate melancholy. Lost all happy days now.
Shale pocked the water before him; he looked back and up. High against the sky a man’s figure was outlined; it was like looking up from the bottom of a well.
It was Dr. Sanders. In a few moments he was seated beside Carlyle.
“You’re early. I thought you weren’t coming till tomorrow.”
“Finished at Hanley. Came out this morning.”
“Made your calls?”
Again Sanders nodded. “Look at that damned thing.” The doctor’s eyes were on a sapling just across from them. “Almost as though it were sputtering into flame! Poplar—cottonwood. I
never did know the difference between — among them — popple — popular — then there’s one they call quakem ash
poplar—or popple—or popular.”
“You usually call in on us first,” Carlyle said.
“Thought I’d go right to work—have the afternoon.”
They felt the warmth of the sun dim as it slipped through cloud haze; an instant later it clean'd itself and they were bathed in strengthening luminosity; it was more than light, for it could almost be sensed through the forehead and cheeks. The sapling across from them was suddenly degrees more lambent and some private breeze there had set each leaf in its own
glinting dance. The water came alive with heliographing light.
“I want to talk to you about Victoria,” said Sanders abruptly.
“I was just going over there,” said Carlyle.
“So Grace said. I called there this morning. I had to call on her today.” “Did you?”
“She’s had it. Car.”
“What do you mean?”
From across the river came the clocking of an axe; a dog barked; a child called; all seemed to say the hell with it and fell silent as though they
hadn’t intended breaking the fall stillness anyway.
“Susan sent word in to Fyfe. He asked me to see her—Victoria.” The doctor had picked up a bit of drift twig. It snapped audibly in his fingers like chicken bone. “She’s pregnant.”
BOTH men stared down at the surface of the pool, smoothly bearing yellowed leaf and froth in wide circles. “She wouldn’t tell me who,” Sanders said.
“Does it matter much,” said Carlyle. “No T guess not.” Sanders sighed. “To her.”
“Her mother seems to have got it straight.”
“I think I’ve known,” said Carlyle slowly. “I—I’m not very interested.” “Susan says she was grabbed hold of. Johnny Education.”
“However it was—works out to the same thing, doesn’t it?”
“No—T don’t think it does.”
“Well, it doesn’t,” said Sanders. “If it had been the other way she—this way she at least went down fighting.” “It would have been the other way sooner or later,” said Carlyle.
“Car, it’s too bad.” Sanders’ voice was warm with sympathy.
“But it wasn’t her fault. There’s that. She came home—Susan was sick -she went to the dance that week end she was going home early and Johnny waited for her by the trail he well, he grabbed her—threw her to the ground.”
“Well, if you know why are you taking this . . .”
“I know.” Carlyle stood up. “Ezra marrying them?”
“Johnny’s already got a wife and three children up at Hanley.”
“Oh yes I’d forgot. Sanders .” “Yes?”
“Like to make a trade with you first time I met you you told me —said you were a disease brother of these people —I told you . . .”
“What are you . . .”
“Make you a trade. You told me once you were—tubercular—. Trade you my blood for your TB.”
“For Cod’s sakes . . .”
“How’d you like it—being a little smoked quarter— like me? Half like Victoria? Three quarters like her bastard . . .”
“I wouldn’t trade you anything!” Sanders jumped up. “What’s wrong with you? You trying to milk this thing for all the cheap drama you can get out of it? Who are you concerned about right now? Victoria? Yourself!” “Why —both of us —I guess.” “What’s happened to you? Who raped you?”
“If I were a woman I think I’d prefer a nice simple rape to what has happened to me now.”
“You phony self-centred . . .” “Phonyself-centred and smoked. When the water clears there you can see them—belly to the bottom holding there close to the gravel spawning. We ought to get some maggots and about a fourteen hook
Old John’s always got rotten meat we could . .
“Carlyle! Take it better! You can! Everything isn’t lost!”
“That’s it,” said Carlyle. “It is. I’m afraid it is!” ★
Next Issue: CHAPTER EIGHT Two Women, Two Heartbreaks