INDIANS RIDE AWAY
There was another long night of sleep. It was so good to lie down and sleep soundly. Everything was safe and quiet. Only the owls called “Who-oo? Who-oo?” in the woods along the creek, while the great moon sailed slowly over the curve of the sky above the endless prairie.
In the morning, the sun shone warmly. Down by the creek the frogs were croaking. “Garrump! Garrump!” they cried by the edge of the pools. “Knee deep! Knee deep! Better go ’round.”
Ever since Ma had told them what the frogs were saying, Mary and Laura could hear the words plainly.
The door was open to let in the warm spring air. After breakfast Pa went out, whistling merrily. He was going to hitch Pet and Patty to the plow again. But his whistling suddenly stopped. He stood on the doorstep, looking toward the east, and he said, “Come here, Caroline. And you, Mary and Laura.”
Laura ran out first, and she was surprised. The Indians were coming.
They did not come on the creek road. They came riding up out of the creek bottoms far to the east.
First came the tall Indian who had gone riding by the house in the moonlight. Jack was growling and Laura’s heartbeat fast. She was glad to be close to Pa. But she knew this was the good Indi- an, the Osage chief who had stopped the terrible war-cries.
His black pony came trotting willingly, sniffing the wind that blew its mane and tail like fluttering banners. The pony’s nose and head were free; it wore no bridle. Not even one strap was on it anywhere. There was nothing to make it do anything it didn’t want to do. Willingly it came trotting along the old Indian trail as if it liked to carry the Indian on its back.
Jack growled savagely, trying to get loose from his chain. He remembered this Indian who had pointed a gun at him. Pa said, “Be still, Jack.” Jack growled again, and for the first time in their lives Pa struck him. “Lie down! Be still!” Pa said. Jack cowered down and was still.
The pony was very near now, and Laura’s heartbeat faster and faster. She looked at the Indian’s beaded moccasin, she looked up along the fringed legging that clung to the pony’s bare side. A bright-colored blanket was wrapped around the Indian. One bare brown-red arm carried a rifle lightly across the pony’s naked shoulders. Then Laura looked up at the Indian’s fierce, still, brown face.
It was a proud, still face. No matter what happened, it would always be like that. Nothing would change it. Only the eyes were alive in that face, and they gazed steadily far away to the west. They did not move. Nothing moved or changed, except the eagle feathers standing straight up from the scalp lock on the shaved head. The long feathers swayed and dipped, waving and spinning in the wind as the tall Indian on the black pony passed on into the distance.
“Du Chêne himself,” Pa said, under his breath, and he lifted his hand in salute.
But the happy pony and the motionless Indian went by. They went by as if the house and stable and Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura were not there at all.
Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura slowly turned and looked at that Indian’s proud straight back. Then other ponies and other blankets and shaved heads and eagle feathers came between. One by one on the path, more and more savage warriors were riding behind du Chêne. Brown face after brown face went by. Ponies’ manes and tails blew in the wind, beads glittered, fringe flapped, eagle feathers were waving on all the naked heads.
Rifles lying on the ponies’ shoulders bristled all along the line.
Laura was excited about the ponies. There were black ponies, bay ponies, gray and brown and spotted ponies. Their little feet went trippety- trip-trip, trippety-trip, pat-patter, pat-patter, trippety pat-patter, all along the Indian trail. Their nostrils widened at Jack and their bodies shied away from him, but they came on bravely, looking with their bright eyes at Laura.
“Oh, the pretty ponies! See the pretty ponies!” she cried, clapping her hands. “Look at the spotted one.”
She thought she would never be tired of watching those ponies coming by, but after a while she began to look at the women and children on their backs. The women and children came riding behind the Indian men. Little naked brown Indians, no bigger than Mary and Laura, were riding the pretty ponies. The ponies did not have to wear bridles or saddles, and the little Indians did not have to wear clothes. All their skin was out in the fresh air and the sunshine. Their straight black hair blew in the wind and their black eyes sparkled with joy. They sat on their ponies stiff and still like grown-up Indians.
Laura looked and looked at the Indian children, and they looked at her. She had a naughty wish to be a little Indian girl. Of course, she did not really mean it. She only wanted to be bare naked in the wind and the sunshine and riding one of those gay little ponies.
The Indian children’s mothers were riding ponies, too. Leather fringe dangled about their legs and blankets were wrapped around their bodies, but the only thing on their heads was their black, smooth hair. Their faces were brown and placid. Some had narrow bundles tied on their backs, and tiny babies’ heads stuck out of the top of the bundles. And some babies and some small children rode in baskets hanging at the ponies’ sides, beside their mothers.
More and more and more ponies passed, and more children, and more babies on their mothers’ backs, and more babies in baskets on the ponies’ sides. Then came a mother riding, with a baby in a basket on each side of her pony.
Laura looked straight into the bright eyes of the little baby nearer her. Only its small head showed above the basket’s rim. Its hair was as black as a crow and its eyes were black as a night when no stars shine.
Those black eyes looked deep into Laura’s eyes and she looked deep down into the blackness of that little baby’s eyes, and she wanted that one little baby.
“Pa,” she said, “get me that little Indian baby!”
“Hush, Laura!” Pa told her sternly.
The little baby was going by. Its head turned and its eyes kept looking into Laura’s eyes.
“Oh, I want it! I want it!” Laura begged. The baby was going farther and farther away, but it did not stop looking back at Laura. “It wants to stay with me,” Laura begged. “Please, Pa, please!”
“Hush, Laura,” Pa said. “The Indian woman wants to keep her baby.”
“Oh, Pa!” Laura pleaded, and then she began to cry. It was shameful to cry, but she couldn’t help it. The little Indian baby was gone. She knew she would never see it anymore.
Ma said she had never heard of such a thing. “For shame, Laura,” she said, but Laura could not stop crying. “Why on earth do you want an Indian baby, of all things!” Ma asked her.
“Its eyes are so black,” Laura sobbed. She could not say what she meant.
“Why, Laura,” Ma said, “you don’t want an- other baby. We have a baby, our own baby.”
“I want the other one, too!” Laura sobbed, loudly.
“Well, I declare!” Ma exclaimed.
“Look at the Indians, Laura,” said Pa. “Look west, and then look east, and see what you see.”
Laura could hardly see at first. Her eyes were full of tears and sobs kept jerking out of her throat. But she obeyed Pa as best she could, and in a moment she was still. As far as she could see to the west and as far as she could see to the east there were Indians. There was no end to that long, long line.
“That’s an awful lot of Indians,” Pa said.
More and more and more Indians came riding by. Baby Carrie grew tired of looking at Indians and played by herself on the floor. But Laura sat on the doorstep, Pa stood close beside her, and Ma and Mary stood in the doorway. They looked and looked and looked at Indians riding by.
It was dinnertime, and no one thought of dinner. Indian ponies were still going by, carrying bundles of skins and tent-poles and dangling baskets and cooking pots. There were a few more women and a few more naked Indian children. Then the very last pony went by. But Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary still stayed in the door- way, looking, till that long line of Indians slowly pulled itself over the western edge of the world. And nothing was left but silence and emptiness. All the world seemed very quiet and lonely.
Ma said she didn’t feel like doing anything, she was so let down. Pa told her not to do any- thing but rest.
“You must eat something, Charles,” Ma said. “No,” said Pa. “I don’t feel hungry.” He went soberly to hitch up Pet and Patty, and he began again to break the tough sod with the plow.
Laura could not eat anything, either. She sat a long time on the doorstep, looking into the empty west where the Indians had gone. She seemed still to see waving feathers and black eyes and to hear the sound of ponies’ feet.