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Title: Yellow Star: A Story of East and West
Author: Eastman, Elaine Goodale
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



YELLOW STAR

[Illustration: “I seem to be just in time, again, Stella,” was all he
said.

FRONTISPIECE. _See page 265._]



                               YELLOW STAR

                        A STORY OF EAST AND WEST

                                   BY
                         ELAINE GOODALE EASTMAN

                  Author of “Wigwam Evenings,” “Little
                        Brother o’ Dreams,” Etc.

                         _With Illustrations by_
                              ANGEL DE CORA
                                   AND
                            WILLIAM LONE STAR

                                 BOSTON
                       LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
                                  1911

                           _Copyright, 1911_,
                     BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

                          _All rights reserved_

                       Published, September, 1911

                      _Electrotyped and Printed by
                           THE COLONIAL PRESS
                  C. H. Simonds & Co., Boston, U.S.A._



TO WINONA.

(MOUNT HOLYOKE, 1914.)


    Dark eyes, that drew their mingled fires
    From native kings, and Pilgrim sires,
    And fused within one glowing breast
    The ardors of the East and West,—

    Child of the prairie’s generous sweep,
    Your tryst with grave Minerva keep,
    Yet first on Wisdom’s roll you’ll find
    The sacred love of humankind!



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                                  PAGE

       I. LAUREL FOLKS                                          3

       II. THE GIRL FROM DAKOTA                                20

      III. A LESSON IN HISTORY                                 33

       IV. THE-ONE-WHO-WAS-LEFT-ALIVE                          46

        V. IN WOLCOTT’S WOODS                                  63

       VI. A WILD WEST PERFORMANCE                             76

      VII. BEHIND THE SCENES                                   88

     VIII. THE RIGHT STUFF                                     99

      IX. GLIMPSES OF OLD AMERICA                             112

        X. NOBODY’S LITTLE GIRL                               130

       XI. JUST FRIENDS                                       146

      XII. HERBS AND SIMPLES                                  159

     XIII. INDIAN HOSPITALITY                                 176

      XIV. AN END AND A BEGINNING                             193

       XV. THE SCENE SHIFTS                                   207

      XVI. BY RETURN OF POST                                  222

     XVII. “PRAY FOR MY PEOPLE WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN”        238

    XVIII. FACING THE SUNRISE                                 255



ILLUSTRATIONS


    “I SEEM TO BE JUST IN TIME, AGAIN, STELLA,”
      WAS ALL HE SAID                               _Frontispiece_

    A GIRLISH FIGURE SWUNG DOWN OUT OF THE OLD
      APPLE-TREE AND DROPPED LIGHTLY UPON ITS FEET        PAGE 16

    HE WAS QUIET, EVEN FOR AN INDIAN BABY;
      UNNATURALLY QUIET, SHE THOUGHT                       ”   88

    “I WAS ONLY DIGGING MEDICINE,” THE ELF
      SOBERLY ANNOUNCED                                    ”  209



YELLOW STAR



YELLOW STAR



CHAPTER I

LAUREL FOLKS


It was four o’clock of a hot September afternoon, and the buzz of
twenty girls released from school filled the close room with a sibilant
overflow, much like the gossip of bees in a blossoming elder-bush. The
boys had already gone clattering down the stairs to the ball-field,
and the little maids of the highest grammar grade demurely prepared to
follow, sipping the sweets of freedom with more of leisurely enjoyment,
in true feminine fashion.

A long, thin girl of thirteen or so, in a starched blue gingham frock
nearly to her sharp knees, who looked somehow as if blown straight
forward by a strong wind, and a plump bud of a fair-haired damsel in
pink, stood close together in an eddy of the murmuring stream.

“I don’t think it’s fair, Doris; no, I don’t!” were the long girl’s first
words earnestly spoken, as she tossed the lank locks back from her eager
face with a characteristic gesture.

“Don’t think what’s fair?” queried Doris, serenely. “Oh, Sin, you’ve
dropped your glasses!”

“Bother the glasses—you know what I mean. That wild Indian girl from the
‘land of the Ojibways,’ or wherever it is they say she’s coming to our
school, and the girls will make her life one long misery, just because
she wears a red blanket, prob’ly, and a feather or two in her straight,
black hair—”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Sin Parker. She never wore a
blanket in her life, so there!”

“Why—why—isn’t she a sure-’nough Indian, then, after all?” stammered
romance-loving Cynthia, dropping the glasses again in her excitement.
“And how do _you_ happen to know so much about it, Doris Brown?”

“Well, I do know; mother was out calling yesterday afternoon, and she’s
heard all about it. I expect she’s over at the Spellman house now. You
see, it’s this way…” And the two girls, with arms about each other’s
waists and absorbed faces, drifted through the big doors in their turn
and followed a chattering, fluttering throng down the wide, elm-lined
village street.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the prim parlor of an old New England homestead, watched over by
the ghostly crayon portraits of departed ancestors, the fate of the
brown-skinned little stranger was equally the topic of discussion.

Mrs. Brown, a stout, motherly lady in a creaking black silk, had timed
her call neatly for the second day after the arrival from the west of
Miss Spellman’s widowed sister, whose husband had lived for twenty years
as a missionary among the Indians, and her unusual charge.

“No, I was never in favor of bringing the child to Laurel. I strongly
advised Lucy to place her at once in one of the excellent Government
boarding-schools for Indian children. I understand that they are
everything that could be desired for a girl in her position—clean and
well-managed—the common branches thoroughly taught, together with
housework and sewing.”

Miss Sophia spoke with her usual positiveness in that hard, clear-cut
voice of hers, raising her white, aquiline profile a trifle against the
shadowy background of her ancestral “best room.”

“Why, sister,” pleaded gentle Mrs. Waring, almost tearfully, “I could
no more have left my little girl in one of those big, bare, whitewashed
barracks … to eat coarse food off thick stoneware in a noisy dining-room
… to sleep with fifty other girls in a dormitory where the beds almost
touch … she’s not used to anything like that! I tell you, the child is as
sensitive as you or I.”

“I must beg of you, Lucy, not to mention _my_ name in any such
connection,” interposed her sister. “It would certainly seem that a
school expressly provided for just such girls as Yellow Star—or whatever
her ridiculous name is—must be the proper place for her. However, you
were determined to bring her home with you, and you have had your way.
It remains to be seen what will come of it… Let me fill your glass,
Emmeline.”

“No, thank you, Sophia,” murmured good Mrs. Brown, hastily finishing her
iced tea, and setting the thin, frosted goblet with its bits of shaved
lemon peel on the silver tray at her hostess’s elbow. Sophia certainly
did have a positive gift for making folks uncomfortable. “I surely do
hope,” she plucked up courage to add, “that Yellow Star will do well in
Laurel, and be happy with us, now that she is here.”

“We call her Stella,” faltered Mrs. Waring. “It seemed wiser …” (here
Miss Sophia indulged in what might in a less aristocratic dame have been
plainly called a sniff) … “wiser not to retain anything that might tend
to make her needlessly conspicuous—”

“Oh, I see! ‘Stella’—that’s very pretty. I understand you are sending
her to grammar school?”

“Stella will enter the eighth grade to-morrow,” Mrs. Waring answered,
drawing courage from the delicate sympathy conveyed in her old friend’s
soft, purring tones. “She is nearly fourteen, and I want her to be
thoroughly prepared for the academy next year.”

“Why, I’m surprised! How ever did you manage it, Lucy? That’s my Doris’s
grade—and Doris was fourteen last month.”

“I have taught Stella myself up to now,” her adopted mother announced
with modest pride, “and a quicker or more willing pupil I never met with
anywhere. Yes, I’ve talked with the superintendent; he questioned her
himself; and he says she could get into the academy this fall, he thinks,
but advises a year in the grades to give her more confidence and lay a
better foundation.”

“Foundation for what—can any one tell me that?” Miss Sophia had been
silent an unusually long time, for her. “I’m afraid my sister hasn’t
considered that to educate the child above her station in life and out
of sympathy with her own people will only lead to her unhappiness in
the end. If you would only take my advice, Lucy, before it’s too late,
and train the child for a little maid—since you will have her with
you—instead of spoiling her as you do…”

“Stella is my little girl, sister,” interrupted the gentle Lucy, with
the unexpected daring of some timid animal brought to bay. “She shall
share whatever I have, and for as long as I live. Please remember
that she hasn’t a blood relation in the world, so far as she knows,
and is perfectly free to live _anywhere_. I intend to give her a good
education—just as good as she can take, or as I would have given my own
daughter, if I had one—and the rest is in God’s hands—and her own!”

There was a minute’s tense silence. Then Miss Sophia ostentatiously began
a conversation on quite another subject with her subdued caller, who
wanted nothing so much just then as to catch a glimpse of the unconscious
bone of contention, but simply dared not ask in so many words to see
Yellow Star.

Lucy sat back in her chair with her thin hands squeezed tightly together,
trying hard to recover her composure. It was quite true that Sophia
had opposed from the first her purpose to adopt and educate the child,
and had yielded ungraciously enough in the end, merely because she had
exhausted her weapons. There were but the two sisters left, and the
homestead belonged to them equally. Mr. Waring had died the year before,
leaving only the few hundred dollars that represented a missionary’s
scanty savings. It was entirely natural and right that his widow should
come home to live, and quite impossible for her to leave behind the
waif whom she had picked up in the Indian camp some eight or nine years
earlier, and had taken fully into her heart and home. Her dear husband
had loved and believed in the child, just as she did. Yes, Sophia was
making it very hard for her, who shrank unspeakably from anything like a
contest of wills; yet the purpose with which she had come back to the old
home was unshaken.

As Lucy sat there, struggling with painful thoughts and oblivious to
the murmur of civil conversation, her quick eye caught a flash of
white—evidently a slip of folded paper that some one had slid in the
crack of the closed door. She hastily left her chair, and with her
sister’s cold gray eye upon her, secured the paper and slipped out of
the room with it in her hand, for it was naturally impossible to open it
under that fire of suspicious and almost hostile glances. The hall was
empty, and she dropped down on a haircloth covered davenport and read:

    “MOTHER DEAR: I’ve done everything you said unpackt my things
    put them away ironed the napkins put on a clean frock for tea
    and set the table. I just _have_ to go out in the orchard and
    think awhile. I wanted dreadfully to pick some flowers but Aunt
    said not to and I’m not going to. If you want me for anything
    you can find me in Apple-Tree Row next the Fence. I call it my
    House. Your Little Girl.”

This writing of unnecessary notes was a harmless fancy of Yellow Star’s,
that her foster-mother had not had the heart to correct. She had had so
few playmates on the reservation—for she wasn’t allowed to play with the
camp children, and it had happened that but one of the agency people had
a little girl of suitable age and irreproachable propriety—that she had
been really obliged to invent most of her own amusements. And then, too,
Lucy had told herself that “the child couldn’t have too much practice in
English.”

But the “silly trick,” as Miss Sophia called it, had already been
a source of some disquiet in the ill-assorted little household of
three. Perhaps she had better give the child a hint. And Sophia had
contemptuously repudiated the title of “Aunt,” so naturally bestowed
on the only sister of the only mother that little Yellow Star had ever
known. “None of that nonsense for me,” she had declared. “_I_ haven’t
adopted the child!”

“I suppose I’ll have to tell her not to say it any more … and she’ll
think it so strange,” mused poor Lucy ruefully enough, foreseeing many
trials for her darling, as she gathered up her nice black skirt and made
her way as daintily as a cat along the box-bordered walk, past the grape
arbor and the tidy kitchen garden into the grassy old apple orchard. She
seldom went out-of-doors, except for church, or calling, or shopping,
or on some entirely rational errand. It was perhaps the only trait of
Stella’s that she vaguely disapproved—this craze to be off and into all
sorts of outlandish places. Where under the canopy was she now? There was
the last row of trees bending with red and yellow fruit, at the further
end of the orchard, and no sign of her.

Everything was warm and sweet and very still. Only the invisible choir of
crickets made silence musical, and a flaming torch of goldenrod beside
the crumbling old stone wall seemed ready to light the summer’s funeral
pyre. Not that Lucy Waring thought of it in just that way, but possibly
Stella’s dreams and fancies might have been so translated.

Perhaps it had not been quite polite to leave the house so abruptly
before their guest had taken her leave. She had forgotten … ought she to
go back at once? But where could the child be? she wondered. As she stood
hesitating, a low, sweet call made her look quickly up, and next instant
a girlish figure swung down out of the old apple-tree and dropped lightly
upon its feet.

[Illustration: A girlish figure swung down out of the old apple-tree and
dropped lightly upon its feet. _Page 16._]

Hair of a dense blue-black was neatly braided and tied up with red ribbon
that matched the red plaid in her irreproachable gingham frock; a faint
sort of underglow warmed the smooth, brown skin; a something spirited
about the carriage of the well-shaped head and a singular directness in
the glance of the soft, black eyes were the first things you noticed.
Surely, this was no ordinary child.

“Oh, mother, mother!” she cried, impulsively throwing her arms around the
little lady’s neck. “Isn’t it beautiful? Oh, I wish we had real grass and
apple-trees in Dakota, don’t you? It wasn’t wrong to come out here, was
it? Don’t say it was wrong, mother! Can’t this be my House to come out
to when Miss Sophia doesn’t want me? I feel as if she didn’t want me;
her house seems to push me right out somehow. And I’m terribly afraid of
going to school; I’ve been thinking how perhaps the other girls won’t
want me either.”

“You must be brave, darling,” quavered poor Mrs. Waring. “Remember, this
strangeness will all wear off very soon.”

“Oh, I shall be _brave_,” burst out Yellow Star, letting her slender arms
fall at her sides, and holding her jet-crowned head higher than ever. “My
people have always been brave, you know—so of course I have to be! And
nobody at all will ever know how afraid I am … nobody but you, mother.

“That yellow-haired girl in the pink dress that just went up the straight
path to the front door … there she comes down again with the stout lady
with shiny black beads all over her bonnet and her tight, black waist—she
looks just like some kind of large, shining beetle, doesn’t she?—well, my
heart beats so it shakes me all over when I even _think_ of going up and
speaking to that girl in pink! I think she’s perfectly beautiful—and I’m
terribly afraid of her—but _she’ll_ never guess how I feel. There’s one
thing I have to tell you, though,” she added in a more subdued voice. “I
find I can’t call Miss Sophia ‘Aunt’ any more. Do you think you’ll mind
very much, mother? I’m almost certain she can’t be any real relation.”



CHAPTER II

THE GIRL FROM DAKOTA


Lucy Waring had no warriors’ blood that she knew of to fall back upon,
so perhaps it was partly her long association with the stoics of the
plains that made it possible for her to turn over her little girl to
the “new teacher,” the very next day, with the stiff smile of her New
England forebears under social duress—to drag her eyes away from the
wild, despairing courage of Yellow Star’s great black ones—to walk quite
steadily out of the door and down the long flight of wooden steps and
along the drowsy village street, without even a backward look to share or
soften the imaginary terrors of School.

These took no worse form, just at first, than the curious but not
unfriendly stares of forty-two pairs of critical young eyes, and the
penetrating susurrus of forty-two edged voices, all of which the Indian
girl felt with a pricking and tingling anguish in every fiber of her
sensitive body, as she sat rigid in a front seat, directly facing the
teacher’s desk.

Then the second bell rang, and there was a hush. As soon as she could,
after opening exercises, Miss Morrison supplied the new pupil with pen
and ink and the usual blank for the school record. It looked something
like this:

    Your name in full.
    Date of birth. Year, month and day.
    Name of father.
    Father’s occupation.
    School previously attended.
    What grade were you in?

A wild glance down the length of the paper made it certain that her worst
fears had been promptly realized, and poor Stella, after setting down her
new name, Stella Waring, sat staring at the other five questions, fairly
tense with nervous dread, until her busy teacher had found time to note
the situation. Then she bent over the girl from Dakota and asked very
kindly, in a low voice:

“Why don’t you put down your age and your father’s name, Stella?”

“I do not know my date of birth, year, month and day; I do not know my
father’s name and occupation, and I never went to school before,” she
replied in tones sharpened by fright, so that they rang through the
crowded school-room, causing an audible gasp of astonishment.

“Why, I was certainly told that you belonged here,” wondered Miss
Morrison; then, with ready tact divining something of the girl’s
embarrassment:

“Never mind about the questions just now. This is our lesson for to-day;
look it over, please, and be prepared to stand and read when I call upon
you.”

This Stella could do, and knew she could. Abundant time was given to
recover herself; then the paragraph assigned was read, if somewhat slowly
and with the faintest trace of foreign accent, yet distinctly, and with
more delicacy of modulation than perhaps any other in that room could
command.

“Very good, indeed,” approved Miss Morrison; and this time the slight
buzz sounded almost like encouragement, and the pricking and tingling
were less agonizing than before.

When the others passed out at recess, Stella remained in her seat
at a sign from the teacher, who sat down beside her and bent her
violet-scented brown head sympathetically toward her singular but far
from unattractive new pupil.

“About the age, dear,” she began, tentatively, “surely you must know…”

“I am supposed to be thirteen years old, Miss Morrison, but I have not
any birthday. Mother—I mean Mrs. Waring—always makes me a birthday cake
on the nineteenth of February, because she says it is so sort of lonesome
not to have a birthday. But I do not know _really_, so of course I could
not put it down on the paper. You see, I … I was _found_! I never heard
my father’s name or my mother’s name either—nobody knows who they were.”

Here the clear voice got somehow muffled, and the warm-hearted teacher
hastily assured her that it didn’t matter one bit about the questions—she
had had no idea—and impulsively she took the hated paper out of the
little girl’s sensitive brown hand.

It might have been as well if Lucy Waring had explained matters somewhat
before her abrupt departure; but the truth was that she had strung her
difficult courage to the necessary point of leaving the child to her own
resources in this strange, and possibly unfriendly, new environment. The
effort had carried her to a really unnecessary extreme; she had forgotten
that Yellow Star’s personal history was as yet quite unknown in Laurel.

Miss Morrison felt the incident to be a touching one. She even reproached
herself for thoughtless adherence to routine, and during the rest of
the morning gave a quite unusual degree of attention to her new charge.
It appeared that Stella had the correct eye and delicate hand of her
race; she was an excellent penman; she had been well drilled in the
essentials. More: she was eager, alert, intense—quick to spring upon an
idea as a cat upon its prey.

Most of the children went home at noon, and no sooner was school
dismissed than Cynthia Parker, whose near-sighted brown eyes had been
turned anxiously, half maternally toward the stranger, at the cost of
frequent, though not unusual, blunders in her own recitations, darted to
her side and began to speak rapidly.

“I know who you are; Doris Brown told me; she’s that yellow-haired girl
in pink—see! she’s looking this way. My name’s Cynthia Parker and I hope
we’ll be friends—I read everything I can get hold of about Indians—mother
says I’m just like one. Do you like dogs?” And almost before Stella could
find breath to reply, in her pretty, precise English, that she did, Sin
had taken up the tale.

“I’ve got two—that’s the big one waiting for me outside—his name’s
Sir Walter Scott, but we call him Scotty for short. Here, Scotty, old
fellow!” And as the gaunt hound rushed upon them both, nearly knocking
them down in his eagerness, she threw her arms around his homely neck
and hugged him with an unaffected ardor that quite warmed the new girl’s
heart.

“Let’s walk slowly and get behind; can we?” she whispered, shyly. “They
do look at us so!” In fact, there was unwonted lingering that day, and
much open whispering, which the three pretended to ignore. Doris had
waited, as usual, and joined them at the door.

“Of course we can; nobody has dinner till half past twelve, and it’s
only five minutes’ walk to your house,” she assented, pleasantly, while
Cynthia bluntly remarked:

“They’re awfully disappointed, you know, because you didn’t wear your
Indian suit to-day—a blanket and feathers in your hair. Why, you look
almost exactly like anybody else, in that nice, brown linen.”

“Indian girls don’t wear feathers; only the men do that,” smiled the
new girl, who much preferred to “look like anybody else,” and found
personalities a bit embarrassing. Still, she was feeling a good deal
better in the company of her new-found friends.

“Then do they all wear pretty blouses and stylish hats?” Sin unblushingly
inquired.

“Well, there aren’t many of the old-style dresses left among the Sioux—my
people. Why, a blanket robe trimmed with real elks’ teeth, or one of
beaded doeskin, is worth a hundred dollars! Besides, nearly all the
girls go to school nowadays, and wear dresses and hats like mine,—only
not quite so pretty, perhaps, because my dear mother made these and she
has such good taste,” ended Stella, loyally and lovingly.

“Mrs. Waring is perfectly lovely, I think,” began Doris, tactfully, but
suddenly broke off with a little cry of dismay.

“Oh, Sin! whose dog is that? Hadn’t you better get the chain on Scotty?”

Alas, the warning came too late! The strange dog had already offered some
nameless canine impertinence to Sir Walter, whose temper was none of the
most patient. Instantly he hurled himself upon the new-comer, and the
fight was on.

The three girls had purposely loitered, and the quiet street was almost
deserted. It was the universal dinner hour, and boys and girls were
rapidly disappearing down various side streets, urged homewards by
the double spur of sharp young appetites and savory odors of “mother’s
cooking.”

“Help! help!” screamed Sin, and forthwith flung herself with more valor
than discretion upon the wallowing mass in the middle of the dusty road.

Doris grew very white, as she set her back to the hedge, drew her
spotless skirts tightly around her, and earnestly begged her friend to
“be careful!” But heedless, brave, loving Sin, crying loudly now and
terribly alarmed for Scotty’s safety, persisted in wild and none too
prudent attempts to drag him bodily forth from the fray. The strange
dog had fastened viciously upon his throat, and the fight began to look
serious. Why _didn’t_ some one come?

In that very minute some one did, and the “some one” was no other than
the girl from Dakota. She had broken a stout switch from an apple-tree
that overhung the sidewalk near at hand, and was belaboring the strange
dog in a steady, business-like fashion, at the same time calling him off
in ringing tones, and in a language that he evidently understood, if her
astonished classmates did not.

“Kigelá! kigelá!” they thought they heard her say, over and over; and
whether the strange words composed a sort of charm or secret incantation
for dogs, or whether it was some compelling power in the personality
of the black-haired girl, or merely the flail-like regularity of her
vigorous blows, it is certain at any rate that he soon let go his hold,
and ran yelping away.

Sir Walter, gallantly scrambling to his long legs and shaking his
bleeding but still warlike head, would gladly have followed, but was
forcibly restrained by his disheveled mistress, who had contrived at
last to snap the chain upon his collar, and while breathlessly dragging
him homewards, did not forget to call back over her shoulder in broken
phrases her admiring gratitude to Yellow Star.



CHAPTER III

A LESSON IN HISTORY


The square north parlor of the century-old Spellman homestead was
furnished with few concessions to modern taste. In summer it was
carefully darkened, and during the colder months exhaled that penetrating
chill that is still more or less characteristic of the traditional “best
room” in rural New England. There was also a mingled odor of sanctity
and dried rose-leaves that filled the soul of the young exile with a
secret awe. She understood perfectly that children were not expected to
enter that room uninvited; even the family reserved it for occasions
of ceremony; and it was with a thrill of conscious guilt overborne by
an irresistible attraction, that she had stolen in alone on this keen
October morning before Miss Sophia was up, and while her sister was
capably engaged in preparing breakfast in the large, cheery kitchen.

It was not the ornaments, wonderful as they were, upon the high
mantel-piece—the pallid wax flowers under glass, the waving pampas plumes
and pink-lined tropic shells dear to romance—no, not even the mysterious
closed piano—it was those ghostly crayon portraits in their tarnished
gilt frames that drew this little unrelated fragment of humanity with
a fascination that she did not in the least understand. She only knew
that to gaze upon their white, shrouded faces was to yearn for even the
staring, pictured counterparts, even the chill, clustered gravestones of
her own vanished forebears. Vanished, indeed, since not even a name or a
memory remained to their wistful and solitary descendant!

And these Spellmans and Russells—these revered ancestors of her dear
“Mother” Waring as of the thorny and unapproachable Miss Sophia—their
by-gone greatness had been so impressed upon her by allusion and
suggestion that in the secret world of her imagination it reached heroic
proportions. So this child of two races, the one by birth, the other
by associations quite as real and vital, well-nigh forgot the shadowy
demi-gods of her people while she bowed at the shrine of the commonplace
county Judge who was the greatest of all the Russells, and fancied a
beauty as of the moon and stars in the conventional portraits of his wife
and daughters, with their uncovered necks and pallid, simpering faces.

Only a few stolen moments of gazing, and Stella crossed the dark hall on
noiseless feet—for even in the black-leather boxes of civilization she
had contrived to keep her native lightness of step—and softly opened the
dining-room door.

With its cheerful morning sunshine streaming over the chromoed walls
and gayly-carpeted floor, and with the canary singing his prettiest in
the south window, above the row of thrifty geraniums and begonias, this
room was the strongest possible contrast to the gloomy one she had just
left behind. Ah! and that very minute the wonderful bird came out of the
clock on the mantel-piece and seven times called “Cuckoo!” while, as if
in answer to the call, the door into the kitchen opened, letting in the
heartsome odor of frying ham and eggs, and Mother Waring with the smoking
coffee-pot.

Stella flew to bring the dish of oatmeal and the hot plates, and then
busied herself with the neat tray that was regularly carried up to Miss
Sophia’s chamber with her morning coffee and toast. To be sure, the elder
sister was only five years older than Lucy, who owned to fifty-two, and
who, folks said, had always been “kinder pindlin’,” and in truth was
now much worn with hard work and recent grief. But we know that there
are always people who contrive to be waited upon, and others to whom it
naturally falls to do the waiting.

Housewifely traditions were closely adhered to in Laurel, where but few
even of the “first families” kept a maid, and it was now Stella’s duty,
together with dishwashing and dusting and such of the lighter household
tasks as Lucy would allow her to undertake, to carry up Miss Sophia’s
tray. Even that lady had grudgingly conceded that “the child wasn’t as
clumsy and heavy-footed as you might expect,” though why you shouldn’t
expect anything of the sort it would have taken a better ethnologist than
Miss Sophia to explain.

The little ceremony ended, and the hard old eyes met with a low-voiced
“Good morning,” and a rather frightened smile, the two ate their own
substantial breakfast with a hearty appetite, and directly afterward
“flew ’round” to get dishes and other “chores” out of the way before
school-time. At a quarter to nine, Stella put on her neat jacket and
knitted red tam-o’-shanter, hugged her kind foster-mother, and set out
with cheerfulness upon her morning pilgrimage, glancing about shyly at
the first corner for a possible glimpse of demure Doris tripping along
the sidewalk, or scatter-brained Cynthia flying breathlessly down the
hill.

Laurel, like many another village of its ilk, was an odd mixture of
modern democratic conditions with the elder social inheritance. In
the village school, the children of European peasants, the earlier and
quick-witted Irish, the later Poles, with their broad, heavy faces, two
or three brilliant, undersized young Jews, and the dark-brown scions
of several long-established negro families, sat side by side with the
severely self-respecting descendants of the earliest Puritan stock. The
six and seven-year-olds knew no difference, and flocked indiscriminately
together at recess, but it must be admitted that the caste idea grew with
their growth, and that in grammar-school and academy circles the lines
were drawn more definitely than in many larger places, to the end of
needless resentments and heartaches.

Yellow Star added one more ingredient to the racial melting-pot. But
whether because of a certain aboriginal dignity, or the name and
protection of a family as much respected as any in Laurel, at any rate
nearly everybody found it possible to accept her with excellent grace,
and it might have been something personal to herself that bid fair to
complete her conquest of the village. Two of the very “nicest” girls
in Laurel, Cynthia, whose father was supposed to be the “best fixed”
merchant in town, and Doris, the busy Doctor’s only child, were already
her devoted friends.

Notwithstanding the fact that she had promptly taken her place among the
best scholars in the room, the girl from Dakota had not yet lost her
sense of audacity in rising to recite before so imposing a company.

“Why, Stella! you don’t have to dig at your books the way you do; it’s
absurd! Look at me; I haven’t opened a single one since Friday afternoon,
and _I_ get along,” argued happy-go-lucky Sin.

“But you belong here, and you have been to school always. It is different
with me. This is my one chance of really _belonging_.” And, contrary
to all advice and precedent, Stella persisted in regarding school as a
privilege to be lived up to, and failure in recitation as deep disgrace.

The first thing after recess was American History review.

“How did the early settlers treat the Indians? Mary Maloney,” began Miss
Morrison.

“They treated them fine,” declared the auburn-haired Mary, with a sly
glance over her shoulder at the unreasonably popular new arrival.

“What did the Indians do? Rosey Bernstein.”

“The cruel and treacherous savages turned upon the defenseless settlers
with fire an’ ax,” Rosey glibly recited. “They now began a series of
frightful massacres.”

“They stove the babies’ heads in, right in front of their mothers’ faces,
and then made the mothers walk hundreds of miles barefoot in the deep
snow,” eagerly amended woolly-headed Pete Holley, and all the boys wagged
their heads and grinned with satisfaction.

“After they had scalped all the fathers by the light o’ their burnin’
buildings,” finished Rosey complacently.

Several hands went up, but Yellow Star in her excitement quite forgot to
wait for the teacher’s permission.

“Who says that the settlers were kind to the Indians?” rang out in
challenging tones.

More hands madly clawed the air, and Miss Morrison rather unwillingly
nodded to Rosey, who read from her open book:

“‘They treated the Indians for the most part with justice and kindness,
notwithstanding which the cruel—’”

“That will do for the present, Rosey,” interrupted her teacher, and
was hastily casting about in her own mind for a basis of compromise
between warring factions when a certain black-eyed little heroine rose
precipitately to her feet, and delivered her soul without fear or favor.

“Was it treating them with justice and kindness to take their lands away
from them, and give them only a few beads and knives for thousands of
acres? Was it fair to give them whiskey to drink, and knives to kill
people with, and then when they were drunk and angry and killed some bad
white men, to punish the whole tribe by burning their villages and wives
and children?” demanded her people’s advocate.

“Did the ‘cruel, treacherous savages’ take away all the white people’s
guns and then shoot them down, women with little babies and boys and
girls smaller than us? Did they chase them all over the prairie and kill
them while they begged for mercy, and then call it a _battle_? That’s
what your soldiers did to us, and _I was in it_! Maybe, if we wrote the
history books, there wouldn’t be so much in them about the ‘treacherous
Indians!’”

Breathless and darkly flushed, the girl from Dakota sank into her seat,
and there was an awful hush.

Cynthia was staring at her friend with open-mouthed admiration, and
tender-hearted Doris had her face hidden on her desk, while most of the
children, horror-struck, yet thoroughly enjoying the situation, looked
hopefully to “Teacher” for summary vengeance on the daring rebel against
constituted authority.

That personage, however, gazed straight before her with expressionless
face, until the silence had grown positively fearsome in its explosive
quality. Then she simply remarked:

“Close your books, children! Our lesson in history is over for to-day.”

    “APPLE-TREE HOUSE, MONDAY.

    “DEAR MOTHER-OF-MINE, I love Miss Morrison she never said a
    word though I was bad to-day and talked right out in school.
    The book was wrong and I was right but that didn’t make it
    proper for me to talk did it? But Miss Morrison is a Angel and
    Doris Brown cried because she was sorry for the poor Indians. I
    love her too. How many kind people there are in the world! I am
    so happy I almost feel as if I could love Miss Sophia but not
    quite. Your Little Girl.”



CHAPTER IV

THE-ONE-WHO-WAS-LEFT-ALIVE


The traditional Thanksgiving dinner was a ceremony never omitted at the
Spellman homestead, even though there had been years when Miss Sophia had
eaten it quite alone, with a determination rather grim than grateful.
This year, there were the two elderly sisters, alone in their generation,
yet with little in common save their family history and childhood
memories, and the little maid from sun-steeped plains of far-off Dakota
who sat sedately between them, plying her knife and fork with a decorum
that even Miss Sophia could not gainsay. Now and again her black eyes
darted keenly from one subdued face to the other, as if in search of
something; a “trick,” Miss Sophia said, that made her “as nervous as a
witch!”

The long, heavy, and, to tell the truth, rather silent and oppressive
meal had come to an end at last, with pumpkin pie and Indian pudding
made punctiliously after the old family recipes, and a mold of “quaking
jelly,” that had been a favorite of Lucy’s from childhood. After the
black coffee was brought in, Stella slid her nuts and raisins into her
pocket, and rose at a nod from her foster-mother.

“Mrs. Maloney will wash the dishes to-day, dear,” she said. “You may go
out now, or do anything you like for the rest of the day. And I think I
hear Cynthia’s whistle,” she added, indulgently.

Miss Sophia sighed aggressively. That clear, boyish whistle was a fresh
offense in her ears.

“Go out by the side door, Stella; and, whatever you do, don’t let in
that dog with his great, muddy feet!” she commanded; sure that, if
Cynthia were coming, Scotty could not be far off.

“Come on down to Doris’ house,” burst out Sin, before the door was fairly
open. “It’s always lots of fun down there; her mother lets us crack nuts
and pop corn and everything. Mother has a headache again and I mustn’t
make any noise around home, and of course it’s solemn as a church here—’t
always is. Can’t you come, Jibby?” she begged, anxiously.

(The new name was short for “Ojibway,” invented to tease the little Sioux
girl, but Yellow Star accepted it, as she did most things, with quite
stoical composure.)

“Yes, I can, Sin; I can do anything I want all the rest of to-day,” she
answered, gravely. “But oh! do let’s go to the woods!”

“All right; put on your things quick, and come along! (Down, Scotty!
down, sir!) We must stop for Doris, though; and I think Miss Morrison’s
there to dinner to-day.”

Stella’s night-black eyes glowed at this, for she silently worshiped her
sympathetic teacher.

Arrived at the Doctor’s, they found a large and merry party gathered
around the air-tight stove in the shabby parlor, listening with
enthusiasm to the warbling of operatic stars on the new phonograph,
followed by a “piece” on the piano by demure Doris. There were Grandpa
and Grandma Brown, a brisk and well-preserved old couple, with cheeks
like rosy winter apples; Uncle Si Wolcott, Mrs. Brown’s eccentric
bachelor brother, who lived all alone in a white farmhouse on the “Bay
road,” Doris and her father and mother, and, finally, two guests who
were not “kin” to any one else present.

One was Miss Morrison, whose home was in an up-to-date little city in a
neighboring State, and who must otherwise have eaten her Thanksgiving
dinner rather forlornly in a boarding-house; the other, a lanky boy of
sixteen or so, who wore glasses and a thoughtful air, had created some
amusement for the giggling girls at the academy by his name, which was
Honey. When thus appealed to in the velvet tones of some “lady teacher,”
the girls seemed to think it funny. His “front name” was Ethan, and he
was an orphan with his own way to make, his nearest relative a none too
loving “aunt by marriage,” which explains his appearance on the day of
family reunions at Mother Brown’s hospitable table.

The present was not, as Grandpa Brown had more than once remarked
with apparently a distinct sense of personal injury, a “genoowine
old-fashioned Thanksgivin’.” Far from affording the excellent sleighing
which had been expected to facilitate family gatherings in Grandpa’s day,
and the coasting that had undoubtedly sharpened the youngsters’ appetites
for “turkey an’ fixin’s,” an unseasonable Indian summer warmth pervaded
this particular twenty-seventh of November. When the young people set out
on their walk, Ethan Honey and Miss Morrison being included, they found
the country roads soft underfoot, rusty green leaves yet clinging to the
wide-spreading apple boughs, with here and there a frost-bitten apple,
and even the yellow of ripe corn still nestling in some of the brown
stooks that dotted the fields like tattered and smoke-stained wigwams.
Red alder berries and gray clematis fringes and the “ghosts of the
goldenrod” adorned the wayside, while the purple-brown woodlands melted
into a nameless haze upon the lonely horizon line.

“I’m fond of cross-country hikes, aren’t you?” Ethan observed, as he
turned to offer Stella an informal lift over the low stone wall that lay
between them and a short cut to “Wolcott’s Woods.”

“I do not know that word ‘hikes,’” she answered, in her slow, careful
English, “but if it is anything like to-day, I am sure I shall like it
very much. I never really knew about Thanksgiving before.”

“Oh, didn’t you?” asked the boy, trying not to stare at his
self-possessed little companion, whose cadenced voice and quaint ways,
as well as her unusual appearance, might have given him some excuse.
“I suppose of course your people don’t keep Thanksgiving,” he added,
awkwardly.

“Father and Mother Waring always had the good dinner and the church
service,” Stella answered, “but somehow I never understood about the
family part. I suppose because I was only a little girl then; or else
because they don’t have families out in Dakota! I mean, there are so many
lonely ones whose families are back east, with the old houses and the old
names and all the old things,” the girl persisted, greatly to Ethan’s
secret amusement at her unexpected point of view.

“But, Stella—that _is_ your name, isn’t it?” he began.

“It is one of my names,” she replied with dignity. But just then Scotty
dashed between them, nearly upsetting both, while Sin followed with
scarcely less of abandon, shrieking “A woodchuck! A woodchuck!” at the
top of her voice.

“I wouldn’t go any nearer if I were you, Cynthia,” advised Ethan gravely,
while Doris and her teacher, calling out futile appeals to “be careful,”
lagged breathless in the rear.

“It’s nothing but a horrid old skunk,” Cynthia presently complained,
coming back quite crestfallen. “Will you never learn anything, you old
dunderhead?” This to the sheepish Sir Walter, whom she had by his collar
and the hair of his head.

“When you’ve skinned as many as I have, you won’t be liable to make any
mistake,” the boy observed; whereat Doris shuddered visibly.

“You know,” she informed the others, “Ethan skins everything he can
get hold of—and cuts them up, too, as often as not—cats and dogs and
rabbits and frogs—ugh! He calls it ‘studying biology,’—isn’t it perfectly
dreadful?”

“Ethan will probably be a great scientist, some day,” suggested Miss
Morrison.

“He’s going to be a doctor, he says,” Cynthia bluntly objected, causing
the boy to blush uncomfortably, while Stella regarded him with new
respect.

To change the subject, he said something about prairie-dogs, and the
girl from Dakota was called upon for an offhand description of these
interesting animals, which she gave soberly enough, though making the
others laugh with her quaint characterizations and clever mimicry.

Having crossed several fields and followed a farm lane to its end, Ethan
let down a “pair o’ bars,” and the company climbed a rocky pasture knoll,
where Yellow Star’s quick eye caught something gleaming like dull fire
among the dead brown of the bare bushes.

“What is that? It is like a sunset!” she exclaimed, and Cynthia echoed
her.

“Oh, what is it? Oh, how beautiful!”

“Bitter-sweet, and the finest I ever saw!” declared Miss Morrison, with
enthusiasm. “Oh, oh! was there ever such a mass of it before? Have you a
knife about you, Ethan? I simply must have some for my school-room; it
will make a dream of a decoration, and last all winter.”

Cynthia and Doris ran about and exclaimed and unwound the most splendid
branches, but the Indian girl stood quite still and let the beauty of it
all sink deep into her heart. Years later, the sight of a red-gold spray,
or even the very name of “bitter-sweet,” brought up that riot of color
on the rocky knoll, and the wordless sadness of those veiled and lonely
hills.

“Now, girls, we simply must get on, or it will be dark before we can
walk to Wolcott’s Woods and back again,” declared Ethan resolutely,
shutting his knife with a snap. The whole party followed his lead past a
fringe of hemlock, maple, hornbeam and white birch, on to a wild and deep
glen that suddenly opened at their very feet, with a foaming brook in
its heart. Scrambling down the steep sides of the miniature canyon, they
followed the stream to its outlet in a tiny pond, which is flanked on one
side by the finest grove of pine in Laurel township.

“This is Uncle Si’s ice-pond,” announced Doris, proudly, “and _these_ are
Wolcott’s Woods!”

It was so mild that Ethan insisted upon taking off his coat, cushioning
a giant log where the girls might sit and rest after their three-mile
tramp, while the sun already glowed red through the autumn haze, near to
the western horizon.

“Aren’t you glad we came, Jibby?” urged Sin, ecstatically.

“Jibby … another of those names of yours, I suppose,” teased Ethan,
gently.

“No, not my name at all,” she told him, holding her head the least bit
higher. “My school name is Stella, because it is the Latin for Star. I
was called Yellow Star before that, because it is the English of my own
name.”

“And that is?”

“I do think you could not pronounce it, but I will say it very slowly.
Wee-chah´-pee-zee´-wee—like that. No, the second syllable is rough—in the
throat—so!”

“Aspirate,” suggested Miss Morrison; and each in turn tried to pronounce
the queer name, with varying success.

“I chose that name for myself when I was four years old,” Stella went on,
quite seriously. “I was looking up through the teepee door at the bright
yellow stars overhead. I did not like the name the old women gave me; it
is a sad name; Ish-na´-nee-un´-lah—The-One-who-was-left-Alive!”

Everybody was listening eagerly, for the brave little exile seldom spoke
of herself unless in answer to a direct question, and a curious sort of
dignity that she had about her forbade too close questioning. Now it
seemed that the unspoken comradeship of the hour had unloosed her tongue,
and something, too, of the softness and quiet pathos of the late November
afternoon had crept into her expressive voice.

She raised her eyes to the four sympathetic faces that were gazing
straight into her own, and the color rose under her clear, dark skin as
she asked:

“Shall I tell you how they came to give me that sad name?”

“Oh, do!” “Tell us, tell us!” chorused the girls; but Ethan sat a little
apart, and seemed absorbed in whittling a stick that he had picked up
under the great pine.

“You have all heard of the fight at Wounded Knee?” began Yellow Star.
“Perhaps you know how they fought—troops in uniform with big guns,
against women and children and men whose guns had been taken from them?”
(They nodded gravely.) “Well, it was three days after the fight that a
party went out from the agency, eighteen miles away, to bury the dead
Indians. The agency doctor went with them, and it was he who found
wrapped in blankets, in her dead mother’s arms, and lying partly covered
with snow—for there had been a snow-storm on the day before—a little
baby, alive and crying.

“They threw the mother’s body into the great pit with more than a hundred
others; but a kind woman of the camp took the baby home and fed and took
care of it. That baby was me!

“That is why I do not know who my father and mother were, or whether I
have a single relation in this world. There is no way to find out, for
nearly all my father’s band were killed by the soldiers on that day, and
there were many babies who died, and no one knows who I am. And that is
why the old women called me The-One-who-was-left-Alive!”

That was all. A very simple little story, very quietly told; but somehow
no one who heard it had much to say. With one accord they all got up from
the mossy log and set out for home. Presently they began to talk again
about other things, and even to laugh as lightly as before. Just as they
parted, Ethan slipped into Yellow Star’s hand the thing he had shaped
with his knife from a splinter of pine while she told her story. It was a
little, five-pointed star.



CHAPTER V

IN WOLCOTT’S WOODS


“For the land sakes!” exclaimed Grandma Brown, knitting faster and
faster, as was her wont when disturbed in mind. “Why don’t that Parker
girl’s mother let her dresses down, I want to know? ’Pears to me her legs
get longer an’ longer every day! I see her tearin’ down the hill a spell
ago, with that outlandish dog o’ hers in full chase, and all I could
think of was a hen-turkey with its wings spread out, tryin’ to get away
from a fox.”

“Why, mother! Cynthia is only a little girl,” observed Doris’ mother, in
quiet amusement.

“Same age as our Doris, ain’t she? When I was young, gals was women at
fourteen, an’ expected to quit playin’ with the boys, wear their dresses
to their shoe-tops an’ be pretty-behaved.”

“I wish mother’d let me wear _my_ dresses to the tops of my shoes,” put
in Doris, demurely. “I’m three months older than Cynthia, anyway.” She
had opened the sitting-room door just in time to hear the last speech,
but was careful not to commit herself to the rest of her grandma’s
program.

“You all going out to your uncle’s place again to-day, Doris?” asked her
mother, indulgently. “I see Cynthia’s here, but where are the others?”

“Oh, Stella had her Saturday work to do, and couldn’t get ’round before
two o’clock, she said. It’s most that, now,” and she turned again to the
window. No one was in sight except Cynthia and Scotty, who were joyously
running races up and down the yard.

Here Mother Brown disappeared into the pantry, possibly to put up a bag
of her fat, brown cookies, and Doris hunted in the hall closet for her
white sweater, while Grandma commented shrewdly:

“That gal’s more of a woman than any the rest of ye, if she _is_ an
Injun.”

“Wolcott’s Woods” had become a favorite resort since that Thanksgiving
ramble which had brought the three friends closer together, and the fact
that the woods belonged to Doris’ Uncle Si, together with the further
consideration that the “new teacher” usually went with the girls, had
satisfied their respective mothers of their safety on these excursions.
There was talk of snow-shoes and skis, and later of fishing-rods and
flower-baskets, but just what went on in Wolcott’s Woods no one knew
exactly, for the “Clover-Leaf” was a secret society of three, with Ethan
Honey, Miss Morrison and Uncle Si as honorary members.

Presently Stella and her teacher appeared, and the four set out at
once—or five, counting in the irrepressible Sir Walter, whose care-free
bark voiced the adventurous spirit of the holiday party. It was a warm
Saturday in April—one of the few days when our New England spring
really opens her heart to the wayfarer, and from time to time they
were overtaken by country teams whose occupants gazed curiously, even
pityingly, upon them. Once a farmer returning homeward with an empty
lumber wagon offered the whole party “a lift,” which proposal was
gracefully evaded by Miss Morrison. It always amused her to note that the
“natives” evidently could not conceive of any one’s walking for pleasure,
or indeed walking at all, unless he were frankly too poor to ride.

“Let’s go round to the house, first,” whispered Doris, hanging to Miss
Morrison’s arm, when they were almost there. The child had a coaxing
way with her that was not easy to resist; and, moreover, Uncle Si’s
late russet apples were not to be despised at this time of the year.
So they all wandered up to the side door of the low, white farmhouse,
with the square, forbidding front and homely, inviting back premises
characteristic of its type.

The door into the summer kitchen stood wide open, and an inquisitive hen
or two had actually crossed the threshold; yet repeated knocks brought no
answer. Cynthia and Scotty had already dashed off in the direction of the
barn-yard, from which there presently came sounds so suggestive of rustic
revelry that the others precipitately followed.

“I told him he didn’t dast to ride one o’ the cows,” shrieked Sin, faint
with laughter, “and he’s done it! Look, oh, look! It’s as good as the
circus—better!”

Even Miss Morrison couldn’t resist the spectacle of Ethan Honey’s long
legs gripping the sides of his reluctant horned steed, his face wearing
a smile of mingled triumph and embarrassment as he was borne at a
gallop round and round the enclosure, with Scotty yapping delightedly
at his heels. In another minute or so, without slackening his speed,
the young man had alighted quite informally at their feet. He rose and
felt mechanically for his cap, which had disappeared, while he gravely
remarked:

“Your house is quite finished. I think I saw a ‘For Rent’ sign in the
window to-day!”

The great secret was out! The trio of friends had early felt the common
need of a tangible house o’ dreams, and now the primitive shelter they
craved had taken shape in Uncle Si’s hospitable woods, and chiefly under
Ethan’s capable and willing hands.

“Let’s go right over now and have our housewarming,” demanded practical
Doris. “Where’s Uncle Si?”

“He went to the store right after dinner,” Ethan answered, “and I’ll
have plenty of time to finish my chores after you go. I’ve been helping
afternoons and Saturdays for quite a while. Would any of you care for a
drink of fresh buttermilk? I churned this morning.”

Well, there are worse things than the soothing acid of that velvet drink
to wash the dust from one’s throat after a three-mile tramp. It wasn’t
many minutes before Ethan was leading the way to the woods, his pockets
sagging with apples, while Sin had stuffed her sailor blouse, and Doris’
sweater was quite knobby with the same.

There were more shrieks of rapture, naturally, when the girls spied their
ingenious shack of fresh-cut evergreen boughs, which had been thrust
into the ground in a circle and cleverly interlaced so as to make the
hut all but water-tight. There was an opening left for a door—rather
small, it is true, but still satisfactory—with another, smaller and
higher up, for a window; and so neat and careful had been the young
builder’s craftsmanship that the ferns on the threshold were scarcely
more disturbed than they might have been by the nest-building of a bird.

The party stooped one by one to the oval door, and exclaimed over the
fascinations of the shadowy interior, which reminded Yellow Star vividly
of the conical wigwams of her people. The little house was quite bare
and empty, and redolent of the scent of fern and pine.

“We ought to have a couch of fir-balsam,” suggested Miss Morrison, who
had spent a summer in the Adirondacks.

Cynthia proposed an armful of thick moss, while ease-loving Doris
declared that for her part she preferred to bring out a hammock.

“What makes you so quiet, Jibby?” demanded Sin, as they stepped forth
into the open, under the skyey roof.

“I feel in my heart what I have no words to say,” murmured the Indian
girl.

“Our neighbors would be quite as well pleased, perhaps, if we were all as
quiet as Stella,” suggested Ethan, quickly.

“What neighbors do you mean? Uncle Si doesn’t care how much noise we
make,” remarked literal Doris.

“No; but my oven-bird does,” and the boy pointed out a shy,
golden-crowned bird that was apparently reconnoitering the gay party
with some anxiety, from behind a sheltering clump of laurel.

“Is its nest near by?” “Oh, show us, do!” came from one and another.

The nest was a curious one, oven-shaped, as the bird’s name would
suggest, with an opening at the side through which the first of four
speckled eggs could be dimly seen. But Ethan would not allow them to come
too near, or linger too long. The little mother was already uttering
cries of distress, and feigning lameness to draw them away from her
treasure.

“How is your crow doing?” queried Miss Morrison, as they all sat down on
the threshold of their “House in the Woods” to christen it with the first
social meal. It had been settled that there was to be a stone hearth laid
for coffee-boiling before the next Saturday.

“Fine,” Ethan responded, throwing an apple high in the air, and catching
it skilfully as it fell. “He can walk ’most as well as ever, and eats
out of my hand. I’m thinking of slitting his tongue and teaching him to
talk,” he added.

“Ethan found a young crow with his leg broken, by stone-throwing boys,
probably, and set it quite successfully,” the teacher explained to
Stella, who glowed visibly, but said nothing.

“Well, Doctor, I promise to send for you next time I fall out of the
cherry-tree,” crowed Sin, whose climbing days were by no means over, in
spite of Grandma Brown.

“Uncle Si is getting ready to go to bed by this time, and we ought to be
going home to supper,” announced Doris, soberly, as the April sun dropped
into a bank of haze in the quiet west.

“‘Silas Wolcott is dreadful sot,’ as Grandma Brown says,” chimed in
Ethan. “Many’s the time he’s been offered a good price, in hard cash, for
this bit of pine, but his answer is always the same. ‘It’s been in the
family for quite some time: I guess I won’t sell just yet.’

“You know, don’t you, that he’s never missed being in his bed by seven
o’clock in the evening, winter or summer, for forty years? That’s just
one of his little ways. He’s got lots of them; one’s drinking buttermilk
three times a day, and another is never setting foot inside a church.
I forget how that started, but they say he stood just outside an open
window at Doris’ mother’s wedding! But for all that he’s a good-hearted
old chap as ever lived, and I wish he was _my_ uncle,” the boy ended,
honestly enough.

And the stranger, who was already forgetting her strangeness, secretly
echoed the wish.

“Oh, these dear, real people!” she said to herself, as they all turned
homeward together, leaving the darling House in the Woods to its
invisible neighbors and companions of the night. “They are all so—so
_folksy_, as Grandma Brown says. It really does begin to seem as if I
_belonged_!”



CHAPTER VI

A WILD WEST PERFORMANCE


“Oh, Doris, darling! how can I bear it? The very meanest,
disappointingest thing that ever happened in this world! Oh, oh!” and
poor Sin threw herself face downward on the grass in Doctor Brown’s back
yard and sobbed tumultuously. All of her friend’s blandishments were of
no effect, and she remained dead to the world until Scotty’s cold nose
poked inquisitively into her ear aroused her at last. Springing to her
feet, she rebuked him with energy, and only then consented to retail her
woes.

“Buffalo Bill’s coming to Westwood next week, and will you believe it,
mother won’t take me! Says it’s too hot, and circuses and such things
always give her a headache. And you know it’s been the _dream of my life_
to see Buffalo Bill! There now, Doris Brown, see if you wouldn’t cry!”

“Um, um,” was all Doris said, for she was a maid of action rather than of
many words. The case, as it seemed to her, was by no means hopeless, but
she reserved her judgment.

Having had her cry out and relieved her feelings, Cynthia was soon
engaged in a boisterous game with Sir Walter and an old tennis-ball
that he had rooted out of some hiding-place or other, while canny Doris
slipped into the house and shortly returned with a plate full of Mother
Brown’s famous raisin cookies, and a piece of news that quite electrified
her impulsive friend.

“Mother says, if your mother’ll let you go with us, she’ll take a party
to Westwood to the matinee—you an’ me an’ Stella an’ Ethan an’ Miss
Morrison too, if she wants to go,” she calmly stated.

And so it fell out that on the appointed Saturday afternoon in July, a
radiantly happy party of six occupied seats in the big tent; the three
girls looking their prettiest in simple white frocks, Ethan solemn as an
owl in glasses and a natty linen suit, and good Mrs. Brown sweltering in
the inevitable black dress of village propriety, but all alike absorbed
in the stirring spectacle.

The Rough Riders of all nations and costumes; the wonderful
rifle-shooting of the short-skirted, sombreroed cow-girl, the
hair-raising hold-up of the ancient stage-coach—each and all yielded a
separate thrill; but of course the best of all were the Indians—real,
painted, plumed, ferocious warriors and daring horsemen of the plains!
Everybody drew a long breath when they galloped into the arena.

“Doesn’t it make you think of home?” whispered Cynthia to Stella, with
characteristic frankness speaking out what the others had only thought.

“Well, you see,” objected Yellow Star, “our men all dress like farmers
now, and ’most all wear their hair short. _I_ never saw anything like
this before—except once on a Fourth of July, when some white people paid
our Indians to dress up and give a war-dance.”

“But—but they used to dress this way?” faltered Sin, rather taken aback,
while the rest pricked up their ears.

“Well, not when they went to war, anyway. They wouldn’t want to be
bothered with all those fixings if they really had to ride far, or fight,
or anything like that. I think, myself, they only dressed up at councils
and dances, and maybe not quite so much, even then,” (with just a flicker
of a smile.) “I know one thing: lots of those beaded things are not
Sioux.”

“Not Sioux, my dear! Why, what do you mean?” wondered Mrs. Brown.

“You see, Mrs. Brown,” explained Stella, “most of these very men are
Sioux from our agency. I used to hear Father Waring and the agent talking
about the show people. There are men at home, and a few women, that have
been all over this country and in England and France and Germany. One of
them brought home a German wife who didn’t know a word of our language,
and he couldn’t speak German, either!

“Now, here they are, dressed up in all the beaded things they could make
or beg or borrow from some other tribe—not Sioux at all! To us, that
looks as if you wore a fireman’s boots and trousers and a priest’s
cassock and a soldier’s hat,” she suggested, with another little quirk
at the corners of the serious mouth, but subsided when she observed
that several people beside their own party were listening with evident
interest.

After the performance, four or five of the Indians passed out among the
audience, and as they approached the Laurel party, Yellow Star gazed
earnestly into their painted faces. She recognized several, but hesitated
to speak to these men, whom, as a modest young girl of her people, she
would not have thought of addressing at home, much as she longed to hear
again the dear accents of her mother tongue.

At last, however, there came a woman with a child on her back, in its
gorgeously beaded cradle, attracting the lion’s share of interest and
attention. Many gave the mother a bit of silver in return for the
privilege of a peep at its tiny face, or for one of the highly colored
photographs she offered. When she actually held one out to Yellow Star
among the rest, the girl couldn’t help murmuring, in the soft syllables
of their native Dakota:

“Oh, I am so glad to see you! Don’t you know me? I am from home, too; I
am The-One-who-was-left-Alive!”

The woman stared, then seized Stella’s hands eagerly and burst into a
flood of low-voiced dialect. The two unconsciously made a picture which
was thoroughly appreciated by several of the bystanders. The tall, slim
girl in her virginal white frock and modest hat, with the big, black bow
tying up her heavy braids of hair, stood glowing all over her expressive
face and quite forgetting her shyness, while the sad and rather stolid
countenance of the gaudily attired stranger softened and brightened
wonderfully at the sight of a friend.

“Oh, the dear baby!” cooed Yellow Star, presently, lifting a corner of
the shawl and looking closely at the little olive face. “But he doesn’t
look well!” she exclaimed, anxiously.

“He is sick for two days now, and I know not what to do, for we must
travel all time and it is so bad for him,” grieved the mother, looking
at her with the pleading black eyes of a hurt animal. “My husband, Young
Eagle, he say it is nothing; but me, I not like to dress him up and take
around for the white people to stare at when he is sick.”

“Take him back to your tent, now, or wherever you stay, and bring Young
Eagle to me. I will talk to him,” flashed Yellow Star, and she turned to
her party with an impulsive:

“I must go with her for a little while, please: she is my friend; she is
in trouble and among strangers.”

“I’ll go with you, dear,” put in Miss Morrison, quickly. “We will meet
you at the station, Mrs. Brown; or no—I must take an earlier train; but
there is time to go with Stella and the baby first—” and before any one
could speak they were all three lost in the crowd, followed by admiring
and envious glances from Cynthia and Doris, who fancied that a glimpse
behind the scenes must hold more of wonder and romance than all the rest.

Neither Stella nor her teacher was at the station when the others
arrived, and after a thorough search took the 5.40 train, remembering
that Miss Morrison had said something about an engagement, and having to
leave early, and in any case she would surely have kept Stella with her.

Great was the consternation, therefore, when they reached Laurel and
found that Mrs. Waring had seen or heard nothing of her “little girl,”
while a telephone message to Miss Morrison disclosed the fact that she
had been obliged to hurry away and leave Stella with her new-found
friends, who were to see that she met her party at the station in time
for the 5.40.

The long, hot, dusty day was sinking into twilight, and the precious waif
last seen with a travelling show, in a strange city twenty miles from
home! Miss Morrison was conscience-smitten, Lucy Waring in tears, in
which Cynthia and Doris were quite ready to join, and poor Mrs. Brown all
but overcome by this unexpected ending to their exciting day.

There was no train for Westwood that night. Of course, there were always
the telegraph and telephone, but no one knew just how to reach any
responsible person, or even whether the “Wild West” might not be already
on its way to Hartford or elsewhere. That, Miss Sophia said, was in all
probability the case.

“You may be sure,” she announced, with her usual cold precision, “that
the wretched child has run away with the show. What else could you
expect, indeed, after deliberately putting her in the way of temptation?
You will remember that I advised against it from the first. The sight
of the beads and feathers and all the rest of the savage finery was too
much for her, no doubt, and she will be exhibiting herself in them, if
possible, this very evening. Perhaps this painful incident may convince
you, my dear Lucy, that you can not make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!”

After all, the only person to keep all his wits about him in this
emergency was Ethan Honey. That youth stopped to consult nobody, but
hastily recollecting that an express train for Westwood stopped at the
next town, three miles off, in twenty minutes, he felt in his pockets to
assure himself that he had just money enough for the fare, sprang on his
bicycle and was off. Breathless and dusty, he arrived barely in time to
turn the wheel over to the agent and board the express, which landed him
at eight o’clock in the evening, anxious, supperless and penniless, among
the flaring lights of the big town.



CHAPTER VII

BEHIND THE SCENES


The corner of the big sleeping-tent allotted to Young Eagle and his
wife and baby was untidy enough, with a smell of paints and grease and
buckskin on the hot, close air. Dexterously Yellow Star rolled the baby
out of his heavy, beaded cradle and took him in her arms.

He was quiet, even for an Indian baby; unnaturally quiet, she thought;
and there was a pinched look about the tiny, expressionless features that
went straight to her heart.

[Illustration: He was quiet, even for an Indian baby; unnaturally quiet,
she thought. _Page 88._]

The mother had gone at once to look for Young Eagle, so that for the
minute she and Miss Morrison and the baby were all alone in this strange,
confused place. There was no chance to sit down, even, and altogether it
was queer and uncomfortable.

“They must have a doctor at once,” pronounced Miss Morrison. Then she
fidgeted a little, and looked at her watch.

“What shall we do, dear?” she exclaimed. “I have only just time to catch
my train if I start at once; and I _must_ get back early. Yet I don’t
know how to leave you here by yourself.”

“But I am quite safe,” Stella answered, rather absently, her soft eyes on
the sick baby’s apathetic face. “Young Eagle can take me to the station
to meet the others.”

“Then don’t fail to get there by half-past five, and wait for them in
the small waiting-room. If they get a good doctor, it will be all right.
You’re sure you won’t come with me? Then good-by, dear.” And Stella was
left alone.

After long minutes, during which she did what little she could for baby’s
comfort, the young husband and wife appeared, he looking rather sulky and
shamefaced, but nevertheless yielding to the peremptory orders, issued
in crisp Dakota, of the tall, grave-faced girl in White, who had thrown
off her hat and was taking full command of the situation. Blue Earth
obediently washed some of the vermilion from her round cheeks, and rolled
up a corner of the tent to let in the fresh air, crooning over all her
troubles meanwhile to this strangely sympathetic listener, who seemed,
with the unexpected demand upon her, to have grown years older in the
last hour.

When the doctor came at last, it was already too late for the train; but
that Yellow Star did not realize at once. To tell the truth, she had
forgotten all about Laurel for the time being, and was back among the
simple, lovable, swarthy folk of her earliest recollections. She listened
intently to the doctor’s words, which she interpreted with care and
intelligence.

“Now, Doctor,” said she, after administering the first spoonful of
medicine with her own hand, and giving the docile young mother her final
instructions, “if you will come with me and Young Eagle, please, we must
find the man in charge and tell him that Blue Earth and the baby can not
be in the show again until he is well.”

The child had entirely forgotten herself, and her Laurel friends would
have been astonished to see her thus taking the lead and calmly laying
down the law to strange men, both white and red.

When she returned from her interview, bringing with her the “boss’s”
promise that the woman and child should not be required to appear for
three days, or longer if necessary, supper was served, and she gravely
accepted her share of the bread and ham and a thick cup filled with
steaming coffee. They ate and drank, sitting upon upturned boxes and
still talking—talking in soft elisions of home and the free winds and
open skies—home and the childhood scenes that seemed already so far away.

It was dark now; eight o’clock, and the evening performance had begun.
Stella learned that the last train for Laurel would leave in an hour,
but she had no escort, not even to the station. Everybody was in the
show-tent except Blue Earth, and she could not leave the baby. Besides,
she knew even less than did our little girl of the mazes of the city
streets. She must soon set out alone to inquire her way; and with the
thought, for the first time that day, she felt a thrill of something like
fear.

Suddenly a familiar face, atop of a tall, boyish figure, appeared around
a pile of boxes. It was Ethan, who fairly beamed with relief when he
caught sight of her, though he only said:

“Well, little girl, are you about ready to go home?”

“Oh, yes!” she cried, springing eagerly to her feet. “Oh, have you really
been waiting for me all this time, Ethan? How kind of you!” and her
puzzled eyes rested for a moment upon his mussed linen suit, and then
flitted over the strong features, somewhat sharpened by worry and fatigue.

But Ethan did not explain, and Stella was slowly, very slowly, emerging
from her dream. There were few words exchanged between the two, as they
made their way through back streets to the railway station, after an
undemonstrative farewell between the two girls who, in everything but
the common heritage of race, were so very far apart.

Once Ethan asked her if she had had any supper; and again, rather
anxiously, it seemed, whether she had money enough for her ticket.

“Oh, yes!” she said at once, handing him her little purse with the ticket
and two or three dollars in silver.

He left her for a few minutes in the ladies’ waiting-room, and after he
had seen her to the brilliantly lighted train and found her a seat, he
handed back the purse.

“I took out fifteen cents, to telephone Mrs. Waring,” he carefully
explained. “She will meet your train at Laurel. Now you are all right,
aren’t you? You aren’t afraid to travel alone, are you? It’s less than an
hour, you know.”

“But what about you, Ethan?” she wondered. “You’re coming, too, aren’t
you?” and she instinctively made room for him beside her, as the train
began slowly to glide out of the station.

“I can’t,” he answered, briefly. “Good night, Stella!” and next moment he
had swung himself off the step and disappeared in the darkness.

It was seventeen miles through the whispering summer night to the little
station where he had left his wheel. He reached it soon after the
midnight freight, and found the station agent awake, mounted and rode the
rest of the way home, where the first thing he did was to rummage in the
pantry for the materials of a satisfactory supper, and the next, to go to
bed and sleep ’round the clock.

“I couldn’t borrow from a girl, you know,” was all Ethan said, when
questioned about his midnight tramp. “And besides, it was great. Such a
lark!”

To himself he said: “I shall never forget the talking leaves, the wood
smells, the company of the stars.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Stella came fully to herself on the short ride home, and was all tender
repentance and self-blame when she fell into the arms of her kind
foster-mother, on the deserted platform, with the one arc-light shivering
overhead.

“Oh, mother! I never thought you might be anxious. I never thought of
people looking for me. I’m afraid I never thought of anything but the
poor little sick baby—and Blue Earth in such trouble, among strange white
people. I wanted to help.”

“Yes, darling; mother understands. And you are safe home, now, thanks to
that dear, bright boy. We won’t say any more about it,” answered gentle
Lucy Waring.

But, although nothing more was said—for Lucy had contrived somehow to
silence even Miss Sophia—Stella seemed to everybody a good deal older,
after her Wild West adventure. She was now nearly fifteen, and the eager,
child-like wish _to belong_ was already partly obscured by the more
womanly and deeper desire _to help_. She wrote to Blue Earth, in their
own tongue, and received in the course of a week or two a soiled scrawl
in reply, saying only that the baby was well now. There seemed nothing
more to be done for them, or for any of her own people—not just now, at
any rate—and the girl set herself in good earnest to be a real help to
the kind people of her adoption.

So she rose an hour earlier every morning, and quietly took upon herself
more of the burden of household duties, turning them off so dexterously
that Lucy Waring, who had failed perceptibly in the past year, accepted
the relief almost unconsciously, and even Miss Sophia had no open fault
to find.

“If I could only please Miss Sophia,” grieved Yellow Star. “But I know I
never can, for I can’t change myself into something else. She dislikes me
because I am Indian,” was the unspoken thought, and it cut deep.



CHAPTER VIII

THE RIGHT STUFF


When September came round, Stella entered the old academy with Doris and
Cynthia and the rest, and found a new and absorbing world opening before
her. Laurel academy was an endowed school, and a really good one, with
better-paid teachers and more up-to-date equipment than the little town
could have provided out of its own slender resources.

Ethan had been duly graduated and was going away to college, where for
two or three momentous years the girls were seldom to see him, since he
was “working his way through,” and found it necessary to devote the long
vacations to more paying, though not half so pleasant things as doing
“chores” for kind old Uncle Si.

The girls had now fairly entered upon a period of life in which boys
cease to be “horrid things,” and girls are no longer considered “too
silly for anything,” and it soon became evident that, of the three
friends, Doris was by far the most mature socially. She was undoubtedly a
pretty girl, with big blue eyes, fascinating hair of an amber tint, and a
skin like a rose-leaf—a belle and a flirt in her demure, village fashion
long before her sixteenth birthday.

Cynthia, to her languid mother’s discontent, but her father’s secret
satisfaction, was at the same age a long-limbed, lanky, boyish-looking
girl, with decidedly boyish manners, and only the frankest and least
flattering interest in the ruder sex. As for Stella, the country youths
admired her from a distance, while she, for her part, had no time for
them.

“I do despise long skirts; they get in your way so!” Sin complained, as
the three were scaling a friendly stone wall on a pleasant Saturday in
the following spring, taking their favorite “short cut” to Wolcott’s
Woods.

The others laughed. “You do act just like a boy in petticoats,” reproved
Doris. “You don’t seem to know how to manage them a bit. There—you’re
caught again!” as Cynthia sprang recklessly from the top of the wall, to
the accompaniment of a sharp sound of rending cloth.

“I don’t care!” Sin was bent on braving the matter out, and, to her
friends’ horror, she calmly tore off a long strip of blue serge and threw
it away. “Nonsense; I never mend. Daddy’ll give me a new skirt out of the
store any time I ask him. I hate clothes, and I hate sewing. I’m sure I
don’t know why I was born a girl.”

“What shall you wear to the dance?” asked Doris of Stella, as they
strolled lovingly side by side. Cynthia, her friends thought, was in a
mood that would best be ignored.

“My dotted swiss, I suppose; do you think it will do?”

“Mother is making me a new silk muslin—pale blue; and I’ve got a sash
to match and new slippers. It’s two inches longer than my last.” Doris’
voice was full of innocent satisfaction. “You look perfectly stunning in
white, Stella,” she added, generously. “And you’re the best dancer of
anybody in our set. Isn’t she, Sin?”

Mrs. Waring had insisted upon giving Stella two terms of dancing lessons,
with the others, much to her sister’s disgust; and here the native grace
of the Indian girl stood her in good stead. It must be admitted that,
if she did not particularly care for boys, she did love dancing; it was
almost like flying, she thought.

“Um, h’m,” assented Sin, who was born without a sense of rhythm, and
never seemed to know what to do with her arms and legs. “I don’t see what
either of you want to dance for, though; I hate it, myself. Catch me
going to their old party! Give me a warm corner and an interesting story,
when it’s too dark to go out. Scotty! Come here at once—here, sir!”

But, as usual, the obstreperous Sir Walter declined to budge, and his
mistress found it necessary to follow up and forcibly detach him from a
promising burrow.

“What a tom-boy she is! I don’t believe Sin will _ever_ grow up,” Doris
lamented. “Are you looking for anything in particular to-day, Jibby,
dear?”

“Trailing arbutus for Miss Sophia. I believe she’d rather have it than
anything; and you know that little warm nook in the pines, south of our
House in the Woods? It _ought_ to be out, just there,” answered Yellow
Star, eagerly, looking as if she would coax the pale buds open with the
warm shining of her dusky face.

“Too early; and besides, I don’t see why you’re always wanting to do
something special for that cross old maid, Jibby,” objected Sin, who had
come back within ear-shot. “_She_ never does anything for _you_, does
she? I’m going to get some flowers for Doris’ mother, if there are any.
Her cookies are awfully good.”

“I shall take mine to Miss Morrison,” observed Doris. “But I’ve got to go
round by Uncle Si’s first; mother said he wasn’t feeling very well the
last she heard, and she told me to be sure and stop. Will you come too,
girls, or would you rather go on?”

“I will come,” agreed Stella, at once.

“I won’t, then,” remarked Sin, who was unusually contrary to-day, the
others thought. “I can’t bear sick people, and he may be awfully sick for
all we know! And then, you never can tell what Uncle Si is going to say
next.”

It was quite true. You never could tell; and his first words to-day made
both girls jump, coming unexpectedly, as they did, in Uncle’s small,
squeaky voice, through the open window of the “kitchen chamber,” where he
always slept.

“Look out for the bull, gals! Dunno ’zactly where he is, but he’s certain
on the rampage, ’n’ _I_ can’t do a thing. Been under the weather these
two days. No, no breakfast, nor supper neither; didn’t want it bad
enough to git up ’n’ git it. What’s that, Doris? Wa’al, the door ain’t
locked, if ye _will_ come in.”

In five minutes Stella had a brisk fire going in the kitchen stove, and
in ten more the tea-kettle was singing cheerily, toast made, tea put to
draw, and two fresh eggs from the hay-mow “coddled” to perfection. She
had been well trained in waiting upon a fussy would-be invalid.

Doris had found her uncle lying, fully dressed, upon the bed, covered
with a gay patchwork quilt, and looking worried and feverish. She
succeeded in arranging his pillows and putting the room to rights before
the arrival of the tray; and while Stella deftly helped the old man to
take some nourishment, Doris prudently closed both doors and telephoned
to her mother.

“There! she’ll see that he’s taken care of properly, if he _is_ ‘queer
as Dick’s hat-band,’ as Grandma says,” observed his niece. “She’s always
saying that ‘for a man to live alone as he does and cook his own vittles
is flyin’ in the face of Providence,’ and she ‘hasn’t no manner of doubt
that Silas’ll be found dead in his bed, some fine morning.’ Well, I hope
not, I’m sure! Now we must go right away and find Cynthia; no telling
what mischief _she’s_ up to, by this time.”

“Or the bull, either,” thought Yellow Star; but she said nothing, for she
knew her friend’s weakness. In the excitement of taking care of Uncle
Si, his niece had forgotten all about the bull. If not, Stella knew well
that poor Cynthia would be left to her fate, so far as timid Doris was
concerned. Why, even the most harmless cow that ever lowed would send her
flying from the huckleberry pasture, and folks said the Wolcott bull was
dangerous.

So only one of the girls kept a sharp lookout as they passed the open
barn-yard gate and crossed the pasture toward Wolcott’s Woods. On its
distant verge, a fleck of scarlet showed plainly—Cynthia’s old red cape.
And—yes! A lumbering, dark shape had already started leisurely in pursuit
of the scarlet fleck.

Stella saw the bull first, and walked on faster. Then Doris saw, grew
white as a sheet and instantly turned to run, oblivious of the fact that
Taurus had his back toward them, and his eye too evidently upon Cynthia.

“Help! help!” she screamed, as she fled; but there was neither house nor
man within half a mile.

Stella resolutely advanced, keeping close to the wire fence that
separated the big pasture from their much-loved woods. Cynthia had
discovered her danger and was running gallantly, but had not thought to
drop her red cape. And she had been caught in the open field, far from
fence or tree. Sir Walter had left her side, and was barking hoarsely
and making little ineffectual dashes at the bull, that, together with
her headlong flight, merely served to provoke his curiosity into wrath.
Giving a terrifying bellow, he set off at full speed.

Yellow Star had seen much of wild Texas cattle at the agency, where
they are issued to the Indians “on the hoof,” as a monthly ration.
Furthermore, Sir Walter had long since learned to obey the girl from
Dakota as he never dreamed of obeying his impetuous little mistress.
Her flute-like whistle was enough to bring him galloping to her side.
Cynthia, too, turned half-way toward her at the sound, stumbled and fell
at full length.

The bull was still plunging heavily along, and Stella, who had hoped to
draw him off in her direction and then slip through the wire fence out of
reach, found scant time for any such maneuver. Desperately she sent Sir
Walter flying back to bark and snap at his heels, while she herself stood
still and uttered a long ringing cry.

He stumbled, half turned—and hark! the strange, challenging cry was
repeated again and again, until it actually brought him to a halt but a
few paces from poor Sin, who had struggled to her feet and was sobbing
aloud as she tried to run with a twisted ankle. And now the bewildered
animal stood pawing the sod and bellowing in hoarse response, until both
girls had reached a place of safety.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Well, that _was_ a close call, and no mistake!” Cynthia had quite
recovered her spirits in the course of an hour or so, and was obviously
enjoying her own importance as the heroine of so rare an adventure, while
she nursed her sprained ankle on the shabby cushions of Doctor Brown’s
top-buggy. Poor Doris, still pale and tearful, was squeezed in between
Cynthia and the Doctor, while Mrs. Brown remained in temporary charge of
her protesting brother, and Stella, who had insisted upon walking, was
already far ahead.

The gruff Doctor assented, with an appraising eye, meanwhile, upon the
solitary girlish figure moving so rapidly before them, along the hilly
country road. The Doctor was not a man of unnecessary words; but if he
had spoken out his thought just then, it would have sounded something
like this:

“There’s the right stuff in that girl—no question about it! I wonder—”



CHAPTER IX

GLIMPSES OF OLD AMERICA


When Uncle Si, getting “so’s to be ’round” again, heard all about Stella
and the Wolcott bull, the immediate results were two.

First, the bull was promptly sold—a surprising occurrence to those who
best knew Silas Wolcott and his deep-rooted objection to disposing of any
“critter” whatsoever that had been raised on the home place. No fowl was
too old or too tough for home consumption, and indeed Uncle had developed
no mean skill in softening gallinaceous tissues and imparting a delicious
flavor by braising for twelve hours or thereabouts, with peppercorns and
sweet herbs, in an old-fashioned bean-pot. But superfluous calves and
superannuated horses were said to owe their immunity from sale to the
fact that they had been “born on the old farm,” a fact which to his mind
appeared to constitute a lifelong claim upon its hospitality.

Consequence number two, our heroine was actually adopted, to the extent
of being formally requested to call the old man “Uncle,” which she shyly
but joyfully proceeded to do. It was one more milestone on her long and
often lonely road to “some really true relations.”

Now among the strictly home-bred stock on the Wolcott acres was a small
herd of deer, as jealously guarded and almost as tame as if they had
adorned the stately park of some English earl. Stella heard with intense,
though undemonstrative, interest of this unexpected renaissance of wild
life among the New England hills.

“Why, Mother Waring,” she confided, “you know they’re almost gone from
our Dakota prairies, where there used to be so many. Think how hard it is
for the women to get any deerskin for moccasins! And how _can_ there be
deer here where white people have lived for hundreds of years?”

“There weren’t any when I was a little girl,” Mrs. Waring observed. “I
believe they have come back because for many years now they have been
protected; that means, you know, that nobody is allowed to kill them.
Seems to me I’ve heard that there are supposed to be several thousand in
this State; and now a law has been passed that for one week this fall
they may be shot,” she added, doubtfully.

“Uncle Si won’t have his shot,” insisted Stella. “He has printed signs
up all over his woods, with something about ‘the penalty of the law.’
Mother, I do so want to see a deer! and he says there are three that
come to drink at the Cold Spring almost every evening. We’ve seen their
tracks—a buck, a doe, and a dear little fawn,” the sweet voice pleaded.
“But we always have to come home early so’s to be in time for tea.”

“So you do, darling,” assented her foster-mother, her gentle, puzzled
gaze upon Stella’s earnest face. She knew by instinct that the child had
a special favor to ask—she who had always found it hard to ask favors.

Out it came at last. “Cynthia is just as wild about the deer as I am;
and—and—Mother dear—Uncle Si says we can come some Saturday and he’ll
show them to us if we can keep quiet enough; and Dr. Brown has promised
to drive us out there and back—Doris too, though Doris is a teeny bit
afraid of the old buck’s horns—if you’re willing, and don’t mind my
being out after dark just this once.” She was quite breathless, now.

“Why, yes, I think so—if the Doctor is kind enough to take charge of
you—” Mrs. Waring got no further, for the sentence was interrupted at
this point with a strangling hug.

After Stella had actually seen the deer, which happened before many
weeks, the four friends had an earnest discussion upon the subject of the
coming week of slaughter.

Ethan had lately become quite an adept with bow and arrows, which
suggested to him the bright idea of going into the merry greenwood with
the romantic equipment of a Robin Hood or a Hiawatha. He rather looked
for the admiration of the girls, and especially of Yellow Star, and had
even gone so far as to picture himself triumphantly bringing in the
deer on his shoulders, and gallantly throwing it down at Mrs. Waring’s
kitchen door. Rather to the boy’s resentment, however, she proved most
unsympathetic.

“How can you think of such a thing?” she protested, “and after we have
all watched the darling things drinking out of Uncle’s spring! I don’t
call it hunting to go out and kill them when they are so tame, almost
like pets.”

“I hope you don’t think I propose to shoot on posted land,” remarked
Ethan With some dignity. “I know just where I shall go; on the south
side of the mountain there’s a regular deer path; and it isn’t like
gunning, let me tell you, with the buckshot scattering every which way;
and beside, the farmers down that way are glad enough to have the deer
killed—they do no end of damage to the young fruit trees.”

“I should say so; why, those very deer that Uncle Si thinks so much of
got into the garden one night, and ruined all his early peas,” chimed in
sensible Doris. “If it had been his next-door neighbor’s calves, wouldn’t
there have been a row, or even a lawsuit, may be.”

“Well, rather,” observed Ethan, glad of a champion. “That’s just why the
law was passed providing for one week’s open season; the deer are getting
to be regular nuisances all over this part of the state. Pretty soon
the farmers will have to build high fences to keep them off the growing
crops.”

“It’s letting them think no one is going to hunt them, till they forget
to be afraid, and then turning an army of men and boys loose on the
poor things all of a sudden, that _I_ don’t like,” broke in Cynthia
impulsively. “It’s all very well talking about the law, but what do the
deer know about your old law? It isn’t fair, and I hate anything that’s
not fair.”

“And it has seemed so like home, ever since I knew for certain there were
Wild deer in these woods,” breathed Stella. “Girls, I keep fancying we’ll
come upon some wigwams, some time, of those old Indians who lived here
two hundred years ago. I suppose there aren’t any bounties offered for
their scalps nowadays; and just suppose _they_ should come back, like the
deer!”

The young folks were picnicking, as usual, in the edge of that bit of
first-growth pine that Uncle was so proud of, and at Stella’s words
all glanced furtively about, as if half expecting to glimpse a ragged
birch-bark dwelling, or even one of the soft-footed braves revisiting his
native haunts in these venerable woods. After all, it was they who were
the intruders. Ethan looked decidedly shaken, but matter-of-fact Doris
remarked bluntly:

“If they did come back, they wouldn’t kill the deer for one week, but
every day in the year. I thought Indians were always hunting, when they
weren’t on the war-path killing people; and _you_ needn’t say anything,
Stella Waring, so there!”

However, when the open season actually came round with November, Ethan
decided that he was “too busy” to take a day off in the woods, which
Stella’s fancy had peopled for him with stealthy shadows, and friendly
wreaths of blue smoke from well-hidden wigwams. It was Thanksgiving
before they all met again at Uncle Si’s place, and found him “as mad as a
hatter.”

“Spent more’n half o’ that week patrolin’ the woods with a shotgun, and
givin’ fools that couldn’t read plain English a piece o’ my mind,” he
explained, grimly. “Howsomever, the blamed racket scared my deer so’t
I’ve never seen ’em since, and most likely I sha’n’t agin.”

“What a shame!” cried Sin, and poor Stella looked too much distressed
to speak. She had tried not to think of the timid creatures harried and
wounded, of antlered heads laid low, of the blood-drops on the leaves.

“Have you ever noticed this big rock in the middle of the
pasture?—noticed it very specially, I mean,” she suggested, as they made
their way around the giant boulder, towering high above their heads like
a rude altar. “I always think, what if it was right here the Indians
used to make their prayers and offerings! Great-grandfather Inyan—that’s
what we Dakotas call a rock like that. And there must have been
water-spirits—what you call fairies—about uncle’s ever-flowing spring.
Oh, Cynthia and Doris! I should think you girls would care more about the
_old_ America. You’re proud of being Americans; and there may be prettier
stories belonging to these very hills than those we read in school about
the Roman nymphs and the old Norse thunder-gods.”

“But where would we find them?” asked Doris, much impressed.

“Try the Historical Society,” Ethan suggested.

“I’m going straight to the library,” proclaimed Cynthia, “and next time
we come for a day in the woods, we’ll each of us tell an ‘Old America’
story. What do you say, girls?”

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later, they had scattered in search of princess-pine and
Christmas ferns, squaw-berries and moss, and Stella, at some little
distance from the others, was carefully lifting a clump of hepaticas
for Miss Sophia’s fernery, when she suddenly thought she heard a faint,
whimpering noise.

The blood fairly crinkled in her veins. Dropping basket and trowel,
she set herself to follow up the cry which came again and yet again,
a plaintive, muffled, half-human sound that was almost like a baby’s
smothered wail. At last her quick eye detected a misplaced leaf. The
faint trail led straight to a dense thicket of laurel where a small
creature lay motionless, so near the color of the dead leaves in which it
nestled that to most eyes it would have been invisible.

With one quick spring she was upon it, and had flung both arms around the
neck of a half-grown fawn, which had been wounded in the side, and was
too weak to struggle much. Then she raised her voice in a loud cry.

“Ethan! Cynthia! Oh, E—E—than!”

       *       *       *       *       *

“It’s Stella’s fawn, now,” piped Uncle Si Wolcott. They were all in the
big farmhouse kitchen; Stella on the floor with the fawn’s head on her
lap, and a saucer of milk beside her; Cynthia swinging her long limbs
from her favorite perch on the edge of the table, and the others standing
around in admiring attitudes. “Doctor Ethan” had carefully washed the
wound, and pronounced it not serious.

“Th’ game warden’s a pretty good friend o’ mine,” he went on, with a
twinkle, “and I don’t guess there’ll be any trouble about her keepin’ it
for a pet if she wants to.”

The three girls exploded in a simultaneous “Oh!” of delight, but next
instant a look of almost laughable bewilderment overspread their faces.
The same thought had occurred to them all at the same time. Miss Sophia!

“_Do_ you suppose she’ll let you?” queried Sin in awestruck tones, while
the others held their breath. No one but Cynthia would dare to say things
right out like that.

“You might have a little house for him, down by the chicken-coop,”
quavered Doris.

Stella was thinking hard. No one knew how she wanted the waif for her
own; and she felt sure that dear Mother Waring would not—could not refuse
her. The question was, did Stella want her to pay the price?

They were all waiting for her to speak, and at last her clear voice broke
the silence.

“The fawn is something like me,” it began, pitifully. “You see, don’t
you? It’s wild; it hasn’t any relations. I know just how a wild
orphan feels, and I’m afraid it wouldn’t want to live in Miss Sophia’s
chicken-coop and have her all the time wishing it wasn’t there. Uncle
Si, if you would only be willing to let the fawn stay in the barn-yard
with the calves, and if I could just _call_ it mine, and come and feed it
sometimes?”

There was a soft brightness in the black eyes, as if tears were not far
off, and everybody began talking at once, trying to drown the thought of
the two “wild orphans” clinging together, and the utter hopelessness of
an appeal to Miss Sophia.

“Think the critter’d be most as unpop’lar as Ethan’s rattlesnakes, hey?”
chuckled Uncle Si.

“_What?_” screamed Doris and Cynthia, together, and the boy blushed to
the roots of his hair.

“Well, you know, that was a long time ago,” he muttered, but Uncle
mercilessly continued:

“Said they wa’n’t dangerous at all, _if ye knew how to handle ’em_—pick
’em up by the scruff o’ the neck, like blind kittens; wa’n’t that it,
Ethan? Studied a heap on the subjick, he had. ‘Uncle,’ says he, ‘they
don’t need to eat a thing fer six months to a year;’ an’ I says, ‘There
orter be a good bit o’ profit in boarding ’em,’ says I. But Ethan, he
says as how he can get five dollars apiece from a _mu_seum; and he has a
pair o’ boots made to come up to his waist, pretty nigh; an’ he tramps
over to Rattlesnake Gulch one mornin’ afore daylight, so as to ketch ’em
crawlin’ out o’ their holes, most likely.”

Every eye was fixed upon the speaker, except that of his victim, who
wriggled uneasily and vainly tried to break into the conversation.

“Ethan allers did go in fer makin’ money, ye know,” pursued Uncle,
enjoying his success. “Wouldn’t take along any whisky fer bites, though
I offered him all I had left, sayin’ as how it was a wuss pizen than
the snake’s an’ not accordin’ to modern methods. Wal, along about dark
Ethan comes back pretty well tuckered out, carryin’ a gunny-sack over his
shoulder on the end of a stick. Didn’t need to tell me there was a live
rattler in that there gunny-sack! I could hear his tail a-goin’ like an
alarm-clock, an’ every now an’ then he’d strike out kinder vicious an’
set the thing to wavin’ back an’ forth.”

“How did you ever get him into the sack, Ethan?” begged Cynthia, much
excited. Doris shuddered, and hid her face in her hands, while Stella
sat quite silent, with the fawn’s head in her arms.

“Mischief of it was to git him out agin,” remarked Uncle. “Ef Ethan ever
got that five dollars, I will say he arned it. Just tell ’em what your
aunt by marriage said when she stumbled over that gunny-sack in the
woodshed an’ found out what was in it, Ethan.” But Ethan had slipped out
to the barn, and was fixing up an unused box-stall for Stella’s fawn.

“Gone, is he? Wal, all I can say is, Miss Sophia Russell ain’t a
circumstance to Mis’ Honey on that occasion. Don’t know as I blame her,
neither. That pet o’ yourn’ll be safe enough with your old uncle, Stella,
an’ you’ll be out to tend to it every Sat’day, or I’ll know the reason
why.”



CHAPTER X

NOBODY’S LITTLE GIRL


“It doos beat all,” declared Grandma Brown, with even more than her usual
emphasis, “how blind own folks can be! I’ll lay there ain’t a man, woman
nor child in Laurel township, save an’ exceptin’ Sophi’ Spellman, that
don’t know Lucy’s goin’ straight into a decline. Weak lungs is in the
fam’ly, to begin with; I can rec’lect when those gals’ mother an’ aunt
both went off with the gallopin’ consumption. Like as not, Lucy felt her
husband’s death a good deal; an’ I’ve heerd tell how that Dakoty climate
keys you right up till ye can’t live anywheres else without snappin’ off
short.

“She’s ben goin’ down stiddy ever sence she come back home, that’s flat;
an’ here’s that sister of hers tellin’ folks as how ‘it’s jest a touch o’
bronchitis,’ an’ ‘she only wishes _she_ had Lucy’s constertution.’

“What’s more, she has her breakfust in bed reg’lar, so I hear, for all
the world like them ungodly folks in furrin parts, an’ reads French
novels on the sofy while Lucy an’ Stella doos up the work. I declare
for’t, Emmeline, if somebody else don’t do it pretty quick, I’ll speak to
Sophi’ myself!”

Everybody knew that Grandma had succeeded in preserving to a good old
age all the “spunk” and “snap” that seems to have perished, for the
most part, with a past generation, and it is quite possible that, if
opportunity had served, she would have faced down and outdone even
the formidable Miss Sophia. Lucy’s decline, however, had been so very
gradual, and her ways so quiet and uncomplaining, that even a sister
might almost have been forgiven for not realizing how matters stood.
As for her dear Sioux daughter, now a head taller than herself, and
completing, to the eminent satisfaction of her teachers, her second
year’s work in the academy, to her it had seemed a sufficient explanation
of everything that “mother was growing old!” For the fifties, and even
the forties, of ripe middle age do seem “old” to sixteen.

After almost three years in Laurel, Yellow Star was growing fairly
certain that she truly “belonged.” Modest as she was, she could not help
knowing that people liked her—all sorts of people—boys and girls and
babies, intimates and strangers, sharp-tongued Grandma Brown and the
gruff-spoken Doctor and “pernickety” Uncle Si. Even from Mary Maloney
and Rosey Bernstein the Indian girl had wrung some measure of reluctant
admiration; but, in spite of much willing service, she remained vividly
conscious of being still an outsider and an interloper in the eyes of
Miss Sophia.

Now at last Doctor Brown had been sent for to see Lucy Waring. Everybody
in Laurel, almost, had noticed his ancient roan steed and battered
top-buggy before the Spellman gate. It was impossible to deny any longer,
in the face of that long-postponed confession, what all the village
tongues had been wagging with for months past. Lucy had “took to her
bed,” at last, and the end could not be very far off.

It came suddenly, after all; to Yellow Star with a suddenness almost as
devastating as that storm of bullets and shell out of a clear sky which
had left her stranded, a nameless brown waif, on the frozen December sod,
some fifteen years before.

The spring term had slipped quickly away, with Miss Ward installed as
nurse and Doctor Brown calling every other day; with Miss Sophia looking
grimmer and grayer than ever, and Lucy’s waxen face on the pillow
relaxing into a loving smile as she repeated the daily formula which only
Stella really believed:

“I shall be better to-morrow. Now the weather is getting so pleasant, I
shall soon be out again.”

Then, one sultry July day, after a long “spell” of exhausting heat, there
had come an alarming faintness and a “hurry call” for the Doctor. Miss
Sophia was hastily sent for from the kitchen, where she had been taking
the indignant Mrs. Maloney to task for “nicking” her old blue china …
and presently, to poor Stella sitting, desperately anxious and unhappy,
on the top step of the dark stairway, just outside her foster-mother’s
door, came, not even kind-hearted Doctor Brown, but the business-like,
white-capped nurse, with her curt message:

“Miss Sophia says you need not sit there any longer, Stella; Mrs. Waring
is dead.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, indeed, it was all Miss Sophia’s house, she thought; and it “pushed
her out,” as she had said once when she first came to Laurel—pushed her
away as with actual, bodily hands—a dark-skinned little alien, who did
not “belong”! All of a sudden, she realized with dreadful sharpness that
she was nothing, really, to that gentle soul who was gone, and who had
pityingly taught the childish lips to call her “mother.” No, she was no
Waring except in name—much less a Spellman or a Russell; those ghostly
portraits in the shuttered parlor below disowned and despised her; she
was only a stray—a foundling—only The-One-who-was-left-Alive.

Yellow Star sprang up and darted down the colonial stairway and out the
sacred front door. The graveled, box-bordered walk echoed her flying
feet, and the elm-trees, straining against a rising wind, seemed to peer
anxiously after the light figure as it sped by. Then the gate clicked and
she was away—away on the wings of the summer wind—not walking, scarcely
even running, but _flying_ toward the only near refuge her spirit knew,
the dear, green, lonely House in the Woods!

Long before she could reach it, the storm broke. It was a storm that
made timid Doris cower with her face hidden, there in her own mother’s
cheerful sitting-room; even the weary Doctor thanked his stars that he
had gotten safe home and his horse “put up” before the rain came.

Yet it was not those silvery sheets of hissing water, drenching to
the skin all who might be abroad, that one really minded—not at all!
It was—ah! the play of forked lightnings, awfully bright, and the
ear-splitting thunder-crash that could do no harm, one knew, but that
was so dreadful for all that. Yellow Star’s Indian blood fairly curdled
within her in the face of this close strife of the elements; for brave
as her people truly were, the angry moods of nature were to them full of
threat and awful personality. And yet, to-night, her grief was such that
even the forked tongues of the “Thunder Birds” could not really terrify
her, and she ran on.

In the rude shelter raised by friendly hands and connected with some of
the happiest hours of her short life, there among the grave neighbor
pines hiding their frightened nestlings, the girl from far Dakota cried
aloud in long-forgotten Indian fashion—cried and mourned in rhythmic
cadence, wild as the sobbing wind in the tree-tops—there told in her
own dear tongue to those shivering sister woods all the secrets of her
storm-tossed heart.

“Oh!” she cried, standing straight up in the tiny shack and flinging her
strong young arms above the streaming black head with a tragic gesture,
“oh, it is worse even than when I lost my own mother and was too young to
know! I only knew what they told me—how they threw my poor Dakota mother
into that awful pit, with no coffin and no prayer—and how I could never,
never know her name or how she looked, or whether I was all the child she
ever had, or anything! And the white man’s cruel bullets had torn her
poor body … and yet in all her pain her last thought was for me … to
keep me warm and alive. I meant to prove that I was _worth_ keeping alive
… and I hoped she might, somehow, know.

“And then, there were those kind Indian women—Blue Earth’s mother, and
Mrs. Driving Hawk, and the rest, who took care of me as well as they
could. They were poor and very frightened and most had babies of their
own, and it was very, very kind of them to feed a useless little fretting
baby without any relations, whose people had nearly all been killed by
the soldiers of the Great Father at Washington.

“To be sure, I have often heard my dear Mother Waring say that when she
found me I was very dirty, and looked hungry and miserable. Many of the
Dakota children who had mothers and fathers, too, were hungry, and ’most
all were dirty, I’m afraid, back there on the reservation. It wasn’t all
their fault; I know it wasn’t.

“I was about five when Mother Waring took me away; very thin and ugly,
and oh! so frightened of the white people! She used to tell me about it
afterward, to make me laugh. She had my ragged little Dakota dress and
moccasins put away, the ones I had on the day she took me home to her
house, and washed and dressed and fed me, and put me at night in a clean,
white bed next her own. I cried half that first night, she told me, and
begged to go back to the Indian camp, where I might curl up in a dirty
quilt in any one of half a dozen smoky teepees.

“Then, after awhile, I got fat and contented, and I loved her dearly,
and began to be afraid of the Indian women. But she wouldn’t have that,
either; she always made me shake hands with them, and wouldn’t let me
forget my own language when I learned the English. And I went to church
and Sunday School and learned about Our Father who art in heaven; and
after a great while Father and Mother Waring seemed just like my real
father and mother on earth.

“Then dear Father Waring left us and went to heaven, too; and we came to
Laurel to live. It’s been beautiful here; all but Miss Sophia. I have so
many friends in Laurel—I really did begin to think I belonged—and if I
could only stay long enough to graduate, there are so many things I could
do.

“But now I seem to see it all. Now Mother Waring is gone, I haven’t any
folks, anywhere. Miss Sophia doesn’t love me a single bit. There are just
Doris and her father and mother, and Cynthia and Grandma Brown and Uncle
Si and Miss Morrison—yes, Ethan too, though I haven’t seen him for ever
and ever so long—all just _friends_, not folks,—and I shall be left out
of everything, again. Oh, dear! I am nobody’s little girl!”

       *       *       *       *       *

After supper that same evening, when the summer tempest had subsided to a
gentle, purring down-pour of warm rain, and while Yellow Star, scarcely
yet missed from the gloomy house of mourning, lay exhausted with crying
on her bed of boughs, in her wet garments, away out in Wolcott’s Woods,
her good friends were discussing her future and the practical bearings of
her great loss, with true village simplicity.

“It’s jest as I say, an’ you can depend on’t,” insisted Grandma Brown. “I
ain’t missed a funeral in these parts—not for forty-six years—that time
I was bedfast, you recollect, Grampa? and old Deacon Hewitt went and
turned up his toes. Furthermore, there ain’t ben a will made in Laurel
all these years that I couldn’t tell ye the heft on’t.

“Deacon Spellman, he left that house an’ money in bank to his two
darters, Lucy an’ Sophi’, an’ whichever one of ’em was to die fust the
hull went to the survivor. You’ll find out it’s so; an’ everything
belongs to Sophi’ Spellman now, onless Lucy an’ her husband had contrived
to save suthin’ out of his pay, which wasn’t no great, it stands to
reason, him bein’ not only a minister but a missionary to the heathen.”

“I don’t know but you’re right, mother,” the Doctor admitted, taking
his pipe out of his mouth and resting his grizzled head on the worn
leather cushions of his chair, with a tired sigh. “I do kind of hope, all
the same, that some sort of provision will be made for that child to
finish her schooling. I should hate to see her packed off to the Indian
reservation now, when her heart’s set on graduating; and Stella deserves
to graduate if ever a girl did.”

“Of course I’m right, Ezry,” observed Grandma, crisply. “And packed off
she’ll be in short order, or I miss _my_ guess.”

“It seems to me Sophia will want to do what’s right by her only sister’s
adopted child,” was Mrs. Brown’s gentle suggestion, while Doris cried
quietly, with her head buried in the sofa pillow.

“Seems to me, Emmeline,” Grandma countered, briskly, “you’d orter know
Sophi’ Spellman better by this time. She’s her granther Spellman over
again; anybody outside the family connection was allers the dirt under
his feet, in a manner of speakin’. Stella’s a good gal, an’ a smart gal,
but she’s no kin to Sophi’ that I know of. An’ furthermore, she ain’t
even white folks, an’ no Spellman by birth and nater could put up with
that—not if she had the parts of an angel. Jest you wait an’ see.”

And, as usual, Grandma had the last word.



CHAPTER XI

JUST FRIENDS


It was on the very day after the funeral that Miss Sophia had an
unexpected caller, in the person of Cynthia’s father, the proprietor of
the largest dry-goods and grocery store in Laurel. She privately wondered
what he had come for, but received him with a civility as chilling as the
atmosphere of her shrouded “best room,” and as unbending as the tall,
spare figure in its gloom of unrelieved black.

Mr. Parker was a man of business, and went straight to the point.

“I hope you’ll excuse my calling so soon, ma’am! I should be very sorry
to intrude, but the fact is, I am particularly interested in—ah!—in a
present member of your family.”

Here Miss Sophia visibly stiffened, and the gentleman cleared his throat,
and made a fresh beginning.

“If I may be allowed to refer to the prospects of your—ahem! of the late
Mrs. Waring’s charge, I understand that it is proposed to—that her return
to Dakota is—ah!—under consideration?”

“As to Stella,” reluctantly responded Miss Sophia, “I do not quite
see—begging your pardon, Mr. Parker—why my plans for the girl should be
of particular interest to my neighbors. However, I have no objection to
answering your question. Stella is sixteen—quite old enough to go to
work, and, thanks to my sister’s possibly mistaken kindness, has a far
better education than either her antecedents or her circumstances call
for. It is high time, in my opinion, that she was getting in touch with
her own people, and becoming accustomed to their mode of life, to which
she has so long been a stranger.

“Her own inheritance from an ancestry of savages, Mr. Parker, betrays
itself in such escapades as Stella indulged in on the night of my
sister’s death, when she ran away to the woods in a violent thunderstorm,
was found by your dog, I believe, and brought home after dark by Mr.
Silas Wolcott from his place on the Bay road. Such distressing outbreaks
render it desirable, certainly, from my point of view, that her return be
not delayed too long.”

“That’s about as I supposed, ma’am,” gravely assented Mr. Parker, “and it
is on that understanding that I have come here to-day to make a definite
proposition to Miss Stella, and to you, as her guardian. It is simply
this: that I offer her a home with me, as my daughter’s companion, for
the next two years, or until she graduates from Laurel academy. She will
be treated precisely like my own daughter, if she comes. I shall make
her an allowance for dress, and so forth, and of course pay all of her
expenses.”

Poor Miss Sophia was taken entirely by surprise, and had to moisten her
dry lips more than once before she could inquire:

“And what, may I ask, is your reason for this—this extraordinary offer?”

“Miss Stella, ma’am,” responded Mr. Parker, with unmoved politeness, “is,
as you are perhaps aware, my daughter’s most intimate friend. Cynthia is
an only child, and, I am sorry to say, rather a lonely one. She has her
little peculiarities, Miss Spellman, like the rest of us, and her mother
and I have every reason to be satisfied with your ward’s influence.”
(Here Miss Sophia indulged in an unmistakable sniff.)

“In addition to this, my daughter firmly believes that Miss Stella
saved her life from the Wolcott bull, not a great while ago, which of
course puts us all in her debt; and, in short, Cynthia says that she
will not graduate without her.” (Another sniff.) “And besides,” firmly
continued Mr. Parker, with perhaps a secret enjoyment of the situation,
“the fact is, ma’am, her friends all feel that Miss Stella is a girl
of—ahem!—unusual abilities, and ought by all means to complete her
education.”

“Of course, Mr. Parker, I shall require some time to think this matter
over.” Miss Sophia spoke rather feebly, after a long pause. “The
suggestion is an unexpected one, and—and—However, I shall mention it
to the girl, and—By the way, Mr. Parker, you may not be aware that
my sister left her by will all of her personal property, and a sum in
savings-bank amounting to something over three hundred dollars. Stella is
not exactly an object of charity.”

The storekeeper was quite aware of this fact, as was everybody else in
the village. The will had been drawn up by the local lawyer, who had
deemed it necessary to keep his counsel no longer than till the funeral
was over. However, Stella’s friends did not think the legacy of great
importance, as bearing on the question in hand. Three hundred dollars was
a nice little nest-egg for her, to be sure; but it would not cover her
board, clothing and school expenses for two years.

He simply bowed, therefore, and took up his hat as he replied, civilly:

“Certainly, certainly, ma’am; take all the time you wish to talk the
matter over with the young lady. When you and she have made up your
minds, may I ask that you will communicate with me?”

At Miss Sophia’s front door, the merchant encountered Doctor Brown.
Almost a personal encounter it was, for the big Doctor was in a hurry, as
usual, and had stopped in upon urgent business, on his way to a patient.
Miss Sophia was just on the point of escaping to her room, to consider
this unprecedented interference with her plans—rank impertinence, she was
inclined to call it—when he bluntly detained her.

“No, no; I can’t sit down. I sha’n’t keep you a minute. It’s just this.
Stella Waring must have her chance. She must graduate from the academy,
in the first place, and her little bit of money won’t do the trick. My
wife and I aren’t rich, as you know, but there’s room under our roof for
the child, especially if she’s willing to make herself useful—and I know
she is, bless her heart!

“She can come to-morrow; we need her to wait on mother, help my wife
about the house and be company for Doris, so she’ll give as much as she
gets. Stella’s proud, Miss Sophia, and wouldn’t consent to be a burden
to anybody. I want her to understand that she’ll be doing us a favor by
coming. Talk it over with her, and let me know. Good day!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, there was no way out of it; the whole matter must be laid before
the girl herself. Distasteful as the task was, Miss Sophia must explain
to her both offers and give her her choice; yes, and the further
alternative of remaining where she was for two years longer. Upon mature
consideration, and with her eyes fully opened, at last, to Stella’s
position and value in the community, this stiff-necked elderly Puritan
was compelled to face the fact that the girl’s services were worth as
much to her as to any one else; and the further fact that it would not
“look well,” in the eyes of her lifelong neighbors and townsfolk, if her
dead sister’s foster-child should be obliged to find another home in
Laurel. She could scarcely be packed off to the reservation willy-nilly;
not with such influential friends on her side.

Besides, it would be _some_ satisfaction to get the better of that
scheming Mr. Parker. Let him take his own medicine, and see how he liked
it. And besides, when you really came down to it, what would she, Miss
Sophia, do without her light-handed and swift-footed little attendant?
Poor Lucy was gone, and Stella was the only one, now, who knew all their
ways. Must she be at the mercy of a Mrs. Maloney in her old age? So for
hours she sat and thought till her old head fairly spun, and the subject
was broached to a subdued and red-eyed Stella that very evening.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Oh, Jibby darling! to think of your really and truly coming to live with
us! Oh, isn’t Daddy the very nicest man that ever lived? He never refused
me anything; not if I had set my heart on it, you know. And I told him
that if you didn’t graduate, then I wouldn’t, either; and the very day I
was eighteen I was going out to Dakota to join you on your own land, and
run that ranch we always talked about. He only said: ‘Tut, tut, daughter;
we’ll do better than that.’

“And even mother’s glad, because I do bother her sometimes when she has
a headache, and now she can play bridge all day, if she likes. You and
me’ll see to everything, won’t we, Jibby? You _are_ coming, aren’t you,
darling dear?”

Thus Cynthia in one breath, flinging herself upon her friend’s neck the
next morning, in the prim garden of the old Spellman homestead, among
the old-fashioned posies, day-lilies and bleeding-heart and wonderful
rose-hued peonies, while Scotty, with the demonstrative jealousy of his
kind, stood upon his gaunt hind legs and thrust his cold nose between the
loving pair.

Doris, prettier than ever in all the dignity of her ankle-long skirts and
“Psyche knot” of honey-colored hair, noted Stella’s hesitating silence
and cannily began, feeling her way:

“You know, Jibby, Grandma is getting old and feeble, and she does like
you better’n ’most any one. She won’t let even me do for her as she will
you, Stella Waring! I don’t see how you manage to bewitch everybody the
way you do.

“Uncle Si says, dummed if he wouldn’t like nothing better than for you
to come out there and be his little housekeeper. Think of that! He never
forgot that breakfast you got for him the day Cynthia was chased by the
bull; and he says that for nobody else in this endurin’ world would he
have hitched up the critters long after bed-time of a wet night. I don’t
know when he’s been out after eight o’clock ’cept that night he took you
home. Well, aren’t you ever going to speak? We _all_ want you, Stella;
now which is it going to be?”

Yellow Star faced her two friends with almost a tragic gesture of
out-flung arms, and the rare tears in her soft, black eyes.

“Darlings,” she cried, “you are all too sweet for anything, and I shall
never forget it as long as I live. To think that I have such friends!
But do you know, the most wonderful part of it all is, _Miss Sophia wants
me too_!

“She’s getting old, you see, and she isn’t used to doing for herself, and
she really does need me, girls. Don’t look like that, Cynthia; she’s my
dear, dear Mother Waring’s only sister—the only near kin she had in this
world—so she used to say. Girls, I know I should be perfectly happy with
either of you, but I can’t leave Miss Sophia—she’s _folks_. I know I can
take care of her, and here is where I _belong_.”

And, of course, that settled it.



CHAPTER XII

HERBS AND SIMPLES


Miss Sophia, notwithstanding the unexpected turn that affairs had taken,
had by no means relinquished her point of view. No sooner was she
satisfied that Stella would not desert her post for any other offer,
however flattering, than she recovered herself sufficiently to make quite
clear to the girl her changed footing in the Spellman household.

“Our work is light,” she announced, coldly, “and I shall expect you to
earn your board. I have no doubt you prefer to be independent, as far as
possible. I will pay such bills as are necessary, but there must be no
more extras nor nonsense, mind. As for clothes, you’ll scarcely outgrow
them now, and my sister kept you so generously supplied that I should
not think you would need anything new for a long time. A girl in your
position must not expect to dress as well as a prosperous man like Mr.
Parker or Dr. Brown can afford to dress _his_ daughter.”

Yellow Star said nothing, but she was not slow to take a hint, and she
made up her mind then and there never to ask Miss Sophia for a dollar or
a new dress. Neither did she want to draw any of her precious money out
of the savings-bank where Mother Waring had placed it for her, on their
first coming to Laurel.

She was quick and capable; all the housework for two, except laundry and
heavy cleaning, now fell to her share, and took up nearly all her time,
out of school. However, there was the long summer vacation to plan for;
and in the spring after Mrs. Waring’s death, Stella began to seek and to
find opportunities for earning small sums of money. She delivered hats
for the local milliner and gowns for the village dressmaker. She took a
neighbor’s baby out in his carriage on fine days, at ten cents an errand
or an airing. One April afternoon, Doctor Brown found her on her knees
with basket and trowel, grubbing up dandelions in Miss Sophia’s front
yard.

“She pays me a cent apiece, because she doesn’t like to see them in her
grass,” Stella explained, gravely. Miss Sophia had at least a sense of
justice, and although she exacted full service of the orphan, to the
utmost equivalent of her modest living, she would not ask her to do
out-of-door work without paying for it. She had been going to hire a boy
for the dandelions, and Stella had begged for the chance.

“Why, my child, you’ll soon be a Crœsus at that rate,” laughed the good
Doctor.

“I really need the money for a new dress,” pursued Stella, who was
thoroughly in earnest. “Miss Frost, the dressmaker, would like to have
me help her in my spare time; I can make good buttonholes, and she’ll
pay me thirty cents a dozen. But I would so much rather do something
out-of-doors. You see, I am indoors nearly all the time, with my books
and the housework, and I’m _starving_ for some fresh air.”

“Ahem!” The Doctor cleared his throat and took the matter under
consideration. He would have dearly liked to put his big, generous hand
in his pocket and buy the new dress, but he was half afraid the child
wouldn’t take it—or, even if she would, how about that dawning sense of
personal independence? No, no! let her earn the dress, especially since
she was wisely choosing the open-air tasks that should soon restore its
color and roundness to the eager, appealing young face.

“Sensible girl!” he approved. “Do you know, Stella, those dandelion roots
you are digging have medicinal value? The wholesale drug-stores will pay
you a few cents a pound for them, when they’re properly washed and dried.
There’s burdock, too, and tansy, and—let me see—wild mustard and boneset,
beside several more. You must gather the seed-pods of the mustard, and
the leaves and tops of boneset and tansy. They’re all worth money; and
all as common as dirt hereabouts. The farmers ought to pay you, too, for
helping to get rid of them; almost every one I’ve named is a troublesome
pest.”

“Oh, Doctor Brown! How perfectly splendid!” Stella clasped her long,
brown hands eagerly, still kneeling on the soft turf, and once more the
dull glow crept up in her quiet cheek. “I know them all now except the
tansy, and you’ll show me that, won’t you? And tell me just where to take
them. It will be exactly what my own mother and her mother must have done
many a time—digging roots and herbs for medicine. There’s nothing else in
the whole world I should like so much.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Yes, it was I set her up in business, and a fair sort of business it’s
turning out,” chuckled the Doctor some three months later, from the
depths of his shabby easy chair. “Not a fortune in it, of course; but she
makes seventy-five cents or a dollar many days, with Cynthia’s help. Why
aren’t you out with them, Doris? Afraid of a freckle or two my girl?
Well, health is beauty, and their long days in the sun and air, close to
the life-giving earth, will be worth more than a fortune to them.”

Doris tossed her pretty head, from her favorite perch in the broad
window-seat, where she was putting careful stitches in the daintiest of
shirt waists.

“The hot sun and the stooping over give me a headache,” she complained.
She loved Jibby as much as ever, of course, but the sacrifice of that
apple-blossom complexion to the Sun-God was too much to expect.

“When I was a girl,” her mother observed, “I used to be told that it made
a young girl coarse and blowsy to expose her skin to the wind and sun.
Why, I never thought of going out in summer without shade-hat, gloves and
a veil; and nowadays the girls won’t wear any one of them.”

“I d’ know what the present generation’s comin’ to,” agreed Grandpa
Brown, discontentedly. “This new-fangled idee of livin’ outdoors is
suthin’ I don’t take no stock in, fer one. Houses was made to be lived
in, says I; more specially for the wimmen folks. It used to be thought
ondecent to sleep aout; an’ if folks had sot a table in the back yard
for comp’ny, you’d of said they’d gone plump crazy. I dunno whether
’twas Stella set the fashion, or mebbe that school-teacher from up-state
that was always gassin’ ’bout ‘fresh-air;’ but anyhow, Laurel’s got the
disease, an’ got it bad.”

“When him an’ me went to house-keepin’,” chimed in Grandma, briskly,
“folks nailed all the winders down hard an’ fast before ’Lection day,
an’ never took the nails out till spring cleanin’. We didn’t hold with
warmin’ all outdoors, like they ’pear to nowadays. Considerin’ them
nailed-up winders, an’ the things we ate an’ drunk, an’ the germs we
hadn’t never heard of, I’ve never rightly onderstood, Ezry, how you
’count for Grampa an’ me bein’ as peart as we be, an’ both on us goin’ on
for seventy-seven.”

“Speakin’ of vittles, I ain’t never felt the same sence they took away my
pie for breakfust,” grumbled Grandpa, and everybody laughed.

Doctor Brown lit his pipe and retired behind the newspaper, but found
himself thinking less about State politics and the rise in certain
stocks than about the new idea that his father had unwittingly let fall.
Yes, there was no doubt about it; it was his little favorite and Miss
Morrison, between them, who had boldly thrown open the windows and waked
up the sleepy children in stuffy school-rooms, who had set the fashion
of long cross-country walks among the younger set, had revived toboggan
parties and skeeing and “one-day camps,” who had, in short, conducted an
effective “anti-tuberculosis campaign” under the disguise of “fun.” He
had not realized before how much they were all indebted to that natural
hunger for fresh air, so naïvely confessed by his “outdoor girl.”

“Though it _is_ bad for my business—and the undertaker’s,” he humorously
admitted to himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

On that same midsummer day, Stella herself, with loyal Cynthia at
her side and Scotty acting alternately as scout and rear-guard, was
harvesting a field yellow with feathery wild mustard, down at “Uncle
Si’s place.” That eccentric bachelor had offered to pay handsomely for
the extermination of the weed by gathering its seed, and this bounty,
together with the market price of five cents a pound, had spurred the
girls to unusual exertions.

The work _was_ hard, and they had been at it steadily for two or three
hours, when, with shoulders that ached from stooping and faces glowing
with heat, they straightened up at last, and looked longingly over toward
the cool shade of Wolcott’s Woods.

“Let’s get a drink at the spring, and then sit under that tree awhile and
rest,” begged Cynthia. “I’ve got some sandwiches and a splendid book in
my pocket.”

“Well,” consented Stella, “I suppose we might. You’ve helped like a
Trojan, Sin, and I ’most know I’m going to have money enough for my new
fall suit. I don’t want to disgrace our class, you know,” she added,
merrily.

But long before they reached the giant maple that cast its green shade
over a far corner of the field, Sir Walter began to bark wildly, and to
make excited little dashes forward and runs backward, after his usual
idiotic fashion when trouble was in the wind.

“What _do_ you suppose is the matter with him, Jibby?” Sin demanded.

Stella gave a long, searching look ahead and calmly answered:

“There’s a man lying down under that tree.”

“A man! Oh, Jibby! what shall we do? Hadn’t we better run home as fast as
we can?”

“Let’s go a little nearer and see who it is, first,” suggested the other,
suiting the action to the word.

“It’s a tramp, or somebody dreadful, I know,” Sin declared, but she would
not desert her friend, and both girls, escorted by the cringing Sir
Walter, drew near to the prone figure of a poorly dressed, black-bearded
man, whose hat, stick and bundle lay at his side.

“How perfectly horrid he looks!” Cynthia shuddered under her breath.
“It’s a tramp or a nasty peddler, and he’s either drunk or asleep. For
goodness’ sake, Stella, don’t go any nearer!”

“He looks sick to me … and hungry … and out of work,” her friend
pitifully declared. “Perhaps he hasn’t any place to go. He can’t hurt
us, and Scotty would protect us, anyway. (Down, sir!) Get some water,
quick, Cynthia! he’s had a sunstroke or something,” and she bent over the
“horrid man” and loosened his coarse shirt at the neck, moistened the
livid face with the tin cup of cold water that Cynthia hastened to fetch,
and fanned him with her broad-brimmed hat.

When in a few minutes he came to himself, he was barely able to speak,
and that in a broken sort of lingo that the girls could make little of,
but dog-like gratitude looked out of the lusterless black eyes. Stella’s
strong young arms helped to raise him to a more comfortable position, and
Cynthia knelt down and eagerly fed him bits of bread-and-butter from her
lunch-box.

“Go to Uncle Si, please!” directed Stella. “He will know what we ought to
do. I shall stay here, with Sir Walter to take care of me, till you come
back.”

But it was while she was still patiently fanning the stranger and trying
to piece out a meaning from his foreign looks and words, that Stella
was attracted by fresh activity on the part of the dog, who had lain
apparently asleep at her feet. She looked up, and saw a tall, lightly
built young man coming rapidly toward her, his serious face breaking
into smiles as he noticed her start of pleased surprise.

“Why, Ethan! is it really you? Where did you come from?” she cried,
springing to her feet, but quite forgetting to hold out her hand. The
Sioux are not demonstrative in the matter of greetings.

Ethan, however, did not hesitate to take prompt possession of the little
brown hand and press it warmly for a minute, as he looked into the soft,
child-like eyes which met his with the old simplicity.

“Gad, but she’s a winner! Just about twice as handsome and ten times as
magnetic as she promised to be, two years ago,” thought the boy, but he
only said:

“Oh, I just ran down for a few days to see Uncle Si and all the folks!
College opens in three weeks, you know—my last year. Uncle and I were
busy talking over old times and the prospects of the crops, and the
convivial moment had just arrived with the buttermilk, when Cynthia
appeared, all out of breath, and from her story I judged I’d better come
and look after you without loss of time.

“So this is your tramp, eh? The poor chap looks harmless enough, to be
sure, but for all that it was a risky thing to do, for a girl. I suppose
you ‘wanted to help’ like that time I had to fetch you home at ten
o’clock at night from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West—do you remember?”

The girl’s rich color deepened a trifle under his openly admiring eyes,
as he added, pleasantly:

“He’s better now, thanks to the little Samaritan; a green Polander out
of a job, I should say at a guess. Suppose I toll him over to Uncle Si’s
place and try to persuade the old fellow that he wants an extra hand?

“But if you often get into such scrapes, I don’t see how you could keep
it up very long without me to help you out, Stella.”



CHAPTER XIII

INDIAN HOSPITALITY


Among the hoarded possessions of gentle “Mother Waring” which fell to her
little girl, was a large and varied collection of Indian photographs.
Stella had often turned them over and over, with almost painful interest;
she did so once again; and after choosing with great care a single one,
laid all the rest away.

The picture that now stood conspicuously on her old-fashioned bureau was
a large one taken in Washington many years earlier. It showed a group of
three strong faces belonging to leading men of the Sioux in the middle of
the nineteenth century—the last, indeed, of their tribal leaders, trained
in native ways.

“I don’t think that’s a very pretty picture,” remarked Cynthia,
carelessly, one day when the three friends had gathered in Stella’s
little chamber up under the eaves. “Why didn’t you pick out that one in
the beaded shirt and eagle-feather war-bonnet down to his heels?”

“I liked the cunning little baby in its mother’s arms,” Doris suggested.

“Or that perfectly splendid young Indian man who’s in college somewhere,
going to be a minister,” persisted Sin. “Seems to me these old Indians in
long hair and plain clothes are rather a hard-looking crowd,” she added.

It was often difficult for Stella to explain herself. She was silent
now, but her cheeks took on the dark flush they wore when she was deeply
moved. Cynthia saw it, and hastened to add:

“After all, though, there’s something pretty _fine_ about them. That one
in the middle, now; isn’t he sort of solid and hard and grand, like a
big, gray boulder—or—or a charging buffalo?”

“I like to look at them every day,” murmured Stella, at last, with a
grateful glance. Cynthia always understood; perhaps not just at first,
but in time she was sure to understand. “You see, girls, those were real
_men_; strong and just, faithful and truth-speaking. They were men who
talked little and did much. We younger Indians who float along like chips
on the current need to keep before our eyes the old strength of our race.
Those faces seem to me carved, as you say, just like out of solid rock.”

       *       *       *       *       *

A day or two later, a little knot of academy girls were all trying to
talk at once, in excited voices of which only snatches could be heard.

“I shouldn’t think she’d want to push herself in where she isn’t wanted…”

“Nobody’ll speak to her if she does come.”

“Just as if our crowd cared to associate with shop-girls and—”

Apparently it was all an affair of the social club with the mysterious
initials, which had held regular meetings since their sophomore year. It
was a club that took pleasure in being exclusive, and had little regard
for the point of view of the excluded. How foolish it was of them to
feel sore or resentful! Rosey Bernstein, undoubtedly a star pupil, was
vulgarly witty at the expense of the club and its unimportant secrets and
foolish little mysteries.

There had never been any question about Stella’s membership—Stella whom
she and two or three others had been inclined to persecute in the early
days, but had given it up when they found to their surprise that the
word “Indian” was held a title of honor, rather than a term of reproach.
In scholarship they were neck and neck; but what won Rosey completely was
the Indian girl’s unaffected admiration of the fat Bernstein baby, of
whom the whole family was inordinately proud. Babies were Stella’s weak
point, anyway.

But we are losing sight of our conversation, which concerned, not Rosey
or Mary Maloney, but a little girl who had been obliged to drop out of
her class in their Senior year, and go to work in the factory to help
support a large family.

Poor Milly was so slight, so shy, so unpretending, that it did seem as
if she might have been allowed to slip in without remark among her more
fortunate classmates, on the Saturday half-holiday. It was soon settled,
however, that she was “not their kind at all,” that it had been all a
mistake having her in the first place, and she must be made to feel that
now she had left school she ought _of course_ to resign from the Club.
There being no dissent from this proposition, the girls were about to
take up the programme for their next meeting, when a clear young voice
with the least bit of foreign accent suddenly broke in upon the talk.

“Girls, I’ve been reading in an old book how the New England Indians
made the first white men welcome and gave them the best they had, and
how the poor exiles here and in Virginia would have starved many times
if it hadn’t been for the Indians’ corn. I wondered, just at first, why
they did it, because the strangers were so different, and you know we
don’t usually like people who are a different color or race or even dress
or live differently. And then I remembered that we Indians are always
taught to be kind to strangers—to feed even our enemies if they come to
us hungry or in trouble—what you call _hospitality_. The Christian white
people don’t teach their children hospitality, do they?”

There was a minute’s surprised silence.

“After all, girls, it won’t hurt us a bit to let Milly come whenever she
can; prob’ly it won’t be very often,” hesitated Doris.

“Have any of you seen her lately?” Cynthia broke in. “She was always
little, you know, but now! Why, there’s nothing to her at all. She
looks just as neat and nice as ever, but oh my! Just as if she didn’t
get enough to eat. Her father doesn’t work regularly, you know; and her
mother was in the hospital six months; Milly earns three dollars a week
and has to work from seven in the morning until six at night, except
Saturday afternoons and Sundays. I asked her why she hadn’t been to
Sunday-school lately, and she said she spent all day Sunday washing and
ironing her clothes, because she was so tired she simply couldn’t do it
evenings; but I think it was partly because she dreaded meeting the girls
she used to go with.”

Here Doris began to cry quietly, and the other girls, who were really
good-hearted enough at bottom, looked so ashamed of themselves that
Stella slipped away as soon as she could.

“There’s one thing more I must speak about, girls,” she said, as soon as
the three inseparables were out of hearing. “You know I haven’t taken my
turn at entertaining the Club—and this is our third year—and each of you
has had them at your house two or three times. I’ve been thinking and
thinking.”

“Oh, don’t, Jibby darling!” cried Doris, distressed. “Nobody _expects_
you to entertain; we all understand.”

“Everybody in Laurel knows _Miss Sophia_,” declared Cynthia, with bitter
emphasis.

“I can’t help it; I _must_ do something for the others, just once! No,
I can’t ask Miss Sophia to have them at her house, even if I buy all
the refreshments with my own money. She is very particular about her
floors—and the dishes—a cup might get broken or something. But oh, Doris!
_do_ you suppose Uncle Si—?”

“Why, of course! why didn’t we think of it before? A picnic in Wolcott’s
Woods; why, it would be just _scrumptious_!” interrupted Doris, while
irrepressible Sin seized an arm of each and whirled them round and round
till all were laughing and out of breath.

“How about a week from Saturday?” “It’s nearly always fine, this time of
year.” “How will you get us all out there?” “What shall you have to eat,
Jibby?” Poor Stella was fairly buried under the rush of eager questions
and exclamations.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the great day came at last, a perfect afternoon in late September,
Uncle Si’s springless farm wagon, cushioned with golden oat straw and
drawn by a pair of sleek, black horses, rumbled merrily from door to
door through the village, taking in some fifteen happy passengers. The
first surprise came when it was found that not only shrinking little
Milly, but every girl in the class was of the party. It had been Stella’s
shy request to have the “undesirables” as her personal guests for the
day, and that innocent little remark about “Christian white people”
had somehow made it uncomfortable to refuse. The “B. N.’s” had yet to
discover how much more satisfaction there is in getting people in than in
merely keeping them out.

The democratic “straw ride,” a revival of an all but forgotten fashion,
took exceedingly well, and it was a well-shaken-together crowd that
tumbled out at Uncle’s “spring house,” where delicious, ice-cold
buttermilk, sweet milk, or pure spring water was served to everybody. Of
course, the girls’ throats were dry from much singing and shouting, so
that nothing could have been better.

The next stop was at the big hay-barn, where all were invited to hunt for
eggs in the clean, sweet-smelling mows. This was great fun; and when the
eggs proved to be hard-boiled, the plan of this progressive picnic began
to declare itself.

At the kitchen door, which stood invitingly open, stood a beaming
neighbor woman with a bucket of steaming coffee and a basket of fried
chickens, done to a turn, and these were quickly conveyed to the near-by
apple orchard, where a few boards and sawhorses had been converted into
a rustic table, fancifully decorated with ferns and autumn leaves in
Cynthia’s original style.

But the nicest surprise of all was a blazing bonfire at a convenient
distance, with—yes, it was actually Ethan, attired as an Indian brave and
lavishly feathered, bending dutifully over it, flanked by a mammoth heap
of late roasting ears.

After the substantials had been consumed, somebody offered a prize for
the biggest apple, which was easily won by Cynthia, the best climber
and biggest tom-boy in the crowd. Meanwhile, a huge, frosted cake had
appeared upon the table, Doris’ mother’s contribution to the feast, and
Ethan slyly suggested that treasure was sometimes found in woodpeckers’
nests, which led to another joyous scramble, and the discovery of
handfuls of pop-corn balls and Shaker sweetmeats in tempting hollows of
the old apple-trees.

By-and-by the whole company gathered in a circle around the dying
bonfire, and Cynthia, with apparent unpremeditation, proposed an hour of
story-telling.

Doris set the ball rolling with the very old tale of the Ash and the
Elm, the father and mother of mankind, as told by the Abenakis, the
Indians of New England. Both trees grew in Uncle’s door-yard; and her
hearers, looking up, seemed to realize for the first time the graceful
femininity of the drooping elm, and the sturdiness of the more robust and
straight-limbed ash-tree.

“There was once a chief who had three daughters,” began Rosey, promptly,
“and the youngest daughter was much the prettiest, so that all the young
men wanted to marry her. After all, she married the Turtle, who was very
lazy, and lounged about the camp-fire while the others fished and hunted.
They all hated him because he had won the handsomest girl in the village,
and yet did nothing to keep her. One day, they caught him out of sight of
home, and at once told him that they had decided to build a big fire, and
roast him alive.

“‘Ah, that is what I like!’ boasted the Turtle. ‘You can’t get it too
warm to suit me.’

“Then some one suggested that they had better drown him instead, and the
Turtle appeared to be much worried. He cried and begged for mercy, but
they seized hold of him in spite of his struggles, and threw him into the
lake near by.

“‘Ha, ha! now I am at home!’ exclaimed the Turtle, and he dived down into
the cool water and left them all gaping and angrier than ever.”

After everybody had laughed at the expense of the disappointed suitors,
Cynthia began the story of Lox, the mischief-maker, who one day uprooted
a wild plum-tree and set it on his head, so that he scattered ripe fruit
as he walked.

“Pretty soon,” related Sin, “he met two fun-loving girls, who begged
that they too might be allowed to wear such charming and surprising
head-dresses.

“So Lox planted on each of their heads a small plum-tree, by his magic
power fastening the roots firmly in their long black hair. The girls went
home very proud and pleased, and soon found themselves the talk of the
village.

“After a while they grew tired of being pointed at, as well as of
carrying the plum-trees on their heads, and each tried to pull the
other’s tree out by the roots. They pulled and pulled with all their
might, and at last they got them out; but, because all their beautiful
hair was pulled out too, the girls cried bitterly, and wished they had
not been so foolish.”

So it went all round the ring; and when it came the turn of their
hostess, she could scarcely speak for surprise and pleasure in the pretty
compliment to her well-loved people. After she had capped the climax
with one of her best Dakota tales,[1] they were all delighted to hear
the sound of a rustic, rollicking dance-tune played on the old fiddle
by Uncle Si himself, who had certainly entered into the spirit of the
occasion with all the zest of a boy.

Uncle was sitting out on the side porch in his shirt-sleeves, and there
was a nice, level stretch of turf inviting to the dance. Tune followed
tune until everybody was out of breath, and the frolic ended with a
weird, make-believe “Ghost Dance,” and a most realistic scalp-dance, in
which the girls held at arms’ length one another’s fallen tresses, while
going through steps and figures that would certainly have put an Indian
brave to the blush.

The sun was getting low when the straw-lined Cinderella’s coach, driven
by Ethan this time, drew up at the farmhouse porch for its happy freight
of tired girls. It really did seem as if the class of 19—— had never
known each other so well before, never felt so close to the soil and so
pleasantly alive to the spirits of the past, as after they had shared the
hospitality of the Indian girl and her big-hearted Uncle Si.

[1] _For the story told by Stella, see “Wigwam Evenings,” by Charles A.
and Elaine G. Eastman._



CHAPTER XIV

AN END AND A BEGINNING


The three “Clover Leaves” will never, never forget their last year at
the little old academy. The square, white tower with its peremptory,
sweet-toned bell that dominated their waking hours and all but ruled
their dreams; the arm-in-arm saunter from school through autumn’s mellow
haze, or gay exchange of greetings on the crisp winter air; the stiff
portions of Latin and French and mathematics sweetened with girlish mirth
and nonsense; the Senior dance and the Senior play and all the new-made
dignities of that momentous year—these still haunt the charmed halls of
memory, among the sweetest ghosts of life’s phantom past.

And with it all, with all the modest ambitions and the innocent vanities,
there was mingled many a longing or an anxious thought of “what next”—of
the real problems that lay beyond that mysterious closed door.

For most of the boys the next thing was work—just plain, every-day
work on the farm or in the shop; for a few, both boys and girls, it
was college or normal, and then school-teaching or another profession.
Doris and her mother had no thought but of the dear home duties and the
small social triumphs that beckoned so plainly, when the pretty, only
daughter should have “finished her education.” But Cynthia and Stella
were of a different mold, and they passed many a happy hour in sharing
their confidences and their dreams, which ranged all the way from that
ranch in Dakota on Stella’s allotment, which they were to run together,
riding their own range triumphantly in the approved cow-girl fashion, to
the glorious vision of Stella as a famous doctor and Cynthia as a great
artist.

The modest business in herbs and simples had led its votary to pursue
her botany a little further, and make a special study of medicinal
plants. She was often discovered hidden away in a corner of Doctor
Brown’s office, eagerly comparing “Gray” with the “Materia Medica;”
and she found, too, that Grandma Brown was more than ready to impart
the neglected virtues of mullein and catnip, dock and sassafras, some
of which Stella tested by personal experiment, while the girls began
teasingly to call her the “Yarb-Doctor.”

Doctor Brown secretly believed nothing beyond the capacity of his
favorite, but he conscientiously meant not to encourage ambitions that
it might be impossible to realize.

“Those hands of Stella’s,” he impulsively remarked one day, when her
future was under discussion, letting his sage eyes rest meditatively upon
the long, supple, sensitive members—“well, they do say such hands can
only belong to a doctor or a musician.”

“Or a mother,” unexpectedly murmured his wife.

He gave her a quick, approving look, and again the warm blood glowed in
the Indian girl’s dark cheek. She suddenly remembered how Ethan had been
telling her of his plans to study medicine the next year, and how she had
listened with all her heart in her face, and at last cried out without
thinking:

“Oh, I wish, _how_ I wish I could be a doctor, too!”

She remembered vividly the peculiar look in his eyes as he gently
answered:

“I could wish it too—unless—unless you were meant for something even
better, Stella.”

And she had not understood at all.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before the March sun began to melt the snow-drifts, Stella’s friends
got together privately and laid their plans to present her with her
Commencement Day outfit. She had worn all winter the trim suit and modest
hat purchased with her summer’s work in the fields, after the rows of
drying shelves in Miss Sophia’s garret had been cleared of their aromatic
burden. And oddly charming she looked in them—like a symphony in browns,
with her gleaming agate skin and the intense black of hair and eyes for
contrast. But the “weed money” was all gone, and there was no time for
extra earning that last, busy year. Surely she could not be so wickedly
proud as to reject an offering of true love.

Mr. Parker insisted upon purchasing the dress—a duplicate of Cynthia’s.
It was fine handkerchief linen, and Mrs. Brown, who made all Doris’
clothes, would make it up simply and beautifully, while Doris devoted
all her spare minutes for weeks to certain individual touches of hand
embroidery. Cynthia recklessly squandered a whole month’s pocket-money on
the long, white suede gloves, and Grandma Brown unearthed from among her
girlhood’s treasures a sandal-wood fan of delicious memory.

Doctor Brown brought home one day a small watch cased in gun-metal with
Stella’s name on it, and Miss Morrison, who had gone back to the city to
teach, sent a long, curiously wrought gun-metal chain.

But the most surprising contributions came from Uncle Si Wolcott and Miss
Sophia. Uncle Si actually “hitched up” and drove to Westwood for the
finest pair of bronze slippers and bronze silk stockings to be bought
with money. Miss Sophia had tatted a handkerchief, but being impressed at
the last minute with the apparent meanness of her offering as compared
with the others, she unlocked a certain bureau drawer and took from it
a quaint comb of carved ivory, fetched home from China by a seafaring
ancestor, which gave the crowning touch to Stella’s strange beauty, set
in the swirling masses of her blue-black hair.

The girl laughed and cried when she saw them, forgetting for once all
her Indian stoicism, and stroked the lovely frock with reverent fingers,
saying softly:

“Do you know, dears, I can _love_ these clothes!”

       *       *       *       *       *

There was one more gift, that came by mail on the very day of fate
itself. It was a box just long enough to hold the diploma, the
sandal-wood fan, the ivory comb, and any treasures worthy a place with
these. It was cunningly made by hand out of fragrant, warm-hearted
cedar-wood, fitted with a tiny lock and key, and decorated with a knife
in conventionalized designs, chief of which was the recurring device of
a five-pointed star. Doris and Cynthia were the only ones privileged to
admire Ethan’s gift.

Next to the bride in the affections of rural New England stands the fair
girl graduate, and that June day in Laurel was apparently quite given
over to the triumphant parade of simple-hearted youth. In many a modest
home, solicitous mothers were robing and adorning their daughters as if
for the altar itself, and that evening in the town hall it seemed as if
every soul in the village, old and young, rich and poor, must be pressing
into a seat or peering curiously in at open door or window.

And now the orchestra struck up and the platform began to fill—that
platform fluttering with banners and banked with the dark-green, glossy
leaves and rosy chalices of the mountain laurel that gave the village its
name. Pete Holley, a strapping youth of color, and star of the football
team, took his place with dignity. Mary Maloney, the washer-woman’s
daughter, more elaborately dressed than most, sat happily in the front
row next to demure Doris, whose piano solo made a pleasing variation in
the programme.

Stella, too, had a “part”—she and Rosey Bernstein led their class;
and those who saw her on that day of days will long remember the tall,
swaying figure, the gliding step, the vivid, dark face with its touch of
foreign distinction among the rosy village girls, and most of all the
tender, rhythmic tones that rang so true in her touching farewell to
school days and to the comrades of that golden time.

For Yellow Star had made her difficult decision—to go back to her own
people and do for them what she could. There had come, in the early
spring, a cry for help—another dingy scrawl in scarce legible Dakota
from the Indian camp on Cherry Creek. Blue Earth had a “bad heart;”
her husband, Young Eagle, had left her and gone across the Big Water
with the show; she had a baby girl now, and the boy was five years
old. She wanted them to “walk the white man’s road,” and she wanted
The-One-who-was-left-Alive to come and live with her, and teach her how
to teach her children. There were many women in the camp, she said, who
needed such help.

After a sleepless night with the letter under her pillow, the girl had
shown it to her friends and asked their advice. In her heart, she knew
that there was only one answer possible, and they read her decision in
her face. Of course, Doris and Cynthia cried a little, and squeezed
her hands, and begged her “not to give up her plans, darling;” while
Miss Sophia held her peace with remarkable consistency and success. But
Doctor Brown promptly hunted up Mr. Parker, and the two had an important
conference.

“I can see she means to go, and it may be the best thing to do, for a
time, at any rate,” the Doctor admitted, gruffly. “But there’s just one
thing about it; that girl is not going into an Indian camp without
position or backing. She’s too handsome, for one thing; and too young and
trusting altogether. Young as she is, Stella is competent to fill a good
place in the Government Indian Service, and that she must have!”

“I’ve been telling my wife I’d like nothing better than to send the girl
through college, if she wants to go,” demurred Mr. Parker. “I think she
could persuade my girl to go with her—there or anywhere! Say, Doc! are
you dead sure she ought to butt in amongst a lot of half-savage Sioux—a
girl who would make a place for herself in any community?”

“I don’t know much about the American Indian, but judging from our
Stella, there must be good stuff in the breed,” answered the Doctor,
stanchly. “She’d make a magnificent nurse—doctor, perhaps; but she’s too
young to begin training yet awhile. Better let her try it out west for a
year or two; she will, anyway; she’s made up her mind, and you know what
that means. What I came over to ask you is have you any wires to pull
that’ll land our little girl in the Indian Service? What?”

“Sure,” assented Mr. Parker, heartily. “There’s Senator Morton; he’ll do
anything for me—within reason, of course. We’ll fix it up in no time.”

When Stella herself was cautiously consulted, a fortnight later, she
declared that she did not know enough to teach and would rather not take
a school position. She wanted to live right in the camp, she said, close
to the people; to help the poor, ignorant women and children, like Blue
Earth and her babies.

“Then you want to be a field matron,” pronounced the Doctor, who had been
studying the subject. “Six hundred a year and the right to draw on the
agency for supplies—soap and buckets and rations for sick people and all
that. The work just what you would be doing anyway, and the whole United
States Government back of you. That’s the talk.”

And so it came about that our eighteen-year-old Indian girl delivered her
valedictory with her appointment as field matron at Cherry Creek pinned
inside her white frock, right over the loving heart that beat high with
the hope of service.



CHAPTER XV

THE SCENE SHIFTS


Cherry Creek is one of those erratic streams that flow eastward into the
brown Missouri across the billowing plains—now a mere wavy line of timber
fringing a dry ravine; again an angry yellow flood that drowns box-elder
and wild cherry and washes the feet of the slim young cottonwoods.

The sun-brimmed solitude of a September day enfolded the two girls,
Blue Earth and Yellow Star—for, although mother of a five-year-old boy,
the deserted wife of Young Eagle was in reality not so much older than
her friend—as they happily gathered red-and-yellow Dakota plums in the
rustling thickets away up the creek. The young mother was quaintly robed
in a loose, wide-sleeved “Dakota gown” of Turkey red calico, while the
young maid was more trimly clad in one of the plain, indigo-blue prints
that she had last worn in Mrs. Sophia’s kitchen. Only the freedom of the
new life was symbolized and expressed by sleeves rolled over the dimpled,
brown elbows, uncovered, glossy head, and soft, richly embroidered
moccasins on the slender feet.

The honey-sweet plums, a peck or more, had been harvested in a
wide-mouthed cotton sack. “Let me carry it—you have the baby!” cried
Yellow Star, gayly tossing the sack over one shoulder, while the other
picked up a placid bundle rolled in a patchwork quilt from under the wild
plum tree, and with much maternal cooing and chattering proceeded to
secure it on her back, in the folds of the bright shawl she wore.

“Chas-kay! Chas-ka-a-ay! Where is the little rascal?” she scolded,
good-humoredly; and Yellow Star took up the musical call and sent it
ringing through the ravines. In a minute or so, there came obediently
stumbling up the slippery bank a queer little nondescript figure, attired
in nothing but a green calico shirt and a pair of tiny moccasins, its two
tight braids of black hair tied up with red flannel, and the round face
of a shining cinnamon brown set with two black gems, in the shape of a
pair of sparkling, mischievous eyes.

“I was only digging medicine,” the elf soberly announced; “good medicine
for The-One-who-was-left-Alive!” He held up a long, straggling root, and
looked so irresistibly important that both girls burst into peals of
tuneful laughter.

[Illustration: “I was only digging medicine,” the elf soberly announced.

_Page 209._]

“We’ll take it to show Grandmother,” declared the one so favored,
whose botanical studies had already suggested to her to penetrate, if
possible, the mysteries of the Dakota herbalist. She seized his little,
earth-stained hand and all three set out for the camp—a huddle of log
cabins, looking for all the world like the “cob houses” of children,
interspersed with an occasional brush arbor or rude corral, and with many
of the white, conical teepees of the Sioux.

Glimpsed in the distance, under a sky quivering with heat and against
a wide background of sunburnt grass, the whole looked more like a toy
village than anything real and serious, at all events to the new-comer,
who, with all her earnestness of purpose, had fallen to some degree under
the spell of that colorful, elemental existence.

The zest of the open spaces and the free winds, the absence of clocks
and bells and whistles and other insistent reminders and regulators of
our time-slavery, the fascinating simplicity and friendliness of the
dark-faced, smiling people—_her_ people—in their easy, picturesque garb,
all these had seemed so restful, so almost intoxicating, after the set
tasks of many well-ordered years.

When they reached camp and threw down their burdens under the shade of a
large arbor of boughs, where an old woman with gray witch-locks flying
loose and a skin like dark-brown parchment looked up from her eternal
moccasin-mending, and a long-haired dog not much bigger than a rat flew
to greet them with all but articulate cries of joy—then, indeed, they
were at home!

“Sh-h-h-Sheka!” Blue Earth was tired and hungry, and drove off the dog
with a rush of angry sibilants.

“Here, Sheka, Sheka! Poor little thing,” coaxed Yellow Star, pitifully.

“How many did you get?” demanded Grandmother, reaching greedily for the
sack. “The Blue-Coat has been here with a paper; I think it is from the
Little Father. I gave him coffee and bread, and he told me all the news.
Here is the paper,” and she drew it from her wide sleeve and held it
toward the girl.

Yellow Star took the agent’s letter and glanced it over as she stood,
while the others, Chaskay and Sheka included, gazed steadily into her
thoughtful face with frank curiosity.

“It is only to say that the sewing-machines will not be here until next
month. I sha’n’t wait for them; the women are coming to-morrow, and
there’s plenty of hand sewing for the present,” and she entered the
little house with quite a different air from that of the plum thicket.

Certainly the Indian agent, at his first interview some weeks earlier,
had not to complain of any lack of dignity in the young field matron.

“You understand that suitable quarters will be provided for you,
Miss—ah!—Miss Waring,” he had drawled, keeping his heavy-lidded eyes upon
her face with a persistency that was not altogether pleasant.

(“First Indian girl I ever Miss’d,” he acknowledged later to his grinning
cronies in the office, “and it came sort of hard. Nothing else for it,
though. She’s considerable of a lady, _she_ is!”

“Considerable to look at, too, I sh’d say,” Jack Pepper mumbled under his
breath.)

“I expect to stay with my friend, Young Eagle’s wife, in her house on
Cherry Creek,” Stella had replied, simply. “Her grandmother will live
with us.”

“Hum-ha … Miss—ah!—Waring, if you have quite made up your mind to that,
we shall have to make some improvements on the house. It’s an ordinary
log cabin, isn’t it, Mr. Pepper? … one room? … Two? That’s good. Well,
I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We will build a frame addition 16 by 20
feet, for the field matron’s private apartment, with three windows and a
good floor; lay floors in the other two rooms and put on a good, shingled
roof. With these additions, I think you ought to be fairly comfortable.”

“Thank you, Major; that will be quite satisfactory,” Stella had answered,
calmly.

“And about the furniture” (still keeping a furtive eye upon her
face)—“Mr. Pepper, will you take this—ah!—this young lady to the
warehouse and help her make out a list of her needs in that line? We
supply only the necessaries, of course: iron beds with mattress and
blankets, tables, kitchen chairs, stoves, dishes and so forth. If there
is anything more that I can do for you, Miss Waring, I shall be happy to
see you at any time.”

Possibly the “Little Father” would not have been quite so bland and
accommodating if he had not had in his desk at that moment a letter from
Washington, containing very plain instructions as to the conveniences
to be supplied and the official courtesies to be extended to the newly
appointed field matron, Miss Stella Waring. The good Doctor’s precautions
were already justified.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first meeting of the Cherry Creek sewing circle was a decided
success—that is to say, the first ever held there under the civilizing
auspices of a paternal Government, since from time immemorial the Sioux
women have been accustomed to get together in the fashion common to
all other women under the sun. For nobody knows how many hundreds of
years they have plied their feminine implements—such as awl of bone and
sinew of deer—and with dyed quills of the porcupine and hand-wrought of
trader-bought beads, with skins tanned to a velvety softness or costly
broadcloth of red and blue, have made and decorated their native finery
with no mean skill, the while their tongues were busy with soft syllables
of domestic chat and village gossip, after the universal feminine pattern.

The time was now ripe, it seemed, for some advance along these
time-honored lines. Indeed, this small settlement on Cherry Creek is
still among the most primitive on the whole Sioux reservation, having no
day-school or settled mission of its own, and several of the women had
expressed a wish to learn of their sophisticated sister the complicated
art of the white woman’s dress-making.

So here they were, gathered under the picturesque brush arbor to the
number of a score or more, the younger attired as gayly as tropical
birds, the elder in sober plumage of dingy browns and grays, all with
demurely drooping plaits of hair and shoulders modestly draped in the
invariable shawl. Most were primly seated on common wooden chairs, while
a few of the older and more conservative preferred a blanket on the
hard-trodden earth floor.

Stella had a table full of work cut out and basted; puritanical checked
gingham dresses and wide print aprons, together with boxes of thimbles
and needles and thread; and the lesson proceeded, at first with some
constraint, but soon with a loosening of tongues and a torrent of soft
laughter and musical dialect.

Of course, all who had babies had brought them on their patient backs,
and several youngsters of Chaskay’s age or younger were tumbling about
the floor or running races over the sunshiny prairie. There were almost
as many dogs as children, and a certain Miss Day, who had neither,
appeared with the pretty, striped face of her pet ’coon peeping
coquettishly over one shoulder.

Presently refreshments were served in orderly fashion by the two young
hostesses—tea, boiled rice flavored with meat, the plums gathered the day
before, and a quantity of small, flaky, biscuit baked that morning by
Yellow Star.

“I should like to make biscuit like those,” Miss Day remarked, after an
astonishing number had been consumed.

“Can you teach me to make the spongy bread of the white people?” asked
another.

“My husband has often asked for the apple-pie he had at school,” chimed
in a little bride.

“We will have a cooking-class,” laughed the young field matron, “and
learn to make all these and many more. You must all keep chickens and
milk a cow or two; then we can have ever so many good things—things fit
to build strong bodies for your children.”

“If only the Little Father would not take them all away from us, as soon
as they can walk, almost, to fill his school!” mourned an older woman.

“Did you know that the Little Father had given his permission for a dance
to-night?” whispered a flighty girl to Blue Earth, whose face lighted up
quickly at the news. Then she glanced half guiltily at her friend, justly
fearing that the Indian dance might be under a ban. The comfortable house
and abundance of food, to say nothing of sympathetic companionship, were
too good to risk lightly.

“But you went to the white people’s dances when you were in the East,”
she pleaded, after the others had gone, and the slow, teasing throbs of
the dance-drum resounded through the village.

“That’s quite different,” Yellow Star explained. “We want our people to
forget these exciting customs, and care for better things,” she reasoned,
gently.

“But I’m not going to dance; I only want to look on a little while,”
begged Blue Earth, as humbly as a child.

“All the white people do that; even the Little Father himself,”
pronounced Grandmother.

“Then, will you promise to come home as soon as it is dark?”

“Oh, yes!” cried the other, eagerly.

But, like another Cinderella, she forgot, and lingered near an open
window of the large, circular dance-house, her baby asleep on her back,
gazing fascinated on the gorgeous, barbaric spectacle of painted,
half-clad men executing their wonderful steps and poses, till aroused
by a touch on her arm and a sweet, reproachful voice in her ear. And
this is the true story of how the field matron chanced to be observed by
old Standing Cloud and others, in the outer circle of the Grass Dance
after dark of a balmy September evening, a fact which came duly to Jack
Pepper’s ears and made her some little trouble, later on.



CHAPTER XVI

BY RETURN OF POST


                                                 LAUREL, APRIL THIRTIETH.

STELLA DARLING: If you only knew how we miss you here in Laurel! It seems
like years since you went away; can it be it’s only nine months? And you
don’t write half as often as you promised. I wonder what you are really
and truly up to!

“Have you picked out your allotment yet? Be sure and get a good one. Oh,
how I wish I were twenty-one this minute! Daddy perfectly understands
that the very day I come of age I shall start on the long journey to
Dakota, to join my dear friend Stella and stock that cattle ranch.

“Of course, you will want to hear all the news. Doris has been spending
two weeks in Boston with her uncle—the rich one. What do you think? she
went to the Symphony Orchestra twice, and to the opera once, and to
two—no, three dances! She has the loveliest braided suit in a perfectly
exquisite shade of blue; and a set of chinchilla furs for Christmas; and
two new party dresses and a pale-blue evening cape lined with salmon
that is simply a dream. I can’t tell you half. Doris is getting to be a
_regular society girl_; and that, you know, Jibby, I never wanted to be
and never will.

“Mother bought me a handsome suit, too—mine is the new copper shade—and
a stylish hat; and Daddy would have taken me to New York on his last
trip, but just then poor old Scotty had to break his leg, and of course I
wouldn’t stir for _worlds_.

“Oh, I must tell you all about it! Just fancy! Ethan Honey happened
to be in town over Easter, stopping with Uncle Si; and you know there
isn’t any vet in Laurel; and so, I just ’phoned him—I was almost crazy,
of course—and asked what _should_ I do! He was perfectly splendid; got
to the house in less than half an hour, and set the leg so that it’s
practically as good as new! Wasn’t it clever of the dear boy? They say
he’s thought everything of at the medical school, and bound to make a
name for himself, some day.

“Speaking of Uncle Si, he hasn’t been quite as well as usual this winter;
‘kinder off the hooks,’ as he says. Mother Brown is trying to persuade
him that he oughtn’t to live out there all alone any longer. Uncle Si
says ‘it’s all-fired lonesome since the gals stopped comin’’ and if you
‘had a hankerin’ after missionary work, he could ’a’ showed you where
you could put in your best licks, right here at hum.’ He means looking
after him, of course; did you ever hear of anything so selfish? But old
people are always selfish, I think.

“Grandma Brown says that a girl that’d disappint her own pa and hurt his
feelin’s for the sake of a outlandish hound dog hadn’t ought to have
a pa. You know she never liked me so very well, anyway. She’s always
telling Doris how much better you used to do things. Doris says, if she
didn’t love you dearly, she’d have been sick to death of hearing your
name, long before this.

“You asked me in two or three of your letters about Miss Sophia. I don’t
see why you care so much about Miss Sophia; _she_ never did anything for
_you_ if she could possibly help it. She never liked me, either; I went
to see her, entirely for your sake, dear, about a week ago. Seems to me
she’s getting kind of old and feeble; and one funny thing, she didn’t
scold a bit, not even when Scotty would squeeze past me and put his paw
right up on her black cashmere lap. I don’t see how he ever dared. She
asked me twice, when I heard from you last.

“Miss Morrison was in town the other day. She inquired after you the very
first thing, of course. Miss Morrison thinks it was very fine and noble
in you to go out to Cherry Creek.

“Why do you never say a word about the boys? Aren’t there any nice ones
at all? Of course, you know how it is here; they’re _all_ devoted to
Doris! The next thing we’ll hear will be that she’s _engaged_! Jibby,
darling, I’m just as sure as ever that I shall never, _never_ want to get
married. You _will_ wait for me, won’t you? Wait till I’m twenty-one, I
mean, and we can live together all the rest of our lives.

                                “Your own

                                                                “CYNTHIA.

“P. S. By the way, Ethan has grown ever so much handsomer since you saw
him last. He looks years older and—and—oh, you know what I mean!

                                                                   “C. P.

“N. B. Jibby, the minute you get this letter I want you to sit right down
and tell me just what you are doing, and answer every single question, or
I’ll never forgive you.

                                                                   “SIN.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“CHERRY CREEK, MAY THE EIGHTH.

“MY DEAREST CYNTHIA: About half an hour ago, a girl you used to know was
looking out of the window of her little prairie home. Such a funny little
home, just one big room all shining yellow pine, with skins and rag rugs
on the bare pine floor, a closet curtained off with dark blue calico,
a black iron bed and a wash-stand and a trunk and some book-shelves
built out of packing-boxes. Oh, and a lot of Indian bead-work on the
walls, and a pine table covered with a Navaho blanket, and on it some
old school-books and papers and pens and ink; and right over it a class
picture in a frame—the class of 19—— at Laurel academy!

“The girl, as I said before, was looking out of the window; just watching
the green creep over the prairie like an emerald fire kindled by the sun,
and following the white road with her eyes as far as she could—the road
that leads to the agency and the railroad and civilization.

“While she looked, a black speck appeared away out on that road. The
speck grew bigger; soon it turned into a lumber wagon drawn by two
shaggy ponies and driven by a tall, dark man in the navy-blue uniform of
the Indian Police, with a shining shield on his breast that flashed in
the sun.

“In a few minutes she heard the rattle of wheels, and then the camp dogs
ran out to meet the good policeman with welcoming barks, and the girl
left her window and went to the door that opened on the green prairie.
For there are two doors in the yellow pine house; the other one leads
right into a log kitchen where a tin coffee pot stood on the stove and an
old woman squatted close by, tending a dear little baby, while the baby’s
mother, in a red dress made like a kimono, was piecing a calico quilt.

“Well, the policeman pulled up his rough little ponies right in front of
the door, threw down the lines and began handing out beef and flour and
other things, which the woman in the red kimono carried into the house.
Then, last of all, he put his hand in his breast pocket, took out two
letters and gave them to the girl. After that, he saluted and drove away
again.

“The girl sat down on the high door-sill and read her letters; one made
her laugh out loud, to the great surprise of a very small dog who had
curled up on a corner of her skirt. The letter was from her friend—her
dearest, far-away friend in the New England hills. And now she is going
to sit down at her table with the gay blanket cover, facing the class
picture, and write her answer.

“I hope this doesn’t sound homesick, Cynthia and Doris—for this letter is
to Doris, too—but you know how it is in the spring; how the people and
the things that are far away seem to pull at your heart. If I were back
there in Laurel, I should be dreaming of Dakota; and it _is_ wonderful
out here, girls! I wish you could see the great, furry anemones and the
colt’s-foot and verbenas and all the other purple and gold-colored things
that follow each other in a mad scamper over the wavy bluffs. And it
seems as if I had never drawn a real, deep breath anywhere but here. It’s
like the ocean wind without the salt in it.

“And I’m very fond of the people, though they _are_ provoking, sometimes.
They forget so—just like children. And Sir Walter mustn’t be jealous,
but you ought to know my Sheka—that means ‘Poor Little Thing.’ He never
leaves me if he can help it, and he’s just exactly like a real person.

“I don’t think I ever told you about the time we had getting our Chaskay
into school. All the children have to go now as soon as they are five,
and the mothers put off that fifth birthday just as long as they can;
but Chaskay was five last summer, and in the fall the policeman came
for him to go to the boarding school. Well, it was dreadful! Blue Earth
wailed, and Grandmother sang the old Indian songs and shook her fist in
the policeman’s face, and the poor little fellow was scared out of his
wits and screamed till I was frightened, myself.

“Then I had an idea, and I said ‘Why not take him every day to the day
school in Ring Thunder’s camp? He’s too little to leave his mother at
night; why, he can’t even dress himself yet.’

“So it was settled, and we two take turns carrying him on horseback,
five miles each way, morning and evening. Blue Earth rides her spotted
pony, ‘Baby,’ and I my iron-gray pacer, ‘Old Soup,’ the people call him,
because he goes from side to side, just like stirring something in a pot.

“It was glorious fun while the fine weather lasted. I don’t mind coyotes
a bit, and I got used to the rattlesnakes after a while, remembering
Ethan’s; but a five-mile ride in a Dakota blizzard isn’t any fun,
especially with a child on the saddle in front of you, and you with your
hands full to keep him from freezing. It’s better to just let the horse
take his own course, anyway, when you can’t see the road a bit.

“But the worst was this spring, when the ice broke up on the White river.
You see, the schoolhouse is on the other side of the river, and it was
easy fording it in the fall, when the water is low, and easier still
crossing on the ice; but one windy March day the ice broke up while we
were on the further side.

“Good ‘Old Soup!’ He just gathered up his four feet into a bunch and
jumped from cake to cake, floating and swirling around there in the black
water, and once or twice he missed his footing and went in deep enough
to wet my toes in the stirrups. I can tell you, girls, I was glad enough
when he scrambled out on the other side. And wasn’t the boy brave? He
never uttered a sound!

“There have been a great many sick people this spring—mostly with coughs
and consumption. I take them beef-tea and milk gruel and rice and things,
and it’s best to stay and see them eat it if you want to be sure.
Especially if they’re women; they would so much rather give it to the men.

“One morning I was wakened out of a sound sleep by a tap on the
window-pane. The sun was shining brightly, but I looked at my dear
little watch that always hangs at the head of my bed, and it was only
five o’clock. What do you suppose the woman said?—for it was a poor, old
woman. ‘My son is dying, and begs for some light biscuit right away!’

“So I got up and built the kitchen fire before even Grandmother was
stirring, and the poor sick man had his last wish, I guess, for he really
did die. He was a young man who had been away to school.

“There are several returned students here who are thankful to come and
look at my magazines and my photographs, and sing hymns, and get me to
explain things to them. If I knew a little more, I would try to have
an evening class. They always treat me with respect and call me ‘Older
Sister.’ Why, the other day one of them even asked my advice about
getting married! What do you say to that?

“There are two or three I don’t like at all—half-breeds and white men.
One is an ‘assistant farmer;’ they are the men who are supposed to teach
the Indians farming, but sometimes I think they don’t do much but run
errands for the agent. This one’s name is Jack Pepper, and he visits this
camp rather often. I don’t like his looks a bit, and I try to be out of
the way when he comes.

“I make a great many calls, for I find the women like to have me come,
and besides, it keeps them up to the mark in their housekeeping. Often
the first thing I see, long before I get to the house, is a cloud of dust
coming out of the front door. Then I know that some one has spied me
coming, and is putting the one room in company trim. By the time I get
there, it has not only been swept, but the beds neatly made, with fresh
white pillow-cases, the dishes washed, the cupboard put in order, and
perhaps, if I don’t hurry, the youngest child has its face scrubbed and
a clean dress slipped on over the old one.

“Give my love to all—especially darling Doris and all her family. I often
think of Grandma Brown. You’ll think it funny, I suppose, but Grandmother
here reminds me of her a good deal. Not her looks, of course, for she
isn’t neat and nice a bit; her fingers are like claws and her hair like
gray feathers, almost; but they both have a way of speaking right out and
saying things that bite.

“I shake hands with you in my heart, as our people say.

                                                                 “STELLA.

“P. S. If you happen to see Doctor Ethan again, please give him my kind
regards.”



CHAPTER XVII

“PRAY FOR MY PEOPLE WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN!”


Of course, Stella couldn’t put everything into a letter, and one of the
things she didn’t mention was a regular proposal of marriage from the old
chief, Standing Cloud. She called him “old,” but he was really a rather
fine-looking man of something over fifty. He had “thrown away” one wife
in obedience to the law of the white man, and had then lost the other
soon afterward, and he had missed no detail of the appearance of the
young school girl on that fateful evening when she had gone after Blue
Earth to the dance house. For the minute that she had stood there, framed
in the open window, the light of the fire had struck full upon her
winsome face and tall, supple figure, bringing out every line and feature
with almost startling distinctness.

Standing Cloud was not a particularly progressive chief, but he knew a
pretty girl when he saw her. This was a girl of his own people, after
all, and an orphan at that; everybody knew her history, and such a man
as he was not to be daunted by a few years of schooling. She had sense
enough, probably, to appreciate the honor he intended to do her.

His offer came in round-about fashion, first through the grandmother, as
was fitting, and finally through Blue Earth, who, with many giggles and
much tossing of the head, managed at last to convey some inkling of it to
the astonished and indignant girl.

“That old man!” she exclaimed, in disgust. “I don’t see how you can have
the face to repeat such a thing. Why, how many wives has he had?”

“Only two; and he hasn’t _any_ now; and he’s a _chief_, you know.”

“That’s quite enough. I don’t wish to hear another word about him as long
as I live!”

And Grandmother was left to smooth over the affair as best she might,
inventing all manner of humble excuses to cover the unheard-of rejection
of a man of such importance.

Then there was Moses Blackstone, a serious young man who had passed
some years in the mission boarding-school as its prize scholar, and
was now a lay reader in the village, and a regular caller at the field
matron’s home. In default of an evening school, she innocently encouraged
him to sit by the hour at a corner of her table, poring over some old
school-book, or stumbling over the long words in the illustrated
magazines that came from her eastern friends. Occasionally he would
even write letters on her stationery and frankly “borrow” her stamps;
but Moses was really such a good young man, and so earnest and humble,
that she lent him a helping hand whenever she could, with scarcely more
self-consciousness than if he had been Chaskay’s age.

If he took unusual pains with his dress of late, the fact had escaped
her, as also that he was not at all a bad speaker in his native Dakota.
His English was inadequate, and she always made him talk to her in
English, thus cruelly putting him at a disadvantage.

Therefore Stella was honestly shocked when one day Grandmother slyly
pressed into her hand a little folded note, and upon carelessly opening
it, she found a regular love-letter, signed “Moses.”

To tell the truth, it was very prettily and poetically expressed. “I am
thinking of something,” it began in the native tongue. “I think of it
night and day. It will not let me rest nor sleep. It is always of you
that I think and of my longing to be near you, and my wish that we two
might be one.”

Stella was really most unreasonable. Her cheeks glowed and her black eyes
snapped. She tore the pleading little note into tiny bits, and strewed
it on the floor before Grandmother’s astonished old eyes. That was her
answer.

       *       *       *       *       *

The missionary from the east who had stepped into Father Waring’s old
shoes was far from finding them a fit. Though he had been there for
several years, people still called him “the new minister,” a circumstance
which tells its own story to the discerning. Certainly his manner was a
trifle dry, even when his intentions were most kind.

It seemed to our heroine, who we know was sensitive to a fault, that
everybody looked at her critically, even coldly, when she came to the
agency church in her trim, tailor-made suit and tasteful little hat, and
modestly took her seat among the shawled and hatless Indian women, or
when, innocently conspicuous, she walked the one street on “Issue Day,”
with business-like intentness upon her various errands.

She was fairly happy, upon the whole, among her own people at Cherry
Creek, but with the “white people,” who should have welcomed her in all
sincerity as a fellow-worker, she felt lonely and ill at ease. It was
just as if the agent and his employees, the minister, and most of all
their wives, were continually saying among themselves:

“How long do you suppose she’ll keep it up? Too well-dressed and too
self-possessed for an Indian girl, anyway; looks as if she thought too
much of herself—needs taking down a peg.”

This note of patronage and suspicion was so unlike the general attitude
toward her in her New England home that Stella couldn’t help resenting
it, and accordingly held her well-groomed head a trifle higher than
before. There was only the little day-school teacher in Ring Thunder’s
camp, Chaskay’s teacher—a simple, good-hearted girl, not much older or
more experienced than Yellow Star herself—these two got on together from
the first. Stella fell into the habit of going over there on “Old Soup”
to spend her Sundays, since she had actually come to dread meeting any
of the agency people, and after poor Moses’ unwelcome pretensions she no
longer cared to attend the rather primitive but always reverent little
service in his large log cabin.

Long before September came round again, Stella had learned that the
annual church convocation would meet at “our agency” this year. This
meant a great gathering of perhaps a thousand Indians who came from
agencies hundreds of miles distant, traveling overland, for the most
part, in picturesque canvas-topped wagons loaded with camp equipage,
toward the appointed meeting-place. It was the event of the year to all
good Christian Indians, bringing social as well as spiritual inspiration,
comfort, and cheer.

Most of all, Stella looked forward to meeting the Bishop, whose face
of lofty calm and sweetness, under its silvery crown of hair, floated
high like a white cloud among dear memories of childhood days. In those
days, he had been from time to time a guest under their roof, giving to
the very food he shared a sacramental savor, and as a small, shrinking,
black-eyed maid she had never lost the sense of a grave and gentle
Presence in the little white guest-chamber they called the “Bishop’s
Room.”

And now the simple, loving preparations were all complete. Not without
self-sacrifice, a feast had been provided for the visitors, forage for
the visitors’ horses, fresh vestments for the clergy, and candles for the
plain little altar. Near the little Gothic church at the agency rose a
wide circle of teepees, looking as if a flight of great, white birds had
suddenly alighted upon the sunburned grass. Children ran joyously to and
fro, men gathered in groups, matronly women bent over their camp-fires,
and the soft music of their greetings was in the air.

Before the church bell should ring to summon the dark-skinned
congregation to their first service under the open sky, the Bishop sat
at meat in the modest rectory, reaping the year’s harvest of rewards
and perplexities, and now and then dropping a quiet seed of counsel, or
straightening a tangled skein of anxiety.

“And where is my little Stella?” he asked presently, with a smile. “I
understand that she has come back to Cherry Creek as a field matron.”

“I have heard no complaints of her work, Bishop,” the missionary
acknowledged, frowning slightly nevertheless. “I—a—I believe she is quite
efficient; however, we do not see her at church as often as I could wish.
Certainly I expected her to-day, but we have seen nothing of her.”

“The truth is,” his wife added, rather sharply, “it isn’t easy to get
into touch with Stella Waring. She—well—she’s almost too much the lady
for Cherry Creek. Too well-dressed, even; I fancy people think she puts
on airs. That good Moses Blackstone was quite seriously interested at one
time; I really think Stella treated him badly. Don’t you think, Bishop,
it’s apt to spoil them a little—this going east for an education?”

“Spoil them? Why, yes, my dear lady; for hewers of wood and drawers of
water no doubt it may spoil them. We must not expect them to slip back
into quite the old place,” suggested the Bishop, mildly. “It may even be
possible that she has outgrown our good Moses. Stella was always a dear
child; let me see—it’s just six years since I confirmed her. I should
like very much to see her again.”

The missionary parlor had quickly filled, meantime, with the Bishop’s
friends and disciples of both races, among them Stella herself, her
lithe, girlish figure half hidden behind a window curtain, her soft
eyes fastened eagerly upon the closed door. At last a quick, decided
step was heard, and the gracious form of the Bishop, as erect as of old
but looking to the girl much frailer and older than she had remembered
him, entered the crowded room. His keen, kind eyes, darting rapidly
from one face to another, flashed instant recognition into her own, and
almost before she knew it, Stella found herself standing before him, all
a-tremble with timid happiness, and both slim, brown hands drawn into the
Bishop’s strong clasp.

“Can this tall girl be my little Stella?” she heard him say, while over a
face in repose a little sad and stern there broke that smile like winter
sunshine—a spirit radiance that none who saw it can ever forget. The
rest fell back instinctively, or else the Bishop drew her into a quiet
corner, and for a minute they two were alone together.

“I hope I may hear that you are happy in your work for our poor people?”
began the Bishop, very gently.

The quick tears shone in Stella’s expressive eyes.

“I’m sorry for them—I love them,” she murmured; “but oh, Bishop! I do so
miss dear Mother and Father Waring!”

“I miss them, too,” the Bishop responded, with such delicate sympathy in
his tones that she found the courage to go on.

“I miss my—my friends in Laurel, too, Bishop! I—I’m afraid I don’t know
enough for the work either; and yet I do truly want to help.”

“Of course you do, my child,” responded the Bishop. “Why, the very name
we gave you in baptism signifies a star—a light unto the Gentiles—a
candle that shall be set upon a candle-stick to give light to all that
are in the house. That is what we have always expected of you. And even
the name the old women gave you when they saved you from the sad fate
that overtook your father’s people—The-One-who-was-left-Alive! You must
have been kept alive for some good purpose; always remember that, Stella.
Have you ever thought that you might like to go back to the East for more
training—perhaps for the training of a nurse?” he went on, the keen eyes
searching her grave, downcast face.

Stella blushed more and more as it flashed upon her for the first time
that the Bishop knew a good deal about the last six years of her life—had
doubtless been in correspondence with Laurel friends.

“I—I think I would, Bishop; only not just yet. You see, I promised Blue
Earth. And besides,” she went on, with desperate honesty, “the white
people here seem to think I know too much already. They seem not to like
me because I—I suppose I am different from the other Indian girls.”

A sudden sternness drove the smile from the Bishop’s face, and for a
moment or two he was quite silent, while the sweet-toned bell in the
church tower began its call to sunset prayer.

“We will talk of this again,” he said, very gently. “God bless you, my
dear child!” And he was gone.

With blurred eyes and dizzy brain Stella blindly followed the throng of
gayly dressed, yet most quiet and reverent worshipers, young men and
maidens, old men and children, mothers with babes in arms, and took her
place in the great circle upon the bare prairie sod. In the center of
the ring the Bishop and his ministers, many of whom showed earnest dark
faces above the snowy surplices, read the prayers of the church and gave
utterance to the Christian hymns that rose in a great wave of devotion
to the skies. The soft syllables of her native Dakota tongue seemed to
fit the dear, familiar words, and no one who looked upon that scene could
ever have guessed that only eighteen years before those tawny hills had
been black with armed men, and that peaceful plain strewed with the
tortured forms of the dead and dying.

That needless, unpremeditated, pitiful slaughter of helpless children and
women, so recklessly thrust in the way of the all-conquering white man!
Stella tried not to dwell upon it; but whenever she was deeply moved the
prostrate figure of the nameless mother would appear before her eyes—an
ample womanly form shrouded in a dark blanket, and always with the face
hidden.

To-night the crowd and the music and the beauty of the sunset and the
Bishop’s words together had so wrought upon her, that the mother who
sheltered her from the bullets seemed very near, and, forgetting pride
and resentment and a certain secret longing, Stella gave herself up
wholly to the deep magic of the hour. In her soul there reverberated that
phrase Father Waring had once repeated to them, as coming from the lips
of one of his native helpers:

“Pray for my people when the sun goes down!”



CHAPTER XVIII

FACING THE SUNRISE


“I don’t see how they can _breathe_, do you?” Stella prettily apologized
to the agency doctor, her bright face a pleasant enough sight in his
musty old office, its shelves filled with unwholesome drugs reaching
from floor to ceiling. Still a “fresh-air” enthusiast, as in the old
Laurel days, she had insisted upon holding long consultations with
this official, until he had simply been obliged to rouse himself and
forsake the old routine of doling out these same drugs to a long line of
Indians,—so far, at least, as Cherry Creek was concerned. Curious, how
that young woman would take a personal interest in every single case.

Accordingly, he had entrusted to her a shelf of simple remedies, and had
fallen into the habit of sending her full written directions for the care
of patients in her neighborhood, especially the children. After she had
brought the village almost single-handed through an epidemic of measles,
with not a single fatality, he did not withhold from her the praise she
certainly deserved, for measles had been regarded as generally fatal
among the camp children.

Not satisfied with her accomplishments as a nurse, the young field matron
had ideas of her own, which, as confidence grew, she imparted to her
ally the doctor, and through him they gradually sifted into the office,
and sometimes even appeared on official estimates and requisitions. It
was, in fact, at her suggestion that the assistant farmers throughout
the reservation had been instructed to teach milking and feeding calves
by hand, so that there might be milk for young children and motherless
babies. An improved brand of vegetable seeds supplied in greater variety
had likewise produced good results. Perhaps her best idea was that of
building mud and stone chimneys on to the unventilated log cabins—a
plan that might have saved many lives if there had been energy enough
available to put it into effect. To be sure, there were plenty of tents
for tuberculous patients, but to suggest moving from a house into a
teepee would have been far too reactionary.

Within eighteen months, she had become quite the autocrat of her own
little village—old Standing Cloud being merely the figure-head. She had
drilled her small household with infinite patience—and not without a long
siege with Grandmother—to such “civilized” habits as regular meal-times,
sitting down at table, and a weekly wash-day. The children’s bath night
was duly observed, even though the ceremony must take place in a wooden
wash-tub beside the kitchen stove.

After all this, it really was hard that when their own darling
baby—Little Girl, they called her—came down with acute bronchitis,
Grandmother and even Blue Earth suddenly rebelled, and obstinately
refused to have anything to do with the “white man’s way.” The little
stove was kept constantly stuffed with wood, and the baby lay gasping on
the bed, rolled in unsavory quilts, reeking with heat and untouched for
days by a drop of water. To all Stella’s pleas for a warm bath, an open
window, even in an adjoining room, she received the sullen reply:

“This is no time for fooling. It didn’t matter when Little Girl was well,
but now she is very sick. If we are not careful she will die!”

It was the dead of winter, but nevertheless Stella rode the fifteen miles
to the agency on her faithful pony, saw the doctor, and even persuaded
him to ride back with her. Backed by his authority, she took bodily
possession of the sick child, gave it an alcohol rub, air, and medicine,
and watched through the long, silent night.

Next morning, Little Girl was plainly worse. Grandmother crawled
out-of-doors and tied a rag of red calico to a pole—her pitiful, unspoken
prayer to the Powers! Her hoarse voice could be heard in the pauses of
the wind, chanting a weird and mournful song.

Stella inwardly trembled at the sound, and all the spirits of her
ancestors seemed to upbraid her from the dull, resentful eyes of the
tormented mother, who sat huddled on the bed like a crouching animal,
staring at the intruder with a look that said plainly:

“You have an Indian skin, but a white heart. If my child dies, _you_ will
have killed her!”

The girl shut her eyes and her ears, and she, too, prayed.

But she didn’t forget when the time came to give the doctor’s medicine.
Hours passed like a bad dream, until, as she bent over the loved little
form, a moment was enough to note the easier breathing, the beads of
sweat on the pinched baby face. And that terror had gone by.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was now late August, and no rain had fallen on the reservation for
many weeks. The waving sea of prairie grass, vivid in May as a green gem,
was now of a rufous brown. Water-holes were sucked dry; the smaller
creeks had quite forsaken their sandy beds, and many of the people had
to drive their cattle and horses long miles to water, every morning and
evening.

The “Little Father” sat humped up in his office chair, with his coat
off, discontentedly signing a batch of official papers and heaping
objurgations on the weather, when Blue-Coat unceremoniously made his way
in at the wide-open door and thrust a letter under the agent’s nose. The
letter was from Cherry Creek.

    “There is a large prairie fire to the west of us and the wind is
    blowing strong in our direction. I am sure the camp is in danger.
    Only the women and two or three old men are at home. Please send
    help at once.

                             “Respectfully,

                                                     “STELLA WARING.”

“Umph!” he grunted, rousing himself a trifle, however. “That all so,
Lone Bull? Well, tell Pepper to step here a minute. Hello, Jack! here’s
a windfall for you. The little field matron out at Cherry Creek wants to
be saved from a prairie fire. That’s a Number One allotment she’s picked
out—better get a move on at once. I’m looking for a tenderfoot from the
East to-day; team’s just gone to the landing after him; may take a drive
out that way later on. Good luck to you!”

       *       *       *       *       *

When Jack Pepper pulled up his steaming span in front of Stella’s home,
the girl was out with “Old Soup” and a rusty plow, trying, with the
help of Blue Earth and one or two others, to drive a furrow around the
threatened camp. But it was evident that their unaccustomed hands were
making hard work of it. The advancing line of smoke and flame had drawn
perceptibly nearer; a hot blast was blowing directly in their faces, and
the red sun swam in an angry haze. The situation looked fairly serious.

“Hey, Stella! so you had to send for me, at last!” was the young man’s
familiar greeting.

The girl looked past him with unseeing eyes. “I wrote to the _agent_,”
she replied, shortly.

“Scared out of your wits, I’ll bet! Well, if I help you out of this
scrape, what am I going to get for it, eh?” he persisted, coming closer.

Stella flashed one glance at the coarse face unpleasantly near her own,
then at the winking red line of fire driven straight toward them on
the wings of a strong wind. The fire was preferable, so far as she was
concerned; but there were Blue Earth and her terrified babies and poor,
helpless old Grandmother! There were many others in the same plight.
Doubtless they could escape by hasty flight; but these poor huts held
their little all on earth, and must they be abandoned? What was to be
done?

“Will you take this plow? or shall I?” she blazed out. “You can see for
yourself there’s no time to lose.”

“Well, of all the high-an’-mighty airs!—and her nothin’ more than a
squaw, when all’s said an’ done,” muttered the man. “Say, Stella, you
wait till the Major hears of your goin’s-on; ’tendin’ Injun dances late
at night and all that sort of thing! I know more about you than you think
I do, and maybe you’ll be sorry yet you tried to turn me down.”

Stella, choking with wrath, caught up the plow-handles again without a
word and chirruped to the patient pony. As her eyes mechanically swept
the horizon, though without hope of aid, they descried a rapidly driven
team approaching from the direction of the agency. Jack saw her face
lighten suddenly, and saw, too, what had done it. In hot haste he jerked
a plow from the back of his wagon, hitched his waiting team, and started
a furrow both wide and deep a few rods from the cabins, whose owners were
running hither and thither in helpless terror.

Half-blinded with smoke, and quivering with outraged pride, Stella
dropped her plow to confront the agent and another—a tall, well-knit
youth who was hurrying forward with both hands outstretched.

“Ethan—why, Ethan!”

“I seem to be just in time, again, Stella,” was all he said, and the plow
started with a running jerk as the gray pony felt a man’s hand on the
bit.

Two hours later, when the danger was over, and the smoking prairie lay
black in the path of the setting sun, two young people stood side by side
on a bluff overlooking the Indian camp.

“What was that fellow saying to you just before we came up, anyway? I
thought I noticed a spark in somebody’s eye that was considerably hotter
than the prairie fire,” Ethan slyly observed.

“He … he doesn’t know any better, I suppose,” Stella murmured.

“Looked to me as though he needed kicking, all right,” the young man
cheerfully assented, and something in the set of his jaw and the swing of
his athletic shoulders hinted that Jack Pepper would do well to avoid his
immediate neighborhood.

“Well, never mind him now. He isn’t worth it,” pursued her old friend.
“Don’t you want to hear all the news from home? About the girls—and dear
old Uncle Si? And your little ‘wild orphan?’ You know, I’m an orphan
myself, Stella.”

“But you’re grown up,” she returned, not looking at him.

“So has the fawn grown up—and taken to the woods,” laughed the young man.
“Come, Stella, I’ve brought you a message. Guess who it’s from. No, not
Cynthia this time; not even the old Doctor. I’ve brought you a message
from—Miss Sophia!”

He paused to observe the effect of his words, in the soft, black eyes
that seemed to widen and deepen gloriously under his steady gaze.

“Yes, Miss Sophia isn’t so young as she was—and there’s something in
her, after all, that’s stronger than prejudice and pride. It must have
been there always, buried so deep down that nobody ever found it out.
She simply can’t hold out any longer, all alone so. She wouldn’t write,
dear, because she couldn’t; she sent me all this long way to find you,
and tell you that she wants you to come home. Stella, will you come?”

“Miss Sophia wants me,” breathed Yellow Star. It seemed
impossible—unbelievable. In these few, short years, many people had
wanted her, or seemed to want her; but _Miss Sophia_!

For a full minute neither spoke. In the silence, the magical Dakota
sunset blossomed rosy-red above the pair, who stood, as it were, cut off
from all human companionship, a burned-out world under their feet, their
heads in a paradise of color and ecstasy.

    “_And all that’s best of dark and bright_
    _Meets in her aspect and her eyes!_”

Ethan hummed the old song under his breath.

“Oh!” the Indian girl burst out at last, with something of the old frank
impetuosity. “Do you know, Ethan, I seem to be two people again, just as
in those first months in Laurel, when you teased me about having so many
names”—(Ethan gently shook his head). “I’m pulled two ways at once; I
so want to really belong, and I can’t tell where I belong! I know, now,
that I can’t do for my people what I once thought I could, here on the
reservation; and yet, isn’t it my place? I wonder what the Bishop would
say.”

“Well, what _did_ he say?” sturdily responded Ethan.

“He did—yes, he _did_ tell me once I had better go back for more
training—to learn to be a nurse.”

“Well, isn’t taking care of Miss Sophia pretty good training? I believe
that just now, at any rate, you belong with her,” he answered promptly,
with a masculine finality that steadied her swimming thoughts. “A lonely,
loveless old woman needs you; you are all she has. Come home, dear; come
home!”

“Blue Earth told me yesterday that she’s going to be married again—to
Moses Blackstone. _She_ won’t need me any more,” half laughed, half
sobbed the girl, recalling the dumb pleading that had so irritated her
in those eyes of Moses’. She was all woman—our little Stella, and the
personal note would not be denied. “It can’t be just yet, of course; I
must take a month or two to wind up everything; but—yes—I’ll come!”

       *       *       *       *       *

They had turned their backs upon the tiny, primitive village, and were
facing the eastern horizon, remote and lovely in the transforming
after-glow.

“And you graduate from the medical college when, Ethan? Isn’t it next
year? Are you really going to settle down in Laurel?”

“Doctor Brown is anxious to divide his practice, but I haven’t given him
my answer yet,” responded Ethan, his serious eyes upon the soft, averted
cheek that had at last begun to burn with a delicate consciousness.

“You see, Stella, the _place_ doesn’t matter much,” he went on, with
tender confidence. “Any place holds duties to fill a lifetime; it’s the
_spirit_ that really counts. A doctor’s heart ought to be as large as all
humanity, don’t you think so? I may go east; I may go west. I only know
one thing surely … I must follow my Star!”

       *       *       *       *       *

“I allers sort o’ mistrusted that Injuns was folks.” This was Grandma
Brown’s comment, when she heard that Stella had been sent for at last.
“Seems like there’s a sight of human nater in most all of us,—even in
that Sophi’ Spellman!”





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