Read CHAPTER VII of Wolfville Nights, free online book, by Alfred Lewis, on ReadCentral.com.

The Mills of Savage Gods.

“Thar might, of course, be romances in the West,” observed the Old Cattleman, reflectively, in response to my question, “but the folks ain’t got no time. Romance that a-way demands leesure, an’ a party has to be more or less idlin’ about to get what you-all might style romantic action. Take that warjig whereof I recently relates an’ wherein this yere Wild Bill Hickox wipes out the McCandlas gang six to his Colt’s, four to his bowie, an’ one to his Hawkins rifle; eleven in all I asks him myse’f later when he’s able to talk, don’t he regyard the eepisode as some romantic. An’ Bill says, ’No, I don’t notice no romance tharin; what impresses me most is that she’s shore a zealous fight also, mighty busy.’

“Injuns would be romantic, only they’re so plumb ignorant they never once saveys. Thar’s no Injun word for ‘romantic’; them benighted savages never tumblin’ to sech a thing as romance bein’ possible. An’ yet said aborigines engages in plays which a eddicated Eastern taste with leesure on its hands an’ gropin’ about for entertainment would pass on as romantic.

“When I’m pesterin’ among the Osages on that one o’casion that I’m tryin’ to make a round-up of my health, the old buck Strike Axe relates to me a tale which I allers looks on as possessin’ elements. Shore; an’ it’s as simple an’ straight as the sights of a gun. It’s about a squaw an’ three bucks, an’ thar’s enough blood in it to paint a waggon. Which I reckons now I’ll relate it plain an’ easy an’ free of them frills wherewith a professional racontoor is so prone to overload his narratives.

“The Black Cloud is a Osage medicine man an’ has high repoote about Greyhoss where he’s pitched his teepee an’ abides. He’s got a squaw, Sunbright, an’ he’s plenty jealous of this yere little Sunbright. The Black Cloud has three squaws, an’ Sunbright is the youngest. The others is Sunbright’s sisters, for a Osage weds all the sisters of a fam’ly at once, the oldest sister goin’ to the front at the nuptials to deal the weddin’ game for the entire outfit.

“Now this Sunbright ain’t over-enamoured of Black Cloud; he’s only a half-blood Injun for one thing, his father bein’ a buffalo-man (negro) who’s j’ined the Osages, an’ Sunbright don’t take kindly to his nose which is some flatter than the best rools of Osage beauty demands; an’ likewise thar’s kinks in his ha’r. Still, Sunbright sort o’ keeps her aversions to herse’f, an’ if it ain’t for what follows she most likely would have travelled to her death-blankets an’ been given a seat on a hill with a house of rocks built ‘round her the same bein’ the usual burial play of a Osage without Black Cloud ever saveyin’ that so far from interestin’ Sunbright, he only makes her tired.

“Over south from Black Cloud’s Greyhoss camp an’ across the Arkansaw an’ some’ers between the Polecat an’ the Cimmaron thar’s livin’ a young Creek buck called the Lance. He’s straight an’ slim an’ strong as the weepon he’s named for; an’ he like Black Cloud is a medicine sharp of cel’bration an’ stands way up in the papers. The Creeks is never weary of talkin’ about the Lance an’ what a marvel as a medicine man he is; also, by way of insultin’ the Osages, they declar’s onhesitatin’ that the Lance lays over Black Cloud like four tens, an’ offers to bet hosses an’ blankets an’ go as far as the Osages likes that this is troo.

“By what Strike Axe informs me, an’ he ain’t none likely to overplay in his statements by what Strike Axe tells me, I says, the Lance must shore have been the high kyard as a medicine man. Let it get dark with the night an’ no moon in the skies, an’ the Lance could take you-all into his medicine lodge, an’ you’d hear the sperits flappin’ their pinions like some one flappin’ a blanket, an’ thar’d be whisperin’s an’ goin’s on outside the lodge an’ in, while fire-eyes would show an’ burn an’ glower up in the peak of the teepee; an’ all plenty skeary an’ mystifiyin’. Besides these yere accomplishments the Lance is one of them mesmerism sports who can set anamiles to dreamin’. He could call a coyote or a fox, or even so fitful an’ nervous a prop’sition as a antelope; an’ little by little, snuffin’ an’ snortin’, or if it’s a coyote, whinin’, them beasts would approach the Lance ontil they’re that clost he’d tickle their heads with his fingers while they stands shiverin’ an’ sweatin’ with apprehensions. You can put a bet on it, son, that accordin’ to this onbiassed buck, Strike Axe, the Lance is ondoubted the big medicine throughout the Injun range.

“As might be assoomed, the Black Cloud is some heated ag’in the Lance an’ looks on him with baleful eye as a rival. Still, Black Cloud has his nerve with him constant, an’ tharfore one day when the Osages an’ Creeks has been dispootin’ touchin’ the reespective powers of him an’ the Lance, an’ this latter Injun offers to come over to Greyhoss an’ make medicine ag’in him, Black Cloud never hesitates or hangs back like a dog tied onder a waggon, but calls the bluff a heap prompt an’ tells the Lance to come.

“Which the day is set an’ the Lance shows in the door, as monte sharps would say. Black Cloud an’ the Lance tharupon expands themse’fs, an’ delights the assembled Creeks an’ Osages with their whole box of tricks, an’ each side is braggin’ an’ boastin’ an’ puttin’ it up that their gent is most likely the soonest medicine man who ever buys black paint. It’s about hoss an’ hoss between the two.

“Black Cloud accompanies himse’f to this contest with a pure white pony which has eyes red as roobies a kind o’ albino pony an’ he gives it forth that this milk-coloured bronco is his ‘big medicine’ or familiar sperit. The Lance observes that the little red-eyed hoss is mighty impressive to the savages, be they Creeks or Osages. At last he says to Black Cloud:

“’To show how my medicine is stronger than yours, to-morry I’ll make your red-eyed big medicine bronco go lame in his off hind laig.’

“Black Cloud grins scornful at this; he allows that no sport can make his white pony go lame.

“He’s plumb wrong; the next mornin’ the white pony is limpin’ an’ draggin’ his off hind hoof, an’ when he’s standin’ still he p’ints the toe down like something’s fetched loose. Black Cloud is sore; but he can’t find no cactus thorn nor nothin’ to bring about the lameness an’ he don’t know what to make of the racket. Black Cloud’s up ag’inst it, an’ the audience begins to figger that the Lance’s’ medicine is too strong for Black Cloud.

“What’s the trouble with the red-eyed pony? That’s simple enough, son. The Lance done creeps over in the night an’ ties a hossha’r tight about the pony’s laig jest above the fetlock. Black Cloud ain’t up to no sech move, the same bein’ a trade secret of the Lance’s an’ bein’ the hossha’r is hid in the ha’r on the pony’s laig, no one notes its presence.

“After Black Cloud looks his red-eyed big medicine pony all over an’ can’t onderstand its lameness, the Lance asks him will he cure it. Black Cloud, who’s sc’owlin’ like midnight by now, retorts that he will. So he gets his pipe an’ fills it with medicine tobacco an’ blows a mouthful of smoke in the red-eyed pony’s nose. Sech remedies don’t work; that pony still limps on three laigs, draggin’ the afflicted member mighty pensive.

“At last the Lance gives Black Cloud a patronisin’ smile an’ says that his medicine’ll cure the pony sound an’ well while you’re crackin’ off a gun. He walks up to the pony an’ looks long in its red eyes; the pony’s y’ears an’ tail droops, its head hangs down, an’ it goes mighty near to sleep. Then the Lance rubs his hand two or three times up an’ down the lame laig above the fetlock an’ elim’nates that hossha’r ligature an’ no one the wiser. A moment after, he wakes up the red-eyed pony an’ to the amazement of the Osages an’ the onbounded delight of the Creeks, the pony is no longer lame, an’ the laig so late afflicted is as solid an’ healthy as a sod house. What’s bigger medicine still, the red-eyed pony begins to follow the Lance about like a dog an’ as if it’s charmed; an’ it likewise turns in to bite an’ r’ar an’ pitch an’ jump sideways if Black Cloud seeks to put his paw on him. Then all the Injuns yell with one voice: ’The Lance has won the Black Cloud’s big medicine red-eyed pony away from him.’

“The Lance is shore the fashion, an’ Black Cloud discovers he ain’t a four-spot by compar’son. His repootation is gone, an’ the Lance is regyarded as the great medicine along the Arkansaw.

“Sunbright is lookin’ on at these manoovers an’ her heart goes out to the Lance; she falls more deeply in love with him than even the red-eyed bronco does. That evenin’ as the Lance is goin’ to his camp onder the cottonwoods, he meets up with Sunbright standin’ still as a tree in his path with her head bowed like a flower that’s gone to sleep. The Lance saveys; he knows Sunbright; likewise he knows what her plantin’ herse’f in his way an’ her droopin’ attitoode explains. He looks at her, an’ says;

“‘I am a guest of the Osages, an’ to-night is not the night. Wait ontil the Lance is in his own teepee on the Polecat; then come.’

“Sunbright never moves, never looks up; but she hears an’ she knows this is right. No buck should steal a squaw while he’s a guest. The Lance walks on an’ leaves her standin’, head bowed an’ motionless.

“Two days later the Lance is ag’in in his own teepee. Sunbright counts the time an’ knows that he must be thar. She skulks from the camp of Black Cloud an’ starts on her journey to be a new wife to a new husband.

“Sunbright is a mile from camp when she’s interrupted. It’s Black Cloud who heads her off. Black Cloud may not be the boss medicine man, but he’s no fool, an’ his eyes is like a wolf’s eyes an’ can see in the dark. He guesses the new love which has stampeded Sunbright.

“Injuns is a mighty cur’ous outfit. Now if Sunbright had succeeded in gettin’ to the lodge of her new husband, the divorce between her an’ Black Cloud would have been complete. Moreover, if on the day followin’ or at any time Black Cloud had found her thar, he wouldn’t so much as have wagged a y’ear or batted a eye in recognition. He wouldn’t have let on he ever hears of a squaw called ‘Sunbright.’ This ca’mness would be born of two causes. It would be ag’in Injun etiquette to go trackin’ about makin’ a onseemly uproar an’ disturbin’ the gen’ral peace for purely private causes. Then ag’in it would be beneath the dignity of a high grade savage an’ a big medicine sharp to conduct himse’f like he’d miss so trivial a thing as a squaw.

“But ontil Sunbright fulfils her elopement projects an’ establishes herse’f onder the protectin’ wing of her new love, she’s runnin’ resks. She’s still the Black Cloud’s squaw; an’ after she pulls her marital picket pin an’ while she’s gettin’ away, if the bereaved Black Cloud crosses up with her he’s free, onder the license permitted to Injun husbands, to kill her an’ skelp her an’ dispose of her as consists best with his moods.

“Sunbright knows this; an’ when she runs ag’in the Black Cloud in her flight, she seats herse’f in the long prairie grass an’ covers her head with her blanket an’ speaks never a word.

“‘Does Sunbright so love me,’ says Black Cloud, turnin’ aheap ugly, ‘that she comes to meet me? Is it for me she has combed her h’ar an’ put on a new feather an’ beads? Does she wear her new blanket an’ paint her face bright for Black Cloud? Or does she dress herse’f like the sun for that Creek coyote, the Lance?’” Sunbright makes no reply, Black Cloud looks at her a moment an’ then goes on: “It’s for the Lance! Good! I will fix the Sunbright so she will be a good squaw to my friend, the Lance, an’ never run from his lodge as she does now from Black Cloud’s.’ With that he stoops down, an’ a slash of his knife cuts the heel-tendons of Sunbright’s right foot. She groans, and writhes about the prairie, while Black Cloud puts his knife back in his belt, gets into his saddle ag’in an’ rides away.

“The next day a Creek boy finds the body of Sunbright where she rolls herse’f into the Greyhoss an’ is drowned.

“When the Lance hears the story an’ sees the knife slash on Sunbright’s heel, he reads the trooth. It gives him a bad heart; he paints his face red an’ black an thinks how he’ll be revenged. Next day he sends a runner to Black Cloud with word that Black Cloud has stole his hoss. This is to arrange a fight on virtuous grounds. The Lance says that in two days when the sun is overhead Black Cloud must come to the three cottonwoods near the mouth of the Cimmaron an’ fight, or the Lance on the third day an’ each day after will hunt for him as he’d hunt a wolf ontil Black Cloud is dead. The Black Cloud’s game, an’ sends word that on the second day he’ll be thar by the three cottonwoods when the sun is overhead; also, that he will fight with four arrows.

“Then Black Cloud goes at once, for he has no time to lose, an’ kills a dog near his lodge. He cuts out its heart an’ carries it to the rocky canyon where the rattlesnakes have a village. Black Cloud throws the dog’s heart among them an’ teases them with it; an’ the rattlesnakes bite the dog’s heart ag’in an’ ag’in ontil it’s as full of p’isen as a bottle is of rum. After that, Black Cloud puts the p’isened heart in the hot sun an’ lets it fret an’ fester ontil jest before he goes to his dooel with the Lance. As he’s about to start, Black Cloud dips the four steel arrowheads over an’ over in the p’isened heart, bein’ careful to dry the p’isen on the arrowheads; an’ now whoever is touched with these arrows so that the blood comes is shore to die. The biggest medicine in the nation couldn’t save him.

“Thar’s forty Osage and forty Creek bucks at the three cottonwoods to see that the dooelists get a squar’ deal. The Lance an’ Black Cloud is thar; each has a bow an’ four arrows; each has made medicine all night that he may kill his man.

“But the dooel strikes a obstacle.

“Thar’s a sombre, sullen sport among the Osages who’s troo name is the ‘Bob-cat,’ but who’s called the ‘Knife Thrower.’ The Bob-cat is one of the Osage forty. Onknown to the others, this yere Bob-cat who it looks like is a mighty impressionable savage is himse’f in love with the dead Sunbright. An’ he’s hot an’ cold because he’s fearful that in this battle of the bows the Lance’ll down Black Cloud an’ cheat him, the Bob-cat, of his own revenge. The chance is too much; the Bob-cat can’t stand it an’ resolves to get his stack down first. An’ so it happens that as Black Cloud an’ the Lance, painted in their war colours, is walkin’ to their places, a nine-inch knife flickers like a gleam of light from the hand of the Bob-cat, an’ merely to show that he ain’t called the ‘Knife Thrower’ for fun, catches Black Cloud flush in the throat, an’ goes through an’ up to the gyard at the knife-haft. Black Cloud dies standin’, for the knife p’int bites his spine.

“No, son, no one gets arrested; Injuns don’t have jails, for the mighty excellent reason that no Injun culprit ever vamoses an’ runs away. Injun crim’nals, that a-way, allers stands their hands an’ takes their hemlock. The Osages, who for Injuns is some shocked at the Bob-cat’s interruption of the dooel it bein’ mighty onparliamentary from their standp’ints tries the Bob-cat in their triboonals for killin’ Black Cloud an’ he’s decided on as guilty accordin’ to their law. They app’ints a day for the Bob-cat to be shot; an’ as he ain’t present at the trial none, leavin’ his end of the game to be looked after by his reelatives, they orders a kettle-tender or tribe crier to notify the Bob-cat when an’ where he’s to come an’ have said sentence execooted upon him. When he’s notified, the Bob-cat don’t say nothin’; which is satisfactory enough, as thar’s nothin’ to be said, an’ every Osage knows the Bob-cat’ll be thar at the drop of the handkerchief if he’s alive.

“It so turns out; the Bob-cat’s thar as cool as wild plums. He’s dressed in his best blankets an’ leggin’s; an’ his feathers an’ gay colours makes him a overwhelmin’ match for peacocks. Thar’s a white spot painted over his heart.

“The chief of the Osages, who’s present to see jestice done, motions to the Bob-cat, an’ that gent steps to a red blanket an’ stands on its edge with all the blanket spread in front of him on the grass. The Bob-cat stands on the edge, as he saveys when he’s plugged that he’ll fall for’ard on his face. When a gent gets the gaff for shore, he falls for’ard. If a party is hit an’ falls back’ards, you needn’t get excited none; he’s only creased an’ ’ll get over it.

“Wherefore, as I states, the Bob-cat stands on the edge of the blanket so it’s spread out in front to catch him as he drops. Thar’s not a word spoke by either the Bob-cat or the onlookers, the latter openin’ out into a lane behind so the lead can go through. When the Bob-cat’s ready, his cousin, a buck whose name is Little Feather, walks to the front of the blanket an’ comes down careful with his Winchester on the white mark over the Bob-cat’s heart. Thar’s a moment’s silence as the Bob-cat’s cousin runs his eye through the sights; thar’s a flash an’ a hatful of gray smoke; the white spot turns red with blood; an’ then the Bob-cat falls along on his face as soft as a sack of corn.

“What becomes of the Lance? It’s two weeks later when that scientist is waited on by a delegation of Osages. They reminds him that Sunbright has two sisters, the same bein’ now widows by virchoo of the demise of that egreegious Black Cloud. Also, the Black Cloud was rich; his teepee was sumptuous, an’ he’s left a buckskin coat with ivory elk teeth sewed onto it plenty as stars at night. The coat is big medicine; moreover thar’s the milk-white big medicine bronco with red eyes. The Osage delegation puts forth these trooths while the Lance sets cross-laiged on a b’arskin an’ smokes willow bark with much dignity. In the finish, the Osage outfit p’ints up to the fact that their tribe is shy a medicine man, an’ a gent of the Lance’s accomplishments who can charm anamiles an’ lame broncos will be a mighty welcome addition to the Osage body politic. The Lance lays down his pipe at this an’ says, ‘It is enough!’ An’ the next day he sallies over an’ weds them two relicts of Black Cloud an’ succeeds to that dead necromancer’s estate an’ both at one fell swoop. The two widows chuckles an’ grins after the manner of ladies, to get a new husband so swift; an’ abandonin’ his lodge on the Polecat the Lance sets up his game at Greyhoss, an’ onless he’s petered, he’s thar dealin’ it yet.”