Read CHAPTER XXXVII - THE MINGLING OF THE OLD AND THE NEW of The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop, free online book, by Hamlin Garland, on ReadCentral.com.

Early on the morning of the great day ­before the dawn, in truth ­the Tetongs came riding in over the hills from every quarter of the earth, bringing their finest clothing, their newest blankets, and their whitest tepees, all lashed on long poles between which the patient ponies walked as in the olden time.  Every man, woman, and child able to sit a horse was mounted.  No one wore a white man’s hat or shoes or vest; all were in leggings and moccasins, fringed and painted, and they carried their summer blankets as they once carried their robes of the buffalo-skin.  Even the boys of six and seven wore suits cunningly fashioned and decorated like those of their elders.  The young warriors, painted, and with fluttering feathers, rode their fleetest ponies, with shoulders bare and gleaming like bronze in the sun.

With all due form, without hurry or jostling, the whole tribe camped in a wide ellipse, each clan in its place, each family having a fixed position in the circle.  The tepees rose like magic, and their threads of smoke began to creep up into the clear sky like mysterious plants, slender and wavering.

Greetings passed from camp to camp, the head men met in council, and, as the sun rose higher, swarms of the young men galloped to and fro, laying out a racing-course and making up for a procession under Wilson’s direction.

Curtis said:  “I am not interdicting any of their customs merely because they belong to their old life, but because some of them are coarse or hurtful.  Their dance is not harmful unless protracted to the point of interfering with their work.  That they are all living somewhat in the past, to-day, is true; but they will put away this finery and go to work with me to-morrow.  To cut them off from all amusement is cruel fanaticism.  No people can endure without amusement.”

“How appropriate their gay colors seem in this hot, dun land!” remarked Elsie.  “They would look gaudy in a studio; but out here they are grateful to the sense.”

In the centre of the wide circle of tepees a huge bower of pines was being erected for the dance, and pulsing through the air the voice of the criers could be heard, as they rode slowly round the circle publishing the programme of the day.

“Looking over the camp towards the hills it is not difficult to imagine one’s self back in the old days,” said Maynard.  “I saw Sitting Bull camped like this.  See, here is the ‘Soldier Lodge’ or chief’s headquarters,” and he pointed to a large, handsome tepee set in one of the foci of the big ellipse.

Everywhere they went Curtis and his friends met with hearty greeting.  “Hoh ­hoh!  The Little Father!” the old men cried, and came to shake hands, and the women smiled, looking up from their work.  The little children, though they ran away at first, came out again when they knew that it was the Captain who called.  Jennie gave hints about the cooking, and praised the neat tepees and the pretty dresses, while Elsie, looking upon it all with reflective eyes, could not help thinking, “Such will be my work if I do my duty as a wife.”

Once she looked at the firm, bold, facial outlines of the man she had learned to love, and snuggled a little closer into his shelter; he would toil to make every hardship light, that was certain; but, oh! the dreary winters!  There were moments when she took to herself a part of the love and obedience this people showed Curtis.  Here was a little kingdom over which Curtis reigned, a despotic monarch, and she, if she did her duty, would reign by his side.  It had, at least, the virtue of being an unconventional self-sacrifice.  And then, again, she smiled to think that Elsie Bee Bee should feel a touch of pride in being the wife of an Indian agent!

Driving his guests back to the agency, Curtis returned to the camp and moved about on foot among his people.  Wherever he went he seemed to give zest to the sports, and knowing this he remained with them till noon, and only came in to rest his weary feet and aching eyes for half an hour before lunch.

It was unutterably sweet to stretch out in his big, battered easy-chair, in the shaded coolness of the library, and feel Elsie’s smooth, light hand in his hair.

“And you are never to leave me,” he said, dreamily.  “I can’t realize it yet.”  After a pause he added:  “I am demanding too much of you, sweetheart.”

“You are demanding nothing, sir; if you did you wouldn’t get it.  If I choose to give you anything, you are to be grateful and discreetly silent.”

“Can’t I say, ’Thank you’?”

“Not a word.”

“I am content,” he said, and closed his eyes again to express it, and she, being unasked, bent and kissed his forehead.

Rousing up a few minutes later, he said, “I have a present in keeping for you.”

“Have you?  What is it?  Is it from you?  Why didn’t you let me see it before?”

He rose and opened a closet door.  “Because the proper time had not come.  Before I show it to you I want you to promise to wear it.”

“I promise,” she instantly replied.

“Don’t be so ready; I intend it to be a symbol of your change of heart.”

“Well, then, I don’t promise,” she said, backing away.

“I don’t mean your change of heart towards me; I have a ring to express that; this is to express your change of heart towards ­”

“Towards Injuns?”

“No; towards all ‘the small peoples of the earth.’”

“Well, then, I can’t wear it; I haven’t changed.  Down with them!” she shouted, in smiling bravado.

He closed the door.  “Very well, then, you shall not even see the present; you are not worthy of it.”

“Oh, please! please!  I’ll forgive all the heathens of Africa, if you will only let me see.”

“I don’t believe I like that, either,” he replied.  “You are now too flippant.  However, I’ll hold you to the word.  If you don’t mean it now you will by-and-by.”

Elsie clapped her hands with girlish delight as he held up a fine buckskin dress, beautifully adorned with beads and quills.  It was exquisitely tanned, as soft as silk, and a deep cream color.

“Isn’t it lovely!  I’ll wear it whether my heart is changed or not.”

“Here are the leggings and moccasins to match.”

She gathered them all up at a swoop.  “I’m going to put them on at once.”

“Wait!” he commanded.  “Small Bird, who made these garments, is out in the kitchen.  I want to call her; she can be your maid for this time.”

As Small Bird sidled bashfully into the hall Elsie cried out in delight of her.  She was dressed in the old-time Tetong dress, and was exceedingly comely.  Her face was carefully painted and her hair shone with much brushing and oil.  Her teeth were white and even.

“Can she speak English?” asked Elsie.

“Not very well; but she understands.  Small Bird, the lady says, thank you.  She thinks they are very fine.  Her heart is glad.  Go help her dress.”

“Come!” cried Elsie, eagerly, and fairly ran up the stairs in her haste to be transformed into a woman of the red people.

When she returned she was a sister to Small Bird.  Her dark hair was braided in the Tetong fashion, her face was browned, and her little feet were clothed in glittering, beaded moccasins.

“You look exactly like some of the old engravings of Mohawk princesses,” cried Curtis.  “Now you are ready to sit by my side and review the procession.”

“Are we to have a procession?”

“Indeed we are, as significant as any mediaeval tournament.  I am the resident duke before whom the review takes place, and I shall be in my best dress and you are to sit by my side ­my bride-elect.”

“Oh no!”

“Oh yes.  It is decided.”  He drew himself up haughtily.  “I have said it, and I am chief to-day.  It is good, Small Bird,” he said, as the Tetong girl started to go.  “My wife likes it very much.”

Elsie ran towards the girl and took her by the shoulders as if to make her understand the better.  “Thank you; thank you!”

Small Bird smiled, but surrendered to her timidity, and, turning, ran swiftly out of the room.

Curtis hooked Elsie in his right arm.  “Now all is decreed.  You have put on the garb of my people,” and his kiss stopped the protest she struggled to utter.

Surely the day was a day strangely apart.  Everything that could be done to make it symbolic, to make it idyllic, was done.  Curtis appeared after lunch in a fine costume of buckskin, trimmed with green porcupine quills and beads, and for a hat he wore a fillet of beaver-skin with a single feather on the back.  Across his shoulder he carried the sash of a finely beaded tobacco pouch, and in his hand a long fringed bag, very ancient, containing a peace-pipe, which had been transmitted to Crawling Elk by his father’s father, a very precious thing, worn only by chieftains.

“Oh, I shall paint you in that dress,” cried Elsie.

So accoutred, he led the way to the canopied platform under the flag-pole, where the reviewing party were to sit.  In order that no invidious distinctions might be drawn, two or three of the old chiefs and their wives had been given seats thereon, and they were already in place.  Not many strangers were present, for Curtis had purposely refrained from setting a day too long ahead, but Lawson’s friends and some relatives of the employes, and several of the young officers from the fort made up the outside representation.  Maynard was in his brightest uniform, and Jennie, looking very nice in a muslin gown, and a broad, white hat, sat by his side.

From the seats in the stand, the camp, swarming with horsemen, could be seen.  Wilson, as grand marshal, was riding to and fro, assisted by Lawson, who had entered into the game with the self-sacrificing devotion of a drum-major.  His make-up was superb, and when at last he approached, leading the cavalcade, Elsie did not recognize him.  His lean face, dark with paint, was indistinguishably Tetong, seen from a distance, and he sat his horse in perfect simulation of his red brethren.  He was but re-enacting scenes of his early life.  His hunting-shirt was dark with use, and his splendid war-bonnet trailed grandly down his back.  He rode by, looking neither to the right nor the left, singing a new song.

    “We are passing. 
    See us passing by. 
    We are leaving the old behind us. 
    The new we seek to find.  We are passing, passing by.”

Crawling Elk followed, holding aloft a spear with a green plume; it was a turnip thrust through with a sharp-pointed, blackened stick, and behind him, two and two, came fifty of his young warriors carrying shining hoes upright, as of old they carried their lances, while at their shoulders, where quivers of arrows should have swung, dangled trim sheaves of green wheat and golden barley.  The free fluttering of their feather-ornamented hair, the barbaric painting on their faces and hands, symbolized the old life, as the green arrows of the grain prefigured the new.  Behind them rode their women, each bearing in her left hand a bunch of flowers.  Those who could read wore on their bosoms a small, shining medal, and in their hair an eagle feather.  No Tetong woman had ever worn a plume before.

Standing Elk, quaint and bent, rode by, singing a war-song, magnificent in his dress as war chief, leading some twenty young men.  His hands were empty of the signs of peace, and his face was rapt with dreams of the past, but his young men carried long-handled forks which flamed in the sun, and bracelets of green grass encircled their firm, brown arms.  They, too, were painted to signify their clan and their ancestry, and the “medicine” they affected was on their breasts.  Their wives were close behind, each bearing a stalk of corn in bloom; their beaded saddles and gay blankets were pleasant to see.  Every weapon bespoke warfare against weeds.  Every ornament represented the better nature, the striving, the aspiration of its wearer.

Then came the school-children, adding a final note of pathos, poor little brown men and women trudging on foot to symbolize that they must go through life, plodding in the dust of the white man’s chariot wheel ­their toes imprisoned in a shapeless box of leather, their hair closely clipped, their clothing hot and restrictive.  Each carried a book and a slate, and their faces were very intent and serious as they paced by on their way from the old to the new.  They were followed by the school-band playing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with splendid disregard of the broken faith of the government whose song it was.

And so they streamed by, these folk, accounted the most warlike of all red men, genially carrying out the wishes of their chief, illustrating, without knowing it, the wondrous change which had come to them; the old men still clinging to the past, the young men careless of the future, the children already transformed, and, as they glanced up, some smiling, some grave and dreaming, Elsie shuddered with a species of awe; it seemed as if a people were being disintegrated before her eyes; that the evolution of a race having proceeded for countless ages by almost imperceptible degrees was now and here rushing, as by mighty bounds, from war to peace, from hunting to harvesting, from primitive indolence to ordered thrift.  They were, indeed, passing, as the plains and the wild spaces were passing; as the buffalo had passed; as every wild thing must pass before the ever-thickening flood of white ploughmen pressing upon the land.

Twice they circled, and then, as they all massed before him, Curtis rose to sign to them.

“I am very proud of you.  All my friends are pleased.  My heart is big with emotion and my head is full of thoughts.  This is a great day for you and also for me.  Some of you are sad, for you long for the old things ­the big, broad plain, the elk, and the buffalo.  So do I. I loved those things also.  But you have seen how it is.  The water of the stream never turns back to the spring, the old man never grows young, the tree that falls does not rise up again.  So the old things come never again.  We have always to look ahead.  Perhaps, in the happy hunting-ground all will be different, but here now we must do our best to live upon the earth.  It is the law that, now the game being gone, we must plough and sow and reap the fruit of the soil.  That is the meaning of all we have done to-day.  We have put away the rifle; we here take up the hoe.

“I am glad; my heart is like a bird; it sings when I see you happy.  Listen ­I will tell you a great secret.  You see this young woman,” he touched Elsie.  “You see she wears the Tetong dress, the same as I; that means much.  It signifies two things:  Last year her heart was hard towards the Tetongs; now it is soft.  She is proud of what you have done.  She wears this dress for another reason; she is going to be my wife, and help me show you the good way.”  At this moment a chorus of pleased outcries broke forth.  “Now, go to your feast.  Let everything be orderly.  To-night we will come to see you dance.”

With an outburst of jocular whooping, the young men wheeled their horses and vanished under cover of a cloud of dust, while the old men and the women and the children moved sedately back to camp; the women chattering gayly over the day’s exciting shows, and in anticipation of the dance which was to come.

There were tears in Elsie’s eyes as she looked up at Curtis.  “They have so far to go, poor things!  They can’t realize how long the road to civilization is.”

“I do not care whether they reach what you call civilization or not; the road to happiness and peace is not long, it is short; they are even now entering upon it.  They can be happy right here, and so can we,” he ended, looking at her with a tender wistfulness.  “Can’t you understand?”

“You have conquered,” she said, with deep feeling.  “Under the spell of this day, I feel your work to be the only thing in the world worth doing.”  Her words, her voice, so moved him that he bent and laid a kiss upon her lips.  When he could speak, he said:  “Now I want to ask something of you.  I have a leave of absence for six months.  Show me the Old World.”

She sprang up.  “Ah!  Can you go?”

“When the crops are garnered and sifted, and my people clothed and sheltered.”

“I’d rather show you Paris than anything else in the world!” she cried.  “I’d almost marry you to do that.”

“Very well, marry me; we will spend our honeymoon there; perhaps then you will be willing to spend one more year here with me, and then ­well ­Never cross the range till you get to it is a maxim of the trail.”