Read CHAPTER II of Big and Little Sisters, free online book, by Theodora R. Jenness, on

As something quite unusual at that season in the Dakotas, there had been a thaw the day before, and a great quantity of mud had been tracked in on the girls’ side by the sewing classes coming from the schoolhouse, separate from the main mission building, to the upstairs room in which the sewing work was done.

Hannah Straight Tree quickly swept her portion of the hall, for there was but little mud on the teachers’ side, and was proceeding to her stairs before Cordelia Running Bird was half way along her floor.

“You have not taken up your dirt! You have swept it over on my side!” exclaimed Cordelia Running Bird, who, with all her close attention to her own work, kept a sharp eye on the other’s movements.

“There is little, and it will not be much work to take it up with yours,” was Hannah’s reply. “When we finished yesterday I lent our dustpan to the middle dormitory girls they said theirs was too broken and they lost it. Now they say they can borrow the south dormitory dustpan, and they shall not hunt ours. You can always find things better than I can, so you must hunt it and take up my dirt,” was Hannah Straight Tree’s demand.

“Tokee! How strange you talk!” exclaimed Cordelia Running Bird, in amazement. “The dormitory girls must ask for a new dustpan if they break theirs. It is not the rule to lend things, for it makes confusion; if you lent the dustpan you must find it and take up your dirt, for I have more to do than you. It is Number 8, and you can tell it when you see it.”

“You are very cross as well as proud and vain and you have learned the motto, every word. If I had learned the motto I should try to be good,” said Hannah Straight Tree.

“The motto does not say a girl can tell us we must do a work that is not ours, and we must mind her. I shall sweep your dirt back,” was the warm reply.

Cordelia Running Bird gave her broom a sudden push and sent the sweepings flying backward in a cloud.

“Now look how mean you are! Again I have to sweep my floor!” cried Hannah Straight Tree, angrily. “Proud vain cross mean!” She counted the four failings on her fingers.

“Not the least bit do I care,” replied Cordelia Running Bird, stung beyond endurance by Hannah’s taunts. “I was not cross at first, but now I am, because you call me four bad names. I am now glad your little sister cannot play the games, or motion in one song, or even have an ugly green dress. I am not sorry that your big and little sister cannot come to school, and very much I wish I had not learned the motto.”

Here the young Sioux girl, who was compelled to battle with hereditary pride and stubbornness in every effort to do right, forgot the white mother’s admonition that the heart might be a dark place and a cold place needing to be cleansed of evil thoughts.

Hannah Straight Tree did not hunt the dustpan, but with perseverance worthy of a better cause, she brushed the sweepings from her floor and stairs upon a ragged palm-leaf fan which she discovered in a corner, and, dropping them into the scrub-pail, took them out of doors. Cordelia brought a shoe-box from her cupboard in the playroom and applied it as an inconvenient dustpan. Meanwhile dustpan Number 8 remained in the darkest corner of the middle dormitory closet, where it had been pushed in the rush of clearing up the day before.

Cordelia Running Bird’s work of making clean her floor and stairs was even harder than she had expected. Never had there seemed so many errands to and fro by those who did the weekly cleaning in the three dormitories, numbering quite a force. The thaw had ended in a freezing snow squall in the night, but a sufficient quantity of mud was clinging to the broad soles of the government shoes that tramped across Cordelia’s wet floor to insure a startling trail of footprints.

“I cannot keep them up, they come again so fast,” she murmured to herself in grim despair, while wringing out her mop-rag to attack a line of tracks imprinted by the largest girl in school, in going to and from the laundry to dispose of laid-off sheets and pillow-cases. “Ver-ry hor-r-i-d pictures of the ugly issue shoes. I will not wear them. I am wearing kid store shoes my father buys for every day. The dormitory girls are shovel-feeted, and I Wish they could not walk one step only lie in bed!”

She was overheard by Hannah Straight Tree, coming up the girls’ stairs at that moment. Hannah’s own work had been done with little difficulty, and she had obtained permission to help the middle dormitory girls, for reasons all her own.

The reckless speech was repeated to the dormitory girls by Hannah Straight Tree, much to their displeasure.

“The dormitory girls are shovel-feeted, and she wishes they could not walk one step, only lie in bed!” exclaimed the largest girl, sitting down on a straw-tick to discuss the matter. “Then we should be cripples, and, tokee! how many cripples there would be!”

“If they came from both the other dormitories into this to lie down with the middle dormitory girls, there would be one cripple in each bed, and in one there would be two cripples,” said a broom girl, who was quite expert at figures, having studied on the problem with the aid of broom-straws representing cripples.

This portrayal of the startling situation, if Cordelia Running Bird’s wish could be fulfilled, increased the shock of indignation in the dormitories.

“Ee!” cried one, “we hate the ugly government shoes, of course, and wish that we could wear the nice shoes from our mission boxes every day. But we cannot, only Sundays and we have to change them after Sunday-school and when we wear our best clothes for white visitors. Cordelia Running Bird will not wear the government shoes because her father is an agency policeman, and can buy store shoes for every day.”

“I was always much ashamed of my big feet, and now I am more ashamed,” complained the largest girl. “If the dormitory girls are shovel-feeted, every large girl in this school is shovel-feeted.”

“Cordelia was very cross about the dustpan, too, but we can pay her back,” said Hannah Straight Tree, adding fresh fuel to the fire.

“Now I shall not show her how to feather-stitch the little blue dress,” said the largest girl, who was quite famous at embroidery, and had partly promised to instruct Cordelia Running Bird in her work that day.

“And I shall not help her make the little red dress, as she will be wanting me next week,” resolved a south dormitory bed girl, Emma Two Bears, who was standing in the doorway. Emma was the most experienced dressmaker of the large girls’ class and was generous, as a rule, in helping younger girls. “I am sorry now that I cut and made the little blue waist, but I did not think she would so soon be wishing me a cripple.”

“And you need not praise the little blue and red dresses if she gets them done; but I am sure she cannot,” gloried Hannah Straight Tree.

“Ee! We will not. We will call them ugly issue goods,” said one of the girls.

“Or watch her little sister in the Jack Frost song,” said another.

“We will shut our eyes!” exclaimed another.

“And the middle-sized and short girls need not choose Susie in the games,” came from another.

“We will tell them not to. They will choose Dolly,” cried a fifth.

“But Dolly looks so horrid, I am much ashamed of her,” was Hannah Straight Tree’s answer.

Cordelia Running Bird heard the fierce discussion through the open door, near which she knelt at work, and the bitter tears ran down her face.

When at length her work was done as well as she was able, and the last stair wiped, she went back upstairs on tiptoe to inspect her floor and see if it was dry. She was met by Hannah Straight Tree on the upper landing, carrying a pail of scrub water, mixed with ashes, from the dormitory. Hannah set it on the top stair, and then glanced wickedly at Cordelia through half-closed eyes that meant mischief.

“What if I should tip it over?” she said.

“Ee! You must not. It would freeze, and I should have to scald my hands with too hot water, thawing it!” exclaiming Cordelia Running Bird, rushing to prevent her.

In her haste to keep the pail from being overturned Cordelia hit it with her foot, upsetting it herself. The stairs were deluged with the contents, Hannah Straight Tree fell back with a laugh. “Now see what you have done yourself! I did not spill one drop. You cannot say I did.”

Cordelia Running Bird burst into upbraiding exclamations in Dakota, which, because they wished them to learn to speak English, was a forbidden language in the school except on Sundays and on holidays. By an odd mishap of memory, Cordelia was apt to break the rule in moments of excitement, and she knew the penalty too well.

“Now you have talked Dakota, and you must report yourself,” Hannah Straight Tree said triumphantly. “You wished the dormitory girls would have to lie in bed now you must lie in bed yourself. You cannot feather-stitch or speak to anyone.”

The unclean water froze upon the stairs, and Cordelia Running Bird’s work of thawing it with hot water was a long and painful process. When it was accomplished, though but poorly, she went upstairs a second time, passing through the front hall to the white mother’s room to report that she had spoken in Dakota.

“Again, Cordelia? How can you forget so often?” said the young white mother in a seriously inquiring tone.

The little Indian girl’s excitement had now given place to discouragement. She was silent for some time, then she murmured an original defense.

“The cross thoughts come in Indian, and I speak them out that way. Che-cha (hateful) means much more in Indian than in English. Dakota is my own language, and it tells me how to scold just right.”

“No, dear, just wrong,” was the reply. Then looking at the draggled little figure with head drooped moodily and smarting hands locked tightly at the sides, the white mother added, “You have had a cold, hard time this morning in the hall, I know. Have you been cross about your work?” The gentle voice invited confidence, but it did not melt Cordelia Running Bird.

“Yes, ma’am. I was very cross at Hannah Straight Tree and the dormitory girls. I called the dormitory girls a name, and then a pail of very dirty water was tipped over on my stairs, so again I had to clean them, and I screamed at Hannah Straight Tree in Dakota.”

“Did Hannah tip it over?”

“No, ma’am, I tipped it over.”

With all her sense of injury, Cordelia Running Bird would not tell tales to divide the blame.

The white mother saw that there was more than she knew of connected with the trouble in the hall, but seeing that the race mood was upon Cordelia, she forbore all further questions.

“It has often been explained that if the older pupils spoke Dakota very much the little ones would speak it, too, and not learn English as they should,” she said. “I’m sorry that the cross thoughts caused you to forget, Cordelia Running Bird.”

“I am very cross now,” said Cordelia, fearing her confession might be misconstrued as a repentance. “I have enemies that I am hating very hard. I shall be thinking Indian thoughts about them while I lie in bed.”

“I hope the cross thoughts will leave you if you lie in bed, where you can be alone, and try to drive them out. I will send your dinner to the dormitory,” said the white mother.

“I cannot eat one bite for many days. I wish to starve,” Cordelia Running Bird said, as she turned away.