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

The girls had finished working in the dormitories and had gone below. Cordelia Running Bird was relieved that she would not have to meet them and endure such looks as they might give, though not allowed to speak to her.

Going to her corner in the south dormitory, she put on her nightgown and crept into bed. She hid her head beneath the blankets to shut out the sounds below, in which she was to have no part for several hours.

But though Cordelia Running Bird was in solitude, her sharp ears caught the noise of romping children in the playroom, and the frequent dropping of the sliding-doors upon the narrow individual cupboards, indicating an excessive rummaging of shelves. Cordelia knew full well the prying habits of the Indian children.

“I am glad I have the red dress in my trunk, but they will meddle with my other things and look at Susie’s blue dress, and then roll it up in such bad wrinkles,” she said to herself. “Just like they will drop a skein of feather-stitching silk and tramp it with their feet till it is very dirty. Then some girl will pick it up to sew her doll clothes, and there will not be enough for Susie’s dress.”

Cordelia Running Bird held her breath as these thoughts came to her.

“But I do not know if I can feather-stitch it now, for there is no one to teach me, that I know of. Just like Hannah Straight Tree and the dormitory girls will tell the whole school to hate me, and they will. If I cannot get a large girl to help make the red dress, and I try to do it all alone, it will fit so bad, and I cannot get it done in time. What if I should tell my mother to have Susie stay at camp, and not once come inside the yard Christmas time? Then she would not need the dresses, and they could not call them issue goods, and not choose Susie in the games, and shut their eyes at her.”

Cordelia lay very still, but the thought of Susie’s missing the festivities by staying in the big building in the mission pasture, where the Indian visitors camped in winter, was put from her in short order.

“Susie shall not stay in camp. I shall find a way to get the dresses done, and she shall motion Jack Frost and see the Christmas tree. I shall tell them I am tired of playing silly games, and Susie shall not play, either, so they cannot leave her out. And I shall tell the school they must not watch Susie motion, for they are such horrid Indians they would scare her very bad. When Hannah Straight Tree’s big and little sister come into the playroom I shall walk close up to them and pull my dress away, and look at it so sharp, and say, so Hannah hears me, ’Those wild Indians have so many grease spots I am much afraid of catching them.’”

While plotting these misdeeds Cordelia Running Bird fell asleep. A young girl from the teachers’ table brought her dinner on a tray and set it by the bed without awaking her. She did not wake up until near the middle of the afternoon. She found that the white mother had stolen into the dormitory with a small book which she had placed upon the pillow. There was a narrow white ribbon, frayed and yellow, wound around the book and tied on one side in a bow. The rooms below now were quiet, for the wind had lulled and the entire school was out of doors.

Looking from the window near her bed, Cordelia saw the broad, white plains illumined with brilliant sunshine and the girls exercising on the glittering crust of snow occasioned by the thaw. The little girls were sliding down hill on boards and broken shovels, cast-off dripping-pans and ash-pans everything, indeed, that could be seized on for coasting. A group of large and middle-sized girls were walking over the mission pasture, stretching for a mile on every side. Another band of girls was packed into a long, wide bob-sled on the point of starting with the white mother to the little log post office down the river.

“Very lots of fun, and I am being punished here in bed!” Cordelia said to herself, mournfully. “Now the bob-sled starts, and very loud the sleigh-bells ring. The white mother drives, and she must hold the lines so tight, for very fast the horses want to go. We go to the post office by the al-pha-bet on Saturday, and this day it is the P’s and R’s there are no Q’s so it is my turn. Very fast I meant to feather-stitch, so I could spare the time to go. Ee! There is Hannah Straight Tree in my place. She made me talk Dakota and get punished. Now she gets my sleigh-ride!” And Cordelia Running Bird threw herself back upon the pillow, giving vent to wild, resentful tears.

When the tears had spent themselves the Indian girl raised her head and saw the little book on the other pillow.

“Tokee! The white mother put it here. She always keeps it, and it means that I can look at it now.”

Cordelia unwound the ribbon, opening the little book.

“Annie’s Bible, and I never thought of her to-day! Just like I am forgetting her so fast. Here is Helen’s letter. I shall read that first.”

She took a little white note from a dainty envelope and read it slowly, but with understanding that spoke of previous acquaintance with the words:

Dear Annie: Will you let this little Bible be your friend and guide, as I have tried to have it for my friend and guide since I have been a King’s Daughter? I have marked some verses I have learned and have recited in the meeting of our circle, and I wish that you might care to learn them and recite them in your meeting at the school.

“The King’s Daughters in the Far East love to think about the Indian girls away out West, who are also members of our circle. Isn’t it a sweet thought, Annie, that although so widely separated, we are all the children of one family in Christ, and are cared for by the same heavenly Father?

“Yours with loving interest,
Helen Merriam, Hartford, Conn.
“Aged 16.”

“It came in Annie’s mission box, and Helen was her unknown white friend,” said Cordelia Running Bird, as she put the letter back into the envelope. “I shall next read Annie’s letter.” And she took another little missive from the Bible, written with a pencil on the tablet paper of the school, in wavering penmanship that showed the weakness of the writer’s hand. Cordelia read:

Dear Cordelia: Annie Running Bird will leave this Bible to Cordelia Running Bird, my sister, for I cannot carry it to heaven, and in heaven I shall not need to read the words that Jesus spoke on earth, for I shall hear him speak up there. But Cordelia will not just yet be bearing Jesus speak up there, and she will need to read this Bible and must mind just what it tells her. Dear Cordelia, you can have this Bible for your own when you are fourteen birthdays, so you will be old enough to take good care of it and read it very lots. But if you want to borrow it before it is your own, the white mother will please lend it to you, so you always give it back, and do not lose the letters and the pieces of my hairs that will be in it. I did not learn all of Helen’s verses for the King’s Daughters’ meeting, for I got too sick to study, and my memory feels so queer. I have put a cross behind the ones I learned, and, dear Cordelia, wilt you try to learn them, too, and all the rest that Helen marked? The one I tried to think of most is St. Matthew, chapter 5:44.

“Good-by, dear sister, for I cannot live much longer, I am so pained with the hard coughing all the time. These words I write so you will not forget me. I wish to see my father and my mother and my little sister very much. But if I cannot, you must give my love to them, and all my other friends, and tell them they must meet me in the better world. And you must, too.

“So again I say good-by, dear sister,
Annie running Bird,
“Aged 16.”

“P. S. Write good-by to Helen and my love.”

“She lies at the agency. She sleeps with those that are happy,” mused Cordelia, looking at the lock of hair with reverent eyes. “It was very cold one year ago this winter, when she had the whooping-cough so hard it made her lungs so sick she could not live.

“My mother had the fever very long and hard at home and could not come to watch her; my father came, but could not stay long, for my mother was so sick. But the teachers took good care of Annie, and the large girls helped them. I could only sit by her in daytime, for the teachers said I was too young to stay up nights. The dormitory girls were very kind to Annie, and they used to sit up nights, when they had worked all day and were so tired, to watch her.

“Emma Two Bears has a sweet song, and one night when she was watching Annie, and there was a blizzard, and the wind cried very loud, like many dogs all round the house, Annie was afraid; so she asked would Emma sing ‘The Sweet By and By,’ and Emma sang it louder than the wind, but very sweet. Annie said it made her feel so happy that again she would not be afraid.

“And once more when Annie could not eat one bite of anything and was so very faint, Hannah Straight Tree thought that she could drink some rosebud porridge, so she ran away without permission, and waded through the deep snow to the rosebushes up the river, to pick off some buds to make the porridge. She froze her shortest right side toe, and a wild steer watched her very fierce, but Hannah Straight Tree did not care, for she was all the time thinking Annie was so faint. And Annie drank a little porridge and told Hannah she was very glad indeed. And they did not punish Hannah, for the rosebuds were for Annie.

“When the Indian preacher told at Annie’s funeral how she was so good and learned so many Bible verses for the King’s Daughters’ meetings, there was much crying in the schoolhouse, for the girls all felt so bad. And before I got into the wagon with my father, when we carried Annie to the agency, Hannah Straight Tree whispered that she did not want to sleep with anyone but me, and if they put another girl in bed with her she would be sure to turn her back and never say one word to her.

“Now the dormitory girls and Hannah Straight Tree are my enemies. The verse that Annie tried to think of most is all about enemies. I cannot read it just now. I shall read some other verses first.”

Many of the verses her sister had marked were familiar to Cordelia, for, as Annie had requested, she had been allowed to take the little Bible when in thoughtful mood, perhaps when kept within doors on a stormy Sunday afternoon. She had read them often, asking explanation of the hard words from the teachers, and had learned a number of the simplest ones in preparation for her own admission to the King’s Daughters Circle, which would be before long, she had hoped.

“Here is one about the tongue, that has the straight marks Helen made, and Annie’s cross behind it. This I have not learned to say.”

Cordelia Running Bird read aloud slowly: “’Even so the tongue is a little member, and boast-eth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kind-leth.’

“That means to brag with the tongue and make folks very cross. Hannah Straight Tree bragged because her floor and stairs are always nicer than my floor and stairs,” Cordelia said. “But just like I have bragged some, too,” she added. “My tongue has talked so much because my father is an agency policeman and my little sister has nice things. And I bragged about my white memory and my store shoes. But I was only talking to myself about the ugly issue shoes, and Hannah Straight Tree went and told it.”

She turned the leaves and found another text: “’A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.’ I did not speak soft when I told Hannah Straight Tree she was very dumb in school, and I was glad Dolly could not motion in a single song, or even have an ugly green dress, and I was not sorry that her big and little sister could not come to school. And Dolly and Lucinda have not said mean things to me, so why should I be cross at them? But Hannah would not find the dustpan and take up her dirt, and that was very mean. Now here is one that I have learned. I can say it without looking at the book.”

Cordelia Running Bird shut her eyes and carefully re-peated: “’Pride goeth before de-struction, and a haught-y spirit before a fall.’ Haughty means to feel stuck-up. The pail fell downstairs and made me talk Dakota, so I had to come to bed, because I was stuck-up and made Hannah Straight Tree cross. Just like they all would not be hating me if I had not been haught-y. But the dormitory girls were very mean to walk whole-feet on my wet floor. If they had walked heel or tiptoe I should not have scolded to myself about the ugly issue shoes, and called them shovel-feeted, and wished they had to lie in bed. But I did not wish them to be cripples only have a good long rest till I was through scrubbing. But Hannah was mean to go and tell. I can find no verse that will excuse her and the dormitory girls.”

Here Cordelia Running Bird fell to pitying herself anew.

“I shall now read Annie’s best verse, but it will be very hard to mind those words that Jesus spoke.”

Cordelia Running Bird wound the ribbon round the little Bible, tying it with care, and laid the book close by her on the bed; then she ate her dinner with a hearty relish. She had hardly finished when the door from the front hall was opened, and the young white mother, rosy from her sleigh-ride, looked into the dormitory. She saw the little Bible lying near Cordelia, glanced inquiringly at the dark-faced girl, and then smiled and nodded, to receive a cheerful smile in answer.

“Jump up quickly, dear, and dress,” she said. “Some little girls are going up the river to the store, and one of the girls is Cordelia Running Bird.”

Cordelia started out of bed in joyful haste.

“Are you ready to give back the Bible?” asked the white mother, coming to the bed.

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Cordelia Running Bird, handing her the little book. “Thank you very much. It made me think of Annie, so I read it, and it told me I must love my enemies, so just like I shall do it now.”

“I am very glad the cross thoughts have left you,” was the answer. “Now put on your plaid dress and be ready in ten minutes.”

Cordelia flew to get the plaid dress from the closet, and was ready and downstairs in a twinkling. The little girls selected for the drive were in the playroom putting on their hoods and coats in great delight. Cordelia hurriedly put on her own, and, opening her cupboard, she unlocked a doll trunk, taking out a tiny purse for coins, whose portly sides bespoke some wealth within. She looked an instant at the blue dress and the silk for feather-stitching, finding to her great relief that they had not been touched. She locked them in the doll trunk, put the little key into the purse, and whisked away.

“The store is much nicer than the post office,” was her joyous reflection, as she slipped the purse into her pocket on her way outdoors. “Very long have I been saving this last part of all the money that I earned tending baby; now I have a chance to spend it with my own eyes.”

Down the steep hill went the bob-sled to the great Missouri River, where it took the straight, smooth road on the snow-laden ice. The sewing teacher drove the horses, giving them free rein. The school-teacher sat beside her on the seat, and Cordelia and the girls were snuggled down in hay upon the bottom of the sled, with comforters for lap-robes.

The little log store was but two miles distant, and the party were not long in reaching it. It stood upon a steep bluff on the opposite shore. The white man who kept it dealt to some extent in Indian curiosities, of which the two teachers were in quest to send as Christmas gifts to Eastern friends.

“We wish to look especially at moccasins and Indian dolls,” said the school-teacher to the trader when they had made known their errand.

“I’ve got some first-class moccasins, both porcupined and beaded, but no Indian dolls,” replied the trader. “Indian dolls are growing mighty scarce, now the young squaws get so much put into their minds to do. Only the old-timers understand the trick of making dolls.”

“I am disappointed that you have none, for I wished to send one to my little niece. But I must wait and try to get one elsewhere.”

While the two teachers were examining the moccasins, Cordelia Running Bird and the children were absorbed in looking at the china dolls and other articles displayed upon the shelves and hanging from a wire stretched above the counter.

“I was telling Hannah Straight Tree I should buy a big doll for Susie, and a red silk handkerchief for my father, and a blue silk handkerchief for my mother, and should hang them on the Christmas tree,” said Cordelia, partly to herself and partly to the little girls.

“Kee! I would not hang them,” said a prudent little maid of ten years. “Hannah Straight Tree told the other girls, and they are very yelous that is not the word, but I forget it for they say they cannot hang their people anything. They say you think the name ‘Running Bird’ is very stylish, and you wish to hear it called so often at the Christmas tree.”

“Of course I shall not hang them,” said Cordelia, firmly. “And I shall not buy a doll for Susie, for my father always buys her one. I was going to brag about her having two,” she added candidly. “And I shall not buy the silk handkerchiefs. They have the issue cotton ones and some other ones that my father bought;” and she withdrew her eyes from the display of cheap and gaudy handkerchiefs of so-called silk material suspended from the wire. “I shall buy a cake pan with a steeple for my mother, and a hairbrush for my father, for his hairs stick up so straight and stiff. And I shall give the presents very still at camp, so the school will not be jealous.”

Having thus subdued her vanity, Cordelia Running Bird shyly bought the articles she had selected from the trader’s boy, who helped his father in the store. She also bought four hair ribbons and a little bag of candy, having left two silver quarters. She was considering how to spend them when her eyes alighted on some little brown shoes and a pair of stockings matching them, beneath a small glass show-case.

“Ver-r-y st-y-lish little shoes and stockings!” she exclaimed, forgetting in her rapture to be shy before the trader’s boy.

The small girls crowded upon tiptoe at the show-case, peering through the glass sides to inspect the little wonders.

“Just the color of an Indian,” observed a little maid of seven, holding up her slim hand to compare it with the red-brown shoes and stockings. “But they made them for a little white girl. They are like the ones the little white visitor with the pink dress wore last summer.”

“They are just as pretty for a little Indian girl,” replied Cordelia. “They would be just right for Susie,” with a longing eye.

“But Susie does not need them,” said the prudent little girl. “She has a black shoes and stockings in your cupboard that are very nice.”

“But she could have two pairs. These would be so pretty with the red dress in the Jack Frost song. She could wear the black ones with the blue dress,” said Cordelia, seized anew with her besetting sin and growing helpless in its grasp.

She asked the number of the shoes, finding it the same that Susie wore. Then she asked the price. She could buy the shoes and stockings for a dollar and a half.

“One dollar more than I have got,” she said in feverish regret. She was intently silent for a little, then she turned, and, running quickly to the school-teacher, drew her to one side, where they could talk unheard.

“The Indian doll my grandmother made for me is very nice and new, for I have kept it in my trunk so much. I will give it to you if you please to give me one dollar that is what they gave my grandmother for her dolls when she would sell them at the agency,” Cordelia said, in eager undertone.

“Why, child, you surely cannot wish to sell your Indian doll that has a beaded buckskin dress just like the one your grandmother wore when she was your age?” said the school-teacher in surprise. “No, thank you, dear. You wish to give me pleasure, but I cannot accept it, for I know you love the little Indian grandmother better than you could the prettiest white doll in the Christmas box,” she added, gratefully.

“It is very Indian-minded, and I do not now care for it,” replied the girl, with a clouded face. “I wish to buy the little brown shoes and stockings in the glass box,” pointing to the show-case. “I have only fifty cents.”

“Why, of course, Cordelia, if you really wish to sell it,” was the response. “The shoes and stockings are for Susie, I suppose, but are not the black ones nice enough?”

Cordelia had displayed the little black shoes and stockings to the teachers with a deal of pride.

“But the brown ones are much prettier for the Jack Frost song,” she argued, pressingly.

“Very well,” replied the teacher, opening her purse and handing her the dollar, with a sorry look. “Perhaps, however, we would better see the little things before you buy them.”

The brown shoes and stockings were examined by the teachers and were thought quite satisfactory for the price. Cordelia bought them breathlessly and hid them in her coat pocket to insure their safety.

But the home-going in the early moonlight evening was less joyous than had been the journey to the store. To the young Sioux girl the sleigh-bells seemed to jingle harshly, and the gumbo hills, whose tops were bare of snow, seemed frowning blackly from across the river.

Cordelia Running Bird passed some peppermints to the children, which awoke a burst of gratitude.

“We little girls shall always choose Susie in the games,” said one.

“Yes,” exclaimed another, “Hannah Straight Tree and the dormitory girls have told us not to, but we shall.”

“Ee! Talk lower so the teacher will not hear you,” said Cordelia, with a sudden flutter of the breath. “You must choose Dolly half the time if Susie plays.”

“She is too bad-looking,” said a third. “Susie has two pairs of pretty shoes, and two nice dresses, and we like her better.”

“But you must not talk that way before the larger girls,” Cordelia cautioned in an undertone. “Doily has a new hair ribbon like the red one I have bought for Susie both are in my lap. And I have bought a pink one for Lucinda. I wish to do them good Hannah Straight Tree, too. You must tell the larger girls you like Dolly just as well as Susie. If they wear alike ribbons on their braids it will be nice.”

“A new ribbon cannot dress Dolly up,” remarked the prudent little girl. “The points of her hairs will look like Susie’s points, and that is all.”