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

Cordelia Running Bird carried out her plan of asking Jessie Turning Heart, the playroom girl, to help her make the red dress, and the latter willingly agreed to “trade work,” and escape bringing in the wood to the torture of her lame foot.

Cordelia found that she had undertaken no light task, for there were violent snowstorms in the next two weeks, and an enormous quantity of wood was swallowed by the great stove in the playroom, which must needs be kept red-hot from long before dawn until bedtime, to dispel the freezing atmosphere within.

Owing to the influence of the playroom girl, the large and middle-sized girls in general ceased to be intensely hostile to Cordelia, but they did not break the seal of silence, so she could not ask help from among them. The small girls showed their friendship for Cordelia now and then by marching in a line behind her from the wood-yard laden with what fuel they could bring, or even going down the path the older girls had broken to the flats for willow fagots, which they tied upon their backs and brought to her for kindling.

Hannah Straight Tree tried Cordelia’s resolution to do good to her by stealthy persécutions that escaped the notice of the teachers, who remarked to one another in relief that Hannah and the other girls appeared in better humor toward Cordelia, and the fatter had regained her cheerful spirits.

Hannah took her station in the little outside hall one blustering afternoon, watching through the side window till Cordelia climbed the porch steps loaded to her chin with wood; then Hannah braced her back against the outside door. Cordelia spared one hand with difficulty, tugging at the door with wind-tossed garments, all in vain. She dropped her wood to use both hands. The door would sometimes stick when lightly closed, and thinking this to be the case, she threw her weight against it in a forcible attempt to burst it open. Hannah jumped away and darted through the inside door in silent glee.

Cordelia fell full length into the hall and struck her head against the inner threshold. She lay in a dazed condition for a little, then aroused herself, to catch a glimpse of Hannah peering through the window of the inside door. She vanished instantly, but the expression of her face had told Cordelia where the mischief lay.

“She will not let me like her,” thought Cordelia, struggling to her feet with aching head, and blinking back the tears. “Just like I shall have to hate her just a little while I do her good.”

She turned, and saw to her surprise that Emma Two Bears, who had come behind her to the porch, was gathering up her wood. Emma often helped to fill the wood-box in the music room, as an especial friend of hers attended to that work, and Cordelia feared her wood was being boldly captured for that purpose. She was about to cry out sharply, but restrained herself and fell back silently, while Emma passed into the house. Cordelia followed her, and saw with sinking heart that Emma took a straight track through the playroom for the music room; but on the threshold of the room she whirled about, and, walking to the playroom wood-box, dropped the wood in.

“Thank you very much!” exclaimed Cordelia, in sign language on her fingers. Etiquette forbade her to employ her tongue in the expression of her gratitude, seeing that the girls had placed a ban on it. A curious contortion of the deaf-and-dumb alphabet was used among the Indian girls when pride forbade the use of speech.

“You need not thank me. I am only punishing Hannah Straight Tree,” Emma answered, likewise with her fingers.

This exchange of compliments was read without scruple by the many pairs of eyes, including Hannah’s, that were watching the affair.

“Emma Two Bears talks deaf-and-dumb to her. Now we can plan crack-the-whip with her, for that is not a speaking game,” observed a middle-sized girl, who had been a comrade of Cordelia’s heretofore.

“She will not have time to crack the whip,” said Hannah. “She is going to the south dormitory, where she sits her whole playtime helping sew the red dress for Susie, so she can look nicer than the other little home sisters and the little schoolgirls.”

“You are very jealous-minded, and you try hard to spite Cordelia Running Bird,” said the recent comrade.

“You can talk that way because you have no little sister,” grumbled Hannah.

Cordelia passed upstairs with quick steps.

“Just like the large and middle-sized girls only Hannah Straight Tree will again be speaking to me pretty soon,” she said to Jessie Turning Heart, who sat beside a sunny window in the south dormitory sewing briskly on the little red waist.

“They cannot speak to you till Christmas day, because they all said they would not,” Jessie answered. “Then if you ap-ol-ogize and say you do not wish them to be cripples any more, and that you will stop talking vain, they will again speak to you, and they will walk heel or tiptoe on your floor.”

“I shall write an ap-ol-ogy in Dakota on three papers Christmas morning, and pin them on a side of the three dormitories, but you must not tell, because I do not wish to brag what I shall do,” Cordelia said, in strictest confidence.

“I think it would be better if you had but one shoes and stockings and best dress for Susie. But you cannot help it now,” the playroom girl replied. “Two best dresses and two shoes and stockings look too many, when the other little home sisters have not one best thing.”

Cordelia Running Bird was quite strongly tempted to confide still further in the friendly playroom girl, who had sustained her through the trying tempest of events, but she resisted and began to hem the little skirt in silence.

“Ee! how short you have it!” Jessie noticed suddenly. “You must think Susie is to grow the other way before she wears it.”

Cordelia’s only answer was a noncommittal smile which Jessie failed to understand. This thought, however, suddenly impressed Cordelia:

“Now it is too short for Susie, and the hem is not one bit too wide, so I could not let it down. What if Hannah Straight Tree is so cross she will not let Dolly wear it? And there is no other little home sister just the size of Dolly that could wear it, and is coming Christmas. Just like Hannah will not take it and will keep on hating me forever and ever, so I cannot do her good.”

Whether this foreboding was fulfilled, or otherwise, will be explained in Hannah’s letter to the King’s Daughter in the Far East, who had sent the little Bible and the loving message to the King’s Daughter in the Far West:

Dear Helen Merriam: Now I shall write you a letter,
for Cordelia Running Bird cannot, for she says it,
would be bragging. It is all about Christmas, and our
big and little sisters. Cordelia’s big sister is now in
heaven, and Cordelia wrote good-by to you from Annie.
My big sister is now in the First Reader, but she cannot
help it, for my mother died, and so Lucinda had to stay
at home and keep Dolly, and that is my little sister.

“And it was about Susie that is Cordelia’s little sister that I got so mean and jealous, for she had a nice Christmas things two kinds and Dolly would not have one kind, and she would look so horrid. So I called Cordelia Running Bird proud, vain, cross, mean. And I talked about her so the girls got cross at her. And I made her push a pail of scrub water downstairs, so she talked Dakota and had to lie in bed and could not feather-stitch the blue dress, for it smutted so the silk would be too dirty. But she feather-stitched the red dress, and she sold her Indian doll, and it was her grandmother’s when she was Cordelia’s age, so she bought the brown shoes and stockings.

“And Cordelia read the King’s Daughters’ verses, ‘Love your enemies,’ and ’It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ so she put the red dress and the brown shoes and stockings and two hair ribbons in a box, and Jessie Turning Heart tied a blue scarf round my eyes so tight I could not see, and led me to the chicken house. And I put my hand on the box, and Jessie pulled off the scarf, and I uncovered the box and found the things. And Cordelia Running Bird had pinned a piece of paper on the red dress, and these words were written on it: ’Dear Hannah Straight Tree, I am your friend, so I shall give you these best Christmas things for Dolly. And will you please take the hair ribbons, for they are not very cotton silk?’

“And I was very ’shamed, and said I would not take them, I had been so mean. But Cordelia Running Bird said I must, for she had made the red dress too short for Susie, so if I did not it would be wasted. So I told her I would take it if she would excuse my meanness, but I should not take the brown shoes and stockings only just the black ones. But she begged so hard just like I had to. And Cordelia and I scrubbed Dolly very hard in a tub, for Lucinda has not learned the neat way, and she did not cry, only laughed. And the white mother found some very little underclothes for her, and we curled her hair with a slate pencil, and she wore the best things and looked so pretty. And the brown shoes were a little bit too large, but they did not show.

“And Dolly motioned Jack Frost very cunning, and they looked at Dolly more than Susie, but Cordelia Running Bird did not care. And my father was so happier he laughed and laughed when Dolly nipped her nose and pinched her toes just right, and when the song stopped he slapped his knees and cried very loud, he was so glad about Dolly.

“And after the Christmas tree my father told the teachers (and Emma Two Bears was interpreter): ’Your school is a good place, for it makes the Indian children very smart, and you treat the Indian visitors very kind, so I shall let Dolly stay, and then Lucinda will stay, too.’ Very fast Lucinda stopped being sad, for she thought before my father would not let Dolly stay till she was ten birthdays, and Lucinda loves her so she would not stay without her.

“And the doll they hung me on the Christmas tree was bigger than Cordelia Running Bird’s, and its hairs and clothes were prettier, so I told Cordelia, ’I am your friend, and I shall give you my doll.’ And she did not want to take it, but I made her. So she said, ’I am your friend, and I shall give you my doll, but it is not so nice as yours.’

“And Cordelia Running Bird and I now walk together
all the time, and again I shall never be mean to her. And
they did not choose Susie quite so much as Dolly in the
games, but Cordelia says that makes her glad. And it
was because she read the King’s Daughters’ verses.

“Now I shall put an end to this too long letter. Many
days have I been writing it, and the girls, said just like
I was writing a book. And Cordelia sends her love.

“From your unknown American Indian friend,
Hannah straight Thee.”

“P. S. Cordelia Running Bird nearly drowned both kinds of Christmas clothes, and then she thought to give the best kind to Dolly. And Susie did not care because she had to wear the blue dress, and it smutted so her hands and face got dirty, and the black shoes and stockings. She was just as happier. And the teacher saved Cordelia’s Indian doll and gave it back to her, because she knew she loved it very hard. And Cordelia was so glad she hugged it very tight.

“Again P. S. Cordelia wrote, ’Peace on earth, good-will toward men. I do not wish the dormitory girls were cripples, and I will stop talking vain and will always wear the issue shoes every day. And will they please excuse me?’ And they did. And now they walk heel or tiptoe on Cordelia’s wet floor. Lucinda will now learn the neat way, and they will grow Dolly more white-minded, for she came to school so short. And again I say it was the King’s Daughters’ verses. And I do not like to think hard, but I shall try to learn them, too. And we did not shut our eyes at Susie when she motioned Jack Frost, as we meant to just for spite. And the girls all said Cordelia was so generous, she said she nearly got vain again. So I shall stop this time.”

Helen read the letter to her King’s Daughters Circle, and a young member, thinking of the little Sioux maiden at the far Northwestern Mission who had tried to overcome her faults and love her enemies, repeated softly:

“’For thou hast a little strength, and thou hast kept
my word and hast not denied my name.’”