Death Song


Miss SARAH BOGGS sat in her small bedroom in the home of three-times-removed Cousin Caleb Hicks in Stilton, Massachusetts, staring raptly at her favorite picture: an exhausted, drooping Indian on an exhausted, drooping horse standing at the edge of nothingness. Miss Boggs was going there! Actually! To ‘the end of the trail’!

Of course, the end of the trail, Miss Boggs knew, was not really the jumping-off sort of place the artist represented it to be in the picture; that was merely a symbol. No, the end of the trail was the far-off reservations to which the Indians had been pushed and pushed until they could be pushed no farther. Miss Boggs knew all about that old business, for she always had been interested in the Indians, and belonged to societies for their defense and the protection of their rights, and read articles about them in the magazines, and went to lectures by ladies and gentlemen — but mostly ladies — who sometimes wept over their woes. Miss Boggs ‘just loved’ the Indians.

She read her appointment to the position of clerk at the Fort Stanton Indian Agency for the eleventh time since receiving it that morning. Then she went and bought a trunk — ‘Not expensive, please, and not very large.’

Bigmeat, she decided the moment she got off the train, was just about the same size as her own little village of Stilton in Massachusetts, but very different.

‘The agency is forty-five miles away,’ the station agent informed her, ‘and you take the stage over there in front of the hotel.’

Miss Sarah Boggs was not only at the end of the trail, in the land of the Dakotas and of sky-blue waters, but she was also about to ride on a stage! And just then, as if all this were not enough, she saw two Indians leaning against the station! They did n’t wear any blankets or feathers, and their hair was short, but something told her they were Indians. She caught her breath and fluttered over to them. ‘I’ ve come to live with you,’ she told them happily. ‘I’m going to live right on your reservation!’

The Indians looked at her, then at the train which was just pulling out.

‘I know you don’t speak English. But I’m going to learn your language,’ she promised, ‘and then you can talk to me. We’re going to be such good friends!’ And, smiling and waving, she fluttered away toward the hotel and the stage.

‘What’s matter with her?’ one of the Indians mumbled.

‘Kinda nutty, I guess,’ mumbled the other.

The stage turned out to be a panting, rusty-looking old automobile without a top, and Miss Boggs had her first disappointment.

Her bag thumped down on a lot of tools in the back of the car; the driver inserted himself into the seat beside her. ‘All right, sister?’ And without waiting for an answer, ‘Here we go!’

The sudden leap of the car almost dislocated her neck. She was just recovering and beginning to worry about her trunk when they reached the top of the first hill. She forgot both her trunk and her neck to marvel. She had never seen so much air! In fact, there was nothing else. Just air. Everywhere. And the hill on the crest of which they were driving was higher than any of the other hills, so that they could look off to limitless distances in all directions and see more air. There were no trees, no houses — just the hills and the air. . . .


‘You were at dinner and you all heard her. Is n’t she the little reformer, though!’ said Dotty Little Elk, the stenographer, on returning to the office after luncheon. ‘I bet I win the pool.’

‘Le’s see,’ said Bill Thomas, the property clerk, taking an envelope from a drawer in his desk, and from the envelope five slips of paper and five quarters. He read the five slips and announced that he guessed Miss Little Elk had won all right, whereupon the other clerks gathered about, him to verify his report. ‘Will she be tall or short?’ they read, and, in Miss Little Elk’s handwriting, ‘Neither.’ ‘Will she be thin or fat?’ ‘Thin, of course.’ ‘Will she be dark or fair?' ‘Just plain sallow.’ ‘Will she like Indian things?’ ‘She’ll buy them all.’ ‘What will be her favorite expression?’ ‘I just love the Indians.’ ‘Will she want to reform the Indian Service?’ ‘Oh, my, yes! And may the Lord help us.’

The five questionnaires having been compared, it was agreed that Miss Little Elk’s had more answers which correctly applied to Miss Boggs than any of the others, and she was officially pronounced the winner of the pool.

‘The next time a new employee comes and we play this game,’ said Bill Thomas, handing Miss Little Elk the five quarters, ‘we’ll add another question to our list.’

‘And what will that be?’

‘“Will he or she be the kind that lose their perspective?” You know, the way some of ’em do. They come out West here and go nutty over the Indians, and then they lose their perspective, and first thing you know they think an Indian’s as good as a white man. Or better, maybe. You can tell ’em and tell ’em, but they just can’t see it. They forget, or something, and the women get all excited about the noble red man and think they’re romantic and picturesque, and the first thing you know, especially if they come from the East, one of ’em ups and marries some big Indian buck and — ’

‘Now, now, Bill, better pause to get your breath. And what do you think I am, a Swede? Talking like that before me!’

‘Oh, gee, excuse me, Miss Little Elk. I forgot — I mean —’

‘That’s all right, Paleface. And don’t worry about Miss Boggs’s perspective. She could n’t lose it any more’n she could lose her mind. She has n’t any.’


Miss Boggs’s trunk having arrived, she unpacked ‘The End of the Trail,’ and hung it up. Then she bought an Indian blanket for her bed and another for her floor. As soon as her first month was up and she had paid her board at the mess, and sent twenty-five dollars to Cousin Caleb as first payment on the sum he had advanced her for her course at a business school, she went out and bought all the beaded bags and willow baskets, bows and arrows, peace pipes and pottery, beaded chains and headbands, which the remainder of her salary would allow, and hung them all up on her walls.

‘Ain’t it funny the way they all do that when they first come into the Service?’ said Bill Thomas to young Sidney Jeffers. ‘Buy all that Indian junk, I mean.’

‘Well, you did it too, didn’t you? So what are you kicking about?’

But Miss Boggs was very happy, though considerably disconcerted by the lack of that nobility of bearing and solemnity of manner which she had been led to expect, in the Indians. Theoretically, the Indians inhabited the small frame houses which the government had ordered built for them; actually, they lived in the tepees which they themselves set up beside the houses. The men generally lounged about the agency or loafed around the trader’s store, and the women sat on the ground in front of the tepees and sewed beads and porcupine quills on buckskin while they discoursed, not impressively and with melancholy dignity of the old free days when their people had owned the entire United States and roamed about it at will, but, with much laughter and a sad lack of restraint, of the scandalous escapades and gay fredaines of their neighbors, of births and weddings, of the employees at the agency, whom they seemed to consider funnier than anything else they knew of, and sometimes, and for brief and more sober moments, of illness and death. They were, one and all, inveterate gossips. And always, it seemed to Miss Boggs, they laughed, which disturbed her not a little; their business was to be sad.

‘We’ve robbed them of their dignity as well as of their lands,’ she thought, and, because she was so very sorry, sat flat on the ground with them, a position which she found uncomfortable in the extreme and which inevitably put her legs to sleep. She took a morbid pleasure in this discomfort. It was her act of humility, the gesture by which she hoped to convey to her friends her repudiation of the works of those members of her own race who had humbled and demeaned them.

Strangely enough, the Indians never referred to their unhappiness (she knew they were unhappy because everyone she had ever heard lecture and every book she had ever read about them said they were) unless she herself brought up the subject. And then, to be sure, the floodgates would open and the torrent of their misfortunes would pour in on her. And, for people who laughed so much, the number and the depth of their afflictions were astonishing. ‘Laughing while their hearts break,’ she thought, sentimentally.

Best of all she liked to sit beside a camp fire at twilight and listen to the tales the old men unfolded. They had a marvelous gift of narrative, elaborating the simplest story with a wealth of enlivening detail, their hands moving in smooth, graphic gestures as expressive as their words. They wrought for Sarah Boggs enchanting pictures of carts and ponies and travoises marching in endless caravans over endless prairies; of evening camps beside quiet waters, thin smoke ascending from many fires, children playing and dogs barking, muffled drums beating softly the rhythm of a crooning chant; of night and sudden war cries, and the confusion of carts drawn close for ramparts and of trenches being dug for the women and children; of horses neighing in the dark, and the sound of guns; of bows and arrows and scalps; of quiet at last, and dawn, and chiefs on high hills wailing bloodcurdling death songs.

They told her about the battle of Wounded Knee, and of that terrible day at the Little Big Horn, and they brought to her men who had been scouts under Custer and Sitting Bull. The greatest of them all, they said, was Wanmbidi Sapa (Black Eagle), who had been kept in a white prison for a long time, and who never talked. He was away just then. Some said Sitting Bull was a great warrior, others that Custer was greater, and still others that Sitting Bull had been a coward who had sat in his tepee and made medicine while others fought his battles. They wrangled amiably and without rancor.

Age had dimmed the fire in their eyes and cooled the ardor in their fierce old hearts. The years had conquered where force of arms had failed, and they sat, shrunken and feeble, beside their dying fires, reciting the saga of their tribe; no longer proud, no longer brave; anxious about the piece of pork and the few pounds of flour which the government tossed to them each month, their only reprisal an occasional outburst of futile oratory.

‘ We’ve not only taken their land and robbed them of their dignity, but we’ve killed their pride,’mourned Miss Boggs.

‘But what’s the use fussing about it?' Mary Wilson, the full-blooded Seneca teacher at the boarding school, would remonstrate.

‘The government could give them back their freedom.'

‘And what would they do with it? Hunt? My goodness, three fourths of the Indians I know could n’t hit the side of a barn with the biggest gun that ever was made. And there is n’t any game left, anyway. No, no. Listen, Miss Boggs, the Indians have got to live like white people. There’s no other way for them, and the sooner they forget about the buffalo and shooting the enemy, and learn to make a living like civilized men and women, the better for them. I know; I’m an Indian. What good would it do me to sit in a tepee and sew beads? I can sit in a house and sew dresses and make fifty times as much money with half the labor. My mother lived in a tepee, and I want to tell you I’m having a far better time than she ever had, poor thing. My goodness, the way the Indian men used to sit around beating a little drum while the women did all the dirty work! I’d like to see any Indian dishrag me around like that! When I marry it’s going to be on a fifty-fifty basis, and if my old man can’t see it like that he’ll just have to pack up his drum and go.’

‘Oh, my dear, they can’t all be clever and sensible and practical like you!’

‘Why not?’

‘But you can sew and cook so marvelously! And you’re an exceptionally good teacher. And you’re so wise with children. Oh, my dear!'

‘I learned all that, and so can they.’

Miss Boggs’s next purchase was an ‘Indian costume,’ a straight slip of buckskin with leggings to match, fringed and decorated with beads and dyed porcupine quills. She did not wear it, but wrapped it up in tissue paper and laid it away with a pair of moccasins she already owned. ’Pretty soon they won’t make any more,’ she thought sadly; ‘they’ll lose their art as they have lost everything else.'

She did n’t like Mr. Bradley, the superintendent. ‘Why?’ Mary Wilson asked her.

‘I don’t know,’she admitted. ‘Maybe it’s his jokes.'

‘You mean you don’t understand them?’

‘Well — no.’

‘You’re not missing anything,’ said Mary dryly.

‘I saw him shake a smalt boy.'

‘Oh, that! The small boy probably needed a shaking.’

‘You’re so hard, Mary,’ complained Miss Boggs. ‘And it’s your own people.’

‘And you’re so soft,’ laughed Mary. ‘And I don’t see you shedding any tears over your own people. Don’t they have troubles too? Don’t people shake small white boys sometimes?’


One evening Dotty Little Elk dressed herself up in a new frock and went to the trader’s store to show herself. But no Indian young men loitered about the store, nor had any white cowboys ridden in from the adjacent ranches to get their mail. The only other public available to a young lady intent upon displaying herself was at the boarding school, but as this was an almost purely feminine public it held no interest for Miss Little Elk. So Dotty went back to her room in the mess building.

The idea of putting away her finery before anyone had had the opportunity of admiring her was too much, however, and she went in to call on Miss Boggs. Having pirouetted before her hostess and been duly felicitated upon her appearance, she sat down in a rocking-chair near a window facing the west. ‘My, but this is a poky old hole,’ she lamented. ‘I wish there was a dance, or a picnic, or something to go to. Gee, we’re young only once; what’s the sense wasting our time like this? I think I’ll ask for a transfer.’ Miss Little Elk very seldom thought before she spoke, and even more seldom meant what she said.

‘Oh, my dear, don’t you like it here?’

‘Oh, I dunno. I suppose it’s all right. But — I don’t like the boss.’

’You poor child,’ Miss Boggs condoled, and sighed, ‘So many don’t. It’s very unfortunate.’

‘It’s different with me,’ said Dotty, who liked to appear more interesting than other mortals. ‘ I ’ve got a reason.’

‘Oh,’ said Miss Boggs, discreetly.

‘I’d like to stick a knife into him,’ said Miss Little Elk, cheerfully.

Miss Boggs clasped her hands and gasped, ‘Oh, my dear!'

Miss Little Elk slid farther down in her chair, dropped her chin, swung one foot moodily. ‘I could tell you a few things about that old booze-fighter that would make you sit up and take notice.’

‘Oh, Miss Little Elk, do be careful what you say!’ begged Miss Boggs.

‘Aw, I’m not afraid of that old Bradley. He’s the one’s got to look out for me. I’m not afraid of any white man. Ever since they came to this country they’ve been picking on us Indians, but I’m not the kind to take it. I don’t have to take any dirt from any white man. See? Why, I could put old Bradley behind the bars for the rest of his life if I wanted to!’

‘Oh, Miss Little Elk, please!’ pleaded Miss Boggs, in a horrified whisper.

‘Yah, I know all about white men,’ drawled Miss Little Elk, ‘I know what — ’

A distant hair-raising wail interrupted them, sending Miss Boggs’s hands flying to her scalp. ‘Oh, my God!’ she gasped.

‘It’s my grandfather, old Wanmbidi Sapa,’ said Miss Little Elk, in a whisper. ’He’s singing the death song.’

‘The death — Oh! Oh, my goodness!'

The desolate wailing poured in at the window, and ‘Oh, dear!’ Miss Boggs whimpered at intervals. ‘Oh, dear! ’

‘See?’ whispered Dotty Little Elk, pointing. ‘He’s up there on the hill, facing the setting sun. He’s mourning for my sister.’ Miss Boggs stirred in her trance. ‘My little sister,’ sighed Dotty, reminiscently, and wiped her eyes. ‘Bradley killed her. Yeh! Sure! Well — well, anyway, she died! She was at his school and they sent her home because she was sick, and — well, a little while afterwards she died.’

‘But — but what did Mr. Bradley — ’

Miss Little Elk leaned forward and whispered, sat back, pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. Miss Boggs paled. Miss Little Elk thought of something else, darted forward, whispered some more. Miss Boggs grew paler.

‘No,’ said Miss Boggs after a while, her white lips trembling. ‘No. That sort of thing does not happen. Even to Indians. We’ve done some pretty awful things to your people, but — No, no! We never did that! Never!'

‘“He killed me, mamma!” my sister said when she was dying. She meant Bradley. And she died like that, screaming and cursing him something awful,’ recited Miss Little Elk glibly. ‘I’m telling you because you like Indians. It’s all true. Isn’t it awful? I was too young to remember. I mean I was away at school, and my mother died soon after, but my aunt told me when I grew up.’

‘Oh, my dear! Are you sure? But it can’t be true! It’s unspeakable!' Miss Boggs gibbered.

‘Sure? Of course I’m sure! And my grandfather, Wanmbidi Sapa, knows all about it. That’s what he sings about when he’s here. He’s a pagan, you know, and he thinks my sister is there where the sun sets, and he tells her he’s sad, and that he hasn’t forgotten, and that he’ll avenge her death and everything. In the old days he would have killed Bradley, but he’s scared now. He was in jail once, and he just could n’t stand it.’

‘Oh, my dear! Oh, my — Oh, dear! Oh, dear!’

‘Somebody that knew about it got mad at Bradley one time, and told on him. The people in Washington sent an inspector. But, gee, Bradley’s got a pull anti you can’t do anything to him.’

‘A pull?’

‘Yah, everybody in the Service’s got a pull,’ said Dotty, largely, ‘and you just can’t do anything. Now Bradley wants that big school at Brandon, and I bet you anything he gets it. Over four hundred girls there.’ She laughed.

‘Oh, don’t!’ said Miss Boggs, piteously.

A few days later, after much profound reasoning with herself, Miss Boggs wrote to Washington, reported what Dotty Little Elk had told her, and asked for an investigation.

’Oh, my goodness!’ Mary Wilson moaned, when she heard of it. ‘All on the strength of Dotty Little Elk’s word! Oh, Miss Boggs, whatever on earth made you do a thing like that?’

‘No Indian would lie to me; they know I have their interests at heart,’ said Miss Boggs, with a touch of complacency. ‘Moreover, no one, Indian or white, would lie about a thing like that.’

Mary Wilson stared at her incredulously. ‘Oh, Miss Boggs, don’t you know anything at all about Indians?’ she said.

An inspector came, inspected, went away. Mr. Bradley went to Washington.

‘You’re a nice one,’ stormed Dotty Little Elk in Miss Boggs’s room, ‘blabbing all that stuff I told you! Any time I ever tell you anything! You’ve got me into a nice mess!’

‘You don’t mean that what you told me is n’t true!’

‘Of course it’s true! But that does n’t mean you’ve got to go and blab it all over. You’ve just gone and made trouble for everybody, and now Bradley is going to be down on us good and hard. You’ll see! The first thing you know we’ll all be out of our jobs. My, but you’re foolish!’

Soon after Mr. Bradley’s return from Washington another inspector arrived, inspected, warned Miss Boggs to be more carefid what she reported in the future, mentioned loyalty, officiousness, malicious interference, libel — and went away.

‘Did n’t I tell you Bradley had a pull?’ scolded Dotty. ‘They’ve whitewashed him, and now we’ll all be fired. And it’ll be all your fault, too! Now, you just watch!’

Miss Boggs watched. Also she listened to the death song, ate scarcely anything, slept not at all. And everybody held aloof: Miss Boggs was that creature most dreaded by Indian Service employees — a trouble maker.

One evening she climbed the hill where Wanmbidi Sapa stood wailing his grief. She stood beside him, looking straight into the scarlet sun until it had disappeared below the horizon, then she laid her hand on his arm. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.

‘How!’ said Wanmbidi Sapa, and shook hands with her. ‘How! How!’

‘I tried to help you,’ she faltered.

‘How!’ said Wanmbidi Sapa, and shook hands with her again. ‘How! How!’

‘Perhaps,’ she ventured, ‘if you — perhaps if you went to Washington —'

He gave her a frightened look, nervously tucked his cane under his arm, and scurried down the other side of the hill.

‘Don’t you think,’ practical, sane Mary Wilson said to her, ‘that you had better ask for a transfer? You see, your six months of probation are not up yet, and Mr. Bradley is pretty sure to recommend your dismissal. My heavens! Who would n’t ? ’

‘You think they’ll dismiss me?’

‘I don’t know, but you certainly deserve something. A transfer, at least. Now, by asking for it yourself —’

‘I’d save my pride! Well, I have n’t any pride where my poor friends, the Indians, are concerned. Moreover, if I left there would be no one here to oppose Mr. Bradley’s appointment to Brandon.’

Mary Wilson stared. ‘You don’t mean you’re going to keep on fighting that?’

‘Why, of course!’ said Miss Boggs, naively.

‘Well,’ said Mary Wilson, after a while, ‘I wish Mr. Bradley had killed Dotty Little Elk instead of Susan.’

‘Oh, then he did kill her!’

‘I don’t know a thing about it, and I don’t want to,’ said Mary firmly. ‘No matter what the truth of the case may be, there will never be but one outcome: anyone connected with it will get fired. I need my job. And Dotty Little Elk has always been a liar. So what’s the use?'

‘Oh, Mary,’ sighed Miss Boggs, ‘your own people! Your own longsuffering, oppressed people!’

‘Well, if we mix in this thing,’ said Mary, ‘we’ll all be oppressed, and that without relieving the pressure on “your friends, the Indians.”' She lowered her voice persuasively: ‘ Listen, Miss Boggs, be nice and sensible and write to Washington and ask them for a transfer; then begin all over again. I mean sit tight until you know more about Indians and Indian affairs. Ask the Indian Office to send you to the Southwest; you’ll like it there — the Indians are so much more downhearted than they are up here.’

‘I will not,’ said Miss Boggs, with crisp finality. Her soft mouth was a thin, hard line; sharp points gleamed in her mild brown eyes. Alary Wilson was dumbfounded. The idea of meek, harmless little Miss Sarah Boggs looking like that!


A few days later Mr. Bradley instructed Bill Thomas to make a complete inventory of the property and to prepare the necessary transfer papers for a new superintendent. ‘I’ve accepted a transfer to Brandon, and I’ll be leaving on the fifth of next month,’ he said.

Miss Boggs felt something cold stir in the pit of her stomach; her scalp prickled, and a queer numbness was spreading all through her body. So that was the way the government looked after its Indian wards! Presently she went to her room and threw herself on the bed, sick and shivering with rage.

Miss Boggs could not get her mind off the girls who were laughing and dancing and idling away their vacation on the care-free reservation. ‘And when the time comes for them to go to school again we’ll all sit safely aside, with our eyes on our little jobs, and allow them to go back to — what?’

‘Oh, stop being so foolish,’ Mary Wilson reproved her, impatiently. ‘The government schools are all right. And I think I ought to know — I spent sixteen years in them. They have weaknesses, — what institution has not? — but in the end they do a great deal of good. They are the best thing the Indians have. I, myself, owe them everything I’ve got. The best friends I ever had I found there. You don’t understand, Miss Boggs; the Indian Service is just like any other place in the world — it has its good people and its bad people. Now don’t do anything to keep an Indian girl from going away to school; you’d be doing her a great wrong.’

‘Ah, Mary,’ sighed Miss Boggs, ‘you’ve lived among white people for so long that all your sympathies are with them.’

‘I’m an Indian,’ said Mary, warmly, ‘and I love my people. But that does not keep me from wanting to be fair, or from being loyal and grateful to my white friends.’

‘Mr. Bradley is going to be the superintendent at Brandon; if you had a young sister, would you let her go there?’

‘Any government school is safe for Indian children,’ said Mary evasively. ‘Because one man fails — Mind you, I don’t say Mr. Bradley did! I don’t know a thing against him except what Dotty Little Elk has been telling you. But, even if he had, that would be no reason for condemning the entire school system. It’s as if you were to lift a sentence from its context in a book, then hold it up as representing the meaning of the entire volume. It is n’t fair! And will you tell me what Bradley is hanging around Dotty so much for if—Now I’m talking too much,’ said Mary in disgust, and rose.

‘Dotty despises Mr. Bradley!’ said Miss Boggs, indignantly. ‘I’m surprised at you, Mary, that you should insinuate —'

‘It’s going to be a nice mess, I can see that,’ said Mary, and went home.

Mr. Lancy arrived. The Indians were used to inspectors. Cats, they called them. But this was Inmutanka, the Big Cat. In fact, it was the biggest cat of all, the chief of the Inspection Division, no less. The Indians flocked to the hills east of the agency, hundreds of tepees went up, and an even greater number of complaints were quickly memorized. Miss Boggs retired to her room, laid her head on her arms, and wept with relief: she was to have the opportunity of laying the facts before the chief of all the inspectors himself!

Without warning, her door opened, and Wanmbidi Sapa stepped into her room. He went to her bed, untied the knots in a dingy square of flour sacking, and from it lifted a beaded object which he laid in her lap.

‘How much?’ she asked, automatically. But the old man already was on his way to the door. ‘Mazaska tana?’ she said, in Sioux. He shook his head, ‘No. No, no.’ He laid his hand on her shoulder, squinting at her with wrinkled old eyes. ‘My frienk How!’ Then he went out.

Miss Boggs examined her gift — a beaded belt of unusually fine workmanship, and attached to it a sheath in which was thrust an old knife with a buffalo horn crudely inlaid with silver for a handle, a band of silver with pendants of beads and small red feathers circling it where it joined the blade. She shuddered at its razorlike edge, reminded of the grisly uses it must have been put to in the days when its owner had followed the warpath; shuddered again at the idea of possible sinister significance in the tribute. Disturbed and fearful, she laid it away with her buckskin dress and her moccasins.

Mr. Lancy arrived at noon, announced he would leave that evening, made a speech to the Indians assembled to greet him, and late that afternoon received Miss Boggs in audience.

In broad daylight, and with a pair of flat, fishy eyes looking straight into hers, the story was harder to tell than she had imagined. It sounded horribly exaggerated, unbelievable even.

Mr. Lancy waited for several moments after she had ceased speaking, then asked, ‘Do you believe that?’

‘I have no choice. What I have told you is according to the facts.’

‘And do you think that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs would overlook a thing like that if it were at all possible that it might be true?’

‘But—’ Miss Boggs flushed hotly, then went on resolutely — ‘has the Commissioner heard of it?’

‘M’m,’ said Mr. Lancy, and rubbed his nose. ’I suppose it has never occurred to you that your friend Miss Little Elk might be a liar.’

Miss Boggs’s face grew even redder, with anger this time. ‘“Liar”! Your attitude toward the Indians is revealed in that word. You would not use it in connection with a white woman. Now would you? Miss Little Elk gave me her word that what she told me was true. Her story can be substantiated.’

Mr. Lancy looked at his watch resignedly, sat back. ‘There is a type of Indian woman,’ he said, in a low, dispassionate voice, ‘that is emotional. Oh, yes, Indians are emotional, and don’t you forget it. And these women like to dramatize themselves. Generally they are mixed-bloods, more white trash than Indian. Miss Little Elk belongs to that class, and so did her sister Susan before her. Susan was no better than she should have been. And so Mr. Bradley, who was an Indian agent then, had to send her home. Resentful and hysterical and dying, she slipped into high drama.’ He sighed stertorously. ‘They don’t do it consciously, really, but — well, the opportunity presents itself and — well, they just can’t resist the chance of appearing different and interesting. And that’s what your little friend was doing when she disclosed her terrible secret to you. You’ll find women and girls like that on every reservation and in every boarding school, and in one way or another they usually succeed in making a darned nuisance of themselves.’

’Miss Little Elk was not hysterical or excited or anything when she was talking to me that night. She was as sane and quiet and composed as —’

‘As I am. Yes. Until she fainted.’

‘Well, the poor child —’

‘And you sat up half the night holding her hand and stroking her forehead. You certainly gave her a treat, Miss Boggs.’ He rose. ‘We sent the best men we had to investigate this case, and they reported that your charges were without foundation. And that’s the report that was sent to the Commissioner.’

‘It would be a very simple matter to keep a report from reaching the Commissioner.’

‘Not unless I chose to hold it back myself,’ said Mr. Lancy, softly. The interview was ended.


Miss Boggs did not go down to supper. Later she walked up the hill where the Indians were dancing. The camp was in disorder, untidy with the preparations for the evening meal. Drums beat and voices shrilled. Within a circular enclosure bound by a rope the women shuffled round and round, huddling shoulder to shoulder, their eyes on the ground, chanting nasally.

In the centre of the circle the men danced. Their faces were painted in grotesque patterns; long war bonnets trailed behind them; beads, strings of small mirrors, brass-headed nails, glinted in the sun as they dipped and writhed and whirled, tossing their feathered heads and uttering piercing war cries; tomahawks threatened aloft, bows bent, and flint-headed arrows pointed to the skies; ribbons, tufts of colored feathers, fluttered in the wind; sleigh bells, twined about the dancers’ ankles, jingled; sweat poured down the painted faces, stained the cotton union suits.

‘A war dance, indeed! Tomahawks, deadly arrows, war cries — and babyblue union suits! The poor things don’t even dare take off their underwear without an order from the government!’ thought Miss Boggs, her very soul bowed in shame for their dishonor. ‘We’ve taken everything they had! Their land, their freedom, their courage, their pride, and their dignity! And we’re not satisfied! We want to destroy their children!’

She could n’t bear it, and she went stumbling down the steep hillside to the agency. There was no one in the office but a new policeman, Joe Clark, who was sweeping. His revolver lay on one of the desks. She eyed it nervously. ‘Do you have to wear that?’ she asked.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ said Joe importantly, ‘it is the rules and the regulations.’

‘At what time will Mr. Lancy be leaving? Do you know?’

‘Eight o’clock. Mr. Bradley, he’s goin’ to take him. Mr. Bradley told me to get this cleaning done early because him an’ Mr. Lancy they’re goin’ to have a talk here before they go.’

Miss Boggs went back to her room. She had n’t eaten anything all day, and the odors at the camp had made her sick: meat cooking, singed hair, sweat, beef drying in the sun, dust, kinnikinnic. She took a bath and tried to lie down. But her heart was pounding at furious speed and her eyelids twitched and quivered unbearably. She got up and began to dress. For a long time she stood before her mirror, thinking. Presently she took her buckskin dress from its layers of tissue paper, slipped it on over her undergarments, drew on the leggings, put on the moccasins, braided her hair in two braids over her shoulders, fastened a beaded band around her head, looped strings of beads around her neck, and gingerly adjusted Wanmbidi Sapa’s belt and knife about her waist.

‘M’m,’ said Mr. Lancy, to himself, when he saw her coming. ‘So that’s the kind of trouble maker she is.’

‘The Indians,’ said Miss Boggs to the flat gray eyes before her, ‘have no one to speak for them. Their braves are all scared to death. So I’ve come — as one of them. I’ve come as an Indian to plead for the Indians. Not for justice, — there is no justice for them, — but for mercy. For mercy for their children.’

‘Miss Boggs,’ said Mr. Lancy, interrupting unconditionally, ‘you are a very tactless person; a very indiscreet, very foolish, very reckless young woman. You are making yourself ridiculous. You know nothing about Indians. You come here with a lot of half-baked notions which you have acquired from an assortment of sentimental and mawkish people, and you try to tell us how to run the Indian Bureau. Well, I for one will not listen to any more of your nonsense. You already have taken up more of our time than any fifty average normal employees would ordinarily receive, or ask for.’

Miss Boggs did not walk to the end of the porch that faced the west, but floated there, it seemed to her, the floor accommodatingly rising gently to meet her feet at every step.

The sky was lurid flame, bordered with lemon-yellow and slashed with purple and green. Lined up in neat scallops against the debauched horizon were the dark smooth hills, as incredible as the sky in their amateurish symmetry. And never had the spaces about her seemed so vast.

Bent, shrunken old Wanmbidi Sapa was climbing the nearest hill, hastening with short, nervous steps to his weird rendezvous at the top. A cowed and frightened old man, and a song! It embodied all that remained of courage in a tribe that once had been marked for its bravery — and that man inside, asking her to believe that white men wanted to be kind! Could anyone be such a fool as to believe that this once dauntless, fierce, proud race had been reduced to sniveling recreancy by kindly and wise and fair-minded procedure? Oh, that man Lancy, with his flat round eyes like a fish! As long as he was there, no Commissioner would ever see any report that held the true facts in this case. His was a political appointment; he owed many things to many men.

Near by someone giggled. She leaned forward, peered around the corner of the building. It was Dotty Little Elk. And with her was Superintendent Bradley.

Miss Boggs leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. On one hill drums beat monotonously, idiotic sleigh bells jingled, high falsetto voices rose and fell. On another hill Wanmbidi Sapa wailed his song of death. At her elbow Dotty Little Elk giggled obscenely. It was a mad world!

Joe Clark was behind a desk dusting a chair when Mr. Lancy sauntered in. Mr, Lancy picked up the revolver, laid it down again, and carefully set his watch by the office clock.

Miss Boggs came in. When she was a few feet from Mr. Lancy she raised her hand. He saw that she carried a knife, and her eyes were queer — a dull, opaque black with a red glow playing over their surface. Her mouth was twisted, gray-white, the lower lip caught at one corner between her teeth. Mr. Lancy decided that, whatever it was she had in mind, it had gone far enough, and was about to raise his hand to take the knife from her when Joe Clark happened to look over the top of the desk. Aie! The Big Cat was about to be massacred! Valiantly Joe Clark grabbed his gun, unsteadily with both hands, and fired. ‘Ah,’ Miss Boggs sighed, dropping her knife and leaning on the hand that pressed the bullet hole in her buckskin dress.


The agency employees stood outside the little mission church and talked. ‘Mr. Bradley and Dotty Little — Mr. and Mrs. Bradley — were right beside the office when they heard the shot and they —’ the laundress was repeating, and the cook cut in with: ‘I know. Dotty — Mrs. Bradley says they were on their way to tell Mr. Lancy about their wedding and —'

‘They were married at Bigmeat at three o’clock,’ the carpenter interrupted, ‘but the car broke down on their way back, which made them late.’

‘Anyway,’ the laundress resumed firmly, ‘they were beside the office —’ But her firmness was not proof against the baker, who asked, ‘But what in the world did she want to go put on that Indian outfit for?’

‘Miss Boggs? Oh, she was just queer that way,’ said the carpenter, ‘and Mr. and Mrs. Bradley were just —’

‘Imagine Dotty Little Elk married to the superintendent!’

‘Well,’ the carpenter assured everybody, ‘it just proves that all that stuff Miss Boggs was so excited about and made all that trouble over was n’t true. See?’ He waited, but for once nobody seemed to have anything to say. ‘Don’t it?’ persisted the carpenter. Somebody mumbled, ‘W-e-l-1 . . .’

‘What I want to know is what Miss Boggs was doing in the office at that hour? That’s what’s never been clear to me,? the engineer interposed. But the carpenter knew all about that too: ‘Mr. Lancy says she was just standing there, talking to him and showing him her costume —’

‘When all at once that silly Joe Clark’s gun went off,’ the cook finished for him.

‘I always said Joe Clark was too nervous to be a policeman,’ said the dairyman.

‘I guess Miss Boggs meant well, all right,’ said the baker charitably, ‘but — Well, she was a trouble maker.’

‘Yah. Dotty Lit — I mean Mrs. Bradley says she never told her anything. Mrs. Bradley says she can’t imagine where Miss Boggs got all that stuff.’

‘I often wondered where she got it,’ said Bill Thomas.

‘Has any of her folks been heard from yet?’ the seamstress asked.

‘Naw. I bet we never do hear from ’em,’ said the all-wise carpenter. ‘I bet she was wild like that and a trouble maker even back there when she lived at home in the East, and I —’

‘No,’ said Bill Thomas, ponderously, ‘no, I don’t think she was so wild, only — Well, I’ll tell you, she just lost her perspective.’

The cook screwed up her face and cocked one ear. ‘Her what?’

Sidney Jeffers fled to the other side of the church, and there came upon Mary Wilson, sitting on a rock all alone.

‘Mary,’ he begged, ‘what in heaven’s name is it all about? Dotty married to Bradley and — Lord, Mary, what does it mean?’ Mary continued to look sullenly at nothing. ‘She’s married to him. Then — was she lying, Mary? Lord, what a nasty little beast she is, any way you look at it!’

‘She’s nastier than you think, and he — I wish you’d go way!’ said Mary angrily.

‘If Dotty lied, then what the devil has old Black Eagle been singing about, all this time up there on his hill?’

‘Black Eagle is childish,’ said Mary, who seemed to be quoting, in a voice as stony as the rock on which she sat, ‘and he likes to sing.’

Sidney Jeffers looked at her blankly, then went into the church. Mary Wilson followed him inside.

The coffin, of rude boards, stood on two sawhorses, looking cheap and garish in the raw light. Wanmbidi Sapa was sitting on the end of a bench near the foot of the coffin, and Sidney Jeffers touched him on the shoulder. ’I’m going to take the body back to her home,’ he said. Wanmbidi Sapa did not seem to have heard him. Suddenly Mary Wilson spoke: ‘You go too, Black Eagle?’

Tears spurted from the old Indian’s eyes. ‘How!’ he said, and went and shook hands with Mary Wilson. ‘How! How! ’

‘I suppose,’ Sidney Jeffers said resentfully, ‘he cries for the same reason that he sings — because he likes to.’

Mary Wilson’s eyes were overflowing. Sidney Jeffers sat down on a bench and clutched at his distracted head.

‘My frien’!’ wailed Wanmbidi Sapa, patting the coffin and weeping extravagantly. ‘My frien’! My frien’!’