MISS PERCIVAL, the nurse at the Riverview Government Indian School, walked into the hospital sitting room and found Titus Big Hawk still drawing ‘cartoons.’ He never seemed to do anything else.
She asked him how he felt, and he said he felt fine. Was he feeling well enough to go back to the boys’ building? The traveling physician, Dr. Leslie, was going to remove three more pairs of tonsils that day, and she needed all the beds.
‘Sure,’ said Titus, without looking up from his drawing.
‘I ’ll give you a note for the matron in your building,’ Miss Percival said, ‘and if you get tired or feel in any way uncomfortable you can go to bed there and the matron will have your meals brought in from the dining room. Let me look at your throat.’
She examined him thoroughly, took his temperature ‘just in case,’ — Titus was not a very strong boy, — gave him a note for the matron, admonished him to eat well, to go to bed early, to be careful and not catch cold. ‘And you don’t have to go to school to-morrow if you don’t want to,’ she concluded, and sent him back to his building. Then she went to gather up the litter of paper, crayons, water colors, and cartoons he had left behind him.
‘Superintendent Burleson cranking the government Ford,’ she read at the bottom of a drawing in black and white; ‘Father Harrington when Winona Kills the Enemy told him she did not believe in God,’ she read at the bottom of another; ‘Miss Percival when Anna Big Thunder bit the thermometer in two,’ ‘Dr. Leslie looking for John Red Cloud’s tonsils.’
Miss Percival laid the last one on the table and took the others to show to Dr. Leslie.
‘They’re funny, aren’t they?’ Dr. Leslie said, peering at the pictures through the lower half of his glasses.
‘Father Harrington’s nose can’t possibly be that long, and yet it looks just like him,’ said Miss Percival, puzzled as well as amused by the odd assortment of crude angular lines which Titus seemed to have thrown together almost at random.
Dr. Leslie snickered. ‘Look at Burleson ! ’
Miss Percival was tempted to bring in the one of the doctor, but decided she had better not; Titus Big Hawk might have occasion to come back to the hospital before the traveling physician had done his work and gone.
A week later she was in the dispensary giving the daily treatments when the door opened and a boy with red hair and freckles entered.
‘Hello!’ she said, looking up from the pair of eyes into which she was dropping a greenish-brown liquid. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘Nothing,’said the red-haired boy.
The nurse looked at him again. His hair was flaming red, but he wore government corduroy trousers held up by
a rattlesnake skin stitched to a strip of leather, a blue chambray shirt, and a government sweater. He was an Indian! ‘What is your name?’ she asked.
‘Dinty Moore,’ said the boy. ‘Is your name Miss Percival?’
‘Titus Big Hawk wants you.’
Miss Percival laid a piece of cotton over the eye nearest to her and held it there. ‘What’s the matter with Titus?’
Miss Percival, still clinging to the wad of cotton, turned around as far as she could and searched the room with her eyes. ‘But where is he?’
‘He’s in the boys’ building,’ Dinty said. ‘I’s takin’ care o’ him there, but the disciplinarian come in ’n’ kicked me out. Then the matron she come in ’n’ kicked Titus out too, because, y’ see, she won’t let any of us lie down in the daytime; she says it messes up the dormitory. See? Titus told me to sneak over here ’n’ tell you to get up there quick before she comes in ’n’ kicks him out again.’
Miss Percival stood and held her breath for several moments. Then she threw the wad of cotton into a basket. ‘Tell Titus I ’ll be right over,’she said.
‘Is he pretty sick?’ the matron asked Miss Percival with gentle concern a few minutes later.
‘Don’t worry, son,’ said Miss Percival to the gasping, wheezing, frightened Titus, ‘I’m going to take care of you.’
In the hall she turned on the matron: ‘Mrs. Wesaw, that boy was well when I sent him back here, but you knew he’d had his tonsils taken out, and I explained to you that he was n’t very strong and needed special care. And you went and put him to work! And in the power house of all places! Then when he got sick and wanted to lie down, you — He has pneumonia! If he dies, and I don’t see how he can do anything else under the circumstances, I hope you get all the comfort out of it that you deserve!’
Then she got a car, took Titus to the hospital, and called the doctor.
Later she sent for Superintendent Burleson, and raved for five minutes. Then Superintendent Burleson went in to look at Titus.
‘It’s awful!’ he said when he came out. ‘He must n’t die, Miss Percival. It’s bad enough when one of them dies after we’ve done all we could, but a case like this! Shall I send for another nurse?’
Miss Percival said that she wanted to take care of Titus herself, because she knew him and understood his weaknesses.
‘Well, get anything you want,’ Mr. Burleson said desperately, ‘and don’t wait to get authority from the office. I’ll O.K. anything you order. And if you need another doctor, get him.’
Back in his office he sat down behind his desk and called the office boy. ‘Go tell Mr. and Mrs. Wesaw I want to see them right away,’ he said, and, folding his hands over his vest, waited with an ominous gleam in his eyes.
On the fifth day a second nurse was engaged for the other children in the hospital, a cot was set up beside Titus’s bed, and Miss Percival, after taking care of Titus all day, waited upon him all night, getting what rest she could on the cot.
‘You’ve got your face turned away,’ Titus would complain, and Miss Percival would turn wearily on her cot and look at him. ‘He’s just lonely,’ she would say to herself.
’I want Mr. Burleson,’ Titus would pant at one o’clock in the morning, and Mr. Burleson would come and sit beside Titus’s bed until six. ‘He’s lonely,’ Miss Percival would apologize.
‘ I want Father Harrington,’ Titus would request feebly at the most inconvenient hours of the day and night, and Father Harrington would come from town and sit with Titus for hours on end. ‘He’s lonely,’ Miss Percival would recite.
‘When you get well,’ Mr. Burleson said to Titus, ‘I’ll teach you to drive my car. The weather will be nice by the time you’re strong enough to go out, and it will be good for you. You can drive me to town, or sometimes to the city on business, and perhaps on trips to some of the reservations. How will you like that?’
‘Gee!’ said Titus.
‘When you get well,’ Father Harrington promised, ‘I’ll teach you the Latin responses for Mass, and you can serve at the altar on Sunday. I ’ll have a fine black cassock made for you, and a surplice.’
‘Could I have a red cassock?’ Titus whispered.
‘Certainly. A red cassock, then, and wide lace on the surplice.’
‘Gee!’ Titus said.
‘You won’t have to live in the boys’ building when you get better, Titus,’ Miss Percival assured him. ‘You’ll stay here in the hospital with me, and I’ll take care of you until you are strong and well again. You ’ll have everything you like to eat, and you can sleep as late as you want to in the morning, and I won’t let them send you to school for a long time. How will that be?’
‘Gee!’ said Titus.
One night he asked for Father Harrington. It was three o’clock, and storming. Father Harrington came. Titus lay perfectly still and said nothing.
‘Father Harrington is here, Titus. And Mr. Burleson,’ said the nurse.
Titus looked at them, in his eyes the distances that border eternity, and the loneliness that only an Indian may know. Miss Percival bent over him impulsively and touched his face. ‘We won’t leave you, Titus,’ she said.
Mr. Burleson put his arm around Titus’s shoulders. ‘I’ve wired to your mother every day, Titus; she’ll surely come to-morrow,’ he said, but without conviction. Where would Mrs. Big Hawk get enough money to come all that way?
Father Harrington could think of nothing to say. At one time he had been a missionary among the Indians. He had lived with them forty-two years, sharing their tepees and their food and all the problems of their lives. He had nursed their sick and buried their dead, rejoiced and sorrowed with them, listened to their plaints, chided and commended them, and he had mastered their ancient lore. Above all he spoke their language, with the proper crisp incisiveness and all the flexible eloquence of inflection of the old-time thoroughbred Sioux.
Father Harrington knew that Titus did not want him, any more than he wanted Mr. Burleson or Miss Percival. In his loneliness and apprehension Titus turned to them, but only because his own were unattainable. His cry was all for the solace of a kindred spirit, for the soul-quickening fellowship of his race. Father Harrington leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees, made a fluid gesture. ‘Omaka hehan terika . . .’
It was the classic prelude of the old Sioux raconteur, and Titus had heard it a thousand times. ‘How, koda!’ he cried, and held out his hand.
‘How!’ said Father Harrington. He shook Titus’s hand solemnly. But when he went to release the hand he found that it clung to his. Like a good Indian he noticed nothing, merely forgot to withdraw his own, and went on in imperturbable Sioux: ‘And there was much snow, and our children were hungry. And the Great Spirit had mercy on our people, and sent many buffaloes. . .
Contrary to everyone’s expectations, Titus Big Hawk recovered, thereby becoming Miss Percival’s proudest boast and her most cherished possession. She plied him with tonics, coaxed and cajoled and bribed him into absorbing enormous quantities of milk, cream, and raw eggs; read to him, talked to him, sat with him at night when he could not sleep.
After a while he was allowed to sit up in a wheel chair, and one day Mr. Burleson, making his daily visit, asked him when he was going to begin driving the car. Then Father Harrington came, bringing a cassock — of silk! And a surplice that was nearly all lace! Titus became excited and wanted to get up and ‘walk around awhile.’ But the slightest exertion brought on a temperature, and he had to be content with his outing on the sun porch in the wheel chair.
‘Gee whiz!’ the hospital girls complained to one another. ‘You’d think that Titus Big Hawk was the Prince of Wales or something, the way we all have to wait on him.’
‘Yeh, just because he had that old ammonia.’
‘Who is that saying “ammonia”?’ Miss Percival called from the next room.
‘Winona Kills the Enemy,’ they chorused.
Winona appeared in the doorway, a fat, very dark girl who was letting her black bobbed hair grow, so that it looked like an oil mop turned upside down on her head.
‘I know how to say “pneumonia,”’ she explained, ‘but I just forget.’
Titus Big Hawk was weighed; triumphantly Miss Percival announced to the world that he had gained six pounds! And then his mother arrived.
Miss Percival, feeling quite sick, took Mrs. Big Hawk into Titus’s room. There were no greetings. Miss Percival decided she was in the way and went out.
She called Mr. Burleson. ‘Titus Big Hawk is going to die after all. His mother is here, and no doubt she will want to take him with her.’
Mr. Burleson said he would be right over.
Miss Percival went into the kitchen, and presently Mrs. Big Hawk came in and sat down near the stove — a thin woman in a black kerchief and a shawl like a wide rainbow. The edge of a red plaid flannelette petticoat extended below the hem of her calico dress on the right and the edge of a gray flannelette petticoat on the left; both gray and red petticoats showed below her dress at the front and back. Her moccasins were of canvas and soaked with the early spring slush and mud.
Miss Percival told her Titus was getting along splendidly, but that he was still weak, and his lungs were bad. For a long time yet he would need a great deal of care. ‘But don’t you think he is looking well, considering what he went through?’ she asked, complacently.
But Mrs. Big Hawk did not speak English. Miss Percival called Winona Kills the Enemy, the only girl in her class who spoke Sioux. Winona came in, carrying her broom and with all her hair in her eyes. Miss Percival took a hairpin and fastened the most conspicuously offending section into a knot on the top of the girl’s head. Winona immediately became painfully conscious that her appearance had not been improved, and put one foot on her broom and tried to climb it.
Miss Percival told her to tell Mrs. Big Hawk that Titus had been very sick, and that though he now was much better, he still was far from well, and he would need care and lots of good food.
Winona spoke in Sioux to no one in particular, and Mrs. Big Hawk answered in like manner.
‘She wants him home when he’s sick,’ Winona informed Miss Percival.
‘Did you tell her he is still very sick, and that he will need lots of milk and cream and eggs, and all kinds of good nourishing food?’
Winona said she had.
‘Well, tell her again,’ Miss Percival said, desperately.
Winona told Mrs. Big Hawk about it for the second time. ‘She wants him home when he’s sick,’ she repeated when Mrs. Big Hawk had had her say.
‘She’ll have to see Mr. Burleson about it, then. Tell her that.’
Winona told her. ‘She wants him home when he’s sick,’ she recited.
Mr. Burleson came in. Miss Percival went into the hall and closed the door behind her. ‘ She wants to take him home,’ she whispered.
‘I’ve seen his home,’Mr. Burleson said, ‘and he not only will not have any milk or eggs or fruit, but most of the time he won’t have anything at all to eat. But if his mother wants him, what can we do? We’ve got to let him go, you know.’
Mr. Burleson went into the kitchen, and Winona quickly took the pin from her hair. Miss Percival went into Titus’s room. He lay on his side, plucking at a small piece of thread in the sheet.
‘Titus, your mother says she wants to take you home,’ Miss Percival said, tentatively. Titus said nothing. ‘Of course you don’t have to go. You can stay here if you like, you know, and I ’ll be glad to take care of you. You ’re not very strong yet, and you’re going to need a lot of care before you really are well. However, if you want to go with your mother, Mr. Burleson says it’s all right, and that you can go.’ She waited, but Titus continued to pluck at his bit of thread, and did n’t answer. She went back to the kitchen.
‘She wants him home when he’s sick,’ Mr. Burleson told her.
Mrs. Big Hawk got up and went again into Titus’s room. Mr. Burleson and Miss Percival discussed plans for getting Titus home as comfortably as possible.
When Mr. Burleson had gone, Miss Percival started for Titus’s room, but at the door she paused. Titus was lying with his back to his mother, intent upon another piece of thread he had found in the sheet. Mrs. Big Hawk was talking in a low monotone. Now and then she stopped and waited for Titus to say something. Sometimes, after a prolonged pause, Titus would mumble an unintelligible syllable, but more often he remained silent. Suddenly his mother bent over him and, with a palpably unaccustomed hand, began to pat his knee awkwardly. Miss Percival turned away quickly and fled to the kitchen.
Soon afterward Mrs. Big Hawk came in and sat down near the stove. She said nothing.
Miss Percival went into Titus’s room. ‘Titus,’ she said, ‘do you want to go home with your mother?’ Titus said nothing. ‘You have to tell me, you know,’ Miss Percival said; ‘I’ll have to get you ready. Do you want to go home with your mother?’
‘No,’ said Titus, finally.
Miss Percival stood by the bed wondering why she was n’t as glad as she should have been. Then she went back to the kitchen. ‘You must have something to eat before you go,’ she told Mrs. Big Hawk, brightly. Mrs. Big Hawk crossed her knees and swung one sodden foot, but said nothing. Miss Percival called Winona Kills the Enemy.
‘Winona, go upstairs, please, and bring down my tan oxfords and those heavy woolen stockings I wear when I go skating, and a pair of rubbers.’
Miss Percival made coffee in the electric percolator, sliced some cold meat, set bread and butter and jam and cake on a corner of the kitchen table. Winona came in with the shoes, stockings, and rubbers.
‘Tell Mrs. Big Hawk to put them on, Winona; she’ll catch her death of cold in those wet things she’s wearing.’
Winona repeated Miss Percival’s speech in Sioux. Mrs. Big Hawk continued to swing her foot. Miss Percival and Winona waited uncomfortably.
Then Mrs. Big Hawk’s foot slowed down, stopped; her eyes fastened themselves on a spot on the floor between the stove and the door; she began to talk, slowly, apathetically.
When at last she stopped, Miss Percival looked at Winona. ‘What does she say?’ Winona shuffled, became absorbed in a flaw in the handle of her broom. ‘What does she say?’ Miss Percival persisted.
Winona drew a long breath, brushed a few straggling hairs from her perspiring brow, looked about her hopelessly. But Miss Percival waited relentlessly, and at last she was forced to speak.
‘She says he’s a bird,’ she said sheepishly.
Miss Percival looked with interest at Mrs. Big Hawk, then doubtfully at Winona. ‘ Did you say a bird, Winona? ’
‘But, Winona, whatever on earth do you mean?’ Winona twined herself intricately about her broom. ‘Ask Mrs. Big Hawk what she means, will you?’
Winona said something in Sioux. Mrs. Big Hawk spoke. Miss Percival waited. ‘Well?’
‘She says he’s a bird,’said Winona. The tormented broom sprang from her grasp, hit her in the face. Miss Percival winced. ‘Who is a bird?’ she asked.
Winona wiped her brow on her sleeve. ‘Titus,’she confessed guiltily.
‘For heaven’s sake!’ Miss Percival exclaimed in utter stupefaction, and waited for more. But Winona apparently had nothing more to tell. ‘Well, what else did she say? Surely there was more than that, Winona; Mrs. Big Hawk spoke for almost five minutes.’
Winona spoke in Sioux. Mrs. Big Hawk spoke in Sioux. Winona literally curled herself about the handle of her broom.
‘Well, what did she say?’
‘She says he fell out of the nest.’
Miss Percival looked at Winona coldly. ‘Winona,’ she said, ‘have you completely lost your mind ? ’
‘No, ma’am,’ said Winona.
‘In heaven’s name, then, what nest could Titus possibly have fallen out of?’
Winona spoke in Sioux. Mrs. Big Hawk, her eyes still on the spot on the floor between the stove and the door, spoke in Sioux.
‘Hers,’ said Winona, indicating Mrs. Big Hawk with her chin and her lower lip.
Miss Percival looked at Winona in despair. ‘Is there anyone else here who speaks Sioux?’
Winona executed a unique convulsion. Miss Percival took the broom from her firmly. ‘You’re going to kill yourself with this thing,’ she said, standing it up against the wall. ‘Now, then, Winona, you tell me in plain English what Mrs. Big Hawk means by all that, about Titus being a bird!’
But with the loss of her broom Winona had become totally incapacitated.
She twisted her hands, stood on one foot, stood on the other, stood on the sides of both until they looked as if they might start to clap any moment.
‘She could n’t have said that Titus was a bird, or that he’d fallen out of a nest, now, could she, Winona? ’ Miss Percival argued reasonably.
‘Yes, ma’am,’ said Winona.
Miss Percival gave her another cold look and went to turn the current off the percolator, which placed her with her back to Winona.
With no one looking at her, Winona was able to muster quite a speech, all her own: ‘It sounds different in Indian.’
Miss Percival looked thoughtful. ‘Suppose you tell me just what it means in Indian, Winona, will you?’ she said more kindly.
‘ It means — ’ began Winona glibly, but now Miss Percival was looking at her again. Why could n’t she be polite like Mrs. Big Hawk and look at the floor? Winona put her hand over her mouth, turned her feet still farther in so that she stood very nearly on her ankles, took her hand from her mouth, and again pointed to Mrs. Big Hawk with her chin and lip. ‘She means he won’t never come back.’
‘Who won’t come back where?’
‘But where? Titus won’t come back where, Winona?’
Winona wiped her forehead on her sleeve. ‘To her nest,’ she mumbled.
‘Oh,’said Miss Percival. ‘I — I see.’
Miss Percival had not laughed! Winona was encouraged to the point of recklessness. ‘He flied away,’she volunteered.
‘Titus?’ Winona nodded. ‘Where? He flied where, Winona?’ Miss Percival asked earnestly.
At this Winona was plunged into a very nightmare of embarrassment and went through another series of contortions, more complicated than anything she had yet exhibited. ‘To a better nest,’ she blurted finally.
Miss Percival looked at Mrs. Big Hawk without seeming to see her, then went and stood in front of the window and looked at the thawing ice, the dirty snow, the drizzly sky outside. After a while she turned back to Winona: ‘Tell Mrs. Big Hawk—' She shrugged. ‘But what’s the use? What is there to say?’
But she had to say something, sometime, so she recited her platitude: ‘Tell Mrs. Big Hawk that Titus will go back to her some day.’
Winona told Mrs. Big Hawk. Mrs. Big Hawk spoke a few words. Miss Percival being again absorbed in the contemplation of the mud outside the window, Winona was able to speak with comparative ease. ‘She says by that time Titus will not be her boy.’
Miss Percival nodded to herself. Exactly! It was unfortunate, but Titus’s mother was human, and she had a brain. ‘What a mess!’ Miss Percival confided to the world beyond the window. ‘What a mess it is all around!’
Mrs. Big Hawk changed her moccasins for Miss Percival’s shoes and stockings, and put on the rubbers. Then she drank some coffee, but did n’t eat anything. Miss Percival put the food in a box and gave it to her.
Having thanked Aliss Percival, through Winona, for the shoes and food, and for being ‘kind to my boy,’ she went into her son’s room for the last time, touched him on the shoulder, murmured a word or two. Titus said nothing, and she went out.
Miss Percival held her throat and watched Mrs. Big Hawk walking away toward town. She glided along with an effect of stillness, as if having movement only because of the greater stillness about her. Soon the wet dusk enfolded her, the colors in her bright shawl grew dull, and she disappeared.
Miss Percival was crying.
A month later Titus was having his afternoon lunch in the hospital dining room, and Miss Percival, as usual, was trying to convince him of the necessity of education. ‘When you come back next year,’ she began.
‘Aw, Miss Percival, I’m not coming back,’ Titus remonstrated.
‘But, Titus — listen. You have to. They say those drawings of yours are good. You have talent, Titus; you can’t waste it, you know. Besides — Well, now, Titus, would n’t you like to be a great artist?’
Titus finished his glass of milk, wiped his mouth on his napkin, and shook his head. ‘You can’t be an artist when you’re an Indian,’ he announced with finality.
Miss Percival said she would like to know why.
‘You can’t be anything like that when you’re an Indian. Didn’t you know that? Now, maybe if my hair was lighter or something! Could you make it lighter?’
Miss Percival said she could bleach it with peroxide, of course, but —
‘You do that, huh?’ said Titus, looking excited.
‘I certainly will not,’ Miss Percival answered firmly.
‘Then I can’t be an artist,’ Titus told her, and went out on the sun porch.
Miss Percival went to the kitchen to see about the menu for supper.
‘Front!’ Titus called from the porch. Miss Percival told Anna Big Thunder to go and find out what he wanted.
‘I don’t like for him to call me “Front,”’ Anna complained.
‘He just got that from the movies and he thinks it’s cute,’Miss Percival soothed her.
Titus waved a lordly gesture when Anna came out, and cleared his throat Tike a banker.’ ‘A little service, please,’he rumbled. ‘A little service.'
‘What do you want?’ Anna growled unamiably.
‘I want two oranges. And step on it, please. You may be a Big Thunder, but I notice you’re pretty slow lightning.’
‘Yeah? Well, you may be a Big Hawk, but you ’re a mighty poor fish, ’ Anna retorted, and laughed in delighted surprise at herself, then hurried out to tell the other girls how smart she had been.
‘School ain’t so bad,’Titus told Miss Percival before going home for vacation. ‘Well, is n’t, then,’
As a matter of fact, what with Miss Percival, — who he thought was the kindest person in the world, and the nicest, and with whom he now could talk about anything that entered his head, — and driving Mr. Burleson’s ‘big car and ‘showing off’ every Sunday in his red silk cassock, he was having the time of his life.
Miss Percival, coming back from town late on the afternoon of the first of September, found Titus installed in the hospital. He grinned at her a bit askance, but she pretended she thought it the most natural thing in the world that he should make his quarters in the hospital rather than in the boys’ building where he belonged.
He remained in the hospital throughout the entire year. He went to school, but was given no industrial detail. Instead, he drove Mr. Burleson to town, went after the mail, and to the station to meet visitors and traveling officials. On Sundays he served Father Harrington regally in red silk and lace and fine linen.
‘I don’t speak to those Wesaws when I meet them,’ he told Miss Percival with satisfaction. ‘I’m coming back next year just for that.’ Which meant that he was about the happiest boy in the world and would n’t have stayed away for anything.
‘That will be your last year here, won’t it?’
‘Yes’m. I’ll know everything everybody here knows. Just think, I ’ll be as smart as all of ’em put together!’
‘Mr. Burleson wants you to go to another government school when you leave here, Titus.’
‘Yeh, he told me.’
‘And when you ’re through there you must try to go to college.'
‘Yeh. Gee, I’d sure like to go to college,’ said Titus, and immediately looked discouraged. ‘But what’s the use? I look so darn Injun!’
He left for his summer vacation on the third of June. On July 15 Miss Percival was transferred to the position of traveling nurse to accompany Dr. Leslie. The first of August Mr. Burleson was promoted to the position of supervisor, and on August 15 Father Harrington left for Rome and the Holy Land.
The night before he left, Father Harrington folded Titus’s cassock and surplice into a box, laid a note on top of them, wrapped and tied the box. With the package in his lap he sat for a long time thinking of Titus Big Hawk — an unusual boy, with a good mind, exceptionally talented. A beautiful boy. He must go to school. At all cost he must go to school. And then — then what? Poor Titus Big Hawk, who knew life only as something that was as effortless as breathing, and as simple and natural! For incomputable centuries his people had been governed by their instincts and their senses, their few laws, as old as their race, immutable, marking a definite and unmistakable path. And Titus never had had to walk alone; with him always had been the tribe, and the aim of the tribe but the fulfillment of the desires of its members. As one had believed and aspired, so all had believed and aspired. Titus had never known the necessity for individual effort, either mental or physical.
Now he was to be thrown into a world that was all effort, all bitter competition; a world where the natural seemed gross, where instinct must cede to guile, and the senses betrayed and disgraced; a world of inhibitions that did not inhibit, of rules that did not govern, of laws that no one obeyed. And he was to travel alone, as only an Indian in a white world can be alone. Titus Big Hawk, bashfully looking for the right way — or any way, for that matter — in this mazeof contradictions!
Moreover, Titus was to adapt himself to what would be to him an artificial existence, and to assimilate a culture intrinsically foreign to his own and to all his instincts and diametrically opposed to all the time-inured concepts of his class for the prosecution of happiness. Would his education ever be anything but a superficial veneer, a sort of bizarre excrescence to the grafting of which his sick and hungry body and supine will had submitted, but in which his soul never had participated?
One thing was certain. No matter where they took him, how much they taught him, and what he forgot, eternally he would remain an Indian, not fashioned for striving, but born to ease and the simple things that come easily. And nothing he could acquire would ever be as strong as this call of his blood, for his blood was the blood of his race, its call but the echo of his own voice — himself calling to himself.
Ties of blood, of family, of home; tradition, memories, legends, ancient rites; simple honor, even simpler joys and griefs; tears shared by all, a country lost to all, a bit of the melancholy that is born of resignation — an immortal essence, intangible, inexpressible, mystic, insuperable. That was the great common soul of the Sioux nation. Its roots lay deep within the soil that had been watered with the blood of warriors, and each tendril, strong with a timeless heritage of uncontaminated Sioux culture, was irrevocably ingrafted in it, inextricably interwoven with the bone, the sinew, and the spirit of those who had died there.
It was only logical to expect that in a crisis Titus would revert to his own. He would tire, of course, — how could he escape weariness who had never known exertion? — and would seek surcease from what had come to appear as pointless struggles in the tranquilizing inertia of the reservation. He would go ‘home,’ each time finding the way longer and more difficult; more and more hampered by the fears and inhibitions of fresh knowledge; more and more a stranger to his own race, and, through his recurrent defections, less and less understood by his white monitors. It was unavoidable. And his white world would wag its foolish head and grumble: ‘What’s the use? They all go back to the blanket!’
If, on the other hand, Titus never went to school, but remained where he belonged, on his reservation . . .
But there was nothing to speculate about there; it was merely the other half of the vicious circle. Why had they all wanted so much that Titus Big Hawk should live? Father Harrington just then could have found it in his heart to be thankful if Titus Big Hawk had been at rest in the security of a grave.
Titus came back to the school on the first of September. ‘ What you doing in here?’ the new nurse queried when she found him to all appearances permanently settled in the room which she had been preparing for ‘special’ cases.
Titus looked stricken. ‘Where is Miss Percival?’ he asked.
‘Miss Percival is n’t here any more. Are you sick ? ’
‘No, ma’am. I—I just came to get my things,’ he stammered. And, gathering up the clothes he had just put away in the dresser and closet, he folded them back into his suitcase and went out under her scornful eyes.
The garage was open and he went in. There was a new car in the place where Mr. Burleson’s had stood.
‘Here!’ a strange man admonished from the doorway. ‘You boys are not allowed to come into this garage. You ought to know that.’
‘I wanted to see Mr. Burleson.’
‘Oh! Well, Mr. Burleson isn’t here any more. I’m the new superintendent.’
Titus went to the boys’ building, and upstairs to Dinty Moore’s room. ‘Sure,’ said Dinty, ‘Miss Percival and Mr. Burleson ain’t here any more. Didn’t you know? Gee! They’ve been transferred.’
Titus sat down on the edge of a bed and looked at his suitcase. ‘And that priest that used to be here,’ he said, very casually. ‘You know — What’shis-name, Father Harrington. Is he here yet? I mean in town.’
‘Well, he ain’t really gone, but just now he’s in Europe, or something. He won’t be back for six months, they say. Or maybe a year, or three months, or something.’
Titus studied his suitcase closely. ‘I guess I’ll beat it,’ he said after a while. ‘I ain’t goin’ to stick around here waiting on that new nurse. I did n’t mind doing it for Miss Percival because — well, I knew her, see, and she was all right. But this one — nothin’ doin’. And that new superintendent— does he think I’m goin’ to drive his car, an’ everything? Gee! It was different with Mr. Burleson. I knew Mr. Burleson, and he was a pretty good guy. But I’m not going to bother with a new man I ’ve never seen. I’m goin’ to beat it, that’s all.’
He had gone about half a mile when Dinty Moore hailed him. ‘Here,’ Dinty panted, handing him two letters and a package. ‘Them’s been in the disciplinarian’s office a long time. They come during vacation.’
Titus set his suitcase down and read the letters. They were from Mr. Burleson and Miss Percival. Both said they were to remain in the district that included the Riverview school, and so they would see him often. They said he must go to school, and some day — he must never forget that! — he must be an artist. They were kind, thoughtful, affectionate — said the right thing in the right way.
Titus sat down on the ground to open the package, and found his cassock and surplice and a note. Father Harrington said he could not bear to think of anyone else serving him in that particular cassock and surplice, and he was sending them to Titus as a precaution against any usurpation of his right to them; Titus must be there and ready to serve Mass the very first Sunday after Father Harrington’s return. And, of course, Titus must go to school. He must be an artist. The letter was kind, thoughtful, affectionate — said the right thing in the right way.
Titus put the cassock and surplice back in the box and set the box on top of his suitcase. Dinty hung around, whistling, picking up pebbles and rocks and pretending to be interested in them. A bell rang, and he told Titus it was the supper bell. Titus paid no attention, and Dinty went back to the school alone.
The sun fell lower and lower; dusk came. Titus lay down on the ground with his cheek on his arm. They had not forgotten him! They liked him! He had a moment of vanity, quickly lost in a surge of pain, as if his friends’ hands held his heart, pressing it. He shut his eyes tight, slipped his arm from under his cheek and curled it about his head, hugging it to the ground until the intolerable emotion had subsided and he could breathe again.
He had been so happy! Ah, but why had he promised to come back? Now he had to begin all over, repeat that torture of new faces, of strangers who must speak to him when they had nothing to say, and whom he must answer whether or not an answer was necessary. He could n’t go through that again! And next year a new school — the same agony multiplied by strange surroundings plus an unpredictable number of new faces!
Why should he? He could n’t be an artist — he was an Indian! He did n’t want to be an artist! He wanted . . . But he did n’t know what he wanted. He could n’t think, or plan, or reason; he could only feel. The prairie, the river between the hills, trees like pale shafts lost in tremulous sun-shot green, the cabins in that murmurous arbor, pointed white tepees, the eternal saddled pony drowsing with drooping head; men full length on the ground, their faces propped up on their hands; women weaving baskets of willows; heartbreaking sunset, twilight hours beside a camp fire, the smoke from the burning wood, the tang of buckskin, kinnikinnic, quiet voices, laughter. ’Home! ’ The call to ease, to rest, to somnolent peace!
The first star spread on his wet lashes into a shining cross. ... In winter the cabin was often cold. There never was enough food. His mother — he never had heard the word ‘inadequate’ and he did n’t know she was patient — pitiful, he sensed her, in a home he was learning to be ashamed of. ‘Stolid, stupid, ignorant, dirty,’ white people wrote against her in their books. She was nearly always hungry. He pressed his face hard against the rough earth. If only they had food enough, if only they had clothes when it was cold, if only he might go home and yet not die! Himself, his mother, his people — why must they be hungry, poor, despised? Why must they know shame, be shameful?
At the school a bugle sounded taps. He looked again for the first star, but it had become lost among many stars, and the released tears rolled over the bridge of his nose, dripped coldly into his other eye, ran into the grass. His cheek bone smarted with them, the harsh grass cut into it, and it was sweet because of that other pain.
Dinty Moore came up panting. ‘Gee, there’s just fifteen minutes before the last call,’ he said. ‘You comin’ back? Titus did not stir. Dinty came closer. ‘ What’s matter — you sick? ’
He was a full-blooded Sioux, and the night hid his tears. . . . ‘Oh, just kinda lonesome,’ said Titus, casually.