My Only Indian

Uncle Louis, the hero of ROBERT FONTUNE’S story, was also the hero of his play, The Happy Time, which ran in New York for seventy-seven weeks and which is now being “immortalized in celluloid.”Uncle Louis is a man who believes in the impossible and achieves it with a minimum of fuss. “As for me,”says Mr. Fontaine, “my colorless career includes everything from a window dresser’s assistant in Ottawa to a comptometer operator in the National City Bank of New York. A decade ago I discovered I could write and that writing was the ideal occupation for a man who liked to get up at noon and watch the bluejays go to bed. I have been at it ever since.”


MY FIRST and only Indian was a half-breed with two black braids and a motorcycle. According to my fat and rosy Uncle Louis who befriended this Indian, he had picked up the motorcycle in a junk yard. I, myself, think the Indian stole it.

It did not matter very much, because the Indian could not ride the motorcycle decently anyway. The first time I met him, the day Uncle Louis brought him home and flabbergasted my mother and father, the Indian offered to take me for a ride. I sat on the back and the Indian started the motorcycle and we drove all over everybody’s lawn and on the wrong side of the street until the Indian finally found out how to stop it.

My Uncle Louis made him forget about the motorcycle and put it in the cellar.

The way my Uncle happened to meet the Indian was that my Uncle was coming out of a drinking club when he saw this poor Indian standing on the sidewalk looking homeless and thirsty, so my Uncle, who was a gregarious person, invited the Indian into the club and after a few bottles of wine they were close friends and my Uncle was determined to do something for the Indian.

It took my father and mother about four hours to get over the shook of seeing Uncle Louis and an Indian sleeping on the divan. Uncle Louis had come to live with us some months before as a definitely nonpaying boarder, and his own fat, lazy presence was enough, in my parents’ opinion, without adding a moth-eaten Indian.

After a while, however, and mainly because I felt very proud to have an Indian, it being better than a bicycle or a catcher’s mitt in the class I traveled with, my parents said the Indian could pitch my Scout tent in the back yard and live there awhile until be found work.

The second day of the Indian, my Uncle took him aside and suggested they find some work for him.

The Indian shook his head.

“No work,” he said flatly. “Hunt, fish, shoot, chase squaw. No work.”

“My friend,” my Uncle said, “you cannot hunt and fish in the city. You must work.” The Indian shrugged.

We took him uptown to where Mr. McGoffern, my Sunday-school teacher, was the manager of a large department store. My Uncle said, “Can you use an Indian elevator operator?”

“Can he run an elevator?” Mr. McGoffern asked suspiciously.

“He can ride a motorcycle,” I said quickly.

“I believe people would be a little alarmed at a man with a pigtail and feathers in his hair running an elevator,” Mr. McGoffern said a little helplessly.

They went over to the elevator, however, and when it was clear, Mr. McGoffern explained how the elevator was worked and the Indian got in and we closed the door. The elevator shot up and then down and then up and then down. It did everything but go sideways. Mr. McGoffern finally stopped it and said, “I don’t think he’s got it in him.”

“They are,” my Uncle defended, “a childlike, primitive people with a heart of gold. They love animals and children.”

“Papooses,” I said.

Mr. McGoffern excused himself, saying he was busy.

Lncle Louis told the Indian the white man was a greedy and frightened creature. The Indian nodded.

We went to the Casino Theater where my father played the violin in the orchestra, and my Uncle and the Indian left me downstairs in the dressing rooms while they went next door to a drinking club to wash their hands, as they put it. When they came back they were very happy and hopeful. The Indian was dancing around Uncle Louis and making wowwow sounds with his mouth and hand.

The manager, M. Piastra, came down and took one look at the Indian and demanded what was going on. My Uncle pleaded with M. Piastra to hire the Indian as a doorman. “Consider the novelty of an Indian doorman. We will array him in complete feathers.”

Piastra looked at the Indian and his braids and the few feathers in his head and the skimpy little pants he had on and the paint on his bare chest and told us all to get out.

There were some dogs and some seals who were playing on the stage and when they saw the Indian they began barking frightfully.

We all went out in the street and my Uncle and the Indian made me wait again white thew went into a drinking club for some ice water.

This time when they came out they were both dancing around and making Indian sounds, my fat Uncle looking very funny hopping up and down and going wow-wow!

Our next stop was the baseball held at Lansdowne Park.

My Uncle know the manager as they both belonged to the same drinking clubs. “Imagine to yourself,” said my Uncle, “an Indian in complete feathers playing second base!”

The manager, M. LaMer, snorted. “ Where does he come from, this savage?”

“Up the Gatineau. He strayed into civilization. We must show him kindness and consideration. We have taken his people’s land from them and with it their happiness. He is primitive and childlike but filled with love for animals and children.”

Unaccountably the Indian began to dance around and my Uncle, intrigued, joined in.

“I must be seeing things,” M. LaMer said.

The Indian and my Uncle stopped dancing and my Uncle asked M. LaMer point-blank if he would not give the Indian a job. The baseball manager shook his head, “He does not belong here, this Indian. He is too primitive and childlike and, if you ask me, full of wine at the moment.”

“Ah, but who isn’t?” my Uncle said genially, putting his arm around the Indian.

We tried many other places but there was no position whatever in the whole great city for a childlike and primitive Indian who loved animals and children.

“No work,” the Indian said happily. “Hunt, fish, chase squaw. But no work.”

“See how primitive he is,” my Uncle said proudly.

“I see,” I said.

“There is one more chance to give him the benefits of civilization,” said my Uncle. “The Widow Dubois.”

I shuddered. “That old witch.”

“She is rich beyond dreams,” my Uncle said.

“She is ugly as an old tree.”

“To an Indian,” my Uncle asserted, “she might be beautiful.”

They stopped, again leaving me outside, and combed their hair.

They must have become very refreshed in the last club because they were dancing and chanting the whole way to the Widow’s. When they got there Uncle Louis made the Indian be quiet. “Nice squaw,” he informed him. The Indian let out a joyful but bloodcurdling yell.

In a moment the Widow opened the door and smiled happily at Uncle Louis and then regarded the Indian with what must have been admiration.

“Come in, my friend,” she said. “Come in. Some wine, perhaps?”

“But, yes,” said my Uncle, whispering to the Indian, “Fire water.”

“ What’s that ? ” the Indian asked.

“A fine Indian,” I muttered. I was beginning to get quite tired. The Widow brought in some wine and they drank and talked. The ugly old widow simply could not keep her eyes off the Indian’s brown bare chest. “They look so much more primitive without shirts,”she said, smiling hopefully.

“Childlike, also,” my Uncle said.

“Do you like children?” the Widow asked the Indian.

“Like,” he said.

“Do you like animals?”

“Like,”replied the Indian.

“Do you need an Indian gardener? If necessary we can fit him with full feathers,” my Uncle said, winking at the Widow.

“No work,” said the Indian.

“Shut up,” said my Uncle. “This kind of work will be a pleasure, eh, Mme. Dubois?”

“But yes,” she said, staring at the Indian.

“Nice squaw,” the Indian said to my Uncle solemnly. “Do wash, clean, make food, all right. Stay here.”

“There you are,” my Uncle said happily.

“The garden certainly needs tending and in the winter there is always the snow. I happen to have an extra bedroom, too.”

“He sleeps on the floor,” I said.

“Well,” my Uncle said to the Indian, “ I will leave you here. Good food. Good squaw. Good bed. Plenty wampum.”

“What’s that?” the Indian asked. Mme. Dubois laughed. “So primitive!”

“Now about my commission,” said my Uncle matter-of-factly. “It will be ten dollars a week as long as he stays. If he runs away the payment stops.”

“No run,” the Indian said. “Like squaw.”

“If you get married I will expect a reasonable gift,” my Uncle observed. Mme. Dubois sighed hopefully. “Have no fear,” she replied. “And I hope you’ll come and join the tribal dance.” Then she giggled.

My Uncle shook hands with the Indian, told Mme. Dubois to cut his hair and get him a decent shirt for outdoor use and to handle him tenderly at first because he was primitive and childlike.

Then my Uncle shook hands with the Indian and said he was the finest specimen of the race he had ever encountered and wished he would be very comfortable and happy.

When we both started for home my Uncle said, “A nice character, primitive and childlike.”

“Mme. Dubois,” I observed, “has no garden.”

My Uncle slapped the side of my head. “You have learned to talk,” he observed sharply, “but you have not learned to keep your mouth shut.”

Then he relented and while he went into a drinking club to cool off he sent me ahead to a store for a strawberry ice cream cone, ten-cent size.