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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsDaughter Of The Middle Border - Book 1 - Chapter 13. Standing Rock And Lake Mcdonald
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Daughter Of The Middle Border - Book 1 - Chapter 13. Standing Rock And Lake Mcdonald Post by :Romell_Weekly Category :Nonfictions Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3375

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Daughter Of The Middle Border - Book 1 - Chapter 13. Standing Rock And Lake Mcdonald

CHAPTER XIII. Standing Rock and Lake McDonald

It was full summer when we got back to Wisconsin, and The Old Homestead was at its best. The garden was red with ripening fruit, the trees thick with shining leaves, and the thrushes and catbirds were singing in quiet joy. In the fields the growing corn was showing its ordered spears, and the wheat was beginning to wave in the gentle wind. No land could be more hospitable, more abounding or more peaceful than our valley.

With her New Daughter again beside her life seemed very complete and satisfying to my mother, and I was quite at ease until one night, as she and I were sitting alone in the dusk, she confided to me, for the first time, her conviction that she had but a short time to live. Her tone, as well as her words, shocked me, for she had not hitherto been subject to dark moods. She gave no reason for her belief, but that she was suffering from some serious inner malady was evident,--I feared it might concern the action of her heart--and I was greatly disturbed by it.

Of course I made light of her premonition, but thereafter I watched her with minute care, and called on the doctor at the slightest sign of change. We sang to her, we read to her, and Zulime spent long hours reading to her or sitting beside her. She was entirely happy except when, at intervals, her mysterious malady,--something she could not describe,--filled her eyes with terror.

She loved to sit in the kitchen and watch her new daughter presiding over its activities, and submitted, with pathetic pride, to any change which Zulime proposed. "I am perfectly contented," she said to me, "except----"

"Except what, mother?"

"The grandchild. I want to see my grandchild."

One of our regular excursions for several years had been a drive (usually on Sunday) over the ridge to Lewis Valley, where Frank McClintock still lived. Among my earliest memories is a terror of this road, for it led up a long, wooded hill, which seemed to me, as a child, a dangerous mountain pass. Many, many times since then I had made the climb, sometimes in the spring, sometimes in midsummer, but now my plans included my wife. Mother was eager to go. "I can stand the ride if you will drive and be careful going down hill," she said to me--and so, although I was a little in doubt about the effect upon her heart, I hired a team, and early of a clear June morning we started for Mindoro.

It was like riding back into the hopeful, happy past, for both the old people. Father was full of wistful reminiscences of "the early days," but mother, who sat beside Zulime, made no comment, although her face shone with inward joy of the scene, the talk--until we came to the steep descent which scared her. Clinging to her seat with pitiful intensity she saw nothing but dangerous abysses until we reached the level road on the opposite side of the ridge.

It was glorious June, and in this I now rejoice, for it proved to be the last time that we made the crossing of the long hill together. I was glad to have her visit her brother's home once more. Change was coming to him as well as to her. His prodigious muscles and his boyish gayety were fading away together. Though still delightfully jolly and hospitable, his temper was distinctly less buoyant. He still played the fiddle; but like his brother, David, he found less and less joy in it, for his stiffened fingers refused to do his bidding. The strings which once sang clear and sweet, failed of their proper pitch, and these discords irritated and saddened him.

Aunt Lorette, his handsome, rosy-cheeked wife, was beginning to complain smilingly, of being lame and "no account," but she provided a beautiful chicken dinner, gayly "visiting" while she did it, with mother sitting by to watch her at the job as she had done so many times before.

Lorette, like all the rest of us, felt under the necessity of putting her best foot forward in order that "Zuleema" should not be disappointed in any way, and to Zulime she was like a character in a novel; indeed, they all tried to live up to her notion of them. For her, father told his best stories of bears and Indians, for her, Uncle Frank fiddled his liveliest tunes, and for her Aunt Lorette recounted some of the comedies which the valley had from time to time developed, and which (as she explained) "had gone into one of Hamlin's books. Of course he fixed 'em up a little," she added, "you couldn't expect him to be satisfied with a yarn just as I told it, but all the same he got the idea of at least two of his stories from me."

Valiant Aunt Lorette! Her face was always sunny, no matter how deep the shadow in her heart; and her capacity for work was prodigious. She was an almost perfect example of the happy, hard-working farmer's wife, for her superb physical endowment and her serene temperament had survived the strain of thirty years of unremitting toil. Her life had been, thus far, a cheerful pilgrimage. She did not mind the loneliness of the valley. The high hill which lay between her door and the village could not wall her spirit in. She rejoiced in the stream of pure water which flowed from the hillside spring to the tank at her kitchen door, and she took pride in the chickens and cows and pigs which provided her table with abundant food.

"Oh, yes, I like to go to town--once in a while," she replied, in answer to Zulime's question. "But I'd hate to live there. I don't see how people get along on a tucked up fifty-foot lot where they have to buy every blessed thing they eat."

How good that dinner was! Hot biscuit, chicken, shortcake, coffee and the most delicious butter and cream. At the moment it did seem a most satisfactory way to live. We forgot that the dishes had to be washed three times each day, and that the mud and rain and wind and snow often shut the homestead in for weeks at a stretch. Seeing the valley at its loveliest, under the glamor of a summer afternoon, we found it perfect.

After dinner we men-folks (leaving the women, in the "good old way," to clear away the dinner dishes) went out on the grass under the trees, and as I talked of my mountaineering Uncle Frank said, with a wistful note in his voice, "I've always wanted to go out into that country with you. Chasing a deer through a Wisconsin swamp don't satisfy me--I'd like to get into the grizzly bear country--but now I'm too old."

Thereupon father stated his desires. "There are just two trips I want to make--I'd like to go by a steamboat from Duluth to Detroit, and I want to see Yellowstone Park."

"Well, why don't you do it?" demanded my Uncle. "You can afford it now."

Father's face became thoughtful. "I believe I will. Lottridge and Shane are planning that boat trip. I could go with them."

"Sail ahead," said I, "and if you get back in time I'll take you through Yellowstone Park. Zulime and I are going to Montana in July."

Neither of them had the slightest desire to see London or Paris or Rome, but they both longed for a fuller knowledge of the West. They were still pioneers, still explorers over whose imagination the trackless waste exercised a deathless dominion. To my uncle I said, "If I could afford it, I would take you with me on one of my trailing expeditions and show you some real wilderness."

"I wish you would," he answered quickly. "I'd tend horses, cook, or anything else in order to go along."

Of course this wistful longing was only a mood on his part, for he was naturally of a cheerful disposition, but music and the wilderness always stirred him to his deeps. Ten minutes later he was joking with Zulime, giving a fine exhibition of the contented husbandman.

As the time came to leave, my mother glanced about her with an emotion which she brokenly expressed when she said, "I don't suppose I shall ever get over here again. You must come and see me, after this."

"Oh, you'll be comin' over oftener than ever, now that you've got a daughter to lean on," retorted Lorette with easy grace.

On our way home, at the crest of the hill, I drew rein in order that we might all look away over the familiar valley, stretching mistily toward the sun, and I, too, had the feeling--which I was careful not to express even by a look or tone--that mother and I would never again ride this road or look out upon this lovely scene together, and something in her eyes and the melancholy sweetness of her lips told me that she was bidding the landscape a long farewell.

We rode the remaining portion of our way in somber mood, although we all agreed that it was a colorful finish of a perfect day--a day to be recalled in after years with a tender heart-ache.

(It is all changed now. Aunt Lorette has gone to her reward. Uncle Frank, old and lonely, is living on the village side of the ridge and strangers are in the old house!)

That night, Zulime and I talked over the agreement I had made with father, and we planned a way to carry it out. Almost as excited about the Yellowstone as he, she was quite ready to camp through as I suggested. "We will hire a team at Livingston, and with our own outfit, will be independent of stages and hotels--but first I must show you some Indians. We will visit Standing Rock and see the Sioux in their 'Big Sunday.' Father can meet us at Bismark after we come out."

With the confidence of a child she accepted my arrangement and on the first day of July we were in the stage ambling across the hot, dry prairie which lay between Bismark and Fort Yates. Empty, arid and illimitable the rolling treeless landscape oppressed us both, and yet there was a stern majesty in its sweep, and the racing purple shadows of the dazzling clouds lent it color and movement. To me it was all familiar, but when, after an all-day ride, we came down into the valley of the Muddy Missouri, the sheen of its oily red current was quite as grateful to me as to my weary wife.

Our only means of reaching the Agency was a small rowboat which seemed a frail ferry even to me. How it appeared to Zulime, I dared not ask--but she unhesitatingly stepped in and took her seat beside me. I think she accepted it as a part of the strange and hardy world in which her husband was at home.

We were both silent on that crossing, for our slender craft struggled anxiously with the boiling, silent, turbid current, and when we landed, the tense look on Zulime's face gave place to a smile.--Half an hour later we were sitting at supper in a fly-specked boarding house, surrounded by squaw-men and half-breed Sioux, who were enjoying the luxury of a white man's table as a part of their Fourth of July celebration. My artist wife was being educated swiftly!

The tribe was again encamped in a wide circle just west of the Fort, precisely as when my brother and I had visited it three years before, while the store and the Agency swarmed with native men and women, many in mixed costume of cloth and skin. Zulime's artistic joy in them filled me with complacent satisfaction. I had the air of a showman rejoicing in his exhibition hall. With keen interest we watched the young warriors as they came whirling in on their swift ponies, each in his gayest garments, the tail of his horse decorated with rosettes and ribbons. Possessing the swiftness and the grace of Centaurs, coming and going like sudden whirlwinds, they were superb embodiments of a race which was passing. Some of the older men remembered me, and greeted me as one friendly to their cause--but for the most part the younger folk eyed us with indifference.

That night a singular and savage change in the weather took place. The wind shifted to the southeast and took on the heat of a furnace. By ten o'clock next morning dirt was blowing in clouds and to walk the street was an ordeal. All day Zulime remained in her room virtually a prisoner. Night fell with the blast still roaring, and the dust rising from the river banks like smoke, presented a strange and sinister picture of wrath. It was as though the water, itself, had taken fire from the lightning which plunged in branching streams across the sky. Thunder muttered incessantly all through that singular and solemn night, a night which somehow foreshadowed the doom which was about to overtake the Sioux.

The following day, however, was clear and cool, and we spent most of it in walking about the camp, visiting the teepees of which there were several hundreds set in a huge ellipse, all furnished in primitive fashion--some of them very neatly. Over four thousand Sioux were said to be in this circle, and their coming and going, their camp fires and feasting groups composed a scene well worth the long journey we had endured. Strange as this life seemed to my wife it was quite familiar to me. To me these people were not savages, they were folks--and in their festivity I perceived something of the spirit of a county fair in Wisconsin.

Our guide about the camp, the half-breed son of a St. Louis trader, was a big, fine-featured, intelligent man of about my own age, whose pleasant lips, and deep brown eyes attracted me. He knew everybody, both white and red, and as soon as he understood my wish to write fairly of his people, he gave himself unreservedly to our service. Taking us from lodge to lodge, he introduced us to the men whose characters were of the most value in my study and told them of my wish to report them with sympathy and truth.

One of the games that day was a rough, outdoor drama, in which mimic war parties sallied forth, scouts were captured and captives rescued in stirring pantomime.

As I stood watching the play I observed that one man (no longer young) was serving as "the enemy," alternately captured or slain. His role was not only arduous--it was dangerous--dangerous and thankless, and as I saw him cheerfully volunteering to be "killed" I handed Primeau a dollar and said: "Give this to that old fellow, and tell him he should have many dollars for his hard, rough work."

Primeau gave him the coin, but before he had time to know who gave it, he was called back into the field.

At the Agency store I met a French-Canadian named Carignan who was a most valuable witness, for he had been among the red men for many years, first as a school teacher and later as trader. From him I secured much intimate history of the Sioux. He had known the Sitting Bull well, and gave me a very kindly account of him. "I taught the school in Rock Creek near the Sitting Bull's camp, and he was often at my table," he explained. "I saw no harm in him. I liked him and respected him. He was an Indian but he was a thinker."

Vaguely holding in my brain a tale in which the Sitting Bull should be protagonist, I talked with many who had known him, and a few days later I accepted Primeau's invitation to visit the valley in which the chief had lived, and which was the scene of the Ghost Dance, and the place of the chief's death.

I suggested to Zulime that she would be more comfortable at the Agency but she replied, "I'd rather go with you. I don't like being left here alone."

"You'll find the ride tiresome and the lodging rough, I fear."

"I don't care," she retorted firmly, "I'm going with you."

Primeau was a very intelligent man and a good talker, and as we rode along he gave us in detail the history of the rise of the Ghost Dance, so far as the Sioux were concerned. "There was nothing war-like about it," he insisted. "It was a religious appeal. It was a prayer to the Great Spirit to take pity on the red man and bring back the world of the buffalo. They carried no weapons, in fact they carried nothing which the white man had brought to them. They even took the metal fringes off their shirts. They believed that if they gave up all signs of the whites the Great Spirit would turn his face upon them again."

"Did Sitting Bull take part in this?" I asked.

"He encouraged the meeting at his camp and gave his cattle to feed the people, but he was never able to dream like the rest. He never really believed in it. He wanted to but he couldn't. He was too deep a thinker. He often talked with me about it."

At a point about twenty miles from The Fort, Primeau left us to visit a ranchman with whom he had some business and left us to drive on with a guide to his cattle-ranch where we were to stay all night.

The ranch house turned out to be a rude low shack, and here Zulime had her first touch of genuine cowboy life. The foreman had not been expecting ladies for supper and the food he had prepared was of the usual camp sort. He explained that he and his men had finished their meal, and then, leading the way to the kitchen, showed us the food and said heartily, "Help yourself."

On the back of the stove was a pot half filled with a mixture of boiled rice and prunes. In the oven was some soggy bread, and on the hearth some cold bacon. A can half filled with pale brown coffee added the finishing touch to a layout perfectly familiar to me. I thanked the cook and proceeded to dish out some of the rice whose grayish color aroused Zulime's distrust. She refused to even taste it. "It looks as if it were filled with dirt--or ashes."

"That's its natural complexion," I explained. "This is the unpolished kind of rice. It is much more nutritious than the other kind."

She could not eat any of the bread, and when she tried the coffee she was utterly discouraged. Nevertheless her kindliness of heart led her to conceal her disgust. She emptied her rice into the stove and threw her cup of coffee from the window in order that the cook might think that she had eaten her share of the supper.

The foreman who came in a few minutes later to see that we were getting fed politely inquired, "Is there anything else I can get you, miss?"

She really needed something to eat and yet she was puzzled to know what to ask for. At last, in the belief that she was asking for the simplest possible thing, she smiled sweetly and said, "I should like a glass of milk."

The foreman permitted no expression of surprise or displeasure to cross his face, he merely turned to a tall young man in the doorway and quietly remarked, "Mell, the lady would like some milk."

A glint of amusement was in the eyes of Mell, but he made no reply, just quietly "sifted out," and a few moments later, while the foreman was in the midst of a story, a most appalling tumult broke upon our ears. Calves bawled, bulls bellowed, galloping hooves thundered, men shouted and laughed--in a most amazing uproar.

Rushing to the door in search of the cause of this clamor, I found it to be related to my wife's innocent request.

Tied near the cabin was a leaping, blatting, badly frightened calf while inside the corral, a cow evidently its dam, was charging up and down the fence, her eyes literally blazing with fury, pursued by Mell on a swift pony, a rope swinging in his hand. On the top rails of the enclosure a row of delighted loafers laughed and cheered and shouted good advice to the roper.

"What is he doing?" asked my amazed wife, as Mell brought the cow to earth in a cloud of dust.

"Milking the cow," replied the boss with calmly hospitable inflection. "If you'll be patient jest a few minutes----"

The insane animal, strong as a lioness, in some way freed herself from the rope and charged her enemy--Mell's pony fled. "O, don't let him hurt her," pleaded Zulime. "I don't want any milk. I didn't know you had to do that."

"It's the only way to milk a range cow," I explained.

"Don't worry, Miss," the foreman added reassuringly. "It's all in the day's work for Mell."

Again the cow went to earth and Zulime, horrified at the sight, begged them to restore the calf to its dam. At last this was done, and a grateful peace settled over the scene.

The cowboys were highly delighted and I was amused, but Zulime was too shocked to see any humor in Mell's defeat. "Do they really milk their cows in that way?" she asked me.

"Yes, when they milk them at all," I replied, inwardly filled with laughter. "As a matter of fact they get all their cream out of cans. Milking that cow was a new departure for Mell, I think he was a little disappointed at not being allowed to go through with it."

"I'm glad he didn't. I'll never mention milk again--in this country."

We slept in the bed of our wagon-box that night while the crew rode away to fight a prairie fire. We heard them come quietly in toward dawn, and when we awoke and looked out of our cover we saw them lying all about us on the ground each rolled up in his tarpaulin like a boulder. Altogether it was a stirring glimpse of ranch life for my city-bred wife.

Primeau's home ranch and store which we reached about eleven the next forenoon was an almost equally sorry place for a delicate woman, a sad spot in which to spend even a single night. Flies swarmed in the kitchen like bees, and the air of our bedroom was hot and stagnant, and mosquitoes made sleep impossible. Zulime became ill, and I bitterly regretted my action in bringing her into this God forsaken land. "We shall return at once to the fort," I promised her.

It was an iron soil. The valley was a furnace, the sky a brazen shield. No green thing was in sight, and the curling leaves of the dying corn brought back to me those desolate days in Dakota when my mother tried so hard to maintain a garden. Deeply pitying the captive red hunters, who were expected to become farmers under these desolate conditions, I was able to understand how they had turned to the Great Spirit in a last despairing plea for pity and relief. "Think of this place in winter," I said to Zulime.

One of the men whom Primeau especially wished me to meet was Slohan, the annalist of his tribe, one of the "Silent Eaters," a kind of bodyguard to Sitting Bull. "He lives only a few miles up the valley," Primeau explained, and so to find him we set off in a light wagon next morning drawn by a couple of fleet ponies.

As we rode, Primeau told me more of "The Silent Eaters." "They were a small band of young warriors organized for defense and council, and were closely associated with Sitting Bull all his life. Slohan, the man we are to see to-day, is one of those who stood nearest the chief. No man living knows more about him. He can tell you just what you want to know."

An hour later as we were riding along close to the bank of the creek, Primeau stopped his team. "There he is now!" he exclaimed.

Looking where he pointed I discovered on a mound above the stream an old man sitting motionless as a statue, with bowed head, and lax hands. There was something strange, almost tragic in his attitude, and this impression deepened as we approached him.

He was wrinkled with age and clad in ragged white man's clothing, but his profile was fine, fine as that of a Roman Senator, and the lines of his face were infinitely sad. In one fallen hand lay a coiled rope.

He did not look up as we drew near, did not appear to hear Primeau's respectful greeting. Dejected, motionless, he endured the hot sunshine like an Oriental Yoghi or a man deadened by some narcotic drug.

Gently, almost timidly, Primeau addressed him. "Slohan, this white man has come a long way to see you. He wishes to talk with you about the Sitting Bull and of the days of the buffalo."

At last the old man turned and lifted his bloodshot eyes and uttered in a husky whisper, a few words which changed Primeau's whole expression. He drew back. "Come away!" he said to me.

While we were walking toward our team he explained. "Slohan is mourning the death of his little grandson. Long time he has been there wailing. His voice is gone. He can cry no more. His heart is empty. He will not talk with us."

What a revelation of the soul of a red warrior! Hopeless, tragic, inconsolable, he was the type of all paternity throughout the world.

Primeau went on, "I told him of you and I think his mind is turned to other things. I asked him to come to see you this afternoon. Perhaps he will. Perhaps I have lifted his mind from his sorrow."

All the way down the valley I pondered on the picture that grandsire had made there in the midst of that desolate valley.

Primeau told me of his grandson. "He was a handsome little fellow. I can't blame the old man for weeping over his loss."

Slohan was a redoubtable warrior. He had been the leader of Sitting Bull's bodyguard, he was accounted a savage, and yet for forty-eight hours he had been sitting ceaselessly mourning for a child, crying till his voice was only a husky whisper. Nothing that I had ever seen typed the bitterness of barbaric grief more powerfully than this bent and voiceless old man.

* * * * *

Late in the afternoon the mourner came in view, riding on a pony, without a saddle, his face still very sad, but not entirely despairing. His mind, in working backward to the splendid world of the past, the world in which his chief had played such heroic and stirring parts, his heart had been comforted--or at any rate lightened.

Although clothed in the customary rags of the mourner, his hair was neatly brushed and braided, and he met my wife with gentle grace. There was something tragic in his dim glance, something admirable in his low words of greeting.

We gave him food and drink, and then while we all sat on the earth in the scant shade thrown by Primeau's building, he began to talk, slowly, hesitantly of the part his chief had taken in the wars against the white man. He had the dignity and the eloquence of a fine New England judge. A notable sweetness and a lofty poetry were blended in his expression; and as he used the sign language in emphasizing his words (gestures finely expressive and nobly rhythmical) he became, to my perception, the native bard reciting the story of his clan. I was able to follow the broad lines of his discourse and when at the close of the afternoon he rose to go, I said to him, "I shall tell of the Sitting Bull as you have spoken," and we parted in the glow of mutual esteem.

Zulime was feeling much better, and the air being cooler, I asked permission to stay another day, in order that I might meet Looking Stag, another of the warriors who had known the Sitting Bull.

Looking Stag's home was a few miles down the valley, and we found him in his commodious lodge, entertaining a couple of headmen from Cheyenne River. He was seated on a low bed opposite the door, and his guests were placed on either hand of him. He glanced up at us, spoke a curt word to Primeau and went on with his story. His cold greeting, and the evident preoccupation of his manner made me feel like an intruder, which I was, and this feeling was deepened when I perceived that my guide was distinctly ill at ease. After all, he was only a half-breed trader, while these men were red chieftains.

The Looking Stag was not contemptuous of me--he was merely indifferent. Busied with honored guests he regarded the coming of a strange white man to his lodge as something of a nuisance. He went on cutting tobacco, and afterward ground it between his palms whilst his visitors talked on quite oblivious to me.

Our host looked familiar, but as he was painted and wore a bonnet of eagle feathers I could not remember where I had seen him.

At last, in a pause of the talk, Primeau said something to him which caused him to break into a smile and thrust his open hand toward me. "How! How! my friend," he called heartily.

Then I recognized him. He was the man who had so unweariedly taken the part of "The Enemy" in the games at Standing Rock. Primeau had told him that I was the man who had given him the money, and he now accepted me as a friend.

He then told his visitors the story of my gift and message. They also laughed and shook hands with me. Thereafter we were all on terms of high respect and mutual confidence. I put my questions freely and they replied with an air of candor.

As they approached the Custer fight, however, they paused, pondered, checked up one another's statements, and at last produced what I believed to be the truth regarding the share in that battle--and the truth is incredible. They recreated the whole scene for me as Two Moons had done. They corroborated all that I had obtained from the northern Cheyennes.

I forgot the plow and the reaper while sitting there in conference with those men for they were thinkers as well as warriors. Within the walls of that lodge they were not despised outcasts, they were leaders, councillors, men of weight. They had reentered a world which caused their faces to shine just as my father's face shone when he told of Grant at Vicksburg or recounted the days of his youth on The Old Wisconse. For a little while I inhabited their world, and when I left them I carried with me a deepened sense of their essential manliness.

Alas! Zulime was less enthusiastic. The flies, the heat, the dust, the bad food--so commonplace to me--were horrifying to her, and so for her sake I cut short my historical studies and hurried her back to the Fort, back to the wholesome fare of the officers' mess. With no consuming literary interest to sustain her she found even the Agency a weariness; and as the date for meeting my father was near, we took the stage back to Bismark, she with a sense of relief, I with a feeling of regret that I had not been able to push my investigations deeper. There was a big theme here, but I had small faith in my ability to handle it. It required an epic poet, rather than a realistic novelist.

Father, excited as a boy, came along on the train which reached Bismark the morning following our arrival and we at once took him into the Pullman car and forced him to share some of the comforts of travel. We ate breakfast in the dining car at what seemed to him a wildly extravagant price but I insisted on his being a guest. "Just sit here and look out of the window and think of the Erie Canal Boats in which you came west, or remember your ox-team in fifty-eight."

"All right," he said with a quizzical smile. "If you can stand the expense, I can." A little later he said, "What a change my life has witnessed. I helped to grade the first railway in the State of Maine, and now here I am whirling along through 'the Great American Desert' eating a steak and drinking my coffee in a flying hotel. I wish your mother could be here with us."

This was the only shadow at our feast and we put it aside, taking comfort in the thought that she was happy in a tree-embowered home, surrounded by the abundance of a prolific garden. "Her days of travel are over," I said, and turned to the task of making my father's outing a shining success.

For ten days we camped with him in Yellowstone Park, moving from place to place, in our own wagon and tent, and when we came out and he started on his homeward way, he expressed complete satisfaction. "It has been up to the bills," he conceded, and I could see that he was eager to get back to Johnson's drug store, where he could discuss with Stevens and McEldowney the action of geysers and the habits of grizzly bears, on terms of equal information.

If he was satisfied, I was not. Insisting on showing Zulime the Cascade Range and the Pacific Ocean, I kept on to the West. Together we viewed Tacoma and Seattle, and from the boat on Puget Sound discovered the Olympic Mountains springing superbly from the sea. For us Rainier disclosed his dome above the clouds, and Lake McDonald offered its most gorgeous sunset.

One of the points which I had found of most interest in '97 was the Blackfoot Agency, and as we sat in our tent on the Northern shore of Lake McDonald I gained Zulime's consent to go in there for a few days. "The train lands us there late at night," I said, "and there is no hotel at the station or the Agency, but we can set up our tent in a few moments and be comfortable till morning."

To this she agreed--or perhaps I should say to this she submitted, and at eleven o'clock the following night we found ourselves unloaded on the platform of a lonely little station on the plain. It was a starlit night, fortunately, and dragging our tent and bedding out on the crisp, dry sod, we set to work. In ten minutes we had a house and bed in which we slept comfortably till a freight train thundered by along about dawn. Truly my artist wife was being schooled in the tactics of the trail!

At the Agency we hired a wagon and drove to the St. Mary's Lake. With a Piegan (old Four Horns) for a guide we camped on the lower Lake, and Zulime caught two enormous pike. At Upper St. Mary's, we set our tent just below the dike. A "Chalet" on this spot now welcomes the tourist, but in those days St. Mary's was a lone, and stormful mountain water with not even a forest ranger's cabin to offer shelter. We lived in our own tent and cooked our own food--a glorious experience to me, but to Zulime (as I learned afterward) the trip was not an unmixed delight.

We visited several other Indian reservations on our way home, and all along the way my mind was busy with the splendid literary problems here suggested. Deep down in my brain a plan was forming to picture these conditions. "First I must put together a volume of short stories to be called _The Red Pioneer_; then I shall complete a prose poem of the Sitting Bull to be called _The Silent Eaters_, and third, and most important of all, I must do a novel of reservation life, with an army officer as the agent."

In these volumes I planned to put the results of all my studies of the Northwest during my many explorations of the wild. In this way I would be doing my part in delineating the swiftly changing conditions of the red man and the mountaineer.

Everywhere I went I studied soldiers, agents, missionaries, traders and squaw-men with insatiable interest. My mind was like a sponge, absorbing not facts, but impressions, pictures which were necessary to make my stories seem like the truth. While in camp and on the train, I took notes busily and actually formulated several tales while riding my horse along the trail.

Perfectly happy in this work, I believed my wife to be equally content, for she bravely declared that to tumble off a pullman in the middle of a moonless night, and help me set up a tent on the prairie grass was fun. She pretended to _enjoy cooking our food at a smoking camp fire in a drizzle of rain; but I now know that she was longing for the comforts, the conveniences, the repose of West Salem.

"Oh, but it is good to be home," she said as we reached the old house, and I too was ready for its freedom from care and its opportunity for work, happy in the belief that I had bestowed on my wife some part of the store of heroic and splendid experiences, which made up so large a section of my own life, experiences which were to serve as the basis for all my future work.

The flame of my ambition burned brightly at the close of these weeks of inspirational exploration. "With nothing to distract or weaken me I ought now, at least to justify the faith which Howells and other of my literary friends and advisers had been kind enough to declare." Seizing my pen with new resolution I bent to the task of putting into fiction certain phases of the great Northwest which (up to this year) had not been successfully portrayed.

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Daughter Of The Middle Border - Book 1 - Chapter 14. The Empty Room Daughter Of The Middle Border - Book 1 - Chapter 14. The Empty Room

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