The Shagganappi

by Emily Pauline Johnson



The Scarlet Eye


    “I TELL you that fellow is an Indian! You can’t fool me! Look at the way he walks! He doesn’t step; he pads like a panther!”
    Billy ceased speaking, but still pointed an excited forefinger along the half-obliterated buffalo trail that swung up the prairie, out of the southern horizon. The two boys craned their necks, watching the coming figure, that advanced at a half-trot, half-stride. Billy was right. The man seemed to be moving on cushioned feet. Nothing could give that slow, springing swing except a moccasin.
    “Any man is welcome,” almost groaned little Jerry, “but, oh, how much more welcome an Indian man, eh, Billy?”
    “You bet!” said Billy. “He’ll show us a way out of this. Yes, he’s Indian. I can see his long hair now. Look! I can see the fringe up the sleeves of his shirt; it is buckskin!”
    “Do you think he sees us?” questioned Jerry.
    Billy laughed contemptuously. “Sees us! Why, he saw us long before we saw him, you can bet on that!”
    Then Billy raised his arm, and whirled about his head the big bandanna handkerchief which he had snatched from his neck. The man responded to the signal by lifting aloft for a single instant his open palm with fingers outstretched.
    “Yes, he’s Indian! A white man would have wiggled his wrist at us!” sighed Jerry contentedly. “He’ll help us out, Billy. There’s nothing he won’t know how to [Page 113] do!” And the little boy’s eyes grew moist with the relief of knowing help was at last at hand.
    Ten minutes more and the man slowed up beside them. He was a tall, splendidly made Cree, with eyes like jewels and hands as slender and small as a woman’s.
    “You savvy English?” asked Billy.
    “Little,” answered the Indian, never looking at Billy, but keeping his wonderful eyes on the outstretched figure, the pallid face, of young Jerry, whose forehead was wrinkled with evident pain.
    “We have met with an accident,” explained Billy. “My little brother’s horse loped into a badger hole and broke its leg. I had to shoot it.” Here Billy’s voice choked, and his fingers touched the big revolver at his belt. “My brother was thrown. He landed badly; something’s wrong with his ankle, his leg; he can’t walk; can’t go on, even on my horse. It happened over there, about two miles.” Here Billy pointed across the prairie to where a slight hump showed where the dead horse lay. “I got him over here,” he continued, looking about at the scrub poplar and cottonwood trees, “where there was shelter and slough water, but he can’t go on. Our father is Mr. MacIntyre, the Hudson’s Bay Factor at Fort o’ Farewell.”
    As Billy ceased speaking the Indian kneeled beside Jerry, feeling with tender fingers his hurts. As the dark hand touched his ankle, the boy screamed and cried out, “Oh, don’t! Oh, don’t!” The Indian arose, shaking his head solemnly, then said softly, “Hudson’s Bay boys, eh? Good boys! You good boy to bring him here to trees. We make camp! Your brother’s ankle is broken.”
    “But we must get him home,” urged Billy. “We ought to have a doctor. He’ll be lame all his life if we don’t!” And poor big Billy’s voice shook.
    “No. No lame. I doctor him,” said the Indian. “I good doctor. My name Five Feathers—me.”
    “Five Feathers!” exclaimed Billy. “Oh, I’ve often heard father speak of you. Father loves you. He says [Page 114] you are the best Indian in the whole Hudson Bay country.”
    Five Feathers smiled. “Your father and me good friends,” he said simply. Then added, “How you come here?”
    “Why, you see,” said Billy, “we were returning from school at Winnipeg; it’s holiday now, you know. Father sent the two ponies to ‘the front’ for us to ride home. Some Indians brought them over for us. It’s a hundred and sixty miles. We started yesterday morning, and slept last night at Black Jack Pete’s place. We must be a full hundred miles from home now.” Billy stopped speaking. His voice simply would not go on.
    “More miles than hundred,” said the Indian. “You got something eat?”
    Billy went over to where his horse was staked to a cottonwood, hauled off his saddlebags, and, returning, emptied them on the brown grass. They made a good showing. Six boxes of matches, a half side of bacon, two pounds of hardtack, a package of tea, four tins of sardines, a big roll of cooked smoked antelope, sugar, three loaves of bread, one can of tongue, one of salmon, a small tin teapot, two tin cups, one big knife, and one tin pie plate, to be used in lieu of a frying-pan. “I wish we had more,” said the boy, surveying the outfit ruefully.
    “Plenty,” said the Indian; “we get prairie chicken and rabbit plenty.” But his keen eyes scarcely glanced at the food. He was busy slitting one of the sleeves from his buckskin shirt, cutting it into bandages. His knife was already shaping splints from the scrub poplar. Little Jerry, his eyes full of pain, watched him, knowing of the agony to come, when even those gentle Indian fingers could not save his poor ankle from torture while they set the broken bone. Suddenly the misery of anticipation was arrested by a great and glad cry from the Indian, who had discovered and pounced upon a small scarlet blossom that was growing down near the slough. He [Page 115] caught up the flower, root and all, carrying it triumphantly to where the injured boy lay. Within ten minutes he had made a little fire, placed the scarlet flower, stem and root, in the teapot, half filled it up with water, and set it boiling. Then he turned to Billy.
    “Sleeping medicine,” he said, pointing to the teapot. “He not have pain. You stay until he awake, then you ride on to Fort o’ Farewell. You take some food. You leave some for us. You send wagon, take him home. I stay with him. Maybe four, five days before you get there and send wagon back. You trust me? I give him sleeping medicine. I watch him. You trust me—Five Feathers?”
    But Jerry’s hand was already clasping the Indian’s, and Billy was interrupting.
    “Trust you? Trust Five Feathers, the best Indian in the Hudson Bay country? I should think I will trust you!”
    The Indian nodded quietly; and, taking the teapot from the fire, poured the liquid into one of the cups, cooling it by dripping from one cup to the other over and over again. Presently it began to thicken, almost like a jelly, and turned a dull red color, then brighter, clearer, redder. Suddenly the Indian snatched up the prostrate boy to a sitting posture. One hand was around the boy’s shoulder, the other held the tin cup, brimming with reddening, glue-like stuff.
    “Quick!” he said, looking at Billy. “You trust me?”
    “Yes,” said the boy, very quietly. “Give it to him.”
    “Yes,” said Jerry; “give it to me.”
    The Indian held the cup to the little chap’s lips. One, two, three minutes passed. The boy had swallowed every drop. Then the Indian laid him flat on the grass. For a moment his suffering eyes looked into those of his brother, then he glanced at the sky, the trees, the far horizon, the half-obliterated buffalo trail. Then his lids drooped, his hands twitched, he lay utterly unconscious. [Page 116]
    With a rapidity hardly believable in an Indian, Five Feathers skinned off the boy’s sock, ran his lithe fingers about the ankle, clicked the bone into place, splinted and bandaged it like an expert surgeon; but, with all his haste, it was completed none too soon. Jerry’s eyes slowly opened, to see Billy smiling down at him, and Five Feathers standing calmly by his side.
    “Bully, Jerry! Your ankle is all set and bandaged. How do you feel?” asked his brother, a little shakily.
    “Just tired,” said the boy. “Tired, but no pain. Oh, I wish I could have stayed!”
    “Stayed where?” demanded Billy.
    “With the scarlet flowers!” whispered Jerry. “I’ve been dreaming, I think,” he continued. “I thought I was walking among fields and fields of scarlet flowers. They were so pretty.”
    Five Feathers sprang to his feet. “Good! Good!” he exclaimed. “I scared he would not see them. If he see red flowers, he all right. Sometimes, when they don’t see it, they not get well soon.” Then, under his breath, “The Scarlet Eye!
    “I saw them all right!” almost laughed the boy. “Miles of them. I could see and smell them. They smelled like smoke—like prairie fires.”
    “Get well right away!” chuckled the Indian. “Very good to smell them.” Then to Billy: “You eat. You get ready. You ride now to Fort o’ Farewell.”
    So they built up the dying fire, made tea, cooked a little bacon, and all three ate heartily.
    “I’ll leave you the teapot, of course,” said Billy, taking a dozen hardtack and one tin of sardines. “Slough water’s good enough for me.”
    But Five Feathers gripped him by the arm—an iron grip—not at all with the gentle fingers that had so recently dressed the other boy’s wounded ankle. “You not go that way!” he glared, his fine eyes dark and scowling. “Yes, we keep teapot, but you take bread, and [Page 117] antelope, and more fat fish,” pointing to the sardines. “Fat fish very good for long ride. You take, or I not let you go!”
    There was such a strange severity in his dark face that Billy did not argue the matter, but quietly obeyed, taking one loaf of bread, half the antelope, and three tins of the “fat fish.”
    “Plenty prairie chicken here,” explained the Indian. “I make good soup for Little Brave.”
    “What a nice name to call me, Five Feathers!” smiled Jerry.
    “Yes, you Little Brave,” replied the Indian. “Little boy, but very big brave.
    At the last moment Jerry and his brother clasped hands. “I hate to leave you, old man,” said Billy, a little unsteadily.
    “Why, I’m not afraid,” answered the boy. “You and father and I all know that I am with the best Indian in the Hudson Bay country—we do know it, don’t we, Billy?”
    “I’ll stake my life on that,” replied Billy, swinging into his saddle. “Remember, Jerry, it’s only a hundred miles. I’ll be there in two days, and the wagon will be here in another two.”
    “Yes, I’ll remember,” replied the sick boy.
    Then Billy struck rather abruptly up the half-obliterated buffalo trail. Several times he turned in his saddle, looking back and waving his bandanna, and each time the Indian stood erect and lifted his open palm. The receding horse and rider grew smaller, less, fainter, then they blurred into the horizon. The sick boy closed his eyes, that ached from watching the fading figure. He was utterly alone, with leagues of untracked prairie about him, alone with Five Feathers, a strange Indian, who sat silently nearby.
    When Jerry awoke, the sun was almost setting, and Five Feathers was in precisely the same place and in [Page 118] precisely the same attitude. Once, in his dreams, wherein he still wandered through fields of scarlet flowers, he watched a bud unfolding. It opened with a sound like a revolver shot, or was it really a revolver? The boy turned over on his side, for a savory odor greeted his nostrils, and he looked wonderingly around. Five Feathers had evidently not been sitting there throughout that long June afternoon, for, within an arm’s length was the jolliest little tepee made of many branches of poplar and cottonwood, sides and roof all one thick mass of green leaves and branches woven together like basketwork, a bed of short, dry prairie grass, fragrant and brown, his own saddlebags and single blanket for pillow and mattress. And on the fire the teapot, steaming with that delicious savory odor.
    “What is it?” asked the boy, indicating the cooking.
    “Prairie chicken,” smiled the Indian. “I shoot while you sleep.”
    So that was the bursting of the scarlet bud!
    “Very good chicken,” continued the Indian. “Very fat—good for eat, good soup, both.”
    So they made their supper off the tender stew, and soaked some hardtack in the soup. It seemed to Jerry a royal meal, and he made up his mind that, when he arrived home, he would get his mother to stew a prairie hen in the teapot some day; it tasted so much better than anything he had ever eaten before.
    The sun had set, and the long, long twilight of the north was gathering. Five Feathers built up the fire, for the prairie night brings a chill, even in June.
    “Did you see them again, the red flowers, while you slept?” he asked the boy.
    “Yes; fields of them,” replied Jerry. Then added, “Why?”
    “It is good,” said the Indian. “Very good. You will now have what we call the ‘The Scarlet Eye.’” [Page 119]
    “What’s that?” asked Jerry, half frightened.
    “It’s very good. You will yourself be a great medicine man—what you white men call ‘doctor.’ You like to be that?”
    “I never thought of studying medicine until to-day,” said the boy, excitedly; “but, just as Billy rode away, something seemed to grip me. I made up my mind then and there to be a doctor.”
    “That is because you have seen ‘The Scarlet Eye,’” said the Indian, quietly.
    “Tell me of it, will you, Five Feathers?” asked the boy, gently.
    “Yes, but first I lift you on to bed.” And, gathering Jerry in his strong, lean arms, he laid him on the grass couch in the green tepee, looked at his foot, loosened all his clothing, spread the one blanket over him, stirred up the fire, and, sitting at the tepee door, began the story.

“THE SCARLET EYE.”

    “Only the great, the good, the kindly people ever see it. One must live well, must be manly and brave, and talk straight without lies, without meanness, or ‘The Scarlet Eye’ will never come to them. They tell me that, over the great salt water, in your white man’s big camping-ground named London, in far-off England, the medicine man hangs before his tepee door a scarlet lamp, so that all who are sick may see it, even in the darkness.* It is the sign that a good man lives within that tepee, a man whose life is given to help and heal sick bodies. We redskins of the North-West have heard this story, so we, too, want a sign of a scarlet lamp, to show where lives a great, good man. The blood of the red flower shows us this. If you drink it and see no red [Page 120] flowers, you are selfish, unkind; your talk is not true; your life is not clear; but, if you see the flowers, as you did to-day, you are good, kind, noble. You will be a great and humane medicine man. You have seen the Scarlet Eye. It is the sign of kindness to your fellowmen.”
    The voice of Five Feathers ceased, but his fingers were clasping the small hand of the white boy, clasping it very gently.
    “Thank you, Five Feathers,” Jerry said softly. “Yes, I shall study medicine. Father always said it was the noblest of all the professions, and I know to-night that it is.”
    A moment later, Jerry lay sleeping like a very little child. For a while the Indian watched him silently. Then, arising, he took off his buckskin shirt, folded it neatly, and, lifting the sleeping boy’s head, arranged it as a pillow. Then, naked to the waist, he laid himself down outside near the fire—and he, too, slept.
    The third day a tiny speck loomed across the rim of sky and prairie. It grew larger with the hours—nearer, clearer. The Indian, shading his keen eyes with his palm, peered over the miles.
    “Little brave,” he said, after some silent moments, “they are coming, one day sooner than we hoped. Your brother, he must have a ride like the prairie wind. Yes, one, no, two buckboards—Hudson Bay horses. I know them, those horses.”
    The boy sat up, staring into the distance. “I don’t know whether I’m glad or sorry,” he said. “Father will be driving one buckboard, I know, and I’d like to see him, but, oh, I don’t want to leave you, Five Feathers!”
    “You not leave me, not for long,” said the Indian. “You come back some day, when you great doctor. Maybe you doctor my own people. I wait for that time.”
    But the buckboards were spinning rapidly nearer, and nearer. Yes, there was his father, Factor MacIntyre, of the Hudson Bay, driving the first rig, but who was that [Page 121] beside him?—Billy? No, not Billy. “Oh, it’s mother!” fairly yelled Jerry. And the next moment he was in her arms.
    “Couldn’t keep her away, simply couldn’t!” stormed Mr. MacIntyre. “No, sir, she had to come—one hundred and seventeen miles by the clock! Couldn’t trust me! Couldn’t trust Billy! Just had to come herself!” And the genial Factor stamped around the little camp, wringing Five Feathers’ hand, and watching with anxious look the pale face and thin fingers of his smallest son.
    “Oh, father, mother, he’s been so good!” said Jerry, excitedly, nodding towards the Indian.
    “Good? I should think so!” asserted Mr. MacIntyre. “Why, boy, do you know you would have been lame all your life if it hadn’t been for Five Feathers here? Best Indian in all the Hudson Bay country!”
    “Yes, dearie; the best Indian in all the Hudson Bay country,” echoed Mrs. MacIntyre, with something like a tear in her voice.
    “Bet your boots! Best Indian in all the Hudson Bay country!” re-echoed Billy, who had arrived, driving the other buckboard. But Five Feathers only sat silent. Then, looking directly at Billy, he said, “You ride day and night, too. You nearly kill that horse?”
    “Yes, I nearly did,” admitted Billy.
    “Good brother you. You my brother, too,” said the Indian, holding out his hand; and Billy fairly wrung that slender, brown hand—that hand, small and kind as a woman’s.

*         *         *         *         *         *

    This all happened long ago, and last year Jerry MacIntyre graduated from McGill University in Montreal with full honors in medicine. He had three or four splendid offers to begin his medical career, but he refused them all, smilingly, genially, and to-day he is back there, devoting his life and skill to the tribe of Five Feathers, “best Indian in all the Hudson Bay country.” [Page 122]

 


* Some of the Indian tribes of the Canadian North-West are familiar with the fact that in London, England, the sign of a physician’s office is a scarlet lamp suspended outside the street door. [back]