THE MANY-MANSIONED HOUSE
AND OTHER POEMS


By
EDWARD WILLIAM THOMSON




 

CHIEF NEPOQUAN’S LAMENT

(SALTEAUX-CREE)



THE Judge doomed me,—“At Friday noon—hanged by the             neck till dead”;
But can he catch the diving loon or hang the spirit fled?

When young I thought the white man just, a white Chief’s heart             most wise;
It was where snow lay dry as dust beneath the far north skies,
The way was hungry, cold, and long, yet we could hunt no more,

5

Since madness came on one so strong he must be held by four;
Three days with him we camped in fast, his blood we would not             shed,
It seemed the Fiend in him would last until we all were dead.

John Franklin’s doctor was our chief; when sure the man was             mad
He shot him for his men’s relief, but first he spoke full sad,

10

My men, this man your Chief must kill, though hard the duty             be;
Let God and ye judge if I spill this blood in cruelty.”

It is long seventy years since then, for I am wondrous old,
My wrinkled fingers tremble when they draw the noose they hold,
Yet shall they twist it till I choke—and may my blood be strong

15

Upon the red-coat Judge who spoke what crazed my heart with             wrong. [Page 83]

I told him truth;—the squaw she craved no more of drink or meat
After her first-born died, she raved forever on her feet
Till down she fell; there dead she lay till dark came on with snow;
Then rose the Shape to stalk away, because a Wendigo

20

Had entered in the corpse to take it far within the Wood
And use the woman Form to slake its endless thirst for blood,
Stealing on Man and Beast alike, scaring afar the game
In terror lest that Demon strike which bears the dreaded name.

They seized the Thing; they knew our Law; it says “A hunting

25
            band

Shall bring the crazy Brave or Squaw beneath the Chief’s own             hand.”

That band was small, its wigwams three, the Spring began to stir,
It was the moon when wild things be clad in their richest fur;
The Brave who leaves his traps that moon leaves there his             chance to thrive,
Yet did those law-abiders soon tie down that Shape alive

30

To sled it over forest floor, and over rocky hills,
And drag it to my wigwam door, that I might end their ills.
To me they spoke,—“Our part is done—we marched in fear five             days;
You are our Chief, the chosen one to set the noose that slays.”

The Squaw had been my daughter’s child, it seemed a passing

35
            breeze

Since she a round-eyed babbler smiled in play about my knees.
To hear the Demon howl her tones my heart of hearts was sore,
At times I hoped that in the moans herself came back once more.
I wrought for her three days; I laid good medicine all about [Page             84]
To make the Wendigo afraid, and fright that Devil out;

40

And oftentimes she lay as dead, and often rose my hope
That from her Shape the fiend had fled, to shun the strangler’s             rope.

My Band had twenty-eight to feed, our hunters were but five
To chase the deer, that none might need of meat to keep alive;
Yet three by night and two by day must watch the seeming squaw,

45

Whose form the Fiend would steal away—such is the Salteaux             law;
Our meat was gone the second night, no man could hunting go,
And, when my people starved, their fright grew wild with hunger’s             woe.

We starve, we die, O Chief!” they cried, “unless the Thing             shall choke”;
So round its neck the noose I plied within my wigwam smoke,

50

Of that the Stranglers’ eyes saw naught while outside ends they             drew;
I fled before they pulled them taut—so none had blood to rue.
Yet day or night I found no rest, for when I fell asleep
The round-eyed babbler’s fingers prest my eyes to wake and             weep.

The talk about my justice went so far the red-coat band

55

Sledged for a moon, and reached my tent, and brought me where             I stand.

The red-coat Judge spoke,—“Friday noon—hanged by the             neck till dead”;
But can he catch the diving loon or seize the spirit fled?

I’ve seen the Salteaux babes grow gray since first my years             were old, [Page 85]
My wrinkled fingers shake and sway to draw the noose they hold,

60

Yet do they work the Salteaux rule, I die by Salteaux thong,
And here defy the judging fool who crazed my heart with wrong.             [Page 86]