Lydia of the Pines/Chapter 9

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pp. 164–179.



"Perhaps, after all, I have fulfilled my destiny in being a lute for the wind. But then why the cones and the broken boughs?"

The Murmuring Pine.

IT rained on Election Day, a cold November drizzle that elated the Democrats. "A rainy day always brings a Democratic victory," said Amos, gloomily, voicing the general superstition.

The day was a legal holiday and even the saloons were closed. Yet Lake City was full of drunken men by noon. Every hack, surrey and hotel bus in town was busy in the pay of one faction or the other hauling voters to the booths. The Capitol square was deserted but groups of men, some of them very drunk and some of them very sober, were to be found throughout the business section of the city, bitterly debating the reservation question.

There were a great number of Indians in town that day, big dark fellows in muddy moccasins and faded mackinaws who stood about watching the machinations of the whites without audible comments.

Toward night the rain stopped and Lydia begged her father to take her into town to see the parade that would be indulged in by the victorious party. Amos was not at all averse to taking in the parade, himself. So nine o'clock found the two at the Square with a great waiting crowd. There were very few women in the crowd. Those that Lydia saw were painted and loud-voiced. Amos told her vaguely that they were "hussies" and that she was not to let go of his arm for an instant.

Lydia didn't know what a hussy was, but she didn't want to stir an inch from her father's side because of her fear of drunken men. She was in a quiver of excitement; torn with pity and doubt when she thought of Charlie Jackson; speechless with apprehension when she thought of the possibility of Levine's being defeated.

It was close on ten o'clock when the sound of a drum was heard from the direction of the Methodist Church. The crowd started toward the sound, then paused as Binny Bates, the barber, in a stove-pipe hat, mounted on a much excited horse, rode up the street. Binny was a Levine man and the crowd broke into cheers and cat-calls.

After Binny came the band, playing for dear life "Hail the Conquering Hero" and after the band, two and two a great line of citizens with kerosene torches. After the torches came the transparencies: "Levine Wins!" "The Reservation is Ours." "Back to the land, boys!" "We've dropped the white men's burden."

And following the transparencies came a surprise for crowd and paraders alike. Close on the heels of the last white man strode Charlie Jackson, with a sign, "The land is ours! You have robbed us!" and after Charlie, perhaps a hundred Indians, tramping silently two by two, to the faint strain of the band ahead,

"Columbia, the gem of the ocean
The home of the brave and the free—"

For a moment, the crowd was surprised into silence. Then a handful of mud caught Charlie's sign and a group of college students, with a shout of "Break up the line! Break up the line," broke into the ranks of the Indians and in a moment a free for all fight was on.

Amos rushed Lydia down a side street and upon a street car. "Well! Well! Well!" he kept chuckling. "John ate 'em alive! Well! Well!" Then in the light of the car he looked at Lydia. "For heaven's sake! What are you crying for, child?"

"I don't know," faltered Lydia. "I'm—glad for Mr. Levine—but poor Charlie Jackson! You don't suppose they'll hurt him?"

"Oh, pshaw," replied Amos. "Nothing but an election night fight! The young Indian went into the parade just to start one."

"How soon will the Indians have to get off the reservation?" asked Lydia.

"Oh, in a year or so! John's got to get a bill through Congress, you know."

"Oh." Lydia gave a great sigh of relief; a year or so was a very long time. She decided to forget the Indians' trouble and rejoice in Levine's triumph.

It was a triumph that John himself took very quietly. He realized that he had ahead of him in Congress a long and heavy campaign. The forces against him were not going to lie down, defeated by his election. But after the fashion of American elections, there were no protests or quarrels afterward. The town settled immediately to its old routine and Levine was dropped from the front pages of the newspapers.

Charlie Jackson was taciturn for a week or so, then he played brilliantly in the Thanksgiving football game and at the banquet which followed he was his old genial self.

After Christmas Lydia began seriously to consider how she could earn the twenty-five dollars that her share in the camping trip would cost. Lizzie was aghast at the size of the sum and didn't approve of the idea of camping anyhow. Amos gave his consent to her going, feeling that it was quite safe; that Lydia never could earn the money.

Lydia was dampened but not daunted. One (in January) Saturday afternoon, she went to call on Ma Norton. Ma was sitting in her bright kitchen sewing carpet rags. Ma's hair was beginning to turn gray but her plump cheeks were red and her gray eyes behind her spectacles were as clear as a girl's.

"Who's going to chaperone you children?" she asked Lydia.

"Miss Towne. The rest kicked, but I like her."

"You use a good deal of unnecessary slang, my dear," said Ma. "Who of the boys and girls are going?"

"Charlie and Kent and Olga and I. Margery's crazy to go, only her mother hasn't given in yet. If she does go, we'll ask Gustus Bach too."

Ma Norton looked at Lydia searchingly. "I didn't know you had anything to do with Olga or with Margery either, now."

"Goodness!" exclaimed Lydia, "this is Charlie's, party! None of 'em would go on my invitation. I—I don't quite see why, but I don't have chums like the rest."

"I wouldn't let it worry me," said Ma. "You've never had time to lally-gag. That's the secret of it."

Lydia turned this over in her mind thoughtfully for a moment and the older woman, looking up from her sewing caught on the young face the look of sadness that should not have been there.

"It would be nice for you to have the camping trip, dear," said Ma. "You've had so little to do with children your own age. I suppose you're worrying over the money end?"

Lydia nodded. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Every spring you get some one in to help you clean house. If you'll do it in Easter vacation, this year, and let me help, why, that would be a couple of dollars, wouldn't it?"

Ma Norton looked at the slender little figure and thought of the heavy carpet beating, the shoving of furniture, the cleaning of mattresses that the stout old colored man hustled through for her every spring. And she thought of the winter's butter and egg money (nearly forty dollars it amounted to already) that she was saving for new parlor curtains. Then she recalled the little figure that had nightly trudged two miles delivering milk rather than take Billy's school books as a gift. And Ma Norton smiled a little ruefully as she said,

"All right, you can help me instead of old Job and I'll pay you five dollars."

"Five dollars for what?" asked Billy. He had come in the side door, unheeded.

His mother explained the situation. Billy listened attentively, warming his hands at the stove.

"If I didn't have so much to do at home," said Lydia, "I could work here Saturdays and Sundays and earn a little, that way."

"Well, you wouldn't, you know," growled Billy.

Lydia and Ma Norton looked up, startled at his tone.

"For the land's sake, Billy, why not?" exclaimed Ma.

"Because, Lydia's getting too big now to do these hired girl stunts. It was bad enough when she was little. But folks'll never forget 'em and always think of her as a hired girl if she keeps on."

Lydia gasped and turned scarlet. Ma Norton stared at her son as if she never had seen him before. Strong and blonde and six feet tall, he seemed suddenly to his mother no longer a boy but a mature man, and a very handsome one at that. As a matter of fact, although Billy's gaunt frame was filling out and his irregular features were maturing into lines of rugged strength, he never would be handsome. He was looking at Lydia now with the curious expression of understanding that she always brought to his gray eyes.

"I'm not ashamed to be a hired girl for your mother, Billy Norton," snapped Lydia.

"Well, I'm ashamed for you," answered the young man. "You earn your money some other way."

Lydia looked meaningly at Billy's big hands, rough and red with milking and farm work.

"You do hired man's work for your father. How'll you live that down?"

It was Billy's turn to blush. "I'm a man," he replied.

Lydia's voice suddenly quivered. "Then how can I earn money?"

"Dead easy! You make the best fudge in the world. Put some for sale in the University book store. I'm clerking there an hour every day."

"The very thing!" cried Ma Norton.

"Billy, you are a duck!" shrieked Lydia.

"Gimme something to eat, Ma, before I go out to milk," said Billy, with a grin that struggled to be modest.

Billy's suggestion proved indeed to be a happy one. He was a willing pack horse and middleman for Lydia and though the demand for fudge was never overwhelming, Lydia by the end of May had cleared something over thirty-five dollars.

Her joy over this method of earning money was not confined to its relation to her camping trip. She saw herself helping to pay up their indebtedness to Levine, Marshall having made good his threat to call in the note. She saw herself gradually developing an enormous trade that finally should demand a whole store for itself. The store would develop into a candy factory. The candy factory would grow into a business that would send Lydia, admired and famous, traveling about the world in a private yacht.

In the meantime, she expended the whole of four dollars on a pair of buckskin outing boots and eight dollars on a little corduroy hunting coat and skirt. When the clothes arrived from the Chicago mail order house, Amos, Lizzie and Lydia had an exciting hour.

Amos had brought the package home from town with him, and supper had been held back while Lydia tried on the clothes. Amos and Lizzie smiled when the young girl pranced out before them. The suit was cheap but well cut, with belt and pockets and welted seams. The soft buckskin shoes fitted the slender calves like velvet. With her bright cheeks and her yellow hair above the fawn-colored corduroy, Lydia looked half boy, half woman.

"My soul, Lydia, they're just grand!" cried Lizzie.

"What boys are going in that crowd?" demanded Amos.

"Charlie and Kent and—Margery's mother's given in—'Gustus Bach. I told you. Daddy, don't you like the suit?"

"Like it!" exclaimed Amos. "Lydia, I'm stunned by it! It makes me realize my little girl's growing up to be a pretty woman. I wish I could have bought you your first suit myself, Lydia. But on a dollar and a half a day, I swan—"

The brightness suddenly left Lydia's face. "Oh, Daddy," she exclaimed, "I'm a pig to spend all this money on myself! You take the rest of the money, for the note."

Amos gave a laugh that was half gay, half grim. "Lydia, you spend every cent of that money on yourself. You've earned it in more ways than one. I wish John Levine could see you in it. I guess he will though. Congress will rest most of the summer. Let's have supper now."

Lydia spun through her Junior examination blissfully. For once marks and final averages were of little importance to her. For the week after school closed, she was going camping!

Charlie and Kent were making all the camp preparations. Miss Towne and the three girls were to be at Lydia's gate with their suitcases at nine o'clock of a Monday morning. Other than this, they had received no orders.

Amos had been very sober when he said good-by to Lydia, at half past six. "It's your first trip, Lydia. Don't do anything you wouldn't want your mother to see."

Lydia looked at him wonderingly, then threw her arms about his neck. "Oh, Daddy, I don't want to go off and leave you two whole weeks!"

"It's too late to back out now. Go on and have a good time," said Amos, picking up his dinner pail. Lydia watched him down the road. Suddenly she realized how lonely her father must be without her mother.

"I oughtn't to go, Lizzie," she said.

"Shucks! Think of all you'll have to tell us when you get home. Don't be a cry baby, child."

Promptly at nine Charlie and Kent whirled up to the gate in a carryall. The driver was the same man who had moved the Dudley family five years before. He greeted Lydia with a grin.

"You've grow'd some, eh, Lydia? Where's the rest of the women folks?"

"Here come Miss Towne and Olga!" cried Kent. "Margery'll be late, of course."

At nine-fifteen Margery was driven up in state by Elviry, and at nine-twenty the carryall was off to the north in a cloud of dust, leaving Adam howling dismally at the gate.

For fifteen miles the way led up and down hill over a dusty country road that wound for the most part past great wheat farms and grazing lands, vividly green under the June sky. Here and there were woods of young oak and birch, self sowed, replacing the pine long since cleared off. For the last five miles there were few farms. The rolling hills disappeared and low lying lakes, surrounded by marshes took their places. The young rice bordering the lakes was tenderly green and the marshes were like fields of corn with their thick growth of cat-tail. Beyond the marshes the hills rose again, with the road winding like a black ribbon over their curving bosoms into the vivid sky beyond.

"Where the hills begin again, that's the reservation," said Charlie.

"Where are the pines?" asked Lydia. "I thought it was all pines."

"You'll see plenty, before the trip's over. Just beyond that group of buildings is the reservation line."

The buildings Charlie pointed to were the first that had appeared in several miles. A two-story, unpainted frame house with several barns and sheds comprised the group. There was a sign on the front of the house.

"Last Chance," read Margery, as they clattered by. "For goodness' sake!" she giggled, "is it a hotel?"

"Look at all the women! One in every window!" cried Olga. "Why, they must have a lot of maids! Do people come up here in the summer, Kent?"

Kent gave Miss Towne an appealing glance.

"It's a miserable, disreputable place, girls," said the teacher. "Why look at that when you have these beautiful hills before you? How far into the reservation do we go, Charlie?"

"About four miles. It's where I camp every year. Margery, did you bring some paper dolls?"

Margery dimpled and tossed her head. "I wonder how old I'll have to be before you realize I'm grown up, Charlie!"

Charlie looked at her critically. "Well, when you're eighteen, maybe."

"Lydia'll be twenty-five before she gets through looking like a baby, but Olga's a young lady now," said Kent. He was eying the girls with the air of a connoisseur. "Three peaches, aren't they, Miss Towne?"

"I don't see why you say three," objected Gustus. "Ask me and say four."

The young people laughed and looked at Miss Towne, half startled by Gustus' audacity. Miss Towne herself was blushing and Olga exclaimed, "Why, Miss Towne, you are good looking when you blush! And I don't believe you're so frightfully old!"

It was true. Miss Towne in her outing blouse, a soft felt hat crushed down on her brown hair, which was now wind-tossed and loosened, her smooth skin flushed, her gray eyes full of laughter, did not look her frightful age of thirty-five. In fact, she looked charmingly young. Her youthful charges looked her over with frank amazement. It was a tradition in the school to fear and dislike Miss Towne. Charlie had asked a number of teachers to act as chaperone before he had approached Miss Towne. She too had at first refused, then had said, "Well, it's Lydia's first outing. I'll do it for her sake. But don't tell her I said so." Charlie had kept his own counsel and Miss Towne had delayed her summer trip to Europe, for the camping trip on the reservation.

"Thank you, children, you brighten my old age very much. Look at the neat farms we are passing."

"Indian farms," said Charlie. "This one belongs to Chief Cloud."

"Are there many Indian farms?" asked Lydia.

"No, there's not much use for Indians to farm. The Agent is their middleman, and he eats up all the profits."

"For the Lord's sake, Charlie," protested Kent, "don't begin any funeral oration! We're no investigating committee. We're out for some fun."

"Second the motion," said Gustus. "Can I smoke, Miss Towne?"

Miss Towne gave Gustus a clear look. He was a tall, thin boy of seventeen, with the dark eyes of the Rhine German and with thin hawk-like features that went with his hollow chest. His father was a rich brewer and Gustus, always elegantly dressed, was very popular with the girls. Margery had insisted on his being invited.

"If I were a boy with a chest like yours, I wouldn't smoke," said Miss Towne, "but do as you please."

With a nonchalant "Thanks," Gustus lighted a cigarette.

"Going to stay in training all summer, Charlie?" asked Kent.

"Yes," grunted Charlie, "but next summer I'll be through with football, and I'll smoke my head off."

"Oh! the pines!" shrieked Lydia.

A sudden silence fell. The road, curving around a hill, had without warning entered the pine woods.

In every direction as far as the eye could pierce stretched brown, columnar aisles, carpeted with the brown of needles and the green of June undergrowth: aisle on aisle, green arch on green arch, flecked with sunshine, mighty trunks supporting great swaying boughs, drooping with their weight of needles.

Except for a muffled thud of horses' hoofs, the carryall moved soundlessly for the road was thick carpeted with needles.

The others fell to chatting again, but Lydia was too moved for words. The incense of the pines, their curious murmuring stillness, roused in her memories that were perhaps half racial. She never had been in a pine wood before, yet the hushed sense of solemnity it wakened in her was perfectly familiar. Its incense breathed to her secrets she never had known, never would understand, yet it seemed to her startled fancy that she had known and understood them, always.

She was still in a half dream when the blue of a lake glimmered beyond the far aisles and the carryall drew up with a flourish before three tents set in the pines on the water's edge.

Charlie and Kent had made their preparations well and they displayed them proudly. They had rented the three old A tents from the agent, as well as the seven canvas cots, the dishes and the cooking utensils. The middle tent had been arranged with a rough slab-table and benches for a dining- and living-room. The boys' tent with three cots and the girls' with four, were crowded but comfortable.

"The Indian school is closed for the summer," explained Charlie, "and the Agent was glad to make a little money extra. He'll pocket it, you bet. Everything's clean," he added hastily in answer to Miss Towne's lifting eyebrows. "Blankets, cots and all, even the hammocks yonder, I had scrubbed with soap and water. I don't live with a doctor for nothing."

"It's very nice, indeed, boys," said Miss Towne. "Come girls, get out your aprons. I suppose you're all starved."

"Wait! Wait!" cried Kent. "That's not the way this camp's going to be run. Charlie, Gustus and me do the cooking. You ladies are company and don't have to do anything except wash the dishes and make your own beds."

"Gee!" exclaimed Lydia. "I'd rather cook than wash dishes, any day."

"I never wash dishes," protested Margery.

"I can't do it either," said Olga.

"Can you boys really cook?" asked Miss Towne, in her sharp way.

"Yes, Ma'am!" replied Kent. "Charlie learned in the Indian school, even baking, you know, and he's taught me a lot. Gustus can peel potatoes, clean fish and such stunts."

Gustus groaned but made no protest.

"I think it's a very nice arrangement," decided Miss Towne. "Come girls, let's unpack and arrange the tent."

Kent's statement proved no idle boast. The boys could cook. And though the fare was simple during the entire holiday consisting of fish, caught in the lake, potatoes, baking powder biscuits and occasional additions of canned stuff, it was well prepared and there was plenty of it.

The little camp quickly settled into an orderly routine. The girls wrangled among themselves about the dish-washing and Gustus was inclined to complain over the number of potatoes he was obliged to peel, but beyond this the camp work caused little friction.

Miss Towne was well supplied with French books and made, the young folks thought, an ideal chaperone. She was tired after her year's work and spent almost all her time in a hammock. She saw to it that the girls were in bed by ten o'clock and that all were accounted for at meal time. Apparently, beyond this, she left her charges to their own devices. She had taught in the High School too long not to know that spying and nagging are more demoralizing than no chaperoning at all.

There was a very early pairing off in the camp. Kent devoted himself to Olga, Gustus to Margery and Charlie to Lydia. Kent and Olga kept the camp supplied with fish. Excepting at meal time and the bathing hour, they spent the day in a birchbark canoe on the lake. Gustus and Margery were the least strenuous of the party and caused Miss Towne, as a consequence, more uneasiness than the rest. They spent long hours sitting side by side in a hammock, talking, heaven knows of what! In the evening when the camp-fire was lighted they were always being routed out of the shadows by the others and teased into joining the story telling and singing.

Charlie undertook to show to Lydia the reservation as the Indians knew it. If Lydia was a little puzzled by his eagerness to make her understand conditions on the reservation, she gave little thought to the riddle. This adventure was affecting her deeply. There was the sudden freedom and relaxation from home responsibilities. There was the daily and intimate companionship with young people, than whom none were better dressed than she!—and there were the pines.

She knew and loved the woods at home. But they were second growth hardwood and birch, and had little in common with the splendor of the pines. Waking early in the morning, she would creep from the tent and steal beyond sound and sight of the camp. There in the cathedral beauty of the pines she would stand drawing deep breaths and staring as if her eyes must pierce through the outward solemn loneliness of the forest, to its deeper meaning. She often wondered if in his search for God, John Levine had ever stood so.

Tramping through the woods with Charlie, she did not talk much, nor did he. They visited one or two neat Indian farms, but for the most part Charlie led her from one wick-i-up to the other, deep set in recesses of the wood, where the only whites to intrude on the Indians were the occasional government wood cruisers. These wick-i-ups were hovels, usually in the last stages of poverty and desolation. A squaw, braiding reed mats, a buck returning with a string of fish, a baby burrowing in the moss—all of them thin, ragged and dirty, and about them the hallowed beauty and silence of the primeval pines; this was the picture Lydia carried of most of the dwellers in these huts. Sometimes the wick-i-up was occupied by a solitary Indian, nearly always sick and always old.

Once they came upon a white haired squaw crawling feebly from her doorway toward a fish that lay at the foot of a tree. Charlie picked up the fish and he and Lydia helped the old woman back to her hut. In the hut was an iron pot and a pile of reed mats. That was all.

"She says," explained Charlie, "that she's been sick all winter and she'd have starved to death only one of her neighbors drops a fish for her there, every day or so."

"Let's get some food for her at the camp," said Lydia eagerly.

Charlie shook his head. "What's the use! It would just prolong her agony. She's nearly dead now. The old can go. It's the young ones' starving that hurts me."

He led Lydia out and again they tramped through the long green aisles. It was later in the day that they came upon a wick-i-up where there were three children, besides the father and mother. Two of the children were half blind with eye trouble. The whole family was sitting in the sun, about a pot of fish. The grown-ups chatted eagerly with Charlie, and he translated for Lydia.

"They say it's been a fearful winter. They only had ten dollars this year out of their Government allowance and they couldn't get work. They lived on fish and potatoes. The Catholic priest gave them some wild rice. The baby froze to death or starved, or both. We'll bring some food over to these folks, Lydia, because there are kids—eh?"

"But, Charlie, what's the Government allowance?"

"Oh, didn't you know?—and you're one of the white lords of creation too! The Government set aside this land for the Indians in solemn treaty with them, for ever and ever. Then it deliberately sold off a big block of it and deposited the money at Washington. The income from this was to be given to the Indians. There's over two million dollars there. But by the time it's filtered from Washington to the Indians, this is the result." He nodded at the half-starved group about the fish pot. "Damn the dirty, thieving whites," he said, quietly.

Lydia had had four days of this. As they made their way back to the camp for supper, she said to him, in an unsteady voice, "Charlie, I can't stand it! Think of that baby that froze to death. And all these beautiful woods are full of half-starved Indians! Charlie, I can't stand it!" And Lydia bowed her head on her arm and leaned against a tree trunk.

"Good Lord, Lydia!" exclaimed Charlie, "I didn't want you to feel that bad! I just wanted you to see, because you're Levine's friend and because I like you so much. Please, don't cry!"

"I'm not crying," Lydia lifted reddened eyes to his, "I was just thinking. What can I do about it, Charlie?"

"You can't do anything. It's too late. But I wanted you to see. I don't care what girl understands as long as you do. I think an awful lot of you, Lydia."

He took Lydia's hand and patted it. Lydia looked up at him, thrilled by his bronze beauty and the note in his voice.

"If I were a white man," said Charlie, "I'd make you love me and marry me. But I'm an Indian and sooner or later I'll go back to my people. I'm just making believe I can play the white man's game for a while." He eyed Lydia wistfully. "But we'll be friends, eh, Lydia?—Always? Even if I go back to the wick-i-up, you'll be my friend?"

"Oh, yes, Charlie, always," replied Lydia, earnestly, even while there flashed through her head the half whimsical thought, "Queer kinds of men want to be friends with me, Mr. Levine, Mr. Marshall, and Charlie. And they all hate each other!"

After this episode, Charlie was less strenuous about showing Lydia Indian conditions. That night he resumed a mild flirtation with Olga that he had dropped when school closed and Olga met him more than half way.

"Wouldn't that come and get you!" growled Kent to Lydia as Charlie and Olga paddled away in the canoe, the next morning. "Have you and Charlie had a fight?"

"Nope," replied Lydia. "But I got sick of investigating the reservation. Are you and Olga mad at each other?"

"Not so very! Say, Lyd, let's kill time," Kent interrupted himself with a yawn, "with a tramp up to the settlement for some gum."

Lydia stifled an elaborate yawn, at which Kent grinned. "All right, I can stand it if you can," she said. "Will you come along, Miss Towne?"

Miss Towne, who had been highly edified by the morning's maneuvering shook her head and settled herself in her hammock. "No eight mile walk for me. I'm taking a rest cure. Better wear a hat, Lydia. You're getting dreadfully burned."

"That's right. Your nose is peeling something fierce," said Kent as they started off.

"Huh, yours looks like a pickled beet," returned Lydia. "Come on, pretend I'm Olga and be happy."