The Silent Places by Stewart Edward White
During the days that ensued a certain intimacy sprang up between Sam Bolton and the Indian girl. At first their talk was brief and confined to the necessities. Then matters of opinion, disjointed, fragmentary, began to creep in. Finally the two came to know each other, less by what was actually said, than by the attitude of mind such confidences presupposed. One topic they avoided. Sam, for all his shrewdness, could not determine to what degree had persisted the young man's initial attraction for the girl. Of her devotion there could be no question, but in how much it depended on the necessity of the moment lay the puzzle. Her demeanor was inscrutable. Yet Sam came gradually to trust to her loyalty.
In the soft, sweet open-air life the days passed stately in the manner of figures on an ancient tapestry. Certain things were each morning to be done,--the dressing of Dick's cuts and contusions with the healing balsam, the rebandaging and adjusting of the splints and steadying buckskin strap; the necessary cooking and cleaning; the cutting of wood; the fishing below the rapids; the tending of traps; the occasional hunting of larger game; the setting of snares for rabbits. From certain good skins of the latter May-may-gwan was engaged in weaving a blanket, braiding the long strips after a fashion of her own. She smoked tanned buckskin, and with it repaired thoroughly both the men's garments and her own. These things were to be done, though leisurely, and with slow, ruminative pauses for the dreaming of forest dreams.
But inside the wigwam Dick Herron lay helpless, his hands clenched, his eyes glaring red with an impatience he seemed to hold his breath to repress. Time was to be passed. That was all he knew, all he thought about, all he cared. He seized the minutes grimly and flung them behind him. So absorbed was he in this, that he seemed to give grudgingly and hastily his attention to anything else. He never spoke except when absolutely necessary; it almost seemed that he never moved. Of Sam he appeared utterly unconscious. The older man performed the little services about him quite unnoticed. The Indian girl Dick would not suffer near him at all. Twice he broke silence for what might be called commentatorial speech.
"It'll be October before we can get started," he growled one evening.
"Yes," said Sam.
"You wait till I can get out!" he said on another occasion, in vague threat of determination.
At the beginning of the third week Sam took his seat by the moss and balsam pallet and began to fill his pipe in preparation for a serious talk.
"Dick," said he, "I've made up my mind we've wasted enough time here."
Herron made no reply.
"I'm going to leave you here and go to look over the other hunting districts by myself."
Still no reply.
"Well?" demanded Sam.
"What about me?" asked Dick.
"The girl will take care of you."
A long silence ensued. "She'll take everything we've got and get out," said Dick at last.
"She will not! She'd have done it before now."
"She'll quit me the first Injuns that come along."
Sam abandoned the point.
"You needn't take the risk unless you want to. If you say so, I'll wait."
"Oh, damn the risk," cried Dick, promptly. "Go ahead."
The woodsman smoked.
"Sam," said the younger man.
"I know I'm hard to get along with just now. Don't mind me. It's hell to lie on your back and be able to do nothing. I've seemed to hinder the game from the first. Just wait till I'm up again!"
"That's all right, my boy," replied Sam. "I understand. Don't worry. Just take it easy. I'll look over the district, so we won't be losing any time. And, Dick, be decent to the girl."
"To hell with the girl," growled Dick, lapsing abruptly from his expansive mood. "She got me into this."
Not another word would he speak, but lay, staring upward, chewing the cud of resentment.
Promptly on the heels of his decision Sam Bolton had a long talk with May-may-gwan, then departed carrying a little pack. It was useless to think now of the canoe, and in any case the time of year favoured cross-country travel. The distances, thus measured, were not excessive, and from the Indian's descriptions, Sam's slow-brooding memory had etched into his mind an accurate map of the country.
At noon the girl brought Dick his meal. After he had eaten she removed the few utensils. Then she returned.
"The Little Father commanded that I care for your hurt," she said, simply.
"My leg's all right now," growled Dick. "I can bandage it myself."
May-may-gwan did not reply, but left the tent. In a moment she reappeared carrying forked switches, a square of white birch-bark, and a piece of charcoal.
"Thus it is," said she rapidly. "These be the leg bones and this the bone of the ankle. This bone is broken, so. Thus it is held in place by the skill of the Little Father. Thus it is healing, with stiffness of the muscles and the gristle, so that always Eagle eye will walk like wood, and never will he run. The Little Father has told May-may-gwan what there is to do. It is now the time. Fifteen suns have gone since the hurt."
She spoke simply. Dick, interested in spite of himself, stared at the switches and the hasty charcoal sketch. The dead silence hung for a full minute. Then the young man fell back from his elbow with an enigmatical snort. May-may-gwan assumed consent and set to work on the simple yet delicate manipulations, massages, and flexings, which, persisted in with due care lest the fracture slip, would ultimately restore the limb to its full usefulness.
Once a day she did this, thrice a day she brought food. The rest of the time she was busy about her own affairs; but never too occupied to loop up a section of the tepee covering for the purpose of admitting fresh air, to bring a cup of cold water, to readjust the sling which suspended the injured leg, or to perform an hundred other little services. She did these things with inscrutable demeanour. As Dick always accepted them in silence, she offered them equally in silence. No one could have guessed the thoughts that passed in her heart.
At the end of a week Dick raised himself suddenly on his elbow.
"Some one is coming!" he exclaimed, in English.
At the sound of his voice the girl started forward. Her mouth parted, her eyes sparkled, her nostrils quivered. Nothing could have been more pathetic than this sudden ecstatic delight, as suddenly extinguished when she perceived that the exclamation was involuntary and not addressed to her. In a moment Sam Bolton appeared, striding out of the forest.
He unslung his little pack, leaned his rifle against a tree, consigned to May-may-gwan a dog he was leading, and approached the wigwam. He seemed in high good humour.
"Well, how goes it?" he greeted.
But at the sight of the man striding in his strength Dick's dull anger had fallen on him again like a blanket. Unreasonably, as he himself well knew, he was irritated. Something held him back from the utterance of the hearty words of greeting that had been on his tongue. A dull, apathetic indifference to everything except the chains of his imprisonment enveloped his spirit.
"All right," he answered, grudgingly.
Sam deftly unwound the bandages, examining closely the condition of the foot.
"Bone's in place all right," he commented. "Has the girl rubbed it and moved it every day?"
"Any pain to amount to anything now?"
"Pretty dull work lying on your back all day with nothing to do."
"Took in the country to southeast. Didn't find anything. Picked up a pretty good dog. Part 'husky.'"
Dick had no comment to make on this. Sam found May-may-gwan making friends with the dog, feeding him little scraps, patting his head, above all wrinkling the end of his pointed nose in one hand and batting it softly with the palm of the other. This caused the dog to sneeze violently, but he exhibited every symptom of enjoyment. The animal had long, coarse hair, sharp ears set alertly forward, a bushy tail, and an expression of great but fierce intelligence.
[Illustration: "Listen, Little Sister," said he. "Now I go on a long journey"]
"Eagle-eye does well," said the woodsman.
"I have done as the Little Father commanded," she replied, and arose to cook the meal.
The next day Sam constructed a pair of crutches well padded with moss.
"Listen, Little Sister," said he. "Now I go on a long journey, perhaps fifteen suns, perhaps one moon. At the end of six suns more Jibibanisi may rise. His leg must be slung, thus. Never must he touch the foot to the ground, even for an instant. You must see to it. I will tell him, also. Each day he must sit in the sun. He must do something. When snow falls we will again take the long trail. Prepare all things for it. Give Eagle-eye materials to work with."
To Dick he spoke with like directness.
"I'm off again, Dick," said he. "There's no help for it; you've got to lay up there for a week yet. Then the girl will show you how to tie your leg out of the way, and you can move on crutches. If you rest any weight on that foot before I get back, you'll be stiff for life. I shouldn't advise you to take any chances. Suit yourself; but I should try to do no more than get out in the sun. You won't be good for much before snow. You can get things organised. She'll bring you the stuff to work on, and will help. So long."
"Good-by," muttered Dick. He breathed hard, fully occupied with the thought of his helplessness, with blind, unappeasable rage against the chance that had crippled him, with bitter and useless questionings as to why such a moment should have been selected for the one accident of his young life. Outside he could hear the crackle of the little fire, the unusual sound of the Indian girl's voice as she talked low to the dog, the animal's whine of appreciation and content. Suddenly he felt the need of companionship, the weariness of his own unending, revolving thoughts.
"Hi!" he called aloud.
May-may-gwan almost instantly appeared in the entrance, a scarcely concealed hope shining in her eyes. This was the first time she had been summoned.
"Ninny-moosh--the dog," commanded Dick, coldly.
She turned to whistle the beast. He came at once, already friends with this human being, who understood him.
"Come here, old fellow," coaxed Dick, holding out his hand.
But the half-wild animal was in doubt. He required assurance of this man's intentions. Dick gave himself to the task of supplying it. For the first time in a month his face cleared of its discontent. The old, winning boyishness returned. May-may-gwan, standing forgotten, in the entrance, watched in silence. Dick coaxed knowingly, leading, by the very force of persuasion, until the dog finally permitted a single pat of his sharp nose. The young man smoothly and cautiously persisted, his face alight with interest. Finally he conquered. The animal allowed his ears to be rubbed, his nose to be batted. At length, well content, he lay down by his new master within reach of the hand that rested caressingly on his head. The Indian girl stole softly away. At the fireside she seated herself and gazed in the coals. Presently the marvel of two tears welled in her eyes. She blinked them away and set about supper.