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The Song Of The Omaha








From: The Heritage Of The Sioux

"Me, I theenk yoh not lov' me so moch as a pin," Ramon complained in
soft reproach, down in the dry wash where Applehead had looked in vain
for baling wire. "Sometimes I show yoh what is like the Spanish lov'.
Like stars, like fire--sometimes I seeng the jota for you that tell
how moch I lov' yoh. 'Te quiero, Baturra, te quiero,'" he began
humming softly while he looked at her with eyes that shone soft in the
starlight. "Sometimes me, I learn yoh dat song--and moch more I learn
yoh--"

Annie-Many-Ponies stood before him, straight and slim and with that air
of aloofness which so fired Ramon's desire for her. She lifted a hand to
check him, and Ramon stopped instantly and waited. So far had her power
over him grown.

"All time you tell me you heap love," she said in her crooning soft
voice. "Why you not talk of priest to make us marry? You say words for
love--you say no word for wife. Why you no say--"

"Esposa!" Ramon's teeth gleamed white as a wolf's in the dusk. "When
the padre marry us I maybe teach you many ways to say wife!" He laughed
under his breath. "How I calls yoh wife when I not gets one kees, me?
Now I calls yoh la sweetheart--good enough when I no gets so moch as
touches hand weeth yoh."

"I go way with you, you gets priest for make us marry?"
Annie-Many-Ponies edged closer so that she might read what was in his
face.

"Why yoh no trus' Ramon? Sure, I gets padre! W'at yoh theenk for speak
lies, me? Sure, I gets padre, foolish one! Me, I not like for yoh no
trus' Ramon. Looks like not moch yoh lov' Ramon."

"I good girl," Annie-Many-Ponies stated simply. "I love my husband when
priest says that's right thing to do. You no gets priest, I no go with
you. I think mens not much cares for marry all time. Womens not care,
they go to hell. That's what priest tells. Girls got to care. That's
truth." Simple as two-plus-two was the rule of life as Annie-Many-Ponies
laid it down in words before him. No fine distinctions between virtue
and superwomanhood there, if you please! No slurring of wrong so that
it may look like an exalted right. "Womens got to care," said
Annie-Many-Ponies with a calm certainty that would brook no argument.

"Sure theeng," Ramon agreed easily. "Yoh theenk I lov' yoh so moch if
yoh not good?"

"You gets priest?" Annie-Many-Ponies persisted.

"Sure, I gets padre. You theenk Ramon lies for soch theeng?"

"You swear, then, all same white mans in picture makes oath." There was
a new quality of inflexibility under the soft music of her voice. "You
lift up hand and says, 'Help me by God I makes you for-sure my wife!'"
She had pondered long upon this oath, and she spoke it now with an easy
certainty that it was absolutely binding, and that no man would dare
break it. "You makes that swear now," she urged gently.

"Foolish one! Yoh theenk I mus' swear I do what my hearts she's want?
I tell yoh many times we go on one ranch my brother Tomas says she's be
mine. We lives there in fine house weeth mooch flowers, yoh not so moch
as lif' one finger for work, querida mia. Yoh theenk I not be trus', me,
Ramon what loves yoh?"

"No hurt for swears what I tells," Annie-Many-Ponies stepped back from
him a pace, distrust creeping into her voice.

"All right." Ramon moved nearer. "So I make oath, perhaps you make oath
also! Me, I theenk yoh perhaps not like for leave Luck Leensay--I theenk
perhaps yoh loves heem, yoh so all time watch for ways to please! So I
swear, then yoh mus' swear also that yoh come for-sure. That square deal
for both--si?"

Annie-Many-Ponies hesitated, a dull ache in her breast when Ramon spoke
of Luck. But if her heart was sore at thought of him, it was because he
no longer looked upon her with the smile in his eyes. It was because he
was not so kind; because he believed that she had secret meetings with
Bill Holmes whom she hated. And in spite of the fact that Bill Holmes
had left the company the other day and was going away, Wagalexa Conka
still looked upon her with cold eyes and listened to the things that
Applehead said against her. The heart of Wagalexa Conka, she told
herself miserably, was like a stone for her. And so her own heart must
be hard. She would swear to Ramon, and she would keep the oath--and
Wagalexa Conka would not even miss her or be sorry that she had gone.

"First you make swears like I tells you," she said. "Then I make
swears."

"Muy bueno!" smiled Ramon then. "So I make oath I take you queek to one
good friend me, the Padre Dominguez. Then yoh be my wife for sure. That
good enough for yoh, perhaps? Queeck yoh make oath yoh leave these place
Manana--tomorra. Yoh go by ol' rancho where we talk so many time.
I leave horse for yoh. Yoh ride pas' that mountain, yoh come for
Bernalillo. Yoh wait. I come queeck as can when she's dark. Yoh do that,
sweetheart?"

Annie-Many-Ponies stilled the ache in her heart with the thought of her
proud place beside Ramon who had much land and many cattle and who loved
her so much. She lifted her hand and swore she would go with him.

She slipped away then and crept into her tent in the little cluster
beside the house--for the company 'had forsaken Applehead's adobe and
slept under canvas as a matter of choice. With Indian cunning she bided
her time and gave no sign of what was hidden in her heart. She rose with
the others and brushed her glossy hair until it shone in the sunlight
like the hair of a high-caste Chinese woman. She tied upon it the new
bows of red ribbon which she had bought in the secret hope that they
would be a part of her wedding finery. She put on her Indian gala dress
of beaded buckskin with the colored porcupine quills--and then she
smiled cunningly and drew a dress of red-and-blue striped calico over
her head and settled the folds of it about her with little, smoothing
pats, so that the two white women, Rosemary and Jean, should not notice
any unusual bulkiness of her figure.

She did not know how she would manage to escape the keen eyes of
Wagalexa Conka and to steal away from the ranch, especially if she had
to work in the picture that day. But Luck unconsciously opened wide the
trail for her. He announced at breakfast that they would work up in Bear
Canon that day, and that he would not need Jean or Annie either; and
that, as it would be hotter than the hinges of Gehenna up in that canon,
they had better stay at home and enjoy themselves.

Annie-Many-Ponies did not betray by so much as a flicker of the lashes
that she heard him much less that it was the best of good news to her.
She went into her tent and packed all of her clothes into a bundle which
she wrapped in her plaid shawl, and was proud because the bundle was so
big, and because she had much fine beadwork and so many red ribbons, and
a waist of bright blue silk which she would wear when she stood before
the priest, if Ramon did not like the dress of beaded buckskin.

A ring with an immense red stone in it which Ramon had given her, she
slipped upon her finger with her little, inscrutable smile. She was
engaged to be married, now, just like white girls; and tomorrow she
would have a wide ring of shiny gold for that finger, and should be the
wife of Ramon.

Just then Shunka Chistala, lying outside her tent, flapped his tail on
the ground and gave a little, eager whine. Annie-Many-Ponies thrust
her head through the opening and looked out, and then stepped over the
little black dog and stood before her tent to watch the Happy Family
mount and ride away with Wagalexa Conka in their midst and with the
mountain wagon rattling after them loaded with "props" and the camera
and the noonday lunch and Pete Lowry and Tommy Johnson, the scenic
artist. Applehead was going to drive the wagon, and she scowled when he
yanked off the brake and cracked the whip over the team.

Luck, feeling perchance the intensity of her gaze, turned in the saddle
and looked back. The eyes of Annie-Many-Ponies softened and saddened,
because this was the last time she would see Wagalexa Conka riding away
to make pictures--the last time she would see him. She lifted her hand,
and made the Indian sign of farewell--the peace-go-with-you sign that is
used for solemn occasions of parting.

Luck pulled up short and stared. What did she mean by that? He reined
his horse around, half minded to ride back and ask her why she gave him
that peace-sign. She had never done it before, except once or twice in
scenes that he directed. But after all he did not go. They were late
in getting started that morning, which irked his energetic soul; and
women's whims never did impress Luck Lindsay very deeply. Besides, just
as he was turning to ride back, Annie stooped and went into her tent as
though her gesture had carried no especial meaning.

Then in her tent he heard her singing the high, weird chant of the
Omaha mourning song and again he was half-minded to go back, though the
wailing minor notes, long drawn and mournful, might mean much or they
might mean merely a fit of the blues. The others rode on talking and
laughing together, and Luck rode with them; but the chant of the
Omaha was in his ears and tingling his nerves. And the vision of
Annie-Many-Ponies standing straight before her tent and making the sign
of peace and farewell haunted him that day.

Rosemary and Jean, standing in the porch, waved good-bye to their men
folk until the last bobbing hatcrown had gone down out of sight in the
long, low swale that creased the mesa in that direction. Whereupon they
went into the house.

"What in the world is the matter with Annie?" Jean exploded, with a
little shiver. "I'd rather hear a band of gray wolves tune up when
you're caught out in the breaks and have to ride in the dark. What is
that caterwaul? Do you suppose she's on the warpath or anything?"

"Oh, that's just the squaw coming out in her!" Rosemary slammed the door
shut so they could not hear so plainly. "She's getting more Injuny every
day of her life. I used to try and treat her like a white girl--but you
just can't do it, Jean."

"Hiu-hiu-hi-i-ah-h! Hiu-hiu-hi-i-ah-h-h--hiaaa-h-h!"

Jean stood in the middle of the room and listened. "Br-r-r!" she
shivered--and one could not blame her. "I wonder if she'd be mad,"
she drawled, "if I went out and told her to shut up. It sounds as if
somebody was dead, or going to die or something. Like Lite says your dog
will howl if anything--"

"Oh, for pity sake!" Rosemary pushed her into the living room with
make-believe savageness. "I've heard her and Luck sing that last winter.
And there's a kind of a teetery dance that goes with it. It's supposed
to be a mourning song, as Luck explains it. But don't pay any attention
to her at all. She just does it to get on our nerves. It'd tickle her to
death if she thought it made us nervous."

"And now the dog is joining in on the chorus! I must say they're a
cheerful pair to have around the house. And I know one thing--if they
keep that up much longer, I'll either get out there with a gun, or
saddle up and follow the boys."

"They'd tease us to death, Jean, if we let Annie run us out."

"It's run or be run," Jean retorted irritatedly. "I wanted to write
poetry today--I thought of an awfully striking sentence about the--for
heaven's sake, where's a shotgun?"

"Jean, you wouldn't!" Rosemary, I may here explain, was very femininely
afraid of guns. "She'd--why, there's no telling WHAT she might do! Luck
says she carries a knife."

"What if she does? She ought to carry a few bird-shot, too. She's got
nothing to mourn about--nobody's died, has there?

"Hiu-hiu-hia-a-a,ah! Hia-a-a-a-ah!" wailed Annie-Many-Ponies in her
tent, because she would never again look upon the face of Wagalexa
Conka--or if she did it would be to see his anger blaze and burn her
heart to ashes. To her it was as though death sat beside her; the death
of Wagalexa Conka's friendship for her. She forgot his harshness because
he thought her disobedient and wicked. She forgot that she loved Ramon
Chavez, and that he was rich and would give her a fine home and much
love. She forgot everything but that she had sworn an oath and that she
must keep it though it killed faith and kindness and friendship as with
a knife.

So she wailed, in high-keyed, minor chanting unearthly in its primitive
inarticulateness of sorrow, the chant of the Omaha mourning song. So
had her tribe wailed in the olden days when warriors returned to the
villages and told of their dead. So had her mother wailed when the Great
Spirit took away her first man-child. So had the squaws wailed in their
tepees since the land was young. And the little black dog, sitting on
his haunches before her door, pointed his moist nose into the sunlight
and howled in mournful sympathy.

"Oh, my gracious!" Jean, usually so calm, flung a magazine against the
wall. "This is just about as pleasant as a hanging! let's saddle up and
ride in after the mail, Rosemary. Maybe the squaw in her will be howled
out by the time we get back." And she added with a venomous sincerity
that would have warmed the heart of old Applehead, "I'd shoot that dog,
for half a cent! How do you suppose an animal of his size can produce
all that noise?"

"Oh, I don't know!" Rosemary spoke with the patience of utter weariness.
"I've stood her and the dog for about eight months and I'm getting kind
of hardened to it. But I never did hear them go on like that before.
You'd think all her relations were being murdered, wouldn't you?"

Jean was busy getting into her riding clothes and did not say what she
thought; but you may be sure that it was antipathetic to the grief of
Annie-Many-Ponies, and that Jean's attitude was caused by a complete
lack of understanding. Which, if you will stop to think, is true of
half the unsympathetic attitudes in the world. Because they did not
understand, the two dressed hastily and tucked their purses safely
inside their shirtwaists and saddled and rode away to town. And the last
they heard as they put the ranch behind them was the wailing chant of
Annie-Many-Ponies and the prodigious, long-drawn howling of the little
black dog.

Annie-Many-Ponies, hearing the beat of hoofs ceased her chanting and
looked out in time to see the girls just disappearing over the low brow
of the hill. She stood for a moment and stared after them with frowning
brows. Rosemary she did not like and never would like, after their
hidden feud of months over such small matters as the cat and the dog,
and unswept floors, and the like. A mountain of unwashed dishes stood
between these two, as it were, and forbade anything like friendship.

But the parting that was at hand had brushed aside her jealousy of Jean
as leading woman. Intuitively she knew that with any encouragement Jean
would have been her friend. Oddly, she remembered now that Jean had been
the first to ask for her when she came to the ranch. So, although
Jean would never know, Annie-Many-Ponies raised her hand and gave the
peace-and-farewell sign of the plains Indians.

The way was open now, and she must go. She had sworn that she would meet
Ramon--but oh, the heart of her was heavier than the bundle which she
bound with her bright red sash and lifted to her shoulders with the
sash drawn across her chest and shoulders. So had the women of her
tribe borne burdens since the land was young; but none had ever borne a
heavier load than did Annie-Many-Ponies when she went soft footed across
the open space to the dry wash and down that to another, and so on and
on until she crossed the low ridge and came down to the deserted old
rancho with its crumbling adobe cabins and the well where she had waited
so often for Ramon.

She was tired when she reached the well, for her back was not used
to burden-bearing as had been her mother's, and her steps had lagged
because of the heaviness that was in her chest. It seemed to her
that some bad spirit was driving her forth an exile. She could not
understand, last night she had been glad at the thought of going, and if
the thought of leaving Wagalexa Conka so treacherously had hurt like a
knife-thrust, still, she had sworn willingly enough that she would go.

The horse was there, saddled and tied in a tumble-down shed just as
Ramon had promised that it would be. Annie-Many-Ponies did not mount and
ride on immediately, however. It was still early in the forenoon, and
she was not so eager in reality as she had been in anticipation. She
sat down beside the well and stared somberly away to the mountains, and
wondered why she was go sad when she should be happy. She twisted the
ring with the big red stone round and round her finger, but she got no
pleasure from the crimson glow of it. The stone looked to her now like a
great, frozen drop of blood. She wondered grimly whose blood it was, and
stared at it strangely before her eyes went again worshipfully to the
mountains which she loved and which she must leave and perhaps never see
again as they looked from there, and from the ranch.

She must ride and ride until she was around on the other side of that
last one that had the funny, pointed cone top like a big stone tepee.
On the other side was Ramon, and the priest, and the strange new life of
which she was beginning to feel afraid. There would be no more riding up
to camera, laughing or sighing or frowning as Wagalexa Conka commanded
her to do. There would be no more shy greetings of the slim young woman
in riding skirt--the friendship scenes and the black-browed anger, while
Pete Lowry turned the camera and Luck stood beside him telling her just
what she must do, and smiling at her when she did it well.

There would be Ramon, and the priest and the wide ring of shiny
gold--what more? The mountains, all pink and violet and smiling green
and soft gray--the mountains hid the new life from her. And she must
ride around that last, sharp-pointed one, and come into the new life
that was on the other side--and what if it should be bitter? What if
Ramon's love did not live beyond the wide ring of shiny gold? She had
seen it so, with other men and other maids.

No matter. She had sworn the oath that she would go. But first, there
at the old well where Ramon had taught her the Spanish love words, there
where she had listened shyly and happily to his voice that was so soft
and so steeped in love, Annie-Many-Ponies stood up with her face to the
mountains and sorrow in her eyes, and chanted again the wailing, Omaha
mourning-song. And just behind her the little black dog, that had
followed close to her heels all the way, sat upon his haunches and
pointed his nose to the sky and howled.

For a long time she wailed. Then to the mountains that she loved she
made the sign of peace-and-farewell, and turned herself stoically to the
keeping of her oath. Her bundle that was so big and heavy she placed
in the saddle and fastened with the saddle-string and with the red sash
that had bound it across her chest and shoulders. Then, as her great
grandmother had plodded across the bleak plains of the Dakotas at her
master's behest, Annie-Many-Ponies took the bridle reins and led the
horse out of the ruin, and started upon her plodding, patient journey
to what lay beyond the mountains. Behind her the black horse walked with
drooping head, half asleep in the warm sunlight. At the heels of the
horse followed the little black dog.





Next: Riders In The Background

Previous: Adventure Comes Smiling



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