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Tilt of the Feather

Tilt of the Feather
This story originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 1971 issue of Pioneer Magazine

(1964 Prize Winning Pioneer Story by Noal C. Newhold, Senior Division)

The young sun felt warm on my buckskin shirt. Beyond and below me was the beautiful Wasatch Valley. To the right was the canyon, to the west rugged Timpanogos pushed her snow-tipped breasts into the sky. The rifle was almost limp in my arms.

Suddenly, breaking through the scrub oak fifty yards away bounded a splendid stag. The rifle jumped to my shoulder. I creased him in the sights. His ears flicked, his nose twitched. The scent he was testing was not mine, I was down wind. Without moving the rifle I peered into the canyon. The buck had smelled Indians. They came single file from the black canyon shadows, seventeen of them. I could not tell from the tilt of the feather if their excursion was a friendly one, the paint on their faces gave me reason for doubt.

I dropped the rifle into the crook of my arm, the stag had won a reprieve.

My cabin, with Christy and the children, lay in the path of the red men. I made my descent from the mountain on foot quickly and quietly. I knew the Indians would reach the cabin first. At the rear of the cabin I listened, it was quiet. A mad scene of massacre rushed before my mind’s eye. Bracing myself, I leisurely walked into the view of the war party.

I recognized Gray Bear, an old chief; and three of the younger bucks, Racing Deer, Little Beaver and the renegade Flying Hawk. In the doorway was my Christy, rifle in her hands. Will was peering from behind her skirts on one side and Sarah from the other. The baby must have been in the cradle. Christy could not speak their language, but the look on her face let the Indians know one step closer would cost at least one life. It was she who held them at bay.

“What do they want, Will?” she asked, pointing the rifle to an uprighted lance.

With my limited vocabulary I saluted Gray Bear and asked what they wanted.

“All they want is dinner,” I told Christy.

“Then why are they all painted up?”

“Gray Bear says if you don’t have dinner by the time the shadow of the spear and the shadow of the fence post meet, he and his braves will kill us and all the settlers in the Valley.”

“Do you think they mean it?”

“Do you want to wait and see?”

“No, I’m not that curious. How long does that give me?”

“Till about noon, maybe three hours. ’’

“Come and help me start the fire.”

“I can’t, that’s squaws’ work. You’ll have to do it alone, Christy, or we can fight.’’

Her reply was a determined look on her queenly face as she shooed the children back into the cabin.

I invited Gray Bear and his braves to dismount and sit. I gathered from our conversation, that channeled in and out of empty furrows, their journey was to satiate some of the younger braves, particularly Flying Hawk. There was no talk of battles in the wigwams. Game was scarce. Children were hungry and the winters were longer than they used to be. It was the fault of the white man, and Flying Hawk and his young bucks were out for some adventure. Gray Bear had come as a stabilizing factor. I knew the old chief and wondered if my choice of cabins was designed or accidental in the hope of stopping unnecessary bloodshed.

As we talked, I mentioned the huge stag their appearance had cost me. Flying Hawk sneered.

“It might have been the one that gored you, brave hunter,” I said, stretching my arms to six feet to show the antler spread.

“You have no scar to prove your words,” he retorted.

“One day I will hang his horns above my barn, then you will know my tongue is straight.”

“The day his horns are above your barn, I will give you my horse, my bow and arrows and the scalps in my teepee.” Flying Hawk was offering his manhood if I could down the stag.

“I will slit his throat with my teeth and not be gored like Flying Hawk.”

His hand flew to his knife as he rose before me, his nostrils pulsating with anger. Gray Bear said a word and Hawk relaxed. I had touched the wound that ran down Hawk’s right side, it was still sore. He had killed a mighty deer, or so  he thought, and when he approached the animal it revived and gored him. Flying Hawk had told of a magnificent stag, twice the size of my humble description, that had rendered the jagged scar. Another word from Gray Bear seated Flying Hawk.

Gray Bear was silent in his wisdom, looking from the cabin to his braves, to the shadow of the lance and then to me. His eyes told me if Christy failed he would do all he could to spare us. I smiled my thanks. Flying Hawk kept constant vigilance of the cabin. A white woman’s scalp could almost take the place of his stag.

Christy asked me to make a table with some planks and barrels. I told her if I could get the braves to help me it would be alright. Only Gray Bear made a move to assist me. Flying Hawk motioned him back and picked up a board in his strong red hands. Other braves joined him and soon the planks were being placed. All the while Flying Hawk chided me about the mighty stag hunter doing squaws’ work.

The shadows of the lance and post had not far to go before they would blend into a solitary shaft.

“How are you doing?” I asked, when Christy was close to me.

“Not too good, the stove isn’t hot enough.”

“Make sure the damper is drawing.”

Soon more smoke emerged from the chimney. Will and Sarah’s repeated trips from the cabin to the well, and then to the root cellar and back to the well became more frequent. I knew Christy was working some miracle if time would hold out. The baby cried and Christy’s soothing voice began a song. A bowl crashed to the floor, the pieces were promptly swept up and tossed out the door.

”Cover the tables with these,” she said, dropping white tablecloths onto the rough planks.

“Are you plumb loco, woman?” I asked,”You aren’t going to use good linen for these heathens, are you?”

She didn’t answer, but was in and out of the house, this time with her silver chest.

“Now I know you’re crazy. These cutthroats won’t know one fork from the other.”

‘’They’re going to eat my way; I didn’t invite them. It was their choice and this is the consequence. Besides,” and she smiled, “it’s been a good long while since I’ve decked a table with silver and china. Have them wash up.”

This time I grabbed her arm, and Flying Hawk’s attention, “I can’t ask these warriors to wash up, it’ll take their war paint off.’’

“That’s why I want them to wash. No guests of mine are sitting at the table looking like Halloween trickers. I’ll have Will fetch some soap, they can wash up at the trough.’’

Gray Bear gave a flat no to my request of washing. I panicked as the shadow of the lance fell close to the shadow of the post. I tried some of Christy’s logic.

“You are in my teepee, Gray Bear, you must do things my way. We are friends.”

The trough became a potpourri of color as the braves scrubbed faces and hands. They liked the way the soap bubbled and how it cleaned off the paint. They didn’t like its sharp taste. They were as bright-faced as seventeen new copper pennies when Gray Bear pointed to the upraised spear. The shadows had met.

The delightful aromas that had been faint hints from the cabin burst into bloom as Christy and kids fetched dinner. Christy personally seated each brave with a pat on bare shoulder and a smile. How beautiful she was, perspiration on her brow, hair falling down her back from a once-neat roll, flour streaked across her face, biscuit dough beneath her fingernails and a heart so full of courage she had thwarted, for the moment, any thought of uprising. The smile was soon wiped from my face when, from the other end of the table, Christy asked me to pray. She knew I could not argue.

I told Gray Bear we were calling on the Great Spirit. The braves sat quietly, and in the spring morning that had pushed past noon, I bowed my head and thanked God for the food prepared, for the bounty of the fields, for game in the mountains. I thanked Him for the red brothers at our table, and prayed for peace. In my heart I thanked Him most of all for my Christy.


Photo: User:Za [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)] Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Stories

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