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Chapter 6


Jim Leonard was so mad because he lost his chip-hat in the canal basin, when he fell off the boat (and had to go home bareheaded and tell his mother all about what happened, though his clothes were dry enough, and he might have got off without her noticing anything, if it had not been for his hat) that he would not take any interest in Pony. But he kept on taking an interest in Indians, and he was the most excited fellow in the whole Boy’s Town when the Indians came.

The way they came to town was this: The white people around the reservation got tired of having them there, or else they wanted their land, and the government thought it might as well move them out West, where there were more Indians, there were such a very few of them on the reservation; and so it loaded them on three canal-boats and brought them down through the Boy’s Town to the Ohio River, and put them on a steamboat, and then took them down to the Mississippi, and put them on a reservation beyond that river.

“real indians, in blankets, with bows and arrows”

The boys did not know anything about this, and they would not have cared much if they had. All they knew was that one morning (and it happened to be Saturday) three canal-boats, full of Indians, came into the basin. Nobody ever knew which boy saw them first. It seemed as if all the fellows in the Boy’s Town happened to be up at the basin at once, and were standing there when the boats came in. When they saw that they were real Indians, in blankets, with bows and arrows, warriors, squaws, papooses, and everything, they almost went crazy, and when a good many of the Indians came ashore and went over to the court-house yard and began to shoot at quarters and half-dollars that the people stuck into the ground for them to shoot at, the fellows could hardly believe their eyes. They yelled and cheered and tried to get acquainted with the Indian boys, and ran and got their arrows for them, and everything; and if the Indians could only have stayed until the Fourth, which was pretty near now, they would have thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened. Jim Leonard said they belonged to a tribe that had been against the British in the last war, and were the friends of the Long Knives, as they called the Americans. He said that he read it in a book; and he hunted round for Pony Baker, and when he found him he said: “Come here, Pony; I want to tell you something.”

Any other time all the other fellows would have crowded around and wanted to know what it was, but now they were so much taken up with the Indians that none of them minded him, and so he got a good chance at Pony alone. Pony was afraid that Jim Leonard wanted him to run off with the Indians, and this was just what he did want.

He said: “You ought to get a blanket and stain your face and hands with walnut juice, and then no one could tell you from the rest of the tribe, and you could go out with them where they’re going and hunt buffaloes. It’s the greatest chance there ever was. They’ll adopt you into the tribe, maybe, as soon as the canal-boats leave, or as quick as they can get to a place where they can pull your hair out and wash you in the canal. I tell you, if I was in your place, I’d do it, Pony.”

Pony did not know what to say. He hated to tell Jim Leonard that he had pretty nearly given up the notion of running off for the present, or until his father and mother did something more to make him do it.

Ever since the boys failed so in trying to get Piccolo to hook his father’s boat for Pony to run off in, things had been going better with Pony at home. His mother did not stop him from half so many things as she used to do, and lately his father had got to being very good to him: let him lie in bed in the morning, and did not seem to notice when he stayed out with the boys at night, telling stories on the front steps, or playing hide-and-go-whoop, or anything. They seemed to be a great deal taken up with each other and not to mind so much what Pony was doing.

His mother let him go in swimming whenever he asked her, and did not make him promise to keep out of the deep water. She said she would see, when he coaxed her for five cents to get powder for the Fourth, and she let him have one of the boys to spend the night with him once, and she gave them waffles for breakfast. She showed herself something like a mother, and she had told him that if he would be very, very good she would get his father to give him a quarter, so that he could buy two packs of shooting-crackers, as well as five cents’ worth of powder for the Fourth. But she put her arms around him and hugged him up to her and kissed his head and said:

“You’ll be very careful, Pony, won’t you? You’re all the little boy we’ve got, and if anything should happen to you—”

She seemed to be almost crying, and Pony laughed and said: “Why, nothing could happen to you with shooting-crackers”; and she could have the powder to keep for him; and he would just make a snake with it Fourth of July night; put it around through the grass, loose, and then light one end of it, and she would see how it would go off and not make the least noise. But she said she did not want to see it; only he must be careful; and she kissed him again and let him go, and when he got away he could see her wiping her eyes. It seemed to him that she was crying a good deal in those days, and he could not understand what it was about. She was scared at any little thing, and would whoop at the least noise, and when his father would say: “Lucy, my dear girl!” she would burst out crying and say that she could not help it. But she got better and better to Pony all the time, and it was this that now made him ashamed with Jim Leonard, because it made him not want to run off so much.

He dug his toe into the turf in the court-house yard under the locust-tree, and did not say anything till Jim Leonard asked him if he was afraid to go off and live with the Indians, because if he was going to be a cowardy-calf like that, it was all that Jim Leonard wanted to do with him.

Pony denied that he was afraid, but he said that he did not know how to talk Indian, and he did not see how he was going to get along without.

Jim Leonard laughed and said if that was all, he need not be anxious. “The Indians don’t talk at all, hardly, even among each other. They just make signs; didn’t you know that? If you want something to eat you point to your mouth and chew; and if you want a drink, you open your mouth and keep swallowing. When you want to go to sleep you shut your eyes and lean your cheek over on your hand, this way. That’s all the signs you need to begin with, and you’ll soon learn the rest. Now, say, are you going with the Indians, or ain’t you going? It’s your only chance. Why, Pony, what are you afraid of? Hain’t you always wanted to sleep out-doors and not do anything but hunt?”

Pony had to confess that he had, and then Jim Leonard said: “Well, then, that’s what you’ll do if you go with the Indians. I suppose you’ll have to go on the warpath with them when you get out there; and if it’s against the whites you won’t like it at first; but you’ve got to remember what the whites have done to the Indians ever since they discovered America, and you’ll soon get to feeling like an Indian anyway. One thing is, you’ve got to get over being afraid.”

That made Pony mad, and he said: “I ain’t afraid now.”

“I know that,” said Jim Leonard. “But what I mean is, that if you get hurt you mustn’t hollo, or cry, or anything; and even when they’re scalping you, you mustn’t even make a face, so as to let them know that you feel it.”

By this time some of the other fellows began to come around to hear what Jim Leonard was saying to Pony. A good many of the Indians had gone off anyway, for the people had stopped sticking quarters into the ground for them to shoot at, and they could not shoot at nothing. Jim Leonard saw the fellows crowding around, but he went on as if he did not notice them. “You’ve got to go without eating anything for weeks when the medicine-man tells you to; and when you come back from the warpath, and they have a scalp-dance, you’ve got to keep dancing till you drop in a fit. When they give a dog feast you must eat dog stew until you can’t swallow another mouthful, and you’ll be so full that you’ll just have to lay around for days without moving. But the great thing is to bear any kind of pain without budging or saying a single word. Maybe you’re used to holloing now when you get hurt?”

Pony confessed that he holloed a little; the others tried to look as if they never holloed at all, and Jim Leonard went on:

“Well, you’ve got to stop that. If an arrow was to go through you and stick out at your back, or anywhere, you must just reach around and pull it out and not speak. When you’re having the sun-dance—I think it’s the sun-dance, but I ain’t really certain—you have to stick a hook through you, right here”—he grabbed Pony by the muscles on his shoulders—“and let them pull you up on a pole and hang there as long as they please. They’ll let you practise gradually so that you won’t mind hardly anything. Why, I’ve practised a good deal by myself, and now I’ve got so that I believe if you was to stick me with—”

All of a sudden something whizzed along the ground and Jim Leonard stooped over and caught one of his feet up in his hand, and began to cry and to hollo: “Oh, oh, oh! Ow, ow, ow! Oh, my foot! Oh, it’s broken; I know it is! Oh, run for the doctor, do, Pony Baker! I know I’m going to die! Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear!”

All the boys came crowding around to see what the matter was, and the men came, too, and pretty soon some one found an arrow in the grass, and then they knew that it was a stray arrow that had hit Jim Leonard on the side of the foot, after missing one of the dimes that was stuck in the ground. It was blunt, and it had not hurt him that anybody could see, except rubbed the skin off a little on the ankle-bone. But Jim Leonard began to limp away towards home, and now, as the Indians had all gone back to their boats, and the fellows had nothing else to do, they went along with him.

Archy Hawkins held him up on one side, and Hen Billard on the other, and Archy said, “I tell you, when I heard Jim yell, I thought it was a real Indian,” and Hen said:

“I thought it was the scalp-halloo.”

Archy said, “The way I came to think it was a real Indian was that a real Indian never makes any noise when he’s hurt,” and Hen said:

“I thought it was the scalp-halloo, because Jim was stooping over as if he was tearing the scalp off of a white man. He’s been practising, you know.”

“Well, practice makes perfect. I reckon if Jim hasn’t got so far that he would smile when you scalped him, or just laugh if you shot an arrow through him, or would let you stick a hook into him, and pull him up to the top of a pole, it’s because he’s begun at the other end. I’ll bet he could eat himself full of dog stew, and lay around three days without stirring.”

Jim Leonard thought the fellows had come along to pity him and help him; but when he heard Archy Hawkins say that, and Hen Billard began to splutter and choke with the laugh he was holding in, he flung them off and began to fight at them with his fists, and strike right and left blindly. He broke out crying, and then the fellows made a ring around him and danced and mocked him.

“Hey, Jim, what’d you do if they pulled your hair out?”

“Jimmy, oh, Jim! Would you hollo much louder if they tomahawked you?”

“Show your uncle how to dance till you drop, Jim.”

They kept on till Jim Leonard picked up stones to stone them, and then they all ran away, jumping and jeering till they got out of sight. It was about dinner-time, anyway.

No one was left but Pony Baker. He stooped down over Jim when he sat crying over his foot. “Does it hurt you much, Jimmy?” he asked.

“Yes, it hurts dreadfully, Pony. The skin’s all rubbed off. I’m afraid it’s broken my leg.”

“Well, let me help you home,” said Pony. “Your mother can tie it up, then.”

He made Jim lean on him, and keep trying his foot, and pretty soon they found he could walk with it nearly the same as the other foot, and before they got to Jim’s house they were talking and laughing together.

After that, Pony Baker gave up running off to the Indians. He about gave up running off altogether. He had a splendid Fourth of July. His mother would not let him stay up the whole of the night before, but she let him get up at four o’clock, and fire off both his packs of shooting-crackers; and though she had forbidden him to go down to the river-bank where the men were firing off the cannon, he hardly missed it. He felt sleepy as soon as his crackers were done, and another fellow who was with him came into the parlor, and they both lay down on the carpet and went to sleep there, and slept till breakfast-time. After breakfast he went up to the court-house yard, with some other fellows, and then, after dinner, when they all came round and begged, and the big fellows promised to watch out for Pony, his mother let him go out to the second lock with them, and go in swimming in the canal. He did not know why this should be such a great privilege, but it was. He had never been out to the second lock before. It was outside of the corporation line, and that was a great thing in itself.

After supper, Pony’s mother let him fire off his powder-snake, and she even came out and looked at it, with her fingers in her ears. He promised her that it wouldn’t make any noise, but she could not believe him; and when the flash came, she gave a little whoop, and ran in-doors. It shamed him before the boys, for fear they would laugh; and she acted even worse when his father wished to let him go up to the court-house yard to see the fireworks.

A lot of the fellows were going, and he was to go with the crowd, but his father was to come a little behind, so as to see that nothing happened to him; and when they were just starting off what should she do but hollo to his father from the door where she was standing, “Do be careful of the child, Henry!” It did not seem as if she could be a good mother when she tried, and she was about the afraidest mother in the Boy’s Town.

All the way up to the court-house the boys kept snickering and whispering, “Don’t stump your toe, child,” and “Be careful of the child, boys,” and things like that till Pony had to fight some of them. Then they stopped. They were afraid his father would hear, anyway.

But the fireworks were splendid, and the fellows were very good to Pony, because his father stood in the middle of the crowd and treated them to lemonade, and they did not plague, any more, going home. It was ten o’clock when Pony got home; it was the latest he had ever been up.

The very Fourth of July before that one he had been up pretty nearly as late listening to his cousin, Frank Baker, telling about the fun he had been having at a place called Pawpaw Bottom; and the strange thing that happened there, if it did happen, for nobody could exactly find out. So I think I had better break off again from Pony, and say what it was that Frank told; and after that I can go on with Pony’s running off.

William Dean Howells

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