February 11, 2012

White Face Woman: 4 of 8

The major and his wife had now been together a couple of weeks. He lay awake at night planning their future. The West would break his wife’s heart—the West was her heart and love her home. He would teach her to be his ideal woman and wife. He would mold her purity and innocence to make her as happy as he could. He had capital and a substantial allowance from his father in England. He would build a Western home and stock it well. Indians would be their servants.
 Poor Major—man proposes, God disposes. Laugh today, cry tomorrow. Word reached the post that a dance called “The Night Dance” was to take place early in the evening. The Major, anxious to do what he could for his wife’s pleasure, took her to the dance.
          White Face Woman refused to go into the hall, an enclosure of trees, and said she wished only to look on from the outside. So they did. There was a great crowd of Indians, Metis, Red Coats, and non-descripts. Those in the hall were dressed in their best and were restless and excited.
          The dance began. The announcer called for “men’s choice for partners” and the usual bowl of fruit sauce was handed to each.
          The lady was invited by the gent touching her foot with a touch from his foot. If the one invited refused after the fourth invitation, he or she would be splashed with the fruit. At the end of the round, if she danced, the lady had to kiss her partner. If she refused, down came the sauce on her head.
          Every Indian knew the rules of this Night Dance and those who disapproved should never have gone to the dance. It was for this reason White Face Woman went as a spectator, in spite of the major’s urgings to go in and join the fun.
          To the surprise and discomfort of White Face Woman, a young man came out and invited her for a partner. She nearly blacked out. Her husband was amused and delighted to have his wife invited and he urged her repeatedly to accept. With some confusion and hesitation, at the last moment she accepted.
How gracefully White Face Woman danced—in perfect time with the drums—was long remembered. The major moved in closer to see his wife. So did every spectator. Every eye was on her.
          The dress she wanted to save was of white antelope skin, with porcupine quill work dyed in many fancy designs and colours, even down to the skirt sweeps and fringes. As she danced, the shells jingled and sparkled in many colours. Once she had her foot in it, she went through dance, eve to kissing her partner. It is the practice of the Sioux to try the heart of a man—even so far as to court his wife. So the major was now under trial.
          He was watching only his wife and therefore did not see the other partners demanding the customary kiss and getting it. Before the kiss was over, he moved quick as a cat to his wife, half dragged her out, and directly led her home. Some of the men laughed loudly, while women groaned, and the Red Coats cursed under their breath.
          White Face Woman’s little sister and two brothers ran and clung to her skirt, but quickly let go and ran when she commanded “Kikla” (go home!). Before they were out of sight, the major, crazed by jealousy, thrust his wife to the ground twice.
          When the woman rose the second time her right hand thrust a knife against the major’s side. A fire blazed in her eyes, while a strange light shone in those of the major. There the two stood, staring at each other like fighting cats. Then the husband loosened his steel-like grip and said almost in a whisper, “Eu-pi” (come) and led her home.
          Back of them, those with understanding, read the scene and whispered, “Ho.” Many spent a sleepless night. The Red Coats did not fall asleep till three in the morning—because of their major. The night watch had a bellyache and the major lay dozing alone in the adobe building, in his office.
          When the five o’clock bugle blew, two of the tipi poles that regulate the top flaps of the tipi to let out the smoke were see leaning against the stockade and White Face Woman was not to be found.
          The major went wild. All the others tried to look innocent. The Red Coat who drew all the blame was the night guard. His only defense was his bellyache. “In less than one minute,” he said, “that woman can set her poles and climb over.”

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