Wild at HeartShasta of the Wolves by Olaf Baker

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The days and weeks went by. By the time the dark blue flower of the camass had faded, and the yellow wild parsley had begun to look tired, Shasta began to feel again the same strange restlessness creeping over him which he had felt before. And whenever he turned his face towards the southeast, the remembrance of the Indian village would sit down thickly upon him, and he would stop to think. When he remembered the raw-hide lariat and the husky dogs, he hated the camp; but when he remembered with his nose-memory, the pleasant odour of the burning cottonwood and of the dried sweet grass came to him and made a stirring in his heart. Moreover, the Indian smell was there--the smell that does not come from cotton wood nor sweet-grass, or parfleches filled with buffalo meat, but clings about even the Indian names and is an odour of the old, forgotten times.

And as he went along the trails, somehow or other everything was different. The birds were there just the same. The blue jays were full of jabbering talk. The crows followed each other from tree to tree, always crying to those ahead to go farther on, and fasten their food-bags to another bough. And the woodpecker hammered hollowly at the hidden heart of the woods. As with the birds, so with the beasts. Nitka and Shoomoo went and came on the hunting trails, and the wolf-brothers howled in the night. Gomposh slapped the dead logs for grubs, and was a silly old bear when nobody was watching. But when he met any one he would sit down heavily at once and look dreadfully wise. And the weasels went on their wicked ways, killing and killing, not because of hunger, but the blood-lust to kill. And the red squirrels and the grey squirrels ran along the tree-tops for miles, without ever coming to ground; and the fussy little chipmunks fussed.

Yet in spite of all this, Shasta felt that something had changed, and that nothing could ever be quite the same again. And although the wolves brought him just as much meat as before, so that he never went hungry, he kept longing for the taste of the buffalo tongue which the Indian woman had thrown to him out of the smoking pot. The wolves never brought him anything so good as that. It made his mouth water whenever he thought of that delicious thing.

So he wandered up and down, up and down, more and more restless, and difficult to satisfy. It was not that he was unhappy. Sometimes, even, he was wildly happy, running and leaping in the sun, or swinging on a fir branch, and talking wolf-talk to himself. At such times the sunlight and the sweet mountain air seemed to have got into his blood, and the blue sky did not seem blue enough or the moss green enough, or the Bargloosh big enough, to be equal to his joy. It was the life that was in him which could not contain itself in his body, and kept overflowing the high brim of his heart!

Yet the creatures and their ways did not wholly satisfy him. That was the mischief of it. There were other creatures and other ways. He had seen those other creatures and he could not forget. He did not know that they were his own people, and that the drawing which he felt towards them was blood, and not cooked buffalo tongue. When his thoughts ran that way, it was the remembrance of the smell and the taste of the new life that was strongest. Even the memory of the lariat and the huskies could not overcome that. And as Meeko, the red squirrel, was always running along the green roof of the world, chickering and making mischief, and egging folks on to fight, so along the roof of Shasta’s mind the new restlessness ran, and chickered, and would not let him be.

The morning came at last when he bowed his head and obeyed. He stood a long time at the mouth of the cave, looking over the familiar world of forest and mountain, and the distant shining peaks. Far away to the south he saw a speck against the blue. It moved slowly as he watched. Something told him that it was Kennebec, sitting in the wind. Kennebec had been very quiet of late. Now that there were no eaglets to feed, there was not so much need to go cub and lamb snatching on the mountain slopes. Besides which, he avoided the Bargloosh. It was there that the creature lived who had dared to scale his rocks. Henceforth the Bargloosh became for Kennebec a place of danger, and he gave it a wide berth.

Now, as Shasta gazed over the wide spaces below him, and up at the rocks above, he looked at them wistfully, as if he were saying goodbye. He didn’t know anything about goodbye really, because the animals never consciously say farewell. They separate from each other because their feet take them, but it is mercifully hidden from them that some times they will not return. Something in him begged him to stay: to remain where he was and not mix himself up with the new, unexplained life that was busy among the foothills, where there were lariats and husky dogs, and where the creatures walked on their hind legs. Here he knew the world and the ways of all its folk. From the shadowy inside of the cave to the glare of the sunlight on the shimmering peaks, he was familiar with it all; it was built about his heart in a bigness that was home. But now, for some unexplained and mysterious reason he was leaving it and going to this other utterly different thing which had bound him and bitten him and had given new smells to his nose and a new taste to his tongue. And he knew perfectly well that neither Nitka nor Shoomoo, nor any of the wolf-brothers would wish him to go; just as clearly as if they all sat on their haunches in a row in front of him and implored him to remain. They were all away now, and he was alone at the den’s mouth. But if they should come back before he started, he knew that he could not keep the thing a secret from their sharp understandings. They would lick him, and rub noses, and look at him out of their wild wonderful eyes, and say, “We know, Little Person!” and then the thing would be impossible, and he would not be able to go.

In a moment he had run swiftly down the slope and was lost among the trees.

The sun was setting when he reached the end of the canyon towards the Indian camp. He did not go by way of the wolf-rocks this time. It was there that Looking-All-Ways had seized him, and he did not want to be caught like that again. So he had climbed down the steep sides of the gorge which the Indians call Big Wolf Canyon, and crept out among the high clumps of bunch-grass beside the stream. He could not see the village from here. It was hidden by a swell of the ground; but though he could not see it, he caught the sounds and the smells of it as they drifted down-wind. Presently he plucked up his courage and climbed to the top of the rising ground. Here the village was full in view. Soft blue trails of smoke were rising from the tops of the lodges, for the squaws were preparing the evening meal. The camp looked very peaceful, and not at all a thing to fill you with dread. Nevertheless, Shasta eyed it suspiciously, as a thing full of unexpected dangers which yelped and had sharp teeth.

Slowly he crept forward, crawling from tuft to tuft of grass, and taking advantage of every bit of rising ground, so that be might approach as close as possible without being seen. The things he was particularly on his guard against were the huskies; but as luck would have it, there was not a single dog on this side of the camp, so that he crept right up to the outer circle of lodges without any mishap. It was not till he had reached the inner circle of lodges and was crouching at the back of one of them that he was discovered.

The one who made the discovery was no less a person than Running-Laughing, the ten-year-old daughter of the chief. She was carrying a buffalo bag to fetch water from the stream, and passed so close behind the tepee that she almost trod on Shasta before she saw him. She stood still in amazement, looking down at the strange thing at her feet. Shasta gazed at her in equal astonishment, but also with fear. By reason of his position on the ground Running-Laughing looked taller to him than she really was. He marvelled at her appearance, and the things she seemed to have stuck on to her skin. It is true she only wore a soft-tanned buckskin dress, trimmed with porcupine quills and deer-bones, and had small white shells in her ears; but to Shasta’s unaccustomed eyes it was a wonderful and very dreadful gear. As for him, he was just as he was and was neatly dressed in his own skin, which was a reddish-brown under the fine hair.

For some time they looked at each other without a sound or a movement. Then Running-Laughing behaved like her name, and told her father, Big Eagle, what she had found.

Big Eagle was preparing for a religious service in the lodge of the Yellow Buffalo. When he heard that the wolf-child was again in the camp, he sent for Looking-All-Ways to tell him that his captive had returned.

Looking-All-Ways went at once with Running-Laughing to where Shasta crouched beside the tepee. When he came there, he did not attempt to touch Shasta, but he carried the raw-hide lariat with him in case of need. He did something even wiser. He sent Running-Laughing to find Shoshawnee, the medicine-man, and tell him to come. So Running Laughing fetched Shoshawnee, and when he came he began to “make medicine” with his voice.

Now, to “make medicine” with your voice is not an easy thing to do, and is only to be done by those who know forest-lore, and prairie-lore, and the secrets of the beasts. And Shoshawnee could do this, because he was crammed full of lore, and his head was bulging with buffalo wisdom and a knowledge of the beasts. As regards the beasts, he did not, of course, know as much as Shasta did, but he knew quite enough to make him wiser than the other Indians, and directly he began to talk, Shasta knew that he knew!

It was a wonderful and strange “medicine” which Shoshawnee made; and if you understood the Indian tongue you would have heard many beautiful and far-away things. For in the Indian medicine-talk there are many and many words which come a long way from the North and a long way from the South, and very far indeed from the East and West. From the North they fall, as the feathers drop from the wings of wild geese, when they come honk-honking in the deep nights. From the South they are of the buffalo where they wallow by the great lake whose waters never rest. From the East they are of the coyotes, and from the West of the wolves. And many other sounds there are, too, and words which make you think of the wind along the scarped edges of rocks, and of the rumble of avalanches as they fall thunderously, and of the whisper of the junipers when the air creeps. All the great wilderness seemed to give itself in echoes along Shoshawnee’s tongue.

As Shasta listened, a peculiar feeling came upon him. The sound of Shoshawnee’s speaking affected him as nothing had done before. It seemed to rub him gently all over with a soothing touch. Deep within him something answered to it, and was pleased. His fear and distrust of the Indians melted away under the influence of the voice. The look of the wild animal in his eyes began to soften into something that was almost human. Shoshawnee saw the effect which the medicine was producing, and went on.

Gradually he began to move away from the tepee. As he did so, he walked backwards, keeping his eyes always fixed upon Shasta, and holding him with his gaze. Shasta looked straight into Shoshawnee’s eyes. The eyes were like the voice. They drew him, whether he wanted them to or no. Slowly, step by step, he left the tepee and began to follow the medicine-man in his slow backward walk. Where he was going and why he was doing this he had no idea. Only the voice called him, and the eyes drew. He must follow those eyes and that voice wherever they chose to go.

By degrees Shoshawnee moved into the centre of the camp, Shasta following him a few feet away. Not many paces off, the lodge of the Yellow Buffalo was pitched. Inside sat Big Eagle and his braves, collected for the sacred ceremony. The ceremony had not yet begun, because they were waiting for the medicine-man to sing the opening words, without which the “medicine” of the buffaloes would not be complete.

At last Shoshawnee entered the lodge, still walking backwards. In a moment or two Shasta followed. He saw the braves sitting on the ground with Big Eagle in the centre. For the moment they were not saying or doing anything. There seemed to be a great number, for the tepee was full. Just in front of Big Eagle there burnt a small fire. After Shoshawnee and Shasta had entered and Shoshawnee had sat down, Big Eagle took an ember from the fire with a forked stick. He then put some dried sweet-grass on it, to burn. Soon the smoke of the burning grass filled the lodge with a pleasant smell. Shasta sniffed this new smell up his nose with delight. He watched the grey threads of smoke with won der. He thought they must be the wings of the ember which it waved in the air. Presently Big Eagle put his hands in the smoke and rubbed them over his body. Shasta looked on in astonishment. To him, hands were fore-paws. He had never seen fore-paws do so much, or do it in so odd a way.

When Big Eagle had rubbed himself all over with sweet smoke, he took another ember and with it lit a large pipe. The pipe was of polished stone, and red in colour.

Then Shasta saw what to him was the most surprising thing of all. When Big Eagle had put the red thing to his mouth, a wing came out and waved itself in the air! The pipe went from mouth to mouth, as the braves passed it round the lodge, and from every mouth, as it went, grey wings sprouted, and went wandering through the air.

After the smoking was over, the ceremony began. Shasta heard Shoshawnee make many strange noises, and let his voice run up and down as if he wanted to howl. It made Shasta want to howl also, but he remembered that he was not among the wolves now, and so he kept the feeling down.

When Shoshawnee had finished, the other braves went on. They seemed to want to howl badly too! Shasta could not understand how they could make so many odd noises in their throats, and yet never throw their heads back for the long sobbing note. On each side of Big Eagle were the squaws Lillooeet and Sarvis, his two wives. They had rattles in their hands, and they beat them on a buffalo hide stretched upon the floor. The beating was in time to the chanting, and Shasta watched in wonderment the rise and fall of the rattles, which, every time they touched the hide, gave out a sharp noise.

Presently, at a signal from Big Eagle, the rattling ceased. Shoshawnee rose. He advanced three paces towards Shasta. Then he stretched out his hand and laid it on his head. When Shasta felt the hand of Shoshawnee upon his head the tingling feeling ran in his blood and made his flesh creep. Then Shoshawnee spoke. What he said Shasta could not understand, yet it seemed to him that, as he had once been admitted to the wolf-pack as of its blood, now he was being received into the Indian pack as one of themselves. And he was right in his guess, for this is what Shoshawnee said:

“This is Shasta, the wolf-child. I have tamed him, because I understand the wolf- medicine. But he is the wolf-medicine! Because of that, he is stronger than I.”

There was a pause here, while the whole company gathered together in the tepee gazed at Shasta with awe. Presently Shoshawnee went on:

“Many moons ago, the Assiniboines, as you know, attacked us when we were moving to the Sakuska river to pitch our Summer camp. A squaw was killed, and her papoose carried off. The brave who did this was not an Assiniboine. He was Red Fox, who stole the Eagle medicine, and is a traitor to our tribe. Red Fox went to the Assiniboines with lies upon his tongue. But the papoose which Red Fox carried off was the grandson of Fighting Bull, our old chief, who died soon afterwards. And his name was Shasta, which is one of our oldest names. Nothing was afterwards seen of the papoose in the lodges of the Assiniboines. Why? I will tell you. Because its father had been his deadly enemy, Red Fox gave it to the wolves!”

Shoshawnee suddenly ceased speaking; but his eyes glowed, and the echo of his voice seemed to run in the ears of the braves, as if his thought, which was fierce and strong, made itself a voice out of the silence.

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