Running Elk by Rex Beach
Up from the valley below came the throb of war drums, the faint rattle
of shots, and the distant cries of painted horsemen charging. From
my vantage-point on the ridge I had an unobstructed view of the
encampment, a great circle of tepees and tents three miles in
circumference, cradled in a sag of the timberless hills. The sounds
came softly through the still Dakota air, and my eye took in every
sharp-drawn detail of the scene—ponies grazing along the creek
bottom, children playing beneath the blue smoke of camp-fires, the
dense crowd ringed about a medicine pole in their center, intent on a
Five thousand Sioux were here in all their martial splendor. They were
painted and decked and trapped for war, living again their days of
plenty, telling anew their tales of might, and repeating on a mimic
scale their greatest battles. Five days the feasting had continued;
five mornings had I been awakened at dawn to see a thousand ochered,
feathered horsemen come thundering down upon the camp, their horses
running flat, their rifles popping, while the valley rocked to their
battle-cries and to the answering clamor of the army which rode forth
to meet them. Five sultry days had I spent wandering unnoticed,
ungreeted, and disdained, an alien in a hostile land, tolerated but
unwelcome. Five evenings had I witnessed the tents begin to glow and
the campfires kindle until the valley became hooped about as if by a
million giant fireflies. Five nights had I strayed, like a lost soul,
through an unreal wilderness, harkening to the drone of stories told
in an unfamiliar tongue, to the minor-keyed dirges of an unknown race,
to the thumping of countless moccasined feet in the measures of queer
dances. The odors of a savage people had begun to pall on me, and the
sound of a strange language to annoy; I longed for another white man,
for a word in my own tongue.
It was the annual "Give-away" celebration, when all the tribe
assembles to make presents, to race, to tell stories, and to recount
the legends of their prowess. They had come from all quarters of the
reservation, bringing their trunks, their children, and their dogs. Of
the last named more had come, by far, than would go back, for this was
a week of feasting, and every day the air was heavy with the smell
of singeing hair, and the curs that had been spared gnawed at an
ever-increasing pile of bones.
I had seen old hags strangle dogs by pulling on opposite ends of a
slip-noose, or choke them by laying a tent-pole on their throats and
standing on the ends; I had seen others knock them down with billets
of wood, drag them kicking to the fires, and then knock them down
again when they crawled out of the flames. All in all, I had acquired
much information regarding the carnival appetites of the noble red
man, learning that he is poetic only in the abstract.
It was drawing on toward sunset, so I slipped into my camera strap and
descended the slope. I paused, however, while still some distance
away from my tent, for next to it another had been erected during my
absence. It was a tiny affair with a rug in front of it, and upon the
rug stood a steamer-chair.
"Hello, inside!" I shouted, then ran forward, straddling papooses and
shouldering squaws out of my way.
"Hello!" came an answer, and out through the flap was thrust the head
of my friend, the Government doctor.
"Gee! I'm glad to see you!" I said as I shook his hand. "I'm as
lonesome as a deaf mute at a song recital."
"I figured you would be," said the doctor, "so I came out to see the
finish of the feast and to visit with you. I brought some bread from
"Hoorah! White bread and white conversation! I'm hungry for both."
"What's the matter? Won't the Indians talk to you?"
"I guess they would if they could, but they can't. I haven't found one
among the whole five thousand who can understand a word I say. Your
Government schools have gone back in the betting with me, Doc. You
must keep your graduates under lock and key."
"They can all speak English if they want to—that is, the younger
ones. Some few of the old people are too proud to try, but the others
can talk as well as we can, until they forget."
"Do you mean to say these people have been fooling me? I don't believe
it," said I. "There's one that can't talk English, and I'll make a bet
on it." I indicated a passing brave with an eagle-feather head-dress
which reached far down his naked legs. He was a magnificent animal;
he was young and lithe, and as tall and straight as a sapling. "I've
tried him twice, and he simply doesn't understand."
My friend called to the warrior: "Hey, Tom! Come here a minute."
The Indian came, and the doctor continued, "When do you hold the
"To-morrow, at four o'clock, unless it rains," said the fellow.
He spoke in an odd, halting dialect, but his words were perfectly
"Are you going to ride?"
"No; my race-horse is sick."
As the ocher-daubed figure vanished into the dusk the old man turned
to me, saying, "College man."
"Yes. B.A. He's a graduate."
"Impossible!" I declared. "Why, he talks like a foreigner, or as if he
were just learning our language."
"Exactly. In another three years he'll be an Indian again, through and
through. Oh, the reservation is full of fellows like Tom." The
doctor heaved a sigh of genuine discouragement. "It's a melancholy
acknowledgment to make, but our work seems to count for almost
nothing. It's their blood."
"Perhaps they forget the higher education," said I; "but how about the
Agency school, where you teach them to farm and to sew and to cook, as
well as to read and to write? Surely they don't forget that?"
"I've heard a graduating class read theses, sing cantatas, and deliver
sounding orations; then I've seen those same young fellows, three
months later, squatting in tepees and eating with their fingers. It's
a common thing for our 'sweet girl graduates' to lay off their white
commencement-day dress, their high-heeled shoes and their pretty hats,
for the shawl and the moccasin. We teach them to make sponge-cake and
to eat with a fork, but they prefer dog-soup and a horn spoon. Of
course there are exceptions, but most of them forget much faster than
"Our Eastern ideas of Mr. Lo are somewhat out of line with the facts,"
I acknowledged. "He's sort of a hero with us. I remember several
successful plays with romantic Indians in the lead."
"I know!" My friend laughed shortly. "I saw some of them. If you like,
however, I'll tell you how it really happens. I know a story."
When we had finished supper the doctor told me the story of Running
Elk. The night was heavy with unusual odors and burdened by weird
music; the whisper of a lively multitude came to us, punctuated at
intervals by distant shouts or shots or laughter. On either hand the
campfires stretched away like twinkling stars, converging steadily
until the horns joined each other away out yonder in the darkness. It
was a suitable setting for an epic tale of the Sioux.
"I've grown gray in this service," the old man began, "and the longer
I live the less time I waste in trying to understand the difference
between the Indian race and ours. I've about reached the conclusion
that it's due to some subtle chemical ingredient in the blood. One
race is lively and progressive, the other is sluggish and atavistic.
The white man is ever developing, he's always advancing, always
expanding; the red man is marking time or walking backward. It is only
a matter of time until he will vanish utterly. He's different from the
negro. The negro enlarges, up to a certain limit, then he stops. Some
people claim, I believe, that his skull is sutured in such a manner as
to check his brain development when his bones finally harden and set.
The idea sounds reasonable; if true, there will never be a serious
conflict between the blacks and the whites. But the red man differs
from both. To begin with, his is not a subject race by birth.
Physically he is as perfect as either; Nature has endowed him with
an intellect quite as keen as the white man's, and with an open
articulation of the skull which permits the growth of his brain.
Somewhere, nevertheless, she has cunningly concealed a flaw, a flaw
which I have labored thirty years to find.
"I have a theory—you know all old men have theories—that it is
a physical thing, as tangible as that osseous constriction of the
cranium which holds the negro in subjection, and that if I could lay
my finger on it I could raise the Indian to his ancient mastery and
to a dignified place among the nations; I could change them from a
vanishing people into a race of rulers, of lawgivers, of creators. At
least that used to be my dream.
"Some years ago I felt that I was well on my way to success, for I
found a youth who offered every promise of great manhood. I studied
him until I knew his every trait and his every strength—he didn't
seem to have any weaknesses. I raised him according to my own ideas;
he became a tall, straight fellow, handsome as a bronze statue of a
god. Physically he was perfect, and he had a mind as fine as his body.
He had the best blood of his nation in him, being the son of a war
chief, and he was called Thomas Running Elk. I educated him at the
Agency school under my own personal supervision, and on every occasion
I studied him. I spent hours in shaping his mind and in bending him
away from the manners and the habits of his tribe. I taught him to
think like a white man. He responded like a growing vine; he became
the pride of the reservation—a reserved but an eager youth, with an
understanding and a wit beyond that of most white boys of his age.
Search him as rigorously as I might, I couldn't find a single flaw. I
believed I was about to prove my theory.
"Running Elk romped through our school, and he couldn't learn fast
enough; when he had finished I sent him East to college, and, in order
to wean him utterly away from the past, instead of sending him to
an Indian school I arranged for him to enter one of the big Eastern
universities, where no Indian had ever been, where constant
association with the flower of our race would by its own force raise
him to a higher level. Well, it worked. He led his classes as a
stag leads a herd. He was a silent, dignified, shadowy figure; his
fellow-students considered him unapproachable, nevertheless they
admired and they liked him. In all things he excelled; but he was
best, perhaps, in athletics, and for this I took the credit—a Jovian
satisfaction in my work.
"News of his victories on track and field and gridiron came to me
regularly, for his professors were interested in my experiment. As for
the boy himself, he never wrote; it was not his nature. Nor did he
communicate with his people. He had cut himself off from them, and I
think he looked down upon them. At intervals his father came to the
Agency to inquire about Running Elk, for I did not allow my protégé
to return even during vacations. That was a part of my plan. At my
stories of his son's victories the father made no comment; he merely
listened quietly, then folded his blanket about him and slipped away.
The old fellow was a good deal of a philosopher; he showed neither
resentment nor pleasure, but once or twice I caught him smiling oddly
at my enthusiasm. I know now what was in his mind.
"It was in Running Elk's senior year that a great thing came to him,
a thing I had counted upon from the start. He fell in love. A girl
entered his life. But this girl didn't enter as I had expected, and
when the news reached me I was completely taken aback. She was a girl
I had dandled on my knees as a child, the only daughter of an old
friend. Moreover, instead of Running Elk being drawn to her, as I had
planned, she fell desperately in love with him.
"I guess the gods were offended at my presumption and determined by
one hair's-breadth shift to destroy the balance of my whole structure.
They're a jealous lot, the gods. I didn't understand, at that time,
how great must have been the amusement which I offered them.
"You've heard of old Henry Harman? Yes, the railroad king. It was his
daughter Alicia. No wonder you look incredulous.
"In order to understand the story you'll have to know something about
old Henry. You'll have to believe in heredity. Henry is a self-made
man. He came into the Middle West as a poor boy, and by force of
indomitable pluck, ability, and doggedness he became a captain of
industry. We were born on neighboring farms, and while I, after a
lifetime of work, have won nothing except an underpaid Government
job, Henry has become rich and mighty. He had that indefinable,
unacquirable faculty for making money, and he became a commanding
figure in the financial world. He's dominant, he's self-centered, he's
one-purposed; he's a rough-hewn block of a man, and his unbounded
wealth, his power, and his contact with the world have never smoothed
nor rounded him. He's just about the same now as when he was a section
boss on his own railroad. His daughter Alicia is another Henry Harman,
feminized. Her mother was a pampered child, born to ease and enslaved
to her own whims. No desire of hers, however extravagant, ever went
ungratified, and right up to the hour of her death old Henry never
said no to her—partly out of a spirit of amusement, I dare say, and
partly because she was the only unbridled extravagance he had ever
yielded to in all his life. Well, having sowed the wind, he reaped the
whirlwind in Alicia. She combined the distinguishing traits of both
parents, and she grew up more effectively spoiled than her mother.
"When I got a panicky letter from one of Running Elk's professors
coupling her name vaguely with that of my Indian, I wavered in
my determination to see this experiment out; but the analyst is
unsentimental, and a fellow who sets out to untangle the skein of
nature must pay the price, so I waited.
"That fall I was called to Washington on department business—we
were fighting for a new appropriation—and while there I went to the
theater one night. I was extremely harassed, and my mind was filled
with Indian matters, so I went out alone to seek an evening's relief,
not caring whither my feet took me.
"The play was one of those you spoke of; it told the story of a young
Indian college man in love with a white girl. Whether or not it was
well written I don't know; but it seemed as if the hand of destiny had
led me to it, for the hero's plight was so similar to the situation of
Running Elk that it seemed almost uncanny, and I wondered if this play
might afford me some solution of his difficulty.
"You will remember that the Indian in the play is a great football
hero, and a sort of demi-god to his fellows. He begins to consider
himself one of them—their equal—and he falls in love with the sister
of his chum. But when this fact is made known his friends turn
against him and try to show him the barrier of blood. At the finish a
messenger comes bearing word that his father is dead and that he has
been made chief in the old man's place. He is told that his people
need him, and although the girl offers to go with him and make her
life his, he renounces her for his duty to the tribe.
"Well, it was all right up to that point, but the end didn't help me
in shaping the future of Running Elk, for his father was hale, hearty,
and contented, and promised to hang on in that condition as long as we
gave him his allowance of beef on Issue Day.
"That night when I got back to the hotel I found a long-distance
call from old Henry Harman. He had wired me here at the Agency, and,
finding I was in Washington, he had called me from New York. He didn't
tell me much over the 'phone, except that he wanted to see me at once
on a matter of importance. My work was about finished, so I took the
train in the morning and went straight to his office. When I arrived I
found the old fellow badly rattled. There is a certain kind of worry
which comes from handling affairs of importance. Men like Henry Harman
thrive upon it; but there's another kind which searches out the joints
in their coats of mail and makes women of them. That's what Henry was
"'Oh, Doc, I'm in an awful hole!' he exclaimed. 'You're the only man
who can pull me out. It's about Alicia and that damned savage of
"'I knew that was it,' said I.
"'If you've heard about it clear out there,' Harman declared, with a
catch in his voice, 'it's even worse than I thought.' He strode up and
down his office for a few moments; then he sank heavily into his chair
and commenced to pound his mahogany desk, declaring, angrily:
"'I won't be defied by my own flesh and blood! I won't! That's
all there is to it. I'm master of my own family. Why, the thing's
fantastic, absurd, and yet it's terrible! Heavens! I can't believe
"'Have you talked with Alicia?'
"'Not with her, to her. She's like a mule. I never saw such a will
in a woman. I—I've fought her until I'm weak. Where she got her
temper I don't know.' He collapsed feebly and I was forced to smile,
for there's only one thing stubborn enough to overcome a Harman's
resistance, and that is a Harman's desire.
"'Then it isn't a girlish whim?' I ventured.
"'Whim! Look at me!' He held out his trembling hands. 'She's licked
me, Doc. She's going to marry that—that—' He choked and muttered,
unintelligibly: 'I've reasoned, I've pleaded, I've commanded. She
merely smiles and shrugs and says I'm probably right, in the abstract.
Then she informs me that abstract problems go to pieces once in a
while. She says this—this—Galloping Moose, this yelping ghost-dancer
of yours, is the only real man she ever met.'
"'What does he have to say?'
"'Humph!' grunted Harman. 'I offered to buy him off, but he threatened
to serve me up with dumplings and wear my scalp in his belt. Such
insolence! Alicia wouldn't speak to me for a week.'
"'You made a mistake there,' said I. 'Running Elk is a Sioux. As for
Alicia, she's thoroughly spoiled. She's never been denied any single
thing in all her life, and she has your disposition. It's a difficult
"'Difficult! It's scandalous—hideous!'
"'How old is Alicia?'
"'Nineteen. Oh, I've worn out that argument! She says she'll wait. You
know she has her own money, from her mother.'
"'Does Running Elk come to your house?'
"At this my old friend roared so fiercely that I hastened to say:
'I'll see the boy at once. I have more influence with him than anybody
"'I hope you can show him how impossible, how criminal, it is to ruin
my girl's life.' Harman said this seriously. 'Yes, and mine, too,
for that matter. Suppose the yellow newspapers got hold of this!' He
shuddered. 'Doc, I love that girl so well that I'd kill her with my
own hands rather than see her disgraced, ridiculed—'
"'Tut, tut!' said I. 'That's pride—just plain, selfish pride.'
"'I don't care a damn what it is, I'd do it. I earned my way in the
world, but she's got blue blood in her and she was born to a position;
she goes everywhere. When she comes out she'll be able to marry into
the best circles in America. She could marry a duke, if she wanted to.
I'd buy her one if she said the word. Naturally, I can't stand for
this dirty, low-browed Injun.'
"'He's not dirty,' I declared, 'and he's not as low-browed as some
foreigner you'd be glad to pick out for her.'
"'Well, he's an Injun,' retorted Harman, 'and that's enough. We've
both seen 'em tried; they all drop back where they started from. You
know that as well as I do.'
"'I don't know it,' said I, thinking of my theories. 'I've been using
him to make an experiment, but—the experiment has gotten away from
me. I dare say you're right. I wanted him to meet and to know white
girls, but I didn't want him to marry one—certainly not a girl like
Alicia. No, we must put a stop to this affair. I'll see him right
"'To-morrow is Thanksgiving,' said Henry. 'Wait over and go up with us
and see the football game.'
"'Are you going?'
"Harman grimaced. 'Alicia made me promise. I'd rather take her than
let her go with friends—there's no telling what she might do.'
"'Why let her go at all?' I objected.
"The old fellow laughed mirthlessly. 'Why let her? Running Elk plays
full-back! How stop her? We'll pick you up at your hotel in the
morning and drive you up in the car. It's the big game of the year.
You'll probably enjoy it. I won't!'
"Miss Harman seemed glad to see me on the following day. She must have
known that I was in her father's confidence, but she was too well
schooled to show it. As we rode out in the big limousine I undertook
to study her, but the reading of women isn't my game. All I could see
was a beautiful, spirited, imperious girl with the Harman eyes and
chin. She surprised me by mentioning Running Elk of her own free will;
she wasn't the least bit embarrassed, and, although her father's face
whitened, she preserved her quiet dignity, and I realized that she was
in no wise ashamed of her infatuation. I didn't wonder that the old
gentleman chose to accompany her to this game, although he must
have known that the sight of Running Elk would pain him like a
"It was the first great gridiron battle I had ever seen, and so I was
unprepared for the spectacle. The enthusiasm of that immense crowd
astonished me, and in spite of the fact that I had come as a tired old
man, it got into my veins until my heart pounded and my pulses leaped.
The songs, the shouts, the bellows of that multitude were intensely
thrilling, for youth was in them. I grew young again, and I was half
ashamed of myself until I saw other people of my own age who had also
become boys and girls for the day. And the seriousness of it! Why, it
was painful! Not one of those countless thousands was a disinterested
spectator; they were all intensely partisan, and you'd have thought
life or death hung on the victory.
"Not one, did I say? There was one who held himself aloof from all the
enthusiasm. Old Henry sat like a lump of granite, and out of regard
for him I tried to restrain myself.
"We had a box, close to the side lines, with the élite of the East
on either hand—people whose names I had read. They bowed and smiled
and waved to our little party, and I felt quite important.
"You've probably seen similar games, so there's no need of my
describing this one, even if I could. It was my first experience,
however, and it impressed me greatly. When the teams appeared I
recognized Running Elk at a distance. So did the hordes of madmen
behind us, and I began to understand for the first time what it was
that the old man in the seat next to mine was combating.
"A dancing dervish in front of the grandstand said something through a
megaphone, then he waved a cane, whereupon a tremendous barking, 'Rah!
Rah! Rah!' broke out. It ended with my Sioux boy's name, and I wished
the old chief back in Dakota were there to see his son and to witness
the honor done him by the whites.
"Quite as impressive to me as this demonstration was the death-like
silence which settled over that tremendous throng when the teams
scattered out in readiness. The other side kicked off, and the ball
sailed high and far. As it settled in its downward flight, I saw a
lithe, tall shadow of a man racing toward it, and I recognized my
boy. I'd lost his position for the moment, but I knew that hungry,
predatory stride which devoured the yards as if he were a thing of the
wind. He was off with the ball in the hollow of his arm, right back
into the heart of his enemies, dodging, darting, leaping, twisting,
always advancing. They tore his interference away from him, but,
nevertheless, he penetrated their ranks and none of them could lay
hands upon him. He was running free when tackled; his assailant
launched himself with such savage violence that the sound of their
impact came to us distinctly. As he fell I heard Alicia Harman gasp.
Then the crowd gave tongue.
"From that time on to the finish of the game my eyes seldom left
Running Elk, and then only long enough to shoot covert glances at my
"Although the skill of my young Sioux overtopped that of all the other
contestants, the opposing team played as one man; they were like
a wonderful, well-oiled piece of machinery, and—they scored. All
through the first half our side struggled to retaliate, but at the
intermission they had not succeeded.
"So far Running Elk hadn't noticed our presence, but when the teams
returned for the second half he saw us. He didn't even know that I was
in the East; in fact, he hadn't laid eyes on me for more than three
years. The sight of me there in the box with Alicia and her father
must have been an unpleasant shock to him; my face must have seemed an
evil omen; nevertheless, he waved his hand at me and smiled—one of
his rare, reserved smiles. I couldn't help marveling at the fellow's
"I had been secretly hoping that his side would be defeated, so that
Miss Harman might see him for once as a loser; but the knowledge of
our presence seemed to electrify him, and by the spark of his own
magnetism he fired his fellows until they commenced to play like
madmen; I have no doubt they were precisely that. His spirit was like
some galvanic current, and he directed them with a master mind. He was
a natural-born strategist, of course, for through him ran the blood of
the craftiest race of all the earth, the blood of a people who have
always fought against odds, to whom a forlorn hope is an assurance
of victory. On this day the son of a Sioux chief led the men of
that great university with the same skill that Hannibal led his
Carthaginian cohorts up to the gates of Rome. He led them with the
cunning of Chief Joseph, the greatest warrior of his people. He was
indefatigable, irresistible, magnificent—and he himself tied the
"In spite of myself I joined madly in the cheering; but the boy didn't
let down. Now that his enemies recognized the source of their peril,
they focused upon him all their fury. They tried to destroy him. They
fell upon him like animals; they worried and they harried and they
battered him until I felt sick for him and for the girl beside me,
who had grown so faint and pale. But his body was of my making; I had
spent careful years on it, and although they wore themselves out, they
could not break Running Elk. He remained a fleeting, an elusive thing,
with the vigor of a wild horse. He tackled their runners with the
ferocity of a wolf.
"It was a grand exhibition of coolness and courage, for he was
everywhere, always alert and always ready—and it was he who won the
"There came some sort of a fumble, too fast for the eye to follow, and
then the ball rolled out of the scrimmage. Before we knew what had
happened, Running Elk was away with it, a scattered field ahead of
"I dare say you have heard about that run, for it occurred in the last
three minutes of play, and is famous in football annals to this day,
so I'm told. It was a spectacular performance, apparently devised by
fate to make more difficult the labors of old Henry and me. Every
living soul on those high-banked bleachers was on his feet at the
finish, a senseless, screaming demon. I saw Alicia straining forward,
her face like chalk, her very lips blanched, her whole high-strung
body aquiver. Her eyes were distended, and in them I saw a look which
told me that this was no mere girlish whim, that this was more than
the animal call of youth and sex. Running Elk had become a fetish to
"The father must likewise have recognized this, for as we passed out
he stammered into my ear:
"'You see, Doc, the girl's mad. It's awful—awful. I don't know what
"We had become momentarily separated from her, and therefore I urged
him: 'Get her away, quick, no matter how or where. Use force if you
have to, but get her out of this crowd, this atmosphere, and keep her
away. I'll see him to-night.'
"The old fellow nodded. 'I—I'll kidnap her and take her to Europe,'
he mumbled. 'God! It's awful!'
"I didn't go back to the city with the Harmans; but I told Alicia
good-by at the running-board of the machine. I don't think she heard
"Running Elk was glad to see me, and I spent that evening with him. He
asked all about his people; he told me of his progress, and he spoke
lightly of his victory that day. But sound him as I would, I could
elicit no mention of Alicia Harman's name. He wasn't much of a talker,
anyhow, so at last I was forced to bring up the subject myself. At my
first word the silence of his forefathers fell upon him, and all he
did was listen. I told him forcibly that any thoughts of her were
ridiculous and impossible.
"'Why?' said he, after I had finished.
"I told him a thousand reasons why; I recounted them cruelly,
unfeelingly, but he made no sign. As a matter of fact, I don't think
he understood them any more than he understood the affair itself. He
appeared to be blinded, confused by the splendor of what had come to
him. Alicia was so glorious, so different, so mysterious to him, that
he had lost all sense of perspective and of proportion. Recognizing
this, I descended to material things which I knew he could grasp.
"'I paid for your education,' said I, 'and it is almost over with. In
a few months you'll be turned out to make your own living, and then
you'll encounter this race prejudice I speak of in a way to effect
your stomach and your body. You're a poor man, Running Elk, and you've
got to earn your way. Your blood will bar you from a good many means
of doing it, and when your color begins to affect your earning
capacity you'll have all you can do to take care of yourself. Life
isn't played on a gridiron, and the first thing you've got to do is
to make a man of yourself. You've got no right to fill your head with
dreams, with insane fancies of this sort.'
"'Yes, sir!' said he, and that was about all I could get out of him.
His reticence was very annoying.
"I didn't see him again, for I came West the next day, and the weeks
stretched into months without word of him or of the others.
"Shortly before he was due to return I was taken sick—the one big
illness of my life, which came near ending me, which made me into the
creaking old ruin that I am. They sent me away to another climate,
where I got worse, then they shifted me about like a bale of goods,
airing me here and there. For a year and a half I hung over the edge,
one ailment running into another, but finally I straightened out a bit
and tottered back into Washington to resume operations.
"For six months I hung around headquarters, busied on department
matters. I had lost all track of things out here, meanwhile, for the
agent had been changed shortly after I left, and no one had taken
the trouble to keep me posted; but eventually I showed up on the
reservation again, reaching here on the first of July, three days
before the annual celebration of the people.
"Many changes had occurred in my two years' absence, and there was no
one to bring me gossip, hence I heard little during the first day or
two while I was picking up the loose ends of my work. One thing I did
find out, however—namely, that Running Elk had come straight home
from college, and was still on the reserve. I determined to look him
up during the festival.
"But on the morning of the Fourth I got the surprise of my life. The
stage from the railroad brought two women, two strange women, who came
straight to my office—Alicia Harman and her French maid.
"Well, I was fairly knocked endwise; but Alicia was as well-poised and
as self-contained as on that Thanksgiving morning in New York when
she and old Henry had picked me up in their automobile—a trifle more
stunning and a bit more determined, perhaps. Oh, she was a splendid
creature in the first glory of her womanhood, a perfectly groomed and
an utterly spoiled young goddess. She greeted me graciously, with that
queenly air of all great ladies.
"'Where is your father?' I asked, as she laid off her dust-coat.
"'He's in New York,' said she. 'I'm traveling alone.'
"'And where have you been all this time?'
"'In Europe, mainly; Rome, Naples, Cairo, India, St. Petersburg,
London—all about, in fact. Father took me abroad the day after
Thanksgiving—you remember? And he has kept me there. But I came of
age two weeks ago.'
"'Two weeks!' I ejaculated.
"'Yes, I took the first ship after my birthday. I've been traveling
pretty constantly ever since. This is a long way from the world out
here, isn't it?' She looked around curiously.
"'From your world, yes,' said I, and when she offered nothing further
I grew embarrassed. I started to speak; then, noting the maid, I
hesitated; but Alicia shook her head faintly.
"'Lisette doesn't understand a word of English,' said she.
"'Why have you come out here, Alicia?' I inquired. I was far more ill
at ease than she.
"'Do you need to ask?' She eyed me defiantly. 'I respected father's
wishes when I was in my minority. I traveled and studied and did all
the tiresome things he commanded me to do—as long as he had the right
to command. But when I became my own mistress I—took my full freedom.
He made his life to suit himself; I intend to make mine to suit
myself. I'm sorry I can't please him, but we don't seem to see things
the same way, and I dare say he has accepted the inevitable.'
"'Then you consider this—this move you evidently contemplate as
"She lifted her dainty brows. 'Inevitable isn't a good word. I wish a
certain thing; I have wished it from the first; I have never ceased
for an instant to wish it; I feel that I must have it; therefore, to
all intents and purposes, it is inevtable. Anyhow, I'm going to have
"'You have—er—been in communication with—'
"'Never! Father forbade it.'
"'Then how did you know he is here?'
"'He wrote me when he left college. He said he was coming home. I've
heard nothing since. He is here, isn't he?'
"'So I believe. I haven't seen him yet; you know I've been away
"'Will you take me to him?'
"'Have you really weighed this thing?' I remonstrated. 'Do you realize
what it means?'
"'Please don't.' She smiled wearily. 'So many people have tried to
argue me out of my desires. I shall not spoil my life, believe me; it
is too good a thing to ruin. That is precisely why I'm here.'
"'If you insist.' I gave in reluctantly. 'Of course I'll put myself
at your service. We'll look for him to-morrow.' All sorts of wild
expedients to thwart a meeting were scurrying through my mind.
"'We'll go to-day,' said she.
"'At once! If you're too busy I'll ask somebody else—'
"'Very well!' said I. 'We'll drive out to the encampment.' And I sent
for my buckboard.
"I was delayed in spite of myself until nearly sundown, and meanwhile
Alicia Harman waited in my office, pacing the floor with ill-concealed
impatience. Before starting I ventured one more remonstrance, for I
was filled with misgivings, and the more I saw of this girl the more
fantastic and unnatural this affair seemed. But the unbridled impulses
of her parents were bearing fruit, and no one could say her nay. She
afforded the most illuminating study in heredity that I have ever
"We didn't say much during our fifteen-mile drive, for I was worried
and Alicia was oddly torn between apprehension and exultation. We had
left the French maid behind. I don't know that any woman ever went to
her lover under stranger circumstances or in greater perturbation of
spirit than did this girl, behind whom lay a generation of selfishness
"It was well along in the evening when we came over the ridge and saw
the encampment below us. You can imagine the fairy picture it made
with its myriad of winking fires, with the soft effulgence of a
thousand glowing tents, and with the wonderful magic of the night over
it all. As we drew nearer, the unusual sounds of a strange merrymaking
came to us—the soft thudding of drums, the weird melody of the
dances, the stir and the confusion of crowded animal life. In the
daylight it would have been sufficiently picturesque, but under the
wizard hand of the darkness it became ten times more so.
"When I finally tied my horses and led the girl into the heart of it I
think she became a bit frightened, for these Indians were the Sioux of
a bygone day. They were barbaric in dress and in demeanor.
"I guided her through the tangle of tepees, through glaring fire-lit
circles and through black voids where we stumbled and had to feel our
way. We were jostled and elbowed by fierce warriors and by sullen
squaws. At every group I asked for Running Elk, but he was merely one
of five thousand and nobody knew his whereabouts.
"The people have ever been jealous of their customs, and as a result
we were frequently greeted by cold looks and sudden silences.
Recognizing this open resentment, my companion let down a thick
automobile veil which effectually hid her face. Her dust-coat was long
and loose and served further to conceal her identity.
"At one time we came upon a sight I would gladly have spared her—the
spectacle of some wrinkled hags strangling a dog by the light of a
fire. The girl at my side stifled a cry at the apparition.
"'What are they doing?' she gasped.
"'Preparing the feast,' I told her.
"'They do,' said I. 'Come!' I tried to force her onward, but she would
not stir until the sacrifice had been dragged to the flames, where
other carcasses were singeing among the pots and kettles. From every
side came the smell of cooking meat, mingled with the odor of burning
hair and flesh. I could hear Miss Harman panting as we went on.
"We circled half the great hoop before we came upon the trail of our
man, and were directed to a near-by tepee, upon the glowing walls of
which many heads were outlined in silhouette, and from which came the
monotonous voice of a story-teller.
"I don't know what hopes the girl had been nursing; she must have
looked upon these people not as kindred of Running Elk, but rather as
his servants, his slaves. Realizing that her quest was nearly ended,
her strength forsook her and she dropped behind me. The entrance to
the tepee was congested by those who could not find space inside, but
they rose silently, upon recognizing me, and made room. I lifted the
flap and peered within, clearing a view for Miss Harman.
"We beheld a circle of half-naked braves in full war regalia,
squatting haunch to haunch, listening to a story-teller. In front of
them was a confusion of blackened pails and steaming vessels, into
which they dipped with their naked fingers. Their faces were streaked
with paint, their lips were greasy with traces of the dish, the air
of the place was reeking from their breaths. My eyes were slower than
Alicia's, and so I did not distinguish our quarry at first, although a
slow sigh at my ear and a convulsive clutch at my arm told me that he
"And then I, too, saw Running Elk. It was he who was talking, to whom
the others listened. What a change two years had wrought! His voice
was harsh and guttural, his face, through the painted daubs and
streaks, was coarser and duller than when I had seen him. His very
body was more thin and shrunken.
"He finished his tale while we stared at him; the circle broke into
commendatory grunts, and he smiled in childlike satisfaction at the
impression he had made. He leaned forward and, scrutinizing the litter
of sooty pots, plunged his hand into the nearest one.
"Miss Harman stumbled back into the crowd and her place was taken by a
"'Running Elk,' I called, over the heads of those next the entrance,
and, seeing my face against the night, he arose and came out, stepping
over the others.
"'How do you do?' I said. 'You haven't forgotten me, have you?'
"He towered head and shoulders above me, his feather head-dress adding
to his stature. The beaded patterns of his war-harness stood out dimly
in the half-light.
"'No, no! I will never forget you, doctor. You—you have been sick.'
The change in his speech was even more noticeable when he turned
his tongue to English. He halted over his words and he mouthed them
"'Yes, pretty sick. And you, what are you doing?'
"'I do what the rest do,' said he. 'Nothing! I have some horses and a
few head of cattle, that is all.'
"'Are you satisfied?' I demanded, sharply. He eyed me darkly for an
instant, then he answered, slowly:
"'I am an Indian. I am satisfied.'
"'Then education didn't do you any good, after all?' I was offended,
disappointed; I must have spoken gruffly.
"This time he paused a long while before he replied.
"'I had dreams,' said he, 'many dreams, and they were splendid; but
you told me that dreams were out of place in a Sioux, so I forgot
them, along with all the things I had learned. It is better so.'
"Alicia Harman called me in a voice which I did not recognize, so I
shook hands with Running Elk and turned away. He bowed his head and
slunk back through the tepee door, back into the heart of his people,
back into the past, and with him went my experiment. Since then I have
never meddled with the gods nor given them cause to laugh at me."
The doctor arose and stretched himself, then he entered his tent for
a match. The melancholy pulse of the drums and the minor-keyed chant
which issued out of the night sounded like a dirge sung by a dying
"What became of Running Elk?" I inquired.
The old man answered from within. "That was he I asked about the
horse-races. He's the man you couldn't understand, who wouldn't talk
to you. He's nearly an Indian again. Alicia Harman married a duke."