A FOX AND A RAVEN
By Rebecca Harding Davis
[A raven, sitting high up on a limb, had a fine piece of cheese. He
was just going to enjoy it, when along came Mr. Fox. Now the fox
wanted the cheese, and he knew he could not catch the raven. So he
began to flatter the raven's croaking voice, and to beg the raven for
one of his "sweet songs." At last the poor raven, silly with flattery,
opened his mouth to sing—when lo! the cheese dropped to the ground,
and off ran the wily fox with the stolen treasure in his mouth. The
raven flew away, and never was heard of again.]
Donee was a king's daughter. She had heard her father talk of the
battles into which he had led his mighty warriors, and of how all the
world that she knew had once been his, from the hills behind which the
sun rose to the broad rushing river where it set. Now all of this
account was strictly true.
But the king, as he talked, wore no clothes but a muddy pair of cotton
trousers, and sat on a log in the sun, a pig rooting about his bare
feet. Black Joe, going by, called him a lazy old red-skin; and that
was true, too. But these differing accounts naturally confused Donee's
mind. When the old chief was dead, however, there was an end of all
talk of his warriors or battles. A large part of the land was left,
though; a long stretch of river bottom and forests, with but very
little swamp. Donee's brother, Oostogah, when he was in a good humor,
planted and hoed a field of corn (as he had no wife to do it for him),
and with a little fish and game, they managed to find enough to eat.
Oostogah and the little girl lived in a hut built of logs and mud,
and, as the floor of it never had been scrubbed, the grass actually
began to grow out of the dirt in the corners. There was a log
smouldering on the hearth, where Donee baked cakes of pounded corn and
beans in the ashes, and on the other side of the dark room was the
heap of straw where she slept. Besides this, there were two hacked
stumps of trees which served for chairs, and an iron pot out of which
they ate; and there you have the royal plenishing of that palace.
All the other Indians had long ago gone West. Donee had nothing and
nobody to play with. She was as easily scared as a rabbit; yet
sometimes, when Oostogah was gone for days together, she was so lonely
that she would venture down through the swamp to peep out at the
water-mill and the two or three houses which the white people had
built. The miller, of all the white people, was the one that she liked
best to watch, he was so big and round, and jolly; and one day, when
he had met her in the path, he did not call her "Injun," or "red
nigger," as the others did, but had said: "Where's your brother, my
dear?" just as if she were white. She saw, sometimes, his two little
girls and boy playing about the mill-door, and they were round and
fat, and jolly, just like their father.
At last, one day Oostogah went down to the mill, and Donee plucked up
her courage and followed him. When she was there hiding close behind
the trough in which the horses were watered, so that nobody could see
her, she heard the miller say to her brother: "You ought to go to work
to clear your land, my lad. In two years there will be hundreds of
people moving in here, and you own the best part of the valley."
Oostogah nodded. "The whole country once belonged to my people."
"That's neither here nor there," said the miller. "Dead chickens don't
count for hatching. You go to work now and clear your land, and you
can sell it for enough to give you and this little girl behind the
trough an education. Enough to give you both a chance equal to any
Oostogah nodded again, but said nothing. He was shrewd enough, and
could work, too, when he was in the humor. "Come, Donee," he said.
But the miller's little Thad. and Jenny had found Donee behind the
trough, and the three were making a nettle basket together, and were
very well acquainted already.
"Let the child stay till you come back from fishing, Oostogah," said
So Donee staid all the afternoon. Jenny and Betty rolled and shouted,
and could not talk fast enough with delight because they had this new
little girl to play with, and Thad. climbed all the trees, as Jenny
said, to "show off," and Betty tumbled into the trough head over heels
and was taken out dripping.
Donee was very quiet, but it was to her as if the end of the world had
come, all this was so happy and wonderful. She never had had anybody
to play with before.
Then, when Betty was carried in to be dried and dressed, there was,
too, the bright, cheerful room, with a lovely blue carpet on the
floor, and a white spread on the bed with fringe, and red dahlias that
shone in the sun, putting their heads in at the window. Betty's mother
did not scold when she took her wet clothes off, but said some funny
things which made them laugh. She looked at Donee now and then,
standing with her little hands clasped behind her back.
"Does your mother never wash or dress you, Donee?" said Betty.
"She is dead," said Donee.
Betty's mother did not say any more funny things after that. When
she had finished dressing Betty, to the tying of her shoes, she called
the little Indian girl up to her.
"What can you do?" she said. "Sew? Make moccasins?"
She had the pleasantest voice. Donee was not at all afraid. "I can
sew. I can make baskets," she said. "I am going to make a basket for
every one of you."
"Very well. You can have a tea-party, Jenny, out of doors." Then she
opened a cupboard. "Here are the dishes," taking out a little box.
"And bread, jam, milk, sugar, and candy."
"Candy!" cried Betty, rushing out to tell Thad.
"Candy? Hooray!" shouted Thad.
For there are no shops out in that wild country where a boy can run
for a stick of lemon or gumdrops every time he gets a penny. It was
very seldom that Thad. or Betty could have a taste of those red and
white "bull's eyes" which their mother now took out of the jar in the
locked cupboard. They knew she brought it out to please the little
Indian girl, whose own mother was dead.
Jenny set the table for the tea-party under a big oak. There was a
flat place on one of the round roots that rose out of the moss, which
was the very thing for a table. So there she spread the little white
and gold plates and cups and saucers, with the meat dish (every bit as
large as your hand), in the middle, full of candy. The milk, of
course, was put in the pot for coffee, and set on three dead leaves to
boil; and Jenny allowed Donee to fill the jam dishes herself, with her
own hands. Donee could hardly get her breath as she did it.
When they were all ready they sat down. The sun shone, and the wind
was blowing, and the water of the mill-race flashed and gurgled as it
went by, and a song-sparrow perched himself on the fence close to them
and sang, and sang, just as if he knew what was going on.
"He wants to come to the party!" said Betty, and then they all
laughed. Donee laughed too.
The shining plates just fitted into the moss, and there was a little
pitcher, the round-bellied part of which was covered with sand, while
the handle and top were, Jenny said, of solid gold; that was put in
the middle of all.
Donee did not think it was like fairy-land or heaven, because she had
never in her life heard of fairy-land or heaven. She had never seen
anything but her own filthy hut, with its iron pot and wooden spoons.
When it was all over, the children's mother (Donee felt as if she was
her mother too) called her in, and took out of that same cupboard a
roll of the loveliest red calico.
"Now, Donee," she said, "if you can make yourself a dress of this I
will give you this box," and she opened a box, just like Jenny's.
Inside, packed in thin slips of paper, was a set of dishes; pure
white, with the tiniest rose-bud in the middle of each; cups, saucers,
meat-dish, coffee-pot, and all; and, below all, a pitcher, with sand
on the brown bottom, but the top and handle of solid gold!
Donee went back to the hut, trotting along beside Oostogah, her roll
of calico under her arm. The next day she cut it out into a slip and
began to sew.
Oostogah was at work all day cutting down dead trees. When he came in
at night, Donee said: "If you sold the land for much money, could we
have a home like the miller's?"
Oostogah was as much astonished as if a chicken had asked him a
question, but he said, "Yes."
"Would I be like Jenny and Betty?"
"You're a chief's daughter," grunted Oostogah.
One day in the next week she went down to the river far in the woods,
and took a bath, combing her long straight black hair down her
shoulders. Then she put on her new dress, and went down to the
miller's house. It was all very quiet, for the children were not
there, but their mother came to the door. She laughed out loud with
pleasure when she saw Donee. The red dress was just the right color
for her to wear with her dark skin and black hair. Her eyes were soft
and shy, and her bare feet and arms (like most Indian women's) pretty
enough to be copied in marble.
"You are a good child—you're a very good child! Here are the dishes.
I wish the children were at home. Sit right down on the step now and
eat a piece of pie."
But Donee could not eat the pie, her heart was so full.
"Hillo!" called the miller, when he saw her. "Why, what a nice girl
you are to-day, Dony! Your brother's hard at work, eh? It will all
come right, then."
Donee stood around for a long time, afraid to say what she wanted.
"What is it?" asked the miller's wife.
Donee managed to whisper, if she were to have a party the next day,
could the children come to it? and their mother said: "Certainly, in
When the little girl ran down the hill, the miller said: "Seems as
if't would be easy to make Christians out of them two."
"I'm going to do what I can for Donee," said the miller's wife.
It was not so easy for the little red-skinned girl to have a party,
for she had neither jam nor bread, nor butter, not to mention candy.
But she was up very early the next morning, and made tiny little cakes
of corn, no bigger than your thumbnail, and she went to a hollow tree
she knew of and got a cupful of honey, and brought some red haws, and
heaps of nuts, hickory and chestnuts. When Oostogah had gone, she set
out her little dishes under a big oak, and dressed herself in her
lovely frock, though she knew the party could not begin for hours and
hours. The brown cakes and honey, and scarlet haws, were in the white
dishes, and the gold pitcher, with a big purple flower, was in the
middle. Donee sat down and looked at it all. In a year or two Oostogah
would build a house like the miller's, and she should have a blue
carpet on the floor, and a white bed, and wear red frocks every day,
Just then she heard voices talking. Oostogah had come back; he sat
upon a log; and the trader, who came around once a year, stood beside
him, a pack open at his feet. It was this peddler, Hawk, who was
"I tell you, Oostogy, the miller's a fool. There's no new settlers
coming here, and nobody wants your land. There's hundreds and
thousands of acres beyond better than this. You'd better take my
offer. Look at that suit!"
He held up short trousers of blue cloth worked with colored porcupine
quills, and a scarlet mantle glittering with beads and gold fringe.
"I don't want it," grunted Oostogah. "Sell my land for big pile
"Oh, very well. I don't want to buy your land. There's thousands of
acres to be had for the asking, but there's not such a dress as that
in the United States. I had that dress made on purpose for you,
Oostogy. I said: 'Make me a dress for the son of a great chief. The
handsomest man'" (eying the lad from head to foot) "'that lives this
side of the great water.'"
Oostogah grunted, but his eyes began to sparkle.
"Here now, Oostogy, just try it on to please me. I'd like to see you
dressed like a chief for once."
Oostogah, nothing loth, dropped his dirty blanket, and was soon rigged
in the glittering finery, while Hawk nodded in rapt admiration.
"There's not a man in the country, red-skin or pale-face, but would
know you for the son of the great Denomah. Go look down in the creek,
Oostogah went, and came back, walking more slowly. He began to take
off his mantle.
"There's a deputation from these Northern tribes going this winter to
see the Great Father at Washington. If Oostogy had a proper dress he
could go. But shall the son of Denomah come before the Great Father in
a torn horse-blanket?"
"Your words are too many," said Oostogah. "I have made up my mind. I
will sell you the land for the clothes."
Donee came up then, and stood directly before him, looking up at him.
But she said nothing. It is not the habit of Indian women and children
to speak concerning matters of importance.
Oostogah pushed her out of the way, and, with the trader, went into
the hut to finish their bargain.
In an hour or two her brother came to Donee. He had his new clothes in
a pack on his back. "Come," he said, pointing beyond the great river
to the dark woods.
"We will come back here again, Oostogah?"
"No; we will never come back."
Donee went to the tree and looked down at the party she had made; at
the little dishes with the rose on each. But she did not lift one of
them up. She took off her pretty dress and laid it beside them, and,
going to the hut, put on her old rags again. Then she came out and
followed her brother, whose face was turned toward the great dark
woods in the west.
When the miller's children came to the party that afternoon, a pig was
lying on Donee's red dress, and the dishes were scattered and broken.
But the hut was empty.
* * * * *
A year afterward, the miller came back from a long journey. After he
had kissed and hugged his wife and little ones, he said: "You
remember, wife, how Hawk cheated that poor Indian lad out of his
"Yes; I always said it was the old story of the fox and the foolish
raven over again."
"It was the old story of the white and the red man over again. But out
in an Indian village I found Donee sick and starving."
The miller's wife jumped to her feet. The tears rushed to her eyes.
"What did you do? What did you do?"
"Well, there wasn't but one thing to do, and I did that." He went out
to the wagon and carried in the little Indian girl, and laid her on
"Poor child! Poor child! Where is Oostogah?"
The miller shook his head. "Don't ask any questions about him. The
raven flew away to the woods, and was never heard of again. Better if
that were the end of Oostogah."
Donee, opening her tired eyes, saw the blue carpet and the white bed
where she lay, and the red dahlias shining in the sun and looking in
at the window, and beside her were the children, and the children's
mother smiling down on her with tears in her eyes.