The Indian's Hand

The men had driven away. Their carts and horses disappeared behind the roll of the low hills. They appeared now and then, like boats on the crest of a wave, farther each time. And their laughter and singing and shouts grew fainter as the bushes hid them from sight.

The women and children remained, with two old men to protect them. They might have gone too, the hunters said. “What harm could come in the broad daylight?—the bears and panthers were far away. They’d be back by night, with only two carts to fill.”

Then Jim, the crack shot of the settlement, said, “We’ll drive home the bears in the carts.”

The children shouted and danced as they thought of the sport to come, of the hunter’s return with their game, of the bonfires they always built.

One pale woman clung to her husband’s arm. “But the Indians!”

That made the men all laugh. “Indians!” they cried; “why, there’ve been none here for twenty years! We drove them away, down there”—pointing across the plain—“to a hotter place than this, where the sand burns their feet and they ride for days for water.”

The pale woman murmured. “Ah, but they returned.”

“Yes,” cried her big husband, whose brown beard covered his chest, “and burned two cabins. Small harm they did, the curs!”

“Hush,” said the pale woman, pressing her husband’s arm; and the men around were quiet, pretending to fix their saddles, as they glanced at another woman, dressed in black, who turned and went into her house.

“I forgot her boy,” said the bearded man, as he gravely picked up his gun.

They started off in the morning cool, toward the mountains where the trees grew. And the long shadows lessened as the sun crept up the sky.

The woman in black stood silent by her door. No one bade her good-bye. The other women went back to their houses to work. The children played in the dust; clouds rose as they shouted and ran. A day’s freedom lay before them.

But the woman in black still stood by her door, like a spectre in the sunshine, her thin hands clasped together as she gazed away over the plain toward Mexico.

Her face was parched and drawn, as if the sun from the sand had burned into the bone. Her eyes alone seemed to live; they were hard and bright.

Her house was a little away from the rest, on the crest of a hill facing the desert plain.

She had heard the words of the bearded man: “Small harm the Indians did.” Had he forgotten her boy? How could he forget, while she was there to remind them of the dead? Near her house was a small rock roughly marked. The rude letters, “Will, gone, ’69,” she had cut on it with her own hands. It marked the last place where her boy had played. She remembered how she went away softly—so he should not cry to follow her—without a word, without a kiss. Here her hands beat the side of the house.

“Oh, to have that kiss now and die!” But she had gone, unthinking, up the road where the pale woman lived, then a rosy-cheeked happy bride, not a widow like herself. They laughed and discussed the newcomers at the settlement. It was a holiday, for the men were away over the hills, cutting down trees to build their houses with.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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