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A short story by Margaret White Eggleston

The Appeal To The Great Spirit

Title:     The Appeal To The Great Spirit
Author: Margaret White Eggleston [More Titles by Eggleston]

Owaissa, the Indian Squaw, sat before the tepee watching little Litahni play with the colored stones. The child was the idol of the tribe, for was not her father the great chief Black Hawk who had done so much for his people? So, lest anything should happen to the little one, Owaissa made it her chief task to be where the child was and to teach her the things she wanted her to know.

Three years before, the good missionary who was leaving the encampment had said to Owaissa, "Soon there will come to your tepee a little child. Should it be a little girl, teach her to see herself in the things about her, so that the birds, and the trees, and the flowers, and the winds may all help her to grow true and fine, even as they help the young braves to grow brave and strong. The girls of your Indian tribes are not given half a chance to see the helpers all about them. Teach her to see, as I have taught you to see, what a woman can do."

And the words of the missionary had burned into the very soul of Owaissa. Her child should have a chance. So when the little girl had come to her wigwam, she had named her Litahni--a little light--and she had sought for ways to help her to see what nature meant that man should see.

"Catch a little raindrop," she said to the little girl as she played near the wigwam. "Every raindrop helps some plant, even though it is so little. You are tiny, too, but you can help every day just as the raindrop does."

"See the beautiful sunset," she said to the older girl, as they tramped home from gathering the wood for the fire. "The colors are creeping all over the sky. We see the sunset here and we are happy because it is so beautiful, but away over the mountains in the far away the sunset is just as beautiful and they are happy there as they see it. You can bring happiness, too, both here and far away, if your life is beautiful.

"Listen to the wind in the trees," she said to the girl of fourteen who was eager to do that which father wanted her to leave undone. "You cannot see the wind, yet it sways the great trees and sometimes fells them. You can bend the will of the strong men of the tribe but you cannot do it by talk and by ugly words. Learn to bend by gentleness and quietly. Learn to steal into their lives as the wind steals through the trees."

When the girl was sixteen, the young men of the tribe were beginning to love her and to want to take her to their wigwams. Then the mother knew she must show her how to choose. So she sought for ways to help her as they hunted the mountains for the wild berries. Often they sat by the lakeside for their midday meal. Sometimes it was rough and sometimes calm.

"See, daughter," said Owaissa. "The little lake is very rough to-day. Sometimes our lives are like the little lake. Not always are they calm. Storms sweep over the life. But take the lesson from the lake. Be beautiful through it all. Down beneath the surface, the water is calm and untroubled even though the white caps are above."

Once they were caught in the mountains in a terrific storm. Litahni crept close to the mother when the thunder rolled loud and long, but she loved to see the long streaks of lightning flash across the sky.

Then Owaissa said, "The thunder cannot hurt you, dear. Seldom does that which comes with a big noise do the harm, for one can run from it and be safe. Fear that which comes silently and swiftly and which strikes at the heart. The lightning yonder is far from us but it may strike at the heart of a giant pine and fell it to the ground. That which should have stood long and sturdy is then rendered useless and laid low."

With the coming of the winter the good squaw died and there were evil days ahead for the Black Hawk tribe. They were having quarrels with the white men, and the chief was very busy. So Litahni was left much alone and the days were long and lonely. Now she was glad for all that her mother had taught her, for the birds, and the flowers, and the trees, and the animals all helped her to pass the days and they spoke to her of the things that her mother had taught her. She tried hard to help her father, and often she knew that she had helped him, but she longed to do more.

"No squaw has ever done it, but I believe I can. I shall teach my people to love the white man's God, for then we should not have wars and quarrels," said the girl.

So she taught the little children; she told stories to the squaws and she won the confidence of the young men of the tribe who would soon be in the council fires. And all the tribe loved Litahni, the beautiful daughter of Black Hawk and Owaissa.

One day, across the plain, there came a white man. He was tall and dark and sturdy-looking. He had education and he could talk well. Litahni saw much of him for a few days and she came to honor the white man as she listened to him drive the bargains for the furs and the blankets and the baskets.

Now, as the white man watched the little Indian teacher, he saw how far above the tribe she was. He loved her pretty face, her sweet way and her gentle spirit. Then the white man wanted to win the Indian girl. In the far East, he had left a girl who loved him but he wanted the Indian girl,--so he began silently to make love to her. Of course he knew that her father would never consent. He knew that he would be driven from the encampment if ever they found what he was doing, so hastily and quietly he worked to win her.

He told her of the wonderful land from which he had come; of the beautiful houses in which his friends lived; of the lives of ease which they lived; then he told her of his love for her and begged her to flee with him to his land and his people. To Litahni, it was all so wonderful that she listened happily. How she would love to see it all! If she went there, she could see again the missionary of whom the mother had told her so often.

And when he had finished, she told him of her dreams--how she wanted to help the tribe to learn to love the great God, and to make the tribe of Black Hawk the finest tribe in all the land around.

But when she, too, had finished, he loved her all the more for her beautiful wish, so he held her closely to him and said:

"But, Litahni, to love and to be loved is a far greater happiness than to lift, or to bend, or to lead the tribe. Leave that to your father. All these things you can do to me and to my people. Would you waste your life here on the plains? Think what I can give you. Your mother longed to go beyond the mountains into the sunrise. Come with me and I will take you there. To love and to be loved is the best that ever comes into a life. And I love you, Litahni! Why should you think of your father? He has many things to think of and has little time for you. I will make you my queen. To-morrow I must go. So to-night, I shall come for my answer after the sun has set. Meet me, dear, by the giant tree near the spring and we will go together. The train leaves not long after the sunset and I will have a horse at the spring on which we can get to the train. Come with me, dear. Forget your people and be my Litahni."

There was a noise near by--and the white man was gone. But Litahni sat deep in thought. While he had been with her, she longed to go with him. But as she sat now and looked down into the valley at the encampment, she was not so sure. Her mind was all awhirl. Was this the way to happiness? What would mother have said? She wanted her to have the best, but what was the best? It was only a few hours till the sunset and what should she do? Was there no one to help her?

Suddenly from the roadway below she heard a neigh. It was Fleetfoot, and he was tired of being tied to a sapling. Now Litahni loved Fleetfoot, her horse, for they had grown up together, so she hurried to the tree where she had left him, untied his bridle, jumped on his back and whispered,

"Fly, Fleetfoot! Fly into the sunset. Go fast and go far and let me think as we fly."

Then the horse sped away toward the north. As they passed the little lake in the valley it whispered, "Life is not always calm. There must be tempests. But you can be calm in your inner life and you can be beautiful through it all."

Up the hill she went, and as the wind blew over her face it seemed to say, "Why be bent? Why not bend?" At the top, looking far across a distant plain, her mother's voice seemed to whisper, "Look far ahead, little girl. Look far ahead. What seems wonderful may prove to be only a shadow."

On they flew. The girl's face was flushed and thoughtful. Soon she must turn if she would be at the meeting place. Where was Fleetfoot taking her? Perhaps he knew best what she should do.

Suddenly at a bend in the road Fleetfoot gave a great leap, startling the girl and almost making her lose her balance. Across the path, a giant tree had been felled by the lightning and there it lay, prone and helpless.

Then she shuddered. "Fear that which comes quickly and silently and which strikes at the heart." Only a week before she had not known the white man--even now her father did not know that she knew him. Ought she to be afraid? If she met him, it must be silently, in the cover of the dark.

At last Fleetfoot stood, panting and breathless, on the great rock that topped the cliff. Often had he come here with his mistress, so he waited for her to dismount. The sky was aflame with color--all red and gold and yellow. Far to the North there were blues and pinks. What a wonderful sunset it was! Surely it must be the home of a great, great God.

Litahni sat motionless for a time, drinking in all the glory of the scene. Then she threw her arms high over her head and, lifting her face into the sunset, she cried,

"Oh, thou Great Spirit to whom my people have always prayed, though they knew thee not as the great God; oh thou to whom my mother taught me to pray, show me the way to happiness. I would my life should be as my mother wished it to be--a little light. I would do my best in the right place. Is love for the white man the way to happiness? Is it the way in which I should go? Answer as by fire. I beg of thee. Answer me as by fire, oh, thou great God of the Indian."

Motionless the horse and his rider stood as the moments passed by, one, two, three. The red of the sunset enfolded them and God was very near.

Suddenly far to the south there rose a tiny black cloud. Very tiny it was, yet it grew and it grew. It blotted out the red and then the yellow and then the gold, and then the whole sky was dark and the wind blew chill.

Slowly Litahni's arms relaxed and her head fell to the mane of the horse. When she lifted it, her face looked tired and worn, but over it there was a look of peace. Patting the mane of the horse, she said:

"Thank you for bringing me here, Fleetfoot. The Great Spirit has answered and I shall stay here with Father and with you. To love selfishly is to blot out all the beautiful. He who would be my chief must not want me to run away from helping and giving. He must help me to serve my people. The Great Spirit has answered by fire and I am content. I will stay here and serve my people in the way my mother taught me to do, and I will wait for the one whom the Great Spirit will send to me some day to be my Chief."

Then slowly Fleetfoot picked his way over the narrow trail in the darkness, and, because it was late, the white man had come and gone away alone. But Litahni, bending low over the couch where her father should sleep, smiled as she stretched the skins in place for the night. Even as the animals had given their skins that her father might be warm, so she was ready to give her little light to make him happy and comfortable, even as Owaissa, her noble mother, had done.

And Litahni was content.

[The end]
Margaret White Eggleston's short story: Appeal To The Great Spirit