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A short story by Charles M. Skinner

The Virgins' Feast

Title:     The Virgins' Feast
Author: Charles M. Skinner [More Titles by Skinner]

A game of lacrosse was played by Indian girls on the ice near the present Fort Snelling, one winter day, and the victorious trophies were awarded to Wenonah, sister of the chief, to the discomfiture of Harpstenah, her opponent, an ill-favored woman, neglected by her tribe, and jealous of Wenonah's beauty and popularity. This defeat, added to some fancied slights, was almost more than she could bear, and during the contest she had been cut in the head by one of the rackets--an accident that she falsely attributed to her adversary in the game. She had an opportunity of proving her hatred, for directly that it was known how Wenonah had refused to marry Red Cloud, a stalwart boaster, openly preferring a younger warrior of the tribe, the ill-thinking Harpstenah sought out the disappointed suitor, who sat moodily apart, and thus advised him, "To-morrow is the Feast of Virgins, when all who are pure will sit at meat together. Wenonah will be there. Has she the right to be? Have you not seen how shamelessly she favors your rival's suit? Among the Dakotas to accuse is to condemn, and the girl who is accused at the Virgins' Feast is disgraced forever. She has shown for Red Cloud nothing but contempt. If he shows no anger at it the girls will laugh at him."

With this she turned away and left Red Cloud to his meditations. Wenonah, at the door of her brother's wigwam, looked into the north and saw the stars grow pale through streams of electric fire. "The Woman of the North warns us of coming evil," muttered the chief. "Some danger is near. Fire on the lights!" And a volley of musketry sent a shock through the still air.

"They shine for me," said Wenonah, sadly. "For I shall soon join our father, mother, and sister in the land of spirits. Before the leaves fell I sat beside the Father of Waters and saw a manitou rise among the waves. It said that my sisters in the sunset world were calling to me and I must soon go to them." The chief tried to laugh away her fancies and comforted her as well as he might, then leading her to the wigwam he urged her to sleep.

Next day is the Virgins' Feast and Wenonah is among those who sit in the ring, dressed in their gayest. None who are conscious of a fault may share in the feast; nor, if one were exposed and expelled, might any interpose to ask for mercy; yet a groan of surprise and horror goes through the company when Red Cloud, stalking up to the circle, seizes the girl roughly by the shoulder and orders her away. No use to deny or appeal. An Indian warrior would not be so treacherous or unjust as to act in this way unless he had proofs. Without a word she enters the adjacent wood, draws her knife, and strikes it to her heart. With summer came the fever, and it ravaged through the band, laying low the infant and the counsellor. Red Cloud was the first to die, and as he was borne away Harpstenah lifted her wasted form and followed him with dimming eyes, then cried, "He is dead. He hated Wenonah because she slighted him. I hated her because she was happy. I told him to denounce her. But she was innocent."

[The end]
Charles M. Skinner's short story: Virgins' Feast