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A short story by Charles M. Skinner

The Killing Of Cloudy Sky

Title:     The Killing Of Cloudy Sky
Author: Charles M. Skinner [More Titles by Skinner]

In the Dakota camp on the bank of Spirit Lake, or Lake Calhoun, Iowa, lived Cloudy Sky, a medicine-man, who had been made repellent by age and accident, but who was feared because of his magic power. At eighty years of age he looked for a third wife, and chose the daughter of a warrior, his presents of blankets and calicoes to the parents winning their consent. The girl, Harpstenah (a common name for a third daughter among the Sioux), dreaded and hated this man, for it was rumored that he had killed his first wife and basely sold his second. When she learned what had been decided for her she rushed from the camp in tears and sat in a lonely spot near the lake to curse and lament unseen. As she sat there the waters were troubled. There was no wind, yet great waves were thrown up, and tumbled hissing on the shore. Presently came a wave higher than the rest, and a graceful form leaped from it, half shrouded in its own long hair.

"Do not tremble," said the visitant, for Harpstenah had hidden her face. "I am the daughter of Unktahe, the water god. In four days your parents will give you to Cloudy Sky, as his wife, though you love Red Deer. It is with you to wed the man you hate or the man you love. Cloudy Sky has offended the water spirits and we have resolved upon his death. If you will be our agent in destroying him, you shall marry Red Deer and live long and happily. The medicine-man wandered for years through the air with the thunder birds, flinging his deadly fire-spears at us, and it was for killing the son of Unktahe that he was last sent to earth, where he has already lived twice before. Kill him while he sleeps and we will reward you."

As Harpstenah went back to the village her prospective bridegroom ogled her as he sat smoking before his lodge, his face blackened and blanket torn in mourning for an enemy he had killed. She resolved to heed the appeal of the manitou. When Red Deer heard how she had been promised to the old conjurer, he was filled with rage. Still, he became thoughtful and advised caution when she told him of the water spirit's counsel, for the dwellers in the lakes were, of all immortals, most deceitful, and had ever been enemies of the Dakotas. "I will do as I am bidden," she said, sternly. "Go away and visit the Tetons for a time. It is now the moon of strawberries" (June), "but in the moon when we gather wild rice" (September) "return and I will be your wife."

Red Deer obeyed, after finding that she would not elope with him, and with the announcement that he was going on a long hunt he took his leave of the village. Harpstenah made ready for the bridal and greeted her future husband with apparent pleasure and submissiveness. He gave a medicine feast in token of the removal of his mourning, and appeared in new clothing, greased and braided hair, and a white blanket decorated with a black hand--the record of a slain enemy.

On the night before the wedding the girl creeps to his lodge, but hesitates when she sees his medicine-bag hanging beside the door--the medicine that has kept its owner from evil and is sacred from the touch of woman. As she lingers the night-breeze seems to bring a voice from the water: "Can a Dakota woman want courage when she is forced to marry the man she hates?"

She delays no longer. A knife-blade glitters for an instant in the moonlight--and Cloudy Sky is dead. Strange, is it not, that the thunder birds flap so heavily along the west at that moment and a peal of laughter sounds from the lake? She washes the blood from the blade, steals to her father's lodge, and pretends to sleep. In the morning she is loud in her grief when it is made known to her that the medicine-man was no more, and the doer of the deed is never discovered. In time her wan face gets its color and when the leaves begin to fall Red Deer returns and weds her.

They seem to be happy for a time, and have two sons who promise to be famous hunters, but consumption fastens on Red Deer and he dies far from the village. The sons are shot by enemies, and while their bodies are on their way to Harpstenah's lodge she, too, is stricken dead by lightning. The spirit of Cloudy Sky had rejoined the thunder birds, and the water manitou had promised falsely.

[The end]
Charles M. Skinner's short story: Killing Of Cloudy Sky