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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Norman John

«Ghost Dance», John Norman

Chapter One

Old Bear rode alone.

Not moving his hands on the nose rope of his pony he let the animal take his own pace, biting at the grass when it would, not hurrying.

He rode the north bank of the Grand River, keeping with it as it wound its muddy trail through the dried grass and brush of Standing Rock.

It was right that Old Bear should ride alone, for his ride, his quest, was holy, and its meaning lay between himself and Wakan-Tonka, the Mystery. And it was right that he should ride this Sunday morning, as he did each Sunday morning, for this was the medicine day of the white man, and Wakan-Tonka had favored the white man and on this day his ear might be open, did he care to listen any longer to the medicine song of one of his forgotten children.

Old Bear did not see well these days and the clouds of the blue sky blurred into a mist that was like the roiling of the blizzard when it is first seen over the prairie, and even the grasses seemed far away and vague and the cottonwoods by the banks of the Grand River with their slick leaves glistened like glass and beads in the sun.

He sang to himself, his medicine song, as he rode.

Perhaps today would be the day when he would find the sign of the white buffalo.

Last night, as was his custom, Old Bear had left his daughter, a girl by the name of Winona, his wooden cabin, his handful of chickens, and his cow, and had gone on foot to the tiny wickiup he had prepared on Medicine Ridge, which place overlooks the Grand River.

In the wickiup, the entrance to which faced east, he put away his bandana, his broad-brimmed hat, his cotton shirt and his denim trousers. He drew on a breechclout, deerskin leggings and moccasins. Then he put on his buckskin shirt, stiff with grease, old, and cracked, from which he had never cut the hair with which it was fringed, not even when the white man in the black dress had told him to do so.

He built a small fire, took a coal from this fire, and lit his pipe, lifted it to the gods and winds, and smoked and smoked and let the fire die more than once, and in this time he ate nothing but prayed a great deal, and at last, being an old man, fell asleep over the ashes of his fire.

Old Bear was Hunkpapa Sioux.

Nothing could change that, not the Departments of the Dakota and the Platte, nor the Indian Office itself, which lay at the ends of the wires and rails, in the land where the soldiers came from.

Old Bear had been one of Sitting Bull’s White Horse Riders, and in the year the white man called 1876, for they could not remember years without counting them like pigs or sheep that look alike, he had taken third coup against Long Hair himself, who killed women and children, greatest of the Long Knives. We killed them all, had said Sitting Bull, but there will be more, like the grass and the birds, always more.

Old Bear had ridden with Sitting Bull north to Canada, and, five hungry years later, had surrendered with him. He could remember the house on the water that smoked and the guards and the long trip to the stone lodges, where his woman had died. Crazy Horse had died rather than go to such a place, and Old Bear had sometimes nodded to himself and wondered if the Oglala had not been right.

In time Sitting Bull, and Old Bear, and the others were released and sent to Standing Rock, where they would learn planting, harvesting and citizenship, where they must forget the buffalo, the unfenced prairies and the medicines of their fathers.

In those days Old Bear was War Bear, but one night Old Bear had had a dream, and he had awakened in the wooden cabin in his blanket, and had known that he was no longer War Bear. In the morning he had told his daughter, Winona, and she had nodded her head.

So Old Bear fasted in the wickiup on Medicine Ridge, nodding and sleeping, dreaming of a hundred fires, faces and wars. Of the brave They-Fear-Even-His-Horses and Rain-in-the-Face, whose medicine was strong. Of the beauty of the Paha Sapa, where the white men killed one another to find pebbles in the streams. Of the Great Councils and the Sun Dances, and always of the brown rivers of buffalo, humped and shambling, pawing the ground, shaking the earth so that even a pony might lose its footing, making the ground so tremble with gladness that a man might feel it from the soles of his moccasins to the scalp on the back of his neck.

One could still read the old trails by the bones.

Perhaps, Old Bear sometimes told himself, the white buffalo will come back, and the medicine of the Hunkpapa will be good again.

Perhaps someday, he thought, I shall find the sign of the white buffalo.

With the first light across the brown prairie Old Bear had awakened in the wickiup.

It was now Sunday morning.

He rekindled the fire, and put stones on the flames. When the stones were hot he poured water over them and stripped, rubbing the sweat and steam into his body. Then he took some grease from an elkhorn container and rubbed himself, making the worn flesh glisten. When his body was smooth and smelled good to him, he drew three white lines across his face and drew on his clothing, his Indian clothing.

He came out of the wickiup bearing his faded buffalo-hide shield. In his hair, for it was his right, he wore an eagle feather. His quiver was on his back and his right hand was gripped on his bow.

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