picture

Black Elk In Paris
based on events in Black Elk Speaks, The Life Story Of A Holy Man Of The Oglala Sioux, by John Niehardt

 

           
            She came to the show every afternoon now.  She sat closer to the front each day, and now she could feel sometimes on her face the dust kicked up from the horses as they raced around the arena.  The thunder of the hooves was as if it were in her own body, and the cries of the warriors terrified her.  But it was also wonderful.  She knew no one really got killed.  It was like being at a pitched battle without the real terror of anything happening to you, but it was happening all around you with startling clarity and realism.  It was the realism that was so important.  These were real Indians.  They were not using real bullets, but the sound and the action was all the same.  And the men lay there dead, both Indians and white men, as on a real battle scene.  But they got up and everyone cheered, and then she could see it all again the next day.
            She also was sitting where she knew that one Indian would notice her.  She had got his eye yesterday.  In the middle of his pretend scalping, he had looked up for a moment and she had caught his eye and then he had let the the head dangle lose beneath his knife and he whooped and danced but had looked up at her again.  On his horse ride he amazingly shot from underneath his horse’s neck as he held on with his legs and rode around the wagons, and as he had ridden by her part of the arena, he had glanced at her and given a whoop.  That had been her sign.  She knew he was interested in her now, or had at least noticed her, so she sat in the same place, the cries of the wild Indians ringing in her ears and the shots and smoke from the guns hurting her ears and eyes.
            He rode by after a stagecoach.  He jumped onto the coach, climbed to its top, all the while the coach driving like mad, then threw one of the white men off the top of the coach.  Everyone thought the man was hurt but she had seen this before and knew he knew how to fall.  Now her Indian whooped and danced a little on top of the coach but was shot and threw himself onto his horse that was galloping alongside the coach.  He hung onto the horse with his legs, as his body swayed.  Now he rode by her.  He looked at her from where he hung on the horse, whooped, and fell off, rolling in the dust to just below where she sat.  He glanced up from where he lay, near death, gave a death-cry looking right at her, and lay still.
            She liked to watch him dance.  They did a war dance sequence every show and it was her favorite part.  She never got her Indian’s eye during the dance, and she didn’t want to.  He danced and sang and seemed to go into another world, his own world, and his dancing and disappearance of his whole soul into that world seemed to make all the modern world of Paris slip away from Sylvie, for that time.  That was one of the reasons she liked this dance.  The modern world with its traffic and gaslights, its noise and revolutions delightfully disappeared when the man’s soul, her Indian’s soul, disappeared in his dance.
            “How do you know that’s your Indian,” said Isabelle.  “They’re all half-naked and leaping around with warpaint on.  How can you possibly tell?”
            “I know,” was all Sylvie answered.
            That evening after the show Sylvie walked down to the arena and stood where the horses had run, where the dance had made a small circle of dust, and where her Indian had looked at her as he rode by, shouting and shooting from underneth his horse’s belly.  Isabelle waited in the stands.
            “You come here a lot,” said a man in a uniform of a United States cavalry officer.  He spoke French with an English accent.  “You waiting for someone?”
            “No.  I just like the show.”
            “The show’s over.  You want to talk to Mexican Joe himself?  He can introduce you to anyone in the show you’d like to meet.  That Custer, the ladies like him.”
            “I prefer the Indians.”
            “Oh, one of those.”
            “Pardon me?”
            “One of those savage-loving French girls.  The Germans don’t like them, think they’re devils, the Italian girls love them but are afraid of them and stick to their mothers, but the French girls see them as fascinating emigres from Eden that they’d like to meet.”
            “I heard your Queen Victoria liked them.”
            “She’s funny that way.  She runs most of the world and has to understand, even like, all types.  Me, I think they’re a good sort but their day is through.  Grand warriors but they can’t tell reality from fantasy.  Some think this show is real and I caught one trying to scalp a fellow for real.  I hit him for real and woke him up.  They’re the real thing, though.  Most of them really fought and killed people.  I’m just an actor.  They’re really savages.”
            “Your queen likes savages?”
            “She loves them.  That’s what makes her so great.  We’re scared of them, or keep our distance because you can never tell what they’ll do; she invites them to her silver jubilee.”
            “That’s true?”
            “Invited them to Buckingham Palace.  One of the white men who was with them in Buffalo Bill’s show told me about it.  He said after the show she stood around, just like you, kind of in awe, and asked them to come out, and then she shook their hands--this is the Queen mind you--and told them she had seen people around the world but no one as handsome as they.  She had it translated right then for them, and they gave her one of their war cries.  Then, if that’s not enough, she invites them to the palace, as I said.  Everybody is cheering for her, for it’s the jubilee, then she stops her carriage, gets out, and bows to them.  To them!  Then they whoop it up and some of the fine ladies faint.  Must have been quite a sight.”
            “Sylvie, I’m waiting,” Isabelle shouted.
            “There’s two of you.  That Custer actor and I would like to see some of the sights.  We’ve been here two weeks and--”
            “No, I must go.”
            “Who do you want to meet, miss?”
            “No one.  Thank you.”
            “Sylvie wants to meet her Indian,” shouted Isabelle.
            “No, I don’t.”
            “Which one would that be, miss?”
            “The one that led the dance and fell from the coach,” Isabelle said.  She was now walking from the stands into the arena.  “If we are ever going to leave we must meet this Indian.”
            “Come with me, miss.”
            “No.”
            “We’ll both go,” Isabelle said.
            They followed the actor in uniform through the opening from where the coach and wagons and horses had come. They smelled the horse droppings and hay, and on the other side of the wagons a dozen Indians were sitting on straw on the floor.  Two were smoking and some were laughing and talking.  They fell silent when they saw the white actor and the women.  The actor looked at them and finally pointed to one of the Indians smoking.  “Is that the one?” he asked.
            Sylvie felt like she was at a horse auction and felt ashamed.  She looked at Isabelle.  “Don’t look at me.  I can’t tell them apart,” Isabelle said.
            Sylvie nodded and the actor motioned for the Indian to get up.  All the other Indians were looking at Sylvie.
            “This one’s a regular medicine man,” said the actor.  “All the others look up to him.  Seems he was at Custer’s Last Stand and has the power to cure his own people as well as scalp whites.  His name’s Black Elk.  He doesn’t speak any English or French.”
            Her Indian looked younger close up, and even more handsome, and Sylvie thought he was just a little older than she, in his early twenties, yet he had done so much.  She just wanted to stand there and look at him.  And she wanted to take him home.
            The actor said a few words in the Indian’s language.  “That’s all I know, miss.  I told him you like the Oglala.  That’s his people.  That’s a good thing to know how to say.”
            “Say it again, slowly.”
            The actor did so.
            Then Sylvie tried to say it herself.  Some of the Indians talked to each other and one laughed.  Black Elk nodded.  “Say it again,” she said to the actor.  And he did, and again Sylvie repeated it, this time with more confidence and clarity.  Black Elk smiled and nodded.
            “My God, will you at least give him your hand?” Isabelle said.
            Sylvie extended her hand, with white lace at the wrist, and Black Elk took hers in his hand for a moment, and nodded again and said something.
            “What did he say?” she asked
            “I don’t know,” the actor said.
            “He said ‘thank you’,” an Indian said, in French, from the floor.
            “Ask him to repeat it,” Sylvie asked the Indian.
            Black Elk repeated the words, and Sylvie said them back to him.  Then she said it again.
            “I think he knows you like the show,” Isabelle said. 
            Sylvie said thank you one more time, in his tongue, and they left.

The next afternoon Sylvie brought her parents to the show.  After the show she lingered again, looking for the actor who could speak French, but instead Black Elk walked slowly back out to the arena.
            She had written down the Indian words and memorized them.  She said that she liked his people in his own tongue, and her parents, looking on, were both impressed and a little frightened.
            Her papa came down to the arena.  She introduced him to Black Elk in French, then he said thank you in the Lakota tongue.  She had taught her father to say this also.

            The next afternoon Sylvie waited again on the arena floor.  It was her fifteenth show.  She had counted.  When Black Elk came to greet her, she motioned for him to come with her.  He had a shirt, cravat, waistcoat, overcoat, trousers and shoes on, as if he knew she would ask him to go.  His hair was in two long braids that hung down from under his hat.  She thought again that he was not too much older than she. 
            They walked together under summer-green plain trees.  She thought some people walking by might look at them, but she was not in their world.  She took his arm in walking, and opened her parasol. He laughed at the sudden opening of it, and leaned over to see the light through it.  She felt his shoulder brush hers as he did so.
            She felt completely at ease, more at ease than she had ever felt in her life, she told herself.  She also felt completely alive and wished the short walk could last
forever.  The trees had never had so exquisitely shining leaves.  The silence between
the two of them seemed to be alive with nuance, she thought.  She would point to the leaves, say something in French about their shining, and he would also look at the leaves, then nod to her.  He didn’t know where he was going, and didn’t seem to care.  He said something when a horse-drawn bus went by, and laughed, then she laughed, then they were at the gate of her parents’ house.
            Black Elk followed her up the stairs, and her parents were waiting for them.  The father said again that he liked Black Elk’s people and they said thank you to each other.  There were two younger sisters whom Sylvie introduced Black Elk to.  They sat down for supper, and this incongruity, of an Indian who had fought at the Little Big Horn and a middle-class French family sitting  down for supper was repeated six times (Sylvie counted them) before Black Elk had to follow Mexican Joe’s show to Berlin.
            The night before he was to leave, Sylvie and he stood together after supper outside the gate to her parents’ house.  She held both his hands and was silent.  She had learned a few more Lakota words, most amid laughter, and Black Elk’s eyes shone when he laughed as she got a word wrong, then right.  Once she had hit him on the shoulder when he laughed at her pronunciation and he, in turn, pulled her strawberry-blonde hair.  This was her great warrior.  Once he had held her hair up to the light through the parlour window and studied it for some time.  Then she hit his hand and he looked very fierce at her, then laughed and picked her long hair up again and held it to the light.
              Now his eyes had a look they had sometimes of ineffable sadness.  She did not think he was sad about her, but that his leaving made him think about something else.  She did not think he even cared that much about her.  He was nice to her, and they laughed together, but he cared truly about something far away.  We are not in his world, she thought.  We are in a dream, to him.  Our world is the dreamworld, and how can you care too much about people in a dream, especially when you know you’re dreaming? 
            He held her hand now, by the gate, and said thank you and turned and walked down the street.  He knew his way by now.  There were chestnut trees in the summery night that shadowed his figure as he walked near the gaslight.  He walked under a burden of infinite sorrow, Sylvie felt.  She thought she could see it, like high piles of snow that never melt on tall mountains that she had seen once, in the Alps.  His sorrow was like that, and he carried it on his shoulders like those mountains carried the unmelting snow--she thought she could see the invisible burden weighing down his shoulders, then he turned and smiled at her and said thank you again.  She said thank you back, and he walked on. 
            They had communicated fine through sign language.  He had agreed he would see her when Mexican Joe’s came back to Paris.  That would be near Christmas.  He told her he had to stay in the show until he earned enough money to go home.  She felt she was home, with him, and wondered if he would ever lose that look that came into his eyes sometimes, even in the midst of laughter, and come to think of Paris and herself as anything else than a pleasant passing of a dream as one waited to awaken.

When Black Elk returned with Mexican Joe’s in the early winter he was not himself.  Sylvie went to the opening show to see him, but he was not there.  She lingered afterwards, as usual, in the arena, but he did not come.  Finally another Indian came out and said in French that Black Elk was too sick to be in the show, but that she could come see him.
            He led her behind one of the covered wagons used in the show.  She smelled horse dung and horse urine and there on a narrow cot was the great medicine man of the Oglala people.  He was so thin Sylvie thought he had not eaten in a week, at least.  He had on white man clothes but his feet were bare.  He had no blanket and it was cold in the arena.  He was lying on his side facing the wagon.  “Thank you,” Sylvie said in Lakota to the Indian who spoke French, and Black Elk said her name to the canvas of the wagon.
            Sylvie walked to the other side of the cot and knelt in the narrow area between it and the canvas.
            “It is no use,” the French speaker said.  “He wants to go home.  He is trying to go home.”
            “I will take him to my home.”
            “It is no use,” said the man, “He’s been like this since Italy.”
            “Wait for me here, please,” Sylvie said to the man, and she left and hired a cab outside the arena.  The cab waited for her as she and the other Indian helped Black Elk outside.  She was carrying his shoes.  Black Elk was silent.  “Tell Mexican Joe Black Elk will stay with me until he is well.”
            “The show will move on in two weeks.”
            “Tell Mexican Joe Black Elk can find another show,” and they helped Black Elk into the cab. 
            At her home, her father said nothing, and aided her in bringing the medicine man into the house and into Sylvie’s room.  They laid the dying Indian on her bed, and Sylvie put socks on his feet and blankets over his body.  She brought him a tisane, brewed from her grandmother’s recipe.  She sat by him at night and sang to him or read to him, then went to sleep on the sofa in the parlour.  She propped him up with pillows and fed him soups and gradually potaoes, rice, then meat.  
            Then he was able to sit up by himself, and Sylvie could tell he liked her fromage blanc and liked her strong black coffee with lots of sugar.  She liked singing to him at night and making up stories that she knew he could not understand, and when he began to get better, she continued it anyway, as he drank coffee and looked at her. 
            His eyes looked as if they were here now, she thought, and perhaps he will think of Paris as his home and this was the last homesickness for his lost land.  Even if he can go back, what has he to go back for?  His people are conquered and forced to live as prisoners.  It is far better that he become a free Frenchman and live with us.  He sees we do not treat him as a savage, or as anyone different.  What did Queen Victoria also say?  “If you belonged to me, I would not let them take you around in a show like this.”  That is what that actor had said.  Black Elk told me in signs that Grandmother England rode in a coach of fire.  He should not have to be in a show.  Tomorrow, if he is well enough, I will show him the river and he will love Paris.
            They walked with her sister, Marie, along the Seine, over the Solferino footbridge, and under the thinning trees of the Tuileries.  Brown and yellow leaves blew over Black Elk’s polished shoes, and he knelt and picked one up.  He put it to his face and smelled it then rubbed it against his cheek.  My Indian is a little crazy, Sylvie thought.  Then Black Elk sat on a bench, took his shoes and socks off, rubbed dirt on his bare feet, and looked up at Sylvie.  She thought she knew now what he meant and it was not crazy at all: you can’t feel the earth beneath you when you’re wearing shoes, especially these with hard leather soles.  She sat beside Black Elk on the bench and took her shoes off, then her younger sister followed, and the three of them could be seen strolling on a cold November afternoon through the Tuileries, each with shoes strung over their shoulders.  Sylvie bought them lemon and chocolate crepes and roasted chestnuts that they ate as they walked on the cold paths with the dusty leaves crunching beneath them and the sculpted bare trees above them.  Sylvie and Marie sang songs from their childhood, then they nudged Black Elk and pointed to themselves singing, then pointed to him, and he sang in a chanting way as they walked by the river again, the girls’ dresses brushing the leaves and Black Elk stopping to look at the river. 
            They stopped again on the Solferino bridge and put on their shoes.  Sylvie had held Black Elk’s arm all afternoon as they walked.  It was the most perfect afternoon of her life.  He was well and happy in Paris.  Marie thought it would be marvellous to say to her friends that she was going to have a red Indian for a brother-in-law.
           
            The next morning Black Elk dresssed for breakfast and joined the family at the table.  Sylvie’s father pulled out the chair for her mother, and sat beween her and his youngest daughter, and Black Elk pulled out the chair for Sylvie, then sat beside her, with Marie on his other side. It was the first meal they all had together since before Black Elk had gone to Berlin.  He was dressed for the table, complete with shoes, and Sylvie thought that he looked just like a member of the family except that he had long black hair flowing over his shoulders.  His hair was blue-black like a night above the Alps with no moon to disturb the darkness.  She loved his hair. She passed him the glass sugar bowl, and he picked up a sugar cube with the silver pincers, dropped the cube in his coffee bowl, then repeated the movement three times.  He smiled at Sylvie and picked up one more sugar cube, then stirred his coffee slowly with the small silver spoon that had belonged to Sylvie’s grandmother.  Sylvie watched him cut a slice of bread, raise it to dip it in his coffee, then look up at the ceiling and smile.  Then his eyes rolled back and the bread fell from his hand.  He fell from the chair and lay still on the floor, and her grandmother’s little spoon clattered from its saucer and followed him, lying on his chest.
            Marie screamed and her mother was as still as Black Elk.  Sylvie knelt beside him and put her hand on his heart.  She felt a faint flutter, and his eyes were closed.
            Her father knelt beside her.  “He can’t be dead if his eyes are closed,” he said softly.
            “He could have died in his sleelp,” Sylvie’s youngest sister said.
            “He didn’t fall asleep at the breakfast table,” Sylvie said.

            Papa and Sylvie carried Black Elk to her bed and laid him on it, unconscious.  Perhaps yesterday’s excursions had been too much, Sylvie thought.  She sang to him, but to no avail.  She put cold cloths and hot cloths on his forehead, but he would not wake up.  She spoke to him in the few Lakota words she knew, but he didn’t hear.  She prayed to the Blessed Virgin, who also looked after Indians, and Black Elk did not stir.  She felt his heart and her father felt his pulse, and sometimes the beat was so faint they did not know if they were imagining it or not.  He breathed hardly at all; once Sylvie held a mirror to his mouth and there was no fog.  She held her head cocked, like a listening bird, above his chest, listening for his heart, then rested her head lightly on his chest, and could hear no heart at all.  His friend was right, she thought; he has returned to his people, to his land.  Paris is not his home.  He has gone home at last.
            On the third day Sylvie cried, quietly and solemnly, most of the day, and could not eat for her third day.  Her parents began to worry that she would follow Black Elk’s path.  Her father did not go to work and ordered a mahogoney coffin built for the Indian.  Her mother hung up black drapery over the curtains in the parlour.
            At the end of the third day, they sent for the doctor once more, and for a French and Indian speaker from the show that was about to leave.  It started to thunder and rain, and, as if the sound of the thunder, then the rain on the shutters awoke him, Black Elk suddenly opened his eyes.  They were all in the room: papa and the mother, the two sisters, the doctor and the translator, and Sylvie.  They were scared when suddenly Black Elk woke up.  He looked at them looking at him, increduously, and he said something.
            “What did he say?” Sylvie asked.
            “He says could he have some black medicine--coffee.”
            Sylvie brought Black Elk the black medicine, and her mother shooed her two younger daughters out of the room.  Even papa left, saying, “We don’t have to call for the priest.  We will save money on the coffin.  On the third day he rises from the dead and asks for coffee.  It must be very tiring being dead.  I want some black medicine too.”  He said all this as he walked into the kitchen, blindly following mama.  They had been up all night.
            In her room, that had been Black Elk’s sick room and his almost dying room, Sylvie listened to the rain impinge loudly on the windows.  The doctor had opened the shutters, pronouncing Black Elk cured, and left.  The translator said that Black Elk had something to say to Sylvie.  She came over to his bedside and knelt by her bed.  Black Elk sipped from his bowl of coffee and smiled.  He spoke looking directly at her.
            “He says,” said the translator, “that if all Wasichu--white people-- had hearts like yours, and like that of your family, that his people would not be suffering as they are.”  Black Elk paused and spoke again.  “He says you have a strong heart.  But his heart is weak and he knows he will die if he does not go back to his people, to his home.  He says no one will believe him, and to tell no one, but he did go back.  That is where he was all this time.   He says he did not know he was gone three days, because he rode a dark cloud back across the water and the land until he came to his people and he saw his mother there, who looked up at him, then he flew back.  He says it was a spirit journey, and he thinks no one will understand but he wants you to know where he was.”  Then Black Elk said thank you to Sylvie.  “He says thank you for caring for him and he is sorry to frighten your family; it just took him that long to go home and back.”
            “Tell him I am glad he came back.”  The translator told him and Black Elk still looked directly at Sylvie.  He only looked down to sip more coffee.
            “He says the coffee is very good.  The coffee in his country isn’t as good.”
            Sylvie thanked him.  “Tell him, please, my name means ‘of the forest’.  I want him to know what my name means.”
            “He says it is a good name.  He says elks like the forest.”
            “Tell him he must rest now.  He has been very ill.”
            “He says he feels fine and is ready to walk by the river.”
            “No walking yet,” Sylvie said.
            Black Elk pointed to the window and laughed and talked.  “He says the thunder beings are happy.  He likes the rain,” the translator said.
            Black Elk’s eyes shone again when he laughed.  His eyes are like the Seine at night, thought Sylvie, and are so dark and deep they seem the way into another world.  I would like to go there.
            Sylvie thanked the interpretor and left.  In the parlour Marie was sitting at the piano.  “Mama says I can practice again.  Do I have to?  Is he all right?”
            “Yes, you should practice,” Sylvie said, and Marie tossed her curls and put her fingers on the keys.
            “I am going for a walk, mama,” Sylvie said, and she picked up her umbrella and left.
            She walked fast toward the river and didn’t stop until she reached the embankment.  She could see Notre Dame to her left, sitting quietly in the rain.  The water looked brownish from the rain, and small waves were rippling across the surface.  Sylvie stood still, watching the bare trees and the windy river and hearing the rain beat on her umbrella, feeling it sometimes gust into her face, and hearing the wheels of the carriages and carts rush through the puddles in the streets.  She moved closer to the embankment to avoid the mud that was splashing onto the sidewalk.
            She knew what she had to do.  Papa did not have the money, but what if she offered her dowry for the fare back to America for Black Elk?  How much was her dowry?  How much was it to America, then across America to where he lived?  He could not join another show.
            The rained turned to drizzle as Sylvie walked home.  How could I have ever thought Black Elk would be happy in Paris, she thought.  I never knew about home.  I never knew what that truly meant.  It is a place that comes up through your feet and makes you part of that place forever, so if you are not there, you are partially dead.  I wonder if I would feel that way about Paris.  I was a fool to think he would want to stay in Paris.  His  eyes when he came back from his illness, from his journey, were different than I had ever seen them.  He was happy.  He must have truly gone home.
            She heard Marie’s piano as she walked up the three steps to her door.  In the entry way she saw Isabella, unfolding her umbrella.  Her face was wet and she was out of breath.
            “Sylvie, Sylvie, he is back in town.”
            “Who?”
            “The buffalo man.”

            Early the next morning Isabelle and Sylvie took a cab to the bigger arena on the other side of the river where Buffalo Bill’s show was playing.  It was still raining when they crossed the river and Sylvie thought of Black Elk walking, almost prancing, among the dusty brown and yellow leaves on the embankment, and how he paused and looked down at the silently flowing water, his shoes swinging over his shoulder, and hers doing the same, as she stood behind him. 
            The arena was closed and they knocked and only heard a hollow, empty sound.  They waited a long time under their umbrellas before going around to the back and finding Indians smoking, sitting on the ground under the eaves, and looking silently at the rain.  Sylvie asked in French for Buffalo Bill, and an Indian said, “Pahuska,” and pointed to a wagon decorated with pictures of buffalo and with Indians on horses shooting at people hiding and shooting back from behind covered wagons.  One of the Indians in the painting was shooting from underneath his horse as he was riding full-speed, as she had seen Black Elk do. 
            She walked up the steps to the wagon and knocked on the door, and a man with long golden hair and bright blue eyes opened it after only one knock.  He was so handsome and so suddenly there that Sylvie lost her breath.  Isabelle asked him if he could send her friend’s friend home.  The handsome man looked confused but invited the Frenchwomen in, then shouted “Pierre” from the door of his wagon.  A big bearded man arrived, also breathless at the door, and  Buffalo Bill spoke to him.
            “Canadian,” the big man said to Sylvie, as he entered the wagon and pointed to himself, proudly.  “You can talk to me.”
            She told Buffalo Bill again about Black Elk.  He clapped his hands and his eyes looked even brighter than before.
            “I’ve worried about Black Elk,” he said.  “He missed the boat in Manchester and I never knew what happened to him.  Bring him here.”
           
            Sylvie brought her friend to Buffalo Bill that afternoon, and Bill had his whole cast assembled outside his wagon to greet the lost Indian.  Bill opened his arms wide as if he were announcing a show and led his cast in giving three cheers for Black Elk’s return.
            Black Elk called Bill “Pahuska,” and Bill put his arm around him, and led him into the arena.  Sylvie followed, looking at the two men’s long flowing hair, one black and one golden, from behind them as they walked.  In a backstage room in the arena, Bill had prepared a big dinner in Black Elk’s honor.  Sylvie sat between Black Elk and Buffalo Bill, and Bill spoke no French and occassionally leaned in front of Sylvie to say something to Black Elk in Lakota.
            After the dinner, everyone left to get ready for the opening show, and Sylvie lingered at the table by Black Elk.  His face was full of color and his black eyes were clear and seemed to look happily at nothing.  You could never tell that yesterday morning her father had ordered a coffin built for him.  Black Elk poured his after dinner coffee, and Sylvie reached over, put three teaspoons of sugar into his cup and stirred it.  Black Elk nodded and smiled at her.
            “He’s going home,” a voice said in French.  She looked up.  It was the Canadian.  He now had on the blue shirt and yellow neckerchief she had come to recognize as part of the uniform of the United States cavalry, but he had civilian trousers on and mocassins.  He was also missing his cavalry hat.  “Bill wanted me to tell you that he’s sending Black Elk home.  Gave him ninety bucks.  He says thank you for bringing him back.  I’ve got to go prepare for the show.”  Then the Canadian left.                                    
Sylvie smiled at Black Elk and stood up, then Black Elk stood up.  She nodded toward the door and Black Elk pulled out her chair and walked with her to the door.  The tables were still full of empty glasses and dirty plates.  Sylvie and her Indian stood without talking by the door of the arena.  She gave him her hand.  “Thank you,” she said in Lakota.
            “Thank you,” Black Elk said, and he took from underneath his shirt a white feather on a leather band and put in Sylvie’s hand.  Then he put it around her neck. 
            She unbuttoned the high collar of her blue dress and tucked the feather carefully under it, then buttoned it up again.  She looked a last time at the handsome face she loved, with the shining black hair and the shining black eyes.  He had healed many of his people.  She thought again he looked just about her age.  She wanted to say that she would write, and ask for his address, but she knew that was all useless, and even unnecessary.  He was a messenger, for her, from another world and had healed her with a message about home and about laughing, about carrying sorrow the way mountains carry unmelting snow, and about feeling the earth beneath one’s feet and about looking at rivers.  She looked at the floor, smiled back one last time at him, and turned and walked out into the rain-fresh night.  The gaslights shone on the black, wet pavement. 
           
            Sylvie would never know that not long after he arrived home, at the butchering at Wounded Knee, Black Elk saved women and children by leading a charge with no gun, only a sacred bow, that he had once seen in a vision, held out in front of him.  She never knew that he was wounded badly the next day, charging alone at a line of cavalry.  He was wrapped in his vision of wild geese flying and could not be touched by the bullets until he returned from the charge and woke from his vision.  Then he still wanted to fight. 
            They didn’t hear of Wounded Knee in Paris, but many years later she had a dream that Black Elk came to her on a dark cloud.  He looked down from it to see if she were all right, then the cloud turned around.  He could not stay.

 

 

© Copyright 2008 by James Tipton

 

Back to Stories

 

 

 

Homepage
About the Author
Book Club
Critics' Reviews
Readers' Reviews
FAQ
Essays on Annette
Radio Podcast Link
Stories
Contact