The Shadows Grow Long
The Braves of Ossosane were noisily excited. It was nearly summer and the smallpox disease had run its course and the sickness was over. The village had turned its thoughts to the necessities of living, and the braves were preparing to go on the bear hunt.
Joseph Chiwatenwa felt the excitement, too. The thought of finding and stalking the big black bear gave him a restlessness that grew daily as he made his preparations. They were the simple ones of providing the clothing, food and weapons he would need. He no longer believed in the traditional preparations of his people.
Joseph sat cross-legged in his cabin, patiently rubbing and smoothing with a stone the hard straight branches which he had cut for his spear shafts. Marie Aonetta was making a large pouch for provisions, sewing the pieces of skins together with thin leather strips passed through the eye of a fishbone needle.
The noises of the braves could be heard in their cabin.
"They are feasting and dreaming and obeying the messages in their dreams," murmured Joseph. "Without these ceremonies, the bear hunt could not be successful--or so they believe." His voice grew loud. "But I do not believe in these foolish ways. I shall always ridicule my dreams!"
Marie Aonetta paused in her sewing. Joseph's slightly moist arms gleamed as the muscles flexed in strength, bearing down on the wooden shaft he was making. His face was drawn, and two creases showed in his angular cheeks.
"Chiwatenwa," Marie Aonetta said softly, bending slightly toward him, "is there something troubling you? Early this morning I saw you awake and sitting on your mat. You were shaking your head. You have been so quiet and unsmiling all day--"
Joseph kept on with his work. His voice was gentle. "Do not be concerned about me. God is watching over all of us. Whatever is His will, that is my will."
Marie Aonetta frowned. "I do not know what you are talking about." Her voice faded and she resumed her work.
Joseph's thoughts went back to the early morning when he had been startled and awakened by the very same dream which had haunted him lately--the one in which he found himself attacked by two enemies.
A loud, familiar voice called "Chiwatenwa!" at the doorway of his cabin.
"My brother Teondechoren, what is the matter?" Teondechoren entered the cabin and stood tall. He was not painted this day, and naked except for a breechcloth.
"I am only here because my dream tells me I must come." He put his hand out to silence Joseph. "My dream tells me to warn you that you must put your trust in the charm which our father gave to you on his deathbed, or you will not be successful on the bear hunt."
Joseph put the shaft and stone down on the ground beside him. He felt the anger grow inside him till his cheeks glowed with heat. "I do not believe in charms!" "Then you disobey the warning of my dream?"
"Your dreams have no power over me. I scoff at dreams and charms, and feasts and dances! I believe only in the one true God. He is the master of all. These superstitions have no power." Joseph's voice rang clearly, and Teondechoren's features grew darker as shadows formed on his scowling face.
"You are a disgrace to the Bear nation, Chiwatenwa! What everyone says of you is true. You have betrayed your people and your ancestors, conspiring with the Blackrobes against your own." His chest heaved. "Remember this, Chiwatenwa. You are alone --hated and despised!" Teondechoren clenched his fists and turned, walking away from the cabin.
Joseph looked at Marie. She wore an expression of fear and confusion.
"Do not worry, Marie Aonetta. The judgments of men are not important."
There was one most necessary visit for Joseph to make before he and his Christian brother. Peter Saoekbata, left Ossosane for the northern forests where the bears were more plentiful. He went to Sainte Marie to receive the sacraments and spiritual refreshment. When he had entered within the walls of Sainte Marie, Joseph saw a giant, black-clothed man who limped slightly as he strolled near one of the buildings.
"Echon!" he shouted. "Echon!" The meeting between the two men was joyful. There was a bond between them which had been forged of persecution, hate, suffering and mistrust borne together in the common cause of love for God.
"Your body shows the marks of many beatings," Joseph said softly.
"Yes. We were very close to death." Echon sighed and his big chest rose and sank as if in pain. "The mission with the Cords is finished. We were ordered to leave by Ondihorrea, and so we have come back to Sainte Marie."
"And Aochiati? Did our Christians return to the Faith?"
Echon shook his head slowly. "There are no Christians in the Cord nation."
Joseph bent his head and looked at the ground. The cross of failure was heavy on his back.
The shouts of anticipated triumphs filled the whole of Ossosane as the old men and women and children cried out their good-luck wishes. The scantily clothed braves were packed and armed and ready to take off for the bear hunt in the northern forests.
Joseph Chiwatenwa and his brother Peter waited until the din had quieted. Then, hoisting the leather straps which held the quivers of arrows and spears to their shoulders, and belting the pouches of food and supplies around their waists, the Christian brothers said good-by to their wives and children and slipped out of the village unnoticed.
The June days were clear and warm, and as Joseph breathed in the fresh smell of new green growth, the troubles of the past few weeks left him. He would forget the dream which nagged him; he would forget Teondechoren's taunts that he was despised; he would forget the apostate Christians of the Cord nation.
Now he was free, a child of God, but a child, too, of the forests and lakes. The excitement in his Indian blood pulsed the truth that he was a man pitting his intellect against the fine senses of the bear. It was the hunt for survival, and the bear wanted to survive as instinctively as did the man. The two Indians walked in the shallow water along the shores of the lake near the forests dense with many-sized evergreens and tall shade trees, proudly showing off their new, gently tinted leaves. The bear was gifted with a keen sense of smell, and walking in the water protected the hunter by carrying off his scent in its ripples.
When they had to walk on the land, Joseph and Peter carefully covered the places where they had stepped with wet branches to cover their scent. The bear would stay in hiding, or run away, if he picked up the scent of humans.
The brothers had been in the forest for a week before they saw the signs of a bear nearby.
"He has pushed aside this log," said Peter, kneeling on one knee. His face, deeply pitted from the smallpox, was bent close to the earth. "See, Joseph, the marks of his paw where he scooped up all the tiny living things which had buried themselves under this log. "We are in luck. Peter. It is so still. There is no wind to betray us to him." The brothers covered the spot where Peter had
knelt, and walked cautiously forward in the water. "Look, Joseph, in the mud there!" The prints in the mud showed a somewhat kidney-shaped paw, the forepaw rounded out by curving claws--the unmistakable track of the black bear.
"He will be out as soon as the sky begins to grow gray and dark," said Joseph.
The brothers moved out of the water, going a short way into the forest. They made a fire and ate well, and then laid out their bows and arrows and spears. Now and then they placed their ears to the ground to listen for the crackling sounds of a heavy animal crunching the twigs of the forest floor.
They crouched near the fire, waiting, and then Joseph's body became tense. He cupped his hands around his squinting eyes. "Peter, he is there!"
The two Indians moved cautiously. Joseph took his bow and arrows, and picked up two of his spears. "I will go through the woods and come close to the side of him. You edge nearer to him from here."
Joseph moved swiftly through the trees. The air was still, and he was grateful that there was no wind to carry his scent and scare away the bear. When Joseph stopped walking, he was no more than twenty-five feet away from the bear.
The animal was fat and as long as the span between Joseph's outstretched arms. His fur was black with traces of sand color at some of the ends. He stood on all fours, his tan nose poking at a rock, aided by the strength of his right paw.
Joseph could see his brother in the distance. Peter had put down his spear and was holding his bow.
Joseph grasped the long shaft of the spear in his right hand. The metal point was sharp and deadly, pounded into perfect shape at the blacksmith's forge at Sainte Marie.
He stood among the shadows of the trees, tall and straight, one leg slightly forward for balance, and slowly, he flexed his muscles and drew back his arm for the powerful throw.
At that moment, a sudden breeze came from behind him, strong enough to lift his smooth, short hair from the top of his neck. The breeze carried his scent directly to the bear. The animal grunted and circled confusedly for a moment, and then he ran away from the scent, directly toward Peter.
Joseph bounded swiftly behind the bear. He did not dare to throw the spear and take a chance on only wounding the animal, who would then become an enraged monster.
Peter had run back to their campfire. He grabbed fallen, dried branches of evergreen trees and touched them to the fire. They became blazing firebrands, and he threw these at the onrushing bear.
The bear roared and rose to its hind legs
The animal reared and floundered, thoroughly bewildered by the flame. Peter quickly aimed an arrow and shot the bear directly in the head. The animal roared and rose to its hind legs, and Peter shot once more, this time directly in his heart.
"You have done it. Peter. You have killed your bear!"
The brothers carried on like two small boys in their glee, as they began to prepare the animal for the trip home.
"Tomorrow night I will kill my bear," said Joseph. But after several nights, when they had not yet seen another bear, Joseph told his brother, "We must go home. I will come bear hunting another time." His voice was light, but his heart was heavy. It was a big failure for a brave to return home from the hunt empty-handed.
They were the last of the hunters to return to Osso-sane. Everyone was rejoicing and feasting. All the braves had come home with a bear for their family, and there was plenty of meat to eat now, and later there would be new robes made. The sight of Joseph and Peter returning with one bear between them caused some talk. Teondechoren ran to Joseph as they neared the cabin where Marie Aonetta and her sister-in-law stood in the doorway, waiting for their braves.
"Is this your bear, Chiwatenwa?" he asked in his voice which always carried the ring of mockery.
"No, our brother Peter shot the arrows which cut him down."
Teondechoren laughed, throwing his head back, and rocking on his heels.
"When will you learn, Chiwatenwa, that our dreams are still powerful? The Blackrobes have blinded you. We have hated you, and scorned you, and despised you," he paused purposely, "and now, we laugh at you!"
Joseph and Peter moved away from him and entered their cabin. Tiredness came over Joseph like a robe one puts over the shoulders. He sat down with Marie Aonetta and their sons. His eyes looked down on their pock-marked faces. He spoke softly to his wife.
"In the eyes of men, I am a failure." Tears came to Marie Aonetta's eyes. "How can anyone who lives for God be a failure?" she asked simply. "My wife, my children," his voice was hoarse. "I do not know what God means by many things that happen. I only know that it is because He loves us so much that He says-- 'Let this thing happen.' "
Marie Aonetta smiled and nodded her head. She motioned to her boys to go away, and then she spread a mat on the bunk along the side of the cabin. "Come and sleep, Joseph."
He lay there in the dark cabin, fatigue throbbing at the extremities of his body. Words rushed him mercilessly-- "You are hated, despised, scorned, laughed at!" "There are no Christians in the Cord nation!" "When will you learn, Chiwatenwa, that our dreams are still powerful?"
And finally, the words faded and he was asleep, only to waken suddenly from the dream battle with the two Indians who menaced him, perspiring and shouting, "No--no! It is only God who is the master of my life. I will not pay attention to this dream!"
The echo of his voice startled him, and he felt a gentle hand on his arm. The loving face of his wife looked down at him, and her smile soothed him like a benediction.
"Go back to sleep, Joseph. The sun will be bright tomorrow, and Echon is coming to Ossosane. You must be well rested for the joys of tomorrow."