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Growing Up by Gouverneur Morris

 

The children were all down in the salt-marsh playing at marriage-by-capture. It was a very good play. You ran just as fast after the ugly girls as the pretty ones, and you didn't have to abide by the result. One little girl got so excited that she fell into the river, and it was Andramark who pulled her out, and beat her on the back till she stopped choking. It may be well to remember that she was named Tassel Top, a figure taken from the Indian-corn ear when it is in silk.

Andramark was the name of the boy. He was the seventh son of Squirrel Eyes, and all his six brothers were dead, because they had been born in hard times, or had fallen out of trees, or had been drowned. To grow up in an Indian village, especially when it is travelling, is very difficult. Sometimes a boy's mother has to work so hard that she runs plumb out of milk; and sometimes he gets playing too roughly with the other boys, and gets wounded, and blood-poisoning sets in; or he finds a dead fish and cooks it and eats it, and ptomaine poisoning sets in; or he catches too much cold on a full stomach, or too much malaria on an empty one. Or he tries to win glory by stealing a bear cub when its mother isn't looking, or a neighboring tribe drops in between days for an unfriendly visit, and some big painted devil knocks him over the head and takes his scalp home to his own little boy to play with.

Contrariwise, if he does manage to grow up and reach man's estate he's got something to brag of. Only he doesn't do it; because the first thing that people learn who have to live very intimately together is that bore and boaster are synonymous terms. So he never brags of what he has accomplished in the way of deeds and experiences until he is married. And then only in the privacy of his own lodge, when that big hickory stick which he keeps for the purpose assures him of the beloved one's best ears and most flattering attention.

Andramark's father was worse than dead. He had been tried in the council-lodge by the elders, and had been found guilty of something which need not be gone into here, and driven forth into the wilderness which surrounded the summer village to shift for himself. By the same judgment the culprit's wife, Squirrel Eyes, was pronounced a widow. Most women in her position would have been ambitious to marry again, but Squirrel Eyes's only ambition was to raise her seventh son to be the pride and support of her old age. She had had quite enough of marriage, she would have thanked you.

So, when Andramark was thirteen years old, and very swift and husky for his age, Squirrel Eyes went to the Wisest Medicine-man, and begged him to take her boy in hand and make a man of him.

“Woman,” the Wisest Medicine-man had said, “fifteen is the very greenest age at which boys are made men, but seeing that you are a widow, and without support, it may be that something can be done. We will look into the matter.”

That was why Owl Eyes, the Wisest Medicine-man, invited two of his cronies to sit with him on the bluff overlooking the salt-marsh and watch the children playing at marriage-by-capture.

Those old men were among the best judges of sports and form living. They could remember three generations of hunters and fighters. They had all the records for jumping, swimming under water, spear-throwing, axe-throwing, and bow-shooting at their tongues' ends. And they knew the pedigree for many, many generations of every child at that moment playing in the meadow, and into just what sort of man or woman that child should grow, with good luck and proper training.

Owl Eyes did not call his two cronies' attention to Andramark. If there was any precocity in the lad it would show of itself, and nothing would escape their black, jewel-like, inscrutable eyes. When Tassel Top fell into the river the aged pair laughed heartily, and when Andramark, without changing his stride, followed her in and fished her out, one of them said, “That's a quick boy,” and the other said, “Why hasn't that girl been taught to swim?” Owl Eyes said, “That's a big boy for only thirteen—that Andramark.”

In the next event Andramark from scratch ran through a field—some of the boys were older and taller than himself—and captured yet another wife, who, because she expected and longed to be caught by some other boy, promptly boxed—the air where his ears had been. Andramark, smiling, caught both her hands in one of his, tripped her over a neatly placed foot, threw her, face down, and seated himself quietly on the small of her back and rubbed her nose in the mud.

The other children, laughing and shouting, rushed to the rescue. Simultaneously Andramark, also laughing, was on his feet, running and dodging. Twice he passed through the whole mob of his pursuers without, so it seemed to the aged watchers on the bluff, being touched. Then, having won some ten yards clear of them, he wheeled about and stood with folded arms. A great lad foremost in the pursuit reached for him, was caught instead by the outstretched hand and jerked forward on his face. Some of the children laughed so hard that they had to stop running. Others redoubled their efforts to close with the once more darting, dodging, and squirming Andramark, who, however, threading through them for the third and last time in the most mocking and insulting manner, headed straight for the bluff a little to the right of where his elders and betters were seated with their legs hanging over, leaped at a dangling wild grape-vine, squirmed to the top, turned, and prepared to defend his position against any one insolent enough to assail it.

The children, crowded at the base of the little bluff, looked up. Andramark looked down. With one hand and the tip of his nose he made the insulting gesture which is older than antiquity.

Meanwhile, Owl Eyes had left his front-row seat, and not even a waving of the grasses showed that he was crawling upon Andramark from behind.

Owl Eyes's idea was to push the boy over the bluff as a lesson to him never to concentrate himself too much on one thing at a time. But just at the crucial moment Andramark leaped to one side, and it was a completely flabbergasted old gentleman who descended through the air in his stead upon a scattering flock of children. Owl Eyes, still agile at eighty, gathered himself into a ball, jerked violently with his head and arms, and managed to land on his feet. But he was very much shaken, and nobody laughed. He turned and looked up at Andramark, and Andramark looked down.

“I couldn't help it,” said Andramark. “I knew you were there all the time.”

Owl Eyes's two cronies grinned behind their hands.

“Come down,” said Owl Eyes sternly.

Andramark leaped and landed lightly, and stood with folded arms and looked straight into the eyes of the Wisest Medicine-man. Everybody made sure that there was going to be one heap big beating, and there were not wanting those who would have volunteered to fetch a stick, even from a great distance. But Owl Eyes was not called the Wisest Medicine-man for nothing. His first thought had been, “I will beat the life out of this boy.” But then (it was a strict rule that he always followed) he recited to himself the first three stanzas of the Rain-Maker's song, and had a new and wiser thought. This he spoke aloud.

“Boy,” he said, “beginning to-morrow I myself shall take you in hand and make a man of you. You will be at the medicine-lodge at noon. Meanwhile go to your mother's lodge and tell her from me to give you a sound beating.”

The children marvelled, the boys envied, and Andramark, his head very high, his heart thumping, passed among them and went home to his mother and repeated what the Wisest Medicine-man had said.

“And you are to give me a sound beating, mother,” said Andramark, “because after to-day they will begin making a man of me, and when I am a man it will be the other way around, and I shall have to beat you.”

His back was bare, and he bent forward so that his mother could beat him. And she took down from the lodge-pole a heavy whip of raw buckskin. It was not so heavy as her heart.

Then she raised the whip and said:

“A blow for the carrying,” and she struck; “a blow for the bearing,” and she struck; “a blow for the milking,” and she struck; “a blow for lies spoken,” and she did not strike; “a blow for food stolen,” and she did not strike.

And she went through the whole litany of the beating ceremonial and struck such blows as the law demanded, and spared those she honestly could spare, and when in doubt she quibbled—struck, but struck lightly.

When the beating was over they sat down facing each other and talked. And Squirrel Eyes said: “What must be, must. The next few days will soon be over.”

And Andramark shuddered (he was alone with his mother) and said, “If I show that they hurt me they will never let me be a man.”

And Squirrel Eyes did her best to comfort him and put courage in his heart, just as modern mothers do for sons who are about to have a tooth pulled or a tonsil taken out.

The next day at noon sharp Andramark stood before the entrance of the medicine-lodge with his arms folded; and all his boy and girl friends watched him from a distance. And all the boys envied him, and all the girls wished that they were boys. Andramark stood very still, almost without swaying, for the better part of an hour. His body was nicely greased, and he resembled a wet terra-cotta statue. A few mosquitoes were fattening themselves on him, and a bite in the small of his back itched so that he wanted very much to squirm and wriggle. But that would have been almost as bad an offence against ceremonial as complaining of hunger during the fast or shedding tears under the torture.

Andramark had never seen the inside of the medicine-lodge; but it was well known to be very dark, and to contain skulls and thigh-bones of famous enemies, and devil-masks, and horns and rattles and other disturbing and ghostly properties. Of what would happen to him when he had passed between the flaps of the lodge and was alone with the medicine-men he did not know. But he reasoned that if they really wanted to make a man of him they would not really try to kill him or maim him. And he was strong in the determination, no matter what should happen, to show neither surprise, fear, nor pain.

A quiet voice spoke suddenly, just within the flaps of the lodge:

“Who is standing without?”

“The boy Andramark.”

“What do you wish of us?”

“To be made a man.”

“Then say farewell to your companions of childhood.”

Andramark turned toward the boys and girls who were watching him. Their faces swam a little before his eyes, and he felt a big lump coming slowly up in his throat. He raised his right arm to its full length, palm forward, and said:

“Farewell, O children; I shall never play with you any more.”

Then the children set up a great howl of lamentation, which was all part of the ceremonial, and Andramark turned and found that the flaps of the lodge had been drawn aside, and that within there was thick darkness and the sound of men breathing.

“Come in, Andramark.”

The flaps of the lodge fell together behind him. Fingers touched his shoulder and guided him in the dark, and then a voice told him to sit down. His quick eyes, already accustomed to the darkness, recognized one after another the eleven medicine-men of his tribe. They were seated cross-legged in a semicircle, and one of them was thumbing tobacco into the bowl of a poppy-red pipe. Some of the medicine-men had rattles handy in their laps, others devil-horns. They were all smiling and looking kindly at the little boy who sat all alone by himself facing them. Then old Owl Eyes, who was the central medicine-man of the eleven, spoke.

“In this lodge,” he said, “no harm will befall you. But lest the women and children grow to think lightly of manhood there will be from time to time much din and devil-noises.”

At that the eleven medicine-men began to rock their bodies and groan like lost souls (they groaned louder and louder, with a kind of awful rhythm), and to shake the devil-rattles, which were dried gourds, brightly painted, and containing teeth of famous enemies, and one of the medicine-men tossed a devil-horn to Andramark, and the boy put it to his lips and blew for all he was worth. It was quite obvious that the medicine-men were just having fun, not with him, but with all the women and children of the village who were outside listening—at a safe distance, of course—and imagining that the medicine-lodge was at that moment a scene of the most awful visitations and terrors. And all that afternoon, at intervals, the ghastly uproar was repeated, until Andramark's lips were chapped with blowing the devil-horn and his insides felt very shaky. But between times the business of the medicine-men with Andramark was very serious, and they talked to him like so many fathers, and he listened with both ears and pulled at the poppy-red medicine-pipe whenever it was passed to him.

They lectured him upon anatomy and hygiene; upon tribal laws and intertribal laws; and always they explained “why” as well as they could, and if they didn't know “why” they said it must be right because it's always been done that way. Sometimes they said things that made him feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable. And sometimes they became so interesting that it was the other way round.

“The gulf,” said Owl Eyes, “between the race of men and the races of women and children is knowledge. For, whereas many squaws and little children possess courage, knowledge is kept from them, even as the first-run shad of the spring. The duty of the child is to acquire strength and skill, of the woman to bear children, to labor in the corn-field, and to keep the lodge. But the duty of man is to hunt, and to fight, and to make medicine, to know, and to keep knowledge to himself. Hence the saying that whatever man betrays the secrets of the council-lodge to a squaw is a squaw himself. Hitherto, Andramark, you have been a talkative child, but henceforth you will watch your tongue as a warrior watches the prisoner that he is bringing to his village for torture. When a man ceases to be a mystery to the women and children he ceases to be a man. Do not tell them what has passed in the medicine-lodge, but let it appear that you could discourse of ghostly mysteries and devilish visitations and other dread wonders—if you would; so that even to the mother that bore you you will be henceforward and forever a thing apart, a thing above, a thing beyond.”

And the old medicine-man who sat on Owl Eyes's left cleared his throat and said:

“When a man's wife is in torment, it is as well for him to nod his head and let her believe that she does not know what suffering is.”

Another said:

“Should a man's child ask what the moon is made of, let that man answer that it is made of foolish questions, but at the same time let him smile, as much as to say that he could give the truthful answer—if he would.”

Another said:

“When you lie to women and children, lie foolishly, so that they may know that you are making sport of them and may be ashamed. In this way a man may keep the whole of his knowledge to himself, like a basket of corn hidden in a place of his own secret choosing.”

Still another pulled one flap of the lodge a little so that a ray of light entered. He held his hand in the ray and said:

“The palm of my hand is in darkness, the back is in light. It is the same with all acts and happenings—there is a bright side and a dark side. Never be so foolish as to look on the dark side of things; there may be somewhat there worth discovering, but it is in vain to look because it cannot be seen.”

And Owl Eyes said:

“It will be well now to rest ourselves from seriousness with more din and devil-noises. And after that we shall lead the man-boy Andramark to the Lodge of Nettles, there to sit alone for a space and to turn over in his mind all that we have said to him.”

“One thing more.” This from a very little medicine-man who had done very little talking. “When you run the gauntlet of the women and children from the Hot Lodge to the river, watch neither their eyes nor their whips; watch only their feet, lest you be tripped and thrown at the very threshold of manhood.”

Nettles, thistles, and last year's burdocks and sandspurs strewed the floor of the lodge to which Andramark was now taken. And he was told that he must not thrust these to one side and make himself comfortable upon the bare ground. He might sit, or stand, or lie down; he might walk about; but he mustn't think of going to sleep, or, indeed, of anything but the knowledge and mysteries which had been revealed to him in the medicine-lodge.

All that night, all the next day, and all the next night he meditated. For the first six hours he meditated on knowledge, mystery, and the whole duty of man, just as he had been told to do. And he only stopped once to listen to a flute-player who had stolen into the forest back of the lodge and was trying to tell some young squaw how much he loved her and how lonely he was without her. The flute had only four notes and one of them was out of order; but Andramark had been brought up on that sort of music and it sounded very beautiful to him. Still, he only listened with one ear, Indian fashion. The other was busy taking in all the other noises of the night and the village. Somebody passed by the Lodge of Nettles, walking very slowly and softly. “A man,” thought Andramark, “would not make any noise at all. A child would be in bed.”

The slow, soft steps were nearing the forest back of the lodge, quickening a little. Contrariwise, the flute was being played more and more slowly. Each of its three good notes was a stab at the feelings, and so, for that matter, was the note that had gone wrong. An owl hooted. Andramark smiled. If he had been born enough hundreds of years later he might have said, “You can't fool me!”

The flute-playing stopped abruptly. Andramark forgot all about the nettles and sat down. Then he stood up.

He meditated on war and women, just as he had been told to do. Then, because he was thirsty, he meditated upon suffering. And he finished the night meditating—upon an empty stomach.

Light filtered under the skirts of the lodge. He heard the early women going to their work in the fields. The young leaves were on the oaks, and it was corn-planting time. Even very old corn, however, tastes very good prepared in any number of different ways. Andramark agreed with himself that when he gave himself in marriage it would be to a woman who was a thoroughly good cook. But quite raw food is acceptable at times. It is pleasant to crack quail eggs between the teeth, or to rip the roe out of a fresh-caught shad with your forefinger and just let it melt in your mouth.

The light brightened. It was a fine day. It grew warm in the lodge, hot, intolerably hot. The skins of which it was made exhaled a smoky, meaty smell. Andramark was tempted to see if he couldn't suck a little nourishment out of them. A shadow lapped the skirts of the lodge and crawled upward. It became cool, cold. The boy, almost naked, began to shiver and shake. He swung his arms as cab-drivers do, and tried very hard to meditate upon the art of being a man.

During the second night one of his former companions crept up to the lodge and spoke to him under its skirts. “Sst! Heh! What does it feel like to be a man?”—chuckled and withdrew.

Andramark said to himself the Indian for “I'll lay for that boy.” He was very angry. He had been gratuitously insulted in the midst of his new dignities.

Suddenly the flaps of the lodge were opened and some one leaned in and set something upon the floor. Andramark did not move. His nostrils dilated, and he said to himself, “Venison—broiled to the second.”

In the morning he saw that there was not only venison, but a bowl of water, and a soft bearskin upon which he might stretch himself and sleep. His lips curled with a great scorn. And he remained standing and aloof from the temptations. And meditated upon the privileges of being a man.

About noon he began to have visitors. At first they were vague, dark spots that hopped and ziddied in the overheated air. But these became, with careful looking, all sorts of devils and evil spirits, and beasts the like of which were not in the experience of any living man. There were creatures made like men, only that they were covered with long, silky hair and had cry-baby faces and long tails. And there was a vague, yellowish beast, very terrible, something like a huge cat, only that it had curling tusks like a very big wild pig. And there were other things that looked like men, only that they were quite white, as if they had been most awfully frightened. And suddenly Andramark imagined that he was hanging to a tree, but not by his hands or his feet, and the limb to which he was hanging broke, and, after falling for two or three days, he landed on his feet among burs and nettles that were spread over the floor of a lodge.

The child had slept standing up, and had evolved from his subconsciousness, as children will, beasts and conditions that had existed when the whole human race was a frightened cry-baby in its cradle. He had never heard of a monkey or a sabre-tooth tiger; but he had managed to see a sort of vision of them both, and had dreamed that he was a monkey hanging by his tail.

He was very faint and sick when the medicine-men came for him. But it did not show in his face, and he walked firmly among them to the great Torture Lodge, his head very high and the ghost of a smile hovering about his mouth.

It was a grim business that waited him in the Torture Lodge. He was strung up by his thumbs to a peg high up the great lodge pole, and drawn taut by thongs from his big toes to another peg in the base of the pole, and then, without any unnecessary delays, for every step in the proceeding was according to a ceremonial that was almost as old as suffering, they gave him, what with blunt flint-knives and lighted slivers of pitch-pine, a very good working idea of hell. They told him, without words, which are the very tenderest and most nervous places in all the human anatomy, and showed him how simple it is to give a little boy all the sensations of major operations without actually removing his arms and legs. And they talked to him. They told him that because he came of a somewhat timorous family they were letting him off very easily; that they weren't really hurting him, because it was evident from the look of him that at the first hint of real pain he would scream and cry. And then suddenly, just when the child was passing through the ultimate border-land of endurance, they cut him down, and praised him, and said that he had behaved splendidly, and had taken to torture as a young duck takes to water. And poor little Andramark found that under the circumstances kindness was the very hardest thing of all to bear. One after another great lumps rushed up his throat, and he began to tremble and totter and struggle with the corners of his mouth.

Old Owl Eyes, who had tortured plenty of brave boys in his day, was ready for this phase. He caught up a great bowl of ice-cold spring-water and emptied it with all his strength against Andramark's bloody back. The shock of that sudden icy blow brought the boy's runaway nerves back into hand. He shook himself, drew a long breath, and, without a quiver anywhere, smiled.

And the old men were as glad as he was that the very necessary trial by torture was at an end. And, blowing triumphantly upon devil-horns and shaking devil-rattles, they carried him the whole length of the village to the base of the hill where the Hot Lodge was.

This was a little cave, in the mouth of which was a spring, said to be very full of Big Medicine. The entrance to the cave was closed by a heavy arras of bearskins, three or four thick, and the ground in front was thickly strewn with round and flat stones cracked and blackened by fire. From the cave to the fifteen-foot bluff overhanging a deep pool of the river the ground was level, and worn in a smooth band eight or ten feet wide as by the trampling of many feet.

Andramark, stark naked and still bleeding in many places, sat cross-legged in the cave, at the very rim of the medicine-spring. His head hung forward on his chest. All his muscles were soft and relaxed. After a while the hangings of the cave entrance were drawn a little to one side and a stone plumped into the spring with a savage hiss; another followed—another—and another and another. Steam began to rise from the surface of the spring, little bubbles darted up from the bottom and burst. More hot stones were thrown into the water. Steam, soft and caressing, filled the cave. The temperature rose by leaps and bounds. The roots of Andramark's hair began to tickle—the tickling became unendurable, and ceased suddenly as the sweat burst from every pore of his body. His eyes closed; in his heart it was as if love-music were being played upon a flute. He was no longer conscious of hunger or thirst. He yielded, body and soul, to the sensuous miracle of the steam, and slept.

He was awakened by many shrill voices that laughed and dared him to come out.

“It's only one big beating,” he said, rose, stepped over the spring, pushed through the bearskins, and stood gleaming and steaming in the fading light.

The gantlet that he was to run extended from the cave to the bluff overhanging the river. He looked the length of the double row of grinning women and children—the active agents in what was to come. Back of the women and children were warriors and old men, their faces relaxed into holiday expressions. Toward the river end of the gauntlet were stationed the youngest, the most vigorous, the most fun-loving of the women, and the larger boys, with only a negligible sprinkling of really little children. Every woman and child in the two rows was armed with a savage-looking whip of willow, hickory, or even green brier, and the still more savage intention of using these whips to the utmost extent of their speed and accuracy in striking.

Upon a signal Andramark darted forward and was lost in a whistling smother. It was as if an untrimmed hedge had suddenly gone mad. Andramark made the best of a bad business, guarded his face and the top of his head with his arms, ran swiftly, but not too swiftly, and kept his eyes out for feet that were thrust forward to trip him.

A dozen feet ahead he saw a pair of little moccasins that were familiar to him. As he passed them he looked into their owner's face, and wondered why, of all the little girls in the village, Tassel Top alone did not use her whip on him.

At last, half blinded, lurching as he ran, he came to the edge of the bluff, and dived, almost without a splash, into the deep, fresh water. The cold of it stung his overheated, bleeding body like a swarm of wild bees, and it is possible that when he reached the Canoe Beach the water in his eyes was not all fresh. Here, however, smiling chiefs and warriors surrounded the stoic, and welcomed him to their number with kind words and grunts of approval. And then, because he that had been but a moment before a naked child was now a naked man, and no fit spectacle for women and children, they formed a bright-colored moving screen about him and conducted him to the great council-lodge. There they eased his wounds with pleasant greases, and dressed him in softest buckskin, and gave him just as much food as it was safe for him to eat—a couple of quail eggs and a little dish of corn and freshwater mussels baked.

And after that they sent him home armed with a big stick. And there was his mother, squatting on the floor of their lodge, with her back bared in readiness for a good beating. But Andramark closed the lodge-flaps, and dropped his big stick, and began to blubber and sob. And his mother leaped up and caught him in her arms; and then—once a mother, always tactful—she began to howl and yell, just as if she were actually receiving the ceremonial beating which was her due. And the neighbors pricked up their ears and chuckled, and said the Indian for “Squirrel Eyes is getting what was coming to her.”

Maybe Andramark didn't sleep that night, and maybe he did. And all the dreams that he dreamed were pleasant, and he got the best of everybody in them, and he woke next morning to a pleasant smell of broiling shad, and lay on his back blinking and yawning, and wondering why of all the little girls in the village Tassel Top alone had not used her whip on him.

 
 
 

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