THE INDIANS AND THE JACK-O’-LANTERNS
ON a little farm several miles from any village, lived two little girls, Prudence and Endurance.
There were no other children near, but they were never lonely, for they had Whitefoot and Fluff, two of the prettiest kittens you ever saw. They had old Speckle and her little brood of downy, yellow chicks. Down in the pasture was Bess, the cow, with her pretty black and white calf. This was the greatest pet of all.
A tribe of Indians lived in the forest not far away. At first the children were very much afraid of them, but the Indians seemed friendly and made many visits to the house in the clearing.
Sometimes they came to trade their furs for a kettle, a blanket, or something else which they could not make.
Once a squaw came to bring her papoose, who was very ill. She wanted the white woman to make it well. The kind mother cared for the Indian baby as tenderly as though it were her own. Presently the little one was much better and went to sleep in its queer little cradle.
The Indian woman was very thankful. She gave Prudence a pretty little pocket trimmed with beads. Then she hung the papoose, cradle and all, upon her back and went home to her wigwam, feeling very happy.
“She gave Prudence a pretty little pocket trimmed with beads”
One October day, their father said to Prudence and Endurance, “Children, mother and I must go to the village to-day. I think we shall be home before dark, but if we should have to stay away all night, do you think you are big enough and brave enough to keep house while we are gone?”
“Oh, yes,” answered the children. “We shall not be afraid, and we shall be too busy to be lonely.”
“There are a few more pumpkins in the field; you may roll them in and pile them with the others beside the pit I have dug for the potatoes,” said their father. “If you wish, you may have two of the pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns.”
“We shall try to be back before dark, but if we are not here, just bolt the doors and you will be all right,” said the mother, as she kissed the little girls good-bye. “Don’t forget to cover the fire with ashes before you go to bed,” she called, as she rode away.
The children watched their parents until a turn in the road hid them from sight; then they went in to finish the morning work. How grand they felt to be real housekeepers!
Endurance took down a turkey wing from its nail in the chimney corner, and brushed the hearth until not a speck of dust was left upon it. Then the girls swept and dusted the big kitchen, which was also the sitting room.
When it was time to get dinner, Endurance peeled some potatoes, and Prudence put more wood on the fire and hung a kettle of water over it for the tea. In another kettle she made a fine stew of meat and potatoes.
It seemed rather strange to sit down at the dinner table without father and mother, but after all it was great fun, for Prudence sat in mother’s chair and poured the tea, while Endurance served the stew. In a chair between them sat Betty, the big rag doll, but she did not seem to be so hungry as the little housewives.
After the dishes were washed the children scampered to the field close by, and began to roll in the big yellow pumpkins.
Late that afternoon their work was all done, and they sat down behind the great golden pile and began to make their jack-o’-lanterns. At last they were finished, and very fierce they looked with their big eyes and ugly teeth.
“Now I will go in and find some candle ends, and we will light our jack-o’-lanterns as soon as it is dark,” said Endurance.
When she was gone, Prudence brought an armful of straw, and jumping into the pit, began to cover the earth with it. Her father would be surprised to find the potato pit so nicely lined with clean straw when he came home.
While she was at work, Prudence heard voices near the barn. “Oh, father and mother have come! I am so glad they did not stay all night,” thought the child, climbing out of the pit to run to meet them.
But what changed her happy smile to a look of terror? What made her fall back upon the straw and cover her face with her hands? It was not Dobbin and the wagon she had seen at the barn door, but two Indians. One glance at their fierce, painted faces told her they were on the warpath.
For a few minutes she dared not move for fear the Indians would hear her. She expected every moment to be dragged from her hiding place.
Then she thought of her sister. What if Endurance should come out of the house and be seen by the Indians! At this terrible thought she sprang up and peeped out of the pit.
At first she could see nothing of the Indians, but soon they came out of the barn, carrying some pieces of harness and a new ax. They talked in a low tone and pointed toward the house, then disappeared behind the barn.
When they were gone, Prudence ran into the house, crying, “Oh, Endurance! Endurance! What shall we do? The Indians! Indians!”
“Well, they will not hurt us,” said Endurance. “They often come here.”
“But these are not our Indians. They belong to another tribe, and they are on the warpath. Oh, such terrible Indians! I am sure they will come back to-night and burn the house and kill or steal us.”
But they were brave little girls and did not waste much time crying over this trouble. They began to plan what to do. “Let us light our lanterns and hide in the potato pit,” said Endurance. “When they come we will hold up our lanterns and frighten them. Mother says Indians are very much afraid of things they cannot understand. Perhaps they will think they are witches.”
As soon as it was dark, the little girls lighted their lanterns and crept into the pit. They pulled some boards and brush over the hole and waited. It seemed to them they had waited hours and hours, when they heard soft footsteps coming toward the house.
The girls watched. In the darkness they could see two Indians creeping nearer and nearer, until they were quite close to the pit.
“Now!” whispered Endurance, and they pushed their jack-o’-lanterns up through the brush.
The Indians were so astonished that, for a moment, they stood perfectly still, staring at the monsters. Then, with a yell of terror, they dropped their tomahawks and ran into the forest as fast as they could go.
All night long the girls lay in the pit. When morning came, they crept out and looked about. No Indians were to be seen. Beside the pit lay the tomahawks and, a little farther away, three eagle feathers, which one of the natives had dropped as he ran.
When their father and mother returned, the children told the story of the Indians and the jack-o’-lanterns, and showed the feathers and tomahawks. “My brave, brave little girls!” whispered their father, as he held them close in his arms.
The Indians must have told their friends about the dreadful sight they had seen, for never after would an Indian go near that house.