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The Torrents of Spring Part 3 Chapter 12

Through the night down the frozen road the three walked into Petoskey. They had been silent walking along the frozen road. Their shoes broke the new-formed crusts of ice. Sometimes Yogi Johnson stepped through a thin film of ice into a pool of water. The Indians avoided the pools of water.

They came down the hill past the feed store, crossed the bridge over the Bear River, their boots ringing hollowly on the frozen planks of the bridge, and climbed the hill that led past Dr. Rumsey's house and the Home Tea-Room up to the pool-room. In front of the pool-room the two Indians stopped.

"White chief shoot pool?" the big Indian asked.

"No," Yogi Johnson said. "My right arm was crippled in the war."

"White chief have hard luck," the small Indian said. "Shoot one game Kelly pool."

"He got both arms and both legs shot off at Ypres," the big Indian said in an aside to Yogi. "Him very sensitive."

"All right," Yogi Johnson said. "I'll shoot one game."

They went into the hot, smoke-filled warmth of the pool-room. They obtained a table and took down cues from the wall. As the little Indian reached up to take down his cue Yogi noticed that he had two artificial arms. They were brown leather and were both buckled on at the elbow. On the smooth green cloth, under the bright electric lights, they played pool. At the end of an hour and a half, Yogi Johnson found that he owed the little Indian four dollars and thirty cents.

"You shoot a pretty nice stick," he remarked to the small Indian.

"Me not shoot so good since the war," the small Indian replied.

"White chief like to drink a little?" asked the larger Indian.

"Where do you get it?" asked Yogi. "I have to go to Cheboygan for mine."

"White chief come with red brothers," the big Indian said.

They left the pool-table, placed their cues in the rack on the wall, paid at the counter, and went out into the night.

Along the dark streets men were sneaking home. The frost had come and frozen everything stiff and cold. The chinook had not been a real chinook, after all. Spring had not yet come, and the men who had commenced their orgies were halted by the chill in the air that told them the chinook wind had been a fake. That foreman, Yogi thought, he'll catch hell to-morrow. Perhaps it had all been engineered by the pump-manufacturers to get the foreman out of his job. Such things were done. Through the dark of the night men were sneaking home in little groups.

The two Indians walked on either side of Yogi. They turned down a side street, and all three halted before a building that looked something like a stable. It was a stable. The two Indians opened the door and Yogi followed them inside. A ladder led upstairs to the floor above. It was dark inside the stable, but one of the Indians lit a match to show Yogi the ladder. The little Indian climbed up first, the metal hinges of his artificial limbs squeaking as he climbed. Yogi followed him, and the other Indian climbed last, lighting Yogi's way with matches. The little Indian knocked on the roof where the ladder stopped against the wall. There was an answering knock. The little Indian knocked in answer, three sharp knocks on the roof above his head. A trap-door in the roof was raised, and they climbed up through the lighted room.

In one corner of the room there was a bar with a brass rail and tall spittoons. Behind the bar was a mirror. Easy-chairs were all around the room. There was a pool-table. Magazines on sticks hung in a line on the wall. There was a framed autographed portrait of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on the wall draped in the American flag. Several Indians were sitting in the easy-chairs reading. A little group stood at the bar.

"Nice little club, eh?" An Indian came up and shook hands with Yogi. "I see you almost every day at the pump-factory."

He was a man who worked at one of the machines near Yogi in the factory. Another Indian came up and shook hands with Yogi. He also worked in the pump-factory.

"Rotten luck about the chinook," he said.

"Yes," Yogi said. "Just a false alarm."

"Come and have a drink," the first Indian said.

"I'm with a party," Yogi answered. Who were these Indians, anyway?

"Bring them along too," the first Indian said. "Always room for one more."

Yogi looked around him. The two Indians who had brought him were gone. Where were they? Then he saw them. They were over at the pool-table. The tall refined Indian to whom Yogi was talking followed his glance. He nodded his head in understanding.

"They're woods Indians," he explained apologetically. "We're most of us town Indians here."

"Yes, of course," Yogi agreed.

"The little chap has a very good war record," the tall refined Indian remarked. "The other chap was a major too, I believe."

Yogi was guided over to the bar by the tall refined Indian. Behind the bar was the bartender. He was a Negro.

"How would some Dog's Head ale go?" asked the Indian.

"Fine," Yogi said.

"Two Dog's Heads, Bruce," the Indian remarked to the bartender. The bartender broke into a chuckle.

"What are you laughing at, Bruce?" the Indian asked.

The Negro broke into a shrill haunting laugh.

"I knowed it, Massa Red Dog," he said. "I knowed you'd ordah dat Dog's Head all the time."

"He's a merry fellow," the Indian remarked to Yogi. "I must introduce myself. Red Dog's the name."

"Johnson's the name," Yogi said. "Yogi Johnson."

"Oh, we are all quite familiar with your name, Mr. Johnson," Red Dog smiled. "I would like you to meet my friends Mr. Sitting Bull, Mr. Poisoned Buffalo, and Chief Running Skunk-Backwards."

"Sitting Bull's a name I know," Yogi remarked, shaking hands.

"Oh, I'm not one of those Sitting Bulls," Mr. Sitting Bull said.

"Chief Running Skunk-Backwards's great-grandfather once sold the entire Island of Manhattan for a few strings of wampum," Red Dog explained.

"How very interesting," Yogi said.

"That was a costly bit of wampum for our family," Chief Running Skunk-Backwards smiled ruefully.

"Chief Running Skunk-Backwards has some of that wampum. Would you like to see it?" Red Dog asked.

"Indeed, I would."

"It's really no different from any other wampum," Skunk-Backwards explained deprecatingly. He pulled a chain of wampum out of his pocket, and handed it to Yogi Johnson. Yogi looked at it curiously. What a part that string of wampum had played in this America of ours.

"Would you like to have one or two wampums for a keepsake?" Skunk-Backwards asked.

"I wouldn't like to take your wampum," Yogi demurred.

"They have no intrinsic value really," Skunk-Backwards explained, detaching one or two wampums from the string.

"Their value is really a sentimental one to Skunk-Backwards's family," Red Dog said.

"It's damned decent of you, Mr. Skunk-Backwards," Yogi said.

"It's nothing," Skunk-Backwards said. "You'd do the same for me in a moment."

"It's decent of you."

Behind the bar, Bruce, the Negro bartender, had been leaning forward and watching the wampums pass from hand to hand. His dark face shone. Sharply, without explanation, he broke into high-pitched uncontrolled laughter. The dark laughter of the Negro.

Red Dog looked at him sharply. "I say, Bruce," he spoke sharply; "you mirth is a little ill-timed."

Bruce stopped laughing and wiped his face on a towel. He rolled his eyes apologetically.

"Ah can't help it, Massa Red Dog. When I seen Mistah Skunk-Backhouse passin' dem wampums around I jess couldn't stand it no longa. Whad he wan sell a big town like New Yawk foh dem wampums for? Wampums! Take away yoah wampums!"

"Bruce is an eccentric," Red Dog explained, "but he's a corking bartender and a good-hearted chap."

"Youah right theah, Massa Red Dog," the bartender leaned forward. "I'se got a heart of a puah gold."

"He is an eccentric, though," Red Dog apologized. "The house committee are always after me to get another bartender, but I like the chap, oddly enough."

"I'm all right, boss," Bruce said. "It's just that when I see something funny I just have to laff. You know I don' mean no harm, boss."

"Right enough, Bruce," Red Dog agreed. "You are an honest chap."

Yogi Johnson looked about the room. The other Indians had gone away from the bar, and Skunk-Backwards was showing the wampum to a little group of Indians in dinner dress who had just come in. At the pool-table the two woods Indians were still playing. They had removed their coats, and the light above the pool-table glinted on the metal joints in the little woods Indian's artificial arms. He had just run the table for the eleventh consecutive time.

"That little chap would have made a pool-player in he hadn't had a bit of hard luck in the war," Red Dog remarked. "Would you like to have a look about the club?" He took the check from Bruce, signed it, and Yogi followed him into the next room.

"Our committee room," Red Dog said. On the walls were framed autographed photographs of Chief Bender, Francis Parkman, D. H. Lawrence, Chief Meyers, Stewart Edward White, Mary Austin, Jim Thorpe, General Custer, Glenn Warner, Mabel Dodge, and a full-length oil painting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Beyond the committee room was a locker room with a small plunge bath or swimming-pool. "It's really ridiculously small for a club," Red Dog said. "But it makes a comfortable little hole to pop into when the evenings are dull." He smiled. "We call it the wigwam, you know. That's a little conceit of my own."

"It's a damned nice club," Yogi said enthusiastically.

"Put you up if you like," Red Dog offered. "What's your tribe?"

"What do you mean?"

"Your tribe. What are you—Sac and Fox? Jibway? Cree, I imagine."

"Oh," said Yogi. "My parents came from Sweden."

Red Dog looked at him closely. His eyes narrowed.

"You're not having me on?"

"No. They either came from Sweden or Norway," Yogi said.

"I'd have sworn you looked a bit on the white side," Red Dog said. "Damned good thing this came out in time. There'd have been no end of scandal." He put his hand to his head and pursed his lips. "Here, you," he turned suddenly and gripped Yogi by the vest. Yogi felt the barrel of an automatic pushed hard against his stomach. "You'll go quietly through the club-room, get your coat and hat and leave as though nothing had happened. Say polite good-by to anyone who happens to speak to you. And never come back. Get that, you Swede."

"Yes," said Yogi. "Put up your gun. I'm not afraid of your gun."

"Do as I say," Red Dog ordered. "As for those two pool-players that brought you here, I'll soon have them out of this."

Yogi went into the bright room, looked at the bar, where Bruce, the bartender, was regarding him, got his hat and coat, said good-night to Skunk-Backwards, who asked him why he was leaving so early, and the outside trap-door was swung up by Bruce. As Yogi started down the ladder the Negro burst out laughing. "I knowed it," he laughed. "I knowed it all de time. No Swede gwine to fool ole Bruce."

Yogi looked back and saw the laughing black face of the Negro framed in the oblong square of light that came through the raised trap-door. Once on the stable floor, Yogi looked around him. He was alone. The straw of the old stable was stiff and frozen under his feet. Where had he been? Had he been in an Indian club? What was it all about? Was this the end?

Above him a slit of light came in the roof. Then it was blocked by two black figures, there was the sound of a kick, a blow, a series of thuds, some dull, some sharp, and two human forms came crashing down the ladder. From above floated the dark, haunting sound of black Negro laughter.

The two woods Indians picked themselves up from the straw and limped toward the door. One of them, the little one, was crying. Yogi followed them out into the cold night. It was cold. The night was clear. The stars were out.

"Club no damn good," the big Indian said. "Club heap no damn good."

The little Indian was crying. Yogi, in the starlight, saw that he had lost one of his artificial arms.

"Me no play pool no more," the little Indian sobbed. He shook his one arm at the window of the club, from which a thin slit of light came. "Club heap goddam hell no good."

"Never mind," Yogi said. "I'll get you a job in the pump-factory."

"Pump-factory, hell," the big Indian said. "We all go join Salvation Army."

"Don't cry," Yogi said to the little Indian. "I'll buy you a new arm."

The little Indian went on crying. He sat down in the snowy road. "No can play pool me no care about nothing," he said.

From above them, out of the window of the club came the haunting sound of a Negro laughing.