* * * * *
The hunters were so successful that they returned to their village soon. The friends of Wenona rejoiced in her happy looks, but to Harpstenah they were bitterness and gall. The angry countenance of Red Cloud found an answering chord in her own heart.
“Ha!” said she to him, as he watched Wenona and her lover talking together, “what has happened? Did you not say you would marry the chief’s sister—why then are you not with her? Red Cloud is a great warrior, why should he be sad because Wenona loves him not? Are there not maidens among the Dahcotahs more beautiful than she? She never loved you; her brother, too, has treated you with contempt. Listen to my words, Red Cloud; the Virgin’s Feast is soon to be celebrated, and she will enter the ring for the last time. When she comes forward, tell her she is unworthy. Is she not a disgrace to the band? Has she not shamed a brave warrior? Will you not be despised when another is preferred to you?”
The words of the tempter are in his ear—madness and hatred are in his heart.
“I said I would take her life, but my revenge will be deeper. Wenona would die rather than be disgraced.” And as he spoke Harpstenah turned to leave him, for she saw that the poison had entered his soul.
Among the Dahcotahs, women are not excluded from joining in their feasts or dances; they dance the scalp dance while the men sit round and sing, and they join in celebrating many of the customs of their tribe. But the Virgin’s Feast has reference to the women alone; its object is not to celebrate the deeds of the warrior, but rather to put to the test the virtue of the maiden.
Notice was given among the Indians that the Virgin’s Feast was to be celebrated at Little Crow’s village; the time was mentioned, and all who chose to attend were welcome to do so.
The feast was prepared in the neighborhood of the village. The boiled corn and venison were put in wooden bowls, and the Indians sat round, forming a ring. Those who were to partake of the feast were dressed in their gayest apparel; their long hair plaited and falling over their shoulders. Those who are conscious of error dare not approach the feast, for it is a part of the ceremony that they shall be exposed by any one present. Neither rank nor beauty must interpose to prevent the punishment. Nay, sometimes the power of innocence and virtue itself is not sufficient to guard the Dahcotah maiden from disgrace.
And was Wenona unworthy? The white snow that covered the hills was not more pure than she. But Red Cloud cared not for that. She had refused to be the light of his wigwam, and thus was he avenged.
Wenona advanced with the maidens of the village. Who can describe her terror and dismay when Red Cloud advances and leads her from the sacred ring? To whom shall the maiden turn for help? To her brother? his angry countenance speaks not of comfort. Her friends? the smile of scorn is on their lips. Her lover? he has left the feast.