All day Dawson watched through the window as a light snow slowly fell like a powdering of sugar on the hills. It wasn't until he was finishing his evening meal that the Indian pony he was expecting neighed just outside. A few moments later a strong hand thumped twice and the heavy door opened. Wrapped in a buffalo robe, Blue Feather brushed off a dust of snow, as he strode to the fire and the bite of his bear grease took to the air. The Mountain Crow was as lean and thin as Dawson was compact and stood a foot taller than his white friend. In the dim light of the trading post Blue Feather's thin-face and long jaw reminded Dawson of a fox.
"I am here, Dawson. Now you can make your magic," Blue Feather said, staring under Dawson's mop of curly brown hair into the well of Dawson's eyes.
Dawson pushed the door tight, and the smokey warmth of the wood stove pushed back the November cold. Dawson's forehead scrunched with his smile so that his curly eyebrows almost met as he lifted his piercing gray eyes up at Blue Feather. Dawson was the Major of the American Trading Company in the Montana Territory and could not afford to insult any of the Mountain Crow. Yet, his fondness for his own tall stories had gotten him into a fix. He'd boasted to the Crow of how he had changed into an eagle so as to spot the best places to fish for trout in the nearby creeks. He thought it a boon they'd been willing to believe he had magic until Blue Feather decided he wanted to become a horse. Now, Dawson's friendship with Blue Feather, perhaps Dawson's best friend in Montana, was staked on a lie.
The Crow surveyed the items covering the brick walls of the cabin. Everytime Blue Feather came he'd looked at the traps and rifles that lined the walls like a youngster would a glass case filled with candy. Dawson's eyes rested on the framed quote from Byron, "In friendship early I was taught to believe." Tearing his eyes away from the quote, Dawson asked heartily, " Are you ready, or would you like something to eat?" and pointed to the stew on the fire.
Blue Feather turned from a framed tintype of a grizzly. "I am ready," he said. His tone was one of respect for Dawson and the power of his magic. The submissive look in the brave's dark eyes spoke of the seriousness of his intent.
Coming close and putting his arm around his friend's shoulder, Dawson said, "Then we will make magic. First," he pointed out the window at the horses standing in the corral,"horses do not wear clothing. So you must take off your clothes."
As the young Crow stripped, Dawson lifted a blackened kettle, and five gallon iron bucket off the stove and poured the contents into a large tin bathtub. Steam curled above the bath water. From a split log shelf Dawson produced a bar of lye soap.
"You know you will be a new horse, as wild and free as the wind. But as such you will not be used to the scent of bear grease. You will think there is a bear nearby and it will drive you mad with fear. So you must wash."
The Indian nodded and stepped into the tub, accepting the soap from Dawson. As it was, Dawson had to take a brush to Blue Feather's back, and coax him to wash his face and hair.
When the water was dark and striped with oil, and the brave's skin puckered, Dawson opened the door and left it to let the snow blow in. Only his lifting eyelids betrayed his feelings as he saw the brave shiver. "Come on now, get out quickly. The ceremony must proceed before the moon rises high above the snow clouds."
When the brave had stepped dripping out of the warm tub into the draft of frigid air, Dawson said in a somber tone. "When you first become a horse, you will be confused. So I must harness you and tie you to a post. Tomorrow, after I have had a chance to talk to you, I will set you free to run."
"That is good, Dawson," Blue Feather said.
As Dawson led the still dripping, naked Indian out into the snow, he fetched the harness he'd purposely hung on a nail outside the door. At the hitching post he placed the ice cold bit in the Indian's mouth and put the harness over his head. Holding the reins, he danced around Blue Feather for a while, chanting anything that came to mind, until he himself, despite his movement, began to feel chill.
After tying the reins to the hitching post, he turned to Blue Feather, "Be a good horse and I will bring you oats in the morning." With a last look at the sky and a hope it would snow for a while, he went inside. This time he barred the door.
Sitting at his desk, he took a long pull of whiskey from a jug. His eyes wandered to the framed partial quote from Byron. The entire quote went, "In friendship early I was taught to believe; I have found that a friend may profess, yet deceive." The churning Dawson felt inside was not from the whiskey. He hoped his plan would work soon, but he knew the courage of Blue Feather could prove so strong he'd stay out all night and possibly die. For an instant, Dawson weakened. He wanted to rush out, and tell his friend that it was all a lie. But that would more surely kill his friendship than his failure to perform the magic. Finally, Dawson drank himself to sleep.
Moonlight was streaming through the window when a pounding at the door woke Dawson. With a glance at the now visible stars, Dawson saw that the storm had passed and that it was around midnight.
"Who is it?" he cried, knowing full well who it was.
"It is I, Blue Feather. Please let me in, Dawson."
"How do I know it is my friend, Blue Feather, and not some evil spirit?"
There was a long silence outside the door. "We are brothers, Dawson."
"Every evil spirit claims to be my brother when he calls in the night."
"It was I who lead the Mountain Crow braves to save you from the River Crow after one of their young men fell beneath the wheels of your wagon and was killed."
"What did you say then?"
"I said, do not harm a hair on the head of our friend Dawson, or you all will die."
Dawson threw open the door. Blue Feather stood, his snow-covered skin almost blue in the moonlight, holding the harness in his hand. His whole body shook and his teeth chattered.
Dawson hid his relief and looked questioningly into the young warrior's eyes. "Now I know it is you. But what do you want?"
"I am sorry, Dawson. But if this is what a horse must go through, I do not wish to be a horse."
Dawson pulled his friend inside and hugged his shoulder out of sheer joy. As he led Blue Feather toward the stove and picked up a blanket, he tried but couldn't keep the tears from his eyes.