AFTER one Fourth of July, Nick, driving home late from town in the big wagon with Joe Garner and his family, passed nine drunken Indians along the road. He remembered there were nine because Joe Garner, driving along in the dusk, pulled up the horses, jumped down into the road, and dragged an Indian out of the wheel rut. The Indian had been asleep, face down in the sand. Joe dragged him into the bushes and got back up on the wagon-box.
“That makes nine of them,” Joe said, “just between here and the edge of town.”
“Them Indians,” said Mrs. Garner.
Nick was on the back seat with the two Garner boys. He was looking out from the back seat to see the Indian where Joe had dragged him alongside of the road.
“Was it Billy Tableshaw?” Carl asked.
“His pants looked mighty like Billy.”
“All Indians wear the same kind of pants.”
“I didn’t see him at all,” Frank said. “Pa was down into the road and back up again before I seen a thing. I thought he was killing a snake.”
“Plenty of Indians’ll kill snakes tonight, I guess,” Joe Garner said.
“Them Indians,” said Mrs. Garner.
They drove along. The road turned off from the main highway and went up into the hills. It was hard pulling for the horses and the boys got down and walked. The road was sandy. Nick looked back from the top of the hill by the schoolhouse. He saw the lights of Petoskey and, off across Little Traverse Bay, the lights of Harbor Springs. They climbed back into the wagon again.
“They ought to put some gravel on that stretch,” Joe Garner said. The wagon went along the road through the woods. Joe and Mrs. Garner sat close together on the front seat. Nick sat between the two boys. The road came out into a clearing.
“Right here was where Pa ran over the skunk.”
“It was further on.”
“It don’t make no difference where it was,” Joe said without turning his head. “One place is just as good as another to run over a skunk.”
“I saw two skunks last night,” Nick said.
“Down by the lake. They were looking for dead fish along the beach.”
“They were coons probably,” Carl said.
“They were skunks. I guess I know skunks.”
“You ought to,” Carl said. “You got an Indian girl.”
“Stop talking that way, Carl,” said Mrs. Garner.
“Well, they smell about the same.”
Joe Garner laughed.
“You stop laughing, Joe,” Mrs. Garner said. “I won’t have Carl talk that way.”
“Have you got an Indian girl, Nickie?” Joe asked.
“He has too, Pa,” Frank said. “Prudence Mitchell’s his girl.”
“He goes to see her every day.”
“I don’t.” Nick, sitting between the two boys in the dark, felt hollow and happy inside himself to be teased about Prudence Mitchell. “She ain’t my girl,” he said.
“Listen to him,” said Carl. “I see them together every day.”
“Carl can’t get a girl,” his mother said, “not even a squaw.”
Carl was quiet.
“Carl ain’t no good with girls,” Frank said.
“You shut up.”
“You’re all right, Carl,” Joe Garner said. “Girls never got a man anywhere. Look at your pa.”
“Yes, that’s what you would say.” Mrs. Garner moved close to Joe as the wagon jolted. “Well, you had plenty of girls in your time.”
“I’ll bet pa wouldn’t ever have had a squaw for a girl.”
“Don’t you think it,” Joe said. “You better watch out to keep Prudie, Nick.”
His wife whispered to him and Joe laughed.
“What you laughing at?” asked Frank.
“Don’t you say it, Garner,” his wife warned. Joe laughed again.
“Nickie can have Prudence,” Joe Garner said. “I got a good girl.”
“That’s the way to talk,” Mrs. Garner said.
The horses were pulling heavily in the sand. Joe reached out in the dark with the whip.
“Come on, pull into it. You’ll have to pull harder than this tomorrow.”
They trotted down the long hill, the wagon jolting. At the farmhouse everybody got down. Mrs. Garner unlocked the door, went inside, and came out with a lamp in her hand. Carl and Nick unloaded the things from the back of the wagon. Frank sat on the front seat to drive to the barn and put up the horses. Nick went up the steps and opened the kitchen door. Mrs. Garner was building a fire in the stove. She turned from pouring kerosene on the wood.