Archilde Leon, who is making his living as a musician in Portland, returns to his family’s ranch in Montana for a visit. His father, Max, lives in the big house with Archilde’s sister, Agnes, and her two sons, Mike and Narcisse, while his mother, Catharine, the daughter of a Salish chief and one of the most pious women on the reservation, lives in a cabin on the property and maintains a fairly traditional Indian lifestyle. Upon his return, Archilde discovers that his brother, Louis, stole some horses and is hiding in the nearby mountains. Catharine celebrates Archilde’s return by inviting several Indians, including the highly respected Modeste, an old Salish chief, over for feasting and storytelling. Max is worried about Archilde. Of all of his sons, Archilde is the one he hoped could take over the farm. Max is frustrated to discover that Archilde would rather go back to Portland and play the fiddle than stay in Montana and work the land. Max shares his concern with his confidant, the elderly priest Father Grepilloux, who offers to help Archilde with his music if he will stay and work.
To Max’s surprise and delight, Archilde helps with the harvest that fall and spends time with the priests, practicing his music. These times remind Archilde of his childhood days at the Indian boarding school. He remembers one day in particular when the clouds formed a cross in the sky, and everyone knelt down before the “sign.” Archilde, however, did not kneel; instead, he chose to identify with a bird he saw fly across the sky, unaware of any other “sign.” During the fall harvest, Archilde’s nephews, Mike and Narcisse, are rounded up and sent to the priests’ school against their wishes.
Catharine decides that she wants to go deer hunting, and Archilde goes with her. While they are in the mountains, they encounter, first, Dave Quigley, the sheriff who is hunting for Louis, and then Louis himself. The three—Catharine, Archilde, and Louis—continue with their hunting until they are stopped by a game warden for hunting doe out of season. Louis’s nervous fidgeting alarms the warden, who shoots and kills Louis. When the warden gets off his horse to examine Louis’s body, Catharine kills him with an ax. Archilde, stunned by these events, helps his mother bury the game...
(The entire section is 939 words.)