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| Category: || Western Fiction |
Posted:|| October 16, 2020 Views: 108|
Chapter 17 of the book The Spirit of the Wind
Jane and friends head across the wintery prairie
Jane, a newlywed homesteader lost her husband after the first year on land from the Nebraska Homestead Act of 1862. She fought for a heritage, despite the threats of civil war and Indian attacks.
Winter took its toll on the stark, cold prairie with hardly a tree left for our fireplace. I refused to slay the old oak tree near where my former husband could rest in peace. We discussed who would take a team of horses across the snowy plains to the river forest. I argued to take my husband's place who was weakened from his seizure and a cold.
Thad and Redhawk crossed over from the ranch and offered their services. This settled Jake's mind. Beside Jake, there were no better trusted men to flank my side on the fringes of Sioux country. Besides, Thad insisted his Henry rifle wouldn't let us down. He near had me convinced that rifle had a soul.
As we drove the horses across the white snowy dunes, the spirited wind found us, and the cold knifed through our wool. Pinned between Redhawk who held the reins and Thad who held his rifle, I was thankful to be more buffeted from the cold. As we jostled about in the wagon, Thad offered me some of Mr. Greeley's elixir, which I suspected was nearly all corn liquor. "Care for a sip, Mrs. Taylor?"
No thanks, Thad. I prefer some pine tea, once we strike a match and make a fire in the woods."
"Not to worry for my soul none," He said. "Mr. Greeley's drink is strictly medicinal." Then he took a healthy sip.
Even Redhawk smiled as we navigated the ice-hardened prairie path. He'd swore off hard drink when he hired on the ranch.
After several rolling hills Redhawk halted and spied the spiraling trees along the river, shrouded in mist.
As we approached the canopy of trees, the wind left us, only to be haunted by the dead silence. A circling hawk shrieked and pierced the sky with jolt to my heart. It circled above, waiting for the sun to melt the mist. It seemed the whole world had its share of hunger pangs. I was wondering then, why I insisted on fetching wood and been having my tea at home.
Thad leaned into me. His brown-bloodshot eyes put fear in mine. "I like it when we see where a sound comes from. The sounds we don't see are what spook me."
"I'd say, you need a bit more polish on those words, if they were meant to smooth my fret."
The half-breed scout, Redhawk gave us both a stern look, and placed his finger to his mouth. Then we rode into the forested abyss until the mist swallowed us whole. It gave us some comfort that the snow muffled our entrance.
Rays of sun suddenly penetrated through the tall thin trees. I could hear the sound of water cascading beneath sheets of broken ice. Boulders and sometimes walls of rock lined the edge, as if God himself had taken his finger and carved the ancient land.
We halted and hopped off the wagon, filling canteens with a keen eye on our surroundings. With each quiet breath we left puffs of cold clouds. A small fire was made. I sat on felled tree, wrapped in an Indian blanket. Hardly a word was spoken, but our darting eyes talked enough.
Redhawk and Thad stood and warmed their hands over the crackling fire of pine brush. Redhawk was never one to let a history lesson go as a former Cheyenne scout. "Beyond our eyes, the Sioux winter in the Black Hills. But they don't like the white man's desire to mark off land and build fences where the buffalo roamed.
Thad and I got the message. My heart thumped inside over how they could be watching us, and we'd never know it. But Redhawk spied an abandoned cabin, where a pioneer tried to make a place by the river their home.
It was no secret that the family left so fast, they only carried away what they could hold. It didn't matter that the Indians never attacked. Fear alone drove the homesteaders out. Redhawk glassed the cabin some more.
Redhawk checked his revolver and went for an axe in the wagon. Thad followed his lead over to where he started on a crop of ash trees. Once the axes flew, it seemed we made more noise than a bunch of happy woodpeckers. I helped to carry the felled trees over to the cart. Under a haze of sun, we had a stack of logs and figured three or four cords worth. We'd keep our eyes wide as we made short work of our day.
The weather warmed enough to make us worry that the weight of our logs would cause the cart to get stuck as we returned. We turned down the river for clear path from the woods when I could see more of the cabin and smelled a hint of smoke coming from it.
Redhawk stood and glassed the area. "There's a dark skinned a boy on thin ice. Looks like he's trying to catch his dog."
In the distance, I could hear the faint sounds of a dogs bark. "He in trouble, Redhawk?"
"Not yet but will be if he goes far. Current's too strong. Ice too thin."
"This could be a trap," Said Thad.
"No trap," Said Redhawk. Only a fool's errand."
We took the wagon along the ridge where there was enough of an opening to get the horses to take Redhawk's lead and avoid the underbrush.
The small bushy, haired dog darted across the thin ice and scampered up the bank on our side. I leaped out over I knelt down with a piece of dried jerky in my hand. The small dog shivered but eagerly took the morsel
Redhawk sought to reassure the boy who looked up with great surprise and fear on his Indian face. He slipped and fell over the ice until he crashed into the water where the current moved him from the hole he was in. I watched the scene unfold, helpless to do anything.
Redhawk slipped down the bank with his hatchet. The melting snow left the ice transparent and deadly. Light on his feet, then stretching his body across the ice, he chopped a hole where he could grab the boy by the collar. He pulled him out across the ice. Thad leaned over the bank on the edge with a severed branch.
The pair lifted him from the bank. "What's your name, boy?" Redhawk asked.
Through the chatter of his teeth he blurted his name. "Jo-seph. But my...my grandpa told me my Indian name is Jumping Fox."
Thad chimed in. "You speak English better than me. "But why on God's green acres were you on the thin ice?"
"My...my grandfather and I, we've had nothing to eat for days. He told me. He...he told me, we needed to eat the dog."
Thad and Redhawk looked at each other, and then at me. Perhaps, Redhawk saw the pain in my face as I warmed the pup. "Some have had to kill their own horse to stay alive in the winter."
The boy sprouted tears. "I wasn't trying to catch my dog. I...I was trying chase him away. Honest."
Thad leaned in. "If I hadn't showed up when we did, that river would be your grave. You'd be no good to your grandpa."
Redhawk took his turn while the boy shook beneath the blanket. "Why haven't you trapped for rabbit or shot for grouse?"
"Our only gun is jammed, and I've tried to set snares. I had been raised in a white man's world before I tried to join up with my people. But I haven't measured up."
Redhawk sensed what happened. "Your grandpa a full-blooded Lakota?"
"Yes, and he's blind. I've tried to take care of him. I was treated as less than a dog. My grandfather was not willing to leave me to the wilderness to fend for myself."
Redhawk looked down over him. "Where can we cross? We need to get you out of those clothes."
"A beaver dam."
The wind picked up through the trees of birch and pine. The skies turned a pewter gray. Snow swirled around the group. Before Redhawk or Thad could speak, I knew we would have to hunker down for the night. We took our packs and slogged through the snow and ice to cross the abandoned beaver dam.
The patchwork of limbs and trees were slick. With the pup in my pack. I slipped and cut my leg. Thad lifted me up and we followed Joseph and Redhawk across the way where I could see smoke from the cabin rising on the ridge.
Redhawk spoke to the boy. "Ask your grandfather if we can spend the night with you. I have a side of beef and beans to fill everyone's plate. In the morning we will hunt."
Joseph's complexion brightened. "My grandfather will understand."
"I'd say this shaggy pup will be one happy camper," I said.
As we approached the warmth of the cabin, my heart panged inside over my child and husband back on the homestead. I hoped they would not fear the worst when we don't show up before dark. The warmth of love and family stoked the fire inside me.
|The book continues with The Fire Within . We will provide a link to it when you review this below.|
Cast of characters:
Jane: The former young widow, since remarried who fights to keep her land and a heritage.
Thad: A free black man who works on the McCord ranch and a staunch ally of Jane
Redhawk: Part Cheyenne and a former army scout but presently a ranch hand.
Jake McCord: The man Jane married after her husband passed.
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