Whispering Sun
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261 pages

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Sarah Bryson’s silent world is destroyed when her so-called fiancé has her kidnapped to prevent his discovery as a gun-runner. After surviving a massacre, she is rescued by Blackfeet warrior, Two Shadows. But in order to reach the safety of his village, they must confront wild animals, ruthless mountain men, treacherous mountain storms, and Crow Indians bent on revenge. Sarah seeks her true identity as a woman. Two Shadows’ struggles with loyalties divided between his love for a white woman and his devotion to his tribe. Whispering Sun captures a time when the Blackfeet are forced to see their way of life disappear. It’s a story where it’s possible for a white woman to decide she belongs with a loving people and a Blackfeet warrior. It’s a story that shows how a half-breed can choose an alliance and find his place in a colliding world.



Publié par
Date de parution 30 août 2012
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781773620077
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Whispering Sun
By Rita Karnopp
Digital ISBN s
Amazon Print978-1-77362-010-7

Copyright 2012 by RitaKarnopp
Cover art by: MichelleLee
All rights reserved. Without limiting therights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publicationmay be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic,mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without theprior written permission of both the copyright owner and the abovepublisher of this book.
Chapter One
Dirk sat straight in the saddle, face stretchedto the sky absorbing the sun. He scanned the vast valley below. Afew scrub trees competed with the brush for a haven from therelentless Montana wind. The brisk, spring air held a hint ofwarmth that promised the coming of summer.
Movement caught his attention. Stretching up inthe stirrups, Dirk observed the rider with interest. Astride afrisky horse, Sarah raced across the open valley, as though bothsought to satisfy a need for freedom.
The striking, black mare stumbled. Helpless froma distance, Dirk watched Sarah clutch aimlessly at nothing.
He urged his mount down the rugged embankment,then across the wide stretch of open country. His boots touched theground the moment his horse skidded to a stop. Rushing to theupheaval of motionless petticoats, his heart hammered in fear.
Dropping to his knees, Dirk gently pulled Sarahonto his lap. He held her against his chest, gentle andprotective.
"Let me die," she whimpered.
Dirk barely heard her words. He wished hehadn't. Gazing down at the young woman, her beauty left himbreathless. Succumbing to temptation, he wound a long, golden curlaround his fingertips. The silkiness made him shudder withlonging.
With reluctance, he lowered her back onto thethick, new grass. He feared she couldn't escape injury from soviolent a fall.
With knowing hands, he touched, pressed, andprobed every inch of Sarah's slender body. So many times he'dwatched his father do the same for bronc busters. Dirk's thoughtsdrifted back to the beautiful picture she'd made, racing across theplush, green valley of spring grass. The wind tugged at herwaist-length hair, lifting it free to wave behind her like a goldenbanner.
He'd watched Sarah come and go for the past twomonths. She wasn't the reason he observed the activities outsideFort Bryson, but she'd fast become an obsession, haunting his daysand nights.
Lightly rubbing his thumb over a rib, he watchedher expression turn to one of pain. "Damn!" he muttered. Had therib been bruised or broken? That he wasn't sure how to tell. Dirkclenched his teeth together, irritated at not knowing what to dofor her.
Again he thought back to the times his fatherworked on the bronc busters. His father would wrap her ribs. Thewrapping wouldn't hurt her even if the rib had been bruised insteadof broken. He'd have them wrapped before she woke. While histhoughts justified his actions, he worked the tiny buttons on herdress.
He pulled the bodice material down to her waist.He didn't have a choice, yet it bothered him to do it without herpermission. An uneasy feeling told him she'd be mortified if sheknew he'd seen her down to her lacy under clothing. He smiled. Shewould never know who had helped her. Surely that would ease herembarrassment. Still, he found it hard to shake the dishonor hefelt for invading her privacy. With haste he tossed the hem of herdress up, and then tore a strip of petticoat for bindings.
He noticed Sarah struggled to open her eyes,then after several droopy attempts her lids remained closed. Hestared at her thick, dark lashes, fanned in stark contrast againsther pale cheeks. He found himself tempted to move his fingertipsacross them like he would the vanes of one of his whitefeathers.
Hearing her soft moan, Dirk hurried with histask. What would it be like having a beautiful woman like Sarah tolove?
She had a petite body, slim hips, yet she lackednone of the womanly curves of a striking beauty. Her white skinfelt soft and inviting beneath his fingers. Drawing in a breath, herecognized the fragrant scent of the local lovage herb. He thoughtthe delicate essence suited her. Never had a woman smelled thisgood to him.
Pleased to have her ribs wrapped, Dirk struggledwith the tiny buttons on the bodice of her dress. They had beeneasier to undo, he thought, watching her face for signs of pain.Having finished dressing her, he tore another strip of petticoat,and then soaked it with water from his canteen. Dirk wiped at thesmudges on her face with tenderness and care, and then placed thedamp cloth to her brow. He leaned back, sitting on his heels,studying her face.
Again he noticed she struggled against theheaviness that dragged her downward. He could tell she stubbornlyfought to open her lids. For a brief second she'd succeeded. Enoughto remind him he'd been careless.
"Trail Walker… help me."
Dirk stiffened, and then realized she called outin delirium. Her warm breath brushed across his wrist. He felt hispulse quicken. Encouraged by her nearness, he trailed a path acrossa smooth white cheek with his fingertips. He hesitated, and thenlightly traced the outline of her full, soft lips, fighting againstthe urge to kiss them.
The agony of betrayal filled him. What would hisBlackfeet people think of him? Wanting a white woman should disgusthim. He glanced at his tight-fitting white man's buckskins, andthen reached for the absent long braids that usually brushedagainst his chest. He looked, sounded and acted like the whiteman—but his soul remained Blackfeet.
Sarah stirred beneath his touch. Her attempts towake indicated that soon she would. Much as he wanted to have moretime to watch her, Dirk knew he couldn't let her see him.
Taking a deep breath, he shook off the longingsto be with his People. He never would have left his village, butTrail Walker had asked for help. Dirk knew the advantages ofkeeping in the shadows. Once again he needed to resort to being themysterious hero, respected by the white man, known by none.
Sarah's short, choppy intake of air brought himback to the present. He gazed down at her loveliness, and thenrushed to his horse. Taking a black leather pouch from thesaddlebag, Dirk hurried back to Sarah's side. Cupping his lefthand, he poured a puddle of warm water into it. Reaching into asmall leather pouch and taking a pinch of false hellebore powder,he made a thick, white paste. With his index finger, Dirk forcedthe mixture onto Sarah's tongue. He watched her lips pucker fromthe bitter taste. Sliding his arm under her neck, he put thecanteen to her lips, allowing a small amount of water to trickledown her throat. He lowered her back to the ground, and then wipedher chin and neck dry with the hem of her skirt.
Dirk waited. Her breathing came easy and steady,the sedative had done its job, and she slept. Once the security ofnight descended, he'd take her back to Fort Bryson.
He lifted Sarah's limp body onto his horse, andthen swung his thigh across the saddle, settling behind her,nestling her against his chest. She felt good in his arms.
Sarah's mare hadn't wandered far, having securedthe reins, the animal now followed behind as they crossed thevalley at a slow, even pace.
Several miles from the fort, Dirk gently loweredSarah to the ground, pushing her behind the undergrowth of thornybuffalo-berry shrubs. He pulled a cover of entwined overhangingvines across her sleeping form.
Riding the horses a safe distance away, Dirkremoved the saddles and bridles, hiding them under a mound of deadbranches and leaves. He patted Leather's sleek neck and freed him.The horse would come by a mere whistle. He hoped Sarah's blackwould stay nearby. He'd take the chance since they were less likelyto be seen without the horses. He'd wait, and then take her home inthe safety of night's shadows.
Grabbing a blanket and his rifle, Dirk ran backto Sarah. He'd considered riding right up to the gates of the fort,saying he'd found her, but there would be a lot of questions.Questions he didn't want to be asked…just yet. He needed to speakwith Trail Walker before making a bold entrance. His people trustedhim to make the right decisions.
Finding Sarah undisturbed, Dirk released a sighof relief. He lifted her onto a blanket then pulled her acrossdried silvery-scaly leaves, into the depths of the thorny junglealong the edge of the over-flowing creek bed. The thick, underbrushwould hide them until darkness concealed their movements.
Settling down beside Sarah, he pulled heragainst him. Her head fit perfectly in the hollow between hisshoulder and neck. Her warm breath brushed against his cheek,leaving him restless.
He inhaled the delicate, earthy scents of thebuffalo-berry shrubs and the fragrances carried by the gentlewinds. Rising on one elbow, he studied Sarah's small, flawless,oval face, straight delicate nose and full, shapely lips,committing all to memory.
A slight breeze rustled last year's leavesaround them, fluttering against one another, whirling against them,caressing and fondling faces and arms. The leaves danced aboutSarah's flaxen hair, seeming to laugh as they did…no, notlaugh…whisper. They were whispering as they danced upon thosesilken, sun-drenched waves, giving her a mystical appearance. Thiswould be how he'd remember her … his Whispering Sun.
The rippling stream soothed his tense musclesand he relaxed next to Sarah. He recognized the slurring keeer-r-rof a red-tailed hawk in the distance. Dirk visualized the rusty,broad-winged bird soaring across a plateau, transmitting a hint ofred from the underside of its tail feathers. He envisioned thelarge bird swooping down upon its prey, clutching a rabbit in adeadly grip.
Sarah stirred and a moan of utter turmoilescaped her lips. Her tortured thoughts reflected in her facialexpressions. He held her against him, confused by the strongprotective feelings that invaded his carefully guardedemotions.
Sarah's sudden restlessness jarred Dirk from thesecurity she'd remain under the influence of the herb. He didn'tdare give her more. Too much could prove dangerous. He hesitated,looking down at her. Sarah's lids remained closed and once againappeared relaxed. He sighed; hopeful she'd sleep several hoursmore.
"Shh, little one," he whispered, knowing shecouldn't hear him. Yet, somehow it felt comforting to speak thewords. Pulling her head against his pounding heart, Dirk wonderedwhy he felt drawn to this spirited, white woman.
He watched Sarah's dark lashes flutter in sleepyresignation. He leaned back against the blanket, content. He closedhis eyes, his senses instinctively ever alert.
Darkness descended upon them in a cloak ofwelcome protection. As much as Dirk hated moving Sarah from hisarms, he told himself he had no choice. He moved from her warmth,then belly-down, he dug his elbows into the ground, pulling hisbody forward. Clopping horse hooves broke the night's silence.Heedless of the thorns that tore at his flesh, Dirk bolted backthrough the thorny bushes…to Sarah's side.
The rider paused, and then crossed the creek,not far from their hiding place. Dirk listened to the water splashand the horse's hooves grind against small rocks as it crossed theshallow stream. The stretching of saddle leather told Dirk therider had dismounted…then silence. Time lingered on, like a featherslowly falling from an eagle's nest to the ground.
Could the rider have seen him move back toSarah? Did he stand in wait, gun pointed at them? The distinctechoes of another horse approaching came as a relief.
"It's about time you got here. You're late!" Adeep voice boomed into the silence.
"Shucks, Giles. Weren't no fault of mine. Ipractically had to run my horse to death just to git here. What youall fired up about anyways?"
Dirk didn't need to see the two men to know theywere Giles Rutledge and Enos Webber. Dirk knew their appearancesand voices as well as he knew his own. But never had been thisclose during one of their conversations. He would have beenthrilled to be in such a good position at any given time the pasttwo months, but now he had Sarah to think about.
Dirk listened to the sound of sketching leatheras the second man dismounted. Spurs clinked as he walked.
"I learned today that they're planning anotherbig rifle shipment to the fort in about three weeks. I don't haveall the details, but I want the men sober and ready."
"I'd sooner pull my teeth than to tell the boysthey has to sit low and quiet for three whole weeks. Weren't neverno problem with the fellas being ready for a raid before."
"It's not the past I'm thinking on, Enos. Idon't want them getting into any trouble and bringing attention tothemselves. We don't need folks starting to figure things outbecause the men can't hold their liquor or keep their trouserson!"
"Like I says, weren't never no problem before.Gots us more of them Blackfeet arrows off a couple bucks justyesterday. I recollect in three weeks time we'll have enoughfixin's to do it proper like."
Dirk sucked in a silent breath. Thisconversation confirmed Trail Walker's suspicions. No longer didthey need to wonder if Giles led a band of white outlawsmasquerading as Blackfeet warriors. Now, Dirk needed to find a wayto prove it to Sarah's father. Even if Trail Walker told theGeneral everything, he'd believe his future son-in-law over an old,Indian guide. Soon or later Giles would get careless and turn downthe wrong canyon, when he did, Dirk would keep him boxed-in.
* * *
A drowsy state of awareness seeped into Sarah'sbrain. Visions of flailing arms and legs, then a blurred vision ofa black horse racing off into a blinding light made herrestless.
"Gypsy," Sarah called in a muddled whisper.
Dirk covered her mouth within seconds.
"Wait. Did you hear something?" Giles asked in adeep, hushed tone.
"Twere there a noise, I'd hear it."
Strained saddle leather told Dirk one of the menhad mounted his horse. The animal's hooves pranced against theearth.
"You check along those trees over there, I'mgoing to cross over and take a look," Giles ordered.
"You're getting worked up over nothing. Everymeetin' you thinks someone's out thar, just waitin' to hearyou."
"Enos, I don't have to tell you again, doI?"
"No, thars no use to your badgerin' me againwith that there talk abouts bein' follered. I don't cotton to it,but if you're determined to go out yonder and has a look, well, Irecollect you has to."
Dirk held his breath as the rider moved closerand closer to their hiding place. Sarah stirred beneath his holdand his body stiffened.
"You looking, Enos?"
"Sure is."
Dirk ached to get into a fighting position, buthe couldn't justify the movement. He could have reached out andtouched Giles horse's leg. If Sarah moved or made onesound 
Several shots rang out. Dirk jumped.
"Hey, Enos, what the shit you shooting at?"Giles shouted into the night.
"I done hear'd a rattler. Little ol' scutter issomewheres around this here log. Musta shot it or scarred it off.Don't hears it no more. Find anything over there?"
"No, but my horse is acting skittish," heanswered, guiding his steed back across the creek. "I'm tellingyou, Enos, there's someone out there watching us. I can feel hiseyes staring down my back every time I leave the fort."
"Ain't none of us ever complete alone. Nowrecollect back. Has you once seen anyone when you thought you wasfollered?"
"You know I haven't. But one of these days he'llget careless or a little too brave, then I'll drop him where hestands."
"I gotta git, Giles. Where you wanna meet nexttime?"
"We might as well meet here, same time, say intwo weeks time. I should have all the information we'll need bythen. You make sure your end is taken care of and before long,we'll both be rich."
"No fearin' on my part. Rich sure is gonna takesome gettin' use to."
"Be here on time. I hate waiting." Gilesordered, loud and demanding.
"You're as wound and ready to strike as thatthere rattler. You make too much noise with your warning and you'llgive yourself away."
"Damn, Enos. Just shut up and get going. Be herein two weeks. Same time."
Dirk listened to the clanking of metal, thecrushing of rocks and dirt underfoot, then the unmistakable bindingof leather before he heard the men ride off in oppositedirections.
Only after the third high-pitchedchewk-chewk-chewk-chewk of the elf owl, did Dirk consider movinghis hand from Sarah's mouth. He found her rhythmic, warm breathagainst his hand unsettling. Still he hesitated to remove it.
The steady rushing of the shallow streambetrayed no intruders. A slight breeze caressed young buddingleaves and rustled last year's tall, dried grass.
The riders were long gone, and Dirk reluctantlyadmitted the time had come to take Sarah home. On his hands andknees he pulled the blanket, with Sarah's slight frame on it,behind him. He executed each movement with deliberate slowness.He'd take no chances. Briars and dried cactus poked through hisbuckskins, yet he made no effort to remove them. They finallycleared the protective brush. Dirk's arms, hands and knees burnedfrom the multitude of scratches and stabs inflicted by the thornyfoliage.
Leaving Sarah on the inside edge of thebuffalo-berry bushes, Dirk ran with all the speed and grace of ahealthy bull elk. He searched through the darkness for the horses,and then resorted to piercing the stillness with a loud doublesquawk, kork-kok, that resembled the male ring-necked pheasant.Within minutes Leather came into sight. Sarah's mare followed.
Dirk saddled the animals, glancing several timesat the thick, ominous clouds that covered a pale moon. The oncegentle wind now picked up momentum. It brought with it a reminderthat while spring had arrived, winter hadn't completely lefteither.
Alert, yet heavy with thought, Dirk hurried backto Sarah. He felt a smile play at his lips when he pulled her fromthe shadows of the shrubs. He lifted her into his arms and drank inthe feel of her, the fragrant scent of her. A heated shiver ofwanting ran through him. A flush of guilt riddled him. At themoment his world seemed to be in turmoil with itself and forreasons he couldn't, or wouldn't, examine too closely. He decidednow wasn't the time to let it distract him.
Dirk tucked the blanket around Sarah, lifted herlimp body onto his horse, and then quickly followed with his owntired limbs. The rapid chattering of the Elf Owl's night call onceagain broke the silence. The lonely sound evoked lonesomefeelings.
* * *
Sarah fought against the pressure that forcedher down. Every part of her body felt heavy and bruised. Shecouldn't stop the feeling of falling…falling just like HenryJunior. An unbearable flush of heat surged through her veins.Images of her brother rekindled old pain. "…wasn't my fault," shemuttered.
* * *
Sarah's disjointed words were barely audible,but Dirk understood her anguish. He felt at kindred with this whitewoman. When Trail Walker had started teaching Sarah; he shared herprogress with Dirk. In ways he knew her as well as Trail Walker. Inways Dirk knew her not at all.
Sarah was being forced to search for a future,marred by a violent past. Not unlike his own fate. He pulled hertight against him, uncertain which nightmare tormented her soul.Was he doing the right thing by returning her to the fort? His mindfilled with doubts as he encouraged Leather to cross the creek.
The warmth of her body filtered through theblanket and permeated his senses. His fingers lingered in thesilken mass of curls and he drank in the herbal scent of her.
All too soon, Dirk discerned the shadows of thefourteen-foot high boulders and the two front bastions on diagonalcorners of the fort. How anyone would willingly live locked withinsuch walls seemed incomprehensible to him.
Coaxing the horses into a thicket area, Dirkdismounted, pulling Sarah into his arms. In a quick movement, hecarefully placed her, stomach down, over the stiff saddle. Takinganother blanket, he pulled it snug, tucking it under the saddle,making sure it secured her to the nervous animal. He bound herhands to the stirrups, bringing his catch rope under the mare'sbelly, tightened it around her legs, then up around the saddlehorn, preventing her body from slipping off. It wasn't the bestthing for Sarah's bruised ribs, but necessary.
Dirk slid his fingers over the soft mare'snostrils, then guided them a short distance from the front gate. Hetucked a white eagle feather into Sarah's hand bindings, thenbrushed a light kiss across her slightly parted lips.
"Goodbye, Whispering Sun," he said, audible forhis ears only.
Hearing the soldier's footsteps marching alongwooden planks within the safety of the fort, Dirk released theanimal's reins. His movements were that of a Blackfeet, he blendedinto the night.
Gypsy's loud neigh and stomping shod hoovesbroke the silence. Within seconds the gates opened, Sarahdisappeared behind the walls.
Dirk watched with mixed emotions. Again he mustwatch her from afar, hoping to get a glimpse of her beauty andspirit when she escaped the fort. What excitement she created whenhe watched her ride in wild abandon, across the flat, green valley.Free under the big open sky. He yearned to hold her close, just onemore time, then turned abruptly away from the fort, away from her,angry and frustrated he had feelings of want for a white woman.
Under night's protection, Dirk made his way backto Leather, and then hastily pulled himself into the saddle. He hadto get away, away from his thoughts of Sarah. What foolishness madehim even consider he had a chance to win the love of a white woman?A fine, white woman like Sarah wouldn't have anything to do with ahalf-breed. He was a Blackfeet warrior, despite the white man'sclothing he wore. No matter what language he spoke. And, he had ajob to do. He couldn't let a woman confuse his thinking. He'dforget about Sarah…he had to.
* * *
Sarah struggled against the grogginess thatstill gripped her. She opened her eyes with considerable effort.She winced against the dull throbbing inside her skull. Looking toher right she gazed at a blurry male figure standing near the bed.He wrung out a cloth in a familiar, flowered water basin on thenight table. She breathed in, hoping to smell a deep woodsycinnamon. Instead, it brought pain and the unmistakable scent ofDoctor Bentley's pipe.
"Where am I?" she asked. Her throat feltstrangely dry and sore. Her head throbbed with a feeling of beingsqueezed rhythmically by two large hands. Bindings pressed tightagainst her ribs, making breathing difficult. Sarah blinked severaltimes, her vision sharpened.
Doctor Bentley laid a cool cloth across herforehead. "You're going to be fine, Sarah. Take it easy and liestill."
She concentrated on his lip movements. He spokeslowly, as he always did, and she felt grateful for hisefforts.
"Is Gypsy hurt? She didn't break her leg, didshe?"
"My dear, aren't you worried whether you broke aleg?"
As always, his eyes were kind and gentle. Sarahcould see his mouth form a laugh. She couldn't help wonder what itsounded like.
"I want to see her." Sarah bolted, then moanedas nausea and dizziness engulfed her.
Large hands gently pushed her back into thepillows. "You must stay quiet, Sarah. Do you understand?" he asked.His expressions were attentive and caring. He reached over andpicked up a small bottle and a spoon.
She nodded. The small effort caused another waveof nausea. "But, Gypsy…is she…you didn't tell me…did Gypsy…?" Shefought the threat of tears. She watched the beginning of a smiletipped the corner of his mouth, forcing his thick, white mustacheto stretch above his thin lips.
"Your Gypsy is just fine," he said, measuringthe liquid into the spoon. She brought you here and raised quite aruckus outside the gate so you could be helped. Now, take this andthen tell me what happened." He put one arm around her shouldersand raised her upright.
The bitter medicine quickly spread soothingwarmth through her chest. Confused, Sarah struggled to understandwhat Doctor Bentley said. Her head ached and the nausea made ithard to concentrate. She did understand that Gypsy wasn't hurt,that's all that really mattered to Sarah. She thought for a moment,and then a feeling of bewilderment gripped her. "I don't know how Igot here."
"Tell me, who bandaged your ribs like that?" hisbrow creased with confusion, betraying his concern.
Weariness enveloped her as she tried toconcentrate. She caught the words who bandaged. "I don't know. Ithink…there was a man. Yes, I remember a man with black hair. Hesmelled of the woods and…cottonwood sap." Her voice weakened, thewords trailing away, becoming inaudible with the lack of effort tomake them clear.
"Well, you've had quite a shock. Once you getsome rest perhaps your memory will clear, and you'll be able totell me more." He reached over and patted her arm. "Now, you lieback and close your eyes. I want you asleep before I leave thisroom."
She no longer watched his lips, striving tounderstand his words. His gestures were comforting and her lidsgrew heavy. A warm drowsiness pulled her back into calm, floatingdarkness.
* * *
Doctor Bentley watched as her lashes droppedclosed, spreading a fan across her too pale cheeks. She'd beenthrough a lot, he wondered what.
Whoever wrapped her ribs knew what he was doing.Couldn't have done the job better myself, he told himself. Thenthere were all those scratches on her arms. He'd removed numerousthorns from her skin. What had happened out there? He watched herwith fatherly feelings.
He sat down on the edge of the bed, and thenpulled Sarah's small hand into his. His heart ached for her. Surelyher life was close to hell as anyone he knew, yet, despite it all,she had a spunk that he admired. Such youth and beauty, yet she hadsuch a tragic past. Without her fiery temper and that persistentneed to know why, she surely would have regressed into a world ofher own. He could thank Trail Walker for most of her growth.
Doctor Bentley shook his head, and then lookedaround the lavish room that was merely a showcase for the world.His gaze traveled across walls lined with shelves holding pettydolls and expensive trinkets. He looked at furnishings of rarecherry wood. The glowing finish, accented lacy curtains and ruffledcanopies. It was a room most young ladies dreamed of. But, even anold codger like himself realized it lacked the most importantingredient…love.
Releasing Sarah's hand, he twisted his longfingers together, and then looked down at them. How useless theyhad been, four years ago, when Sarah's brother had died. There hadbeen no hope for the boy, but there was hope for Sarah. He triedevery avenue possible to get her hearing restored. He'd let herdown. He still clung to new rays of hope, writing letters tospecialist he'd hear of, asking for help. Inevitably, their answersalways come back the same. The young lady is experiencing 'guiltdeafness'. Time, love and understanding could very well bring herhearing back. However, there is always the possibility she willnever hear again."
Doctor Bentley pressed his tired head into hispalms. Tears filled his eyes. The persistent feeling of failureinvaded his thoughts.
He'd have a talk with Sarah's mother. He didn'texpect Rachel to be too concerned, nor would she be apt to take hisadvice on how to help the girl, but he had to try…again.
Rising, he pulled the light blanket up, tuckingit beneath Sarah's chin. "Sleep well, dear. I'll be back to checkon you later," he whispered with a tenderness she'd never hear.
As he approached the sitting parlor, DoctorBentley couldn't help but stop for a moment to admire the beauty ofthe woman sitting before the roaring fire.
Rachel sat straight-backed. His gaze traveledacross her bare shoulders and paused at her low-cut bodice. Hesucked in a quick breath. Her dresses always emphasized herincredibly tiny waist, shapely hips, and seductive breasts.
Her hair reminded him of light, golden wheat. Itcurled and twisted in soft cascades around her perfect oval face,then pulled back and pinned, allowing the long, curling ringlets tobounce and drop seductively around her shoulders. Her lips werethin, almost too thin, yet when she smiled her beauty transcended.Her statuesque up-turned nose matched her personality.
Even at forty-two, Mrs. Bryson was a beholdingsight. Men found one look, one smile from her and they werecaptured under her spell.
"Won't you sit down, Doctor Bentley?"
He watched Rachel pat a spot beside her on thesettee. Started by her words, he wondered how long he'd stoodthere, stupidly staring at her. "Thank you, Rachel," he managed,hoping she wouldn't notice the flush he felt creeping across hischeeks. He walked the length of the hardwood floor, slightlydragging his right leg.
"Is your leg bothering you again, Tom?" The evenwhiteness of her smile captivated his thoughts.
"Some, I guess. Damn bullet should have beenremoved years ago. Too late now."
"Just the thought of a bullet in there makes myskin crawl." Her gaze dropped to his thigh.
Her stare made him uncomfortable. Glancing awayhe caught a glimpse of a white feather nearly hidden beneathRachel's full skirt. "That the feather they found with Sarah?" heasked. He noticed her thin lips grew even thinner as she picked upthe eagle feather.
"Yes." She looked at it with curiosity. "Itseems like everyone is being rescued by this hero, including dumblittle deaf girls who go out riding when they shouldn't." Shetossed the feather down, as though it offended her to touch it.
Doctor Bentley retrieved if from the floor. Hepulled the startling white vane through his cupped hand, and thenrubbed his thumb lightly across the downy portion. He detected ascent of cinnamon and pine. "I wonder who this man is. He wrappedSarah's bruised ribs expertly. Perhaps this hero is also a doctor,"he said, moving to a chair opposite Rachel.
"He wrapped Sarah's ribs? Is that what you said?Why, he'd have to undress her to do that, wouldn't he?"
Her exaggerated shocked expression didn't foolhim. "Rest assured, Rachel. The man who helped Sarah has areputation for being a gentleman."
"Did Sarah tell you what he looked like?" Hervoice held a note of excitement.
"Right now she can't remember a thing. Shedoesn't even remember being brought to her room." He watched Rachelshift uncomfortably. Her obvious annoyance to have to ask for thisinformation made him chuckle to himself. "Why don't you go up andcheck on her?"
"Don't be absurd! She isn't a baby. If sheneeded something she'd ask." Rachel busied herself with smoothingher skirt, refusing to meet his eyes.
"Rachel, that girl needs you more than you know.She needs warmth and understanding. I just received a letter from aspecialist in Boston, Doctor Phelper. He wrote that Sarah couldregain her hearing. He believes she's feeling guilty about herbrother's death. Until she can come to terms with the tragedy,she'll most likely remain deaf."
"Stop, Doctor Bentley! I don't know why youinsist on writing those damn letters. They are false hope and youknow it. Why can't you face it? Sarah is deaf and that's all thereis to it!"
"I don't agree. She hasn't received any physicalinjury to her ears. If we can only convince her it wasn't herfault, maybe then she'd  "
"Stop!" Rachel screamed. "Stop it, Tom! Once andfor all get it through that thick skull of yours. I don't want tohear any more of this rubbish! Besides, it was her fault!"
"Damn it, Rachel! You know that's untrue andunfair. It was an accident. One she shouldn't have to pay for therest of her life. All you can think about is hiding the fact thatyou're old enough to have a daughter Sarah's age. Rachel, you can'tcontinue to act like she's an embarrassment to you. She needs yourlove and approval."
"Being a doctor doesn't give you the right totell me how I should treat my…treat Sarah."
"See! You can't even bring yourself to call heryour daughter. Is it so awful to admit you have a child? Sarah isspecial. And Lord knows she certainly is a beautiful young womanand getting more beautiful every day."
Rachel jerked to her feet, and then took anabrupt step toward him. Her powder blue eyes filled with contempt."You have no right to talk to me like this. I do the best I canwith this dreadful situation. She dropped back onto the brocadesofa. "Whenever things are going smoothly Sarah has to show offsome dynamic trick or create trouble, and everyone starts talkingall over again."
"She's screaming for attention. Rachel, you maynot realize this, but the men like and respect Sarah. She can throwa knife or fire a rifle near as well, if not better, than most ofthem. Have you seen the way that girl can ride a horse?"
"Oh, Tom, how can you sit there and support theway that girl acts. Maybe if she'd just once act like alady  "
"You haven't got it figured out yet, haveyou?"
"What are you talking about? Figured whatout?"
"Why do you think Sarah insists on wearing thosetrousers or pursues roping, riding and shooting? She's trying totake Henry Junior's place. She wants the General to notice her.It's obvious she's trying to be a son to him. How can you be soblind?" He shook his head and leaned back against the expensive,stuffed chair. He watched Rachel rub the palm of one hand over theknuckles of the other, unable to look at him.
"What her father does, or doesn't do, is none ofmy concern."
Tom slid to the edge of his chair and rested hiselbows on his thighs. Slowly he leaned toward Rachel. "But don'tyou see? It should be your concern. That's what I've been trying tosay for the past four years. You have to try and convince Sarah theaccident wasn't her fault. Show her you care about her and don'tblame her for the loss of Henry Junior." Doctor Bentley realizedhe's never known a more self-centered person as the one in front ofhim. The unsympathetic expression frozen on her face told himeverything.
"It's getting late, Tom. I think you'd bettercome back in the morning. The door won't be locked, come when yousee fit. I'm sleeping late, and you know the General leaves thehouse early." She rose, turned her back to him and held her handsup to the heat of the fire.
"I'm sorry if I've upset you, Rachel. I want tobe your friend. I want what's right for Sarah and you." He reachedover and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Is that new cream helpingyour dry skin?" he asked, hoping to bring some warmth back intotheir conversation.
"Yes, thank you, Tom. It has helped. If it's notthe dry, endless winds during the summer tearing at my skin, it'sthe bitter, cold torture of winter. Does anyone really like livingin this God-awful country?" She turned to face him, her gazemeeting gray, sympathetic eyes.
"I must admit, it's not much of a place for agenteel woman like you, Rachel. But you shouldn't worry. You'reevery bit as beautiful as you were when you came to the Territoryof Montana, if not more so." He hated feeding her inflated ego, butyears of experiencing her tongue had taught him that syrupyflattery soothed her temper. She squeezed his arm with her slenderfingers and he felt a warmth rush through him. It angered him torespond to her false charms.
"Thank you, Tom. You're a dear to say such asweet thing. I'll see you tomorrow. We'll discuss our bad girlthen."
He noticed her smile revealed the complimentwent straight to her vain mind. "You know, Rachel, Sarah isn'tintentionally bad. She simply needs her freedom. She loves ridingGypsy."
"I wish that Indian had never given that mare toSarah. He only encourages her wildness."
"That Indian's name is Trail Walker and he's agood man. He's done a lot for Sarah. He believes she needsfun."
"Fun!" Rachel's smile faded as quickly as it hadappeared. "What Sarah needs is to grow up. When she's married toGiles and he takes her away from all this pampering, she'll findout what life's all about, and it's not fun!"
"She needs your love, Rachel. She needs hermother." His mellow baritone edged with control.
"I give her everything a girl could possiblywant. She never played with the dolls or the toys. She's neverwanted to wear any of the beautiful dresses I've ordered especiallyfor her. How can you say I don't show her love?"
He looked past her, concentrating on the hot,unpredictable flames that leaped and stabbed at the wood, snappingand crackling at will. He glanced at Rachel and she stared back,her eyes flashed accusingly.
"Rachel, please. I don't want to argue with you.We've had this conversation too many times before. Besides, it'sgetting late. I stopped in to let you know how Sarah wasdoing."
"Well, you have. Good night, Tom."
"I gave Sarah a tad of opium. She'll sleep wellthe rest of the night. I'll peek in on her now and put this featherby her night stand before I leave." Tom brushed the feather beneathRachel's chin.
She grabbed for it, but missed. "You can justleave it down here, Tom." Her tone edged with authority.
He turned his back to her, hiding his amusement."I don't mind. Besides, it might provoke Sarah's memory if she seesit."
Rachel didn't respond.
* * *
Dirk didn't want to take time to meet with hisbrothers, Horse Racer and He Who Listens. But, he wouldn't deny theresponsibilities he owed his people, his family, and TrailWalker.
Yet, Dirk couldn't help being annoyed aboutriding an extra day in the opposite direction of his white parent'shome. Once he had decided to see them, he grew anxious to be there.He needed to find importance in his life. He needed to be away fromSarah.
"I am Blackfeet. I am not Dirk. I am TwoShadows," he called out to Father Sky.
Having arrived at the meeting place early, TwoShadows sat on the high cliff, near a hole in the rock at the top.He shot two arrows into the hole and chanted, "Hai-yah! Hai-yah!Napi, hear my prayer. There is much confusion in my head. I am onewho looks to you for guidance. My heart cries, Old Man, Napi.Hai'-yu! Hai'-yu! Make my path true. One I can follow. One thatwill make you happy."
Two Shadows listened to the unshod hooves of twoapproaching horses. He turned his head in the direction of thesounds, and then closed his eyes, remaining still.
"There you are, Two Shadows," Horse Racershouted.
Turning toward his friend, Two Shadows rose inrespect. He watched a silent He Who Listens follow.
"We were waiting at the shore of Apsi Tuktai foryou," Horse Racer explained. He dismounted, and then walked over toTwo Shadows. They clasped arms in friendship. "Have you finishedshooting your arrows?"
"Yes. I have sent my best arrows with manyprayers to the rock in return for good luck." Two Shadows answered.Pulling his brows together, he asked, "Why would you wait by theshore, you know this is my favorite place to stay?"
"He is stretching the truth, my brother. We havejust arrived. He is embarrassed you beat us here again!" He WhoListens chuckled.
"Oh. So, my friend travels slow like the women?I see why you try to cover your lateness!" Two Shadows added to thejest. "I thought you would have our supper cooking over thecampfire by now. A good warrior would not dally and lose track oftime. I don't suppose Earth Woman could have distracted you?"
"How did you guess?" He Who Listens asked, agrin spread across his face.
"Is not Sahkwi Ahki a most beautifulmaiden?"
"Are you thinking of taking another wife, mybrother?"
"Sunny Smiles would be most pleased to have hersister share her tipi. They would work together with much happinessand both would bring me many sons. I am a rich warrior with twentyhorses. Many young women have been noticing me. I favor EarthWoman. I want to please Sunny Smiles."
"Many young women, is it? Your pride is gettingthe best of you, my friend! But, talk of women will have to wait.We must sit down to a fire, eat and discuss our plan to catch thissnake, Giles Rutledge." Two Shadows said, moving from the cliff,leading the way toward the swift moving stream and the camp he'dset up earlier.
Water gurgled past the three men sitting aroundthe fire, sharing a tasty rabbit. The sun, sinking behind the CrazyMountains, exploded behind a somber cloud mass. Erupting purple andpink penciled rays streaked beyond both sides and extended towardthe land, forming a magnificent sunburst.
"You must tell Trail Walker everything you learnthat might prove the Blackfeet are innocent." Two Shadows said,throwing a bone into the fire.
"What will you be doing while we go after thosewhite imposters?" Horse Racer asked.
Two Shadows looked up, his friends watched himwith interest. "First, I must go visit my white parents. I have aneed to speak with them. Three suns will rise and set before Ireturn." Two Shadows leaned forward, poking his stick into thefire. "This should give you time to find out why the white man liesand blames our warrior for deeds they did not do. I must tell youthat I have had a vision. It is time for me to avenge the death ofmy mother and sister." Two Shadows watched Horse Racer's cheektwitch.
"When we were riding here our paths crossed withDancing Bear," Horse Racer said. "He told us of a smelly white manwho paid him much fire water for his arrows and bow. He Who Listensand I will find out why a white man wants a warrior's weapon. It isa good place to start."
Two Shadows leaned back, taking in the darkeningsky. "Dancing Bear has traded his soul for the uskiti waubu. Didhis words speak from the spirits of the jug?"
"No, he spoke with truth." Horse Racer's toneedged with anger. "I told Dancing Bear his mother cries for him toreturn to her. It is a great shame to need the firewater. He toldme sta-aus' taunt him when he stops drinking the white man's firewater."
Two Shadows nodded knowingly. "It is true. Ihave seen the ghosts visit your brother with my own eyes. Many ofour warriors believe they have found happiness in the uskiti waubu,only to find it steals their souls and leaves them with shame."
He Who Listens dropped several sticks onto thefire. "You gossip like old women. I wait to hear of your vision,Two Shadows."
He took a deep breath, and then leaned back onhis elbow. "I saw my mother fall to the ground, her white, deerskintunic covered with her red blood. I heard my sister scream insidethe tipi while the white trapper rutted her like a bull. She wasinnocent and he took her with force. It all came to life, again,before my eyes. The huge trapper that hurt my family took a hotstick and held it to the tipi covering until it became a ragingfire. Great anger and hatred builds inside me. The time has comefor me to avenge their deaths. Napi has reminded me of my duty as ason and brother. I cannot rest until it is behind me." Two Shadowsclosed his eyes and fought his grief. The pressure of someonesqueezing his shoulder caused him to look up. He took comfort inHorse Racer's silent gesture.
He Who Listens cleared his throat. "Horse Racerand I understand better than anyone your need to set things rightwith Napi. We first must help Trail Walker and those warriorswrongly accused, then we will help you."
Two Shadows watched Horse Racer sit beside him,closer than before. "After we help our people, I plan to ride tothe Bear Tooth Mountains. It is said many mountain men, trappersand skinners hide up there. I will find the butchers of ourpeople."
"It would be wise," Horse Racer stretched hisfeet in front of himself, "to let your two best friends join you.We have fought many battles together. We give each other strength.We are like one when we fight. My heart grows heavy to think of youalone."
"My vision did not include my brothers. I willpray to Napi for guidance. I will have an answer for you when Ireturn," Two Shadows said, rubbing a pine bough in the palm of hishand. "I will not rest until the white man's bones rot in thesun."
"Your heart speaks with hatred, but also oftruth. It is time to free your soul of this burden. We will meetyou, as you ask." Horse Racer's voice held a compassionatetone.
He Who Listens straightened his back. "There ismuch danger in the Mahwi Opikinah. You have never been in thosemountains before. You should take your brothers."
"It fills my heart to know my brothers arealways there for me. If my vision does not include you, then I mustgo alone. Since we were boys we knew this day would come." TwoShadows concentrated on the shadowy landscape, instead of lookinginto the searching eyes of his friends.
"My brother is a brave warrior," Horse Racerlicked his fingers. "You are strong with your two shadows. When myeyes first looked on you this day, I saw a man of the pale skins.When you speak I hear the soul of the Blackfeet. You can do muchthat we cannot. I trust you will do what must be done for ourpeople. It is with great pride that I call you brother." HorseRacer spoke soft and steady.
"I, too, wish to tell you, Two Shadows, thatthere is great pride in my chest when I call you brother," He WhoListens spoke. "I will fast, and then offer my best bow and arrowsto Napi, to ensure your safe return." He Who Listen's tone dropped,strained with wavering control.
Clearing his throat to rid himself of surfacingemotions that threatened to expose weakness, Two Shadows said, "Ithank you for your words. I will keep them in my thoughts and knowI am never alone.
When I return from my white parent's home, Iwill go to Mapsi Tstuk. I will wait for you at the circular rim ofrock, half way to the top. You know the place."
"Mapsi Tstuk is not far from the fort," HorseRacer stated with urgency. "Are you certain this is a safe place tomake a camp?"
"Our fires cannot be seen from the fort. I spendmuch time at this place when I watch the fort for Trail Walker. Itis safe," Two Shadows spoke with reassurance and authority.
"We will go there to meet you," He Who Listenspromised. "We must rest now, so we are fresh to start our journeywhen the sun rises in the sky."
Two Shadows nodded. A comfortable silence fellamong the men. They had spent many nights together sharing acampfire like this one. Over the years they shared stories abouttheir women, their visions, their bravery, and their futures.
* * *
Dirk arrived at the Williams homestead justbefore sundown. He watched Lemuel lead his rig and tired horse intothe barn. As always he moved with deliberate care and gentleness.Dirk smiled as he remembered the many days he'd spent in thatsmall, black buggy with his white father.
Dirk lightly squeezed his legs and his mountentered the barn without hesitation.
"Son. Oh, Son. It does thy Quaker heart good toset eyes upon thee again."
Dirk noted Lemuel's smile expressed truepleasure. "It is good to see you too, Father," Dirk answered,responding with a boyish grin, then giving his father a warmembrace.
"When does thee goest tither?" His brown eyesstudied Dirk's face.
"I must leave before the sun rises. I needed theride and time alone to sort out some things. I wanted at least afew hours with you and Mother." He couldn't help thinking his tonesounded odd, emotional. Dirk found it confusing.
"Thee be disturbed? Thy son worries he does notbelong in the white man's world, nor with his Blackfeetbrothers?"
For a few brief moments Dirk's eyes clouded withvisions of the past. "How did you know?"
"Each time thee worries about this, thy facetells thee. Thee has always been a caring man. Many times thee hasendangered thyself to help others. Many times thee has done theunselfish thing by the white man. Thy heart longs to be white but acalling takes thee back to the Indian people. It is truly a harddecision, thy Son."
"I'm proud of my Blackfeet blood and ashamed ofthe white blood inside me. I could never take a white woman for mywife. This must mean I should stay with my Indian family."
"Thee has little faith in thy own worth. Theecannot judge a man by the color of his skin or by his belief in thedivine Lord or Napi. Surely thy son must know this truth bynow."
Dirk realized it seemed awkward to be discussinghis feelings. His doubts only exposed his weaknesses. He took greatpride in hiding his thoughts and emotions. But the words had to bespoken. Anything discussed with Lemuel would remain private. Thishe'd learned years ago.
Dirk looked at his father, hopefully. "Are yousaying I can take a white woman for my wife?"
"So that is thy problem? Thee has fallen in lovewith a white girl?" His tone held a degree of warmth andconcern.
"No. Yes. I mean, I don't know. There is abeautiful woman whom I've watched from afar for several months now.She has eyes that sparkle like a mountain lake. Her hair is yellowlike the shimmering sun. Her skin is white and soft like a rabbit'sfur. She interrupts my thoughts during and day and night."
"Thee heart has a problem, son. How does thiswoman feel about thee?"
"She doesn't know me, Father. We have never beenintroduced." Dirk watched his father rub his long black beard withthe palm of his hand.
"It is not material to what estate a man isborn, since all are equally new creatures in Christ. Thy heart andGod's guidance will have to direct thee to the answer," he said inan apologetic tone. "Come. Thee mother will be happy to have theeson home."
Dirk nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Evenif his father didn't have the answers, it always helped to talkthings out with him.
Four steps into the house and the aroma of freshbaked bread filled Dirk's nostrils. Immediately he watched pudgy,little arms wrap around his legs, halting his stride.
"Dirky! Dirky! Mommy, Dirky be home!" The childsquealed, joy ringing in her laughter and shining in her largebrown eyes. Her long, bouncy curls danced down her back.
"Blessed be," Beulah uttered, crossing thedistance between them, wrapping him into her warm, ample arms.
Dirk had to bend downward to hug his mother'srobust form. As always, she smelled inoffensively of lye soap andonions.
"Thee is truly blessed this evening," she said."Let thy mother look at thee face, son."
Dirk backed a step and allowed Beulah to lookhim over from head to toe, like she had done so many timesbefore.
An expression of satisfaction showed in hereyes. "Thee looks strong and healthy. God giveth thee manyblessings, son."
"You look wonderful, too, Mother. Is that freshbread I smell or has Mathew left his boots roasting in front of thefire again?" Dirk asked, allowing Tara Jean to slip under his armwhile he hoisted four-year-old Anna up against his chest.
"Still mad I won those boots instead of you?"Matt asked with a trace of laughter in his voice.
Walking toward the table, Dirk sat across fromhis spunky twelve-year-old brother. "When are you going to admit itwas you who put that burr under my saddle?" He enjoyed the gentlesparring as much as Matt.
"There wasn't a burr, and you know it. You justcan't accept the fact that I'm a better bronc buster than you."
"Anna, thee must cometh to bed."
Nuzzling her head into Dirk's shoulder andwrapping her arms around his neck, she said, "I loveth thee,Dirky."
"I love you, too, peaches. Now go to bed like agood girl." He hugged the tiny form, and then lifted her from hislap.
Large fawn eyes stared back at him. "Good night,Dirky," she said. Running to Matt she climbed up onto his lap andgave him a hug and kiss, then taking Tara Jean's hand, headed forbed.
Dirk noticed how lovely Tara Jean had becomeduring his absence. Although she tended to be quiet, her nearfourteen-year-old body curved in the right places, speaking louderthan words. Her smile and warm brown eyes reminded him of HorseRacer's wife, Sunny Smiles. Happy and contend with life, soon she'dmake a settler's son a fine wife.
Dirk glanced across the room and noticed Lemuelstood watching his family. Dirk didn't miss the smile of gratitudethat flashed across his father's face. Bringing Anna, Mathew andTara Jean to the childless Williams, four years before, had beenone of Dirk's greatest pleasures. They had become a loving family,his family. It seemed his father never tired of showing hisgratefulness.
"'Tis a great feeling for a man to see the lovethat dwelleths under thy roof. Dirk, thee brings much happiness tothyself and Mother."
"Thank you, Father. I feel much happiness here,too. Now let's join Matt for some of Mother's hot bread. I've beenthinking about it for the past hour."
"What if thy stove did not cook thee hot breadthis night?" Beulah asked, bringing a flat board piled withsteaming slices.
"Impossible! You have yet to fail making breadthe night before the Lord's day."
"Thee is right. Now eat," she said, fillingtheir cups with hot apple brew, then settled in her chair near thefireplace, rocking and watching her men.
"Telleth thee, Dirk, why doest thee spend timeamong the white people?"
Matt pulled a thick wave of brown hair out ofhis eyes. "Would it have anything to do with those BlackfeetIndians attacking the cavalry rifle and supply wagons?" Matt asked,shoving bread into his mouth.
Dirk's gaze shifted from Matt to Lemuel. "That'sexactly why I'm back. Trail Walker is convinced a fellow by thename of Giles Rutledge is behind all those attacks. I agree withhim. We are trying to find proof."
"But, son," Lemuel's thick brows rose afraction. "Thee words are folly. It be hard to repute the arrowsand other signs proving, without question, thee Blackfeet warriorshath done these deeds."
"I don't mean to argue with either of you. Butwe are convinced those attacks are white men dressed as Blackfeet.If the Blackfeet were doing these deeds, then why don't thewarriors have new rifles to shoot? Why don't Blackfeet tipiscontain sacks of stolen supplies?"
Matt stuffed another piece of bread into hismouth, and then leaned back in his chair. "Who do have newrifles?"
"I don't know. My friends He Who Listens andHorse Racer are looking for the answer to that question. Itwouldn't surprise me if the coward Crows are involved."
"'Tis unlike thee to accuse, besides, it is notfor any to boast his gentility, since all are equally esteemed byGod. Thee must heed thy words without proof."
"I'll get the proof." Dirk clenched his jaw,attempting to show determination. "How do you know so much aboutthe troubles at the fort?"
Mathew turned his smile up a notch. "Don't theethink we get any news but what's in the month old papers? We keepinformed even if we're one hundred-fifty miles from FortBryson."
"Mathew, thee shan't tease thy brother so much.Richard Lanaghan went to the fort for supplies. Said he stayed andmingled with some wagon train people. Whence leaving the morn andcoming straight away. Just left thy dwelling this morning. BrotherLanaghan surely had more news than he did supplies."
"Dirk, did you hear about the General'sdaughter?" Matt asked, his voice rising with excitement. "She wasgone a whole day. They say that hero, the one with the whitefeathers, brought her back to the fort. Brother Lanaghan says thegirl doesn't remember a thing that happened."
Dirk struggled to keep his face void ofexpression. "You don't say. I did hear about it. Strange how thisman can disappear into thin air when he wants. Must be some kind ofmagic."
"Thee talks nonsense, Dirk. The only magic is toapply thyself to that Light of Christ, which shineth in thyconscience. One day this hero willeth be found out. The way theehelps folks, thyself believes thee is with God, for not to servesin is the only freedom."
Dirk opened his eyes wider, hoping for anexpression of innocence. "Well, I'm not as worried about this heroas I am about Giles Rutledge."
"Mathew, thee best be getting some sleep,son."
Mathew straightened, sighing loudly. "Yes,Father. How long are thee staying, Dirk?"
"I'm leaving first light," Dirk said, betweenhungry mouthfuls.
"I wish you were gonna be here longer. Was goodto see you though. Next time thee comes, stay a spell," Matt said,sliding the wooden chair up to the table.
Dirk rose and clasped Matt in a brotherly hug."You're doing a fine job here, Matt. I'm proud of you. Your sisterslook mighty happy, too. You've been a good brother."
Matt's eyes clouded with emotion. He noddedtoward Dirk, and then walked from the room. Pausing at the doorway,he turned, and added, "Goodnight, Mother. Father. Be seeing theesoon, Dirk."
Beulah's soft throat clearing made Dirk chuckleinside. She tried to come across stern, but she always choked atany sentimentality.
"I'll leave thee two men to discuss what thywish without a woman listening in," Beulah said, laying her sewingon her rocker. "Thee will find a bag of food on the table in themorning for thy return trip, Dirk. Next time thee must not leave soquickly. Thy family misses having thee around," she whispered, hertear-smothered voice wavered.
Dirk crossed the room and gave his mother agentle bear hug. "Last time I did that, I stayed for four years."His voice came shakier than he'd like.
Beulah didn't answer. In spite of her size, sheleft the room without a sound.
"The Lord graciously put thee in thy path. Neardeath thee was too. Mother and thee hoped to be happy away fromPhiladelphia, but thee must be honest and admit to doubts. Everyonehad been warned against taking part in non-Quaker activities andalso against participation in political strife. Thee mother has hadto pay for thy's desire to change the old ways."
"Father, you did what you thought best."
"Thee knew the Quaker headed in the direction ofdoom already in nineteen hundred fifty and seven, when thePhiladelphia Meeting decided to have no correspondence with anyone,believing isolation might preserve a semblance of unity. Thosefollowers became blind! How could a people grow and prosper whenthee closed thy eyes to the truth around thyself?"
Dirk noticed his voice grew distant. "Perhaps weshould retire for the night, Father. I didn't mean to upsetyou."
"Thee didn't think thy mother and thyself wouldbe happy again," he continued as though Dirk hadn't spoken. "Allthose years barren of children, then the Lord giveth us thee. Andthee blessed us with those poor orphans. Thee children giveth ussuch pleasures. A pity the Lord had to take thy poor parents atthat watering hole. Sometimes thee feels guilty in rejoicing overthy tragedy, which neither can nor will change. Thee must dealplainly and faithfully with God."
"They needed you and you needed them. Thereshould be no guilt in that, Father. God knows your heart speaks ofpure intentions. Now, I insist we retire for the night. We bothwill be up early. I don't plan on saying any goodbyes." Dirkwatched Lemuel's gentle, understanding expression.
"Nor thee, son."
Chapter Two
Trail Walker waited until Doctor Bentley leftbefore he crept into the house and worked his way into Sarah'sroom. He stood above her, watching her chest rise and fall at aslow, even pace.
It had been nearing sunset when one of the boystold him Sarah hadn't returned from her morning ride. He'd beensick with worry. He had been all set to go out after her when thegates opened, Gypsy running in with her prize load.
Trail Walker noticed the feather on the nighttable and picked it up. He ran it through his wrinkled fingers,drawing in the familiar scent. A smile crept across his face. So,Sarah had been rescued by the white man's hero."
How could this hero be described as tall, dark,and young by some, then short and blond by others? Sometimes hecouldn't understand the white man. One woman swore the man whorescued her had hair as white as the feather he'd tucked into herhands. They had a chameleon in their midst; the men feared him andthe women fantasized about him. Trail Walker smiled again.
He made himself comfortable in a large,horsehair chair in the far corner of the room. He watched Sarahsleep, toying all the time with the eagle feather, remembering atime of peace and tranquility in his Blackfeet village. He couldsee his mother sitting on the ground with a group of women, sewinga large tipi covering spread out in front of them. Always enjoyingthemselves, gossiping, eating, and some even smoking while theyworked.
Children ran happily about the camp, engrossedin mock war games or playing a trick on some poor mother, who wouldchase them away, then continue with her work.
He and his friends never tired of practicing theart of suspending themselves along the horse's flank, one leghooked over the animal's back and an elbow resting in a sling thatcircled its neck, leaving their hands free for the bow and arrow.They had used their ponies as shields so they could discharge theirarrows over the horse's backs or from beneath their necks.
"Gypsy!" Sarah called out in the night.
Trail Walker bounded from the chair as though hewere a twenty-year-old buck.
"Shh, little one," he patted her shoulder.
Her breathing slowed and her face once againrelaxed in sleep. Trail Walker laid the feather on the nightstand,and then returned to the chair, and his thoughts. Soon the sunwould rise. He hoped the new day would answer the many questions hehad for Sarah.
When sleep finally conquered him, Trail Walkerdidn't know. It must have been the aching of his old, tired bodyawakening him, or it could have been the footsteps he now heardechoing down the hall. Sarah's bedroom door creaked slightly open,then stopped. Trail Walker pulled himself upright. He couldn't seewho stood behind the door, the odor of leather and boot pastenarrowed it down to a cavalryman.
"Why on earth would you send Ruth to wake me upthis time of morning? You know I hate not getting my sleep! Well,what in damnation do you want?"
"Lower your voice, Rachel! You may not care ifanyone hears you ranting, but I find it embarrassing."
"By all means! We wouldn't want the greatgeneral to be embarrassed in front of his flock. What do you want,Henry? I'm tired and it's cold out here in the hall."
Trail Walker wanted to make his presence known,but he didn't know how to do so without revealing that he'd spentthe night watching over Sarah. The General didn't frighten TrailWalker, but he wasn't sure how Sarah's father would react to anIndian being in his house all night.
"I want to know how Sarah managed to get out ofthe fort yesterday."
"How would I know that? She does what she wantsto, and always has. If you told her not to go out riding, thenyou're the one who should watch and make sure she doesn't. Is thatall you woke me for?"
"Rachel, for God's sake. I run this entire fort.I'm responsible for the lives of hundreds. I make sure there ispeace among the Indians and ensure safety for the people who wantand need my protection. Surely you can be responsible for onechild!" His accusing voice stabbed the air.
"You haven't looked at her lately, Henry. Sheisn't a child any longer. All she wants to do is ride that damnedhorse. Usually she puts trousers on to go riding. Since she leftthe house in a dress, I didn't expect her to be out riding atall."
"Rachel, when was the last time you told me thetruth?" The volume of his voice increased with each word.
Trail Walker shifted his weight uncomfortably.The door remained slightly ajar.
"I don't know what you're talking about.
Trail Walker noticed a slight tremble in herwords.
"You don't? That's funny, because one of the meninformed me you gave him orders to allow Sarah to ride whenever sheliked. He also enlightened me that Sarah has been riding outsidethe fort for the past two months!"
"Henry, you're such a damn hypocrite. You canwatch all those men, Indians, and travelers, but when do you findtime to watch Sarah or me?"
"You're evading the issue here."
"Yes, Henry. I told Fennergan to let her go outriding, but only when he told me she had been sneaking out of thefort every day. At least this way we know when she goes out. Surelythere is no harm in that."
"Harm! Just like there was no harm when you letHenry Junior and Sarah go walking off four years ago! You killed myson every bit as much as Sarah did. When we made plans to come outwest I told you how it was going to be. Sarah is yourresponsibility. I have my duties!"
"And what about me? When was the last time youfulfilled your duty to me, Henry?"
"Why do you need me, sweet Rachel? I'm sure bynow you have a new young man groveling at your bed!"
A loud slap cracked through the air. TrailWalker flinched. He could imagine the fury on the General'sface.
"Does the truth hurt, love? Don't worry, I won'tbe around to see who he is, nor do I care. I want you to listen tome this one time, Rachel. I don't want to hear that Sarah has beenallowed to ride outside the fort unless I've given her permission.You understand?"
Trail Walker didn't hear her response, hesupposed she must have nodded in agreement.
"Now you better go back and get that beautysleep you're so worried about losing. Heaven knows you needit!"
The fast retreating footsteps could only bethose of an angry Rachel. Her door slammed shut. Trail Walkerjump.
He didn't find the woman pleasing at all. Shewas all that a Blackfeet Indian found distasteful: selfish,deceitful, vain, harmful, and unloving. There were times though,like now, when he understood why Rachel had turned cold. At theserare times he could only feel pity for the woman.
If an Indian woman became unhappy with herhusband, as Mrs. Bryson obviously was, she would simply tear thesleeping blanket in half and return to her parent's tipi. The whiteman had many strange customs.
The door to Sarah's room thankfully closed.Trail Walker took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. Glancing overat Sarah, he found cobalt eyes staring back at him. His heart sangas he moved closer to her.
"How are you feeling, little one?" He gave her ahappy smile, hoping to hide his concern.
"My head hurts. Don't worry, I'm fine."
He took in her weak smile and drooping eyelids.Her words brought him encouragement. He rubbed a weathered handacross her pale cheek, then left without a sound.
* * *
Piercing screams shattered her dream. Shewondered if she had only screamed in her dream or if she'd vocallyscreamed her despair. Sarah's heart pounded hard against her chest.She found herself sitting up in bed, drenched in perspiration. Oh,God, no! Not this dream again. How many times in the last fouryears had she screamed herself awake from the same awful nightmare,only to find the silence that still trapped her?
She pulled her legs up to her bruised body, andthen pressed her cheek into her knees. Her gaze rested on theclosed door. Even if they had heard her screams, no one wouldcome.
Closing her eyes, Sarah rocked back and forth,hugging her knees to her chest. It only increased the ache in herribs and the sharp, stabbing pain in her head. Nothing seemed tosoothe the turmoil in her heart.
She thrust her legs straight in defiance. Paingripped her ribs, the gesture proved costly. Drained of all energy,she allowed her body to sink into the soft, down bed. It smelledfaintly of lemon.
The moment her eyes closed, Sarah's mindreturned to its tortured thinking. It became impossible to escapethe memories, after the nightmare. The image focused in her mind.She watched her eight-year-old brother racing across the rockyflatland. With an adventurous toss of his blond hair, he headedstraight for the steep cliff in front of them.
"Henry Junior, don't you dare climb that cliff,"she warned, her gaze wandering up the formidable stone.
"Aw, come on, Sarah. You always spoil my fun.Father says boys should climb and run and stuff. You're justjealous 'cause you have to wear a dress and can't do what boys do."He wrinkled his nose at her.
"You're acting spoiled. Mother said I had towatch you, so don't do anything stupid. Climbing that cliff couldbe dangerous." She slipped her hand down his arm and tightened herfingers around his wrist.
Henry Junior twisted free of her hold."Willigers, Sarah, just 'cause you're fifteen doesn't mean you haveto treat me like a baby."
Sarah watched him wipe his finger under hisnose, and shrugged in disgust. "Darn it, Henry Junior! Come on,we'd better get back to the wagons before someone starts wonderingwhere we are." Shaking her head, Sarah spun around and walked inthe direction of camp.
Small rocks snapped and banged against largeboulders as they rolled and bounded down the rugged cliff. Sarahwhirled around and then froze.
Halfway up the treacherous cliff Henry Juniorclimbed. "Henry Bryson, you come down from there right now!" sheyelled, running closer to the steep formation.
"Aw, you scaredy cat. I ain't gonna fall. I'mgonna get you some of those eagle feathers," he answered, pointingto the top ledge, teetering his balance for a second.
"Henry Junior, this isn't funny. It's toodangerous. Come down right now," Sarah pleaded. She watched himpull himself even higher, her anxiety increased.
His voice faded as he continued to climb. Shedidn't want to watch, but she couldn't turn away. Finally hereached the huge, overhanging nest and proudly waved a handful offeathers.
"Come down," she yelled, motioning with herhand.
Without warning, a large Bald Eagle, hereight-foot wing span spread wide, swooped down at him. Sarahflinched at the bird's harsh, creaking cackle, kleek-kik-ik-ik-ik,and then an angry, warning low kak-kak-kak. Sarah gasped, shakingwith fear. Air strangled from her throat.
The eagle appeared bent on ridding herself ofthe intruder. Wildly she flapped her large, dark wings. Sarahwatched sticks and feathers spew in all directions, adding to theconfusion.
Henry Junior clung to the nest, kicking andscreaming. The eagle clawed at his head.
Sarah stared at him twisting and clinging to thematted overhang. A cold realization swept over her as sticks andweeds fell toward her.
"Henry, grab the rocks," she screamed. "Grab arock, the nest is falling apart!"
He couldn't hear her. His head and shoulderswere covered with weeds, feathers, sticks…and blood. She watchedhim struggle for his life!
She stood, helplessly watching. Fear and despairtore at her soul. This couldn't be happening! Stubborn grit snappedher into action. Sarah pulled her long skirt up from behind,tucking it in the front waistband of her dress, creating loosetrousers. She pulled herself up the boulders, ignoring scrapedfingers and bruised knees. Her only thoughts were at getting higherwhere she could help Henry Junior.
She looked up. A limb snapped. Henry Junior fellfast, bouncing against several boulders as he descended. Sarah'sbreath caught in her throat and her mouth went dry. Her heartpounded painfully against her chest. She closed her eyes andrefused to open them, afraid of what she'd see lying at herfeet.
"Sarah, help me! Sarah, I can't hold on!"
She bolted upright and searched the rockysurface. There! There he was, still alive! He clung to a bushjutting out from a rocky edge.
She swallowed with difficulty and found hervoice. "Hang on, Junior. I'm coming!" she yelled, scrambling to getto him. Each step seemed to take forever. The rocks, sharp andbiting, tore at her flesh, she pushed upward. Junior's whimpersincreased her drive to reach him.
Sarah didn't take time to stop and talk to herbrother; she concentrated on the climb. She could see him. "Hangon! I'm almost there!" Sarah clenched her jaw to kill the sob inher throat. Pulling herself across a large boulder her dress cameundone, tangling her legs in a mass of petticoats. Sliding backdown on the hard rugged stone, Sarah landed on the edge of thecliff with a thud.
She scrambled to her feet, ignoring the pain inher shoulder. Grabbing a handful of skirts, Sarah shoved them backinto the waistband of her dress. Without hesitation, she pulledherself back up the boulder, not daring to look down.
"Sarah, I can't hold on any longer!"
"Yes, you can. Don't let go! I'm almost there.Henry Junior, you have to hang on," she shouted, not stopping asecond in her ascent.
Sarah reached the overhanging cliff. Sliding onher stomach, she leaned over the edge in a desperate attempt tograb Junior's hand in hers. She couldn't reach him.
"Junior, don't be afraid. Squeeze your hands onthat bush as hard as you can," she said, flipping her dress up, andtearing a petticoat into a wide strip. "Whatever you do…don't letgo!"
"I can't, Sarah. I just can't."
"You have to. I'll tear up my petticoat and tieit together. We'll use it for a rope," she paused, glancing athim…Junior!"
He fell! She dropped to her chest, looking overthe cliff. His screams echoed up to her. She watched him fall instunned disbelief. His body grew smaller and smaller, until hebecame a dark spot on the ground below her. She couldn't breathe.Nausea and intense desolation swept over her. She vomited and laymotionless on the rocky overhang.
Her tormented mind felt nothing but confusion.Her tortured heart cried out in pain. Sarah screamed, "No, Junior,no!" Why didn't you hang on?" Tears flowed down her cheeks. Itdidn't happen. He'd be all right, she told herself. He had to be!Maybe he'd only have a broken bone. Maybe he wasn't…dead.
She took a deep breath and fought forself-control. She slid down the rugged cliff in a fraction of thetime it had taken to climb it, heedless of the scrapes and bruisesshe incurred along the way.
Sarah rushed to Henry Junior. She dropped to theground and pulled his twisted, broken body to her chest. He stillclutched the eagle feathers in his fist.
Deep sobs racked her body. Hot tears traileddown across her cheeks, her chin, then down her neck, soaking thefront of her dress.
"Junior, oh, Junior. Talk to me," she cried."You can't be dead. You just can't. I don't want you to be dead."She cradled his bloodied face against her shoulder. Pressing herface into his sandy hair, she rocked back and forth. "I told younot to climb that cliff. I told you it was dangerous. Junior?"Deep, gasping cries, deep within her throat, made speakingimpossible.
Sarah didn't know how long she held her brotherin her arms. She did acknowledge someone pulled on his body, takingJunior from her. Sarah held onto him fiercely, refusing to let himgo.
She looked up. Her gaze locked with the cold,steel, blue, eyes of her father. Hatred blazed in those eyes. Hetugged at Henry Junior's limp body. Without a word, Sarah releasedher brother.
She'd never seen her father cry before. Shewatched him hold Junior to his chest. His graying, brown hair clungto his perspiring brow. His square jaw visibly tensed as paincarved merciless lines across his face. His full lips trembled asgrief consumed him. Deep, cries shook his body and convulsing sobsfilled the otherwise silence of early morning.
For what seemed like hours, she sat on the hard,rocky ground, watching her father hold his son, crying. Finally histears dried. Sarah watched him gently place Henry Junior on theground. Her father studied his son. The impish grin that oftenplayed upon those bow-like lips would be no more. His cherubiccheeks, God, why couldn't she remember them? Why could she only seethe torn flesh and the crimson that stained his mouth, chin, andneck?
Sarah watched her father stretch a shaky hand totouch his son's lifeless lips; they offered no words, only warmflecks of red. He stared at his son in silence.
Sarah watched in agony as her father struggledto accept his son's lifeblood had just trickled…into eternity.
He looked up, his expression confused. "Howcould you let this happen, Sarah? We trusted you to look after him.You killed him! Why couldn't it have been you—instead of myson?"
His insults were barbed and hurtful. They toreat her being and destroyed all hope that Henry Junior could somehowstill be alive. It was her fault! She had allowed her brother todie! Sarah pressed her hands over her ears convulsively, fearfulhe'd say more. She closed her eyes, relieving the pain of seeingher brother's crumpled body. Her father spoke the truth. It was herfault. She felt the loss deep and believed the blame righteouslyplaced.
She glanced up at her father, offering him apleading look—asking for forgiveness. He backhanded her across thecheek, sending her sprawling backward. Sarah grasped the stingingflesh with the palm of her bruised and bloody hand, staring back ather father.
"You killed my son, Sarah. I'll never forgiveyou for doing this to me!"
The physical assault couldn't compare to theinner turmoil she already felt. But his blame and rejection onlyadded to the shock. Sarah pressed her palms to her ears. She'd shutout his words. She wouldn't listen to his accusations andhate-filled tone. She'd shut him out. Yes, she'd concentrate onsilence. She never wanted to hear his horrid words again. She hungher head in shame. God, how could she have let this happen to HenryJunior? She loved him. It hurt too much to love. It hurt too muchto want and need love. She never wanted to feel this hurtagain.
* * *
A faint scent of earthy cinnamon filtered intoher senses. Sarah liked it. His strong arms held her secure. Thesteady rhythm of his heart beating against her cheek comforted her.She couldn't remember the last time someone held her.
Sarah opened her eyes and quickly squinted fromthe bright sunlight filtering through the windows of her room.Glancing to her right she noticed a large white feather. Shereached over and claimed it. The effort caused a slight pain in herribs. Where had the feather come from? She pulled the soft quillthrough her fingers and drew in the familiar scent. A flood ofdisjointed images taunted her mind. She closed her eyes torecapture them…and a feeling of wellbeing filled her.
Sensing a movement near the doorway, Sarahtensed. She peeked through lowered lashes. Doctor Bentley limpedtoward her bed. She glanced up at him, offering a welcomingsmile.
"Does your feather help you remember whathappened to you yesterday?" he asked, reaching the bedside.
Distracted by his comment your feather causedSarah to miss the rest of his sentence.
Doctor Bentley sat on the edge of the bed.Pointing at the feather, he said, "Does your feather bring back anymemories?"
"Why do you call it my feather? Where did itcome from?" Sarah asked, rubbing it across her cheek, enjoying thesensation.
"I hoped you could tell me that. Don't youremember anything that happened to you yesterday? Did you fall offGypsy? Were you attacked by someone, or Indians?"
"I remember a man holding me close. I rememberthe feel of his heart beating against my cheek." Sarah placed thepalm of her hand against her cheek and pressed into it.
"Sarah, look at me," he said, lifting her chintoward him. "You were helped back to the fort by the one calledhero of the land."
"Are you serious? The same one who they saysaved the Jameson boy?"
"The very same."
"Great heavens. I wish I could remember. I'vehad images of being dragged, but it's all fuzzy. I tried to wake,but I couldn't get my eyes open. Does that make sense?" Sarahconcentrated on speaking slow and clear.
"That would explain all those thorns andscratches on your arms and hands." He took her arm and turned theunderside up toward Sarah.
Extensive scratches covered the soft skin. Shestared at them, puzzled. "They itch," she said, rubbing the palm ofher hand the length of her arm. "I still can't remember whathappened. Will I ever remember, Doctor Bentley?"
"I'm certain you will, Sarah. You alreadyremember more than you did last night. I think in time it'll allcome back to you. In the meantime, you must have bed-rest for atleast three days. No riding Gypsy for at least two weeks."
"Oh! You can't mean it. What will I do all daylong? That much rest can't be good for a person." She sat with ajerk, then clutched her ribs and fell back onto the pillows. "Iguess maybe a day or two might be good."
"What am I going to do with you, girl?" Helaughed, shaking his head. "You just hang onto that spunk. A fewother people around here could use some." He patted her hands andsmiled down at her.
Sarah studied his mouth carefully, catching mostof his words as he spoke. Grateful he made the effort to pronounceeach word clear and slow. She understood he'd just complimentedher, and it felt good.
His familiar white shirt, wrinkled black jacket,and floppy string tie sent a whiff of cherry smoke her way with hisevery movement. He threaded his long fingers through thick silverhair, and then pulled a matching mustache between his thumb andindex finger.
"Now, I must get to the infirmary and see tosome real sick boys. You stay quiet and get some sleep."
"Yes, Doctor," Sarah answered, hoping her tonewould make him realize he sounded like a mother. She flinched atthe correlation.
"I'll stop in to see you again later."
"Thank you," she whispered after him. A familiarloneliness surrounded her the moment he walked out the door. Shehated to admit it…but she was alone.
* * *
Sarah slept long and hard, waking to the smellof hot chicken soup and the warm, caring eyes of Trail Walker, bothher favorites. As usual, their conversations ran from serious tofunny.
"Stop making me laugh, Trail Walker! It hurts,"Sarah ordered between giggles.
"Ha-im-mit good for sick girl." Concern mirroredin his eyes and in the deep creases that had been etched in hisface by the passing of time.
Sarah reached over and laid her hand on his arm.The sleeve of his antelope skin shirt felt soft and supple to herfingers. "I thank you for caring, Trail Walker. You are the onlyone who does, you know."
"You speak from heart and I hear your sadness. Iwish I could make parents love beautiful daughter. They willrealize loss when it is too late."
Sarah recognized the pain lurking deep in theold dark eyes that gazed at her. "I try hard. Honest I do. You andDoctor Bentley are the only ones who talk to me. Father won't letthe men speak to me anymore. He thinks I'm a disgrace. Rachel actsas if she can't understand a word I say."
"Do not call mother Rachel. She is mother. Ishard for mother to accept daughter deaf. Mother afraid of gettingold. Not want to see young, pretty daughter because her own youthis gone."
"You're wrong. She doesn't want to see mebecause she's ashamed of me. I know she is." Sarah paused…beingupset made it more difficult to speak. "I embarrass her because Idon't talk right. Do I sound different when I talk?" Sarah asked,watching him shift his moccasin-clad feet and look around the room,then his intense brown gaze settled on her.
"All who talk sound different. I not sound likewhite man, but I speak white man words. You sound good," he said,patting her hand with his weathered one. "You keep eating. Must eatto get well."
Sarah pushed another spoonful of soup into hermouth. She didn't want to eat anymore, but for Trail Walker she'ddo anything.
His long black braids, flecked withsilvery-white strands, hung down his heavily beaded shirt thatmatched his moccasins. She reached up and traced the diamond of elkskin. The design he wore never changed.
"Will I ever dream a design to give me power towear it, like you did?" She rubbed her fingers across the large,blue pony beads that followed along the stitched edges. In thecenter a skillfully sewn yellow eagle sitting on a ponderosa pinewas outlined with black seed beads. Two white feathers fell fromthe eagle's tail feathers.
Trail Walker always wore cavalry pants with hisantelope skin shirt and blackened soft-soled elk skin moccasins.Once he had let her slip her feet into his winter-wear buffalo hidemoccasins. Putting animal hair on the inside of a moccasin mademore sense than the thin slippers she had to wear.
"It is hard to say when person will be visitedby the old man, Napi. Sometimes he will speak to a pale skin thatis true at heart. I cannot predict if such a thing will happen toyou, little one."
Watching Trail Walker's facial and hand motionswere as exciting as his words. She'd often wished he were herfather. Trail Walker had been there from the start. She had wantedno part of learning to speak with her hands and especially not withher voice. But, Trail Walker had promised her a pony if shesucceeded. After seeing Gypsy, she knew what she wanted…and whatshe had to do to get the fine animal.
First he taught her to talk with her hands.Trail Walker had told her she had a good memory and endlessdetermination. Sarah didn't care what he called it. It seemed shecouldn't learn fast enough to suit herself. The more he explained,the more she watched people's lips and the easier it had been be tounderstand what they were saying. He'd been right. She would formthe words with her own lips, feeling them with her fingers. Thenshe would feel Trail Walker's lips as he formed the words, watchinghis mouth as he repeated them for her.
Soon she understood most everything he said.Speaking out loud came much harder. But gradually he had hertalking with her voice as well as with her hands. He'd freed herfrom the self-imposed prison of a silent world.
They spent hours together. She never tired ofthe stories he told her about his Blackfeet people. "Would you tellme a story?" she asked, settling back against the pillows. It tooklittle effort to eat, but she suddenly felt exhausted.
Trail Walker sat down at the end of the bed,resting his back against the foot board of the bed. "I will tellyou a special story."
Sarah watched him intently.
"Morning Eagle, a respected old warrior, ledthrough our camp his old white war horse. He had decorated it withmedicine emblems and picture writings, representing hisachievements in early days. In a loud voice he called the people'sattention to himself and told of his great deeds at battle."
Sarah watched Trail Walker's hand gestures withclose scrutiny. She noted his face softened as he told his story.His eyes looked in the distance, as though he could see the scenebefore him.
"He was a very old man who was nearly blind andhad trouble with the use of his legs. Still he retained hisold-time enthusiasm and love of excitement. He would have the youngmen lift him up on his war horse so that he might ride through campas of old, and take part in the sham battles."
"What are sham battles?" Sarah interrupted.
"They are practice battles among the warriors.Old and young participate. It is something the men and boys doduring a great feast to show everyone their great skill andmaturity. The young bucks take great pride in upsetting an alreadyproclaimed skilled warrior."
"This old warrior on the white war horse, he wasyour father, wasn't he?"
"Yes. I have great pride to have a father sobrave. Morning Eagle would wake me every morning as the sun beganto rise. He would chant his medicine songs. There was not a daythat he missed. The songs were the same and I loved listening tohim. He could chant and sing the songs of many different birds andanimals. During a heavy storm, and in spite of his age andfeebleness, he crawled from the lodge on his hands and knees andseated himself in the pouring rain, with only a blanket thrown overhis head. He prayed and chanted medicine songs for the purpose ofdriving the storm away."
"Did it work?"
"Yes. The next day the rains stopped. My peoplebelieved it would have rained for weeks, months, even years had henot sung his songs."
Trail Walker's posture betrayed his pride. Sarahsmiled to herself. "Were you happy living with your people?" sheasked, even though her head pounded.
"Yes. They were the happiest days of mylife."
"Do you…I've been wondering…do you have a wife,Trail Walker?"
"I once married the most beautiful girl in allof our village. She smiled from the rise of the sun, until it setbehind the great mountains. She had shiny black hair that whenbraided fell down her back, almost touching the ground. No otherwoman had such beautiful hair. Her eyes made me think of theshimmering night sky. They sparkled with joy. Her heart was goodand she loved me as much as I loved her. I will speak her name thisone time for you. We called her Mutsi-Awotan-Ahki."
"What does it mean?"
"Fine Shield Woman. She was well known formaking the most handsome shields in our village. It was a greathonor to receive such a name."
He sat for a few minutes, reliving some privatemoments. Sarah watched his face sober. She knew Indians didn'tspeak the names of their dead. "What happened to her?"
"She and Manski-Stumik, my son, Young Bull, werekilled by the great smallpox disease, brought by the pale faces. Icould do nothing for them. My sorrow ate my spirit. I wanted Napito take me, too. But he didn't. I must live without them."
"Is that when you became a scout for thecavalry?"
"No. My sorrow made me dead inside. I wanted toleave my village and live alone with my memories. But I had amother and a sister to care for. So I stayed. Everywhere I went, Ifound reminders of my beautiful woman and my son of onewinter."
"How did you come here?"
"I permitted my sister to marry a great warrior,Many Ponies. I still cared for my mother. Then my people saw agreat fort going up and many white seizers came, too. My peoplefelt much fear. I went to the white man's fort to make peace. I didnot want them to attack our village with their big mouth guns."
"But we don't have any cannons here!"
"That is what we were told, but we did not trustthe white man. I talked for many days with your father. He asked meto be a guide for the pale skins. I told him when Napi took mymother to the Sand Hills I would return to be his guide, and Idid."
"Don't you miss your people? Why haven't yougone back to be with them after all this time?"
He leaned forward, looking directly into hereyes. "If you want to know what the wolf has planned, you must beone of his pack."
She thought his smile resembled that of a childwho'd gotten away with a trick. Then she understood. Instead ofliving with his beloved people, he protected them by living withthe enemy. She felt sadness for him. She watched him rise from theend of the bed, adjusting his stiff, old body before moving to herside.
"You must rest and get well. It is the time whenthe buffalo calves are yellow and I want to show you manysurprises. Just this morning I heard the o-toch-koki sing for thefirst time."
Sarah watched his lips form the Blackfeet word,pleased she'd recognized it. "You mean the meadowlark, don'tyou?"
Trail Walker nodded. "He is one of the firstbirds to come when the grass turns green. My people are glad to seehim, because we know summer is near. He has many songs and sings indifferent tongues. The Blackfeet understand the songs of the yellowbreast. He sits high on the budding branch, he sings beautiful inBlackfeet, nat-siake-oa-se-kim-aki."
Sarah wondered how it sounded when Trail Walkerdescribed what the birds or animals sounded like. She imagined itto be like a song. She missed many of his words, yet she understoodmany, too. "I wish I could hear the meadowlark. You make it soundlike the most wonderful bird of all." She recognized gentleness inhis gaze.
"You are nineteen winters now. You are ready tolearn much. When you are well, I will take you with me. I will showyou many wonderful things. Right now you must sleep,Sa-sak-si."
Sarah smiled at him. She loved it when he calledher by her Indian name, Freckle Face. Of course it had been morefitting four years ago since few freckles now remained. Yet, hestill called her Freckle Face and it made her feel special.
"Sleep," he said, tapping her on top of thehead. He looked at her intently, then walked to the door. "I comevisit later."
His wrinkled smile held warmth and love. Shefelt reassured. She loved the old Indian. Sarah allowed her lids toclose.
Her thoughts filtered back to strong, gentlearms holding her tight while his heart beat rhythmically againsther ear. She struggled for the scent that brought her a feeling ofsecurity.
It wasn't cinnamon bark that permeated hernostrils. Instead, the faint odor of bear grease and chewingtobacco reached her senses. Sarah opened her eyes. Giles Rutledgestood beside her bed, watching her.
"Sarah, love. I'm glad to see that you'relooking so well. Doctor Bentley informed me that you have a coupleof bruised ribs. I'm sorry to hear that. I understand that the herorescued you. Is that true?"
Giles spoke so fast she found it difficult tounderstand much of what he said. "I don't know," she stammered. "Idon't remember anything."
"You don't remember? That's a pity. There are alot of jealous women who believe you spent the entire day with thiswonderful gentleman. Even your mother has asked me to find out moreabout him. I can't believe you don't remember what happened to youall day long."
Sarah struggled to read his lips. "No. I don'tremember anything."
He reached for her hand and Sarah jerked itaway. The effort caused her slight pain. His curly, flaming-redhair framed his square jaw and rolled back behind his ears, almosttouching his shoulders. Strikingly handsome, yes, butunfortunately, he knew it. Most women swooned when he came around,including her mother. Sarah wondered why he insisted on showeringher with his attentions. She didn't even like him. She senseduntruths and secrets when around Giles. "Why are you here,Giles?"
"Surely you don't begrudge your fiancée visitingyou, do you?" He smiled, twirling his red handlebar mustache withease between long, skinny fingers.
"Stop calling me your fiancée," Sarah ordered,uncomfortable under his scrutiny. "Leave, Giles. I don't wish tosee you now or ever!" She produced a cold stare, hoping todiscourage him.
His steel-green eyes shimmered and his smilebroadened. "Watch what you say, love. I just might do that. Thenwho would be fool enough to marry you?"
Her insulted reaction only seemed to amuse him.The fact he'd spoken the truth bothered Sarah. But marry GilesRutledge? Never! She shuddered inwardly at the thought. "You know Idon't love you, Giles. I don't even like you. I can't marry you. Iwon't!" She spoke slowly and clear in an effort to make sure heunderstood her words.
"I'm not all that bad, Sarah," he said, leaninghis face closer to hers. "I seem to remember a warm kiss thatpromised great things for us."
She noticed his gaze travel over the thinblanket that covered her. "Your memory seems different thanmine."
"Not true. I seem to remember I owe you a…shouldwe say love bite?"
The memory of his bruising kiss filled her withrepulsion. His mouth smothered hers. He held her tight against him,pinning her arms down. He'd gripped her buttocks with his freehand. She'd fought against his advances, unable to break free.
"I want you, Sarah!" He had told her, his breathhot against her face and his breathing rapid.
His actions frightened her. She'd done the onlything she could do. Bite the soft tissue of his lower lip. Thetaste of his blood sickened her. Her reaction stunned him. Sheremembered him holding his bloody lip, his glare icy-cold. Hismoment of hesitation allowed her to flee. She'd kept her distancesince that day. Remembering caused shivers to spread overSarah.
"You kissed me, Giles. I found it repulsive."She stiffened her back and gazed at him with defiance.
"You should be grateful I want to marry you,Sarah. Your parents are. Get use to the idea. Why can't you be morelike your mother?"
He brushed the back of his hand against Sarah'scheek. She shrunk from his touch. "Please, Giles. Why are you doingthis to me?"
"I plan to have you, Sarah. Why? Because I'dlike to tame the General's daughter…like I did the General'swife!"
His words hit harder than a slap. Sarah foughtthe nausea threatening to rise. How could she? How could he?
"Imagine me, Giles Rutledge, married to theGeneral's own beautiful daughter."
Her stomach muscles tightened. "Never!"
He leaned down, pressing his chest against herbruised ribs, his elbows pinning her arms against her sides. Hegrasped each breast in large hands and squeezed.
Sarah remained motionless, glaring at him withoutrage.
"I already have permission to marry you. Yourfather finds me to be the perfect choice for a son-in-law, thehusband of his daughter, and the father of his grandchildren. Hewants a grandson you know. As for your mother, well let's just sayshe knows I perform admirably!"
"Never! I'll tell them how cruel and violent youreally are. That I don't want to marry you."
"Sweet, Sarah. You aren't listening to me."
She realized his expression gloated of victory."They already know me. I'm a fine officer and liked by all the men.And without bragging, you might say the women find me quitedelightful, too. Who is going to listen to you?"
Amusement flickered in the gaze that met hers."Please, Giles. Just leave me alone."
His gaze lowered, and then returned to her face."I'll have you, Sarah, whether you want me or not."
Sarah's chest burned with pain from the pressureof his weight on her. "No," she managed to say. How could herfather and everyone be fooled by this evil, disgusting man?
In one quick movement, Giles released his holdon Sarah. Slowly and steadily he rose, then turned around. Theknife that had been pressed into his back now pressed into hischest.
"You touch girl again, I kill you!"
Sarah watched Trail Walker's dark eyes, blazingwith anger.
"Listen here, Injun. Take that knife away orI'll put it through your heart."
"White boy only brave when hurting little girls.When you man, you fight me. Still I kill you." Trail Walker repliedwith contempt that forbade any further argument.
Giles swung his head around to look at Sarah,his eyes blazing.
She pressed the blanket up to her chin, staringat the men. She couldn't hear their words…but their postures toldher everything.
Giles whirled back to stare at Trail Walker."Watch your back, old man. When you least expect it, I'll put aknife through it."
Trail Walker leaned forward and lowered hisvoice, "Touch girl again and I kill you." He moved the knife awayfrom Giles, gripping it protectively in front of his own chest.
"We'll see what General Bryson has to say aboutthat!"
With one quick thrust, Trail Walker's knife bitdeeply into the thin skin beneath Giles's chin. His body stiffenedin shock.
"You take warning. You touch Sarah and I killyou. I give my word." Trail Walker lowered his knife and steppedback, allowing Giles access to the door.
Giles glared at Trail Walker.
Sarah watched as Giles pressed his fingertipsinto the warm, wet blood on his chin. Without a glance at either ofthem, he rushed out of the room.
Trail Walker hurried to Sarah. He clutched atrembling shoulder gently in each hand. "Sa-sak-si, he hurtyou?"
"No. I'm fine."
"General think Giles fine man. I try to tell himthat Giles is snake in grass. He not want to hear truth. He wantdaughter to marry fine cavalryman. I think father want Giles to benext general. Want Sarah to have son to replace one he lost."
"No. You don't mean it. I won't marry Giles. Hefrightens me. He may seem wonderful to everyone else, but…TrailWalker, there's something evil about that man." In her anguish,Sarah felt her words mumble together.
"Yes, little one. I understand your fears. Ifeel his evil, too. But he is slippery like the snake. I not trustGiles for long time."
"I won't marry him!"
"You must not think of this now. You should notbe upset. You need to stay quiet. Tell me, Sarah, do you rememberanything more about day before sun set?" He sat down on the bed,once again resting his back against the bed foot board and facingSarah.
"I keep trying to remember. I feel a man holdingme. I remember he smells good and I like it. My head hurt andeverything seemed fuzzy. The man gave me something to drink. Itmade my mouth pucker, but then the hurting stopped."
"Nothing else happened? Did something seemdifferent to you? Something that might be important?"
Sarah closed her eyes for a brief second. "I doremember something, Trail Walker. The man held his hand over mymouth and his body tensed next to mine. It seemed like we werehiding. I remember being tired. That is all I remember."
Trail Walker knew he must to speak with TwoShadows. Before he felt no urgency; this new information changedall that. He sat forward and looked at Sarah closely. "You tellGiles what you remember?"
"No, only you." She thought for a moment thenadded, "Except I did tell Doctor Bentley I remember beingdragged."
"Good. Tell no one. Especially not snake ingrass. Something not feel right. I think Giles Rutledge crawling inhole with only one way out."
Chapter Three
"You've done quite nicely, Sarah. I know thesepast three weeks haven't been easy for you." Doctor Bentley said,shoving his old stethoscope down into his weathered black bag.
"It's been awful. Can I ride Gypsy now?" Throughher excitement, Sarah had trouble getting the words out fastenough.
"Whoa," he said, raising his hand to still herwords. "I said you are doing well. I think riding is a few weeksaway yet."
She settled back, disappointed. "I want to goriding with Trail Walker."
"Don't be so upset. Trail Walker is going to begone for an excursion, at least six days anyway. Your ride willhave to wait."
"Trail Walker didn't tell me he was goinganywhere." Excitement for her long awaited freedom faded.
"He's been up here every day since youraccident. I took for granted he would have told you," DoctorBentley said, looking around from obvious embarrassment.
Sarah found it difficult to understand his wordswhen he wouldn't look at her. She watched his uncomfortableactions.
"Has your mother been in to visit you lately?"he asked, changing the subject.
"She brought me a letter from my Aunt Sophie wholives in Philadelphia. She didn't stay to talk though. Once sheleft a newspaper on my bed. I know she did it because my roomsmelled like lily-of-the-valley.
"She brought you a newspaper? I thought theGeneral forbade both of you to read the paper?"
"He did. He doesn't think women should know allthe dreadful happenings and politics that are printed in them. Idon't know why she brought it to me."
He hesitated, measuring her for a moment."Surely your father has stopped in to see you from time totime?"
She felt her composure, like a fragile shellaround her start to crack. She fought to control the slight quiverof her bottom lip. "I saw the door close one morning and I noticedthe sleeve of his jacket, and smelled his pipe tobacco. He nevercomes when he might have to talk to me." She held back the tears ofdisappointment.
"I am sorry, Sarah. I had thought…they wereworried about you." He reached over and lifted Sarah's chin,forcing her to look at him. "I said they were worried when youdidn't come home the night of your accident."
"Home. You call this a home? It's a room, DoctorBentley. They don't care. I don't care either."
"Say, what brought this on? I thought you wereexcited about getting out of this room. Let's not be upset andstart worrying about who cares and who doesn't. Things will workout, they always do."
Sarah shrugged to hide her inner misery from hisprobing stare. "When will they work out? When they marry me off toGiles?" She became silent, feeling defeat. She allowed DoctorBentley to pull her fingers into his weathered, healing hands.
"Giles is a nice young man, Sarah. He doesn'tcare that you're deaf. He talks about his concerns for you everyday. All the girls are jealous that he only wants you. Surely youmust feel his love for you?"
"I hate him and I won't marry him!" She watchedDoctor Bentley pick up his medical bag. His expression appeared tobe of utter disbelief.
"Your father has already given his consent toyour marriage. Perhaps you should reconsider how you feel, Sarah. Ireally must go see my other patients. You may get up and walkaround the inside walls of the fort. Don't overdo it and you'll bejust fine. Your father knows what's best for you," he said, headingtoward the door.
Afraid to answer, Sarah gave him a brief smileas he walked from the room. Sarah closed her eyes, feeling utterlymiserable. She didn't want to think about whether or not her fatherwould make her marry Giles. The possibility became too frighteningto imagine.
* * *
Sarah waited for the front door to close beforedescending the stairs. Six in the morning her father always lefthis office to inspect the troops. She used this time to sneak intohis study and read the more than likely month old newspaper.
Sarah hesitantly entered the study. Cherry pipetobacco smoke lingered in the air. Before closing the door, sheglanced down the hall. Surprised, she watched Giles take great carein closing the front door. Why would he come into the house at thistime of morning? He knew the General's schedule and he nevervisited her until noon. Did he come to be with Rachel? The thoughtsickened Sarah.
She watched him through the slightly openeddoor. He didn't go up the stairs, as she expected. He came straightdown the hall…toward her! Sarah rushed across the room, thenslipped behind the long, heavy drapes that were drawn across thewindows. Her legs trembled with fear or excitement, she wasn'tcertain which.
Giles entered the room and closed the doorbehind him. He appeared comfortable in his actions, like he'd doneit before.
Sarah watched him pull open the second drawer ofher father's desk, then lift out some papers. She watched as hislips twitched into a cynical smile. He read for a few minutes, thenput the papers away. He quickly left the room, leaving behind thesickening odor of bear grease and chewing tobacco.
Sarah rushed to her father's desk and opened thedrawer. She shuffled through the papers, and then stopped at theorder log for rifles. The last three rifle shipments had beenattacked by a band of Blackfeet Indians. At least ten men on eachshipment had been savagely killed, and all the rifles and militarysupplies had been confiscated.
But why would Giles want the rifle shipmentinformation? Unless…no! Could Giles be behind all the attacks? Shecertainly wouldn't put it past him. Maybe no one other than TrailWalker would believe it, but she did.
If Giles sold the shipment information, and shecould prove it, she wouldn't have to marry him! No doubt he'd beenusing her to gain easy access in and out of the house. Giles hadout-charmed and outwitted himself for the last time.

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