Copyright © 2012 Karen Kay
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“You dropped a stitch there, Kristina.”
Kristina Bogard grimaced. “I’m afraid it’s not the first. I can’t concentrate on our quilt. I can’t help wondering what they’re talking about. I feel it bodes ill for me.”
Julia nodded, her long, dark brown hair falling around her shoulders as she glanced up at her friend.
The two young women were seated in the small parlor in Fort Leavenworth’s largest home, while upstairs Kristina’s Boston-bred mother spoke with a Mr. Carpenter, the owner of a wagon and team of horses recently arrived at the fort. Julia saw her friend’s nervous glance toward the doorway, saw that Kristina worried.
“I wouldn’t give it too much thought,” Julia encouraged, smiling. “It’s not as if your mother is planning to whisk you away today. I mean, you have plenty of time to try to find… Oh, Kristina,” Julia broke off, seeing Kristina’s reaction. “Forgive me. In attempting to ease your mind, it seems I have only reminded you…”
“No, no. It’s all right. You’ve only stated the obvious. It’s just…” Kristina choked on the words. “It’s just that I don’t know how much longer I can keep putting her off. My mother tells me every day that she plans to return to Boston and take me with her. You know how painful it would be for me to leave here, if I never were to see…” Kristina sighed. “I worry, Julia. I’m afraid someday I might give in to her from sheer exasperation. And then…”
Julia frowned, shaking her head. “Somehow I doubt that. You’re too strong-willed. Besides…” Julia said, concentrating on a particularly stubborn stitch. When she chanced to look up at her friend, Julia gasped. Kristina was crying, tears streaming down her face.
At once Julia dropped her grip on the quilt, reaching out to take her friend’s hand in her own. Julia closed her eyes for a moment.
What could she say? Julia had feared from the start that it might come to this. She’d known way back in the beginning of what could only be termed a clandestine affair, that what Kristina did could either bring tremendous happiness or estrangement…forever. Julia had warned Kristina of this, tried to discourage her from her unorthodox flirtation…at first. But Kristina had not listened, would not listen. And Julia had been lulled, herself, over several months into believing her opinion was wrong, hoping that she had incorrectly viewed Kristina’s situation.
But it didn’t help to remember this now. It certainly wouldn’t aid Kristina to mention such things. Which left Julia to do what?
Julia shook her head. She didn’t know. These matters were simply beyond her experience. She raised her eyes to the ceiling as if she might find an answer there, and sighed deeply when nothing materialized.
It didn’t matter anymore. The damage was done.
Her friend Kristina had committed a terrible faux pas, one that would ostracize her from the “best” social circles—one that, if the deed were known, could cause Kristina tremendous heartache.
Kristina had married—married an Indian. The circumstances of it didn’t matter anymore: that Kristina hadn’t known the meaning of the ceremony; that Kristina wouldn’t, on her own, have married the Indian. It didn’t matter because Kristina was so much in love with the man now that, if he asked her, Kristina would gladly leave all behind her to follow him.
But when her Indian husband had left the fort this last time, he hadn’t asked Kristina to follow him. In truth, the two lovers had parted on angry words. And it took no genius to know that what truly bothered Kristina was far removed from her problem with her mother and the newly arrived Mr. Carpenter.
Kristina worried. Had her husband, Tahiska, grown intolerant? Had he left Kristina without even a goodbye? Did he throw away all the good that had been between them?
Julia sighed. She had to do something, say something. Anything.
She squeezed her friend’s hand. “Something has happened to delay Tahiska,” she said at last. “I’m sure that’s it, Kristina. You only need to keep heart. I saw the way Tahiska looked at you. I saw the tenderness in his eyes. It was as though he treasured you above life itself. And I swear I don’t believe he would leave you. Besides, his two friends, Wahtapah and Neeheeowee.” Julia paused, swallowing hard against the sudden lump in her throat. “They wouldn’t just walk away without giving you word of him, would they?”
Julia held her breath, wondering if Kristina could read her own thoughts. But Kristina merely glanced around the room, her attention seemingly centered inward, and Julia breathed a momentary sigh of relief: Kristina hadn’t guessed…didn’t realize…
“Perhaps we credit them with too much.” Kristina’s words interrupted Julia’s thoughts. “What do we know of their culture, really? As you once said, Julia, they’re Indian. Lakota Indian, or as the people call them here, Sioux. Perhaps you were right from the beginning. Perhaps I should have listened to you and never become so involved, not fallen so much in love, not believed and wished so hard that it could work.”
“No.” It was all Julia said. But the force of the word, her conviction in it, carried over into her voice. She waited a moment, then, at length, she whispered, “I don’t think so. I, too, grew to know them, gave them my trust, my heart…friendship. I…” She bit her lip and glanced quickly to Kristina. Had her friend heard that last?
Kristina, however, didn’t appear to notice. She merely brushed a finger over the tears which had fallen onto her cheeks before turning to look toward Julia. And there she attempted a weak sort of smile. “You’ve changed,” Kristina said at last. “You now see the Indians as people, not as you first thought, as savages. Tell me, Julia, do you agree that we’ve made some wonderful friendships?”
“Yes.” Julia quickly looked down. She wasn’t prepared to tell her friend that there could be more than simple friendship between herself and a particular Indian. Julia knew she must guard herself well. And so she kept her gaze hidden, her eyes focused on the floor. “Yes,” Julia said again. “And I cringe to think I almost passed up the opportunity to get to know them. Without your influence, Kristina, I would have judged the Indians as savages without even giving them a chance. I’ll never do that again.”
“What does Kenneth think of your friendships with the Indians?”
Julia grimaced, bringing a picture to mind of her fiancé, Kenneth Wilson. That he compared badly when put up against the Indians, against one particular Indian, did not bear careful scrutiny. “He doesn’t know,” Julia said at length. “There’s no reason to tell him. It’s not as if we are married, yet. Besides, he has no right to dictate my feelings.”
“Ah, I see and…”
“Sh!” Julia jumped at the chance to divert the conversation onto something else. “I hear something. Kristina, I think your mother is coming.”
Julia saw Kristina sit up straighter, pinch her cheeks to draw color into her pale face, and rub away any trace of tears, while Julia became at once quiet and reserved.
“Hello, young ladies.” Margaret Bogard, Kristina’s mother, spoke from the parlor’s entrance, with Mr. Carpenter, or so Julia assumed, standing at her elbow. “Kristina, I have some good news for you.”
Kristina glanced up then, pretending indifference. “How nice,” was all she said before she bent her head once again over her work.
“Mr. Carpenter and I have been discussing arrangements to return home,” Margaret Bogard announced, seemingly not at all put out by Kristina’s lack of enthusiasm. The older lady swept into the room, escorted by the gentleman. “I’ve rented Mr. Carpenter’s carriage and horses to return us to St. Louis. From there we can book passage home. And this kind gentleman has agreed to start out within the week. Just think, dear, within only a few months we can be back in Boston, away from this horrible place and these terrible savages.”
Julia’s head jerked up. She glanced at her friend, but Kristina said nothing. Julia wondered at her thoughts. Was she, too, remembering the ‘savages’? Their constant friendship which demanded nothing in return? Their devotion and honesty…? Their love?
Slowly Kristina smiled and Julia drew a deep breath.
At last Kristina spoke, saying, “I know you’ve gone to much trouble, Mother, but I am already home. I don’t wish to leave.”
“Nonsense, you just don’t know your…”
“No!” Kristina’s voice was harsh at first, but then she smiled. “I love this land,” she said softly. “I love these people. I belong here, not back East. You go ahead. You’ve always wanted to return to Boston, so you go on. We can write, you and I.”
“Why I never…I mean I couldn’t possibly…”
The sound of stampeding horses interrupted Mrs. Bogard’s shocked reply. All glances swung to the window, and, at the sound of high-pitched war whoops, Kristina looked to Julia. Both women espied the look of surprise on the other’s face. Both women grinned, quickly forgetting Mrs. Bogard, Mr. Carpenter, and the quilt as they jumped to their feet and raced toward the window.
“They’ve returned, Kristina!” Julia turned to her friend, catching hold of her arm at the same time Kristina reached out for her. The two friends hugged, smiling.
But Kristina looked back out the window. “I don’t see him, Julia. I only see Wahtapah and Neeheeowee. What if he’s not with them, what if he’s…”
“He’s here. I’m sure of it.”
“Will you come outside with me?”
Julia smiled. “Of course.”
Ignoring Kristina’s mother and Mr. Carpenter, both Julia and Kristina stepped quickly to the door, pulling on the handle and swinging the large, wooden door open. Both women peered outside.
What a sight. Julia grinned. Three Indians, each one seated atop fine-looking mustangs, herding what must have been fifteen to twenty ponies, all brought to the front of Kristina’s military home.
People and soldiers outside milled around the Indians and their horses, shouting out orders, everyone talking at once. There was laughter, wonderment, disbelief, and Kristina grabbed Julia’s arm as though to steady herself.
He was there: Kristina’s lover and husband, Tahiska. Julia saw him and smiled. She had been right. The Indian loved his woman, Kristina. He would never leave her. These things were easy to read, for someone who knew these Indians well. And Julia had certainly come to understand them over the past few months, learning to value their quiet strength, their soft-spoken advice, their friendship. Julia saw the way Tahiska gazed at Kristina and marveled at it.
Yes, the Indian loved his golden-haired bride; and within his look was a devotion to her that was as beautiful as it was fervent. And Julia, witnessing it, almost swooned.
Sitting astride a gray pony, the Indians presented a magnificent image of wild pride and splendor. Julia’s gaze skipped over toward one particular Indian—toward Neeheeowee, before she turned quickly away. Proud, she thought, as she fixed her gaze upon a spot far away. It was a description that came easily to mind in connection with that warrior, whose namesake, Wolf, was so obviously befitting. Neeheeowee evoked the image of a fierce, proud wolf.
Julia shook her head as though to clear her thoughts just as Tahiska jumped down from his pony. His movement reclaimed her attention. Tahiska strode toward Kristina without a moment’s hesitation, and Julia noted that he didn’t smile at Kristina nor did he need to; his intention was clear.
“I have missed you,” he said to Kristina, while Julia translated his words to herself, for Tahiska spoke to his wife in the language of the Lakota. Having spent the last few months accompanying Kristina in her clandestine meetings with this brave, Julia had come to understand the foreign language nearly as well as Kristina. Julia hadn’t intended to learn the language—she hadn’t intended to learn anything about the Indians. She had, however, discovered much. She had learned about nature, the earth, about honor and friendship; about a delicate, new love, fragile in its beginnings… “When I left you before, my wife, I left you with harsh words,” Tahiska’s voice broke into Julia’s thoughts. “I forgot that without you, I would have no sunshine. I lied, Kristina. I could no more walk away from you than I could take my own life. I wish to spend the rest of my life with you. Now, here before all, will you be my wife?” He held out his hand to Kristina, palm up.
Julia shivered. It was beautiful. They were beautiful. They loved so well, it was as though they had loved all their lives. She shut her eyes. How she wished…
Julia flicked her eyes open. She couldn’t dwell on these thoughts. She might admire Kristina, she might feel a burgeoning affection toward one of the Indians, herself, but she could never let herself harbor more than a fleeting thought of it. She could never live an Indian life. Never.
Julia stared at Tahiska’s open hand, stretched out toward Kristina. And Julia knew the significance of this gesture, knew that if Kristina placed her hand in Tahiska’s, the two of them, by Indian custom, were married. Julia sighed and, for a moment, just a flicker of time, she allowed herself the luxury of wondering what it would be like to have someone love her as this; to love beyond the restraint of culture, of worldly possessions, of censorship. She cast a surreptitious glance once again to the side, to one Indian, to Neeheeowee. Quickly she looked away.
She could not allow herself to think of it…to think of him. As though to cure herself, Julia tried to conjure up images of Kenneth, her fiancé, attempting to imagine the strength of Kenneth’s embrace, Kenneth’s love. But it was useless. With a show of sudden insight Julia knew that such a love could never exist between herself and the soldier. Where, then, would she find such a love?
Unbidden, again, the image of a tall Cheyenne warrior filled her thoughts. Her friend. Neeheeowee.
Shaking her head, Julia tried to sweep the thought from her mind. It could not be. She would not let it.
“I will love you all my life,” she heard Kristina’s words to Tahiska, spoken in English, and Julia glanced around, noting the disdainful glares, the looks of recrimination on the pale faces that had heard those words. And then her friend placed her hand in Tahiska’s, saying, “I, too, wish to spend the rest of my life with you.”
Julia heard Kristina’s mother, realizing that Kristina, herself, had blocked out the sound, saw that Kristina heard only her husband’s laughter.
Soldiers, youngsters, women swarmed around the group of horses and Indians, trying to see and to hear the goings-on, and Julia noted that Major Bogard, Kristina’s father, joined his wife in the crowd, taking a hard stand beside the woman, effectively holding his wife back.
Julia turned her attention to Kristina and Tahiska once more and, seeing them, Julia swooned with the depth of their emotion.
Hand in hand the couple stared at one another as if no one else in the world existed, and perhaps, for them, no one else did.
Then Tahiska picked Kristina up, swinging her around and around, the gesture at odds with Tahiska’s normal stoic, Indian poise. And there, before everyone, white and Indian, he kissed her. Soundly, sweetly, a kiss of devotion.
“I will get my things,” Kristina said at last.
“No, come! There is nothing here for you now. I will provide for you all that you need.” Tahiska stared at his wife, the smile disappearing. “Come, it is time we went home.”
Without releasing her hand, Tahiska led Kristina to his pony, and, jumping onto it, bent down toward his wife, sweeping Kristina up onto his horse. He placed the reins of two ponies he led behind him into Kristina’s hand. “A wedding present,” Julia heard him whisper to Kristina in Lakota.
Margaret Bogard screamed out a protest, but her husband, Major Bogard, supporting her weight against him, helped her to the side of the crowd.
“I love you with all my heart, Kristina,” Tahiska murmured, ignoring the dramatics occurring all around them. “I have thought of you constantly since I left here. I would have been here sooner, but I needed these horses to win your father’s approval and to show him my intentions. I will no longer have my intentions questioned. I wish no trouble, but it is time that I bring my wife home.”
Kristina beamed, oblivious to the bystanders.
But Julia saw that Tahiska’s gaze searched through the crowd, narrowing on Major Bogard, who strode toward the young couple. The major appeared neither shocked nor pleased by the proceedings. In the language of sign, the major asked of the Indian, “My friend, what is the meaning of all these horses?”
Tahiska released his hold on his wife, but only for a moment.
He smiled at the major. “I once asked for your daughter in marriage,” he gestured back in his native language. “But you did not understand then. Let there no longer be any misunderstandings between us. I love your daughter with all my heart. These ponies—they are for you. I would live with your daughter, protect and care for her all my life.”
Julia gazed at the two men who stared at one another, the Indian’s glance proud, the major’s…
Surely Kristina’s father would give them permission to marry. And though this might seem strange to a bystander, that the major should condone such a union, Julia couldn’t imagine it otherwise. Hadn’t Tahiska saved the major’s life? Hadn’t the two men become friends? Hadn’t the major shown that he considered the Indian honorable and brave without fault? Surely Major Bogard didn’t harbor prejudice…surely…
Suddenly Kristina’s father smiled, extending his hand to the young brave. “Welcome to the family, son.”
A multitude of emotions flickered across Tahiska’s face while Julia breathed a sigh of relief. She wanted happiness for her friend and Julia was certain that Kristina would not find happiness with anyone other than Tahiska.
The Indian took the major’s hand, shaking it enthusiastically.
“Kristina.” Julia moved forward, touching Kristina’s shoulder. “You’ll be leaving now?”
Kristina grinned. “Yes.”
Julia simply nodded, refusing to give way to the emotion she felt. “I will miss you,” she said as an understatement. “But wait a moment, before you leave. I have something for you. Will you wait?” She asked the question in Lakota, looking toward Tahiska.
“Hau, yes.” He nodded toward her, then said in English, “But hurry.”
All this time, except for a few surreptitious glances, Julia hadn’t really observed Neeheeowee. All this time she wondered if he would leave her without saying good-bye to her. Would she see him again, this man who had once saved her life, this man who, though as doubtful of her as she had been of him, had treated her with kindness and with honor, with affection…?
She couldn’t think of it. She couldn’t consider such things. He was Indian. She was white. And these things mattered to her, to him.
Stifling a sob, Julia turned and fled to her room and, once there, she ran straight to her vanity and opened a drawer.
She could not have him. He could never take her with him, but Julia had determined that he would not forget her; she knew he would try, just as she knew that she, too, would attempt to erase his memory.
She grabbed the presents she had made, the gifts, and rushed back outside, fearing the Indians might not wait if she took a moment longer.
But they still waited, sitting before her proudly, fiercely, each one directing their attention upon her.
She didn’t gaze back at them, she didn’t dare. Approaching Kristina, she kept her eyes focused on the ground until she reached her friend. Once there she glanced up toward Kristina, handing her friend two intricately beaded necklaces, gifts inspired by the beauty and honor of Indian craft.
“The necklaces,” Julia murmured toward Kristina, “are for my two friends, Wahtapah and Neeheeowee, the one beaded in blue, with the red heart, is for Neeheeowee,” she whispered. “I’m afraid I lack the courage to give these gifts to the men myself. I am asking you to do this for me, Kristina. And these”—she handed Kristina two rings, each made of silver—“these are for you and Tahiska. I noticed neither one of you have a ring to proclaim your marriage.” And from somewhere Julia found the strength to smile up at Kristina. “I will miss you.” Her voice caught in her throat.
Kristina took her friend’s hand in her own. “Always,” Kristina said, “we will be friends.”
Julia was only able to flash Kristina a slight smile, and then, with a quick glance toward the other Indians, particularly toward the one Indian, Neeheeowee, Julia pivoted around, fleeing back to the sanctuary of her room.
So caught up was she in her emotions, Julia didn’t see a sullen Neeheeowee watch her departure from him, every step of the way.
No, all Julia heard were the joyful whoops, the happy laughter, as her best friend, Kristina, with her Indian husband, Tahiska, and his two Indian friends, galloped out of the fort, out of her life.
Julia, turning momentarily to her bedroom window to watch them go, wished that once, just once, she could ignore the restraints of her culture, of her upbringing, to follow her heart. She shut her eyes, little knowing that at that same moment Neeheeowee, the young Cheyenne warrior who so disturbed her thoughts, wondered grudgingly if he might be able to ignore his.
Suddenly the young Cheyenne broke free of the others, racing back toward the fort. He stopped at the gates, turning his pony in circles, gazing back at her house, her room, her window. And Julia at that same moment opened her eyes.
Their gazes met across the distance—the Cheyenne warrior’s fiery and proud; hers curious, yet uncertain.
What did he want?
Her heart cried out to him.
Did he want her? Should she run to him to see?
Though a part of her begged her to do just that, she couldn’t.
She sobbed, instead; she cried, but she did not otherwise attempt to leave her room.
She held his gaze, heard his war whoops, saw him gesture toward her with his spear until, with one final look, he spurred his pony around, and, yelping and hollering, raced away to join his friends.
Julia wondered, as she watched him go, if she cried for the loss of her friend, Kristina, or for the loss of another…
Well, it little mattered now.
Julia drew a deep, unsteady breath.
She had done the right thing, as had he. What was between them, she and Neeheeowee, could not be. Not for her. Not for him.
Not now and certainly not in the future.
As she ran across the room to fling herself across her bed, Julia became aware that the thought was oddly depressing.