Where the Broken Heart Still Beats (4 page)

BOOK: Where the Broken Heart Still Beats
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She knew how to pick lodgepoles that were long and straight, and how to stitch together the hides to fit over the poles, more than the number of fingers on both hands. She was quick at setting up the tipi with the low entrance facing the rising sun and the smokehole above it, and just as quick at striking the tipi when the time came to move.

She was good on a horse, too, almost as good as the men, and she could use a bow and arrow accurately. Although some women were stronger, she could outrun them all. She was taller, her legs longer. She was skillful with a knife, good at cutting the buffalo meat into strips for drying. Her family always had plenty of food, with enough left over to give to those who had less, and plenty of well-made, good-looking clothes. But she was not good at painting the designs on her warrior-husband's buffalo robes. For that she went to one of Walking At Night's sisters to ask that it be done.

Now Naduah watched Topsannah go off to play with Sarah, holding on to Sarah's hand, although it made the mother uneasy when the child was out of her sight. The little girl answered when they called her Tecks Ann, and she seemed to be using some of"their language. Now Ma-ma got angry when Naduah spoke to the child in her own tongue.

"Don't talk Indian," the woman said sternly. "We speak English here."

More and more of what these white people said was beginning to make sense to Naduah. Some of it was Loo-see's careful, tireless teaching; some of it was her own memory awakening. But she would not let them know how much she understood, and she would not speak the language except to repeat the words Loo-see taught her for the work she was given to do, or for things she needed: butter ... quilt ... bread ... and this word for the doubleknife, scissors.

One white man's word she had known all along and did not have to be taught was
horse,
a word used often by the traders. The horse was the center of the People's life. The horse meant wealth, power, freedom. Sometimes they called it the god-dog, because—as Speckled Eagle explained to her—it did the work that dogs used to do, hauling heavy loads when the camp was moved. But it could find its own food in a way that a dog could not.

These people—White Hair and the others who insisted they were her family—were afraid she would try to run away again, and they made sure she was never alone for very long. One day while she was sewing, a visitor had stopped at the farm, a white man. She paid no attention until they brought him in and allowed her to meet this man they called Coho.

"He was a captive," White Hair explained. "Like you. Talk to him. Ask him about your family."

She didn't like the look of this man, didn't trust him, even though he spoke to her in the language of the People. He seemed to know nothing about her husband or children.

"Will you help me?" she whispered, thinking it was foolish not to take the chance. "Steal a horse for me and guide me back. My husband will repay you, I promise you."

This Coho shook his head. "Can't do that," he said.

"Please," she begged, trying to keep her voice calm so that White Hair and the others would think she was asking simple questions. "My heart cries all the time for my sons."

The man turned away from her and spoke to White Hair in the white man's language. "She says she wants to go back. I'd keep my eye on her, if I was you."

And they did. It seemed that Loo-see was always with her now, and Naduah had to think of ways to get Loo-see to visit the corral. The horses white men rode were much larger than the mustang ponies the People preferred for their speed and endurance. But it was just such horses as these that the People seized in their raids; stolen horses were a mark of prestige, a sign of a man's cleverness.

Naduah's husband, Peta Nocona, had distinguished himself in the tribe as a raider, as well as a hunter and a warrior. Where was he now? And her son Quanah, who like his father never seemed to know fear, what had become of him? Or of Pecos, not very strong but still brave? Did they yearn for her as she did for them? She bent over her sewing so that Loo-see and the others would not see her face. These white people seemed to have no understanding of her loss, of the pain she suffered being away from her family—her real family.

Lying nearby on the table was the doubleknife, the scissors, that Loo-see and Ma-ma had been using to cut cloth. Naduah glanced around, and when she was sure no one was looking, she slipped the scissors into her pocket. Then she stood up.

"Privy," she said.

They smiled and nodded approvingly when she used one of their words. Throwing a blanket around her shoulders, she walked quickly toward the little wooden shack a short distance from the cabin. How strange these white people were, making a special place for these things, instead of simply using the bushes, as the People did. She knew that Ma-ma had opened the cabin door a little way and was watching her to make sure she was going where she said she was.

Once inside the privy with the door latched, Naduah pulled out the pins that Ma-ma had stuck in her hair, and her light locks fell loosely to her shoulders. Weeping, she seized a lock, drew out the scissors, and hacked at it. She dropped fistfuls of her hair through the hole in the wooden seat until most of it was chopped off.

Still weeping, she unbuttoned her shirtwaist and chemise, exposing her breasts, and dragged the point of the scissors across her skin, making long, deep cuts in her flesh until it bled. The pain she felt was nothing compared to her grief.

Cutting the hair, cutting the flesh—this was what the women of the People did when they were in mourning. The white people didn't understand that she was in mourning, and she didn't expect them to understand this, either. She could not hide the hair from them, but they would never know about her breasts.

Feeling calmer, she wiped the blades of the doubleknife and put it in her pocket. She walked back to the cabin, the blanket pulled up over her head, her face a stony mask.

At first no one noticed. Naduah quietly laid the scissors on the table again and resumed her sewing. Then White Hair and Loo-see's father and brother, Ben, came in from the fields, Ben's empty shirt sleeve pinned up. She felt White Hair's eyes resting on her, heard him suck in his breath. "What in God's name has she done to herself?" he whispered.

Everyone turned and stared at her, and then they all began to speak at once. Naduah held her sewing in her lap and waited for whatever was going to happen.

"She's cut her hair!" Loo-see cried. "Oh, Sinty-ann, your beautiful hair!"

"See there!" Ma-ma said. "I
told
you!"

"Quiet, all of you!" White Hair thundered. But when he spoke again, it was in a gentle voice. "Sinty-ann?" he said, and she glanced up at the sound of the name. "How are you?" he asked, speaking slowly. "Are you well?"

She understood him, the sense of what he was saying, but she refused to let herself show that she understood. She lowered her eyes again to the cloth in her hands.

"She was doing much better," she heard Loo-see say tearfully. "She's learning new words every day. I cannot imagine what possessed her—"

"Does she speak?"

"That takes time. And she works hard," Loo-see added quickly. "She's learning to sew, quite nicely, too, and we've taught her to make bread."

The old man was silent. "I wonder what she's thinking," he said. "All those years with those savages. You have to ask yourself what made her stay with them, to live a life like that."

"Well,
I
know the answer to that," Ben said, his mouth a hard, straight line. "All you have to do is look at her. She's turned savage, too, just like them!"

Chapter Five
From Lucy Parker's journal, February 18, 1861

When will it stop getting worse? Yesterday while we sewed, Cynthia Ann took Mama's scissors and slipped out to the privy, where she chopped off most of her hair. I cannot imagine why she would do such a thing, and there is no way to get her to explain. Grandfather wants to bring Mr. Mason again to speak to her in Comanche, but I believe that is useless, that there are things she will not tell us in any language. The one thing needing no explanation is her unhappiness.

I suspect that she understands far more than she lets on, but so far she speaks only those words I teach her about our life here. I know nothing about her life
there,
before she came to us, although I dream that someday she will find her own words to tell me.

Everything seems so strange to her—our furniture, for example. When I see that even a plain wooden stool is unfamiliar, I cannot help but wonder what other things so common in our lives are unheard-of in hers.

Our food is also strange and unappetizing to her. She eats because she is still nursing Topsannah, although that will likely soon end. She eats the beef we serve on special occasions, but clearly does not like pork, our most plentiful meat, or chicken, whether stewed or roasted, and wants nothing to do with the eggs fresh from our henhouse. She will eat dried corn prepared in various ways—hominy, hoecake, cornmeal mush—although Grandfather says that her people do not plant corn, in fact, do no farming at all. She is fond of sweet things, her favorite being Mama's berry preserves on a thick slice of bread.

Topsannah, on the other hand, is adjusting beautifully. She eats anything and everything, or at least agrees to a taste, and she seems to understand much of what we say to her. (I still call her Topsannah, for her mother's sake, although she answers to Tecks Ann.) We believe her to be about a year and a half old, and she is bright and cheerful. Just the opposite of her mother! It makes me curious about her father.

I asked Grandfather what he knows about Cynthia Ann's husband, and he said, "If that's what you want to call him! They don't marry, at least not like us. And he probably has several fat, dirty squaws. Some of those lazy bucks manage that, and it gives them more work than they can get out of one woman. Our poor Cynthia Ann was no doubt just one of them, with the most work to do."

Grandfather makes the man sound so repulsive. But if he was as bad as all that, how could she have stayed with him? Why did she not run away or agree to come back when the traders asked her to?

I cannot ask Mama that, because she says these are delicate matters and immediately changes the subject. When Jedediah was here on his last visit, I overheard him and Martha talking about Cynthia Ann and her husband, and I eavesdropped shamelessly:

"It is known that the Comanches are no better than animals and have no such thing as morals," Jed was saying.

"But she wants to go back to him! Why else does she try to run away? I believe she truly loves him."

"Love is what white people do, Martha," Jed told her. "Indians don't know about love. Get that romantic notion out of your head right now. All those savages know about is killing and stealing and taking captives, that's all they ever
will
know about, and the sooner we get rid of them all, every last one, the better it will be for every Texan trying to live in peace."

I strained to hear my sister's reply but could not make out her words.

"To tell you the truth, Martha," Jed went on, "I think your cousin Cynthia Ann is probably too far gone to be helped. She isn't white anymore. Except for those blue eyes, she doesn't look white, now does she? She's gone Indian, and that makes her no better than any of them. If I was your grandfather, I'd not only let her go, I'd take her back personally and consider myself well rid of her."

It was much more than I cared to hear, and I crept away from my listening place and hurried to help Mama with supper. Some of what Jedediah said may be true, about them being savages, but this much I know: whether she is Indian or white or some of both, our cousin's heart is surely broken.

Chapter Six

Naduah sat on the long gallery that stretched across the front of Isaac Parker's double cabin, her sewing in her lap, watching Topsannah. The little girl squatted on short, sturdy legs, playing with a rag doll with yellow yarn hair tied in braids. Bright blue eyes and a smiling red mouth were stitched on the white muslin face. Loo-see had made the doll as a surprise for Topsannah, sewing it a little dress from scraps of the blue calico left from Naduah's dress and adding a white apron and a bonnet tied with ribbons. Topsannah jabbered to her doll, pretending to feed it as she had seen Sarah do with hers, but quickly she tired of that and brought the doll to her mother. Then she toddled off unsteadily to play with Sarah and James.

Naduah gazed at the doll. Somewhere back in the camp by the river, she remembered, there used to be a soft buckskin doll tied up in a miniature cradleboard. Calls Louder had made that doll for Topsannah. The doll had probably been destroyed when the soldiers burned the camp to ashes.

From the porch she could see the fields where, now that the weather was warming, White Hair and Pa-pa and Ben and their black-skinned slaves worked from sunrise to sunset. These men seemed strange to her, the way they spent their time, digging and planting, day after long day in the same place. Did they not get restless? Especially Ben, with the missing arm, who in some ways reminded her of her own sons but was so different. Would he and the other white men not have preferred to live by hunting, as the People did? Why did they choose to tie themselves down with these clumsy, uncomfortable log cabins when they could be free to go where the buffalo were plentiful, to live in tipis that could be taken wherever they wanted?

These women were lazy, Naduah thought. They would not have pleased warrior husbands. The work the white women did was not hard. But though their lives were much easier, they were like prisoners! She knew that her own life here was less arduous, but she, too, was a prisoner, and they seemed to have no understanding of that. They believed they were being good to her!

She missed her own work, her real work. When she thought of it, the endless chores no longer seemed burdensome. There was so little for her to do here that she had plenty of time to think, too much time to remember what her life had been like not so long ago. It made her sad.

BOOK: Where the Broken Heart Still Beats
7.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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