A NOVEL OF
descendant of Irish immigrants,
who soled her shoes with paper.
“No country in the world, in the history of the world,
has endured the hemorrhage which this island
endured over a period of a few years for so many of
its sons and daughters. These sons and daughters are
scattered throughout the world and they give this small
island a family of millions and millions.”
–President John F. Kennedy, on Ireland
EXCERPT: Prologue and Chapter 1
Carrick on Shannon, Ireland
Ireland was dying. All around Kathleen famine and death stalked the land. A black cloud of despair hung over everything, so pervasive that the country itself seemed to cry out.
In 1841, she had been a new bride of sixteen, raising a brave flag of hope in the face of agony. Born to a farming couple, she grew up along the River Shannon, an energetic and curious sprite who found it hard to be fulfilled with farm work. She longed to see more of the world than she could from the hill behind her house. She had been to the West Coast at Sligo three times as a youngster, but life had grown harder, and such trips had become virtually impossible. Kathleen chafed at the necessary and desperate practicality of her parents. Their only child, they would have granted her everything, but there was very little to give.
She worked the farm, a small, river’s edge plot set on gently rolling hills, beginning when she was five. The hard life could not hide her natural beauty, and even at twelve her fine features and glossy black hair attracted plenty of notice among the local lads, who marked her in their heads for future bridehood.
One who noticed with special attentiveness was Terry Connelly, the son of neighboring farmers. A tall, big-framed youth with light brown hair, freckles, and a ready smile, he was well on his way to being a big man. It didn’t hurt that his parents and hers were old friends. Her mother openly favored him as a future husband for her girl.
Kathleen was completely charmed by the rugged, handsome young man, and never resisted her mother’s gentle, if not always subtle, pushing. There was never a bump in their courtship. In the spring of 1841, Kathleen O’Rourke and Terry Connelly were quietly wed by their priest, in an old stone church that had seen the weddings of her parents and grandparents. It was one of few still standing.
Terry proved to be all that she had hoped for. A gentle and patient lover, he aroused passions she didn’t know she had. Three months after their wedding, she found that she was pregnant. In the spring of the following year, on a day close to their first anniversary, she gave birth in an untroubled manner to a beautiful baby girl, whom they named Megan. She was a happy addition to their loft in the small upper part of Terry’s parents’ house. It should have been a glorious time.
But it was not.
The English had dominated Ireland for seven centuries. Fed up with periodic rebellions, they were determined to stop them by any means, even if it meant destroying the Irish culture and making its people dependent on England for economic survival.
Open observance of Ireland’s Catholic religion was forbidden, nor could the Irish teach it to their children. Stripped of their rosaries, which they were particularly devoted to and had always carried in plain sight, the Irish developed the An Paidrin Beag wrist rosary, which could be worn hidden like a bracelet under long sleeves.
Worse were the Penal Laws, which allowed no professions among the Irish, or even ownership of a horse worth more than five pounds. Catholics were forced to divide their land among their sons, and could not legally buy or sell land. It was land the Protestant English fervently desired.
The Great Potato famine of 1845, or “Great Hunger”, as it was also known in Ireland, could not have been better suited to the plans of the English. The potatoes, sole food source for half of the Irish, were hit with a wicked and devastating blight. Though seeming fine when harvested, within two or three days they turned into a black, soggy mess. The farmers not only had nothing to sell, but half of Ireland’s exclusive food source was wiped out. Hunger, then starvation, began to settle on the land.
With no crop to sell, tenant farmers couldn’t pay their landlords for use of the land. The English were unmoved. There was no relief for the poor under existing laws until they signed away their land to the landlord. Once they did, they were evicted. Vacated houses were torn down; whole villages disappeared. Some Irish were forced to live in ditches. Over one million died. The agony went on and on, until the Irish faced only two choices: stay in Ireland and starve, or leave their friends and families and go to America.
This fate was all too inescapable to Kathleen’s father. She had seen a short, squarely built man with gray-green eyes that had once seemed to twinkle become bent with despair. A man who had worked hard and been a successful provider all his adult life, his inability to overcome both the Penal Laws and the potato blight was like a millstone strapped to his back. His weathered hands, used to being curled around a farm implement, did not have enough to do. He spent a lot of time seemingly lost in thought.
Thus he was, on an early summer evening in 1846. He stood in the open doorway of the ancient stone house, peering out into the gathering dusk.
“We’re going to lose the farm, Maggie,” he said softly.
His wife, seated behind him sewing up a torn sleeve, said nothing.
“First the Penal Laws, then they take away our religion, then the sickness on the crops, then famine, now the famine disease. I tell ya, Maggie, I’m convinced God himself is determined to wipe out the Irish.”
“Patrick!” Maggie looked up from her mending. “Bite your tongue.”
Ordinarily he would have backed off at such a reproach from his wife, but this time he merely shrugged. “I believe it, I tell ya. What other answer is there? If this keeps up much longer, there won’t be an Ireland.”
Maggie got up and approached him and put a hand to his lips. “Hush now. There will always be an Ireland. The Irish will endure.”
“Aye, endure in misery.” He looked down at his wife, who had one arm around his waist.
Nearly as tall as he, she gazed up at him with brown eyes filled with a mixture of reproach and love. Her long brown hair – now streaked with gray – was woven into a large braid. Though the fine lines of her youthful beauty were softened by years of farm toil, they were still evident. “Know what I think, my husband?” she said, tightening her arm around him. “You’ve been spending a great deal of thought on this. You’ve never said anything about losing the farm until now, although sure enough, it’s been in the back of my mind lately too.” She turned to face him directly. “The fact that you mention it now makes me think you’ve found an answer.” She gripped him fiercely. “You’ve met every challenge we’ve ever faced. So tell me.”
He told her.
She was silent for several minutes, staring out across the hills in the fading light, tumbling over and over in her mind the profound impact of what he had said. Finally she raised her head and spoke quietly. “We’ll need to talk to the Connellys straight away. And you go to confession.”
Two days later they went to meet with the Connellys at their house. Patrick outlined his plan while they sat in silence, their faces grim. Late that night, after several rounds of Irish whiskey around a lantern at the dining table, they were all in agreement.
“Molly, go get your son,” Robert Connelly said. His wife Molly, a short woman with dark hair, a cherubic face, and soft eyes, rose and stepped silently up the stairs. After a moment, she came back down with Terry in tow.
Terry knew something momentous was in the offing by the looks on the faces at the table before him in the dim lantern light. He sat and listened in dazed astonishment as they outlined their plan. When they were through, he said, “You’re sure now? There’s no other way?”
“No other way,” replied Patrick.
“Terry,” said Molly gently, “it’s your duty to break this to Kathleen.”
The big youth was silent for a moment. Then he blew out his breath heavily and stood up. “Aye, that it is,” he replied. “I have no idea how she’ll take it.”
Maggie watched him go slowly up the stairs, aching to be the one to tell her only child. But she realized that it indeed was Terry’s job now.
Terry walked deliberately to the door of their room, fighting for the right words to explain, to win over. He pushed open the door. The room was dimly lit with the golden glow of a lantern. Kathleen lay sleeping next to Megan, her beautiful hair fanning out around her head. She stirred, and opened her eyes as he entered. “What is it?” she mumbled sleepily.
As happened frequently, Terry was momentarily lost in her incredible eyes. It was like looking at the sky. He sat down by her, and reaching out, lifted her shoulders, bringing her face close to his.
“What?” she said again. “What has happened?”
He gripped her arms, eyes shining. “Lass,” he said with a soft intensity, “we’re going to America!”
THE EASTERN SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS
By the time twilight fell, Kathleen Connelly was sure her husband was dead. She stood in the doorway of the crude log cabin, brow furrowed with worry, looking in vain for some movement in the trees, some sound on the deep snow. But there was only silence.
The dim light from inside the cabin revealed a slender young woman of medium height, with long glossy black hair parted in the middle, and tied in a loose ponytail at the back. Her fine features were set in alabaster skin, with a narrow, finely wrought nose and sharply arched eyebrows. A delicately rounded jawline led to lips that were a bit thin but beautifully formed. But it was her magnificent eyes that often held strangers momentarily speechless. They were an intense sky blue, with a touch of mauve, like cornflowers, the color of a clear desert sky at twilight.
Kathleen usually carried herself with a regal bearing. But now her shoulders were slumped in despair, and exhaustion clouded her face. Something was terribly wrong. Her husband had departed at sunup to hunt, and had not returned. He had never left her alone even close to dark. Indians had passed the cabin the previous day, and they might still be in the area. What little contact they had had with them was not encouraging. He had left her armed, but did not hide his concern when leaving that morning, pledging to return as quickly as possible. Now it was nearly dark. Kathleen did not fool herself; something bad had happened.
Reluctantly, she withdrew from the doorway and closed the ill-fitting door, laying the big wooden crossbar into its brackets. She turned to the dying fire and added two more logs. Nearby slept her nearly nine-year old daughter, Megan. She smiled down at the small girl under the big bearskin. Megan’s hair fanned around her in an unruly red cascade. Physically, she was much different from Kathleen, with flame-red hair, emerald-green eyes, and a hint of freckles on a rounder face, her body a bit thicker than her mother’s. Kathleen sat and lovingly stroked the girl’s hair. Ah, my girl, Terry and I created a unique creature indeed, did we not. So different you are from either of us, it is no wonder that friends back home jokingly accused us of sorcery.
She slumped against the rough log wall and stretched the bearskin robe over her lap. Reaching to her left and pulling the old bolt-action rifle to her, she turned her body square to the door. She did not have to look to know there was a round in the chamber. Trying to keep her thoughts focused, she gazed intently at the dark at the bottom edge of the door as if it were alive, and given an unguarded moment, might rush in and extinguish the dim light in the cabin with suffocating blackness.
A clearing ringed by trees extended about fifty yards from the front door of the cabin. In the shadows, death waited. A scowl creased the brow of the thickly muscled Paiute warrior, and his hard eyes were set intently on the cabin. A bevy of small scars marked his corded forearms. Wrapped in a large buffalo robe, he had watched as the woman stood in her doorway, foolishly presenting an easy target. The urge to send his arrow flying burned within him, but at this point he was more curious. What will the white woman do? he pondered. He was content to watch for a while. His revenge was not yet complete. And he knew what the white woman did not yet know, that her man was not coming home, that he would never come home again.
The man who watched so intently was a Northern Paiute called Two Moons. His people roamed up and down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and out into the Great Basin in small bands of twenty or thirty. They shared a language with their brothers to the east, the Shoshones, although the Paiutes had their own distinctive dialect. Forced by frequent scarcity of food to be seasonal wanderers, they were on their way south to a winter gathering of about a dozen family groups, but hunger had forced them to stop here. All types of food supplies had been mysteriously scarce so far that winter – game, fish, even edible plants; all seemed to be hiding from them. Even Two Moons’ legendary hunting skills had seldom been able to bring in enough food for the entire group. They had been forced to live mostly on seeds, pine nuts, and what little green plants they could find. Anger built in Two Moons as his efforts failed again and again.
He spent increasing amounts of time looking for a reason for this misfortune. Upon arriving at this spot, he was convinced he had found one. His weary band had turned up a valley leading to the base of a pass over the great mountains, looking for shelter from the weather. They were moving slowly through the trees when they came to the edge of a small clearing. And stopped dead in their tracks in shock. They could scarcely believe what they saw; no experience had prepared them for it. Across the clearing stood something none of the People had made.
The white man was here.
Two Moons’ people were an isolated band, as were most of the Paiutes. Contact with whites had been nonexistent for most of them, and rare for the rest. In fact, it had been only twenty-five summers earlier that the first white man had been seen in Northern Paiute lands, a wanderer who called himself Jedediah Smith. Some braves had journeyed in hopes of seeing this phenomenon, but few actually had.
Now, here was this thing deep in their territory. The little band of Paiutes, most of them nervous but deeply curious, slowly came out of the trees into the clearing. There were twenty-four men, women, and children. They fanned out in a ragged line, stopping where a lead brave held up a hand in caution. Unsure of what to do next, they stood in the fading light, some on foot and some on horseback. The silence was broken only by the occasional rustle of harness ropes and the snort of a horse, which sent bursts of steam into the frigid air. They waited.
Smoke was coming from a hole in the top of the thing made of logs, rising lazily straight up in the dead still air. After several minutes, the door opened, causing soft murmurs of apprehension to spread along the line. Horses, sensing the unease, stamped the deep snow. Three figures, three whites, emerged slowly from the cabin: a man, woman, and child. They stood close to the doorway. The man carried a big weapon such as the Paiutes had heard about from those who had seen the wanderer Jedediah Smith. The two groups appraised each other in the deep silence. The great snowy peaks looked down.
Two Moons was as still as the rest, but inwardly he raged. Here, he knew, was the reason for the scarcity of game. For immediately on entering the clearing, he had spotted the partially dressed deer hanging from the cabin roof. The white man, savage that he was, would not have prayed to the spirit of the deer before the hunt, would not have asked for forgiveness and understanding for taking its life to feed his family. The animal spirits were angry, and had fled to the deep woods. He thought about the hunger his people had suffered on this journey, and his mood worsened. He longed to slay the whites, here, now, and take the deer. But he had seen what the white man’s weapon could do. The rest of the group saw the deer, and looked at him with anguish on their faces, putting fingers to lips. He shook his head, scowling. This deer had been defiled, was unclean to them now.
The brave leading the group fortunately saw it the same way, for after several tense minutes of motionless regard, he gave the signal to move on. The Paiutes slowly began to assemble themselves back into a line. Unfortunately, to move further up the valley, they had to pass close by the cabin. The whites huddled close together and watched as the silent caravan plodded by in the foot-deep snow. Most of the braves refused to look at them, pretending they didn’t exist. Not so the women, who were helplessly curious. It was to be their misfortune.
The setting sun shone full on the faces of the whites. They looked at the women walking or riding past. The first Indian woman to look on the face of the white woman gasped, eyes wide in horror. The strange creature had eyes the color of the sky! To the isolated tribespeople who had never seen eyes that were not brown, this was impossible. To her further dismay, the Paiute woman now saw that the woman’s child had hair the color of flame, and eyes the color of new spring leaves. The Indian shuddered in fear. Only a demon could do such things! She turned and made a hand motion to those behind her that an evil spirit was present. As more women filed past, murmurings of fear increased along the line, rising until several braves called for quiet.
Two Moons, near the front of the column, rode up to see what the commotion was about. Having seen whites previously, as the only member of the band who had traveled widely, he was not as shocked when he saw the eyes of the white woman. Even so, he was disquieted to see the child’s red hair, and eyes of yet another color. Curtly, he motioned the remaining women in the clearing to hurry past. When the last had done so, he moved in behind them as the end of the little group disappeared into the trees in the gathering twilight.
It had begun to snow again. The Paiutes traveled only another twenty minutes before stopping. Whites or no, it was nearing dark, and time to make camp. Fortunately, they had found what they were looking for – a sheltered spot relatively free of snow, where roots might be dug to prepare a meal of sorts. Orders were given to set up shelter, and the women began removing long pliable stripped branches, and hides, from the packhorses. More long branches were quickly gathered by some of the men nearby. The branches were stuck into the snow and bent over in a hemispherical shape, then hides were spread over them, forming a dome-shaped hut. In less than thirty minutes the practiced and efficient crew completed shelters for all.
The women had dutifully kept silent while setting up camp, but now some of them besieged old White Owl, the group talker, without any thought of protocol. The Northern Paiute groups did not have chiefs, but chose the wisest or most visionary among them as a talker, to whom they turned for advice and decision-making. White Owl was amazed at such undisciplined behavior, but he could see the women were frightened. He held up a hand for calm as they clustered around him, all trying to talk at once.
“Did you see the face of the demon?” one younger woman asked. “Did you see it?”
“I saw the white woman, if that is what you mean,” he said patiently.
“She is an evil spirit!” another shot back. “Sent to torment us!”
“Her eyes. Only a demon could have such eyes,” interjected another, unconsciously wringing her braids in fear. “And the child – stranger still!”
This time he held up both hands and gave them a stern look. They quieted unhappily. “This is not the time to speak of this. Have your stomachs ceased talking to you? Go to your tasks or you will be digging roots in the dark! After we have eaten and the horses are fed, choose one from among you to come to my lodge at moonrise. Now go!”
The full moon was shining through a thin layer of scattered clouds when dark figures, bundled in heavy robes against the cold, made their way through the snow to White Owl’s lodge. His was larger than the rest, built to accommodate up to eight people for meetings such as these. Women were not normally present at such gatherings, but White Owl had made the invitation because they were the source of the discomfort infecting the camp. They had chosen Two Moons’ wife, Flowers In Her Hair, to attend on their behalf. A full and detailed report was expected of her. Five of the senior-ranking braves were in attendance.
Two Moons was the last to enter, lifting the hide flap, stooping into the low entrance, and letting the flap fall back into place behind him. He sat down cross-legged, wedging himself into the tight circle gathered around the small fire burning in the middle of the shelter. Its smoke curled up through a hole overhead.
White Owl sat with his legs stretched out in front of him. His arthritic knees would no longer bend enough to allow his slender body to sit cross-legged, so extra room was always respectfully provided. His serene old visage, deeply lined from the sun of over fifty summers, provided a calm that was always present. A hawk’s beak nose dominated his full brown face, set over full lips and a strong chin. White eyebrows arched over eyes that often seemed to be seeing things others did not. His long white hair hung in two large braids over the gray and black rabbit fur cloak around his shoulders. He looked around at the faces illuminated by the flickering firelight. Hunger was still present after another sparse meal of boiled roots and pine nuts. But he also saw fear, uncertainty, resentment – on all the faces except one. Two Moons made no effort to hide the dark anger on his weathered face. He sat brooding in silence, content to let the others chatter foolishly. If there is trouble over this, White Owl thought, it likely will come from him. The old talker was deeply aware of the rage his best warrior carried from what he had seen in the east. The thought that it might boil over now, with these whites, disturbed him.
Seeing that all were present, White Owl motioned for silence. The chatter quickly stopped. After a long moment in which he seemed to be contemplating what he would say, he began. “We have feared this day for a long while. We knew from our brothers the Shoshones that these strange beings were coming this way. We had hoped not to see them in our country. Now they are here – at least, three of them. Why are they here? What do they want? No one can be sure. Even the Shoshone, having seen them in their country for a generation or more, do not understand them. It is hard to know what to do.” He paused for a moment. “Now, who has something to say?”
With risky boldness, Flowers In Her Hair piped up. “The white woman is a demon, I am sure of it. Did you all see her eyes? The color of the sky! How is this possible? And with her man she has made a child with eyes and hair of yet another color. That is, if the child was made in that way, and is not yet another spirit! I believe they have come to cause us trouble. We must drive them away if we can.”
“It is true the eyes are disturbing,” answered White Owl. “I do not know how such eyes are possible.”
“I have seen eyes such as that once before,” one older brave offered. He had everyone’s immediate attention. “They belonged to a wolf.”
Flowers In Her Hair shuddered, and appealed to White Owl. “Is it possible she is a wolf spirit in human form?”
White Owl considered the question in silence for a few moments. Then he spoke slowly. “Such a thing can be done. I have seen it once, long ago. The spirit must be very strong, and very determined. But I do not want to judge too quickly. I am not yet convinced the white woman is a demon. Who else would like to speak?”
Another brave, a notorious hothead, spoke. “I do not know if any of these white people are demons. But I do know they do not belong here. We should kill them. Then others will know they should not come here.”
“The Shoshone tell us that for every white they kill, ten more take their place,” White Owl replied. “There seems to be no end to them.”
“If we kill them while they are few in number, others will stay away!” the brave said.
Three other braves nodded in agreement.
“I am not sure this would work,” White Owl said. “We know that more and more whites have been seen in Shoshone lands in recent years. Most are just passing through but a few more stay with each season.”
“Perhaps these whites are also passing through,” said a new voice, belonging to a middle-aged brave named Red Wolf.
“It may be so,” White Owl answered. “The Washo to the north tell us that in the past two seasons, many whites have passed north of the great water in their lands, not far from here. All went through and none stayed. They seemed to be in a great hurry to get across the mountains. No one yet knows why.”
“Who knows why the whites do anything?” said the hotheaded brave. “They are a poor race, impossible to understand.”
There was a chorus of agreement.
White Owl ignored the remark. “Red Wolf’s words are good,” he said. “I believe we should see if these whites are just passing through. Let us wait a while before deciding if we should kill them.”
Two Moons at last spoke up. “I believe they are intending to go over the mountains too. They are in the right place to do so. But if they are, they will be here in our lands for a while yet. No one can cross in winter. And there is still the matter of whether the white woman is a demon. If she is, she could cause great trouble while she is here.”
Heads nodded around the circle.
“If there is a demon among them, it cannot be killed anyway. But perhaps we can scare it off,” Two Moons continued. “I think we should test these whites to see if there are bad spirits present.”
White Owl looked troubled by this notion. “How could this be done?”
Two Moons gave him a sullen, angry look. “Leave that to me.”
In the morning, there were whoops of excitement in the camp. One of the braves had silently stolen the deer carcass from the whites during the night. Two Moons glared at the scene but said nothing. The hunger of his people would not be denied.
All this had led him to his observation spot at the edge of the clearing, huddled against the cold under thick animal furs, eyes fixed firmly on the cabin. He did not for a moment believe the white woman was a demon or any sort of spirit. He was not sure whites were even aware of the spirit world. He had brought the subject up again at the meeting to spur his personal involvement. He was not content to wait.
He had set out the following morning for the cabin of the whites. As he neared the clearing, he came on a fresh set of snowshoe tracks in the new snowfall. A quick investigation showed they came from the cabin. The white man had apparently gone off hunting to replace the stolen deer. Unable to stop himself, he began following the tracks.
As he did so, his mind turned to thoughts of his trips to the east. Possessed of wanderlust from an early age, he was unique among his band. He had cousins among the Shoshone, and speaking the same language made it fairly easy to travel among them. There he had encountered the whites firsthand, and what he had seen disturbed him greatly. They were like locusts, a plague on the land, appearing suddenly, taking from the earth, and leaving. But not all left. Some were there to stay. Increasingly their dwellings appeared in Shoshone territory. And to the day he departed for the spirit world, he would never forget the first time he had tried to explain to his people the purpose of the astounding thing he had seen there that they had no concept of: a fence.
“I speak truly,” he had said at a gathering upon his return from a recent trip. “I tell you that the white man spreads this thing across the land, and says to others, ‘This is my land, you shall not pass’.”
“It cannot be so!” one brave had said. “No one can own the land, no one can say, ‘This part belongs to me.’ Always we have roamed wherever we dared. The land has always been open; it will always be so. These fences will not last. No one will allow such a thing.”
Two Moons had been deeply saddened to tell them that the fences, although yet small, were increasing in number, and no one seemed to be removing them. Still they did not believe him. He knew it was because they did not want to.
There was much worse to report. The white man’s diseases were sweeping through some camps, killing many, and wiping out a few of the camps entirely. The Shoshone medicine men were helpless. Young and old alike were struck down by the invisible hand of the white plague. Tragically, during his last trip, Two Moons had lost a young niece, one of his favorites, and the only child of a sister and brother-in-law he held dear. She had been struck down at the age of seven, and died quickly. It was this more than anything he had seen that caused him to boil with rage. His thirst for revenge had increased with every mile he had ridden on the trip back to Paiute country.
He had worked himself into a relentless bloodlust by the time he noticed the trail was getting noticeably fresher. He came upon a small barren patch of grass, and decided to dismount and continue on foot. He quietly tied his horse to a branch.
Proceeding along the trail, he soon saw the white man ahead. The fool was lumbering noisily through the trees, his back to him. Two Moons notched a hunting arrow and drew his powerful bow taut. He hesitated briefly, savoring the moment, then let the arrow fly. It struck the white man squarely, burying itself deep into his back. The intruder staggered, called out in a loud voice, and fell face forward. He hit the snow, and was still. Two Moons watched for a few minutes, but the white man did not move again. Satisfied, he began walking back to his horse. How easy it had been! He could have taken the gun the man carried, but he wanted nothing from him. By the time he reached the horse, the rest of his plan for avenging the death of his niece was clear to him. He returned to the edge of the clearing, across from the cabin, and settled in among the trees to wait.
Just before dark, Two Moons decided he had waited long enough. It was time to prove this white woman was no demon. Rising slowly, stiff from sitting in the cold for so long, he stretched his limbs a few seconds. Then he withdrew his large hunting knife from its sheath, and began to walk deliberately across the clearing toward the cabin.
Kathleen rose and put more of her dwindling supply of firewood on the dying fire. What was left would be gone by morning. The outside air was beginning to chill the interior of the crudely constructed shelter. The logs had not been properly caulked in places, and a previous occupant – probably the builder – had tried to make do with hides nailed to the walls here and there. It was a poor solution.
She returned to her spot near Megan. The girl had been exhausted when Kathleen put her down, and slept like the dead. Kathleen pulled her winter coat tight around her shoulders and the bearskin across her legs. Once more, she gripped the rifle firmly, and kept it pointed toward the door. Fighting to keep her mind alert against the cold and fatigue, she gave the An Paidrin Beag rosary on her wrist a workout. Going resolutely from one bead to the next, she prayed for her husband, but despite her best efforts, her mind drifted off into a reverie of her beloved homeland . . .
* * * * *
Kathleen’s consciousness suddenly shifted with a snap, and she was once again in the small, drafty cabin at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. She started to curse herself for letting her attention wander, but froze in fright as her gaze fixed on the door.
The bar was moving.
A long, thin knifeblade had been inserted through a crack between the boards of the poorly made door, and was lifting the bar upward out of its brackets.
Terrified, she rose on trembling legs and put her back against the cabin wall. The wooden bar fell to the dirt floor of the cabin. She tried to shout, to scream, but nothing would come. The door slowly swung open.
Two Moons stood boldly in the doorway. He saw the white woman standing, trembling, mouth open. No sound came out. She had the gun pointed at him but the barrel was wavering. For a second, he admired her long beautiful hair. That would look handsome hanging from my lodgepole.
Kathleen instantly recognized the huge warrior from the first meeting at the clearing. His angry gaze had given her shivers then; it scared her speechless now. She saw the knife in his hand. She gripped the rifle harder and pulled the trigger.
She stood in shock for a second, then in desperation drew the bolt back. The shell popped out as she reached into her coat pocket for another. She didn’t make it. With one big stride, the Indian closed, swept the rifle aside, and brought his fist down hard on top of her head.
Kathleen staggered, and crumpled like a broken doll. Her face slammed into the packed earth floor. Fading in and out of consciousness, she struggled to get her legs under her. Get up! Get up! a distant voice inside her was screaming, but her feet scrabbled uselessly in the dirt. Vaguely she was aware of the booted feet of her attacker standing in front of her. Then they were gone.
She did not know how long she was unconscious. She became aware of a river of cold air pouring into the cabin, helping to clear her head. Staggering to her feet, swaying, she grasped the wall for support. Her gaze went to the corner near the fireplace.
Megan was gone.
With a moan of despair, Kathleen stumbled out the door into the cold night. She did not realize she was not armed.
Across the clearing, in the deep darkness of the trees, Two Moons had carried the still-sleeping child up to a waiting figure. He held out the girl to his young son, Paints His Face.
Paints His Face, barely into his teens, backed off in fear. “Father! You have stolen the demon’s child! And now you would put her in my arms? What if she wakes?”
“Take her!” Two Moons replied. “She can do you no harm. Go to our lodge. Let your mother look after her. I will tell you what I have planned when I arrive.”
“You have killed the white woman?” the boy said, gingerly taking the child.
“No,” Two Moons replied, “I am not through testing her yet.”
“Then look,” the boy said in fright. “She is coming after you!”
Two Moons turned to follow his son’s pointing arm. A dark figure was moving clumsily but steadily across the meadow.
“Go!” he ordered. “I will join you soon.”
The boy left immediately, quickly disappearing into the blackness. Two Moons turned his attention to his pursuer. She was nearing the edge of the clearing. He drew an arrow from his quiver and fitted it to his bow. When the woman was still silhouetted against the moonlight at the beginning of the trees, he loosed the arrow. He saw it strike home, saw the dark figure tumble backward down the slope she had just climbed. Moving quickly to the top of the slope, Two Moons gazed down and did not see the body. A small snow slide had covered it up. He waited, but saw no movement. Satisfied, he turned away to go to his wife before she woke the entire camp; he knew she would be furious beyond words. The body could wait until morning. She is no demon, he thought smugly.
Dazed and disoriented, Kathleen rolled weakly out of the snow which she found covering her lightly. Her mind was a jumble. She couldn’t remember what happened, except a fuzzy memory of losing her balance and falling down the slope. She felt her body and saw that an arrow had hit not her but her heavy coat, penetrating at a fold and thus going through two layers and sticking. She regarded it dumbly, and, barely able to stand, mustered her last reserve of energy to rise and stagger back across the clearing. Reaching the cabin at last, she fell inside, pushed the door shut with her feet, and lapsed into unconsciousness.
Two Moons was right about his wife’s reaction. When he pushed aside the flap to his lodge, she was on him like an angry lynx.
“Why have you done this?” she hissed, rushing at him wide-eyed. “You have stolen the demon’s child, and worse yet, brought her into our lodge! Are you so set on bringing a curse on us?”
Two Moons looked around as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. His son, fearing her wrath, was nowhere to be seen. The white child was lying to one side, awake and whimpering with fear. “I have a purpose in this,” he replied calmly. “Do you remember the loss of Little Rabbit, my sister’s only child, to the white man’s sickness last year?”
Still furious, Flowers In Her Hair nodded but said nothing. The anger on her face marred the traces of the youthful beauty she still carried. Despite the hard life the Paiutes lived, it was clear that she had once been a comely young maiden. Her features were well proportioned, her hair was still thick and glossy, her figure trim and hard. She was of average height, which, among most of her band, was not very tall due to the rigors of living in the Great Basin and the inadequate diet they were forced to accept. She had a temper, and unlike most of her fellow women in the camp, was usually not afraid to speak her mind. She had been madly in love with Two Moons at the time of her marriage, and had felt herself extremely lucky to be mated to the most promising warrior in camp. Her love had cooled over the years over her husband’s lengthy wanderings, which she took as a sign that he was unhappy at home. Now her anger raged in full. She saw yet another action which made no sense, something she had started to see since Two Moons came in contact with the whites. She could no longer tell what he was thinking, and it frustrated her.
“This is what I plan to do,” Two Moons continued. “We will take her with us to the summer meeting. There we will give her to my sister to replace the child she lost. It is a fitting revenge. She cannot completely replace Little Rabbit, but my sister will once again have a daughter, and maybe her sadness will be lessened.”
“You are mad!” his wife replied. “Keep the child all the way to next summer? She will disrupt all of our lives. I do not know how to care for such a creature. And what if her mother comes to claim her? She could put a curse on all of us! I will be shunned by the whole camp for having such a danger in our lodge. You must return her, now!”
“There is no possibility of the white woman putting a curse on us. She will not come to our camp.”
“What do you mean?” Flowers In Her Hair shot back. Suddenly her eyes widened even further as the light began to dawn. “What have you done? Tell me you have not killed the white woman.”
“I have. It was not difficult. I have tested her, and she was no demon. I will retrieve her body at daybreak, and you will see for yourself.”
“Ayah!” she wailed. She sank to the ground tearing at her hair. “We are lost, lost!”
Kathleen awoke to see the first faint light of dawn seeping through the cracks in the door. The cold was in the cabin was breathtaking, the fire having long gone out. But sometime in the night she had pulled the bearskin over her, perhaps saving her life. She pulled herself up with some difficulty, fighting the stiffness that gripped her entire body. She was almost to her feet when memory smacked her hard: Megan.
Gray dawnlight filtered through the Paiute camp. Flowers In Her Hair paced back and forth in the snow outside the wickiup, her breath steaming into the cold winter air. So far she was the only one up in the camp. She had been unable to sleep, dreading the moment when the rest of the camp discovered the woe her husband had brought to them in the middle of the night. The white girl was still cowering in the wickiup, weeping silently and calling softly for her mother. Flowers In Her Hair was distraught not only about the possibility of a demon’s curse, but because she did not like to see the child suffer, even thought it was just a white girl, and she should not have cared. But she could not ignore the cruelty of it. This was not the way to restore a child to her sister-in-law.
Two Moons came out of the wickiup and walked silently into the woods to relieve himself. When he returned, she started in on him again. “I am begging you, my husband, to get rid of the child. Nothing but disaster can come from – aieee!” she shrieked, looking past him, eyes wide with fear. “You said you killed her!”
Two Moons whirled around. To his amazement, a dark figure clad in a bearskin robe stood in the snow at the edge of the camp. It was the white woman. Shaken, he stood rooted to the spot for a moment, then slowly advanced toward her, picking up a spear as he did so. Flowers In Her Hair’s scream had awakened the entire camp, and sleepy Paiutes were pouring from the huts, some half dressed.
Two Moons walked up to the dark figure slowly, hesitantly, now unsure just what he was dealing with. He shook the spear at her, commanding her to be gone.
Unmoving, Kathleen stared hard at him, barely containing her fury. When the thunderbolt of Megan’s absence had entered her mind, she had quickly wrapped the bearskin robe around her, grabbed a piece of jerky from the meager supply she had, and bolted out the door. She marched straight for the camp, following the tracks in the snow, stopping only to relieve herself along the way. She was not afraid for herself, only for her child. She was determined that one of two things would happen: she would get Megan back, or she would die.
Now she stood before the big warrior, seeing for the first time uncertainty on his face. “Give me back my child.”
Two Moons appeared not to understand her. He raised the spear to within inches of her chest and again waved her away with his other arm.
“You know what I want!” Kathleen shouted. “You do not need to understand English. Give me my child, or kill me. I am not leaving without her!”
Two Moons scorned using the white man’s language, but it had its uses. Now he strung together some of the little bit he knew. “Your man was easier to kill than you are.”
To his astonishment, the woman did not flinch.
Kathleen moved forward until the spear point was sunk slightly into the bearskin, and spread her arms out straight and wide. Her eyes were still locked on his. “Return my child, or kill me now.”
Two Moons was dumbfounded. The troublesome white woman was actually daring him to plunge the spear into her! Nothing in all his experience had prepared him for this. Could only a demon be so bold? He now was having serious doubts about what he was facing. He had shot his arrow at her, seen it strike, seen her fall. And yet here she was, seemingly unharmed. Could his wife be right? Was it possible this white woman really was an evil spirit in human form? If she was, there was real danger. He could not risk bringing a curse down on the entire camp by killing her here. If he could. Perhaps she could not be killed. He was not sure he wanted to find out. Still, the creature was humiliating him in front of the rest of the camp, something he would never allow.
He was still nervously pondering what to do when Flowers In Her Hair rushed up with the girl in tow. As soon as she released the child, the girl flew to her mother. Kathleen put a protective arm around her. The Indian woman who had released her was waving at her urgently to go away, and take the child with her. She turned to go, but a grunt from Two Moons stopped her. He pointed up at the dim morning sun, then stooped and drew in the snow with the spear point. She looked down and studied it. With the drawing and accompanying hand motions, Two Moons got his message across: she had until the sun stood directly overhead to take her child and leave the area. If she did not, he would come for her. She left silently, carrying the frightened girl.
After the figures had disappeared into the trees, Two Moons turned back toward the camp. He looked with anger at Flowers In Her Hair. The message in his eyes was clear. Somewhere along the line, she would pay for this transgression.
The instant Kathleen shut the door to the cabin, she collapsed to the floor and dissolved into anguished sobs. It seemed more than she could bear. Megan was sobbing too, and it was most of half an hour before Kathleen could attempt to explain to her that her father was dead. Megan cried uncontrollably for a bit, then settled down and clung to her like a leech. But Kathleen knew that was all the time they had now. Proper grieving would have to come later. She quickly gathered up what she figured she could carry, including their last scraps of food. She and Megan strapped on the snowshoes her husband had had the wisdom to acquire for all of them, grabbed the bearskin robe, and emerged from the cabin. She was not completely surprised to see the big warrior outside the door, a short distance away, seated on his horse. He sat unmoving. In other times, she would have found him a magnificent figure, his red skin and rich furs standing out against the snow. Now she felt only loathing and a desire to get as far from him as she could. After hesitating a moment, she turned south. There she might find the rest of the wagon train party.
But it was not to be. Two Moons whirled his horse around in front of them, snow spraying from its hooves. Scowling, the Indian pointed behind them with the spear. It was clear they were not to be allowed to go south. She turned and looked to where he was pointing, seeing only the mist-shrouded pass into the mountains. She looked at him once more. There was no mercy in his expression. Reluctantly, she turned with Megan toward the pass.
Gathering clouds threatened snow.