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Authors: Stephanie Grace Whitson

Tags: #historical fiction, #Dakota war commemoration, #Dakota war of 1862, #Dakota Moon Series, #Dakota Moons Book 2, #Dakota Sioux, #southwestern Minnesota, #Christy-award finalist, #faith, #Genevieve LaCroix, #Daniel Two Stars, #Simon Dane, #Edge of the Wilderness, #Stephanie Grace Whitson

Edge of the Wilderness (6 page)

BOOK: Edge of the Wilderness
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Simon got up and stood behind his chair. His pale eyes flickered angrily as he asked, “Let’s get to the business at hand, Mr. Potts. Exactly how much were you expecting us to pay you to take the next steamship back to Dayton
without
Hope?”

“A child oughter be with her kin,” Mrs. Potts whined. She raised the handkerchief to her face and began to cry “Oh, my poor dead sister . . .”

“Will you hush up?” Potts said, elbowing her. Instantly, she quieted. Potts studied Simon, whose gaze didn’t waver. Finally, he looked at Sally. “We ain’t here to do harm by the child; are we, Mother?”

“’Course not,” Sally said.

Potts sighed. He leaned back on the sofa and contemplated the ceiling. After a moment he said, “It don’t take a genius to see that Charlotte Marie’s attached to ya both.” He ran one hand through his greasy hair, then licked his lips before continuing. “Fact is, Reveran’, now that we come all this way and we see what a fine house little Charlotte Marie has and all—” He cleared his throat.

“How much, Mr. Potts?” Simon said. He added, “You have no documentation of who you are. You have no proof of anything. But in the interest of settling this peaceably, I’d like to hear the figure you had in mind when you headed our way.”

“Five hundred dollars,” Potts said abruptly. The woman next to him gasped and stared at him wide-eyed, but she did not protest the idea of losing the opportunity to take “precious Charlotte Marie” back to Dayton.

Simon didn’t hesitate. “Done. I’ll have legal papers drawn up to reassure us that you won’t rethink that figure when you get halfway to Dayton. Can you meet with me at my attorney’s this evening?”

Potts ignored Simon’s insult and nodded.

“Then I’ll show you out.” Simon gestured toward the door.

Gen closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair, willing herself to be still when all she wanted to do was throw her arms around Simon Dane.

The front door closed, and she waited for Simon to reappear. When he didn’t, she went out into the entryway. She called his name, but the house was obviously empty except for her and the sleeping baby upstairs. Simon’s hat was missing from its hook by the door.

“Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma.”

The sound of Hope’s voice echoed down the broad upstairs hall. With a last glance at the empty hook by the door, Gen headed upstairs.

Six

For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

—James 1:20

Edward Pope was terrified of “the hos-tiles.” He was a miserable horseman and a worse shot. But Edward could cook. It wasn’t long after their arrival in the scouts’ camp north of Fort Ridgely that Edward had earned a Dakota name. Little by little, the scouts added to Pope’s combined sleeping quarters and kitchen until he occupied a shelter that would have arguably survived a hundred-year blizzard. Edward Pope became the universal favorite in camp, and the scouts made certain he—and Brady Jensen—knew it. Those who could speak English talked to Pope—unless Jensen was within earshot.

“You don’t worry about bad Indians, Good Soup,” Big Amos was heard to say. “We not taking you to scout. You be safe here in camp. You make good food when we come back with bad Indians.”

As the weeks went by, Edward began to think that “his boys” were exceptions to everything he had been taught about Indians. They were clean, honest, and, in Pope’s mind, exceptionally brave. They handled horses better than any cavalry officer Pope had ever seen. More than once he watched in open-mouthed amazement as they performed their version of a cavalry drill, clinging to their horses’ sides as the animals charged across the landscape at full speed.

Pope’s admiration for the scouts came full circle one evening when he was ladling stew into Big Amos’s bowl and asked shyly, “You think I could learn to talk Injun?” He hesitated. “I ain’t never been too smart, but I’d like to be able to talk to the boys what don’t know English.”

Big Amos’s eyes widened with surprise. Instead of answering, he looked down at Daniel Two Stars, next to him in line.
“Wicaste kin waste,”
Big Amos said, nodding at Pope.
He is a good man. Not
knowing what Big Amos had said about him, Pope blushed furiously and busied himself with cleaning a rabbit one of the scouts had brought in earlier in the day.

It wasn’t until after the rabbit stew had been consumed and most of the Dakota scouts had rolled into their blankets and gone to sleep that Daniel and Big Amos approached Pope’s shelter. Seating themselves beside his cooking fire, they motioned for Pope to join them. Daniel held up his left hand and raised his thumb.
“Wanca,”
he said. When Pope just stared at him, Daniel motioned for the man to raise his hand and extend his thumb. Nodding when Pope did it, Daniel extended his index finger and said,
“Nonpa.”

“Oh, I get it,” Pope said, grinning. “You’re teachin’ me to count Injun’!”

“Dakota,”
Daniel said gruffly. He continued counting, waiting for Pope to repeat each word,
“ Yamni, topa, zaptan . . .”

After a few minutes of practice, Daniel grinned at Pope. Mimicking the boy’s accent, he said in English, “For someone who ‘ain’t never been none too smart,’ you learn Dakota fast.

West Point-trained Brady Jensen had relived the infamous cornfield scene from the Battle of Antietam a thousand times. What if he
had
run away in the face of the onslaught of rebels? Hadn’t dozens of other men done the same thing? They called it Bloody Monday. Twelve thousand men had died. Jensen was sorry his commanding officer had lost a hand in the melee begun by his premature retreat, but the man had lived, which was more than he deserved in Jensen’s opinion. Being reassigned to the equivalent of military hell baby-sitting a bunch of savages in Minnesota was more than a man should have to endure—even one who had had a momentary lapse of judgment in battle.

Initially, Jensen had expected to bunk with the only other white man in the bunch. But Edward Pope was made of different stuff than Jensen’s West Point comrades. He didn’t seem to mind when warm weather arrived and the Dakota made a mess of cavalry drills and charged around the camp like mindless idiots, hanging off their mounts and screaming. Pope was even trying to learn to speak their dissonant language—if one could call it a language. It rankled Jensen that apart from Sacred Lodge, the scouts made almost no attempt to speak English. Since all the native peoples on the continent would be exterminated before the millennium dawned, Jensen saw no reason to learn Dakota—a language he considered to be beneath him. He kept himself apart from the scouts, trusting Sacred Lodge to interpret his orders and waiting for the army to come to its senses and send him on to more important assignments.

“You oughter talk to them,” Pope urged Jensen. “What you gonna do when Sacred Lodge heads out and leaves us here?”

“They aren’t leaving camp without me,” Jensen asserted. “I didn’t come out here to be a cook.” He glared at Edward Pope.

Pope shrugged off the insult. “Which is better for the army,” he asked, “a good cook or an officer who won’t talk to his men?”

One spring night Jensen stalked off after arguing with Sacred Lodge about an upcoming foray to the north, Daniel said, “Let him go. He doesn’t trust us. He thinks because we don’t line up and march like white men waiting to be shot at, we make bad soldiers. He doesn’t think the Great Father’s army needs help from savages.” Smiling bitterly, Daniel tucked his nose down into his collar and crouched beside the fire.

“Exactly what do you find amusing about me?” Jensen called from where he had been watching the exchange between Daniel and Sacred Lodge. He marched toward the fire and stared across the amber tongues of golden light to where Daniel sat, his dark eyes glittering as they reflected the flames. Daniel lifted his eyes from the fire to Brady’s long-jawed face, but he made no move to answer. The other scouts sitting around Daniel shifted slightly, but stayed put.

How many weeks had it been, Jensen thought, he’d been treated like so much baggage. They all treated him like he was some blubbering idiot. Or, what was worse, like he wasn’t even
there.
Especially this Daniel Two Stars and his friend Robert Lawrence. Someone had told him Robert Lawrence had a reputation as being a merciless killer before he got religion. He and Two Stars were good friends. But Lawrence was gone to take messages to Sibley and wouldn’t be back for a couple of days. It might be a good time to settle the score with Two Stars.

He’d done plenty to “make nice” with these savages, Brady thought. Only yesterday when he heard Two Stars’s stomach rumble with hunger, he’d offered a piece of jerky. The savage had taken it too. And now he sat there, looking into the fire, laughing with his friends at a West Point graduate! Kicking at a piece of kindling sticking out from the fire, Brady sent a shower of sparks upward and watched with satisfaction when Two Stars and the other scouts sitting near him startled and moved back from the fire.

“I asked you a question!” Jensen growled, planting his feet and folding his arms. “What’d I say that you think is so funny?”

Daniel looked up at him briefly, shrugged, and stared back into the fire.

Jensen leaned over and thrust his chin out. “I know about you. You speak English as well as any white man. You read well enough to have picked your own name out of the Good Book. I don’t appreciate being laughed at. So speak up, Two Stars.” Jensen made a fist and pounded the open palm of his opposite hand. “Speak up, or be prepared to be shut up once and for all.”

Daniel sighed. Holding his hands out to the fire for a moment to warm them, he got up and headed toward where they had picketed the horses for the night.

When the Indian turned his broad back to Jensen, something tightly wound inside the soldier came undone. He sprang on Two Stars, pummeling him with his fists, yelling at the top of his lungs.

The surprise attack caught Daniel off-balance. He tumbled to the earth, Jensen atop him, flailing madly at his back. The scouts formed a circle around the two men and began placing bets on who would win.

When Jensen finally landed a solid punch near Daniel’s left shoulder, the Dakota brave yelped with pain. Rolling onto his side, Daniel unseated Jensen and scrambled to his feet. But Jensen wasn’t finished. Lowering his head he charged Daniel, wrapping his arms around the brave’s midsection and driving him backward. The wiry soldier’s strength surprised Daniel, who found himself lying on his back holding his hands in front of his face to fend off the man’s blows.

When Jensen showed no signs of letting up, Daniel lurched to one side and with all his strength managed to unseat him again. The instant the soldier landed in the dirt beside him, Daniel put one hand on his assailant’s throat, gripping hard enough to cut off Jensen’s air supply. His face red, his eyes bulging, Jensen grabbed desperately at Two Stars’s hand. When he was satisfied that most of Jensen’s fury had been spent, Daniel let go, only to receive a well-placed punch to his left eye that made him roar with pain. He released Jensen and leaped up. Meaning to land a kick to the soldier’s rib cage, he once again found himself on the ground as Jensen grabbed his raised foot in midair, threw Daniel to the ground, and was atop him again.

Over and over the two men rolled, until Jensen let out a yelp and, pushing himself away, grabbed his left wrist with his right hand and ran for the nearby creek where he plunged his singed hand into the water. The sensation in his backside told Daniel he, too, had rolled too close to the campfire. Smiling ruefully, he stood up and pounded the seat of his pants.

Two Stars followed Jensen to the creek, but at his approach Jensen took his gun from his holster. Waving it in the air he said, “Hold it right there. Don’t come any closer.” He winced and shook his hand. “I may have a singed paw, but I’m still man enough to fight you off.”

Daniel backed away and headed for Pope’s shelter. Emerging in a moment with a bucket in hand he headed for where Jensen still knelt by the creek. “Good fight,” Daniel muttered in English. When Jensen looked up at him in surprise, Daniel grabbed his hand and plunged it into the pail of animal fat he had retrieved from Pope.

“Let me see,” Daniel said.

Jensen complied, withdrawing his hand from the pail of fat to reveal bright red skin, which Daniel inspected closely.

“Not bad,” Daniel muttered. He looked at Jensen. “Finished fighting?”

Jensen squinted up at him. “You finished giving me the silent treatment?”

“What does
silent treatment
mean?

Daniel asked.

“Not talking. Silent.” He grimaced and looked away. “I know what you think. You think I’m some kind of idiot just because I can’t track like you. Well, I’m not.”

Daniel stood up. “I touched the fire once when I was young. My mother taught me how to care for it. Keep your hand in the pail for now. Before you sleep, have Pope wrap your hand with more fat inside the rabbit skin. By tomorrow morning, your hand will be fine.” He headed back to camp, then stopped and turned around. “Jensen,” he said abruptly.

Jensen looked up.

“You don’t know what I think,” Daniel said. “About anything.” He raised one corner of his mouth in a half-smile. “Except for one thing.”

“What’s that?” Jensen asked.

“I think you fight pretty good,” Daniel said.

With the arrival of warm weather, Daniel began to feel restless. They had come out of Mankato in February and traveled nearly seventy miles to the northwest, camping on Rice Creek, just south of the Minnesota River and almost exactly between what had been the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies. Other scouts were added to the original five until ten were in camp. They spent the next few weeks going on expeditions, either up the Minnesota River or westward. Only once did they think they saw tracks indicating hostile Indians, but nothing came of it and they headed back south to camp.

Scouting proved to be little more than a new kind of prison. Wherever the scouts went, they were confronted with brokenness. Burned-out cabins and destroyed agency buildings served as constant reminders that the deserted landscape had once been home to hundreds of peaceful Dakota Indians. While the scouts weren’t confined behind a guarded fence anymore, they were still under the watchful eye of Private Brady Jensen. Daniel had hoped their fight would have put them on better terms, but nothing changed. Jensen still watched everyone suspiciously, still considered himself above “fraternizing with a bunch of savages,” still despised Edward Pope for getting along.

BOOK: Edge of the Wilderness
8.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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