Synopsis: The death of a rancher’s wife threatens to destroy the treaty, and the tribe.
Category: Broken Arrow
Word Count: 4,850
He hesitated at the saloon doors, glancing up with a scout’s ingrained instinct. The heat shimmered across the rambling, iron roofs of Tucson; the brassy pall of an approaching storm hung along the Dragoon Mountains, aloof across the desert. He thought longingly of pouring rain. The well was low at the agency and in the stronghold the women had to go further each day for water. Maybe tomorrow.
The atmosphere was even more oppressive inside as he leaned on the bar. Conversation ceased as he calmly drank his whisky, just the one, as always. Duffield was in his usual place in the corner. Jeffords caught his kindly glance and nodded, then saw Farnsworth sitting with him, slumped and bleary. He sighed and walked over, aware the others watched him. Farnsworth looked up at him, through him, shaking his head in bewilderment and disbelief. Jeffords remained standing.
“I’m sure they were not Cochise’s Apaches,” he said at last in the hushed silence, “I’m real sorry, David. I’ve offered to scout for the army to help track them.”
The crowd erupted belligerently, firing questions like rifle shots, demanding, hostile. Duffield had risen anxiously. Jeffords continued to gaze upon the ruined man. He knew there were no words; his heart contracted with the remembered pain of her. He understood.
“An Apache is an Apache!” Hickson shouted, “We should hunt them down before they attack the rest of our ranches!”
“And that’s exactly what the army will be doing.” Jeffords turned calmly to face the throng, men who had been his friends yesterday, now distrustful, fearful.
“I thought she was safe,” Farnsworth mumbled, “I was out with the cattle and I thought she was safe.”
Hickson’s face, flushed with heat and drink, swarmed before Jeffords.
“Hear that?” he snarled, “From now on, we shoot to kill Indians on sight. It’s them or us.”
“Let the authorities handle this. I will speak to Cochise. We must keep the peace.” Jeffords’ words rang in a repeated, hollow litany.
“There is no peace.” Farnsworth said.
“Not Chiricahuas. Renegades.”
Cochise sat cross-legged in the wickiup, staring into the small fire, his face sullen in the dancing shadows. Jeffords sat opposite him and waited but the hostile silence lengthened. He turned away and sighed.
“Does Jeffords doubt the word of Cochise?”
“Has Cochise considered that maybe some of his people did this thing? Many young warriors speak of Geronimo, famous in Mexico, a hero to some who are not as wise as their chief.”
Cochise glared at him with flat, angry eyes, lifting his head with contempt.
“My people keep my word,” his voice was low, dangerous, “Those that wish to join Geronimo are free to go. No-one is kept prisoner here by me, only by the white man!”
Jeffords stood abruptly, startled by his fearsome expression; this man, whom he knew so well, now little more than a stranger in a matter of moments. Cochise also rose to his feet, deeply offended, folding his arms as though to ward him off, the one he had once called brother. They stared at each other defiantly,
“What if you are mistaken? Maybe they defended themselves against attack. Such things are possible.” Jeffords pressed.
“I am not mistaken.” Cochise’s voice trembled with cold fury. “You have said too much. Go now and do not return.”
Will you at least help me to read the signs upon the earth at the ranch?” Jeffords pleaded. “There is already much trouble. Then we will know who the bad Indians are, maybe.”
“Not Chiricahua!” Cochise insisted. “I stay with my people. We watch and wait. White men are forbidden here. We will defend what remains of our home.”
“No matter what happens, you must not break the treaty!” Jeffords yelled angrily in utter frustration. Never before had anyone shouted in Cochise’s face and lived. His dark eyes were savage as he averted his face.
“Must not, must not,” he growled bitterly, “always the white man tells the Indian he must not.” He turned suddenly to leave. Jeffords moved just as swiftly, blocking his way, confronting him once again.
“Is this my brother talking?” he demanded.
Cochise studied him scornfully in the firelight. “Is this mine?” He ducked through the doorway and vanished into the night.
Still the storm did not break; the crags heavy with sullen clouds soared above the canyons. He told himself it was the oppressive heat and the tension following the slaying of Emily Farnsworth that prevented his sleeping, spiraled him into deep depression. The army had conducted a brief and half-hearted foray into the hills surrounding the ranch, the young officer’s open dislike of Jeffords negating any attempts at assistance. He had caught the look and recognized it. What kind of white man associated with Apaches, indulged in blood ceremonies? He had seen the same expression in Cochise’s eyes. Dislike, even hatred that night. He had been shocked at the Apache’s violence and could for the first time truly imagine the terror of facing such a warrior in battle; his life would have been ended in a heartbeat. Bewildered, he remained at the agency, uneasy and restive, watching the storm slowly burning away in the desert sun yet again, alone in a no-man’s land, shunned, in a peculiar kind of silence.
Jeffords kept away from the town, having enough supplies for another month if he supplemented with game, and he kept away from the stronghold. He sorely missed the long talks into the night sitting with his friend, sharing tiswin and banter, enjoying the Indian’s childlike love of story telling after a day’s hunting. He missed the coyote stories of the tribe. Sometimes, he had recognized himself as the hero of campfire tales and would feel tremendously complimented. Cochise would turn to him and smile broadly. It had gladdened Jeffords to see the tightness leave his habitually haughty face and youthfulness return as the dark eyes had glowed with humor. Flushed with tiswin, the braves would call on the white Apache to tell a coyote story and laugh with delight at his stumbling efforts, their flashing eyes warm with friendship and acceptance.
He missed sitting silently in the wickiup of his dead wife’s father, sharing a meal, mutual comfort. They had both loved her.
At odd times during the day, he found himself staring up at the ragged spine of the mountains, searching for traces of storm clouds once again, then his gaze would slide towards the stronghold and the silence of exclusion would press down on him. The smell of rain had gone, but he tried to believe there was always hope.
A few days later, after clearing the accounts for the month, as he went to draw water from the well, he glanced up suddenly, feeling watched, and there on the hill was Cochise astride his pinto, rifle resting on his hip, motionless, pasted against the sky, his long hair swept back by the desert wind. Jeffords set the bucket down hastily and turned towards him with relief, hand upraised in welcome.
But he was gone, with not so much as an eddy of dust to betray his presence.
“You have done well, husband,” Telsabestinay said as she handed Cochise a bowl of steaming meat, “Now you have turned away your own brother.”
Cochise raised his arm against her in sudden anger, but she was wise and much older then he. She could see into his heart and waved his hand away.
“You no longer treat me as wife, but as sister,” she said airily, “therefore, you cannot strike me. Go help the white soldiers; better you go there than they come here. Show them it was not Chiricahua who killed the white woman.”
“Always the Apache must bend to the white man,” Cochise muttered, reaching for the skin of tiswin, hunched before the fire, staring moodily into the dancing flames.
“This is good,” Telsabestinay nodded dryly, her lips compressed, “now you drink and the ghosts return in your sleep. This makes you a great chief.”
Cochise reached for a stick of firewood to beat her and she fled as swiftly as her years allowed. They both knew he could have struck her. He smiled grimly; even her stinging words soothed him. He twisted the skin of beer across his arm, tipping back his head to drink deeply, remembering his warriors returning from battle, shrieking their triumph, chanting. “He returns! Cochise! Cochise!” The days of the Apache, of freedom and glory. Days of pride.
He brooded and drank into the night while the fire crumbled to red ash, and thoughts sighed through his mind with the ebb and flow of the midnight breeze. Many days had passed since the white woman was killed. The signs on the earth would now be lost. He knew Jeffords had gone with the army, that he had not searched for tracks and had soon left the soldiers. There had been angry words. The Apache telegraph was rapid and kept him well informed. Cochise looked morosely at the skins folded opposite him. It had been a long time since his brother had sat there.
“Where do you go?” She hurried to him, twining her fingers into the pinto’s black mane as though to stay him, gazing up at him anxiously, noting the two canteens of water. It was still cool and quiet in the golden light of dawn. The camp still slept, but she had seen him.
“I go to the white man’s ranch. This is not woman’s business. You do not know this,” Cochise said pointedly.
Telsabestinay frowned as she released her hold.
“They will see you and they will kill you.”
Cochise leaned down to brush his hand against her withered cheek.
“They will not see me.”
Farnsworth set down his coffee and stared hopelessly through the open window at the storm clouds piling heavily on the mountains once again, the house pervaded with the silence of death and grief. Lost in memories, in suspended time, it was impossible for him to know for how long the Indian had stood there waiting patiently with his shadow thrown across the floorboards, to realize that soft footfalls had disturbed this now alien place. He gazed up numbly into the severe and swarthy face, beyond fear in his utter sadness. The Indian was well over six feet tall, powerfully built, of arresting presence, with long, graying hair about the beaten doeskin of his shirt. He looked at Farnsworth with fine, dark eyes, pointed at a picture of Emily on the mantelpiece and made the marks of flowing tears down his cheeks with his fingers. Not a word was spoken; Farnsworth heaved a ragged sigh against the sudden constriction in his throat and sincerely wondered whether he was dreaming. But the Indian was close enough to touch. He nodded and copied the gesture and then the Indian stepped forward and laid his hand briefly on the white man’s shoulder, his face softening with sympathy and understanding. He carefully reached back to the quiver across his broad back and removed an arrow; the bow remained outside on the saddle of a black and white pinto. Farnsworth watched with mounting interest, leaning forward intently in his chair as the big Indian showed him the feathered tail, running his fingers along the different colors. He then pointed again at Emily’s picture and waited, keenly watching the other’s face. Again, he held up his arrow, pointed at the picture and shook his head. Farnsworth rose eagerly from his chair…yes! He understood! The Indian stepped back politely and waited, replacing his arrow.
He had kept it in the dresser drawer, the obscene thing, unable to discard it after finding it buried shaft deep in the doorpost. It was the only connection he had to them; the other ones had been in his wife’s body and his mind shrank in silent scream at the memory of glimpses as she was hurriedly covered over by his neighbors. He lifted it carefully and studied the tail; it was of black and white feathers, quite different from the one he had just been shown. He turned and held it out and the Indian took it from him then hesitantly held out his hand. Farnsworth gripped it, placing his other hand on top, conscious of the courtesy in deference to white man’s ways. They looked at each other with understanding and Farnsworth smiled for the first time in days.
The Indian spoke a few words of Spanish in a deep and resonant voice, implying farewell. Whilst he could not converse in English, he had avoided the use of his native tongue. He turned and strode outside to his horse with a sense of purpose that lightened Farnsworth’s heart with threads of hope, obliging him to follow as the other swung lightly into the saddle and slung the bow across his shoulders. He glanced around with sharp intelligence at the hot and lazy peacefulness of the afternoon, satisfied nothing was unusual, except for the white man standing beside his horse’s shoulder, his hand on its mane. The rancher pointed to himself.
“Farnsworth,” he said.
The Indian struck his own chest. “Cochise.”
In a stupor of heat and exhaustion, Jeffords had sprawled across his desk late that afternoon, head on his arm, remembering the cool water of prospecting days, the pleasant graze of stones swirling in the tin dish, the clear and bubbling stream, so far from this hostile desert. He felt the familiar tug to be gone from here, this lonely place with its crushing silence; all his possessions could be swept into saddlebags and he could ride away, free, hampered only by conscience. It was then the Appaloosa’s excited whinny jerked him awake and he heard the familiar hoof beats halt at the verandah. He leapt up and flung open the door, his eyes aching in the white light of the blazing day. Cochise regarded him impassively; then strong emotion carved rigid lines in his face, hardened his eyes. He edged the pinto closer and handed Jeffords an arrow from his quiver. Jeffords took it in confusion. He then held out another with different tail feathers and said “Renegade.”
Before Jeffords could speak, Cochise wheeled his horse and cantered calmly from the compound back towards the stronghold. Telsabestinay would be standing there, still facing in the direction of his departure with enduring patience. He knew she would scold him incessantly in her relief. He would visit the wickiup of his third wife tonight. His own wickiup was filled with the ghost of Jeffords.
“Only Cochise could have done it, David,” Jeffords shook his head, “the military was combing the country for miles around here. Seems my complaint had some impact.”
“He was here!” Farnsworth insisted, slapping his hand on the table, “Big Indian, powerful, with grey hair. Not until he was leaving did I know it was Cochise himself. He offered his sympathy, Jeffords, and asked for the arrow, although not a single word was spoken. I trust him, after all, he could have walked in here and killed me. There sure is something about him.”
Jeffords smiled wryly and placed both arrows on the table between them.
“Can’t argue with that. He gave these to me this afternoon. Must have ridden straight from here. That’s across open country, and still our army didn’t see him.”
“I know that second one – it’s Chiricahua, he showed it to me so I could see it was not the same as …as that other. I believe him. His people are innocent.”
“It’s obvious what he intends us to do – show that his word is law in his tribe. The peace treaty will not be broken by his Apaches. This proves his honor. I need your help though, David, and I know it will be hard for you. I’m sorry to say this, but the doctor can match this arrow to those that killed Emily. The sheriff can vouch for the Chiricahua arrow.”
“Let’s go,” Farnsworth stood determinedly, “I owe him that. It’s only justice. Emily would want it, too.”
He turned at the door, already gripping his hat.
“Well, Tom, aren’t you coming?”
Jeffords could smell the rain as the Appaloosa climbed steadily towards the thrusting rocks of the stronghold. The air cooled suddenly and the brush was harried by the sudden wind that whipped his coat and stung his eyes with sand. The sky bellied with grey clouds. Surely, this time. He knew the water jugs would have been laid out in readiness, the women watching and hoping as they scanned the sky, scolding the children in their anxiety.
A deepening gloom settled over the desert, an expectant hush. The horse’s hooves rang loudly on the rocks. Jeffords halted on an outflung ridge and rested, the horse snorting fretfully in the eerie light.
The first drops pattered suddenly like thrown stones. He turned his horse along the last track to the camp, jamming down the brim of his hat against the hissing rain.
Telsabestinay hurried from her wickiup to greet him, woven shawl gripped close about her shoulders, black hair streaming in the wind as she shouted and pointed towards Flat Rock. Her face was alight with pleasure to see him in the stronghold again for she knew he was the best medicine for Cochise, whom she loved. Now the healing could begin. She took the reins as he dismounted, motioning impatiently for him to go. She unsaddled the horse and put him with the other ponies to stand with his rump to the storm. She carefully laid the tack in Cochise’s wickiup. She shook out and smoothed Jeffords’ rugs, laid them back neatly by the fire then returned to her wickiup, listening to the music of splashing water on the cliffs of home.
Increasingly exasperated, Jeffords hunched against the howling weather as he sought Cochise, his clothes sodden and chilled against his skin. He slipped on the muddy ground and almost gave up, wondering churlishly why he even bothered, when he glimpsed him at last through the tossing trees, and then he stopped and waited and dared not move.
Cochise stood motionless, ramrod straight in the torrential storm, bare to the waist, his arms uplifted to the sky. His head was thrown back, eyes closed, hair plastered against his muscular shoulders. The rain streamed down his body, darkening the doeskin breeches, pattering and dancing on the rocks around his calf-high boots. Jeffords was utterly spellbound by the pathos of his stance and could only guess at the things in his heart. Slowly, Cochise bowed his head and lowered his arms then turned and looked directly into Jeffords’ eyes through the sheeting rain. He seemed to move within his own serene aura as he leapt nimbly down the track to where Jeffords stood uncertainly, shivering, water dripping off the brim of his hat. Cochise strode ahead back to camp in the gathering darkness.
The wickiup was warm and dry with its small fire in the earthen pit of the floor. Cochise saw the wet saddle, felt the touch of Telsabestinay. He sat cross-legged and rested his elbows on his knees, dusky skin glistening with rain in the light, listening to Jeffords mutter as he peeled off his wet shirt and hat, snuggling into one of the rugs, settling at last opposite his friend for the first time in weeks. He suddenly looked very young and vulnerable, wrapped up to the chin with his unruly hair flopped wetly about his forehead, leaning forward earnestly. Cochise smiled softly.
“It lightens my heart to see you, Sheekasay. I have missed you.”
Jeffords frowned, resisting the urge to leap to his feet in righteous indignation.
“I thank the great Chiricahua chief for the comfort of his rugs and fire,” he said formally, “I will leave as soon as the storm has passed, for I am unwelcome here.”
Now it was Cochise who frowned, his generous gesture rebuffed.
“My brother should rest here until morning. It is good to see him in his rightful place once again, now that the trouble has passed. He must know he is welcome.”
“The trouble is not over,” Jeffords countered, “It is true the Chiricahuas have been cleared of blame, but a good man mourns his wife. This same man had nothing but praise for Cochise. He has a message also which is why I have come to the home of the Apache. The Chiricahuas will never know the hunger of Ghost Face again. He will supply beef in return for the work of young braves on his ranch. He has said this in Tucson before many. He has also said that he gave the renegade’s arrow to me for identification, not to you, so it remains our secret that you left the reservation. The people of Cochise will always be under his protection. This is how he thanks the Chiricahua chief in hopes of some justice. So now does Cochise no longer turn his back on his brother?”
“My blood brother is Apache here, and here,” said Cochise, pointing to his heart and mind, “but he is still a white man. I must protect my people above all else, especially in time of danger. The slaying of the rancher’s wife was such a time for us. Even after so many harvests of peace, the American is quick to accuse the Chiricahua and it is enough that he is Indian. This filled my heart with anger. Again, the Indian must prove he is good. How many times must the Indian do this? Does the white man prove his worth to the Indian?”
Cochise rose and gazed down at Jeffords, still wrapped in the rugs, then began to pace the wickiup restlessly, shoulders hunched.
“How much more can I do? The young men train to be warriors, as is our custom, and then they sit like rabbits and wait to be fed by the white man and are told they must stay in a small part of their own land or be hunted down and killed!” Cochise stared at Jeffords, his face etched with anger, his voice heavy with scorn, “They say their chief forbids them to live as Apaches! And, once again, I must prove my people are innocent, or risk attack! Even you asked me to help prove them innocent. My brother doubted my word and my honor. This offended me. No-one else lives who has insulted Cochise!”
Jeffords set aside the blankets and stepped before Cochise as once before, arresting him.
“I asked you to help track the renegades,” he said. “It is not the same thing.”
“You act disrespectfully to me, stand in my way, for the second time. It is the same thing and if you do not see that, then the burden of peace lies too heavily on me.”
Jeffords stood his ground. “You cannot now give up,” he said, “for then you will have lost everything. Would that burden not lie even more heavily upon you? Would you have us face each other next time over the sights of a rifle? Or would you live to hold Taza’s boychild in your arms one day?”
In the sudden silence, Jeffords was aware of the steady pattering of the rain on the wickiup roof. Cochise dropped his eyes and sighed with heartfelt sadness and longing.
“Your words echo of him. I still mourn, son of my father, as I am. Sometimes, I think the Great Spirit has given you to me as brother so that he may speak through you. With him, I was one. With him, my heart was soothed. With him, I was encouraged that peace was possible. Then also, at Bascom’s tent, we declared our innocence of a wrong thing — kidnapping the Wade boy — and he with others of my family were hanged. Memories are long.”
The great Cochise seemed to sag as though his bones were broken.
“Come sit with me,” Jeffords said gently, and took his arm, guiding him to his pallet, as he would a child, then donned his shirt, now almost dry, and took his place opposite, cracking a little pile of sticks to feed the fire. Cochise lifted his head as he spoke in the sing-song lilt of the storytellers. There had been many stories over the last two years and Jeffords had gained a little experience in the art.
“Coyote came to the lair of Mountain Lion one day and said, “I come in peace, do not attack me. Let us sit together in the sun and talk.”
Mountain Lion came out of his lair and growled at wily Coyote and said, “I do not trust you. Come here again and I will kill you.”
“But Coyote yelped and pleaded and then the Lion came back and sat with him because he feared the cubs would wake with all the noise.”
Cochise listened intently, arms crossed on his knees. Jeffords smiled at the spark of interest in his eyes, charmed once again at the Apache’s simple love of stories.
“And maybe Lion was impressed that Coyote was brave?” he suggested.
“Yes, that was so,” Jeffords agreed. “Coyote spoke of hard times in the woods with game scarce due to a terrible drought and each day he had to go further to find a meal. His bones were sticking through his coat, so Lion could see he was truthful. Lion himself was also weaker these days, for although he hunted tirelessly, he also had to feed his family for his mate suckled the little ones still. “I think we should be friends,” Coyote said, “we could hunt together and share what we find. It will be easier for both of us.””
“Ah!” Cochise exclaimed, “But Mountain Lion was wary, for the wily Coyote was not to be trusted.”
Jeffords nodded thoughtfully and prolonged the moment in the fashion of the storytellers. He fed a few more sticks into the fire.
“But Mountain Lion was also wise,” he continued, spreading his arms, “he knew it made good sense if this could be so. “From this day we will be brothers and make peace, even though we are so different,” he said to Coyote who wagged his tail with joy, “tonight we hunt together.” So they made a plan so that each used his particular strength. Coyote was cunning and could herd the prey towards Lion, and Lion was strong and swift at the kill. They made a good team and now Coyote’s ribs were smooth with flesh and his coat was sleek and Lion did not lay back his ears and snarl in temper when his babies crawled over him, for he was well-fed and rested. He lay in the sun and dozed, for that is what Mountain Lions love to do. But Coyote trotted through the woods by day and sometimes he was tired when he met his brother in the evening and there was dirt on his nose.
“Other lions come,” he said, “the drought has exhausted their game, and now they come closer to our home. We are in danger and will go hungry again.” Mountain Lion did not listen to his warning, instead, he wondered why Coyote’s nose was dirty. He became wary and did not speak to Coyote. One day, he followed him when the sun was high and Coyote should be sleeping in his den. He tracked him further than even they had hunted together and then he saw him pounce on a rabbit and kill it, then drag it beside a large rock where he dug a hole and buried it, pushing the earth back with his nose. He then glanced about to make sure he had not been seen. But Mountain Lion had seen.”
“He had been tricked!” Cochise declared in triumph, “Coyote was not to be trusted after all.”
Jeffords waited a moment, noting the drumming on the wickiup roof had slowed to a soft patter. The air smelled fragrant with smoke and damp earth.
“When Coyote met him that night, Mountain Lion slashed at him with his claws and snarled, for he felt betrayed and angry. Coyote bared his teeth, also angry, and did not run away. “You would not listen to me,” he said to Mountain Lion, “although I tried to warn you of danger. So I hunted alone during the day and buried the meat in the cool earth. Now we will have food to share later, if this drought continues.”
“How can I be sure this was your plan?” Mountain Lion asked suspiciously.
Coyote looked at him sadly. “Because we are brothers, even if we do not always understand each other’s ways.”
Cochise sighed. Around a circle of hunters, the sigh would have rippled through them all at the end of a story in appreciation and acknowledgement.
“This old Mountain Lion still has much to learn.”
Jeffords smiled at him affectionately in the firelight.
“Not so old,” he said.