Synopsis: Will a young newspaper reporter find the price too high to write of the tribe?
Category: Broken Arrow
Word Count: 4,700
It was not far from a small creek, in a quiet and peaceful place, where a large tree overhung and shaded it from the midday sun. Cochise would know that he was here again, where he had not been for a long time, although his heart had never left. Boulders were scattered through the deep, green grass; on this side of the mountains there was more rain. He tethered his Appaloosa and walked down the small slope to her, and then he stood beside her in the shade of the tree and listened to the rustling of the leaves overhead, twisting his hat around in his hands. It was a long time before he could look upon the stones. They seemed to have sunk lower into the ground, but otherwise they were as he remembered them, every one. He tried to think of her lovely face without his mind closing in a silent scream, tried to connect her with the stones at his feet, but could not think through his overwhelming sadness, or even feel anything but aloneness. Even the blinding rage had gone, subsiding with his grief into this cold thing inside him that he carried like one of the stones that lay upon her. The afternoon breeze swayed the grass around his feet. What had he expected, coming here? That first time, Cochise had led him to her grave and then left him to sit there, shattered, lifting the stones in his hand and carefully replacing them.
He turned and walked towards the rocks, remnants of a great mountain that had been worn down by an ancient river; all that was left of it was now the little creek. He leaned back against them, still turning his hat absently in his hands, remembering the silver bells. Then, as though grown from the earth itself, Cochise was there, naked to the waist on this golden, hot day except for the amulets about his neck and muscular forearms. He stood apart respectfully. Jeffords had felt his presence but it was some time before he could speak. The Indian waited patiently.
“Today would have been our anniversary,” Jeffords said, surprised at the steadiness of his voice, turning at last to face Cochise, reading the sympathy in his eloquent eyes. “This means we would have been married one year, the time it takes Ghost Face to return from one time to another. This is one way in which the white man marks time, knows he is growing old. Had she lived, we would have had a child, maybe, although he would still have been too little to leave his mother’s sling.”
“I feel your pain,” Cochise came to stand close beside him, taller then Jeffords, powerful in stature, “It is a pain I have known often, to no longer look upon the faces of loved ones. This is why I made the treaty with the one-armed general. You achieve nothing by being here, my brother.”
Jeffords glanced at him. “She was killed for nothing. She was not a soldier.”
“Nor were the many women and children of my tribe who were hunted down and killed with her. Their faces stay with me but their spirits are free. They cannot be harmed again. I must think this way in order to continue. I do not wish to add to the number of faces.”
Jeffords gazed at her grave again then stood to leave. “I will come again,” he said, “It eases my heart to stand close to her.”
Cochise laid his hand upon Jeffords’ shoulder. “Sheekasay, listen to me!” he declared firmly, his eyes narrowed, his voice deep with emotion, “we have buried your wife under stones out of consideration for you and the white man’s way, as told to us by your friend, Duffield, otherwise her final place would be secret. A secret place cuts the connection and frees the remaining one to love again, on this earth, and to have children, as intended by nature.”
Jeffords understood the compliment, but shook his head, starting up the slope towards his horse. “In some ways, we will always be separate as white man and Apache,” he said, “I loved no woman before her and never will again. This feeling lies with her beneath the stones.”
Cochise followed him. They mounted their horses and sat easily for a while, studying each other with understanding and affection.
“Do not worry, Cochise,” Jeffords smiled gently, leaning across to grasp the Indian’s muscular forearm in traditional farewell, “I have a whole tribe of Chiricahuas to be my family now. Surely that is enough for one man.”
But Cochise would not be humored. “You are young. I was already training to be a warrior when you were just born, so many years lie between us. You need to take a wife and have sons, here maybe. You belong here. Apache blood also flows in your veins.”
“Which means American blood flows in yours!” Jeffords’ smile broadened at the flick of concern across Cochise’s face. “I mourn her but I have purpose to my life and that lies in the welfare of your people. If we make this peace last, it will overflow to all Indians. This would be a great achievement for any man.”
“Everything changes,” Cochise’s rugged face was wistful, “I remember a white man who had red hair upon his face when he first came to see me many moons ago. He had great courage, which is why he lived that day and why I respected him from the beginning. This man today has taken the hair from his face and no longer hides. Now he needs to step forward and have courage once again.” He turned and cantered slowly away across the brow of the hill. Jeffords watched him, the proud set of his bare shoulders, the straight back, the lift of his head, the easy way he sat his horse. He looked again at the grave beneath the tree in that tranquil place. He mourned only one; Cochise mourned many.
Samuel was a young man with tousled, blonde hair and wide, blue eyes which gave him an expression of wonderment and innocence. He was decent, keen to learn, and well mannered. Jeffords liked him. He would ride out to the agency when the food shipments arrived for the Indians and balance the books, for he was quick and intelligent. In return, Jeffords shared his knowledge of Indians, sitting on the steps waiting for the wagons from the reservation. Samuel, listening avidly, scrawled his notes and at nights developed them into stories. Jeffords read them and approved. Samuel had great enthusiasm and a flair for writing and he wished to publish his articles about the Apaches, their customs and culture. Jeffords encouraged him and was generous with his time, for he saw this as another step towards better understanding and therefore a lasting peace. He was surprised and pleased at Samuel’s dedication, for there was no doubt the agency records were correct and neat, which put the Chiricahua Reservation in a favorable light with the Indian Bureau. But Samuel had another purpose also, and this became apparent when the wagons came to collect the grain from the agency. Naiheena was the daughter of Eukassi, one of the drivers, and the very sight of her punched the breath from Samuel’s body.
Jeffords noticed how the young man and the Indian girl were drawn to each other and his heart ached as memories stirred from their secret place. Samuel wrote her name and she copied it carefully. She brought sweet cakes for him. Jeffords acted as interpreter with the father’s permission and it soon became accepted that Samuel would be there each month when the consignments arrived, ostensibly as clerk, and that Naiheena would also come and extend Samuel’s knowledge for his articles which he soon hoped to have published in various newspapers.
“These stories are a good thing,” Jeffords had reasoned one evening after a meal of sweet, steaming deer meat, sitting with Cochise and Eukassi in the chief’s wickiup, “other white men will be able to read the marks on the paper and learn about the Apaches and their way of life.”
“What is it to them?” Cochise had scowled distrustfully, mellow with tiswin, “I do not care how the white man lives.”
“One day, the children of your children will live among the Americans. My brother knows this must happen. This goes beyond our time. These two young people are bright and without prejudice, each brings an unknown world to the other. They are willing to learn and respect each other. We must encourage this.”
“Naiheena asks to come with me,” Eukassi said, “she is proud to share our ways with the white boy. She wishes to see her name written on the white man’s paper like silent speech.”
“Since she is your daughter, it is not my place to forbid her to go.”
Eukassi smiled in the firelight at Cochise’s surly expression and glanced at Jeffords knowingly.
“Naiheena wishes to speak and write the American language. She will be a mother one day. She will teach her children the ancient story of the Apaches, as do all our women, but her sons and daughters will also be the equal of the white man. The Indian must be able to survive in the white man’s world.”
“You speak wisely,” Jeffords said. “Cochise, it would gladden me if you gave your approval.”
Cochise looked deeply at him in the firelight. “They could also learn to love. Would this be a good thing, my brother?”
“Mr. Jeffords! Look!” Samuel rode to the agency, waving and shouting, jumping from his horse before it had stopped, almost colliding with Jeffords in the doorway. There in his hand was a somewhat crumpled copy of a newspaper. Samuel smoothed it out carefully on the verandah boards and turned to page fifteen excitedly. There was his article, “An Interview with Mr. Tom Jeffords, Indian Agent.”
“There I am! In print!” Samuel exclaimed, “This is the first of many, I hope. Here! This copy is for you.”
Jeffords read rapidly, laughed and slapped Samuel’s arm. “It is published exactly as you wrote it, Sam,” he said, “they did not edit one bit. Congratulations to Tucson’s youngest and most energetic writer! May he have a long career. You are just old enough for me to buy you a drink this afternoon. I’m going into town for supplies.”
Samuel smiled delightedly, his blue eyes alight with pleasure. “Thank you, Mr. Jeffords. I’ve not had anyone buy me a drink before. I wish I could show Naiheena her name in print now, this minute.”
“Only two more weeks,” Jeffords said, smiling, “and you will see her again. You must show respect towards her father to thank him.”
“Two weeks!” Samuel groaned, “That’s a long time to wait.”
Jeffords sighed as he turned towards the corral for his horse. He had been stunned to learn he must wait a whole moon for his wedding from the time the marriage proposal was accepted by his future wife’s parents. Cochise had smiled at him and said this was good for people in love. He thought again of the white horses and the silver bells and did not heed Samuel’s excited chatter.
“Leave the boy alone,” Jeffords had said quietly, still sitting relaxed at a table in the corner with Samuel. Hank had jeered at Jeffords, called him “Indian man”, all the usual things that no longer bothered him. Samuel had been ridiculed and taunted. He had blushed fiercely as the newspaper was passed around the saloon, scorned for his interest in the Apaches, threatened by the more drunken men until his blue eyes were wide with disbelief and astonishment. His drink sat untouched on the table.
“We’re leaving,” Jeffords said, still quiet and easy, pulling Samuel out of his chair. It was then that Hank hit him hard across the cheekbone, splitting open the skin. Bright drops spattered his shirt. He struck his head against the wall as he stumbled backwards and was punched again and then the crowd cleared from around him and the marshal waited until he staggered to his feet in the sudden hush.
“No need for this to go any further, Tom. He’s not worth it.”
“I’ll ride back with you, Mr. Jeffords,” said Samuel anxiously, then looked around the faces he thought he had known well, friends of his father. “And I will continue to write more articles for fair-minded men. My stories will be read everywhere and the Indian better understood.”
“That’s enough, Samuel,” Jeffords steered him firmly towards the door and then they were out in the night air, the marshal talking low with Jeffords for a while before clapping him lightly on the shoulder and leaving. “I’ll be all right. You go on home.”
“I’d sooner ride out to the agency with you, Mr. Jeffords. You still owe me a drink as I understand.”
Jeffords smiled at him, head pounding. “You’re mighty hard to shake when you’ve a mind.”
The night was beautiful, balmy with spring, the desert air sweet with cactus flowers. The blazing stars hung low in the inky sky. Jeffords leaned restlessly against the verandah posts, sucking on the pipe he had recently started to smoke, as in the old days. He wondered whether he should grow his beard again. Samuel was asleep by the glowing embers, made drowsy by the single drink Jeffords had given him, that deserved toast for a fine article. Jeffords smiled as he stared out into the night. His face hurt as he drew on the tobacco, one eye was puffy and would be black tomorrow. Suddenly overcome by an unbearable loneliness and frustration with his life, Jeffords left the agency at a quiet trot, taking the turmoil in his mind up there into the mountains, back to where she slept. Until a few days ago, he had been unable to revisit her grave since her death, still in mourning, still overwhelmed by devastation, yet now he felt driven to be there beside her, drawing a curious comfort from standing as close to her as possible. At last, he had begun the journey through the phases of grief. He reflected ironically on how once he had been a hero, successfully getting the mail through when so many others had failed; respected for his courage and audacity to seek out the most feared Apache warrior and ask a simple request; now he was despised for his association with Cochise by those who had lost relatives and property during the war, whose lives had been ruined by death and hatred. He could empathize with this. The rest distrusted him in ignorance. They forgot he had been an army scout, had killed Apaches before the peace. How could he blame them? There were only two people he had ever loved, and one lay dead beneath a cairn in a secluded meadow. He rode through the night and knew Indian eyes watched him; the news would be related to that other one, his best friend, Cochise. He thought fleetingly of Samuel; he would wake and find the note that Jeffords had been called on an errand and would go home to make his own decisions in the sanity of daylight.
At last he stood beside her again, gazing down to where his darling lay, moonlight shining on the fair, tumbled hair of his bowed head. He remembered the wedding night, the ceremony, their journey on white horses to the secret place where she had built their honeymoon wickiup, the little silver bells hung over the entrance that tinkled enchantingly as they entered. She had filled him with her beauty and love, and those idyllic days alone together had been the happiest of his life. He was shattered when she told him it was time to go, that they must burn their wickiup. It was the custom. And now she lay where those cold ashes had been, only this time, she lay alone. He sat beside her and lifted the stones in his hands, as he had then, a year ago, and struggled to feel her presence there. He had been forbidden to see her after she was killed; Cochise had stopped him, blocking his way, never once striking back as Jeffords fought him savagely in an agony of grief to reach her. Once, he had actually knocked him down, although Cochise was taller and stronger. A rippling sigh had passed through the other Indians as they stood in closed ranks about the brothers and Cochise had risen and faced him impassively once again, his own eyes reflecting Jeffords’ agony, deflecting the frenzy of his blows until he was utterly exhausted. The breeze stirred the grasses around him and his head ached.
The fire licked rapidly through the crumpling, dry grass at the back of the store and smoldered into the wooden slabs. Samuel had started awake to the smell of smoke and seen the glow of lurid, dancing shadows on the nearby trees. Horrified, he turned and ran to the well in the compound, dropped the bucket, heard the splash and felt it grow heavy, hauling it up quickly. He could already hear the ominous crackling as he ran back to throw the water in an arc against the walls. The fire hissed angrily and vanished, but then the smoke wound lazily through again, in another place, and Samuel gripped the bucket and raced for the well again in the burgeoning glow. Alone and terrified, he fought back the fire, crushing it down, ever mindful of the precious grain inside, pulling up bucketloads until his shoulders ached, the sweat pouring off him as he worked frantically in the darkness, stumbling in his haste, hurling the water against the walls, soaking them down. Careless with exhaustion, he came too close and the fire leapt out at him, singeing his hands as he threw the water once again with shaking arms, running back to the well again, each load surfacing with maddening slowness. Suddenly, Samuel stopped, gasping, heart thundering in his chest, and realized the fire had been doused at last, leaving blackened, dripping timbers. The thick smoke spiraled into the night sky with sulky slowness. The agony of burnt flesh burst through the shock and he dropped the bucket and lifted his hands in disbelief. He staggered back towards the agency, shivering with reaction, stopping to stare at his hands, swollen red and blistered, and the blackened rags of his sleeves. Samuel cried, lifting his shoulders to brush the tears from his cheeks. Then he heard the sound of galloping hooves and his heart flooded with relief.
It was not Jeffords who galloped into the yard, sliding suddenly to a halt before him in surprise, but a tall, broad-shouldered Apache on a black and white pinto. Resplendent in deerhide clothing, he stared down at Samuel silently. A necklace braided with leather and shells encircled his muscular neck, a red headband was tied around his long, graying hair. His rugged face tightened with anger at the acrid stink of charcoal and smoke as he glanced quickly about the scene with sharp, intelligent eyes, noting the blackened store wall, the abandoned bucket, the young man’s wet clothes and blistered hands. He sighed softly. Samuel could only gape at him in speechless wonder as he sat sternly upon his horse.
Despite the distraction of his pain, Samuel longed to record this unforgettable moment, the awesome presence of the Indian caught in the spilled light from the open doorway.
The Apache struck his chest and said “Cochise.” His voice was deep and resonant with authority and power. Samuel tried to point to himself with his scorched hand. “Sam,” he said, thinking this would be simpler, and waited anxiously for a response.
Cochise moved his horse forward until he was alongside Samuel and kicked his foot from the stirrup, leaning down to offer a broad, strong hand. The young man hesitated in sudden apprehension, understanding the intent, then remembered Cochise was Mr. Jeffords’ blood brother. He pushed his boot into the stirrup and lifted his hand; Cochise reached down further to grasp his elbow and swung him effortlessly up behind him onto the pinto’s rump, waiting until his passenger was settled, his arms gingerly about the Indian’s waist.
“Enju!” he said, glancing back at Samuel with fine, dark eyes, then pointed up into the moonlit hills. “Jeffords!”
“Thank you, Mr. Cochise,” Samuel mumbled, feeling faint, aware they were moving slowly away from the agency as his forehead tumbled forward onto a broad shoulder. Cochise reached back to grasp him so he would not fall.
He felt the vibration through the ground and knew it was Cochise before he even saw him. He burst across the hill, a ghost rider on a black and pale horse. Jeffords rose in resentment at the intrusion and waited. The pinto, lathered with sweat from hard riding that night, snorted and blew as his rider dismounted.
Cochise’s face was slashed with moonlight and shadow as he looked upon Jeffords, disapproval scythed deep lines into his high cheekbones, compressed his mouth, hardened his eyes.
“Again I find you here, with the dead, when it is the living that have need of you. Do not come here again. It is not a good thing. I have told you this. She will be taken away, maybe.”
“Touch one stone and we are enemies!” Jeffords stood squarely before him.
“Take care, Tom Jeffords,” Cochise said mildly, “show me where it says in the treaty that the agent can go where he pleases on the reservation. Is he Apache?”
“So he has been told, many times!” exclaimed Jeffords bitterly, but his aggression was melting in the Indian’s calm presence.
Cochise rested a hand gently on his blood brother’s shoulder.
“Come. There has been trouble. Your young friend, Sam, lies injured my camp. Someone has tried to burn down the store with the grain and he was there alone to put out the fire and save the food for my people, for you were here. Naiheena is with him and comforts him, I think.”
Jeffords stared in disbelief and mounting anger, then slowly shook his head, collapsing inwards. “All my fault. I took him into town to celebrate the white man’s paper printing his first story about the Apaches. Some men were angry and there was fighting.”
“So I see,” Cochise remarked, noting the lacerations and bruises to Jeffords’ face as he looked up in the moonlight.
“You cannot understand how it is for me. I am respected and despised. Someone has tried to destroy your grain to cause trouble for me.”
“To keep this treaty is a hard thing, only for strong-minded men. For each of us there is this hatred and resistance to be overcome among our own people. Yet you dare tell me I cannot understand?”
Cochise pointed slowly at the grave, dappled in light beneath the tree.
“You forget I have known her also since she was born, Sheekasay. Hers is one of the many faces I carry. I grow old with them.”
“Never you!” Jeffords murmured huskily.
“We owe much to Sam’s courage. I give my blessing to him and Naiheena, as you wished, my brother. We will see what the future holds for them.”
Cochise turned, mounted and rode away, not once looking back.
Samuel lay in soft fur rugs, relaxed in the cozy wickiup. Naiheena sat beside him and fed him rich broth. Her mother smiled at him kindly. His hands had been smeared with some kind of balm and were lightly bandaged, the pain subsiding to a heavy throb. Jeffords strode into the wickiup and relief flooded Samuel’s face.
“Mr. Jeffords! Mr. Cochise said he was going to find you.”
“I’m sorry, Samuel, for everything. I had personal business, but I should not have left you alone. It seems I still underestimate the mentality in Tucson. I wrote you a note, but I guess you didn’t find it. We will get the person responsible and he will be punished. You spoke with Cochise?”
“Yes, indeed! We communicated very well! I can’t wait to write about him, Mr. Jeffords, and how he brought me up here to the stronghold on the back of his own horse! What a story! It will be a sensation back east! I have never met such a man as Mr. Cochise!”
Jeffords smiled and knelt beside Samuel, indicating his hands.
“More painful than serious. An old Indian put some greasy stuff on them and it helped.” Samuel wrinkled his nose. “Smells awful, though.”
“You must keep writing,” insisted Jeffords seriously, “It is more important now than ever before.”
“How bad?” asked Samuel, indicating Jeffords’ face.
“More painful than serious. I see that Naiheena takes good care of you. We will return to the agency tomorrow. I’ll have some tough explaining to do to your father. I was responsible for you.”
“Maybe the Indian doctor could continue treating my hands. If he’s good enough for Mr. Cochise, then he’s good enough for me,” Samuel glanced at Naiheena as she sat back with her head lowered politely, “then I could come here again and learn a little of life in Mr. Cochise’s camp – for my articles, you understand. I’m sure Dad would be agreeable. He believes in this peace. Don’t be discouraged, Mr. Jeffords,” Samuel looked at him earnestly.
“Well,” Jeffords cautioned, “I wouldn’t be too sure, Samuel, but I know him to be a good and reasonable man.”
Cochise suddenly ducked under the rug across the entrance to the wickiup and stood looking down at his guest with a deep and sober stare. It seemed to Samuel that he filled the spacious dome until there was barely room to breathe and he gazed back with wide, blue eyes, blushing at the memory of passing out on his shoulder, grateful for the low firelight. Cochise spoke to Jeffords in guttural, emphatic tones accompanied by short, sharp gestures.
“He says you are welcome here,” Jeffords said, crouching down beside him, “it’s his way of thanking you and acknowledging your bravery.”
“The boy has gone, Cochise,” Jeffords said, meeting him at Flat Rock where he stood gazing out at Arizona spread before them. His home. The ancient rocks reddened in the sunset. “He goes to sell his articles about the Apaches to the big newspapers. He writes especially of you. He has left a present for you.” He pulled an envelope from inside his coat and opened it, removing a single sheet of paper. Cochise took it from him and studied it, the letters written in black ink in a beautiful, open hand.
“White man’s writing.”
“Samuel wrote this for you before he left. It is your name. He wanted you to have it so that when you look upon his articles in the newspapers, you will recognize your name. I will bring them for you and translate them. He wants you to know he writes of the Chiricahuas so that other men may know of your people and their way of life. Since you brought him to the stronghold upon your own horse, you are his hero. He can talk of nothing else but the kindness of the great Apache chief.”
“Not so long ago, Sheekasay, I would never have thought I would rescue a white man.”
“Let alone have one for a blood brother!” Jeffords remarked with a wry grin, taking great interest in the desert landscape graying with dusk. Evening stars studded the sky, glowing silver points through the last shreds of daylight.
Cochise studied the paper keenly then returned it to the envelope. His quiet smile relaxed the strong lines of his face and smoothed away the years. His dark eyes softened as he looked at Jeffords enigmatically.
“If there are two good white men, perhaps there are more,” he said. “You will show me these writings of Samuel and I will look for my name. He will return, I think. Naiheena is here.”