My Brother Lost (by Yvonne)

Synopsis:  A new Indian agent arrives when Jeffords needs to leave the reservation.

Category:  Broken Arrow
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  13, 225


 

His words were like stones that rolled slowly into nothingness and a heavy silence hung between them. They both stared into the little, warming fire, smoke curling upwards through the hole in the great, domed roof. It was fragrant with juniper and hickory and permeated Jeffords’ skin, filled him with the smells of home and warmth, its memory comforted him when sleeping alone at the agency, a long ride away tonight in the frosty moonlight.

The Apache had not moved, cross-legged on his pallet, the firelight striking sharp shadows on the high planes of his cheeks. Then he sighed and snapped another branch, laying it across the flames, his black eyes bright in the sudden flare. “When do you go?”

“The day after tomorrow. No sense in waiting. There will be another agent here for the time I am away. His name is Horace Ezrah Simpson.”

Cochise continued to gaze into the fire; a cold wind rustled through the brush roof, scurried the dry earth near the doorway hung with buckskin. Jeffords was close enough to touch him, but the distance was that of the chasms.

“I cannot say that name. Why does he have to come?”

“The Government does not like the Chiricahuas to be without an agent. He will keep records if you need more grain or blankets. Soon, Ghost Face will be here once again and I wish to be back before then. All supplies have been received. You only need to ask. He will have Gah to assist.”

“Ah, the rabbit!” Cochise looked up at last, grunted with contempt. “The tame Indian. The good Indian.”

“He will act as interpreter for Horace.”

“Is this Hor-ace a good man?”

“So I am told.”

“So says the White Father who calls the Apaches his children?” Cochise’s deep voice was surly with bitterness, “with you, we do not ask for our supplies. We take only what is needed and that is enough. He will not understand this. I do not ask for permission from your Hor-ace.”

Jeffords sighed with exasperation and rose stiffly to his feet. His friend remained seated, thoughtful.

“Where do you go?”

“Maybe south, or more to the west, places I have known when prospecting and surveying for the Government. There are pueblos and a cantina where I was once very happy with friends and music and a pretty girl. Maybe she is still there. It was a long time ago. Now I must return to the agency. It is late and cold.”

“You stray too far away from the Mountain Spirits. They will not be able to protect you. These mountains are your home; my people, your people.”

Jeffords smiled down on the bowed head of Cochise, graying hair spread across his broad and muscular shoulders. The Indian unfolded himself with fluid grace and rose lithely; still in the prime of his strength, standing remarkably tall, straight as an arrow, powerful, his eyes flat with disapproval.

“I wish you to come tomorrow to the agency to meet Horace,” Jeffords reached for his holster and hat, turning to leave, “I have had many discussions with him and he does not wish to upset the big Indian in the hills.” He smiled once again, but Cochise remained impassive, hollows like holes in his face. “I think this would be better than having a strange white man on the reservation, and that you would wish this instead. Do I know my brother well?”

“I will come, because you ask. Your Hor-ace is nothing to me. He can write in his book. We will take what we need and go. Why must you leave?”

The old restlessness was upon him, the need to move, the wanderlust, although he had mastered the Apache art of stillness and timelessness, watching things change that he would never had noticed before and finding in them beauty and wonder, moving only to shift his weight to watch again, day lilies open and die, the sway of cottonwoods in the afternoon breeze, somnolent in the desert heat. His heart had been lifted and cleansed, soothed by the creeping purple and gold across the rocks at the day’s end where he had done nothing and yet everything. Cochise had given him this gift, taught him how to see, be aware, appreciate, observe, but now the white man’s urge was upon him.

“I need a change for a while, and there are other reasons. I need to see that man again, Tom Jeffords, before he became an Indian Agent and once again do the things he did, maybe. This man is also important to me. There is nothing to be done at the agency; everything is under control for the next two months, and we both know it is Cochise who runs the reservation. Now is the quiet time of falling leaves and cool days. There will be no better time. This is something I must do.”

He ducked out into the sudden sharpness of the cold night. Nachise, younger son of Cochise, appeared from the darkness with Jeffords’ Appaloosa already saddled, as was his father’s command from the first time the young, rangy white man with the red beard had come quietly into their camp. The boy had remained in awe of such laconic courage, especially as Cochise himself had been impressed and had spoken of it long after that first visit. Jeffords did not thank him, as was the custom, and swung into the saddle, but he smiled fondly at Nachise, reached down and laid his hand upon the boy’s shoulder. The stars burned low from a velvet sky, bright as flashing diamonds in the clear, desert air.

“Until tomorrow,” he said and turned away.

Cochise did not emerge from the wickiup and there was no answer.

*****

“Is he coming, Mr. Jeffords? Are you sure?” Horace almost bumped into Jeffords as he came back inside for the packed saddlebags, “Must we have Red Indians here on our doorstep?”

“Even as we speak. Remember what I told you and make sure you give a good report to the Indian Bureau. Cochise is a proud man. You will have very little to do with him personally, if anything, as he is likely to send his warriors for supplies. Unless you want to load the dray yourself and take it to the reservation border.”

“It all has to be accounted for, you know,” Horace said severely, frowning up at Jeffords over his half-moon glasses, “and I have to tell you, I am not happy about having to deal with savages.”

“No doubt the feeling is mutual,” Jeffords remarked dryly, stepped around him in exasperation and went out on the verandah, securing the groundsheet and spartan camp equipment behind the saddle. “Just watch the Indians from inside here and count what you see them load in the wagon. Do not approach them. Gah will explain anything you feel absolutely necessary. They are honorable and will not cheat you, believe me. Remember, this reservation is run like no other.”

“And there has been no end of dispute and bother over that issue, as you well know! Well, I have the job description and frankly cannot see why there should be an exception for these savages. I will compile my report accordingly.”

Horace Ezrah Simpson was a small, fussy man with grizzled hair, being both an excellent book-keeper and bigot, his face permanently pinched in disapproval.

“That’s because this reservation is different from all others. This is the land of Cochise. Just keep the books and stay out of the hot sun. I’ll be about two weeks. You have supplies for two months. Gah will advise you and speak for you. He lives in Tucson and will ride out to check with you every two days. Frankly, I don’t think the Indian Bureau could have sent a more unsuitable replacement, but then, neither of us had a say in your being posted here, so just make the best of it. You will find the Apaches fair and courteous if you must communicate, but they prefer to be left alone. We’ve been through all this! I’ll be visiting a padre friend at the San Diego mission and then a cantina where I’m looking forward to a few card games and drinks, and maybe seeing someone I knew. That’s all. Then I’m coming back.” Jeffords turned and stabbed Horace in the chest empathically with his forefinger. “If there’s trouble, I will know it’s you and I’ll skin you alive if you endanger this treaty in any way. You have no understanding of Apaches. I have already explained this to Gah, so deal only with him.”

Horace stepped back, alarmed and affronted. “How dare you, Jeffords! I am in the employ of the Indian Bureau! I will report your behavior forthwith!”

Jeffords laughed wearily. “Strangely, so am I. The Bureau will simply file your complaint along with all the others, but if you wish, go ahead. Cochise asked I be Indian Agent when peace was made and he broke the arrow; let’s see your complaint stack up against the ending of a decade-long war. You’re an ignorant, small-minded man, Horace, and my own report will reflect that if you upset the Indians in any way. Here is Cochise.”

Horace’s eyes narrowed at the tall figure cantering slowly into the compound on a big and handsome pinto. The Apache was shirtless, copper skin gleaming in the heat, the sun flashing on the polished turquoise and shells about his neck and arms, a large bow across his chest, a quiver of arrows held across his broad back with a leather thong. He drew rein at the rail and stared down at Horace impassively, his strong-boned features, high cheeks and well-defined mouth lending an elegance to the severity of his face. His long hair, gray and shining clean, was bound with a yellow, plaited cloth, bound at the side of his head. He wore the soft buckskin breeches and calf-high boots of the Chiricahua and sat easily in the saddle, a strapping six foot, muscular and graceful. His keen, black eyes bored through to Horace’s soul.

“My brother goes hunting,” Jeffords greeted the Apache warmly and came to stand beside him.

Cochise did not dismount. Silently, he unhooked a woven basket waterproofed with leather and filled with stronghold water, and another flat, oval one of roasted mescal cakes and gave these to Jeffords.

Horace watched as the gifts were just as silently accepted and rehung on Jeffords’ saddle. He had never experienced anything like this in his life; this was the infamous Cochise himself, only a few feet away from where Horace stood in the shade of the verandah. There was only Cochise. He seemed to fill the space around him, block out the sun. His aura of power and intensity seemed to crush Horace within his own small stature and fan the small flame of resentment and hatred already in his heart.

Cochise glanced away from Horace dismissively and looking intently at his friend, untied a small, leather bag with a drawstring top from the cantle of the saddle. He held it out in a broad, brown hand. “I have made a medicine bag for you, since you will be too far from the Mountain Spirits for their protection. It contains shards from a tree struck by lightning, which still survives, some juniper to comfort you, ashes from your wickiup hearth and the magic stone. You can still add other things.”

Jeffords held the little bag on the flat of his palm and gazed at it thoughtfully. Horace might not have existed, despite clearing his throat several times in annoyance.

“No,” Jeffords said at last and smiled up at his friend, “You have thought of everything.” He untied the bag, recognizing Tesabelstinay’s artwork in the design of the beads, colored seeds from cactus and trees, and took out the stone, holding it up to the burning sun, looking through it into a sepia world. An apache tear; obsidian. He knew it well from his prospecting days. The Chiricahuas considered it the stone of grieving and its dark, cool clarity was said to cloud as it absorbed grief, and then clear again when the grieving had passed. He carefully replaced the stone, retied the little bag and pushed it inside his shirt. Suddenly, his heart ached for her, his sweet darling. Sonseeahray. Her memory punched the breath from his body; he smelled her hair, saw her alluring, black eyes as she danced before him with joy, her belly still flat, convinced she carried his child. He would never know. Cochise gazed upon his bent, fair head and felt his emotion. His own people would have remarried by now and filled their lives with children, for the only way was forward. Survival.

Jeffords looked up helplessly, lost for words. The Apache withdrew his rifle, a prize from a Mexican raid of long ago, and held it out. The stock flashed with lapis lazuli stones. Jeffords accepted it, holding it across his chest. It made no sense to Horace, deepening his dislike and distrust.

“Enju!” Cochise relaxed, grunted with satisfaction. “The new agent is a small man.”

“He is only here for a short time and I have told him to talk only to Gah. The gods have made him short.”

“I did not mean his height,” Cochise remarked sourly.

Horace knew the Indian’s single, keen glance had passed judgment and found him wanting. His hatred deepened. He resolved to start writing his report immediately and run the reservation according to the books for once, thereby demonstrating his own efficiency and authority to the Bureau to the detriment of the young man with the fair hair and blue eyes. Indian lover! He thought with contempt.

“Begin your journey, Tagliato!” Cochise remarked softly, leaning forward in the saddle, “and remember the power of the stone. Let it heal you.” He turned his horse and rode away at the same, easy canter, his hair flowing out behind him.

“Well, Jeffords! What was that about? Your Indian is rude and ill-mannered. As I have always said, savages are savages, and he has only proved me right again!”

Tagliato. Redbeard. Cochise had noticed that Jeffords had not shaved that morning. He had decided to re-grow his beard while he was away, to discover if that man was still there, retreat to a less hurtful time, before the headaches and frustrations of Indian agent, endless fighting with the Bureau and paperwork, before her.

Horace sniffed with contempt and went inside the spartan agency with its man smell. No sense of women, or their softness, which he had never known. He hung his hands from his pants’ braces and looked into the battered cardboard box on the old desk, papers jammed in everywhere. “I take it these are your records, Mr. Jeffords?”

“There’s everything,” Jeffords said, taking his hat from the nail by the door, laying the rifle carefully against the wall, “It’s all in there somewhere.”

“Hardly an efficient accounting system.”

“We seem to totter along pretty well,” Jeffords remarked cheerfully, “but catalogue away, if you wish. There will be little else to do. And remember, stay away from the Indians. Ask Gah for anything you need. I’ll water the horses and be off.”

Jeffords tried to ignore the tug of anxiety as he rode out of the compound at last, dappled in the cooling shadows of sunset. Watching eyes were everywhere; he felt them on his skin. The Mountain Spirits would be moaning their sadness in the wind that night among the tors, sighing through the pine needles, and Cochise would be standing on Flat Rock, listening, staring south.

*****

It seemed strange to be riding away from the Dragoons, away from everything familiar in the cooling, silver twilight, across the flatness of the desert instead of the winding trail into the stronghold, the rangy Appaloosa cantering easily, ears pricked with interest towards new territory ahead, skirting his way through teddy bear cactus and cholla, deceptively fluffy in the soft light, easy on the bit to the light touch of Jeffords’ hand. Dying summer flowers scented early evening as Jeffords picked his way down a steep hill, the horse snorting as he slid on his haunches, stirring the dry earth, brushing through wild sage. The base was a good campsite, a small spring sparkling between tumbled rocks before sliding underground and the hill behind for protection should the autumn night turn cold and gusty from the west. The leathers creaked loudly in the silence as he dismounted and stripped off the saddle, the blanket warm and pungent with horse sweat. As he made camp, building a small fire that crackled cheerfully and popped sparks into the sudden darkness of night, tethering his horse on good, rough grass, sweetened by the spring, he felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness and bewilderment, disinclined to make even the most meager of meals. What was he doing here, hours away from home? What was he seeking? He listened to the slow munching of the grazing horse, the soft stamping of his hooves, and withdrew the little medicine bag from his shirt, smiling as he remembered Cochise handing it to him, imagining Tesabelstinay working over her beads long into the night so it would be ready for him, saw her elderly, lined face puckered in concentration, framed in the long, sleek river of hair, black despite her age.

He scratched his chin, stubbly with new growth, and leaned back into the saddle bags, gazing at the stars, swinging low and large in the clear air, twinkling in diamond bunches, so close to his uplifted hand. He pulled a bottle of whiskey from his bedroll. The first drink burned down his throat; it was a long time since he had drunk anything other than tiswin. It choked off his breath and stung his eyes, but the second swig was smoother, bursting rich and woody into his mouth, warming and relaxing his body, soothing his troubled spirit into a numbing stupor, making his head heavy until it fell back into the hollow of the saddle. He lifted his hand towards the stars once again; they were closer now. Another drink and he could snatch them from the sky, put some into the medicine bag as a gift for Cochise. The liquor was good, he had missed it and drank deeply again. The new beard was good. The soft twitters of late settling birds gave way to an owl hooting and he crushed the Indian superstitions it brought to mind. Once again he was a white man of years ago, prospecting after a long scouting stint for the army. He had found a stone, wrested it from the ground. Where had he put that stone? He muttered in exasperation as he set down the half empty bottle and searched, shouting in triumph as he found it clenched in his own hand. He raised it to the firelight, squinting as he turned it about, cool and smooth in his fingers. He could not see through it; the beautiful mirror richness was gone; it was fogged and dirty and he grunted in disappointment, grabbed the bottle and drank deeply once again. Only a little remained and tears of disappointment blurred his vision. Voices whispered about him in the rising breeze, threading through his mind. Yes, it was his mind that was fogged. He knew he was drunk, liquor burning through his empty belly. Tomorrow, the stone would be clear again, a window on a magic, amber world. Obsidian. Apache tears. He needed sleep, slumping back into the saddle, aware the horse had stopped moving and was standing still, head raised, nickering gently. He shut his mind to the voices and knew the eyes were not there and the horse had sensed nothing.

*****

He awoke in pain, stiff with sleeping awkwardly on the ground, his head aching, his mouth filled with dry dust and the rank smell of the dead thing that had rolled from his senseless hand, now nothing more than a bottle, dirty and useless, where last night it had filled his mind with exploding stars. The horse moved restlessly in his hobbles, blowing softly as Jeffords stumbled to his feet, moaning and nauseous, scratching his chin and jaw, irritated by the short, red pins of day-old growth. Gold fingers of sunrise stretched across the lightening sky. He lifted his face gratefully to the cool, fresh breeze and knew that it rattled the loose, iron roof of the stable in the compound. He drank deeply of the spring and washed his face, then sat to a simple breakfast of mescal, quenching his thirst from the water skin, watching the brightening day, feeling the brassiness of the rising desert heat. Father Mateo. To the south, through thinning vegetation and heavy, alkaline dirt. He wondered whether the little church with its adobe steeple and bronze bell was still there, blinding white in the sun, by the gnarled peppercorn tree, wondered whether Father Mateo was still there. Paolo. It had been years ago when they had last talked companionably long into the night and Jeffords had warned him of raiding Indians. The urge to see his friend was strong. He watered his horse, refilled the water bag from the spring and saddled, the instinct to be away before the heavy heat enveloped him guiding him efficiently through the dizziness of his headache. He touched the little medicine bag in his shirt. In another life, before Cochise, he would have left the whiskey bottle where it lay; now, he buried it, smoothed over the spot, leaving his camp with only hoofprints to show he had been there. Fine silt carried by the next flurry of wind would erase even those. It was the Indian way.

*****

“He goes to Father Mateo,” Nachise said, sliding from his horse’s bare back as his father came to greet him. The boy tried to still the pounding of his heart, slow his rough breathing as though the long ride had been nothing as he silently handed the empty bottle to Cochise. “He had buried this. It was easy to find.”

Cochise glanced at the horse’s lathered flanks disapprovingly. “He carries you with courage and endurance, yet look how you treat him!”

Nachise lowered his head, crushed by his father’s rebuke, spoken with such iron softness. Cochise turned away to his wickiup, his face contorted with contempt. His brother had ridden far, had found the spring and slept and had drunk the poison of whiskey. His nostrils flared with distaste at its acrid smell, wafting like an evil spirit around him from the bottle; he remembered the drugged, sleeping Indians, given firewater by the good, kind Americans, who then killed them during the night, leaving their blood to run from their throats and gleam black streams in the moonlight. The old hatred and lust for revenge rose like bile in his mouth and prickled his skin with a cold sweat. Father Mateo might soothe his brother’s troubled soul yet the Apache tear would be cloudy in its little bag. Soon, Jeffords’ face would be that of a stranger, of fire and ice with the red beard and the piercing blue of his eyes, yet he was still brother, Sheekasay, and the great hand of Cochise would reach out as a mighty shield to protect him, even to Mexico. The Apache telegraph would tell him everything, flung out like a great, gossamer, invisible web, trembling back to him with information through the boy, Nachise, who cared greatly for his white uncle. Cochise smiled bitterly; there was no such thing as a reservation, a cage, for the Apache; with his supreme strategies, he was everywhere and knew everything beyond the line the white man had drawn upon his earth. His warriors moved like the wind, silently, everywhere, and Indian cries of triumph were heard as eagles screaming. He flung the bottle onto the ground in disgust and prayed for his lost brother.

*****

“He has looked through the stone,” said Cochise, standing with his arms folded, face severe with anxiety as his son dismounted and came to stand before him once again, hot and dusty from his ride.

“Yes.”

“He will go further south, and then he will come home.”

“How can you know that?” Nachise asked, frowning.

“The white man in him needs to go further south. The Indian in him will bring him home. You will follow him again tomorrow.” Cochise ran his hand over the horse’s neck. “You have taken good care of him this time. Now go, feed him, speak to him kindly. Soon, you also will take tiswin.”

With the slow, cool, relentless march of late autumn, the Indians had become restless and introspective, deprived of the game that would have sustained them through the long time of Ghost Face. Warriors came home with rabbits and ground birds, sometimes a young deer, but their own cattle herd was not yet developed enough to yield meat. It was a dangerously testing time for the treaty, especially as the tribe sensed their chief’s unease at Jeffords’ absence and dislike for the small agent. Gah had ridden to the stronghold with a letter he had been instructed to post and gave it to Cochise. Since the small man was bad, his words must also be bad. Cochise threw the letter into the nearest cooking fire. “It has been said the mail riders sometimes do not get through Chiricahua land,” he remarked moodily.

“It has been said,” Gah acknowledged, watching the last page curl into white ash. “It has also been said that the white man’s letters get lost on their way to the Great Father who loves all Indians as his children.” He spat carefully into the flames and went to join the drinkers. For two days the Apaches had fasted to heighten the effects of the mild beer made from corn fermented in furrows in the ground. There would be much bravado, games, laughter and coyote stories and they would be proud warriors once again. Jeffords had both respected and understood this, seeing Cochise’s wisdom in allowing such apparently wanton drunkenness and had stayed away at such times, leaning against the outside wall of the agency, smoking his pipe, gazing up towards the stronghold, watching the clouds reflect the blazing light of the bonfires, knowing that the Indians danced and sang and beat drums which he could sometimes hear as faint thunder in the crystal clarity of the desert night.

*****

He drew rein in the shade of the peppercorn, its long, trailing branches sweeping lazily in the constant breezes raised by the desert heat, and drank in the scene with a sense of mounting excitement at seeing his friend once again. Father Paolo Mateo was determinedly hoeing the unforgiving earth, scratching away with saintly patience, pitching in a little horse manure with a shovel and then hoeing again. A row of corn, stunted cobs ready to pick, hung shining, green strappy leaves in the bright sun. Although it gave the mission a homely and welcoming look, nothing could be more welcoming than the priest’s outflung arms and beaming smile as Jeffords called out to him, the hoe flung away with a clatter as Paolo hurried to meet him with joyful shouts, tripping in his rope sandals, unused to running with his ample weight.

“Tom! My friend, Tom! How good to see you, what I can through the beard! You still have your beautiful horse, I see! Come, come, mio amigo, put your horse with Bella in the corral! How good to see you! God has sent you!”

Father Mateo hugged him exuberantly, sweeping him into flowing, brown robes, his face as bright red and shiny as an apple. Jeffords laughed, his heart lifted with pleasure as he led his horse to the corral, the priest dancing around him, patting his shoulder as though to assure himself this was not a vision of almost unendurable loneliness.

“Come inside in the cool! Come, come, my friend Tom!”

The meager living quarters off the little church were dim and cool, the high, slit windows effective enough for workable light and heat control. Jeffords gratefully dropped his jacket over one of four chairs at the wooden table and looked through into the arched nave. There she was, Our Lady of Guadeloupe in her little shrine, a candle burning at her feet, as always. Paolo had hustled outside and now came rushing back with a thick clay bottle of the coldest wine, drawn up from the well. He thumped it on the table, took two glasses off a shelf and flung open a wooden chest lined with hessian and linen from which he brandished a round loaf of thick, crusty bread, tearing it into two enormous chunks and slamming them down on the table, all the while his white teeth shining with delight in his brown face, continuing to glance at Jeffords as though to reassure himself he was really there.

“You never know what will get caught up in the tumbleweed blowing around these parts,” Jeffords smiled, stretching out his legs at the table as Paolo dropped with a thud into the chair opposite him, slopping the cold wine into the glasses.

“Never has it brought better!” the priest declared, smacking his glass alarmingly in a rough toast against Jeffords’ and downing the wine at a single gulp. “Another!” He refilled his glass, topped up Jeffords’ own. “Drink, my friend, Tom! Drink!”

“Nectar of the gods,” Jeffords coughed appreciatively, catching the chunk of bread the priest hurled at him.

“Of course!” agreed Paolo, “What else would you expect? Eat! Eat! You are still too thin! Tell me everything!”

Jeffords laughed, scratched his red bristles and sighed, sliding down and relaxing in the continuous effusiveness that was Paolo, the exact opposite of himself.

Well, it’s like this, Father. I had to get away from the agency; it was drowning me. It was either escape for awhile or resign, and then what? I’m trapped by a fragile peace treaty, my best friend is the most feared warrior in the southwest and I’m despised by my own kind. I don’t know who I am anymore or what I’ve become, or what I’ve lost.

“How is Cochise? Don’t forget to thank him again for me. I remember his men swooping out of thin air and chasing off those renegades from Mexico.”

“If I see him again.” Jeffords watched as Paolo jumped up as though shot, so agile for a big man, rummaged in the chest and clattered a plate of thick, white goat’s cheese onto the table, cutting off a slab and dumping it onto Jeffords’ bread.

“You will.” Paolo smiled gently into Jeffords’ clear, blue eyes.

“I guess. He loaned me a rifle.”

“Because he knew you would have to return it.”

“You look well, as always, Paolo. Still saying Mass on Sundays?”

The priest looked shocked. “But of course! While I have a congregation, I will say Mass.”

“Not too many settlers yet in these parts,” Jeffords remarked, “Still scared of Indians?”

“Can you blame them? But even if no one came, I would say Mass for myself. Maybe I will pray for you this Sunday. Are you troubled, my friend? I can ask God a special favor for you. Do you still mourn your wife?”

Jeffords stared at him in surprise. He was not accustomed to talking of her, since it was not the Apache custom to speak of the dead. “I guess. Look through this and tell me.” He produced the medicine bag and handed the obsidian to Paolo.

“Ah! The Apache tear. It has been a long time since I have seen one.” Paolo held it up to the narrow window and twisted it around, peering into its depths. “I cannot see through it. Must be the desert dust. You know, my friend Tom, there is also the healing of grief through faith.”

“I knew her for three months. She felt she was with child. Cochise’s wife, Tesabelstinay, knows for certain, but she has never told me.”

“Perhaps you were chosen to share the last days of her life.”

Jeffords refilled his glass and drank deeply once again. His cheeks were burning, his eyes over-bright.

“Chosen by whom, Father?”

“Do you believe in God?”

Jeffords could not answer. He looked at Paolo helplessly. He though of Cochise, arms upraised in the afterglow of sunset, of the Great Spirit.

“Maybe you are more comfortable with your Indian god, Usen, the Father. Then there is Child of the Water, conceived through rain by White Painted Woman. It is not so different; either way, the Child did not have a human father, but came from the heavens in one form or another. And so, does that help you believe in God?”

“No.”

Paolo smiled, cut Jeffords another wedge of cheese, refilled his glass, watched as he drank again with that abandonment possible only with good friends. “Call it fate, then,” he suggested softly, “You were meant to marry her. Remember you also made her happy. Be glad, my friend, for many have never known such love.”

*****

Although he was not yet ready to return to the agency, Jeffords’ mood was lighter the following morning, his head was clear and he had slept soundly in his bedroll on the earthen floor. Buckling the girth leathers, he was unexpectedly struck by the violent beauty of another fiery sunrise. It arrested his movements and his heart flooded with a sudden, rare joy. He breathed deeply of the sweetly-scented, cool desert air. The heady, midnight cactus flowers were closing for the day. He felt enriched and cleansed and thought of Cochise standing motionless on Flat Rock as was his daily ritual, his keen eyes carefully and thoroughly searching every familiar niche of the terrain below as it brightened with another day, the stirrings of the camp, the smell of woodsmoke. Thoughts of home.

“Holà! You are feeling better, Tom!” Paolo hailed him from the church, leaning laconically in the doorway in his brown robes, arms crossed. “Never before have I seen such a big grin in such a red beard!”

Jeffords laughed and swung into the saddle. “Maybe it was sharing time with a good friend and good wine.”

Paolo came to stand beside him, looking up at him fondly, regretfully. “I consecrated it in secret! Now you see the power of God!”

“There was a cantina not far south a couple of years ago.” Jeffords said, “I wonder whether it’s still there. Feel like a good ride, stretch out the old horse a bit.”

“Not ready to go back yet? The stone will clear in time, my friend. When you accept what you cannot change and move forward. When your heart rejoices for what you had.”

Jeffords gazed down at him seriously. “Was the obsidian cloudy, Paolo?”

“Ah!” Paolo waggled a plump finger, “A priest never tells.” He produced a muslin bag with a flourish from behind his back. “Your lunch! I will have more, fresh from the kiln, in about a week, and enough cream for butter. I hang it in the well to keep it cool, beside the wine.” He reached up to shake hands firmly. “Take care, my friend, Thomas!”

“Butter!” Jeffords exclaimed. “I’ll be back.”

“And wine.”

“Unconsecrated.”

*****

Peacefulness. Rest. Solitude. Time to watch the scattered boulders throw crests of creeping shadows over the desert as the sun slid down the broken back of the Dragoons, sleeping, purple dragons in the distance, filling himself with the air and the sounds of rustling things, molding into the earth, body and spirit, as Cochise had taught him, until he was as one of the many rocks. His horse grazed on the rough tussocks, staying near the small stream, snorting softly, shaking his mane at the late afternoon midges.

Jeffords had leisurely eaten a late lunch, the last of Paolo’s food, the bread soft and light with a crunchy crust. The cheese had melted a little in the heat, despite the ten miles of muslin wrapping. Jeffords pressed it generously into the loaf and grasped the lot with both hands to eat. It was the most delicious meal he could recall as he sat in the shade of an old cottonwood, arms on his updrawn knees, savoring the isolated and ancient landscape. He wondered whether Paolo had also blessed the bread and laughed softly, brushing crumbs from his beard. It was long enough now to touch his chest if he looked down. An eagle with spread-finger wings, screamed above him. His chest contracted suddenly. If only she was there, or Cochise, the only two people he had ever truly loved, to share this moment. He felt for the little bag in his shirt as he finished his meal, removed the stone, so cool and smooth, and held it up to the sun before he dared take time to think. Despite the clear and bright autumn day, the light through it was dull and muddy. Jeffords snatched it into his palm abruptly. Must be the effects of Paolo’s damn consecrated wine, although he had felt entirely sober before she had flashed unbidden into his mind. Cochise. His spirit was with Jeffords always; if he glanced up suddenly he would not be surprised to see him standing there on the slope behind him in his habitual, silent intensity, the point of his bow, as tall as he, resting on the ground before him, waiting with that tireless Indian patience Jeffords himself was still struggling to master. He searched in the bag for the twist of juniper and inhaled it deeply, deciding not to look through the stone again, for he knew it had not lied. Acceptance, Paolo had said. He replaced the medicine bag in his shirt, caught up the grazing horse and rode south, towards the girl.

The cantina should be over the next rise, another hour’s ride, and he would be ready for a double shot. He imagined holding it up to the light at the bar as was his habit of years ago, savoring the moment before tossing the liquor down his throat, its color that of the obsidian sleeping within the little bag in his shirt. Meditation had so heightened his senses that he could feel the sharp sting of anticipation in his dry mouth, the satisfying, biting flush of whiskey, feel the sudden, furnace heat rolling back up from his belly as the empty glass struck the counter. Rosalina. Dancing, swaying, singing Rosalina, with her swirling skirts and full, lace bodice, cut low, bewitching, her black hair tumbling in a riot of curls about her graceful shoulders, arms held high as she struck the proud pose of the flamenco, all the while her sloe eyes inviting him, and him alone, as he gambled and won and laughed and bought the lady a drink so he could drown in those eyes. He needed to see if she still danced there, if she was still as beautiful, if she still remembered him, if she had existed at all. He needed to touch the man with the bright blue eyes and red beard, to see his reflection in the heavy silver mirrors on the cantina walls. Maybe then, he could return to the rough slab cabin at the base of the mountains, knowing that, beyond the Indian agent, the Indian lover, the blood brother, his identity was not lost but sleeping within his soul like a bear in winter, and that he was whole.

*****

From his lookout at Flat Rock atop the winding track through the ponderosas, with a commanding view of Arizona’s rolling, desert landscape to a half-day’s ride, Cochise could see the thin, snaking trail of dust as Nachise rode homewards, and frowned at the pace he had set his pony. At dusk, he was already waiting at the stronghold entrance as his son negotiated the last of the rocky climb, stepping out swiftly from the brush to catch the horse’s reins so that it started and swung around with fright. Nachie’s black eyes widened with shock.

“There is trouble,” Cochise said, “tell me.”

“Jeffords went to the cantina. He came out with a woman. They had their arms around each other and were laughing but Jeffords was staggering. They went into the barn and then I heard fighting noises and the woman ran out with a bundle in her hand.” Nachise reached into his buckskin shirt and handed Cochise a wad of money, damp with the sweat of his long ride. “While they were fighting, I crept into the barn and right up to Jeffords’ horse. It knows me and stood quietly. I took the rifle you gave Jeffords so it would not be stolen also. No one saw me in the darkness.” He unslung the rifle from across his shoulders.

Cochise took it silently, his heart filled with sadness, his strong, high cheeks like tomahawk blades in the moonlight as he gazed up at his son.

“Tend to your horse then eat the stew Tesabelstinay has kept hot for you, and rest.”

The boy had already moved away at an exhausted walk when Cochise called softly after him. “What of Jeffords?”

“The two men that had beaten him had gone. I would know them again. I have remembered their faces, the way they walked. I went inside and found him lying on the floor. He was injured but alive and so I left him. I do not like the man he has become or the red hair on his face. This man is not your blood brother.”

“When you lose your way, are you no longer my son?”

Nachise was silent for a moment, shamed by his father’s rebuke. He decided to unburden his heart, rather than wait for morning. “He almost caught me the next day.”

“You were careless.”

“It was the sun on the stones of the rifle. He never saw me.”

“He felt you. That is enough. You gave yourself away. What if he would have been an enemy?”

Nachise moved uneasily. “I rode past the mission and it was quiet. Father Mateo did not light his candle tonight. He has been watching for Jeffords and lighting the candle every other night. But tonight, it was in darkness and the horse was gone.”

“Jeffords had warned him. It was his choice to stay, to guard Our Lady of Guadeloupe in her shrine in his church. The renegade Indians have come and he is dead. Or maybe it was some other thing. Jeffords will find him and bury him in the white man’s custom.”

“Tomorrow I should meet him, I think, Father. It will not be a good thing for him to find and he will be alone.”

“Your wish was to cast him aside. Now you worry for him, Nachise?”

The boy was grateful for the darkness which hid his blush of shame.

“We drink tiswin tomorrow to warm our bellies and the day after, and then we go to the agency for supplies. Government blankets are thin; we need more. You will tell Gah as I will not speak with the small man. My brother is lost, hiding behind his red beard. He must find his own way.”

“You will not help him, Father?” Nachise’s eyes widened with surprise.

“I will watch over him but he must help himself. He will have reached the mission now. Rest and think on the day and the mistakes you made. Such a mistake could have cost you your life, and those of your brothers.”

“But we are at peace now.”

“What is today may not be tomorrow. One day, you will decide the future of our people, if you earn the right to be chief. You and all the young men must continue in your warrior training. Go now. Enough words.”

Cochise sighed and went to his wickiup through a sudden, chill wind that whipped through his long hair and stung his eyes. He laid the rifle against the domed wall, the beautiful gems glinting blue in the light of the warming fire. The gusting wind rattled the reeds of the walls, flapped at the doorway. The breath of Ghost Face chased around the camp, hushing through the pines, wailing through the pinnacles high above the stronghold. The horses snorted in their corrals, hung their heads and turned their rumps towards the wind. Small snowflakes hissed in the campfires.

*****

They had kicked him savagely, repeatedly, in the belly until the vomit and whiskey had been thrown back up into his throat before he passed out in the fouled hay of the barn floor. The silver of dawn sent rough spears of light through the hewn, slab walls and stabbed at his eyes and he rolled onto his side and retched the poison onto the ground in an agony of bruises and fresh blood. He lay gasping for control as his stomach heaved again, his beard a disgusting, stinking mess. He managed to sit up enough to lean against the post of the stall, head bursting. His horse moved nervously inside, nickering, still saddled from the previous night. He pulled himself up slowly, leaning against the spotted, white rump, doubling over again as he felt his way to the water bucket, stopping to lean against his horse as rolling nausea overtook him once again.

He drank deeply, slowly, rinsing the muck from his mouth and face, washing his beard until the smell was gone. It was then he noticed the empty rifle scabbard in bleary disbelief, slapping at his back pocket. The money was gone, as surely as Cochise’s rifle, as surely as Rosalina, the beautiful dancer with the husky voice and tawny eyes who had set his body burning with a long-forgotten passion. He was crushed by shame, so easily tricked. He emptied the bucket, simply knocking it over, then reached inside his dripping shirt in sudden panic for the medicine bag. At least, he still had that. He knew he was too weak and sick to confront anyone in this hot, dusty, closed town about the rifle; it was gone, lost to him, a precious gift from brother to brother. Sick with humiliation, he bridled his horse and backed it from the stall, his belly contracting with excruciating pain as he retightened the girths. He had already paid the ostler and now signed out in the large register by the dusty window.

They had kicked him senseless. Had she watched? A fleeting vision swept through his fogged brain as he mounted, easing the cramps from his body. There had been a moment, a darting shadow, yet not the slightest rustle in the hay, maybe a spirit, a strong sense of Cochise and yet not Cochise as his sight glazed with approaching oblivion, and then again he felt it, along with the soft, cautious breath of someone leaning over him briefly through a slant of moonlight. Then he had fallen into a gathering blackness through which one last memory swarmed back into fading consciousness. He had looked deeply into them. Indian eyes.

Too sick and sore to eat, Jeffords left the town at a slow canter, eyes straight ahead as he passed the cantina. He would return to Paolo on the way; in any case, he had been robbed of all his money and would need to seek out the seeds and roots and water on the way in the manner of the Apache, for there would be no wild fruit during this Long Moon of Falling Leaves. Again, those black eyes from the night before burned into his memory. His head ached fiercely; he passed his arm across his face and found encrusted blood upon his sleeve then felt the slow trickle down his cheek. He drew the horse to a walk as he went deeper into the desert towards the mission, deeper into silence. He remembered the lesson, the long hours of patient coaching.

“You hear everything in silence,” Cochise had said, sitting cross-legged, face uplifted to the sun, eyes closed, arms across his knees, seemingly oblivious to the intense heat. “What do you hear?”

Jeffords remembered struggling to focus, sitting next to him, sinking down within himself, imagining a cool place, drifting.

“I hear scurryings and birds.”

“Not enough.”

Fighting exasperation, the urge to yell he was American and could not feel in the same way as Apaches had been taught since birth, he tried again while the skin burned red on the back of his neck and the sweat trickled down his face and soaked his shirt.

“I hear deeply. Now I hear thunder. It is my heartbeat.” He had achieved it at last with an overwhelming sense of wonder, that place of joyful, calm tranquility where there was no discomfort. He knew then he could sit there by his friend for hours. He had touched the timelessness of the Apache spirit.

“Still not deeply enough, Sheekasay.”

“Then when do I hear deeply enough?”

Cochise had not moved, yet a slow smile softened his rugged profile. “When you hear mine.”

Jeffords’ senses prickled with warning and a moment later the Appaloosa lifted his head and pricked his ears. There was someone ahead, he felt it in the air around him, smelled it, in that other dimension Cochise had taught him. Sunlight flashed briefly between the crags ahead, hurting his eyes, as though reflected off diamonds. Or lapis lazuli. The rifle. Shaking his head to clear his sight, he urged his horse forward, hooves striking off rocks, heedless of noise. Whoever was ahead of him must be aware of his presence so silence did not matter; the big horse lunged powerfully up the ridge, snorting with effort, but the vibrations eased from the air about him to a mere heat shimmer and he knew that the other rider was gone as though melted into the ground. He set his horse sliding down the other side through dirt and sand and along a dry creek bed until he came to sunken stones and tough grasses that promised water. He dismounted, gently felt the deep gash on his temple, head still throbbing yet closing out the pain, and listened patiently. In silence, you hear everything. At last he heard it, the softest drip, and followed it around to the other side and dropped down a small ravine of tumbled boulders, finding the pool in the sparse shade below the wet rocks. He had to lead his horse a long way around to let him drink. Cochise’s lessons had patiently taught this pupil the elements of survival. Now he understood.

*****

Gah sat his bay gelding and watched Horace Ezrah Simpson warily, with contempt, as the agent thumbed through his little book, shaking his head.

“Today is supply day,” Simpson announced, “The Indians must come today or wait until next week for their handouts. They will stand in line and show their old blankets and clothing and their names will be called. This is how other reservations are run and your chief would do better to follow the rules.”

“Cochise and his people drink tiswin today and tomorrow. He has fasted for two days. The Indian does not ride during a tiswin ceremony. He will come for the supplies in two days and you will give them to him.”

Horace looked up into Gah’s impassive, black eyes. He tapped the book with a pencil he withdrew from behind his ear. “Today,” he said, “Or no supplies.” He turned smartly on his heels and went inside the agency, slamming the door. Gah turned his horse and rode away towards the stronghold. Horace smiled with satisfaction. That big brute of a chief had a lesson to learn. The Great White Father may be generous, but he could also be angered. He doubted Jeffords had ever opened the procedures manual and now it was up to him to organize everything or allow dangerous precedent to be set with other reservations. He would write that the agency was on the brink of disaster and Jeffords totally incompetent.

He waited that day in the rising heat that made an oven of the agency, waiting at the window for the sight of the tall Indian on the horse splashed black and white. He dared not go outside. Gah did not return. Horace slept restlessly that night, starting at the cold wind rattling the iron roof of the stable, banging the bolt across the door. It would be cold in the mountains, lacy frost in hollows before the rising sun. Most of the thick-pelted game and antelope had migrated beyond the reservation as they had done for centuries, but the Chiricahuas were no longer permitted to follow them. They would need the blankets. He waited all the next day, thirsty and anxious, looking towards the well in the middle of the compound with longing until his eyes ached as much as his dry throat. These savages were not to be trusted with their reputation of being the most warlike of all. He dared not venture beyond the door, consoling himself that each passing hour brought him closer to returning to reservations with tame Indians. His report would break Cochise; never had he seen such a striking, powerful man, nor hated one as much. He had been staring so long towards the reservation that Gah was almost upon him before he realized he had lapsed into a trance. Horace stepped outside. The hot wind chilled the sweat on his skin. The Indian recoiled from the acrid, white man smell.

“Cochise says to tell you again that they come tomorrow for supplies. Ghost Face comes early. Already the leaves have fallen and the grass is yellow and the thin army blankets are not enough to warm the children. We need grain and dried beef.”

Horace smiled slyly. “Next week. Tuesday. Not a day before. He must obey the rules. Tell him that.”

Gah smiled back tightly, leaning forward in his saddle to speak with deceptive softness. He may be dressed in cowboy clothes and live in Tucson with his white wife, but his black hair was still worn long with a headband and there was a cold menace in his voice causing Horace stepped back in alarm. “Tell him that yourself. Cochise has spoken and he is my chief. He has been patient as you are new to this agency and a stupid, little man. You do not listen to Jeffords. Your words only make you smaller.” He turned his horse and trotted slowly from the compound.

Horace was furious and insulted. He would break Cochise.

They came the following morning. There were ten of them; a boy of about fifteen years rode beside Cochise to whom he bore a striking resemblance, also being exceptionally tall for an Apache, long of limb, handsome and well muscled. Horace reached for his rifle and set it at the window, opened just enough to push through the barrel. They stopped at the barn. Cochise lowered his rifle and shot off the lock from the door. Splintered wood hurled through the air and thudded on the agency roof. They rode their horses at the doors and knocked them open. In seconds, as Horace stood in frozen horror, they had flung blankets and ponchos and sacks of grain across their ponies, remounted and rode away. Gah and the rest of the group loaded boxes of provisions into a small dray and drove out of the yard. It had taken less than five minutes and not once had they glanced in his direction. Trembling with rage, he flung himself at the desk and continued his saga on the reservation, glancing once towards the door to ensure it was secure. He would have Jeffords run off and the Apaches starved into submission, even if it meant calling in the army. He may be small in stature but his vicious pen had destroyed many and would do so again. He had friends, had Horace, Ezrah Simpson. Oh yes, friends as tall and strong as that big Indian. They liked his money and then he was the boss and the tallest of them all. They had already been paid well for their trouble that day, and it was worth every cent. Horace would leave the victor.

*****

He tasted it on the air and smelled it before he even dismounted at the church by the peppercorn tree late that morning, the odor and stillness of death, that peculiar emptiness where once there was vibrancy. He called out once, his voice an obscene intrusion in the little church, scattering startled echoes. The statue of Our Lady was gone, just the outline of the base on the pedestal to show something had been there for a long time, undisturbed. He went quickly through into the living quarters and found him there on the floor, as though he had tripped and fallen, his eyes closed. Blood had pooled and congealed like a gruesome, dark halo about his head. A single bullet hole purpled above his ear. Jeffords eased himself onto the floor beside him, laid his hand on Paolo’s shoulder, cold and still, and shook him gently, knowing it was useless, willing him to move. It was then he heard the buzzing and realized the blowflies were everywhere, on the scattered food from the overturned table, crawling over Paolo’s head. He brushed them away and watched them settle in the blood and continued to sit there and look upon the empty shell that was once his friend. And when the flies came back onto his face, he brushed them away again and still felt nothing. Numbing sorrow crushed him into immobility and left no room for rage. He simply hoped Paolo was in the arms of his God.

Slanting shadows had swung across the dry terrain by the time Jeffords had managed to drag Paolo’s body outside to lie on the cool earth against the adobe wall near his small vegetable garden. He had gripped him under the arms and hauled him, his own body contracting in agonizing pain from the beating of the previous night, determined to bury him before nightfall.

As he was unable to dig a grave, he began to collect rocks, working determinedly throughout the afternoon, having to travel further each trip for the heavy ones that could not be dislodged by night prowling animals. They hurt his ribs as he hunched over under their weight. Penance. This was his penance for his stupidity. His shock over Paolo’s death began to melt in exploding fury; how could he have been so stupid, to get drunk and robbed and beaten? He had no money now until his next pay from the Indian Bureau in a month’s time and the rifle was lost.

He stopped to rest, standing beside Paolo, watching his eyes, still wishing, still hoping. Never had he seen anything so perfectly motionless, it fascinated him with its obscenity. Never had he studied death so intently before. His shirt was becoming torn and stuck to his wounds with sweat; afraid the little medicine bag would be lost, he stripped off and placed the bag inside, carefully rolling up his bundle and setting it aside. He drew some water from the well in the bucket, drinking deeply, then hauled up another load and poured it over his head, the gash on his head stinging anew, the water running over his body in silver rivulets, splashing dark clots onto the dusty ground. He caught himself still glancing at Paolo, cursing himself, knowing it was futile, having seen death countless times during his scouting and fighting life for the army, yet unable to crush that final hope that a miracle would still rouse him, for who could have been more deserving than such a priest? Acceptance, Paolo had said. Then the Apache tear would sparkle clear once again.

He tried to place the stones on the body of his friend as gently as possible, working slowly from the pile he has gathered so far, but it was impossible to place them directly on his face. Jeffords sighed and went back inside, aware the very soul of the mission had already fled, and took the small towel that Paolo had used to whisk iron pots from the fire from its hook by the mantelpiece and placed it carefully over the bloodied head and shoulders. He turned around to select another stone and looked up into the eyes of Cochise.

*****

Jeffords stared, frozen in disbelief. The Indian stood so silently he could have been a vision set in the flaring gold of the setting sun, except for the sound of his breathing, the sympathy reflected in his keen, black eyes and the gentle nicker of his horse as it greeted Jeffords’ own.

Cochise quickly assessed the situation, the sharp planes of his face strained with sorrow and anger as he studied his brother’s body, the black and purple bruises all the more startling against the surprising whiteness of his skin. He reached out to gently touch a swollen rib, the gash on Jefford’s temple, which had started to bleed again with the crust of blood dissolved by the water. He moved forward silently around Jeffords and crouched down to cover Paolo’s face, now mercifully hidden from sight, turning the stones so they welded together and would not move.

Jeffords simply stood and watched him, weakened by a flooding relief at the sight of him, utterly spent with exhaustion. He listened to the soft clink of stone until his hard-won little pile of rocks was gone.

Cochise straightened, gazed down briefly then walked back inside the mission quarters, returning with a blanket which he knotted into a rough bag and threw across the pinto’s saddle. He caught up the reins and led the horse away, not once looking back. He stopped and picked up a stone and placed it inside the sack he had fashioned and went on again to collect more. Some he discarded, working systematically back and forth as the shadows crept long fingers across the cooling desert. Jeffords sat down painfully beside Paolo’s body and simply watched, his mind numb, his body aching. The last, slanting rays of the sun framed the Apache and his horse as they moved slowly across the terrain, the evening breeze sweeping out his hair as he bent down for another stone, careful with his selection. Cochise returned at last with a full load which he let fall with a clatter. He led the horse away again in another direction. Jeffords leaned forward stiffly, picked up a stone and laid it carefully on the developing mound under which Paolo lay, slowly continuing to bury his friend, glad not to be alone.

His task completed, aware that Cochise was nearby, he retrieved his shirt, carefully unrolling it to catch the little medicine bag. He dressed with difficulty and went into the church; its bell would ring one last time for the funeral of Father Mateo. He found the small, leather-bound missal and by the last shreds of twilight, read some words from the Requiem Mass aloud where he could find some English among the Latin, then placed the book upon the grave and anchored it with a heavy stone.

It was done, all that could be until Jeffords reported to the sheriff in Tucson, and then there would be a cross and eventually Paolo would dissolve back into the earth. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Just like her. Again, he thought of the priest’s kindly advice and wise words. Acceptance, he had said. Life goes on.

Cochise had mounted his horse and trotted slowly back to where Jeffords stood, gazing at the grave they had fashioned together. He led the Appaloosa. Stars began to prick the silver sky.

“You are a long way from home,” Jeffords remarked, speaking for the first time that day.

“So are you, Tagliato,” Cochise replied softly and held out the reins. “Come, we will ride back together.”

*****

They had traveled slowly in introspective silence until the moon had journeyed across the sky, touching the shoulders of the distant hills that would rise to be the Chiricahua Mountains, when Cochise stopped and dismounted, steadying Jeffords as he dropped from the saddle. He drank from the canteen but would not eat, and fell asleep as soon as Cochise had rolled out his blanket. The Apache built a small fire as a rising wind turned suddenly cold, smelling of dying leaves and snow, rustling through the sparse, tough brush and cactus, stinging their skin with dust and sand. The Mountain Spirits were watching for him, anxious for his return to the high country; his tribe would be praying for the delay of Ghost Face until their chief was home.

*****

“There he is!” yelled Horace, pointing triumphantly as Jeffords and Cochise rode up to the agency the following day. “Get him!”

Matt sighed, leaned against a post and pushed his hat back off his forehead, wiping the sweat from his face with his sleeve, squinting into the heat glare as they reined in. “It’s far too hot,” he said, “Just hold on there.”

“Cochise is a murderer!” yelled Horace again, his face red with rage, “He’s been off the reservation and was seen shooting the priest. These two here were witnesses! I told you this reservation is a joke and Jeffords should be dismissed for incompetence. And that Indian hanged!”

“That so?” Matt said pleasantly, “Shut up, Horace. Come inside, Tom. Welcome home.”

The agency had the odor of a stranger, as though it was no longer his home. Jeffords could just faintly smell the tobacco he sometimes smoked of an evening, staring long hours into the fire.

“Well now,” said the sheriff, “We have a problem. Your relief agent here has been informed by these two, upstanding citizens from someplace unknown, that they saw Cochise shoot Father Mateo day before yesterday. Looks like you had a good holiday, Tom, what happened to your face? Buenos dias, Señor Cochise.”

“Hello,” Cochise said politely in English. Jeffords rapidly translated.

“Here’s the thing,” said Jeffords, throwing his hat onto the peg by the door, “I was beaten and robbed the night before last and left for dead in a barn. I had visited Paolo on the way south and when I returned yesterday, found him dead. Cochise helped me bury him. He had been shot through the temple with a pistol. Indians do not have pistols. These two witnesses of yours look mighty familiar; have they been spending up big in Tucson, Matt?”

“I’ve had them in jail. Seems they bashed Old Jimmy Carsons. He beat them at cards. No one beats Jimmy, as you know. The newcomers don’t know that. They were supposed to be leaving today. Then comes Horace with this story.”

“Seems their knuckles look a bit bruised,” remarked Jeffords. “Seems they’re mighty familiar from that barn. Do they know a sly bitch called Rosalina? She took my money with their help, I’m sure of it. Strange thing is, she’s disappeared, with my money and a rifle which was set with lapis lazuli.”

“Seems a lot of things, Tom. Seems you need to show me some evidence of this beating.”

Jeffords pulled up his shirt, catching the little medicine bag.

“Haven’t seen much worse where the man has lived to tell the tale,” remarked Matt, sucking in his breath, “Looks pretty bad. Take more than one man to do that to you, Tom. You could have handled one.”

“You ain’t listening!” shouted Horace, his lips flecked with saliva.

“That’s about right,” agreed Matt. “You never did say how you knew about the priest. Your friends here said the Indian shot him with a rifle.”

Cochise had been listening quietly, intently watching their faces. Now he went to stand against the closed door, legs braced, arms folded.

“The ostler can confirm when I booked in the Appaloosa at the barn,” said Jeffords, “and he can also tell you when I rode out. Father Mateo had already been dead some hours when I got there. He’s buried under a pile of rocks. There’s a towel covering his face and his missal is on top under a stone. Who do you think did that, Matt? Cochise rides out there, shoots a man he has protected from renegades in the past, with a pistol, then rides back to the reservation, is that it?”

Matt jerked his thumb over his shoulder in Horace’s direction. “He says his friends saw Cochise shoot him then ride away fast. They lit out in the opposite direction.”

“Well, I guess it’d be easy enough to check who’s telling the truth, then. What’s your deputy doing tomorrow? Seems a morning’s ride to the mission will sort this out. I also want to report a theft – the statue of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Did they mention that?”

“Seems there’s a whole lot they forgot to mention, Tom. Don’t worry, they’re not going far, not with your big Indian friend blocking their escape.”

“You’re a nasty, little man, Horace Simpson,” Matt said with soft menace, “You’ve tried to destroy this agency, get the Apaches to break out with your methods, discredit Jeffords and arranged the murder of a priest. I’ll see you swing, you bastard.”

*****

Two days later, Matt rode out to the agency. Jeffords came outside to meet him, squinting at the sun.

“Afternoon, Tom,” the sheriff said, leaning his arms on the cantle of his saddle, “Just a quick word.”

“Good. I’ve a king-sized headache.”

“Just wanted you to know everything checked out, just like you said. There will be a funeral service next week and I’ve booked the circuit judge next trip. Poor Paolo. I’ll miss him. Couldn’t find the rifle though, or your money of course. Seems this Rosalina has also disappeared. Wanted you to know the Apaches were a credit to you and Cochise. Horace tried to get them to rebel, refused them rations, wanted the head-count thing.”

“That explains why the barn is busted and bits of the door are lying on my roof. If they’d blasted Horace Simpson along with it, Paolo would still be alive.”

“Well, you’re back home now. Stay off the whiskey, though. It can do awful things to a man with a pocketful of money.”

Jeffords managed a brief laugh. “Not much chance of that. I’m counting on you to make sure Simpson pays.”

“Make sure you tell Cochise. I want him to know we do carry out justice. Go back to bed before you fall down. I ain’t in the mood to drag you back inside. And get rid of that awful beard.”

Jeffords watched him canter out of the compound. He looked up towards the reservation and closed the door behind him, heading over to the stable to saddle his horse. It would be nightfall before he would get there. Cochise would see him coming from Flat Rock.

*****

“I wish to speak to Tesabelstinay,” Jeffords said, standing before his friend, aware the Indians in the camp were staring at his face. Nachise came to greet him, reaching out gingerly to touch his beard, red, shaggy and wiry.

Cochise indicated his own wickiup. “And I wish to speak with you, Tagliato,” he said, then followed Jeffords inside, waiting for him to painfully settle on a pallet. “You are still hurt bad,” he said. “How long will you keep the hair on your face?”

“Haven’t thought about it,” Jeffords replied, “too busy being sick.”

“This will make you feel better.” Cochise rose lithely, went to his war chest and took out a small packet wrapped in cloth and gave it to Jeffords. It was his wad of money. He then brought a rifle which had been leaning against the wall and turned it around so the beautiful azure stones flashed in the light.

Jeffords shook his head in disbelief. “I was searching for words to tell you about the rifle. I thought it was lost to me.”

Cochise smiled gently and leaned forward. “My brother,” he said, “Did you not know I would immediately see it was missing from your saddle? Nachise had been shadowing you. He took the money from the woman and the rifle from the scabbard in the barn. He looked into your face after the men had gone to make sure you still lived.”

Jeffords remembered. It was Cochise and yet not Cochise……Indian eyes. There had been someone ahead as he rode back towards the mission. Nachise.

“He came to tell me about Paolo. He saw those two men kill him. Tell your sheriff, Matt, or will they not believe an Indian boy? Then he came to tell me. Did you not wonder why I rode to the mission? Now you go and see Tesabelstinay.” He went to the doorway and held open the flap.

Jeffords left silently, his heart too full for words. Heavy, gray clouds billowed low over the stronghold; the cold wind rose again as he crossed the camp, showering embers from the cooking fires. He could smell snow; it would fall here in the mountains before it touched the desert. Tomorrow morning, frost would lace the shadows in the rocks. “Tessie,” he called softly in English.

She bade him enter, staring at him balefully as he sat down again, legs crossed, her black eyes glittering with disapproval. She put a clay bowl before him with a small lump of rabbit meat and fat. He took the white fat and let it dissolve in his mouth, leaving the meat for her. She poured him water from a bladder into a tin dipper and offered it with both hands. He took it and drank and handed it back. Then she sat back, her brown, lined face severe. “Who is this white man with hair on his face? He has the eyes of my husband’s brother. Maybe he hides from himself.”

Jeffords reached into his shirt and took out the medicine bag. “Look what a kind woman has made for me. She must be fond of me, don’t you think, Tessie? She must have worked long into the night for such beautiful beadwork.”

She snorted, but as always, Jeffords managed to humor her.

“I have done better,” she said, “There was little time.”

“I took it everywhere with me.”

“Nalikadeya and I will pull out the hairs for you from your face. You will scare the children.”

“Tessie,” Jeffords leaned forward, wincing at his sore ribs, “There is something I must know. It is a difficult thing for both of us.”

“You have looked at the stone,” she said, “I have told you I cannot speak of this. You know our customs, white man.”

“Where there are unanswered questions, there cannot be peace, and for me the stone will not be clear ever again. I must know. Was there a child?”

She lowered her head, her black hair shone in the firelight. Hollows hid her eyes. She rocked gently, her lips moved but Jeffords could hear nothing.

“Cochise loves you and so I will tell you now, for when one brother is in pain, so is the other,” she said at last. “You must tell no one.”

“I will tell no one. Not even him.”

“He will know from your eyes and mourn yet another one, a very special one. Yes. There was a child. Now go.”

He thrust the bag back inside his shirt and scrambled up quickly and left, tears filling his eyes, his stomach retching. He heard her then, the low, moaning keen of grief, knew she rocked back and forth, arms across her belly.

There had been a child. There should have been a child. Two, not one, lay there under the sinking stones in the meadow by the stream, entwined forever. He caught up his horse’s reins and rode out of the stronghold.

*****

Ghost Face stampeded into the stronghold with wild weather and sleet until the mud slid from beneath the ponies’ hooves as the Indians came down to the agency for supplies, their faced closed, spirits hibernating in long patience, as in the old times. Jeffords had received his pay with a strong letter of reprimand which he wryly threw into the fire. Who else would they get to manage the fierce, big Indian who had waged a successful, decade-long war against them in relentless hatred and rage?

He bought five steers from a neighboring ranch and drove them up to the stronghold for fresh meat. For Tesabelstinay, he had purchased a sparkling crystal which reflected a rainbow of colors in the firelight. It was on a beaten, silver chain. He had asked Cochise’s permission to give it to her, and when he offered it, she took it from him expressionlessly and hung it about her neck. She did not look at him. It was a gift which acknowledged an understanding between them. There could now begin that acceptance in his life of which Paolo had spoken, and with acceptance, healing. He knew she would wear it always.

The icy wind dropped as he rode slowly down from the camp, his breath like fog in the bitter cold of night, and then the first snowflakes drifted down, catching like stars in his horse’s mane, touching his face with freezing petals before melting on the comparative warmth of his skin. He always found a childlike wonder in the first true snowfall of winter, great flakes dancing down, glittering like diamonds in the moonlight that glowed through the heavy-bellied clouds.

It was two months now since he had been almost beaten to death, two months since Paolo’s funeral, two months since the little medicine bag sat on the mantelpiece, unopened. Two months when, every day, he thought about the baby, tried to imagine what it would have been like, being a father. The thoughts and regrets were too profound and he closed them away in a sad and secret place that would stay with him until he died.

The wound on Jeffords’ temple was now a raised scar, reddened by the cold. He sprawled by the fire in his only luxury, the great, leather chair, simply staring into the glowing coals, puffing on his pipe, deep in thought, listening to the patter of the snow. He got up again at last, as he did every night, muscles still feeling stiff and sore, and picked up the bag and set it on his palm. It would be a simple matter to untie the string and take out the stone, that beautiful amber stone, and hold it to the firelight, peer through into a miniature, sepia world. He sighed and set it back carefully and returned to his chair, feeling the glowing warmth on his bare face. It was strange, yet familiar, without the beard. He had shaved it off without regret; that time in his life had been one of pain and sorrow. Snow encrusted the windows in tiny drifts. He glanced again at the little bag, thought of the magic stone within, wondered at its clarity. Not yet.

*****End*****

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