…Nor Iron Bars A Cage (by Yvonne)

Synopsis:  Complications arise when a solder’s sister come to see where he is buried.

Category:  Broken Arrow
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  7,600


 

He stood leaning against the hot clapboards of the telegraph office, waiting, hat pulled down against the fierce sun setting on the grey Dragoons beyond the ragged roof lines of Tucson.  He heard the rattle and clatter of the Butterfield Stage, pushed away and stood on the verandah, his heart quickening.  The coach rocked to a halt amid creaking swinnel chains, the horses snorting, sweating, and although the driver nodded to him as he hauled on the brake, Jeffords had eyes only for the elegant woman who opened the door and leapt down lightly without assistance.  He strode forward to greet her.  Still as independent as ever.  Her welcoming smile warmed her sober, grey eyes; wisps of blonde hair curled about her neck, escaping the French braid, just as he remembered.  She held out her hands, clasped him firmly, and kissed him gently on the cheek.

“Hello, Barbara,” he said softly, “It’s been a long time.  I got your letter.”

The driver set down her case, swung back up onto his high seat.  The stage jerked forward to the crack of the whip and suddenly they seemed alone in the busy, dusty street, immersed in each other.  Late afternoon gold reflected from the high windows and he thought fleetingly of the evening breeze that would be stirring across the desert, sweeping up the stronghold cliffs to where the Indian stood in timeless stance.  She studied him with the same disarming, candid expression of long ago.

“Hello, Tom.  It’s good to see you again.  You look thinner, tougher somehow.  Maybe it’s the Arizona air.”

He picked up the bag and escorted her across to the hotel.

“So this is The Scat Fly,” she remarked softly, “I remember Brian writing about it.  He said you often had a drink here together at the end of patrols.”

“He was a good soldier and a good friend,” Jeffords said, his gaze filled with her.  She had acquired an air of quiet maturity.

“He was a wonderful brother.  I only received the letter a fortnight ago.  All this could be a dream except for the heat and dust.”  She signed the register, collected the keys to her room and lifted her eyes to his face.  “And you.  ‘Blue Eyes”….. remember?”

He smiled and looked away, recalling her girlish teasing, her laughter, the gaiety and light that was Barbara in another place, the playfulness, the attraction.

“I expect you’re tired,” he said, leading the way upstairs.

She stopped at the door and turned. He saw the fine lines about her eyes, the tightening of her soft mouth.

“It seems like he’s only just died,” her voice trailed helplessly, she shrugged her slim shoulders, “not all those months ago.  I believed there was hope when there was no news from the army. You never wrote.”

Jeffords sighed and gently took her hand.  It rested softly within the roughness of his palm, familiar.  “So many have died.  He said you had moved and I couldn’t remember where you lived.  I’m sorry you had to find out like this.  Tomorrow I’ll take you to the cemetery.”

“I need to do this,” she said, enclosing his hand firmly with both her own, “I need to see where he lies, to say goodbye to him.”

“Till tomorrow, then.  I’ll call for you after breakfast.”  He moved away, replacing his hat, then turned to look at her again. “It’s good to see you.  It’s been a long time.”

*****

“My brother is quiet.  His thoughts fly with the eagles, maybe.”

Jeffords looked up, startled from his reverie.  Cochise studied him intently as they sat in his wickiup in the companionable glow of tiswin and firelight.  His dark eyes seemed to touch Jeffords’ soul.

“A woman has come to Tucson, the sister of a friend who died some months ago.  She wishes to see his grave tomorrow.”

“This woman is special to you?”  Cochise leaned forward, his deep voice soft with concern.

“She was, many years ago, or perhaps not so many.”  Jeffords shrugged, stared at the high, domed walls of the wickiup. “The war happened; I traveled and we lost touch for a while.  Maybe I ran away.  I knew she wanted marriage.  I was glad when her brother was posted out here; we had known each other since boyhood.  He was killed during the raid on Camp Crittenden when the Apaches disguised themselves as hay cutters.  Do you remember this?”

“Yes.  It was the horses and mules we wanted.  It was a quick raid; we swept through and took the stock.  I am sorry she will never look into her brother’s face again.  This is a pain I know well.  Sometimes I still hope that Coyuntura will walk from the night and sit down by my fire and talk with me again, and the pain from here will be gone.”  Cochise laid his hand upon his chest.  “I forget sometimes that his wickiup was burned after he went to the dark spirits and my heart is like stone when I look upon the empty place where only its ashes remain.”

“I wish for Coyuntura to look kindly on me. I miss my friend.  We were close, like brothers.”

Apaches rarely spoke of their dead; Cochise only broke this code with Jeffords, with the reasoning he was white with no such taboos.  It distressed him to know of his sadness and he wondered about this woman he had obviously loved.

Jeffords studied his friend’s strong, expressive face and could only guess at his feelings as he sat cross-legged on the pallet, the deerhide clothing and boots supplemented by a thick, camel poncho beautifully patterned in red and green.  The garment focused his thoughts and the reason for his visit tonight.

“Ghost Face comes soon,” he remarked, “I am cold.”

Cochise immediately pulled the cloak over his head and offered it to him.

“You will never be cold in my camp, Sheekasay.”

Jeffords did not accept it. ”This is new, is it not? It is from a raid into Mexico, maybe.”

“I no longer raid into Mexico.”

“Maybe your eyes were looking elsewhere when your young warriors left the reservation to raid into Mexico.  Maybe you need to speak to them again about your treaty with General Howard.”

Cochise rose abruptly, his eyes flat, arms folded.

“The treaty is with the Americans.  I have given my word that the peace will not be broken by the Chiricahuas and I will guard the Tucson road.  I made no treaty with the Mexicans.”

Jeffords stood to confront him, his voice sharp with exasperation.

“I understand, Cochise, that not everything can change from one sun to the next, especially for your young men, but there are many who say that while Indians kill those who are not Indians, there is no peace.  I cannot truthfully say the Apaches remain on the reservation while the raids continue.  Here is the proof, for those who wish to cause trouble.”  He held the poncho up between them and shook it emphatically.

Cochise looked away, his rugged features sullen with anger.

“I would not tolerate such disrespect from another.  I must remember you are a white man, but the line you tread is thin sometimes. Would you have me punish those who raid into Mexico?”  He snatched the garment and tossed it savagely into the darkness, lifting his head defiantly.  His eyes glowed with passion in the flickering light.  “It is only as chief that I can protect them, guide them.  I ask for wisdom from the great spirits and they tell me to be blind sometimes when the warriors leave camp.  With another, maybe Nahilzay, they would join Geronimo in war and then there would be even fewer young men to raid into Mexico.  What of the Chiricahua then?”

“As Indian agent, it is my duty to warn you.  As brother, I can see into your heart as you can into mine.  These raids will cause trouble; your people will be blamed if white men are killed.  Then white man’s justice will rule and Apaches could die.  Many hate the name of Cochise and no treaty with the Christian general will change this.”

“It is not change I seek,” Cochise sat down again, folding his legs, leaning his arms on his knees, staring moodily into the dying fire, his eyes hooded as he reached for the skin of tiswin once again.  Jeffords knew the night would be long for him.  Ghosts crowded the wickiup.  “I wish only to remain in my beloved mountains, to see my people live in safety, to be left alone.”

*****

“Oh!”

That was all she said as she stood beside the rough mound of Brian’s grave, his name on the wooden cross.  Her hand covered her trembling mouth, the sun beat down mercilessly upon her bare head.  The hot wind whipped at her long skirts, burned her cheeks, hissed stingingly along the sand, but still she stood there, forlorn, her eyes devoid of tears.  Jeffords waited a step behind her, holding her riding hat, watching her anxiously.  There were no words.  There never had been for any of the bereft families with whom he had stood like this in the past.  Her blonde hair escaped in little ringlets around her neck. He suddenly remembered how he had wound them around his fingers as he had kissed her so long ago, in another life.  She leaned forward and touched the tumbled earth caressingly then turned to him.

“I can’t believe he lies under there, Tom,” she said simply.

“It takes time to accept. It has been a sudden shock for you, Barbara, although it happened about two months ago now.  Better take your hat.  Your skin will burn.”

They walked back to the horses together, away from that sad and desolate place, buffeted by the gusty wind, past other mounds and names for whom others mourned.

“It’s all so pointless!” she exclaimed, turning to confront him furiously, and then the tears flowed down her reddened cheeks.  She seemed to crumple inwards as she pressed her hands to her face.  Jeffords put his arms around her, let her lean against him and sob, looked down onto the crown of her bright hair, moved her to that his body sheltered her from the wind.

She stepped away and smoothed her eyes with the palms of her hands, childlike.  She knew her face was blotched and would not look at him as she mounted her horse with practiced ease.

“I want someone to fix his grave,” she mumbled, “Shore it up with planks, you know what I mean, Tom?”

She glanced at him beseechingly, narrowing her eyes against the desert glare.

“I’ll see Jasper O’Donnell before I leave this afternoon.  He’s a woodworker and will do the right thing for you.”

They moved off at a slow walk, the horses snorting at the blown sand.

“Where are you going?  Won’t you have dinner with me at the Scat Fly?”

Jeffords considered carefully, then said it straight. “I’m going up there,” he pointed at the craggy mountains thrusting up from the desert, “It’s the Apache reservation.  You know I’m the Indian agent.”

“You’re going to see your friend, Cochise.”

“Yes.”

“Maybe it was him who killed Brian during that raid.”

“Maybe.”

She kicked her horse to a canter and left him behind.

*****

For the next few days she ignored him, glancing once at him coldly as he entered Jasper’s workshop with its aromatic smells and curls of wood to check on progress.  Then it happened, suddenly, when the man was killed on the Sonoran border and his partner called for Cochise’s blood.

“It was him!” Peterson had burst into the sheriff’s office and punched his fist on the desk, his florid face suffused with rage, “Big Indian, pinto horse!  I’m sure of it, seen him before!  What are you going to do about it?”

“Now hold on,” Matt said quietly, rising from his chair, motioning to his young deputy, “Davis, close the door before the whole town is in here!  You have a ranch outside Tucson, don’t you?  Where were you headed?”

“Mexico, with blood stock.  I tell you it was Cochise!”

“I’ll get Tom.  Now you simmer down, Peterson, or we’ll have the Apaches on our necks.  Let the law handle this.”

Peterson leaned over the desk and thrust his face forward aggressively, his eyes slit, his voice a low snarl. “Shot him!  Just like that!  I was leading the mules and by the time I caught up, the Indians were already riding away with a string of ten thoroughbreds.  Bannerman was dead on the ground.”

Matt shook his head.  “Just don’t believe it!”

“You calling me a liar?” Peterson shouted, pounding the desk once again, “I want front row when Cochise hangs!  Well, what are you going to do, if you’re the law in this town?  I know you and Jeffords are pals, so maybe I’ll go to the Federal Marshall!”

Matt took a ring of keys from the drawer and tossed them to the deputy.

“Lock him up!” He returned Peterson’s belligerent glare, “Disturbing the peace.”

*****

It was almost dark before Cochise returned with the small hunting party.  Jeffords had been welcomed quietly, as always, respected as blood brother to the chief, but he kept apart, anxious and aloof, watching the stronghold entrance.  The Indians sensed his mood and left him alone. Telsabestinay emerged from her wickiup and walked right up to him.  She looked searchingly into his eyes and patted his arm with a soft chuckle as he glanced away, afraid she would see the turmoil in his heart with her mystic, black eyes.

“This trouble will pass.  I see it clearly,” she said at last, her wrinkled, brown face kindly, although her voice was strained.  “He is to be a father again.  His second wife expects a daughter. He does not yet know.”  She turned and walked away abruptly, her stride still youthful.  It was impossible to guess her age, this first wife of Cochise, so much older than he. Jeffords stared after her in astonishment.

They arrived at last in the fading light, the rocky walls ringing with exulted cries as the people applauded Nachise, his youthful face flushed with achievement, riding beside his father, the deer slung across his saddle.  The men clapped and laughed, teased him.  Surely Cochise killed the deer, not one of such inexperience; they crowded about to remark on the neat, black hole through the animal’s forehead, rolling their eyes at each other.  It was good natured and expected and much fuss was made of the boy, barely fifteen years old.  He pulled the kill onto the ground and gave instructions as to the butchering, the poorer families to receive the best portions, as his father would have dictated.  Little would be left his family and his own meal would traditionally be the smallest as his parents had the right to eat first.  Cochise stood beside him, smiling, and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.  Nachise was growing rapidly, showing promise of achieving his father’s extraordinary height and powerful physique, being already taller than his peers.  His handsome face was bashful as the girls glanced shyly at him and giggled behind their hands.  Tonight, he would be the hero.  Tonight, for this one time only, Cochise decided he would praise Nachise by allowing him to eat first, thereby intending he would always associate this honor with the first occasion he provided food for his people.  Afterwards, around the campfires, there would be much storytelling and recounting of the hunt, Nachise’s initiation into the clan of men.

Jeffords stepped forward, unable to share in the laughter and congratulations.  Cochise saw him and the light of welcome died in his eyes.  He handed his horse’s reins to Telsabestinay and walked over to the shadows where Jeffords waited.

“Come, my brother, there is trouble.”  Jeffords caught Telsabestinay’s knowing look.

———-

“No, it is not true,” Cochise shook his head once, vehemently, pacing the wickiup angrily, “Why does this man lie?  I hunted today with my warriors in the opposite direction to the Sonoran border.  There were eight of us.  All will agree.  I did this because you pleaded with me to stop raids into Mexico.”

“I know you speak truth, Cochise.  The sheriff also does not believe this man.  But he identified you, and your horse.  I need you to come with me to Tucson, to the sheriff, and tell him your story.”

“I have told you. It is enough.  Tonight is a special occasion for Nachise.  Should his father not be there?”

Jeffords stood quietly as they stared at each other.

“All fathers should be there, always.  If you come with me in trust, with honor, and we can prove this man lies, then all sons will have their fathers, now and in the future.  It would be a good thing for the Chiricahua chief to demonstrate his innocence by coming to the sheriff without fear or guilt.  He would gain the respect of Americans.”

“I have no fear nor guilt,” Cochise replied, his deep voice harsh with contempt, “And I do not care for the respect of the Americans.”

“We look to the future, when Indian and white grandchildren are grown men.  If you do not come with me, Cochise, I have been asked to take you as prisoner, or the military will invade the reservation.  This I will not do, nor should the army cross Apache land.  The only way left is for you to accompany me.  I ask you to trust me.  Will you come?”

“The wise counsel of my brother, Coyuntura, whispers through you, he who was hanged in white man’s treachery.”  Cochise stood, straight as an arrow, his arms folded across his broad chest, his head lifted defiantly, “I will come with you.  I will stay in the sheriff’s jail, but for no longer than two days. You will give me your word as brother that after that time I will be free to return to my people, who must now live within their own prison, the reservation.  I will not go behind iron bars.  I give my word I will not leave.  The Chiricahuas will stay in peace on the reservation, for I have given my word in treaty to Oliver Otis Howard.  It cannot then be said that Cochise did not try the white man’s way, that he did not give the American law a chance.  I will tell Taza and then tonight, during the feasting, we will leave together for Tucson.”  He looked steadily at Jeffords, his fine, dark eyes glowing with an inner conviction and courage.  “We will see white man’s justice.  It will be a lesson for my people.  It will be a good lesson.  You will see to it, Sheekasay.”

*****

It was just past ten o’clock when Matt opened the office door and looked up in amazement into the eyes of Cochise.  The Apache moved past him silently in deerhide boots, surveying the room and the cell beyond.  Jeffords closed the door and drew the small curtain across its upper window.

“I’m trusting you with everything,” he said. “Guard him closely and keep people away from him.  He will stay here, in that cell, with the door open, for two days.”

“I’d tell any other man he’s crazy to expect that!” Matt slowly shook his head, “He sure is a big Indian.”

Jeffords introduced him to Cochise.

“This is the sheriff, and my friend.  His name is Matt.  He will protect you.”

Cochise looked at him politely, his face neutral.  He extended a broad, strong hand.

“Hello,” he said in English.

Matt grasped the hand firmly.

“I don’t think anyone saw us,” Jeffords said, “I’m going to visit Peterson, pick holes in his story.  I’ll be back as soon as I have some news.”  He turned to Cochise, laid his hand silently on his shoulder then turned and left, closing the door quietly behind him.

Cochise walked to the cell, grasped the iron door and swung it wide open, slamming it back against the wall with a loud clang.  He went inside, sat on the floor, folded his arms and closed his eyes.  Matt walked slowly backwards until his heels struck the desk.  He sat abruptly and simply stared.  The Indian may well be in his jail, but his spirit had fled.

*****

He had left Peterson’s place seething with frustrated rage.  He had returned to the stronghold to speak with Taza, fearful that Cochise’s word would be broken in his absence, especially as Taza retained his habitual hostility and resentment.  He had assumed his father’s place efficiently with the same iron control, but with one condition.

“Two days, Jeffords,” he warned, “The council of war chiefs will tolerate no longer. My father must be returned. We believe him to be in great danger alone in the town of the Americans.”

“He is not alone,” Jeffords insisted quietly, “The law and I are there to protect him.”

Taza looked at him disdainfully.  “So I see.”

As Jeffords prepared to mount his horse again, Nochalo stole from the shadows and gripped his arm with spidery fingers, thrusting a small pouch into his hand.

“For Cochise,” he said, and melted into the darkness with a menacing stare.  They had no choice but to trust him, even those who openly disliked him; the alternative was warfare once again and the merciless wrath of their chief.  The little bag rustled pleasantly as Jeffords slipped it into his shirt pocket, aware of pungent fragrance, strangely familiar.  He had gathered the reins once again when an elegant young woman, her long, black hair shining in the moonlight, stepped up to him and offered a folded cloth..

“Food for Cochise,” she said. He knew this was the second wife, Nalikadeya, although they had spoken little.

“I will take it to him now,” he spoke reassuringly, “do not worry.”  She watched him as he stowed the parcel in his saddlebags then looked at him gratefully, even as tears streaked her upswept cheeks.  She turned away hastily and ran back to the camp. He swung into the saddle at last and had begun to trot away from the stronghold when Telsabestinay stepped directly into his path making the big Appaloosa shy with fright.  She could have been a spirit shadow, except that she gasped for breath as she held out a multicolored rug from Cochise’s wickiup.

“Bring him back soon.  Nalikadeya now knows she carries his child.”  Overwhelmed, Jeffords could not speak. He laid the rug across the pommel, smoothed it gently.

“How could he not survive and return to his people when they so love him?”

“He will return,” Telsabestinay’s voice hardened with conviction. “She will yet bear him another child.  Another daughter.”

*****

The following morning Jeffords went straight to the jail, pushing through the murmuring, milling crowd.  Matt opened the door for him and he stepped inside without incident.

“Wait until sunset,” Matt said, “when they come in for a gutful after ranching.”

“Don’t touch him, don’t go near him. Your worry is what’s brewing outside.  Any news?”

“He had a visitor.  I let her in since she’s a friend of yours.  Barbara Halloran.  She stood and looked at him for a while then left.  Didn’t say a word.  Well, Davis is due for his shift.  I’m dead beat, Tom.  I need sleep.”

“I’ll stay.  Get back as soon as you can.”

“Where to from here?”

“Haven’t figured it yet, but there has to be something.  What possible chance would he stand in open trial?”

“Pretty good, I’d reckon.  I’m impressed.  Peterson is sly and crafty, has a bad reputation.  I’ve made some inquiries at Santa Fe.  Seems he shot someone but evaded prison on a technicality. Came into some money as a result, too.  I’ve had Davis on the run all morning while I’ve sat with your friend here. Sometimes I wonder if he’s breathing.” Matt rose and took his rifle casually from the desk.  “I’ll have a little chat with the folk outside before I go.  Lock the door.”

Barbara.  He had entirely forgotten about her.  Jeffords walked into the cell and crouched by Cochise, touched him lightly on the arm.  Cochise opened his eyes and looked at him calmly, accepting the food, rug and Nochalo’s herbs.  His wives cared for his body, the shaman for his soul.

“We wait for news from another place on the wire that speaks.  This bad man has been there and has caused much trouble, killing another.  I have been back to the stronghold and all is well; your people await your return but respect your word and stay at peace.  Taza will make a good chief one day.  I will make inquiries in Mexico as I do not believe this man had horses to sell there. I will watch over you. Eat now.  It will please your wife when I tell her the food was good.”

Cochise unwrapped the parcel, broke the mescal cake and offered half to Jeffords.  They sat together and shared the meal, the deermeat strips tender and delicious, pounded flat with stones.  Cochise then wrapped himself in the rug, bowed his head, shrouded within his long hair, and once more closed his eyes.  Jeffords, watching him anxiously, thought of the high, windswept pinnacle at Flat Rock, flanked by cottonwood trees and the pinon pines that whispered mournfully in the evening breeze.  Telsabestinay’s knowing look flitted through his mind; her prophecy of the two daughters.  He shook himself free of a mysterious stupor, suddenly recognizing the aromas from the little medicine bag; yucca root, sycamore and crushed juniper needles; the scents from home.

*****

Another day passed.  Although Cochise’s presence caused a sensation in Tucson, the townsfolk were generally subdued, reflecting on recent bloody days and unwilling to risk the horrors of warfare once again.  They liked and trusted their sheriff and had to admit to a certain admiration that Jeffords had calmly brought in the notorious Apache chief.  For the most part, they left him undisturbed, sitting in the cell with the door wide open.  Matt had left them in no doubt that if they even as much as approached him, the Chiricahua warriors would descend on them with terrifying results. Word had also spread regarding Peterson’s previous conviction, generating some doubt as to his story. Matt worked tirelessly to keep his town informed and reassured, even as he posted a deputy at the door with a rifle in plain view, his back confidently presented to the silent Indian. Cochise’s perfect behavior only supported his arguments to let the law handle the matter.

Jeffords had ridden out with Indian army scouts to where Peterson claimed to have been ambushed.  They had found only the prints of two shod horses, no others, and more importantly, none barefoot, although they were certain of their location.  Brown fingers of dried blood stained the rocky ground.  Jeffords was certain he could prove the horses’ marks corresponded to those owned by Peterson and Bannerman. The case for Cochise’s innocence was building, but time would beat him.  Jeffords had no doubt Taza would burst into Tucson as warned; he also feared for Cochise’s health, noticing how his high cheekbones were already more sharply defined in his impassive face.  He ate and drank only when Jeffords sat with him, first spreading out the rug to make room for them both, as by a campfire back home.  At other times, his powerful body was suspended in a trance curious to the Apache whilst his spirit flew back to his people.

Jeffords stayed with him until Matt returned for the night watch and then rode back home, barely doing more than drag the saddle from his horse and feed it before going inside.  Moonlight streamed through the window, laying a silver mantle over the silent, cheerless room.  There was never anyone to greet him, never would be, to leave a lighted lamp in the window. He had never had the chance to bring Sonseeahray here to his white man’s house.  He thought of their honeymoon wickiup and the tinkling, silver bells and his mind closed down.  He could not speak of his devastating grief, not even to Cochise, held back by Apache taboos and the heavy burden his friend already carried.  He wearily poured a whiskey and collapsed into the large armchair, his only luxury in the spartan room.  The delicious fire of alcohol poured down his throat before drugged sleep liberated him at last.

He dreamed, restless, muttering, the glass dropping from his hand.  Sonseeahray smiled sweetly, shimmering out of the swirling darkness in her wedding clothes, her doe eyes luminous with love.  He saw Cochise sitting on the cell floor, cross-legged, head bowed, and ran to shake him from the stupor of the dying.  The rug and clothing collapsed into nothingness at his touch. “I look upon the empty place where only ashes remain…  He started in horror.  Telsabestinary’s eyes glowered at him accusing, wicked in her leathery face.  He must have shouted aloud as he swarmed into consciousness, his body clammy and trembling.  His head ached abominably; it took him a moment to realize the lantern flickered on the table.

She knelt before him, held his hands, hushed him with her gentle voice.  Barbara.  Her golden hair gleamed in the light, she was warm and soft and real as she leaned against him and her skin was fragrant as she laid her cheek against his.

“Only a dream, Blue Eyes,” she murmured and reached out to stroke his hair from his forehead.

He stared at her, gripped her hands in return, soaked in the sight of her lovely, grey eyes, her wistful face as she considered him pensively.

“Has the dream ended?”

She laughed softly, blushing, and stood up, smoothing her long skirt.

“Coffee,” she said, and turned away to stoke the embers in the fire she had laid.  He wondered how long he had slept, how long she had been here, what she had heard. She had spread the table with the only cloth he possessed and had never used; he could smell warm bread.  Sliced ham lay in curls on a platter.  He rose gingerly, head bursting.  The whiskey lay sour in his mouth.  He had eaten only sparingly with Cochise to ensure his friend would not go hungry and now realized he was ravenous.  She sat opposite and watched him, studied the handsome, hardened lines of his lowered face.  His fair hair still flopped over his forehead in the old way, lending him a vulnerable look that made her smile.  She made good, strong coffee; its aroma pervaded the room.  Steam rose from their cups in the lamplight.

“Three teaspoons,” he said suddenly, smiling, “heaped!”

She laughed and set down her cup.  “Yes.  And you still take no sugar.”

“I’m sorry I’ve neglected you lately.  You do understand?”

“Always the sensible girl, right Tom?” she laughed shortly and sat back, crossed her arms.  “I saw him, your Cochise.”  His eyes strayed to the curls on her neck.  He dropped his gaze.

“Matt told me. You should have stayed away. I suppose Jasper has finished Brian’s grave?”

“Now I can leave him, go back home, knowing I have done the best for him, that your cruel desert will not erase his last place of rest.  You should see it sometime.  There’s nothing now to keep me here, is there?”  She lifted her head, searching his eyes earnestly, reaching out to lay a light hand across his own.

“Brian and I were close friends and I miss him also,” Jeffords said, “but right now, I have to ensure Cochise’s safety.  I am convinced of his innocence.  In the Indian sense, we are brothers. He trusts me and I understand and respect his people.  We have achieved peace and now must work hard to ensure it holds; he has shown his willingness to cooperate and be an example to other Apaches by coming into the jail voluntarily in accordance with the American way. I know this is tough for you.  I wouldn’t knowingly hurt you for the world.”

“Having lost a brother, dearest Tom, I could not endure for you to suffer the same, no matter who he is.  Cochise is innocent.  On that afternoon, when Bannerman was killed, he was with me.”

*****

It had not seemed enough, somehow, after having come such a long way on such a sad mission.  She had stood by Brian’s grave and felt a nothingness for the years since he had left home.  She needed to know more about his life, see what he had seen, to take something home with her, apart from rekindled feelings for Tom which burdened her with a different pain.  She had hired Benito, a young Bedonkohoe, related culturally and linguistically with the Chiricahua Apaches, to show her more of the country, especially the site of Camp Crittenden.  He was amused to find she had dressed in shirt and pants and could ride well and so, in the course of the early afternoon, they had unwittingly trespassed upon the boundary of the Apache reservation, following the open trails through the scrubby hills flanking the Dragoon Mountains.  They had halted by a spring shaded by cottonwood trees and it was there, as Barbara drank of the sweet, pure water, so different from city water, that Benito realized their mistake.

“Hurry!  Hurry!” he had urged, swinging into the saddle and holding out her horse’s reins.  She had been surprised and disappointed to have to leave such a cool and serene spot. Yet before she could question him, he noticed the rising dust of galloping hooves.  To run now would be an error.  Nine Apaches, one with a deer across his saddle, burst onto the hill before them and halted suddenly, horses plunging, at the unexpected sight of the young Bedonkohoe and white woman.  Barbara walked out of the shade and shielded her eyes from the sun, her hat hanging down her back, forgotten, as one of the Apaches gave a sharp signal and moved forward alone at a trot towards them.

“Stay silent.  I will apologize!” Benito commanded.

The Indian was of extraordinary height and rode with a careless grace.  He was naked to the waist, deep-chested and strong, a red headband twisted around grey hair that rippled about his broad shoulders.  His dusky skin gleamed in the sun, muscular arms and throat laced about with thongs and amulets.  He was clad in soft, leather breeches and boots with a long-handled knife in the belt at his hip. He carried himself proudly, head uplifted with an aura of power and authority, superbly fit, his black eyes keen with intelligence.  Barbara watched him, awed by his presence, as he slowed to a walk.

Benito’s breath hissed fearfully through his teeth as the Indian approached.

“It is Cochise!”

It seemed her heart froze in suspended time and then flooded with a blinding rage. Her cheeks were flaming as she strode out to meet him, deaf to Benito’s cries of alarm so that he was obliged to go with her.  She stood her ground squarely, feet planted apart, fists clenched, her narrowed eyes drenched with unshed tears as Cochise drew rein, his features composed despite the obvious malevolence in the white woman’s eyes.  She could have reached out and touched his horse’s shoulder. She had seen the spent cartridge shells of battle scattered through the tough, stained grasses of Camp Crittenden, and if she could have seized a gun, she would have shot him without hesitation.  Memories of her brother’s young and handsome face burned in her brain.

Cochise gazed down into the grey eyes fastened unwaveringly on his, the brimming tears and ugly sneer that distorted her lovely face, lips pinched tight against a rising scream.  He spoke rapidly with Benito, dismissed his hasty apology, glancing and gesturing at her, his deep voice gradually softening as he realized she was the woman of whom Jeffords had spoken, the woman whose brother had been killed.  Although a thousand more had also died, his own beloved brother, Coyuntura, whispered compassionately in his mind.

“In times of war, men do things they would not do in peace,” Benito translated the deep, guttural words, “You are the friend of my white brother.  Go now from Apache land.”  Cochise turned to leave.

“No!” 

Barbara lunged forward furiously and seized the bridle.  The pinto tossed its head and mouthed the bit in protest even as Benito shouted at her.  Cochise’s eyes shadowed with anger; he towered over her from the saddle with a savagery that made her gasp with sudden fear, even as she held on grimly, certain he would strike her.  She glimpsed the knife in its scabbard and grabbed for it in mindless desperation.  He knocked her hand away with such sudden force that she stumbled backwards, tripped and fell on the stony ground, knocking the breath from her body.  She made not a sound as the tears spilled down her face at last.  Benito helped her to stand. She nursed a bleeding elbow, and fixed Cochise once more with that deadly stare. For the first time, she understood absolute hatred.

“What do you want of me?” Cochise asked.  Benito translated.

Barbara trembled with passion.  “Return my brother!”

Cochise’s words were clipped and bitter.  Benito remained silent.

“What did he say?” she demanded, her gaze as steadfast as ever, locked upon his rugged face, his eyes flat with a contempt to match her own.

“Return mine.”

*****

“So that’s the story, Tom,” she said, her voice ragged with emotion.  “When I heard he was in jail, I was happy.  Now he would die, I thought, and I would watch with pleasure.  I would say nothing.  My poor Brian.”

Jeffords leaned his arms on the table and reached across to lift her chin gently.

“And so?  You had only to remain silent.  Maybe you will change your mind tomorrow.”

“I had to see him once again; it was as though I was driven.  Matt remembered me through your introduction.  He made sure I carried no weapons.  Maybe just as well.  Your Cochise sat in a cell and the door was open.  He had given his word, so it seems, and was a man of honour.”  She glanced at Jeffords with a twisted smile. “In his way.  Well, as I looked at him, sitting motionless, I realized he was not there somehow, only the shell remained, and it all seemed as pointless as Brian’s death, as this whole war.  I’ve heard all the talk, of course, of how he made the treaty for his vanishing people. That is love.  I could relate to love, and so I left.  He could have hurt me that afternoon; instead, he simply defended himself.”

“Cochise always respected courage and I had told him about you.”

She stared at him in surprise.  “Why?”

He smiled wistfully in the lantern light, his blue eyes glowing.  An engaging shyness flitted across his boyish face.  Her heart swelled with yearning.

“Maybe in case you did yet another of those foolhardy things I remember so well.”  He looked down at their joined hands and stroked his thumb across her fingers.

Like fall in love with you all over again?

“Brothers, and friends, and lovers!” Barbara burst into loud sobs that shook her body, jerked away her hands and covered her face, rocking on her chair, “Oh, God!”

Jeffords rose swiftly and pulled her up, embraced her tightly as she laid her silky head against his chest and cried unchecked in grief and rage and helplessness.  He stroked her hair, twisting those bright curls around his fingers once again.  She leaned into him and sighed brokenly at last, listened to his quickened heartbeat, felt him breathe.  Her arms encircled his back and she snuggled in tightly and closed her wet eyes.  They warmed each other in the silent room with the dancing lantern shadows playing on the walls.

If ever there is anything I can do for you in return….” Jeffords faltered, lost for words.  Barbara released him slowly, caressingly, saw her own pain reflected in his eyes. She stepped back, wiped her cheeks with her sleeves and turned to fetch the coffee pot from the edge of the fireplace.  She stood contemplatively, holding it with a cloth, her head to one side.  “Come back home with me and take up law work again,” she said.  He remained silent.  “Well then,” she poured the coffee, “why did you never ask me to marry you?”

*****

Peterson was found guilty of shooting Bannerman in an attempt to prove the Indians untrustworthy, which would have justified the military policing the reservation.  He would have made plenty of money supplying the post with beef cattle, sheep and top quality horses, as well as adjustment for stock at rest, while the army protected him from the very people he had wronged.  His description of Cochise was dismissed as irrelevant as his tall and powerful stature were well known, as was his beautifully marked paint horse.  Cochise’s innocence was supported by Jeffords’ investigations on site, but mostly by Barbara’s testimony.  She gave it decisively in a strong voice before witnesses in the sheriff’s office, so that even those gathered outside could hear her clearly.  She watched Jeffords all the while.  Cochise read her face and understood, although she would not look at him.  She signed her name, put down the pen, turned on her heel and walked out. After just one day and a half, Cochise’s pinto was led from the livery stable and he was handed the reins.  He lifted his face to the sunshine and let the heat soak into his skin. He turned to the sheriff and again held out his hand.

“Goodbye,” he said in English.

Matt laughed and grasped the Apache’s hand for the last time.  “Are there any other words he knows?”

Jeffords smiled broadly.  “Swears like a trooper.”

Cochise vaulted lightly onto the horse’s back and stroked its neck affectionately.  He looked at Jeffords for a long moment, then turned and cantered quietly down the deserted main street of Tucson, the townsfolk watching sullenly from doors and verandahs.  With a barrage of witnesses, including the army’s presence at the time of his release, no-one dared intervene.

“He won’t stop now until he’s in the mountains,” Jeffords said, “There’s good news for him in the stronghold.  He’s going to be a father again.”

“Well!  Makes those Apaches seem just like us, don’t it Tom?”

*****

He stood at the coach door, as he had only three days ago, holding his hat, watching her lovely face as she leaned out of the window and smiled at him.  He was glad she did not care for the fashionable hats of the day.  Her hair was worn long about her shoulders as in her girlhood, caught back from her face with clips, bouncing up in those same golden curls he remembered winding around his fingers.

“I’ll miss you, Blue Eyes,” she said softly, “I feel I’ve lost both of you now.”

He shook his head.  “Never.  I’ll always remember you.  Maybe I’ll come East sometime when things are calmer here.  For now, I’m needed.  Cochise trusts me.”

“I know you will make a great difference,” she replied sincerely, extending a hand to touch his cheek.  “There is a powerful and unique bond between you.  Maybe other women will not need to bury their men as a result.  Will you think about it, though?  Promise me, Tom?”

He laughed at her persistence.  The driver climbed up onto his seat, checking the bags and strapping.

“I promise.  Did I get a chance to tell you how beautiful you are, Barbara?  I remember you at parties and all those other tedious occasions, painful for me, but necessary for a young lawyer establishing a clientele.  You were such a wonderful hostess.  You’ll always remain society’s shining star.”  Shining star.  Morning Star. “Her name means “Morning Star”…… Sonseeahray.

Snagged in memories, he barely realized the coach had started forward.  He looked up quickly, but she had withdrawn.

*****

“Yes, I know, Tessie, at Flat Rock.”

“Disrespectful boy!” Telsabestinay struck at him in mock outrage at his insolence.  “Tessie.”  She liked it, muttered it to herself.

Late afternoon, with Arizona at its most beautiful, the foothills dusted purple and cliffs flaring golden in the setting sun.  He heard the low sighing of the breeze through the pinon pines as he approached Cochise, standing as always on the great ledge thrust into space, his arms folded, hair swept back from his shoulders.  A triple strand of polished beads encircled his neck, a gift of celebration from Nalikadeya in anticipation of his third child.  Jeffords hung back politely, although he knew Cochise was aware of his presence.

“You still make much noise, like a white man,” he grunted.  “Your woman friend has gone.”

Jeffords came to stand beside him and stared out over the rolling country below, dotted with cacti, yucca spears and unfolding evening primrose.  It had become customary to meet at this tranquil time of day.

“In the jail I felt your spirit leave, and then I had a powerful image of here, so strong that I could even smell it and taste the air.”

Cochise turned to look at him with enigmatic eyes.

“It was a bad place, my brother, so I took you with me.”

*****End*****

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