A Yellowstone ChristmasBy: Peggy L Henderson
Daniel hurried from the cabin. Part of him was relieved that this mysterious woman had found a safe place to deliver her baby. The thought that she might have brought danger to his family entered his mind. She had to have been laboring long before arriving at the cabin. He and Aimee and the boys hadn’t been gone for more than two hours. That she was running from something, or more likely someone, was obvious. The question of whom she ran from remained to be answered.
Daniel easily picked up her deep tracks that led away from the main cabin. They led westward into the hills and out of the valley. Her lead could at most be two hours, but probably less. She wasn’t wearing snowshoes, and she had just given birth. Her footprints created deep imprints in the soft fresh powder that had fallen the night before. Every now and then, specks of blood streaked the white snow.
Daniel scanned his surroundings. He saw no other tracks that might indicate that she had met up with anyone. Determined to find this woman quickly, he increased his pace through the deep snow. If she was on the run from someone, her tracks would lead her pursuers to his cabin. He didn’t like the idea of Aimee and the children alone with the possibility of danger close by.
He tried to shake off his worries. His wife was highly capable of fending off an intruder. Daniel had taught her to shoot a flintlock much to Aimee’s protests more than five years ago when she chose to live her life with him in this remote Rocky Mountain wilderness, a place she called Yellowstone. She’d proven herself handy with a knife, and her tomahawk skills were getting better all the time.
Daniel couldn’t help but smile as memories of his first suggestions at showing her how to fire a rifle entered his mind. She had been adamantly against the idea, something he couldn’t comprehend at the time. While her unconventional ways and speech still left him shaking his head at times, he had fully accepted everything that was different and special about her. She had given up her entire former existence in order to live her life with him, and he respected and loved her deeply for it. Even her annual wintertime ritual of chopping down a young pine tree, and decorating it with various carvings he had made for her over the years, and other trinkets she’d fashioned from stones, shells, and feathers was something he participated in because it pleased her. No matter that his Shoshone brother ridiculed her tradition.
His face sobered. If they hadn’t gone out on their foray to find Aimee’s Christmas tree, would the woman and her baby be safely at his cabin right now, or would she have chosen to give birth out in the elements if she saw that someone was at home? Her uneven tracks in the snow, the occasional impression of hands and knees sinking in the powder, told Daniel that she was in a hurry, but the going was rough and she was not well. Several times, large bog-like impressions indicated that she had fallen.
Trudging through the snow for half an hour, Daniel had been unable to determine this woman’s destination. Once she veered up a steep hill, then seemed to change her mind and headed back toward the flatter terrain closer to the Madison River. It quickly became apparent that the woman’s struggles had increased. Her strides became more irregular and uneven, and she fell more often. Coming over a low rise, he finally spotted her several hundred yards ahead. She stopped and turned. She must have sensed him. Immediately, she scurried forward and increased her efforts to move through the snow. Daniel jogged easily down the incline, his snowshoes preventing him from sinking deeply into the soft powder. He quickly cut the distance between him and the fleeing woman in half with very little effort.
While the forest had been sparse up to this point, the woman suddenly veered toward a thick grove of trees. The snow would be less deep in this area, and she might have an easier time hiding. Daniel was growing tired of this senseless pursuit. In a loud voice, he called in the language of the Shoshone, “Stop, woman. I am a friend.”
She didn’t stop, but darted between several lodgepole trunks.
“Damn,” Daniel cursed under his breath. Inhaling deeply, he renewed his efforts. Aimee was no doubt anxiously awaiting his return with the hungry infant’s mother.
“I mean no harm to you. Your child will die if you don’t return with me to my cabin.” Daniel hoped her maternal instincts might take hold if he reminded her of her baby.
The woman suddenly charged from behind a lodgepole, a shrill scream echoing through the forest. She stumbled toward him, her loose raven hair hanging in limp strands down the sides of her face, some sticking to her sweaty forehead. Her wide brown eyes showed a mixture of pain, fear, and desperation. She lunged herself at him with a knife held high above her head. Daniel ducked to the side and avoided her attack. Her momentum caused her to fall to the ground. He turned completely to face her, ready for a renewed attack. The woman groaned, then collapsed into the snow.
Daniel rushed to her side. He turned her gently onto her back. Her eyes remained closed, but the faint gray swirls of her breath as it met the icy winter air assured him that she had merely passed out. Quickly, he scanned her from top to bottom. She wore a plain deerskin dress fashioned in the style of the Tukudeka, and tall rabbitskin-covered moccasins. Her eyes were sunken in her sallow-looking face, and her lips held a tinge of blue. She was young, perhaps no older than sixteen or seventeen summers.