A Yellowstone ChristmasBy: Peggy L Henderson
The girl swallowed, then opened her mouth. Abruptly, she closed it again, apparently changing her mind about speaking.
“Are you hungry?” Aimee asked, stepping closer to the bed.
The girl nodded slightly. Aimee smiled fully. In the back of her mind, she wondered how a Blackfoot girl would know the Shoshone language. That she understood what Aimee said became obvious.
“I’ll be right back with some food,” Aimee said and moved to leave.
“You are the woman they call Dosa Haiwi?” The girl spoke in broken Shoshone. Aimee turned back toward her.
“Yes.” She nodded her head. “I want to help you and your son.” Encouraged that the girl had finally spoken, Aimee walked up to the bed, and sat on the edge of the mattress.
The young woman glanced at the baby suckling at her breast. “Will he live?” she asked tentatively.
“If you get well, he will live,” Aimee said. “He looks strong and healthy, but you must regain your strength so you have milk to feed him.”
The girl nodded. Slowly, she raised her head and made eye contact with Aimee. “I want him to grow strong, like his father was,” she said softly. Tears shimmered in her eyes.
“Where is your husband?” Aimee asked tentatively. The fact that this girl spoke of the baby’s father in the past tense didn’t escape her. Her heart went out to the young mother when tears rolled down her cheeks.
“He died, trying to protect me,” she whimpered.
“Protect you from what?” Or from whom?
The girl shook her head. Instead of answering her question, she said, “My husband fell from a ravine two days ago. His fall caused the snow to loosen all around him. He was buried under it. He told me even before then that if anything were to happen to him, that I should seek out the white woman with the golden hair living in the valley of the Madison, the one they call Dosa Haiwi.”
“Your husband was buried under an avalanche?” Aimee reached for the girl’s hand and squeezed gently. A slow nod was her answer. “How do you know he’s dead?”
The girl looked up at her. “He was buried under so much snow, I couldn’t see him.” She sobbed, and Aimee patted her arm.
“Don’t talk about it now if you don’t want to. It’ll only upset your baby. Let me bring you some food, and you can tell me more when your baby sleeps.”
The girl shot her a grateful look, and nodded again. Aimee stood, and quietly opened the door. More questions filled her mind now than when she first stepped into the room.
Daniel shook the snow from the young pine tree, holding it out to the side like a warrior holding a war lance. He planned to join the trunk of the tree to a base of two flat boards of wood and have the tree standing beside the window in the cabin before Aimee was awake. The warmth of the cabin would melt away any remaining frost on the needles.
He was sorry her plans had been interrupted the day before. His wife always looked forward to this time of year, and decorating her tree was one tradition she never wavered from. Daniel participated in the ritual because it brought such joy to Aimee, even if he didn’t fully understand it. As an added incentive for his cooperation with her traditions, Aimee always baked gingerbread on the day of her tree decorating. She’d been nearly beside herself with happiness when she’d seen the aromatic spice at the dry goods shop in St. Louis the first time he took her to the city four years ago. Along with nutmeg and cinnamon, ginger was one of her most guarded pantry items.
Daniel glanced toward the cabin, wondering if anyone was awake yet. He hadn’t heard the infant cry. He fully intended to speak with their unexpected houseguest this morning, but he would wait until Aimee was awake. He didn’t want to frighten the young woman by interrogating her alone, but he needed some answers soon. What if there were other Blackfoot in the area? He had to be prepared for a potential attack. During the cold months, the Blackfoot migrated further to the south or north of the Yellowstone Plateau to winter in less harsh conditions. Just like the mighty grizzly bear hibernated and posed no threat during this time, neither did the Blackfoot.
Using the dull side of his ax, Daniel drove two square iron nails through the wooden boards and into the base of the tree, creating a cross-shaped stand. He set the tree down, checking to make sure it stood straight. Aimee would no doubt inspect it with a critical eye from all sides. Satisfied with his work, he headed for the cabin. No sooner had he reached the door when movement along the edge of the forest to the west caught his attention. Instantly, his muscles tensed, then relaxed again just as quickly.
Daniel’s chest heaved in a long sigh. Why did his brother always choose to show up early in the morning? Any normal man would remain under the warmth of his sleeping blankets inside his lodge unless it was absolutely necessary to leave his bed in the middle of the night. Elk Runner’s village was several hours’ walk from this valley, so he must have left well before daylight. Either he’d had an argument with his wife, or he came to taunt Daniel about Christmas.
Daniel turned to meet his brother, setting the tree on its stand. He braced himself for the snide remarks and mocking that he expected would come as soon as Elk Runner was within earshot.