A Yellowstone ChristmasBy: Peggy L Henderson
“She birthed a child in the old cabin yesterday, then tried to abandon the baby here. I found her several miles downriver, nearly dead. She wears the clothing of the Tukudeka, and speaks the Shoshone language.”
Elk Runner stared, open-mouthed. Daniel had never seen such disbelief on his brother’s face. His eyes darted around, looking at Daniel as if he had suddenly turned into a winged buffalo. Elk Runner was no doubt wondering if the tables had finally turned, and for once, he was the one being played for a fool.
“You don’t know of any Blackfoot women who live with the Tukudeka?” Daniel asked, breaking the silence.
Elk Runner shook his head. “I don’t know of any such woman,” he said.
“What I am wondering,” Daniel thought out loud, “is she running from her own people, or from something else? Aimee said her husband died a few days ago.”
“What else do you know about this woman?” Elk Runner’s eyes narrowed. “This cannot be a good thing.”
“She hasn’t said anything else. I plan to get some answers today.” Daniel stood from the table, and moved in front of the window, staring at the white landscape outside. The sun began to rise from behind the eastern mountains, making the snow shimmer and sparkle. A wave of dread and foreboding washed over him. His brother might be right. Blackfoot raiding in the middle of winter, a young woman who seemed to live between tribes; what did it all mean?
Daniel's bedroom door creaked open, and he turned to face it. Aimee emerged from the room, her eyes falling on the tree standing beside the window. Her face lit up in a wide smile, and Daniel’s heart swelled, then sunk again. Her Christmas might not turn out to be the joyous celebration she planned every year.
Aimee stepped from the bedroom into the main room. She immediately noticed the tree standing by the window. The fragrant aroma of pine needles mixed with wood smoke from the hearth and freshly brewed coffee. For a split second, she thought she might need to dash back into her bedroom as her stomach churned. Swallowing back her sudden queasiness, she stood her ground, and inhaled the smells that reminded her so much of the season; aromas she usually loved.
Christmas time had always been her favorite time of year, and her mind wandered back to when she was little, living in New York, looking forward to going to the Christmas tree lot with her parents to pick out the perfect tree. She would help her mother bake Christmas cookies afterward, and they would all decorate the tree in the evening.
Living the life she had chosen now, she was firmly determined to hold on to her tradition. During her first winter here in the Yellowstone of 1810, she had to explain to Daniel about Christmas and the tradition of a tree decorated with ornaments, and that it was a time of giving and joy. Daniel couldn’t understand her reasoning.
The Sheepeater Indians he’d grown up with believed in sharing and giving all year long, so why would this time be different and special? He had experienced one Christmas season in Philadelphia when he was younger, and he hadn’t understood the holiday then, either. Aimee had explained the religious beliefs of various faiths to him, and how these might relate to the spiritual teachings he’d grown up with. Always wanting to please her and understand her different upbringing, Daniel had asked her detailed questions about her childhood and traditions, and respected her beliefs, just as she respected his.
Aimee smiled at Daniel from across the room before she glanced at her brother-in-law, who still sat quietly at the table. She’d already noticed him sitting there, but hoped to prolong the sparring of words that always ensued with him. For once, he didn’t wear his perpetual grin. Aimee didn’t have time to contemplate what it meant, or why he was here so early in the day. Sam tugged on her pants, just as a baby’s cries overpowered the crackling of the fire in the hearth.
Daniel rushed to her side, and scooped Sam up into his arms, then gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
“See to our guest. Tell her I need to speak to her,” Daniel said, his curt tone taking her by surprise. Aimee’s forehead furrowed. It was hardly the good morning greeting she expected. Her eyes darted to Elk Runner’s serious face again as she rushed past him. What had Daniel told him about their guest?
Quickly, she knocked on the bedroom door before she opened it and peered into the room. The girl sat on the edge of the bed, cradling her infant in her arms. Her wide eyes relaxed when Aimee stepped into the room.
“How are you feeling this morning?”
“I am well. Thank you for the food last night.”
“I’ll get breakfast started in just a minute. You’ll regain your strength in no time.”
“I cannot stay here, Dosa Haiwi. I must be on my way. I do not wish any harm to come to you or your family.”
Aimee’s eyebrows furrowed for the second time this morning. She rushed to sit on the bed beside the young woman.
“What are you talking about? You’ll never survive out in the cold. My husband and I will help you return to your people.” Aimee squeezed the girl’s hand, and tried for a reassuring smile. “You haven’t even told me your name.”