Apalachee: A Novel

Apalachee: A Novel

by Joyce Rockwood Hudson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780820339405
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Publication date: 06/15/2012
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

JOYCE ROCKWOOD HUDSON is the author of five works of fiction, including the award-winning novel To Spoil the Sun, and two works of nonfiction, Looking for De Soto: A Search Through the South for the Spaniard’s Trail (Georgia) and Natural Spirituality: Recovering the Wisdom Tradition in Christianity.

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Chapter One

In the Apalachee mission town of San Lorenzo de Ivitachuco, in a small, round Indian house that stood close beside the convento of the resident Spanish priest, Hinachuba Lucia knelt beside the low-burning fire in the open hearth. Death had now come so near that she could feel the boundaries dissolving between This World and the next. Time had ceased to move. Stirring up the coals, she added more wood against the winter wind. Firelight rose and illuminated her face, its high cheekbones and brown skin framed by a black sweep of hair knotted behind her neck. Her skirt was made of deerskin and her bodice of coarse Spanish cloth. A medicine bag made of the white-feathered skin of an egret was attached to her belt, and from each ear dangled a tear-shaped, blue-green glass pendant—the tears of Mary.

    Lucia sat back on her heels and watched the flames, numb to the grief that she knew would overtake her after the burial, after the presence of death had receded, when time began to move again. On one of the pole-framed beds that stood against the circular wall of the house, her grandmother, Hinachuba Isabel, slept lightly. On another her aunt sat weeping.

    And on another Lucia's mother lay dying. Nothing would save her. Lucia's own medicines had been of no avail, nor had those of her grandmother, nor had the Christian prayers of her aunt. For three days, with little sleep, they had been waiting for death to come. And now, in the night that had just passed, Hinachuba Sun-in-the-Mist had sunk deeply into unconsciousness. The waiting would soon be over.

    The oldgrandmother awakened and stirred. "Lucia," she said softly, sitting up. "You should sleep."

    Lucia turned her head and watched as Isabel got up, stiff and arthritic, and came shuffling across the room to the hearth, a worn blanket clutched about her shoulders. Her body was bent and shrunken with age, her hair white and thin. She came up to the fire and stood before it, rubbing a hand slowly across her face, as if gathering her strength. Then she reached out and touched Lucia's shoulder.

    "When did you last sleep?"

    Lucia shook her head without answering.

    "There is nothing more we can do," said Isabel. "She does not even know we are here now. Go ahead and sleep."

    Lucia heard a muffled sob and looked over at her aunt, Hinachuba Ana, a handsome woman with an intelligent face, whose eyes were now red from crying. Ana's fingers absently stroked a small silver cross that hung from a string of dark burgundy beads around her neck.

    "Ana, you are tired, too," said Isabel. "Both of you should sleep."

    Ana made no reply. She took a deep breath, composing herself a little, and got up and walked over to where her sister lay. She stood for a moment with tremulous breath, looking at her. Then she reached down and stroked her hair. "Why was she so stubborn?" she said quietly. "To die without God."

    Lucia's jaw stiffened and she looked away into the dark recesses of the room. Ana never saw the world exactly as it was. She was grieving for her idea of things as much as for the loss of her sister's life.

    "She is not dead yet," the old grandmother said curtly.

    "But she is gone from us," said Ana, turning away from the bed with a deep sigh. Then she closed her lips tightly and straightened her shoulders, as if willing herself to be strong. She walked back to her own bed and picked up her worn Spanish cloak. "I am going to the convento for a little while. Father Juan has been three days without a servant in his house."

    "You should rest now," said Isabel.

    "I should tend to my work," said Ana, putting the cloak around her shoulders. "Later I will sleep." She ducked through the door and went out.

    "No one listens to me," muttered Isabel.

    Lucia stood up and put a reassuring hand on Isabel's shoulder, her own tall height making her grandmother seem even smaller. "I cannot sleep now," said Lucia. "When it is over, I will sleep."

* When Ana returned, the priest was with her, Father Juan de Villalva, a brown-robed friar past the middle of his life, a man of medium height, dark hair going to gray, his flesh thin and his face gaunt from a wracking cough that had plagued him for as long as Lucia had known him. She looked up at him from where she was sitting at her mother's bedside and nodded courteously. He had been kind to her since she and her mother and grandmother had come to live in Ana's house in the mission town. Ana was the priest's house servant, and more, and she was a Christian in her heart, not merely in appearance as Lucia and Isabel were. The priest's kindness was for Ana's sake, Lucia supposed, for she herself had never tried to earn it. She was indifferent to him, though not impolite, and though she never looked for it and therefore never saw it, she assumed there must be goodness in him, for Ana herself was good at heart and would not attach herself to a man whose own heart was evil. The fact that he had come to their house seemed to her a kindness, and she accepted it as that.

    "You want sofkee?" her grandmother said to the priest. The old woman spoke Spanish only haltingly, sometimes mixing in Apalachee words. She went over to the fire and looked into a clay pot of thin hominy gruel. "Plenty sofkee."

    "Thank you," said Father Juan, nodding absently.

    Isabel picked up the gourd dipper that lay near the pot, then reconsidered and put it down again. "I get bowl from cocina," she said and headed toward the door. The kitchen was a separate building on the other side of the yard.

    "Don't trouble yourself," said the priest, waving his hand at her.

    "I get bowl," said Isabel. "You want bread?" The cocina was her own domain—she was the cook.

    "No," said Father Juan. "No bread."

    Isabel went out.

    Lucia rose and moved away from her mother's bed, making room for the priest. "She is sleeping," she said, her own Spanish fluent. She had picked up the language as a child, and not even Ana could speak it as well as she could. As she watched the priest approach the bed, she was glad that her mother had made it safely into unconsciousness before he came. Sun-in-the-Mist had always hated the priest along with everything else that was Spanish, including the language, which she had refused to learn at all. The only reason they had come here to live with Ana was because Lucia's father had died, leaving them with no one to hunt for them in the little homestead where they had lived before, and no one to protect them from the growing danger of slave-catchers. But Lucia's mother had never reconciled herself to living in the mission town. She was an Apalachee and a daughter of the Hinachuba clan, the clan of the ancient White Sun chiefs, and she had never wanted a Christian name nor any part of a Spanish life. Lucia also was a Hinachuba—clan membership came through the mother. But though she honored the old ways, she had grown up with Spaniards in her world and she could live with them. She had to live with them. To refuse that was to refuse life.

    A fresh draft blew in from the door.

    Lucia turned and saw Usunaca Carlos, the priest's assistant, a tall, large-boned man, his flesh lean and strong, his manner serious beyond his years. He nodded to her and she gave him a reserved nod in return, wondering why he had come. Perhaps he was here for Ana's sake, for he hardly knew Lucia's mother. Although he was Apalachee by birth, he was too much a Spaniard, too much like the priest, for Sun-in-the-Mist ever to warm to him.

    It was because Carlos had been raised in the priest's own house that he seemed almost to be a priest himself, and almost to be a Spaniard. But all the schooling that the priest had given him had not been able to wipe away the brown color of his skin, nor make his dark eyes more round, nor fill his veins with pure, clean Spanish blood. To Spain he was still an Indian. His clothing reflected his place between the two worlds—his shirt, breeches, and stockings were Spanish, but his moccasins and the red blanket he wore about his shoulders were Apalachee.

    Lucia had never been comfortable with Carlos. His eyes were more penetrating than Father Juan's and more likely to notice her indifference to things Spanish and Christian. But today she felt cautiously welcoming. Let him come in and fill the house with his presence so that her mother might die in the midst of mourners. That was as it should be when a person lay dying, even if the friends who came to mourn were not the person's own. Sun-in-the-Mist had no close friends in Ivitachuco. Like Lucia, she had always been content to be alone.

    Lucia moved back to the fire as the visitors clustered beside the bed. Ana reached down and smoothed her sister's blanket. Carlos said something in a low voice. Lucia did not catch the words, but she saw Father Juan nod in reply. Carlos turned aside and squatted down on his heels to put a small box on the floor, a wooden chest with brass hinges and lock. Lucia's heart quickened. He had carried it beneath his blanket when he came in and she had not noticed it. Stepping closer, she watched him open it. Inside was a silver bowl, a small linen towel, and a corked vial of water for baptizing.

    Lucia's anger flared. Her mother had not wanted this. "It is too late," she said, directing her words to all of them together. "She is sleeping now. She will not awaken again."

    Ana and Father Juan seemed not to have heard her, but Carlos glanced up, then turned and lifted out the silver bowl.

    "It is too late," Lucia repeated. "You cannot wake her. And if you could, she would not let you baptize her."

    Father Juan turned and looked at Lucia with weary eyes. "It is not too late," he said. "She is still alive."

    "But unconscious!" said Lucia.

    He looked wordlessly at Ana, seeking help. Ana stepped around him and put a hand on Lucia's arm.

    "It is better that she sleeps," Ana explained quietly. "Then she cannot renounce the vows. We take them for her, Carlos and I, her godparents, as we would for an infant. Be happy, Lucia. We are sending her to God."

    Lucia pulled away from Ana's hand. "She did not want that," she said fiercely. "You cannot do it."

    She looked over at Carlos. He was standing with the vial of water in one hand and the silver bowl in the other. The little towel hung over his forearm. He watched her soberly as the priest turned to him, ignoring Lucia.

    Lucia stepped toward them, thinking only that she must stop them. Her blood pounded as she reached for the priest, grasping the sleeve of his robe. She heard no sound as Carlos spoke and felt nothing as Ana pulled her away and held her. She cried out for her grandmother to come, though she barely heard herself. Tearing free of Ana, she struck out at Carlos, knocking the silver bowl from his hand. The priest reached for her, but she hit his hand away, then struggled to free herself from Ana's grip and that of Carlos as she tried to get to her mother. She could feel herself crying.

    "Let her die in peace," she begged, pulling against them. But they held her tightly. She heard Ana's voice trying to soothe her. She struggled again, summoning all her strength, trying to tear away. One arm came free. She swung with it, her fist clenched, but it was caught in a hard, thin hand, and she heard the stern voice of her grandmother say in Apalachee, "Be still, child!"

    Isabel was breathing hard, having run across the yard from the cocina. Her grip on Lucia's wrist was strong for one so old, and Lucia sagged beneath it, all her strength draining away.

    "They are trying to baptize her," Lucia said weakly. "Tell them they cannot do it."

    Isabel pushed the hands of the others away from Lucia, then led her over to her own bed and sat down with her on the edge of it. "What does it matter?" she said quietly. Her voice was tired, sorrowful, her hand absently stroking Lucia's leg to comfort her. "She is gone from here. She does not know. So what does it matter, my child? Think of Ana."

    Lucia made no reply. She stared down at her grandmother's hand, its thin, transparent skin barely covering the bones and veins and swollen joints. The others were standing together, silent, waiting for calm, for things to be easy again. Lucia knew they would have their way. But she would not stay to witness it. She rose and picked up her blanket from beside her mother's bed, and wrapping it about her shoulders, she went out into the cold.

* Lucia's mother died the same day she was baptized, and on the next day she was buried in the floor of the church. In the night following the burial, Carlos tossed on his narrow bed, restless and awake. Moonlight sifted through cracks in the window shutters into his tiny room off the back of the convento. He felt confined in the darkness of his room, trapped between walls he could almost touch with his arms outspread. Yet for how many years had this been his home? It was the generosity of a priest to a young orphan boy, a room built by closing in a portion of the porch which ran the full length of the back of the convento. No other Apalachee had the privilege of living so near the priest. The orphan boy had been thrilled and flattered, and still as a man Carlos was thankful when he thought of all Father Juan had done for him. The priest had raised him, taught him to read and write, schooled him in church doctrine and liturgy. He could do anything the priest himself could do, were he to seek a friar's vocation. But Carlos' future was not to be in the Church. The priest had groomed him for another purpose. Even though he was not a Hinachuba, Father Juan intended him to be chief of Ivitachuco when the life of the present chief, Hinachuba Patricio, was over.

    The priest could not ordain this. The council house still governed itself. But the Hinachuba clan had almost died out in this town. The chief's closest heir was the grandson of his mother's sister and lived in a distant town. The Usunacas, themselves a noble clan, and the one to which Carlos belonged, had become the strongest clan in the council house. In these extraordinary times, Carlos' special qualities—his literacy and his intimate knowledge of Spaniards—were held in high regard by the people of the town. When it came time to name a new chief, the priest's hope for him was likely to be fulfilled. But how long must he wait? He was not a boy anymore, content to pass his days in passive service to the priest. The room had grown too small for him. Prayers no longer calmed him but gave way instead to troubled thoughts, even to doubts.

    He fought back the doubts, for he still believed much of what the priest had taught him, and he wished to believe all of it with the easy faith he had once possessed. He blamed his restlessness in part on the priest, who had become remote in recent years, preoccupied with his growing illness. But he knew the fault was in himself as well. He wrestled to contain it, succeeding well enough in daylight hours, but at night he would awaken, restless and tense, unable to return to sleep.

    A walk sometimes helped. He got up, wrapped his red blanket around his shoulders, and went out into the night. The cold air on his face calmed him and strengthened him. He stood for a moment before the church, looking across the moonlit plaza to the council house on the other side. The town was asleep. He could almost imagine himself chief of it. He turned from the plaza and made his way quietly among the houses, thinking what he would do to make Ivitachuco a better place. He wanted above all to lead well.

    The houses were dark and silent beneath the light haze of smoke that rose from the ash-banked fires in their hearths. Here and there stood great live oaks draped in hanging moss, ragged like the town in its poverty. Even in the darkness he could feel the destitution. There were too few men for all the women here. Not enough meat was being brought in, not enough deerskins, too much illness and misery. As he moved away from the town's center, he began to pass by houses that were empty—deserted dwellings that had fallen into ruin. A few elders were yet alive whose own parents had grown up in the old Ivitachuco and who carried stories from that time. When the first Spanish friars came, as many as fifteen hundred Indians lived here. Now there were barely six hundred. Spanish diseases had killed hundreds of them. Many others had deserted the town to live elsewhere.

    Carlos tightened his blanket against the chill of the night. He felt it was God's anger that caused the people to die in such numbers from the Spanish fevers, their punishment for clinging so stubbornly to the old ways. If they could be persuaded to be better Christians, surely the diseases would diminish. But how to stop the desertions? Always there had been a trickle of people who walked away, but recently it had swelled to a flood. And not because of anything the priest had done. It was the work of the English. From their new colony of Carolina they were arming Creek Indians and sending them south against the missions to raid for slaves. The raids were sporadic and unpredictable. Sometimes there were large assaults on entire towns, but more often there were isolated ambushes, a few slave-catchers hidden near a spring or a trail, always unexpected, brutal, leaving terror in their wake. Life in Florida had become dangerous to the extreme. For some it seemed safer to join the enemy, to go north and settle among the Creeks.

    Carlos looked scornfully at the stockade on the outskirts of Ivitachuco, the top of it visible above the houses, dark against the starry sky—a small wooden structure manned by four soldiers. Four soldiers. No wonder people were frightened. No wonder they deserted. Who could believe that four soldiers were enough to protect this town—and the entire eastern half of Apalachee besides? Yet the governor at San Augustín refused to send more. Last year the English had attacked San Augustín itself and razed the presidio town. The only safety there now was in the great stone fortress. The presidio was more important to the governor than the people of Apalachee were. But if Carlos were chief, he himself would journey to San Augustín and make a forceful case for more soldiers.

    Still in the old ruined section of Ivitachuco, he came to a house that had not yet been abandoned. The light of a freshly stoked fire shone through the cracks in the plaster of the wattle-and-daub wall. The shaman Usunaca Salvador lived here, a kinsman of Carlos, both men linked to the same clan through their mothers. But unlike Carlos, Salvador was a thorn in the side of the priest. Neither repeated whippings nor threat of hanging had ever induced him to give up his sorcery. He had been baptized as a Christian and attended Mass regularly, and Father Juan, in truth, could not hang him nor even banish him from the town, for Salvador's following among the converts was far too large to risk such a rupture in the mission. Carlos hoped as chief to wean away some of Salvador's supporters. He knew the struggle would be a long one. Father Juan had spent himself in that battle. Yet as Carlos stood in the dark shadows and watched the light flicker through the cracks of that dilapidated house, he felt that his own way would eventually prevail over the pagan way of his kinsman.

    He walked out to the edge of the town and then began circling its periphery, passing beneath the walls of the stockade without challenge from the sleeping sentry. The dogs who awoke in the yards of the houses watched him without alarm, for they were accustomed to his nighttime wanderings. He wondered if they would recognize a Creek slave-catcher, or if they would just lie there and watch an enemy as passively as they were watching him. When he became chief, security would be tighter. No one would pass without challenge.

    As he came around to the convento again, he could feel the tug of sleep. Dawn would soon lighten the sky, and with it would come the clanging of the waking bell and the preparations for the morning Mass. He hoped for a few moments of rest. He could almost feel the warmth of his bed.

    Then, as he started around the corner of the convento, he saw a movement in front of the church door. Thinking of slave-catchers, he stepped out of the bright moonlight into the shadow of the churchyard wall and let his blanket slide to the ground. He waited a moment, listening, and then slipped quietly along the wall until the area in front of the church was in full view. He crouched, scarcely breathing, his eyes searching the moonlight and shadows until he saw the figure of a woman, blanketed, walking slowly away from the plaza. She paused and looked back at the church as if giving a parting glance to someone she was leaving behind. As the moonlight caught her face, he saw that it was Ana's niece, Lucia, her hair flowing loose in mourning for her mother, who was now interred with so many others in the floor of the church.

    He should have known who it would be out here in the night. If ever there was a strange one, it was this woman, so alone and yet not seeming lonely, always busy with her curing. But it was more than her curing that made her strange. Her Hinachuba clan was the ancient chiefly lineage, whose glory had been greatest in the old days of Apalachee, before the Spaniards came. Something of that time lingered in her old grandmother, as it had in her mother, more pagan than the rest, and it seemed also to have passed into Lucia. She came to Mass, but she was no real Christian. A real Christian would not have tried to stop her mother's baptism, nor come to tend her grave in the secrecy of night. He could see the two pottery vessels that she carried, and he knew what she had done. Earlier in the night she had slipped into the church and hid them in the darkness near the new grave so that her mother could take nourishment on her way to the Other World. Now she was removing them before daylight, concealing her stubborn paganism from the priest.

    Carlos leaned against the cold wall of the churchyard. He should report her. But as he watched her walk away in the moonlight, he knew that he would not.

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Philip Lee Williams

A stunning and ultimately heart-breaking novel that restores part of American and southern history that has been lost to us.

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