When Gabe Beaumont was forced to choose between the Sioux tribe of his mother and the white family of his father, his choice ended up costing him everything. Settlers murdered his Indian wife and child, and now revenge is all he lives for.
Riding westward with a renegade Sioux band, he becomes Tall Bear, a warrior with a wounded soul—until a raid on a Wyoming stagecoach station brings him face-to-face with a feisty, red-haired beauty who could change his life . . .
Now two independent spirits will move heaven and earth to be with each other—and to fight for love against the shadows and the danger that lurks in Gabe’s wild heart of the frontier.
“Power, passion, tragedy and triumph are Rosanne Bittner’s hallmarks. Again and again, she brings readers to tears.” —RT Book Reviews
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"Gardez cec8-i pour vous, mon fils." Alexander Beaumont handed the bear-claw necklace to his ten-year-old son, Gabriel.
"Merci, mon père." Delight shined in Gabriel's green eyes as he took the necklace and studied it. The steam whistle of the riverboat on which they traveled filled the air just then, its cry echoing against the muddy waters of the Mississippi.
"It was a gift from your grandfather," Alexander said. "Your mother's people have always been my good friends."
Gabriel fingered the necklace in wonder. He had met his grandfather only twice. His mother's people lived in the Upper Missouri River country, and they moved their camps often to follow the game. It was not always easy to find them when Alexander hunted and trapped there, and now they had moved west of the river country because of increased white settlement. For two years now Gabriel and his mother had not seen their Sioux relatives.
"I will treasure the necklace always, father." Gabriel's words carried the French accent he'd learned from growing up with Alexander Beaumont. The boy spoke both French and English, and through his mother he even knew a good deal of the Sioux tongue.
"Your grandfather, Two Moccasins, is an honored man among his people," Alex told his son. "I paid many horses and guns and much tobacco for your mother. Her people did not want her to go to a white man, but they knew I was their good friend and have the heart of an Indian, oui?"
Gabe smiled. "Oui, père." He wondered if he would ever be as big and strong and skilled as his father, who lived off the land almost the same as the Sioux most of the time. Hunting and trapping was the only life Gabe himself had ever known, and usually they lived in a tepee in the deep woods, except when they made these excursions to St. Louis by riverboat to sell their bounty.
Gabriel found the trips thrilling, enjoyed the wonders of the white man's life. His mother did not like the steaming, noisy riverboats, and she did not trust the "white-eyes" they encountered there. She always balked at staying in any of the rooming houses in St. Louis, claiming the closed roof kept the Great Spirit from hearing her prayers. Besides that, fancy white women in colorful dresses and odd hats often stared at her and whispered, and sometimes men made crude remarks. Fortunately, most did not care to tangle with Alexander Beaumont, who could be fierce as a bear when angered or insulted.
"I was waiting until you were old enough to understand how special that necklace is, mon fils, before I would give it to you," Alex was saying. "Two Moccasins killed that bear with only a knife. He was badly hurt, but he lived, and only a year later he killed another bear with his bow and arrow. He worships the bear spirit, is grateful those bears gave themselves to him, for the meat and their large warm robes, and for the honor they brought him. You have seen me thank the spirits of the animals I kill for meat and furs. That is a custom of your mother's people. They believe all things have a soul and spirit, as humans do. I promised Two Moccasins when I took your mother for a wife that I would be sure to teach our children about the Sioux way, that I would make sure they always remembered their mother's people."
Gabe leaned back against the railing of the upper deck of the Glory Girl, which was churning its way back upriver to the "big woods." This trip to St. Louis had been profitable, according to Alex, but he had worked hard over the winter to trap enough beaver and fox, as well as kill enough deer to make it so. Gabriel was aware that prices for beaver pelts had fallen, and his father was worried. Alex was a wandering man who knew only one way to make a living, and he had talked about heading farther west to find more deer and perhaps begin hunting buffalo. Alex claimed that there was a growing interest among whites for buffalo hides. The buyer in St. Louis had told him so. The only reason he had put off going farther west was because Gabriel's mother had wept over the thought of leaving the country she knew best, moving even farther away from her people's homeland.
Gabriel wished his mother would not always be so sad. He knew she missed her family. She talked about them often, had taught him many things about their language and customs. Since he was born, Yellow Beaver had given birth to two more babies, but both had died only weeks after their birth. Gabriel could clearly remember his mother's wailing when each had been buried. He was her only child, and he knew he was very special to her, as she was special to him.
He put the necklace over his head, and it felt heavy on his still-slender neck. His mother was always saying how tall he was for his age, that he would someday have his father's build. He wanted to be like his father, but right now he only had Alex's green eyes. As he watched his father light a pipe, he wondered what it would be like to be a white man, to live as a white man, instead of being half one thing and half another. Alex was a grand mixture of tame and wild, a white man who lived like an Indian, and Gabriel idolized him.
"Can we try to find Two Moccasins when we reach Fort Snelling?" Gabriel asked.
Alex shrugged. "Perhaps. I think maybe your mother's people have gone farther west themselves, and that is where we must go to find the buffalo. The supplier told me winter is the best time to hunt the great beast. That is when his hide is thickest with fur. Your mother should not be so sad about going farther west. I told her that is where we might find Two Moccasins, but I think it is her mother she misses most."
Gabe frowned, thinking. "I would miss my mother if I had to be away from her."
Alex gave out a throaty laugh. "Oui, I suppose that you would. Yellow Beaver is a fine woman, a good mother. I greatly honor her, but I fear I do not make her so happy as being with her own people. After all the trips we have made on steamboats to forts and cities, it seems she never learns to enjoy it. Always she hides in a corner belowdecks, staying with our supplies, no?"
Gabe grinned. "I will go down and stay with her for a while. I want to show her my necklace." He lost his smile then. "Do you think it will make her cry?"
Alex studied his son thoughtfully. His boy had a good heart. "Your mother cries too much. Perhaps if she had not lost her babies ..." His own heart often ached over the losses, and he blamed himself. Perhaps it was because he'd kept his wife always on the move, living such a difficult, unsettled life, that the babies had not survived. But Gabriel had always been a strong, healthy boy, and for that he was grateful.
"This time if she cries, it will be because she is happy I have given you your grandfather's necklace," he told Gabriel. "That will mean very much to her. She will tell you more about Two Moccasins, and that will make her happy, so go and show her the necklace."
After Gabriel ran off, Alex turned to lean on the ship's railing. He knew it was getting to be time for him to settle in one place. He was getting older, and every year it seemed harder and harder to rough it through the winters, hunting for their food, hauling wood, struggling to hunt and trap in the bitter cold. He knew no other way to live, but Yellow Beaver had put up with it for years. Perhaps it was time to let her live the way she wanted to live.
Sadie Kelley had wanted her husband with her for the birth of their first child, but it was forbidden. A man should not be witness to such an intimate event in a woman's life, or so she'd been told by Matthew, and by the females who attended her now. But Sadie had never thought the same as most other women, and it seemed ironic to her that Matthew Kelley could invade her private parts in the night and plant his seed in her, yet he could not witness the lovely miracle of what that seed had become.
Sadie had always felt restless living among Quakers, wondered if she had truly made the right decision joining them in order to marry Matthew; but she did love him so, and a woman had to do what was required once she was a wife. These were her husband's people, and they were kind. She had made many good friends among them, and the Quakers were a deeply religious group who sometimes risked their lives fighting for human rights. She had no disagreement with their love for humankind, but the stringent religious life that came with the sect sometimes made her feel suffocated.
Now the daughter to whom she had just given birth would be raised in the sect, taught to dress plainly, to be quiet and prayerful, that most pleasures in life were sinful. She would be expected to feel the Holy Spirit within her, to search for that Spirit, spend many quiet hours waiting for the Spirit to speak to her and guide her ways.
I only want you to laugh and play and be free, Sadie thought, as Mary Jane Withrow laid her new little girl in her arms.
"You are washed and fully covered now. I'll get Matthew for you," Mary Jane told her. "She is a beautiful little girl, Sadie. She has your red hair and blue eyes. What will you name her?"
"I don't know," Sadie answered. "I've left that up to Matthew."
"Of course. That's the proper thing to do."
After Mary Jane and the other women who had tended the birth left the room, Sadie studied her baby. She was pretty. She remembered how she used to study herself in the mirror, wondering if others thought she was as pretty as she thought she was. Her hair was thick and long, "as red as a sunset," her father used to say. Her bosom was full and her waist slender ... or at least it had been until she'd become large with child. She remembered when she used to wear a little color on her cheeks and lips, when she wore pretty dresses and attended dances where boys would woo her.
Then had come Matthew Kelley, a Quaker man, very handsome but always so very serious. She'd met him when her family had moved to Pennsylvania. No one knew her father had come there from New York because he'd faced debtors' prison. They were penniless when they arrived, and the whole family had gone to work as helpers on Quaker farms. Matthew was the son of one of the wealthier Quaker farming families, and she had been young and foolish and in love.
Now she was a Quaker wife, and there was no changing that. Matthew was good to her, but deep inside she ached to feel pretty again, to wear a fancy dress and color on her cheeks, to laugh, dance, travel. Those things could never be now. Maybe her daughter would one day know that kind of freedom.
Matthew walked into the room, a big man, strong, dark hair and eyes. He had taken the day off from working in the fields to wait for the birth, and now it pleased Sadie to see him grin, a rare sight on a man usually quite sober. He leaned over the bed and studied his daughter.
"Isn't she pretty?" Sadie asked. "She's healthy and strong, Matthew."
The man nodded, touching the baby's cheek with a finger. "And how are you?"
"I'm all right." Sadie felt resentment at the fact that he had no idea what she'd been through. A man planted his seed, then walked away and went about his work while his wife suffered hours of black pain to give forth the life he'd fathered. Then the man walked in to see everything tidy, his new child magically produced as though there were nothing to it. "What name do you want to give her?" she asked.
Matthew straightened, folding his arms thoughtfully. He walked around to the foot of the bed. "I've been thinking, Sadie. You have a free spirit, and I know you struggle with that. Let's pray that our daughter does not have the same struggle. Let's pray that she is a quiet, faithful child who will look to God for guidance all her life, and who will help your own faith. Every time you speak her name, you will be reminded of that faith, for that is what we will call her ... Faith. Faith Irene Kelley. Irene for my deceased mother. Is that agreeable with you?"
Would it matter if it wasn't? Sadie wanted to ask. But such a remark would sound critical, and a wife did not criticize her husband. "I like it just fine. Faith it is."
Matthew nodded. "Fine." He walked around the bed and leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Thank you for my daughter, Sadie. We will have to begin trying for a son as soon as possible."
Getting pregnant again anytime soon was the last thing Sadie wanted. "Yes, we will," she answered.
Matthew patted her cheek. "I'll go tell the elders about my new daughter."
After he left the room, Sadie closed her eyes, a tear slipping down one side of her face.
Gabe sat in the cargo section of the steamboat, watching his mother patiently sew a beaded design on a new pair of moccasins for his father. She used a lantern for light, as it was dark outside now, pitch-black down here where all the baggage was. He thought how pretty his mother looked by the soft glow of the lantern. If only the white people would treat her better. So what if she was Indian? They acted as though that was something to be ashamed of. It seemed to him that being part Indian was even more shameful in their eyes. Some called him "breed" or "half-breed bastard." Before leaving St. Louis, his father had gotten into a brutal fistfight with a man over that word, along with "scummy" and "lice infected."
"Father says we will probably find Two Moccasins if we go farther west to hunt the buffalo," Gabriel said to his mother, hoping to make her feel happier.
"I hope that he is right," she answered, keeping her eyes on her beadwork. "You have much faith in your father, Gabriel."
Yellow Beaver looked at her son and smiled. "Of course," she mimicked. "And he is a good man. I married him knowing I might never see my father and mother again, but it is hard for me." With a longing look in her eyes, she studied the bear-claw necklace he wore. "Not many men can boast of killing a bear with only a knife, but my father can. He was a great man. Perhaps one day you will be a fine warrior like Two Moccasins."
At that moment someone shouted, "There they are!" and Gabriel turned.
Three men approached, wearing the dark-blue uniforms that designated they worked for the boat's captain. They carried a brightly lit lantern to find their way. A few other passengers who slept belowdecks because they could not afford cabins cursed and grumbled at the intrusion.
"You there, boy!" one of the workers called out, coming closer. "You're Alexander Beaumont's half-breed son, aren't you? I've seen you up top with the man."
Gabriel rose, frowning. "Yes. I am Gabriel Beaumont." His mother's eyes were wide with fright.
"I'm sorry, boy, but I have some bad news."
Gabriel's heart pounded harder. Where was his father? "What is it?"
The man leaned closer, his mustache so wide, it reached past the sides of his face. "Your father's dead, boy. He's been killed — by robbers, I suppose. Lord knows they're probably still on this boat, but how the hell are we supposed to know who it was?"
Gabriel heard little after the words "Your father's dead." Nothing was making sense. Stunned, he looked at his mother, who was staring wide-eyed at the worker.
"Tell me you lie!" she cried out.
"Sorry, ma'am. The body is up on deck. We need the two of you to come identify it for sure. Then we'll put him in a pine box. I don't know if you have any money besides what was stole off him, but somebody's got to bury him next stop. You're paid up to go to Fort Snelling, so we'll take you that far. It's only another three days."
Still, nothing was making sense. His big, strong father — killed? Alex was such a skilled man. Gabriel had never seen him lose a fight with anyone, even if the other person was armed. Never had he even imagined anyone could kill Alexander Beaumont! Now these men had come to tell him his father was dead, with no more feeling than if they were telling him it was raining outside! Did they think he and his mother had no feelings? "I will go and see the body," he told his mother. "You stay here."
Suddenly he felt older. He left with the crewmen, bewildered by their casual manner, hoping they had made some kind of mistake. It was true that it was not like Alex to stay up top away from Yellow Beaver so long after dark. Blindly he stumbled over other passengers, followed the men to the upper deck to where a crowd had gathered. The men ordered others out of the way, then held the lantern over someone who lay on his back, his green eyes still open.
"Found him near the stairwell going belowdecks, lying facedown, stabbed in the back," one of the men told Gabe. "I remember he wore a money belt. It's gone. Could be the robbers swam away with it. That is him, ain't it? Your pa?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tame the Wild Wind"
Copyright © 1996 Rosanne Bittner.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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