Now Nest could not look John Walker in the eye. He could look at her all he wanted, but he could seldom lift her lashes. She avoided him at all costs. He spent part of every day with her little brother who acted more and more the part of the brave he was becoming. She realized it was a good thing if he became one like John.
The leaves were beginning to fall. Ruthe, Joseph, and her father came unannounced. She was happy to greet Ruthe, but was shy with her older brother. The father caused a cold fear to grip her heart which only Ruthe could thaw. The girls went off with their heads together.
"Nest, I'm engaged! I'm going to marry Col. Sparks!"
"Ruthe, no! I won't get to see you anymore. You are too young. He is too old."
Ruthe pouted for a moment then said, "That's what my mother said, but my father knows he is a good man. So, they didn't protest too much. He has a fine house not far from my folks."
"My heart is sad, Ruthe."
"My heart is happy, Nest. Be happy for me. Besides, don't be so sure you won't see just as much or more of me."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll let my brother do his own talking."
"What does this have to do with your brother?"
"You'll find out soon enough. Let me just say we are not here to meet with the elders of the tribe. Let's go back to the others."
They found her father and the Sevier men deep in talk. The trapper looked long and hard at Nest. There was no laughter in his eyes. Nest felt a sickness in her stomach. She wandered over to the horses that they had brought with them. There was a pretty Indian paint, small but sturdy. She petted his soft pink nose and scratched his ears.
"Do you like him? He's a gift for your little brother." Joseph had come up behind her with her brother.
The boy let out a whoop that scared the horses. They snorted and rolled their eyes pulling at their wanties, or tethers.
Joseph handed him the reigns. "Here, boy, take him for a ride." Her brother swung himself up easily bareback and took off riding. "Nest, let's walk down to that grove of trees. I have something to show you."
Nest felt all thoughts flying through her head, but none would light. Joseph took her hand as they walked. The young girl swallow fear that beat against her heart. Her eyes were huge as Joseph looked at her. She had inherited her parents height, so he was not much taller than she was. She noticed how tired around his eyes and weathered his face. His words spoke of that which she was afraid. He wanted to marry her, tomorrow, and take her home with him. Joseph took out a ring that was knotted in his handkerchief. It was a simple band of gold.
"What do you say? My sister and mother would welcome you. I have a cabin built near their house where we will live. It's not nearly as big or fine as my fine as my father's, but snug enough. Your brother could come visit when you want and maybe there will be a school he can go to."
Nest thought about his offer staring down at her moccasins. She thought about what her life would be like. Then she thought about her brother. Maybe it would be a good thing for him to be kept safe, introduced into the white man's world, go to school. What could be safer than to be part of the governor of Tennessee's family? She simply nodded.
Joseph caught her up in a rough kiss. His unshaven cheek rubbed her face. Nest gasped as he hugged her tightly. She broke from his grasp and ran up the hill to her teepee. She did not see John Walker standing there with the fire in his eyes. Ruthe followed her inside.
"What did you say? Are you going to be my sister?"
Once again Nest nodded unable to find her voice. Ruthe cried happy tears and hugged her. "We will both be married and be neighbors, have our babies together, and go to church together..."
Nest's tears were not of a happy kind, but of grief of growing up and leaving home, what had been her mother's home. She whispered under her breath once more, "I will never leave you, my mother. You will always be in my heart." Nest straightened her back, dried her tears, and held her head high like her mother had done during the changes in her life.
"We will leave in the morning. Think about what you need to take with you. Joseph has thought about everything you need in the cabin already. It's called a weaning house," Ruthe said looking around the simple teepee.
"Why is it called such a thing?"
"It's when someone marries, but lives close to their parents," Ruthe laughed. "Pa says he wonders if Joseph will ever be weaned." She continued, "Actually, father is gone on business so much that he relies on Joseph to be nearby to keep watch over things. You will only need your personal belongings. Mother has already sewn you a couple of dresses for a wedding present."
"Then she expected me to say, 'yes' to your brother?"
"Of course. I have been busy making a trousseau for myself,"Ruthe chattered on.
Nest didn't know what a trousseau was, and at that point she didn't care. She would take her mother's dress and mirror, but give her buffalo robe to her brother. There wasn't much else to think of that just belonged to her mother.
Nest remained quiet as they ate their dinner. She listened while Ruthe talked about what it would mean for them each to have their won households being married women. Joseph talked much with the trapper who was almost as quiet as she was. Her little brother attached himself to her side. Nest slipped her arm around hi.
Afterwards, the two of them wandered over to watch the new pony as it grazed peacefully. They were alone.
"You are soon to be a man, little brother, always off trapping with father or following in John Walker's footsteps."
"Why aren't you marrying him? That's who I want you to marry."
"Mr. Sevier has asked father, and father has given permission. He is a very important man in the white world. It is done. Joseph has said that you may come stay with me as much as you wish when father lets you."
"I don't want you to leave."
"In a village, you are never alone. In a house, I will be much alone and missing you. Come see me, little one. I will need you." Nest hugged him tenderly, resting her cheek against his curls.
"I would give back the horse if you would take back your promise to Ruth's brother."
Nest smiled, "I know you would. And I know how much you have wanted such a horse. Thank you little brother. You will always be in my heart whether we are together or apart. I do this because I believe it is best for you even more than me. Nancy says there is safety in marrying whites. I will leave with the Seviers in the morning." Tomorrow morning would change everything when she and Joseph stood before the elders.
That night when the breathing in the teepee was even, Nest slipped out again. There was no way she would be able to fall asleep easily tonight. So she made her way to the river even though the clouds hid the moon and stars. It was biting cold. He was there with his back to her. She came and stood beside him. He looked fiercely at her, but she was not afraid. It was too late to realize that he held her heart.
"You have chosen wrongly. They are not your people. You will find out and it will be cruel to your heart. You do not love him. I saw it when he kissed you. Do not go, Little Owl. Stay with me." He kissed her. Nest knew of his love. Her eyes would not stop crying.
Finally she pushed away. "I have given my word. I will be his wife. I am doing this for my brother, for his protection. When the white man has taken all the Cherokee land, he will still have a home here with me. He will have to know how to live in a white man's world. Nancy has told me it is the only way for the Cherokee to survive. Your mother married a white man. Besides, you are wrong about Joseph. He will be kind. His sister is my friend. It will be enough. Here..." Nest lifted her skirt and took the dagger and gave it to the brave. "Keep this for my brother in case anything happens to me. I want him to have it when he is a man, to remember his people." She kissed the hilt that shone as the moon peeked out from behind a cloud. Goodbye, John."
"Don't forget, Nest. I will be waiting. You will return to your people."
Nest had no more tears. She was a dry well. The girl did not see the young brave thrust the dagger into a tree in anguish.
In the morning, Nancy looked deeply into Nest's eyes with concern. The ceremony was simple. She let Joseph wrap her in his blanket. For the first time in her life, Nest embraced the trapper, but she clung to her brother. It was the hardest effort she had ever made to turn from him and ride away. Ruth understood her need for quiet and did not continue her chatter as they rode.
The beauty of the fall colors spoke peace into Nest's heart. Her Creator did not just live in a Cherokee village or a Mandan village. He was going with her even if it was a season in her life of change. The leaves must fall from the trees. Perhaps she would have the budding of a new life in the Spring within her. She looked over to Joseph who smiled at her. Yes, he was lonely. He chose her to be his wife now. Nest looked at the woods on fire with color and saw life was good.
They arrived very late. After stopping briefly at his parent's, the rode up to his home. Her home. Nest stood on the threshold shivering without going in, waiting for Joseph to put the horses into the small barn. Finally, he pulled the latch and opened the door. It was cold. Nest knelt down and blew on the kindling with the borrowed fire his mother had sent from her coals. Then in the glow of firelight, she looked at her home. It was elegant to her, rustic to him. It was not nearly as large as Nancy's, but larger than the only home she had ever known since leaving the Mandans. A homemade table and bench, and a corn shuck stuffed mattress on a rope strung frame half-filled the one room. A shelf held a few dishes that the two of them would need. This was great wealth to the young girl from the Cherokees. Nest fingered the quilt on the bed.
"My mother made this quilt. It is very special to me. Welcome home, Nest."
"It is very nice."
"Bonny Kate has sent some corn dodgers if you are hungry."
She shook her head. Nest could not have swallowed anything right now. Fear began to overtake her. Joseph stood behind her stroking her hair. Don't worry little one. She felt his arms around her again, the strong arms that would protect her. She chose to trust him.
The next morning after they shared the cold leftovers, she was alone in her home when Joseph left to work in the field. There would be food to be prepared, things to be washed, the puncheon floor to be swept. She doubted there was anything left in a garden this late in the year. Nest looked around wondering where to begin. She heard hoof beats, and looking out the front door, she saw Ruthe ride up. She had brought a basket from home with a slab of bacon, milk, some eggs, and cornmeal.
"Now for some cooking lessons, Nest," she said as she slid off the horse. Ma thinks I need some practice too," Ruthe laughed.
The girls hugged and began a messy baking session as Nest learned how to make corn pone, dodgers, and ash cake the Sevier way. She showed Ruthe how to make ginseng tea and fry bread. By midday when Ruthe left, there was an edible spread for Joseph. The dodgers were burnt on the bottom. She'd get the hang of banking the fire for baking in this hearth. There would not be a great deal of variety on the menu, but they would not starve.
The chores were done by late afternoon so Nest wandered in the woods near the cabin alert for intruders. She gathered a few nuts and was scolded by some squirrels. She looked for certain plans her mother had taught her to use for different maladies, things like prickly ash bar, boneset, catnip, cocklebur, goldenrod, marigold, chamomile, and sumac berries. It would be important to stock up for the winter. Nest followed the music of the stream. It would not be too far to fill the water bucket. There might be some fish, crawfish, or swamp potatoes. She would have to come back a different day to find out. She could begin to collect cattail fluff for a cradle board too. Nest would plan for the future.
She looked in the small stable. She hoped they would be able to have their own chickens in the spring like Bonny Kate. There was just room for two horses. Hay was packed in for the winter.
She heard the hounds barking before she saw Joseph. He looked like a happy man when he saw her. It made Nest feel warm inside. Once in the cabin, he admired the plants she had hung to dry from the rafters and listened to her explanations for their uses. She fried up some bacon to go with the cornpone. He seemed satisfied. Joseph oiled harnesses while her hands sat idle. Nest needed to learn more from Bonny Kate who never sat idle. She was just a beginner in this thing called marriage.
The next day Bonny Kate herself rode over with a little one in front and one tied behind her. Kate had a rifle slung over her shoulder for protection. Nest helped the toddler down, then nestled the baby in her arms. He was no little thing, but just as cuddly. She had a stab of homesickness for her brother. It seemed he was little like this not so long ago.
Her mother-in-law gave her two new dresses and made sure they fit just right: on wool, one cotton. She showed her how to take out stitches to make fullness in the gown when the time came. Bonny Kate admired the healing plants Nest had found. She let the little ones see her mother's mirror holding it for them so they could see their reflection. The older woman admired it too. Nest was so happy to have been given a small crock of apple butter. There was nothing better. Nest hoped Bonnie Kate would teach her how to make it herself. She wished they could stay longer. It was so quiet when the little ones left.
The days turned into a routine. Nest's favorite time of every day was when Joseph read to her in front of the fire at night. It was mostly the Bible. Sometimes they borrowed a history book from his parents. Several chapters described the history of England. Nest would intensely listen and think about it all the next day as she went about her chores.
The snow lay in patches and the days shortened. Nest was glad to go to bed earlier and earlier. She was still tired in the mornings. Soon the tightness of her dress told her why. Joseph noticed before she did. He put his arms around her one night and placed his hands on her belly. "So my little Nest is in the family way. When will the baby come?
In the fall, just over a year from when we got married." Nest blushed with happiness.
"I hope the little one will get your blue eyes. They are so much like my mother's. We will have to ride over to tell the folks if the weather holds. We can make a day of it on Sunday if you wish."
"Can we go to church, Joseph?" The weather had not permitted them for a few weeks. Nest wanted to learn so much about the holy book, the same one her people had brought to the ne country hundreds of years ago. She wanted to tell her brother what was in it, things her mother had not been able to learn. This is what she would pass along to her children.
The day couldn't have been more pleasant. Ruthe squealed with excitement when Joseph told them and felt Nest's stomach. Then the talk turned to Ruthe's upcoming wedding. It would be in the church. Her Col. Sparks joined them for Sunday dinner. Bonny Kate had roasted a turkey, served with cornbread, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes. There always seemed to be room for more around the table. Nest still could not get used to being served by slaves.
There were some men Nest did not know who came by to talk politics with Gov. Sevier. Joseph mostly listened. Captain Sparks was torn between the prattle of child bride to be and the business of his comrades. It was quite humorous, but Nest hid her smile. She heard familiar names in the conversation. John Walker, the father's, name was mentioned in the treaty talks with more land concessions. Nest's thoughts went to his son. She wondered if he had chosen a squaw from the young women in the village. She knew many who would be happy to be asked. Nest sighed.
"You are getting too tired," Ruth said. "Go lay down on my bed and rest while we finish cleaning up." She was happy to oblige. Her friend's bed was so very comfortable. Nest fell sound asleep. When she woke, dusk had fallen. She noiselessly went down the stairs and heard the family talking around the table.
"You should go see them, Joseph. They are your children."
"She's the one who left. I have a new family now."
"Charity has been asking about you. She heard you have married."
The talking stopped when Nest entered the room. No one was smiling. Bonny Kate busied herself wiping off the clean table. John Sevier wen tout to bring in more wood. Ruthe came over and squeezed her hand looking pityingly at her.
"I'll go get our horses, Nest. It's time to we went home," Joseph said as he let the door bang shut behind him.
"Good night. Thank you for the dinner. Come see me Ruthe when you are able."
The ride home was quiet. When they were in bed, Nest rolled away from Joseph, but asked, "Is her name Charity?"
"How many children?"
"Are you going to go see them?"
"Where are they?"
"She went to her parents and never came home. It seems like a long time ago now."
His arm encircled her with comfort. "I have a new family now."
Nest did not sleep for a long time. The young bride did not want to share even a piece of his heart. She wanted it all for herself and their child. But she knew deep in her soul that it was not the little ones' fault, and they deserved a father. Her world became too complicated to solve in the dark of night.
On her next visit, Ruthe told her of Christmas preparations, a gift she was making for her Col. Sparks and of the pig they were smoking for a feast on Christmas day.
"Oh my! Why, it's the best story in the world! And it's in the Book. Ruthe read Luke and then explained it while Nest made stitches on baby gowns.
"So that's how God chose to send his Son, as a baby!" Ruth concluded.
"God must have loved His Son, but He let Him come to earth," Nest observed. Then she went on, "Do you think Joseph will take his children presents on Christmas?"
Ruth became very quiet. "I don't know. I really don't know. Sorry, Nest."
"Did you like her?"
"Charity was older than me, so we weren't as close."
"Why did she leave?"
"Joseph never told any of us. We didn't pry. I thought maybe he would have told you."
"Don't worry, Nest. He cares for you a lot. You make him happy. He was sad for a long time."