Pages

Friday, May 6, 2016

NEST
 
Chapter Six
 

 
Ruthe noticed a difference in Nest when they met.  After translating during the council meeting, Ruthe ran to meet her friend.  They walked arm in arm to the creek.  Ruthe had news to share, but first she asked, "What happened to you, Nest?  You seem older?"
 
"I wish it were not so.  I think I would like to stay a girl forever."  Suddenly Nest turned and looked into her friends eyes and asked, "How old do you think you'll be when you marry?"
 
Ruthe blushed.  "There is someone who brings me gifts and pays special attention to me.  He is Col. Sparks."
 
Nest was astounded.  "You are only thirteen!"
 
"Soon to be fourteen.  You are fifteen.  My father's first wife was fifteen, and he was only sixteen when they got married.  Most of my older brothers and sisters are married, except the oldest.   Joseph was married, but his wife has left with their children.  You would think my father would be relieved to marry us off since there are so many of us.  He had ten children with his first wife, then eight with my mother.  In fact, Sarah died soon after childbirth when they had to rush to a fort when the Indians were attacking."
 
"The Cherokee?"
 
"Yes.  She died a couple of nights later.  Joseph says that our father made all the children follow him out of the fort in the dark of night in a storm to bury her secretly in the woods.  He married my mother later that same year.  Have I ever told you the story of how they met?"
 
"No, I don't think so."
 
"It was during another Indian attack.  The settlement had come to the fort for protection.  But early in the morning, the young women slipped out of the fort to milk their cows.  Suddenly, the Indians came on with their bows and arrows.   All the young women made it back inside before the gate was closed except my mother.  An Indian was almost upon her when my father shot him.  She managed to climb part way up the side of the fort, and he pulled her the rest of the way over.  She fell into his arms.  It wasn't much longer before his sweet Sarah died and he needed a mother for his many children.  Somehow," Ruthe winked, "she came to mind."  Her friend laughed.  "She always says, 'I could gladly undergo that peril and effort again to fall into his arms and feel so out of danger.  It was all of God's good providence."
 
"I can't imagine how busy and noisy your house must be with so many children.  Your mother must have be an amazing woman, especially since your father is gone so much.  I only have one brother, and he is a handful!"
 
"Yes, she is a wonderful mother.  He still calls her his Bonny Kate."
 
Nest was a little jealous feeling the void of not having a mother.  Instead she said, "I wish I could meet her sometime."
 
"That's what I came to tell you.  Father has said I can bring you home for a visit.  We are coming back in a couple of weeks for another meeting with Nancy and the council.  We could bring you back then.  Do you think your father would let you?"
 
"He is gone on his trap lines and has my brother with him teaching him.  They are gone a lot together now.  I am alone.  I don't know.  I would like to come visit your home, but I am afraid to answer."
 
Nancy was waiting for the girls when the girls walked back together.  "Ruthe's father has told me that she has asked for you to come for a visit.  Since your father is not here, I will answer for him.  I give my permission."
 
Ruthe squealed with excitement! "Hurry, pack your things.  Father will be leaving soon."
 
Nest was so nervous, she didn't know what to take.  Ruth had to slip in beside her and help her pack up her few essentials saying, "You can borrow the rest from me."
 
"Father, here is my friend, Nest."
 
"Beth, nice to meet you.  Let's go girls."
 
Nest was not going to correct this Indian-killing man.  She was afraid of him.  Ruthe just giggled.  "He's hard of hearing.  Too many gun blasts, mother says."
 
Nest had never been in a white person's home, certainly not in a governor's house.  Ruthe was her friend, but they had always met in her village.  It was with almost paralyzing fear when she mounted behind Ruthe on her horse.  Holding onto her friend, she felt the warmth of her through her homespun dress.  As Nancy had said, she needed to trust those who loved her.  This was her friend ho wanted her to come to her home.  Nest took a deep breathe and tried to relax, ready to face a white world.
 
It was late at night when they finally reached Ruthe's home.  The girls had clung to each other the last few miles to keep from falling off the horse while nodding off to sleep.  Nest hardly remembered meeting Mrs. Sevier as she ushered the two sleepyheads upstairs into Ruthe's bed.  Nest had never seen stairs before and practically had to crawl up them.
 
The next morning, Nest was confused for a moment as to where she was, looking up at the beams in the ceiling instead of the peak of teepee poles and feeling the softness of a quilt instead of her buffalo robe. She slid down under the covers thinking about her new surroundings, peeking out at the curtains at the windows.  There was a table beside the bed with a china pitcher and bowl.  Beside the bed was a split cane chair with a candlestick on it and a thick book open beside it. The bed was so soft, and she was so stiff from such a long ride that if the call of nature had not been so pressing, Nest might have not ventured out.
 
Ruthe and her sisters were still asleep when Nest crept out quietly.  She put her moccasins on and went down the stairs cautiously holding onto the wall.  She had not been in a two story building before.  The front door was at the bottom of the stairs so she was able to slip outside.  If she had her own horse, Nest would have been tempted to ride hard and fast back home.  She would wait for Ruthe out here.  She wandered the garden admiring the bean and squash plants.  She picked off any bugs she found and tossed them to the weeds beyond, just as she did in her village.  She laughed as the chickens ran over to gobble them up.
 
"Has Bonny Kate asked you to work in our garden?"  a gruff voice asked.
 
Nest turned quickly to find it was Ruth's oldest brother, the one who often came to the village with their father.  He usually watched her from afar, never as close as this.  Nest hung her head embarrassed.  I was just waiting for Ruth to wake up.  I work in our garden in our village and was admiring the plants.
 
"I thought you were a stranger.  Ruth did not tell me you were coming.  I'm sorry if I startled you.  I'm Joseph. You are Nest, are you not?"
 
Nest felt her cheeks flame.  She couldn't look him in the eye and could only nod.
 
"Nest.  That's an unusual name.  Is it Mandan?"
 
She knew he was trying to make her feel more comfortable and tried to be polite.  "No it was given down through the Welsh Indians."
 
He smiled and said, "It sounds like their is a story behind the name."
 
Nest smiled bashfully back.  "Yes, there is."  He seemed to be waiting, so she took a deep breath and continued.  "There was a beautiful princess before the time of Madog who was stolen from her people when her father, a Welsh king, was killed.  After her capture, she was raised in the castle with the future King Henry.  He took her as his mistress and had two children with her before he gave her away to be married to a friend, Gerald.  The Welsh did not like their princess to be with the English, of course.  One Christmas time, a bard was singing of her beauty.  When a cousin hear of her this, he decided to go see her for himself.  He stole her away from her husband and had children with her.  Finally, her English husband took revenge an killed Nest's cousin.  It is a sad story, fighting over the kingdom and a woman."  
 
Nest was surprised to have told the special story her mother had taught her.  It wasn't one she had told before, not even to Ruthe.
 
"Nest!  I was scared when I couldn't find you.  I hoped you hadn't started to walk back home.  Come in and have breakfast.  Mother wants to meet you."
 
Joseph urged her forward, "Ladies first."
 
No one had ever called her a lady before.  Nest pondered this.
 
The table was crowded with many Sevier children.  Nest was not used to sitting on a bench pulled up to a table.  They bowed their heads as the mother said a prayer of thanks for their food.  It was overwhelming meeting everyone and watching how they held their knives and forks and cut their food instead of eating with their fingers.  Mrs. Sevier as cheerful bustling around her children with a baby on her hip.  Slave girls served.  Nest was embarrassed to be waited on.  The younger children stared at her as she stood out from their linsey-woolsey with her deerskin dress.  Nest had her own plate as did everyone else.  Everything was so pretty with their pewter plates and cups, pottery bowls, and forks, spoons, knives with pearl handles.
 
The bread, called corn dodgers, was the best thing she had ever eaten with apple butter spread on it.  She could eat these with her fingers.  She had tasted butter at Nancy's , but never like this.  Nest made herself stop after eating three when she looked up to see Joseph watching her with a grin.  In fact, she did not eat another bite of anything but carefully observed the ways of the white people at the table.  Life was so different from her village.  When she was done, she set her plate down on the ground for one of the dogs to clean until she saw Ruthe's face.  Her friend shook her head with a silent "no" before giggling.  Nest picked it up and handed to a slave girl instead.  She felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment.  Now all the dogs under the table came to look for handouts form her.
 
Gov. Sevier came in late.  His wife had food brought in that she had set back for him.  The little ones were excused and everyone else was quiet while he ate except for the grownups murmuring back and forth.  It was quite a difference from before his arrival.  When he pushed his plate back and drank the last of his sassafras tea, he looked up and noticed Nest's eyes upon him.  He grunted, "So what do you think of our home?"
 
Nest found her voice and spoke softly.  "It is beautiful and busy.  There are only three in our teepee."
 
The man laughed.  It's hard to remember when it was only three of us.  Do you remember Joseph?"
 
His firstborn smiled, "No, Pa, my earliest memories are of babies crying."  Then growing more somber he added, "But I do remember Mama with her blonde hair and blue eyes."
 
John Sevier was lost in thought for a minute.  "She was a good woman, home making the bullets when I went out on the raids.  She bore ten children for me."  The he looked up at his rave haired Bonny Kate and smiled.  "How did a fella get so lucky to have found two of the best wives a man could imagine?  When are you going to find a woman, Joseph?"
 
The young man blushed.  "I tried that once, remember?"
 
Nest dropped her eyes from this personal conversation between father and son, but soon looked up when her host addressed her again.
 
"Now, young lady, I brought you here to satisfy my curiosity, and to quiet the pestering from my Ruthe..."
 
"Oh, father," Ruth said exasperated.
 
Nest once again had been called a lady.  It was more than she could comprehend.  She did not understand how his curiosity concerned her.
 
"As I was saying, I understand from Nancy Ward that your people are the fabled Welsh Indians.  I could hardly believe it so far from the Missouri, but looking at your blue eyes and curly brown hair and light complexion, I am curious.  So you father is not that Scottish trader?"
 
Nest remembered her mother proudly telling the story of her people, so she lifted her head up and began.  "No, I am a Welsh Indian of the Mandan tribe.  My father and older brothers died from the small pox when I was very young.  I remember my father though, a great hunter, a tall man with a blonde beard.  He had blue eyes like me,.  The only taller man I've ever met was our chief, Big White Man.  My mother and I were captured in a Sioux raid when I was eight.  The trapper bought us both from them for many peltries and horses.  We lived with the Creek until a raid killed my mother when I was thirteen."  She paused with a shiver of memory.  "The trapper's hunting took us on a journey past the ancient fortifications of my people until we came to Nancy's village.  We have been safe there."
 
"I've heard of him.  It is said that he is six feet ten inches tall.  It's a wonder.  What do you know of your people?"
 
"The ancients came across the Great Waters in many ships.  They brought the sacred book though none are left who can read it.  Madog ap Owain Gwynedd was a man of the sea.  He did not want to fight with his brothers over his father's kingdom in Wales.  He came to find peace in this land, but the Cherokee and other tribes would not give them peace.  Finally, after a great battle at Old Stone Fort, they drove them to the Mississippi, then to the Ohio an finally to the Missouri River where they joined the Mandan.  They built their cities there.  But the fierce Sioux and others were always attacking.  My people are great warriors, but it was the white man's disease brought by the trappers that killed many, including my father and brothers."
 
Nest could not believe she could say so much.  No white person had ever asked her about her people before.
 
Gov. Sevier rocked back on his chair legs before coming back down with a crash.  "Do you speak Welsh?"
 
The girl nodded wishing he had not asked.  It was not something she wanted to share with strangers.  She had never spoken it before Ruth or even Nancy.
 
"Let me hear you."
 
Nest did not look up and took a shuddering breath.  She sang so softly that the family leaned in to listen.  She sang in a tongue they had not heard.  It was Welsh.  Then she translated for them as her mother had done for her.
 
"For the fruits of His creation,
Thanks be to God.
For His gifts to every nation,
Thanks be to God.
For the plowing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while we are sleeping,
Future needs in earth's safekeeping,
Thanks be to God."
 
"I'll be d..."
 
"John, don't swear in front of the children."
 
"Well, I never...The ninety year old Chief of the Cherokee, Oconostota told me the legend of the Welsh Indians several years ago when he was still alive, but I did not know whether to believe him or not.  But then I've seen the forts and more and more stories were told me, like the French fur trapper named Duroque.  He had been to the white Padoucas Indians in their villages with the Mandan.  He told me stories too of other trappers he met at rendezvous and of captives who lived with the tribe.  All confirm they spoke some Welsh and were light-skinned like you.  Even Daniel Boones said he met some blue-eyed white Indians.  I suppose that after all the battles, many were taken captive and are intermarried and scattered throughout this wilderness and not just up the Missouri.  The list is long of those who have told of meeting the Welsh Indians, but I've not heard the tongue spoken like you."
 
All eyes were on Nest as a real curiosity.
 
"I've even been told that six skeletons were dug up.  They had helmets and shields with the Welsh dragons on them," Gov. Sevier went on.
 
"I have seen some like that in possession of some elders of my tribe when I was young," Nest offered.  "They were treasures of the ancients."  She did not tell him of the dagger tied to her thigh though her hand automatically felt it through her dress under the table.
 
Sevier continued.  "Then there was an old Cherokee woman Peg who said she had a page of the Welsh holy book wrapped in otter skin saying it was given to her by a Mandan from the Missouri, but it burned with her belongings before I could see it."
 
"Nancy told me it was burned in a white man's raid on a village," Nest bravely countered.
 
Ruth's mother came over and stroked Nest's hair.  "Your singing was beautiful.  It is amazing how this has been passed down from family to family over the centuries and was not lost in the midst of savages."  She felt Nest stiffen.  Softly she added, "Your mother must have been a wonderful woman.  I wish I could have known her."
 
Nest said quietly without looking up, "She was killed in a white man's raid on the Creeks."
 
Everyone was silent until scraping chairs told that the family was leaving the table.  Nest looked up to see Ruthe watching her with tears in her eyes.  "I'm sorry, Nest."
 
Nest stood up and said, "Can we go to the garden?"  The girl no longer felt comfortable in the house.
 
The two friends worked side by side weeding and plucking pests from eating their carefully tended produce.  The garden was needed for food now and throughout the winter.   The insects were the raiders to be fought off.  Nest was more at home outside.  The turmoil of her thoughts were calming into peace, with the dregs of memory of the horror settling to the bottom of her thoughts again.
 
"I hope my father did not push you to say more than you wanted to in there.  I must admit, it was more interesting than anything I ever rad in my history book.  To think, your people were here before Columbus."
 
"Who is this Columbus?"
 
"He was an explorer from Spain, who landed far south of here.  They claimed the New World for their queen."
 
"The Indians say they have always been here.  Even my people were intruders.  I don't know why people can't just live side by side without fighting.  The Welsh came hoping to find peace.  I have traveled so far over so much land to see there is enough for all.  The buffalo herds number more than one can count.  The bear, elk, deer, and turkey are plentiful.  Why must men kill each other and not just animals for food?"
 
Ruthe was quiet then said, "But here we are friends working side by side in the garden.  Maybe we can help bring peace like Nancy with her clan.  I listen at the council  meetings as she and Little Carpenter plea for peace."
 
"What are nits, Ruthe?"
 
Ruth turned with her mouth open.  Her face blanched white with the rose bloom gone from her cheeks. 
 
Nest went on, "The white men who killed my mother yelled, 'Kill the nits."  What is a nit?  I do not know that word."
 
Ruth turned and ran into the house crying.  Nest did not want to follow her.  She had a pit of fear deep in her stomach but fought it by staying in the garden until Mrs. Sevier called her in for the midday meal.  Nest went in not wanting to look anyone in the eye.  She hung her head.  Gov. Sevier was not at the table for the simple dinner, nor was Ruthe.  She had gone upstairs with an ache in her head her mother said. 
 
Bonny Kate forced a cheerful conversation with the little ones, but never addressed Nest.  When she finally looked up, she found Joseph staring at her.  His eyes were full of compassion, like the look Beloved Woman had for her.  Nest found comfort there before looking away.  She did not know why she found Joseph's eyes upon her so much, but it no longer made her as uncomfortable.
 
After lunch, Nest wandered back outside.  Ruthe had not come down to join her.  The garden was hot, so Nest went to see the horses in the corral in the shade of the barn.  Joseph came out of the barn surprised to see her there alone.  His dogs Sweet Lips and True Love, his constant companions came up to sniff her.  She stroked their heads.
 
"These are beautiful horses.  Is one your mount?"
 
"I usually ride the black.  Her mother is the mare I rode to the Battle at King's Mountain when I was eighteen."
 
"Was that against the Cherokee or the Creeks?"
 
Joseph looked surprised.  "No, it was in the War of Independence against the British."
 
"The Red Coats came this far south to fight?"
 
"Yes, our Overmountain men fought well even though the British had a better position on top of the mountain.  My uncle was killed there along with a lot of other good men. When I heard a Sevier was killed, I thought it was my father, so I kept shooting, I guess, even after they surrendered.  I would not stop until my father rode up very much alive.  I'd prefer using my gun for hunting in the woods, but there are always those who are after our scalps.  My father is a fighter.  Bonny Kate is the only one who can tame him.  She's a God fearing woman."
 
"Can you tell me what nits are?"
 
Joseph stared at her questioning eyes.  "Why?" He was sure he already knew however.
 
"It's what the men yelled when they shot my mother.  It echoes in my head every day."
 
Joseph hung his head and kicked up puffs of dirt with the toe of his boot.  With a sigh he said, "A nit turns into lice, head lice, vermin.  My father's men would yell it when they attacked.  There were some men who would kill the women and children, even the pregnant ones.  'Nits make lice; kill the nit.'  They were in trouble with General Washington, but he didn't know the half of it.  I don't have stomach for that."
 
"That's why Ruthe is so upset.  she knows."
 
"Unfortunately, she has heard the men talk around our table when they cone here to speak with father.  She feels deeply for the Cherokee.  We've had many of the tribe around here since she was little.  We had thirty or so prisoners boarded here about the time she was born.  Many stayed because of my mother's kindness.  Even if they did little or no work, she allowed it reasoning we would be safer from Indian attack with them around.  So Ruth grew up learning Cherokee, and they accepted her in their tribe.  I know she love you."
 
Nest looked up with such a troubled look in her eye that Joseph wanted to hold her and tell her everything was going to be alright, but he did not know if it really would be.  Instead he felt helpless with his arms limp at his sides.  His dogs nuzzled his hands.
 
"Thank you for telling me, Joseph."
 
 
 
 



No comments:

Post a Comment