Christmas was fast approaching. Nest was busy beading a pair of moccasins she had made for Joseph as a surprise. She couldn't help wondering if he would bring her a present. Nest wished the trapper had celebrated with them when she was young. Her brother would have liked that. That sent her heart down a homesick trail.
That night after dinner, Joseph told her he would beheading out in the morning to trade in the Holston River area where they used to live. Nest did not say anything but it was a stab to her heart. She knew it was near where his first wife's family lived.
"Can't you just go to Knoxville? It's right here."
"Bonny Kate wants me to check the Holston River traders for what she can't find here."
"Can't your father, or your brothers go?"
"No. I said I would go."
She turned her back and busied herself with building up the fire to prepare for Joseph's nightly reading. Tonight he read from the last chapter in the Old Testament.
"But unto you that fear my name
shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings;
and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall..."
Nest was lost in picturing what the words described, but then she heard the next verse,
"And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,
and the heart of the children to their fathers."
Just as the quickening of her baby when she first felt movement, there was a quickening in her spirit from the Word of God in her heart. Nest knew he was going to see his children. He should go see his children.
Nest did not go to be with Joseph, but sat up sewing a baby dress by the light of the fire. The needle pricked her finger. Her tears were not from that pain, but just brought on by the bleeding of her heart. The blood stained the baby's gown.
Joseph was gone for five days. He thought it would be three. Her mind thought over every possible cause for his delay, a wild animal attack like a bear or panther. He could have been thrown from his horse, had a gun accident, been caught n a snow storm. He might have been laid up sick somewhere. He could have been scalped. Or the most dangerous, he might have been captured in the arms of his first wife.
Nest hardened her heart. No use spending her days and nights in tears. What would be would be. She only prayed for wisdom and the future of her little one. At least she would have a baby who would love her.
It was Christmas Eve. The wind was whining. The door was thrown open and Joseph stood there with his arms full of bundles. He placed them on the table.
"You came back."
"Did you think I wouldn't?"
"I didn't know. Sometimes things happen."
"I'm here. Come se what I brought home. Some of these packages are for Bonny Kate, things she asked me to get her. But look, these are for you."
Nest had never opened so many packages before. There was soft calico cloth for baby clothes and a packet of precious salt. There was a warm wool shawl for her, something she could wear to church instead of being wrapped in a blanket like a squaw.
"Thank you." her eyes were shining.
Her husband came over and kissed the top of her head and put his arms around her. "Did you really miss me?"
"Yes." Her heart was still racing from the release of fear that had been pent up before his arrival. "I have something for you." Nest pulled the moccasins she had made out from her workbasket. "Try them on."
He pulled off his wet, worn ones and slipped them on. "My stars, these are comfortable. I can see myself wearing these when I read before the fire each night. They're too fancy to wear outside."
She smiled. She felt such relief. Her home was still in one piece. She took his hands and placed them on her belly. The baby was moving. He smiled and said, "I think your belly has grown while I was gone." Looking into her face, he said, "I forgot how young you are."
Nest did not want to ask about his trip. She did not want to know. She would only take what bits of news he chose to share.
His words tumbled out in a torrent as if to wash away what he would say. "The Holston area has really built up. Can't hardly ride a mile without seeing another cabin. The store is well stocked even for winter. There's a lot of talk about getting the Cherokee to give up more land.
Chickamaugas are still causing skirmishes, a few more friends have been killed. I don't see peace on the horizon no matter how many treaties are signed. Unfortunately, there are a lot of horse thieves and undesirables around too, Tories. It seems those running from the law think they can come down here to hide out. I kept my gun handy all the way. The good news is that my father has a lot of supporters. His name is spoken well of wherever I went.
Nest was more interested in what has not said. Where did you stay? Was she happy to see you? How are your boys? Do they look like you? Did you share her bed? To shake her thoughts, Nest began putting away the store goods he had brought. Finally, she hung her shawl up on a peg. Even when she was not wearing it, it would be a visible reminder that he had brought her a Christmas present, her first one. He must have traded a lot of peltries to buy the shawl. She imagined her eyes would rest on it often throughout the winter. It helped her to keep her thoughts warm, especially when he slipped and called her "Charity."
The next morning was Christmas. They rose early and packed the food she had prepared to share and the store goods for Bonny Kate and rode over to his family. She had baked bread made of cornmeal, beans, and roasted pumpkin. It was nice to see the women and children's faces as they examined the things Joseph had picked out for them.
"Thank you, son. You did a good job. Did you see any old friends?"
"Yes, your sister's family, the Crockets and many of the old families sent you their greetings. I'll tell you more when we have more time." Joseph quickly changed the subject. His family's eyes were all on him. "Father's name is spoken all over. They are clamoring for more help with the Indian problems."
His father took him aside to ply him with questions.
Bonny Kate just said, "Men. I just want to know who's gotten married, had babies, and who died. They just want to talk politics."
Ruth added, "Don't worry, Ma. Joseph will leak out all those little details little by little. We just have to be patient. I wonder if he told everyone that I am getting married to Col. Sparks? Look at this fabric! Now I can make my wedding dress." She tucked it under he chin and danced about the table with it.
Nest thought her young friend looked very pretty with stars in her eyes. Her wedding would be of a different kind than Nest's. Months of planning were put into it. Joseph had just shown up one day and taken her off as his wife the next.
The smoked ham dinner was delicious. The dried apple pies were something Nest had never tasted before. They were served with cream poured over them. She was so full from dinner, but still ate every last bite of pie. Her full tummy made her feel sleepy. Her help with the cleanup was refused. The slaves would do it. She wondered if they celebrated Christmas. Finally, she did go upstairs to nap.
Again, when she came down, she paused on the stairs when she heard her husband's family asking about Charity and the boys.
"What did she say about your marriage?"
"She said, it was just an Indian marriage and didn't count."
"Does she want you back?"
"She didn't say, but I think she's jealous. I think she didn't want me, but doesn't want anyone else to have me now. Charity says she was feeling so poorly and in bed for months after giving birth and that was why she didn't come back home, that she needed her mother's help. Charity is mad at me for not coming back for her again, like it was my fault. I did go after the baby was born, but she refused to come back with me. How was I supposed to know she wanted me to come get her later?
"How are the boys?"
"They didn't remember me, but wanted all my attention."
Nest did not want to hear any more. She slipped outside into the cold and took a long walk. The shawl did not keep the icy wind from chilling her to the bone. She walked until she was too exhausted and frozen to go on and so turned back. It had grown dark before she noticed. Her feet were so numb. that it was like walking on stumps. The house blasted her with heat when she entered. Nest had not realized she was shivering and her teeth were chattering. Ruthe pulled her to the fire and began rubbing her hands and feet.
"What were you thinking, Nest? It's too cold outside to be wandering around. We all thought you were still sleeping. When Joseph went up to check on you and found you gone, we all were worried, He was about to go out to search for you. " Nest looked up at her husband who had put his coat on and had his gun in hand. His eyes were troubled.
Bonny Kate brought her a cup of Sassafras tea with honey to drink. The spoon rattled in the cup in her hands. "Young lady, you need to think of your baby and take better care of yourself than that. You could catch your death of cold."
"I'm sorry if I caused concern. I just needed to walk after that big dinner," she lied.
"People are saying this is the coldest winter ever. Besides, it's not a good idea to go by yourself, especially after dusk, Nest. There are wild creatures hungry this time of year, not to mention unsavory types who are looking for trouble. I heard a panther scream not far from here a couple of weeks ago." Joseph scolder her as he took off his coat and leaned his rifle back against the wall. "We'll stay here tonight, if that's okay, Ma. I don't think Nest needs to go back out in the cold."
Nest was shamed by the rebukes. "I'm okay now, Ruthe. I have the feeling back in my feet." In fact they were burning like they were on fire. She realized how close she had come to being frostbitten. She sat alone by the hearth while the family went back to the table to visit. Nest sipped the tea and let it warm her from the inside, yet her heart stayed cold with fear. Many white men had two families. She did not want to live like that. At least Joseph had come back, this time.
She climbed in bed with Ruthe. Her friend fell asleep talking about her wedding, but Nest lay awake staring out at the dark. She thought of her brother who might be missing her like she missed him. Nest thought of another and wondered if he had stood before the elders with someone else. She wondered if he ever stood by the river and thought of her.
Back home, the routine became comfortable, but their was a veil between Joseph and herself. Nest was sure he felt it too. He did not smile as often, and his face looked more tired. He did not read the Bible unless she asked him to. Sometimes he just said that he was too tired.
One night she felt brave to ask, "Joseph, does your father belong to the church?"
"He attends. He listens. Why do you ask?"
"I heard your mother say to your sisters that she wished he would join," Nest said. What she didn't say was she was wondering if someone who killed women and children in attacks on villages was a Christian.
"His interests don't run in that line. He doesn't care for things of that sort," Joseph laughed, "but the new constitution of Tennessee says that no one can serve who doesn't believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in heaven and hell, and so on. I think Father won't say he doesn't believe in those things, but it's not of personal interest to him."
"Do you believe in them, Joseph?"
He looked at her with surprise. "I guess I don't think about it much either. At least we read the Bible come an evening more often than not. To be truthful, sometimes I want to do it, but just can't seem to do it right. When the Methodists came and held those outdoor meetings, my conscience was pricked. Bonnie Kate made sure we read the Bible, though. You're an Indian, so I doubt you accept it all yourself."
Nest almost gasped. "I believe. I was taught many of these things from my mother. Our people had knowledge of many of the things from the holy book. Now I am learning more so I will be able to teach our children."
One of these evenings she was working on making a cradle board. Joseph spoke with almost a sneer. "You don't need that thing. You're not having an Indian baby." Nest dropped the piece in her hand. She felt as shocked as if he had slapped her. Her cheeks burned. She bit her lip until she tasted blood. She had taken to wearing her deerskin dress because of the severe cold. Nest wondered if this was bothering him. Hadn't he fallen in love with her while she wore it?
She simply said after a while, "I was going to use it when I rode the horse or worked outside. It would keep the baby safe when not in my arms."
"No. You will live like the white people. No cradle board."
Nest threw the wood that she had fashioned so carefully into the fire. She put the beaded leather pieces back into her workbasket. No more was said. Nest sat idle staring into the fire working hard not to think about what had just happened. Joseph got up and went outside. "I need to oil the harness." She knew he had just done that last week. The cabin had become too small.
She was in bed when he came back in. His feet were like ice. She withdrew hers not willing to warm his. Let his dogs crawl under the quilt to warm his toes. She had never felt so alone. Her hands went to her growing belly thankful for her baby more than ever. It was hard to believe she would go through the heat of summer great with child. In the fall she would give birth to a baby, a baby who would be half Welsh Indian, whether her husband wanted to acknowledge that or not.