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©2016 120 Seiten


The Indeh, Apaches to their enemies, attacked a wagon train in Cooke’s Canyon. Among the children taken was a three-year-old girl. At first she was with the Mescaleros, but Chief Puma bought her for two ponies and took her home for his wife. They named her Lolotea, or Blessing. When she reached womanhood, Puma sent her back to live with the whites, to learn their ways, to become one of her own people. The Whites called her Blessing, too. But White Eyes don’t like children raised by Indeh, and a woman beat Blessing nearly to death. A slow-witted man and the parson’s daughter take care of Blessing, saving her life. But they are killed, and Blessing must run away. Gradually she returns to her Indeh ways. She promises to help a whore and her pimp because others had helped her. They are nothing but trouble, but she promised. Can there ever be peace for Blessing?



A novel by Chuck Tyrell



Ein CassiopeiaPress Buch: CASSIOPEIAPRESS, UKSAK E-Books und BEKKERpublishing sind Imprints von Alfred Bekker

© by Author/ Titelbild: Nach einem Motiv von C.M.Russell & Steve Mayer, 2016

© dieser Ausgabe 2016 by AlfredBekker/CassiopeiaPress, Lengerich/Westfalen in Arrangement mit der Edition Bärenklau, herausgegeben von Jörg Martin Munsonius.


The Indeh, Apaches to their enemies, attacked a wagon train in Cooke’s Canyon. Among the children taken was a three-year-old girl. At first she was with the Mescaleros, but Chief Puma bought her for two ponies and took her home for his wife. They named her Lolotea, or Blessing. When she reached womanhood, Puma sent her back to live with the whites, to learn their ways, to become one of her own people. The Whites called her Blessing, too. But White Eyes don’t like children raised by Indeh, and a woman beat Blessing nearly to death. A slow-witted man and the parson’s daughter take care of Blessing, saving her life. But they are killed, and Blessing must run away. Gradually she returns to her Indeh ways. She promises to help a whore and her pimp because others had helped her. They are nothing but trouble, but she promised. Can there ever be peace for Blessing?



‘She just turned up one day, they say. It weren’t like as if some army troop’d beat up some redskins or nothing like that. She just turned up. Walked into the church on Front Street, and called herself Blessing.’

Blessing could hear every word Ma Bryor said. Understood it, too, though as yet she could speak but little of her native tongue.

‘As if her coming along all slim and pretty and dark as a Meskin was bound to bless someone or something. Hellsafire.’

The sound of Ma Bryor’s voice got louder as she neared the open doorway. ‘But I do say this. That girl gets her work done. Never complains. Eats what’s put out for her. Never asks for more. Never leaves nothing unet.’

Blessing heard footsteps of two people, women by their strides and the way they put their feet. She’d learned that every animal has a distinct footstep. Her favorite paint horse sounded different from every other horse in the village herd. Her father, at least the man she thought of as father, he who made so little noise when he walked, also had a distinctive sound. Blessing always bet herself when she thought she heard father coming. Mostly she won. And Ma Bryor made no effort to walk quietly. She had no reason to wish others could not know when she approached. Blessing smiled, a tiny upward twitching of her lips. Ma Bryor would probably be proud that the sound of her walk stood out from all the rest. She’d not think of a person with a sharp blade who could stand just out of sight and whick it across her neck as she walked by. Dead in a second. Dead because someone knew the sound of her walk and thought the world would be better off without her.


Blessing shot to her feet and stood with her head bowed. She said nothing.

‘You hear me?’

Blessing nodded.

‘Answer me, then.’

‘Yes, miss.’ Blessing kept her face stolid. It wouldn’t do for Ma Bryor to find out how much Blessing detested her, nor how close she came to losing her life’s blood because of her lack of respect, as every human should have respect for another human.

‘You finish up mopping that floor, girl, you just empty out the dirty water. Don’t waste it, now. Spread it on the truck in the garden patch. Draw you a new bucketful from the well, and take the mop to the kitchen floor. You hear?’

‘Yes, miss.’ As if a person needed to be told how to do something she’d done once a week, need it or not, for ages.

‘Have to tell youngsters like her every little step, else they’re like to forget something,’ Ma Bryor said, going away.

Blessing did not look up to see who walked along with Ma Bryor. The sound of her footsteps said it was Nell Forsythe, an unassuming woman who rarely spoke. ‘Isn’t it wonderful,’ Nell said. ‘Blessing lived with filthy savages for who know how many years, but came straight here to Clayton the moment she could sneak away.’

‘Always seemed strange to me,’ Ma Bryor said. ‘Lots of handier places, I’d say. Tucson’s a bunch bigger. Then there’s Turnbull, and Charleston by the river. Tubac’s not far away. Nor is Buena Vista. Dunno why she’d pick a little town like Clayton. We ain’t even got a decent saloon . . . not that I’d ever go inside one of those hell holes.’

Nell’s soft voice sounded, but sharp as her ears were, Blessing could not make out what she said, except for God and Love.

The word love took Blessing back to when love was first ripped from her world.


The wagon train was late that year, if a line of five small Conestogas with worn-out covers and pulled by worn-out horses that couldn’t make more than twelve miles on a good day could be called a train. Southern New Mexico’s a hot place, but dry air and long nights send temperatures diving toward zero soon after the sun went down. At Fort Cummings, the army told the wagon master that he should wait for another train. Safety in numbers, the army said.

She liked the fort. People always stopped and commented on how pretty she was, and pretty was a word she liked. And she liked the warm hand that held hers. A hand she would always depend on . . . almost.

She got to ride when the wagons left their camp outside the fort. No one saw them off. Five families—she remembered the Browns because everything they had was the same color as their name—in five wagons. She knew each wagon was pulled by four horses, but couldn’t add them all together so she knew how many horses they had all told.

‘Hah. Giddap there,’ hollered the man who drove the wagon she was in.

Who was he?.

‘Biddie Chick, you cuddle up in this quilt. It’ll keep you warm.’ The woman, Mom, always made her warm with her hands, hard and cracked though they were, and with her arms and her soft belly. Warm and loved.

A man on a horse hollered. ‘You keep up now. We’re headed into the gap.’

‘Giddap. Giddap.’ She felt the wagon gain a little speed. Warm. Soft. Her eyes closed. She slept for no more than a second or two, surely, but she opened her eyes to fire and smoke. She screamed and buried her face in the quilt.

The wagon didn’t move. Where were the arms and the soft belly? She heard pounding hooves and cracking rifles and pistols. Lots of yelling, too. Some she kind of understood, some she didn’t.

‘Mom! Mom? Mommie?’ Her voice sounded tiny in the bedlam surrounding the wagon. She choked on the smoke and buried her face into the quilt again. Mom? She could hear the fire now, crackling as it ate at the wagon’s sideboards. Mom? She heard Mom’s words in her head. Don’t you run now Biddie Chick. Stay there. I’ll come get you, surely I will.

But she didn’t.

The canvas and cover burned away. Men shouted. Some screamed. Women wailed, went silent. The sides of the wagon burned. She cowered with the quilt covering her face and head. Mom will come. She promised. Mom said to stay still. She said she’d come. She did.

But she didn’t. He did. He just reached into the wagon through the smoke and fire, shoved his hand underneath her tummy and then she was riding on his horse, sitting in front of him as the horse darted around and he hit anyone standing or even running, he clobbered them in the head with a long stick that had a big rock tied to one end. She hung on to the horse’s mane with both hands.

When everything was quiet and guns didn’t explode any more and the man hanging upside down from a wagon wheel with his head over a fire quit screaming and all the horsemen with cloth around their heads took all they wanted from the burning wagons, the band rode away with their plunder. She hung on, her hands twisted into horse’s mane. She didn’t know where Mom was, but Mom’d promised to come and get her.

Mom never came.

She squatted right where the horseman put her, still thinking that maybe, if she didn’t move, Mom would be able to find her.

Mom never came.

She watched a dark woman toss two ground squirrels onto live coals left from a fire. When all the hair was burned off and the skin had turned black nearly all over, the dark woman fished the roasted squirrels off the coals with a pair of sticks and put them on a flattened piece of cordwood.

The dark woman called, using words she didn’t understand, and three little Indians came running. They plucked at the roasted squirrels, pulling off legs, then breaking up the bodies. They striped the roasted skin away with their fingers and gnawed the flesh from the bones like ground squirrel meat was the tastiest thing a person could ever have to eat. The dark woman saved one front leg, all the way to the shoulder, and brought it over.

Inya,’ the woman said, and shoved the roasted leg out to her.

She shook her head.

The dark woman slapped her. ‘Gunjoole!’

Tears sprang to her eyes, but something told her that she should not cry out. The dark woman held the squirrel leg out. ‘Nzhoo.’

She took the leg. It gave off a smell of roasted meat. Her stomach growled with anticipation. But was it all right to eat roasted squirrel? She took a small bite and chewed.

The dark woman nodded. ‘Alzhoo.’

After chewing the bit of squirrel for a long time, she swallowed. She glanced at the dark woman, but she wasn’t watching. The girl took another little bite.

The leg and shoulder of the squirrel lost heat and turned into a lump of cold meat, dangling from her fingers. When will Mom come? She promised. She said she’d come. She said for me to keep quiet and out of the way.

She squatted on her haunches with the squirrel leg in her hand. Mom always warned her about throwing food away. Never know when you’ll be without food and wish you had that what you tossed out.

The dark woman came back. The girl kept her eyes on the ground. She held the squirrel leg carefully, not wanting it to drop into the dirt and get ruined. With the dark woman watching her every move, the girl took another tiny bite of the squirrel meat. No salt. No pepper. Nothing but singed meat. Cold, singed meat. She bowed her head. Now was not the time to cry. If that happened, Mom would call her a crybaby when she came.

Feet came to a stop in front of her. The feet of the dark woman, who stood there with her hand out. She said something the girl could not understand, but she could tell the woman wanted the squirrel leg. She held it out.

The dark woman took it, then gave the girl a resounding slap to the side of her head. She couldn’t help giving a tiny cry of pain. More a squeak than anything else, but enough to bring another slap.

The girl plopped to the ground, sitting with her legs together, bent at the knees, and splayed out to either side. Tears coursed down her cheeks, but she made no sound. Mom’d told her time and again that cries or other sounds would bring the Indians down on them and they’d get tortured. Whatever that meant.

No one paid any attention to her, though the dark woman was never far away. In time, the tears dried. In time, her stomach growled for more squirrel. In time . . . .

She moved, sitting so she could hug her knees. Still her stomach growled, unhappy with only two small bites of squirrel. Furtively, she looked around for the leg of roasted squirrel. There. Still on the flattened piece of cordwood. She got to her hands and knees and moved toward the squirrel leg a little at a time. The dark woman didn’t seem to be watching, or if she watched, she didn’t seem to care that the girl moved.

There it was. A small leg of roasted ground squirrel. Not large at all. But maybe enough to make her stomach stop growling. She waited a long time. It seemed like a long time anyway. She waited, taking a seat beside the leg on the flattened piece of cordwood. Gradually her left hand worked its way across her lap and leg until it was only inches from the roasted squirrel.

Inaa,’ said the dark woman.

The girl started. She’d not noticed the woman approach. She shrank back from the squirrel. Maybe the woman was angry because she’d nearly touched the roasted leg.

Her stomach growled.

Nanlee. Inaa,’ the woman said. She pointed at the leg. ‘Nanlee.’

The girl reached for the leg.

Ha’aa,’ the woman said, nodding.

She picked up the cold squirrel leg and took her third bite, this one bigger than the other two put together. She chewed, looking at the ground.

N’tee golih?’ The dark woman smacked her lips as if eating something delicious. ‘N’tee golih?’

The girl decided the woman was asking if the squirrel meat tasted good. She nodded, and took another bite, a good big bite. Her tummy tightened, expecting more chewed meat.

The woman nodded. ‘Inaa. Dashú nt’eehi.’

The girl took another bite, and another, until she’d gnawed all the flesh from the grown squirrel leg bones. Not a lot of meat, but she was only three. And the dark woman didn’t slap her when she ate what was given her. At least that’s what she decided. Her stomach no longer growled.



She started.

‘Whatchoo daydreaming about, girl? They’s chores to be done, donchoo know?’

‘Yes, miss,’ Blessing said, abandoning memories of her Apache days. Father said she was of the White Eyes, that it was time for her to return to her own people. But White Eyes were not Blessing’s choice as a people. Large. Fat. Overbearing. Prideful. And no one ever said what they really meant. No one.




Blessing rose before dawn, not that her cove behind the big iron cookstove was conducive to sleep. Ma Bryor’d not forced her into that tiny cubbyhole, but she’d not tried to get Blessing to sleep somewhere else in the house either. And she made sure Blessing knew she must start fires in the big dining room fireplace and in the big Franklin kitchen stove.

No sooner than she had the fires going good than people started drifting into the dining room. Usually teamsters that needed to get on the road and make Tucson or Tucumcari by sundown. Sometimes a drummer with a leather case, usually, that he broke open and showed people at the slightest pretext. Surefire cure. Take a slug of Dr. Peebody’s Elixir and you’d be over your cold in a week’s time. That’s what he said, or somewhat the same, whatever he was flogging. Blessing slept back of the Franklin. She never took any of the space Ma Bryor sold to boarders or one-night customers, not that there was any of what the White Eyes called hanky-panky going on at Bryor’s Boarding House, well, not much anyway.

Nell Forsythe was at the stove when Blessing came back with the water. Nell, gentle soul that she was, cooked breakfast for Ma Bryor’s guests. Always the same. Cornbeef hash with one egg sunnyside up. Customers could order a second egg, but it cost a dime.

Just as a drummer came in, Blessing bent over to pour water in the big pot, which sat on the floor. By accident or on purpose, he ran his hand over her buttocks. ‘Aha,’ he said. ‘Prime for a little girl. Right prime.’

Blessing shrank back, burying her face in her hands and squatting against the wall.

Nell Forsythe spoke up. ‘Wish you wouldn’t treat a girl like that, mister. She’s only about twelve. Ain’t right.’

‘Don’t josh me, cookie. Why, on the Barbary Coast in San Fran, half the ones walking the line ain’t no older than her.’

‘What’s the beef, Andy?’

‘Hell, I pat the little one on the fanny, just passing by, and cookie gets all wrought about it. Telling me to leave little girls alone.’

Blessing heard the splat of hand striking flesh, accompanied by a screech from Nell. She had to do something. But a heavy hand grasped Blessing by the wrist. ‘Come along, girl. It’s time you learned.’ The drummer’s friend dragged Blessing with him down the hall. Then threw open the door to room number thirteen and shoved Blessing in. He followed her as she struggled to keep her balance. Before she could react, he’d slammed the door shut and thrown the bolt.

‘Now. Let’s see what got Andy so het up that he had to cop himself a feel.’ The big man pulled at his shirt. ‘Get outta them duds, girl.’

Blessing started wagging her head. She backed up against the far wall, getting as far from the stinky man as she could.

‘You hear me, girl? Off with them clothes.’

A pounding came at the door. ‘Rafe? Rafe Nielson? You got my girl in there?’ Ma Bryor’s voice carried a hint of command. ‘You hanky-panky with her and you owe me a bald eagle, no hair attached. You hurt her so’s she cain’t work an’ it’ll be five doubles. An’ by the time you’re through screwing around in there, I’ll have Marshal Rockburn sitting in the parlor enjoying a coffee and thinking on how he’s bound to keep the peace in these parts. You hear me?’

‘Ten bucks? Only five for a poke over to the Clayton Social Club.’

‘That’s there. This is here. Besides, that girl ain’t never been with a man. Sure as hell.’

‘Ten it is. Now get the hell away from the door to my room and let me enjoy myself.’

‘You said it, Rafe Nielson. Ten bucks and the girl with no damage.’

‘Yeah. Yeah.’ The man Ma Bryor called Rafe bent his knees and put his hands out like he was trying to corner a stray dog. ‘Off with the rags, kid. Off with ‘em and onto the bed.’

Blessing just stood there.

Rafe reached a hand for the neckline of her shift. She ducked under the outstretched hand, took a short step in Rafe’s direction, and lifted a knee directly into his crotch, smashing his gonads against his pelvis bone with enough force to turn his world all the shades of red and black that smashed testicles bring. Rafe collapsed to his hands and knees. He groaned. He hacked. Then he vomited the gross contents of last night’s carousing onto the rough planks of the floor.

Ma Bryor’s urgent voice came through the flimsy wood of the door. ‘Rafe? Rafe? Is my girl all right?’

Blessing unbolted the door and opened it. ‘There,’ she said, and walked past Ma Bryor, whose mouth hung open.

Rafe groaned and managed a word or two. ‘I’m ruptured,’ he said, and rolled onto his side with his knees drawn up and his hands clutching his crotch.

Word spread like a wind-whipped fire in the underbrush. But Ma Bryor wasn’t happy at Blessing’s reputation for taking care of herself. ‘Lost me a whole eagle, that girl. Don’t hurt not atall.’ She cut back on the food she gave to Blessing, too. Maybe with the idea of recouping her lost income, even though Bryor’s Boarding House provided no under-the-covers services, to speak of.

‘’Zat the girl what busted Rafe Nielson’s nuts for him?’

Blessing went on with her job like she’d not heard the question, or the answer Nell gave. ‘Yes, sir. That’s here. Blessing’s her name, but she don’t bless no man with her feminine favors. Could be ‘cause she were raised Apache.’

‘Just as good, I reckon. I heard ‘Pache gals all got crotch rot. I’ll have your hash but I want two aigs, y’hear. N’ be good if you’d ladle some of Ma’s good pebble-dash gravy over the top of it all.’

‘I can do that,’ Nell said, ‘but it’ll cost you another fifteen cents. Ten for the extry egg an’ five for the ladle full of pebble-dash.’

‘I know, I know. Ma never lets a man get out the door without tacking something extra onto his bill.’

Nell said nothing more. Merely bent over the stove to scoop a double ladle full of hash onto a plate, fry two eggs in the grease in the bottom of a cast iron skillet, dump them on the hash sunny side up, and spread two ladles of thick gravy made of pork sausage, ground beef, flour, and drippings over the whole thing. ‘Blessing?’  She handed the plate over. ‘To Mr. Williams. The tall skinny man at the end of the table.’

Blessing nodded. ‘I will,’ she said. She held the plate like it was the Ark of the Covenant, taking step after careful step until she reached the end of the table. ‘For Williams, mister,’ she said.

Williams snickered. ‘Where’d you learn to speak unadulterated American, bitch?’

Blessing set the plate in front of him and left. The other three men at the table watched her as she retraced her steps to the cooking area at the far end of the long room. She folded her arms and turned to stare at the men having their breakfast.


She stared at the men as they ate, but her consciousness was years away, back in time to when she learned how to stay alive with the Apaches.


‘Oh. What?’ Blessing’s thoughts were still miles away, high in the mountains where Apaches built their rancherias.

‘You shouldn’t stare,’ Nell said. ‘Getting stared at riles some menfolks.’

Blessing turned her gaze from the breakfasting men to her clodhopper-clad feet. She took the cumbersome shoes off every chance she got. Who knew when she might have to go without? It was not wise to let feet go soft so they hurt every time you stubbed a toe or stepped on a sharp rock.

‘Blessing? Blessing!’

She turned her eyes toward Nell.

‘Syrup’s heated.’

Blessing nodded and took the warm crockery pitcher from Nell. ‘Anyone for warm sorghum syrup on pancakes or biscuits?’ she asked as she neared the table. ‘Careful with the pitcher. It’s some hot.’ She stretched her arm between two men and set the pitcher in the middle of the table.

A drummer simpered. ‘Sweet girl you are, young’un.’

‘No. Not so,’ said Blessing. ‘Eat.’ A long pause. ‘Please.’ She walked back to the kitchen end of the room.

Whatever Nell cooked, Blessing carried to the table. She never missed who the food was for. A body just naturally remembered what went on around. That was the only way to stay alive. Father always insisted on Blessing remembering.

Father. Quiet man. Never shouted. Never laughed. Never cried, at least that Blessing ever saw in the years she shared the family’s fire. When Father spoke, everyone listened. He never repeated what he said, because he expected those listening to remember. Blessing’s eyes felt hot, but she could not, would not allow any moisture to escape. How wasteful, Father would say. How much of Ussen’s bounty do you spill just because the boy Runs in Circles called you a spiteful name. Runs has not yet reached twelve summers, so he cannot hold his tongue like a true warrior. But one day, he must learn. Either learn, or die.

The days came when deer and elk were no longer plentiful. Once they traveled through the forest in herds of hundreds, Father said. Once, when Indeh people held land unbounded by White Eye or Nakai-ye, once long ago, meat was plentiful, enemies few, and Indeh were many. Once Indeh did what the heart desired, except that which would harm Mother Earth.

‘Blessing? Blessing!’

She wrenched her consciousness from the place deep inside here where she could once more live with the stern love of her Father and Mother and two younger brothers.


‘Clear the table, girl. Ever’body’s finished and you still stand there like a log. I swear. Sometimes I think you’re not even in your right mind.’

Blessing said nothing, but went to clear the table of crockery and silverware. She’d watched the men get up and leave. She’d seen the man pay extra for his pebbledash gravy and biscuit. She’d noticed the limp of the man from California and wondered briefly what made him hobble so. Broken Foot limped . . . always. Yet he was perhaps the greatest of Indeh war leaders. Out on scavenging hunts, she heard, Broken Foot led his horsemen on foot. And he always returned with extra ammunition. Broken Foot limped, yes, but he never complained and he always led successful raids.


‘I’m going, Miss Nell.’

‘Lah, girl. Sometimes I worry about you. Seems you wander around in your mind an awful lot for a young ‘un.’

Blessing cleared the table, stacked the dished neatly in the dishpan, and turned to face Nell. ‘Enough?’

‘For now. But we gotta mop the floor before noon, ya’know.’

Blessing nodded. Her father made her leave the Apaches to go and learn the ways of the White Eyes, who were her own people. But everything she’d seen of the White Eyes’ way of living made her want to puke. She was only thirteen, or fourteen at the most. At her father’s rancheria, no man would put a hand on any woman and certainly not one who was too young to marry. Apaches said a woman should not lie with a man before she was married, and all tribal customs caused young men and young women to always be apart. So what had Ma Bryor done when a dirty White Eye put his hand on Blessing, intending to force himself upon her? She asked for money. As if money could buy a woman’s first experience. She was thankful that Apache women were taught how to take care of themselves in difficult situations.

‘Bitch.’ Ma Bryor fairly spit out the word. ‘You. Apache-raised varmit.’ She reached for Blessing’s arm, but the girl shifted just enough to stay out of reach.

‘Bitch girl! You try slipping away from me and I’ll whale you within an inch of your no-good life. I will!’

Blessing just shook her head and looked at the far wall.

‘You will come. When I tell you to come, you will come. Now. Come!’

Blessing straightened and clasped her hands behind her back. She stared at Ma Bryor for a long moment. ‘We go,’ she said, and took a step.

‘Good.’ Ma Bryor strutted through the doorway into the hall. Blessing followed a few steps later.

At the door to the place Ma Bryor called her office, she paused a moment to look up and down the hall. No one to see her victory. ‘In here,’ she said, and yanked the door open.

Blessing hesitated at the threshold, but moved into the room before Ma Bryor could work up enough rage to . . . to . . . do whatever it was she planned to do.

She took only two steps into the room before Ma Bryor’s oak shillelagh crashed down on the juncture where her right shoulder met her neck. With a little cry, Blessing went to her knees. The shillelagh descended again, bouncing off her skull and sending sparks shooting across the space behind her eyes. Blessing tumbled to the floor and rolled up in a ball, her legs protecting her stomach and her arms wrapped over her head. Each time the shillelagh struck, Blessing gave a little umph, but she didn’t scream and she didn’t cry. She lay still, curled up to protect herself as best she could, while Ma Bryor beat her.

‘Bitch.’ Whack. ‘Apache whore.’ Bash. ‘Uppity little beggar.’ Thump. The beating went on and on.

Through the red haze of pain, Blessing wondered if Ma Bryor would ever quit. She began singing her death song under her breath. An Indeh must always be ready for death. She sang on, and the words and rhythm of her death song took away the pain. Her arms turned red with blood and bruises. Her back began to look like she’d taken forty lashes plus one. She sang. Ma Bryor beat her, but Blessing sang. Today was a good day to die. As good as any other day. She sang.




‘Will Ford! You git in here.’

Will Ford helped around Bryor’s Boarding House, doing jobs that took brawn but didn’t need any hard thinking to go along with it. Will wasn’t good at hard thinking. He appeared at the doorway, a large man in every way, but gentle, always gentle. ‘You call, Miz Bryor?’

‘I did. And when I call, you jump, Will Ford, you jump first and then you ask how high to go.’

‘Yes’m.’ Will didn’t catch Ma Bryor’s meaning, but he answered like he did. That was the way to stay on folks’s good side. ‘Whatcha wan’ me ta be doin’?’

Ma Bryor waved a hand at the bloody body on the floor. ‘Dump this outside somewhere. Don’t really matter too much where. If she ain’t dead, the cold’ll kill her.’

Will looked at the bashed, smashed girl on the floor, then looked back at Ma Bryor. ‘But .. . but...’

‘Dontchu but-but me, Will Ford. You just do what I tells ya to. Else you’ll never get paid. Now, haul it away and dump it. Y’hear?’

‘Yes’m. I hear right good when I’m this clos’t.’

‘Then do it!’

‘Yes’m.’ Hurt showed in Will’s eyes as he gathered Blessing’s battered body into his arms. She was no heavier than a newborn calf, and Will’d heaved a few of those.

‘Now, you just toss that body out, Will.’

‘Yes’m.’ Will left Bryor’s Boarding House with the limp body in his arms. Once or twice he thought he heard the body, the one that used to be the girl called Blessing, sing. He didn’t recognize the words or the tune, but it’weren’t talk. Singing. That’s what it was. She weren’t dead. And Ma Bryor just wanted her tossed out like a empty peach can.

‘Will Ford. Oh, Will.’

Will stopped, but he held the girl Blessing careful so she’d not get hurt no more than she already was.

‘Will Ford?’

‘Yes, Miss Thatcher. What can I do for you all, you and the parson’s what I mean.’

‘What are you carrying, Will?’

‘A body.’

‘Oh my.’ Patience Thatcher came close, very close. ‘Does Marshal Rockburn know about it?’

‘Dunno, Miss. Ma Bryor told me to take this here body outta her boarding house and dump it. That’s what she said. Dump it.’

‘Oh my.’ Patience Thatcher brushed a strand of hair away from Blessing’s battered face.

Blessing flinched.



‘This is no body. The girl is alive. She flinched when I touched her face.’


‘You know?’

‘She been a-singin’.’

‘And you were going to just dump her somewhere?’

‘Ma Bryor said to. She said to dump this here body. I don’t do what Ma Bryor say’n I get no pay. I get no pay’n my ma don’t eat, her being sickly and all.’ Will scuffed the toe of his oversized boot against a big rock by the side of the path.

‘But. But. But she’s still alive.’ Patience Thatcher chewed at her lower lip. ‘Tell me. Where do you expect to dump this . . . this . . . body?’

‘Yes, miss. I reckoned that down by the crick might be a likely place.’

‘Where abouts?’

‘Maybe just this side of the canyon. The place where the malapais pile up.’

‘Hmm. Yes. Well. Excuse me, Will Ford. Please continue with your errand for Ma Bryor.’

Will wrinkled his forehead the way he always did when the thinking got difficult. ‘Yes’m,’ he said, but made no move to go on toward the creek.



‘You’ve a job to do for Ma Bryor. You’d better get on with it.’

‘Yes’m.’ Will walked away toward the creek bank, but his pace was slow and his mien uncertain. He knew he had to do as Ma Bryor ordered. He also knew that the girl was still alive. Pastor Thatcher often preached about helping folks. Will remembered the time Pastor Thatcher talked about being a good neighbor.

Jesus told about a man, Pastor Thatcher’d said. That man got beat up by robbers that like to killed him. An’ they left him bleeding and dying right by the side of the road. People went by, rich people and poor people, and they all just played like they never seen that beat-up man lying there. Then, a man come along. One Pastor Thatcher called a Some Ary Ton. Then he said that would be like a Injun coming by here in Clayton and stopping to help some cowboy who’d got beat up in a bar fight, that’s what Pastor Thatcher said. An’ the Some Ary Ton helped the beat-up guy, putting bandages and stuff on him. Then took him to a place where people stayed, maybe like Ma Bryor’s place, and paid for his keep. The pastor was talking about being a good neighbor and he said Jesus asked everyone which one was the good neighbor, all them people what played like they never seen that hurt man, or the Some Ary Ton man what helped him.

Will Ford remembered that everyone in church just looked at the floor. There weren’t no one hollering hallelujah or saying amen or whatever. But Will knew it was the Some Ary Ton who was the one who helped the man what was beat nigh to death.

There was a cave in the malapai cliffs that the creek ran through. Will never told anyone about the cave even though he found it all by himself. And sometimes he went there to get away from everybody.

At first, Will had just walked by the big column of rock that stood a few feet east of the rest of the malapai cliff. But one day, he thought he’d see if he could worm his way through from one side of the column to the other. He squeezed into the south side between the column and the cliff, and found there was even a hole that a body could crawl into if he had a mind to. But it was dark in there, and Will couldn’t make himself go on into the cave. He always sat with his back against the pillar, looking at the mouth of the cave—somehow he thought of it as a cave—and wondering what there was inside.

Now Will carried a girl and she was beat near to death, like the man Pastor Thatcher talked about. Ma Bryor told him to dump the body, but the girl weren’t dead yet so she weren’t no body.

It wasn’t like the girl was heavy, she wasn’t. But Will Ford took extra care in carrying her. He didn’t just throw her over his shoulder like he would a sack of flour. He cradled the girl. He tried to make it so her head didn’t loll. Beat up like she was, there probably wasn’t a spot on her anywhere what didn’t hurt when it got touched. Her thin dress was all spotted with blood from the inside out. One eye was swollen. Ma Bryor’s shillelagh’d split a cut on one cheek, and her lips bled from splits where they’d been caught between oak and teeth.


Will Ford stopped in his tracks.


‘I’s Will Ford.’

‘Where will you dump Blessing?’ said a voice soft as a whisper.

‘Is that you talking, Blessing?’

‘Yes. Will. Gonna dump Blessing in crick?’

‘Dump?’ Will played dumb.

‘Ma Bryor said dump. What is dump?’

Will wrinkled his brow but kept on walking toward the creek. ‘Lemme see. When ya gotta load a wheat in the wagon, ya dump it in the granary. When ya got a bunch a trash, ya dump it on the trash pile. Dump. I guess it means to put stuff where it belongs.’

‘Dump me into crick? I am no lóg.’

‘A what?’

‘A lóg swims in water. White Eyes eat. Indeh never.’ Blessing let out a sound halfway between a groan and a moan.


‘Hurt.’ She groaned again.

Will stopped walking. He didn’t know what else to do.’

‘Will Ford?’

Will looked toward the sound of Patience Thatcher’s voice and discovered that she had followed along behind. ‘Whacha want, Miss Patience?’

‘She hurts. I heard her say she hurts.’


‘You’ll dump her?’


‘I can’t believe you would do such a hardhearted thing, Will Ford.’

‘No, ma’am, but . . . .’


‘Ma Bryor said to dump her. An’ if I don’t I won’t get no pay nohow. No pay n’ my Ma don’t eat.’

‘So you said.’ Patience chewed at her bottom lip as she usually did when vexed. ‘Where then will you dump her?’


‘She’s bloody and hurting.’

‘Know that.’

‘May I watch you dump her?’

Will remembered what Ma Bryor said sometimes. ‘Free country. Suit yourself,’ he said, and hoped Patience would tag along.

Ungmt.’ Blessing’s groan reflected the pain from Ma Bryor’s beating. Once again she began to sing her death song, mostly under her breath.

‘Why should a woman... a girl as beaten and injured as this be singing,’ Patience asked.

‘I heard once that Induns sing when they get set to die,’ Will Ford said. ‘Maybe she’s getting ready.’

Blessing sang.

Will Ford started down the creek bank at the sound end of the malapai canyon.

Patience followed, not sure exactly what she would or should do, but not wanting to leave another human being to lie on the rocks and ground, or maybe floating in the creek until death came, she followed.

Will turned north and went up the west bank of the creek. The cave, his secret cave, lay behind the pillar that was a landmark to any who went to the creek to fish, or maybe to take a refreshing swim in summer. 

Not much of a climb up to the base of the black rock pillar, but Blessing seemed heavier now. After all, Will Ford lugged her more’n a mile from Ma Bryor’s boarding house, without setting her down to take a rest or nothing. The last few steps had him puffing.

‘Don’t you drop that child, Will Ford,’ Patience said. ‘Do you want me to help you?’

‘M’all right, miss.’ Will panted. ‘Jest a step or two more.’

Patience restrained herself from stretching a hand toward the battered girl child. Who would beat another human, a young girl at that, who could? Whoever it was, and Will Ford said Ma Bryor, whoever it was didn’t have even a scrap of human dignity, not one scrap.

Blessing sang. Almost inaudible, but she sang.

Will stopped at the entrance to his secret cave. He could not squeeze between the pillar and the cliff with Blessing in his arms.

‘What are you going to do, Will Ford?’ Patience was no more than two steps behind Will.

‘Be good to put this here girl in the cave back there.’

‘Where? I never heard of a cave down here.’

‘Mine. Anyways I found it. Never told no one. Figure the girl’l be safe in there. Narrow place to get in, though. Maybe can’t with this here girl.’

‘Will. Will. Will.’ Blessing spoke hardly above a whisper. ‘Safe place?’

‘I reckon. Secret. But now Miss Patience knows.’



‘Crawl. Blessing crawl to safe place. Down.’

Will Ford knelt at the tight entrance to his secret cave. Gently he lowered Blessing to the ground. He could hear her singing, but it seemed like a different song from what she sang before.

Blessing stretched her legs out straight, taking her time and punctuating with sharp intakes of breath. Nothing broken. A miracle, considering the way Ma Bryor’d laid into her with that oak shillelagh. She grunted as she got to her hands and knees. ‘Where?’ she said.

‘Just follow me,’ Will said, and he squeezed his way to the secret cave. He sat where he always sat, facing the entrance of the cave.

‘Where?’ Blessing said.

‘There,’ Will said, pointing at the opening.

Umphg.’ Blessing moved forward, mostly by will power, but her survival instinct was too strong to go under just because someone tried to beat the life out of her. Inch. Inch. Inch. So slowly, but moving. Anyone watching could tell she moved, even if her pace made tortoises seem like thoroughbred racing stock.

‘Will? Will Ford?’ Patience called from the edge of the column.


‘Is she safe?’

‘Yes’m. But I ain’t got nothing for her to eat nor drink. An’ they’s no blankets ‘r nothing for her to sleep on.’

‘Oh, dear. May I enter?’

‘Yes’m. Only it’s awful tight in here. Usually only me, and I just sit in here with my feets in the cave.’


2017 (Dezember)

Titel: Blessing