dontravis.com blog post #582
First off, will someone please tell me how the days seem to crawl by, but the weeks, months… years fly by so rapidly?
For this week’s post, my Okie buddy, Mark Wildyr, has agreed to do a guest post of the Prologue and part of Chapter 1 of the novel, Ides, the sixth and final book in his Cut Hand Series. Warning: it’s quite a long read.
By Mark Wildyr
Wednesday, June 7, 1905, Boston, Massachusetts
Mistake. This had been a mistake.
The dusky young man glanced around a dining room made gloomy by costly walnut paneling and somber wall paintings before picking up a soup spoon and applying it properly to his bowl, bringing an almost audible sigh of relief from five individuals seated around him. The only thing brightening the atmosphere was the glitter of crystal picking up sparkles from the massive chandelier over the large table…also walnut. He glanced briefly at each of his companions through startling blue eyes staring from an otherwise American Indian visage.
Grandmother Haleworthy, plump and soft and patrician, seemed most discomfited of all. She constantly fiddled with the silverware, a goblet of iced water, dangling ruby earrings, anything her stubby fingers could reach.
Grandfather was more stolid and circumspect, but his eyes and ears caught everything. Dressed formally—he had removed his frock coat but retained his silk vest—he presented an impressive figure rendered almost comic by a thick moustache resembling a graying caterpillar moving across his face with each chew.
Uncle Bertrand and Aunt Elizabeth—brother and sister, thank goodness…they’d make a horrible married couple—simply couldn’t keep their eyes off him. They were obviously fascinated and likely repulsed. He suspected a gorilla at their table plying flatware and speaking proper English would not have provoked more astonishment.
Cousin Dorian, seated opposite him, was the only one brave enough—or perhaps rude enough—to eye him frankly with his thoughts hanging right on his face…what fun it was going to be to deal with this savage from the western frontier.
Once the young man discerned his hosts were more discomfited than he, he mentally relaxed and internally conversed with his brother, even though Gabe had been dead for fourteen years, struck down by a rifle ball in the chest when he was but five years old. The blue-eyed young man smiled, also internally, as he contemplated relating that ugly truth.
After an awkward silence, Uncle Bertrand asked Grandfather his opinion of the flap over four Chinese students detained on the Ivernia upon the ship’s arrival from Liverpool seven days ago on June first, an event the newspapers were heralding as the King Incident.
Cousin Dorian rushed to deliver his opinion first. “Damn good work, I say. They’re likely coolies masquerading as students. The ‘King’ family. Don’t sound very Chinese to me.”
Mouths dropped when their dinner guest spoke up. “I believe it’s an Anglicized form of the Chinese word Jin. Or so I’ve read.” He smothered a smile as—one by one—it dawned upon his Boston Haleworthy family this alien relative from the hinterland could read.
Grandfather’s wooly mustache twitched a couple of times before he spoke. “Actually, Dorian, the King family’s quite prominent in Singapore. There’s talk they might organize a trade embargo in protest. That would pose a problem for cotton over here.”
The young man mentally nodded. The Haleworthys were heavily invested in the cotton textile trade, at least according to his father, and a boycott might shave a few thousand off the family’s estimated $200,000 net worth. Kinda amazing when he’d read somewhere that only 15,000 or so Americans were worth $300,000 or more.
A sound like a rusty gate swinging open startled him until he realized it was Aunt Elizabeth asking Grandmother where she would lodge him for the night, bringing a look of near terror to the older woman’s face.
He thought of telling them he would simply pitch a teepee in the back yard but chose to be more circumspect. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I won’t be able to overnight. I need to be somewhere downstate in the morning and will be on my way. I’m merely fulfilling a pledge to my father to pay a courtesy call to his…uh, our eastern family should I find myself in the Boston area.”
The mood at the dining table brightened. His grandmother placed a hand to her bosom. “And we’re so pleased you did, William. Please give Giddeon our love.”
Good Lord! How could his father, a good, bluff, army officer, come from this lot?
At that point, his cousin obviously decided on mischief. “Pray tell, are you William Haleworthy or Ides Haleworthy? I’ve heard whispers of both.”
He decided to play along. “I have three names, Dorian. Two formal and a nickname.”
His cousin perked up, perhaps sensing a verbal duel in the offing. “And what are they?”
He pushed away his plate and shifted in the chair, an uncomfortable, ladderback affair that looked expensive. “One I should never tell you, but as you are close kin, I suppose it’s all right to reveal it.”
“Oh, good. A family secret. Do go on.”
“The name on my birth certificate is William Strobaw Haleworthy.” He nodded to his grandfather, “The William is in honor of you, sir.” No need to tell him of the other William in his life. “And Strobaw was my mother’s maiden name.”
“Yes, yes. Go on,” Dorian urged.
“My Lakota name is Istá To. It means Blue Eyes, in English.” He heard the intake of his grandmother’s breath.
Frowning, his aunt spoke again. “Lakota. Isn’t that some kind of Sioux? I thought…I thought…”
“You thought I was Yanube. That’s true, but the tribe, before it was virtually wiped out by the American Army, was Siouan. The languages were closely related, and over time, most of us simply spoke Lakota.”
“And?” Dorian prompted, “what about the third name?”
“My uncle John dubbed me Ides the first time he laid eyes on me.”
“Ides?” his aunt asked. “Because of the date of your birth?”
“Yes, ma’am. March 15.” He dabbed his lips with a linen napkin. “Uncle John’s a student of the Bard, I guess you could say.”
“Is that right? And he’s an…a Native?” his uncle asked.
Ides was beginning to enjoy himself, he pushed on despite cautioning whispers from his dead brother. “A breed, actually. Of course, John Strobaw is also a successful rancher in South Dakota, as well. Now, he has several names.”
“Is that so?” his grandfather asked, a wary note in his voice.
“Yes, sir. Over the years, he was awarded different names by the tribe based on exploits or incidents in his life.”
Dorian’s eyes sparkled. “And are you free to reveal them.”
Mischief had now gained the upper hand. “I shouldn’t. But…well, as I say, you are family. His American name is John Jacobsen Strobaw. Jacobsen after his mother’s family name. His childhood Indian name was War Eagle. That was their…our way of saying Golden Eagle. Then he earned the name of Night Sky Hair because of the streaks of his mother’s Scandinavian blond in his black mop. As he gained a reputation as a shaman, he became Hin Phejuta, or Medicine Hair in your tongue.”
“Good heavens,” his grandmother exclaimed. “Is that all?”
Now mischief was runaway. “No, ma’am. Most recently, he was awarded the name of American Killer.”
Gratified by the rattle of silverware on bone china as his grandmother dropped her fork, Ides Haleworthy leaned back in his chair with a smile on his lips.
Approximately one year earlier, Fort Yanube, South Dakota
Something bit into my back, slashing through my shirt and setting my flesh afire. Giving an anguished grunt, I whirled to face my tormentor and was surprised to see Sergeant Courtland Dawson drawing back for another lash of his quirt. Marybell’s father’s face was afire, his lips drawn into a snarl. I rushed him, but not before the quirt struck again, slashing sideways across my left cheek. He lost his grip on the leather when I bowled into him, but he recovered quickly and rocked me with a fist to the side of my neck.
I went down and rolled, coming back onto my feet in a boxer’s stance. My dad had taught me the basics, but the sergeant was the bigger man and simply overpowered me. I got in a few licks before some noncoms arrived and pulled us apart. My split lip stung as I smiled at his bruised eye. He’d have to face his troops with a shiner…given him by a teenager.
Dawson shook off his restrainers and stabbed a finger at me. “You stay away from my little girl, you hear me, you fucking breed!”
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that word, nor its adjective, but it was the first time one of my dad’s subordinates had said it aloud in my presence. I saw red as the sergeant stalked away, muttering to himself. He was barely out of sight before someone called the men in the vicinity to attention, and I knew my father had arrived.
“What the hell’s going on?” Major Gideon Haleworthy demanded. His eyes registered shock when he saw me. “Ides, what happened?”
“Disagreement, sir,” I muttered as I picked up my scattered books, the last day of school marred by the unexpected attack.
My father put hands on my shoulders and spun me around. “Boy, someone’s taken a lash to you. Who was it?” Facing me once again, he put a hand to my cheek, and I knew the quirt had left its mark.
A bluff, weathered man with hashmarks all over the arms of his uniform arrived. Sergeant-Major MacLaughlen. Shortly thereafter, my dad abandoned the field to him and led me across the parade ground to our quarters.
Ma moaned aloud at the sight of me, her normally dark features going even duskier. “William!” she exclaimed but bit off her questions. No doubt she knew Pa would get explanations out of me soon enough.
He held his tongue until she had cleaned me up and applied what stung like horse liniment before beginning his interrogation.
“All right, son. An explanation.”
“I dunno, Dad. He caught me with his quirt while I had my back to him.”
“He?” Mom asked.
“Sargeant Dawson,” my pa said.
A little gasp escaped her. “Marybell’s father?”
“That’s right, Rachel Ann, Marybell’s father.” My dad fixed his stare on me. “And why would he do that?”
I shrugged and winced. “I dunno. I didn’t do anything.”
“Have you been sneaking around and seeing the girl on the sly?”
“No! Well, I shared some of ma’s venison jerky with her a couple of times. All we did was sit up against the back of the headquarters building and eat it.”
“And?” he prompted.
I avoided my mother’s eyes. “And I kissed her…once.”
“Is that all?” This time it was a demand.
“Yes, sir. I swear. And she kissed me back, so I guess she liked it.”
“Has Sargeant Dawson warned you away from his daughter?”
I winced at the recollection. “Just today…after the dustup.” I shot a glance ma’s way. “Called me a breed.”
“Meet my eyes, Ides, and swear what you’ve told me is true.”
I swung my blue orbs to meet his. “I swear it, Pa. I just kissed her…once.”
“And you didn’t force her?”
“I believe you, William. Now you leave everything to me. No payback, do you understand?”
When Major Gideon Haleworthy called me “William,” I knew he meant business. Normally, he used my nickname of Ides, like everyone else on post.
“Yes, sir, I understand. Not sure he does, though. If…”
“You leave Sergeant Dawson to me. This might be a good time for a visit to your grandfather at Teacher’s Mead,” he suggested. “You can catch tomorrow morning’s train to Mead’s Crossing.”
“Gideon!” my ma exclaimed. “He’ll miss his graduation ceremony tomorrow night.”
This had been the last day of school for me…maybe forever. I’d earned the credits I needed to graduate the post’s school. Hang the ceremony, just give me my diploma. But I kept my mouth shut and took in the haunted look of my father’s eyes.
“I’m, sorry, Rachel Ann, but I think it’s better to take the train.”
“I’d rather go to Turtle Crick,” I said.
“Easier to face your Uncle John than Grandfather Cuthan?”
“It’s not Grandpa Cuthan,” I said, “as much as it’s everyone else. There’s a host of people at Teacher’s Mead. Heck, it’s a whole town now. But it’s just Uncle John and Ethan at Turtle Crick. Besides, maybe they’ll give me a job.”
“For the summer,” Ma put in. “I want you in college this fall.”
“But I need to find something till then,” I said, not really agreeing. “And if they don’t have anything for me, there’s the Liberty Ranch right next door. Dexter and Libby might need help.
“All right,” my father agreed.
He started to leave, but I halted him with a question. “What are you going to do to him…the sergeant, I mean?”
“If he’s honest and forthright in answering for his actions, I’ll take his stripes and transfer him.”
“But you won’t cashier him?”
“Let’s get this straight, Ides. I’ll not take any action because of his assault of my son. What he’ll answer for is viciously attacking someone on an Army post. He’ll pay, but not with his career. That would not be fair to his wife and daughter. Am I understood?”
“Yes, sir. Uh, can I take Stelle with me to Turtle Crick? She’s out of school too. And I know she’d like to see Uncle John and Ethan.”
Gideon Haleworthy glanced at Mother. She nodded. “All right, if Estelle wants to go, she’s free to do so. But that puts a rein on how long you stay. Be back here in a week.”
“Two weeks. That’s not too long, is it?” I asked. “Especially, if I get a job.”
A look of sorrow claimed my father’s features as he nodded. “Two weeks for both of you unless you find work. But you bring Estelle home, regardless.”
I knew that look. I’d seen it all my life. He loved my mother, and he loved me…us, but life had taken dark twists and turns before we came to live in the commandant’s lodging at Fort Yanube. We’d lost my little brother, Gabe, to a sniper’s bullet when some land grabbers shot at Uncle John and struck my five-year-old brother instead. To the rest of them, Gabe was dead. But he was constantly with me. I experienced his presence, heard his thoughts, and took comfort in our bonding. He was often the voice of reason in my world.
And while my father liked and respected my mother’s brother, Gideon Haleworthy was never able to truly reconcile himself to John Strobaw’s deviant nature. While that was of no consequence to the tribal side of our family, it went against the grain of the wasicun…the white men. Although admittedly, the attitude of the conquerors had negatively affected the acceptance of Two Faces by many of the tribes.
But my pa’s big problem was me. My mother, half Yanube and half white, was born of Cuthan Strobaw—known to the People as Dog Fox—and Mary Jacobsen Strobaw at Teacher’s Mead some forty-three years ago. Pa was pure Boston Irish, so I should have been an eighth blood, yet my features were as Indian as Uncle John’s…or even Grandfather Cuthan’s, save for eyes as blue as my father’s. Growing up on an army post during the recent Indian Wars had proved a demanding task.
Yet, here I was, all of eighteen-years-old—or eighteen winters, as the tribal members of my family tolled time—an Army brat just graduated from the post’s school. To my father, with his yellow hair—now beginning to gray a bit—and fair features, it likely seemed I was a troublemaker. Yet, in truth, it was trouble that sought me.
As the son of an officer—and now the commandant—of the post, no one could actually shun me, the most severe punishment tribesmen can inflict on their brethren, but the slights were there. Always there. In time, most of the mothers and fathers of the troop grew accustomed to me to the point I was tolerated, but the army was a restless environment. A trooper here today was transferred tomorrow, so I constantly faced strangers unaccustomed to a dusky face in their social midst. I sometimes shuddered to think what my life on an Army fort would have been like had my father not been a commissioned officer.
Actually, I didn’t have to wonder. All I had to do was to look at the children of our two Indian scouts. They didn’t live on post, of course, but they were around often and treated with disdain by most of their white peers. They couldn’t go to our school or participate in post life in any way. No law against it, except the law of human nature—or more precisely, the law of the white human nature. I found the native children more pleasant and venturesome than my schoolmates. Yet, they, too, were withholding of their social intimacy. After all, I was different from them, as well. My blue eyes were as unnatural to them as my cheekbones were to the white children.
Please let Mark know how you like his sample of Ides. If I remember correctly, the first book in the series, Cut Hand, began in the 1830s. Five novels later, Ides opens in 1904. That spans a tumultuous period in American History, including the subjugation of the indigenous people in the Indian Wars. Mark once told me his intent with the series was to show how some—not all—of the Native tribes honored berdaches or Two-Faces or homosexuals, and how the attitude of the European conquerors gradually changed that perception. I will be interesting to see how he brings that theme to a close. Thanks, Mark.
Until next week.
Stay safe and stay strong.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!
A link to The Cutie-Pie Murders:
My personal links:
See you next Thursday.
New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time.