The day had dawned clear, sunny, and more cheerful than it had any right to be. Like a cruel joke, the days since he laid Susannah in her crude grave had been glorious ones—the ones that Susannah had loved. She would spend days out in the sun for no other reason but to enjoy the sunlight.
Robert Lockwood had lost count of the days since then. Had it been three or four? He wasn’t sure. He tried to keep his mind busy with taking care of Jonathan and Deborah. These were simple tasks like making sure they ate, changing Deborah when she soiled herself, and generally keeping them heading west.
He was certain that Deborah wasn’t going to die. The gruel that he had made from hardtack and water had provided basic nutrition, but the unfamiliar food had taken a toll on her body. She had cried from colic before she went silent from not having the energy to cry any longer. It wouldn’t be an easy road for his daughter, but as long as he could find a mother nursing her own that would be willing to share, she would be okay. Otherwise, it was hardtack gruel and the grace of God that her survival depended on now.
Near midday, a pair of men stepped out from the woods across a clearing. Robert stopped and made sure his pistol was readily available. While the men carried what appeared to be vicious clubs, they held them as though they were simply carrying them, not menacingly in any way. Their bows were in leather sleeves on their backs.
They stopped at the edge of the clearing, raising their hands in greeting. The slimmer of them called out in heavily accented, but completely understandable, English.
“Hello, stranger, are you the one known as Robert Lockwood?”
Suspicion flared in his chest as he tried to reconcile the impossible. How had these men known who he was, let alone his name? His hand crept closer to the pistol more out of reflex than from any move made by the two men.
“And how do you know that?”
“Your sister, Mrs. Elinor, told us that a man, woman, and children might come this way. She gave us a description of this man and woman. You match the description of the man. Although, we do not see the woman.”
Robert felt himself relax.
“Then you are a welcome sight,” Robert said. “Susannah will not be joining us.”
The men looked at each other, something wordless passing between them. The slighter one turned back and nodded.
“We understand and will pray for her soul.”
“Pray? Your people pray?”
“Some of us do,” said the slight one. “Mrs. Elinor has taught some of us the truth of our Lord and Savior. Some of us, like my silent friend here, have not yet come around. She gave me the name of Edward at my baptism. My friend’s name is Machk, or bear, in your language.”
“Well met, Edward. And you as well, Machk.” Robert nodded to each of them in turn. He was pretty sure that he mangled Machk’s name, but the native seemed to not care.
“How did Elinor know to send you to find us?”
“She didn’t send us,” Edward said. “We are here, hunting food for the village. She asked us to be aware that you might join us and help if we were able.”
“In either case, your presence and assistance are very much appreciated,” Robert said.
Edward shrugged as though it was of no importance. “It is nothing. My friend here has been so loud today that there has been no game to speak of.”
Machk smiled at the banter and nodded. “And Edward here has been too busy praying to his God to pay attention to any game deaf enough to not hear me.”
Edward laughed aloud. “Either way, you are not imposing on us in any manner. After what Mrs. Elinor has done for our village, we are happy to help.”
The pair crossed the river at a shallow part and offered their hands in friendship. Together, they began to guide the family to their village.
“I do have to warn you.“ Edward said. “We will not be permitted to enter the village or touch anyone for fourteen days after we arrive.”
“Indeed?” Robert was confused.
“Indeed,” Machk responded. “Elinor has convinced our sachem that any white man, or anyone that has come into contact with a white man not of our village, is to not be allowed within the walls of our village. She says it is to prevent the spread of the spotted skin disease, you call it smallpox. I believe it to be crazy talk. Our medicine men are able to cure anything.”
“You have to admit, Machk,” Edward said. “We have had far less sickness in our longhouses since she convinced them.”
“Yes, yes. I still call it crazy talk,” Machk asserted stubbornly.
“Then where will we take shelter?” Robert asked.
“Our people will bring out supplies to make wigwams and food to keep us comfortable. These will be placed at a distance from the village gates for our use. We are not allowed to touch the villagers. We can talk to them from a distance, though. I’m sure Mrs. Elinor would be happy to speak to you,”Edward said.
“And those that do have the disease?” Robert asked.
“They are left to die,” Machk said quietly. “Their bodies and all of the things they carried with them are burned inside of their wigwam.”
Robert nodded. It was a cold way to live, but the world was a cold, callous place, as Robert knew all too well.
“And what of you two?” Robert asked. “You will now have to serve the sick time because you touched my family?”
Machk shrugged as though it were nothing. “You needed help, and we assisted you. We are not Mohawk.”
Robert raised an eyebrow.
“What he means is that we have manners and a sense of compassion,” Edward said. “Something that is missing from the Mohawk.”
Robert nodded his understanding and the rest of the time passed in silence.
Robert was surprised to see that the Mohican village was surrounded by a timber wall. He had assumed that the Mohican village would be open to the world. That any of the indigenous people of the New World would not have had the skill to build such a wall around their village. Obviously, he was wrong.
In his head, he once again heard Nicholas’s voice. The Mohican were hardly the savages that he had been led to believe. They seemed to be just as capable as he. Why was he surprised? After all, didn’t the Bible teach that all men were equal in the eyes of the Lord? Verses jumped into his head.
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:11
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
They paused at the gates to the village, and Edward raised his voice in their native tongue. Robert only understood the name of his sister, Elinor. One of the men at the gate replied and ran off into the village.
Machk handed his weapons and packs to Edward. He retrieved a small hatchet and walked into the forest. A few moments later, they heard the sound of chopping wood.
Edward took both packs and weapons and laid them in a neat pile. Then he began to clear a space, obviously for a firepit. Robert helped Jonathan and Deborah from the horse. He let the horse graze and moved the children to a quiet place where he could work and still keep an eye out for them.
A commotion at the gates drew Robert’s attention away from these tasks. A group of people emerged from the walls. They were carrying bundles of supplies, laying them in piles well away from the walls.
Behind them, a familiar figure, a very pregnant figure, hurried as fast as she dared. Elinor Knapp was as lovely as ever, more so with the glow of motherhood to be. She ran up to Robert and, before he could stop her, threw her arms around her older brother.
“Robert!” she cried. “It’s amazingly good to see you again!”
“And I you.” Robert tried to smile. “But it’s foolishness to come hugging when you know that you’ll have to spend the sick time with us now.”
“Still scolding, I see.” She grinned. “When are you going to learn that I’m just not going to listen?”
“Well try.” She looked around. “Where are Susannah and the children?”
A dark shadow rolled across Robert’s face.
“The children are over there.” Robert pointed. “Susannah will not be joining us.”
“What? How?” The questions leapt from Elinor before she could rein them in. Looking at Robert, she decided that story could wait.
“Nevermind” she said softly. “I know you’ll tell me when you are ready.”
She gave Robert one last hug and moved to see to the children. Robert stood for a few minutes, lost as to what he needed to do next. Elinor was looking after Jonathan and Deborah, so he didn’t have even that small chore to keep him distracted.
Machk had returned with an armload of thick, straight saplings. He sat them beside the fire pit that Edward was finishing and returned to the deeper woods for more. Robert walked to Edward as the Mohican began laying the saplings out in a circular pattern. Robert watched for a minute and then began to hand saplings to Edward as needed. Soon, they had a circle of saplings.
Edward began to lift and drive them into the ground. Robert added his weight to Edward’s and they were able to sink it solidly into the ground. They did the same with the next one and the next. Around the circle they went, driving the saplings into the ground.
Machk returned with the final armful of saplings just as dusk was falling. A few minutes later, he and Edward finished the first wigwam. Robert moved to help with the second one, but Edward declined.
“We are quicker doing this ourselves.” Edward pointed to the already finished wigwam. “That one is yours and Mrs. Elinor’s.”
Inside, the wigwam was warm and cozy. A single hole at the top allowed smoke from the small fire that Elinor was kindling to life. Jonathan brought small branches in and neatly stacked them before leaving to fetch more.
“Still doesn’t talk very much, does he?” Elinor asked.
“No, for a four-year-old boy, almost five, he is too mature, too studious,” Robert replied. “He has always been happier watching me work than playing with the other kids. Except when he is around Deborah, then he is a brother taking care of his sister, making her laugh.”
Elinor nodded. “Most four-year-olds couldn’t be trusted to bring in firewood.”
“The flap is open, and I can see him,” Robert said.
As the sun set below the horizon, they finished the last of the detested hardtack. Elinor had been able to boil some water to soak the bread and dried meat they had been living on for the last week. Tomorrow, the village would begin supplying them with food, and the two Mohican sharing their sick time would hunt for any meat they would need.
After the meal, Robert led his children through their evening prayers before tucking them under their furs that had been provided.
He took a few long minutes watching them as they began their nightly slumber. As he had told Elinor, Jonathan was entirely too serious for a four-year-old boy. Even falling asleep, that young face never lost its almost stern expression.
Looking at Deborah, his emotions were a cacophony of dissonant harmonies. He loved his little girl. That love transcended all in this world, and Robert would gladly give everything to see that she was safe, secure and healthy.
And yet, he couldn’t deny that his feelings were tainted by resentment. What kind of father resented his own flesh and blood, let alone his daughter? He fought to beat the thought that it was Deborah’s sudden cry that killed the love of his life.
He was being unfair to the babe. In his head, he knew that Deborah was merely a baby and couldn’t understand that she had needed to be quiet when Crevier rode into the camp light. Any infant would have cried in fear that couldn’t be contained. Robert knew that he himself had been scared that night.
The heart, on the other hand, was a far more fickle and despicable organ. The boundless love he had for his children was tainted by a resentment only a monster could feel.
He moved to the packs that he had laid just inside the doorway to get out of the way while he settled his family in. The bundle of letters that Nicholas had given to him was on top of a smaller pack that also held his Bible. He moved to sit beside Elinor beside the fire and handed the letters to her.
“These are from Nicholas.”
“Oh, great!” Elinor exclaimed. “I wish he were here now. Especially with this child on the way.”
She set the letters aside. “I’ll read those tomorrow when there is more light. Tonight, I just want to talk to my brother.”
“And Elizabeth and the children?” Robert asked. “How are they?”
“They are doing well. Elizabeth is ashamed to see you again.”
“Why?” The fire crackled as a piece of firewood shifted.
“She’s met another man. They are married, in the manner of the Mohican,” Elinor said quietly. “He is a good man and as good a stepfather to Timothy and Joshua as you could ask for.”
“She’s afraid that I wouldn’t approve?”
Elinor only nodded.
“That she remarried or that he’s not English?”
“Both. She’s afraid that you would condemn her.”
Robert paused a few minutes to consider the question and gather his thoughts. He searched his soul and the answer both surprised and shamed him.
“A year ago, I would have.” His voice was low, hushed, as though he feared his shame would spread to be known to all that might hear.
“That was before Nicholas returned and sat in our kitchen with questions for which I still have no answers for.”
Another quiet pause before Robert continued.
“Yet, being here, seeing this, makes me wonder if Nicholas wasn’t the wisest of us. He once told us that the Mohican were less ‘savage’ than the French. He’s right.”
“That’s one of the things that has been so hard for me to accept, Robert,” Elinor said. “You know how I love the Lord and how much pleasure it gives me to let others share my joy.”
“At least, it helps people sleep.” Robert tried to quip. Elinor laughed and threw a stick at her brother.
“Seriously, Robert. The things I’ve seen and the bonds that I’ve seen make me wonder. I lie restless at night in worry. Not doubt, never that. My faith in Him is stronger now than it ever was.”
“Then, what is your worry?”
“That we’ve been as arrogant as Lucifer before the Fall. So convinced we are right in our tenets.”
“But, these Americans challenge the very fabric of our faith,” Robert said. “If they truly come from the future, what does that mean for predestination?”
“Exactly!” Elinor seemed pleased that she wasn’t the only one with those thoughts. “And if predestination is wrong, then what others are wrong?”
“Sometimes, I wish father had not been so emphatic about honesty to all and doubly to yourself.”
“That would have been nice.” Elinor smiled. “I will admit that I am scared. My time here raises a lot of questions. Questions that make me fear for my soul.”
“It’s not just the issue of predestination, is it Elinor?” Robert asked.
“No. I’m concerned about the elect.”
Robert nodded. One of the foundational beliefs of puritanism was the idea that God had selected those who were to be saved. The others would be doomed to damnation. Over the years, he had even heard some wonder whether that meant even those who lived good, holy lives, professing God as their savior, could be at risk of being damned because they were not of the elect. Robert liked to think that being one of the elect made one more open to the Word. As such, faith would be evidence of election.
“No, you don’t understand.” Elinor was exasperated. “There are many good people, godly even. Though they are certainly pagan, the faith they put into their Great Spirit would make even the most devout of us question our own commitment to the Almighty. And they’ve done it without hearing from the church, any church.”
“That makes little sense, Sister,” Robert said.
“I know, I know. I’m still trying to put it into better words myself. It is almost as if the Lord has spread His word here without the Church that we know and love.”
Robert suddenly felt lost. “Then what is the purpose of the Church if He is to spread His gospel outside of it?” He felt his faith fading. “How can we be sure of anything?”
“We can be assured of His love, brother, and in the end, that’s all that matters. We need to understand what He wants from us,” she responded.
“And what does He want?” It felt like a desperate question, begging Elinor to strengthen his lagging faith. He was looking for some path that would restore his surety in the Almighty.
“I don’t know,” she said honestly. “The only thing I can be sure of is that the path we’ve been following is . . .”
“Wrong?” Robert finished.
“No, not wrong,” Elinor clarified. “Perhaps incomplete would be a better way of thinking about it. It all comes back to these Americans. Their presence shows us that predestination is incomplete. Perhaps we need to think of predestination as a more general direction rather than a solid map that we must all follow.”
“It was easy, in England, for us to tell the difference between the elect and the damned.” Elinor continued. “They had heard the Word of our Lord and rejected it, thus proving they were not of the elect.”
“But if these people have never been exposed to the Word, then how can they live a life that we would call godly? I mean, the only difference between the two is that the Mohicans are pagan.”
“You’ve had a few converts,” Robert said. “Surely Edward is one of the elect.”
“But, what of Machk?” Elinor responded. “I watched him with his wife and young son. Seeing that makes it difficult to think that he is one of the damned.”
“That’s not for us to say, little sister. The Almighty makes the decisions on the elect and the damned by his own standards. It may seem cruel to us, but the Lord surely has more merciful goals than we can see.”
Elinor smiled. “I thought I was supposed to be the minister of the family.”
“Sometimes, even saints need a little guidance,” Robert said with grossly exaggerated piety. It felt good to banter with his sister again.
“In all seriousness, Brother, I think one of the messages that I’m hearing in my heart is a soft reprimand from the Lord over our arrogance. I’m starting to wonder if we’ve taken it upon ourselves to decide who God has elected. Edward has shown me that the elect can come from anyone or anywhere at any time.”
“Or, he could not be one of the elect,” Robert warned.
“And does it really matter if he is or not?” Elinor snapped testily. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. Do we treat him, or Machk, like one of the damned or do we accept that the decision isn’t ours to make?”
“But we can’t risk our souls by remaining with those who are not of our faith.”
“Robert Lockwood. Is your faith so weak that it would falter at the first sign of corruption?”
“Of course not!” Robert said hotly.
“Then let’s treat every one of them as equals,” Elinor said. “We’ve just agreed that it would be both arrogant and foolish to dictate what God has chosen. Instead, let us treat them as fellow souls trying to find their own way in God’s greatest creation.”
“That’s a lot to think on, Elinor,” Robert said.
“You’ve got two weeks to make your mind up. I’ve already decided. Good night, Robert.”
Robert jerked suddenly awake with the instinctive panic of a man who wakes in an unfamiliar place. The panic was momentary as his brain caught up to his reflexes. He willed his body to relax and his breathing to slow. He could do little about his thundering heart.
Yet, as unpleasant as waking up had been, it was infinitely more blissful than the nightmares he had left behind. It was from those that Robert’s heart refused to listen to his brain.
Susannah had been in those dreams. Rocks clattered aside as she pushed out from her cairn. Her left breast was a shattered, bloody ruin. Her eye flashed with anger, betrayal, and condemnation.
Behind him, the mauled body of Jean-Marc rose from the ground. The corpse cackled evilly, and its head swung grotesquely on its snapped neck. The cackle reverberated and seemed to echo as though Jean-Marc’s satanic master was celebrating Robert’s fall through Hell.
Looking around, the wigwam was quiet. Jonathan was still asleep in his pallet, sprawled among the furs as only a sleeping boy could. Elinor sat in front of the small fire in the middle of the wigwam. Above a smoke hole opened and allowed the smoke to leave. She had another of Nicholas’ letters, reading it while Deborah suckled at her breast. She looked up as Robert rose and smiled briefly before returning to her letters.
Robert left the wigwam as quietly as he could. Machk sat on his haunches against the side of the wigwam. In his hand, his ball-headed club swung in small, lazy circles and an unstrung bow was strapped across his shoulders. On the ground next to him, a leather bag was open, showing food and other essentials for traveling. Machk pointed to another neat pile with the same equipment that Machk wore. Robert nodded and picked up the gear. He arrayed it as he saw Machk carried it, though the ball-headed club felt heavy and unwieldy. Soon he nodded that he was ready and the two men moved into the forest.
It is difficult to tell time in the wilderness, but after what seemed to be an hour of brisk walking, Machk knelt beside a pile of what appeared to be earthen balls. He picked up a few and crushed on between his fingers. Briefly, he raised it to his nose, smelling it. Apparently satisfied, he tossed one of the balls to Robert and dropped the others.
Robert caught the ball and realized that it was a piece of animal dung, weathered and dusty. The color seemed to have been leached, and it crumbled readily when Robert squeezed it. The inside was dry, but not desiccated. He smelled it. The odor of the dung was stale, almost earthy. Whatever had dropped this was long gone.
“Deer?” Robert asked in the quiet tones that men naturally use when in nature.
Machk shook his head. “Bear.” He pointed to a set of nearby tracks.
“Three days?” Robert asked, motioning slightly with the droppings in his hand.
“About that, perhaps four” Machk agreed. “The rains have not come in seven days. That means the offal dries out quickly and not as hard. Had it been hard and stale, then I would have known it to have been from before the rains. Water would have hardened this before it dried out again.”
“And the center might have been still moist or at least not as dry,” Robert conjectured.
Machk nodded yes, and a gleam of something like pride flickered in his brown eyes, as though a pupil had learned a valuable lesson. The flicker passed, and Machk’s eyes were as impassive as they had always been. Machk was teaching him woodcraft and how to live here.
But why? Robert asked himself. Machk didn’t like whites. He seemed to respect Elinor and extended that respect to her kin, Robert, Jonathan, and Deborah. But respect didn’t equate to affection. Only that you behaved yourself and gave what they said credence.
“Come, Englishman.” Mach motioned down the trail. “If my cousins are days gone, perhaps the deer have had time to settle. Long enough to show them a true two-legged bear indeed.”
That evening, Robert returned to the wigwam he shared with his children and Elinor. The children were playing. Jonathan would tickle Deborah’s feet, and the infant would giggle.
“Ahh . . . Ahhhh . . . AAHHH . . . CHOO!” Jonathan pretended to sneeze. The giggles gave way to the half-shrieking laughter that only an infant could create. His children were safe and knew they were safe. The guards they had put up were relaxing, and they could be kids again.
“It’s nice to see them laughing again.” Elinor seemed to read Robert’s thoughts.
“Aye,” he said. “They’ve not had much to laugh about recently.”
“Children are far more resilient than we give them credit for.” Elinor shifted, keeping Nicholas’ letters from spilling from her lap. “They are better than adults when it comes to tribulations. All they need to know is that they are loved. Everything else, the Lord will sort out in His own way.”
Robert could only nod and sat next to the fire.
“Tell me of Machk,” Robert said. “He is friendly but seems conflicted. I don’t wish to do something that might offend.”
Elinor folded the letter she was reading and returned it to the stack.
“Machk is a very complex man.” She said. “He knows who and what he is and worries over things that are outside the ‘black or white.’ ”
“When we—Nicholas, me, Elizabeth and all the kids—arrived Machk hadn’t been this conflicted. He welcomed us as everybody else did. Visitors are rare here, so when one does show up, it tends to turn into something of a festival. Even those of us who are English.”
“For the first months, things were great. The sun shone, and the crops ripened. God smiled upon the Mohicans here.” Elinor’s voice turned sad.
“Three months after we arrived, a French trader arrived. He arrived late at night and the celebration was planned for the morning. However, later that evening, the trader developed a fever and the smallpox rash. When we found him, Nicholas and I moved him to a wigwam outside of the walls. I convinced the sachem to not let any of us, or any newcomers enter the walls for two weeks. Unfortunately, while we were talking to the sachem and explaining the situation, Machk’s wife went to the wigwam and began caring for the trader. Machk was out hunting, so she also brought their son with her.”
Robert nodded. “Both of them?”
Elinor could only nod, tears coming to her eyes.
“The trader died four days later. Machk’s wife took sick three days after that and died three days after she became ill.”
Elinor didn’t answer immediately, and minutes passed.
“Robert, it’s a sad thing when you can consider it a blessing of the Almighty that the infant died before his mother. I can’t get rid of the thought of the babe crying alone in the wigwam and dying because the village could not risk more people who might catch sick and die as well.”
“I lie awake at night,” Elinor said. “I’ve convinced myself that she killed her own son when it became clear she would be too sick to care for him herself. And do you want to know the most disturbing part of this?”
“More disturbing than a mother killing her own child? That’s hard to imagine, Elinor.”
“Much more disturbing,” Elinor confirmed. “I can’t say that I condemn her for it. One might even say that I admire the bravery it took to take his young life.”
“You admire it?” Robert was shocked. “I find it more disgusting than disturbing, Elinor.”
Elinor stood her ground. “Yes, admire. She loved that child more than life itself. But she was also aware that the village would have come to care for the babe had they heard him crying. She knew that couldn’t and shouldn’t happen. She may have saved many lives with the sacrifice of one young life.”
“That’s a poor choice of terms, sacrifice.”
“It may be, but it’s the best one there is. The little one is certainly sitting in the lap of the Almighty, never knowing life’s tribulations.”
As platitudes went, this wasn’t the worst that Robert had heard. Elinor was right, and Robert was hardly the first one to cast the first stone. The image of Deborah suckling on Susannah’s dead breast burst its way to the front. One did what one had to when given equally horrific options. For Robert, it was a dead woman’s breast. For Machk’s wife, it was the death of her own child.
“And Machk?” Robert asked.
“He returned from his hunt the day after we burned his wife’s body and that of his son,” Elinor said quietly. “The sachem wouldn’t let me tell him, there was too much guilt in me that I would have botched it.”
“Yes. She was one of my successes for the Lord here. She was also the most ardent in her new faith. It was a beautiful thing to see. She took her duties as a Christian very seriously.” Elinor stopped for a moment to choke back tears. “Especially the duty to care and comfort the sick. She’s dead because I told her it was her duty to expose herself.”
Silence settled anew. Robert was afraid to break it because he knew it was both unnecessary and unwise. Like Robert, and Edmund, Elinor needed a few moments of quiet to gather herself, not somebody thrashing around trying to say something to make her feel better. His sympathy now would only make his sister feel weaker, and he couldn’t do that to her.
“Machk did not take well to the news.” Elinor finally broke the silence. “He spent the next few weeks in a dead, stunned silence. Family and friends visited him, constantly watching to make sure that he didn’t murder himself. After those first few weeks, he recovered enough to function again.”
“But, he was a changed man. His humor is still there; however, he’s much more deliberate and careful about who he opens up to. There is a fragility under him now. While he’s calm and composed on the outside, I don’t doubt that there is the old berserker rage hiding not far beneath. I suspect he wishes to join his wife and son in whatever way he can as long as he leaves this life in honor and not at his own hand.”
Robert began to feel a certain kinship with Machk. He understood Machk’s pain. Rather, he could begin to understand it. Robert had had the cold comfort of kissing Susannah’s dead lips one last time as he stacked the last stones on her cairn. Machk hadn’t had even that small amount of closure. The only resting place he could visit was a burned-out circle of grass full of ashes.
“I think I understand.”
“You may understand his pain, Robert; however, you don’t understand his conflict. Machk hates the white man with a passion hotter than the depths of Hell. The only thing he hates more is a Mohawk. His family’s death was caused by smallpox brought to them by a white man. He blames all of us, nation be damned, for killing her and his son. However, his conflict lies with how he fits us Lockwoods and Knapps into his hatred.”
“To complicate it more, the French have always been friends to the Mohican and the vast majority of the village are friendly to the French. They have been stalwart allies against the Mohawk and the other Iroquois.” Elinor said. “His hatred goes against the people to whom his tribe is most closely allied with. That creates a distance between Machk and the village, which makes him even more of a pariah.”
“In his mind, Machk understands that the actions of one white man should not condemn the whole race. His heart is much different. I think he’s settled on us as being the ‘good’ white men. Anybody else won’t have a chance to prove they are also good.”
“And does Machk blame you?” Robert asked.
“Surprisingly no.” Elinor began to rise. “I think that may be why he rejects the Almighty, though. Good night, Robert.”
“Good night, Elinor.”
The next day, Machk was waiting outside of their wigwam when Robert emerged. In his hand, he had one of the ball-headed clubs that Robert had often seen. In the other hand, a club padded with leather and cloth. Machk handed Robert the ball-headed club.
“Now I will show you the way our people fight,” Machk said.
Robert hefted the club in his hand. It was heavier than he had expected. The weight was all the way forward, naturally, in the head of the club. In the hands of the right person or wrong person, this was a lethal weapon.
“Are you sure you wish to let me swing this at you?” Robert asked with reserve in his voice.
“Are you afraid of hurting me, Robert Lockwood?”
“Of course I am. I know nothing about how to use this.”
Machk laughed. “If you are able to hit me, then I deserve the broken bones.”
Machk took him to an open clearing and began the instruction. He set Robert’s feet and balance. He showed Robert the best way to hold and swing the club. Together they walked through various attacks and defenses.
He then proceeded to beat the holy hell out of Robert. Robert knew that Machk was pulling the blows, and the padding on the Mohican’s club certainly helped to prevent broken bones. However, it did very little to ease the sting of a solid blow to the arm or, most humiliating, the ass.
Robert could see a satisfaction that went far beyond a teacher’s pride in his student. It was the sickly, viperish gleam of a man who was exacting revenge. And Robert couldn’t blame him for it.
They stopped for a rest and lunch just after the noon sun. Robert couldn’t find a comfortable position. He finally just gritted his teeth and sat, trying to be as manfully stoic as possible.
“Have you thought about what you wish to do after the sick time, Robert?” Machk asked.
“No Machk, I haven’t,” Robert responded. “I haven’t thought about anything further than tomorrow since . . .” He let the sentence fade.
“Mrs. Elinor has told you of my story, I suppose?” Though phrased as a question, it was clearly a statement.
“Yes. Last night after we returned from the hunt. I wished to know what the conflict in you was so that I didn’t further offend you. There was no insult intended.”
Machk waved it away. “Then you know why I will not marry again, nor father children.”
“I don’t understand,” Robert said. “Do the Mohican forbid you to wed and sire again?”
“No.” Machk looked intently at Robert. “I could never replace my wife and my son, but I would have remarried for the continuance of the tribe.”
“Then why?” Robert pressed.
“If I were to remarry,” Machk said. “I would do my best to be the best husband and the best father I could be. But, in the end, I would betray them to hunt the French. Whether it is my death or my neglect, the fire in my heart won’t allow me to rest while a single Frenchman breathes life. It is now in my nature. To deny it would be unfair to both my new family and myself.”
Robert sat for a moment and considered. What was his plan for when they could rejoin the village after the sick time? He had to consider his children. For Puritans, the expectation was that he would remarry, if for nothing else but to provide for the children. But, Robert found that hard to imagine. It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t see himself marrying a Mohican woman, but more that he couldn’t see himself marrying someone who wasn’t a Puritan herself. Robert felt as though he had grown emotionally and spiritually in the last few months; but marrying outside of his faith was still troubling.
But, the discomfort was ultimately moot. Could he even see himself as a father once more, to sit around a fire after a hard day’s work and watch his children grow? As hard as he might, he couldn’t honestly promise that he wouldn’t give all of that up one day to go satiating his thirst for revenge.
In that moment, Robert hated the French as deeply and rabidly as any human could hate. He knew that such hate was anathema to God’s will for His people, but he couldn’t help the rage that Machk’s simple statement had fanned in his heart. A story that brought to life the real heart of the matter—Robert Lockwood was no longer a fit parent.
The Lockwood temper was always a dangerous one. When others would lash out and lay waste to everything around them, a Lockwood would simply bide his time, allowing the anger to build to monumental levels. It was a cold, calculating rage, one that sought a target onto which it could unleash itself. And once it found that target, the Lockwood in question tended to lose any sign of humanity, compassion, or self-preservation.
And that infamous temper had found a focus, if not a target. He would find a way to strike at anything French. It would most likely end in his own death, but he no longer cared. His only wish was to send as many French to their infernal master as he could before his turn came to explain himself to the Lord.
They had taken everything from him: his peace, his brother, his wife, and now his children. He wasn’t a fit parent; there was too much conflict in his heart. Children needed stability and a degree of predictability in their lives. Robert could no longer provide that. His rage wouldn’t let him sit around a fire doing domestic things. And, to his shame, he knew that he still carried that resentment towards his daughter. He loved her and always would. Yet love wasn’t the only emotion a man could feel.
For Jonathan, Robert could not, would not be the role model for his young boy to follow. A man had to be able to control his emotions, to show his children to control their emotions. The control that let God’s children live in something resembling peace and harmony with each other. Without that, man was simply another animal. He was a smarter animal, one capable of immeasurable cruelty and willing to justify any means in the framework of justice.
Except Robert wouldn’t lie to himself. His drive, obsession to kill the French wasn’t to bring justice. He had already killed Susannah’s murderer. His was a bestial, carnal need to make somebody, anybody, else feel the same pain as he. He needed to slake his endless sorrow with the blood of Frenchmen.
He hoped God would understand and forgive him. If not, Robert intended to have plenty of French company in Hell.
“Only the French?” Robert asked.
“Let me tell you a story,” Machk said. “A frog and a spider meet at the edge of a small creek. The spider asked the frog if it could ride on the frog’s back to get across the stream.”
“The frog replied. ‘No. You will bite me, and I will die.’ ”
“’Not so!’ said the spider. ‘For if I bite you, I will drown as well.’ ”
“Considering this, the frog agreed, and the spider climbed on the frog’s back. The frog then entered the creek and begin to swim across. However, in the middle of the stream, the spider bites the frog.”
“’Why have you done this?’ cried the frog as they both begin to drown.
“’Because I am a spider.’ The spider replied. ‘It is my nature.’ ”
“A Frenchman brought the sickness, this smallpox, to our village,” Machk replied. “A Frenchman killed your wife. The French are spiders. They offer friendship and peace but hide the knife behind their backs. It’s in their nature to destroy.”
“You don’t hate the English or Dutch?”
Machk shook his head. “No, the Dutch of New Amsterdam treated us with respect and kindness, in their fashion.”
“The English have always been open about their hostility to us. We of the Mohican understand hostility, and we can understand when an enemy openly assaults you. Besides, you and your family, especially Mrs. Elinor, are English. I can’t love your kind, but I can abide your kind.”
“Then, you’ve got a brother in this,” Robert said. “Together, we will rid this land of the French, and all of their works. So help me God.”