Her hand fluttered to her lips. Her skin tingled. She pushed away from the boy. “Oh, Horatio, he ain’t no Injun’.”
“What?” Horatio cocked his head.
“Just look at the poor thing. His eyes are light colored not dark like an Injun’.”
Horatio leaned over his wife to inspect the boy’s eyes that held a focus on the woman’s face.
“I’ll be go to hell,” Horatio said. “Damned if I know what to make of it.”
“Mind your cussing.”
“He’s as poor as the little end of nothing,” said Horatio.
“Oh, the poor thing, he’s burnt and scraped. Horatio, fetch that bucket of bear-grease,” she said. Holding the boy’s arm in her hands, it felt limp and tiny in her grip. Let’s get him in the wagon and take him on into Solomonville—maybe someone there’ll have an idea about him,” she said.
“I don’t know about that, Lizzy.”
She cut her eyes to him. “You ain’t sayin’ we’re leave ‘em him here?”
Hesitating, her husband said, “But Lizzy, he is an Injun’ no matter what color his eyes are.” He cleared his throat. “It wouldn’t be safe for us to have him with us. We’re still quite a spell from town. He cut his eyes to the darkened horizon. “Probably won’t get there till sun-up if we keep going.”
“That wouldn’t be Christian of us. Impossible.” Shaking her head, she gave her husband another look. Even harder. Her eyes set steely. “We’re taking him with us. Now here, you clean his feet and hands and slather them with that grease. And any other place where he’s scorched. And hurry about it. It’s gonna be too dark soon.” She held the boy up by his arms. “He don’t weigh hardly a thing.”
The boy did not understand the white-eye tongue. He peered into the woman’s glowing face as they leaned together. Her hair shone black. Her dark eyes flashed in the low light. She smelled of sweat and smoke and sweetness. She gently stroked his arm.
He spoke to her in his garble, “I see you, raven.”
Her face colored. “Did you hear that, Horatio? He spoke to me.”
Her husband worked his mouth like a sour taste set on his tongue. “Yes,” he said, “and it don’t sound like no Apache I ever heard. There’s no telling what this boy is.” He stroked his crackly beard.
“That’s why we must take him with us,” she said. With her brow lined, the muscles in her jaw twitched.
The man tugged at his ear and then combed his beard with his fingers. With a deep, weighted sigh, he said, “I don’t like it, Lizzy, but I can see you got your mind set.”
Slathered in bear-grease and swaddled in a scratchy woolen lap blanket that covered Elizabeth’s legs, the boy sagged on the seat beside the woman. He devoured a biscuit and salty cured ham. His gummy eyes flashing in the last of the light as he drank from his cup.
The man located a peak in the distant mountain range. He bellowed, “Get up.” And he goaded the mules with a slap of the lines. “We won’t make camp the night, Lizzy. It might be best if we push on.” The woman nodded her agreement. The animals pulled against their load. Lug chains rattled. Grunting and swaying in their harness, the mules pulled the wagon onward.
Soon the night echoed with the constant sharp put-put-put calls of a tiny owl. Other owls joined in. And just as the man and woman felt hemmed in by the unremitting racket, silence fell over the darkened land. Replaced by the dull hum of hundreds of bees seeking out the evening primrose. The yips and yaps of coyotes triggered the boy to sit up and whine. Elizabeth’s warm touch lulled him back into sleep.
The squeaky cry of the killdeer, the trills and riffles of the mockingbird drowning out the call of the poor-will, serenaded them as they made their way toward the settlement of Solomonville under a deep, dark-purple sky. The moon and glittering stars shrouded by wisps of clouds.
The boy slumbered for the remainder of the journey, sleeping deeply. He awoke the next morning. Cradled in the arms of the woman. His eyes glued shut. He took in easy, slow breaths. The man stood among other men. They smoked. They chewed tobacco and spit into the dusty street. Shuffled their feet. Combing their beards with their fingers. Gathering opinions on the lost desert boy.
Pinched lipped. A slight grimace on his face. Horatio Merrill pulled in his brows, turned his eyes to his boot toes. The other men chewed over why the boy was abandoned in the desert. Pondered if his mother had died. Or if she was murdered and he wandered away. Maybe he was so tetched that his fearful people turned him out. He was Apache. That was the conclusion. In spite of the queer color of his eyes. And he should be turned over to the army.
The softness of the first light of the day, the warmth of the blanket, and the woman’s embrace kept the boy floating, languidly. Voices and sounds came to him. Drifting. Disconnected. Muffled and soothing. Horses snuffled and whinnied. Mules brayed. Dogs barked. Cattle lowed. Quarreling crow’s caws faded until only one was heard. He thought it called his name.
“Shik’isn Ba’ ts’ose,” the name swirled all around, riding on the blowing dust.