Massapequa


This is another excerpt from my novel, A Home for Phoebe . Ben's cousin, Peter, drops in for a visit and brings along a "gift" for them.

MASSUEPEQUA


The Indian girl stood quietly near the stove, stealing peeks around her. Martha offered her a steaming cup of tea, and she cradled it in her rough, chapped hands. Their eyes met, and Martha smiled. The girl quickly looked away. The sound of Ben stomping the snow from his feet broke the awkward silence.

“It looks like a real blizzard’s a coming!” he said, as he removed his snow-frosted hat and coat.

Peter bellowed through his bushy beard. “You’ve done a mighty nice job on this here house! It looks downright cozy and comfortable.”

“Thanks, but I suppose any house looks good to you, after living in the forests and wigwams,” said Ben. Both chuckled, and their laughter rumbled around the kitchen like far-away thunder.

“You’re right there,” agreed Peter. “Did you ever get back to Copenhagen? How’s the family?”

Ben sighed and rubbed his hand over face. “Uh… Peter, ma died last year. I got to see everyone at the funeral. Your ma and pa are fine. They’re getting old, but they’re fine. They asked about you.”

“Um, well … it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them. They probably wouldn’t even recognize me. Sorry about your ma, bless her soul.”

No one talked for a few minutes; each one lost in his own thoughts of loved ones so far away. Ben suddenly stood up and busied himself with the fireplace in the sitting room.

Returning to the kitchen, he playfully slapped Peter on the shoulder. “What brings you out to this part of the state? Running out of beavers in Canada?” They both rumbled again.

Peter took the cup that Martha offered him, but suddenly became serious again. “I have a confession to make.” He sat at the table, glanced at the girl huddled beside the stove, and then looked at down at his hands.

“A few years ago, I happened upon a tribe of Algonkin Indians. They befriended me and gave me a beautiful woman, Suppelsa. I lived with them through the snowy months and then headed north to try my luck in the Territories.

“I returned the following year, but they had moved on, and I couldn’t find them. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t really try too hard, and then after that, I heard that there was money farther west.”

He shifted about on his chair and cleared his throat. “This winter, I decided to head back this direction and came upon the same tribe. Instead of welcoming me, they chased me away. It’s a wonder I escaped with my life.

“One warrior pursued me and caught me. It was Chinktok, Suppelsa’s brother. He told me how she had borne a child and waited for my return. For twelve winters, she refused any other warrior.

“When a white-man’s disease swept through her village, they said she was madji ... bad luck. She left the village, taking the child with her, and lived alone these last three years.”

Peter stood up, scraping the chair along the floor. He filled his cup with more tea.
“After searching for weeks, I found them.” He nodded his head toward the girl. “The child was frightened and wild, like an animal, and hid from me in the trees.

“But Suppelsa knew me. Her eyes shone with hope when I entered the wigwam. She shivered on a grass mat. Her leg was red and swollen, with a deep ragged cut festering with infection. I did what I could for them; hunting game, wrapping the wound, washing her feverish skin… but it was too late.”

He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose with his chapped fingers while the room held its breath with respect. Even the fire in the stove seemed to murmur in sympathy. For a few minutes, no one spoke, no one moved. The silence was filled with unsaid thoughts.

“And now… well, I’m heading out to the Territories, and I can’t have a girl following me all over the country!” Peter looked into Ben’s eyes, “I thought maybe she could stay and help Martha. Please?”

Ben paced about the small kitchen, shaking his head. He glanced at Martha’s face. Her eyes were floating in tears. He looked at the girl cowering near the stove. Leaning his face close to Peter’s, their noses almost touching, he whispered hoarsely, “Peter! What were you thinking? How could you just leave?”

“I know! I’m sorry I ever stayed there! I’m so ashamed of myself, that I almost wished her brother had killed me. I don’t blame you for being angry with me. I just don’t know what to do!” He stood quickly in defense.

“I don’t dare take her back to her tribe. She’s neither Indian nor white. She’s a half-breed and even most white people will shun and hate her,” Peter looked up hopefully, “but I know you, Ben. You’ll take good care of her. You’re different, Ben. You almost make me want to get religious too.”

Ben sighed. “Peter, you know that it’s not religion that makes me the way I am. It’s the Almighty Lord, who has forgiven my sins. I’ve repented of my old ways. My life is different, Peter. I reckon you could repent too.”

“I don’t know, Ben. I’m just not sure God wants anything to do with the likes of me. I’m a wretched, wicked man!”

“Don’t wait too long to repent, Peter. One never knows when it’s your day to meet your Maker.”

Ben looked again at the Indian girl and took a deep breath. “Of course, we can take her. Martha does get plenty lonely, and with the baby coming, she’ll need help with the chores.”

Martha looked at the Indian girl through her tears. "No wonder she is frightened and sad; she’s only fifteen, a child. She doesn’t trust us or anyone probably. At least, I’ll have someone around to talk with… whenever she learns to talk English."

Be sure to stop by Dee's Heart's Dee-Light for more great stories.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see Martha and Ben again! Thanks for this.
Sunny

Sara Harricharan @ Fiction Fusion said...

Ah, yes. Maseppa's entrance. I remember this part. Glad to read it! (and doubly glad your link is working...) :P

Joanne Sher said...

Really enjoyed this, Vonnie. Love hearing that history.

Dee Yoder said...

This is such a good story, Vonnie! I hope you hear good news soon about it because it really would be wonderful reading for any teen. I can see it in a school library and being loved by kids. I love the characters and the settings--perfect!

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