This is the sequel to “Temptation” and the pre-quel to “Reunion” in which Sully and Michaela will get back together after their independent epiphanies.
by Rob Bell
In the far distance, he could see curls of smoke rising. The wind took them and twirled them together to criss-cross the sky. He knew that under those smoke trails the tribes were assembling. Leaders of tribes from the entire Cheyenne nation had gathered to discuss their future. The white man was pushing them off their traditional lands and most were now restricted to reservations. Some were starving. All were unhappy. Outlaws from the tribes, who would rather fight than die on a reservation, had been attacking white settlers, bringing retribution and more misery on those that stayed behind. Something had to be done, so the tribal elders had called this gathering.
He wasn’t a Cheyenne and being born on a ship at sea of foreign parents, he wasn’t even really an American. At an all too tender age, he didn’t even have the parents. He had been alone. While in this loneliness, he had led an existence with no real purpose. His service in the war was unexceptional and afterwards he drifted from job to job which eventually led him out west. He worked in the mines and on the railroad, and being around others that did, had fallen in with drink and gambling. He had always had big plans, but even with the companionship of his friend Daniel, he seemed to be going nowhere. He drifted away from Daniel and to the south into the mountains. It was here that he had encountered and been adopted by the Cheyenne. They taught him to seek the Great Spirit’s plan and to try to have inner peace. He felt he owed them his very life. That was why he was here. He had to participate in this meeting. He could bring information and a perspective that no Cheyenne could. He had sacrificed much to be here. His wife and family were far away, but this was just something he had to do.
He looked back at his camp and saw Cloud Dancing packing. Sully watched his friend pick up the skins they had been sleeping on and pack them away. Their cooking fire was now just smoldering embers that Cloud Dancing had doused with water from the creek and covered with earth. He went about his chores without speaking or uttering a sound. When he had finished loading the horses he turned to see Sully watching him. He smiled and walked to the outcrop where Sully stood.
“The smoke of many campfires says the camp of the tribes is not far.” he said as he gazed at the view.
“By the looks of all those fires, we must be some of the last to arrive” said Sully.
“That is because we have come the farthest. They know we are coming and the tribes will not start until all are present. Come, we still have a day’s ride to the camp.”
As Cloud Dancing turned to walk back to the horses, Sully took a last look over the valley before he went to his horse. It was very different country from Colorado. They had come far and it had taken a long time. At first, it was invigorating to be on the move again with Cloud Dancing for a companion. He felt a sense of purpose in what they were doing. Since he had been removed from his Indian Agent position, there had been something nagging at the back of his mind. He was beginning to get that old feeling of lack of purpose again. True, he had a wife and a family now, but what was he suppose to do. What mark would he leave on the world? What difference would his being here make? His wife was perfectly capable of managing without him, as she had before they were married. She did not really need him to exist. He felt he had to do more. He had to accomplish something and this mission might be it.
He mounted his horse and followed Cloud Dancing down the trail that led into the valley. As they road, Cloud Dancing said, “You have been quiet my friend. Are you troubled?”
Sully replied, “No, not troubled. I’ve just been thinking a lot,” he hesitated, “about my life.”
“Your life seem to go well, my brother. You have a fine home and a wife and family. Men would envy your good fortune.” he said.
“I know. Michaela is wonderful and I love her with all that I am.”
Cloud Dancing interrupted, “As you should. She is a good woman. Many would be proud to have her love.”
“Maybe that’s the what is bothering me. You see, I don’t feel l bring as much to “us” as she does. She’s been rich, is educated and a doctor and now she’s a mother. And she’s liked and respected in town. Me, I never went to school, never been trained to do anything of value, I’ve got no money and it doesn’t look like I ever will do anything worth two cents. I just wonder what she sees in me I guess. And when I think like that I begin to have doubts about the future. What will happen in ten years. Suppose she wants to move back east or to San Francisco. I’d never fit in there. She’ll see what I am. I couldn’t stand that, Cloud Dancing. I don’t want her ever to be embarrassed by me.”
“Did she not stand by you when you traveled to the city in the east to win her heart?” Cloud Dancing asked.
“It didn’t seem so at first. Remember, I left Boston without her. It was only later that she came to me. Maybe in the future after she sees I don’t change, it will be different. Maybe next time she won’t come.”
“My friend, a man is not valued by what he has done, but for what he is. You are honest and brave. You have given her your heart and are devoted to her. You are a good father. These are the things that make a man worthy to a woman.” his companion explained.
“Maybe, but in my heart, I just don’t understand how a woman like that could ever value the likes of me.” Sully said.
Cloud Dancing pulled his horse up and stopped next to Sully. He looked him in the eye as he said , “It is not for you to understand, it is for you to accept that she does. You do not decide what she values, she does. The spirits do not always show us everything. That is part of the wonder of the world.”
Sully looked at his friend and then looked at the beautiful country around them. The breeze rustled the leaves and he could hear birds singing. He thought a moment and then said, “Well, maybe you’re right. Maybe I just shouldn’t think so much.”
“There is a time for thought and a time for acceptance. We must choose wisely when to do each. I know you will choose wisely.”
Sully smiled at his friend. “I sure hope so. But for now, lets keep moving. I want to make that camp before sundown.”
With that, Cloud Dancing urged his horse on.
The trail had narrowed, so they had to proceed single file, which made conversation difficult. His horse followed Cloud Dancing’s without Sully having to give any direction, so, with nothing to do, his mind began to wander. He thought of Colorado, of the town that was his current home and of his family. Of Michaela. He went over what he had told his friend about her being a doctor with a practice and people that counted on her and a mother with a child and all that brings and her adopted family as well to serve. Even if he accepted that she would always love him, compared to her’s, his life was directionless and void of accomplishment. When his first wife and child had died it had robbed him of the one anchor he had had in the world up to that time. His main attempt at making a difference in the world, as an Indian Agent, had ended in frustration and tragedy for the very people he was sworn to assist. There was nothing he was doing now that a thousand other men could not do. He had so little to offer. No past, no future to speak of. Nothing distinguishing about him at all. Did she really love him or was this something she had talked herself into out of her own loneliness. He searched his mind but he could think of nothing. It made him feel guilty. She deserved so much and he had so little. To escape the guilt that he had been feeling, he would go away to check his traps, or on Indian business, or spirit journeys. Proving what he thought, when he returned everything was always fine and Michaela was in control. He loved her so hard that it made him crazy, but yet his frustration at not being good enough for her led him to inner despair.
The riders came out into the valley. Through it ran a shallow twisting river with lines of trees on each bank. They approached the tree line and turned to follow the river upstream. It was along the banks of this river that the tribes had camped some distance up the valley. They had only to follow the river and it would lead them to the camp. When the sun was high over the trees, they stopped to water the horses, rest and eat a meal. Meal was stretching the term. Jerky, hardtack and water was the fare. They had eaten their only real meals at night. Along the way they would hunt a rabbit, squirrel or other small game. Mixed with a few gathered roots and herbs, it would make a stew they ate with the hardtack serving as biscuits or sometimes they would just eat the roasted meat alone. But this was midday, and he would make due with his “rations”.
He sat on the bank in the shade. The sun was glaring down and sparkling off the water as it flowed over the rocks. Cloud Dancing came over and sat next to him. He took off his moccasins and put his feet in the water while he munched his food.
“Are you still lost in your thoughts, my friend.” he said as he stared at the river.
“I s’pose.” Sully responded without looking at him.
“Too much thinking alone can get a man lost in his own thoughts. ” With this Cloud Dancing turned to him and looked him in the eye. “There is more to this than what we spoke of. Do you wish to share more of your thoughts with me?”
Sully paused before he answered. “Not yet. I’m still sorting them out. I wouldn’t even know where to begin right now.” he said without looking at his friend.
“I see.” Cloud Dancing said and looked back at the water. “When the spirits have helped you find your thoughts and you are ready, I would help you with them.”
“I know.” said Sully. “But I have to sort some of this out myself first.” He laid back on the grass.
Cloud Dancing looked at his friend with concern. He had known Sully a very long time. He knew his ways and his thoughts and he had not seen him like this since Abigail and his child had died. Sully had been distant for some time before this journey began. Cloud Dancing felt a barrier of some sort was between them. It made him sad that his friend had to be alone with his troubling thoughts, but he knew he could not do anything for him until he had cleared up his mind. Then they would talk.
“We will rest here for a while.” Cloud Dancing said.
“No.” Sully sat up. “No. We’re already late. We need to go as far as we can. With any luck, we might even make the camp tonight.”
Cloud Dancing looked at Sully a moment and then said, “Perhaps you are right. A little longer and we may be there. Then we can eat and rest properly.” He got up and offered his friend his hand. “Come.”
Sully took his hand and Cloud Dancing helped him up. They mounted up and started back down the trail. The sun was warm on his back and his belly was full. The rhythm of the horse’s pace and the warmth of the sun lulled him into a state of half sleep. His mind wandered into a dream.
“Sully!” she cried out in a voice hoarse from exertion. The pain was shooting up from her stomach and into the back of her head. She felt as if she was being tortured. “Sully! My God, Sullllllllyyyyy!” she screamed.
“I’m here. Right here next to you. I won’t leave you.” He said into her ear. He held her sweaty hand in his. It jerked uncontrollably between the times it closed on his like a vise. She had been in labor now for a long time. She looked very pale. At first it had gone as he had been told it would, but now it was worse, much worse. For it to take this long, something had to be wrong. He looked at his wife and then around the room desperately as if he could find the answer there, but there was nothing but the inside of their homestead. They were alone. There was no doctor for miles and even if there had been, he couldn’t leave her now. He was desperate, angry and terrified. He didn’t know what to do. If he could get away, he might be able to get a midwife from the Cheyenne, but he couldn’t leave.
Abigail fell quiet for a while and seemed to be resting. He took the opportunity to get up and stretch a cramp out of his leg. He ran his hand through his hair and looked alternately at the floor and ceiling. He was alone with his wife who was trying to give birth to their child and he didn’t know what to do. He took a few steps toward the door, but heard Abigail weakly say, “Sully”.
He knelt by her bedside and took her hand again. “Yes, I’m here. I’ll never leave you.”
She turned her head toward him and opened her eyes. Her beautiful hair was tangled and damp, her eyes were red and there was fatigue around her mouth. Even with all this, he thought her the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. “Sully, What’s wrong. Why can’t I have the baby. Why won’t the pain stop.” she asked.
“I don’t know, Abigail. There must be something wrong.”
She looked at him unbelievingly. “But you always know. Isn’t there something you can do?”
“I could go to Cloud Dancing. He might be able to help, but I would have to leave you alone.”
“We have to do anything we can to have this child. This is our child.” She was speaking slowly and very softly. “Go. Get what help you can. You can’t do anything here except watch me and we must have help.”
He hated that she was right. He should have left hours ago, but he didn’t know that this was going to happen and he had thought he could handle it. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes. Please, its our child you’re going for.”
He nodded assent. “I’ll go. I’ll ride all out and bring all the help in the world. Don’t you worry, we are going to have that baby.” He kissed her gently on the lips and squeezed her hand softly. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He stood up and looked at her for a second and then turn and took a few steps toward the door. As he did she screamed. He turned abruptly and dove to her side. Her eyes looked at him, but she no longer saw. Her hand was limp in his. He was stupefied. He just knelt there for a long time staring at her, softly repeating “no, no, no, no” under his breath and in his agony he screamed.
“Sully! My friend. What is wrong? Why do you call out?” Cloud dancing was shaking him awake across the gap between their horses. Sully awoke and his scream died in his throat. He looked around and rubbed his eyes with his palms. His throat was closed as if he had been crying. He looked up to heaven and took a deep breath. When he had collected himself he looked back at his friend who had a worried look on his face. “I’m alright. I just had a dream that’s all.”
“The spirits sometimes speak to us through such dreams. What did they say to cause you such pain?”
“I dreamt about Abigail and the night she died.” He gave a shuddering sigh and looked up at his friend. “I lived it all over again.”
“Many moons have passed since then and you are still tormented so?”
“I should have gotten help. I should have........done something.” he said softly looking down.
“Only the spirits know the future. You could not have known what was to be.”
“But why dream about it now?” Sully asked.
“The spirits must have wanted you to remember for some reason.”
“REMEMBER!! My God, how could I ever forget that night.” He exclaimed. He raised his hand to his forehead and said, “It’s burned into my brain like a brand. I’ll carry that feeling of helplessness with me to my grave.”
“I, too, have known such a loss and it is not an easy burden to bear. The spirits will show us the way, but I have learned that they will do it in their own time and in their own way.” Cloud Dancing was still holding on to Sully’s arm. Sully looked him in the eyes.
“Maybe.” Sully he said flatly. “Or maybe this is just some kind of punishment.”
“Punishment for what? You did no wrong.”
“Like you say, sometimes we don’t know why the spirits do things. They just do.” Sully responded.
“ I cannot speak for the spirits, but I know that they are just. If your heart is pure, they will help you to peace.”
Sully did not respond. He just sat on his horse and looked out into the gathering darkness.
“Come, we can still make the camp before nightfall. We will rest there.” With that, Cloud Dancing pulled his horse around and started back down the trail along the river. Sully hesitated a moment and then followed. After that dream, he didn’t want to be alone right now.
The light was gone from the western sky when they crested the hill and saw the camp spread out below them. They could see the fires of many lodges and tepees spread out all over the floor of the valley. Near each fire a group of people sat, preparing to share the evening meal. Sully and Cloud Dancing looked at each other and smiled. They both felt they had gotten home after a long journey. Without saying a word, they prodded their horses to take them the final distance.
As they approached the camp, they were noticed by a few residents of the outer area of gathering. When they noticed Sully, a stir went up and some braves ran into the interior of the camp. Sully and Cloud Dancing dismounted when they reached the first cooking fire and as they did so they were approached by several somber looking braves. One was much older than the other two and he spoke first.
“Who is it that arrives so late to our camp?” he asked in Cheyenne.
“I am Cloud Dancing and this is my friend, Sully”. Cloud Dancing answered in their tongue. “ We have come from far to the south, amongst the hills who’s tops are always white”.
“You have traveled a long way to be with us, but why do you bring a white with you?” asked the older one.
“Sully has lived with my tribe for many seasons. He knows our ways and language. He is my brother. But he also knows the ways of the whites and can help us understand what they do.”
The braves looked Sully up and down, as if inspecting him, then the youngest one said, “I do not like this. This is a matter for the Cheyenne to decide in their own way. The words of a white are not to be trusted.”
Cloud Dancing responded,”He does not speak for the whites, only for how the whites think.”
“Think?!?! The whites do not think. They just steal and kill! There is no room in their hearts for thinking.” the young one said.
“Be still, One Wolf.” the elder brave said, “It could be good to know the thoughts of the whites. He has come here with our brother who says he is his brother. We will welcome him to our camp.” He then turned to Sully and said, “Take of our food and refresh yourself. We will talk of the whites tomorrow in the circle.”
With that they were approached by several squaws who led Sully and Cloud Dancing to a group of men who were eating and indicated that they were to sit down. They settled in and introduced themselves to the members of the group. They were from a tribe to the east and had been there for two days waiting for the meeting to start. They spoke to Cloud Dancing and ignored Sully. Cloud Dancing tried to get them to speak directly to Sully, but they persisted in acting as if he wasn’t there. As the conversation was less than stimulating anyway, he eventually gave up and ate in silence with his friend.
When they had finished, the squaws took them to a lodge and told them they were to sleep here. They thanked the squaws and placed their bedding in the lodge. After getting settled, Sully asked, “Why did they ignore me? I know I’m an outsider, but I thought if I came with you it would be alright. “
“Many of my people do not know the white man other than as an enemy and they do not want to know him any other way. He has killed their family, stolen their land and taken all the game from the hunting grounds. To them, you do not exist as an individual person. You are only a ‘white’, so they will not speak with you.” he explained.
“Then how am I to help if they won’t listen or speak to me?” he asked in frustration.
“Not all my people are so. You heard the old one say that to know the thinking of the whites would be good. There are others who will listen as well.”
“But what if the tribes don’t listen to them?” Sully asked.
“That is why we have come so far. That is our role in this meeting. We must make them listen. We have come far and have a lodge to sleep in. We should sleep now as the meeting will start early in the morning.” Cloud Dancing said as he settled in under the skins. “Good night, my friend, and may the spirits give you good dreams.”
“G’night” said Sully as his friend rolled over away from him. He was tired but he didn’t know if he could sleep just yet. So much had happened and he wanted to think it all over. He understood why the Cheyenne could hate white men, but from how he had been treated by Cloud Dancing’s tribe, he thought that they would be able to consider each man as an individual and not just as part of a group. He was beginning to see that Cloud Dancing’s tribe was not typical of the Cheyenne. With his leadership they were wiser and could see things others could not. Here Sully was just another white man who could not be trusted. He had come all this way to help, and now he doubted if they would let him do so. He was beginning to wonder if this trip had been such a good idea.
He stretched out on top of the skins and put his hands behind his head. As he stared at the inside of the roof of the lodge, he thought of Michaela. He saw her in his mind’s eye with Katie in her arms waving goodbye from the porch of their house as he started out. They had made love that morning and he had felt closer to her as he always did afterwards. She had fallen asleep in his arms and he had stayed awake for a long time to just look at her. How could he be so lucky to find two women in one lifetime to love and to love him? Why him? As he thought on that, sleep fogged his mind and his eyes slowly closed. That night, he was so tired he had no dreams at all.
The meeting started the next morning with a formal ceremony held outdoors under a large oak tree. After that, a representative from each of the tribes of the Cheyenne nation sat in a circle. Behind that representative sat his second or adviser and outside the circle were all the rest of the people from the camp. Brothers, fathers, sisters, children, any kind of family that had made the trip with their representative, but only the representatives in the circle could speak and then only to another member of the circle. The advisers could speak only to their representative and then only in a whisper.
The first day consisted of each tribe recounting their situation. This they did at great length and in intricate detail. What was plain after a while was that the Cheyenne blamed just about everything that had gone wrong over the last fifty years or so on the white man. Wars, drought, famine, disease, male babies, female babies, lack of any babies, it didn’t matter, it was all the white man’s fault. As the reports went on, Sully began to feel more and more uncomfortable as the eyes of all those around him looked at him accusingly, or so he thought.
Towards the end of the day, it was Cloud Dancing’s turn to speak. As he listened to his friend, Sully was amazed as, just like all the others, he accused the white man of causing all their troubles. If he was trying to get the Cheyenne to live in harmony with the whites, why did he chime in with all the others to condemn the white man? When Sully tried to whisper in his friend’s ear, Cloud Dancing waved him off as if he was a bothersome gnat.
The circle ended its business for the day about an hour before sundown and the members of the various tribes went back to their parts of the camp to eat the evening meal. Sully and Cloud Dancing returned to their lodge in silence. As they walked, the crowd would part and all eyes would be on Sully and they weren’t friendly eyes. When they entered their lodge, Cloud Dancing stretched out on the skins on the floor, closed his eyes and heaved a great sigh. He put the back of his hand on his forehead and just laid there for a while.
“Cloud Dancing, why did you say all those things about the white man?” Sully finally asked.
“Because they are true.” his friend said without moving.
“How can you say that? I agree that the whites have taken your land and hunted the game, but you blame them for everything from lack of male children to nagging wives. They can’t be to blame for everything.” Sully protested.
Cloud Dancing sighed again and then sat up. He looked at Sully and bid him to sit down. When Sully had done so, he said, “My friend, I could not tell them that their troubles were of their own making. They would not have listened to me. I need to have them hear my words first, then I can convince them. It is true that the whites are responsible for the problems of the Cheyenne. You know that well. You worked to stop it.” Sully wondered if that was a jab at his failed efforts as an Indian agent but Cloud Dancing continued, “I need for them to see me as a Cheyenne first and then I can be the voice of guidance.”
Sully looked at his friend, got up, paced for a bit and then said. “Then what the heck am I doing here? If this is what you thought, what good is my opinion, especially being a white man?”
“It is because of this that I need you. I need the ideas and thoughts of a white man to help guide me to find a way for the Cheyenne to stay alive. I need someone who’s heart I know. I need you.” he said.
“But they won’t listen to me. You saw how they looked at me out there. I’m just another white man to them.” Sully protested.
“But not to me. You will speak to them through me and they will listen to me. They must listen or the Cheyenne will be no more.”
“Cloud Dancing, do you really think you can find a way?” Sully asked.
“I must. There is no other choice.” Then there was silence as the two stared at each other. Cloud Dancing broke the silence, “Come. Let us eat. We must be ready for tomorrow’s circle.” With that, he rose and walked to the entry. He turned and waited for Sully who was standing and staring at him. “Come. Being hungry will not help our thinking.” he smiled and held out his hand. Sully shook his head and then followed him out of the lodge.
The next day, the representatives in the circle offered various suggestions as to what to do. The discussions that followed each in turn made it obvious that it would not be easy to find one way for the Cheyenne nation to deal with the white man. The arguments went back and forth all day. At times they got heated. Several of the representatives were militant and could think of nothing else but killing whites and taking back their land. The circle was divided into those that wanted to give up and go back on the reservation, those that wanted war and the single largest group, those who didn’t know what to do. Through most of the day, Cloud Dancing was silent. When Sully prodded him to speak he said,
“It is not yet time. The voice of reason would not be heard.”
“But if you don’t speak up, it won’t be heard at all!” Sully interjected.
“Patience, my friend. You are not familiar with the way of the circle. We must wait for the right moment.” With that he turned back to the circle and resumed his silence, and that was the way the rest of the day went.
In the evening, Sully confronted his friend again.
“Cloud Dancing, you asked me to come here to help them understand how the white man thinks. I can’t do that if you won’t speak! I’ve heard what they’re saying, if you don’t speak up soon, the tribes leaning toward war will begin to sway the others in the circle.”
“Your heart is ruling your head, my friend. It is not easy to persuade the circle. Those wanting war will wear themselves out and the others will find the fault with their thoughts. That is when you and I will speak to them.” he replied.
“I don’t think you can wait that long. I’ve watched the others. They are listening to the tribes that want war very closely. Remember, you wanted a white man’s perception. Well, this white man thinks that these tribes are drifting toward an all out war, a war they can’t win. Many will be killed on both sides, and they will still lose everything. You must speak up now!”
Abruptly, Cloud Dancing waved off Sully’s words with his hand saying “No. Not yet. I know my people. The time is not yet right.”
“But we must avoid a war!” Sully pleaded.
“I know.” Cloud Dancing almost shouted. “I know. My heart is heavy with their words. I have seen the children without fathers or mothers or the mothers without sons. But in my heart I feel it is not yet time. I will go under the stars and listen to the spirits tonight.”
Sully couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was obvious to him after listening to the circle that there were no plans evolving except for war. If they wouldn’t listen to him and Cloud Dancing wouldn’t speak up, then Sully believed that those wanting war would win. There were already some tribes at war. It wouldn’t take much to convince the rest. There were enough hot-heads in every tribe to trip the balance. Without Cloud Dancing’s help, he had done all he could here.
“Its obvious that these people will not listen to me and if you brought me along as an expert and you won’t listen to the words of your expert, I guess there’s no reason for me to hang around anymore. I serve no purpose being here and I won’t stay and watch the Cheyenne commit suicide.” With that, Sully turned and left his friend.
Cloud Dancing watched him walk away. He thought about going after him, but didn’t. Sully would not listen now and he knew that his way was best. He knew his people. Perhaps it would be best if Sully did return home. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to bring him in the first place. Sully was not use to the workings of Cheyenne government. Cloud Dancing’s heart was heavy and his head was confused. He still did not know what to say or do. He would have to speak with the spirits for wisdom. he went out of the lodge and climbed one of the nearby hills. At the top, he sat under the night sky to await guidance.
When Sully had cooled off a bit, he came back to the lodge, but Cloud Dancing was not there. Sully assumed he was off communing with the spirits. He could be there for hours or days and Sully did not want to wait. He had never felt uncomfortable in a Cheyenne camp before and he didn’t like it. It was obvious that he was not welcome without Cloud Dancing and Cloud Dancing didn’t seem to have a any real use for him now either. So why wait around?
He told the squaws that had been looking after them that he was leaving and they brought him some food for the start of his journey. At first light he was up, out of camp and on his way. It was long journey to make alone, but he had made such journeys before and thought that it might be good to be alone with his thoughts for a while.
The first few days went fine and he made good time, but then the journey began to drag. Day after day he kept on. Rain, sun and dust all tormented him. His food from the camp only lasted a few days and then he was on his own. However, the Cheyenne had taught him well and he never went hungry. He pressed on and got as far as he could each day and on occasion even road into the night.
As he traveled he reviewed his experience at the Cheyenne camp. He had always felt as one with the Cheyenne, but now he was not so sure. Their ways would not allow him to speak his piece. They had not accepted him as part of the Cheyenne nation. Perhaps before the troubles had started they could have, but too much had happened now. He was an outsider to them. Alone, his thoughts led him back to himself. And with no one to contradict him or show him another view, he believed what his mind told him.
An outsider. Again. That had been the story of his life. A foreigner in a strange land. An orphan. An easterner in the west. A white man with the Indians. The people of Colorado Springs never really accepted him and certainly not Lorans Brae, and he married his daughter. Abigail had been the only one that had accepted him for what he was, and he had loved her with all the tenderness that he had bottled up inside himself all his life. When she died he nearly went mad. He felt the ultimate outcast, outcast from the ability to find happiness. He decided that if the world did not want to deal with him, he would not deal with it so he closed up and kept to himself. Then he had met Michaela, and he began to believe that it could change.
At first, he didn’t think much of her. Just another pushy eastern woman so he didn’t have too much to do with her. But despite being shunned by the town, she stuck it out. She knew what she wanted to do and was convinced she was right. He admired her for her courage and persistence in the face of her cold reception. The more he interacted with her the more he respected her. She was principled and dedicated to her profession of medicine. If she thought a wrong had been done, she set out to right it. A couple of times he thought she went a little too far and got involved where she didn’t belong, but she always pulled it off. As he came to respect her as a person, he started to love her as a woman. She was beautiful. More beautiful than anything he had seen in a long time. He hadn’t had those type feelings since Abigail died and it made him feel guilty. Guilty like he was cheating on Abigail. Sometimes, in his guilt, he went out of his way to avoid seeing Michaela. Other times, he did so just so he could see her. He was unhappy when he didn’t see her but felt guilty when he did. More and more, however, he could not resist. It as if they were meant to be together because despite things that caused them to differ, they were always drawn back to each other. When he was with her, he did not feel so alone. He felt a part of something. She filled a void that had been in him since Abigail, but that caused him guilt as well. How could he let her replace Abigail? She had been everything to him. How could there be another? He had pledged himself to her for his lifetime. Even in death, how could he go back on his word to her?
Still, he was drawn to Michaela. Beautiful, generous, intelligent, warm, caring, dedicated, purposeful, principled. He couldn’t believe it when she seemed to respond to his attentions. At first she was hesitant, then gradually she warmed to him, but he couldn’t understand why. He was an uneducated backwoodsman who had not had any great success in life. Why would she want him? He was so strongly attracted to her that he couldn’t bare to ask himself the question anymore for fear that he would get the wrong answer. Finally he forced his thought processes to stop and he allowed himself to fall completely in love with her. It made him so incredibly happy to think that a woman as wonderful as this could actually value him. Even if he still thought it was too good to be true, if living a fantasy like this is what it took to have her, then he would play his role to the hilt. He found purpose in his life through her. He was complete with her.
But then came the Indian troubles and his tenure as an Indian agent. He had big hopes and plans, but it just didn’t work out. he couldn’t/wouldn’t play the games the government required and he honestly tried to do the job, something not many agents did. But, once again, he did not fit in and he lost the job. He began to think himself into self doubt and it became more and more difficult not to face the thoughts, self doubt and guilt that he had buried in the back of his mind. It started to take longer for them to get together after he returned from his rounds of his traps or his journeys for the Cheyenne and he always seem to be gone when things happened.
It was then that Cloud Dancing had asked him to go on this trip. His experience with the Cheyenne was unique and he thought he could lend a voice no one else could. He really felt that he could accomplish something, but as a final blow even that had gone awry. And to top that off he had a fight with his best friend. Now he was alone with his thoughts and self doubts a long way from home.
He was lost in those thoughts when his horse stumbled by the riverbank, throwing him into the water. The river was about five feet below the floor of the valley with steep banks. He was momentarily stunned when he landed on a submerged boulder and was swept away with the current. The cool water brought back his senses and he thrashed his way to the surface and started to grasp at passing rocks and tree limbs. But the rocks were slippery with algae and the branches were either too high or broke off in his hand and each time he fought to grasp another, a shooting pain went up his back from where he hit the rock and his grasp would slip. The river was swift here, and deep. If he didn’t get out soon, he could drown. He was smashed into boulders and tumbled over and over and breathed a lot of water. He was losing consciousness. He knew if he did he would drown. That prospect just didn’t seem all that bad at the moment. He would die here alone like he had lived. He felt a sense of peace as his mind drifted away.
“Sully. Sully.” the voice called his name. “Sully wake up.”
“Who is that?” he asked.
“You mean you don’t recognize me? Has it been that long?”
It was a woman’s voice. He opened his eyes and he was sitting on the bank of the river. There was a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see who it was. Bending over next to him was a young woman he recognized all too well. “Abigail!” He instinctively recoiled from the unexpected presence of his first wife.
“What kind of greeting is that after all this time?” she said coyly.
“But.......how......” and Sully looked around to see if he was alone or if there were others, “how are you here? You’re dead!”
“Believe me, Sully, I am well aware of that fact. But right now, what is important is that I am here for you.” she explained. “Aren’t you glad to see me?”
He knew that this couldn’t be happening, but he wanted it to be true so badly that he did not want to think about it too much for fear of spoiling it. “I’m so happy to see you I don’t care how you’re here.” He didn’t believe he was accepting this so easily, but something inside him told him it was right. With that he stood and embraced her tightly. He could smell her hair and feel the warmth of her body next to his. He pulled out of the embrace to kiss her, but she pushed him back gently.
“No, wait. We need to talk.” she said.
“Talk? You’ve been gone all this time and you want to talk?” He asked.
“Sully, its all we can do now.” she said softly.
“What do you mean, now.” he said as he sat back down and looked at her.
Arranging her skirt as she sat down next to him she said as a teacher would explain to a slow pupil., “Sully, I’m still dead you know.”
“But.... then....how are you here?”
“Think, Sully. What’s the last thing you remember?” she asked.
He thought for a moment and then started to slowly recall, “I remember my horse stumbled and I fell in the river. I kept going under and I couldn’t get a hold of anything to pull myself out. Then I guess I blacked out.” he explained.
“Now think, dear. I’m dead yet I’m here and you’ve just been in a river and you’re not wet. What do you think that might mean?” she asked.
Sully sat back and thought over the past few minutes several times. Then it hit him. “You, you mean....I’m......dead......too?” he asked tentatively.
“Well, yes.” she said, “almost.”
“What do you mean almost?” “You’re not dead yet, you’re just almost dead. I came to you when you were at that point where you can either live or die. A lot of it is up to you” she explained.
“It’s my decision?” he asked.
“Yes, but you can’t wait too long or the decision will be made for you.” she urged.
“But if I die, can’t we be together?” it seemed like a perfect solution. No more tests or trials. He could leave his failures, shortcomings and doubts behind. Just them together forever. He reached out to her again.
“Wait a minute. Aren’t you forgetting something?” she said pulling away from him again. You have a wife and a family back in Colorado Springs.”
At that he felt like he had been caught cheating on both Abigail and Michaela. The guilt came back. He looked away and said, “It’s alright. She’s strong and can carry on. She doesn’t really need me anyway.”
“Than’s not the point, Sully” she said forcefully. “She loves you. Deeply. She’s giving you something that I can’t anymore, a future. I’m dead, Sully, but she, you, and your daughter are alive. You can’t spend your life pining away for me. It was my time and I went but there is much for you to do yet.”
“Like I’ve done so well so far? I’ll just mess it up.” he paused and then said, “Let me come with you.”
“No, Sully. Don’t be a fool. Michaela loves you so strongly that it carries over to where I am. That’s how I knew to be here. “
“You could feel her love?” he asked slightly embarrassed.
“Yes, silly. Don’t worry about me, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m glad that you have found someone to love and someone who returns that love. You were alone too long. I was worried about you.”
“You knew what I was doing?” he felt stupid asking all these questions, but he was utterly lost as to what was happening.
“Of course, dear. We did love each other. You do remember that, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. I loved you so much that when I lost you I thought I lost everything.” he explained.
“Interesting.” she stated.
“What do you mean, interesting?” he said.
“Past tense. You used the past tense about us. You loved me. By the way you have been acting, you’d think I was still around to make feel guilty about something, yet you know that it’s in the past.”
“I didn’t mean that I don’t love you anymore, only that.....” he stumbled over his words and she interrupted.
“No. no. That’s fine. You need to move on. You can’t have a life with me because I have no life at all anymore. Well, at least not as you know it. But you have a future and there’s always hope in the future. You have a wife, and even a child. You’ve got to go back, Sully. Your place is there, with her in the present and future, not with me in the past.”
“But I let you die. How can you send me back to her? How do you know something else won’t happen?” has asked.
“Don’t be silly. You don’t have the power of life and death. It wasn’t yours to let me die or make me live. It just happened, that’s all.” and she put her hand on his cheek. “Sully, believe me, I know. You all can have a long, happy life, but only if its what you want. During our time on earth our happiness is in our own hands, Sully. We decide if we’re happy or not. Others don’t decide for us. Life is hard and yours may have been harder than others but that’s just the way things happen. But now you have a chance for true happiness. Don’t throw it away by giving up.”
Sully looked so incredibly sad. “Abigail, don’t you want to be with me?” he asked softly.
“That’s not the question. What I want does not matter here. Its your life we are talking about .” she paused and took his hands, “Dear, I need to move on. Your devotion to me has drawn me back here, but there is somewhere I need to go and I have to know that you’re happy in order to leave. If you try to come with me now, it will be all wrong. You need to let go, Sully. Move on with your own life and let me move on as well.” She looked deep into his eyes, “Go, Sully. Go back. I understand everything and I will always love you, but go back.”
Tears started to cloud his vision. He was losing her again. How could he go through that again.
“Oh Sully. You are so precious. It’s no wonder she loves you so much.” She stood up and looked down at him. “Now, I’ve got to go. I want you to go on, Sully. I want you to be happy. I need to know you that. Promise me you’ll make the right decision.”
He looked at her and then bowed his head. His eyes filled with tears. When he looked again, through his tears he made out a figure in the distance. He rubbed his eyes and realized that it was Michaela and she was holding Katie. She was walking toward him. He could hear Michaela’s voice, “Sully, come back.”
He then realized that Abigail was gone, but she had let him go and he needed to let her go as well. “Yes,” he said to the approaching figure, “I’m coming.”
With that Michaela smiled and she reached out to him and he reached back.
A strong arm plunged into the water and grasped his upthrust arm. Struggling against the current it pulled him against a rock. Then another hand grasped him and pulled him up on the bank. There was no breath in his body, so a fist came down hard on his chest. He coughed and sputtered, and then he breathed. He rolled on his side and lay there for a moment gasping and coughing. Rolling back, he looked at his rescuer and saw the face of Cloud Dancing.
“All you alright, my friend?” he asked.
The sun was shining between the leaves into his eyes. He held up his hand to block the light and squinting he said, “I think so, but how did you get here?” He sat up, and wiped the water from his hair and face.
“I did not like how we parted. The spirits told me to follow you but since I thought you were still in camp, I did not know what that meant. When I returned and found you had left, I realized what they had been saying. The tribes would never have listen to either of us. They had already decided each for themselves before they came. There will be no unified action. They will act as individuals and the white man will win. There will be no more Cheyenne nation. The spirits were telling me to follow you, but they did not just mean your steps. They meant in spirit and thought. You were right. There was nothing I could do there, but the spirits said I had a purpose with you, so I followed. I rode following your trail to catch up to you. I was downstream from you when I saw your horse stumble and you fall into the river. I went to the riverbank just as you came to me. I did not think I could reach you, but at the last minute, you reached out and your hand closed around mine and I was able to pull you out of the river. The spirits spoke true.”
Sully hung his head for a moment and then looked at his friend. “You had some help, my friend. I wasn’t alone.”
Cloud Dancing tilted his head and looked inquisitively at his smiling friend.
“Abigail. She was with me.” he said.
“You spoke with her?” his friend asked.
“Yes, at least I think I did. It seemed so real, it had to be her.”
“The spirits visit us in times of need and danger.” Cloud Dancing said.
“I believe that now.” Sully affirmed.
“What did she say to you, this spirit?”
“She told me to let her go.... to continue on with this life. To enjoy what I have and make the best of the future I have with Michaela.”
“She speaks wisely.”
“Yes, she always did. And then Michaela was there and she asked me to come home. I knew that I had to go back, so I reached out to her. That must be when you grabbed my arm.”
“The spirits have, indeed, spoken well. I was here because of them and you reached out because of them. “
Sully caught his breath and said, “I’ll do as she said. She was right. My life is my own and it will be whatever I make of it. “ he stated. “And I will make it the best I can.”
“You have a good start and the spirits have shown you a good life.”
“And because of you, my friend, I’ll be here to enjoy that future.”
Cloud Dancing nodded his head as a ‘you’re welcome’. “We can camp here for the night. You need to rest.”
“No. I’ve got to get home.” he hesitated and then said proudly, “My family is waiting.”
Cloud Dancing smiled and placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “I will get your horse. Rest and we will eat the mid-day meal. Then we will go.”
“Fine.” He was surprised that he was hungry, but that’s part of life. “I could use something to eat.”
Cloud Dancing retrieved Sully’s horse from a patch of sweet grass that had held its attention through the whole incident and he took out what food he had left on his horse and shared it with his friend. When they were done, they started back on their trip.
The next few days passed pleasantly. The air seemed to have been cleared between them. Sully told him more about his conversation with Abigail and Cloud Dancing said he had heard of such things before from other medicine men. He told Sully that those who have passed over often watch out for us and intervene to help. Both found it comforting to know that those that had gone before them watched over them. When talk came back to the Cheyenne, Cloud Dancing said he would do all he could to persuade his tribe to a peaceful path, no matter what the rest of the tribes did. He was tired of violence and killing. His people’s ways might die out this way, but they would surely die out if the Cheyenne were all killed. The only chance they had to save anything was through peace. And when men had grown wise, future generations could then re-build on what had been saved.
Outside of Colorado Springs, the trail divided. One fork to the reservation, the other to town. When they reached that point they clasped arms and said their goodbyes. Cloud Dancing went to his people and Sully to his. Such friendship did not know the boundaries of race or tribe.
It was almost dark as Sully came around the last bend. Just ahead was the homestead he had built for his family. His new family. There was smoke coming out of the chimney indicating that someone was home. He smiled and urged his horse on a little faster. As he approached the house in the half light, Brian came running out.
“Sully! You’re home, you’re home!!” He ran up to the side of Sully’s horse and took the bridle in his hand. Sully dismounted and gave him a hug as Matthew came out of the house.
“Welcome back,” he said. “How did the big pow-wow go?”
“Not as well as I had hoped.” Sully answered.
“That’s too bad” Matthew responded.
“In a way, though, for me it worked out better than I could ever have imagined.”
“What do you mean” Matthew asked
“Never mind. I’ll explain later.”He looked down at Brian and asked, “Where’s your Maw?”
“She’s in New Orleans” he said excitedly.
“New Orleans! What’s she doing there?”
Matthew answered, “She’s at a medical conference. She got a letter from her mother that paid for everything. We told her we could take care of the place and Dorothy is taking care of Katie.”
“Grace has been cookin’ for us so we’ve been eatin’ great!” said Brian with a smile. “”Its been a long time since you’ve seen her, ain’t it.”
“No. I just saw her the other day” Sully said with a smile.
“What?” Brian asked.
“Never mind” Sully said. As they climbed the steps into the house he asked, “When will she be back?”
“We got a telegram today from her. She’s on her way home and should be on tomorrow’s train from Denver.”
“Well, I guess we’ll all have to go into town and give her a big welcome home, eh?” Sully said.
“Yeah, but it sure is good to have you home too.” Brian said.
“That goes for me too.” chimed in Matthew.
“Thanks. It’s good to be home. Home where I belong.” and they went into the house he had built for his family.