Under a Blackberry Moon, page 1
© 2013 by Serena Miller
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
To the real Moon Song
and her people.
About the Author
“I will never leave you
nor forsake you.”
Joshua 1:5 NIV
BAY CITY, MICHIGAN
MAY 15, 1868
“Whose squaw are you, girl?”
The hand gripping her upper arm belonged to a man with bad teeth and foul breath. Moon Song did not know him, but the sidewalks of Bay City were thick with men right now. Young ones. Old ones. Broken ones. Mean ones.
With the spring river drive still going on, “river rats” and “shanty boys” were flowing into town along with the giant pine logs they had herded down the many rivers draining the Saginaw Valley. In fact, the bay was so full of logs right now it bore no resemblance to a body of water. It looked more like a giant, undulating wooden floor.
“Answer me!” The man gave her a slight shake.
Moon Song was glad she had secreted a sharp knife in the side of her right moccasin boot before walking downtown. Her new friend, Delia, had suggested she do so. Delia was a former prostitute, an old woman who had quit the brothel business and was now Robert Foster’s business partner. She knew a great deal about survival. Moon Song paid attention when she spoke.
“Lots of shanty boys prowling the streets,” Delia had told her. “Most aren’t bad men, but with a winter’s worth of pay in their pockets and too much liquor in their bellies, they’re on the lookout for any woman they can find. A good sharp knife helps a woman keep control of her . . . options.”
Fortunately, Delia told her, they tended to leave those women they deemed “decent” or “respectable” alone, choosing to pour much of their winter’s pay into the coffers of the Catacombs, a huge warren of a building that was a city block square, where hundreds of “indecent” women plied their trade. Delia had told her to stay as far away from that building as she could, and she had.
“Who do you belong to?” The man shoved his face close to hers. He had one weepy eye, and his foul breath made her wrinkle her nose. The diseased eye was disgusting.
“Answer me. Are you someone’s woman?” He let go of her and fingered one of her braids. “Or are you free for the taking?”
She was grateful that she had left her baby with Katie. Without the little one strapped to her back, she was free to fight if necessary. She hoped it would not be necessary.
“Leave alone, please,” she said in a reasonable voice.
“You back-talking me, girl?” The man’s voice lowered a notch and became deadly.
There were plenty of people on the wooden sidewalks of Bay City, and it was broad daylight. Still, she disliked attracting attention to herself unless it was necessary. Even though she was living in a white town, if she was quiet and kept her head down, people usually left her alone whenever she went on errands.
“What you got there, Daddy?” A younger man who resembled the man with the bad teeth walked over to investigate.
“A pretty little Indian girl nobody seems to be claiming.”
He grabbed the back of her neck and squeezed. A threat.
“Leave alone, please.” This time she enunciated a little more carefully. Her English was getting better every day.
The son stood in front of her. “What’s your name?”
“My name?” In spite of the older man’s hand at her neck, she drew herself up to her full height. “Moon Song!”
In her village, each child was given a unique name by the village elders. There were no other Moon Songs. It was her name and hers alone.
The moon had been full the night she was born in her mother’s tent. The elders heard her grandmother, Fallen Arrow, singing a soothing song to her new little granddaughter minutes after her birth, and that had been the root of her lovely name.
She was Moon Song, and she came from the wise Chippewa. Her grandfather had once been a great warrior and chief. She was not a possession. She was not a purchase. She was not a toy. She was definitely not one of the low women so hungry for alcohol that she would do anything for a few minutes of drink-induced oblivion.
The shaft of her knife was hidden by the long, full, white-woman skirt she wore, but it was there, and easily reachable. This white-woman skirt was a handy thing with its deep pockets and ability to conceal.
“So what are you doing downtown, little Miss Moon Song?” It was the son who now stroked one of her long braids. “You working for someone?”
She wished these men would let her pass so that she could go back to her errand. She had looked forward to purchasing some small beads today. Her baby was eight moons old this week and would enjoy playing with the bright pattern she had devised to decorate the new little moccasins she had made for him.
“I work Robert Foster camp. I cook.”
She waited for recognition to dawn and for the men to leave her alone. Robert was greatly respected in this town. Maybe the two men would leave her alone if they knew she was associated with him.
“I never liked Foster much.” The son grabbed a handful of her hair and jerked her back against the outside wall of the store where she had been planning to do her shopping. “He makes all the other lumber camp operators look bad. Me included. It would serve him right to take his girl.”
Strangely enough, the sidewalk was full of people hurrying by on various errands, but no one was coming to her defense.
She knew the sad truth. If she had been a “respectable” white woman, not only would people intervene, but there was a good chance that the men would be thrown in jail. The fact that she was Indian made her fair game, which was why she carried a knife in her boot. She lifted her right foot and reached for it. Ready to do battle, she gave voice to a loud war cry.
Before she could grasp the knife, the older man grabbed both of her arms and pinned them against the small of her back.
“Unless I miss my guess”—he chuckled as she struggled against his vicelike grip—“this little lady has something in her boot she was planning to g
The son reached down, slipped the knife from her boot, and held the tip beneath her chin.
“Daddy’s lived with squaws before. We know all your little tricks.”
A small knot of townspeople had begun to gather. None of them moved to help her. She scanned their faces for an ally. Most of them, even the women, appeared only mildly curious.
“Maybe you could soften her up with a pouch of beads,” one of the men offered. There was a ripple of laughter.
What the man did not know was that there was a second knife that smart Delia had insisted she hide in a secret pocket of her billowing skirt. A thin knife that Delia called a “stiletto” was within easy reach, if she could free one of her hands long enough to access it.
“I not fight,” she lied. “Let go. I go with you.”
“What do you think we are?” the son sneered. “Stupid?”
Old Stink Breath was standing directly behind her. This was a mistake on his part. She was young and strong and could kick like a mule. With both of his hands holding hers, his crotch was woefully unprotected. It would not be difficult to back-kick against the man’s oh-so-vulnerable spot. If she could make him lose his grip, it would take her less than a second to grab the small stiletto.
She willed herself to relax her body, hanging her head, allowing her shoulders to droop as though giving up. This was hard, because she was ready to fight. Pretending to give up was difficult when every muscle was coiled and ready to spring into action.
“You win. I go.” She allowed her voice to rise as though with hope. “You have whiskey?”
He gave a grunt of satisfaction and relaxed his grip. She could almost feel him grinning at the spectators as he savored his victory over her. “These squaws are all alike.”
No they weren’t.
At that moment, she kicked backward with all her might and felt a satisfying give in the man’s soft underparts. He cried out and doubled over, holding himself with both hands, and as the full effect of her kick hit him, he began to retch. His son, seeing the vomit splashing on the sidewalk, let out a curse and took several steps backward to put plenty of distance between himself and the vile stuff.
She should have run back to Delia’s at that point and gotten clean away, but her blood was boiling with anger, and not one drop of caution remained in her body. All she felt was a wild exultation as she whipped out Delia’s stiletto and raised it above her head, grasping the shaft with both hands.
Isaac Ross, who was known to his logging friends as Skypilot—their nickname for anyone who had ever been a preacher—was thoroughly enjoying a day of lounging on the front porch of Mrs. Wilcox’s boardinghouse. It had been a month since he’d come into town with the rest of Foster’s lumbering crew, and it had been a glorious month. Robert and Katie had offered to let him stay with them for the summer, but that house of theirs was all crowded up with their three children, Robert’s sister and brother-in-law, and Moon Song.
Just because he’d gotten hurt trying to save Robert’s little girl from a falling tree did not, in Skypilot’s opinion, obligate Robert to shelter him beneath his roof all summer long. He loved Robert and Katie’s combined family, but the peace and quiet of having a boardinghouse room all to himself was a luxury for which he was willing to spend his hard-earned money.
Most of the shanty boys, when the logging was finished each spring, felt compelled to engage in a wild spree the minute they came roaring into town. Their pockets heavy with their winter’s pay, and their heads empty of any thought except spending it all in a few glorious days, were a great enticement to various enterprising individuals.
The woodsmen were lucky if, at the end of their spree, all they ended up with was a vicious hangover or a busted head from fights with other shanty boys over various injustices, imagined or not. Many were “rolled” by the pretty ladies who worked out of the Catacombs, after being drugged by knockout drops that were thoughtfully provided to the girls by saloon keepers who got a cut of whatever was found in the men’s pockets. Some of the men were not only robbed but dumped unconscious into the waters of Lake Huron. Sometimes they survived. Sometimes they did not. No one in town seemed concerned one way or the other.
Bay City was not known for law and order, especially when it came to the anonymous shanty boys who infested their town once a year like hungry locusts.
It had taken self-discipline to keep from going the same route. He well understood the hunger that sent men barreling into town ready to drink it dry, but Skypilot had managed to avoid all of that. A long-standing personal temperance pledge had kept him out of the saloons, as well as the brothels and gambling houses.
His own coming-out-of-the-woods spree had not involved liquor or painted women, but there were other pleasures in Bay City upon which to splurge, and he had enjoyed every one. First had been the purchase of new, ready-made clothing from the skin outward. These he had paid to have delivered to the bathhouse, where a long, hot soak in a deep porcelain tub had sluiced the smoke, sawdust, sweat, and lice from his body. While he soaked, a barber cut his hair and shaved off his itchy beard, leaving about a pound of hair mounded on the floor behind him.
When he finally rose from the soapy water, he toweled off, donned his fresh set of clothing—which was not crawling with vermin—and felt reborn. With stylishly short, wet brown hair parted in the middle and the scent of bay rum splashed upon his bare face, he had then sought out a boardinghouse with the reputation for the cleanest sheets and the fewest bedbugs in town. After securing a private room, he had set out to walk around Bay City and see the sights. A small theatre group set up in a tent outside town had given him several hours of pleasure. There were plans afoot to build a lending library next year—which would be a remarkable thing—but for now, a new mercantile store had been added since he’d last spent time in the city. In it, he had found a corner devoted to reading material they had for sale, which to him was like discovering buried treasure.
Newspapers from faraway cities, albeit some a few months old, beckoned to him with news of the world. He bought stacks of them. He also bought four brand-new Police Gazettes as well as a red-colored volume entitled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, a collection of stories by a new author calling himself Mark Twain.
This afternoon, he found himself settled on the boardinghouse porch with a glass of sweet, iced lemonade at his elbow. He shook open a fresh newspaper and settled down for a nice, long afternoon of doing absolutely nothing.
The paper rustled in his hands when a high-pitched, undulating war cry split the air, making chills run up and down his spine. He dropped his paper and saw a dark-haired Indian woman in a voluminous blue skirt struggling to extricate herself from two men. Skypilot leaped over the banister and ran. That woman was Moon Song, the woman who had stumbled into their camp this past fall with a starving newborn baby in her arms. Moon Song was his friend, and from what he could see, she was getting ready to plunge a long, narrow knife into the back of some man’s neck.
Moon Song felt a strong, muscular arm grab her around the waist, lift her off her feet, and grab the hand that held the stiletto.
“Not a good idea, little one,” Skypilot said.
“Stink Breath deserve to die!” Thwarted, she fought back against the man who was holding her.
“Nope,” Skypilot said calmly. “He might deserve to die, but I’m not going to let you do this. Now stop squirming and behave yourself.”
The impulse to kill the vile old man was so great that her feet kicked against the man holding her, but he did not give in. Perhaps it was because her kicks were not quite as strong as they had been. She didn’t really want to hurt Skypilot.
“Where did you get this?” He twisted the stiletto out of her hand and held it up to inspect it closer.
“Delia.” She could feel her heart rate begin to slow. She stopped struggling, and when she did, Skypilot sat her back down on her feet and let loose of her. She nodded at the older man, who w
“No doubt.” He smiled down at her, and she felt herself calmed just by his presence. He was one of those rare men who never got upset and never lost his temper. Even more importantly, he had always been kind to her. “But not now, and not by you.”
“That is my boot knife.” She pointed at the son. “He take it from me.”
“Give it here.” Skypilot reached out his hand, palm up. “You know it’s rude to steal a lady’s knife.”
Skypilot was so much bigger than the father and son duo that the son handed it over to him without a fight, but couldn’t resist a parting shot.
“That squaw ain’t no lady, she’s an animal.” The son spat on the sidewalk. “She’s nothing but a rabid dog that oughta be put out of its misery.”
This was more than even the easygoing Skypilot wanted to hear. He grabbed a handful of the man’s hair and practically lifted him up off the ground by it. “Apologize to the lady.”
“She ain’t no—”
Skypilot lifted him three inches higher and gave him a shake. “Apologize to the lady.”
The man mumbled an unrepentant apology, and Skypilot dropped him. “I guess that will have to do.” He handed the knife back to her. “Here you go. Just don’t go waving it around again.”
She slipped it into her boot. The crowd, sensing the entertainment was over, wandered off.
Skypilot gave a low whistle as he watched the son help his father limp down the street. “I surely hope you never get that mad at me.”
She had a boot knife?” Robert closed the door of his office. “And stiletto?”
“She did.” Skypilot laid the stiletto in the middle of Robert’s scarred mahogany desk. “And she had full intentions of using it.”
Robert collapsed into a chair. “Where did she get them?”
“Evidently Delia has been coaching her in the womanly art of self-protection.” He walked over to the window and drew aside a lace curtain.
Good. Moon Song was sitting quietly outside on the garden bench where he’d deposited her while he had a talk with Robert. He had asked her to stay there until they sorted this out, but he had no idea if she would actually comply. Moon Song had a mind of her own, and he could rarely read it.