Into the Wilderness

Page 21


Richard Todd made a small sound and Elizabeth turned to him. "Mohawk," he said. "She calls Nathaniel rake'niha, 'my father.’ Mohawk was her mother's language. The Kahnyen’keháka are matrilineal, you see.
"Kahnyen’keháka?" Elizabeth's tongue stumbled on the strange word.
"Kahnyen’keháka is what they call themselves, it means "People of the Flint." Mohawk is an outsider name for them. They don't like it, but it fits."
"What does it mean?"
The corner of his mouth jerked downward. "Man—Eaters."
Elizabeth focused, trying to absorb this information. She had heard the rumors of cannibalism; all of England had, but she lent them little credence. She was more interested in the role of women in the tribe, but of such things no one talked. But most of all, Elizabeth did not understand how Nathaniel could have a grandfather who was Indian. There was no doubt that his daughter was Mohawk—Kahnyen’keháka, Elizabeth corrected herself. It followed quite logically from that fact that his wife, who had died in childbed, whom he still mourned, if Katherine Witherspoon was to be believed—must have been Indian. It was all very confusing. She had never known anyone who married outside his own race; in her world, to marry even a Frenchman or an Irishman was a social disaster of immense proportions. In England, a man of good family who married outside his own race would be ostracized and shunned for the rest of his life. The lady and her children would be invisible to any polite society, isolated and ignored.
"Sarah—Nathaniel's wife—was Mohawk. Her father was head of the Wolf clan," Richard Todd volunteered. She wondered if she really did hear something of distaste in his voice, or if that was her imagination.
"Who is the old man?" asked Elizabeth.
"Chingachgook—Great—Snake," Dr. Todd replied. "Some call him Indian John. He is Mahican. Hannah's great—grandfather."
Elizabeth was more and more confused. "I don't understand."
Dr. Todd looked down at her for a long moment. "No," he said finally. "It's not very clear. Chingachgook adopted Dan'l when he was orphaned as an infant, and raised him as a son. So he is by extension Nathaniel's adoptive grandfather. Although the natives would not recognize the validity of such terms. Once they accept a child into the family they no longer think of it as anything but their own."
"Elizabeth," the judge said, holding out one arm toward her to draw her closer. "I would like to introduce you."
For the first time Elizabeth noticed that her brother was nowhere in the room. She was glad that Julian was not present, for she was sure that the way Nathaniel looked at her as she moved toward her father would not go unnoticed by her brother. Elizabeth was very agitated and confused by all the things that had happened this evening, and she was suddenly shy of Nathaniel and a little frightened; how should she speak to this daughter of his? To his grandfather? She had never in her life spoken to an Indian, and she was nervous, and annoyed with herself for being nervous. The thought of Nathaniel's dead wife kept raising itself in her mind and she put it away resolutely. Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to escape to her room to consider all these strange happenings and feelings in solitude, but that possibility was not open to her.
With a tone which showed him to be deeply moved, her father made her acquainted with Chingachgook, whom he introduced as a chieftain of the Mahican people, a lifelong friend, and someone to whom the judge owed not only much of his good fortune, but his health and life. Elizabeth was very surprised by this introduction, and even more unsure of how to greet such a personage. She was in some danger of becoming truly flustered, but then she looked into the man's eyes. His intelligence lit up his face so that it shone like a copper farthing. He might be very old, but his wits were sharp, and while his look was critical, it was not unkind. She curtsied deeply with her head bowed and said nothing.
When she looked up her gaze went first to Nathaniel, and she saw that she had not offended him.
"Come," said the judge."There is food and drink and you must be very tired—John has come very far, Elizabeth, he has been traveling for many weeks in the dead of winter. He honors us coming so directly to our home."
Elizabeth had thought to slip away to her own room, and she began to make her excuses; then she caught sight of Nathaniel, who watched her closely. With a barely perceptible nod of the head she understood that he wanted her to come along with the men, that for some reason he thought it important to have her there. She nodded to her father and let herself be escorted from the room.
Chapter 6
They settled around the dining room table and let what was left of the party carry on in the other room without them. Curiosity saw to it that the visitors' plates and tankards were full, and the judge kept their conversation going. Elizabeth thought that she would have some time now to be quiet, to think over all that had happened, and to prepare herself for what might come, but she immediately felt herself observed, on more than one front. Julian had come into the room and taken a place at the table. His color was high, his manner extremely nervous. He tried to catch Elizabeth's eye. Nathaniel's observation of her was more subtle, but she felt it very clearly. Then Chingachgook addressed her.
"You remind me of my son's wife," he said to Elizabeth. His voice was deeply melodious and his English had an intonation which was unfamiliar to her. "She was one such as you. Winganool, longochquen, we say in my language."