Miller had a kerchief to his noise, stood in the doorway to the study, hiding his morbid fascination with the amount of blood a human body can produce. Without an attachment, the humours of the body held academic interest and the dry language of medicine, much like justice removed sentiment from the equation. His work as an officer of the law was an amusing diversion from wasting his family’s money.
Such emotions were for the grieving. Foster Honeycutt had been a legend to the people of Texas, and the circumstances of his death were as redolent with theatre as the magazines, which bolstered his legend.
The culprit had the decency to remain on the scene. A withered Native who had served the family for twenty years with an impeccable record of service. He had not spoken since walking into the parlour, hands dripping with blood and the bone handled blade tucked into the waistband of his uniform.
Shock and good breeding had them call Miller rather than string him from a tree in the yard. Foster sagged in his chair, his face and throat reduced to wet, red ruin whilst his shirt hung from him in bloodied rags where the servant had sliced him to pieces.
The soles of his feet and scalp were a wet pile in the corner of the study.
The servant had repeated a single phrase instead of a motive or answering questions. Most murders were whiskey, women or wealth and it was intriguing to have an honest to goodness mystery on his hands.
He went through to the parlour and looked at the old man. His blunt, cheap haircut and the sour apple decay in his features. His eyes were soft and dark, swallowing the light in the parlour.
‘Her name was Laughs At Cattle. I am Never Runs From Battle, both of the Comanche people. I kept my promise’
He smiled with a child’s joy, disturbing when framed by the rigours of old age and hard work.
He polished the silverware and looked out the window onto the amber sunset. His head still rang from the volume of the dream and the vows he made. What haunted him was how good it had all felt, a wild childhood and the woman who watched over them as their mothers worked and fathers hunted.
When Foster retold his anecdotes about his youth, he alluded to his actions with a wink and a sly smile. In his cups, the tales grew bolder and darker and when he told his friends about the Indian squaw, how she had fought against them, and even struck him, pointing to a silvered scar on his cheek for emphasis, he had excused himself with a cramping stomach and a mouth full of bitter, thick saliva.
She had come to him in the night. Her sockets were full of golden light and her feet were soft as a child’s belly. Her hair smelled of honey and mesquite, and her breath, warm upon his wizened cheek.
He shed tears as he slept, hands clenched into hot, tight fists and crying for the years wasted in servitude.
Dressing in the darkness, he forgot his aches and his grief and it was as a young brave he slipped through the hall down to Foster’s study. His knife was a comfort, and he sipped from the cool, dark waters of his revenge.
Roper took off his hat and exhaled, running his hard, browned fingers through the damp grey hair on his head. He looked over the faces of the children over his spectacles, which had permanent right of residence on the peeling bridge of his nose.
They stood to attention behind their wooden desks. The boys had their hair in oiled plaits but Roper made a note to get scissors working on the infraction straight away. He would make them useful, loyal citizens of the country to come.
He held the gaze of one boy, soft down on his cheeks and eyes, which watered at every slight, real or implied. He looked down at his register and saw his name was one of those boastful titles, which made him aghast at the noble savages before him.
He would be a Peter or a John. Such warring names spoke to the arrogance of a prairie nigger, and Roper took pride in producing servants capable of obedience and attention to detail.
‘What you will be when you leave here is a matter of deep concern.’
He paced the front of the classroom, setting his hat on the desk in front of him.
‘The age of the savage is over. Civilisation has won out and you, my children will know a place in such an age. I will teach you.’
His eyes met with the boy. Despite the timid whisper of his personality, Roper saw a will within him tough as rawhide. The savages taught their children to hunt and fight from infancy. He had lost Ms Western to a girl who had leapt upon her, sinking her teeth into the young teacher’s cheek and scratching her forehead when she tried to take a hide dolly from her.
‘You must leave your pasts and any promises behind you. They are whispers of a dead age; children and you must close your ears to them.’
The boy stared back, a line in his forehead grooved deep into the tan skin like a knife wound formed before he took a deep breath and turned away from Roper’s gaze.
Roper did not see the boy’s fists beneath the desk, remembering the press of lips against them and the promise he had made.
Laughs At Cattle listened to the children rolling in the dirt, their shrill voices bright with primitive excitement. She leaned forward and cocked her head, told Hungry Vulture to stop taunting his brother or he would lose another tooth.
She loved the children. When she stared in their direction, her empty sockets did not scare them. She kept her feet wrapped in strips of hide but had to wash the blood and pus from them each day.
Laughs At Cattle felt pity like spit on her cheek with as much disgust.
Never Runs From Battle was a timid child given a brave name to inspire courage and he took Laugh’s hand, asked her what was wrong.
‘I’m remembering another time, Never Runs From Battle.’ she said
Her voice was soft, tarred by a rusted growl from the damage done to her throat.
‘When someone made you sad?’ he said.
Laughs shook her head. Sadness was a useful weight to bear, a flavour of pain, which she could swallow down, and function. This was a different sensation.
Never gripped her hand and took in a deep breath.
‘When I am a brave, no one will make you sad, Laughs At Cattle.’
She took his fragile hand in both of hers and kissed his hand. He giggled and flinched which took the sting from her memories.
‘I will hold you to that.’
She told him about the Texans and the horrible pleasure they took in her torture. Blinded her, slit her throat and the soles of her feet after taking her until she bled onto the dirt. She cared for the children instead of anything useful.
The truth of his words waited.