Authors: Lauraine Snelling
Tags: #ebook, #book
© 2011 by Lauraine Snelling
Published by Bethany House Publishers
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287.
E-book edition created 2011
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—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—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.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
who has a heart as big as Texas and
blesses so many people with
her amazing skills and creative spirit.
You are one of God’s gifts to me,
and I am thankful.
How can people live like this? Far takes better care of his animals.
“Doctor, we will get someone to clean this tepee.” Thomas Moore, the Indian agent, stood beside her. “I will find help.”
So why haven’t you done so before this?
Dr. Astrid Bjorklund clutched the handle of her black leather bag, the universal accoutrement carried by all in her profession. She felt like lancing him with recriminations but knew that would not help. At least he was trying to help now. Better late than never. The stench was the worst she had ever smelled, other than gangrene. “Let’s take the two women and the child into the building we’ve already cleaned. We will bathe them first in the other tepee and leave their clothing to be washed.”
“They most likely have nothing else to wear.”
“Then we will cover them with the halves of sheets. When they are better, they can have their clothing back all clean.” Astrid knelt beside the elder of the women, listened to her lungs, and checked her eyes. She was barely responsive. The younger woman looked to be halfway through her pregnancy. The small child’s bones poked up through the blanket. All were hot to the touch.
It was all she could do not to break into tears. Even the tenements of Chicago had not been this terrible.
“How many more do I have yet to see?”
“I’d say you are half done.” Mr. Moore had not come into the tepee but spoke from the entrance.
Astrid and her helpers had arrived three days earlier to a warm reception on the young agent’s part but a decidedly cool one from the Indians. After the Chief, Dark Cloud, had greeted them, he had ignored her and talked instead, in his very broken English, with her father, Haakan Bjorklund, and Pastor Solberg. It was only because of her acquaintance with Dr. Red Hawk, whom she’d befriended during her training at the hospital in Chicago, that the chief was willing to accept their assistance.
The group had spent the first two days scrubbing the single building that had a stove and windows, a roof and a floor. Or rather the men had cleaned while she had started checking on the ill. They had moved the supplies, which had been donated by the people of Blessing, into the building and were doling those out. Haakan had a huge iron kettle of soup cooking on a tripod over a fire outside so they could feed broth to those too weak to eat solid food. They’d not accosted the Indian agent yet as to why the people were starving. Where were the promised government supplies?
“How many have died?” Astrid asked Mr. Moore.
“I . . . I’m not sure. They don’t always tell me.”
She swallowed her “Why did you not ask?” and stepped out of the tepee and into the sunshine, relief at breathing clean air almost making her giddy.
God, these are your children too. Why are they suffering
like this? How do we make a difference here? Give me wisdom
Two of the steers they’d brought from home had been slaughtered and the meat passed out to the families, along with flour and beans. They kept a guard on the chickens and hogs that were in side-by-side pens so that no one would steal them. Granted, it would be some time before there were hogs ready to slaughter, but getting breeding stock going was imperative. The eggs were being kept for those too sick to eat meat. Samuel Knutson, along with a young Indian boy, was weaving a roof of willow branches to keep the hawks from claiming the chickens.
Haakan and an Indian brave moved the older woman to a litter and, after settling her in the tepee for washing, came back for the younger woman and the child. An old Indian woman, who had not succumbed to the disease, would then bathe them with soap and warm water.
Astrid looked into the next tepee. Empty. Did that mean everyone had died, or were some people hiding from them?
Red Hawk, you didn’t
begin to tell me how bad this was. Or didn’t you know?
This evening she would be having supper with the Indian agent and his wife. Perhaps some of her raging questions would be answered then.
In the next tepee she found a corpse, along with an old man who was so close to death, she checked him twice to be sure he was breathing. Should she try to help him or go on to someone she could possibly save? She brushed a lock of blond hair, which had escaped from her chignon, out of her eyes with the back of her hand. As far as she could see, all the tepees should be torched or at least taken down and scrubbed to rid them of the germs from secondary infections. She adjusted the man’s position to help ease his breathing, but a moment later he breathed his last, and Astrid left for the next place, remind- ing herself to send Pastor Solberg back here to remove the bodies and maybe say a short prayer.
Haakan found her and took her by the arm. “You are coming to eat now.” His gentle but firm voice almost broke the dam she kept in place to keep the tears from flowing.
As she had done as a little girl growing up in Blessing, she followed her father’s instructions, knowing that she had to protect her own health too. After she got a plate of food, she sat on a rock in the sunshine, grateful for the cleansing breeze and sun on her back. Who could they get to start a garden and till a field for the wheat? Or, was it too late to do either this year? Would it be better to feed them the seed wheat – either grind it for flour or maybe just boil it to make gruel.
“How is the bathing going?” Astrid asked as she blew on a spoonful of hot rice.
“You now have ten clean patients,” Haakan answered. “They are lying on pallets in the building. I should have brought wire for a clothesline. The washed clothing would dry more quickly. A couple of the children are responding already. I think the milk and egg drink with honey helps faster than anything, if they can keep it down. Thank God we brought the milk cow too.”
“Have you asked the agent about the government supplies?”
“Not yet. He’s been here only a month, and I think he is following that trail, trying to discover what happened to them.”
“What about the agent before him? Didn’t Hjelmer talk with that man?”
“A scoundrel from the sounds of it. He was selling the beef back to the fort as having been raised by the Indians and ready to sell.”
Astrid closed her eyes. “What a scheme.”
“The tribe has eaten all their horses, and the game is long gone. If they leave the reservation to hunt, they are thrown in jail – if they make it back to the jail.”
“You mean some have been killed?”
Haakan hesitated a moment. “I believe so. Just quoting what I pieced together from the chief’s explanation.”
“Wish we had brought more of our young men along. They could have gone hunting. Are the Indians running snare lines for rabbits?”
“I think they’ve eaten everything that moves or can be dug up.”
“I was thinking of the seed corn and wheat. Would it be better to feed that to them now, since there is no ground worked up for gardens and fields?”
“No. As soon as we’ve been through all the tepees, I am going to take a few of the stronger women and show them how to plant the seeds.”
“What about the men?”
“Gardening is beneath them. They are hunters and warriors.”
Astrid heaved a sigh. “Mor said Metiz had a garden and Baptiste helped her.” Metiz was an Indian woman who had befriended the Bjorklunds when they arrived to homestead the land. Baptiste was her grandson, who lived with her.
Haakan nodded. “We’ll put the children who aren’t sick to work too.”
Astrid tipped her head back and from side to side. “Thank you for making me eat. I feel much better.”
“Some sleep would help too.”
“I know. But please, Far, don’t worry about me. I will be sensible.” Astrid headed for the building she was now calling the infirmary to check on her patients there. She understood his trying to care for her. After all, she wasn’t always entirely sensible as she forced herself to keep going.
Stepping into the shadowed room, she glanced around the rows of pallets full of sick Indians. She had one of the healthy people laying wet cloths on the skin of those with high fevers and changing the cloths as they dried. One person could handle three or four people that way. Another helper was assigned the task of feeding those that could accept nourishment, spooning broth into mouths. Astrid had wanted a clean spoon for each person, but that was beyond reality. So she had the utensils boiled as often as possible.