A bell clanged on the door she’d ran through. “I can’t find the sheriff.” She waved her hand in the direction of the lodge. “An Injun came out to where I’m staying.”
The grocer had watched her; now he looked back to his weighing and the pile of beans in the teetering pan. “Hold on.”
“It had a wagon full of lumber. I don’t know where it came from.” She’d survived a brush with death, and the man continued weighing his beans. “Bridget and I were alone.” He brushed two beans off the scale with a hairy knuckle. “Rev. Jackdaw is gone.”
“You’re the one married to the old preacher?” He watched the scales.
“Welcome to Bleaksville.” A woman’s voice.
Effie turned to see her standing over a display of soaps and candles with a duster in her hand. She wore a white shirtwaist, so white it held a tincture of blue, and she seemed no more alarmed than the man. Did they think she’d made up the story? “It got off a wagon and ran down the hill . . . whooping.”
The grocer tipped his scale. Beans rattled into a small sack. “That would be Chief. I ain’t heard him ever doing any whooping.” He rolled the top of the bag. “Chief didn’t steal the lumber, and he ain’t what you’d call a real Indian.”
Effie felt herself shrinking. Something like Pa scolding her. “This was a real Injun. It had a braid and everything.”
A half-breed was no less dangerous. In the back of her mind, Granny was weeping, tears running down her soft face and the jaw where half her teeth were missing from being clubbed. “I tried to find the sheriff. The office is empty.”
“I’m Cora, and you’re probably lucky the sheriff wasn’t there.” Her skirts made a soft rustle as she came forward. “This is Mr. Graf, my husband. I can assure you, Chief is a good man.” She touched Effie’s arm. “You have nothing to be concerned about.”
“He was raised out there on his land,” Mr. Graf cut in. “It’s his now.” The gray brows pinched as if the length of the conversation already tired him.
“He’s always there?”
“Shops here, buys lumber in town, sells corn and produce, builds coffins when there’s a need.”
Effie felt the blood drain from her face. “And people use them for their dear ones?” She’d never become like people in Nebraska.
“His boxes are beautiful,” Cora said. “He takes great care with them, and grieving families are happy to have him close by. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Mrs. Jackdaw.” She hesitated and the catch in her throat surprised her. “Effie.” The name sounded so small.
“Chief ’s always buying lumber,” Mr. Graf said. “With his wife high-tailed away, and his son dead, folks say he’s building himself a staircase to heaven. I reckon if he wants in, that’s his best bet.”
Jokes? Did no one in Nebraska know about Custer, Wounded Knee, the Sioux Massacre? “You’re all just letting it pass for white?”
“If he wanted to pass,” Mr. Graf said, “he’d cut off his braids. Maybe buy a decent hat.”
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