Here are a few excerpts I’ve selected from In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree.
“The white man only knows desire,” said Standing Elk. “He knows nothing of contentment. His heart is dry and withered and he seeks to revive it with that of which has no medicine. He is careless and wasteful and places himself above and apart from all other things. The white soldiers murder without regard but themselves are spiritless and go screaming into their own deaths as they were born into life. The white father would take all of our hunting grounds and leave our children with stomachs full of air and hearts full of hate. There can be no peace with such men. We will kill this murderer of The People, but it will not stop the whites. There will be more. Many more.”
Emmet Dawson pulled the crumpled sheets of Henry and Eliza’s free papers from his coat and held them close to his face, squinting. “…Samuel Cromwell.” He held the papers out. “Can you read these?”
Henry averted his eyes. “No, sir,” he lied.
“No, of course you can’t. It’s not only near to impossible to teach a nigger to read but it’s also against the law—God’s and man’s.” He lowered the papers to his side. “These jayhawkers are burning and pillaging their way across our great state. They’re murdering innocent Missouri families in their sleep, then setting niggers loose on the land like a pestilence. That boy’s an orphan. His father, his mother, and his little baby sister were inside the house when it was set fire. They were unable to escape. We found their niggers a few miles away, riding their horses and leading their pigs just like they had the right to. We are at war, Henry. We are at war to save our families and our way of life.”
Emmet turned and looked at Bob. “Hang him with the others.”
Eliza let out an anguished wail and dropped to her knees where she began screaming hysterically. Henry tried to kneel down with her but Bob yanked the rope tight and wrapped it on his saddle horn. This left Henry standing at an awkward lean as he tried not to drag Eliza.
“What about the woman?” Bob asked.
Emmet Dawson looked down at Eliza appraisingly. “Shut her up and tie her to my wagon…and here,” he handed Bob the free papers. “Pin these to his shirt. There aren’t any free niggers in Missouri.” He gave Henry a final stony look then walked into the camp.
He sat against the tree and looked out across the plain; its lush green already showing the faintest signs of fading, foreshadowing the stark grays and browns that would soon dominate its vastness. A colorless mirror into his own emptiness.
A short time later Clara returned to the table. “Mister Cranston was taken aback by my irregular request. Apparently it’s not every day that an unannounced visitor requires correspondence be delivered to a cadet. I explained to him that I was a relative and must get a message of family importance delivered right away. Now I’m I liar and a thief.”
“Thief?” Randall raised his eyebrows questioningly. “I’m sorry, perhaps it’s time you explained everything to me because I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Where is Miles?”
Randall lowered his eyes and shook his head slowly.
“I understand. I saw the way he looked at me; the way I would have looked at me not very long ago. I know it’s only the first of many such looks. I also knew that you wouldn’t look at me like that way.”
“Of course I wouldn’t.”
“I’ve sent a message to William Drayton. He’s John’s closest friend here at the academy. I’ve never met him but John speaks well of him. I’m hoping he knows where John was sent. My father claims he was posted in the territories but he never said where. If he knew at all, he wouldn’t want me to. As soon as I find out, I’m going to join him.”
“Miss Hanfield, it’s a hard life out west. What will you do for money? And are you sure Mister Elliot will live up to his fatherly duties? What about your father? He’s not likely to let this go. He could make things very difficult for the two of you, not to mention Mister Elliot’s father.”
“I took over three thousand dollars from my father’s study. I’ve justified this by considering it the only inheritance I will ever claim from him.” She paused, running the tip of her finger around the rim of her empty tea cup. “John loves me, I know this in my heart. He’s kind, truly. A quality I feel is lacking in most men; present company excluded, of course. He’ll be a good husband and a fine father. As far as my own father is concerned he will be consumed with how others will view this. I believe his fear of scandal will override his need for control and revenge. I think he will be content—as content as someone such as him can be—if I simply stay away. He would only have had me sent away anyway, and my child would have been taken from me. I will never, ever allow that.”
“What about your mother?”
“She, of all people, will understand.”
“I’ll escort you wherever you need to go.”
“Thank you , Randall but I’ve demanded too much of you already. Miles was right about me ruining his life—and yours. All I could think about this morning was getting away. It was the selfish act of an overindulged child and I’ll never forgive myself. I’ll manage on my own.” Clara smiled ruefully. “I am my father’s daughter, after all.”