Chapter Twelve--The Unbuilt Bridge

The same night…
             Ranger Allie Summer was hot on the trail of B11 Tallent, though the insolent outlaw didn’t know it.  But as she was lying in her camp that night, the back of her head cupped in her hands, looking up at the sky, waiting for sleep to come, her thoughts were not on the overweening bandit she would catch in a few days…

Five years earlier…
             They were walking leisurely along a narrow, winding, pine-needle covered game trail in the mountains.  The land sloped gently downward to their left, and tall pine trees were scattered along the gradient, though not so thick that Baby Beaver Stream—as the Cheyenne called it—couldn’t be seen about 100 yards away.  To their right, the terrain rose precipitously, though it, too, had a fair distribution of Ponderosa pine and other native flora and fauna.  A red squirrel, some 25 yards away, chirped at them, staring for a few seconds, and when Swift Current picked up a rock and threw it at the little rodent, the animal darted up a nearby tree and out of sight.  The rock hadn’t come close.
           “You didn’t have to do that,” Summer Rain scolded her cousin.  “He wasn’t bothering you.”
           “I don’t like squirrels,” the son of Bear Claw responded.   Then he grinned.  “Except to eat.”
           Summer Rain looked at him, an annoyed expression on her face.  Each time she saw him, which was only four or five times a year, she was impressed with how much more handsome he had become, even how masculine he looked, though only having reached the tender age of 16 years.  He had the bearing of a confident, proud young Indian warrior, but he had never been in a war party—Fleet Fox’s band had sworn to peace with the white man, though not with the Crow, a long time enemy.  Yet, there had been no conflicts with that tribe in recent years, either, so Swift Current had not seen combat, something that rankled him a little.  And that arrogance, that confidence, that self-assurance made him all the more attractive in Summer Rain’s eyes.
           But she gained great pleasure from needling him.  “Well, I like squirrels.  I think they are cute and I’ve never seen one yet hurt anybody.  And I don’t like the way they taste either.”  She looked over where the squirrel had been but didn’t see him.  “How can you eat something that cute?”
           Swift Current grunted.  “Sentimental female.  If it wasn’t for us men, you women would die of starvation or cold before you reached puberty.”
           Summer Rain didn’t take the bait on that one, except to say, “Well, if that had happened, you wouldn’t be around, would you.”  And then, with a smile, she gigged him some more.  “Besides, you’re not a man yet.  You’re still a boy.”
           She knew that was the one thing that riled her cousin more than anything else.  And sure enough, fire came into his eyes and he swelled up.  “I am, too!  I have been on hunting parties with the other men for several years now.  I have killed more deer this year”—it was June—“than any other man in tribe.  That toad you flirt with, Screaming Hawk, hasn’t brought down a single animal all year, even though he is two years older than I am.  Just when will I be a man in your eyes?  What does it take?  How old do I have to be?”  Then he snorted, and muttered softly, though intentionally loud enough for her to hear, “Not that I care what you think.”
           “Screaming Hawk is not a toad,” Summer Rain responded calmly.  “He’s a very nice-looking young man,” and tried not to laugh when she said that.  She had no feeling, one way or another, for Screaming Hawk, but she knew her cousin was jealous of him so she flirted with him whenever Swift Current was around.  “It’s not the number of animals you kill that makes you a man, dear cousin.”
           “What is it, then?” Swift Current asked, still irritated, but wanting to know what she thought.  As self-assured as he was around everyone else, Summer Rain always made him feel a little inadequate.  He wasn’t sure why.  Perhaps it was because of her self-assurance.  Swift Current looked at her.  Even though she was only 15 years old, she was already beautiful, almost as tall as he, and as radiant and comely as any woman in the band.  He did hate those ice-blue eyes of hers, because they reminded him that she was only half-Cheyenne.  But those eyes also mesmerized him, and often froze him, like they did every other man who ever looked into them.  She was unique and she was already all woman.  There was no other woman like her, and Swift Current knew it.  And he knew she knew he knew it.  And that irked him, too, but there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.  Or at least, he hadn’t been able to yet.
           In response to his question, Summer Rain simply looked around at the scenery as if the subject were almost too trivial to contemplate.  “You’ll know when you are a man, Swift Current.  And everyone else will as well.  You won’t have to boast about it.”
           Her non-answer frustrated him even more.  “Yes, but will you know it?” he grumbled.
           She smiled at him.  “I, more than anyone else, will know it.”
           He looked at her, again overwhelmed by her beauty.  As angry as she always seemed to make him, he loved her more than any other human being on earth.  “At that time, will it matter to you, Summer Rain?” he said softly.
           She glanced at him, her eyes freezing and melting him all at once.  “What is that supposed to mean?” she asked him.
           He didn’t answer immediately because he wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, except that her approval was more important to him than anything else in his life.  But he was too proud to admit that to her, fearing that she would laugh at him. 
           So they walked on in silence for a few minutes, listening to the birds sing, and enjoying the warm summer day.  A Western Meadowlark chirped a lovely tune and Swift Current thought he might be able to score a point. 
           “Robin-in-the-Nest sings almost as beautifully as that bird,” he commented, trying to sound nonchalant.  Robin-in-the-Nest was considered the prettiest girl in the village.  She was Summer Rain’s age and her dark eyes, surrounded by lovely long lashes, were often seen watching Swift Current.  He wasn’t especially interested in her because he thought she was stupid, but if he could make Summer Rain jealous…
           But all his cousin said in response was, “Yes, she has a lovely voice.”  And she said that in such a tone of voice that indicated no interest, no jealousy, and no promise of giving Swift Current any satisfaction.  Summer Rain clearly wasn’t jealous of any woman.
           Irritated again, Swift Current blurted out, without thinking, “When are you going to get married, Summer Rain?  Some girls your age already have husbands or at least have been promised to a man.”
           A small smile crossed Summer Rain’s lips.  “Customs are different in the white man’s world, Swift Current.  Women have a say in whom they marry.”
           More aggravation.  “So.  You intend to marry a white man.”
           “I intend to marry whom I choose to marry when I choose to do so.  Not a moment sooner, nor a moment later.”  Then—and once more knowing it would rankle him—she asked, “When are you going to marry Robin-in-the-Nest?  I’m sure she is just waiting for you to ask.”
           “I’m not going to marry Robin-in-the-Nest,” he countered.  “I’m going to marry you.  And you know it.”
           Summer Rain smiled.  The idea wasn’t unappealing to her, but she wasn’t about to let Swift Current know that—yet.  So, more chiding.  “I can’t marry you, you’re my brother.”
           “I am not.  We’re cousins.  It happens all the time.”
           “Well, when you get to be a man, we’ll talk about it then.”
           The terrain to their left had been flattening out, though it was still steep to their right.  At this point in their conversation, the path upon which Swift Current and Summer Rain had been walking curved to the right, and about 50 yards before them lay Baby Beaver Stream where it descended from the mountains and began its leisurely trek down to the valley several miles below.  Standing in the 25-foot wide stream, and directly before them, was a grizzly bear, looking around in the water, searching for a meal.  It was a huge grizzly; it looked up and saw the two humans, but then ignored them and continued its fishing expedition.
           Summer Rain’s incessant teasing had done nothing but exacerbate her cousin’s already heightened sense of frustration and exasperation, and her last words had edged him beyond reason.  He saw the grizzly and pulled the knife from the sheath on his hip.  As he marched purposely towards the bear, he said, through gritted teeth, “We will see if I am a man or not.”
           When Summer Rain realized what he had in mind, she understood that she had pushed her proud, vain relative too far.  Greatly concerned, she ran up to him and grabbed his arm.  “Swift Current, this isn’t necessary.  You don’t have to prove anything to me.”
           He turned on her with such fury in his eyes that she actually backed up a step or two.  “Yes, I do!  You incessantly tease me about not being a man, implying I am not worthy of you.  Well, now, I will kill the great bear and silence that loose, silly tongue of yours.  No more will you be able to say that Swift Current is only a boy.”
           Summer Rain looked at him, then shifted her gaze to the bear.  The grizzly had stood up and was now watching them, though it made no threatening move.  It was monstrous, at least eight feet tall and weighed several hundred pounds.  Its claws were at least three inches long.  One solid rip with those claws could skin a man as quickly as they could a fish.  Swift Current wouldn’t stand a chance against such a beast.
           “Don’t be foolish,” Summer Rain said, looking back at him.  “Only a boy thinks he has to prove that he is a man.’
           But Swift Current was no longer listening to her.  She had provoked him beyond what he could endure from her, and, even if only to himself, he had to establish his “manhood.”  He started walking towards the bear.  “Ask the bear, when I am finished, if I am a man or a boy,” he said.
           The grizzly wasn’t of a mind to fight, but of course he would, if necessary.  Especially if he thought Swift Current threatened his fishing territory.  Still standing in the stream on his hind legs, the bear let out a ferocious warning growl.  The young Indian brave continued to stride deliberately, directly towards the huge beast.
           “Swift Current, stop!” Summer Rain yelled at him, almost in desperation.  “There is no need for this.”
           Swift Current did not turn back to her.  But she heard him say, “I will fight the bear.  I will kill or be killed.  A boy runs.  A man fights.  I fight.  Like a man.”  He kept walking.  The bear dropped down onto all fours, still growling, showing long, pointed, dangerous teeth.
           Exasperated and anxious, Summer Rain looked around, not sure what she was searching for.  She had no weapon, except her knife.  She started to unsheathe it and run to assist her cousin, but she stopped, watching Swift Current.  Is it for me…or for himself…that he’s doing this?...And she really didn’t know.
           Swift Current halted about 30 feet from the stream.  The bear, still twisting its head and growling with menace, strode to the edge of the water and stood up on its hind legs again.  Once more it let out a ferocious roar.  Swift Current crouched, with the knife extended in his right hand.  He shrieked a piercing Indian war cry, and the bear dropped back down to all-fours.
           “Watch out, Swift Current!  He’s going to charge!” Summer Rain yelled.
           And, indeed, the bear did just that.  With another thunderous roar, the grizzly leaped towards the Indian brave, with a surprising speed.  Swift Current was just able to jump aside and roll as the bear ran past.  The boy took a swipe at the animal, but he missed.
           Swift Current sprung to his feet as the bear turned and attacked again.  Once more, the agile Indian dodged and a sweep of the bear’s arm missed by several inches.  This time, Swift Current had no opportunity to counterattack; he simply ran around behind the bear, searching for an opportunity to do some damage. 
           The bear was more cumbersome in its movements, of course, but still swift and deadly.  It made a third unsuccessful charge, and bellowed in anger when Swift Current’s knife cut a gash along its left arm.  The young Indian once again danced away, light on his feet, ever searching for an opening. 
           But the grizzly was cunning, a hunter and warrior himself, with instincts and abilities bred deeply into his species.  Seeing that his current opponent was indeed swift afoot, and carrying a stinging weapon, the bear began to stalk.  Slowly, purposefully, the grizzly approached Swift Current.  The Indian slowly gave way; and if he tried to move to his right, the bear would shift in that direction, always keeping the boy in front of him, moving steadily forward, growling and snarling.  Swift Current tried an end run around the beast, but the grizzly hopped a couple of paces, and kept the boy peddling backwards.  Once, Swift Current let out his war hoop again and charged, slashing at the bear.  The animal simply reared its head back and swung a paw; two red furrows of blood appeared along Swift Current’s lower arm.  The bear’s reach far exceeded the Indian’s. 
           Summer Rain, with rising anxiety and dismay, watched the gallant, though foolish, young Cheyenne in his death match with the grizzly.  And it was increasingly obvious to the girl who was going to win.  The grizzly, a master hunter, was steadily ushering Swift Current where he wanted him to go—into a cul-de-sac of boulders where the boy would be unable to maneuver at all.  Then, two or three slashes of those long claws and the matter would be finished.  The boulders were too high for Swift Current to climb rapidly enough to escape the bear.
           Swift Current could not see this trap, because he feared taking his eyes off the bear.  The Indian continued to attempt to dance away from unfaltering, deadly advance of the animal, but the grizzly cut him off each time.  He was less than 20 feet from the rocks now.
           And then the bear made a move that just about ended the duel.
           With an intelligence that belied what a human would expect from an animal, the grizzly, who had been stalking on all-fours, scooped up some dirt and pebbles and shoveled the mass at Swift Current.  Caught totally by surprise, the Indian got a face-full of earth, some in his eyes, and some in his mouth.  Momentarily blinded and sputtering, he staggered back into the trap the bear had set for him.
           Swift Current was now enclosed in the semi-circle of boulders, his vision obscured.  The grizzly swung, back-handed, and slammed the boy against a rock, stunning the Indian.  The bear then moved in for the kill. 
           But Summer Rain was already moving.
           Seeing her cousin virtually helpless in the face of the monstrous beast that pursued him, Summer Rain had grabbed her knife and ran straight for the bear.  Fortunately for her, the grizzly’s back was to her.  That was the bear’s one—and fatal mistake.  Just as the animal was about to strike a blow that surely would have killed Swift Current, his younger cousin let out a battle cry of her own.  The bear, momentarily distracted by the noise, stopped just long enough for Summer Rain to somersault onto his back, wrapping her legs around the beast’s neck.  With all her might, and with both hands, she rammed the blade of the knife into the bear’s brain.  The grizzly was killed instantly.  But in his death throes, a spasm of muscle action caused him to lift up and fall backwards, several hundred pounds worth slamming down onto his back…
           Swift Current had been dazed by the bear’s blow, but not knocked unconscious.   He shook his head, instinctively waving the knife in front of him in a vain effort at defense.  He looked up when he heard Summer Rain’s shout, and, through a visual fog, saw her do her backflip onto the bear’s back and bury her knife in the beast’s head.  With a roar the bear lifted up.  And Swift Current saw the mammoth animal as it toppled backwards—slamming into the ground with Summer Rain underneath….

           That was enough to rouse Swift Current.  He jumped up and shouted his cousin’s name.  The size of the bear, and the force of his backwards fall to the hard, rocky ground would be enough to crush the life out of Summer Rain.  Swift Current ran to the grizzly, which was still twitching, though now dead and harmless.  Still calling out Summer Rain’s name, Swift Current tried mightily to lift the bear and roll him over.  The bear was much too heavy and limp.  Still, the young Indian brave, in desperation, continued to pull, push, shove, grunting with severe exertion.  Finally, he stopped when he heard a voice above and behind him.
          “Cousin, you’re going to ruin your back if you keep trying to lift that bear.”
           Swift Current turned and looked.  And sure enough, squatting on top of a boulder, smiling down at him, was his sassy little relative.
           He stared at her in disbelief.  “How…how did you get up there?  I saw the bear…he fell back…you were on his back…”
           Summer Rain just shrugged as she hopped down to the ground.  “The bear stood up.  He was as tall as that rock.  I jumped on it.  I didn’t figure he’d mind if I wasn’t underneath when he fell.”
           With a whoop and a laugh, Swift Current grabbed Summer Rain and hugged her.  “Uhhh,” the girl grunted.  “Your hug is worse than the bear’s.”
           “You could have been killed,” he said, letting her go and looking at her.  “That was a foolish thing to do, leaping on the bear’s back like that.”
           “Yeah, well, you would have been killed if I hadn’t,” she answered.
           Summer Rain was not the least bit surprised to see a stoic, steady, proud, yea, haughty expression on her cousin’s face—the expression that was exasperating, and yet attractive and appealing at the same time.  “No,” the young brave replied, sheathing his knife and casually, flippantly, examining the blood from the scratches on his arm.  “I was about to strike the killing blow.  The bear was mine.”
           Summer Rain smiled and took Swift Current by the hand.  They began walking back towards the camp.  “You were magnificent,” she said to him, and she saw his chest puff out with pride.
           But then she couldn’t resist…she just…couldn’t resist.  With a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes, she said, “If maybe a little foolish…”
Two years later….
             Allie-Summer Rain became—to herself—simply Allie Summer on her trek from Caliente to Port Station to become a ranger.  Caliente had been her home, living with her parents Winter Wolf and Sandra.  But when a drunken mob broke into the house and killed her father and mother—and would have killed her, too, had they caught her—the 17 year old girl made the 70 mile trip through mountains and forest to the Ranger HQ.  She had never given it a second thought.  She had wanted to be a ranger for over a decade and she convinced Captain W. T. McConnell to give her a chance.  It was a decision he, and she, never regretted (see River Bend, Book One, Chapter Four for details of Allie joining the Rangers).
           Allie may never have given the decision a second thought.  But somebody else did.
           “You did what?” Swift Current asked, hands on his hips, looking incredulously at his cousin.  “The white man killed your parents—and now you’re going to help him??”  It was beyond the young man’s ability to comprehend.  To him, the white man was, had been, and always would be his most hated enemy, even more so when he heard what had happened to his uncle.  And he loved Summer Rain dearer than any other human on earth.  Now, the two emotions collided, and left him totally stunned.
           “I’m going to be a Ranger, Swift Current,” Allie told him again.  “The white man is here to stay.  You have to accept that.  It’s not going to change.  And it will be his law that protects you, whether you like it or not—“
           It was gradually sinking in on Swift Current, and he exploded.  “I can protect myself!” he shouted at her.  “I don’t need the white eyes barbarian—“
           He stopped…and looked into his cousin’s cool eyes.  Nobody had whiter eyes than Allie Summer.  Literally.  He clicked his tongue in disgust.  “Surely, Summer Rain, surely now you can see what the white man is.  Surely now you will come back and join us.  Live with us.  Leave that filthy, greedy, thieving world that the white man wallows in.”  Hands still on his hips, he stared, hard, at Allie.  “I cannot believe you love that world more than that of your own people.”
           “Half of me is that ‘people,’ Swift Current,” Allie responded.  She shook her head.  “But that’s really irrelevant.  They’ve won, Swift Current, that’s all there is to it.  We can still be Cheyenne, but we must now live in the American’s country.  Do you honestly think the buffalo is coming back?  That you can restore tribal law?  Roam around, pillage and plunder like our ancestors did?”  She sneered.  “The white man will crush you like a flea.”  She walked over to her cousin and took him by the hands, and looked up at him, almost pleadingly.  “You can’t fight it, Swift Current.  Please don’t try to.  You must accept things the way they are and the way they are going to be.  That’s all I’m trying to do.  To make the world a better place for all of us.”
           His hard eyes continued to stare at her.  He didn’t move and he didn’t respond.
           Allie sighed, let go of his hands, and looked around, as if searching for the thoughts to reach him.  “I love our ways, too, Swift Current.  They will always…always …be a part of me.  This—“ and she waved an all-encompassing arm,--“this village will always be my home, and the Cheyenne will always be my people.  But we must accept the inevitable.  And we can no longer live as we have always lived.  It is the white man’s country now, and I’m going to help him tame it, to bring civilization and law and order to it, and protect my people so that they can live here safely, too.”
           Swift Current still said nothing.
           They were standing in the center of the village.  Allie had explained to all the tribe what had happened, and they were still standing there, watching and listening to the argument between the two young people.  In frustration, the girl turned to her uncle, Bear Claw, her father’s brother.  “Uncle, what would my father want me to do?”
           Bear Claw had lost a brother, of course, but his face was stoic.  He did not answer right away.  He looked from his niece to his son and then back to Allie.  When he spoke, she felt he spoke more to Swift Current than to her.  “Winter Wolf would let you make your own decision, Summer Rain.  And he would trust you that it would be the correct one.”
           Hearing those words, Swift Current snorted in disgust, turned, and walked out of the camp.
           Allie watched him, and then, with a cry of frustration turned, and looked pleadingly at her uncle.
           Bear Claw shook his head.  “He will get over it, Summer Rain.  In time…a bridge will be built between you and him.  For you are his people.  And he will accept you for what you are, for the decision you have made, and for what you will become…”
Back to the present…
             But as Ranger Allie Summer lay looking up at the stars, her mind more on her fierce, proud, stubborn cousin than on B11Tallent, she realized that the bridge had never been built, that Swift Current had never accepted her decision to join the white man’s world and fight the white man’s battles.  That lack of acceptance on his part was the greatest agony of Allie’s life.
           And what will I do if he is the one…?
             Allie closed her eyes, swallowed, and gritted her teeth.  She would not let herself believe that Swift Current could brutally murder innocent people.  She was aware of his fierce pride and temper, she knew he hated the white man, she realized that he was a caged lion on that reservation, she
           She opened her eyes, because she…
           …she saw, in her mind, the rage in Swift Current’s eyes as he approached Wylie Wilcox with a shovel in his hands….