The day he came riding through the creek, crossing in the shallows with the water rippling over the rocks and sparkling in the sunlight, she was sitting in her straight-back chair with the cushion, sitting on the back porch and just looking straight ahead out across the creek and through the trees toward the far fields and the long plain beyond like she had done every afternoon until sunset since I knew her, for six years by then, as more than "that crazy old lady the Comanche took", ever since my mother ordered me to do "Miss Beckett's chores and do them right or first it'll be me and then it'll be your father that will take a switch to your backside." She was wrong about the switch—Dad liked the razor strop—but I didn't argue about it. I was eight and old enough to take over the job from my brother Henry, who had taken it over from cousin Lucas when Lucas went to the War- Between-the-States.
Miss Beckett was old and frail and lived alone on the edge of town. Twice a week the preacher's wife or one of the daughters or two church ladies brought her a basket of food covered by a white cloth. They didn't visit. They set the food down on the front porch, knocked on the door, and left. Once in a great while, someone would leave store goods like a bolt of cloth or lady's shoes or such. My mother always sent flour or sugar or stuff she'd canned, like peaches and pears. One winter when Miss Beckett was sick with fever my mother stayed three whole days watching over her, putting cold cloths on her head, and sitting there next to the bed and reading the bible. She said it was little to do considering what all had happened to the poor woman.
You see, Miss Beckett was fifteen when the Comanche raided her folks' place back in thirty-five and killed her mother and father and three brothers and took her off. She lived with them for eleven years until the Rangers came across a Comanche camp. There was a hell of a fight and the Rangers escaped but rescued Miss Beckett. The story was the youngest Ranger, Henry Collins, was the one who snatched her up and rode out with her hanging on while arrows flew. He was the only man come visit her and about twice a month he'd bring a chair out onto the porch and sit with her and smoke his pipe. He'd talk to her in a low soft voice like you would to a baby almost or a horse that you were trying to calm. He'd talk but she'd never answer, at least not any time I was around carrying water or chopping wood. He was about fifty or so and still fit. He quit the Rangers and had a good ranch, where he spent most of his time, but when he planned to visit Miss Beckett he'd spend a few days in town with his sister. Folks said it was a shame he'd never married, being so set on Miss Violet Beckett once he rescued her. They said that of course no white man could marry a woman who'd "been violated" by Comanches. (I asked my mother what violated meant and she said, "Something you're not to know." Dad said, "It's what Comanche do to women." I didn't understand because she wasn't scalped or cut up at all. By the time I was twelve I understood it had to do with sex and she had married an Indian.)
Mr. Collins was a true live hero. He fought against the Mexicans in that war and was the only Ranger to survive the Sandford Wells massacre. After his wounds healed, he hunted down the renegade Apache Jack's gang and killed all six by himself. My father said, "Hank has a backbone of iron and a will to match." Then he fought against the Yankees under Colonel Perry. He came back to face down the Priestly brothers in a shootout. He killed all three but took a bullet in his left shoulder and two in his right leg. He had a slight limp and he said that a chunk of lead was still "hiding somewheres" in his thigh.
That afternoon I had just filled her wood box with kindling and was carrying her water pail to the well when I heard something and looked over to the creek and there he was, coming through the shallows. He was dressed like a drover with a wide-brimmed hat and a red neckerchief. He wore a side-arm and there was a carbine in the scabbard on the horse. I watched him as he crossed the creek, slowly passed the woodshed and outhouse, and paused by the well. Then I saw he was an Indian, maybe forty or so. His black hair was chopped just below his ears and a white scar went from his ear to his chin along the left cheek. He gave me a hard look and then rode up to the porch.
I set the pail down and went to the porch. I didn't know what he meant to do, and I thought I needed, somehow, to protect Miss Beckett. I was fourteen and near man-sized.
He looked down at me and smiled. "You get water?"
"Well, get water."
I looked at Miss Beckett. She nodded.
While I dropped the wooden well-bucket down, filled it, and then filled the water pail from it, the Indian waited. I carried the water by him and into the house. When I went back out, he was standing on the ground in front of the porch.
He said something I didn't understand. I guess it was Indian talk, maybe Comanche. But it wasn't rough or harsh—it was soft and easy, almost musical, like a song floating on his breath. Miss Beckett only looked at me, said nothing and didn't move.
He asked, "You forgot? So long, so long. They stole that too?"
Miss Beckett's mouth opened but she didn't speak. She clutched her dress with both hands and began to cry, not loud or shaking, no, not like that, but a silent deep down sort of crying like I'd seen my mother do at my grandmother's grave.
"Where is he? Is he here? This house?" He nodded toward me. "His son?"
Miss Beckett shook her head.
He said something again, harsher this time.
Miss Beckett stiffened. She answered so quietly it was not much more than a whisper: "They will kill you."
He turned to me. "Bring me water to drink."
I looked at Miss Beckett and she said, "Do as he says."
I went in and filled a dipper from the bucket. I brought it out to him and he drank it and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He handed me the dipper and said to Miss Beckett. "They have tried many times and I am still here."
Miss Beckett said, "Boy, find Mr. Collins. Bring him here."
"You want me to get Mr. Collins?"
That afternoon was the first time she had spoken to me. All those years the most she'd ever do is nod or point. I figured it had to be important, so I ran straight to his sister's.
Mr. Collins was in the parlor with his sister's husband.
I rushed in and said, "Mr. Collins, Miss Beckett wants to see you right away."
"What? What? She does?"
"She sure does. There's a man there and—"
"Yes, sir, an Indian."
"What? An Indian?"
The sister's husband said, "Don't sound right, Hank. You better go armed. Maybe I best go with you."
Mr. Collins took his gun belt and holster and Colt from the hook on the wall and strapped it on under his coat. "I can handle any damn Indian by myself, Fred." Then to me: "Get going—I'm right behind you."
I ran back to Miss Beckett's with Mr. Collins following as fast as he could. When we went around the corner of the house, the Indian was standing there waiting. Miss Beckett stood up so suddenly her chair tipped over and the cushion slid to the porch.
Mr. Collins said, "Violet, you all right?"
Miss Beckett pointed at Mr. Collins and said, "He's the one."
The Indian drew his pistol and shot Mr. Collins. I jumped back at the flash and froze. Mr. Collins lay on the ground with a hole in his forehead. The Indian gave me a long look, holstered the pistol, turned, got on his horse, and slowly rode by the wall, past the outhouse and shed, crossed the creek at the shallows, went through the trees, and headed out to the plains beyond.
Miss Beckett righted the chair, placed the cushion just the way she wanted, and sat down. She watched the Indian ride away.
I told what happened to the sheriff, the Rangers, the newspapermen from Dallas and all the way to St. Louis, and anyone else who stopped by. I couldn't say more than what I saw since there was no way I understood it.
Miss Beckett? She never spoke another word for eleven years until the day she died and mumbled something. Some people said it was in Comanche and some said it meant "son" but my dad said, "Damn fools can't speak Comanche any more than my dog."