Castle Mountain Ranch, Colorado Rockies, early March 1879
“Mark my words, Shiloh Wainwright. It’s bad enough you’ve thrown the whole family into an uproar with this rash decision to quit your job in Denver and head out to that Indian Agency. But your head-in-the-clouds need to save the savage Utes is going to be the death of you yet. And that,” Jordan added, one dark blonde brow arched in a knowing look, “will be the very best you can hope for.”
It never stops, does it? Shiloh clamped down hard on her rising irritation. Lowering her gaze, she folded yet another skirt and placed it in her leather travel trunk standing beneath the window of her former bedroom. No matter how old we get, she’s always going to try and have the last word. And maintain her bossy ways and superior airs.
The fact that they were both young women now --- Jordan married and the mother of a six-month-old baby girl, and Shiloh to be twenty-one years old the beginning of next month --- hadn’t softened the long simmering animosity between the sisters. Two years of teacher’s education, plus another six months instructing at that fancy girls’ boarding school in Denver, still didn’t hold a candle to Jordan’s greater age.
No matter that her sister had been quite content to finish school and immediately wed her longtime beau, while Shiloh had gone on for a higher education. No matter that, while she possessed the means to support herself, independent of any man, Jordan was now but a simple wife and mother.
Indeed, there were times when Shiloh wondered if her sister was as content with the life she had chosen as she claimed that she was.
There were no more adoring suitors to stroke her eternally inflated self-esteem. Well, none, anyway, who’d dare risk revealing their admiration in the presence of her sister’s hulking, ever-possessive husband, Robert Travers. Indeed, thanks to her husband, in many ways Jordan’s ability to come and go as she pleased was severely limited these days. And her sister had never been one to tolerate any constraints on what she could and couldn’t do.
Maybe that was why Jordan seemed so dead set against her heading off on yet another adventure, Shiloh mused, corralling her thoughts and herding them back to the present. Why, when her two stepbrothers had sent word of Shiloh’s arrival and surprising plans, her sister had hightailed it from her own home twenty miles to the southwest of here. Because marriage and motherhood were choking the life out of her.
Because she wanted --- and wanted desperately --- to be as footloose and fancy-free as her younger sister.
The possibility filled Shiloh with a grim satisfaction. For once, just once, her older sister might actually envy her. Might desire something only her younger sister could have.
“Head in the clouds, notwithstanding,” Shiloh replied, restraining a smug grin with only the greatest of efforts, “taking the job at the White River Indian Agency is what I aim to do. So maybe we should agree not to discuss the matter further. You’ve got your opinions. I’m not going to budge.
And there’s plenty of other topics far more pleasant. Like, did little Cecilia enjoy her new rattle? I thought it was so pretty, with those pink and red roses painted on the white porcelain.”
For a moment, Jordan looked as if she wasn’t ready to relinquish their current discussion. Then, with a sigh and shake of her head, she apparently let the topic go.
“Yes, I think my Ceci will love it, once she’s older. I know you can’t understand the ways of babies, not having one of your own, but if I were to give it to her now, she’d soon have it in a million pieces.” A self-righteous smile lifted her sister’s lips. “So, I’ll put it away for a time. It’s far too pretty to risk breaking.”
Shiloh chose not to rise to the bait. One way or another, Jordan was determined to win every argument. Instead, she walked to the dresser and picked up an armload of books. Her precious books that she’d use to teach the Ute Indian children.
The image of dark eyes peering intently back at her from sun-bronzed faces filled her mind. One of the few Indian bands that had yet to be torn from their beloved lands and relegated to the dreaded “Indian Territory” in Utah, the White River Utes were a free-spirited and intelligent people. Her old nursemaid, a Ute Indian and Buckskin Joe’s wife, had regaled her for years with tales of their life and culture. Thanks to Kanosh, Shiloh also spoke fairly decent Ute. Her impressive educational credentials and glowing recommendation from her last job notwithstanding, she suspected that her knowledge of the Ute language had most helped sway Nathan Meeker, the White River Agency’s Indian agent, to hire her. Currently, his daughter, Josephine, though not teacher trained, was struggling to set up classes for the Ute Indian children. Her success so far, however, had been minimal. Apparently the Utes were suspicious of the effects of the white man’s education on their children. They feared it would incline their offspring to leave the traditional Ute ways and the reservation.
It was expected, however, that Shiloh’s professional training would be sufficient to induce better attendance at the Agency school. Still, for a fleeting instant, Shiloh wondered if she perhaps hadn’t “oversold” herself and her abilities. Though she firmly believed education was the only hope for the Utes’ survival in a world rapidly changing around them, she wasn’t certain she could single-handedly alter their opinion of what they wanted versus what they truly needed. One couldn’t know if one didn’t try, though. And she’d never been one to shy away from a challenge. Especially not a challenge that meant so much to her as this one did. With all her heart, Shiloh wanted to help the Ute Indians, to make a difference in their lives. A difference that would educate not only their minds but also their hearts with the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“You do what you deem best with that rattle,” she said as she carefully placed the books in one corner of her trunk.
“And, in the future, I’ll try to purchase more appropriate gifts for little Cecilia.”
Jordan rose from her spot on the edge of the bed. “That would be appreciated.” Her glance strayed to the necklace dangling from Shiloh’s open-necked blouse as she leaned over to tuck a box of fountain pens and bottles of black ink in the upper corner of her trunk. Shiloh looked up just in time to catch the direction of her sister’s gaze and the resulting grimace of distaste. “What’s the matter now, Jordan?” she asked wearily.
“That Indian trinket you insist on wearing along with the cross of Christ. Do you have any idea how sacrilegious that must appear to anyone who sees it?”
As her hand rose to protectively clasp the small silver eagle suspended from the same chain as her silver cross, Shiloh stiffened in anger. “Not only do I cherish these in honor of my two dearest friends,” she said tautly, “but because the Indians revere the eagle as a carrier of prayers and for its special connection to the Creator. So I hardly find it sacrilegious or unworthy to hang alongside the cross.”
“Well, I’m willing to bet some of the folks who work at that Indian Agency will think differently. But suit yourself. You’ve never been one to listen to those older and wiser --- ”
In that instant, something in Shiloh frayed and broke. Her patience, most likely. She’d never been overly patient.
“Enough, Jordan!” She slammed down the lid of her travel trunk and stood there, her hands fisted at her sides. “It never ends with you, does it? The constant belittling? The poorly contained, eternal displeasure?”
Her sister’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “I-I was just --- ”
“No. Don’t say it.” Shiloh held up a silencing hand. “I don’t give a tinker’s darn what you think you meant! I’m leaving for the White River Agency tomorrow morning, and nothing you can say will sway me from that intent. So, let’s try and make the passing hours between us pleasant, if not for the sake of our relationship, then for the sake of our family.”
“Fine.” Jordan’s mouth snapped shut. Her lips thinned to a white line. “I’ll see you at supper then.” With an indignant toss of her blonde head, she stomped from the room.
Shiloh rolled her eyes. Leave it to her sister to take offense whenever she didn’t get her way. Shiloh was mightily, mightily tired of the games and manipulations. The only blessing in any of this was she no longer had to live with Jordan or long endure her silly, self-centered tantrums.
Her mouth quirked in wry realization. If only Jordan realized how great was Shiloh’s desire to run off to be with the savage Utes! Especially in comparison to enduring even one more day in her irksome presence.
Surprisingly mollified, Shiloh completed her packing, then headed downstairs for a bit of fresh air before supper. The independent life definitely had its benefits. And one not so insignificant one was that she was no longer compelled to put up with the likes of her sister.