Eliza was scared and bit her lip to keep from crying as she watched her mother gather some clothes into a bundle.
“Pa won’t like it,” she said, “leaving me alone in the cabin.”
“It can’t be helped. Besides, twelve is plenty old enough to stay by yourself.” Ma was worried, so her voice was sharp. “Pa and Josh will be back from the trading post by nightfall. Tell them Cousin Tom came for me. Minnie needs help, what with John breaking his leg and the sick twins and all.”
“But, Ma,” Eliza said softly, no louder than a whisper, her voice betraying her concern—“Indians.” Just the word sent tingles up and down her spine.
“Eliza, there’s nothing for you to worry about. We haven’t seen an Indian in three months. Pa says there’s been a truce.”
Anxiously Eliza looked around the room, hoping to find some reason for Ma to stay home. Her eyes glanced at the table in the middle of their one room.
“The pie!” she exclaimed. “What about the pie to surprise Pa and Josh?”
“We’ll have to make it another day.”
Eliza was distressed that her mother could brush aside something as important as the pie. It was supposed to be a very special pie, the first to be baked in the new oven Pa had built in the wall next to the fireplace. Ma had just finished putting the flour, spices, and apples on the table when Cousin Tom arrived to fetch her.
Eliza followed them outside and watched her mother hand her bundle to Cousin Tom.
“Keep busy, Eliza,” Ma instructed. “Mend Joshua’s shirt. Put the flour and the pie tin away.” She gave Eliza’s pigtail an affectionate tug as she hugged her. Then she and Cousin Tom were gone, and Eliza was alone in the forest clearing.
Eliza turned and went back into the cabin. Everything was neat and clean. That morning her mother had said, “No pie until chores are done.” So Eliza had swept and made Ma and Pa’s bed and then her own and Joshua’s up in the loft. She had dusted the four ladder-back chairs, the welsh dresser, the night table, and even the books on the shelf beside the fireplace. Ma claimed that, next to Pa and Josh and her, the books were her most priceless possessions.
What will I do if the Indians decide to break the peace and raid today? Eliza wondered. Her heart started pounding. Where are Pa andJosh? They should be back by now.
Leaving the pie makings on the table helped her pretend that her mother was only out picking more apples. They had brought two fruit trees all the way from Grandpa’s farm in Massachusetts.
Now the silence in the cabin seemed to echo in Eliza’s ears. She got out the mending but just couldn’t make her fingers behave. She wondered if Ma ever felt this way when Pa wasn’t around.
Whenever Eliza thought about the pie, her lower lip began to quiver. Frustrated, she thought, Why did Uncle John have to break his leg? She had wanted so much to hear her father’s exclamation when he saw the pie. She wished she knew how to mix the dough.
“Why don’t I try?” Eliza said out loud to the empty cabin. She stood at the table and tried to remember what her mother had told her about pie making. She was glad she had asked so many questions.
Keeping busy, wondering if her pie would taste good, and remembering her grandma rolling dough for pies back in New England, made Eliza forget her fears. Pa will have his pie, she decided. And before long it was in the oven. While it baked, Eliza mended Joshua’s shirt. She even hummed to herself.
How foolish I was, she thought, to be afraid to stay by myself! Soon the pie—brown and with its juices bubbling through the cuts in the crust—was cooling on the window ledge. Every few minutes Eliza put the mending down and went to the window to inhale its fragrance. Somehow the scent of spices and baked apples and piecrust pushed some of the loneliness out of the cabin.
Just before Eliza turned to sit down in a chair facing the window, she sensed something. She had not really heard a noise, yet, like a trapped animal, she sensed danger. Slowly, hesitantly, she turned. There, with the window frame making his head look like a painting, was a face she would never forget. The brown skin had vividly colored bands radiating from the sides of the Indian’s nose, and the corners of his mouth turned down. Brown, almost black, eyes watched Eliza with a stony expression.
The girl stared, motionless. A second Indian appeared in the doorway, and a third, carrying a tomahawk, peered through the window on the other side of the door.
The Indian at the window raised his hands to take the pie.
“No!” Eliza cried. Without thinking, she ran to the window and grabbed the pie. “No!” she repeated.
The Indian grunted. Eliza whirled to face the Indian who had left the doorway and entered the room. He had stopped momentarily to watch her but was now approaching the shelf beside the fireplace. Ma’s books! Eliza knew she must not let him harm Ma’s precious possessions.
Anger flooded through her. He had no right to enter the cabin and carry off her parents’ belongings. She must stop him. But how?
Quickly she ran to the welsh dresser. Holding the pie in one trembling hand, with the other she gathered four pewter plates and spoons and a knife. The Indian watched, apparently intrigued at her action. Walking past him slowly, she nodded her head toward the door and, with pounding heart, headed in that direction. The curious Indian followed.
Once outside, Eliza sat down on the ground in front of the cabin. The Indians squatted around her, their dark eyes alert. Carefully she cut the pie, first in half and then one of the halves into three big pieces and one little one. She put each piece onto a plate and then handed a serving to each Indian. Then she gave them all spoons. Deliberately, slowly, she took a bite from the small piece. Silently she prayed it would be good.
The Indians watched intently. Each one picked up a spoon and, turning it around in his hand, examined it carefully before he, too, started eating. Soon their pieces were gone. The younger one handed his plate back to her, rubbed his stomach with one hand, and pointed to the remaining pie. Eliza wanted to cry. She had hoped she could save some for her father, but she was afraid to not give second helpings to the Indians. Quickly those pieces disappeared into their mouths. Each in turn picked up his plate and licked it clean. Smiling at each other and then at Eliza, they stood and then silently faded into the forest.
Eliza was alone once more, but she didn’t move. While the deep purple shadows of the trees crept unnoticed across the clearing, her thoughts centered on the Indians.
She had been terrified until she grabbed the pie from the window ledge. Is this true of most fears, she wondered, that worrying makes them seem more dangerous and that action sends them flying? She looked at the forest. Instead of concentrating on the hidden dangers, she would remember the deer seeking shade from the hot sun, the food provided for the squirrels, and the beauty of the trees against the sky.
She stood up, tall and straight. What am I doing, sitting here daydreaming, she thought, when there’s still time to make another pie. She picked up the dirty dishes and, with a light step, headed for the cabin.