Trsyt: an appointment to meet, especially by lovers, or an appointed meeting place
The prairie is a desolate wasteland, or so his Delaware grandfathers always told him. He supposes to people used to living in the close embrace of the trees, the endless leagues of flat grass would appear depressing. Sometimes, usually in the distorting heat of the afternoon, he agrees with them. But their cabin does not feel like the middle of nowhere when he can pass the evenings next to her, watching her spin the mountain of undyed wool at her feet with a serious frown, occasionally pausing to brush a seditious strand of hair off her eyes.
His father could never grasp what made him choose a wan, wisp of a girl who trembled in the dark and turned nearly catatonic at the sound of a gunshot. Neither could his brother, for that matter, but Nathaniel had stood by them during the year it had taken their father to accept her as a daughter. Nathaniel had often joked that of the two of them Uncas had always been the least likely to show a rebellious streak, and for him to display it now, with the one decision their father actually cared about, must mean the Maker of All Life was either a jester or a sadist. But Chingachgook was not by nature a cold person, and it was difficult for him to dislike anyone who cared about his son. And she did care, this fragile English debutante who spoke little but somehow understood all the feelings he found so hard to put into words. Now Chingachgook's grandfatherly presence in the cabin is a source of reassurance. He admits that he finds it hard to remember where he found the strength to defy his father so long.
Alice looks up from the wheel as it slows to a stop, letting the spindle slip over her fingers. "You were younger then," she says with a touch of wistfulness. "So was I."
He strides across the rickety wooden porch to rub the knots out of her shoulders. She smells of thyme and honeysuckle and nostalgia. "You will always be young," he murmurs into her hair. She laughs softly as she runs her fingertips across his neck.
"You're not being fair," she reprimands him. "We agreed to grow old together. I can't always be one-and-twenty to you." Life isn't fair, he considers telling her, but he would rather not ruin the moment. Chingachgook is inside teaching their only daughter how to properly skin a beaver, and for a few minutes she is his. The air is heavy with the fragrance of primrose. The cicadas have started their nightly cacophony, and the first fireflies have begun to weave drunkenly beyond their porch. Alice stretches her arms above her head in delight.
"Will you dance with me tonight?" she asks. There was a time many years ago when he would have danced with her. When he did dance with her, and he felt her arms wrap around his neck and her hair fly across his face until they were both too dizzy to stand but not exhausted, never exhausted, and the grass was so soft and her lips so cool. It is enough for him to watch now as her calico skirt swirls around her ankles while her fingers try to pull the colors from the sky.
One of the porch floorboards creaks. Two small brown hands tug on his, and the girl with Alice's soft mouth and his dark eyes glares at him with impatience. "Are you going to be boring again tonight, Papa?" she asks impertinently.
"It's a good thing your mother can't hear you," he says with a low groan. "Eight-year-old girls are supposed to have better manners."
She draws herself up proudly. "I'm not a girl. I'm a ruby-throated hummingbird. We don't need to have manners."
"Not tonight, you're not," he tells her. "You're a demon child I'll have to sell to the next group of French trappers who will ship you off to Canada and make you eat snails." He slings her roughly over his shoulder. She squeals and kicks her legs in the air as he carries her inside.
"What color were Mama's eyes?" Chestnut brown, like your Aunt Cora's, he starts to say, but suddenly he is not so sure. Perhaps they had been green like pistachios, or perhaps neither and it is only their almond shape that brings those colors to mind. He glances again at the golden-haired phantom dancing on the yellow grass, as he has seen her dancing every evening for seven years; his eternally unaging wife. They had left no mark on her grave because in the back of his mind he had clung to a naïve belief that there was no need to mark it, that he did not need to know the location of his wife's body to keep the memory of her alive. We've had a good three years, haven't we? she had asked from their bed before she lost her voice. They had been a good three years, which was more than either of them had a right to expect. Now he wonders how much time he has left before the rest of her fades with the color of her eyes, and how desolate the prairie will look when it does.
Disclaimer: Nothing belonging to Cooper or Mann is mine.