A quick review of dates: Novel 1 was set in (roughly) August 1757. Novel 2 began in September and finished in March 1758. Novel 3 begins in July 1758 and goes to October. Then, this epilogue is made up of vignettes which are my way of paying homage to the first novel in which Cora = spring, Uncas = summer, Nathaniel = fall and Alice = winter: one for each season in the year of 1761.
Daisies danced in the wind, their heads bobbing madly on slender stems as the toddler sought to catch several between his small hands. He was crouched over the flowers, but then a bird called nearby and the boy let out a screech in reply and ran after the source of the sound.
Cora smiled as she watched her son. The garden, which was just starting to yield some fresh greens, was a lovely spot to enjoy the pale blue of the sky and the morning's sunlight.
"Stay where Mama can see you, Jamie," she called, shading her face with her hand. It was a habitual remark. The two-year-old was never still for more than a moment at a time. Uncas often referred to his nephew as akasq—groundhog—because of the way the child would appear and disappear from sight. Nathaniel seemed to enjoy the boy's fearlessness, but it could be unnerving, particularly for Cora.
Chingachgook and Ben had come to stay with them for the past two summers, after James' birth, and Cora now looked forward considerably to their coming in the warm season for it meant a welcome break and a return to a more leisurely pace of living. With a grandfather available to dandle the child and Ben who dutifully hauled him around wherever he went, Cora had time for lengthier visits with Alice, Uncas, and their baby daughter, born the previous spring.
Alice had been slower to recover from childbed than Cora herself, and the winter had been a long one—but she seemed happy, now, as a wife and mother, not torn by the doubts and dissatisfaction that had plagued her in the past. Still there was never enough time for the two sisters to relax together, as they had used to, before the babies were born.
Nathaniel was up at the old cabin right now, helping Uncas to repair the roof that had seen its share of damage from the heavy burden of snow it had borne. Every season brought its jobs and there was always something that needed to be done…Cora sighed a little regretfully. Nathaniel had been right when he had said she would find it isolating to live here. Not that Alice and Uncas weren't the perfect neighbors; but since they were family and shared everything in any case, there were no unique resources.
Nathaniel had lately been talking of making another trip to the city, as their goods in anything they could not grow, make or hunt themselves were almost nonexistent now. He said he might wait until Chingachgook and Ben arrived and see which one of them wanted to accompany him—most likely the latter out of consideration for his father, who did not lightly undertake long travels any more. Uncas would want to stay with Alice and their young one, Cora thought, and it might be that Ben had a hankering to see his old birthplace again.
Cora reached for a few more of the greens to add to her apron. This was the first year that the garden had really yielded anything of note, and she meant to bring up the extra to Alice and Uncas' cabin; they would appreciate the fresh offerings.
Jamie trotted up clutching a few wilted dandelions as his contribution. She put out a hand to give an affectionate pat on his wildly curly head. "Shall we take a walk and visit your baby cousin?"
Jamie was already racing towards the path, his small moccasined feet sure and eager, scarcely waiting for Cora who had to hurry to keep up with him.
He eased out of bed, careful not to disturb either the sleeping child or her mother as he did so, and taking a moment to admire the picture they made as they lay; the baby's dark head nestled against Alice's chest, her light hair spilling around them both. The cabin air was still pleasantly cool, though the day promised to be a warm one.
Unexpectedly, while he was still looking at the two in bed, the baby's eyes fluttered open and she rolled over to stare at him with unblinking calm. His tiny daughter was a source of wonder to him. After having experienced firsthand the boisterous exploits and vocal stylings of his nephew Jamie's first year of life, Uncas had come to expect something similar out of his own child, but Isabel was utterly unlike her cousin. From the beginning she had been solemn, with a perfect inscrutable face. Nathaniel often commented that Isabel most resembled her father, with his eyes, skin and hair whereas Cora insisted the baby's delicate features were a perfect copy of Alice's. But her personality seemed to take the quietness of both parents.
Isabel let out a rare gurgle of greeting. Delighted, he leaned back over the bed and let her fingers discover a handful of his hair. The baby responded by patting his face in an almost indulgent manner. She was just past a year old and did not yet walk, preferring to be carried around everywhere.
"Do you want to swim today, piyámáq?" he asked her. (Fish; she loved the water.)
Alice rolled over and thrust an arm over her face against the morning light, uttering a small murmur of tired protest.
The baby widened her eyes at Uncas as if in mutual conspiracy. He scooped her up, murmuring in Mohegan against her soft, milk-sticky cheek. Your mother must get some more rest. I'll take you outside.
They went out into the dew-wet morning together. Birdsong in the trees above was almost piercing in its quality; Isabel cocked her head, listening, as Uncas swung her up on his shoulders and strode beyond the cabin clearing down the path to the small stream.
Every morning so far this summer, father and daughter had made the trip to the water's edge and washed together; sometimes it was just a cursory venture involving hands and face, but when the weather allowed and Uncas wanted Alice to rest longer, they would spend an hour or two at the stream, splashing about in its depths and lolling on the grassy banks to dry in the sun afterwards.
Today was such a day. The sun blessed them with warmth but not unbearable heat as it glittered on the water's surface. Uncas held his daughter in the crook of his arm as she scooped and poured water through her tiny fingers over and over again. He waded to the opposite bank to show her where the schools of minnows had darted. He picked up smooth stones from the sand at the bottom and gave them to the baby to toss back down. Everything was subject to her solemn perusal and exploration of nature.
Someone's coming. Moving quietly out of the water, Uncas deposited a dripping Isabel under the shelter of a nearby overhanging tree whose branches provided some visual protection and told her to stay, knowing she would. He crossed the stream again and quickly circled around behind the approaching intruder, catching up with a disappointed Ben, who had clearly been trying to avoid being apprehended, just moments later.
"I thought I had gotten quieter," Ben mumbled, rather shamefaced.
Uncas gripped his forearm for a moment, granting him the warrior's greeting which clearly surprised—but pleased—the half-Munsee lad. "You have. You used to be as loud as an angry moose. Now you are only as loud as a peaceful moose. Welcome, younger brother."
Ben's expression lightened even further, almost to the point of a smile as he clasped Uncas' arm in response and then stepped back.
Ben gestured. "About an hour behind me. I told him I would come on ahead." His Delaware was easy and almost without accent to Uncas' ear now, obviously a benefit of the nearly three years spent in the wolf camp. Now fourteen, he was also noticeably taller than the previous summer; though he had been a small boy, he finally looked his age. His features had lost the mark of childhood and were attaining the lean angles of oncoming maturity, and his eyes were serious.
"How are my relatives?"
"Everyone is well; Machque and Tiskemanis send their greetings, and Nachenum and Sanquen," Ben replied. He was shouldering a heavy pack, which he relinquished to Uncas before they crossed back over the stream. "The camp is much closer this season—Is that Isabel?"
The baby was just visible beyond the trailing branches, still sitting where Uncas had put her, gravely staring at them both.
"She was here last year," Uncas pointed out, bending down to lift up his small daughter, who settled again comfortably in his right arm.
"But she looks like a real person now." Ben touched the baby's cheek with a cautious, curious hand.
They started back towards the cabin. "You must be ready to eat something," Uncas said.
Ben grunted. "We had rabbit last night but nothing since then, just some berries. Yes, I would be glad to eat."
"Well, we are low on supplies but there's fish and beans. And the garden is finally producing."
Alice, hearing their voices as they came into the clearing, had come out of the cabin. She took Isabel from Uncas with a kiss for the baby's sun-warm head and a smile of greeting for Ben, exhorting him, just as Uncas had, to come in and have some lunch.
Nathaniel was pleased. The trip to the city, from which he had just recently returned, had gone well. Between the two of them, he and Ben had managed to bring back an ample load of supplies and seeds for next year's sowing. They had dropped off a letter for Cora and Alice's aunt updating her on the birth of the children and sending their good wishes.
The garden had had its first successful year—the year previous they had still been experimenting with soil conditions and crop rotation, but Nathaniel thought he had finally managed the correct combination of factors. He had never seen himself as a farmer. But things were different now. He was a married man and they had a son to consider. More children might yet come. He rather hoped not. He and Cora were busy enough with Jamie as it was, and Uncas and Alice's daughter, while an easy baby, had been a difficult birth for Alice. There was plenty of meat in the forest and now that the garden was flourishing they had little need to worry about food, yet the addition of more offspring might make the winters difficult.
Nathaniel was happy despite the ways in which his life had changed. A few weeks earlier he had left Cora, Chingachgook and Jamie at their cabin with few misgivings considering his father was around to look after them, and it had been good to set off with Ben (almost an adult) on a journey again. Yet the moment when they had seen the cabin come into view once more, smoke from a cooking fire spiraling into the sky, and Jamie's excited squeals as he ran to meet his father—all of it had struck him afresh with the knowledge how much home meant to him.
It was good to be home. It was good to have his father and Ben staying with them. It was good to have his brother and his sister-in-law only a few minutes away. That first fall had been hard, when they had had no word; Cora pregnant and brooding, and constantly worrying over her sister. They had had no idea what the spring might bring. Yet Uncas and Alice had returned by early winter, both slightly changed by their experience in the city, older somehow, but more committed to each other than ever. The two had said very little about their time there, and Nathaniel had been unable to bear a grudge against Alice almost from the moment she returned: she had so clearly suffered.
They were their own family now, Uncas and Alice and Isabel; and whatever society might or might not think of them, it mattered little here, and Nathaniel was glad of that, glad that they still lived in a world where they could find happiness.
She sipped at the tea. It was strong, having been brewing all evening by the fireplace.
I am twenty-one. Soon? Now? How hard to reckon time when one usually did by moons, and moods of day and night, light and dark.
I am a wife. I am a mother.
She curled her toes against the furs before the fire like a child. It was nice, though, sometimes, to be neither. Uncas had taken Isabel, wrapped so warmly before he'd gone out that all they could see of the baby were her inquisitive dark eyes, down the trail to have dinner at Cora and Nathaniel's. He had told her he wouldd be back before nightfall.
It had been pleasant to have a few hours alone. She had moved about the cabin, arranging things to her liking. Polishing the few dishes. Spending a little while with a new book Ben had brought up from the city for her.
Uncas had made her a rocking chair before the birth of Isabel. He had worked on it endlessly on winter nights like this one, trying to get the curves right. The end result had been serviceable if not beautiful. Alice loved it. She often rocked the baby to sleep there. With the addition of a few furs, it was as comfortable as anything she could imagine.
Alice took another swallow of her tea and stared into the firelight. Fire talked so much, if one could just listen. It spoke in colors of red and orange, but whispered in blue and purple and sea-green. There were rarely moments to sit and listen to the fire now, so she soaked up the time given to her.
The crunch of snowshoes outside now heralded the return of her family—not even Uncas could walk silently over the icy frozen snow with them, something she had teased him about. Normally the path was well-worn even in winter—Uncas made it a habit to keep the path flat so that Alice could follow him to Cora's in her moccasins—but they had recently had a snow accompanied by freezing rain that had crusted over the trail.
Alice laid another log on the flames before they came in to offset the blast of cold air that would accompany them, and went to open the door. Uncas turned, carefully, allowing her to see that Isabel was sound asleep on the carrier on his back. He eased it off, and Alice tucked the baby into a pile of furs on the center of their bed before returning to Uncas' side.
"Hungry?" he asked her.
He shrugged off his outer coverings and handed her a cloth-wrapped package. "Your sister sent biscuits."
"I'll have them for breakfast." Alice put the food on the table and stood there for a moment, thinking.
Uncas came up behind her and put his hands gently on her wrists. She leaned back into him, enjoying as she always did the protective curve of his arms around her. Now, when he held her like this, it reminded her of when she had been pregnant with Isabel. He had held her with such reverent care then; as if the mere touch of his arms against her stomach would somehow disturb the babe within. She smiled at the memory.
"What?" he said, made aware perhaps because she had sighed, a little, at the same time.
"Nothing. Thinking of the past. I am...content."
"That is good." He pressed a kiss against her hair and released her, watching as Alice turned, gesturing for him to join her by the fire. Uncas stretched out, lithe as a cat, on the furs near her.
"I remember," she said suddenly, "the first night I spent in this cabin."
"I was terrified."
He had closed his eyes but now squinted at her with a hint of amusement in his expression, daring her to elaborate.
"I had never," Alice said, with some severity, "slept under the same roof, in the same room, as two men before. Strange men at that! I don't think I got a moment of rest that night. Certainly I never imagined I would be living here."
"Do you regret that you are?"
He spoke casually, but there was a great deal attached to the question; it touched so much of them, who they were, what their relationship had been, the struggles and separation they had endured in order to be together. It was a question that in its many forms had to be answered with care—bound up in truth.
"There is no other place I would be," she said, after a short while. "Though I have sometimes wondered if you do not regret having found us in the woods that day."
"No," he said with a trace of a smile. "Not even when you fell in the mud and pushed me away when I went to help."
Alice crinkled her nose in embarrassment and pleasure.
"Not even," he said, warming to the subject, "when you ran off to the river in the middle of the night and told me you didn't want me to protect you."
She covered her face with her fingers and peered through them at him.
"But then when you burned the corn..."
Alice squealed in surprise and protest. "And you told me it was fine!"
Uncas propped himself up on one elbow and reached for her. "Wiyon-ashay. You are irresistible."
She let herself be pulled down to snuggle against him in the warmth of the furs.