Fiction Thad Carhart Across the Endless River

ISBN 13: 9780385529778

Across the Endless River

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9780385529778: Across the Endless River

From the acclaimed bestselling author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, a historical novel about Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea, and his intriguing sojourn as a young man in 1820s Paris.

Born in 1805 on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was the son of the expedition's translators, Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. Across the Endless River compellingly portrays this mixed-blood child's mysterious boyhood along the Missouri among the Mandan tribe and his youth as William Clark's ward in St. Louis. The novel becomes a haunting exploration of identity and passion as eighteen-year-old Baptiste is invited to cross the Atlantic in 1823 with young Duke Paul of Württemberg.

During their travels throughout Europe, Paul introduces Baptiste to a world he never imagined. Gradually, Baptiste senses the limitations of life as an outsider. His passionate affair with Paul's older cousin helps him understand the richness of his heritage and the need to fashion his own future. But it is Maura, the beautiful and independent daughter of a French-Irish wine merchant Baptiste meets in Paris, who most influences his ultimate decision to return to the frontier.

Rich in the details of life in both frontier America and the European court, Across the Endless River is a captivating novel about a man at the intersection of cultures, languages, and customs.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

A dual citizen of Ireland and the United States, THAD CARHART lives in Paris with his wife, the photographer Simo Neri, and their two children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One
February 11, 1805
On the banks of the Missouri, 1,200 miles
upriver from St. Louis
All afternoon her cries could be heard throughout the small
wooden enclosure they called Fort Mandan, winter quarters for
the expedition across the river from one of the tribe's villages. Two
rows of huts faced each other at an oblique angle within the stockade,
and from one of these the guttural shrieks emerged with a grim regularity.
In and around the other huts the men kept to their business—
skinning game, cutting wood, cleaning guns—but each flinched
inwardly when the next cry reached his ears.
"It's her first," René Jesseaume said as he ground an ax blade on a
whetstone inside his hut. "She can't be more than fifteen; it's no wonder
she has been at it for so long."
"All you can do is wait," said the young soldier across from him,
shaking his head. He continued to dress the elk meat they had hunted
two days before.
"Maybe," Jesseaume said. He put down the ax, oiled the stone, and
let himself out into the biting cold.
He crossed the central space enclosed by the palisade. On the river
side the American flag snapped fiercely on its pole above the roughhewn
gatehouse, its edges already frayed. Hunched against the bitter
cold wind, he approached the door to the captains' quarters opposite
his hut. As he prepared to knock, the door opened and Charbonneau,
the squaw's husband, emerged in a daze. His eyes were rheumy, his
look distracted; he passed Jesseaume without appearing to see him.
Jesseaume knocked lightly on the half-open door and let himself in to
the close confines of the room.
Captain Lewis looked up from where he sat by a low pallet covered
with a buffalo robe. His features were worn. The young woman lay
beneath a woven blanket, her face turned away from the candle at
Lewis's side. Lewis began to say something but the woman cried out
suddenly, a long howl that paralyzed both men before it tapered off in
a whimper. Jesseaume approached and knelt by Lewis's side.
"Captain, my wife' s tribe has a potion in such cases where the labor
is long and difficult." Lewis nodded for him to continue. "They crush
the tail of a rattler, mix it with water, and have the woman drink it. I
have never seen it fail."
At length Lewis said, "I have given her as much tincture of laudanum
as I dare. I don't suppose the Mandan remedy you propose can
keep nature from taking its course."
He rose and walked to the other side of the hut, its interior dank
with the smell of sweat, blood, and wood smoke. On one wall a profusion
of pelts, tails, snakeskins, and bones hung on the rough timber.
He produced a knife from his pocket and snipped the rattles from the
tip of a snakeskin. Then, setting his cup on an adjacent plank, he ladled
out a quarter measure of water and returned to where Jesseaume
crouched beside the woman.
"Will this serve?"
"Very well, Captain. I thank you."
Jesseaume neatly snapped two of the rattles from the tail, dropped
them into the water, and broke them into tiny pieces, using his thumbnail
as a mortar to the tin cup's pestle. Kneeling low to the pallet, he
raised the young woman's sweat-drenched head in one hand and whispered
in her ear in Mandan, "New Mother, the power of the snake will
tell your body how to work. Drink this, and let the snake show your
baby the way out." He held the cup to her lips then, and she raised her
head to drink it, her matted hair stretched across her mouth. Gently,
he pulled the strands clear and she drank the cloudy liquid, slowly at
first, then in one long swallow. She lay down as if the effort of drinking
was a new source of exhaustion. A short while later her body contracted,
her knees rose to her chest, and she let out a shriek.
Lewis said, "I am going out for a short while. I fear our vigil may yet
be long."
"It may, Captain," Jesseaume whispered. "But in case it is not, could
you ask my wife to attend? She is at the gatehouse with Black Moccasin
and his squaws."
A quarter of an hour later the girl they called the Bird Woman,
Sacagawea, brought forth a fine and healthy boy. Charbonneau was
found dozing in one of the soldiers' huts. He returned, tearful and
smiling, and cradled the infant, wrapped in a blanket of fox fur, as he
announced proudly to all, "We will name him Jean- Baptiste, like my
grandfather."
His father called him Baptiste, but his mother called him Pompy, "Little
Chief," the Shoshone name she chose to honor the tribe into which
she had been born. Her knowledge of the Shoshone language was the
reason Charbonneau had been hired as an interpreter for the expedition,
after all. He didn't speak it, but her girlhood had been spent with
the Shoshone, the Snake tribe, at the foot of the Great Stony Mountains
to the west. They were the only tribe in the area with horses to
trade, and the captains and their men would need horses to cross the
mountains on their way west. She would be the go- between when they
left the river and started to climb.
As she lay with her newborn and suckled him in those first few
days, she thought of the new paths that lay ahead for her and her baby,
one of which might lead to the place where she had been born. Four
summers earlier she and three other Shoshone girls had been carried
off during the seasonal buffalo hunt by a Hidatsa raiding party. They
were after horses and young women, in that order of importance, and
after killing several hunters and their squaws, including her parents,
they galloped off with Sacagawea and the others tied to their mounts.
They rode eastward for many days, through land that was different
from anything Sacagawea had seen, broad and open, with swift rivers
cut into the ground and tall grasslands in every direction. When they
reached the Hidatsa and Mandan villages on the river they called the
Knife, she had not seen mountains for a long time. She knew that her
kinsmen could never rescue her from this powerful tribe so far away
from their lands. She wondered if she could live the life that had now
become hers.
In a dream her bird spirit came to her and pecked at her tongue,
sharp and insistent, and she woke with the taste of blood on her teeth.
Sacagawea must speak with a new tongue, the bird told her. She
clutched the small obsidian figure her mother had placed in her medicine
bundle, a tiny bird, all that was left to her from her first life. "I
must do this," she said, over and over, in those first months of captivity.
"I must do this."
Gradually she met other girls who had been stolen from their tribes
in that summer when all followed the herds: a pair of Assiniboin sisters,
several Crow and Gros Ventre, even a Nez Percé girl from across
the Stony Mountains who wept for weeks until the brave who had captured
her beat her into a watchful silence. Each of the Mandan and
Hidatsa villages was far bigger than any Shoshone encampment she
had known, with thirty or forty large earth-and- timber lodges grouped
around a central clearing. Both tribes kept extensive fields of corn,
squash, and beans. It was a dark time, a time of silences when Sacagawea
understood almost nothing of the new language she would have
to learn, but she noticed right away something that set these people
apart from the Shoshone: no one went hungry. As large as the villages
were, there was food for all.
She held Pompy close and looked in his eyes, gray-blue like his father's,
and thought, You are the only thing I can truly call my own, little
one. Soon we will leave this place and you will have neither tribe nor village.
You and I will be part of this band of wanderers, headed to the far
edge of the land, to the place the Shoshone call The Big Lake That
Smells Bad. The Pacific, the captains name it. So begins your first life, on
rivers and trails. Will it always be so?
Two months after she gave birth, Sacagawea set off up the river as part
of the Corps of Discovery together with Charbonneau and her infant,
strapped to her back on the cradleboard she had fashioned at Fort
Mandan. Its cedar slats gave forth an aroma that pleased her with its
sweetness. She felt like a mother.
There were better men than Charbonneau, she knew, but far more
who were worse. A year after they were taken, he had bought Sacagawea
and another Shoshone girl from the Hidatsa warrior who had
captured them. They became Charbonneau's squaws, maintaining a
lodge for him in the Mandan village and sharing in the women's work
of the tribe. He took his pleasure with them by turns, sometimes for
long hours, but never roughly like the warrior from whom she had
learned what it was to lose one's body. Over time she came to accept
his ways, but she was often glad that Otter Woman was there, too,
when it suited Charbonneau.
She was jealously protective of her right to accompany Charbonneau
on some of his trading trips along the river. He didn't often take
her, but when he did she felt more alive than at any other time, delighting
in the departure from her routine chores in the village and
keen to see what the world looked like elsewhere. She worked doubly
hard to be sure he knew her worth, gathering firewood, cleaning the
trade goods, brushing the pelts, cooking his food. The presence of a
woman, she knew, was by itself a message that men of all tribes understood:
no fighting was intended. She took pride in her role as the
companion of the white trader, a free agent who could pass from tribe
to tribe without causing alarm.
In this, she realized that Charbonneau possessed a quality that the
French voyageurs often showed but that was rare among the American
and British traders: he was persistent, and infinitely patient. When, in
the heat of negotiations over furs or beads, horses or guns, the chiefs
would use hard language and refuse to be...

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