For instance, we guessed that she followed her trees and, from that, we grew convinced that she was determined to cut down the man who took them. She had lived among those oak and pine trees when their roots grew deep beneath her and their leaves thick above. Now he lived among them, too, only he lived among them cut and dead. Here is how all that I speak of came about.
During a bright thaw in the moon of little spirit, an Ojibwe woman gave birth on the same ground where, much later, the house of John James Mauser was raised. The ridge of earth was massive, a fold of land jutting up over a brief network of lakes, flowing streams, rivers, and sloughs. That high ground was a favorite spot for making camp in those original years before settlement, because the water drew game and from the lookout a 4 FOUR SOULS person could see waasa, far off, spot weather coming or an enemy traveling below.
The baby would be given the old name Wujiew, Mountain. From that direction, the place where the dead follow after their names, came wheat in a grasshopper year, hauled out green and fermenting to feed the working crews. A city was raised. Place of the falls. Wood framed. Brick by brick. The best brownstone came from an island in the deep cold northern lake called Gichi gami.
The ground of the island had once been covered with mammoth basswood that scented the air over the lake, for miles out, with a swimming fragrance of such supernal sweet innocence that those first priests who came to steal Ojibwe souls, penetrating deeper into the heart of the world, cried out not knowing whether God or the devil tempted them.
Now the island was stripped of trees. The dug quarry ran a quarter mile in length. From below the soil, six-by-eight blocks were drilled and hand-cut by homesick Italians who first hated the state of Michigan and next Wisconsin and felt more lost and alien the farther they worked themselves into this country.
The Italians slept in shifts and were troubled in their dreams, so much so that one night they rose together in a storm of beautiful language and walked onto the barge to ride along with their own hewn rock toward the farthest shore—forfeiting wages. Still, there was more than enough brownstone quarried, cut, hand-finished, shipped, and hauled uphill, for the construction of the house to continue.
On the whole continent and to each direction these were judged the finest that could be obtained. In addition, it proved easy and profitable to deal with the Indian agent Tatro, who won a personal commission for discovering that due to a recent government decision the land upon which those trees grew was tax forfeit from one Indian, just a woman—she could go elsewhere and, anyway, she was a troublemaker.
There was no problem about moving the lumber crews right in and so the cut was accomplished speedily. Half was sold. The other, and the soundest of the wood, was processed right at the edge of the city to the specifications of the architect.
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Watching the oak grain emerge in warm swirls of umber, the architect thought of several gestures he could make—the sleek entrance, the complicated stairwell, the curves. He saw the wood accomplishing a series of glowing movements in grand proportions. He pointed out the height of imposing windows to Miss Polly Elizabeth, the sister-in-law of his client and now his selfappointed decorating assistant.
She took detailed notes and dispatched a servant to the Indian missions to procure fine lace produced by young women whose mothers had once worked the quills of porcupines and dyed hairs of moose together into intricate clawed flowers and strict emblems before they died of measles, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis, and left their daughters dexterous and lonely to the talents of nuns. Slate for the roof shingles. A strange, tremendous crystal of pyrite traded from a destitute family in the autumn of no rice.
The walls were raised and fast against them a tawny insulation of woven lake reeds was pressed tight and 6 FOUR SOULS thickened by three layers, and then four, so that no stray breeze could enter. The chimneys were constructed of a type of brick requiring the addition of blood, and so, baked in the vicinity of a slaughterhouse, they would exude when there was fire lighted a scorched, physical odor. Water from the generous river. Fire trembling in beehive kilns. And sweat, most of all sweat from the bodies of men and women made the house.
Sweating men climbed the hill and set the blocks and beveled the glass and carved the details and set down floors of wood, parquet, concrete, and alabaster. Women coughed in the dim basements of a fabric warehouse sewing drapes and dishcloths and hemming fine linen. One day overhead a flight of sandhill cranes passed low enough to shoot and the men on the crew brought down nearly a hundred to pluck and roast, eat, digest, and use up making more sweat, laying bricks.
A lynx was killed near the building site. One claw was set in gold and hung off the watch fob of John James Mauser, who presented his wife with a thick spotted muff made to the mold of her tender hands.
Trying to make love to her was for young Mr. Mauser like touching the frozen body of a window mannequin 7 Louise Erdrich whose temples, only, whitened and throbbing, showed the strain.
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Her arms were stiffly cocked and raised, her legs sprawled, her face as he formed an apology in panic was lean and mournful and suddenly gopherlike. When she curled her upper lip her long front teeth showed, she was like a meek animal mad with fear. He fell back, turned away. They had this house of chimneys whose bricks contained the blood of pigs and calves so that a greasy sadness drifted in the festive rooms.
They had this house of tears of lace constructed of a million tiny knots of useless knowledge. This house of windows hung with the desperations of dark virgins. They had this house of stacked sandstone colored the richest clay-red and lavender hue.
Once this stone had formed the live heart of sacred islands. Now it was a fashionable backdrop to their ambitions. They had this house of railroad and then lumber money and the sucking grind of eastern mills.
In fact, there is no question that a number of people of all ages lost their lives on account of this house. That is the case, always, with great buildings and large doings.
Placide knew this better than her husband, but both were non8 FOUR SOULS plussed, and felt it simply was their fate to have this house of German silver sinks and a botanical nursery, of palm leaf moldings and foyers that led into foyers of pale stained glass, this house of bathrooms floored with quiet marble, gray and finely veined.
This house of lead plumbing that eroded minds. This house of beeswaxed mantels and carved paneling, of wooden benches set into the entryway wall and cornices and scrolls and heavy doors hung skillfully to swing shut without a sound—all this made of wood, fine-grained, very old-grown, quartersawn oak that still in its season and for many years after would exude beads of thin sap—as though recalling growth and life on the land belonging to Fleur Pillager and the shores of Matchimanito, beyond.
Chirurgie des Seins
High on sloped and snowy grounds, it was unshadowed yet by trees. The roof, gables, porch, all chiseled and bored in fantastic shapes, were frosted with an overnight fall of gleaming snow. Clipped in cones and cubes, the shrubs were coated with the same lacquer, as was the fountain, frozen, and the white cast-iron lacework of the benches and the tea tables in the yard. The white deer at the gate, dusted with a sugar powder, pawed delicately at its pedestal and nosed the glittering air. I see her walking up the pale drive constructed for the approach of a carriage but what would she know of formal conveyance?
I see the negative of her as she stooped to her dark bundle, the image of a question mark set on a page, alone. Or like a keyhole, you could say, sunk into a door locked and painted shut, the deep black figure layered in shawls was more an absence, a slot for a coin, an invitation for the curious, than a woman come to plead for menial work. We should have conducted our very first conference in one of the rooms out back of the house, reserved for utilities and duty.
Instead, Fleur Pillager stood with head bowed before me, dripping on the interlocked figures of the Persian carpet. Azure and indigo, rose-brick and barley pale. A damp cloth to sponge the mud up would be required, I thought, and asked her to discard her boots. Barefooted, removed from the deceptive brilliance, Fleur was a cipher, a sorry-looking piece of flotsam, I thought, in her coarse brown sack. Desperate, deserted by my Irishwoman the day before and drubbed low, insulted, she threw my own money in my face! Who could have known?
She would look so very different. They would glance at each other, turn away, and look again.usetstanabnau.cf
Four Souls (Erdrich, Louise)
I thought her stupid, quite harmless, much quieter than the Irishwoman. I was pleased that this Indian woman had no family connections. Nothing in the look of her and the ignorant silence told me she could possibly end up connected to me. My brother-in-law, John Mauser, was the cause and perpetrator—I should say the victim as well, though he surely would not countenance that statement. After his war year, my brother-in-law had acquired a specific and demanding need for fresh-pressed clean linen. He sweat, to put it indelicately. Once, twice, then three or four times a night, his man-nurse, Fantan, was required to change him from the soaked skin out, to strip the bed down and make it up fresh, with sheets starched smooth and scented with sandalwood.
Then, and only then, could my brotherin-law fall asleep.
And although quite a number of doctors had attempted to solve the riddle of his symptoms, their lack of progress in other matters quite convinced me that, in regard to this problem, looking to the future was wisest. The sweating would be permanent. And so I was anxious to hire. I asked how soon she might be able to begin.