Old Shatterhand meets Heather
Excerpt from: Winnetou and the Old Judge – a translation of Reinhard Marheinecke’s Winnetou und der alte Richter, a new Winnetou novel. Translation published November 2015
Winnetou and I did not intend to spend the night in Jackson’s Hole. Just when we left the blockhouse-cum-saloon, where we had spent some time with the camel riders, Judge Whittaker left his log cabin office, and crossed the yard to meet us. He informed us that he was departing for South Pass City at dawn, from where he would be able to more efficiently conduct his investigations into the buffalo hunters’ incident.
“The ride would take me at least four days if I made camp every night; however, I’ll get there in three days if I ride through half of each night, and since the matter is urgent, I’ll be in my South Pass City office in the morning of the third day,” he explained, and then went on to invite us to accompany him, and stay on his ranch, south-east of the city. I thanked him; but for the moment, Winnetou and I needed to immediately return to the Shoshone. Because of the volatile situation, we thought we had better not stay away for too long. The judge agreed, and once again reassured us that he would do his utmost to find the villains, and to do his part in ensuring that the north-west corner of Wyoming would remain peaceful.
Whittaker, Winnetou and I were still talking when a young woman joined us, but remained a few paces away, in order not to disturb our conversation. The light from the small saloon illuminated her face, so that she was clearly visible despite the darkness around us. With a few, swift side-glances, I was able to have a close look at the lady. She had tied her long, blonde hair back, in an attempt at somehow taming the mass of golden locks, and her bonnet covered most of it; a slim nose underscored her even features, and shapely lips completed her pretty face. Indeed, the young lady was a beautiful creature. She had draped a large, plain, dark shawl over her shoulders, and held it crossed at the front. It looked blue, but the flickering light from the cabin door could have fooled the eye. The just-as-plain, billowing long dress permitted a look at the tips of a pair of small black boots that peeked out from under the hem, which evidenced that she was no stranger to riding a horse.
When the judge saw the young woman, a beaming smile spread over his face; as gallantly as he could, he made an arm gesture towards her and said:
“Heather, my child, may I introduce to you my friends?”
“Friends?” the young woman asked with unease in her voice.
A frown of slight anger creased his forehead:
“Are you in a bad mood, child?”
Heather ignored Whittaker’s question, and instead explained:
“I only wished to inform you, uncle, that I will go and help Mrs Wilkinson with some chores; her husband is away hunting and she does not manage well on her own now.”
“Of course, my child!” the judge absentmindedly replied, and then enlightened Winnetou and me:
“Ah, yes, gentlemen, this is my niece, Heather Whittaker. She is the only child of my brother, Jake, who passed away far too early. I took the girl in, of course, after the death of her parents!”
The girl’s features noticeably darkened, and she hastily left. Somehow her unease had sparked very faint disquiet to rise from deep within me, but I was unable to say why, or what exactly had caused it. After the judge’s secretary, Drake, the girl was the second person in Whittaker’s company to make an odd impression on me.
“Forgive the manners of the girl! I don’t know what got into her!” the judge shook his head.
We said our farewells, and then Winnetou and I departed, at last. Dusk had descended early in the valley, and we intended to ride the night through, so that we would meet up with chief Sokotsuku in the morning; our horses had rested enough for the night ride. We left Jackson’s Hole by the same route we had arrived, the south-easterly exit; we rode along the banks of the Snake River at first, down Hoback Canyon, and then along the Gros Ventre foot hills followed the Hoback Creek upstream, back along our own trail. Soon after, the moon rose, and we were able to ride faster. After a few hours, we left the creek and turned east to head into the valleys of the Green River headwaters. The only hindrance we encountered during the early part of our ride was the many rocks and boulders, so typical of the area, in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It seemed like a gigantic explosion had thousands of years ago wrenched them from the nearby Grand Teton massif and flung them where we rode. The late summer night was mild, and the atmosphere in the high-lying region clear. The three quarter waxing moon sent its scant light just far enough ahead of us, so that we were able to let our horses gallop. Our black stallions were excellent horses, and skilfully evaded the rocky obstacles.
The ride was uneventful until almost dawn. The quiet night enveloped us, and the dull drone of the horses’ hooves on the dense grass was the only sound around us. The high plateau plain was mostly level. But then, a stand of bushes and trees we had passed on the way down came into view; it appeared in the moonlight like an island in the wide, endless ocean. The silhouette of the tree isle in the prairie was clearly distinguishable against the night sky. For a fraction of a second, I saw what looked like the spark of a match being struck between the trees.