Excerpt from Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Museum of Human Beings

by Colin Sargent

Museum of Human Beings
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2008, 352 pages
    Nov 2009, 352 pages

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"They did not take my true treasure, little one," she said in Shoshone, then crooned to him in a low voice. "I carry you on my back. With soft deerskin I lay you on a slab of bark cradled gently behind my shoulders so your head will be close to mine, and ever you will see what I see. We will walk as one. We crossed the mountains as one. The wind will warm our passage. We will always be together."

Feeling the delicious warmth of the blanket surround him, Baptiste drifted off to sleep, barely able to reflect that often one's pleasures come from another's pain.

"Well done, Janey!" Clark said in the only language at his command when they returned at dusk, his endearment, the common one used by soldiers to address female camp followers, defiling mother and child in a single sweep. He ruffled Baptiste's hair.

"Because of your mother's salesmanship, the Chinooks left us fresh horses and an elk. The devils will even help us build a fort, for the right price, of course."

Sacagawea turned away.

Misinterpreting her sorrow and pretending she understood enough to bask in his praise, he said, "Aw, I'm sick of all this weather, too. The only relief we have from the snow is the rain."

"We must hurry," Sacagawea told him haltingly in the English she was determined to learn. She knew after a day or so the trading would wear off and the braves could kill them with a clear conscience. She made her two fingers "walk" in the air stealthily and then an abrupt stabbing motion with her fist.

"It would serve us right," Clark laughed. Then he leaned down and kissed both Sacagawea and Baptiste on the lips. No one else was nearby. Sacagawea stared at Clark with a lost look.

"Compliments," she said softly, and draped the weasel tails around Clark's neck. Baptiste tried to reach out and touch the black-tipped pieces of fur, they looked so alive.

"They stink to hell!" Clark smiled.

Every time the explorer put his face near Baptiste's mother's it became difficult for the boy to breathe. The tip of Father Clark's enormous hairy ear covered his nose.

At nightfall, the discomfited Captain Lewis was ejected from the shelter to take his damp grass mat and retire elsewhere. Sacagawea looked shyly into Clark's eyes as he took off his leggings and leather breeches.

Clark took her and her papoose to his blanket. Trusting Baptiste was asleep under the wool, Sacagawea untied her deerskin shift and let it fall open. Blue islands around her ribs from Toussaint's regular beatings had now turned to yellow and nearly healed.

"EttsemiH," she told Clark, "close your eyes." She softly repeated "compliments" as he drew her onto his lap.

They awoke at dawn to a commotion outside the shelter. A cold, clear air hit the trio as Clark threw off the blanket. It was the advance party who'd been charged with scavenging for food, returning pell-mell to camp, shouting, cheering. They had seen Pacifica, and their eyes were lit by the sea.

"Done," Clark said to himself. "After twenty-six months, we've made it." Then, more loudly, "This calls for a toast!"

"Not everyone here needs a toast," Gass said, scrunching up his nose as Toussaint Charbonneau shuffled in.

"A bonus would be agriable," Charbonneau said, via Labiche. "To reward he who brought you here."

"The terms of your remuneration were agreed on long ago," Lewis said, backing up.

Charbonneau studied Lewis resentfully for a moment, then lumbered away.

"And there's a giant fish on the beach, Cap'n," York said, "as big as any ship I ever saw on the Potomac."

"A whale," Clark marveled. "How far away?"

"Maybe five, six miles, Cap'n."

"Is it alive?"

"I think I saw it move."

"What did he see?" Sacagawea asked shyly, tugging at Clark's sleeve.

Excerpted from Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent. Copyright © 2008 by Colin Sargent. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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