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 by Colin Sargent
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    Dec 2008, 352 pages
    Nov 2009, 352 pages

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With only hotel room ceilings to confess to after galas in Washington, his thoughts had often drifted to his Indian girl. Nostalgia had given him the bite after he returned to St. Louis, accepted an appointment to oversee Indian affairs in the new Louisiana Territory, and married, setting up offices and a museum commemorating the Expedition in a white frame house along the river.

So he'd written to Toussaint after three years, bribing him to bring the mother and child, offering education for the boy and "other considerations": $500.33 and 323 acres of land.

"I'm fulfilling a promise," Clark said.

"You made that promise in the woods, a world away," Julia said.

Julia's eyelids fluttered when she was agitated. You are so exotic, she thought as she studied the "squaw" - her maid had gleefully whispered the sobriquet - and looked down at her own pale, trembling hands. Beyond the girl's vitality Julia sensed a formidable, cunning intelligence, something that spoke of the genius of the woods. She closed her eyes for a moment, then lowered her voice. "What will my family think?"All of St. Louis will know.

Julia suddenly felt dizzy. She'd met her first cousin Clark when she was just twelve, and he thirty-three. "I'm going to marry you on your fifteenth birthday," he'd vowed. But he'd been a year late and a dollar short. And oh, now this mistress. Julia had been the loveliest maid since her mother to lead the Virginia reel back in Fincastle. She'd pictured her life spread before her as one perfect day after another, with no upset to the schedule, but this change of scenery made her head ache fit to bursting and made her strangely afraid. She allowed herself to look for a second at the girl's dusky majesty. How different are you from me, dark where I am fair, round where I am hollow. You must be some sort of devil's familiar. Then she took in the bare feet, was certain she detected a musk, and instinctively raised her handkerchief to her nose.

She shot a glance at her husband. When we married you were vigorous, a world celebrity. Now, as Julia retreated to become a pale figure behind an upstairs window . . .

Clark installed his second family in a shack barely eight feet in front of the chattel quarters, close enough that Baptiste could hear the slaves sneezing.

That first January, Father Clark often came at moonrise to visit. Baptiste was too sleepy to do much more than totter about when the explorer tapped his feet and snapped his fingers to the sound of Sacagawea's muyatainka, her little reed whistle carved with the profile of a raven.

But as the hours of sunshine grew longer and Sacagawea began to open her door to the spring air, Baptiste practiced some steps in the shaft of light that fell on the crude floor. On May Day, merrymakers spilled into the garden. Clark spied Baptiste watching from behind an azalea.

"Aha!" Clark clapped his hands. "Come on out!"

With a studied grace, Baptiste bowed and strode toward him as if he were gliding across a proscenium.

When the delighted crowd clapped, he started to skip, then turned toward them and recited a short poem.

"Wonderful, Pomp!" Clark called to the boy, then waved toward his friends. "And this distinguished company is, of course, the circumstance!" The crowd laughed politely at his witticism.

"By your leave, sir!" Baptiste bowed again. The attention warmed the boy all over, and as he departed he promised himself he'd always please Father Clark and oblige his acquaintances.

But Sacagawea wasn't so pleased and quickly pulled her son into the thorny bushes behind the woodpile. She squeezed his upper arm.

"Yokopekka," she hissed. "Wise ass." Then she hugged him gently and clasped her hands over his heart.

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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