The Homestead: Part Twelve

This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 830 words.

Once daddy got started, he worked really fast. The chimney and fireplace was up first, and we slept in the tent meanwhile. It was a very big tent, and the thick material kept the wind out nicely. But some nights the noise of the wind buffeting the canvas would wake me up. As it got colder, I appreciated the work keeping me warm. Daddy got me some work gloves to keep down the blisters, as my main job was starting to dig out the hole for the outhouse. We couldn’t keep using the trees, daddy said, or we would end up fouling the place where we intended to live. When that hole got as deep as my head, it had to be shored up with planks, to stop it collapsing on me.

He started on the frame for the cabin, and it looked mighty big to me. Once the outhouse hole was done and covered, we went deep into the woods to find the right kind of trees to cut down. Daddy said they had to be long enough to fit between the pins he had laid, but not so heavy that we couldn’t haul them back. Using the two-handed saw was real hard going for me, and most nights I was falling asleep trying to eat my dinner. But it was making me strong and tough, no doubt about that.

When he went on the necessary trips into town, I had to stay behnd to watch the stuff. He left the rifle with me, and told me to grab it if anyone showed up, but not to shoot it unless I was in real danger. I did feel a mite scared to be honest, but the rifle gave me confidence, and I kept it close when I was alone. Daddy had shot a wild hog with it a few days earlier, and when we discovered it had baby hogs hiding in a bush behind it, I felt real sorry for them when they run off squealing.

Turned out Delacroix was still in the settlement. He had taken to playing cards day and night, getting himself a reputation as a gambler. Then one day, daddy came back with a man on the seat next to him. He was called Henry, and had been employed to help out. He sure was a big fella, but seemed kinda slow like, when he talked. He had been promised three squares a day, and whatever clothes he needed. Daddy gave him some tobacco for his corncob pipe, and said he would pay him in Yankee dollars once we were up and running. He didn’t say much, but he smiled a lot. I reckoned he was younger than daddy, maybe thirty years old or so.

I liked Henry well enough, but with him sleeping in the tent, I soon found out that he snored real loud, and didn’t smell so good either. Next day when he had sent hm out to get firewood, daddy sat me down and talked about Henry. “Seems like he turned up here with his pappy, and then the old man died. He’s been sleeping in the woods, and getting work when he could. There’s something not right in his head, but he’s not mean. Still, don’t forget not to mention anything about me being in the army, Phin. You never know what he might say to strangers. I’m gonna get him some new clothes, and make him wash regular. He won’t smell so bad soon, but I can’t do nothing about that snoring”.

Wth the extra help, the cabin was soon taking shape. As Henry trimmed off the corners of the logs, daddy cut out some small window squares, and worked on shutters to cover them inside and out. I was given the back-breaking job of flattening the dirt floor, using a contraption he built. It was a box with two handles, and the inside was full of stones. I had to lift it up and slam it down again, over and over. He would come and check, pointing out places that needed more pounding. I sure hated that contraption, but it did the job, and it wasn’t long before daddy could start to lay the planks that made the floor dry.

After making two ladders, daddy and Henry started on the roof. I was set to cutting out thick grassy turf from the edges of the clearing. Once the roof planks were on, the turf would be laid on top to protect the wood from the weather. When fall was well and truly over, and the bare trees and chill mornings heralded winter, daddy lit the first fire inside, and brought the two good chairs from the wagon. Him and Henry sat in front of the big fire, smoking their pipes, and watching the cooking pot bubbling.

I sat on the box that had been full of stones, happy to know I wouldn’t be using it no more.

27 thoughts on “The Homestead: Part Twelve

  1. You painted an excellent picture of hard work. If you have ever tried to dig up turf, it is backbreaking. Of course I cannot imagine building a cabin from scratch, trees in the woods.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. People then worked from first light until it was too dark to continue. Then they might carry on using lamps or light from a large fire. They could make quite large cabins in a surprisingly short time, and most men had been brought up expecting to work hard. Jessie would have had to buy in the planks that had already been prepared in a lumber yard with a suitable saw, one reason why most settlers used trimmed tree trunks to fashion the largest part of their houses.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Life certainly wasn’t easy back then…I could see what they were building in my mind’s eye very descriptive, Pete…Phin’s dad has a kind heart taking on Henry even though he knew how useful he would be 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “When Daddy went on the necessary trips into town, I had to stay behind to watch the stuff. He left the rifle with me and told me to grab it if anyone showed up.”

    Phin replied, What do you want me to do if someone shows up?”

    “Take the SOB down, Phin. There’s going to be hell to pay if anyone tries to use our outhouse!”

    Great chapter, Pete!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. (1) “I did feel a mite scared to be honest.”
    ……Dishonest Interpretation #1: “I did feel a mite—scared, to be honest.” Mites are such tiny creatures that they have a mortal fear of being felt, as they are practically doomed to be crushed in the process. So Phin shouldn’t be surprised by the mite’s honest expression of intense fear.
    ……Dishonest Interpretation #2: “I did feel a mite—scared to be honest.” Mites have always feared the truth. The honest truth is that they are rather despicable creatures, and they’re simply not brave enough to face that fact. Phin can pet them all he wants, but he won’t coax the truth out of them.
    (2) Unless he’s able to bury his feelings, Phin must be thinking a lot about his mother while digging the hole for the outhouse. She died in an outhouse, and a hole had to be dug in the ground later to bury her.
    (3a) “Using the two-handed saw was real hard going for me.” It would have been harder with a three-handed saw.
    (3b) “It was a box with two handles, and the inside was full of stones.” If the contraption had been made with three handles, Phin could have asked Henry for a helping hand.
    (4) “As Henry trimmed off the corners of the logs, daddy cut out some small window squares.” Since Jessie had promised Henry “three squares a day,” you have to wonder how many windows that cabin will end up having!
    (5) “You never know what he might say to strangers.” For example, Henry might tell strangers that using an assembly line could result in mass production of affordable pioneer cabins, and that such an approach could help facilitate the future automobile industry.
    (6) Roughly 14,000 Henry repeating rifles were produced from 1860 to 1866. So now that we know what Henry has been up to, you have to wonder where he’s stashed them all.
    (7) Phin wasn’t happy about being told to rip up sod for the cabin’s roof. Jessie let the boy air his well-grounded complaints, but then slapped him on the back and said, “Turf luck, son!”
    (8) Jessie and Henry watched the “cooking pot bubbling.” They say a watched pot never boils, so this is a rather shocking development.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I can see this in my minds eye, mainly beacause a chap on the series Hell on Wheels I’m watching has just built one in the same manner, mind you it’s just been burned down by Sioux Indians so hopefully that’s not an omen for Jesse and Phin!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My daughter and her husband bought a piece of raw land on an island. They slept in a tent while they cleared the land and built a cabin. This was only 20 years ago!! Later they built a proper house and she uses the cabin as a pottery studio.

    Liked by 1 person

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