This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.
That winter wasn’t so bad. Nothing like as bad as some where we had come from. Daddy and Henry worked on improving the inside of the house, and it wasn’t long before we had two rooms sectioned off behind the main room around the fireplace. Henry had his own small room to sleep in, and thought it was grand, and daddy and me had the larger one, using two slat beds he had made from scrap wood. I watched daddy working with the wood, and he used the dark nights to show me how to use his tools by the light of the oil lamp and the fire. I followed his guidance, and he decided that I should make my own chair to sit in. I made it bigger than I needed, so I could grow into it, but they laughed when I sat in it and looked small.
My daddy made a good table too, using two big planks to fashion benches either side. He would sit there and show Henry his map, trying to teach the man where he was living. One evening, Henry traced his finger across to the west coast, up to Oregon, and then further up to Canada. He shook his head in wonder. “Mighty big, Mister Jessie”. I asked him where he came from. I had asked him before, and he always shook his head. “Can’t recall, Master Phin”. That night he thought about it some, and suddenly seemed to remember. “Rochter. No work. Pa says we best go west”. Daddy spent a long time looking at the eastern half of the map. “You mean Rochester, Henry? Look see, near this big lake?” The map didn’t mean much to the big man, but at mention of the lake, he smiled and nodded vigorously. “Big lake! Yessir, Mister Jessie”.
Daddy showed me the map. It was Lake Ontario, and Canada was on the other side of it. Henry and his pa had come a long way.
With no crops growing that we could eat, everything we couldn’t shoot had to be bought or traded in the settlement. Daddy didn’t trust Henry’s sense to leave him alone at home, so I spent a lot of time around the homestead while they were away. I walked around the property, getting to know every inch of it; from the edge of the creek, right through to the back of the woods. Daddy showed me how to make a small box-cart, for bringing back the firewood I chopped. It had waxed runners on the bottom edges, and I dragged it with a rope harness wrapped around my shoulders.
As the weather warmed up with the change of season, I decided that I was happy in Kansas.
One afternoon, daddy came back with some news. Chisholm had talked to him about him being good with tools, and suggested he could get regular work as a carpenter, helping to build the settlement up into a town. Many of the tent-dwellers had decided to stay on, and there was even sign of another expansion across the river. There was something in it for Chisholm of course, as he would supply the materials; like good seasoned lumber, nails, and other necessaries. He offered my daddy a month’s credit on his first needs, and said he would pass on all requests for a man who could build a house, or fix things in wood.
I was surprised to hear that daddy wanted me to work with him and Henry.
“It will mean leaving the place untended, but we will have all the tools and valuables with us in the wagon. I can teach you stuff, and you can carry on when I’m gone”. It also meant that we wouldn’t be farming, so other than hunting for meat, we would be reliant on buying from the trading post. I concluded that Mr Chisholm was a right good man for business.
The first offer of work was from Reverend Parker. He wanted to build a proper church, and stop preaching from his old tent. He had collected subscriptions from his congregation, and and had a mind to build a good-sized church with a tower to house a bell that he would order later from back east. Daddy had to haggle some, but he had an idea that the preacher had more money than he had told his flock he would have to pay, and was of a mind to pocket the rest. They came to an agreement over a bottle of whiskey, and daddy set a date for commencing the work once the lumber was all in place.
But on the way back, there was some consternation at the gambling tent, and we heard shooting. Delacroix staggered out clutching his side, and bleeding like a stuck pig. Seeing us in the wagon, he raised his arm, and called out.
“Mister Fuller, sir. I am in need of your assistance!”.