The Homestead: Part Twenty-Four

This is the twenty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 920 words.

Before the next winter set in, daddy talked about the hunting trip again. He reckoned a few days away would provide us with some deer and wild hogs, not to mention plenty of game birds. As well as the Henry rifle, daddy had bought an old fifty-calibre Hawken from a man in town to take along. It was slow to use, but daddy said that it could knock down the biggest buck from a ways off. We both tried it out in the woods, and it sure had some kick to it.

Henry was going to use my horse and tool box while we were away. He could do a few small jobs locally, and Walter would be busy sorting and storing the crops. Mary had woven some baskets, and she said they were fish traps. Her and Susan were going to take them up to the deepest part of the creek and set them. Mary said salted fish would make a change from meat come winter. I wasn’t much for eating fish, but I had to admit that Mary could make anything taste good. Even beans.

Daddy told me to leave my forty-four with Henry, and he made sure they both had the shotguns handy, just in case of trouble. Susan made me a dandy case for my hunting knife, and her and Mary packed us up enough food for a month. Heading south not far from the banks of the Arkansas River, we could see how so much more land was being settled, or fenced off. Derby was growing, no doubt about that.

After travelling all that day and the next, we turned inland and daddy started to get the feel of where we might see some game. The pastures at the edge of the woodland looked good, so we got the wind against us, and set up a hide of sorts, leaving the wagon in a dip where it would not be spotted. After a dull morning with nothing happening, a herd of deer appeared walking out of the trees to our left. Daddy readied the Hawken to take the leading buck, and told me to aim for the biggest doe, which was at the back of the herd. He counted us down from three, and we both fired.

When the smoke cleared, the herd had scattered. The big buck was stone dead on its side, daddy had got it right through the neck. But my shot had hit the doe in the top of her leg, breaking the bone. She was dragging the leg as she tried to run. Daddy spoke quietly to me. “Hit her again, Phin. Don’t make her suffer now”. My second shot was still too rushed, but brought her down. As we walked over to finish her off, I apologised for being clumsy. Daddy smiled. “You’ll learn Phin. Can’t be helped. Why don’t you go back and get the wagon, bring it over to them?”

By the time I got back, he had gutted the animals, and tied their legs so we could lift them up, and fix them to the sides of the wagon. It was too cold for us to sleep outside if we didn’t have to, and we didn’t like the idea of sleeping next to the dead animals inside.

The next morning, we drove for a couple of hours before seeing some woods up ahead. Daddy thought they might be a good place to find hogs, so drove off the trail and hid the wagon at the edge of the woodland. We blocked the wheels and put the brake on, leaving the mares some feed as we walked inside. It was dark and damp in there, with lots of ground cover hiding many of the roots. We had to walk real careful, and stay quiet. Daddy couldn’t smoke his pipe neither, as the hogs would smell it. We were both wearing coils of rope around us, to use to drag out any we managed to kill.

But after creeping around for a good while, we heard no sound that might be hogs. Daddy whispered that we should turn back, and try for some more deer somewheres else. I could just see the light at the edge of the trees, when there was a crunching sound, like someone running through a big pile of leaves. As I turned to look at daddy, he raised the Hawken, with his back to me. But he had no time to fire before a huge hog crashed out of the undergrowth into him, knocking him down, and causing him to drop the rifle.

I raised the Henry and looked along the barrel, but I was afeared to shoot in case I hit my daddy. Then there were two shots, and the hog fell over on its side. To my left, I heard some grunting and squealing as the rest of them ran off from where they had been hiding, and I walked over to help daddy up. But he couldn’t stand. He had shot the hog with his old service pistol, through the pocket of his long coat where he kept it. But it had bit him bad, the long sharp teeth tearing his thigh. It was nothing like the pigs we kept back home. Covered in dark hair, with a huge head, it looked fierce even though it was dead.

Daddy’s shout snapped me out of it. “Phin, take your belt off son, you need to strap it around my leg. Real quick now!”

The Homestead: Part Twenty-Three

This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 865 words.

It wasn’t long before daddy found out who the men were. The moustache man was Bill Mathewson. He had made his money from buffalo hunting and skins, and was buying up land along with the German, who was called Grieffenstein. That German was a successful merchant and trader who soon had a hand in most things bought and sold in Wichita. But with no railroad yet, all they could do was to keep accumulating property, hoping to cash in later.They left us alone for a while, but pretty soon the building jobs got less, as they made sure never to use us for any construction or repairs. Reckon they also told their friends not to employ us too.

Daddy said he weren’t that bothered. We had a good amount of money behind us, and the steady stream of new settlers meant that there were still jobs to pick up from time to time. One good thing was that Shawn Ryan went to work for the German, and after that he never called on us no more. And when I rode past their place, Maggie didn’t come out waving no more neither.

The next spring, railroad men started to lay the rails heading north to Newton. That would connect with the railroad that had already reached there, so it seemed it wouldn’t be long before trains from up north would soon be arriving in town. But on the homestead, life was still good. The planting got done, and with less work for us in Wichita, we set to improving our own buildings, and doing repairs. Daddy and Henry got some work over in Delano, building a new saloon near the riverbank. We had always avoided that place, but Henry said ‘Work is work, Mister Jessie”. That left me working around the homestead with Walter.

Susan used to bring us something to eat and drink mid-morning. As we stopped work to eat, she would show me her practice at writing in an old notebook daddy had given her. She was doing good, and keen to learn more. Reading the old Bible was hard though, ’cause of all the funny names and old words. I thought to get her a better book, next time I was in town. One day, as she cleared away the plates and cups to take back to the house, she gave me a smile. It was a certain sort of smile, and it made me notice her in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

She was sure pretty, I had to admit.

When I got to the new General Store in Wichita, the man told me there was no call for books, but he could order some for me from Topeka if I knew which ones I wanted, and paid up front. Then he suggested I go see Mrs Parker, the reverend’s wife. She was running a school for little kids from her house behind the church. She was a nice lady, and happy to make some suggestions. I wrote down what she recommended, and went back to the store and paid for them. I ordered a copy of Moby Dick, also Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Mrs Parker said that was about slaves before the war, and Walter might like to hear it read. The books were mighty expensive, and the man in the store said they would take three weeks to arrive.

Daddy picked them up for me on his way home one evening, and that night after dinner, I read some chapters from Moby Dick as everyone sat around the fire. The characters were so well-described, it was like we could see them in our heads, and hearing about fishing for the big whales was something new to us all. As they were leaving, I handed Susan the copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wrapped in some white cotton, and told her it was for her. I don’t reckon anyone had ever given her anything before, as her hands were trembling, and I could see tears in her eyes as she took it. Turning in the doorway, she said, “Will you help me with the words I don’t know?” I smiled and nodded.

All through that summer, we carried on working around the house, with daddy and Henry away most days finishing the saloon. They also got more work at the hotel, adding more rooms at the back. The hotel owner said he paid no mind to what the rich cattlemen said, and he was happy because daddy did good work at a fair price. The corn, potatoes, and greens were growing well, and Walter did indeed show his skill at producing a fine crop. Which we later harvested and stored.

Around the time I was coming up eighteen that fall, Susan gave me a package wrapped in some soft hide. Inside were a pair of moccasins she had made me, all sewed real fancy, with small beads and injun designs. She said I could wear them around the house when I took my boots off, to save tearing holes in my socks.

I put them on and walked around some, declaring they were the most comfortable shoes I had ever owned.

The Homestead: Part Twenty-Two

This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 720 words.

Daddy invited the men into the house, and told me to fetch Henry from the barn. As they tied their horses to a rail, the one with the long moustache nodded in the direction of Walter, who had come to see who was visiting. “Thet neegra of yours is carrying a shotgun, mister. T’aint a good idea for folks to see him with that”.

His accent was unusual, almost like a whine, and not familiar to my ears at all. Daddy held his hand up to stop Walter coming any closer. “Walter ain’t mine. He works here. He’s his own man, lives in his own house too”. The other man looked older, and was fat. He didn’t say anything, but shook his head.

I came back with Henry, telling him to be careful about what he said to the men, and not to say nothing if he wasn’t sure. Daddy had poured some whiskey, and they were sat around the table. Henry sat down and took out his pipe. Moustache man reached into his inside pocket and removed some folded papers.

“Says here you’re Henry Dench, and you have staked claim to this land. Is that a fact, Mr Dench? Henry glanced at daddy, then nodded. “Well then it’s your lucky day, Henry. If I may call you Henry? ‘Cause I’m about to make you a fine offer for this place. Enough for you to start over anywhere’s that takes yer fancy. See, I bought the Ryan place next to this one, and two more to the east behind you. I’m aiming to build cattle pens for when the railroad starts to attract the big drives to Wichita”.

Henry listened politely, lighting his pipe and filling the room with sweet smoke.

“Ain’t for sale, sir. We are happy here, and want to stay on the homestead. Getting crops ready for next harvest, and got a good business going with building too. No need for us to start again. But I say thank you for your offer, all the same”. The man hadn’t mentioned a price, but I got the feeling Henry wouldn’t sell for a king’s ransom. The older man started talking. He had an accent I did recognise. Dutch, or German.

“Mister Dench, you are too hasty. Listen to our offer, and think about the future. Very soon your homestead will be surrounded by cattle on three sides. There will be a lot of noise, a great deal of dust, and in hot weather, those beasts will drink the creek dry. Why not move on, find somewhere more pleasant? There will be room for your workers to stay on with you, and you can start again someplace else. Once the railroad comes, Wichita will change completely. You won’t recognse it, I promise you”. He slid some papers across the table. You will see our offer is well above market value, and all you have to do is sign. We will arrange to pay you in cash or gold, and you will have six weeks to pack up”.

Blowing out a cloud of smoke that covered both the men, Henry shook his head. He didn’t even bother to inspect the documents, not that they would have meant a great deal to him anyway. “My mind is made up, mister. I ain’t selling, and don’t care about how many cows are living around us. But I say thanks to you again for your consideration, and there’s more whiskey if you care for some”. The men looked at each other, and both downed what was left in their glasses. Then they stood up, and moustache man folded the papers before returning them to his pocket.

As they walked to their horses, the fat man turned back to Henry. “The offer’s good for a month. We are in the hotel if you change you mind”. Once in the saddle, moustache man looked over at daddy. “Take that shotgun off your neegra, mister. That’s free advice”. When they were gone, Walter walked over. “What them fellas want, Boss Jessie?” Daddy had told him not to call him boss, but he couldn’t stop himself. Daddy spit on the ground, and looked over at the dust where they they had reached the trail.

“Trouble, Walter. They want trouble. And don’t call me boss, y’hear?”

The Homestead: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 832 words.

The new arrivals soon proved their worth. Daddy had not only promised them a free house to live in, but also a fair share of any crops, and cash payment to Walter for any work he took on. And they had some good ideas too. Goats for milk and meat, and a few pigs to fatten up for eating. Mary and Susan were good with a needle and thread, and could make waistcoats from skins to keep us warm, as well as mittens and bedcovers too. They worked hard, and it seemed to me and Henry that daddy had made a right good choice in Walter.

I was given the job of working with Walter to build their cabin. It weren’t to be nothing fancy, just one big room with a curtain across the back to separate the sleeping area. Walter fetched the mud from the creek to make the chimney bricks, and the women helped fashion them as I concentrated on the wood working. Daddy brought planks from town for the floor, and Walter chopped trees for the log walls. Mary was in a fine mood, so happy to be settling down. Susan didn’t say much, but she smiled whenever I showed up to help.

Walter worked like nobody I had ever seen before. Out at first light digging the clearing to make ready for planting next year, and shifting the hard earth like it was flour. Daddy made good shelters for the pigs and goats, and went into town to arrange the purchase of them. He came back with news.

Shawn Ryan had sold his place next to ours, as his pig farm had never took off. Ryan’s negroes were in town looking for work, and one had offered to work for us raising the pigs. But daddy told him we didn’t need him, as we were only getting a few. Rumour was it had been bought up by a cattleman for keeping steers, and that same man was buying any adjacent land he could find. The railroad was heading south from Topeka, and once that arrived, the town was sure to grow real big.

Once their cabin was finished, and the tent put away, Walter and the women settled in well. They still cooked and cleaned for us, as well as washing our clothes. Nobody had ever told them to do that, and they seemed happy to help. Most evenings, we all ate together in our house, and they went to their cabin after dinner. Mary was real nice to Henry too. Seemed she thought a lot of people who were slow in the head, something to do with her background, daddy said. In a strange way, it started to feel like family, although we couldn’t have been more different.

Our homestead was feeling smaller by the time winter came around. With the plots prepared for crops, Walter’s house, and the new pens for goats and pigs, the only spare land was the woodland to the north. That was going to keep us in firewood though, so we had no intention of clearing it. With less work in town now, daddy set to building a barn next to our cabin. It took me and Henry to help of course, and even Walter was needed once the roof went on. We were going to need it to store next year’s crops, and it would come in right handy for storage too.

Daddy sat me down one night and talked about the future. He was real grey now, even his beard, and the sides of his hair were turning silver. “This town’s gonna grow much bigger, Phin. There are a lot more men working now, so we are not gonna get so much work. We have to think more about what we grow, and the animals we keep for food. I reckon there’s still plenty of game further south, so we should think about a hunting trip this winter too. You’re coming up eighteen next year, and I want to be sure you’re happy to stick with your old daddy. If you want to strike out on your own, you know that’s fine with me”.

I told him I was just fine there, and had no notions to move on anywhere.

That winter weren’t too bad at all, though we lost some of the barn roof in the strong winds that came from time to time. Mary asked daddy to get some buffalo hides in town, and she made us all fine heavy coats to wear in the cold. They didn’t smell so good, but boy, were they warm. Susan made me a hat that came down over my ears, and she lined it with some old cotton too. When I walked around trying it on, everyone laughed.

One chilly afternoon, two men rode in. They were smartly dressed, and quite old. One had a big moustache, hanging right off his jaw.

They said they had come to see Henry.

The Homestead: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 832 words.

I was polite as I could be to Elizabeth Ryan, and wished her a good trip to Europe. She folded her arms, still smirking. “I doubt you will see me again, Phin Fuller. My life is in New York City now”. I nodded to her and her sister. “I’d best get on now. Good to see you both”. As I rode away from the house, I considered that after all was said and done, I had just had a lucky escape. But there was no denying that red hair looked so damn pretty.

Between daddy’s work and that of the other carpenters, the town was taking shape along the riverbank, with houses now appearing even past the old cemetery that had been there since the start of the settlement. Men were working over in Delano, and it was easy to see the tent encampments slowly giving way to wooden structures over there. With Ben long gone, I worked with Henry and daddy, now, leaving the small jobs until the winter.

When I turned seventeen, it was the fall of eighteen-seventy, and five years since we had left Virginia. There was a petition raised in Wichita to have it declared a city. Most men signed it, including daddy and Henry. Someone made the trip to Topeka to submit the request to the Federal authorities there.

After leaving me fixing rails while they went in for supplies one Saturday, daddy got back early. As he passed by, I could see he had people in the back of the wagon. A big negro jumped down, then turned and helped two women onto the ground. Daddy waved to me from the house, as Henry drove off to settle the horses. I wiped my hands on a rag, and walked over.

“Phin, this here’s Walter. He’s gonna come work for us, grow some stuff on the land and watch over the homestead. That’s his woman Mary, and her daughter. Walter extended a hand, and I shook it. It was the first time I had ever touched a negro. The woman was a squaw, plain to see. She was wearing a dress, and her hair was all long and twisted, but there was no mistaking an injun. The younger one looked at her shoes, then up at me. I could tell she was a half-breed, but not Walter’s. I nodded to Mary, and politely said “Ma’am”. The girl smiled. Reckon nobody had ever been so respectful to her ma.

“Let’s get the tent from the store, and get them set up, Phin. Next week, we can start on building them a house before the weather sets in”.

I followed daddy to get the tent, and Walter helped us put it up within sight of the house. Mary and her daughter were in the house fixing dinner for later, and Henry went over to finish the last few rails on the fence. We left Walter unloading their few things from the wagon, and as we walked to the house, daddy told me their story.

“Walter was a slave down in Georgia. He was born here, and soon showed he could raise things real natural like. They put him to work in the market garden, and he stayed working with the vegetables and such. When he heard that Abe Lincoln had freed the slaves, he took off. He tried heading west, where he was fixing to get to the Kansas abolitionist towns. But he had a hard time keeping away from people who would have tried to take him back, and eventually joined the Union Army by hooking up with some of Sherman’s men. After the peace, he took off west again, working where he could and walking most of the way. Then he met Mary and her daughter and decided to protect them. Mary’s an Osage. Ain’t her real name of course, but it’s what she goes by. Her daughter is from a white man who took advantage of her in Missouri fifteen years ago. She’s called Susan”.

We ate a fine dinner that night. Mary and Susan did a great job with making our regular victuals taste great, and they even cleaned up the house while dinner was cooking. They both spoke good English too, and Walter could read and write a little bit, so he was teaching them from an old bible he carried. Daddy offered my help, in between puffs on his pipe. “Phin reads real good. Maybe he could teach the girl”. Susan looked up at me and blushed when he said that.

The next morning when we left for work in Wichita, daddy handed Walter a scattergun and a handful of cartridges. “You been in the army, so I reckon you know how to handle this. Anyone comes on this property giving you trouble, don’t be afeared to use it”.

As we drove out along the creek, Henry shook his head. “Mister Jessie, don’t reckon you should be giving no gun to a negro”.

The Homestead: Part Nineteen

This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 827 words.

I unsaddled Lizzie and settled her in the shelter with her feed. Inside the house, the men had been busy. Everything was either thrown around or just broke. Only the table and benches were as they had been. They had tried lifting some floorboards on one side, probably using the big knife. But there was no space under there to hide anything, as they soon found out. They had rooted around up in the chimney too, so there was soot everywhere. I waited a good time to make sure they hadn’t sneaked back, and went to check in the outhouse. The seat box was intact, and the cash box still in its spot inside.

That afternoon, I spent the time cleaning up, and repairing what I could. The smashed chair was past mending, though I was able to fix the beds, put back the floorboards, and make my toolbox good too. Once it got dark, I had some cold meat to eat, and sat in the dark with no fire. If them fellas were coming back, I wanted to be ready for them. I fell asleep in my own chair, still holding the forty-four.

Come sunup, I wasn’t about to leave, convinced they would come back to get me. I kept busy making a new chair from the good wood daddy kept in the bedroom. It took all day, and wasn’t as good as the one they had broken, but passable enough for Henry to sit on. I stayed around the house for five more days, with my nerves never settling. Then on the sixth day, I relaxed a little and started work on extending the horse-shelter into a stable of sorts. Later on, not long after dark, I heard the wagon drive up outside, and my daddy’s voice talking to the horses. I ran out straight away, babbling on about what happened, and how stupid I was to believe the story they told me. Daddy calmed me down, and took me inside to talk to me while Henry unhitched the mares.

Smoking his pipe and sipping whisky, daddy listened patiently, moving his hand up and down to slow me up when I talked too fast. When Henry came in, he related the story to him, in an easy way that Henry could understand. Then he turned to me, and I swallowed hard, wondering what he would say.

“Phin, you did well son. You were right to shoot that Luke when he came at you with a knife. If he died because of it, he only has himself to blame. Though if he recovered, reckon we will see those two again. I’m gonna get us a couple of scatterguns to keep handy, just in case. And you have to tell us both what they looked like, as much as you can recall. I need to know if they are hanging around in town. But all we lost was that old chair, and you are safe, which is the main thing”. I was mighty relieved, and went to get the fire going under the dinner pot.

After we had eaten, daddy rubbed his beard for a while. “I’m gonna have to go and see if I can find Ben. Seems to me he might have steered those two in our direction. No hurry though, that Portugee will show up soon enough. Doubt he’ll be able to keep away from whisky and women for long”. Then he showed me the papers that proved Henry owned the claim, and I was the only beneficiary. It hadn’t occurred to daddy that if anything happened to me, he would have no rights to the homestead.

A week went by, and life returned to normal. I rode around doing the small jobs, and daddy and Henry found Ben as he waited for a rowboat to Delano one evening. Daddy told me he looked sheepish and shifty, and when it was suggested he leave town and head west, he just looked at his shoes and nodded. The next morning as I rode near the Ryan house, Maggie appeared. She was running down to the fence, waving at me. It would have been too rude not to stop.

“Phin, you’ll never guess. Elizabeth is home with our aunt. Why don’t you come in and say hello?” I didn’t get into the house, as Elizabeth was stood at the open door. I took my hat off and smoothed my hair, standing on the porch feeling like a little boy. She was sure pretty; all gussied-up, with her hair piled high, and an expensive looking-necklace around her chalky-white throat. “Why Phineas Fuller, my how you have grown”. She was talking real fancy, almost like some foreigner. Smirking at me a little when she noticed the attention I was paying her, she lowered her voice.

“Take a good look, country boy. I will be leaving for Europe with my aunt soon. She is going to show me the world”.

The Homestead: Part Eighteen

This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 916 words.

It was still early when I rode into town, and there were not that many people around. Down by the boat ramp where the ferrymen operated, there was no sign of the Portugee. I saw one man rowing back from Delano, and as he tied his boat up I asked if he had seen anything of Ben. “The Portugee? Not this morning. It’s still early for that fella. He’ll be sleeping off a skinful, or in bed being warmed up by one of them gals”.

I had a look around some of the alleyways nearby, but saw no sign of Ben. I wondered where someone so badly hurt could have got to, so led Lizzie down to the doctor’s office. It took some knocking, but he eventually came out to the door, wearing a nightshirt. He wasn’t best pleased at my questions, and told me he hadn’t treated any injured man that morning. Then as I turned to leave, he called after me. “Say young Fuller, you sure those two riders weren’t figuring to rob your place after you left?”

I felt a cold sickness in the pit of my stomach, and jumped straight onto Lizzie. It hadn’t even occurred to me that it might have been a ruse, and as I pushed Lizzie fast for home, I was thinking of what they could have taken. The Henry Rifle was valuable, but my daddy had that with him, and his tools were in the wagon too. They might be looking for the cash box though. Folks knew we were doing well, and there was no bank in Wichita at the time. I felt stupid to have fallen for it, but also scared that they might be hiding somewhere, waiting to bushwack me. But the money I had taken for the doctor wasn’t enough to rob a man for. Or was it?

As I got in sight of the homestead, I could see that the two horses were tied to a rail of the fence near the house. I slowed Lizzie down, and considered my options. I hadn’t seen any guns on those fellas, but they were likely to be packing. If I just blundered in, they might just shoot me down on sight. I left Lizzie grazing, and went along the edge of the creek on foot, still with no sure plan what to do. Once I was in sight of the front of the house, I could hear noises inside. Then the younger one came out with my tool box, and upended it onto the ground. He turned and yelled “Ain’t nothing in here ceptin’ tools”. Then one of our best chairs flew out the door, followed by the older man. “Has to be here somewhere, keep looking”.

The young man shook his head, and in his frustation he stamped on the chair, snapping the legs. Then he kicked my tool box so hard, one side broke off. I saw red and stood up, holding the pistol in my right hand and pulling back the hammer too. I walked fast, but it was a while before they noticed me. “You fellas get now, ain’t nothing here”. I was pulled up to my full height, pointing the pistol. I suddenly didn’t feel scared no more.

The younger one raised his hands, but the older one sneered. “Just tell us where you keep the cash, boy, and we’ll leave you in peace. You ain’t gonna fire that pistol, so put it down before something happens”. I shook my head. “If you fellas got pistols, you had better take them out slow and drop them on the ground. Ain’t no money here, my daddy took it all with him”. I was actually relieved that they hadn’t thought to look in the outhouse, and managed to keep my head still and not look across at it. Neither man showed any pistols, but the older man pulled a big hunting knife and started toward me. “Why you pup, I’ll make you tell us”.

I still don’t know how I came to pull the trigger, but there was a mighty loud bang, and the older man fell to the ground. The young one called out “Luke, Luke!”, and knelt down next to him. I pulled back on the hammer of the single-action pistol agan, and he screamed, “Enough mister, don’t shoot me! No need! Luke’s hurt bad.” I was sure breathing hard, but I kept the pistol on him as he pulled at his friend on the ground. The older man had a fair hole at the side of his neck where the bullet had caught him, and was bleeding bad. He made a few sounds that meant nothing, and the young one turned to me again.

“Just let us go. He’s sure bad, and I won’t give you no trouble” I waved my pistol in the direction of their horses, and said, “On your way, and don’t let me see you around here again”. It sounded strange to hear myself say that, almost too growed-up. It took a while for him to get Luke onto his horse, and he slumped forward as he got in the saddle. I kept them covered as the younger one mounted up, and followed them all the way to the trail. When I was sure they had gone, I went back to find Lizzie.

But before I could reach for her reins, I fell to my knees and sicked up everything in my stomach.

The Homestead: Part Seventeen

This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 785 words.

As Wichita continued to grow, it wasn’t long before other men arrived who offered to build shops and houses. We now had competition, but daddy weren’t bothered. He had good connections right from the time we had arrived, and the list of jobs outstanding was always more than we could manage. It felt strange to ride into town now, and see a main street had taken shape. The barber, another saloon, and even a ladies’ dress shop. Nobody was yet trying to sell the same goods as Chisholm and Mead, but there was a barrel maker and a second livery stable.

By the end of sixty-seven I was fifteen years old, tall and strong. I rode around on Lizzie doing jobs, and people knew me by name.

The Ryan house was finished early the next year, though not as grand as Mr Ryan’s early plans. Seemed most of his hogs had got sick, and he didn’t have as much money as he had expected. It had a parlour, and a kitchen of sorts at the back. Three other rooms served as bedrooms, and he had daddy make a covered porch out front. Mrs Ryan and Maggie made a kitchen garden for vegetables, which they tended when he was at work doing his clerking.

When I was up that way, Maggie would wave to me as I rode by. But I didn’t stop.

The main thing making the town so prosperous was that the cattlemen used it as a stopover on the drives. The stock would be fed and watered in big pens at the edge of town, and those men would come into the main street looking for fun, whiskey, and women. That meant most of them headed over to Delano, but not all of them. There started to be a fair amount of trouble in town, with the cowboys roistering and cavorting. It got so everyone knew to avoid the place after dark when the drives arrived. The cattle also attracted rustlers, and we heard tell of gunfights around the herds.

Mr Mead was now the big man in town, and I found out that Chisholm had been working for him all along. In fact, he had sent Chisholm off to start up new trading posts with the injuns further west along the old pioneer trail. But we carried on as normal, making a good living, and friendly with most. If anyone asked, daddy carried on with the story that we were from Maryland, and he hadn’t joined up on either side. But he was edgy with all the new arrivals in town, checking the faces of any men to see who might recognise him. There was still a lot of bad feeling after the war, so he came up with a plan. It was right clever, and I have to say it surprised me.

One night, he sat me down and told me, after Henry had gone to sleep.

He had a notion to drive up to Topeka with Henry, and register our claim in his name. Then he would get a lawyer up there to write that Henry owned the property, but I would be his next of kin. That way, when Henry died, it would transfer to me, and still be in our family. He was sure that Henry would agree, as he wouldn’t understand it anyway, and would do anything daddy said. Although he was slow in the head, Henry could make his mark, and daddy said I should teach him how to write his name as best as he could.

So I set to that task in the evenings, and also got Henry to tell me as much about his life as he could recall. By the end of the month, daddy had prepared him for the trip to Topeka, making him repeat everything they were going to do there. I was to stay behind and look after things until they got back.

They had only been gone two days, when two riders came to the house at first light. I put the forty-four in the pocket of my coat, and walked out to see what they wanted. They said that Ben the Portugee was hurt bad, and he was down by the riverbank, close to where the rowboats crossed over to Delano. He had told them to ask daddy for help, and money to pay a doctor. I didn’t tell the men that daddy wasn’t home, just said I would sort things. After they left, I saddled up Lizzie, and got some money from the metal container daddy hid under the seat box in the outhouse.

With the pistol still in my coat pocket, I set off for town.

The Homestead: Part Sixteen

This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 857 words.

That injun trouble up north didn’t amount to anything in Wichita. Folks said it was because Mr Chisholm was half-injun, so got on well with those living nearby. He also traded cattle with them, so they had no need to go off hunting buffalo.

The next job we did in town was to build a proper premises for the blacksmith. Daddy negiotiated a price that would include any ironwork we needed at home, as well as horseshoes, and rims for the wagon wheels. While we worked there, a man came and spoke to daddy. Said he heard we had a good plow we weren’t using, and asked about using it. He couldn’t afford to buy it, but offered to pay a portion of his crop come harvest time. Said he had come to the same arrangement with some German Dunkers, to use their ox. Daddy shook on the deal, and got me to write the man’s name down on my paper.

Wichita was definitely growing every month, and spreading inland from the church. Across the river, the so-so settlement there was bustling, and now had a name, Delano. Weren’t nothing much over there except drinking dens and good-time girls, but the small rowboat ferries did a brisk trade taking people back and forth. Daddy said we wouldn’t ever be going to Delano. “Nothing but loose women, gamblers, and drunks there, Phin. That mixture always spells trouble”. Henry made us laugh when he asked, “Mister Jessie, what’s a loose woman?”

The biggest job for us that year was building the hotel. It wasn’t much of a hotel, just a bigger whiskey saloon with some small rooms out back. But the owner had grand ideas, and had someone paint a sign reading ‘Wichita City Hotel’. That job kept us occupied for some time, and daddy employed a Portugee man who used to be a sailor in Maine. He spoke fair English, but I had a lot of trouble understanding his accent. And his skin was so dark and his hair so black, some folks mistook him for an injun. His name was Benedito, but we just called him Ben. He did the heavy hauling, as he had no trade except being a fisherman on the ocean. Daddy paid him off every day, and he used to drink most of his dollars away over in Delano. But he always showed up for work that summer.

Others were claiming land close to our homestead, and folks in town started to call where we lived Derby. Nobody could tell us why, but someone had decided to call the town expansion that, and it started to stick. When a man spoke to daddy about work on a barn one day, he said, “It’s close to your place, Mr Fuller, out Derby way”. I was getting used to working with the wood now, and it wasn’t unusual for daddy to leave me alone on some small jobs. At the end of the summer, he took me to the livery stable and showed me a big old horse that was saddled. “That’s your horse, Phin. Call her what you like. I reckon its time you had your own transport, and you can use it to carry your box to work.”

The box he referred to was a tool box he had me make. He got me a leather strap to fix to it, so I could carry it with no hands, and then he surprised me by buying me some of my own tools. I felt real grown up then. I called the horse Lizzie, as the chestnut colour of her reminded me of a certain girl’s hair.

After Elizabeth went off to school back east, we started to get visits from the Ryan family again. Mr Ryan had the town butcher slaughter some hogs to salt for winter, and he brought us half a hog wrapped in muslin as a gift. I guessed he was hoping to get his house-building moved up the list. There was a new trader in town, by the name of James Mead. He had bought up a lot of land north of the city, mostly places already owned or claimed, and given up. He usually got it cheap, and it hadn’t been long before he set up his own business, trading buffalo skins mostly but anything else folks would buy. Mr Ryan had wangled himself a job with Mead as a clerk, and was keen to move out of the rented rooms into a house on some land near Mead’s place.

After rubbing at his beard for a long time, daddy agreed to start on Ryan’s house next year, saying he would send me off to do the smaller jobs, like building outhouses, and patching fences. Ryan walked over to me with a big smile on his face. “You are growing up, young Fuller. Reckon you should know my Maggie talks about you all the time. Seems she has a notion to be your sweetheart”. I didn’t know what to say in reply, so he tapped the side of his nose, and winked.

“You could do a lot worse, my boy”.

The Homestead: Part Fifteen

This is the fiftenth part of a fiction serial, in 890 words.

Daddy did the mannered thing, and invited the Ryans inside. Fortunately, they also had manners and declined, seeing as we were working. Mr Ryan walked around a bit with daddy, making polite noises about how well built our homestead was. When they had driven off, daddy told us what Ryan had said. “He’s living in town, renting rooms from Chisholm. Reckons he has no intention of living on the land here, but going to raise hogs he has bought from back east. Said he’s a book-keeper, at least was in New York. Hoping to get work at that once the settlement expands. Asked me to come build him a house when that happens. When the hogs get here, he has arranged for two negroes to manage them. S’pose they’ll have a shack or such.”

I had hoped we might get a break if they came inside to visit, and was also disappointed not to see more of the redhead. But it was back to the fence rails before we finished off the shelter for the horses by making the roof better.

We didn’t see the hogs get delivered, but we sure heard them. The squealing was coming from across the creek as they were unloaded. Within two days, we could smell them too. I went through the trees to look across the creek, but could only see the top of a tent in the distance. I guessed the negroes were going to have to wait for their shack.

Once the church was finished, Reverend Parker invited us to be guests of homour at the inaugural service. Daddy said we couldn’t rightly say no, so we wore our cleanest clothes and combed our hair. I wore my straw hat too, and Henry cleaned his boots with handfuls of grass. They had finally fixed the bell into its small tower just a few days before, but the reverend wouldn’t let them test it. He wanted to save that bell for Sunday. Daddy said I had done a good job with the benches They all looked the same length and width, and he had tried sitting on some, declaring them sturdy.

After the service, there was a party of sorts on the land behind the church. There was punch and beer to drink, and some cakes and pies to eat. Even though the the Irishman Shawn Ryan was almost certainly a Catholic, him and his family had been in church, and stayed on so he could mix with the men in the crowd, presumably trying to sell his services. I tried to catch the eye of his redhead daughter, but she stuck close to her ma. However, her big sister came over holding two pieces of pie, and offered me one. I gulped it down, as it was sure tasty. She nibbled at hers, sort of ladylike. When I nodded my thanks and walked away, she followed, catching up to stand by my side.

In that short walk, she talked like there was a prize for talking. Mr Ryan was her daddy, but Mrs Ryan was his second wife. The redhead girl’s name was Elizabeth, and she was her half-sister. She said her name was Maggie, Margaret in full, and she remembered my name was Phineas. I thought it was mighty strange that Maggie looked so much like a woman who wasn’t her ma, but said nothing. I put it down to the fact that they were both big-built. Every time I turned to listen to her, she gave me what daddy called ‘the big eyes’. Young as I was, there was no mistaking that.

When I asked about Elizabeth, she seemed vexed. “Don’t concern yourself with her. Pa is sending her to school back east in September. My Pa’s old aunt is paying for it, and she’s gonna live with her. She’s gonna be gone for years. But I ain’t going nowhere”. The implication of those last words wasn’t lost on me.

I could see a crowd gathered around my daddy and Henry. So I excused myself. As I started to walk away, she said something that stopped me. “I really love your accent, Phineas. Where are you from?” I swallowed hard, trying to think of somewhere that didn’t join the Confederacy where they might have something like my accent. “Maryland”. That seemed to satisfy her, and I walked off.

The men talking to daddy were all praising the work on the building of the church, and asking when he would be free to do jobs for them. He was shaking his head, telling them he was busy with promised work, and they started to offer more money if he moved them up the queue. Seemed like good house-builders were scarce down there. He had started to raise his hands to silence them, when there was a commotion out front of the church. People were standing in a line, and others heading there to see what it was.

It was a whole company of Union cavalry, fully-equipped, and with a supply wagon behind too. A man called out to the officer riding up front, and he stopped, raising his arm to slow the column. “It’s the injuns. Trouble up north, Sibley County. We have been sent to help the militia”.

When everyone started mumbling and murmuring, daddy took the opportunity for us to head home.