The Homestead: Part Forty

This is the fortieth part of a fiction serial, in 773 words.

It was true that I might have lost the spark needed to carry on as a newspaper man, but I had found something inside to replace that. I wanted to tell Phin’s story, and in doing so tell the story of my own family too. I asked Brad James to let my lawyer’s office know that they should just go through with the sale, and they could contact me at Phin’s house if need be. Then I got some more clothes, a portable typewriter and lots of paper, and finished up by buying a tape recorder and plenty of tapes.

I wanted to live that story through Phin’s own voice and expressions.

Mrs Mallory had laid it out for me. After breakfast, we could sit on the porch in good weather, but Phin should have his blanket anyway. Then no more than three hours before he had a rest before lunch, followed by his afternoon nap. Then one more hour before dinner, before he got too tired after eating.

I had to marvel at his memory. His great age hadn’t diminished that in any way at all, even his recall of all the names, and small details like what he called the horses, or whether a woman he encountered had missing teeth. For the next month, I ran the tape machine, and just let him talk. When he was resting, I wrote the notes up in my room upstairs, making sure to have the door closed, so the noise from the tapes and typing didn’t carry down to where he slept.

It was enjoyable living there too. Mrs Mallory was an excellent cook, and I was putting on weight rapidly. Phin acted like he had always known me, and I was a grandson visiting like it was nothing unusual. Walking around the property was eye-opening too. I tried to picture it as he described it when they first built the homestead. And the row of graves, still carefully tended, brought home the loss that still left him misty-eyed, even now. Though on the other side of the creek, rows of identical smart houses had replaced the grazing land that had caused so much dispute in his younger days.

Using my newspaper connections, I gained an introduction to the editor of the main newspaper in Wichita. He was happy to let me spend time browsing in his archives for research, though I admit I found some of the newspapers of Phin’s time to be rather scant on fact, and high on sensationalism. But I did find references to Wyatt Earp, who lost his job after a little more than a year, because of his ‘Tendency to bash people’. He was also involved in a scandal over the election of a new marshal, and decided to look for a new job in Dodge City.

Jessie Fuller, Phin, Henry, and all the others never once made the paper back then. Just as well, as most of the features were about gunfights, and gamblers killed in shootouts.

Over the course of those thirty-one days, Phin told me about how Jessie had fought in the war to protect his older son, but he had been killed anyway. Then his mother’s tragic death in the outhouse, and Jessie’s return from the war in sixty-five. How they intended to make a new life in Colorado, but only got as far as Kansas before his daddy decided to end his journey there. I wanted to know why he had never heard news of me, and something of the family rift that had meant so many decades of separation.

Finally, I just came out and asked him.

He rubbed his chin, much like his father might have rubbed his beard. “Weren’t no rift, Julian. Nothing like that. Sophia got married to your daddy, and went north to New York State. That was her choice, and her life to live. When she died, your daddy sent me a letter telling me the news. My one regret was that I couldn’t bury her on the homestead, with the others. But he sent me a small photo of you, and the address of the newspaper he was running. I had to hope that you had taken it over, just as he had. But I didn’t get in touch then. You had your life to live, just as your mama had done”.

We continued the story right up until Henry fell from a ladder and was diagnosed with a broken neck. I pushed the time allowed a little, asking, “What happened then?”

But Mrs Mallory stopped me at that moment. “That’s enough for today, Julian”.

The Homestead: Part Thirty-Nine

This is the thirty-ninth part of a fiction serial, in 790 words.

The door was opened by a pleasant, elderly lady. “You must be Julian. I am Mrs Mallory, the housekeeper. They are waiting for you inside, please leave your bag in the hallway and go straight through”. I entered the open double door she indicated with her arm, and was met by a very fat man who looked to be about my age. He extended a hand. “Brad James, the lawyer who wrote to you. Pleased to meet you”.

Just behind James was a man sitting in a large wooden chair. It had to be my grandfather, but he didn’t look old enough. I had been told he was ninety-nine years old, but I wouldn’t have put him a day over eighty. He smiled, revealing very white teeth that I guessed were expensive, and false. “Excuse me for not standing, Julian. I tend to have to pee when I stand up, and wouldn’t like to have to walk straight past you to use the lavatory. Besides, I don’t move so fast these days”.

James stayed back near the door, and I walked over to the chair, extending a hand to the grandfather I had never met nor spoken to. His handshake was firm, though the skin on his hands betrayed his age more than the rest of him. “Delighted to finally meet you, grandfather”. He waved that away. “No need for that now you’re a grown man. Just call me Phin. Sit down, son. Would you care for something to eat or drink?” I shook my head, trying to take it all in. The house hadn’t seemed to have changed since at least the twenties. It was more like a museum than a home.

His voice was warm when he spoke again. “Can’t say whether or not you look like me. Don’t see so good these days, y’know. Not the details, anyways”. I hope you can stay for a while? I have a great deal to tell you”. I told him I could stay as long as he liked, and he insisted that I stay at the house. “Plenty of room here, and family is especially welcome”.

Brad James excused himself, saying he would return the following day with papers for me to sign. Phin grinned. “It’s all yours, Julian. You’re all I got left now”. Mrs Mallory prepared a meal anyway, and she helped Phin through into the dining room, via a stop at a lavatory in the hall. He was right when he said he didn’t move that fast, I had to hold back to save walking into him.

The housekeeper spoke in a whisper to me. “He is so excited about your visit, but you must promise not to let him stay up too late. I like him to eat early, then he takes his medicine and goes to bed by nine”. I assured her that I had no intention of disrupting their established routine.

Over dinner, I let him talk, and was fascinated by the story he started to tell. When he went to bed, I had coffee in the living room and made some notes about what he had said. It dawned on me that his life story would make a great book. From the Civil War to the end of the Korean War, and everything in between. The start of the migration west in a big way, and the frontier towns full of cowboys, gamblers, and gunfighters. He had seen it all.

The next morning at breakast, I asked if he would mind me telling his story in a book, and he grinned. “Moby Dick, now that’s a good book. You ever read that one, Julian? Do you think you can be as good as Mr Melville?” I told him I had read it, and would try my best to do his story justice.

Mrs Mallory intervened, as she had overheard the conversation from the kitchen. “Not for too long each day now. He has to rest in the afternoons, or he can’t eat dinner. And don’t you go getting him too excited neither”. Phin turned his head in my direction, and gave me a big wink.

Brad James arrived with the paperwork, and gave me some things to sign. Phin had already signed his parts. He also handed me a fat folder full of papers. “You can look these over at your leisure, or pass them on to your lawyer if you wish. They are shares, stocks, and the like. Also the deeds to the land, and various monetary amounts due to you upon the death of Mister Fuller”.

When James turned to leave, I asked him if I could ride with him back into Wichita. I had some things I needed to buy.

The Homestead: Part Thirty-Eight

This is the thirty-eighth part of a fiction serial, in 773 words.

Once the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour, I thought I should do something positive. I was thirty-three years old, single, and healthy. Or so I thought. But the medical officer at the recruiting office decided otherwise. “Heart murmur” he said. That was news to me, as I felt fit as a fiddle. But it got me rejected, so I threw myself into my work at the paper, covering as much of our involvement in the war as I could find out about. Then there were the casualties of course, local men lost or maimed.

Velma also volunteered, and she was accepted. She went as a nurse of course, and came back to say her farewells to me and her family when she received orders for the Pacific. I looked in her eyes on that last date, and knew immediately we would never marry. But I still gave her a locket with a photo of me inside, if only for old time’s sake.

With so many men off to the war, everyone left behind had to pull their weight at the paper. I went back out as a photographer as well as my other jobs, and George worked round the clock to make sure we always got published on time. They were tiring times, but we knew we were lucky compared to the men fighting and dying in the Pacific, and later in North Africa and Europe.

Then there was sad news from Velma’s family. She had died of fever on some island in the Pacific that nobody had ever heard of. So as well as everything else, that war cost me the life of the only woman I ever loved.

After the A-bombs, and the final peace, we had the Nuremburg trials to cover. Then the start of The Cold War, not forgetting Korea of course. When that ended in fifty-three, I felt exhausted, even though I was only forty-five. I had to consider the fact that maybe that medical officer had been right about my heart all along. George wanted to retire, and I couldn’t very well object after he had worked so hard. But I had lost the fire inside necessary for a good newspaperman, and seriously considered an offer from one of the big groups to buy out my by now very successful local paper.

My lawyer Al Greely was dealing with the contracts surrounding the sale when he called me one day, and asked me to come and see him about something else. In his office, he held up a letter, and gave me the gist of what it said.

“This is from a respected law firm in Wichita, Kansas, Julian. They have asked me to approach you about an inheritance. I presume they didn’t have an address for you, as they sent it to me through the newspaper, as your company lawyer. They are acting on behalf of a man named Phineas Fuller, who claims to be your grandfather. He is ninety-nine years old, and has asked you to visit him in Wichita as he has property and funds to leave to you in his will. He will be one hundred in the Fall, and wants to see you before he dies”.

I have to tell you I was pretty surprised. I had always presumed my grandparents had died a long time ago, as my own father never spoke about them at all. I remembered the stories about the one-legged civil war veteran and the Indian squaw, but they were my mother’s grandparents. She never said much about her own parents, and I never knew why that was.

I took the letter from the lawyer and read through it. Phineas Fuller of Derby, Wichita. The grandfather I had never known. That sent a chill up my back. I looked over at Al. “Write back and tell them I will come. Meanwhile, see the sale through for me, Al. I know you can get a good deal. If I have to sign anything, you can mail it to me down in Kansas”. I asked for the address of Phineas and the Kansas lawyer to be written down, then handed the letter back. “I will be leaving soon, Al. That might be just the vacation I need”.

I decided to take the train as it was less stressful for me. Truth be told I had never flown in a plane, and had little inclination to do so. And driving alone for almost twenty-four hours had no appeal whatsoever.

Outside the train station, I asked the cab driver if he knew the address in Derby. “The Fuller place? Sure, I know that”.

The Homestead: Part Thirty-Seven

This is the thirty-seventh part of a fiction serial, in 747 words.

I fooled myself that something would come of it with Velma. We still dated when she came home to Rochester, but I doubt she ever loved me in the same way that I thought about her. For me, she was everything, all I wanted. For her, I was just a habit, someone safe to rely upon.

Although we were mainly interested in local news, ther was a lot going on outside of America to write about. In thirty-five, Italy invaded Abyssinia. I had to use a map to explain to the readers where that was, and some of the staff writers wondered why I would even bother to tell the readers about it. I had to remind them that we had a lot of people in America with Italian relatives, and they would surely be interested.

The following year, the King of England died, and there was the Olympic Games in Germany. Jesse Owens won four gold medals, which showed those Nazis something. At the same time, there was a civil war going on in Spain, so I made sure to cover that too. George Tillman was my deputy, and he was sure all my foreign news was going to kill the paper stone dead. He sat in my office chewing an unlit cigar, holding his head. “Julian, you gotta realise our readers don’t want to read this stuff. They like to read about what’s going on in New York State. Most don’t even care what happens in Chicago, for Christ’s sake!”

But I stuck to my guns, and kept the world news on the front page.

Something else happened at the end of thirty-six. My father died. He was in hospital for tests, and got worse. I got the call at home, and drove in to see him just before the end. All he did was nod and smile. But he held my hand, something he had never done before. I was twenty-eight, and pretty much alone in the world.

The house was too big for me, but I couldn’t bear to part with it. I advertised for a new housekeeper to live in, and took on the second one I interviewed. Mrs Margaret Johannson was a widow in her late forties, and had good references from a lady in Syracuse. Her previous employer had recently died, and she had been living in a cheap hotel for a few weeks after losing her room as well as her job. I arranged for her things to be sent up from Syracuse, and she started the following week. Velma acted surprised when I told her over the phone, and for a brief moment, I wondered if my part-time girlfriend might be a teeny bit jealous.

But there was no need. Margaret treated me like the son she had never had, and employing her was one of the better decisions I made in my life.

It appeared to me that the world outside America was going crazy. The fascists were winning in Spain, and Japan had invaded China. They even attacked one of our gunboats on the Yangtse River, causing a lot of bad feeling against Japanese-Americans. And my determination to keep world news at the forefront was proving to be a good plan. George had to reluctantly admit that sales and subscriptions were at an all-time high. Seemed like the good people of Rochester were interested in the outside world after all.

After Austria was taken over by Germany, Jewish refugees stared to arrive in east coast ports in large numbers. Not long after I wrote an editorial about that, FDR issued an order that we could take no more, and Britain did the same thing. Then Hitler invaded part of Czechoslovakia, and I started to get a real bad feeling about Germany’s ambitions. One of our biggest advertisers was a company with a German name, even though the owner was as American as me. I spoke to him over the phone and sugested he might think about changing that, but he just laughed.

Then came thirty-nine, and we all know what happened that year. Franco won the civil war in Spain, adding another dictatorship to Europe. Germany made a move on Poland, over the city of Danzig, and things got real serious in Europe. Then in September, Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France declared war on Germany.

That was one of the biggest headlines of my career.

But there were bigger ones to come.

The Homestead: Part Thirty Six

This is the thirty-sixth part of a fiction serial, in 766 words.

Julian.

As I got older, I didn’t remember that much about my mother. She died not long after my tenth birthday, and I struggled to recall her features. I could look at photos of course, but that was never quite the same. I did remember some of her stories. She told me her grandmother was an Indian Squaw, and her grandfather was a Civil War hero with one leg. But she wasn’t too sure what side he had fought on. As for her parents, all she said was that they were farmers in Kansas, and her daddy built houses too.

Once she was gone, my father would sometimes drink too much whiskey, and talk about how he had met her down in Kansas, bringing her back home after the wedding. “We tried for so long to have a baby, and Sophia would cry herself to sleep saying it was never going to happen. When it finally did, she said she was too old for children, but she had to go ahead and have you of course”.

Even as a youngster, hearing that didn’t make me feel exactly wanted or loved. My mother was thirty-five when she had me, in the spring of nineteen-o-eight. She took to her bed most of the time after that, and Mrs Macaulay came in to run the house and tend to me.

On the heels of the end of the war came the Spanish Flu. Mother was one of the first to go. Father got sick with it too, but he recovered. In an effort to cheer me up after her death, he bought me a camera. It was expensive to get the film plates developed, so I was restricted to a few shots now and then. It was big and unwieldy, and heavy to carry on the tripod, but I dearly loved it. The photos would come back from the newspaper where he had them developed, and I would look at them in my room.

By the time I left for college, I had a smaller one I could easily carry, and had even got some of my photos published in the newspaper. Father wanted me to take over as the managing editor after my studies. That had always seemed the natural thing to me. After all, he had done the same before with my grandfather, and we still lived in the old family home; too big for just the two of us of course.

I was very happy when I started working there. It was only a local paper, though some articles were syndicated all over the state, and even got picked up for publication in New York City. I still took some of the photos too. Election speeches, new bridges or municipal buildings, and any parades that went past. As a graduation present, I had been givent a new Packard, and loved to drive that around. I met Velma because of that car. She was working as a waitress in a roadside diner, raising money to pay for her training as a nurse. That summer was one of the best I can remember.

Soon after, the Great Depression hit hard, and things got tight. Luckily for us, people bought newspapers just as much as before, if not more. We didn’t have to lay anyone off, and though some of the regular advertisers went bust, we kept the paper going all the way through. When Velma got her registration, she went to work in New York City, at the big hospital in The Bronx. She was happy to get the job, but it meant I didn’t see her so much. When she came back to stay with her folks, she looked tired, and had stopped talking about us getting married. She was keen to become a supervisor, and when I mentioned an engagement, she smiled and said, “No rush, we’re still young”.

My father was only sixty-one when he got sick. It just slowed him down at first. The doctor said it was too much stress, too many cigarettes, and maybe too much whiskey too. Within two years, he couldn’t walk that far, and he told me I had to take over at the paper. I was only twenty-five, but I felt ready.

And it was an exciting time. We had a new president, Franklin D Roosevelt. There was trouble brewing in Europe, and FDR announced his New Deal to end the Depression. Then he allowed the sale of beer, beginning the end of Prohibition.

There was a lot going on to write about in the paper, and I forgot all about Kansas.

The Homestead: Part Thirty-Five



This is the thirty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 905 words.

Sophia did alright at school. Nothing exceptional, but she was good at reading and writing, and liked to hear about history too. But as she got older, her main interest started to be about Teacher White’s son, John. He was called Jack by everyone, and was almost four years older than Sophia. By the time she was almost fifteen, Jack had already gone away to study at college. He hadn’t made no promises, but everyone knew they were sweet on each other. He wrote her letters, telling her how he wanted to be a newspaperman like his grandfather back in Rochester, and she sat and read them after dinner, over and over. She quit school not long after her birthday, and stayed home to help Susan, and to learn the kind of things women do.

After he got back, he helped his pa around the school, but he was restless to return to Rochester. Then one night, Sophia told her ma that he had kissed her and asked her to marry him. It had been on the fourth of July celebration organised that year of ninety, when Sophia was seventeen. Susan told her to tell Jack to come talk to me, and ask permission just like I had done with Walter. He came out on the next Sunday, with his pa. He asked me to let him have my girl for his wife, and told me he was fixing to go back to Rochester, and work on his grandpa’s newspaper. I asked him to wait until Sophia was eighteen, but Teacher White told me the old man was ill, and wanted to train Jack on what to do before he died. I said I would think about it.

When I spoke to Susan that night Sophia was already up in her room crying, sure that Jack would leave without her. Angela had taken her up some food and sat with her, but told us she wouldn’t stop sobbing. Susan said there was nothing for it but to let her go, and we should arrange the wedding real soon. “He’s a good man, Phin. Not just tall and handsome, but real clever too. And he will have his own newspaper”. She had no idea just how far away Rochester was, even though she knew Henry had come all that way with his pa, years earlier. She had even asked Henry if he knew of the White family, but of course he remembered very little about his past.

Reverend Parker was too old and senseless to do any preaching and marrying by then, so the new preacher married my Sophia and Jack. There wasn’t even time for much of a celebration, just a family meal in one of the good hotels. Joe White was going to take them the short journey to the train at Newton, as the local railroad only took stock and goods, not people. As they drove off in Joe’s buggy, Sophia didn’t even turn and wave. I reckoned I would never see her again.

And I never did.

In the fall of ninety-one, the twins came to tell me they were quitting, and setting up on their own over in Delano. I paid them off and shook their hands, then got Henry to give them a ride into town in the wagon. When he got back, Henry asked me if I was going to take on some more men. I shook my head. “Don’t reckon so, Henry. We have been working hard for a long time now. I need to take some time off, finish off the house properly, and maybe do some easy small jobs for regular customers. We have a lot put by, and it will be nice not to to be under all that pressure now”. Henry smiled.”I could take down Walter’s old cabin. Nobody’s using it now, and it would make more space”. I shook my head again. “Reckon not, Henry. Don’t seem right, with the memory of Mary and Walter and all. We can use it for storage for now”.

The next year when the snow had gone, we were working on the roof of the house when the big ladder slipped away and Henry fell with it. He said he was alright, dusted himself off and smiled. But he wasn’t standing straight, so Susan made me take him in the buggy to see the doctor. Frazer had a partner now, a young man from Chicago who had bought into the firm, and he examined Henry. Doctor O’Connor was up with all the latest medical advances, and soon came to a conclusion. “You have broken your back, I’m afraid, one of the bones high up, near your neck. That’s why your shoulder hurts so much, and why you can’t stand straight”. Henry looked at me, and I asked O’Connor. “Can you fix him, Doc? I can pay if he needs surgery”.

The serious man rubbed his chin. “Well, they might operate on him, but he would have to go back east, to one of the best hospitals. Even so, an operation there might just leave him paralyzed. I wouldn’t recommend it”. He turned to Henry. “Best thing you can do at your age is to rest. No more heavy work, and definitely no ladders or carrying”. When he had gone, Henry spoke to me seriously.

“Before we go home, we need to find us a good lawyer”.

The Homestead: Part Thirty-Four

This is the thirty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 816 words.

When she was six, Sophia started at the new school. The old church school run by the Reverend’s wife wasn’t big enough to cope, so the city built a new one, and we signed little Sophia up for it. There were two teachers; a lady from Wisconsin, and a man from Rochester, New York. His name was Joseph White, and he had come west to start a new life with his family. I got Susan a small buggy and a nice trotting horse, so she could do the trip in and out to the school each day. Sophia called the horse Victor, and she really loved that animal.

Work was doing good. I employed two brothers who were excellent wood-workers. They were called the Karimov twins, and had come all the way from Russia to find work. They stayed at the homestead, taking over Walter’s old cabin, and I paid them a fair wage. They looked after themselves pretty much; cooked their own food, and kept to themselves. They spoke in their own language most of the time too, but understood enough to know what to do at work.

Life with Susan was different then. We had to be careful that she didn’t have no babies, so things changed a lot between us. Not that we didn’t still love each other of course, but it couldn’t be like before. To help with the animals and the crops, we took in a stray woman. Her name was Angela, and she was originally from Ireland. She had been a bond servant at one time, and when her boss had died, she had been put out to fend for herself. Susan found her hanging around near the school, looking for work or charity. I made her a bed in the main room, and we used to stand it against the wall during the day. Angela was a hard worker, and so grateful for our help that we could trust her with anything.

The summer of eighteen-eighty, daddy said it was time to think about making my house bigger. He drew up some ideas on scrap paper, and reckoned we should build another floor on top. With the twins there to help, it seemed like a good idea, and we started the work before the weather turned. That year the city also took over Delano, and Derby was almost on the edge of town now. People said that there were twenty thousand living in the area, and it sure felt busy every time we went into the centre.

Though Daddy was slowing up some, Henry was as strong as ever, and still worked as hard as he ever had. I turned twenty-seven that fall, and seemed to have the respect of a lot of prominent men in town. Recommendations were still coming in, and once again I was turning down work. Daddy suggested I open a yard in Wichita, maybe take on some more men. But I liked being around the homestead still, and travelling around on the jobs. I didn’t just want to be some boss worrying about workmen and premises.

The upper floor was on the house by the time it turned cold. It had been a lot of disruption, and some considerable expense in wood and materials, but it sure looked impressive. Angela got her own room too, and cried like a baby when she saw it was just for her. Susan started a garden, just for the pleasure of looking at the flowers and plants. She ran the planting down along the approach to our house, and I told her it looked mighty grand.

Daddy got real sick that winter. He wasn’t breathing too good, and could no longer tolerate smoking his pipe. Doctor Frazer rode out to see him, and did what he could. Old Henry nursed my daddy real good, waiting on him whenever Susan was too busy with the chores or fields. When she got home from school, Sophia would sit next to daddy’s bed, and show him how her reading was coming on. He sure loved my little girl, said she reminded him of my ma.

Three days after Sophia’s eighth birthday, Henry found daddy dead in bed. He came up to the house to tell me, and we sent the twins out to work in the wagon, telling them we were staying home. The ground was real hard in the cold weather, but we set to with picks and shovels, and dug daddy a nice grave right next to Walter’s. Susan gave me an embroidered cloth to wrap him in, and I made a simple coffin from some wood in the barn. Me and Henry put daddy in the ground, and Susan read something from Walter’s Bible as we filled in the grave.

I said I would paint the stones and make the marker once better weather came in the spring.

The Homestead: Part Thirty-Three

This is the thirty-third part of a fiction serial, in 760 words.

Daddy came over on his crutches. “Phin, take up their pistols. I want you to fire both of them a couple of times, then put them into their hands like they were holding them when they got killed”. I did as he asked, firing Black Hat’s into the log walls of the cabin, and Smiling Man’s across at the crop fields behind me. “Now saddle up and ride into town for the Marshal. Tell him there’s been a shooting here, and two cowboys are dead. He should want to get out here before dark”.

Henry shook his head. “Why don’t I just dig a hole and bury ’em? Let the horses go, and they’ll find their way home”. Daddy had a hard expression on his face. “No, not that way, Henry. I want them to know what happened to their men. That way they will know what will happen to any others who come riding in here looking for trouble”. He turned to me again. “Phin, you be sure to tell the Marshal that these fellas came riding in here, and started shooting as soon as they saw you. Me and Henry dealt with them before they could drop you”. I nodded, still hardly believing what had just happened.

Marshal Meagher didn’t look none too pleased when I told him my story. Wyatt Earp was in the office. He smiled and shook his head. “I reckon those two had it coming, and didn’t expect no farmers to put up a fight, Marshal”. Meagher left him in charge, and rode back with me to the homestead, after arranging for the nearby undertaker to follow on with his buckboard, and two plain coffins.

I suppose I had expected the lawman to write stuff down. Maybe tell us we had to go to court, even lock us up for a spell until we did. But there was none of that. He listened to the story again, told by Daddy and Henry. They didn’t mention the suspicions about Walter, as there was hardly any point with no proof. After looking at the bodies and shaking his head a few times, Meagher waited until the undertaker arrived, then walked over to his horse. “Fuller, you may have started something here today. I hope you’re prepared to finish it. Don’t expect any help from me and my men now, you’re too far out of Wichita for that to happen”. Daddy just nodded.

The strange thing is, we never did have any more trouble. Even when I was in town, those cowboys never spoke to me. And none of them ever came to the house again.

I had to admit that daddy had done the right thing. Life went back to normal once again, and Susan told me she was sure she was expecting. She seemed very happy about that. But all through the winter, she never seemed to get much bigger. When she was carrying Sophia she had swollen up, but this time she looked much the same as when she wasn’t expecting. Then one stormy night I had to go out and help Henry secure one of the barn doors, which was almost blown off its hinges by the wind. When I got back in the house, Susan was sitting on the floor in front of the fire. “Phin, you gotta go fetch Doctor Frazer. Tell him it’s real bad”.

In the light from the fire, I could see she was sitting in a pool of her own blood.

Poor Lizzie was pushed to her limit that night. As soon as I roused the doctor, I turned straight round and galloped her back home. I had got Henry to sit with Susan while I was gone, and daddy had come over too, covering her with blankets as she was shivering so. The doctor told us to go out while he examined her, and he was in there a good while. “I’ve got her back to bed, Phin. She’s lost the baby, I’m afraid. I don’t think it ever grew, to be honest. But when it came away, it made her bleed bad, and she is going to need plenty to eat and drink, and lots of rest. I can ask a woman from town to come in tomorrow to nurse her if you want”. I was just glad she was alive, and agreed with anything he said. Then as he was walking to his horse, he spoke quietly to me.

“I doubt she can ever carry any more children though. Another baby might kill her”.

The Homestead: Part Thirty-Two

This is the thirty-second part of a fiction serial, in 980 words.

When we got home, it was almost dark. Susan sobbed and cried, but Mary was strangely quiet. She said she already knew Walter was dead, just felt it inside. “He died bad. I don’t want to see, but I know he died bad”. She brought an embroidered blanket and some kind of necklace from her cabin. “Wrap him in this, put the necklace inside. I will use it to recognise him when we meet again”. Using some oil lamps for light, me and Henry dug a grave behind their cabin, close to the edge of the woods. Henry rolled Walter’s body up in the blanket, and put the necklace inside before the last fold. By the time we had filled in the dirt, it was late.

But none of us could eat any dinner.

The next day at sunrise, I was woken up by Mary singing some strange song. I went to the window, and watched her. She was wearing a long dress made from buckskin, and moccasins on her feet. Kneeling down beside the grave, holding her hands up to the sky, and singing that same song over and over. Susan came to the window beside me. “My ma is singing Walter’s spirit to the hunting grounds, Phin. She might be there all day”.

I asked daddy if I should go and report what had happened to the Marshal. He shurgged. “What are you gonna say, Phin? Some riders who you don’t know took Walter in the night. The next day we found him killed hanging from a tree. Who is the Marshal gonna arrest for that? One less negro in the world aint gonna bother him none”. I knew he was right of course, but it didn’t make me any less angry.

After that day, Mary stopped cooking and washing for daddy and Henry. She was civil enough, but wouldn’t go inside their cabin again. Susan was happy to take over, but she was worried about her ma. “I don’t think she will ever forgive your daddy, Phin. She’s sure that you and Walter could have caught up with the men and stopped what happened. Don’t reckon I will ever shake her on it”. Little Sophia was too young to understand, but when she went looking for Walter, it made Susan cry. I painted some stones white, and arranged them around the grave. Daddy sat at his bench and carved a wooden marker with Walter’s name on it, and I fixed it into the ground. But Mary never looked at any of it.

Three days later, Mary came to the house to talk to me. “Phin, you married my girl, so you’re like a son to me. I want you do you me a favour. I need a horse, and things for travelling. I will be leaving here to find my people. I want to go back to the Osage. You folks have been real kind to me, but there’s no life for me in this white man’s world. I will walk if I have to, but I reckon you owe me something for my time here, and leaving my girl behind as your wife”. I assured her that she could have anything she wanted. I didn’t try to talk her out of leaving. She was her own woman, and I knew better than to talk down to her. I went into town, leaving her with Susan and Sophia, as I knew that would be a long farewell.

I got her a gentle bay mare, a saddle, and one of the new Winchester repeating rifles. She would need something to protect her on the trail. Then there was a cooking pot, water bottle, and tinder box, as well as a rain-slick for travelling in bad weather. Plus new saddlebags to keep it all in. Then I gave her some money, to add to what she and Walter had saved from their share. She left the same afternoon, barely nodding goodbye to my daddy and Henry, who were watching from out front of the cabin. Susan cried all that night, and then she never cried about it again.

Life had to get back to something like normal. Henry and me started back at work, and Susan managed the crops and animals as best as she could. Daddy did what he was able, in between working on the small projects at his bench. But the rage inside about what had happened to Walter never went away.

On the first day the leaves were falling, two riders appeared just before we were due to eat dinner. I walked out to see who they were, carrying my pistol. It was the smiling cowboy from before, and the second one was the man with the fancy black hat that I had spoken to during the search for Walter. They got off their horses and walked in my direction, the smiling man holding up his hands. He looked around, then placed a quizzical look on his face, still smiling. “You seem to be short one big buck, Fuller. Did he up and run off? They are likely to do that, y’know”.

The fifty caliber bullet hit him on the side of his neck, and went straight through. He dropped to his knees, his mouth opening and closing like a stranded fish. Black hat started to reach for a forty-five in his belt, thought better of it, and turned to run. But Henry was already there, and fired both barrels of the shotgun straight into his gut, flinging him back a full six feet. Daddy had shot the smiling man with the Hawken, the long barrel resting on the edge of the window. Henry had run around behind them at the same time, to be ready.

I looked down at the smiling cowboy. The big bullet had almost taken his head clean off.

The Homestead: Part Thirty-One

This is the thirty-first episode of a fiction serial, in 851 words.

I rushed across to Walter’s cabin, still half-asleep, and stumbling in the dark. Mary was on the ground outside, pointing in the direction of the trees on the bank of the creek. “Walter, they took him. Help him, Phin”. I ran off where she was pointing, not even thinking that I had no weapons, not even my knife. Yelling as I ran, hoping to rouse Henry and daddy. I couldn’t see a thing, but could hear horses in the distance. By the time I got there, I just made out the rider at the back. He was wearing a big white hood, and urging his horse on.

Then they were gone.

When I got back to Mary, Susan was there with her, and Henry was saddling up Lizzie. In the light of an oil lamp, I could see Mary had a bad injury on her face. It looked like her cheek was broke, and she was talking funny, in between spitting out blood. “I was asleep, something hit me hard on the face, almost sent me senseless. Men with hoods, they hit Walter with something, then two of them carried him out. I crawled to the door, but they were already gone. That’s when I screamed for help”. Susan was crying as she tried to do something about her ma’s face, but Mary just pushed her hand away. “Go and find him. You’re wasting time”.

Daddy came over on his crutches, holding a lamp in two fingers of his right hand. “Hold on now. Henry, unsaddle that horse. Nobody ain’t gonna find nothing when it’s this dark. Besides, those men could be waiting for you, and you wouldn’t have a chance”. He turned to my wife. “Susan, take your ma inside her cabin and clean her up. We will set out at first light and do our best to find Walter”. Mary started screaming again, and Susan held her close to comfort her sobbing ma.

Henry drove the wagon, with daddy sitting in the back, leg stretched out. I rode Lizzie up ahead. We headed south, in the direction of the biggest cattle spreads, but truth be told we had no plan, and no real idea where to look. Daddy had the Hawken and his pistol, and I had the Henry rifle as well as my forty-four, Under the wagon seat, Henry had two shotguns, both loaded and ready to use. If we found those fellas, there was sure going to be a reckoning.

Mid-morning, we saw two riders herding steers along a fence line close to the trail. I rode up close to the fence and waited for them to get close. “You fellas seen anything of some riders with white hoods on? They would have a tall negro with them”. The older man spit some tobacco in my direction, and a younger one with a fancy black hat spoke up. “White hoods? You dreaming boy? You had yourself a nightmare? Where y’all from anyway? You sound like a Johnny Reb”. The older man laughed out loud, showing brown teeth and the big plug of tobacco rolling around in his mouth. Black hat pointed in the direction we had come from. “Best you turn around and go home. You farmers ain’t welcome here”.

They rode off after the steers, and it had already dawned on me that they knew full well who we were.

Late afternoon, we stopped to rest and water the horses. Henry pointed at some trees, east of the trail. “Look there, Phin”. Henry must have had real good eyes. It took me a while to see what he was talking about. A thin wisp of smoke rising, like you might see from a campfire. Henry took up one of the shotguns, and turned the wagon left off the trail. I went to the side, grabbing the forty-four into my right hand. In the back, daddy sat up straight, and rested the Hawken on the edge of the wagon board.

Just inside the first few trees, we stopped. Henry jumped down from the wagon, and I heard my daddy groan real loud. “Oh no, not that. Oh dear God no”. The next moment, Henry fell to his knees, dropping the shotgun in front of him. I turned Lizzie around a big tree, and what I saw made my eyes open so wide, I felt they might never close again.

Walter was hanging upside down, from the lowest branch of a tree. His feet and hands were tied with rope, and that was tied off across on another tree branch. What was left of a small fire was still glowing and smoking under his head. It had burned his face off, but there was no mistaking it was Walter. I felt like I might pass out, and leaned against the tree, the bile rising in my throat but refusing to come up. Henry started crying, big tears rolling down his cheeks and falling onto the ground. Daddy snapped us both out of it.

“You’ve seen enough, I reckon. Now cut him down and get him in the wagon”.