Fellow blogger tnkerr’s take on The Savage Outdoors writing prompt, titled “Victor and Hugo,” inspired a crowd writing story!
January 16, 1872
The old rooster crowed at the first hint of winter’s purple-grey dawn. Catherine rolled over and reached out an arm, hopeful to find Victor there, but knowing she wouldn’t. The rooster crowed again. From the other side of their large cabin, the floor boards creaked under the weight of small, sturdy feet.
“Mama?” a boy’s shy voice called from the other side of the curtain that separated Catherine and Victor’s bed from the rest of the cabin. “Mama? Sister pee’d the bedsheets again.”
Catherine lay still, unresponsive.
“Mama?…Mama? Started snowin’ and now it’s comin’ down purty hard. Can I start the fire? Papa showed me how….Mama?”
Catherine sat up on the edge of the bed and watched the falling snow through the window. She heard her girl-child whimpering from the corner of the cabin where the children slept. The infant, in its crib by the wood stove, began to fuss. In a couple of moments it would start hollering. She gave a look to the other side of the bed and sighed.
“Thomas, get dressed and get down to Apple Alice’s. Fetch your father.” Catherine pulled her bed covers over her like a giant shall, drew back the curtain, and walked across the cabin to the screaming baby.
“He ain’t there. He never is. He’s always already gone!” the boy argued.
“Do not sass me, do as you’re told!” She swatted away her daughter’s outreached hand as she lifted the baby out of its cradle. She firmly held the infant tight to her aching breast forcing it to suckle regardless its agitated state and obvious need for clean swaddling. Catherine waited for her son to heed her instruction, but the boy did not move.
“NOW!” Catherine bellowed, “Or you’ll feel my boot! And then your father’s, when he’s returned!” The baby abruptly settled into nursing, as if it was the one being scolded. The girl started bawling, filling the void left by the fussing baby. Thomas shuffled over to the bureau where he had neatly folded his clothes the night before and got dressed.
“And don’t forget snow shoes. The snow’s already up to the door,” Catherine said. “Bad enough we have to go looking for your God-forsaken father, let alone me having to bundle up the little ones and go out to find the pair of you buried in snow.”
Thomas reluctantly walked toward the front door, lingering a moment by the large dining table, trying to hide from his mother his purpose as he surreptitiously looked around for something to eat.
“We don’t have time for me to fix you something now,” Catherine said, instantly guessing Thomas intent. “Time’s a’wastin’. Have a bite of bread and some of the squash I made for your father’s supper, there,” she gestured with her chin, “in the cupboard. But first, lay in a fire and help Sister get cleaned up and dressed while I tend the baby.”
Snowflakes as big as maple leaves were falling fast and hard when Thomas set out to fetch his father. The wind had picked up and snow was blowing straight into his face. Ice fragments felt like fine wood splinters against his skin. As he walked with his head down to keep the snow from pelting his face, his long locks, frozen from exposure, bat against his forehead in quick, stinging blows. He took off his wool cap, already heavy with wet snow, pushed his hair all the way back, and put his cap back on in an ineffective attempt to tame his unruly mop.
At age nine, Thomas was as tall as some of the older boys at Mrs. Schmidt’s school, and already sporting a fine down of peach fuzz on his upper lip. Thick, curly, bright red hair, just like his mother’s, fell in long ringlets almost to his shoulders. Though his mother begged, he refused to wear it short. He despised the way it stuck out and the way the other boys would make fun, calling him fuzzy sheep’s butt.
Thomas wished his Pa wouldn’t stay in town like he did. Why wouldn’t he just come home like Ma routinely scolded him to. Thomas hated his father for making him have to go out in weather like this. The walk into town was long enough to begin with, let alone having to manage it in a heavy snowfall in snowshoes made for a grown man.
Exhausted, he stopped under a giant evergreen to get a moment’s rest before pressing on. There was something strange about the forest in snow. Not in a frightening way,though. Just something strange. Maybe it was how quiet everything was, or how bright it got when the sun came out. Summer was quiet, but in winter, the forest seemed to be standing completely still.
This was his forest; his father’s forest, and no ill could come to any of them when they were in it because it was theirs. At least, that’s what his pa always said when they were together, hiking about.
“This’ your home, son. Ain’t nobody in town got land like this. I’m damn lucky, I tell you, damn lucky!” Victor was fond of saying to Thomas from time to time. “And, it’ll be yours, time comes.”
Thomas set off again on his slow trek for town. He was sure he’d find his father eventually. As it were, his father was probably returned home by now, come by some other route. With every labored step he wanted to give up and turn back, but Thomas knew he must do as his mother instructed. By the time he walked into Alice’s saloon, it was nearly mid-day.
“Whoa, there, young Samuels, don’t you look a little worse for wear!” said Johnson, the barkeep. “ ‘fraid your pappy ain’t here, son.”
“Figured.” Thomas said. “Mind if I stand by the fire, sir? Warm up a bit before heading back?”
“Yeah, sure. Don’t cost me a thing.” Johnson smiled.
Thomas walked over to the wood stove where most of the saloon’s patrons were huddled with their whiskeys. All nodded a silent greeting to the boy as he approached. A man held out his glass, offering Thomas a snort.
“Warm your insides, son.”
Thomas shook his head. He took off his soaking cap and heavy coat and laid both on top of the stove. Steam rose in a large cloud of sizzling, evaporating snow and ice. Thomas turned the clothing over and dried the other sides, letting the steam rise until it thinned and the sizzling stopped. He set the items over the back of a nearby chair and returned to stand next to the stove. The man again offered him his glass. Thomas thanked him, and shook his head.
“To each, his own,” the man replied.
Alice appeared from her apartments upstairs to take a quick look-see what the cold weather had brought in. Johnson caught her eye and nodded toward the stove. Alice caught sight of the tell-tale curly red hair.
“Hey, young man.,” she called out. “I sent your pappy home this morning. He ain’t made it?”
Thomas shook his head. “No ma’am.”
“Hmm,” Alice pondered. “Reckon you would have crossed paths. When you set out?”
“Some time back. Not long after sun up.” Thomas said.
“Which way you come? Usual way, or over Parson’s?”
“Usual way, ma’am. Parson’s too steep in snow, I reckon.”
“Smart kid,” the man who offered Thomas a drink mumbled under his beard. Alice nodded a silent agreement.
If there was one thing Thomas had that his father did not, it was smarts. He clearly was going to grow to be a big bear of a man like Victor, but God mercifully saw fit to not only bestow him with the vibrant color of Catherine’s hair, but also to bless him with Catherine’s wit. As large as the soft place in Alice’s heart was for her childhood sweetheart, her patience with Victor’s poor judgement was limited. The drink didn’t help matters either. How he managed to provide for his ever-growing family and not fall into destitution, Alice could never figure.
“Well, you prob’ly just missed one another. He’s most likely home by now,” Alice concluded.
“Yes ma’am. I reckon.”
“Johnson, give the boy some of the stew we made up for lunch. Boy needs something ‘fore he heads back.”
The story continues. Go to Victor & Hugo story page for links to chapters by LRose and tnkerr.