Victor & Hugo, Part Eleven

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Late Summer, 1879

George Davenport sat behind the large oak law desk he’d had custom made just for him in San Francisco. He was proud of the thing; it’s broad surface, long, smooth lines and solid craftsmanship. It was exactly the kind of thing he dreamed of having one day while toiling away as clerk back in Philadelphia: A law practice of his own and a large, elegant oak desk from which to work. With that dream came the euphoria of imagined success; of winning each and every case he argued, creating precedent for cases that would follow for generations to come, and enacting new laws in the wild land they called The West. He never even considered the possibility he would ever lose a case. Especially this case, of all cases.

Thomas, Catherine, and Apple Alice Garrett sat opposite him in the equally elegant custom made oak chairs, also from San Francisco. They were gathered to listen to him read the judgement delivered earlier that day from the Idaho Territory Court. George took a moment to regain his composure before proceeding. He had quickly read the documents when they arrived by pony courier and was still in a state of dismay.

“…on this 26th day of July in the year of our Lord, 1879… etcetera, etcetera,” he began, and then took a deep breath and read aloud the rest of the finding. No one said a thing when he finished.

Looking from one adult to the other, Thomas searched faces for answers. George’s eyes were fixed on the papers in front of him, flipping through and silently re-reading various parts. Catherine’s expressionless gaze was fixed on her husband. Alice’s eyes were also on George, but she had a broad grin stretched from one ear to the other.

“Well,” George finally said, “that is, apparently, that.” He set the documents on his desk and looked at Catherine. She pursed her lips in a quick smile, but her face remained placid.

Alice shifted in her chair. “I ain’t afraid to say it. For the first time ever, I thank God for the law.”

“What’s that all actually mean, sir?” Thomas asked his step-father.

“Pa,” Catherine quietly corrected her son.

“Well, young man,” George said, not waiting for Thomas to re-address him, “cutting through all the legal ‘wherefores,’ and ‘whereases,’ it means,” he took a moment, and then continued, “you don’t outright own your father’s land. None of us do.”

“I don’t understand,” Thomas said. “You and Ma said you was makin’ me the owner, no matter what. I mean, what happened? After all them meetings and letters and trips to Boise…”

“Miss Garrett,” Catherine interrupted, turning to Alice. “Why don’t the two of us go to your establishment? You’ll be wantin’ to share the news with your boy, I imagine.”

“Damn straight!” Alice quipped. The men stood as the women rose to leave. Alice walked over to Thomas and placed a kindly hand on his shoulder. Thomas hadn’t seen Apple Alice, except in passing, since the time she came to visit them when they first moved into town. She was looking classy today, dressed as she was in a big hat, burgundy silk brocade dress, lace trim finishes, and satin shoes. Her smile was the same as he always remembered; warm and pleasant. Despite the circumstances, and through all of the hullabaloo between her and his folks these past years, she seemed genuinely pleased to see him.

She said to Thomas, “It’s high time you and my boy, Fin, got acquainted. If’n you and he are going to be managing things now, and seein’ as how…”

“In a couple of years, Miss Garrett, not just yet…” George interjected.

Alice turned her warm smile to George. “Of course, Georgie boy. Don’t you be worryin’ a hair on your little lawyer head ‘bout nothin’. I heard what you read in them papers. But,” she turned back to Thomas, “as the sayin’ goes, ain’t no time like the present time. Our boys ought’a get t’know each other.”

Alice gave Thomas another pat on the shoulder before turning to Catherine. George saw the women out, and then came back into the office and took a seat next to Thomas.

“I’m sorry, son. It’s not what we wanted. But, it’s not as bad as it could have turned out.”

Thomas frowned. “I don’t understand, sir. How’s it I’m not the owner? How is,” he paused and searched his memory for the word, “this Trust fella’s the owner? Who is Mr. Trust?”

George raised his eyebrows, realizing Thomas’ confusion. “Trust, ain’t a person, son. No, a Trust is a legal name for, how should I say,” George scrambled for a way to put it. “It’s a kind of business, for lack of a better word.” Thomas frowned. “Of course, it’s not a business, per-se,” George continued.

“Then, what is it?”

“Well,” George thought some more. “It’s a might like the school board. That’d be a better example.” George waited for a reaction from Thomas before continuing. “Understand?”

“So, me and Brother and Sister, and Miss Garrett’s boy, and all of yourn and Ma’s, are, what’d it say, the…”

“Trustees? Yes. All of you will be trustees when you come of age. You and Finnian Garrett being the first.”

“But, not owners.”

“That’s right. A single individual, or individuals, will not own the land. It will be, I mean, it is now held ‘in trust.’ But,” George put up a cautionary finger, “the important thing here to remember is the Territory didn’t win it’s bid…”

Thomas interrupted, “But you and Ma’s still lookin’ over things, ‘til me ‘n Fin gets old enough. Like you been doin’. Excuse me, sir, but I still don’ understand what’s changed.”

George noticed the furrow on Thomas’ brow digging deeper into his forehead. “It’s OK, son. The law sometimes confuses me, too.”

Thomas shot George a disdainful look. “Seems to me, you ought’a know a thing or two ‘bout the law. Shouldn’t confuse the likes of you.”

George smarted at Thomas’ cut. “Yes, I…yes. Son, I am sorry.”

Thomas realized he wasn’t going to get any more of an explanation from his step-father. “Well, like you said, there it is.” He rose from his chair. “We still get to manage things, so that’s something. I guess,” he agreed. “Still don’t quite understand how it all works, but I’m sure it’ll sort itself out.” He put on his hat and coat, “If you’ll excuse me sir, I think I’ll be off now. If ya don’t mind.”

“Of course, of course.” George was still seated, a bit in awe of his step-son. Watching Thomas rise from his chair, he realized he was witnessing the unmistakable moment when a boy becomes the man fate has in store for him.  “ ‘Spose you’ll be on your way to tell your Lydia all about it,” he stated.

“I reckon.”

Without further discussion or farewell, Thomas walked out the door. George followed him out, and watched from the door as Thomas mounted his horse and trot off toward the north end of town; toward the Samuels’ property, the opposite the direction of his sweetheart Lydia’s family homestead.  Just before the last of the buildings, Thomas gave his horse sharp kick. The animal bucked and broke into a gallop. George watched until they disappeared into the tree line.

Thomas rode hard for as long as it took his anger to wane. He turned toward the tributary that fed into the river so both he and his horse could get a drink and he could have a moment to think. As he approached a favorite spot, he saw Fin Garrett sitting on the bank.


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