Friday 29 August 2014

PART 2 of "Six Jutlands and a Conestoga."

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Last week the Verhoeven family reached their final destination, uncertain of what tomorrow will bring. "Six Jutlands and a Conestoga" continues....
Starting at the rear, he undoes the six-horse hitch. While he removes the paraphernalia, he talks lovingly to each horse. The first horses unburdened are the wheelers, the biggest horses, nearest the driver. Willie and Anton are each a couple of hundred pounds heavier than the leaders. When Bram takes off the traces, the breast collar and the driving halter of each horse, they are free to move on their own. He pats each on their heavy cheek before resting his head against their wide necks for just a moment to offer a special note for each animal.
“Thank you, Willie, for getting us outta that bog today. You’re a hardy and proud beast.”
“Where would we be without you, Anton? You never give up, do ya boy? This’ll be your last haul, old fella. You deserve to rest.”

He soon has the swings – the center pair – unfastened from their leather straps. The horse on the “off” side, or the right, is Molly, the only bay-colored Jutland. The one on the “near” side is Gustav, named after Bram’s father.
“You’re as beautiful as ever, Molly. I haven’t told you this before, but you’re my favorite.”
Bram chuckles at the old adage he uses all the time, and in response, Molly prances slightly, delighted by her owner’s caresses.
“Hah, Gustave, you are as stubborn as my father. You always want to go in your own direction. Ah well, you’re still young and frisky.”

After their reins have been released from Bram’s grip, each horse goes to the river to drink. Later they will amble aimlessly nearby, nibbling at the young shoots among the grass. Bram finishes with the leaders, Hercules and Ellen, after which they join the other horses. As he carefully lays out the lines beside the wooden tongues that separate the pairs and gathers the leathers, he is watched by loving eyes.

Lena stands at the back of the wagon, where Aron has lowered the tailgate as an informal table. Veronica is straightening a gaily colored tablecloth to hide the rough wood before setting the tin plates out. Lena’s narrow face is livened by a bright smile as she thinks how she loves Bram for the way he hugs each animal, knowing he is smothering them with flattery. He treats them as well as his family, she knows. She has an amusing stab of jealousy as there has been little opportunity or time for more than a quick hug at night from her husband. She trusts him completely but is troubled by the news they received earlier today at the fort. She will make a point of talking to him after the children are asleep. Rubbing her hands together, she thinks how she might reward him for getting them here safely.

The bend in the river where they are encamped, and the back of the wagon, face west. The sun hangs just below the trees that cover the shallow rise beyond the junction of the rivers. Night is not far off. The family has finished their meal of pheasant, captured by Bram earlier and prepared on the spit by Lena with lentils. The dishes are washed and put away, the makeshift beds for the girls are ready and the boys have spread their rolls out in the soft grass under the wagon. Lena is refolding the tablecloth, clucking over the stains she vows she will wash tomorrow. Bram sits on a keg of axle grease in front of the fire, poking at it with a dead branch.

The wood snaps as it burns, the river provides a regular symphony as it flows over dead trees that have fallen into the waters, gurgling on its way by. The children are laughing, being kids after their responsibilities. Veronica has a way with her oldest brother, Jonas, who can’t say no to her and the four children are off to the edge of the trees to play hide and seek. Lena approaches her husband from behind to place a hand on his shoulder. Her voice is low, shaded by a tinge of worry.
“What will we do this winter, Bram, if the contract for the army’s horses is only up for renewal next spring?”

Bram doesn’t answer right away. He has had the same thought since they left the fort yesterday. When he had met Colonel Denison in St. Louis, Missouri, last year, the commanding officer of the new fort had assured him that if he made it here by this spring, he would have plenty of work shoeing horses and forging hinges and other metal objects the Army needed. Upon reaching the fort in mid-May, Bram discovered an older man, a crude farrier, had already set up shop.

Reaching to hold the hand on his shoulder, he looks back at his wife and says, “Someone beat us to it, Lena, but Colonel Denison is not happy with the man’s work. The Army is bound to him by virtue of a relative of his in Washington, so until next year there is not much we can do about it. We can talk more later after the children are abed. Okay, honey?”
Lena gives his arm a squeeze.
“Well, that can be anytime now. It’s getting on late. In fact, I should get them ready.”

She leaves her husband while he stares at the dying fire. The darkness rims the hilltops, turning the fields a light gray, the setting sun casting a pale orange along the horizon, a promise for tomorrow. She rounds up the children, instructing them to get ready for bed against their protestations. She reminds them that tomorrow morning after breakfast and an hour of schooling, it’s a bath for everyone, and the girls will do the laundry as the men prepare a temporary shelter until their house is built. All talk turns to speculation as the children prepare themselves: How soon can they have their own bedrooms? When can they go fishing? Are there any neighbors? Are there bears in the woods? On and on they ramble until each child is tucked in, prayers said, hugs and kisses accompanying them to bed. Within twenty minutes, they are all asleep.

The moon is gibbous and almost full, casting a bluish light on the empty fields. Stars appear in the eastern sky by the hundreds as night begins to cover the frontier. Bram is about to stamp out the last of the embers with dirt when Lena comes from the wagon carrying the cotton shift she uses for sleeping and one of their quilts folded across her arm. She has a small floral bag that is drawn closed by a silk cord that swings from her hand. Bram knows it is the sweet-smelling lady things she cherishes and cannot hide his glee at what she is up to. Tossing him a bar of rough soap and a fresh, well-worn towel, she says, “Get cleaned up, Bram, and meet me by the river just past that large maple where the kids were playing.”

While bathing in the cold waters, Bram is concerned with what he will do this winter. The beaver trade is dying; the old man who works the forge at the fort is an annoying complication. He guesses they have enough money to build a house and put a garden in. Meat will have to be dried for the winter. But after that, he’s not sure. He doesn’t like to take these concerns to his wife as she is a natural worrier, but he decides he can’t hide the facts.

After drying off, he carries his folded clothes and boots to where Lena said to meet her. When he approaches the large bole of the hardwood tree, he can see the blanket spread out in the grass. The moonlight is such that he can see the outline of his wife’s shape as he approaches her. Stopping at the foot of the quilt, he expresses what he is thinking.
“I don’t know Lena, I…”
“Never mind all that for a moment, Bram. Come hold me.”

Placing his clothing on the ground, he kneels before her. All thoughts of the future disappear like smoke in the sky. He gazes down at the alluring shape of his wife. A soft blue light covers her and highlights the gentle curves of her soft skin. Soon they are overcome with an urgency that demolishes any thoughts other than how much they love each other. Bram’s big hands are gentle as he touches his wife in the way he knows she desires. Her hands caress the hardness of his body.
Their lips roam freely about each other’s faces and upper bodies. Delicious torment consumes them until Lena’s soft moans cut the silence of the evening, followed closely by the harsh breathing and heavy panting of a man in the throes of release. They collapse in each other’s arms, and for many moments there is only the rushing of the waters, the clicking of crickets to disturb their soft breathing.

Lena is about to speak when Bram places a finger to her lips to quiet her questions. He knows what she is about to ask.
“I love you, Lena. I love the children. I love the way you take care of our family. We are never hungry; the kids are never without clean clothes. You teach them their numbers and letters. You show them the way of the Lord. And you put up with my many moods.”
He unfolds himself from her arms and rises slightly so that she can see his face in the soft light.
“I will never let you down, Lena. I will never let my children suffer. I’m not sure what the next sunrise will bring, but I guarantee you that we will survive. With every muscle in my body, I will provide.”

Lena doesn’t have any words. She is full of tender love for her husband. She pulls him toward her, holding him so close that she can feel the beating of his heart. She pulls the loose end of the quilt over them, and with only the stars as witness, they lie like that until they doze off.

Please join me next week when the 4Q Interview hosts award winning author Susan Toy, from the  Caribbean island of Bequia. She is every author's friend and a terrific teller of tales.

Don't forget to mark September 7th on your calendars. 6:30 - 8:30 pm at The Chateau Moncton for the Book Launch of my debut novel, Dark Side of a Promise.


  1. Outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed your very descriptive story of frontier life. Where did you learn so much about horsemanship, and harness? This piece could stand alone as a short story, or as a novella or a novel. The possibilities are as endless as the starry night sky in that passionate passage at the end. Well done Allan.

  2. Great ongoing story. You have a real knack for showing us Bram's rapport with the horses. Also great scene with his wife. It's understated and speaks volumes. Best of luck with your book launch. Connie Cook

  3. Thank you both Lockie and Connie for the comments. This story stayed in my head for quite some time before I began. I knew how I wanted it to end but not how to get started. I suspect that this will be a novel someday Lockie.


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