Victorian Voyagers: "Worldly" [Ch1]

CHAPTER ONE

‘Hey ya Micky!’
Michael looked over his shoulder and saw Daniel Hudson running down his father’s drive. He turned back to the drive not wanting to encourage the younger boy’s enthusiasm further. The Hudson property was better than their’s, the house painted, the garden green the crops growing. The creek ran past their place and watered their soil and they could prosper. Michael’s father’s crops were dust beside them. Old man Hudson wouldn’t let the water blow across his fence to give the Kent’s bordering pasture even so much as a whiff of water!
‘Watch ya doin?’ Daniel persisted.
‘Taking supper home.’ Michael replied as the kid half skipped half jogged along beside him on the dusty track. Mike noticed the dust rising up around the fish hanging by his side. ‘Hey just walk you’re getting our supper dusty.’
‘But that’s fish!’ the boy complained wrinkling up his freckled nose. ‘I hate fish. Ma feeds it to the cats. We’re having lamb for supper tonight. Ma got half a lamb from the sales.’
‘Half a sheep?’ Mike scoffed ‘You’re lying! How can you get half a sheep?’
‘Well ma said Mrs Johnson got the other half.’
‘And how did she bring it home; hopping like a stupid pigeon?’
‘In a huge wooden box full of ice.’ Daniel was nodding his head furiously.
‘Now I know you’re lying there ain’t no ice round here especially not in the middle of summer!’
‘There is!’ Daniel shouted ‘Ma put the ice in the bath tub and Dad gave me the box to put my dog Chuck in.’

Mike looked down at the stupid little fat dog. He’d never known a dog to never grow bigger than a puppy except to get fat. It ran along at their side on tiny quick feet, panting and yapping alternatively.

‘Chuck suits that mutt. It looks like it’s been chucked up and needs to be chucked off the nearest cliff! But I ain’t goner believe there’s ice here in the middle of summer!’
‘There is!’ Daniel shouted again and stopped to let his words come out. ‘And we have some of it still and we’re having lamb for supper and you’re just a stupid dust farmer having fish!’

Daniel punctuated his tirade by running after Michael and kicking up a cloud of dust that covered the brace of fish he carried!

Mike turned around his face furious and, with his spare hand, covered Daniel’s face and pushed him down into the dusty road on his rump. He then turned and kept on walking, ignoring Daniel’s sudden wail and carry on as if Mike had broken his stupid dog’s scrawny neck.

Annoyed the fish were dusty now he was tempted to walk across and wash them off in the Hudson’s water trough but that would get old man Hudson’s ire up and Michael was wise to that! instead he decided when he got home he’s suggest baking them outside on a bit of a camp fire – then the skin would peel off and the dust too! It was better than wasting their precious water. Make a bit of a change for supper too and he thought it could work out to be a good evening and as such birthday after all.

He was sixteen today, in most things a man. But today his father and mother and grandfather had sent him to the stream to spend the day fishing. It was a rare treat considering there was enough work on the farm to employ several men but there really was only his father and himself to do it! His grandfather was really only useful as advisory and the bloke to tend the house yard. And really at his age that should be all he was required to do. But this land was hard and unforgiving. There was no such thing as tomorrow yet they were always preparing for it and if the work wasn’t done then tomorrow caught you out!

It wasn’t always this way. When he was younger there had been lush green hills and drizzling rain most days and there had been nothing, but amusing himself, for Michael to do. Then six years ago, when he was a boy of ten, he and his family left their lush home. Forced out by taxes and rents too high to pay, and the loss of their children to famine and the authorities, they chose to take the gambol and go to the New World. So they travelled the great Atlantic Ocean by a leaking old ship to get to this new world and then they crossed the great continent by wagon and walking to find the “Promised Land”. There was himself and his parents, his mother’s father and the last four of his younger siblings, but one by one his siblings gave in to the harshness of their life. And so, here they were in the middle of America, working from before dawn to well after sundown every day; his parents to shelter the family as best they can and Michael trying to find the gate to the path of his life.

There had been nine of them back in the old country. Their mam seemed to have a child every second year. But the two directly above Michael, Sean and Paddy, had been caught trying to steal back the family cow when the English landlord had taken it for the rent. They were tried and transported with no matter to their age of only twelve and ten. The eldest Kienan had gone into the navy and they had not heard from him again. The baby Kenneth had died at sea then the next three, below Michael never saw much of the new life. One by one they had succumbed to the harshness of this so called Promised Land. There had been Mary and Rachel who died one after the other soon after arriving at their new home and the next baby Colin was buried with his sisters on the hill behind the sad little cabin Michael had spent the summer and half the autumn helping his father and grandfather build.

He watched his mother and helped her nurse them all, through the illnesses, the accidents, even birth; then he watched and helped his father bury them. Wrapped in their clothes a cloth on their faces, his mother stony-faced would then lay a wreath, of whatever flora was still alive, on the small chest and then father would shovel in the earth that had taken him a solid day to dig out. Finally grandfather would add the cross he’d made from the twisted branches broken from a tree a mile away then murmur a prayer in a strange language that he called “Good Church Latin”, and then life, such as it was, would go on.

Michael hated the shovel load that landed on the cloth covered face, expecting the sibling to jump up in fright and protest … but they wouldn’t, and that was when he knew they were gone and with them yet another part of the dream future.

Susie was the last to arrive and the last to survive, next to him. She was his ratty baby sister – scrawny and wily like him, her hair bleached blonde in the sun, she rushed through life with a freedom born of innocence. She did not know the others nor remember Colin’s death; she had only been a baby. Pesky and skinny though she was strong for her tender age of six, he found himself torn between wanting to protect her and wanting to kill her!

Especially over her stupid Duck! They could barely scrape a meal together to eat but his silly little sister had a pet duck. Who ever heard of a duck who was scared of water? But that duck was. Mother had decided it was still a good eating duck and so had allowed Susie to help her rear it but come cooking time Susie refused to allow her duck to be sacrificed for the Thanksgiving meal. She had taken the duck and vanished and they spent all day looking for her. It was Michael who had finally found her down by the river, tears pouring down her eyes trying to get the duck to swim away, swim for its life, but it wouldn’t. Michael had stupidly promised to help her keep her duck, though you would never know it from the teasing he gave her about it.

Whistling he found the break in the fence-line and slipped through. He had to fix it he knew before any stray beast wandered through to eat the crop, but so far there was only soil. Hard grey dusty soil powder fine for half a foot deep then solid like stone! His father and he had spent weeks hand furrowing it with the pick axe and the push hoe that they had sacrificed a cow and thus several months of food for. They had about one quarter strip left to do then they could somehow find the money for grain and plant it up. And then the real; toil would begin. He would need to go with his father and the push cart loaded with the four barrels saved from their trip out and fill up the barrels with water from the creek at the fishing place on the other side of the bridge to the Hudson’s place. Then everyone would need to water the seedlings by hand twice a day, once before breakfast and then again in the evening, using their drinking pannikins and a bucket, up and down the rows. It would take hours and their backs would ache from the bending but if they didn’t do it the crop would fail before the seedlings got a foothold. And then there were the crows to fight off! Grandpa invented a bellow-powered cannon like a giant popgun! He found an old hollow log and made a packed earth plug to fit in one end of it. The other end had a sheet of tin hammered into it secured by nails with a hole in the middle that fit in the big pedal bellows he purchased from the church after the organ fell off the wagon down a verge and splintering into a thousand pieces. He would spend the day on the porch pumping air into the cannon until the plug burst out with a roar that sent the black birds fleeing! Every time he would cheer at his own success and hopping about fetch the plug back into the cannon mouth and start all over again. Michael and Sally wanted to help him but he would never allow it. This was his job and it was very important to him, he needed to contribute somehow! Michael thought he would never be afraid of gunfire after his granddad’s cannon bursts.

He felt happy and contented as he set off across the field, but as he went further in he realised there was something wrong. It seemed quiet somehow. He looked about him wondering what was making his hair prickle, what was making him think there was a sudden chill to the air. He drew closer to the middle of the field and could see the Hudson house white amongst the green trees in the distance behind him and the grey cottage across the field before him. Then suddenly a cloud of crows rose from the ground as he approached revealing the body of his father.

‘Da! Da!’
He ran over and froze staring down at the man on his stomach in a pool of mud. There was something strange. He wasn’t wearing a hat. His father was a red head he always wore a hat. Then he realised what he had at first taken for his father’s usual red hair was actually the flesh of his head open to the sun with no hair or scalp. “Scalped” He’d heard tales of the crazy red native Indians who scalped a man alive. He realised there must have been Indians here and they had scalped his father to leave him to bleed to death in the dust bowl they had prayed for six years would grow a crop substantial enough to get them out of trouble.

He stood a while longer wondering what the black was and finally realising it was flies. The body had not moved and had a strange stillness about it.
Then suddenly it hit him that the Indians may be at the house at his mother and sister.
Dread filled him as his feet began running toward home.

Reaching the house he slowed finding the yard full of death; fowls, pigs, the cow, all speared and hacked open and left to rot in the blistering sun. For some crazy reason he looked for Susie’s duck amongst them, Susie would be devastated without it and so in this carnage he was praying it had survived.

Naively he presumed the family to be inside waiting for him to come in, they would be shocked when they learned he would be bringing the sad news of their father’s death, and the carnage of the farm animals. Funny how he was looking forward to the comfort of a normal home inside; Mother cooking the supper, Grandfather whittling or making something from the firewood sticks, silly Susie and her duck on the hearth rag rug. He could even imagine his father coming in after him as if the body in the field had not been him. His mind didn’t want to accept the carnage, the blood, the meat laying about, most already covered in ants and flies and other carrion creatures. He definitely didn’t want to expect what such brutality predicted could have also gone on inside.

If wishes were pennies he’d be a rich man before he stepped onto the porch, but the scent of fear and horror assailed him and inside dire dearth reality hit home. The never extinguished wood stove was cold, the room upturned, arrows and spears stuck out from every wall and picture. Blood was splattered up every wall and all over everything. He dropped the brace of fish on the floor at the sight of his grandfather crying blood as he sat huddled in the corner of the room blindly terrified of who or what had just entered. The feathers on the spears and the arrows laid blame for the horror at the feet of the native Indian devils.

Michael had found his mother too, huddled in the corner of Susie’s little room, hugging the lifeless body of that blasted duck and humming simple tunes while she stared at nothing and rocked herself. He could not touch her without her screaming in a wild frenzy. He could not find Susie anywhere. Franticly he searched the house like a demon possessed, calling his sister’s name as calmly and happily as he could to coax her out of all her favourite hiding places. He then searched outside but could not find her anywhere. He finished standing in the middle of the yard; the new slaughter yard littered with carcases, and bellowed his sister’s name as loudly as he could. He dropped his head back arms out wide and gasped for breath wishing for death!

Eventually, crying, he straightened, feeling completely helpless and useless, trying to think of what he had to do; what he could do; what he wished he could do. How did you deal with this? How can a lad of only just sixteen deal with this? Returning back inside, he saw his grandfather still huddling and sobbing silently small now like a child after a beating banished to the corner. It made Michael feel older than him, and as he helped the old feeble man from the floor, tears streaming down his face he’d tried to deal with chaos, berating himself for going fishing that morning instead of staying and working the farm. His grandfather had hushed him and reminded him he’d worked hard for a full month and deserved a day off fishing for their supper, especially this day, his birthday. Birthday? He thought not, more like “death” day or coming into manhood in the most gruesome way day. His birthday would never pass again without the memory of these horrors.

But seeing the old man now sitting on the only unbroken chair, rendered totally helpless and for the first time trying to be nice, gave Michael the courage to do what he had to. He’d dashed his tears away and cleaned and bandaged his grandfather’s gouged eye-sockets and set the table to rights before him then left him with a tankard of water. He had no idea what he could do for his mother so left a tankard of water near her and closed the door behind him.

In the middle of the field he saw to his father; burying him where he lay, unable to move him further. By the dying rays of the sun he scraped out as deep a ditch as he could, grateful for the darkness when he finally rolled his father’s lifeless form into it. He saw no whites of his father’s eyes, didn’t want to know if his eyes were even still there. Then he allowed himself to scream hatred at the relentless star-filled black sky as he buried his father; covering his grave mound in the rocks he blindly found with his fingers scattered so liberally through the dust about. Using, as a cross to mark his head, the pick-axe he’d dug the shallow grave with, the same pick-axe his father had been using to furrow the hard earth for the crop seed he had yet to buy.

Exhausted from his labour and all the horrors and from crying Michael sat beside his father and then lay on the rocks and slept.

In the morning he walked back to the cabin and began to see to the yard. Burning the carcasses now riddled with maggots and on the fires throwing the arrows and spears. He then finally replenished the tankards for his mother and grandfather, both sleeping where they sat. He loaded the rifle for his grandfather and the shotgun for himself, then grabbed a bag of possessions for he knew he had to leave.

There was no horse, the last had died the season before, so in the last rays of the day, gun in hand and wearing his only clothes; he walked back to the Hudson’s farm to raise the alarm.

Telling them had been almost a monotone. He had looked at the happy family and nodded, cap in hand gun resting by the wall.
‘Evening folks.’ He greeted them pleasantly not wishing to alarm any one. ‘Sir, can I have a word?’
‘Certainly lad.’

Hudson sounded pleasant in front of his wife and their guest but out on the porch he was again the scowling neighbour who wouldn’t care if they died of thirst. Realising that, Michael nearly didn’t tell him but knew he had to; the next neighbour wasn’t for another sixteen miles. He stood fingering his hat and watching the action, then quietly told Hudson what he had found when he came home from fishing in the man’s creek; the reason Hudson had a better farm, a happier family, decent food on the carved and polished table.

The man was speechless. Michael knew that his own calmness rendered any emotion by anyone else a fallacy.

‘When did this happen?’ Hudson finally asked
‘Yesterday sir.’ Michael had told the man ‘I worked all night and this morning setting things to rights for my family, before I came to come fetch help.’
‘Come eat?’
‘Oh no sir, thank you all the same.’

Michael knew if he’d tried to swallow anything it would never stay down. His throat was raw from all the retching he’d done since finding them. He walked back to the door to get his gun.

Hudson called his wife over and quietly told her.
‘The boy’s family have been attacked by Injuns.’ He tried not to alarm her but what else could he say? ‘The father’s dead and the mother and grandfather need tending.’
‘And the little girl?’ Mrs Hudson had asked, shock and fear making her eyes wide and her fair skin whiter.

Michael had been surprised. He’d never seen these people other than church once a month; his own family couldn’t afford to go every Sunday. He’d never known they knew anything about his family.
The farmer had told her, ‘The lad can’t find her. I’d say the Injuns took her!’

And the woman had gasped then ran to hold her own children to her, in fear that just knowing about it could conjure the evilness and they too should suddenly be whisked away by the red devils. But they promised to fetch his grandfather and mother; and trend to them.

So he left them and walked the rest of the way into town, all twenty eight miles, in a complete daze. His mind could not accept the memory of the horror upon horror that waited to change his life; from the lad that whistled his way home with his brace of six fine fish for the work of his Birthday relaxing in the sun by the river, to only God knew what.

Victorian Voyagers: "Worldly" [Ch1]

adgray

Frankston, Australia

  • Artist
    Notes
  • Artwork Comments 4

Artist's Description

For my NaNoWriMo challenge

One Part of a three part novel.
A spin off from my Daintree Daughter’s Book

Beware: this is a realistic Adult book & not a pretty tale like my poetry

It tells of the fight to become free and happy, with the leading characters first facing the trials of the ugly side of life, and the shackles of their pasts dragging at them as they carve their own standard of living. But in the mid 1800s it was normal for the children of the poor to see the activities of the adults – good & bad; generally they weren’t sheltered … that came in soon after when everyone wanted to live like the well to do did & hide or ignore the brutality of the ugly side of life.

Tales of the American Frontier teaches us it is generally known that rebel native Indians raided isolated homesteads. They were claimed as devils for their seemingly barbaric ways.
Scalping was the art of just a selected few tribes I’m not knowledgeable in which and as I have not stated the area this is set I see it as no real necessity. I have read these kinds of acts of warfare had taken place {and the Indian nation was at war with the invading whiteman} , just not always together.

I do wish to apologise if this fictitious re-enactment offends anyone – my intention was to put my leading character through trauma, not offend.

So all that aside I hope you can enjoy the story! ☼

Phoenix
Expeditions

EDIT:
To tie this in with it’s sister Victorian Volumes I have changed the Volume Title to “Voyagers”

Hopefully I can update the edits in here soon!
Chookas! ♥

Artwork Comments

  • pijinlane
  • adgray
  • TRACY BAGNALL
  • adgray
,
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10% off

for joining the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.