I’ve shared segments of my novel, “Tom Named By Horse” as I’ve polished and edited for publication, but I’ve remained concerned for the first pages, and never shared them before ... Not sure if I wanted to open the novel with page 5, (to see that go HERE,) and lose all the information that comes before it, or open as I originally wrote it. I invite you to read this, my original opening, and let me know your thoughts. Is this an opening that compels you to read the novel? ~ Gitty Up, Dutch Henry.
|Writing With Kessy|
Tom Named By Horse - Pt1 (The beginning)
It was a miracle that either survived the birth. She knew it was morning because a sliver of gray light peeked through the old blanket they had hung for a door. It had blown open with the driving rain a day ago but she could not afford the strength to close it. Why, oh why, won't this awful rain and howling wind stop? Lying in the dark, cold dugout, she shivered so violently her newborn son trembled in her arms.
Oh darling, where are you? Please hurry back. Theses old blankets are wet and so very smelly. You promised you'd return soon with more blankets. Two days ago now I think, maybe three. I can't remember. I'm cold, darling. I'm wet and so cold. It's so dark in here. Our little baby can't get warm. He can't stop crying.
The new little baby found her cold breast and suckled … Soon her shivers stopped.
The rolling grasslands spread before him as far as his eye could reach, as broad as the universe itself. Each rise gave way to the valley beyond it. Every valley was the beginning of the next hill. Rain, falling hard from the hands of Grandfather Mystery, soaked Grandmother Earth.
Chief Red Cloud sat on his favorite war pony all that dark day, and allowed the skies to beat him with raindrops pounding like rocks. He had told his uncle, Chief Smoke of his terrifying vision. With sad eyes he looked into the rain. Today Red Cloud knew, even Grandfather Mystery could not wash away the change about to sweep over their ancestral hunting grounds. His tears, mixing with cold rain, he turned his faithful pony toward his village.
-Early fall 1865-
''Boy! Fetch me that knife, and do it quick or you'll feel my lash!''
The boy handed the knife to the grizzly bear shaped buffalo hunter, and watched as the great beast was stripped of its dignity. He stood out of reach of the hider, knowing he should be skinning the buffalo, but was still sore from last night's beating. It hurt to move. When the hider finished his work, he left a humbled, naked carcass. Not at all resembling the magnificent animal it was moments ago. The boy always felt pity for the buffalo. But it was what they did.
The boy knew he was fifteen now. He didn't remember his life before the hider bought him. Not much anyway. Some town folks claimed they had found him in a dugout, with his dead mama. They had never liked him much. He never liked them. At least with the hider he was never hungry. Never hungry, but too often kicked and beaten.
''Get over here and pull on this hide, you stupid kid.'' Struggling together, they stretched the heavy wet hide and staked it for the sun to dry with the others dotting the landscape for a hundred yards around the wagon. Then the hider crawled on the seat, grabbed his long whip, and beat the horse and mule. The drunken fool struck them so hard they took off at a near gallop, throwing him down in the seat, evoking a string of cuss words and more lashing. The boy ran behind, as he had been taught by the hider's lash to do.
For days on end they wandered the plains searching for buffalo. The man rode the wagon, the boy followed a safe distance behind. Like a whipped dog with nowhere to go except back to the master who brutalized him. At night the hider sat under the wagon sheet lean-to, and drank whiskey until he fell asleep. Most nights when he woke he found a reason to beat the boy. For a long time now he had thought of running, and had run twice, only to be found by the hider. Those nights were the worst beatings.
Tonight was no different. He didn’t mean to kill him, but as he tried to shield his legs from the lash, his hands found the skinning knife. He only wanted to stop the beating. The fat drunken hider would never beat him again, or slobber his whiskey fouled spit on the boy's face.
As if skinning a buffalo, he tore the clothes from the dead hider, propped the naked body against the wagon wheel, then sat cross-legged starring at what he had done. Some things were just too horrible. ''But you're a horrible man,'' the boy muttered. Numb in mind and body, with the same skinning knife he’d plunged into the hider’s chest, he cut loose a slab of the dead man’s scalp. Just as when the hider had beaten him, it was as if he was watching himself from a distance. He could not feel the knife in his hands. He'd never cut a scalp before. He had seen some naked, scalped bodies of settlers and he hated the practice.
By the meager light of the dying campfire, the stars, and sliver of moon, the boy took his time and gathered canteens, hard tack, and dried buffalo. He searched the wagon, and in a tin covered box under the seat found the 52 caliber bullets and primers for the Sharps rifle, and the Henry’s 44 rim-fire shells. The forty-four's for the Navy Colt were in a soft leather pouch deep down in the box. In its own little can was the leather pouch that held the hiders coins. The boy had learned to count gold and silver coins from the old man, and found the pouch held nearly three hundred dollars.
It had been the boy's job to run the camp so he knew how to prepare for his new journey. He gathered saddle bags and the wagon sheet, loaded the Henry and Colt, carefully wrapped the ammunition in canvas, and stuffed it in the saddlebags. With pieces of wagon sheet from the lean-to, he made two packs and strapped them on the mule. The first he filled with the jerked buffalo, hard tack, a bag of coffee beans, and sack of flour. The knives, pots, and other supplies he crammed into the second pack.
Satisfied, he saddled the horse with the old McClellan, and slipped the Henry in the scabbard. He would carry the Sharps. The Navy revolver he strapped on over his ancient tattered shirt. Finally the boy stepped onto the tall gray horse and rode away, the mule in tow. There was no emotion, not loneliness or joy. The boy was free at last to go his own way. Whichever way that might be.
He sat poking life back into his tired campfire the next morning. With no one to answer to, and no lashings to avoid, the day seemed strange, empty. Even frightening.
The rising sun urged him to start his life anew. The horse and mule had not strayed far, and when he gave a loud whistle, the handsome gray came at a run. They had been friends a long time.
''Mornin' Tom Gray,'' he stroked the long mane, ''Ready to find out what's out there?'' The young man smiled when the horse nodded that he was. Over the years Tom Gray had been his only friend. They understood each other. Both had feared and hated the old hider. They had leaned on each other to survive. The gray had even defended the mule from the old hider on several occasions.
He caught the mule, gathered his things, and was ready to head out, when a funny feeling washed over him. A warning perhaps? He wasn't sure. But it was the same feeling he got before the old hider would beat him. ''Let's keep our eyes open, Tom Gray.'' He told himself as much as the horse.
Before starting out he made a pouch from wagon sheet scraps, and fashioned a leather string around it so it could dangle from his neck. In it he placed a half dozen 52 caliber bullets and primers, then stuffed another in the rifle's breech. With the Sharps across his lap, and towing the mule behind Tom Gray, they started west. He could see treed hills far in the distance and set them as today’s only goal, knowing there would be game and shelter there.
The years spent with the drunken buffalo hunter had been of some benefit. The boy had developed a keen sense of awareness, and self preservation. He was quick to sense danger, and equally quick to notice opportunity. As he rode toward the far hills the boy sensed he was riding toward danger. He argued with himself, trying to convince those worried thoughts that the only danger to him, Tom Gray and the mule was laying dead, leaning against a wagon wheel.
Longer shadows cast by Tom Gray meant darkness was on its way, so he hurried the horse, hoping to spend the night under the cover of the distant trees. Even at a fast trot it was well past dark by the time they rode into the first small grove, and found a suitable campsite for the night. Old ashes and bones lying in a fire pit, told him he was not the first to find the grove inviting. He hobbled the horse and mule, dined on jerked buffalo and a piece of hard tack, washed down with a swallow of hot water from the canteen, then went to sleep.
The mule’s loud braying woke him in the morning. He paused a moment blinking into the rising sun, admiring the golden horizon, then with a start realized the mule and Tom Gray were gone. He followed the tracks of the hobbled horse and mule, and found them peacefully grazing on tall, dew covered grass by a wide stream.
Bent low, inspecting the hobbles, he noticed trout in the shallows of the stream. “I’ll have to work harder for my breakfast than you.” He patted Tom Gray on the neck, jumped in the stream and began slapping the water fast and hard, to stun a fish or two. He slapped the water so violently the horse and mule spooked and fled as fast as the hobbles would allow. In less than a minute he crawled from the stream wet and cold, holding a wriggling trout in his hands. As his excitement began to temper he realized he heard laughing.
Looking toward the laughter, the boy saw a small group of Sioux braves. The buffalo hunter and boy had sometimes been harassed by Sioux hunting parties, and whenever the old hider had the chance he would shoot them. ''Always kill an Injun afore it kills you,'' the hider told him. ''Any hider that don't kill Injuns, is just plain stupid!''
The brave closest to him was wearing the hider's vest and hat, laughing the loudest, and pointing to the boy. The young man knew, they knew, he belonged to the buffalo hunter. He also knew they meant to kill him for the hunter's deeds. Then it hit him, he had foolishly left his camp unarmed. All his weapons lay carefully hidden under a blanket back in camp. His only weapons now were his wits and speed. Years of running behind the wagon made him strong legged and fast. He tossed the fish in the air and started to laugh and dance, flapping his arms and squawking like a wounded prairie chicken and kicking high. The braves, surprised at first, began to laugh, point, and jump about as if to mimic him.
That was the very reaction the boy had hoped for, and he took off in a flat run for camp. The braves gave chase, but he had so out maneuvered them he beat them to camp, and stood straight and tall, holding the scalp of the dead buffalo hunter high. He offered the scalp to the three still laughing braves. If they had found the buffalo hunter's wagon and searched it, they surely saw he had been scalped.
The first brave cautiously accepted the scalp, and the young man took a step back. The brave studied the scalp and showed it to the others. They passed it around, hooted and laughed. The young man was slowly inching back away, and was just about to run when the three braves looked his way. The brave wearing the hider's hat made hand gestures the boy had seen before. He was asking him to follow.
Clenching his fists by his side, the young man stood and stared at the braves, uncertain as what to do. They stood in silence for several more seconds, but the boy was still unable to reason it out, and stood firm. Finally the first brave took the scalp, tucked it in his waist band, turned and walked away. The others followed.
The young man stood rigid until they had run a safe distance away. Still shaken, he set about finding the horse and mule again. He gathered his things and started out, holding the Sharps rifle across his lap and chewing on hard buffalo jerky as he rode. That odd feeling from the day before still bothered him. Not having a plan, he allowed Tom Gray to slowly follow an Indian trail through the woods and drifted deep into thought. He pondered the fact the braves took his fish, but left behind Tom Gray and the mule. ''Braves have no use for mules I reckon, Tom Gray, and maybe they thought you too tall.''
Rifle fire from beyond the next rise tore him from his thoughts. He slid from Tom Gay clutching the Sharps and scampered to the top, dropped to the ground and crept through the grass. In a heartbeat he knew the story.
At the bottom of the hill a buffalo hunter sat on his wagon shooting at Indians. The boy recognized this hider. He would often stop at their camp. This man was even meaner than the other, and would help to do awful things to the boy. Things he could never forget.
The braves huddled in a low wash while the buffalo hunter had clear and safe shooting. They returned fire, but their arrows lacked the range to match the hunter's rifle.
The young man watched as arrows hit the dirt, far short of the hider who sat cross legged on the wagon seat, laughing and jeering, then carefully taking aim. Each of his rounds found their mark in the rim of the wash sending dirt and dust flying high in the air.
The old hider had marveled at how rapidly the boy became a crack shot. Not only with the Sharps, but the Henry too, and even the Navy 44. Many times the old hider had gambled on the boy's shooting talents. Many times he had won the old man large sums of money. But the times the boy had lost the hider money, those are the times the boy remembered most. Most likely he would carry the scares of the hider's lash all his life.
Lying on his stomach, the young man raised the sight of his Sharps, just as he had been taught by the old buffalo hunter himself. He could see at least one of the braves lay dead. So could the hider and he jumped from the wagon and began dancing and hooting. After a brief celebration the hider leaned against the wagon and raised his buffalo rifle, taking aim to send death toward the helpless braves one more time. The boy knew the hider would not stop until all the trapped braves were dead.
The boy touched the trigger on his own rifle, and watched through the high sight as the bullet plunged into the hiders back. Silence floated in. Nothing moved, no one cheered. Calmly, he gathered his things, mounted his horse and rode to the dead man.
He rode slowly around the wagon, studying the scene. Plenty of supplies in the wagon, tarps and sacks, too. Two mules stood patiently waiting their commands. A dead man lay sprawled by the wheel. The man he'd just killed. It felt like a world within a world.
He jumped from Tom Gray, and promptly removed a large slab of the dead man's scalp. He would offer the hair to the braves. Then yanked the hunter's boots, and took his pants, and shirt. This hider was more his size, and except for the 52 caliber hole, in the front and back of the shirt, these were nearly new clothes.
The young man was busy rummaging through the contents of the wagon when the two remaining braves, one injured, one not, came to the wagon. They waved their hands in friendship. This time he responded in kind, wondering though, what might have just happened here if he had accepted their offer earlier, and had been traveling with them.
At the boy's wordless urgings, they laid the injured brave on the wagon atop the canvasses. He and the other carried dead brave to the wagon, and tied his own horse and mule to the rear. Together they set out for the brave's village, sitting side by side on the wagon seat. Leaving only a dead, naked, scalped, buffalo hunter behind. Naked as any buffalo carcass.
As two mules plodded along, the boy tried to understand the past two days. For years he had only known the mean buffalo hunter, a few of his kind, and a rare visit to some wild camp town. The only person that had ever wanted him was the old hunter. But what the hider wanted the boy for was unspeakable ... now the boy had killed the drunken, slobbering, old no-good. Not just him, but he'd killed one of his friends too. The young man wondered why it had been so easy, and why the feeling he had was a good feeling. Almost satisfying. The boy knew there was one more of the three hiders that were mean to him for years. Maybe he’d see him through his rifle sights too one day. He hoped so.
(This would be the opening if I started on Page 5)
They guided the wagon west, never speaking, both lost in their own thoughts. The day faded as they trudged along. Occasionally the brave would offer an outstretched arm, pointing the way. The glow of campfires became visible on the horizon as darkness began to descend upon them. The boy kept the mules stepping out at a good pace and soon they drove into the Sioux village. When the wagon stopped they were quickly set upon by many interested Sioux, braves, children, and women. Two Sioux women helped the wounded brave from the wagon. A small group of women carried the dead brave away.
You'll find Pt 1 HERE
You'll find Pt 2 HERE
You'll find Pt 3 HERE
~~ Thanks for your help! Dutch