On The Banks Of Swartz Creek chapter 5

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On The Banks Of Swartz Creek by Alyssa Tillett

Chapter 5

Wells exited the small cabin and was greeted by the morning sun. He stretched out his arms and yawned. Grabbing the buckets used to gather water, he headed towards the stream. It was a short walk, and the cool water helped wake him up. As he filled the buckets, he heard what sounded like a horse. He carefully set the buckets down and stood very still to see if he could hear it again. The sound came across the stream. He quietly crossed the cool water and when he got to the other side there stood his horse that had ran off so long ago during a storm. He carefully walked up to the mare and started talking to her. The horse lifted her head and looked at Wells, then continued grazing on the fresh green grass. Wells petted her neck, then hugged her like an old lost friend. The horse stood there and allowed him to pet her and talk to her. She was a wild horse now, big and fat, eating better than the horses at camp. He said his final goodbye to his mare and crossed the stream to the buckets of water. He took one last look behind him, and the horse was gone.

Spring was starting to come. Buds on the trees were coming out and early flowers were in bloom. The birds sang in anticipation to the spring time warmth, even though the winter had been fairly mild. Only one snow storm had come in the winter, but it cold like Michigan. Wells set the buckets of water inside the small cabin, and headed towards the larger river where his uncle had already started the days work. His hands were calloused from months of work hauling rocks and dirt. They had built a wing dam, which diverted water from the river to the spot they were panning for gold. Then they would shovel the sandy stream bed material into a large bucket. They sifted through this first, and would eventually get down to a thicker layer where they hoped to find more gold. They had only found a small bit of gold, dust really, from the sandy stream bed they sifted through. His uncle would spend hours sifting through the sand and rocks that Wells shoveled in the buckets, then they would switch jobs so one person wasn’t bent over all day. The work was physically demanding, and by supper time the men were weary and hungry. But since the price was $16 for a pound of salt meat, they normally ate a simple stew, with bread they baked in the fireplace using a tin reflector.

As Wells cleaned up after their simple meal, he told his uncle of his encounter with the mare earlier that morning. He was glad that she was free and happy. They had to sell most of their horses they used to travel with all except two frail looking mares. They needed the money for supplies, and to feed that many horses was expensive.

“Wells, I need to speak to you about something that’s been on my mind.” Wells turned around to face his uncle, and took a few steps to the stool by the fireplace.

“Yes, uncle?”

“I think we need to move on to another claim. We have been working for months with very little to show for it, and supplies are very expensive in this area. Some of our neighbors have talked about gold being found just north of here, and are heading that way in the next few weeks. I think it’s time to move on to something better.”

Wells sat for moment and thought of what that would mean. Packing all their gear, and traveling yet again. But his uncle was right, the prices for food in this area were overpriced and they didn’t have the money for simple things like salt meat.

“You’re right Uncle David, the cost to live here has been depleting our savings. If you think we will have a better chance at finding gold there, then I don’t see why we shouldn’t go.”

Uncle David smiled “Thanks boy, I know you had your hopes set on striking big, but this area hasn’t been producing enough to live on. I’ll travel to town tomorrow and see about getting some supplies for the trip and selling off our claim here.”

“I have some letters that need to be mailed, could you mail them when you leave in the morning?” Wells strode to the small shelf by the bed where he kept the letters to his family. He tied them together and set them on the table.

“Sure, I’ll take them with me and mail them along with mine.” Uncle David yawned as he got up.

“Well I think it’s time for me to go to bed. I’m going to get an early start tomorrow so i’ll see you tomorrow evening.” Uncle David crawled into bed, and within minutes was snoring.

Wells sat near the dying fire thinking of the next leg of their journey and of his family back home. Home. Warm smiles, hugs from his Mother, teasing from his sister, abundance of food, and springtime storms.

Wells stood up and stretched out his sore muscles. His 20th birthday had passed last month, but he felt so much older than 20. Wells emptied the last of the water he had gotten that morning into his cup and drank it quickly. He climbed into bed and closed his eyes. Soon he was asleep, and snoring just like his uncle was.

~

Cynthia stared out the window at the trees blowing in the wind. The cool air crept through the window and she shivered as she dropped the curtain. The snowstorm they had gotten the night before covered the ground in a beautiful blanket of white. Even though it was March, the storm dumped a good two feet of snow on land. Her Father had strung a rope from the house to the barn so during blizzards they could find their way to feed the animals.

She pulled her winter shawl closer to her and lifted the curtain again. It had been nearly two weeks since she had seen her friend Martha Miller. With the snow being so deep though, she wouldn’t be able to make the trek to her friends house on foot. Dropping the curtain one last time, she walked out of her room and to the kitchen where it was warmer. As she entered she saw he mother lifting steaming rolls out of the oven. Cynthia breathed in the fresh yeasty smell of the rolls and sighed. Grabbing a peeler she headed to the heap of potatoes waiting to be peeled for supper. Her mother was humming a hymn as she took the last of the rolls out and headed to the soapy water to wash dishes.

As they worked in comfortable silence, Cynthia day dreamed about Springtime in Michigan. She couldn’t wait to see what flowers would bloom along the creek. She heard Spring could be delayed as long as May here. She sighed and hope that wouldn’t be the case this year. This Winter had been unusually long for her. Winters in Ohio weren’t that much different but for some reason she was restless. She loved being outdoors and reading a book by the creek when the weather was pleasant. Or sneaking out at night and laying on the mossy ground beside her friend Martha as they watched the stars and talked about their hopes and dreams. She sighed again at the thought of Martha, and remembered she wouldn’t be able to see her today.

“There’s a lot of sighing going on over there. Are you okay dear?” Cynthia looked up at her mothers worried expression.

“I’m fine, just wish I could go see Martha today, but the snow looks to be to deep for travel.” Cynthia resumed peeling the potatoes, putting the peelings in a bucket for the pigs.

“Maybe in a few days we can hook up the sleigh and both go over for a visit.” Her mother smiled an encouraging smile.

“That sounds splendid Mother, thanks.” Cynthia smiled back at her Mother to show her she truly was grateful for the idea. She just wish a few days weren’t so far off.

Finishing the potatoes, Cynthia dropped them into the boiling water on the stove.

“I’m going to run these scraps out to the pigs, I’ll be back in a little bit.” She told her mother as she tied her boots and pulled her large winter coat over her gray wool dress. When she opened the door the cold winter air hit her in the face taking the breath out of her. She should have left this job for one of her brothers, but she needed out of the house. She trudged through the wind swept snow towards the barn. She breathed in a deep breath, then coughed because of the sharpness of the cold air. She hurried towards the barn and closed the door quickly behind her.

The smell of hay mixed with animal smells tickled her nose. She walked over to the pen that held their two pigs and dumped the scraps in their feeder. She watched the pigs eat hungrily at the scraps. After the pigs had finished their meal she strolled towards the barn door. Petting the gray and white barn cat named Mr. Trouble for his playfulness and all the trouble he would get into as a kitten. He would play with all her mothers flowers, and scratch at the door begging to be let in all the time. But her mother refused to let him in saying he would wreck the house with all his antics. Cynthia gave the cat one last pat and headed back to the house.

Warmth greeted her as she stomped the snow off her boots. She set the pail the scraps were in by the door and carefully pulled her boots and coat off. Her Mother wasn’t in the kitchen, and she heard voices coming from the the front of the house. There stood Martha, taking off her large winter coat, talking to her mother.

“Martha!”

Martha greeted her with a big smile and a warm hug. “Cynthia! I couldn’t wait any longer to see you, so I took the sleigh out and came over.”

“Why don’t you girls visit in here and I will bring in some tea.” Cynthia’s Mother said as the girls took their seats by the fireplace. Martha extended her hands out towards the warmth.

“Oh I am so glad you came! I was so disappointed to see all the snow this morning and thought for sure it would be days until I was able to see you.”

“Oh, I couldn’t wait. I knew nothing would get done today until I came to see you.” Martha smiled at her dear friend.

They sat down near the fireplace to keep warm. Martha and Cynthia took out their quilting supplies. Martha pulled out fabric with red and blue in it. Paying close attention to their stitches they talked about the cold winter and what they would plant come spring. Cynthia’s Mother set the tea down for the girls and went to prepare lunch.

The wind howled against the window panes. The sound made Cynthia shiver, and pull the blanket on her lap up more. She looked over at her dear friend. Martha was a beautiful young women. The sun was shining on her golden brown hair. She had eyes the color of honey set in an oval face. Martha looked up and smiled at Cynthia. “I’m so glad you came to visit Martha, I have missed you dearly.”

~

Wells whistled as he scrubbed the cast iron pot they did their cooking in. The fire in the fireplace gave the small cabin a warm glow. It had been a week since Uncle David went to town. A bobcats shrill call could be heard in the distance. The sounds reminding him how alone he was out in this vast wilderness. He set aside the pan and grabbed the bucket of dirty water and set it by the door. He stretched and yawned, tired from a long day of work. He fed the fire one more small log before hopping into bed. The crackling of the fire soothing, and reminding him of home. His thoughts drifted to swartz creek and how lovely it was in springtime, whenever spring decided to show that is. He smiled and thought of his sister trying to walk through the deep snow they would get in Michigan. Of the snow ball fights and snow forts they would build. They were no longer kids though. Soon she would be old enough to get married and have a family. Wells didn’t like that thought so he shoved it out of his mind before he went further. Soon the thoughts of home turned to dreams, and he was sleeping peacefully.

Wells woke with a start. Not knowing if the noise he heard was from a dream or real. He waited in silence as the first rays of sun crept underneath the door. He heard footsteps outside coming closer. Easing his way out of bed careful not to make a sound, he crept towards the door. The steps stopped as they got to the door. Suddenly the door opened and there stood his Uncle. Wells grinned as Uncle David came through the door.

“Good to see ya Wells. Hope I didn’t frighten you by coming back so early.” Uncle Davids eyes shined with mischief and amusement.

“Of course not Uncle David. I figured it was you.” Wells turned and faced the fire to hide his smile. Hid Uncle had frightened him. He put a fresh log on the fire over the still warm coals. Soon the coals lit the dry wood on fire. Wells stirred some oats in with water and set it in the dutch oven over the fire. When the oats were cooked he served up two bowls of steaming plain oatmeal for them both.

“How was your trip?”

“Not bad, not bad at all. Let me eat something warm and then I’ll tell you all about it.”

As they ate in silence Wells couldn’t help but hope his Uncle would eat fast. He was eager to hear if the cabin sold or not. With it being April now was the prime time to sell before the summer heat.

Uncle David wiped his mouth and washed out his bowl. After sitting back down he finally was ready to talk.

“Well I sold the claim. Got a fair price for it. While I was in town there is a mine that is hiring on some hands. Thought maybe we could head that way until we decide what to do. The new owners will be taking over in a few days so we should get our things packed and cleaned up here and head out in a day or so.”

His Uncle was never one to beat around the bush. Wells ran his hand through his hair that was in desperate need of cutting. He didn’t think the place would sell that quickly.

“That’s great news Uncle David! I guess we have a bit of work getting our things together and deciding what goes and what stays.”

“That we do.” Uncle David said with a grin. Wells was very grateful for his Uncle. He couldn’t imagine what this adventure would be like without him.

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