Sample Saturday: “Around the World in 80 Pages”

Hi, everyone. I’m dealing with some fallout from my Hashimoto’s disease and have been very tired. Ergo, my weekly sample is a little late this week. My apologies. Today’s story is one of the ten historical fiction tales from Around the World in 80 Pages, which is perma-free on Smashwords.

Counting Blessings Along the Horseshoe Canyon

atw80pIn September 2006, I took advantage of an opportunity to visit Albuquerque, New Mexico. Along with investigating the city proper, I went to Horseshoe Canyon to photograph the pictograms and petroglyphs left there not only by the Anasazi peoples but, to my surprise, the settlers. That visit inspired this story.

“Get you back in the wagon, Hattie.”

“Yes, Mister Johnson.” Her voice was listless.

“Told you to call me Dan’l, gal. This ain’t your fancy East coast parlor.”

No, it wasn’t, Henriette thought as she dragged herself away from the ancient carvings. She was fascinated by all of the symbols carved into the rock walls of the arroyo. Horseshoe Canyon, it was called. Her husband, Daniel Johnson, had plans to turn his now-ragged herd of cattle into a vast empire here in the New Mexico gulch. He’d scratched his own name amongst the ancient symbols.

Johnson’s promises of wealth and prosperity had impressed Henriette’s father so much that he’d essentially sold her in marriage.

“He’s a solid man,” Papa had said. “You, with no prospects to speak of now, should count yourself fortunate. It’s all arranged with the parson for tomorrow.”

Counting, indeed, just as Papa was counting on his share of profits in the ranch; Johnson had given him a deed the day the betrothal was sealed. In the saloon, of course.

Henriette swiped a hand across her reddened brow. If Mama were still alive, she’d have spoken up. Instead, Henriette was in a wagon train from Cincinnati to this strangely beautiful place. Her fair skin was sunburned, her pale hair dry where it was uncovered by her hat. Johnson had given her an enormous calico sunbonnet after a while; she eventually gave in and donned the horrid thing. Likewise the plainstuff dress that Johnson deemed “ a sight better than them furbelows.”

He was rough … callous. He was also nearly twenty years her senior and clearly though himself quite the fellow for getting the hand of the “uppity” twenty-three-year-old.

She looked despairingly at her roughened hands as she climbed up next to her husband. Her gloves had worn through some time ago. Johnson mocked her over them anyway.

“You’re gonna be scrubbin’ clothes on a board with lye soap, Hattie. Ain’t no call to be worryin’ about your hands.”

“I don’t suppose, Mister Johnson, that you could call me by my proper name?”

“Don’t sass your husband, gal. I ain’t going to call you a fancy name like that. You’re Hattie.”

God, how she hated him. She especially hated the nights when he would roll over in the wagon and do what he called his “manly work” — always without preamble. No kisses or caresses for Daniel Johnson. Henriette lay still during those times, grateful for their brevity. Now that she’s seen the stone pictures around Horseshoe Canyon, she was determined to pretend she was one of them when Johnson came to work. Not a real woman, just a stone image.

”Thought I was gettin’ a better bargain to wife,” he complained as the oxen shambled along in the wagon traces. “You’ve said hardly anything since the weddin’ and you won’t call me by name.”

What was there to say? Johnson boasted that he’d taken his annual bath the day they married. He could read, write and figure but had no use for refinements. Henriette knew that he saw her as a trophy that he could turn into a workhorse, and her own father was happy to see it happen.

Henriette looked at her husband, trying to keep the disapproval from her face. He had taken off his shirt; his red Union suit top covered his chest and one suspender strap had fallen down his arm. He needed both shave and haircut; on his head he wore something that was a hat in name only.

“Daniel,” she ground out miserably.

“That’s more like it, gal,” He cuffed her shoulder so hard that she winced.

Henriette could not help thinking of another man called Daniel. One who was handsome and refined. One who was clean and well-dressed. One who, before he died of a cancer no one knew he had, had asked to marry her. One who had been the first to do his “manly work” with Henriette — but with gentleness and care.

She could only hope that Mister Johnson’s figuring abilities were poor when she gave birth to the other Daniel’s child in this harsh, new place.

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