Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Introducing Tai-Chi in my next series - by Vijaya Schartz



Find these books and more on my BWL page HERE

As I’m writing the last book of the Blue Phantom series, set in the Azura Universe (Angel Revenge – October 2024) I wonder about the theme of my next science fiction series. There will be a little fantasy, of course, (Magic is only science we do not yet understand). A strong heroine is a must and I already have her. As for my next hero, I’m thinking of making him a Tai-Chi man.


I have been practicing Tai-Chi daily for over a decade, and teaching it for years, and for some reason I never used it for a character in a book. So, for the start of my next series, one of the protagonists will be a Tai-Chi practitioner.

In a violent universe often at war and fighting back evil forces, the art of Tai-Chi, a soft and graceful martial discipline might offer a different perspective. Tai-Chi works with energy gathered from all around us.


Long ago, in imperial China, this secret Marcial Art was practiced by the feudal Chen and Yang families, hence the two main different styles. Chen is more aggressive, and Yang more flowing, but both are deadly.

Intrigued by this secret technique, the emperor summoned the heads of the Chen and Yang families and ordered them to teach his guard the secret art of Tai-Chi. Since they could not refuse the emperor, the two clans taught Tai-Chi not as a Martial Art, but rather as a dance or an exercise for health purposes. So, the fighting applications of each movement were lost in the official Tai-Chi spread through imperial China.

But through the centuries, the Chen and Yang families kept the secret fighting techniques for themselves. Today, with all the dissemination of information, many of these secrets have resurfaced, and although most Chinese masters are reluctant to teach these techniques to Westerners, a few of their students have come forward to teach in the West.

I was lucky to find a teacher who knew about these fighting applications, and as a practitioner of many other martial arts over the years, (Aikido black belt and instructor, Karate, Judo, sword, etc.) I jumped at the opportunity to learn this technique.


Tai-Chi is for everyone, young or old. It has been called stillness in motion. The health benefits have been studied at Harvard Medical School and definitively proven. It’s a long list. Find a Tai-Chi school near you. There are videos on U-Tube. Or watch movies like “Man of Tai-Chi” on Plex with Keanu Reeves as a villain, or “Shang Chi and the legend of the Ten Rings” with Simu Liu.

SHANG CHI and the legend of the Ten Rings

Through my next series, it will be my privilege to open a window on this ancient Martial Art, and maybe inspire some Westerners to try it. The health benefits alone are worth it.

Tai Chi in the park on Tai Chi Day, a few years ago.

In the meantime, you can read about my fighting angels, as they confront evil and demons bent on subjugating the universe. Be prepared for epic space battles.


Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats

Monday, February 26, 2024

A sneak peek at A Troubled Heart—Tricia McGill

 

Buy A Troubled Heart here

For some reason I am fascinated with the history of this vast country of Australia where my long-suffering husband and I made our home many moons ago. So it is that my latest book is set in Tasmania when it was more or less the last place in Australia where the British Government had decided to send their surplus convicts. In 1848, my hero Finn is a prisoner of this Government at the infamous penal penitentiary of Port Arthur. The Port Arthur settlement started life as a small timber station around 1830. The settlement was hacked from the bushland and the first decade saw the growth of manufactories like ship building, shoemaking amongst others. The hospital where my hero first meets Blythe was built around the same time as a flour mill in 1842. My second favourite state, Tasmania is a beautiful and serene place, far removed from how it was in those early days of settlement.

“If a book such as this can win over a non-romance reader such as myself, I’m certain that you will enjoy it as well. My rating: 5 out of 5” Literary Gold

A Troubled Heart Excerpt:

Chapter One

Port Arthur Tasmania 1848 

Through a haze he could hear a voice somewhere above him, and although vaguely aware that someone had called his name all else was lost in pain. The sweat on his face began to sizzle with the heat—or so it seemed. As he opened his eyes a fraction of this sweat ran into their corners and began to sting as if boiling his eyeballs to add to the sawdust already there, or perhaps it was blood.

“Hang on Finn, yer silly bugger, they’ve gone to fetch ‘elp.” The speaker then disappeared and Finn tried to move, but he had to grit his teeth as a searing pain shot through his shoulder and down his arm.

Heaven knew, he’d had his share of agony and discomfort since coming to this godawful place, but this topped it for certain. To take his mind off it he tried to think of better moments in his life, but they were sparce, far back and almost all lost in time.

A sudden movement beside him in the sawpit alerted him that someone had jumped into the pit and was now leaning over him in the narrow space. “Well, here’s a fine mess you’ve got yourself into young fellow,” a kindly voice said. “How in heaven did you manage to do this to yourself? They said you was the top man, so how come you ended up down here amid the sawdust and dirt?” Patting Finn on the unhurt shoulder, he added, “I’m what’s the nearest to what can be called a doctor here today, they call me Johnson.”

Finn squinted up to see that this Johnson was not a lot older than himself, and was likely nearing his thirtieth year. His mop of unruly hair drooped over his forehead as he began to use a knife to hack his way through Finn’s shirt sleeve, and Finn gritted his teeth as the pain seemed to worsen. To add to his injury was the knowledge that he’d done this damage by his own foolishness. If he hadn’t been larking about as usual to show how handy he was with his fists, none of this would have come about. Never one to shirk from a fight, when the big oaf they called Bear started to taunt him, of course he could not back down from the inevitable.

“You’ve lost a small amount of blood from your forehead, but as far as I can see it’s just where you caught the log on your way down.” Turning to rummage about in a small bag he had at his side this Johnson fellow produced a piece of rag and then began to wipe away at the blood. “I fear the problem with your arm could be a lot worse—probably broken.” The searing pain when he moved that arm made Finn flinch and Johnson apologised. “It’s as I expected, we’ll have to get you off to the infirmary.” Patting Finn’s shoulder he said with a small laugh, “This’ll stop you fighting for a while,” then apologised again, adding, “Sorry, my attempt at humour.”

As another shape appeared above him Finn recognised it as his Scottish working mate Spence who then dropped down to stand at his side opposite the man tending him. “We’ll have to haul you up, matey, so grit yer teeth, eh?” Finn’s teeth ached already with the gritting. “How the bloody hell you managed to get yourself in this mess, I can’t work out. It’s not as if you don’t know how to look after yourself. Mucking about never did you any good, and if I told you once I told you a million times, stick to the rules.”

“’Twas that big oaf Bear, if he hadn’t delivered that mighty punch that knocked me sideways and down here, I would have beaten him to next week. Doc here says it’s not that bad—that’s right isn’t it, doc?” Finn grimaced as he tried to push himself up onto his good elbow.

“Well, honestly, I’ve seen many worse. You were unfortunate that you didn’t pick a more suitable spot for your match.”

Someone up above then tossed a rope down, ordering, “Tie it round his shoulders, Spence, and we’ll haul him up.”

Finn had a feeling he might have passed out as he was dragged up out of the pit, only just being squeezed past the huge log that they had been in the process of sawing through when the accident happened. “Guess it could have been worse, matey—if the log had fallen in on top of yer,” one of the haulers said as they lay him down beside the pit.

This cheerful observation accompanied by a chuckle did nothing to ease the guilt Finn felt. If they had been working on this one for longer and had cut further through it, the log would have fallen onto Spence, and his mate would not now be alive and kicking. He could only offer thanks that they had only started sawing a short time before his silly argument with Bear. Cursing his idiocy for allowing the big idiot to stir him so, he vowed never to be so daft next time.

As Johnson gave orders for Finn to be assisted to the small cart that stood a short distance away, Finn saw Bear standing some distance back laughing his stupid head off and Finn knew his vow would never be kept. “How long before I can get back to work, Doc?” he asked, as Johnson clicked the horse into a walk, once he’d ensured Finn was comfortably settled behind him.

Johnson laughed. “In a hurry to get back to the job, are you? I would have thought you would welcome a stay in hospital to get away from the horrible tasks set upon you?”

“Oh, it’s not so bad working out here amid the trees, a lot better than working on the new prison they are building.” There were times when Finn almost relished the tough going. “It beats the work we were set to up north by a long way, or working on the treadmill all day.”

“You came down from Sydney Town, did you, when they decided to close it?”

“Yes, and it won’t be long afore I will be a free man. Done my ten years haven’t I?”

“Goodness, ten, eh? You must have been a young ‘un when they sent you here.”

Finn chuckled. “That’s a fact. Think I was about fifteen. Never know for sure as I wasn’t certain when I was born.”

“You aren’t alone in that fact, Finn, many of the men in the prison yonder would have no idea when they were brought into this world. One good thing about it is you never have a birthdate to celebrate so don’t notice the years passing.”

Finn said nothing to that as Johnson pulled the horse up in front of the hospital. No doubt this man had never been locked away in pitch black solitude where all you had to do was count the hours and the minutes as they ticked away. Johnson jumped down, and awkwardly Finn did the same. Together they walked towards the brick structure that Finn thought was one of the ugliest buildings he had ever seen. The pain in his arm had subsided and only ached when he moved it, but he wasn’t about to say anything as a night in hospital as the doc said would not be hard to take. Anything was better than sleeping amid the stench of the other men he usually shared his sleeping quarters with.

“I’ll leave you here with this capable young man,” Johnson said after he’d explained to the fellow who met them as they came in just what he thought was Finn’s injury. With a small salute he walked off.

“Can you write?” the man who was some sort of nurse or orderly asked, after he’d led Finn into a room and told him to sit down.

“Yes, I can.” Finn felt quite indignant.  Being treated like a child irked him. “I’ve been reading and writing since I was this high.” He signalled a spot about knee high. That wasn’t strictly true for he hadn’t properly learned his letters until he was likely ten or more.

“Write your name here, then.” The orderly pointed to the page lying on a table. “What’s your sentence? Got much longer to serve, have you?”

“My time is just about up.” Finn squared his shoulders, and a twinge of pain reminded him why he was here. “Should get my pardon any day now.”

“Right ho.” The fellow peered down at the sheet of paper. “Finn O’Connor, you wait here and someone will come along and see what needs to be done.” As Finn sat on a bench, he walked out carrying the page.

The next day Finn walked out of the hospital with the proof that he was a free man tucked firmly into his trouser pocket. As luck would have it the injury had turned out to be not broken, but something to do with the shoulder joint having to be pushed back into its rightful position. The doctor who did this told him he had dislocated it when he fell. After the pain from that subsided, he was told to rest it as much as possible. So, no more fighting for some time, was the order given him. 

It appeared that when his name came before the Commissariat’s office, they realised that his ten-year sentence ended a month or so back and therefore he was deemed free to go wherever he wanted. Just one thing held him back, he had not one penny to his name and possessed just the rags that he stood up in. A young nurse had found him a shirt somewhere to replace the one the doc cut about, but it was not a lot better than the old one. There was the bundle he carried that contained his mug and plate, a worn hairbrush he’d taken from a man who died, and a picture Finn collected somewhere along the way of a place in Ireland called Kilmallock that he kept, as it looked like a nice place to live.

As he pondered what to do next, a soft mutter of annoyance came from behind him and he turned in time to see a woman take a tumble. Landing in a heap at the foot of the steps, her skirts flew about, showing a glimpse of one perfectly shaped ankle. Seldom did females of good breeding travel about alone in these parts so he looked about to see if her carriage driver was here to assist her. A small cart stood not far away, but there was no one else in sight so he went to kneel at her side, asking, “Are you all right miss?”

With a small toss of the head, she looked up at him from the most beautiful pair of eyes he had ever seen. Hair as black as night was pulled back into some sort of roll behind her head beneath the bonnet that she hastily straightened. At a guess he thought perhaps she was about twenty years of age. Not used to being this close to a woman in some time he stood hurriedly and offered a hand, feeling like the idiot he knew she must think him, while he sent up a small prayer of thanks that at least the hand was cleaner than it had been yesterday.

As she took the outstretched hand she smiled, and Finn’s silly heart seemed to do a somersault. “Just feeling a bit stupid,” she said in what Finn called a posh English accent. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

When she stood—close enough for him to feel her sweet breath on his face, he realised he still held her hand and dropped it as if it was a piece of hot coal. “Easily done,” he muttered, looking about again as he asked, “Is your driver somewhere?” again feeling foolish for obviously nobody else was nearby.

“No, I came alone.” Holding a small package aloft she added, “Simply came along to pick up this medication for the small girl who is in my charge.” Brushing at her skirts, she looked around. “Are you waiting on someone?”

“No, I have just come from the infirmary too—only this was because in my foolishness I had a fall and injured my shoulder.” Lifting this arm as if to prove it was also all right, he dropped it swiftly, not knowing what to do or say next, and asked, “Might I ask why you are not afraid of me, Miss? Most females might be inclined to run swiftly from a man alone in these parts.” A stupid blush rushed to his cheeks and he cursed his fair skin and light hair, not for the first time, as he turned away in the hope of hiding his face.

At her small laugh he turned back. “Exactly that, sir, you are alone, and I know that had you been a criminal you would most likely have been on the way back to the prison accompanied by a guard—am I correct?”

Finn stared at her. No females that he had come into contact with—and they were few and far between—had been anything like this one. “I’ve just gained my freedom, Miss, and am wondering where to go and what to do.” Feeling the need to prove the truth of this he delved into his pocket and brought out the precious paper and held it aloft.

With barely a glance at it, she laughed again and asked, “So where do you think you will decide on? It’s a long trek to Hobart where most seem to head once gaining their release.”

Another surprising statement from her. Pushing the paper back into his pocket, he glanced about. “I doubt my meagre funds will take me as far as Hobart at this time—perhaps later. I need to find employment first and foremost.”

“Ah, yes.” With a finger to her chin, she appeared to be making a decision before she said, “The family I am employed by are in need of a man capable of doing a variety of jobs around their small property, perhaps that would suit. The husband is away a lot about his business and his wife sadly hit a decline after giving birth, and therefore is scared of going out and about, so you would have to prove you are trustworthy.”

“And how would I do that, Miss? It’s a fact that we are not given a recommendation on receiving our freedom.”

With a twist of the mouth as if indicating that she was thinking about that, she looked him up and down before saying, “I will vouch for you. Sadly, your clothing gives away the fact that you have been a convict.” Shaking her head she added, “I have an idea. We will soon find a solution to that.”

Mystified that a complete stranger—and a female at that—should be so trusting, he blurted, “I could be a murderer for all you know. Why would you help me in this way?”

“I hope I am a good judge of character, and I know a bit about the past of most who gain their freedom. My Papa was a medical man. We relocated here to Port Arthur in forty-five after the hospital was built and he told me tales of men who were transported for the silliest of crimes. So, what was your crime? Steal a loaf of bread did you, or something just as trifling?” Without waiting for his response, she turned and with a wave of the hand said, “Look, I have to get back or my mistress will start panicking, so are you interested or not?” She headed towards the cart, where the horse was in the middle of a nap, its head bent.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Finn trailed after her. Surely this young female was perhaps mad or was she a gift from the gods? Without assistance she climbed aboard the small vehicle and picked up the reins as she sat back on the bench. As he joined her, she asked, “So what name do you go by? Mine’s Esther by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you, Esther.” With a feeling he had drifted into some strange other world, he added, “I go by Finn O’Connor.” The Finn part was probably fact. As for his surname, he had no idea who had called him that somewhere along the way in his growing years, but he kept it as a way to prove that he was born in Ireland. As the horse began to trot, he asked, “You said your Pa was a medical man—is he not one anymore?”

“Sadly, for me, my dear Papa, along with my Mama, was killed just last year when the carriage they were in overturned after hitting a rock.”

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that. It must have been awful for you. Are you alone now or do you have siblings?”

After a deep sigh, she admitted, “It was the worst time of my life—and no I have no brothers or sisters. That of course is why I am employed as companion of sorts to the girl in need of the medication I was sent to collect. It’s a shame, but she is currently a sickly child and has a nasty cough.”

“So, you not only lost your parents, you also lost your home?” Although he had never known what it was to have a real family, nonetheless a place somewhere near Finn’s heart ached for this young girl who had hers snatched away so cruelly.

Without answering that, she gestured ahead to where a cottage surrounded by a few trees sat atop a slight knoll. “We have arrived,” she said as she pulled up a short distance from a gate in the fence surrounding the garden. “Say little to my mistress, but let me explain to her that you are looking for employment.” Finn nodded, still feeling as if he was in the middle of some strange dream. “Please wait here while I go and fetch you something more presentable to wear. I suppose you realise that you look far worse than a farmer’s scarecrow in those filthy rags.” The look of scorn she sent to his trousers made him realise such if her words had not.

As she walked off, he scratched at his head, knowing at least his hair and body were now clean after the nights’ stay in the infirmary. Was there no end to the oddness of this female? Where on earth would she find clothing for him? Surely not from her employer’s wardrobe?

And how could she be so trusting of a complete stranger and an ex-con at that. If he found the will to do it, he could jump onto her cart and urge the horse away as fast as it could go. Common sense kicked in just as fast as that idea hit him—the troopers would be after him in no time and it was doubtful if the guards would let him pass the place called Eaglehawk Neck anyway, where it was rumoured they kept starving dogs tethered, not to mention the guards who were reported to be no better than savages. And with no money or chance to earn some, about the only option available would be to join up with a gang of bushrangers or the like.

Then there was the matter of this girl who was close to being the best person he had ever come across. She soon returned as he stood rubbing the soft nose of the horse whose warm breath was strangely comforting. Pressing the bundle she held beneath her arm into Finn’s arms, she advised, “Go behind that tree and change, then wait for my return.” Speechless he obeyed, watching her as she led the horse around the fence, disappearing behind the house.

The trousers were of good quality, and she had even provided him with an undergarment such as he had never worn in all his adult years. The shirt he tucked into the belt of these trousers felt soft as butterfly wings against his skin. Lastly, he pulled on a waistcoat, just as she called out, “Are you ready?”

Picking up his ragged trousers and holey shirt he rolled them into a ball before going to stand before her. “I have to ask you, miss, whose togs do I have the pleasure of wearing?”

Sucking her bottom lip in she nodded as she ran her eyes up and down his length. “They were my Pa’s. As luck would have it, I was loathe to part with all of my parents’ belongings after their unfortunate death. I am happy that they fit you well. My Papa was also a big man.” Turning abruptly, she waved over her shoulder. “Come, we will go and present you to my mistress. Leave your discarded things there beneath that tree and you can burn them later.” Stopping before the doorway she said, “I unfortunately have no boots that I could get for you.”

“That’s fine. I got these from a bloke who lost a bet not too long ago.” Truth was the fellow who owned them died, and Finn had to fight a couple of the other men who were set on getting them.

“I told my mistress that I met you on the road. Say that you are seeking work and can do most jobs around the house and outside. Do not mention that you have only recently been given your freedom.”

As he followed her, Finn took in the house before them. By no means a rich man’s property, it was a sturdy cottage which he presumed had been provided for the master of the house on coming to take up his post in the area, whatever that was. As they went beneath the small porch and through the doorway, the smell of cooking coming from somewhere at the back of the house was welcoming and his mouth watered as the thought of a good home-cooked meal made him glad this girl had brought him here, if nothing else mapped out.

A small girl came from one of the rooms and eyed him warily as she demanded, “Who’s that?”

“Now Becky, don’t be rude, I taught you better manners than that. This is Finn and he is going to work for your Mama.” Wrinkling her tiny nose, the child sent Finn a frown before following his rescuer through a doorway.

A long time had passed since Finn stood inside such a building, in fact the courthouse where his sentence was announced those ten years ago was the last place where he’d come up against members of the gentry. It was obvious by the scant furnishings that these people could not be termed nobs though. Digging his hands into the trouser pockets he felt a sense of elation such as he’d never felt in his life. From convict and inmate of the devil’s own prison to an almost employed worker—and all within a matter of a day. What would Spence have to say about this kettle of fish when next he saw him?

When Esther appeared at the doorway beckoning him, he straightened his spine before following her. The woman who reclined on a sofa took him by surprise. Fully expecting a dowdy older person, she was almost beautiful, and not a lot older than himself. Hair the colour of sand was drawn back from a narrow face. Sad eyes took in his entire length from his unruly hair to his battered boots, before she said, “Esther tells me that you are handy around the house and garden, is that so?”

Deciding to be on his best behaviour, he gave her a small bow before answering, “Yes Ma’am, I can put my hand to just about anything.” Spence would laugh heartily at that lie.

With a small nod, she asked, “So why are you seeking employment with us? Did your previous employer not want your services anymore, and if that were the case, just why was that so if you are so handy?” This was said with a touch of what he thought was derision.

Glancing at Esther in confusion, he realised that he had not taken the time to concoct a story that might please this woman. She came to his rescue by saying, “Finn’s previous employer recently went back to England.”

The woman nodded as she continued to stare at him. As if coming to a decision she said, “I will not tolerate alcohol consumption of any kind while you are in our employ, is that understood? My husband will decide on a wage—if any is earned, and if you prove worthless then you will leave without causing us any fuss or bother.”

Finn nodded, while thinking how odd this person seemed to be—but then again what did he know about the upper class except they could be bullies and tyrants. “Thank you, Ma’am, I vow to do my very best.” Inside he wondered how good his best would be. And then wondered if his rescuer Esther was by now likely regretting her rash decision to fetch him here. Following on from that was the question once again of why she had been so keen to bring him here.

With a flap of the hand his new employer said, “Take him to the stable Esther, where he can sleep. He can come to the kitchen at meal times where Nelly will give him food. The only time you are to come into the house…Finn…is if we need you for heavy work that the women cannot undertake, such as bringing logs for the fire.” As if suddenly coming to a thought, she added, “And do not pay attention to our silly maid Cora who is likely to desire your interest.” She rubbed at her head then as if it was paining her, and flapped her hand again in dismissal.

Esther nodded to Finn and he followed her out, feeling the need to rub at his own head in total confusion. The child tagged behind them as he followed Esther around the house to what Finn presumed was the stable. “Mama doesn’t like you much,” the girl informed him, adding, “But I think you are probably nice—you have a funny name though.”

“Ah, that’s because it’s Irish, and I am glad you like me,” Finn said, feeling so odd he wondered how many other peculiar folks he would find dwelling in this house. Esther seemed to be the most sensible, but following on from that thought came the one that perhaps she wasn’t or why else would she have picked up a likely convict and decided to assist him in this way.

The girl skipped ahead to where the horse still stood harnessed to the cart in front of the shed which consisted of an open section where there was space for two vehicles. “Once you get settled, could you please take care of removing my horse’s harness, Finn.” Stroking the bay’s head she said, “Danny Boy here is of Irish descent much like yourself. Everything goes in there.” She pointed to the open part where, apart from a few bales of hay, there was a jumble of odd pieces of equipment including a chopper and a handsaw. “Come, I will show you where you can make yourself comfortable. I did not think it through when I invited you along, but the cook Nelly and the maid Cora sleep yonder there in the small room alongside the laundry.” Her gesture took in a small addition tagged onto the back of the cottage. “It is a small residence without room for staff.”

“Esther sleeps in my room,” the child informed him before coughing a few times and then skipping off back towards the house—obviously tired of this new addition to the household.

“She doesn’t seem to be so sickly,” Finn said, thinking that she appeared to be quite lively—as compared to some of the very poorly kids he had lived amongst in his early days before his capture.

“Her cough mostly bothers her at night, upsetting her Mama,” Esther said before opening the door to one side of the shed. Finn followed her inside to where it smelt strongly of horse and hay. Surprisingly, the space was larger than he expected. A roped off section was no doubt where two horses could be settled at night, and he wondered briefly where he could sleep. Esther answered that when she pointed to what was no more than a rough shelf, saying, “There is a cot of sorts where you can make yourself comfortable. At least it is closed off from the weather. I am afraid you will have to share it with Danny and the master’s horse and their hay and grain. Perhaps you can stuff some straw into a grain sack to make a mattress of sorts. I will see what I can fetch you for bed coverings and perhaps find you some other items of clothing.”

As if thinking this over, she turned saying, “I will leave you to take care of Danny. Once unharnessed he goes into the small yard until nightfall—there behind the shed. The master’s horse goes straight into his stall when he gets home, which is usually at a late hour.” After a quick jab in that direction, she began to walk off.

 “Can I ask you one question before you go,” Finn called after her. When she stopped and faced him, he asked, “Just why are you doing this for a man who for all intents could be a rogue and a thief?”

Sending him a smile, she surprised him once again by saying, “My father taught me not to judge a person by their past, Finn. Use your intuition he advised, for there are many types of men here in the colonies, and you will learn that not always those who are incarcerated for so-called criminal offences are the untrustworthy ones.” While he stared at such wise words from one so young, she added, “Do not prove my judgement wrong, will you?” With a small nod she walked away.

 

Chapter Two

 

Esther sat on the side of her bed brushing her hair, while she contemplated her perhaps stupid actions of the day. What had she been thinking? Inside, something told her that bringing Finn O’Connor here might turn out to be the most impulsive action of her life. “Oh Papa, please tell me I did the right and Christian thing,” she whispered. After plaiting her thick and sometimes tiresome hair that now reached almost to her waist, she pulled the coverlet over her and let out a sigh.

Becky stirred and mumbled in her sleep before turning over. The night promised to be hot, and Esther felt a restlessness such as never before, but felt sure it had nothing to do with the heat. Something about the stranger she had felt compelled to assist had awakened certain unknown feelings within her. How she wished Mama was here—she would offer wise advice. How stupid, for if Mama were still alive, she would not be living in this house, caring for a child and the girl’s feckless mother. Letting out a small sob of self-pity, she turned onto her side and stared into the darkness as she not for the first time tried to block out the horror of the day when both beloved parents left this world.

A small tap on her shoulder brought Esther out of a light sleep. Becky stood so close to her she could feel her breath on her face. “I have to wee,” she said grumpily.

Esther sighed. “Use the chamber pot. You are not a baby any more, Becky, and are capable of managing on your own.”

“Can’t see it, it’s too dark.” Her complaint was followed by a cough and a few sniffles. As always, she made a drama out of the smallest task.

“It is not dark at all for the moon is bright tonight and there is plenty of light coming through the window.”

“I’m scared of that Finn man, he might come into our room and hurt us.”

“Oh Becky, do not be silly—he is a kind man and will not harm us, and I distinctly remember that you said you liked him.” As she said that, Esther wondered just why she felt so sure that he was kind and would not hurt them. Free man he might be, but until only recently he had been locked away amid thugs and ne’er do wells, and for all she knew he had been sent there for committing some horrendous crime.

With a small harrumph Becky took care of her problem and climbed back into her small cot. Esther got up and went over to the window. The moon was so bright that she could clearly see the man who had kept her from her slumber standing over by the fence around the small paddock, and he was stroking Danny Boy’s head. They had decided to let the horse stay outside as it was such a warm night.

Later, she would ask herself just why she felt the need to slip into her shoes and with great stealth leave the room. The small wind that blew in from the sea was cool upon her face as she went across to stand at the man’s side. She was not small by any means but she came just about to his shoulder. Danny Boy snickered and put his muzzle close to her face, breathing softly onto her cheek. A few moments passed before the man called Finn said softly, “Could not sleep either eh, Miss?”

“’Tis fair hot. I often have trouble sleeping since my parents died. What about you? Was the cot allocated to you so uncomfortable?”

As he looked down on her for the first time, she recalled that she had left the house in her nightgown, and her cheeks burned as she wondered what had prompted her to come outside almost unclothed. Fighting an urge to run, she crossed her arms across her breasts, realising that they suddenly felt unusually heavy.

“I’ve slept in worse beds, believe me Esther. There is little wrong with this one.” He jerked his head in the direction of the stable.

“Did you not have a comfortable bed to sleep on in the days before your arrest? What about your childhood?”

With a small laugh he shook his head. “My childhood was to say the least a sketchy one. Mind you, I only recall a small amount of the tales related to me and have no idea if they were made up or not.”

Intrigued now, she forgot her embarrassment and asked, “You did not spend your childhood with your Ma and Pa?”

His small laugh announced how ridiculous that thought was. “I have no idea who fathered me, but I was told that my Ma died not long after my birth and along came a gypsy who took me as her own.”

Esther let out a small gasp. “And this gypsy woman then brought you up?”

“Far from it. I think I was going on two when some fancy English woman who was passing through Kilmallock with her nob of a husband decided it was no fit life for a child, and she more or less stole me away and that is how I ended up in London.”

“Goodness me, I cannot believe that she could simply whisk you away like that. Were there no laws for such abduction?”

“Oh, there were laws for the rich and noble but not for us common Irish folk.” With a shrug he patted Danny Boy’s head. “Thinking back on it, I suppose they thought they were offering me a better life.”

“And they were not?” To Esther his was a sorry tale, which left her thinking that he was probably destined for a life of crime from an early age. “And so, you resided in their house in London?”

His laugh came out as more of a soft grunt than one of humour. “And what a right disaster that was. Their two stuck up daughters hated the fact that I was allowed to sit in on their lessons, and their merry tantrums meant I barely learned more than how to add one and two together.”

“Poor man. But you must have at least learnt to read and write?” Feeling quite bewildered at such treatment that was so far removed from her own childhood, her heart ached for the boy that he was.

“Not at all. I was in about my tenth year when I could stand it no more and fled in the dark of night, taking little but the clothes I wore and a couple of their books.”

“But where did you go. I cannot for one moment imagine how a ten-year-old would manage to survive alone in a city.”

“I wasn’t alone for long, Miss, for there were many boys who lived a life on the streets of London, so in no time I had what I considered my family. There were about six of us, and we survived mostly on our wits—and thieving of course. The biggest who we thought of as our leader, well he taught me how to read and write.”

It was taking Esther some time to digest all this. About to say something more, the jingle of harness warned of an approaching vehicle. Startled she cried, “I must get back to my bed. The master of the house is coming. He may need assistance with his horse. Tell him only what you told the mistress. Oh, and go to the kitchen at dawn for your breakfast.” Leaving him standing there she fled as fast as she could, thankful she could get inside the house through the kitchen entrance.

Her employer often returned late at night, and usually took care of unharnessing his gelding. Esther stood by her window watching as the two men faced each other, obviously discussing who Finn was and what he was doing here, then the master strode to the house, and Esther climbed into bed knowing what was coming.

The mistress’s shrill cry of, “Why are you so late again?” did not surprise Esther, for he was always greeted in this way. The soft thud of their bedroom door told her he had gone into their room, and then in a loud voice he demanded why she had seen fit to take on some character who could likely be a criminal. For some time, all Esther could hear was his loud rumble and his wife’s soft cries and pleas.

How Esther dreaded ending up in such a relationship—and hoped sincerely she could find a man to offer her a love such as her parents shared. Her Papa was such a patient soul and treated his wife as an equal, for she was just as clever as he. Both of them instilled a compassion in Esther for those less fortunate.

Finn’s story took up all her thoughts for some time and when Becky shook her shoulder imploring her to wake up, it was with heavy eyes she looked up at the girl who stood coughing into her palm. “I am sorry, Becky I was dreaming. Go fetch your medicine.” As she put her feet to the floor, a soft knock announced that Cora had brought their water for washing.

“Morning Miss,” the maid chirped as she placed the ewer on the small dressing table. “Master’s gone off already.” Leaning closer to Esther she said in a near whisper, “Right barney they were having when I took their breakfast in earlier. Did you hear it?” Cora liked nothing better than a gossip.

“No, I did not hear it, and you should be more aware that what they do or say is not your business.”

Her reprimand was shrugged off by the maid who went on, “He don’t seem too happy about the new help—even though I see that Finn had his horse all harnessed and ready to go as soon as the sun came up.” When she got no response from Esther, she made a face and left.

If Mr. Franklin had already gone about his business, then Esther wondered if he at least had given Nelly instructions on the tasks she could set Finn. Shrugging, she prepared Becky and herself for the day.

Finn was sitting at the table when they went into the kitchen, and Becky went and sat beside him on the bench, staring up at him in curiosity as she asked, “Are you going to stay here or did my Papa tell you to go?”

Esther gave Finn a questioning look before taking the chair opposite him at the table. “Did he?” she queried.

Rubbing his chin, Finn chuckled. “To be honest the man said little, apart from asking where I came from and what I was capable of doing. I set his mind at rest by telling him I was no criminal set on robbing him.” With another small chuckle he cleared his bowl of porridge.

Nelly handed Cora a breakfast dish which she then placed on the table in front of Esther before going around and sitting beside Finn, so close that when he tried to move away from her, he was penned in on his other side by Becky who was now spooning up her porridge. Cora placed a hand on his forearm, exclaiming, “You are very strong, I’ll bet you can lift anything, would you like to lift me?”

Abruptly Finn rose, shaking free and climbing over the bench as he said, “Best go in now, for Nelly here told me the mistress said I was to see her about what tasks she wanted me to be doing this morning.”

Cora watched him with a dreamy look in her eyes until he left the room and then said, “Isn’t he handsome?”

“Now now, Cora, keep your foolish thoughts to yourself,” Nelly chided as she began to pour water from the huge kettle into the sink. “He’s here to work, same as you are, so get on with your chores and stop with your dopey chatter or else I will report you to the mistress. The big carpet in the parlour needs a good brush and then you can make a start on the laundry.”

Cora made a face behind Nelly’s back before scurrying off. Nelly turned to Esther and asked, “Where did you find that one?” This was asked with a jerk of the head.

“I met him along the road, Nelly, and as he was looking for work and I knew you needed more help around the place I suggested he try here.” Of course, that was not strictly true, but still Esther could not find a logical excuse for just why she had befriended Finn. After hearing his tale, she felt glad that she had taken a chance on him, for his start in life had been anything but easy if his story was to be believed. “You sorely needed someone to fetch water from the well and take care of the harder tasks needing a man’s strength.” Rising, she said, “Come Becky, we must start your lessons. It is a lot cooler today so perhaps we will sit outside. Fetch your chalk and board and we will continue with sums.”

When they were settled beneath the branches of the only tree close to the house, Finn strode towards them and sat beside Esther on the bench. “Your mistress is a rare one for sure, isn’t she?” This was said with a nod towards the house.

“I think she is a very miserable person,” Esther said softly. Becky was engrossed in her adding and subtracting tasks that Esther had set her and paid no attention to them. “I should not discuss my employers, but sadly they do not have a contented relationship. Did she give you an idea of what your tasks will be?”

Rubbing at his brow, he said, “Fact is, she was more interested in how I came to meet you and why I was in this part of the country, wanting to know more about me. I’m ashamed to say I lied, telling her that I came over from Ireland only recently.” He leant closer and whispered, “Is she slightly mad? Her hands were a-fidgeting all the time, and she seemed to have a need to touch me.”

Esther had no idea how to answer that. It had occurred to her early on in her time here that Mrs. Franklin was what her mother would have called unbalanced after the stresses of childbirth. “So, you still do not know what your tasks are?”

“She said to see Nelly, so that is what I shall do.” Pressing his hands on his knees he rose. “I’m not sure about the master of the house either. They are an odd pair of sods to be sure. But at least he gave me some idea of what I should start on. I think he was happy with me preparing his horse for the day. I gave the fellow a good brushing.” 

Esther watched him stride off. Cora was right, he was a very strong and handsome fellow. Hair as light as his was rare for a man, but it suited him. With a slight shake of the head, she realised that she was spending far too much time contemplating what it would be like to be held in those strong arms of his. This would never do—she was becoming as foolish as Cora. “Have you finished yet, Becky?” She took the offered chalk board and was pleased to see that the child was doing well at her sums. “Now, we shall do some reading.” Esther took a book of simple rhymes from her basket and patted the bench beside her.

A short time later she saw Finn toting water from the well, obviously on the way to fill the laundry tub for Cora. The girl would no doubt use that opportunity to bother him with her silly nonsense. The sudden burst of jealousy Esther felt made her give herself a shake at the foolishness of that thought.

A Troubled Heart can be purchased here: https://books2read.com/A-Troubled-Heart

 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

An Excerpt from Gold Fever by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

 

Click here for purchase and details


Gold Fever

Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

 

EXCERPT

Prologue

 

October 23, 1960

It was late afternoon on a cold autumn day. The wind blew through the trees, snatching the few dead leaves left on the branches and swirling them through the air. Heavy dark clouds hung low over the mountains, threatening snow. Two men grunted as they carried a blanket-wrapped body through the green cedars and pines, and the already bare poplar trees. They were hunched down in their coats, their hats pulled tight on their heads. They turned their faces away from the wind.

“This is a good spot,” the man in the lead said. He was tall and gaunt, and with a three day growth of whiskers appeared older than his twenty-four years.

The second man was younger than the first, hardly more than a boy. He didn’t answer.

They stopped and roughly dropped their bundle on the ground in a small meadow. Over the noise of the wind they could hear the sound of a waterfall made by a small creek tumbling over the edge of a nearby cliff.

“Let’s get this done,” the first man said gruffly.

The men unhooked their shovels which had been tied to their backs. During the summer the small meadow was knee deep in ferns, flowers, and small bushes as were all the meadows in the region. The growth suggested rich, nutritious soil. But instead, of easy digging, their shovels clanged continuously against rock as they tried to remove the sparse layer of dirt. It was the occasional bountiful rains of the British Columbia summer that kept the vegetation alive.

They worked silently. The young man occasionally snuck a quick glance at the covered body waiting to be buried. Many times they had to stop and lift out a rock before they could continue. Digging in the mountain side for gold was never easy; digging a grave was even harder.

Despite the cold day and the wind, the older man was soon sweating. He stopped and removed his coat, throwing it beside the body.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” the younger man said. “If it was an accident like you said, we should tell the police.”

“They won’t believe us that he fell and hit his head on a rock. They’ll think we murdered him for the gold and send us both to prison. Then who would look after your mother?”

“But he has a family.”

“And we would have to give them his share of the gold. We have more of a right than they do. We did most of the work.”

“B… but we agreed, the three of us, to divide the gold equally.”

“Shut up and keep digging.”

They resumed chipping away at the rock and dirt. Eventually the older man stopped. He looked at the depth of the hole and then over at the body. “That’s good enough. We’ve got enough dirt to cover him.” He dropped his shovel on the ground beside the makeshift grave and stepped out.

The younger man followed suit. They knelt down beside the body. The older man lifted the corner of the blanket and took one last look at the face of the dead person.

“Nice guy, but too trusting.” He let the blanket fall and they rolled the body into the grave. They each grabbed their shovels and began filling in the hole.

“Just fill it in ‘til it’s level with the ground.”

“What about the rest of the dirt?” asked the younger man.

“We’ll just spread it around.”

“Are we putting the rocks on top to keep the animals away?”

“No, throw them into the bush.”

“What about a marker?”

“Don’t be stupid. We don’t need anyone finding it.”

What little dirt was left they scattered in the weeds. The younger man tossed the rocks near the edge of the bush. The older man pulled a few dead ferns and flowers and stuck them in the darker, fresh dirt trying to make it blend in with the rest of the area.

“Do you want to say a few words?” asked the younger man. They had finished and were looking down at the almost unnoticeable grave. The wind increased and the older man had put his coat back on. Night was rapidly falling.

“There’s nothing to say.”

The younger man looked down at the grave. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “This isn’t right.”

The older man's anger was immediate. He jumped at the younger man grabbing the front of his coat and pulling his face close.

“Are you starting to go soft on me? Do I have to shut you up?”

The younger’s eyes widened. “No, no,” he said, fear in his voice.

“Don't you ever tell anybody,” the older man said through clenched teeth. He pulled the younger man closer until their noses almost touched. “Do you understand? Nobody. Ever.”

The younger man nodded as best he could. “Nobody,” he whispered.

“Ever.”

“Ever.”

“Promise me.”

The younger man hesitated and the older man shook him until his head flopped back and forth.

“Promise me.”

“I promise.”

The older man stared into his eyes, and then apparently satisfied, let him go with a shove. He gave one last glance at the rectangle, picked up his shovel and walked away.

The younger man looked down at the grave before quickly following the other man.

Back at their large canvas tent, which stood on a high bank overlooking the Salmo River, the older man began packing his few clothes into his duffel bag.

“What are you doing?” the younger one asked.

“I'm taking leaving here first thing tomorrow.”

“What about me?”

The older man shrugged. “I don’t care. Go back to Fruitvale and your Ma or go to work in the smelter in Trail.”

“What about my share of the gold?” The younger man held his breath.

He tried not to cringe as the older man stared at him before reaching in his pocket. He tossed a small bag at him.

The younger man looked at the bag. He knew it didn’t hold half of what they had earned this summer, but he didn’t dare say anything.

“I’m leaving this tent,” the older man said. “Stay here if you want or find something else to do because you aren’t coming with me.” The man threw the duffel bag on his bed and took a step towards the younger man. He glared down at him. “If you ever break your promise I’ll come back and kill you, and your Ma, and any other family you have. You understand? Even if it’s ten, twenty years from now.”

The younger man quickly nodded.

The older man dropped down beside his duffel bag on the bed and turned his back to the room.

After a few minutes, the younger man laid on his bunk. He clasped his hands behind his head and stared at the sloping ceiling until it was too dark to see.

Later that night when the storm had ended and the moon was high in the sky, a shadow crept silently out of the tent and worked its way through the trees to the small clearing. On the way he broke two branches off a tree and bound them together with some string. The clouds had dispersed and the moon was full and bright. Although it had only been a few hours since they had dug the grave, it was already hard to locate. When he at last found the right spot, the younger man plunged the cross into the ground as far as he could, then took a rock and pounded it in further. Gathering the rocks they had thrown aside he piled them on top of the grave. Then he stood for a few minutes in the moonlight and gazed down.

Finally, with a sigh, he silently left the small clearing. Instead of heading back to the tent, he started walking down the road. He wanted to get as far away from his mother’s stepbrother as possible and never see him again.


 

Chapter 1

 

Today

Elsie Wiggins glanced down at the hand drawn map she held on her lap. “That’s the Bailey Bridge over the Salmo River,” she said. “We're almost there.”

Boni Baldwin sighed with relief. It was about time. They’d been driving east along Highway 3 since early morning, she using GPS and her mother referring to a road map to get through the towns and valleys spaced throughout the mountains. At Salmo the highway had headed south and joined Highway 6 also known as the Nelson Nelway Highway. When Highway 3 had turned east they’d continued south. At the Canada/United States border crossing at Nelway, they headed west on the gravelled Pend D’Oreille road.

Boni was still relying on the GPS, but her mother was now using a hand drawn map and written instructions to give directions to the Salmo River. She was tired and hated gravel roads, the bumps, the noise, and the dust. Right now she definitely regretted agreeing to accompany her mother on her quest.

Boni slowed down, not that she had driven very fast since they’d turned onto the gravelled road and steered the motor home across the bridge. On her right the Salmo River came around a curve, passed under the bridge and merged into the Pend D'Oreille River, which they had been following for the past few miles.

“Watch for a sharp turn to your right shortly,” Elsie said.

Boni continued at her speed. She was being careful. She had already had to stop suddenly when two deer dashed across the road in front of her. She certainly didn't want to hit one.

“This must be it,” Elsie said, when they reached a wide spot in the road opposite a trail coming down off the mountain. “According to the instructions, we are supposed to make a sharp right-hand turn and then a steep climb.”

Boni put the gear shift into reverse and began to back the motor home up. She couldn't make the turn from this angle. She watched the Jeep she was towing in the mirror. This was the first time she had backed the unit up. When she had gone far enough, she pulled over onto the wider section and then made the turn. She had to increase pressure on the gas pedal to make it up the hill. At the top was a curve. She was really beginning to hate the mountains. All the roads climbed hills or went around curves. Nothing went straight for very long. The difference between this road and the others that they had been on since leaving Vancouver was that this one was a single lane, dirt road.

“We only have seven kilometres to go before we set up camp,” Elsie said.

“Seven kilometres?” Boni knew her voice sounded shocked.

“Yes. It’s not very far now.”

Boni didn't share her mother's enthusiasm. Seven kilometres was a long ways on this narrow dirt road with mountain on one side and a drop off on the other. She didn’t think it was possible to drive this slow and still move as she motored around a curve and began a descent. At the bottom was another curve. She had to pull over to the right to miss a huge rock sticking up and at the same time watch to make sure she didn't get to close to the embankment edge.

“I don’t think we have to worry about going over,” her mother said. “The tall trees would probably stop us from rolling all the way down to the bottom.”

“That is certainly reassuring,” Boni said, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

The tall trees were casting shadows across the road even though the sun was still high in the sky. A steep climb brought them to a wider part in the road where two vehicles could probably pass. She dodged a large hole full of water from a recent rain and then saw the first signs of civilization, a Keep Out sign. Under it was another sign. Boni read it out loud.

“Drive slowly. Kids and Cons here.” She turned to her mother. “Well, I guess that's one way to keep people off your property.”

Elsie looked at the sign. “I think that is supposed to be ‘Kids and Cows Here’.”

“That makes more sense,” Boni laughed. “But I'm still going to watch for those cons. Maybe we should use a sign like that at home.”

Boni returned to the task of driving on the narrow road. They passed a few roads heading off this main one and she missed more rocks and holes, chugged up more hills, and rode her brakes down some steep descents. At one point the passenger front tire dipped into a hole she should have missed.

“Take it easy,” Elsie said, reaching down to retrieve the map that slid off her knee.

“I'm trying,” Boni said. “There seems to be more holes and rocks than road.”

She rounded a curve and saw movement. She thought it was a deer and stomped on her brakes.

“What now?” Elsie said, grabbing at the map.

A bare-chested man in shorts and running shoes jogged towards them. He was carrying something red in his right hand. He moved over to the side of the road and continued towards them. Boni crept forward slowly, watching the steep bank on her right. Just as she pulled alongside, she glanced at him. His face was mainly covered by a black beard and his long, shaggy, black hair bounced with each step. But it was his deep blue eyes that caused her to catch her breath. They seemed to have a wildness in their intensity.

And then he was past.

“Wow,” Elsie said.

“Yeah, I wonder if he is one of the cons from the sign.” Boni looked in her side mirror, but he had disappeared around a curve.

Elsie grinned.

“I hope he’s not typical of the men in the area,” Boni said. She was here in the bush against her will and didn’t need to worry about the other people who were out here.

Boni stopped when she saw a wooden bridge ahead. Her hands shook as she loosened her grip from the steering wheel. She hadn’t realized she had she been holding it that tight. They both looked through the windshield at the bridge. Some of its planks were missing and someone had cut poles to use as a replacements. But there were still gaping holes.

“This must Wallack Creek,” Elsie said. “Just past it is where we will set up camp.”

“Do you really want me to cross that bridge?” Boni asked. “It doesn't look safe.”

“It looks okay to me. It’s not very long. Just make sure you don't drop a wheel off one of the planks.”

“Yeah, right,” Boni muttered under her breath. She drove ahead slowly, lining up the wheels with the planks. When she thought she had them right, she increased her speed. There was a slight jar as the tires hit the higher wood and then they were over it and on the other side. Boni let her breath out.

“Watch for an opening on the left,” Elsie said. She looked eagerly out the windshield. “There it is,” she exclaimed excitedly. “Just in behind those trees.”

Boni stopped once more. Through the trees, she could see a large clearing. Two faint tire tracks led from the road into it. Branches from the trees hung over the tracks and she wasn’t sure if she could work her way through them.

“Do you want me to drive it in there?” Elsie asked.

It was her motor home and she had driven yesterday from Vancouver to Osoyoos, where they had camped. Boni had taken over the driving today to give her a rest.

“No,” Boni answered. “I just want to make sure that those branches don’t scratch or dent the roof and sides.”

“I think you’ll make it.”

They bumped over tree roots and the branches screeched along the sides before making it into the opening. Once through, she stopped again. They looked at the large clearing.

“Do you want the sun shining on you in the morning or in the afternoon?” Boni asked.

Elsie looked at the shade already created by the tall trees. “I don’t think it matters. Let’s park over there so that we are away from the road dust.”

Boni pulled to her left and stopped at the edge of the trees on what looked like the most level spot. She checked the bubble attached to the dash, backed up a bit and then shut off the motor.

Elsie immediately jumped out and began a tour of their new camp. Boni stayed put. She could see enough from where she was and what she saw did not impress her. The clearing was surrounded by trees and straight ahead of her, rising above the trees, was a mountain. Small bushes, tall weeds, and ferns made the clearing a mass of green. She pulled out her cell phone and checked for service. Yes. At least she would be able to keep in contact with her friends. That and the books she had brought to read would probably be her only diversion.

“Are you coming out?” Elsie asked, opening the driver's door. “Someone built an outhouse here. It’s old and a little run down, but now we don’t have to worry about going into town to dump our septic tank.”

Boni roused herself and looked out the window. Great. An outhouse. She would have to use an outhouse. That really topped off her day. Here she was in a camper, in a clearing with an outhouse, in the middle of nowhere. And she didn't know how long she would be stuck here.

Boni slowly climbed out of the camper. She stretched to limber up the muscles that had been cramped in one position for so long. She made a show of walking around the clearing although all she wanted to do was get back in the motor home. As a small child she had gone on camping trips with her mother, two brothers, and sister. But they were much older than she was, being thirteen, twelve, and eleven to her four. They went off exploring while she stayed with her mother. They fished while she played with her plastic pail and shovel on the sand bars.

Then when she was about five, she’d suddenly begun to stay home with her father, who refused to go on the family campouts. He was a professor at a college and always seemed to have a lesson to plan or papers to grade. Even in the summer he was writing essays for publication or researching some topic. She was happy to stay home with him because she could read books, play with her toys, and they usually went somewhere together, somewhere like the playground, the zoo, or a movie. After that she had only made occasional forays into the bush when her father had been away at a seminar, but she was always glad to get back home.

As she grew older she’d been taunted by her siblings about being a bookworm. She had flung back at them that she would rather be that than see a real worm or a bug or a wild animal. When they talked of trees, she thought of the hedge around the yard, when they mentioned drinking water out of a pump, she thought of their tap water, and when they talked about swimming in a lake with a muddy bottom, little fish swimming around, and loons calling, she was glad she had an indoor pool to go to.

She became a city girl through and through and now she had no desire to sleep under the stars, cook over an open fire, or catch a fish. So what was she doing here? She shook her head. It was a combination of her grandmother’s wish, her mother’s desire, and her own faint stirring to know the truth. But after fifty-five years, what could they hope to find that hadn’t been checked in the past by the police and two private investigators.

“I’ll light the water heater if you want to check see if everything survived the trip. And could you heat some water for tea?”

“Okay.” Boni climbed back into the motor home.

She looked in one of the drawers and found the matches. She held the switch open to bleed the air from the line then lit one of the burners. Once that was done, Boni found the kettle and filled it with water. She set it on to heat.

Boni dug out a tea bag, instant coffee, and two large metal mugs. None of those dainty teacups and saucers for her mother. She set them on the table. While she waited for the water to heat Boni opened the cupboards and straightened the plastic dishes that had become a jumbled mess.

When the water was hot she dropped the tea bag into one mug, spooned instant coffee into the other and stirred in the water. Neither of them took cream or sugar.

She opened the door to let her mother know her tea was ready. What she saw disappointed her. Her mother had taken the round, plastic table and two canvas-covered lawn chairs from the back of the Jeep and set them near the camper. She’d also pulled out the awning to offer them shade. She was waiting in one of the chairs.

“It’s a beautiful afternoon,” Elsie said. “Let’s drink out here.”

Boni wrinkled her nose but nodded her head in agreement. She was resigned to her fate. She just hoped it would only last the one week everyone had predicted. She picked up the mugs and carried them out to the table.

“This is so nice and peaceful,” Elsie sighed, as she sipped her tea.

Boni listened to the silence. But it wasn't really a silence. She could hear the river rushing by in the distance, she could hear crickets, at least she thought they were crickets, and she could hear a few birds chirping. It was quieter than the city with its traffic and people and other noises, but it wasn't a true quiet either. The bush had its own sounds.


  

Chapter 2

 

Rick reached his turn around point and continued his jog back towards his and his grandfather’s gold claim. He’d been curious since meeting the motor home pulling the Jeep. When he slowed and moved over to let the vehicle by he noticed the passenger was an older woman. He only got a quick glimpse of the driver through the side window, but her image stayed with him. She had appeared nervous and her big brown eyes looked startled as they met his.

He watched the tire tracks as he jogged slowly back down the dirt road. What were the two women doing way out here? If they were lost why hadn’t they stopped him to ask directions? Maybe they were camping. But this wasn’t the easiest road to find and there weren’t any tourist attractions along it. Usually the only visitors to the area were environmentalists who were taking a count on the deer or bear population, or men from B.C. Hydro who would drive out to check their warning signs on the cables strung across the river. Occasionally, hikers walked by with packs on their backs, but the men with claims on the river weren’t the friendliest of people. They went out of their way to discourage anyone from spending much time here.

Rick saw where the tire tracks turned into a clearing. This area was part of Jerry Macgregor’s claim. He slowed to a walk and looked in. While the prospectors had exclusive rights to work the river for gold, they didn’t own any of the land. So anyone could come and spend time. He stared at the scene. The camper with the Jeep attached was parked to one side. The older woman was sitting at a table under the awning. On the table were two mugs. It looked like they had found a home.

Rick wondered if he should go in. He didn’t want to frighten them, however, and he knew that a strange man walking into their camp probably would scare them. But he should find out if this was where they had intended to end up. He donned the red plaid sleeveless shirt he had been carrying. He liked the sun but tried not to be out in it during the heat of the day without being at least partially covered up.

Rick started down the middle of the tracks to the camp. He began to whistle so they would hear him coming.

The woman at the table stood and faced him. She was about five foot five inches and solidly built with gray hair. The younger woman was nowhere in sight. She was probably in the camper.

“Hi, my name is Rick Armstrong,” he said, holding out his hand. “I have a gold claim with my grandfather further down the road. I saw the tracks on the road and thought I’d check to see if everything is okay.”

“Elsie Wiggins.” She shook his hand firmly. “And yes, we are fine.”

There was strength behind that grip. From her relaxed manner he assumed she was an outdoors person. Maybe she was looking for a claim. He glanced towards the motor home, hoping the door would open and the younger woman would come out. It didn’t.

“You sure picked a nice spot to camp,” Rick said. He had met other people who camped here over the years.

“This clearing was recommended to me.”

She wasn’t unpleasant, but she wasn’t overly friendly and she certainly wasn’t giving out much information. It made him curious. He wanted to know who recommended this particular clearing and why. None of the miners in the area liked to have strangers coming through and he doubted that any of them would have invited someone to come and camp. Jerry’s cabin was across the river but he may have given the women permission to stay. Maybe they were relatives or friends.

“Was it Jerry Macgregor who recommended it?” He tried not to sound territorial.

“Yes. He said my daughter and I could stay here. He even faxed me a map on how to find it.”

“Oh. He never mentioned anyone was coming.” Not that he had seen much of Jerry since the spring when everyone usually came out to work at recovering the gold from the river. Plus, beside his claim, Jerry also volunteered at the museum.

The door opened and the younger woman stepped out. She was of medium height and slim.

“Hi. I'm Rick Armstrong,” Rick stepped towards her. “You passed me on your way here.”

“Boni Baldwin.” she said, extending her hand in greeting.

“Are you two here alone?” Rick asked.

“Yes,” Elsie answered.

“How long do you plan on staying?”

“Anything over two days will be too long,” Boni said.

Rick caught a tone of distaste in her voice and he had the impression she was not happy to be there. He looked at her long, fine brunette hair, her slimness which made her appear too fragile for roughing it in the country, and the brown eyes almost too large for her delicate features. He turned in surprise when Elsie laughed at her answer.

“That's my daughter. Ever the unhappy camper.”

Boni grimaced at Rick. “What can I say? I don’t like the big outdoors.”

It was on the tip of Rick's tongue to ask why she was there then, but it was none of his business. Besides, it sounded like this was an old argument that had become almost a ritual.

“You'll have to excuse us,” Elsie apologized. “We don’t generally discuss our differences in front of other people.”

Rick nodded. He liked that. They didn’t fight, they discussed.

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a vehicle approaching. It slowed down as it reached the clearing. They all turned towards the road to see an old blue pick-up truck swing into the clearing. It stopped and a man who appeared to be in his sixties stepped out. He wore faded jeans, a light blue shirt with his sleeves rolled up, and work boots.

“Elsie and Boni, I presume,” he said, walking over to them. He nodded at Rick.

“Jerry Macgregor,” Elsie said holding out her hand. “It’s so good to finally put a person to the voice on the phone.”

“Nice to meet both of you, too.” Jerry shook their hands. “I trust you had no trouble finding this place.”

“Your map and directions were excellent,” She looked around. “I’d ask you to sit down but we only have two chairs.”

“Not to worry, I always carry a chair in my truck box,” Jerry said, heading back to his truck.

“I’ll find something,” Rick said. He went into the bush and scouted around for a piece of log. He carried it back to the table and sat it on end.

“Would either you like some tea or coffee?” Elsie asked them when they were settled.

“Coffee, please,” both men answered.

“We only have instant for now,” Boni said.

“That would be fine.”

“Do you take cream and sugar?” Boni asked.

“Just a little sugar,” Jerry said.

“Black,” Rick answered.

 

* * *

 

Boni went into the motor home. The water had cooled so she started the fire under the kettle and reached for two more metal mugs. Good thing they had brought extra mugs so they didn’t have to wash dishes very often. She spooned the coffee into the mugs and found the plastic container of sugar. While waiting for the water she cut up some cheese and put it and crackers on a plate. She picked up the plate and carried it out to the table. Back in the camper she stuck a spoon in the sugar then poured the heated water into the mugs.

Boni moved the curtain slightly to look at Rick. He definitely was the very picture of a mountain man. His shorts were actually cutoff jeans. They and the shirt showed off his muscular arms and legs which were lightly tanned. She guessed he might be handsome if he’d shave and cut his hair. Remembering her first impression, she looked at his eyes. They were still the deepest blue but instead of being wild looking they now sparkled when he talked with her mother.

We are supposed to go with our first impressions, she thought. But that had been just from seeing him for a split second. Did that count? Or do you have to actually meet that person in order for first impressions to be right.

Before heading back outside, Boni took her cell phone and sent a text to her best friend. ‘Jenny, this is worse than I thought it would be. There’s a real mountain man talking with mom right now, plaid shirt, black beard, long hair. Not sure how old but I think he’s in his early thirties. It’s going to be a long, long week.’

She carried the two mugs and the sugar out and set them on the table. She sat in her chair.

Elsie offered the men the plate of crackers and cheese. Jerry refused but Rick took a couple of each.

“So, you told me enough of your story to raise my curiosity,” Jerry said. “Tell me more about your father.”

“Like I said in my phone call, back in 1960 my father lost his job in Vancouver. He couldn’t find another one so when he heard he could earn a living panning for gold he did some reading and then headed out here in the spring. He spent a couple of nights at a rooming house owned by a woman in Fruitvale. Her stepbrother had worked on a gold claim a few years earlier. He was willing to form a partnership with Dad and the woman’s son who was also without a job. The three of them staked a claim on the Salmo River which they worked all summer.”

“How do you know that?”

“My father regularly wrote letters to my mother and made a couple of phone calls from town to keep us informed of how well they were doing. I got to talk with him and even talked with the son a couple of times, although if I was told his name, I have no memory of it.”

“How did you and your mother live?”

“My mother worked in a grocery store to keep food on the table until he came home. But he didn’t return after the first snow fall as planned.”

Elsie paused and sipped her tea.

“My mother phoned the police to report that Dad hadn’t called her in weeks and she feared he was missing. They came out here but only discovered some empty cans and other garbage. They checked at the Gold Commissioners office and found the claim was only in Dad’s name. Most of the prospectors along the river had left but they spoke with the two who were still there. It seemed they had seen the men but didn’t know their names or when or where they went. Secrecy seemed to be the way of life at the time. They would nod to each other when they met or even stop and discuss the weather but basically they all kept to themselves. They certainly never talked about how much gold they were finding.

“The police contacted as many of the men as they could find and none of them knew anything about Dad’s disappearance. They were unable to find the rooming house where Dad stayed. Mom waited another month then left me with a friend and came to the area to try and find him. After a week, when she hadn’t learned any more than the police had told her, she returned home.”

“So why after all this time did you want to come here?” Jerry leaned forward in his chair and rested his arms on his thighs.

Boni watched him as her mother spoke. In spite of his bush appearance he was a distinguished looking man with thick salt and pepper hair. His face was tanned and freshly shaved. His biceps bulged when he bent his arms and it looked like he didn’t have an ounce of extra fat on him. He seemed very interested in what Elsie was saying.

“My mother eventually met another man and he wanted to marry her. He hired a private detective to see if he could learn where my father was. The detective spent a month trying to find some clues but couldn’t. That’s when my mother finally accepted that Dad must be dead or wanted her to think that way. She had him declared deceased and married my stepfather. My stepfather died last year and my mother again began to wonder why her first husband deserted her. She asked me to give it one more try.”

“What makes your mother think you could learn something after all these years?”

Elsie smiled. “Mom likes to watch crime shows. She knows all about forensics and she thinks that if I can find a gravesite or some bones a DNA test could be done on them. I don’t think I’ll learn anything but I’m doing this one last time to ease her mind before she dies. She’s always wondered if she did something wrong to make her husband leave her.”

“How did you find out that I owned this claim?”

“It wasn’t me. My son, Howard, is a computer whiz. He went on the Internet and found this area now belonged to you and then he looked up your phone number.”

“That’s why I hate technology,” Rick said with disgust. “It doesn’t matter how far in the bush you go, anyone can find you.”

Boni thought of her computer which she had brought to play games on, her cell phone that would keep her attached to the Internet, and her Kindle with the books she uploaded. Best not to mention them to this mountain man.

“Do you need any help with anything?” Jerry asked.

“I don't think so,” Elsie replied. “We have a generator to give us the power we need. I’ve got a chain saw and axe and know how to use both. But we could use some advice about where to get water for our tanks and where to dump the holding tanks.”

“The best water for drinking is a spring just up the road from here,” Rick answered for Jerry. “I've set up a hose so that it is easy to run it into a pail. Or you can get it from Wallack Creek. As for dumping your gray water, I can dig a hole for your hose to run into.”

“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Elsie protested. “We can dig one ourselves.”

“The ground is pretty rocky,” Rick said. “I’m used to it.”

“But we don’t want to trouble you.”

“It won’t be any trouble. I’ll come by tomorrow with my shovel.”

Boy, this guy is pushy, Boni thought. “We’re going into Salmo tomorrow,” she said.

“I’ll be here early.” Rick said. He took a couple of steps towards the road.

“We’re not very far down this road so if you need anything, let me know.”

“Thank you,” Elsie said.


 

Chapter 3

 

Boni watched Rick jog out of the yard. She hadn’t thought there were men around like him anymore. He probably spent all year out here, never seeing anyone and only going to town for supplies. For entertainment, he probably watched the river flow by or counted ants. More than likely he chewed tobacco and even spit the juice out like she had seen in the old movies.

Why was he looking for gold way out here? Times were tough right now and many people were out of work. But not many of them thought about taking up prospecting as a career even though the price of gold was high. Was this his way of making a living? It must be, because she certainly couldn't see anyone coming to this place willingly, even if there was gold.

Boni sighed. They’d better find out something about her grandfather fast and get out of here. In spite of his physical attributes and his friendliness, she didn’t want to get to know the man any better.

“So what are your plans?” Jerry asked Elsie.

“First, I’m going to build a fire ring and get a fire going,” Elsie said standing. “That’s the best part about being in the bush.”

“Let me help you find the rocks,” Jerry said.

Boni finished her tea, stood and began to clear off the table. She did remember some rules from the few camping trips she’d taken with her mother and siblings.

“Always make sure you clean up your food,” her mother used to say after every meal. “You don’t want to attract bears or other animals into your camp.”

A long hidden memory suddenly surfaced in her mind. It was a Sunday evening and she, her brothers and sister, and her mother were returning after a camping trip to the mountains. All the way home she could hardly contain herself. She’d been so wound up at the prospect of telling her father the news about the bear that she’d immediately run into the house ahead of the others and over to his study.

“Dad, you should have seen the bear at our campground,” she said excitedly. “It ransacked a neighbouring camp because they left some cooked hamburgers out on their table. We scared it away with our talking and laughing as we returned to our camp after fishing. I actually saw it running away.”

Boni had expected him to be thrilled to hear about it too, but instead she saw a look of horror on his face. He picked her up and held her tight against him. And it was later that evening she heard her parents arguing, over what, she didn't know. Two weeks later her father told her he wanted to take her to the zoo. She agreed quickly, looking forward to seeing the new Panda bears on loan to the zoo. She missed that weekend’s camping trip and she didn’t remember going camping again after that. Looking back now that was probably because she never liked it in the first place.

When Boni stepped out of the RV, her mother and Jerry had a spot cleared and a bunch of rocks set in a circle. A fire burned in the middle and a small pile of dead tree branches lay beside the pit. They had moved their chairs beside it. She picked up her chair and sat with them.

“Are you sure you will be okay alone in the bush?” Jerry was asking.

Elsie smiled. “I’ve spent most of my life camping and hiking. Plus, my son and his family will be coming in a few days.”

This seemed to catch Jerry by surprise. “Oh. You didn’t say other people were coming when we talked on the phone.”

“At the time, I didn’t know. Howard decided at the last minute to come and help. He also wants to try panning for gold. I hope that won’t be a problem.”

“Not for me, but I should warn you that a lot of the prospectors along the river like their privacy and don’t like tourists coming out here, making noise and leaving garbage behind.”

“Well, we’ll try to stay out of everyone’s way. We’ll stick to the clearing as much as possible and keep quiet.”

“You son can try panning down at the river since this is part of my claim,” Jerry said. He stood. “I’d better go. If you need me I have a cabin on the other side of the river. To get there you have to drive back to the Nelson Nelway road, cross the bridge and then take the road along the river. My place has a large, chain-saw carved bear in the yard.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

Elsie and Boni watched Jerry drive out of the clearing.

“Have you tried the toilet?” Boni asked. She hated using outdoor bathrooms. There always seemed to be ants or bees or some other bugs in it when she entered. Flies congregated around it and then there was the smell.

“It seems solid and there is a white toilet seat attached to it.”

“I'll give it a good cleaning,” Boni said, heading into the camper to get the Lysol. If she had to use the outhouse, it was going to be disinfected first.

 

* * *

 

Rick slowed to a walk when he was close to his and his grandfather’s claim. He turned into the yard and stopped to do some stretches. He climbed the steps onto the back deck and entered the house.

“Hi, grandpa,” he said.

“Your run took longer than usual.” Art was sitting at the table unscrewing the bolts on a small motor. It was his daily ritual to take the motor apart and put it back together again, sometimes two or three times. “Was there any trouble?”

“No, no trouble,” Rick said. He wasn’t sure how to tell his grandfather the news. The older man was in his mid-seventies and while he had originally been of medium height and slim, over the past few years he’d been getting more and more stooped. He’d had a minor heart attack last year and Rick didn’t want him to get upset.

“I met two women down at the large clearing on Jerry’s claim.” He took the pitcher of water from the fridge and poured himself a glass. They used the water from the river for everything except drinking. The drinking water came from the spring he described to Boni and Elsie. “They drove up in a motor home and towed a Jeep. They’re camping there for a week.”

“Two women?” Art snapped. He stopped what he was doing and looked up at Rick. “Who are they? Does Jerry know about them? Did you tell them that we don’t want campers here and to go find somewhere else to spend the week?”

“Actually, Jerry came to see them.”

“Good. So he kicked them out.” Art went back to working on the motor.

Rick tried to pick his words to keep his grandfather calm. His irritation at intruders into the area had grown in the past years. He liked his peace and quiet. And what Rick had learned wasn’t going to sit well with him.

“They contacted Jerry and he gave them permission to stay on his claim and he even faxed them a map.”

Art stood angrily. “What the hell did he do that for?”

Rick held up his hands. “I don’t know, Grandpa.” Rick decided to try and diffuse his grandfather’s anger by playing into his pet theme. “They are nice people. They are mother and daughter. The mother’s name is Elsie Wiggins and the daughter is Boni Baldwin.”

Art’s hands froze. He slowly set the wrench down on the table. “Elsie,” he said.

“Yes, she’s the mother,” Rick said.

“How old is she?”

“She’s about sixty. Her hair isn’t totally gray yet. She’s sturdily built and she looks like she could chop down a tree faster than you and even heft you over her shoulder and carry you away if she wanted to. She’s brought a generator and axe and chain saw, everything to make them comfortable. I think she can handle herself in the bush.”

There was a silence as Art concentrated on the motor. He held it up to look at it closely.

Rick’s thoughts turned to the sight of Boni getting his coffee and setting it on the table. “Boni, the daughter, is medium height and slim with long brunette hair and the biggest brown eyes you've ever seen.”

Art set the motor down and looked at Rick. “Are you starting to welcome those intruders here, too?”

“Of course not.” He disliked the campers and backpackers as much as his grandfather did, but he also knew that there was nothing they could do about them. The land was open to everyone.

“Well, it certainly sounds like the daughter made an impression on you. How old is she?”

Rick stopped short. He thought the only impression she made on him was that she didn’t want to be out here anymore than most of the prospectors on the river wanted her to be here.

“You should go and meet Elsie,” Rick said.

“Are you trying to redirect me?” he asked.

“Maybe a little,” Rick smiled. Some days it was still hard to fool his grandfather. Redirect was a term used with anyone in care who was having an episode or an outburst of some sort. The caregiver always tried to redirect them by talking about something else, pointing to something, or taking them into a different room.

“Well, quit trying to change the subject. I’m not the one who should be getting married and starting a family. I’ve done that already. You’re the one who should be thinking about settling down.”

“I keep telling you I have my hands full with you. I don’t need a woman, too.”

“Hummph.” Art returned to the motor.

Rick grinned as he pulled a packet of pork chops from the fridge. Art had been trying to get him married for years. He kept saying he wanted great-grandchildren to bounce on his knee before he died but Rick believed he just wanted to make sure Rick had a family. After all, except for Rick’s brother, Ron, in Surrey, they were the only family left. Ron was married and had one child.

“So how old is she?”

“My age I guess,” Rick said. “But I think she's married.”

“What do you mean, think?”

“Well, her name is different from her mother’s” Rick opened the door of the old wood stove they used for cooking and for heat. Unless it was a cool day they let the fire go out after making breakfast. There were a few embers so Rick crumpled some newspaper and set it on top. He added kindling. Soon there was a whisper of smoke and then some small flames. Once the fire was going Rick put the chops in a frying pan and set the pan on the stove.

“That doesn’t mean a thing. She could be divorced. Her mother could have remarried. There are many reasons for her to have a different name other than that she’s married. When do you see her again?”

“I'm going over there tomorrow morning to dig them a hole for their gray water.”

“Well, that was certainly fast work.”

“I don’t want them just dumping their dirty water on the ground and making a mess like some of the campers do,” Rick said. “Do you want to come with me?”

“Are you asking me because you want my help?”

“Well, maybe,” Rick laughed. He patted his grandfather fondly on the shoulder and then went outside.

Rick stood on the verandah that faced the river. He looked out at the small clearing lined on two sides by tall trees. He inhaled the cool, clear smell of pine, cedar, and hazy air that only a late summer afternoon could produce. This was the life: outdoors and fresh air. He especially liked the old cabin with its smoky smell. During Rick's third summer he and his grandfather built the deck to sit on in the evening and enjoy the forest smells and sounds. But they hadn’t been satisfied and the next summer they added a verandah so they could watch the river flow by. Now they had their choice of where they wanted to sit to clean their gold.

The first summer after his grandfather had gotten the claim Rick came out for a month. He was twelve. On his second day there Art had taken him down to the river and shown him how to shovel gravel into a round, metal gold pan. He dipped the pan in the water to get enough to cover the gravel and then had shaken the pan so that any gold settled to the bottom. Rick had watched as his grandfather tilted the pan and swirled the water around so that the larger pieces of gravel gravitated to the edge and fell out into the river. By continuing the swirling motion, his grandfather worked the fine black sand out of the pan and left some flakes of gold.

Rick had immediately wanted to try, and under his grandfather’s slow, careful ministrations his first pan yielded four small flakes. He remembered jumping up and down with excitement. He had been cast under the spell of gold fever and wanted to possess all the gold in the river. He had started to shovel in the gravel and to swirl the pan as quickly as he could, not wanting to waste any time. He had a long list of things to buy with his gold.

But without his grandfather's help, the results had been far from successful. And it was only his stubbornness over the next two weeks that kept him working at it until he could get rid of the gravel without losing the black sand and gold and then swirl the pan slowly and carefully to remove the black sand without losing the gold. By the end of his month’s stay he finally got the technique right and had enough gold to cover the bottom of the small vial his grandfather had given him. By then, though, the spell had been broken and he knew it was a lot of hard work for little reward. But he could still feel the young boy's thrill at finding gold in the bottom of his pan and Art sometimes still teased him about his summer of gold fever.

That summer he had discovered something more important than gold. He liked being on the claim, listening to the river and spending time with his grandfather. And he had been coming out here for the past nineteen summers and could think of no better way to spend his time. It was clean, clear, and open, with lots of freedom to move. Although they had a power plant, they very seldom used it. There was no need for lights, the moonlight and the fire worked good and so did candles. There was no television. The animals and the work and just sitting out on the verandah talking made the thought of television boring. There was plenty of running water down at the river.

It was sad to think that this might be the last summer he’d be able to bring his grandfather out here. Art had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease three years ago and began taking medication to combat it. Rick and his brother, Ron, had been told that the disease was diagnosed in stages, mild, moderate, and severe and that Art was in the mild stage.

But the disease was slowly getting worse. Before they’d come to the claim his grandfather underwent an MRI and some neurological tests. The doctor said there was a noticeable shrinkage in his brain and a change in his memory and cognitive abilities. During his research into the disease Rick discovered that in some cases the disease was hereditary. Art’s older sister had Alzheimer’s Disease and had been living in the manor for the past ten years.

Rick and his brother noticed some changes in their grandfather’s memory in the years before the diagnosis but his social and reasoning skills were still working well so they hadn’t said anything about it. But the day had finally come when they couldn’t that even though their grandfather could still play cards, he had the same conversation over and over again and he was forgetting a lot of things, like where his keys were.

The doctors told them the worst part of the disease was that no one knew what section of the brain would be affected next and how much. Rick wished many times he had paid more attention to the symptoms in his great aunt when she was first diagnosed. It might make life easier on both he and his grandfather.

Today had been a good day but yesterday his grandfather sat most of the day staring at the trees and living in his teenaged life again. Last week he’d had two days in which he’d ranted and raved and thrown tools and pieces of equipment. Who knew what his mental state would be tomorrow. Last year, Rick and his brother had moved their grandfather into the manor to better look after him. This spring he had talked about coming out to the claim and Rick hadn’t had the heart to refuse him.

And when the time came that his grandfather would not be able to come out here, he wasn’t sure what he himself would do. One of the joys of being here was having someone to share it with. In spite of his show of resistance to the idea with his grandfather, he had had passing thoughts about a family of his own. He would love to sit down at the river with his wife and enjoy the delight in finding gold in the bottom of a pan. He would like to teach his children the dying art of gold panning.


 

 

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