Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Part 59

"They're bad?" I asked after the two older men had left and Jamie had faded into the trees promising to bring me a rabbit or something similar for dinner.

From the man sitting on the tree stump came the words, "As I spoke on before ... some of 'em are, some of 'em are just desperate to survive the same as us, most think we've got more than our fair share of women in our group and think we ought to let them come visit.  And I'm sure there are other jealousies of some type or other."

I could see how uncomfortable he was and frankly I was uncomfortable talking about it to him as well.  This wasn't Lee or the Sheriff or Sherry or anyone else; this was Mr. Svenson and he was the closest thing to a kindly grandfather figure I'd ever had in my life.  It was more than that thought.  Mr. Svenson was from a generation and a time where there were some things you just didn't discuss with the opposite sex.  He was a little more wordly having spent many years working in a fishing fleet but there was still a reserve to him that I didn't want to offend.

"Mr. Svenson ... how likely are these other people to ... to see me as ... well ... easy pickings."

He shook his head.  "It makes my heart hurt to even have to discuss this with you Child but you need to know the truth so you can gird yourself against it.  I would say most of the men and boys that find out about you will just come sniffing around wanting to try and catch your attention but they won't be violent about it.  Those you'll need to be careful not to lead on lest they start fighting amongst themselves.  The other half ... well ... a goodly portion of them will do more than sniff and might try and intimidate you into picking them but even that a smart young woman can handle with planning and a little defensive force.  But there are some that you won't be able to make take no for an answer and for those you'll need to be prepared ..."

He stopped and I finished for him.  "It's ok Mr. Svenson.  I know what I need to be prepared to do.  It's not like I haven't had to deal with it before but so far my guardian angel has always been up to the task."  The last I said to make him feel better not because I necessarily totally believed it.  Oh I believed in guardian angels.  I also believe sometimes they step back and let you learn a lesson the hard way.

He was silent a moment and then decided that the subject was best put away.  Then he turned and asked, "Now were you telling a story about learning how to hunt?"

"No sir.  The young man I told you of ... the ... the one that ..."

"Uh hmm?"

With one sound he gave me a way to go on and I was grateful.  "Anyway, he taught me.  I just need to practice it more.  I'm only hit or miss when it comes to the best place to put the traps and snares.  I've got a book I mean to read with some pointers but I also need to get out and look around to see the ... the ... er ... the lay of the land."

He nodded.  "Yes you do.  But just to be safe, take this right quick before any of the boys see."

He pushed a bag into my hand and then towards my coat.  I tucked it in the inside pocket quickly and told him, "Mr. Svenson, you're gonna get in trouble ..."  I said it in the same way I used to tell him when he was giving me candy before meals knowing Mom would have flipped a switch.  Usually they were just lemon drops or fire balls and the memory made me want that taste pretty bad.

Smiling at his own memories Mr. Svenson said, "Humph.  I do my own bit of hunting and smoking to add to Ava's pantry so I can do as I please with it.  We had an abundance of trout this year with the visitors around here being so few and far between.  Also put in a bit of maple candy from Ava.  She remembered how partial you were to it."

I tried very hard not to tear up.  I didn't want to feel anything and he was making me feel.  Mr. Svenson patted my shoulder as if he understood and asked his next question.  "What about skinning?  You know what to do with them?"

"Wellllll ... I know how to do the skinning part but ... but he never said anything about saving the fur for anything.  I saw in a book it can be done.  And I remember you used to have these frames tacked to the outside of the mule shed with rabbit and squirrel furs on them. But ... er ... it said in the book I ... uh ... needed brains to tan them with.  I'm not too sure of the process."

Mr. Svenson tried not to smile at my slightly green tinge and told me, "Well ... if you've a mind to learn I've a mind to teach ya.  The girls usually leave that sort of thing to the men ... or the boys we're bringing along ... but with you being on your own ... as they say 'waste not want not.'"

And with that the three other men brought several armfuls of smallwood and deposited it in the lean to, declaring the creek fit to draw from, and Jamie handing me a large hare that he said had practically run into them when they picked up a pile of brush and he'd only had to grab him by the ears.  Mr. Owen said, "Dad, we best be getting back.  Might be some that miss us."

I bit my lip to keep from blurting out what I'd told Mr. Svenson earlier.  He must have sensed it and patted my shoulder.  "Well, I suppose it is as good a time as any.  And we need to speak on something on the way."  He turned to me and with a stern look said, "You be sensible with your wandering.  We need to work us some signals that tells me when and the direction you took in case I come and you're not about."

I nodded and an unwilling warm spark meandered through my chest.  It had been a while since someone cared enough to want to know where I was so they wouldn't worry.  The three older men started to walk but Jamie held back a moment and then asked me, "Do you have a gun?"

I looked at him ferociously and said, "None of your business."

"Kinda is.  I'll come with Uncle Joseph when I can though the work rosters most likely won't always allow it.  But if you have one you need to keep it with you.  Uncle ... look ... he just ain't as young as he thinks he is."  At my concerned look he added, "Today is a good day.  But who knows about tomorrow.  He had what Aunt Paulette thinks was a small stroke last spring.  He's come back a lot better than anyone expected at the time but ... no one wants to see him go down again.  Got it?"

Irritated told him, "Got it.  I'm supposed to protect him but let him think he is protecting me.  Is that it?"

Jamie looked perturbed at my sudden anger and said, "Close enough."  He glanced around and then hunched his shoulders.  "This sucks mightily.  You're Todd's little sister.  You shouldn't be out here like this."

Cutting him some slack so he would just go away and let me think I told him, "Well he's not here.  In case you're wondering ..."

"No," he said quickly.  "I heard what you told Uncle Joseph."

I nodded.  "Well, I've been in tighter spots than this and a lot worse off.  This is the first real place I've had to live in since Z-Day.  At least here I can build something and can stop running for a while."

"For a while?  You don't mean to stay?"

I shrugged, "Who the heck knows what is coming tomorrow?  For now I want to stay but
what I want and what gets handed to me ... they just might not be the same thing."

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