Well of Bones

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Chapter 23

“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”

Author Unknown

“Very gently let go,” Brom said with a hand on Jake’s shoulder as he crouched delicately over a snare he was trying to set.

Jake’s fingers slowly released the twine loop. The hooked twig they had driven into the ground held the bottom of the loop and two held the loop open on either side. Then the soft earth released the twig at the bottom and the whole snare flipped upward, sprung by a bent pine sapling. Jake sat roughly on his haunches in frustration.

“It’s alright,” Brom encouraged. “We may need a small rock to help the stake stay down.” He looked around for a stone that would work. Brom was pudgy as a child. His parents could not offer much, but his family never went hungry. Brom’s father saw to that, even if it meant bartering labor for a sack of potatoes, some carrots or even a pie on occasion. Whenever he could, the old man went hunting for rabbit, squirrel or deer. Brom learned all he knew about trapping and hunting from his father and older brother.

“Put more earth on your fingers.”

Scooping up some dark dirt and mulched forest floor, Jake rubbed it in his palms and into his fingers, covering the human scent they carried. Brom found a good rock and they both hunched forward to try again. Brom drove the hooked twig into the ground with the stone. They pulled together, bending the young tree over again by the looped twine. Jake placed the bottom of the loop in the hook and Brom carefully spread the sides with the other two twigs. Still holding tight, Jake looked at Brom for a silent confirmation. Brom let out a long exhale and hovered the rock over the bottom twig. Slowly, he lowered it until it rested on top of the twig.

“Let go,” Brom said.

Jake retracted his hands leaving it all to Brom. Brom let out another whistling exhale as he peeled his fingers off one by one. When the stone was free and the snare was stable, they stood up and Jake breathed easily for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.

“You see?” Brom said. “That’s how it’s done. We’ll come back tomorrow and see if we snagged anything.”

Brom cupped a hand over his eyes and looked to the sun through bare treetops. It had begun its dip to the west which happened quickly at this time of the year.

“It’ll be dark soon,” Jake said. “Best head back or I’ll get it again from my father.”

“Won’t happen,” Brom said. “We can be back before sundown.”

The two retrieved the rusty muskets they had leaned against a nearby tree and walked as quietly as they could up the hill. Brom led. They were just as careful on the walk out of the woods as the walk in. They did not want to spook the animals that might walk into the traps they had set and if they happened upon a deer, they wanted the opportunity to shoot it before it ran off.

Jake’s ears were trained to the forest, hoping to pick up the crunching of leaves. What he heard instead, or what he thought he heard, were voices. He turned his head and tried to listen even harder. There they were again. A man’s voice. And another.

Brom dropped to his belly and pulled Jake down beside him. They lay still for several long moments, waiting. Two men walked along the streambed below them toward a deadfall Brom had set up earlier. They were the sheriff’s men. Jake could tell by the silver crest they wore on their three-cornered hats and the red braided cord that was looped under their left arm. The men tramped loudly through the streambed until they stopped at the trap.

“Yeah, see here,” the lead deputy said pointing to the deadfall. “Poachers no doubt.”

“Poachin’ rabbits,” the second scoffed.

“Poachin’s poachin’. That’s the law.”

“You fink they’re still in ’ere?”

“If they are, we’ll have a word or two,” the first said as he scanned his surroundings. The deputies moved on past the boys and they waited several minutes after they couldn’t hear them anymore. Then they stood up and gave a brief look to each other that summed up the close encounter. They continued out of the woods much quicker than before.

Once they reached the forest’s edge, the village sprawled out below. Smoke rose out of each chimney and they could smell the aroma of food rising with it. Brom slapped Jake’s chest and took off running down the hill. Jake gave chase, whooping with a wide grin on his face and the musket slung over his shoulder. As they entered the village, Brom nearly ran a young boy down as he played ball in the road. He arched his body all the way to the left and swung his arms high to keep his balance, narrowly missing the child.

The young boy’s mother called angrily after Brom, and Jake gave a quick apology as he passed. Within moments Jake flew past Brom. Being a slender boy, Jake was always the faster of the two. This was why Brom would always take a head start when he could.

Entering the Grute family’s yard, Jake slowed to a stop. Brom arrived shortly thereafter. The boys were breathing heavily with flushed cheeks as Jake unslung the musket and gave it to Brom.

“Did you go easy on him this time, Jake?” Brom’s father asked from the doorway.

“The weasel took off without so much as a ‘ready’, Mister Grute,” Jake said with a punch to Brom’s arm.

“Sounds like you should just always be ready, then,” Brom retorted.

Brom’s father laughed, bouncing his barrel chest.

“Will you be joining us for supper, Jake?” Brom’s mother asked unseen from within the house.

“No, thank you, Missus Grute,” Jake called inside. “I must be getting home to avoid my father’s wrath.”

“One must always seek to avoid one’s father’s wrath,” Brom’s father teased as he welcomed his boy inside.

“You are very wise,” Jake said with a wide grin. Then he waved goodbye to Brom and began a slow jog home.

“Tomorrow,” Brom called after him. Jake answered only with another wave over his shoulder.

#

Jake’s family home was much larger. The local children called it a mansion, but Jake had seen much larger houses elsewhere when he accompanied his father in his business travels. Normally, a father would not take his son along unless the goal was to teach him the ways of the business. He negotiated the purchase of goods from importers and turned around and sold those goods to merchants who would, in turn, sell them to people who would buy them. As an eight-year-old boy, Jake didn’t understand the need for such people.

In his mind, the go-between service Jake’s father provided was unnecessary. Why would the importers not sell directly to the merchants? Anyway, the business seemed to be going well. Jake had never known poverty.

Jake bounced up the steps to the side door and entered the kitchen. The cooks were too busy preparing the evening meal to notice him but David, his father’s very large, very black manservant did. David filled the whole doorway leading from the kitchen to the dining room. Though the servant had always been kind to Jake, he still frightened the boy which was completely accredited to the man’s size.

David moved forward quickly as he grasped Jake’s hand, inspecting the dirt under his fingernails. His eyes sharpened and he dropped Jake’s hand.

“You cannot be poachin’, boy,” he said in a hushed tone. “Remember what happened the last time? How angry your father was?”

The large man looked around the kitchen and saw the cooks just beginning to take notice of the two.

“Go and wash,” he said. “Quickly, before your father notices.”

“Before I notice what?” Jake’s father said as he darkened the same doorway David had a moment earlier.

“The boy’s hands are dirty, Master Zimmar,” David said with a bow. “I told him to go wash up before supper.”

Jake’s father said nothing as he briskly walked to his son and roughly grasped his hands. He inspected Jake’s fingers as David had and his expression grew sharp and deliberate. He dropped Jake’s hands and turned to the cooks.

“Clear Jake’s place at the table. He will not be dining with us this evening.”

“Sir, if—” David’s plea was cut short by a whipping backhand from Jake’s father. David bowed his head and stepped aside.

“I will not be told by a servant how to raise my son. You knew why his hands are dirty and you felt the need to lie to me, the master of this house.”

David remained silent. A speck of blood hit the floor at David’s feet.

“Am I not the master of this house?”

David nodded, keeping his eyes down.

Jake’s father looked directly at his son and said only, “Woodshed.”

Turning slowly, Jake exited the way he came and walked out into the yard. He fought the urge to look back at David for fear of making things worse for him. He wouldn’t want his father to get his whip. On into dusk he walked to wait in the woodshed once more. The air seemed much colder now and the mist, much wetter. He approached the shed and a chill shook his body. The fine hairs on his arms stood erect as the dim building drew closer. He opened the door that squeaked on rusty hinges and stepped into the dark. There he waited again for the sting of his father’s belt.

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