If Beggars Were Horses part 4 (finale)

I had to drag Henry into the Black Forge. Irish Mike looks like something from a Moral Temperance League play–his lean, heavily lined face with the mangy little black beard he tries to grow looks like he got cast to play Satan or a top boss devil at least.

He sighed and looked at me, then Henry his eyes wise to what I wanted before he even blinked. “Sammy, the Gandys are as full a superstitious lot as what ever’s stepped off a boat.” He leaned back against the bar rail, his eyes sad, his mouth softly pulling to one side.
“Yeah, so they is.” I pulled Henry forward. “Henry here’s no bad luck charm. I ain’t never seen nuthin like that on him and I knows him. Baptize him in the middle of the main street if’n you gots to. He’s smart about life here.”

Irish Mike stepped forward, studying Henry hard. “There’s something on him you know.” He bent his great hawk nose down over him, sniffed hard. “Boy, you got magic on you for sure I’d say.”

“I got some. I live many mage in bunkhouse.” Henry did his little spark trick. “Maybe I catch they magic.” Irish Mike studied him, his eyes not quite approving, but not rejecting Henry.

Finally, Irish Mike leaned back and gave me a sour look. “Tis naught but borrowin’ trouble, but I’ve no heart to watch even a foreign child starve.” He crossed huge, muscle-roped arms over his barrel chest. “Ye sleep under the bar, clean everything what needs to be cleaned, eat in the kitchen, but not too much, and try yer damn best to stay out of the men’s way.”

Henry solemnly nodded, snatched up a bar cloth and dashed to the end of a bar where a singing drunk was merrily sloshing his beer around him as he waved his stein in time to a cancan girl’s chorus.

Irish Mike turned a dyspeptic eye at me. “Sammy, I’ll do what I can, but ye know this may not go. Some of the Irish and Germans…they hate the Chinee for being brought here, and for all that they go on about the superstitions of heathens, they’n be twice as bad.” He patted me roughly on the shoulder with one of his huge, hairy, big-knuckled paws. “While he’s here, I can’t offer to let you kip under the bar. I can’t be running an orphanage under the beer taps.”

I felt my lips pull into a feeble grin. “Saint Mike’s of the Beer Tap.”

He snorted and shoved me out. “On wit’ ye. What comes does.”

 

I didn’t see Henry much as the days got shorter and colder, but then Pa was really acting up. His latest scheme of “win money in bars of soap” had blown up even worse than usual and miners who’d caught on that nobody ever won big from Pa had begun the usual round of banging down the door to shout their money back into their hands. From there he’d gone to the local gambling dens to “suppliment” his wages with poker and faro games, but the dealers had all tumbled to his cheap, noisy luck spells and his card-whispering charms. He’d come home night after night bruised, bloodied, angry and plucked clean of cash. I now had to keep our shack clean, take in a bit of wash, and do my job on the rail line just to keep the landlord paid off and the grocer satisfied enough that he’d not cut off our credit.

Whenever I could, I slipped down to the back door of the Black Forge. Henry was thinner, his shirt beginning to go thread-bare. He was always running now, his bar cloth always flying or the broom always leaping into his hand. But often enough, I saw him on the hard end of a violent clout from a drunk, or diving behind the bar, a tankard or bottle flying after him. Sometimes he’d meet me at the door. Often enough, I’d tend his cuts or bruises with a cantrip and some witch hazel and we’d both stare hard into the hazy mountains surrounding town, willing our eyes not to let loose the tears we both knew lurked there.  Every day as I ran for bolts, I heard complaints of how every minor mishap in town was now directly Henry’s fault, that he’d all but become some dark, malevolent power in town, the very spawn of the devil, foe to both heathen and Christian alike.

The days continued to shorten, Da’s lies lengthened, his get rich quick schemes kept brewing, and the rails finally grew near to the far edge of town. At the same time though, a rumor began spreading that the rail camp which had boomed into a small town would soon be under orders to strike camp and be moved down to the next mountain pass.  Every man who’d built a home, every shop keeper who’d sprung for glass in their windows, and every bar man who’d put heavy customer-pleasing oaken bars in their saloons were beginning to buzz.

Pa got drunk one night and made the mistake of laughing at every man Jack who’d forgotten the transient nature of the camps…and earned himself a visit from the constable who’d just been named by the would-be town fathers. I got a fortnight off from his ways as he took a nice little siesta in the log hoosegow on the far side of the settlement. The constable kept Da locked up till the camp stopped buzzing about stringing Da up by his heels from the water tower.

By Thanksgiving, I’d mended Henry of six bad cuts, glass in his hair, bruised ribs, and a black eye.  The men who’d forgotten how boomtowns worked grew hard hands, fast tempers and superstitious streaks that brought them shame of themselves, but not their vicious actions. Mike and Missy kept Henry in the kitchen of the saloon more and more, and sometimes even the upstairs girls hid him in the sporting rooms when the hedge wizards went on benders and sparked up the bar.

By all rights, the start of snow should have ceased all work on the rails. The mountains were cruel places to build and men’s lives became easy to lose when the steep slopes were full of deep drifts.  The order to the men to shut down the operation and “winter up” never came. Some drifted off to the warmer Southern routes, but the bosses wanted the line to open, that some big goal was in the works and they were bound and determined to make it.

A cold wind tried to snatch the newspaper Henry and I bent over, bowing it out like the sail of a boat leaping over the sea. I shuddered at bit at the cold draft and Henry paused at puzzling out a word. “According to old Agatha Meyers at the dry goods, it’ll get down to freezing tonight.” We both glanced up at the pass, now dim with the creeping arrival of winter night. A wan light of lanterns were blossoming up to the notch of the pass. “There will be terrible risk of men freezing on the rails if they’re going to be crazy enough to try to finish connecting the line over the pass.” Henry tried to angle himself out of the wind.

“Foreman Ross said he’d get it done come hell or high water by tomorrow. I only hope they got the sense to quit if the winds kick up hard.” I tucked my scarf into the collar of my coat to block a breeze sneaking down my neck.

We both shuddered at the thought of building on the rails after the fall of dusk and we  turned back to trying to make out the evening paper in the dim alley lamps. I didn’t have much left to teach Henry, now he only just didn’t know some of the longer words in the paper. He taught me as much from the papers from the Chinese camp whenever he could snake one. His own people, walking on eggshells now for fear of the snows and dangers of blasting in the dangerous passes barely even tolerated the sight of Henry. His clothes were short now and a catalog of stains, rips and tears. He’d grown taller, but his round face had been carved down and pared close by short rations. But for the food Missy slipped him, he might have completely starved.

As we bent over the paper, we heard a sound building from the pass. At first, I thought it was my imagination, building on the conversation Henry and I had just had over the folly of the steep rail line, but from the notch of the pass, a round light, too bright to be the moon rose.

“That cannot be….” The paper fluttered like a dying bird from Henry’s hands.

I watched the bright light arch over the rise of the pass, and begin down. “They couldn’t bring a locomotive down at night…”

“They are showing off.” Henry shuddered. “This…is a stunt. They want to bring the locomotive down the pass at night to the last point of construction, probably to take a picture with it sitting at the end of the rail.”

“Tonight’s near freezing…there’s ice on the track for sure…” I felt some of that ice take a slide down my back.

Henry’s eyes got ghostly vague. “The Iron Horse…..is afraid.” He cocked his head as the first far-away sound of a steam engine’s whistle settled into the air like fog. “The Iron Horse loves speed, loves metal. But ice makes him lose his grip on the rails, makes him fear the track, makes him want to leap away from it to run free on clean track….”

I looked into Henry’s eyes. This was no minor spark magic. I took in a deep breath and I could smell hot iron, coal burning, and feel a not-there cold wind rush past. I laid a hand on Henry’s shoulder and felt the rumble of an engine rising from his heart. I looked up at the pass and as my hand gripped Henry, I could feel something terrified screaming for him.

“Come on Henry.” I shook him hard. “You and me got to go.”

His eyes were still foggy. “Go? Go where?” His eyes still were taking in some other world, something dazzling and strange.

“We’re going to the pass. I….I think it needs you Henry. It’s scared.” I pulled his scarf tight around him, stuffed several of what buttons he still had through their holes, then grabbed his arm and began hauling him through town. “Henry…I think it’s the Iron Horse itself that wants you.”

He stared after me and stumbled as I hauled him along the rough boardwalks. “Chinese can’t be Iron Mages. We do Fire Magic.” He tripped again. “You can’t take me up there…they’ll throw me out of the camp for trying to call myself one.”

“I think you are Henry. I think too that the locomotive’s gonna try to jump the rails and if they even have an Iron Mage on the rail tonight he’s plumb loco. The Iron Horse needs you Henry…or people are gonna die tonight.” I fixed an eye on him but didn’t break step. “You gotta stop it jumping the rail.”

“How?” He panted after me as I sped up, angling for the pass. “I don’t know anything about Iron Mageing….”

“I think you’re gonna learn.” A blast of wind slammed us and we stepped off the last boardwalk into the slush and snow of the logging road.

We could see the lights of the road crew ahead of us racing around like fireflies.  The shouts of the company man carried easily on the night air as he shouted himself hoarse.  Men with buckets of salt and ashes ran past us, heading for the top of the pass. Henry’s eyes were fixed now on the notch of the pass where the lights were gathering, his lips moving as he talked to something past my hearing.  I hauled him harder through the snow and gravel, the night wind seeming to push at my back.

I snatched up a bucket of salt too in case anyone asked where we were going, but none of the men spared a glance for us, the smell of disaster in the making was too strong.  I broke past the swarms of men, the workers in their rough winter clothes and the obvious Company mages with their fine furs and began towing Henry up the track as if I were one of the Iron Horse engines, and he my freight.  I could hear Henry’s ragged breathing match my own as I puffed and panted my way up the line. Something urgent screamed in the back of my head that time was close, close, close–we had to go faster, danger was so near.

I panted my way up the line into a circle of torches.  The rail workers were in tight gangs, throwing the grit and salt onto the tracks, trying to spell away the ice. I could hear one of the Gandy-Mages having a screaming row with a Company man. “Tis ice on the track from the pass to the camp! Ye had ter have the line come in under yer fine budget and that meant a steep line to manage it! The wind’s picking up and a storm’s setting in–the whole of the line could ice up!”

The Company man snatched at his useless little bowler hat as the wind tried to make off with it. “It’s your job and mine if the engine isn’t in camp by the morning!”

“Better we both lose ‘em than bring the Iron Horse through the pass. She’ll jump the line for sure on this line if we get any more ice!”
”The spells’ll hold!” The Company bean-counter shouted back. “We’ve got enough de-ice spells on the line to choke a horse! Now get ready or get out of the way, this is going to happen now!” The Gandy-Mage stepped back and the Company man waved his lantern over his head, giving the “All-ahead” signal.

All of the men standing around the tracks stopped their castings and salt throwing. Now the only sound was the quickening wind and the poppings and hissings of torches and lanterns. Henry and I clutched hands, our eyes fixed on the pass and the ring of firefly lights there.

From the pass, the engineer blew the whistle. A grizzled old man to our left pulled his muffler down off his whiskers. “They gonna do it. By Thunder and Jove, they’re for cert pulling this crazy stunt!” Now the sound of the far off engine reflecting off the rock walls of the pass reached our ears. Not a single foot crunched in the snow and gravel bed of the line.

The whistle shrieked again, an incantation against disaster. The chuff chuff of the engine straining up the track was louder now, the Iron Horse still straining up lines that hadn’t got the brunt of the snowy icy wind. Henry’s eyes were fog and ice in the darkness. “The engine is still on clear track.” I nodded. “That part of the pass’s blocked from the storm. It won’t hit the storm till it’s off the top of the pass.”

“It’s not afraid yet.” Henry’s hand was ice in mine. “It only sees the clear track yet.”

The sound of the whistle was triumphant as the locomotive crested the pass and came down through the protected lee of some sharp-toothed crags. The Company man whooped and waved his fists triumphantly in the air. “There! You lot see that? It’s doing just fine! She’ll be in camp in an hour men, and then we’re better than half way to Promontory Point–we’ll make it by spring for sure with bonuses for everyone all the way round…”

The angry wind slapped him full in the face, finally snatching away his ridiculous little hat as we heard the first note of danger in the whistle.  The even blasts of the anti-ice spell the engineer was blowing suddenly faltered and the Iron Horse jumped and shuddered on the line, not so much propelling itself forward as threatening to slip. As Henry’s hand tightened on mine, I suddenly saw the engine coming into a circle of torchlight.  As I looked at the twin windows and cowcatcher face of the locomotive, I felt a tingle travel up my arm from Henry’s hand and I saw the face of the engine shift. Now a monstrous, iron-gray horse galloped down the line, its eyes lantern bright, and its’ hooves wreathed with the smoke made by small fires set by the sparks they kicked up.

The Iron Horse reared and plunged. It smelt danger on the line. The Line was too steep, too cold. Ice beckoned and it flung itself backwards, starting to overbalance in its’ fear of the dark, slick line.

“She’s going over! She’s gonna runaway!” Someone screamed from my right side. The men gathered around us began to break, trying to run from the presumed path the engine would take as it plunged down the pass. The track bed became a storm of confusion. Men ran everywhere, lanterns and torches plunging, crazy light flashing and illuminating this then that like lightning.

Henry stepped forwards and his hand slid from mine. He gazed up at the panicked Iron Horse plunging down the line, the sound of panic and overstressed brakes or hooves screaming into the night. He drew a deep breath, then plunged forwards, snatching a lantern from a bundled up fireman.

As Henry began to run up the mountainside, I saw a haze gather round him as if a crazed fog was boiling round his thin body. The haze brightened, and I saw him lunge forward, gaining speed….and beginning to run over the snow that would have blocked his path.  He swept towards the panicked Iron Horse like a comet, the fire streaming from the lantern.

The Iron Horse screamed again. I couldn’t see it as clear now as Henry’s magic began seeping from me. It swung from locomotive to horse and back again, mostly wreathed in driving snow from the gathering storm and boiling ice from the rails under it.  I plunged after Henry, at a loss what to do, but desperate to help somehow.

I could see the comet that was him race up the line–was he flying or just amazingly fast now? The rails were roaring with the force of the brakes, screaming and rumbling as the Iron Horse panicked and fought the inevitable runaway plunge.

I saw the comet-Henry reach the Iron Horse and fling the lantern high into the air. The small steel-and-iron lantern tumbled into the air and burst into a tiny sun, lighting up the whole pass. I panted and ran, desperate to reach him, to help him.

He held up his hands, shouting something out to the plunging Iron Horse. Through the snow and devil-wind fog the Iron Horse plunged one more time…then turned its’ colossal head towards him. He shouted again, and I could hear his voice echoing down the pass. He was shouting in no mortal language, but I was steeped in rail and line, iron and bolt for so many years that I could feel the knowledge of what he shouted to the engine pass into me. “You are all right, the Line is clear. Trust me, trust me, I know the Line, the Way is clear.” He sang, his voice like a hammer on an anvil.

I gulped the cold air of the pass too now…and felt a tang in it, a memory of wind on the ocean. “Help me, speed me on!” I called to the cold air. The night wind sang back to me. “Lost child, lost child, I hear you, I speed you on.” Air like iron bands slammed round my ribs…my feet lost their grip on the pass, and I was dragged up the Line like a leaf on the pass till I was a hammer’s throw from Henry and the Iron Horse whose lantern eyes lit him up bright as day.

I could hear Henry clearly now. “Follow me, listen to my voice. Be calm, be calm. I am here. No harm will come to you, I will keep you from all harm. Your brakes are strong, you are mighty. Your engine burns like a star, and I am here.”

The Iron Horse’s whistle screamed and it was joy. “My mage is here. My mage is here!” It slammed huge hooves on the line, dancing and clattering on the rails. “Master, the Line is cold and steep! Help me! Help me!”

Henry took a deep breath, and I could see the fury of the wind try to push him over, try to throw him down. “NO!” I screamed at the wind. “You let him BE! Don’t touch him!” I looked out at the furious whipping snow and wind….and before I could think, I reached out and grabbed like I was snatching the tail of a furious cat. I grabbed and held on, my fingers digging into it, shifting my grip till I was holding the wind by the scruff of it’s neck, not hurting it, but holding it like a mama cat holding her kitten. “Be still, be still.” I sang to it in turn. “Play later, scream all night, race all around and up and down the pass as is your right later…but lay down now, rest and be still.

The wind screaming around us, whipping the men and blinding us all with snow…knelt upon the snow and fell still.

Henry blazed in the light of the Iron Horse and his tiny lantern star. He strode onto the rail and grabbed one. Up and down the Line, I could see Gandy-Dance and Hedge mages raise their heads, grab their tools and step into place up and down the rail bed. Henry called out, once…twice…thrice…and lifted the rail.

Up and down the Line, the rails rose into the air. The railway workers and mages guiding it gently with their picks and tools. The Gandy-Dance mages began to chant, stepping in time and began a work dance. The gravel beds rose too and began twining up the mountainside like a snake slithering into the most comfortable position. Bit by bit, the whole track gently rose, every bolt, every spike rising into the air, the iron singing happily. I could see Henry’s face lit like a star, grinning ear to ear as the over steep path righted, the crafting song rang true, and the railway found its track down the mountainside like a river of light and iron. The men sang with Henry, their tune joyous and loud as they righted the work they’d done, as magic gave them the strength of titans. I held the wind and petted it like a kitten. It forgot about lashing and pouncing on the men as I cuddled it to my chest and rubbed it through my hands, scratching and petting it, praising it as it nuzzled and tickled me.

The Iron Horse let out a whistle whoop of glory and stepped onto the path. “Good iron, safe and true!”

“Good iron safe and true!” sang Henry and the rail men. “True and strong is the Line!”

“Safe, safe, safe is the Line!” the Iron Horse sang and began to gently wend down the now curving path down the mountainside. “I am safe upon the Line! Praise be to the Mage of My Line!”

The lines of men chorused back to the Iron Horse. “Praise be to the Iron Mage! Praise be to the Line, strong and true! Hold true, hold true as the Path of the Line and bless us, the Hands of the Line, makers of the way!”

The Iron Horse sang, the note of its passing regular and true, its whistle marking the descent down the pass, invoking the protection of the spells laid down in every tie and rail, strengthening and recognizing every element of the Line.

The rail camp was a blaze of light with every man, woman, child and odd spirit dancing and screaming with joy as the Iron Horse shivered one more time, rolling up to the edge of the town as a massive twin-window, snowplow-fronted locomotive.

The men poured like a river into town and Henry was the crest of the wave. That wave struck town, Henry riding high on the shoulders of the railway men.  The Chinese stepped out of their bunkhouse, were caught up by the dancing men and found themselves carried or pulled alongside Henry’s wave, whiskey bottles leaping into their hands.

I let go the wind with one last pat and it squealed up the pass to shoot through the craggy rocks and race the stars.

It wasn’t so much that the camp threw Henry a grand party as the party just busted out of every nook and cranny of it. It broke out of every piano in every hurdy-gurdy bar, got stomped out by the heels of the dance hall girls and broke forth from every rail man’s whoop of joy. Every door was thrown wide, every bottle popped open, and every soul and spirit in town danced as the Angel of Death said “Aw shucks. Gimmie a drink!” then passed us by.

As the first light of dawn slipped down the pass and lit up the camp, I finally found Henry. He was hiccupping a little, swinging his heels as he sat on the high edge of the snow plow and munched on a dill pickle someone tossed him.

I yanked his foot a little. “Hey you up there!” Henry reached down to me, pulling me up onto the cooling locomotive. “Hey to you too!” We looked at each other, and at the party that was now sinking into its last stages.
I grinned at Henry. “An Iron Mage. As the good Lord is my witness, I’m in the company of a real true Iron Mage.” I doffed my cap and mimed a bow at him. “One of the few Greats of the Line.”

“Few and far between, mighty as the Iron of the Line!” Henry sang, his eyes lit up bright. He grinned at a Chinese mage doing a somewhat drunken waltz with one of the dance hall girls. “No more bad luck, no more being the pariah of the Line.”

I gave the mage a little stink-eye and he stumbled in his waltz slightly. “They weren’t good to you Henry. You could really give them grief for what they did to you….”

He cut me off with a quick motion. “No. They’re still my people.”

“Ain’t the other Iron Mages your people now?”

Henry shrugged and took a bite from his pickle. “I got two people now. Same as having a mother and father.” He considered the revelers in camp. “Sometimes…people get scared Sammy, sometimes family does not do right by you. They are still family, and they still love you. I still love them. No good will come of me holding onto pain and sorrow.” He smiled, sadly. “Being Chinese on the Line isn’t easy. May never be easy.” He grinned at me. “But now, like I said, I am big man.” He offered me the pickle. “I think that means that I get to help make things better, build a better world for everyone. Doesn’t your Bible say something about forgiving trespasses and all that?”

I took the pickle and bit off a good chunk. The taste of a good German dill filled my mouth and puckered my lips. “I thought you got baptized and the whole lot to show you were no bad-luck token and all that.”

He shrugged again. “They weren’t specific about which church. They said Christian, I didn’t ask questions. Too scared they’d run me out of town.” We roared with laughter, maybe with a bit too much whiskey, and I hugged him hard.

Henry hugged me back. “I’ll miss you Sammy.”

“Miss me?” I pulled back to look at him. “I’m not going….”

The wind whipped up around me and Henry grinned, waving a hand vaguely at it. “You have magic too, pretty big at that. I think…it woke up to save me.”

“But that doesn’t mean…”

Henry looked at me sadly. “Yes, it does mean I going….I’m going to miss you.” He drew a deep breath in. “I smell the ocean on you now.” He nodded back at camp. “Your baba…your father no going…isn’t going to stand for you not having iron magic.”

I tasted the wind, crooked a finger and felt the breeze leap into my lap and bump against my hand for a quick stroke. “Wind and sea.”

Henry squeezed my hand. “No sea here. You go before your father he not…before your father isn’t drunk anymore.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but shook my head and bit back my reply. “No….we’re talking about my father. There’s a roaring party going on, so of course he’s drunk.”

Henry leaped down from the engine. “I can ask one of the railroad company men to give you a ride to town and from there you can get the stagecoach line to the sea.”

“Hah, you must be a big man already, ordering the Company men around already!”

Henry winked at me. “I’m an Iron Mage, even if I’m a new one.” He looked down at his battered boots as if they’d offended him. “I wish you could ride the Iron Horse straight to the sea.”

“Someday when the Line’s done I will.” I looked at the raw camp as the rising sun chased the shadows out. “Won’t even be too long likely till you can visit me, wherever I find the sea.”

Henry hugged me. “Then I see you when the rails reach the sea.” He smiled, raised a hand in farewell, hesitated a moment. “Goodbye….Samantha.” I gaped at him as he trotted towards the bars but laughed. Henry was just Henry, and always a damn bright spark.

I slid down too and ran to the shack I shared with Da. I bundled the few bits of anything I had with any worth into a sack. As I was about to turn and go, a stray bit of light lit up Ma’s chest. I thought long and hard a moment or two, then changed into Ma’s Sunday dress and stuffed the rest of her clothes into my bag. I didn’t even have to belt the dress up much anymore as Ma’d been tiny.

A sunbeam danced across the last seashells on the high shelf and on impulse I snatched them up, bundling them up with my few things. As I did so, I felt the tickle of paper in the mouth of one of them. Pulling it out, I found a few bills and a scrawled address in Oregon.

“Bless you Ma.” I turned to go.

“So, you’re gonna just high tail it outtah here. Thought you’d wanna stay round here since your little Chinee friend’s gonna be so high and mighty.” I whipped round to find Da slumped against the door.

I looked at him hard in the rising light. “I was hoping to avoid you as I went, but yeah Da, I’m going. I wasn’t meant to stay round here, was never meant to work the rails and you’ve always known it.”
Da lurched into the room, dropping his bottle of whiskey as he came. “Now look hit here ye useless thing, ya done made me drop mah bottle.” He curled his lip at me. “You never been a use to me, you just’r a wurth’lss burden ta me an’ ye always will.”

“You could have sent me to Ma’s folk and you know it.” I raised myself up high, looking Da straight in the eye. “You’ve kept me round to cook, clean and earn money for you, not to be a daughter to you.” I took a step forward. Da looked into my eyes…and stepped back, falling over his bottle of whiskey.

“I’m done with you Da. I’m done with you and your cheap schemes, your drinking, how you treated me and Ma.” He scuttled back from me, from the sudden wind rising in the drafty shack. I shook my head at him. “I won’t touch you Da, ye’re not worth it to me.” I shouldered my bag and stepped round of him, stepped free of the dilapidated shack. “I’m off to find Ma’s people now, like I should have a long time ago.”

I turned and stepped over the threshold. “They’ll no want ya!” Da yelled at me, drink slurring his voice as he tried to scrabble to his feet and failed. He’d always been an ogre, a terrible hurricane of a man I’d never hoped to defeat, but now he lay on the floor, done in without a blow from me.

“If they don’t Da, then I’ll find some place to be. I’m free of you now and you won’t see me no more.” I studied him. “If you’re wise Da, you’ll be leaving camp soon too Da. I don’t think the men’ll welcome your schemes and shoddy sales much more.”

“You don’ know nuthin. Six months an’ I’ll run this camp without you dragging me down no more!” He gestured grandly at me from the dirty floor. “Farewell ungrateful child, for I shall see you no more.” He harrumphed. “Jus’ like your fool mother…always talking about wishes…” He toppled over, face down into the spreading puddle of whiskey.

I pinched my eyes shut a moment, then turned to walk through the door. “Well, Da….today the wishes are horses, and today…this is the day this beggar’s gonna ride.”

I stepped lively as I went out the door. Henry and the man from the rail company were waiting for me.

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