Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and seven.
Tonight we present, The Settler: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Asunder.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself in conversation with a man of many complaints.
Flash Pulp 207 – The Settler: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1
Blackhall had spent the evening warming a mug of beer between his hands, and covertly intruding upon the conversation of the braying crowd that filled the Bucking Pony’s ground floor. Some were regulars, some were passers-by who’d entered to escape the rain, but most had found the keeper’s whiskey both cheap and delicious.
Although he’d sought some telling of strange occurrences which might once again put him on the path to his beloved Mairi, mundane stories were all he encountered.
It was the delivery of a particularly boisterous young man to which his ear continuously returned. The lad, seated with three companions, had lamented, loudly, on the topic of his ill fortune, and, to Thomas’ eye, his friends seemed to be growing weary of his keening – as too were many others who shared the room, and wished only a reasonable din.
Standing, Blackhall moved to the last of the seats adjoining their squared table-top, and nodded his introduction to the group of strangers. With a wave to the barman, he indicated a further round of drink, while himself abstaining in light of his still half-full stein.
“I could not help but overhear your concerns,” said Blackhall to the sorrowful man, “and it sounds as if your father drives you sorely. What name do you go by?”
“Amon – Amon Herstad, and you sir?”
“Call me Thomas. Well, Amon, is my understanding correct that you feel your Pa works you too hard, without consideration of compensation?”
“Yes sir, that is correct. Do you propose some solution?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. You are the eldest – and these are your brothers?” asked Blackhall, appraising the cluster of similarly slack-jawed and tangle-haired individuals which tolerated the cacophonous malcontent.
“Yes, sir,” again replied the oldest Herstad.
Thomas lifted his hops, wetting his throat.
“Your situation puts me in mind of a tale I was told as true, not long after my first extended stay in the colony’s closest approximation of civilization. I heard it from a gaily dressed lady of fine taste, who swore to its veracity.”
The silent trio rolled their eyes, and young Amon seemed piqued by the mention of a topic not pertaining directly to his own misery, but the frontiersman found a comfortable posture and pressed on.
“There was a boy of eighteen – some years younger than yourself, I might say – who wished the hand of a tailor’s daughter. While the maiden in question reddened at the mention of the lad, and though her lips could not help but smile at his name, the tailor himself was less than enthused about the bond, and quashed it at every chance. The clothes-maker had also once sewn crops, and while his occupation did nothing to stymy his growing belly, his arms remained thick with childhood exercise. As such, his disposition was quite imposing, and brooked little argument, especially from one so willowy as the country courter.”
“When the youth approached to breach the subject with his intended father-in-law, with scowling face, and bulging physique, the man replied, ‘What do you have to offer? You’re a farmer without land.’
“It was reality that the suitor had been raised on his parent’s stead, and they’d had some success there, in no small part due to the swain’s exertion, although he had no claim to it. Returning from town, he did not mourn his defeat, but instead pulled together what coin and chattel he had secured, and invested wisely in a neighbour’s beef efforts. His days were long, as they were split between responsibilities to his parents, and tending his own cattle speculations, but after much wheat was harvested, and many cows butchered, the boy found himself with enough for a parcel of his own. It was a hoary bit of earth, but he knew he could tame it if only he might have his bride next to him.”
Blackhall could see, by the postures of the gathered, that the hook had been set, and so he removed the Spanish papers he carried at all times, and began to stuff one with Virginian tobacco.
“Again he returned to the tailor, this time with his freshly inked deed in hand. ‘You have bettered your circumstances, perhaps,’ replied the patriarch, with an unsubtle display of his muscled constitution, ‘but you surely can not propose to live in such a wildwood?’
“With the tears of his beloved audible from the adjoining room, the boy nodded and left.”
Thomas paused to light his cigarette from the guttering lamp at the table’s center, then continued.
“From there, the twice-rebutted beau journeyed to his lot, stopping solely to purchase a fresh axe head, and three stout handles. Having completed his seasonal duties, the prospective husband put wedge to timber, and, despite winter’s harsh approach, cleared his acreage before the snows. Though his limbs ached at the effort, spring found a fresh glade, wide enough to sow, where once a forest had prevailed – and, at the midpoint of said meadow, stood a large abode crafted from a portion of the collected lumber.
“Better yet, after keeping back what he would require to fuel his stove, the industrious homesteader made profit on the rest of the wood by way of local trade, and turned his earnings into a plow, oxen, and a yield’s worth of seed.
“Thus supported, he returned to wait a third and final time in the outfitter’s parlour. There was a delay, and the hopeful lad could hear his intended arguing strenuously in his favour. The debate ended in a flat slap. There was a heavy tread in the hall,and the broad tailor entered to say simply, ‘leave.’
“No longer content, however, was the youth who’d endured so much affliction – neither was he the same lanky adolescent who had come pleading so many months previous. The patient bachelor had taken on respectable brawn during his efforts, which, when combined with his outrage at his darling’s maltreatment, was enough that the threat of conflict ceased to be a concern. With a single motion, he sprung from his place of waiting, and laid low the handsy clothier. The daughter was quick to follow him from the house.”
As was the custom of the place, Thomas dropped the remains of his vice amongst the sudsy dregs of his draft.
“It was the farmer’s single life-long act of violence, or so I was told by his wife.”
Blackhall smiled to note that it was not only his small knot of listeners who had taken in the account, as the general clamor of the room seemed to rise again at its completion.
“So, then,” said Amon, his face grimacing, “your advice is that I strain so hard I impress my taskmaster into submission? Or is it that I wallop my father?”
“No, you misunderstand,” said Thomas, “in this tale you are the lout tailor. Provided with the entirety of what you might demand, you move beyond what is rational and require the ridiculous. As the eldest, your familial plot will one day be your own – still, given the totality of what you could need, you will lose everything for not receiving all you could want. Yes, perhaps it is rough work, but your whine is that of the spoiled child, unwilling to straighten his silk-laden bed as those nearby slumber in the mud.”
That got a chuckle out of the quiet triad, which, to Blackhall’s thinking, was reward enough for his recital.
He rose from his chair.
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