Chapter 7 - Reflections of the Past
I left home at fourteen but not really through any choice of my own. My oldest brother would be the one to inherit the farm and besides I'd never enjoyed the endless toil and backbreaking labour. I knew I'd have to go at some point, but as it turned out events forced my hand.
Before heading west, we'd originally grown up in New York City, but after my father was killed in a fight over a card game, my mother hooked up with another man and he moved us lock, stock and barrel out into the wilds. I'd always craved excitement and adventure but, unfortunately, it came to find me rather than the other way round.
Our move out west brought us hardship, poverty and near starvation many times over the coming years. The house my step-father constructed was tacked somewhat haphazardly onto the end of a small cluster of dwellings that some might call a hamlet, but there was certainly no love lost between the neighbours as everyone fought to scrape a meagre living from the poor soil of the various smallholdings that huddled together in desperate poverty.
The only time there was ever any community spirit was when the whole hamlet was threatened by desperadoes, a rogue bear or the natives. Then, everyone would pile out into the street, armed and ready for action.
There was always trouble of some sort whispering along in the shadows. My brother, in particular, was always stirring things up, stealing things and beating on some of the younger kids. This came to a head one day when the father of some young lad came calling to whip some sense into him; this also began my own descent into a life on the road.
My step-father was out when the boy's father came round, and when my mother stepped in to try and stop him knocking some sense into my brother, he lost his temper and hit her. I'd always been brought up with the idea that hitting women was wrong and of course when it's your own mother you tend to react differently too.
I hit him. Hard.
And in the fight that had followed, I killed him, slipping his own knife between his ribs and up into his heart.
Thankfully I'd saved my mother from further harm, but obviously couldn't stay at home, and so with the law hot on my heels, I'd stolen the man's horse, taken my few meagre possessions, a small amount of money and left my home, excitement pumping my heart as I'd ridden west to a new life.
Apart from my mother, I'd never really cared much for my family, my step-father had been a mean spirited man who'd looked on us only as a means to provide labour rather than anything else, and my brother was very much his step-father's son despite not being his by blood. So, in many ways, it was an easy choice although it was made for me a few years earlier than perhaps I would've liked.
I rode for several days until I came to a small settlement, sleeping under the stars and living on what I'd managed to take with me. My years as a farm labourer had left me fit and strong and I quickly found work as a logger, selling my horse to a man leaving the camp just after I arrived. It was a hard life, but I enjoyed the work and the company of men and their tales of adventure around the nightly campfire. After a few weeks, the logging company headed further west and then my adventure truly began.
The far west really was untamed back then and we had to contend with wild lands, wild beasts and wild people, both in the form of the natives and the loggers themselves who were often quick to temper and violent. The law was scarce and disputes were often settled by fists or in the worst cases by knife or gun.
I killed my second man barely a few months after I left home.
A simple dispute over a spilt mug of coffee had escalated and after a brief flurry of punches I'd downed him. His head hit a rock and he was no more. The camp boss ruled that I'd been in the right and I got the man's possessions as compensation. There was no real law in many areas and often the local gang foreman or landowner was forced to act as judge, jury, and in the worst cases, executioner.
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