1898, The Mountains of Smoke
The young man came by train, prepared to grow his pockets fat, and send back what he needed. The rest would go toward his dream, his art and his future. It wasn’t much of a dream, he supposed, but it was all he’d ever been able to see.
The lawn was complete. There had been talk, he’d heard the whispers, of the work that made it so. A groundskeeper by trade, he’d heard this chatter before. People wanted to believe that there was something more than they – that invisible power wavered in the air and made the trees come to life, the flowers impregnate with knowledge and the waters fester with unspoken truth.
He enjoyed the myth. It helped his reputation as guardian to the grounds, and he never minded elevating himself on that particular pedestal. As he stood on the ground of Isle de Fleur he couldn’t suppress the smile, and quirk of brow. He hoped the reputation preceded him, and that the ladies here were more than willing.
Surveying the land, he slipped his hands into pockets and rocked back on freshly shined heels. At 22 he felt aged, like a branch that had solidified and the wood was no longer able to bend, but hold or break. He planned to hold his own and break anyone who stood in his way.
“You the boy to make the flowers pretty up?”
He looked over to the man leaning on a cane. The lilt of the voice, the pure Irish brogue had him raking him over more than once.
“You expecting a leprechaun, laddie?”
He cleared his throat. The man was four foot tall, and his arms seemed to curl around the walking stick as though it was a limb, rather than support of one.
“Not unless they’re hoping I’ll dig gold from the ground, or create a bevy of shamrocks.”
The man’s lips winged up. “Well, now, don’t be putting thoughts in their heads, or you just might find the challenge well met. Come on, I’m Pater, and I’ll be your guide.”
The young man nodded at him, and prepared to step forward.
“Well then, you are him, correct?”
The young man stilled, and raised his brows.
“Ovid the gardner. The one to make the flowers grow tall and help the roots wrap their arms around their destiny?”
“Is that what I’m here to do?”
Pater narrowed his eyes. “Well you’re certainly not here to lose your hand up the lasses skirts, boy-o, so be clearing your mind.”
Ovid looked at him curiously. He’d spent the previous ten seconds pondering the location of the maids and the quickest way to tracking them down.
“I’ll tend to the earth, and my needs. You’re a queer little man, aren’t you?”
“Is the day long?”
Ovid shrugged, “depends on the type of work filling it.”
Pater snickered and hit him with the foot of his cane. “You’ll do, then. Come along boy-o, let’s approach the beast before we slay it. Always like to get the lay of its underbelly before I fillet it wide.”
Pater led Ovid up the grounds, past seven small reflection pools, between box cars and around a railroad track that led nowhere. The foundation of the house loomed, a massive monstrosity leveled the horizon and attempted to tower over breath itself. Babble would have been the stepping stone to this new fortress.
Ovid could feel the distrust bloom beneath his feet. The earth kept her secrets well, but an echo always whispered out. Ovid’s keen eye was drawn to the seedlings and baby spruce trees that covered the land.
“Building a forest?”
Pader nodded and moved a little faster, one leg swinging out and up, rounding quickly in front of the other. The effect had him bobbling as he bamboozled his way over the land.
“He likes things grand. Grand hall, grand staircase, grand indoor underworld. The man would rename himself opulence if his Mama’d allow it.”
Ovid tilted his head back and looked up at the tips of the trees that lined the path. There was foundation, a knowing in these warrior pines. They gave the appearance of bridled peacock feathers, pulled back tightly with only the edges poking out. Slender, like the calf of a woman, but hairy like the bushel of a beard wearing six days growth. The world was high here, with thin air and lofty ambition. The current beneath his feet tugged him toward another heartbeat, and Ovid knew this would be the last place his feet would lead him.
Pater cocked an ear back, in a gesture familiar to those who comfort themselves to dropping eaves. He snorted and slowed his pace.
“We’ll walk the foundation later. But for now, I’m to take you to the hacksaw.”
Ovid simply nodded.
“You always do what your told, do ya?” Pater questioned. “Not even after raising a brow at a name like hacksaw? Sounds like I’m to ferry you to a meat hall and you just nod.”
“Am I what?”
“Spiriting me off to hack and saw at my limbs?”
Pater bristled. “No, now do I look like the type of fellow to do so?”
Ovid smiled slowly and Pater squinted back at him.
“Well, looks can be deceiving,” Pater allowed. “What’s that the master keeps telling his Ma as they tour the ruins, “can’t judge a book by its cover.”
They continued walking past the rubble that would become a great estate and toward a small complex of buildings. Construction was a year in, and the world of the land had been sculpted. The hacksaw, as Pater had called it, was a very comfortable cluster of housing. Stated elegance. That was what Ovid had been hired for, and clearly what the master of this domain required. Ovid tried to find the stirrings of excitement that came with the challenge of a new job, but couldn’t help feel that he was in over his head, and his feet were fast sinking into boggy sand.
Workers scurried around, across and through the seamless wake that trailed after Ovid and Pater. Like school girls trailing after their first scent of a boy, the blades of grass stretched after Ovid, and skirted around Pater’s jagged steps.
*This chapter from one of my Works In Progress
Today's word is: cad