Conflagration

Excerpt from The Haweaters.
Copyright Vanessa Farnsworth, 2020.

Boyd has learned certain things about Eleanor Bryan over the years, the most important of which is that her soul is carved from granite. He tangled with her once. Can't rightly remember over what. But Boyd vowed then and there that it would never happen again. He would rather be trapped in a sack full of starving rats than go another round with Bryan's she-devil of a wife. A woman that wretched goes a long way to explaining why Bill Bryan is the way he is. Stubborn. Hateful. Ancient. And Bryan is the reason Boyd is here. Well, actually, Charlie is the reason Boyd is here. But to get to Charlie, Boyd must go through his father. And to get to Old Man Bryan, Boyd must first pass by Bryan's wretched wife and her stinking mountain of manure. Such is the fate God dealt him today.

Luckily, Eleanor and her manure pile are located near the side of the house that's away from the road. Even better, it's away from Boyd, which is just about the smallest mercy God could've granted. But it's mercy just the same.

Even so, Boyd wouldn't be Boyd if he could help but notice Eleanor's forearms. With each pitch of the fork, they're exposed like the sun at noon. Not decent, by anyone's measure, to see so much of a woman's flesh. But it would be unlike Eleanor to aim a thought at decency. She'd say it's a luxury only the rich can afford and she'd more likely than not spit when she said it. Mentally bust him upside the head.

Eleanor's arms. Boyd has been staring at them for longer than would be considered wise for anyone who is not actually an owl. An alarm goes off in the lawman's head as he realizes the mistake his eyes have been making. He casts them skyward, earth-ward, then all around.

He's got to focus. There'll be hell to pay if anyone spots his attention stalling on another man's wife. The bush families will get the wrong impression. Because they always do. Deliberately. Predictably. As if there isn't enough hardship on this island without setting fire to the harshest of rumours each and every time the opportunity arises. The kind of rumours that must be answered by a gunshot. A beating. An "accidental" drowning.


Based on the real-life 1877 killings of William and Charles Bryan by their neighbours, The Haweaters brings to life some of Manitoulin’s earliest European settlers as they struggle against nature, poverty, and each other in a collective quest to leave their dubious pasts behind them and attain prosperity in this rugged wilderness community. Learn more.