That Which Wills Thee [Chapter 8]
Snow began to descend not long after the trees had lost their final remaining leaves. “Momma, what’s that outside!” James exclaimed, looking out the window after the night of the first storm.
Manchester saw snow during those times of the year as well, but it often melted in the heat from the factories and their smokestacks and fumes or was left to settle into dark piles to be tread on by foot and cart alike. The mounds of it pushed about in the streets eventually melted into slush that soaked the shoes and socks and feet of those unable to buy proper footwear. What James saw that morning in the pristine countryside was a covering of pure white, undisturbed by a single footstep or cart wheel, with more descending in light flakes that danced in the wind and gentle light of the overcast sky.
Jane was likely equally as intrigued by the sight, but held back. After breakfast, she dressed her children up in the warmest clothes they had on hand and allowed them out finally. James trudged through the deep and wide footprints left by his father who had departed slightly before to check on the Mills in their home. The drifts were up to the little boy’s knees in places, making it hard to move, but his seemingly endless energy kept him dashing about the best he could. Jane dangled Marie’s feet across the surface, allowing her to experience the cold and fluffy sensations, but the old words of the doctor of keeping her out of the cold returned to her mind. After experiencing enough of the cold and earning soggy, baggy garments, Jane brought her children back inside.
That first gentle storm was only a preview of what was to come. After several more centimeters were deposited upon them, William began to notice the creaking of the ceiling of their home above, not to mention the drips from the melt above their hot fireplace. As a precaution, William stuck his family in with the neighbors yet another time.
“You’ll get to be back in your own bed sooner or later,” Bryna said to James. She had taken little Marie in her lap as well to offer Jane a break, an exchange that both parties did not mind. “Your father just wants to make sure you don’t wake up covered in the stuff. Come here, let’s read that book he got you.”
Unfortunately, William’s foreboding became reality. One morning after the depositing of more snow, he returned to the log house to discover that the roof had caved in. Through cold desperation, he dug out what he could and returned to the Mills’ house to deliver the news.
“The beams in the ceiling couldn’t take it. They snapped some time last night,” he said, depositing the soggy linens at the door.
“A shame,” Lewis sighed, pushing himself up. “I don’t mind if you stay here with us, but we don’t have quite the food for that long. Any luck with your root cellar?”
“It’s buried under some of the collapsed roof.”
“We best get to it, then, before the snow melts and freezes back over tonight.”
“I can’t ask that much from you, Lewis,” William talked back, ashamed.
“William,” Jane butted in, exasperated at the news. “We can’t keep on like this.”
“I’ll help dig through the snow, papa,” James spoke up, jumping from the floor.
“No, James.” William said. “Jane, it isn’t that bad. I imagine I can unearth some things before we get any more snow.”
Between moments to warm himself and rest, William spent many hours of many days at the collapsed home, sometimes bringing back food goods or pieces of clothing, or bringing out tools and pieces of wood to shore up the unstable parts of the building. It was several days later, and after departing that morning, William was out much longer than he had the previous times.
Jane expressed her concerns to Lewis, urging the old man to trudge out to visit the cabin in William’s footsteps. The old man decided to follow Jane’s words. The two men were seen on the snowy path through the window some time later, trudging through the drifts. Lewis attempted his best to support William, a head taller and certainly heavier than him. Jane noticed her husband’s leg wrapped up and dragging behind. She held the door open for them as they made it through.
Little James approached, followed by Marie crawling at them. “What happened, papa?”
William leaned against the wall, not allowing his weight to rest upon the injured leg. Jane noticed the red stain seeping into the cloth around his leg. His face was pale, clothing soaked and encrusted with ice, and hands shaking under the thin gloves.
Lewis looked at his wife, and then Jane, who couldn’t find the words to speak. “Love, how about you have the kids help you heat some water so that Mr. O’Malley can get warm?”
Bryna stood from her chair and shuffled toward them, picking up Marie to take over her shoulder while searching for James’ hand in her own. “Come now, you remember how to start the stove, right, James?”
William hobbled to the open chair as the old woman and the little ones disappeared around into the side room. Lewis hunched over stiffly to unwrap the covering. The breath caught in Jane’s throat. The blood was soaked into the torn pant leg, not enough to seize her, but as she caught sight of the bone protruding from the wound at William’s shin, she couldn’t help but feel faint. “What-” She began weakly.
“The last bit of… the ceiling collapsed on my leg when… I was trying to… support it.”
“The snow we got this mornin’ got all melted!” Came the energetic call from the back door. William yanked the wool blanket from the arm of the chair beside him and pulled it over his bottom half and crooked leg as the young boy returned.
Bryna was right after, holding the metal basin and washrag. She knelt beside the chair and began to wipe the dirt and sweat from around William’s neck with the damp cloth. He took the container in his lap, allowing his fingers to tingle once again as they soaked up the warmth coming through the metal.
James sat on the ground. “You’re not going to take off your boots, papa?” He asked, running his fingers along the seams of the leather.
William winced and leaned his head back. “They’re actually… quite warm… still. Leave them be.”
Lewis composed himself finally after the strain of supporting William and glanced out the window. He whispered to Jane, “He was trapped there, says for a good twenty minutes of trying. I don’t think he lost a lot of blood, but when he warms up, it may be worse.”
Jane bit at her lip and held tight to the hem of her dress. “How do we…?”
“The village doesn’t have a doctor for something like that. I’d say we have to bring him to Manchester.”
“My father employs a good doctor, he’s seen us before,” Jane asserted. “You can find him at Flint Textiles, one of the big factories on 3rd Avenue. William knows-”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, lass,” Lewis said, sighing in concern. “It’s still a three-day trip there, maybe more with the snow. We can only hope he remains stable for that long. At the very least he can lay down if we take your cart.”
“Take it, take it.”
Lewis glanced at William, still attempting to encourage James through the situation. “It’s already late, but… suppose can’t be helped. Lad, you’re gonna have to help me hook up the cart so we can take your pa to the doctor. Get him checked up on.”