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Izzy Bird, Jim's story part 2

Isabella is still listening to Jim’s story.

He spent years as an Indian Scout, each more bloody than the last. “As an armed escort of emigrant parties he was evidently implicated in all the blood and broil of a lawless region and period, and went from bad to worse, varying his life by drunken sprees, which Brough nothing but violence and loss.”

The narrative jumps then, according to Isabella.* Jim picks up when he is on a homestead in Missouri and would soon move to Colorado. Once in Colorado, he made a squatter’s claim and has 40 head of cattle in addition to his trapping business. “…. but envy and vindictiveness are raging within him. He gets money, goes to Denver, and spends large sums in the maddest dissipation, making himself a terror … and when the money is done returns to his fountain den, full of hatred and self-scorn, till next time.”

And, there, his tale is done.

* and she’s not so naive as to not know that the lapse likely involves drinking and violence and, possibly, the law.

what I want right now

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Scott and I have been watching Britain's Best Home Cooks on Hulu because it is kind and gentle and lovely. Last night, while watching, I realized where I want to go more than anything once we can move about the globe again. It's going to take me a minute to explain.
In 2014, I presented a paper in Cambridge, the one in the U.K., not the one in Mass. It was either before or after the WorldCon in London (intentionally) so that those of us in the field could kill a bird or two with one stone. I had a couple of days to kick around and be a tourist (which is my most favorite thing) so I booked an relatively inexpensive hotel outside of London to use as my base of operations. Now it is the Greenwich Doubletree; it was something else then but I can no longer remember what it was called. Definitely the same place.
By the time I landed at Heathrow, got luggage, cleared customs, figured out which trains I needed, etc., my brain was mostly pudding (both kinds) by the time I made it to the hotel. I wanted to stay conscious long enough for the sun to set -- it was mid-afternoon -- and was starving.
On the way to the hotel, which took much longer than you'd think because I didn't spring for a SIM card or international cell plan and got incredibly lost, I noticed Chutney Tandoori. Once I scattered all of my crap around the hotel room, I wandered back out and went there to get take-out.*
The place was empty because it wasn't really a meal time but the owner was there. I looked at the menu and had reached the point of tired where written words had stopped functioning as a means of communication. I must have stared at it for long enough that the owner wondered about my mental state, he asked if I needed help.
Yes, I said. I just got off of a plane .... and I explained the whole thing, including getting lost and being very hungry.
He smiled at me, then ran through a bunch of binary choices: spicy or no? meat or no? soupy or no? Naan or more naan?
He disappeared back into the kitchen and returned maybe ten minutes later. He handed me a paper bag full of cartons. Ten pounds, he said, which I gladly handed to him and left.
Reader: that is now on my top ten list of best meals I've ever had. I have zero idea what it was called but it was full of just-spicy-enough sauce and tofu and veggies. I had the most naan: onion, plain, unidentified - all delicious. It was a moment of feeling stupendously cared for by a stranger.
That is what I want when our current strife ends (or, more likely, just morphs into a different strife). It's a memory that'll keep me going.
* an aside: in the U.K., the servers either really understand take-away and have elaborate schemes for packaging your food or have zero idea what you are talking about and why you would want it.

Izzy Bird, three hour tour

Isabella is riding to the Black Canyon with Jim. He is sharing his life’s story.*
To begin:
Jim’s father was a British officer stationed in Montreal and came from a good Irish family. His mother was “loving, but weak.” Jim describes himself as an “ungovernable boy” and “imperfectly educated.” At 17, he saw a young girl at church. She was an “angelic beauty” and he fell for her “with all the intensity of an uncontrolled nature. He saw her three times but scarcely spoke to her.” His mother laughed off his love. The girl died.** Jim ran away from home, entered the Hudson Bay Company, and stayed in it for several years, leaving when he found “that lawless life to strict for him.”
At the age of 27, he joined the U. S. Government as an Indian scout on the Plains, “distinguishing himself by some of the most daring deeds on record, and some of the bloodiest crimes….Years must have passed in that service, till he became a character known through all the West, and much headed for his readiness to take offense, and his equal readiness with his revolver.”
* I’ll likely break it into a few parts because “the story took three hours to tell, and was crowded with terrific illustrations of a desperado’s career, told with a rush of wild eloquence that was truly thrilling.”
** no idea how

Izzy Bird, creepy guy alert

Isabella is still in Estes Park. Tomorrow, we’ll learn more about Jim Nugent, but first I need to set the scene.
Isabella is alone at the cabin while the two men are out hunting. Jim comes in “looking very black, and asked me to ride with him to see the beaver dams on the Black Canyon.* No more whistling or singing, or talking to his beautiful mare, or sparkling repartee.”
The sky is as dark as Jim’s mood. A snowstorm is gathering.
Jim is silent and strikes his horse often. He keeps taking off at a “furious gallop,” then turns back to ride next to Isabella. He says, “You’re the first man or woman who’s treated me like a human being for many a year.”**
Isabella points out that simply isn’t true because the Dewy family have always taken an interest in him and that he has, in the past, spoken well of them.
His response: “If you want to know how nearly a man can become a devil, I’ll tell you now.”
“There was no choice, and we rode up the canyon, and I listened to one of the darkest talks I ruin I have ever heard or read.”
* Is this like coming back to my place to see my stamp collection?
** not gonna lie. When I first read this, I became genuinely concerned for Isabella’s welfare.

izzy bird, green meat

Isabella is still in Estes Park and making the best of things.
“Food s a great difficulty. Of 30 milch cows only one is left, and she does not give milk enough for us to drink. The only meat is some pickled pork, very salt and hard, which I cannot eat, and the hens lay less than one egg a day. Yesterday morning I made some rolls, and made the last bread into a bread-and-butter pudding, which we all enjoyed.”
They need to hold onto that brief respite. Because…
“To-day I found part of a leg of beef hanging in the wagon shed, and we were elated with the prospect of fresh meat, but on cutting into it we found it green and uneatable. Had it not been for some tea which was bestowed upon me at the inn at Longmount* we should have none…We breakfast about nine, dine at two, and have supper at seven, but our MENU** never changes.”
So next time you stare into your pantry looking for something to eat, spare a thought for Isabella.
* priorities
** her emphasis

Izzy Bird, bread and men

Isabella is in Estes Park and staying with two young men in the Evans’s house. They’ve divided up what needs to be done to keep the place going.
“We nominally divide the cooking. Mr Kavan makes the best bread I ever ate;* they bring in wood and water, and wash the supper things, and I ‘do’ my room and the parlor, wash the breakfast things and a number of etceteras. My room is easily ‘done,’ but the parlor is a never-ending business. I have swept shovelfuls of mud out of it three times to-day. There is nothing to dust it with but a buffalo’s tail,** and every now and then a gust descends the open chimney and drives the wood ashes all over the room.”
Things are looking up, however, because Isabella found an old shawl to use as a tablecloth and notes it makes the parlor more habitable. Jim stops by and just sat by the fire, staring into it. He appears to be in the sort of mood that usually precedes an “ugly fit.”
On the day she’s writing this, however, Isabella is alone in the house while the young men go hunting for elk. The sky is bright blue, which keeps the “solitude from feeling oppressive.”
* Another tidbit about life on the frontier that blows my mind: men can bake.
** ew.

Izzy Bird, all the mud ever

Isabella is back at the Evans’s house in Estes Park. She has been greeted by disappointing news. Her friends there have already left for less remote parts of the state to wait out the winter. Instead of riding out her dire financial straits with them, she’ll be hanging out with two young men.* Additionally, their food stock is low.

“The young men did not show any annoyance, but exerted themselves to prepare a meal, and courteously made Jim share it. After he had gone, I boldly confessed my impecunious circumstances, and told them that I must stay there til things changed, that I hoped not to inconvenience them in any way, and that by dividing the work among us they would be free to be out hunting. So we agreed to make the best of it.”

She expected to be there about three days - it would extend to a month - but “nothing could exceed the courtesy and good feeling which these young men showed.”

They started by taking inventory on their resources. A mattress was made for Isabella with some hay and a large bag. They have no sheets, towels, or tablecloths, which she never misses. There are no candles but a paraffin lamp is there.

The weather is, of course, terrible. A gale blows in and removes part of the roof; then a rainstorm turns the floor into a muddy mire. But, though it all, Isabella perseveres.


* Again: I wonder how she can get away with this during such a constrained time for women. I suspect it has something to do with this being the West and her being a foreigner. But it really just explodes all that I thought about what it was like to be female during the 1870s.

Izzy Bird, a walk in the woods

Isabella is almost to Estes Park.

“Soon I heard the welcome sound of a barking dog. I supposed it to denote strange hunters, but calling ‘Ring’* at a venture, the noble dog’s large paws and grand head were in a moment on my saddle, and he greeted me with all those inarticulate but perfectly comprehensible noises with which dogs welcome their human friends.”**

“Of the two men on horses who accompanied him, one was his master, as I knew by the musical voice and grace of manner, but it was too dark to see anyone, though he struck a light to show me the valuable furs with which one of the horses was loaded. The desperado was heartily glad to see me, and sending the man and the fur-laden horse on to his cabin, he turned with me to Evans’s; and as the cold was very severe, and Birdie was very tired, we dismounted and walked the remaining three miles.”

Let us enjoy this romantic moment because reality is about to intrude on Isabella….


* Remember that “Ring” is Mountain Jim’s dog?

** I love this sentence.

Izzy Bird, mail bags

Isabella is on her way back to Estes Park. Birdie is heavily loaded, both with Isabella’s gear and with mail sacks, which she was asked to carry since she was heading that way.

The view starts out uninspiring. Then, when she reached the canyon of St. Vrain, “the sad blue became brilliant, and the sun warn and scintillating. Ah, how beautiful and incomparable the ride up here is, infinitely more beautiful than the much-vaunted parts I have seen elsewhere.”*

Fifteen miles into the ride, she stopped at the ranch where riders usually get food but it was empty. The next stop was deserted. So she went to the last house, where two young men were “baching.”

The house is clean; the lunch “splendid.” After eating, Isabella looked in the mailbag and discovered letters from Hennie, which she stopped to read, “forgetting that I had 20 miles to ride, which could hardly be done in less than six hours. Birdie is tired and will not be hurried.

“It was eerie as darkness came on, to wind in and out in the pine-shadowed gloom, sometimes on ice, sometimes in snow, at the bottom of these tremendous chasms. Wolves howled in all directions…. The ride did seem endless after darkness came on.”

But the last range passed and Estes Park was near.

Then she ran into someone familiar.


* you never know what’s around the corner, you know?

Izzy Bird, 26 cents

Isabella is in dire economic straights because of the financial panic of 1873. When she pays her lodging bill in Denver, she’ll have 26 cents to her name. Even in the late 1800s, 26 cents is not much.
Evans* hasn’t been able to pay the $100 he owes her because the Denver banks have stopped letting their customers take money out. Isabella’s circular notes, which let her draw money from her accounts in England, are not being honored. It’s not great.
“The financial straits are very serious, and the unreasoning panic which has set in makes them worse. The present state of matters is — nobody has any money, so nothing is worth anything. The result to me is, nolens volens,** I must go up to Estes Park, where I can live without ready money, and remain there till things change for the better. It does not seem a very hard fate!”
* remember Evans?
** “whether one likes it or not”