Before the flood, a couple figure out the effort involved in good vs bad behavior. (1000 words)
by Pam Backlund
Lately, Hugo has been a lightning rod of criticism. His wife, Sadie wanted him to make choices that exhausted him. Being pampered, she never really knew what it took to be a well-rounded businessperson living in the small town of Ben Ficklin. But in all fairness, she had her moods and he had his; so, they were equal in many respects.
As he left their home on the courthouse square the morning of August 9th of 1882, he grabbed an umbrella for the likelihood of rain. He left her complaining about breakfast being cold. Their maid she considered incompetent because the cook stove had little dry wood.
Escaping into the day, he was thankful that the rain had relented for a while. There had been so much moisture for a week, mud was everywhere. Little did he know that it was the beginning of a rare monsoon season in the Concho Valley.
Fortunately, the wooden sidewalks prevented him from muddying up to his knees. The same footways became the playpen of children whose parents needed to get them out of their hair.
Some girls were playing hopscotch. As Hugo walked around and through them, he gave each of them a morsel of candy he’d pocketed before leaving the house. Sometimes it was his custom to tickle the fancy of the rascals. Their parents wouldn’t mind.
The town was only a few hundred persons big and everyone knew each other.
There were the visitors, of course but overall you could trust the strangers as well.
Hugo made his way to the new courthouse, tipping his hat to the ladies and winking at their babies. He gave up his place in line for an older gentleman and complimented the clerk for his efficiency. After taking care of business at the courthouse, he wandered down to the hotel for a cup of coffee.
There, he gave up his table in the crowded dining area for a traveling family of four. A fussy youngster couldn’t be pacified during the meal, so Hugo offered to tell the story of the “Prince and the Pauper” by Mark Twain.
The book, which he’d bought the previous year, was kept in his jacket pocket for such a situation. Today, the whole dining area listened to him as he ‘wowed’ the audience with the drama.
Hugo left the hotel dining area feeling softness in his heart. The diners were satisfied both physically with the food and spiritually with the story. He had alleviated the dreariness of ‘so many consecutive rainy days’ with the tale.
Next, when he went into his general store, he smiled at his customers. The rest of his day was spent helping others who genuinely appreciated him. As evening drew near, he prepared for supper with his wife. He’d had a good day. He wondered what kind of trouble his wife had gotten into.
Sadie was waiting for him in a darkened dining room. Supper was cold. Again it was difficult to find any dry wood anywhere. But Hugo sat down in a cheerful mood and awaited the onslaught of vile comments from a bitter woman.
“First, I readied for the day by making the cook iron my favorite dress. You know, the one with the yellow daisies,” she said. “It took a good two hours for her to starch and press it, but I do declare that I looked more beautiful in it that any other ladies at the Whist Card Club.”
“While playing cards I started a tedious rumor about Eloisa. She will no longer vie for partnering with Sue at the games. Sue and I will be allies to the end of time.”
“Kay told me a secret which I have no intention of keeping. I’ll somehow spread the secret anonymously and she will be so embarrassed when the whole town finds out.”
“I wrote a nasty letter of complaint to our county commissioner. I want something done about all the children playing on the sidewalks. They shouldn’t be underfoot, and their laughter is horrendous. We had a very difficult time strategizing and making tricks with all the commotion. And shouldn’t school start soon?”
“After cards we went to the hotel café for a hot lunch and nearly tripped over some children acting out the pitiful story of ‘The Prince and the Pauper’. Really, you’d have thought they were on a stage…the way they were quoting lines and being silly…hideous in my mind.”
“And you know what I got served for a meal? A cold egg sandwich on day old bread, that’s what. Can you imagine that? I just wanted to scream. And so, I did.”
“After the screaming, the girls and I took a day trip to San Angela to see the wives of the fort’s officers. We brought up and gossiped about the ‘year-old court martial’ of Henry O. Flipper. Then we cussed and discussed the Fort Concho’s Buffalo Soldiers being at Fort Davis…where they belong.”
“Having Fort Concho entirely white made us all giggle with pleasure.”
“And then I returned home.”
“I’m tired. My dress is muddy and disgusting. I just want to scream.”
She made her way to the bedroom trifold screen. As she undressed, she began to cry.
“I’m so tired, I just want to go to bed,” she finished.
Hugo laughed quietly and then on an impulse of good will decided to reveal his day.
Upon completion, he said, “And I’m not at all tired.”
“And if it is of any consolation to you, dear Sadie, tomorrow, I will spread rumors. I will also disclose secrets, make false accusations and have a bad disposition,” he continued.
“Thank goodness, Hugo,” she sighed.
Then they went to bed.
Two weeks later a flood demolished most of the town of Ben Ficklin.
Hugo and Sadie survived, though their house and store didn’t.
Immediately thereafter, they relocated to San Angela and dutifully resumed their alternating days of gossip-mongering, with general “meanness” thrown in for good measure.