The Tale of Old Mr. Sam

Old Mr. Sam twiddled his moustache eagerly, his eyes twitching at the prospect.

He wasn’t actually that old, but his hair had turned grey at a young age and folks are always quick to come up with a nickname, aren’t they?

Old Mr. Sam had lived in the same house in Plumtree, Tennessee his whole life.  It was a log house with a wide porch in a broad clearing, surrounded by forest. Red roses, planted decades before, grew thickly on gnarled and ancient vines, and twisted along the porch railings.

Old Mr. Sam had been born in that house and so had his five younger siblings. His father and then his mother had died there, too. As the oldest, it had fallen to him to take over the responsibilities of the family and the land. Eventually, his brothers and sister had grown up and moved away, but Old Mr. Sam had continued to live right there in the family home.

The day that Old Mr. Sam sat out on the porch twiddling his moustache and looking across his land it was was warm and humid; just as he liked it. He smiled as he sipped his whiskey lemonade. He was imagining what he could do with all the gold he was planning to find up north somewhere in the wilds of Canada.

Sure it was far, and sure it was cold, and maybe he didn’t quite know where this place was, but, he chuckled to himself, the gold would make everything right.

He rocked slowly back and forth in his rocker, one hand holding his felt hat on his trouser-covered knee, the other holding his cold, wet glass. Mr. Charlie was busy explaining to him what he had heard in town, what everyone was talking about.

Gold.

Gold had been arriving in the port cities all along the American coastline, having come by ship from northern Canada.

“A place called Klondike,” Mr. Charlie was explaining. “They say it’s cold up in them parts, what with the mountains and the snow,” he had offered as a further description.

“I’ve never seen snow,” Old Mr. Sam replied, “I’m thinking this would be a good chance.”

Sam couldn’t have cared less about seeing snow. He preferred the warmth of his home and the white of the cotton fields. But, like so many others, he was convinced that he would find gold. And lots of it. From Mr. Charlie’s description of the news accounts, he imagined a river whose bottom glittered in the cold sunshine, a vein of honey winding down through soaring white mountains.

Sam rode into town early the next day to make enquiries and to see the newspapers for himself. Sure enough, men up and down the west coast were heading in droves for the Klondike River to seek their fortune.

“Well, I’ll be danged if I’m going to let all them get to it before I get some myself,” thought Sam. He could just imagine it running out before he got there.

He kept his plans a jealously guarded secret; he didn’t want to have to elbow his neighbours and the other townsfolk out of the way to get to the gold first. Only Mr. Charlie knew what he was up to.

He gathered up his savings, packed his bags and booked his tickets – a train ticket across country, and one for a boat headed up to Canada.

He could never have guessed, as he sat on his porch that last, hot day, just how cold cold could be, could never have imagined the sights he would see.

His neighbours, when they heard it from Mr. Charlie, were surprised that Old Mr. Sam had had it in him to get up and go. But up and go he did. True to his plans, he made it to Canada and prospected in the bone-chilling North, though he never did find any of that heart-warming gold.

“We gave it everything we had, but it just wasn’t enough, was it?” mused the Captain after months of unsuccessful trekking in the tundra with Sam. He grimaced as he watched the greasy flames flicker against the star-filled sky. The fire was the only gold for miles in that frozen darkness, and the only warmth. It was especially cold that late December night on the edge of Lake Lebarge.

Back in Plumtree, the rose petals drifted limply across Old Mr. Sam’s unswept porch floor.

 

 

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31 thoughts on “The Tale of Old Mr. Sam

    • Oh my goodness, I was half asleep! I wasn’t even sure this morning whether I should have posted it last night. Thank you for your very kind message.

  1. Fabulous imagery throughout this piece! I felt like I was right there on Old Mr. Sam’s porch – and I was shivering before the greasy fire. You are such a wonderful storyteller! 🙂

    • You are so kind! Thank you 🙂 This was a bit outside my usual voice but it just came to me through my foggy mind. I’m really touched by your compliment.

  2. I don’t believe I’d like that cold of cold… but I guess a river gold like honey would be tempting 🙂 Sad that he never found gold, but at least he had an adventure.

  3. This is absolutely the best story I’ve read in a while. I loved the poetic tone of the whole story from beginning to end. You did a great job here!

  4. Really great story. Love the way you write. And the last line of his “unswept porch floor” is a nice detail. And yeah, I felt for Old Mr. Sam when he found no gold. “The fire was the only gold for miles in that frozen darkness, and the only warmth.” 😦 Great line!

    • Wow, having read some more of your writing, I’m really touched and humbled by your compliments. Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed that particular line, as well as the story in general.

    • It is sad – there were so many whose stories were never told who were taken in and ended up with nothing. Unfortunately for Old Sam, he didn’t make it; this is my version of the events leading up to the poem The Cremation of Sam McGee (I linked to it from the story).

      • Really well done. I missed it the first time but found it when I re-read. You must have quite an interesting background – what made you think of The Cremation of Sam McGee for this prompt?
        Quite enjoyed this – thank you!

        • Sorry, I just realized I had answered you in my head but not in reality! It’s funny, there was really nothing about this prompt that made me think of the poem. I was a bit stuck, so I went through some of my old, abandoned drafts and found the beginnings of what became this story. I just worked the prompts in! Originally, it was my English major background and my husband’s recent project up in the Northwest Territories that inspired me. Thanks for asking about it and I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    • Thank you 🙂 I always get a few clear visions in my head that feed and anchor the story, the thing then is to convey what I see in my head clearly enough for anyone reading it.

  5. Such beautiful phrasing — I especially loved the “a vein of honey winding.” You have a knack for scene-setting.

    • Thank you so much, Meg. I’m touched that you think so. I often have a few clear visions pop into my head as I’m writing and I try to convey them as best I can. I struggle with dialogue so I tend to focus more on setting the scene. Perhaps I should work on my weaknesses!

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