With great regards to member Katrinacjoyce for the wonderful book cover!
Amidst the growing western borders – with its plains stretching miles into a wilderness unknown; rivers running rapidly, gushing with ripe life and an internal sense to keep moving; and lakes that rested as calmly as the white moon at night – nothing stood more comparatively beautiful than the deep, northern backwoods and the ever transcending slopes of the rockbound hills that stretched perilously into the rich blue sky.
During the mornings and days, the essence of nature was at its best. Small mammals appeared from within the depths of their fortresses, with intent to scrounge the land for nourishment. Herds of deer swept by with distinction, nosing about the ground or else finding a mate; antlers would rattle and scars would be earned as males tested their might. Rabbits would scurry as wolves or foxes chased tail – a minor skirmish which would end in a plentiful meal or vital defeat. Near the cold, bustling rivers, bears – brown and black – waited eerily and pawed at the water as their prey moved about freely under the surface, only to be whisked away along the strong currents to new bodies.
It was more than awe-inspiring to view the spectacles. A hard-working citizen, if with time on his hands, might take a stroll to appreciate it or perhaps relieve the stress from the business of everyday life. He may even take his gun and a bit of food, and venture out for a day or two, just to get the feel of it. For some, a bond formed and a respectable man could be easily fooled by the allurement – the want for a life in the middle of it all, a feeling of adventure burning so evidently inside them; a robust passion of survival. Young men took up the mantle of the challenge, leaving behind family or friends to introduce a new way of living – that of wit versus land. In time, the land would grow on them, and they would become rugged, experienced surveyors and survivors. One could only bear the strain of returning to a small log cabin or wealthy plantation by making this rough-strewn land, this territory of such brusqueness and serenity, a home. Basic survival skills, such as that of starting a fire with flint and stone, became nothing more than a process of normal life. Movement was constant; it depended on the mood of the man whether settlement should be temporary or permanent. If he decided to further venture, it might be for the same sense or for another.
As the new spring came around, more businesses began to sprout, like that of the bright, colorful buds and green leaves upon trees. Trade was ever more of a necessity for the extension of the economy. Because of their experience with the land, the rugged men would carry on with an entrepreneurship – deals with these businesses, to bring trade to the peoples across the continent. It steadily became a tradition for groups of men to earn their pay during the warm, slowly waning days. For others, it was year-round; in many instances, trade would become slow as harsh winters sent flurries, covering the once solid ground in a white blanket of soft, cold-numbing frozen liquid. The land would become unfamiliar; a man could get lost and never be found again. Constant threat of starvation or hypothermia and other diseases was more than probable. And if one lost his tools, or became injured – losing blood at a constant rate or finding his limbs immovable...
A mountain man knew death was around the corner. But he would use every ounce of life within him to testify against it.
He awoke with the echoes of chirping birds; a sense of calm in a time of such desperation, when food supply was low and there was nowhere else to sleep but in a hole buried deep in the snow. It was not yet time to panic, Thomas knew that. The night before, he had eaten a miniscule amount of hardtack and washed it down with a bit of wine. When he could not finish the rest because of the forming mold, he tossed it aside and accidentally scared off a lurching hare. It was only typical.
With a low moan, he poked his head from out of the fur coverings, a hand covering his eyes so as to block off the threatening rays of the morning sun. The biting breeze came briskly, stinging his face with an apparent satisfaction; his cheeks froze and hardened into a block of red while his nose began to run.
Air steamed out of his nose and mouth; Thomas arose from his one-night hibernation. He sniffed deeply and rubbed his eyes with a warm hand enclosed in soft fur, given to him graciously by a native tribe only months before. “My word, ‘tis a wondrous morning.”
A chill entered his body. Immediately, he set out to check upon what little supplies he had – a few fur clothes including socks and garments, carefully wrapped deer meat that would serve just six or seven meals, and other leftovers he gathered the night before retiring; the cold would keep the meats fresh. It was better to be safe than sorry, since this was a place of total survival; a scavenger might come during the night to steal what is his. However, when one wakes up in the cold morning of a February winter, there is no doubt that he will have to find a way to get his blood flowing. What better way to do so than to have a hardy cup of black coffee?
Thomas, deprived of this need, set to build a fire over the one he built previously. During winters like these, fires were the key to life or death. Building one was less complicated during a dry season; during winter, it was evidentially important and crucial to create one. If a mountain man decided to try to best nature without the aid of a fire…most times, nature bested him.
He placed dry twigs all along the base of the now-extinguished campfire and leaned down closely, gathering with his hands the hot ashes that still held a semblance of embers; but not so closely that he might singe his beard if it started to spread.
The embers flared with life as he blew gently, sending in air as to ravage the spirit of the contained heat, edging it to release the warmth it held deep inside. Success positively came in minutes. He was out of breath, and endured the habitual moment of smoke in the eyes, but nonetheless gathered the materials needed for a mock cup of coffee. The mountain man waited patiently as the tin cup bubbled with fluid activity. The snap and crackle of wood and the occasional yammer from the forest beyond accompanied him in his silence; he could not help but take a stroll.
Against the rough, stripped hide of a trunk laid his musket, serene, as it had a temperament from these parts – patterns from its original craft broke across the wide exterior of the stock, almost camouflaging it; for years on end, the gun served him well; such tools were as deadly in the hands of a mountain man as a tomahawk was in the hands of a native.
Thomas grasped the wooden stock in his hands; he studied it for a moment, removed the leather that covered the muzzle, and limped back to the fire, his legs terribly uneasy after lying in an uncomfortable position in bed.
The coffee was about ready. Carefully, he removed the tin cup – watching so as not to burn himself – and took a light sip, taken aback by the bitter, sultry taste. When finished, he held the cup up to his face and allowed the heat to sooth his frozen cheeks.
Such was a day every mountain man had to wake up to – especially those that carried on with their professions of trading. Thomas counted himself fortunate and thanked the heavens above that he was allowed to live another day. There were always tales of the men that died mysteriously out in these territories. He could easily have just died by the cold as by any lurching, aggravated predators that were awoken from their seasonal-slumber. One man he knew of – a personal friend, who had traveled with him through thick and thin – had been killed years before by an enraged grizzly near the border of Pennsylvania. It was after that experience – watching his friend die instantly before him – that Thomas always made sure to expect the unexpected.
There were not only territorial animals; native tribes, if concerned or deeply angered by the presence of a white man on their lands, might send a party to raid his camp, kill him, and take his scalp as prize or else retrieve his body to prove to the settlers that this was not friendly territory.
But he was not afraid.
The mountain man knew such beings preyed on it – used it as evidence, told stories about how these unassuming “tough” men were nothing more than naïve children venturing out with no foreknowledge or little exposure of their territory. Thomas would best any offenses in this venture. This was his wont – to better his life and give it purpose.
He slipped down next to the fire and uncovered his hands, allowing the embracing warmth to consume them; also with this, Thomas pulled a small chunk of meat from his pack, placed it on a small pan, and lowered it over the fire. It sizzled with delight. Only when he finished his coffee and meal, and as the fire died down did he decide to pull the fur back over his hands. There remained just enough liquid in the cup to cleanse the withering flames of its covetous hunger and remove it from the face of the earth. A large, smoky haze formed and trekked under his legs as he stood and breathed out the fresh, cool air. In a day or two, he would reach a small town and sell the goods he had collected throughout the winter. They were small items, but the value would allow him to stay full this winter.
The mountain man strung the sack over his shoulders and grabbed the musket off the ground. After testing the weight and steadying himself, he began the end of his long journey. Two days and he would have good rest. Thick, wooden guns could also prove good as walking sticks and probes. Thomas used the butt of his gun to test points of weakness in the ground, to make sure that he might not slip into an unrecognizable, bone-breaking crack. Such worrying – doubt or fear – can save a man from certain painful death, if he knows how to use them.
But as he glanced back at the campsite, trying to remember anything he might have forgotten, something vaguely threatening caught his attention.
A dark figure started smoothly near the edge of a small ravine opposite him. It was covered head to toe in bushy fur, and had the appearance of a bear. The sun had not raised yet – the light being seemingly invalid, not wanting to awaken from its slumber. Darkness can prove an enemy if a person cannot understand his surroundings. It can not be told what the figure exactly was. If anything, Thomas knew his life was in danger.
Thomas tossed aside his pack of supplies and took cover behind a contingent of pine trees, using their trunks for protection; snow fell to the ground in great heaps as he buffeted the branches, trying to raise his rifle through the thick atmosphere. Pines stuck to his beard. He quietly eared back the hammer of his weapon and waited for the coming presence of the character.
The dark figure deliberately made its way across the bumpy terrain; it stumbled a few times, but still came ever closer, apparently undisturbed. The creature grunted. It stopped a few feet off from him, but he still could not get a good observation. The only thing he could tell was that it did not walk on all fours, and it was doing a lot of breathing. If that was the case, then this was a man and he was in some state of shock.
The man did not notice him; he moved on.
Thomas’s heart thumped profusely against his chest. He carefully slipped out from behind the trunks and followed in closely behind the unperturbed figure, trying to mimic his footsteps. Snow crunched beneath their feet; but the stupid person obviously did not have a thing for hearing. The mountain man stood six feet behind; musket raised, he let off a round into the emptiness above, causing birds of all ethnicities to take to the frozen morning sky and a resounding imitation to bounce off surrounding objects. His intended act of intimidation worked: the figure uttered a startled cry, dropped – or tripped, it can be observed – to the snow-covered ground, and placed his arms on his head.
A startlingly breezy wind brushed past and the echo died. After reloading, the mountain man made his way to the collapsed stranger. He aimed the gun at his back and got a good look at him: a young, short black-bearded lad of twenty-five or so; the fur he wore was of European craft and he bore no weapons.
Thomas eyed him methodically and searched around quickly for fear of any others that may ambush him. Multiple stories had gone around – bands of greedy men killing frontiersmen for their valued wealth. Could this be one? He rubbed his nose and turned his attention back to the young man. First things first: Where was he from?
“Parlez-vous français?” he asked.
The lad was unresponsive; his eyes showed with total fear.
Thomas retreated his steady aim, like a soldier ordered not to shoot; but he still held his finger on the trigger. No weapons could be seen on the man, but it did not mean he was not hiding any.
"Deutsch? Sie sind Deutscher?” he asked in German, a demanding tone evident in his voice. “Oder Englisch? Speak any English? Come on now, out with it!”
He nodded feverously. “I…I can speak both.” The man spoke with an English accent.
The mountain man let out an exhausted, exasperated exhalation, propped the stock of his musket against a stubborn stone, and leaned against it. Red cheeks made him look all the more raged. “What exactly were you trying to do out here, boy? Get killed? Luckily I did not shoot your back when you were turned.” He held out a hand and pulled the boy up with ease. Snow stuck like glue to his fur coating.
“My apologies, sir. I need–”
Thomas cut him off rudely; his own blood still ran with animate activity, and the only way to settle it was to get the answers he needed. “Why were you coming so quickly through these parts? This is dangerous territory; if you be coming to take my hard-earned furs, then you got another thing coming.”
The Englishman spoke chokingly. His breathing was ragged. He stumbled with the first few words, but then went on: “No, no…please, I need help. Savages killed my partners and…my God, took our supplies. We were on a peaceful mission, and they just…slaughtered them all.” Tears hung in his eyes. It was as if he resisted their falling. He sniffed. “They took their scalps and all! Bloody awful! And the supplies – hundreds worth! Bloody…bloody awful…”
The mountain man looked off behind him, caught by surprise when a large black bird took off from a branch, trailing snow from under its wings. It was to be expected, was it not? After all, this was native territory. If this man was not prepared for his venture, then that was his problem. Had he not heard of the tales, the mad stories running about? But he could not ignore the problem. Not everybody was prepared for this sort of situation. The lad reminded him…of himself when he took to the forests and mountains – scared and unassuming; but he always contained a bold, impromptu personality. And he never backed down.
“What is your name?”
“Lawrence…Lawrence Washer. Please sir, will you help? We must catch the natives and get back the supplies!”
Thomas licked his dry lips and raised a steady hand. His demeanor seemed to convince the Englishman that he was going to help. “Calm down, my friend. How long ago were you attacked?”
Lawrence pushed his hair back and put his hands to his sides. His fur coat was rugged and worn. “Two days ago, approximately. I…cannot say accurately.” The man’s lip quivered; he coughed and then clenched his teeth.
The mountain man noticed the pain he was enduring. Beneath the man, the snow was red. He picked up the musket, moved toward the Englishman, and inspected his leg: Fresh blood coated his leggings.
“What happened to your leg?”
Washer glanced down; he looked at the wound as if it were never there before. Blood came out at a fast rate. If he had ignored it for this long, who is to say he would not have died of the injury? The Englishman pulled back the fur and revealed a flimsy, pathetic attempt to stop the flow. The bandage – which Thomas thought must have been white – was now almost completely tarnished in a reddish color.
“I was wounded during the assault – a tomahawk was thrown and smote my leg; it partially embedded. My, it…it hurts so badly” – for Thomas moved closer and unwound the destroyed fabric; it caused Washer to grimace and grunt profusely – “and I haven’t a remembrance of how I removed it, because I was so enveloped…by the pain.”
“Tomahawk you say?”
“Yes, quite,” was the gritty reply. “I remember how it came – like a glistening, silver edge of death calling for me, wanting me to join in its path of victims. Never before have I known this feeling. It…it’s a startlingly new experience.”
Thomas nodded reprovingly. He turned and grabbed a handful of snow; he then rubbed the drying blood surrounding his skin and inspected the gash. It was as long and thick as his thumb, surely fatal if unattended for a time. The mountain man stared up at him in surprise. “And you expect to catch the attackers on this leg? You could die from loss of blood if you do not get proper attention.”
The Englishman tried to argue, but Thomas had him sit on a dry boulder so he could tend to his wound. From his pack – which still laid in its hiding place, like a hare in its hole – he withdrew a minuscule sack which accommodated fresh, white bandages. After washing the gaping streak – which Lawrence found to great discomfort – the bandages were wrapped expertly around his leg.
It seemed to reenergize him. “Thank you,” Washer gasped awkwardly. “We are losing time, though. The savages–”
“Have probably gotten away,” Thomas cut-in. A deep frown stretched across his handsome face; the trees bustled all around. “It is too dangerous to go off alone, anyways. I realize what you must be feeling, but there is little to do about it. Besides, you cannot travel on that leg. You hear me? We need to find you a proper doctor. Also, I’ve got my year’s earnings to make. Just came back after a long winter in the new territories, dodging enemy tribes and such. We are two days out from the nearest town, and I’m almost out of food – sharing a meal with another person makes it all the more worse. Cannot leave you out here alone, either – you will die. If that does not convince you…well then, I may just have to knock you out cold and bring you to town myself.”
Lawrence gapped. He closed his mouth and nodded. “I believe,” he replied, “I did not get your name.”
“Call me Thomas,” the mountain man stated happily.
The two men shook hands. Thomas then offered Washer his musket to be used as a crutch, and lent him a quick meal. Once the time was ripe, and the sun was rising, the men headed east toward civilization – from ventures in the wild lands of the North American territory that would have otherwise killed them.
A powerful, deathly blizzard hit; only a few hours had passed. It seemed someone did not want the two men to make it to town.
Thomas pulled at his fur coverings, the warmth now quickly departing from his body at an elaborate pace; his tracks in the snow were deeper, and the ground steadily raised – a new white pile forming over the older ones. He appeared to have aged quickly: a staunch silvery clothe ensconced the brown beard he wore only hours before – miniscule icicles being established in the wiry hair like settlers in a dense, foreign land. It was barely visible in this environment.
Lawrence trailed not too far behind, limping with increased effort; straining with all his might to not scream into the bowls of icy hell as his unavailing wound continued to become a plight. His head hung low, so as to keep track of the trail his friend was creating. Painful groans emanated as he took every step; he harbored the musket’s muzzle as the snow poured down at the quickstep.
The mountain man sought out a wide array of tall, healthy pine trees; new embodiments of shelter for the coming maelstrom. With an upraised hand, he motioned to the Englishman the camp they would set up for the night. A fire would have to be made quickly, as the temperature steadily dropped. Lawrence made his way next to him.
By borrowing the musket for a moment, Thomas was able to sweep out a relatively small area where they could rest and protect themselves from the oncoming torrent. He placed dry timber upon a flat base; life-saving material he gathered into his sack the last few days of fall. Once in a comfortable spot – where snow could not fly into his face – sparks flew as he struck flint against stone; these tools were always valuable in times of desperation; it took only a few minutes to set off a reaction. Tiny embers told hold of the wooded material, growing ever in size. Thomas took the knotted timber in his hands and blew gently. Smoke released. He pulled his head back to gain fresh air and released another breath. More smoke dispersed.
The Englishman sat by, shivering. But he looked on, curious as to the methods this stranger was using. He’d just started his adult life as a merchant – a townsman, going from place to place making deals and selling goods to wealthy citizens. Indians attacked his caravan only days before – and he was still in shock. He wanted to return to his home, to get out of this alive. How on earth did this man survive the years?
“How long does it take?” he asked through a flurry of passive snowflakes.
Thomas blew again. Flames appeared, and he dropped the bundle to the ground, quickly adding thicker sticks as a means of feeding it. “Doubt it takes less than ten minutes – unless you are new at this.” He chuckled, and stuck his finger into the snow, testing its height. “Ah, might melt a few inches but I’m sure it will be all right. Might be best to start cooking a meal.”
The Englishman repressed a smile and held out his hands to the warmth, relaxing as his fingers succumbed to regeneration. “No, I mean travelling out there – with the natives and bears and such.”
A mass of snow fell from the branches of a tree; the wind died down, but the ice rain just kept coming. Thomas assumed the cooking of dinner with a spit; two rods stuck into the snowy ground on either side of the fire held a bold, shaved wood; it took a bit of work to slide the cold deer meat on. When the two meats were in place a sizzling sensation came: it was like music to their ears.
“Well,” Thomas began quietly, “it is not all fun and games.” He grabbed a small log buried in the snow and propped himself down next to the fire. “Heh. I estimate two hundred days round, at the least. Otherwise, I am a lot more active in the springtime. Winters are good and all, but it is terribly dangerous to be out here alone if caught unprepared. One day you might be walking peacefully through the forest or some foreign territory, and the next…” He shrugged and grinned. “You might not!” He rotated the spit, watching interestingly as steam appeared from the meats.
Thomas eyed the Englishman. “What business do you perform? You work for anybody?”
Lawrence bobbed his head, seemingly active. “Ah yes, well, I am a merchant.” He motioned toward the sack of furs the mountain man carried around. “We did our best to bring the best of products to the peoples of this new country. I have personally grown fond of the grand lengths of travel – seeing the sights and all. You know, I’ve even been to the capital city! Too bad such a magnificent structure was burnt down, eh? Magnificent architecture these people have; all the benefits of being a merchant.” He froze then – not from the cold, but realization and deep-felt emotion for the men he left behind, to be slaughtered like…animals. His eyes showed a certain sadness and despair; even more so by an ailment from winter. The cold was penetrating his coat.
Thomas suddenly felt embarrassed. Of all the stupid questions to ask! A moment of silence ensued, but the mountain man made a move to break it by handing the Englishman a piece of well-seasoned, tender deer meat. The attempt did not work, as he ate it without response.
Nothing but the dry, bitter wind and the torrential downfall disrupted the mood. If only it was better.
A frightened hare scurried across the white landscape, its coat a stark and fluffed silvery sheen. Stout, wiry whiskers hung from under the intermittently spiffy nose. It then stopped, yards from the two men, and stared at them - apprehensive, not sure if the two beings were a threat or not. Its eyes were black and bulbous - spheres from a wild edge, a vast distance between man and beast more than evidently different.
Thomas scratched his beard and sighed. “Well, I do not know about you–” and here he glanced at the man’s leg – “but I might as well check on that bandage.” He deliberately made his way over, bending slightly so he could unravel the reddened cloth.
The Englishman snarled and gasped with pain; the whole of his face went scarlet red. His leg shook profusely, reacting to the endeavor. “Careful…careful! It still hurts. Oh, my…gaaah!”
“Steady. Let me clean it.”
Blood flowed down his leg. A form of pus had appeared around the wound. Quickly reacting, the mountain man scooped some snow and washed it away; it was not successful in stemming the flow, but once a new bandage was compressed, the river stopped. Several tributaries continued, only to disappear under his forceful hand.
“There,” he stated with an enthusiastic air. “Check that in a few hours.”
“My…my…” Lawrence’s face was colorless, and his breathing was hardened. He coughed twice. “May I have some…water?”
Thomas handed a wineskin unbendingly, and stood to grab his sack. “I may sound a bit imprudent,” he responded assumingly, putting the musket in the young man’s hands, “but I think it best we continue on.”
“Just our luck,” the mountain man muttered under his visible breath; he was crouched, studying a steady stream of tracks that bounded into the onward forest with no end in sight. In length, the footprints were gigantic. A man could fit his whole foot in one of the indentations, and still have room left to spare.
“What? What is it?” a concerned Lawrence called from behind.
Thomas put up a finger, warning him to stay silent. “Fresh tracks,” he explained without hesitation, “and they are not friendly. I advise you to stay much closer to me, all right? If I cannot get my musket in time, then we will both be in trouble.”
His eyes went wide with fear when he spotted the tracks. “Are we dealing with wolves?”
Thomas chuckled quietly. “That would be a big wolf. No, it is a bear. Most likely a full adult. And we are stepping right into its hunting territory.”
“Yes, yes...do you understand, now? Stay close to me.”
The drudging walk went on - and it got no better. Due to the blizzard the previous day, travel was much challenging. It was only fortune and a blessing that Lawrence should receive the extra pair of snow-shoes his partner brought along. He had gawked at them for a timely amount when Thomas offered them. Now, besides the gun, they were his mode for survival.
As bears were unmistakably trailing the region, the mountain man thought it best to leave the last bit of his food behind; the blacks and grizzlies were more aggressive during winter - like humans, being ferocious scavengers. Only these beasts had far more impressive, dangerous qualities to them: noses which could smell fresh blood up to a mile away; large, furry ears that were perhaps less developed, but still offered incredible aide when listening for the movement of prey; fat, powerful jaws able to break even the strongest bones in half; and most decisively deadly of all: the claws. One swipe from a bear standing at its full height could easily decapitate a human. Running away was not even considerable; Thomas knew he would have to stand up to a bear if he ever crossed one. Hopefully, he would not. It would not be pretty.
Not even the sky brightened things; it was still as pitch black as night, and it was nearly half-way through morning. Trees appeared as ghostly figures, with gnarled limbs and grossly bodies.
“Tell me, Washer,” the mountain man gasped as they climbed up a steep hill, “have you ever seen a bear strip bark off the trees? It’s terribly easy to discover, since all the green leaves are stripped off during winter. If you can find any fresh marks, you will positively know that they are close.” He grinned gingerly.
“Please, do not make me any more nervous than I already am,” the Englishman grunted in reply, having trouble limping up the slope. “I’ve had enough excitement for one week, thank you very much!”
Thomas shook his head. “Of course, the waste they leave behind is a good indicator as well. See, in the wilderness, you need to find any and every advantage in order to get a better edge over your adversaries. I remember this one time where my friend – who is now deceased – and I decided to go out hunting during the winter season, almost one like this. We moved just beyond a small pond, I believe, and a clump of trees gathered along the ridge. Well, we made a move towards the trees, expecting to find some tracks because this area seemed very suspicious. Found some claw marks along a few of the trunks. Nice big ones, too. When my friend pointed this out, he took a step forward and planted his foot into a nice heaping pile; the smell was putrid, and we knew then and there that there was a bear poking about; after seeing it, I said to him: ‘Hey Robert – what’s that under your foot? Looks like you found a vital trail!’ And then he looked down and he replied back: ‘Well Thomas, it seems we have double leads! Mind finding me a big stick?'”
Lawrence smiled slightly and laughed alongside Thomas. Soon, they climbed over the hill. Then silence grew when the two noticed a faint trail smothered in snow. Shock and surprise came across the Englishman’s face. His eyes were stark red.
Thomas pointed a finger. “Ah, I believe we are on the right path. Just beyond this path is a road that will lead us to town.” He took a deep breath – frozen air streaming out of his nose and mouth. “Whew! Going to be nice to relax inside a nice, warm house. Can get you fixed up as well. Hopefully you will not lose that leg.”
A groan emanated from Washer as the two continued the final trek. His leg pained him, but all would soon be well. Wafting smoke from chimneys greeted and welcomed them – along with the delicious smell of cooking meats, bustling noise of the streets, and the fervor of laughing children. Thomas did not spend much time in these parts; but when he did, he always felt warmness spread through his heart.
Three days later
“I am sorry Thomas…it seems our business is being run down. It is good to have you back, and I am more than immensely satisfied to see you well…My heart beats for joy at your return. But there is nothing more to do. Not even the furs you have now will compensate for all this company has now lost. However…you have worked hard…” The balding man looked away, off into some distance – an unparalleled distraught emotion wafting through his entire body. He dug his hands deep into his pockets to uncover a measly amount of money. Ten grime-covered coins were all that lay in one hand. It was not even enough to afford food for a week.
Thomas stared numbly at the currency, too dumbstruck to even utter a response. It was an anomaly. And so, the mountain had finally crumbled – victim to years of constant battering and implosion; forced to break apart and never form anew.
“If there is anything I can do–” he said startlingly, his face lit up like an injured animal – “I mean this is a job I need, sir. There is no question about it! How will I make my year’s earnings? This…this money will not be enough! This is insanity. Even the Rendezvous will not be for months, and it cannot be expected that I will be able to survive on the little food I already have!”
The balding man clasped his hands behind his back and sighed. He closed his eyes, depressed and suddenly alone in this his last days of business. His opportunity for making a grand wealth for his future children was over.
“What of the others?” Thomas demanded in a desperate tone. Anger suddenly seethed through him; thick grey smoke might as well have wiggled from his ears and escaped through the cracks in the ceiling. When his boss did not respond, the mountain man snapped like a log. “Well, I have to say: this is going to destroy me definitely, Mr. Burris. This business has supplied me with all I needed to get through the days and months; and with no family I am now a poor, distant man.”
“I am sorry…Thomas, you have served us well for all these years. If you are a man of opportu-nity, then I know you will find some way to compen-sate. I wish you good luck in life, and…may God bless us all.”
The mountain man grunted, terribly annoyed, and started to take his leave; he grimaced then, as if struck palpably by this comment. “Mr. Burris, if it is all the same to you…we may need more than just God’s will in this.” With that, he burst out the wooden doorway and set off to think alone, fumigating over such a simplistic, irrelevant event that made a total turn in his living. His life was literally over. How could it come to be this way? Well, he thought affectionately to himself, this is what happens to us frontiersmen; thrown away and never to be used again, similarly to the stagnant waste that littered the sides of the streets.
Townsfolk scuttled by, assuming their everyday business. Men stretched themselves to their fullest heights and bore canes in their glove-gnarled hands. Light-rimmed beaver head-ware stole the fashion of all other appearances, meant only for the most abundant and intrusive entrepreneurs; aristocrats that thought themselves better and more qualified than the everyday workingman. A few eyed the mountain man with a snot-nosed configuration, as if he were the lowest of the low.
The lowest of the low? And who, in their right’s mind, would forget how the damned fur hats they wore were obtained? Pelts did not grow on trees. They were caught manually with dangerous traps that had to be checked constantly. Never before did he get this kind of attention. He felt as if the whole world was now against him.
He returned to his small cottage on the outside of town, which lay next to a withering pond that captured the beauty of all surroundings; the home was a meager, lopsided cabin with three moderate windows and a crude door. The roof was peaked, though the area would not catch much rain. Luckily, it was all surrounded by hulking trees; otherwise, he would be the scorn of log construction.
It was not an enduring distance to walk; but this day, he felt as though it was as long and hard as his journey home from trapping and trading.
“Rien comme à la maison,” he muttered in his best French accent, entering the building with a gloomy mind and heart. Not even the morning mist and smell of wood calmed his mood…and usually, at times, he found it to be the best medicine. Instead, mustiness surrounded his beloved settlement, poisoning his soul.
“How is the leg?” he asked, not facing the fig-ure lying on the bed set across the side of the blocky room. With the flick of a wrist, flames appeared and enveloped the logs enclosed in the space of the fireplace. He then set off to create a cup of coffee.
A quick, expected groan shot out, and then the soft voice replied: “Better. Not good enough yet, but I am healing. The doctor saw me just hours ago, while you were doing activities in town.” He smirked painfully. “Says I might be able to keep my leg, as long as it stays clean and I do not move from bed.”
Thomas nodded quietly.
“You know,” the Englishman conveyed de-lightedly, leaning up from his position but still careful so as to not disrupt his wound, “I never thanked you for helping me out there. If not for you…I would have died in that frozen tundra, or else wandered for days-on-end on this bloody, blasted leg!”
The mountain man glanced back at him. “I did not find you. You found me.” Admiration and relief swept through him as he realized that this man would make it through. But he did not show it as an obscuring cloud of despair stormed upon him. I need money, he thought. And I need it fast.
“Mmm…coffee. Mind if I have a jolly cup?”
Once heated to a good level, his savior and host poured a steaming cup and handed it to him, warning that it was hot and to spill it would mean certain unbearable affliction, irritation, and torment. Lawrence responded with a rough chuckle and took a light sip. A literal bitter sweet joy could have been the only response.
Thomas, subsequently tired, leaned against a wall and held his hands out against the fire’s calefaction barrier. Maybe he could start a company of his own – trap all year and sell the furs as his own product. First things first, he would need food for many trips. Of course, he would also need a craftsman to make the extensive hats and clothing for him, and that would cost more than he had. Also, he would need…
“Hmm. You know, I am thinking about moving West. There is not much left for me to do here, in this rugged territory. The competition is going about highly, and there is no doubt a new man can no longer contend in such a fiery environment.” Lawrence sighed and gently lowered his cup. “It will go practically hard for me, now that I have no career and…do not know what else to do. Hopefully, I can settle down later in life.” He twisted the cup, observing its frame and design, increasingly wiry and needlessly trying to find something to converse. “Bloody hell.”
“You and I both,” Thomas muttered.
Lawrence’s expression changed from a childish, insistent lad to a deeply inquiring investigator; his groomed moustache made him look all the more inspiring: long, slender vines that reached for his thin lips. “Something has been edging at my side since the day I came upon you. If you do not mind, may I ask…?”
He raised his drink. “Go right ahead.”
“What is it like…living the life of a mountain man?”
A deep question – something the frontiersman had been asked thousands of times before. He did not like to answer it. So instead of a lengthy, intimate story or description, he replied briskly with the word he knew these types of people would understand:
The Englishman shrugged: an agreeing motion. “I suppose you have met difficult times as well.”
Yes, he had. But he did not wish to explain it. He knew the young man could already detect the urgency in his mood; his immediate, dire search for a method. This man was a merchant, and…
Thomas set his coffee on a table, drew a pipe, and lit some fresh tobacco. A small wispy smoke ascended. Dumb luck and slow mind: He was a merchant
, and Thomas was blind to this the whole time.
The mountain man raised an intentional, innovative finger; an idea suddenly came to mind. It might seem absurd, stupid, and unethical at the moment…but this seemed like the perfect time to do such.
“Do not mean to sound desperate…but would you be able to do an old mountain man a favor? You are right. I have met hard times…But I have an idea that might be able to help us both.”
Text: Copyright 2012 Adam Lewis LaValley
Images: Mountain Man copyrighted by K.M. Freeman; mountain background / shadowed hiker not owned by author; all rights are reserved.
Publication Date: 05-20-2012
All Rights Reserved
"All these buildings are like mountains I would like to climb, but I am forbidden." -- Alain Robert "Bring me men to match my mountains: Bring me men to match my plains: Men with empires in their purpose and new eras in their brains." -- Sam Walter Foss "For a short time we lived quietly. But this could not last. White men had found gold in the mountains around the land of winding water..." -- Chief Joseph