I've spent these last few decades here in these hills practicing my craft, making and selling copper ware and iron ware. I'm George the smith--at least that's what I'm known as hereabouts.
I was born a far bit north of here, near a huge lake. The massive ruins of a city lay to it southern tip, called Chi-Go to the locals. The old broken-up roads must have been marvellous in their day but they're nothing but dangerous stretches of broken rubble now.
I was born the fifth of seven children to Anne and Mark Simmons of Grayslake. I was taught at an early age to write my name, then read and write a bit. I took to numbers better than most others in our village. The family farm raised oxen, goats, chickens and pigs. We had three milk cows. We ate well enough and had enough to trade for what we needed come market days. I took to the smithy early as a way of getting free from the drudgery of field work. I apprenticed to Gerald when I was but eight. He was a good master and only beat me when I proved to be lazy or an ass. I admit that I was a stubborn little shit. I spent three years on the bellows before I was allowed to pick up a hammer and tongs. Looking back I gather that it was a good thing as it build my shoulders and arms into monstrous things compared to the other boys. I appreciated the fact that I always had a warm place to sleep come the cold months.
Our forge was near an ancient rail-road yard. There was tons upon tons of coal in the great rolling cars. Without those we could not have survived. I found how to twist the rims off of the vehicles that littered the land so that we had good steel to work in our forges. After that discovery we grew until we had six smiths under one roof. Master Gerald approved of my ingenuity and personally tutored me. He taught me everything he knew. As I grew older I was given more responsibilities. Four of us took a cart out during the summer and a horse-drawn sledge during the winter to look for working stock. We carried cutlasses and bows to drive off the highwaymen and the reavers. Some men always tried to steal from others rather than succeed by the sweat of their own brows. I wielded a great two-handed hooked sword called a Falx that I carried sheathed across my back. It was made to cut tree limbs for firewood and clear brush. It did a fine job severing arms and legs.
My master-work was a long saber done in folded steel. I had learned how to flux and weld a blade that I folded over ten times. When I quenched it the damned thing drew back into an arc. I spent two months sharpening it and polishing the fuller. When hung by a string and tapped, it rang like a bell.
Once I had my master's papers I spent several of my carefully hoarded silvers on a long four-wheeled cart and two oxen. It carried my anvil, tools and stock, not to mention my bedding and larder. I carried woodworking tools and field tools such as shovels, hoes and scythes that came from my hand. I spent much of my free time for a month working on a four foot long saw in a wooden frame. I also carried along my most prized posession--a set of encyclopedia carefully packed away in a waxed wooden chest. Once the spring weather became gentle enough I left. I spent many months drifting south and west, looking for a place to call home. The density and risks of the ancient cities and towns forced me far to the west into a broad farming belt before I continued in a more southerly direction. I followed the streams and rivers as that was where people had settled. I traded my skills for food. (Silver quarters and dimes were the coins of the land. A silver dime was two day's wages for an unskilled man.) One travelled on the verges of the old roads where the gravel lay. Use of any of the old bridges meant taking ones life into one's own hands.
More than once I was braced by highwaymen. I used my sword to great effect on many. Some fell to my hammer. I suffered more than one wound that left jagged scars. Thankfully no wounds damaged my ability to swing my hammer or grip my pinciers. Always I was concious of my limited stock of coal for my forge so I learned to use hardwood charcoal for my forge's fuel for all but welding. I earned many silver dimes in this fashion. Wherever I went I kept out an eye for valuable goods to take from the ruins. It made for a precarious load. I used a seemingly indestructable woven plastic tarp over the whole thing to keep the contents stable and protected.
North of an old city just west of the great river I found a great cache of coal in railroad cars near what appeared to be an old power plant. I scouted the nearby hills in search of a place to build my forge. I found many fields under care and many farms, some operated by single families and some by clans. I saw corn fields, wheat fields, gardens and small herds of cattle. It seemed to be a prosperous area.
I found a cave--no, a cavern, many paces deep as well as wide with a small stream flowing out of it. It was about fifteen miles from the coal cars. I could not believe my luck that none had claimed it. I knew that I would be staying there. I paced out my quarter square mile that each man may freely take and drove in markers. The land I claimed was part grassy bottom land, part woods and was slightly sloped except for the few acres that held the cavern. A short ways away from the cavern I dug a deep pit, floored it over and built a south-facing privy. I faced over the opening to the cavern with wood logs tied together in a stout wall three timbers thick. Then I built a strong cottage with the cavern wall forming the cottage's back wall. It was built using post and beam. I had learned how to do mortice and tenon joinery during my travels. The joints were pegged together with wedges. I left the beams round where I could to save labor. Sheets of stone as large as I could move made up the floor and roofed over the little stream. I inset car windshields up high into the walls to provide light. I was never much of a mason. My poor excuse for a fireplace smoked and backed up incessantly.
Next came my smithy. I built that damned thing out of thick squared-off slabs of dry-laid limestone taken from old buildings in the city. I had to use a block and tackle to move the slabs with wood rollers beneath. The forge building was very deep with copious room for supplies of both metal and coal. I made the floor out of sand, clay and lime. When wetted and pounded to mix and flatten it dried solid as stone. Once I had my hearth built and bellows operating I forged my first locally made project--hinges and latches for my home's door and shutters. I then cut a door through the back wall of the cottage into the cavern. I forged cunning hinges that would allow the door to swing into the cavern yet appear as but a part of the cabin's wall. a blade thrust into a small slot served to lift the metal cross-bar from its receiver, thus unlocking the hidden door.
When I explored the cave I found a sand beach leading to a large underground lake or river--I could never figure out which. Since nobody local had hit on the idea of salvaging vehicle wheels for stock I was set for a good while--perhaps as long as I lived. The vehicle carcasses also furnished me with a ready supply of sheet metal, copper wire, glass windows, screws, nuts and bolts much finer that anyone could produce. I built several racks of shelves within the cavern where I kept my dry food and salvaged treasures.
I spent several months traveling back and forth to the train yard with my cart, securing many tons of coal and as much working metal stock as I could easily store. Any time I came across others I told them that I was a smith, where I'd set up my shop and the fact that I'd trade work for food.
I was constantly on the look-out for a thing I'd seen in my books. I was looking for a cast iron stove--a pot-belly stove or a Franklin fireplace.
In my gleaning through the wreckage of old houses I came upon many things, some of which I could not comprehend their uses. However I always packed out simple, useful things such as plates, bowls, cups, tableware, cookware, pots and pans. Some things fell apart at a touch yet others were durable enough to use.
Nobody knew when the great die-off occured or even if it was one big event or many small ones. All we knew was that no living man or woman could remember it. Nobody alive could remember knowing folk that lived through it. That made it at least seven or eight generations in the past. Very little cloth remained whole. Books and magazines were generally illegible unless they had been kept somehow sealed away in a favorable environment.
Foraging for old things was a dangerous business. Nobody went into the old cities when the wind blew because that was when parts of the old towers fell from on high to smash a man's brains out without warning. I'd heard tales of entire parties not returning. They were found later crushed under a load of stone--the entire facing of a building had let go all at once. The streets could also open up beneath a person's feet and hurtle a body deep within tunnels and pits beneath the surface, where you'd lay helpless, broken and dying, food for the rats.
Sometimes groups of families would get together and move into an old town if it wasn't too large, the structures were in good shape and it was close to clean flowing water.
I did my salvaging in old villages and farms. Barns and machine sheds sometimes had tools that I could use. I found my anvil and vise that way. I found many kerosene lanterns but frustratingly we could not use them. We had no fine fuel for the damned things. Our light came from grease lamps and candles. I took the wicks from all the kerosene lanterns that I came across to use as wicks for my grease lamps.
Nearby, within an hour's walking distance of my home lay a 'subdivision' of some dozen houses surrounding one old farm with its sheds and barn. There I collected good boards, screws and nails to build my furniture as well as supply my firewood and materials for storage boxes. The more modern houses were useless to me as far as building materials were concerned. However, some things did strike my eye. I came away with a pair of boots that I could wear that had been stored away in a chest along with a military uniform and some papers. Another house yielded a boxed set of silver table settings, silver candle sticks and a silver tea service. Someone once long ago was a coin collector. I retrieved two good fat folding books full of silver dollars, half dollars and quarters. The rest of that copious collection were coins that had no real value to me despite their value to their collector.
I found my prize--a Franklin stove! It sat in the parlor of the farm house, just as pretty as could be! I packed it up in my cart along with the fire tools and all the stove pipe I could find and high-tailed it home. My miserable excuse for a fireplace was about to be bricked over! Once I had brought the stove home I carefully chipped a hole in my chimney to fit the stove pipe. I had taken the flashing piece from the wall where the stove pipe was originally mounted. There was a heavy soft braid wrapped around the pipe just at the wall when I took it out. I had no idea what it was, but if whoever installed the thing thought that it was necessary, I'd use it as well. The pipe slid into the masonry hole, then I tucked that silly rope into the crack around it. I then gently twisted the pipe into the wall until the flashing met the wall. There. Now it was a simple task to position the stove and mount the other pieces of stove pipe. My fireplace damper had been a flattened piece of metal skin from a car's hood. I pushed it in and scribed where it met the wall, then took it out to the smithy to cut it off with a hammer and chisel and fold over the very edge. I took it back into the cottage to push it into its slot, then tapped it in the final bit with a hammer to seal the hole. It was late. I would return to the farm the next day to find some bricks. I could make a bit of mortar out of baked lime, clay and water to set the bricks for a fireproof surround.
We didn't have cement. We knew what it was but nobody had any! After a couple hundred years unused cement stole the water from the very air and crystallized where it sat. I supposed that if we had a ball mill we could break it back into powder, but nobody had the engines or fuel for the engines to run such a fearsome device. Lime, sand and clay would work fine for this application though as it was protected, away from any rain that would melt it away. A lime kiln was an easy thing to make, but required one hell of a lot of labor to operate, not to mention the vast reserves of fuel required to feed the process.
I could make small amounts of quicklime in a clay or an iron pot but it would take two to three days of constant effort and heating to break it down from limestone. The effort really wasn't worth the yield. Larger operations netted tons of the stuff for a week's effort, but someone had to break all that stone and it wasn't going to be me. I sent out word to my customers that I was looking for linseed oil and quicklime.
I was tasked with taking the nicks out of twenty sickles and sharpening them. They were for a flax farmer several hours' travel away. Harold sold the flax to a family of weavers and kept bees to fertilize his plants. The bulk of his income came from the honey and wax from the bees. I traded him the four day job of reconditioning his sickle blades for five gallons of flax seed oil and a handful of fat eight-inch tall beeswax candles.
I'd found a thirty-six inch grinding wheel at an ancient museum during my travels. You can be sure that I wrapped it in a blanket and hammered together a case for it before putting it in my cart along with its stand, crank and footpedal. It was irreplaceable. In that place I also found a giant iron kettle and a fine old wooden kitchen work table with sturdy legs. I certainly did not leave those behind. The table top was between two and three inches thick and banded around the edge in steel. That grindstone made short work of his sickle blades. I but had to finish the edges with a hone.
A small town upriver had lime kilns that they kept running most of the year. They also ran a trading vessel up and down the river. I thought that their prices were quite high, but they had quicklime and I didn't. I bought one hundred pounds in twenty-five pound bags for a silver quarter per bag. They also had wheat flour in waxed barrels, a silver quarter for a hundred pound barrel. I made sure to plunge a open-ended tube into each of the barrels I bought to check for sand or sawdust. I bought eight barrels of flour and four similarly sized barrels of salt. With flour, salt and water I'd not starve over the winter no matter what else occured.
I made similar trades with various small families in the area. I traded for bacon, beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, beets and squash. I started out with a surfeit of good dishes, glasses, cooking utensils, pots and pans while my neighbors were getting by with very little. There were some very happy housewives out there by the time I was done trading. (There was a mystique about the old places that most did not wish to disturb, much like the idea of a cursed forest. It took either a very brave or a well educated man to explore the ruins.)
I heard tell of a bear that was ravaging smoke houses and stock. I wrapped up in warm clothes covered by a home-made oilskin sheet, took up my spears and spear-caster, a canteen, belt axe, knife, rope and a little dried meat. I went hunting. The size and strength of my shoulders allows me to use a much longer spear caster than most men could handle. I was quite good with it. The metal points that I cut and formed from vehicle body panels served me well. I seldom missed.
I did not find my quarry that day. I slept close to the fire that night as the ground was frozen. The next day also was spent in a fruitless chase but I was getting closer. The spoor of my game was fresh, unfrozen. I caught up with that big bastard on the third day. I luckily came at him from down-wind. He was fat and uncaring. I crept close to his flank and threw two shafts deep into him just behind the shoulder, low and towards the center of his chest. He bawled and rose on his hind feet, rising some ten or eleven feet into the air, peering about to meet any challenge. I cast another bolt and caught him just under the chin. He dropped, nerveless.
I sat back on my heels, panting at the effort and excitement. Soon I calmed. I noted that no breath steamed the air before his muzzle. I'd never heard of a bear holding his breath before so I determined that he was past caring. I used a short section of rope to haul as much of his body as I could manage up a close tree by his rear feet, then cut his throat from ear to ear. I stood back considering what I had done and reached in with my belt axe to finish the job. I removed his head. I further muscled his carcass up that poor tree and let him bleed out. Next I slit him open, carved away his wedding tackle and rolled his guts out. The cavity and gut pile steamed in the cold morning air. I fetched the kidneys and heart out of the offal. I'd heard that the liver of a bear was poisonous so I left it behind. While the carcass cooled I knocked the great fangs free of his jaws. Then I cut away the paws and lower legs to lighten my load. I took the time to remove the claws from each paw and pocketed them as I had the fangs.
My next task was to build a drag to retrieve his carcass. I knew that once the flesh had frozen it would last indefinitely. I propped open the rib cage with several sticks to allow the flesh to chill as fast as possible, then went off to find a pair of suitable narrow trees to harvest along with several short ones to serve as cross-members. I stripped and de-barked them all and hauled my prizes back to the dead bear. I retrieved my spears from the body then started the arduous process of skinning such a huge animal. I took my time to do it properly. I had barely finished the task when the sun set. I grinned while looking at that big bastard hanging there. I sliced open the heart and skewered it. I then built a small fire and roasted it. It tasted marvellous with a bit of salt that I kept in a twist of paper. I carved away several strips of flesh before it froze hard overnight so that I might have something fresh for breakfast.
I stayed up that night feeding the fire, resting on the fur side of the un-tanned bearskin. I had it wrapped loosely about me as I drowsed before the fire. The next day would tax me as I had to transport all that meat and hide home. It would take over a day as I was several miles from my homestead.
When I reached my cabin I was spent. I propped the drag with its edible load against a tree and went inside. There I started a fire in my stove and retrieved a full bucket of fresh water. I was filthy with sweat, dirt, blood and gore. I needed a bath. I used a small cloth and two fingers of grainy soap that I'd managed to produce from wood ash and rendered animal fat. It left me wonderfully clean. I re-dressed and carried the water out to dispose of in the bushes.
My next task was unenviable but it had to be done. I had to cut down the carcass of the bear and salt the meat. After the salt had drawn much liquor out of the meat it had to be hung and smoked. I also had to harvest the suet and fat that had surrounded the organs, specifically the kidneys. That I would put aside until I had the time to render it with boiling water. The rendered fat had many uses and was as valuable as silver coin.
I hammered together two stands then laid planks on top of them as a work table. There I sliced steaks and roasts from each quarter of the great beast. I laid out sheets of canvas, covered them with handfulls of salt then rolled the meat up. I tied off each bundle, secured them to lines and hoisted them high into a tree. Next I searched out and cut down several more long, slender trees. These I fashioned into a frame with which to stretch out the bearskin. I had to work quickly to stretch the hide, then flens the tissue from the skin side before it dried in the chill fall air and became stubborn. I loaded up my iron kettle with water and chunks of fat. I forbore rendering all that fat within my cabin as it would reek like a pole cat. Instead I built a small wood fire in the forge and set the bucket atop three bricks surrounding the throat of the forge. I would have to keep an eye on it to insure that it did not boil away the water as the result would be a noxious mess. I would need some of that rendered fat to rub into the hide to keep the hair soft and the skin pliable. A light dusting of lime should aid in keeping it sweet. That skin would make a fabulous bed spread to keep me warm throughout the winter. I kept the tallow rendered from th fat and the sweet lard rendered from the suet in separate jars as they had different uses. (Tallow is yellow and stiffer. It has a noticeable stench. Sweet lard is white, soft and favored for cooking.)
After such a strenuous event I went back to my forge to build up some sweat equity. I made up a set of six boarding cutlasses out of a huge round saw blade that I'd come across. It made for wonderful stock. I also made a skinning knife from it which took a very good edge. It did not dull quickly either. Rather than keep it for my own use I penciled out as many useful blades as I could, then tediously cut them apart with a hack saw. I was quite thankful that hack saw blades did not rot, decay or degrade in any fashion save from use. I had several hundred in oiled papers. Once irreparably dulled they made fine knife blades on their own, though too flexible for many folk's taste. When sharpened and tempered those cutlasses were fearsome. The steel from which they were made must have been something special.
I bolted together many large squared-off beams into a smoke house. It was all of sixteen feet long and twelve feet deep. I could stand up inside the thing and had to reach up to touch the ceiling. I forged sharpened hooks from which I hung the cuts of meat. However some of the cuts were too small for such treatment. I went back to the small abandoned houses to secure the oven grates. I used those to support the smaller cuts of meat with hooks screwed into the inner walls of the smokehouse and chains hung from the ceiling, making shelves. two small smoky fires took care of the whole structure. After a weeks hanging I loaded the smokehouse with the bear meat after the salt was washed away. Then the canvas sheets were taken down to a close stream and submerged with rocks to keep them from floating away. After two days I retrieved them to dry and store until my next big kill. After a month or two in the smoke house, depending on the thickness of the cuts, the bear meat was carefully hung from poles set into large frames deep within my cavern. The temperature was in the low fifties and never seemed to change. I spread out the meat so that if one section began to rot it would not contact other sections and transfer the corruption.
The traders came back! It must have been the last hurrah of their season as the great river was icing up. They had linen cloth, linseed oil, wool blankets and ten pound kegs of dried apples as well as what they had to trade before. I bought much cloth, several blankets, ten gallons of linseed oil, twenty pounds of dried apples, two hundred pounds of flour and two hundred pounds of salt. I parted with my cutlasses and a few dimes for all that.
I mixed up a slurry of whitewash then parted together a paint brush out of unravelled rope and two pieces of wood with the rope ends secured between them. After painting the ceiling and walls of my cabin with the stark white coating I felt that the place looked a hundred percent better. The light from the lamps reflected off of the walls and ceiling rather than soaking it into the dark, irregular wood. [The idea of a polished pie-plate reflector had been forgotten.]
Since I didn't want an ice dam freezing across my little stream and backing up into the cabin I went into the cave with some rock to create a small dam near its source. Someone had once dug out the channel providing my little rill of fresh water. It was no great shakes to stop it up for the season.
Just after the first heavy snow I left once more for the farm house that I'd found. I struggled mightily to retrieve the cast iron bathtub that I'd found on the second floor. Along with it I pulled out over a hundred pounds of good bricks, a small hand-driven grinding wheel, a brace and bits, a full set of woodworker's chisels, a box of metal files new in their oiled papers and a dictionary. I was so pleased that I could hardly stand still. I went through that house after that opening cabinet after cabinet, drawer after drawer, closet after closet, wondering what other treasures were waiting for me in this miraculously un-pillaged house. Then I saw them. I looked up into the gloom in the kitchen. There hanging on the wall in all their black glory was a full set of cast iron pots and pans. They were virtually worth their weight in gold. I rushed upstairs to gather up what remained of the bath towels and comforters then carefully wrapped each precious item before laying them in the bed of the cart. I was amazed to find the lids as well. This was a once-in-a-lifetime find.
I took all care while transporting my treasure to my home. I carefully greased each cast iron piece and laid them on the shelves of the cavern as if they were altar pieces in the temple of some obscure sect.
I didn't have enough fodder to keep oxen over the winter. Two families that lived together kept horses, cows and chickens were glad to take them in trade. They were trading up and down the river with chickens and eggs. I recieved in trade a box of a half gross of good beeswax candles, a half dozen cleaned and frozen chickens and a dozen eggs a week for three months. They said that the egg cartons were worth a silver dime each! I resolved to certainly return them unharmed.
It was then that I realized that I had a money machine at hand. Those egg cartons were nothing but paper mache. I'd seen hundreds of pounds of ragged unreadable newspaper, magazines and books in the houses that I'd visited. I constructed a smaller two-wheeled cart that I could pull by myself and got busy foraging for paper. I had seen several big pots that I had no idea what to do with. Well, I did now.
I had to sacrifice two identical egg cartons to make two halves of a mold out of heavy steel sheeting. Then I ladled hot paper mache into the halves and pressed them together with the benefit of a wood frame, blocks and wedges. The assembly was heated over a low fire until steam stopped escaping at the edges where the mold came together. I used gloves to remove my experiment from the fire and waited in trepidation until it was cool enough to handle. When I prised apart the halves I saw one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen--money on the hoof, so to speak. It popped out of the mold and after folding it in half it clipped together marvellously.
They were flabbergasted when I appeared a week later with sixty virgin, clean, undamaged egg crates. I offered them a deal at two cartons for a silver dime. They happily accepted. I suggested that they keep the money on account for me so that it wouldn't leave them stripped of cash. Zebediah, the head of their clan, vigorously shook my hand. I asked, "Zebediah, is there a place where we can talk?" He ushered me into a small room that obviously held the bookkeeping. There were ledgers everywhere and charts were tacked to the walls. "What can I do for you?"
"Zebediah, I would like to find several things, among them fresh corn oil or olive oil. I'm looking for sand-paper and lemon oil, as well as a dependable supply of linseed oil. I'm a crafter. I make tools then make things with those tools. If you and I agree to work together then convince those guys running that river boat to cooperate we can forge a trading network. How rich do you want to be?"
He looked at me as if horns had just sprouted from my forehead. He slowly said, "We need more people. Many, many more people."
I held up my hand to slow him down. "First, We need power, as in flowing water or some such and raw materials to work with. Much good lumber is out there but it must be harvested, peeled, dried and sawn before it can be formed into things to sell."
"Yes, like grain must be dried after harvesting. Raw wood warps and splits as it dries. If it is dried under heat before cutting it is much more stable."
He sat down and measured me with his eyes. "You have knowledge from the old times. How is this possible?"
I smiled. "The written word. Tell no-one or my life will be worth nothing. I have an encyclopedia."
His face bunched up. At another time it would be humerous. "What in the name of God is an ency- enclys--"
I interrupted him. "Encyclopedia. It teaches things. Much is useless. Nothing is set aside as lessons. You have to read the whole thing to bring the pieces together. It is a set of books this long." I held my hands apart about five feet.
His eyes goggled. "I could never do such a thing!"
I calmed him. "I already have. All you have to do is cooperate and make a profit."
He smiled. "I can do that." We shook hands.
We walked out of the room with my hand on his shoulder. "Let me tell you about canning and how you can sell dead chickens a hundred miles away..."
I stayed there overnight because there were so many questions. I began to wonder if I were a smith or a teacher. Both, I supposed. I fell asleep on their spare bed, contented.
Come the morning I was invited to breakfast. We had oat meal with cream and sorghum sugar. It was fantastic! As I prepared to leave for home I noticed one of Zebediah's daughters watching me. I smiled at her and motioned her closer. She hesitantly came forward where I got a better look at her. She was perhaps twenty years old with dark red hair and a light crop of freckles. I thought that she was cute. She seemed awestruck. "Father said that--that your are a maker!"
I smiled and took her hand. "Yes. I make things. I figure out how things work and how they have been done before the great dying. Some things may never be re-discovered but many ideas are just laying there, waiting for some smart person to snatch them up and make their fortune!"
She looked as if she had the very stars in her eyes. "Oh, I so wish that I were caught up in such a thing!" Then she shrank back. "Pardon me. It is not my place to say such." She drew back as if to dissapear back into the house. I caught her hand to stop her. Her eyes flashed in a moment of fear.
"Wait. Do not go. Listen to what I have to say." I led her to the kitchen table where I drew her down to sit across the corner from me. I kept her hand within mine. "You are approaching this all wrong. You should not be saying 'I cannot' or 'I should not'. You should be saying 'Why not?'..."
She looked at me fearfully. She whispered, "Do not say these things to me. It is not seemly. It is not proper. I cannot so advance beyond my place!"
I caught sight of a younger member of the clan hovering just at the doorway, obvously listening. "You! There at the door!" She flinched, then came forward a step. "Go find Zebediah. Tell him that I request his presence for an important matter. Run!"
She laughed. "Poor Marcie! I fear that you scared the water out of her!"
I asked, "What is your name?"
She replied, "Prudence. Prudence Mary Connor."
"Well, Prudence Mary Connor, think of what it would be like to be married to a maker. Wrap your pretty little head around that while I hammer out the details with your father."
She sat there gasping with one hand at her throat while Zebediah strode into the room. "George, what is the problem? My littlest one ran up to me as if the building were on fire saying you had something important to discuss."
I shook my head. "Poor child. She about lost her mind when I commanded her to find you. Come, sit please. Sir, I ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."
If nothing else the man could think on his feet. "Well, sir, what do you bring to the table? I would not have my beautiful daughter lack for the necessities."
"Sir, I recently took the bear that had been marauding in this vicinity. The meat from that one kill will keep me and mine in food for the winter. I have a vital business in my forge and a plentiful supply of coal. I recently came into a full set of cast iron pots and pans. I am well-educated and a careful yet successful scavenger of things from times long past. I have our agreement to trade upon. All those egg cartons that I brought were made during the past week and I see no reason to stop producing them. Is that enough?"
Zebediah suddenly realized that this was no joke. There was absolutely no way that he would find a more prosperous mate for his eldest. "Daughter, do you approve of this?"
Prudence was having alternating hot and cold flashes. She couldn't feel her feet. She felt faint. She heard her voice say "Father, I find favor in this man's persuit. I find him comely, well-educated and prosperous. I but beg of you to attend to me to insure that I am not beaten without reason."
Zebediah blinked. That was more words than he had heard from her lips in the last five years. "I hear your words, daughter and take them to counsel. I approve of your condition and will attend you weekly, if not in person then by a responsible member of this household." He turned to George. "Sir, unseemly fast though it be, I am inclined to approve of this marriage." The men shook hands while poor Prudence melted in a dithering puddle on her chair.
George took one look and rose to pick her up in his arms, then sat down once again with his prospective bride balanced on his lap where she melted into his arms. He noticed a veritable crowd of young faces on the stairs just outside the doorway. "Marcie!"
The little girl scuttled into the room and came to a halt at his knee, hyperventilating and watching with enormous eyes. "Quick, girl--where's your momma?"
"She squeaked out, "Momma's out with the chickens, watching over the others collecting eggs!"
"Good girl. Go fetch her. Tell her that there's a wedding to prepare for! Scoot!" She ran out like the devil was after a piece of her butt. I heard as she ran, "Momma! Momma! Momma!"
Zebediah sat and shook with his chuckles. "Such excitement in such a small package! You do realize that it will take both my wife and I working in shifts to get her calmed down enough to fall asleep tonight?"
Soon Andrea, Zebediah's wife, rushed through the door. She was brought to an abrupt halt at the sight of her oldest daugher nestled into the chest of a young man with improbably broad shoulders who a the time was grinning like a mule eating thistles. He easily rose to his feet while still cradling Pru in his arms. "Greetings, Ma'am."
"My, but you are a large one. Husband, is this the George that I have heard you praise?"
"Zebediah blushed. "Yes, dear. These two seem to have taken the short route. I've somehow been convinced into giving my approval. Now I fear it is up to you. Do we kill the fatted calf or have them jump the broom?"
She said with a small grin, "Surely we can find an old hen or two to stew up."
George replied, "Ma'am, for stewed chicken and biscuits I shall fight your husband four your hand."
"Best cut back there, dear. I doubt that I would win."
"Fear not, husband-of-mine. I find myself most comfortable with you."
I murmured down at Pru, "Do you think your mother would appreciate a cast iron bath tub?"
I heard in reply, "I think she would move in with us and cook dinner for hot baths."
Well, I needed to find another bathtub.
We gorged on stewed chicken and dumplings. It was a wonderful feast I nudged Pru. "Do you know how to make this?"
"I love you all over again." She nibbled on my ear. After a wonderful home cooked dinner we held a short service with the sole purpose of marrying us.
Momma and daddy came back with us, driving their cart so that we did not have to walk and to carry Pru's collection of goods. Zebediah really wanted to see my encyclopedia to find out if I was full of shit or not. I unlocked the door with the two-tined key that I had devised and ushered them inside. Pru was ecstatic and the parents were impressed. I told them all that what came next must be kept quiet. I lit a lantern and opened the door into the cavern. The rows of food on one side and rows of salvaged goods on the other got their attention. I motioned for Zebediah to help me take a big heavy chest out to the kitchen where it was placed on a sturdy blanket chest. I opened the latch and started removing books. He picked up a volume at random and opened it. I watched his lips move as he read an entry. He flipped deeper into the volume and read again. Finally he gently closed the book and put it down. "You did not lie."
"Nope. You will find that I tend not to lie. Sometimes I do not tell the entire truth but I do not lie. Wife, come here." Pru scooted over to sit on my lap. I picked out a different book from my locker. "Take this. Open it to a marker and start reading out loud." I had just handed her McGee's On Cooking. She flipped to the marker on cheese and started painfully, slowly reading. Her mother's hands began to shake. She screeched out "It is all right there? Written down? We have been trying to discover how to do this for years!"
I replied, "How much do you think such knowledge would be worth to a large dairy combine?"
"How many wives do you want?"
"Just one good one." I nuzzled Pru's neck and she wiggled back against me.
After they had looked through the books long enough to convince themselves that it was not smoke and mirrors I asked Zebediah to help me move the chest back into my hidden vault. "Remember, either or both of you are invited back to read more and take notes. However you must agree to never, ever disclose where this information came from. There are many maniacal fools out there that believe anything from the old times is evil and will destroy us all. Imagine being burned to death. That is what you risk for yourself and your family each time you open your mouth. Beware."
A well-chastized and introspective husband and wife left for their own holding that evening.
When Pru went through our larder she got noisy. "Where did you get all this flour? And salt? What is this? Bear meat! We cannot possibly eat it all before it spoils!"
I shut her up with one of the three ways that I knew. One involved my penis. One involved food. The third simply required a heartfelt kiss. "Pru, shut up." I took the third option, then the first. We had an evening of great joy and mutual exploration.