George was in deadly peril and had no idea. A cougar had been trailing him and his mule since early that morning. The first shell in his yellow-boy carbine had a dead primer. He walked along oblivious, savoring the day. It was spring of 1873. It was a good time to be alive and out of Ohio. His pop had come back from the war missing something--his sense of humor. It was tough pulling his head in around the old man day after day. He finally let loose and floored the old man with one punch. That was it, and he was on the road with nothing but the shirt on his back and shoes on his feet. Out west seemed to be where everyone was going so he pointed his shoes towards Oregon. It had been two years and some but he was almost there. He had stopped along the way to work for room and board, and to buy his kit. Sam, his mule, had cost more than the brass-sided carbine but his companionship was worth it.
In his pack was a poncho, a good blanket, an 8x12 ft. span of canvas for shelter, a hand axe, corn meal, fat meat, rope, a small brass pail with a bail, salt, a box of shells for his rifle, a water jug and a spare pair of socks. Buried in the bottom was a small poke sack holding his money and some jewelry. He carried on his person two neckerchiefs, a spoon, a heavy sheath knife and a tinderbox. Sam carried a bucket, two empty water bags, a shovel and another small canvas to wrap fresh game in. The mule was carrying light because they had just come over the pass and were in the western foothills of the rockies, still above the tree-line.
The cougar had caught scent of the bloody canvas. The smell drew the powerful beast ever closer. It struck hard and fast, landing on the mule's back and locking its teeth into the neck below. They both went down fighting. George was cursing, trying to get a clear shot. Sam was screaming and fighting for his life. The cougar had a taste of blood and wasn't about to stop.
George finally had his shot and squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. "Jesus wept!" George jacked another round into the chamber. He fired, hitting the big cat high on its back. It yowled and spun, biting at the wound. He fired again, catching it behind an ear. It dropped dead. However, poor Sam was done for. He was quivering, lying there on the stony trail with his spine bitten through. One final shot rang out putting the poor beast out of his misery. George stood looking at the sorry mess, speechless. Soon enough he got to work salvaging what he could. Everything was stripped off of Sam's carcass and put to one side. The cougar got skinned and the body was dragged off the trail. George shouldered his load and continued down the trail. He wanted to reach the shelter of the tree-line before nightfall.
Later that evening George was sitting by a small fire carefully scraping the flesh from the cat's hide with his belt axe. He had made camp within a stand of pines that flourished near a brook. A bit of mush and fatback were simmering near the fire. George had learned patience as well as many skills during his travels but his calm demeanor had been sorely tried this day. He sighed. There was nothing to do but to bear up. The only way out was through. Weary from the trail and the events of the day he soon stopped, rolled the hide in the canvas that caused the problem and headed for the brook. There he washed up and dipped the roll in water to keep it moist. Back at camp he set up his shelter with the aid of a small tree and his rope, ate dinner then settled in for the night.
The first few drops of rain woke him. The clouds were moving fast in the early dawn. He decided to wait it out. He shoveled out a small pit just inside his lean-to and moved the still-glowing coals from the previous night's fire. He dragged in his gear and collected squaw wood to keep dry under the tarp's edge. As soon the fire was built up he set his breakfast to cook. Satisfied that everything was as ready as he could make it, he rose to do his morning business. As he squatted down to relieve himself he heard a child's giggle from the bushes behind him! Quickly turning his head he spotted a small brown face with huge eyes and a small hand over her mouth. He finished up, cleaned himself with some leaves and covered everything with soil. Looking again, the child had vanished. He wondered what that was about, then shrugged. He figured some puzzles had no answers. The rain was picking up so he headed back to his shelter and breakfast. To keep busy he continued scraping away the flesh from the hide. He wanted to finish it before he broke camp. It was a tedious, messy, finicky business to flesh out a hide, especially without the proper tools, but the cat's skin would be valuable when he was done.
George never was much for schooling as it never seemed that important on the farm, but he was good with his hands. He could fashion a wagon wheel or a barrel, set a stone wall or make a pair of boots. Yet his favorite skill was at a forge with hammer and tongs in his hands. The iron seemed to know what he wanted of it and tried its best to please him. He had fashioned his own knife, fire-striker, belt-axe, spoon and shovel. He was satisfied that they were of top quality. When the skin was finished he took the hide, canvas, axe and himself down to the brook where all got a thorough dunking to get cleaned of the bits of flesh, fat and fur clinging to everything. The rain was letting up yet he was shivering and soaked as he made his chilly way back to camp.
George propped a large flat rock behind the fire to reflect more heat from the fire in his direction and sat before it, thankful for its cheery warmth. He felt alone without Sam to keep him company. They had become fast friends over the months that they had traveled together. The loss lay heavy on him. He resolved to find a partner if not a mate at his earliest opportunity. With this decision made he felt much better all around. As the skies cleared he had supper and took his rest.
With the dawn he broke fast and broke camp. Three saplings and a bit of Sam's harness made a serviceable travois to hold his belongings. He stroke along in only britches and boots, his vest and woolen shirt lay drying over his pack.
George was a big man. He was in the prime of his youth at 19, 6 feet 6 tall and heavily muscled from his work at the forge and on the farm. He was covered in curly blonde hair the color of a ripe wheat field. His large hands easily bore the travois as he paced along. The Willamette valley opened up before him as he descended the trail. Thirty years before this trail had been a major highway to the Pacific Ocean. The scores in the rock from the iron-tired wagon wheels bore mute testimony to the traffic they had born. The ruts worn into the rock were nine to fourteen inches deep in places. George kept a vigilant eye open for natives as he had been warned that they would attack, kill and strip anyone they thought defenseless.
The foraging was good along the trail as the predations of the settlers had faded with time and many foodstuffs discarded along the wayside had taken root. He found potatoes and corn growing wild, though only the potatoes were harvestable in the spring. He took meat that evening in the form of a porcupine that thought itself invulnerable in its quill armor. It tasted very sweet after broiling over the fire.
Within days he found himself approaching a settlement. The smells of wood smoke and shit stung his nose after being so long away from civilization. It had been several months since he left the last fort in Montana territory. The sound of a hammer ringing on an anvil drew him. George approached the man busy at his labors. He walked in front of the man to get his attention without startling him.
"Good morn. I carry the name George--George Dickel. And you be?" Jeremy eyed the huge man before him and held out a calloused hand. "Jeremy. Jeremy Adams. May I help you?" "Have you need of a striker or a fellow smith? I have a few skills and need the work." Jeremy again eyed the man. He spotted small scars over George's chest and arms from the forge. "Have you any of your work?" George grinned and laid out his knife, shovel, belt axe and spoon. Jeremy squinted as he inspected them in the bright morning sunshine. "Fair work, I grant you. I have more than enough work to share with another. Many farms here about have no smith and bring work to me. I have no second forge, though." "Simply handled. I can lay stone well enough to build a forge. I need stone, lime, sand and water, then aid in forming the bellows and tools. I can buy in with forty dollars." "Sold!" The men shook hands on their newly minted business. "Have you a place to stay?" "No, I arrived this morn. You see my pack yonder." "Wait here while I wash. I can introduce you to our rooming house and its table for nooning. "You speak welcome words to a hungry man." George grinned. George found his poke in his huge pack and gingerly slipped it into his pocket. It was fairly large and the jewelry within jabbed him in an awkward place.
Two giant men strode down the boardwalk, side by side, their conversation easing their budding friendship. Normal men appeared as children beside them. They soon approached the proper house. "Miss Elizabeth's Catholic Rooming House"? George asked. "It purely drives the Mormons into a frenzy." Jeremy replied with a nasty grin. George slowly nodded. He'd had trouble with Mormon missionaries during his travels. A few were good men. Most, however...
George pulled off his hat as he ducked through the doorway after Jeremy, then set down his pack where he hoped it would be out of the way. A flame-haired woman burst out of the doorway which led further into the house. Her figure impressed George, but her face captivated him. Bright green eyes took him in, then widened in shock. George thought that she was as caught up in the throes of love at first glance as he was.
Liz's first thought was "Oh no! There's TWO of them. How can I afford to feed BOTH?" as she all but fell back against the door frame. George started forward as if to catch her, but Liz caught herself and stood on her own, her back straight as a rule.
"Good day, Jeremy. Who is your imposing friend?" Jeremy started, looking a bit guilty. "Liz, meet George ... George Dickel. George, meet Elizabeth Kerry. Liz? George needs a place to stay. Can you help him?"
Elizabeth slowly eyed the big man from feet to crown. Yes, the big bed. She slowly raised her hand to George, presenting the back of her hand. George slowly took it, watching her eyes as he raised it to his cheek, then gently kissed her knuckles. In a deep voice that he hardly knew as his, George said "It is my very great pleasure to meet you, lady."
Liz drew back at the courtly comment, then charged ahead. "We can have a place for you this evening. The room will be cleaned and furnished by dusk." "Thank you, lady. What is my part?" "Oh! Ahh, a dollar and a quarter a day, room and board, three meals a day. The bath house has a tub and soap is a nickel a bar." George was a bit put off at first at the price, then shrugged and acquiesced. He didn't notice the face of his friend, being behind George. Jeremy was shocked. She was asking almost twice what he paid. "I ask only that I be allowed to worship, my lady." "Worship where?" "At your feet, my lady." His gaze caught hers and she flushed, not knowing what to do or say. She spun about and fled thru the kitchen door. "I hope to tell you know that you have just brought a blush to the hardest woman in town." laughed Jeremy. "Speak gently of my wife to be, I pray." Jeremy stood slowly, shaking his head. "It's gonna get interestin' around here. Real interestin'."
They sat at table to have their nooning. The food was plentiful and toothsome. Both men were satisfied as they pushed themselves away from the table.
A maid, Carlotta, came out to remove the serving dishes and china, then came back to stand before George's chair. "Would you care to settle up for the month? "A whole month?" he smiled She responded with a nervous curtsey. "Yes, sir. A month, if you please.
George knew that he was being pushed into, but walked into it with his eyes wide open. His hand searched out what his poke carried for the great necklace within it. Six pounds of silver cradled sixteen plaques of lapis lazuli--their carefully polished deep blue stones with sea-green highlights rested boldly within the carved whorls. The old Hopi Indian that had sold it to him was loath to sell it, but somehow knew that such a treasure would bind what might not otherwise be caught.
Carlotta gasped at the sight of it and stared into his eyes like a bird caught in a trap. "Sir! It is ... too much!" "Place it in the hand of your mistress. Tell her that it pledges my intent." A smile and a blush appeared upon Carlotta's face as she whirled and hurried back to the kitchens.
The noises emitted from the kitchen were ... interesting. George waited with a small smile on his lips, intrigued with what his offer was to bring.
Elizabeth was shocked to the core by what she held. Her Scottish blood screamed at her "bride price" as she stared at the massive necklace in her hands. Soon she bit down and her lips firmed into a straight line. She was no mere maid to be bought and paid for with a bauble. She thrust it into the purse at her waist. Its massive weight lay there as a constant reminder of its presence and speaking to her.
"Carlotta, have the back room set up with the big bed for our new guest. I think that he may be staying a while."
Meanwhile, George carefully counted out gold coin into Jeremy's upturned palm. "What of an anvil, Jeremy?" "I have a forty pounder in the back for now. We can order a heavy one from downstream unless you want to stay with fine work." George shrugged, at ease with either. They stopped at the mercantile for a bag of lime then returned to the smithy to rearrange the forge, select tools for George to use and lime the floor where the new forge was to stand. Jeremy looked on with curiosity as George dug out the area, mixed lime with the soil and vigorously tamped it down. "With a bit of water it will seem like cement. The forge and anvil will never shift under load." Jeremy nodded, then grinned. "I thought you wanted to brighten up the place with a bit of whitewash." George just grunted, knowing that he was being joshed. The daily soot cast off by a forge would quickly make mockery of any whitewashing.
They spent the rest of the day switching off at tongs and hammer, tearing through what heavy work had built up--the two men working more efficiently together than one ever could. "Well, that finishes that!" Jeremy exclaimed. They had finished the heavy welding and plow sharpening that had been hanging over Jeremy's head. They washed the worst of the soot and grime away then headed back to the boarding house. George stopped at the mercantile again to purchase shirts, dungarees, a towel and two sheets, not knowing what would be provided at the rooming house.
Dinner was a boisterous affair with eight men gathered about the table, all curious about the young giant that had joined them.
George made himself a friend for life when he entered the kitchen and asked if any metalwork needed repair. Jenny, a short, stout woman with a florid complexion pointed to a corner where three large kettles, two saucepans and a handful of ladles lay in distress. He nodded and promised their repair within at most two weeks, making her eyes light up. Those kettles had been a thorn in her side for months. She didn't know why Jeremy hadn't fixed them before. It had strained the relationship between them. When she asked George of it he told her that cast iron usually could not be welded as it was too brittle. George, however, knew of a trick--German Silver. He could float a patch inside the bottoms with a tough new surface. They would be easier to clean as well, as a melted-in patch was almost as smooth as a mirror while the inside of the kettles usually were pitted and scored. It would take two men to do, though, and a very hot fire--two fires. One to heat the kettle so that the patch would take and one to melt the patching alloy.
Jeremy was openly skeptical when he heard of the project so George had to explain what he had painfully learned at the feet of a German immigrant smith back East.
"German silver is made of copper, nickel and zinc, like a white bronze. It melts hot, though, like iron but just a bit cooler. You need a special type of furnace to make it and heavy clay cups to make it in, but since nobody else here seems to know the trick we can clean up fixing cast iron goods. We can slip mold fine work with it too if we can find a clay bed."
Jeremy's eyes got wide at the prospect. He could see the dollars rolling in but then...