Thomas Mallory stopped chopping, and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Saints preserve us,” he sighed, “it’ll take more wood than this to see us through the winter.” He swept his glance over the small leasehold farm his family worked. His wife, Abigail, removed the freshly baked bread from the outdoor oven, and went into the cabin to begin cooking supper. Daniel, his eldest son, harvested the last squash and pumpkin from the nearby field, while daughter Elizabeth spread feed for the ducks and chickens. Liam, the youngest, was away hunting. “Aye, and what about the spring? What will they think about my plans for the spring?”
Thomas never did much like farming, but it seemed to be the best way to feed his family. He leased a small plot from a member of Philadelphia’s merchant aristocracy. It was not the life he had envisioned for himself or his family. For fifteen years he toiled, knowing he’d never make a decent profit. Nonetheless, he saved every spare farthing so that, at last, they could move west and begin a new life.
A few years back, Thomas joined the militia for a brief time to take part in King George’s War. He met William Trent, an adventurous woodsman and officer in the Virginia militia. After that conflict concluded, Trent intended to return to Virginia. He stopped by the farm, looking for a place to bed down for a few nights. He regaled them with his stories of the frontier, about his trip down the Ohio River, and the opportunities waiting for men with vision and courage. “This is only the beginning,” said William, “but I plan on opening a trading post along the Allegheny River. If I’m any judge of events, it won’t be long before the frontier will be teeming with them that’s looking to make their fortune. Hunters and trappers first, then settlers. Once things are settled there, it will be back to the Ohio River to start another trading post.”
Thomas’ time with the militia, coupled with Trent’s ideas of the frontier, planted seeds of adventure and profit. William wrote to Thomas a few months later, asking him to be his business partner; Thomas quietly accepted. He kept the decision to himself; the time to tell the family would come soon enough. He needed to convince Abigail that the move would be more than worth the risks involved, as the British, French, and various tribes of Indians (some of whom sided with the British, others with the French) disputed who would control the area.
As Liam followed the movement of the deer, he realized that he was never so at peace as when he was in the woods. For as long as he could remember, he made the most of every opportunity to be outside, both marveling at nature and studying it. Indeed, he had come to know the area around his home very well; he hid now on a small mound, overgrown with brush. He knew from experience that the deer used the trail below to travel to a small creek for water. He also knew that he would be too far away for an effective shot with his favorite weapon, the bow, so he had his musket. The deer was now broadside to Liam, the hindquarters obscured by tree branches, but the front shoulder was in the open. Liam fired; the shot hit and knocked the deer down, but it was soon back on its feet, staggering away. Liam resisted rising and following the deer right away. He knew that that would only cause the deer to panic even more, causing it to run –it would be farther away once it finally succumbed to the wound, and Liam was sure the shot was fatal. ‘That got at least one lung, maybe both,’ he said to himself, as he rose just enough to keep an eye on the deer. The wounded deer was still walking, but quickly losing blood and becoming weaker.
Liam, satisfied that it would not be going too much farther, sat back down to wait for a few more minutes, giving him time to think and daydream. As usual, he thought about Indians, and how they used nature to survive. He was most in awe of Indians and their way of life, though he had encountered them only fleetingly. Not many Indians lived near his family’s farm along the Schuylkill River, near Philadelphia. The last of them, the Delaware tribes, had been pushed farther west by the encroaching white settlers. He learned about native tribes from a former Black Robe, a priest who had lived with his Order in the village of Teatontaloga near the white settlement of Albany.
Pierre Baptiste was now the Rivertown village apothecary, having learned from the Mohawk about the various herbs and plants that they used for assorted ailments. He was also an amateur naturalist; he agreed to teach Liam about the Mohawk – including their language –in exchange for Liam gathering up and bringing him herbs and any other interesting plants and critters he could find. Liam peered over the brush in time to see the deer collapse to the forest floor. He slowly got up and stretched his cramped legs. When he reached where the deer had fallen, he noticed the pink froth that had been seeping out of the deer’s mouth and nose. ‘Yep, got the lungs,’ he said to himself. Liam then field dressed the deer, removing the unwanted innards, and placing the heart, liver and kidneys in a pouch. He used a long strip of rawhide to wind around the torso, keeping it closed as he hoisted the carcass up onto his shoulders. Using the legs as handles, he began the short but laborious trek back home.
“Pa?” called Daniel as he gazed off to the woodland that bordered the tilled soil. “Here comes Liam, looks like we’ll be havin’ venison for supper.”
“Aye, that it does,” replied Thomas. “He may not help out much here, but I am glad he’s such a fine hunter.”
Liam strode toward the farm with the fine, young, white-tailed buck draped across his brawny shoulders. Thomas and Daniel helped Liam hoist the carcass up, and tie it to an overhanging branch of the tree that Liam used for skinning his prey. “Only took one shot to bring him down, got him right behind the front shoulder and got him in the lungs,” Liam said as he began the skinning process.
“When you’ve finished the butchering, head over to the Clarke’s and invite them for supper tonight,” said Thomas. “Things aren’t going so well since Joseph’s wife died, and this will help. Besides, I have big news to share, and I’d like them to be a part of it.”
“Sure, Pa, can I ask Pierre to join us? He’s in need of a good meal as well, and it’s him that taught me to shoot.”
Shrugging his shoulders and smiling, Thomas replied, “Don’t see why not. Least we can do to repay him for teaching you to shoot so well. Besides, I was going to suggest you bring him along. My news may interest him.”
Liam finished the butchering, hanging some of the venison in the smokehouse and bringing the rest to Abigail. “Here you are, Ma. We’re having company for dinner tonight. I’m just leaving to fetch Pierre and the Clarkes. Pa says he has some news to tell everyone. Wonder what it is?”
“Your Pa can be secretive, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with that letter that he got the other day. He doesn’t know that I know about it. I do know that it has him talking to himself. Ask Daniel to bring me another bucket of water, I need to make more stew if our guests want to eat.”
After relaying his mother’s request to Daniel, Liam rode their draft horse to deliver the message. Pierre was in the village, so he stopped first there first. It was only a couple of miles to the Clarke’s cabin on the other side of the village. “Liam, my young friend, what brings you out of the woods and into civilization today? Is there an emergency at the farm?” inquired Pierre, washing his hands and arms in the outside basin, cleaning off the guts and blood of a dead young fox he found and had been dissecting.
“No emergency, unless that’s what you call a dinner invite,” replied Liam, “Pa has something he wants to tell us, and asks if you can come to dinner. I’m off to ask the Clarkes the same.”
Pierre nodded, saying, “I’ll head over as soon as I get cleaned up.”
The Clarke cabin was situated on land that was, for all intents and purposes, a peninsula, as the river at that point formed an upside down U. The landlord, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat, had supplied the village with the material to build a small mill, and a forge for blacksmith work. It was on this land that Joseph set up both. Liam arrived to find Joseph repairing a wagon wheel, the sound of hammer on anvil echoing off the dense forest across the river. His son, Henry, was cleaning a raccoon hide with the fur still attached – a difficult task, his mother had taken care of these sorts of things. Martha Clarke had been a very industrious woman with many talents. Sorely missed by her husband and son, Martha had contracted a fever the year before. She died, despite the ministrations of her family and Pierre.
Joseph saw Liam first. He dropped the hammer after one last clang, wiped the sweat from his face, and walked over to the cabin. “Well, howdy there, young Mallory,” said Joseph as he extended his hand in greeting. “What brings you to our bend in the river?”
Liam slid off his horse and, accepting a cup of cool water from Henry, said, “My Pa asks if you and Henry would come by tonight for dinner. Got me a fine buck today, and Pa has something he wants to talk about.”
“Can’t say no to some fresh venison and fine company,” answered Joseph. “Besides, it will save me from having to eat the less than savory stew that we two cook up. By the crowning glory of the Holy Trinity, I surely do miss my wife. I’ll have Henry hitch up our wagon. While he’s doing that, I’ll grab a couple jugs of ale to add to the festivities.”
Rather than ride home on the broad, saddleless work horse, Liam hitched him next to the Clarkes’ horse, and climbed into the back of the wagon. “What’s that you’re working on, Henry?”
Henry tossed the raccoon hide to Liam. “Trying to stretch this out for a winter hat. Thought it would be a nice present for Elizabeth. If I trap a couple more of these critters, I can make her some mittens as well.”
Tossing the hide back to Henry, Liam said laughingly, “I’m sure she’ll be pleased. Just the other day, she said to me that she hoped handsome Henry would make her a raccoon cap and mittens.”
It was no secret that Henry was in love with Liza, and had been since they were old enough to talk. Liza was fifteen now. She’d grown into a very beautiful woman; while she wasn’t exactly leading Henry on, she did occasionally drop hints that other boys in the village were desirable, when she felt that Henry was complacent about their relationship.
The rest of the trip to the Mallory farm, the three planned a hunting trip for the first snowfall. They arrived to see that Pierre had helped Liza set up a spit of venison over the outdoor fire pit. Thomas and Daniel were arranging some roughhewn stools, for sitting on while they enjoyed one of the last warm September evenings. Soon, it would turn bitterly cold and snowy – at least, it seemed so; the woolly caterpillars had a thicker coat than usual. As if on cue, a flock of geese passed overhead, their V pointed south.
As they clambered down from the wagon, Liza turned toward them and said with a mischievous grin, “Welcome, Mr. Clarke. I see handsome Henry has accompanied you. I thought he may have left the village, as he has not been by to see me in at least two weeks.” Leaving Henry trying to sputter a reply, the men sat and passed the ale jug, chuckling at Henry’s discomposure. Liza returned to the cabin to help her mother, but only for a few minutes. Soon she was standing in the doorway listening to the men talk, but with her gaze firmly upon Henry.
Thomas, eager to learn more about Pierre, asked him how he came to Rivertown. While Thomas liked him well enough, he was concerned about Pierre being French, and was anxious to find out if that would be a complication in the future. Pierre gazed into each one’s eyes, and gauged that the time was right for telling the whole story. He began.
“When I was a growing boy in the south of France, my parents took me traveling with them. My father was a trade merchant. He did very well by it, and took us on some of his expeditions to Spain and North Africa. I invariably found a way to lose myself in nearby towns and villages while my father and older brother were busy with customers; my mother was too involved dealing with my two younger sisters to notice my absence
“I have always been a curious sort, fascinated by other peoples’ cultures – how they lived, what they believed, and their languages. One day, I found my way to a small enclave of Moors just outside of Cadiz, Spain. While I sat by the well listening to the women, an old man sat next to me. Speaking in French, he said he was Hasam, the leader of this group of Muslims — a very much diminished people in both number and influence, since most of the Moors and the Jews had been driven from Spain over the course of the last few hundred years. I spent the next four days with him, learning much of his religion and the history of his people. I also learned their language; in fact, I have a God-given talent when it comes to languages. I can speak Arabic, Spanish, German, Latin, Huron, Mohawk, and of course French and English. I do not say this as a boast; it is just the way of things. Some men are born warriors, some are born to be kings, I was born to learn, to absorb knowledge like a sponge in water.
“Naturally, I was raised as a Catholic, and was as devout to the Church as any thirteen year old boy could be. I must admit, however, that when sitting around the various village wells, I wasn’t just listening to the women talk, if you know what I mean,” he said with a mischievous wink of an eye and a sly smirk, “so to learn another’s view of God was an eye-opening experience.
“Hasam told me, too, of the Jewish religion. Even after pondering through the years what he taught me, it still astounds me that the God of the Catholics, the God of the Muslims, and the God of the Jews are the same God – yet through blindness and a lust for power, each of these religions claim God as their own, to the utter damnation of the souls of the others.”
Pierre paused telling his story to take a sip or two of his ale. He was silent for a few moments, and stared off into the distance. Finally, with a shake of his head and another sip of ale, he resumed his tale. “You must forgive me if I drift off now and then. Telling my tale brings back memories, and I like to savor them while they last. As I was saying, I had learned quite a bit from Hasam, and that has stayed with me. Still, and despite my doubts about the nature of God, when the time came to decide my future, I chose to become a Jesuit monk, a Black Robe as we came to be known to the natives here.
“My training in France was a mixed blessing. I enjoyed the solitude, and the chance to read books I had not had access to. I was eventually assigned to the established mission with the Mohawk. My superiors saw this as a just reward for my somewhat lax attention to the daily rituals. They were more than happy with my ability to translate and copy text, but finally came to the conclusion that I would be better off somewhere else, so to the New World I sailed.
“The priest in charge of the mission, Father Colon, didn’t have the time to track a wayward monk while trying to keep the Mohawk tribe from splitting up. Seems that the godly Black Robes had succeeded in converting many to Christianity, but they took that success too far, haranguing those who refused to believe -- with the promise of hell awaiting. I did not want to be caught up in that rancorous dispute, so I spent much of my time learning the language, and talking to the older Mohawks about their spiritual beliefs. My fellow Black Robes were aware of my unorthodox ecclesiastical thoughts, as I often engaged them in debate. A couple of them, enraged at my attitude, began to spy on me — looking for a way to renounce me to Father Colon.”
Abigail appeared from the cabin, and announced that the stew was ready. With Pierre’s promise to continue his story later, they headed to a meal of fresh venison and a bean stew. Joseph told his son, “Henry, bring along that jug. Eating and talking are thirsty work.”
“Right, Pa,” Henry answered. Like his father, Henry was tall and wiry, and both were endowed with an adventurous spirit. When Martha died, Joseph gave up on farming, and became the village ‘jack-of-all-trades’: part-time blacksmith, part-time miller and part-time butcher. Henry followed in his father’s footsteps, though he spent as much time as he could roaming the countryside with Liam, hunting or gathering specimens for Pierre. As he grabbed the jug, Henry told Liam, “Pierre sure has led an interestin’ life. I hope I get to have some adventures. Not likely to happen while living here, though.”
“That’s for sure,” replied Liam. “The more I listen to Pierre, the more I wanna get away from here. He’s never told me much about his past, only that he was no longer a Black Robe. I think tonight we may hear the whole of it.”
“I swear, Liam, this is the best venison I have ever eaten,” said Thomas as he sliced off another hunk. “That raises a question in my mind. I wonder if the deer taste this good farther west. Now, the reason for this question is that I received a letter a few days ago from William Trent. When he was with us last year, he hinted at needing a partner for his trading post out by Fort Duquesne. Well, he has asked me to be that partner, and after mulling it over, I’ve decided it is time for us to move west to the frontier. I know it will be hard, and I know there will be dangers, but I also know that I cannot remain a farmer forever. We have enough saved to pay off the landlord, and to procure what we need for the move.”
Abigail was a strong woman, physically and mentally. She knew that no amount of argument was going to dissuade her husband, and was actually surprised that it took so long for something like this to happen. The clues to Thomas’ longing, subtle as they were, were evident for quite some time.
One way she saw his dream was how he handled their sons. Daniel was the oldest, and at nineteen years of age was more attuned to the land, more of a farmer, than his father. Daniel never faltered in his duties around the farm; indeed, he took on more than his share of the toil. On the other hand, Liam was never much help, other than to feed the livestock, or to help with the harvest. Abigail would often complain to Thomas about Liam and his lack of help, and Thomas would chide Liam — for a few days, he would pitch in more vigorously, but only for a few days. Thomas, being of much the same mind as Liam, would often feel a little envious of Liam and his freedom to explore.
Elizabeth, however, did concern her mother a little, as she was more prone to daydreaming and would often do her chores haphazardly. This was somewhat surprising to Abigail. She knew that Liza was smarter than what she let on; she just needed to learn to focus on the here and now, not some fanciful future that would never be.
“Well, husband, I do not know why it took you so long to arrive at this decision. I have known ever since William filled your head with dreams of a different life, one that doesn’t involve tilling the soil.” At this little jab, everyone chuckled.
“Have you had any news from Trent regarding the French and their Indian allies?” asked Pierre. “They can’t be expected to just let an English trading post thrive in their territory.”
“He did write that things were certainly in some turmoil between the English and French, but he has found a spot on one of the feeder creeks to the Allegheny that is well secluded and defensible. He plans to keep things slow trading-wise until the situation improves, but he is sure that it will. I get the sense from him that he knows more than he is letting on regarding the future of the area. So, yes, there will be an element of danger involved, but so far, the French have left him alone.” Thomas put down his fork, and gazed at the faces of his family and friends. Liam was smiling from ear to ear; Daniel, on the other hand, seemed more apprehensive.
Joseph glanced at Henry, raised his eyebrow, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “The boy and me have nothing keeping us here, might you want a little company on this venture?”
“I was about to put it to you,” replied Thomas. “I would welcome most keenly your company and your help. What about you, Pierre? Is there anything or anyone keeping you here, or would you be willing to join this crew?”
“Perhaps it would be best if I finished my tale before I answer. You may not want me along after hearing the rest of the story,” replied Pierre with a sly grin on his face. “One thing you must understand. I did not join the Church or the Jesuits in order to serve God. No, I did it as it was the best way to get an education, to learn and to think. This may help to explain my disinterest in the rituals and vows required of me. I did enough to keep from being thrown out while in training, but was always being watched and judged.
“As I said earlier, I was being spied on, so I began to exercise caution. I assumed more responsibility for the daily tasks laid before me, even to the point of saying Mass on occasion. This lasted for a couple of months, until some visitors arrived from the Oneida. One of their important warriors, Mendoah, came to talk to the Mohawk chief Donehogawa about recent incursions into the Oneida’s territory by a Shawnee band led by a ruthless brave, Chogan. Mendoah’s daughter was with him, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her name was Suitana, and she had come along in order to spend time with Onatah, a Mohawk woman gifted in healing. I came to know Suitana, as I was also a student of Onatah. During our time with Onatah, we took many walks in the woods and fields, gathering plants, goose down, and whatever other materials Onatah said were good medicine. On occasion, our hands touched as we reached for the same plant or bit of bark, and each time we let our hands linger together a little longer, until we were both sure that we each desired the other. I have said that my vows were not the most important thing to me, especially the vow of chastity. Indeed, I was not the first Black Robe to run afoul of that prohibition, including the two priests who were intent on destroying me. Mendoah, along with Donehogawa — my best friend among the Mohawk — and a handful of Mohawk braves left the village to deal with the Shawnee. It was then that my Jesuit brothers made their move against me. Suitana and I met at a beautiful spot on Schoharie Creek for our lovemaking, a place canopied by elm trees and under the flowing leaves of willows. Usually, we were careful not to be followed, but on this day I was expected to say Mass, though I had not been advised of that. When one of the other priests saw me heading away from the village, he followed me. Seeing our intentions, he raced back to the village to tell Father Colon. When the good Father and my Brothers arrived, I was asleep in Suitana’s arms.
“I am always shocked when whites bitterly complain about the savagery of the Indians when, after all, we whites are just as cruel if not more so. I was beaten with club, fist, and booted feet to cries of ‘blasphemer, spawn of Satan, fornicator.’ Unconscious, I was dragged from that lovely spot into the creek, and left for dead. They dared not touch Suitana, out of fear — and rightly so. Mendoah would have killed them without hesitation if they had. As for me, I was now an outcast, for as you can readily tell I did not die that day.
“When Suitana returned to the village, she told Onatah that I was near death. Onatah gathered up her medicine pouch and made her way to the creek, where I was barely breathing. She was able to pull me from the water, where she then began tending my many wounds. I was unable to move from that spot for two weeks, while they continued to nurse me back to health.
“When I was finally strong enough, I said a tearful goodbye to Suitana and Onatah, gathered up the supplies they brought, and headed away from the village with no real destination. I worked my way south, stopping at the few farms and villages I happened upon to work for food and a place to stay until I was ready to move on. I arrived in Rivertown; when I learned that the village needed a doctor, I decided to stay to render what help I could. I am, however, ready to move on, and will join you if you will have me.”
With that said, Thomas took one last gulp of his ale, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and said, “That settles it, then. I think you’ll all agree that the time to leave will be in the spring. We can use the coming winter to prepare. We need to stock up; we need to bring practically everything we’re gonna need out there. Let’s go back outside, and enjoy a relaxing evening one last time before we get too busy.”
They all did as Thomas suggested, and soon the sounds of laughter and light-hearted banter filled the night. No one noticed, at least not outwardly, that Liza and Henry had snuck off to the other side of the cabin. When she was sure they were out of sight, Liza grabbed Henry and pulled him to her. Kissing him softly, their lips finally parted. She asked, “When are you going to marry me, Henry?”
“In two years, Liza, you know your Pa said you couldn’t marry until you turn seventeen,” replied Henry as he stroked her hair and gazed longingly into her eyes. “This is hard on me, too, you know, but now at least we’ll be together more often. We better get back to the others before they start talking about us.”
“Oh, my handsome Henry,” Liza replied with a big grin, “they’ve been talking about us for years.”
That night, as Abigail brushed her hair, she turned toward Thomas as he climbed into their bed. He looked up at her, noticing the frown on her face. “What’s on yer mind, Abby?” he asked.
Putting down the brush, she sat on the edge of the bed and took Thomas’ hand. “You know, dear husband, that I would never disagree with you in front of the children, and I’m not really disagreeing now. But, I am concerned about the dangers involved. The journey itself will be hard, and we don’t know what we will face from the Indians.”
“I’ve given that a lot of thought,” he replied. “We left our home in Ireland to find a way to establish a home and future for our children. This farm is just a stepping stone to reaching that goal. I see this chance to make it happen, and I can’t let it pass us by. This trading post will grow, and we will grow with it; and the children will have their future. I know that it will be difficult, but the experience will prove to be quite an education. We’ll be as prepared as we can be for the trip, of that you can be sure.”
“You ease my mind, husband, but I’m sure you’ll understand if every so often I mutter a prayer to Saint Christopher for safety and strength,” she said as she slid under the blanket and pulled Thomas to her. “I am blessed to have such a family and I would see them safe. We will do that together, wherever we are.”
“I suppose you’re happier than a hog in slop,” Daniel said to Liam, as he sat on his cot repairing a hole in his breeches.
Liam grinned at his older. “What, because of the chance to explore new territory, to have a life of adventure? Well, I’d be a fool if I wasn’t happy. Not all of us are cut out for farming, or being settled in one place.”
“You know what happens to that hog? It gets slaughtered,” replied Daniel. “Be sure to put out that candle afore you fall asleep, little brother.”
“Aw, you worry too much,” Liam replied, “good night, older brother.”
Daniel mulled over the events of the evening, trying not to feel disappointed at the prospect of uprooting and starting over. The farm was just beginning to become what he envisioned; and with hard work and help from the others, it would someday be profitable. But he had to admit to himself that what the farm was now was due mostly to his efforts. His Pa and Liam certainly provided labor, but not the zeal Daniel possessed. Despite his attempts to bring them round, he could not penetrate their restless spirits. Perhaps, he thought, this new beginning will provide the chance for him to realize his dream; yes, perhaps. In the meantime, he would put forth the effort required to prepare for the journey.
Overriding any anticipation or excitement about her Pa’s announcement was the plain fact that Liza was going to be seeing and spending a lot of time with her handsome Henry. She had known for quite a while that he was the one, despite the teasing she gave him and his haphazard approach to making time to see her. At times, she was jealous of Liam, as Henry seemed to spend more time with him than with her, but then there were the times when Henry was just so sweet. Besides, he was the handsomest boy in the area, standing just a shade under six feet tall with broad shoulders and an unruly mop of brown hair that hung to his shoulders when not tied in a tail. His face was like that of one of the old Greek gods that Pierre told her about; the only marring feature was a scar under his chin from a hunting accident, and even that added a rugged cast to his look. Yes, she thought, as she finally gave way to the yawning and laid down; this was going to be the best of journeys.