A Journey Contemplated
1749 – Autumn
Thomas Mallory stopped chopping and took a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow. ‘Saints preserve us,’ he sighed, ‘it will take more wood than this to see us through the winter.’ He gazed about and took in the sights of the small lease held farm he worked with his family. His wife Abigail was baking bread in the outdoor oven. His eldest son Daniel was over in the field harvesting the last of the squash and pumpkin. His only daughter Elizabeth was spreading feed for the ducks and chickens. Liam, the youngest son was nowhere to be seen as he was out hunting. ‘Aye and what about the spring? What will they think about my plans for the spring?’
Thomas never did much like farming. The plot of land that he leased from a wealthy member of the Philadelphia merchant aristocracy was barely sufficient to feed his family and make a profit. For fifteen years he toiled, saving up every last farthing so that at last they could move West and begin a new life. He had met William Trent, an adventurous woodsman and one time officer in the Virginia militia a few years back when 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 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 then it won’t be long before the frontier will be teeming with them that’s looking to make their fortune. Hunters and trappers at first and then with settlers. Once things have settled there it will be back to The Ohio to start another trading post.’
The seed of adventure and profit was duly planted in Thomas so when William asked him to be his partner in a recent letter he quietly accepted to himself. The time to tell the family would come soon enough. All he needed to do now was to convince his wife Abigail that the move would be more than worth the risks involved as the area in question was in dispute between the British, the French and the various tribes of Indians, some of which sided with the British and some with the French.
The thought came to Liam as he followed the movement of the deer 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, marveling at nature and studying it. Indeed he had come to know the area around his home very well and was now hidden on a small mound that was overgrown with brush. He knew from experience that the deer used the trail below the mound 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 brought his musket along. 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 the notion of rising up and following the deer right away. He knew that that would only cause the deer to panic even more causing it to run meaning 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 up just enough to keep an eye on the deer. The wounded deer was still standing and walking but it was 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 was usually the case his thoughts were of Indians and how they used and nature to survive. He was most in awe of the Indians and their way of life though he had encountered them only fleetingly. The farm he grew up on along the Schuylkill River west of Philadelphia didn’t have many Indians in the area. The last of them, the Delaware tribes, had been pushed farther west by the encroaching white settlers. What truth he did learn he gleaned 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 village apothecary having learned from the Mohawk about the various herbs and plants that could be used for assorted ailments. He was also an amateur naturalist and agreed with Liam to teach him 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 the 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 got down to the business of field dressing the deer, removing the unwanted innards, 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 and began the short but laborious trek back home.
‘Pa?’ exclaimed 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 be much of a farmer but I am glad he’s such a fine hunter. ’
Liam strode towards the farmhouse with a fine young white tailed buck draped across his brawny shoulders. Thomas and Daniel came over and 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 exclaimed as he began the skinning process. ‘When you’ve finished the butchering, head over to the Clarkes 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.’
‘Okay 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 and Daniel continued skinning and cutting up the deer, hanging most of the venison in the smokehouse. ‘As you never seem to be around to help me out, I’ll leave you to finish. Leave a couple nice cuts out,’ said Daniel, ‘I’ll take one to Ma for the stew and put one on the spit to cook while you’re fetching our company.’ Daniel wiped off his bloodied knife, picked up the venison and headed toward the farmhouse, stopping; he turned around to face his younger brother. ‘You know, little brother, I used to be jealous of your freedom and more than little angry that you didn’t help out more with the farm. You’re always gone, either in the woods or with Pierre, but I’ve come to realize that you would never have the patience for the life of a farmer.’
Liam grunted as broke through a shoulder joint and looked at his older sibling, ‘It ain’t no secret I have a dislike for the plow. I’ve known for a long time that my fate or destiny lies out there,’ Liam said pointing a bloody finger west toward the frontier.
Daniel, with a huge smile on his face, clapped Liam on the back, chuckled, and said, ‘Well, Pierre must be a good teacher if he has you thinking about fate and destiny. We could never get you thinking about anything that didn’t involve tracking critters or shooting them.’
‘Very funny,’ replied Liam, ‘Pierre is a good teacher. I’ll not argue with that. We’ve been keeping a secret from everyone. He taught me to speak Mohawk, and believe you me, call it fate or any other fancy word you want, but learning Mohawk is part of mine.’
Daniel just nodded and said, ‘I’ve heard you muttering to yourself sometimes. Never did figure out what you were sayin’. Now I know.’ He walked away and made his way through the cabin door. ‘Here you are Ma, some extra meat for the pot. We’re having company for dinner tonight. Liam will be leaving after he finishes with that carcass 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 Liza to fetch me another bucket of water, I need to make more stew if our guests want to eat.’