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The Rendezvous:on line short story
The warm sun, a beautiful spring morning, and the area around the trading post seemed like paradise. Filling my lungs with sweet, fresh morning air,I went into the trading post to talk to my sister Megan.
“John, how are you this morning?” she greeted me.
“I feel great Megan. Has Gater come home yet?”
“He has but he injured himself in a boat accident. He won’t be able to get around much.”
“I hope it’s not too serious.”
Megan was busy getting breakfast ready and set the table. I was glad to see she set a place for me at the table. She called for Gater to join us.
A well-tanned man about my own age came in moving awkwardly with an improvised crutch. He was a bit shorter than my 5’9” but a few pounds heavier than my 180 lbs. His dark beard made him like the frontiersman he was.
Holding out his hand he greeted me. “So you’re John, the priest brother.”
“I’m Megan’s brother alright and yours now. I’m not a priest, not yet anyhow.”
“I’ve heard of your adventures since you’ve been here John. I’m glad you were here when the river pirates tried to rob the store.”
“My sister seems able to take care of herself pretty well,” I answered.
“That she can John, but it still helped that you were there and reacted to the situation. It took courage and quick thinking.”
I thanked him for the good words but said I was more or less lucky to have been there at the right time to help.
Gater looked thoughtful for a moment. “John, I need your help with something.”
“Anything I can do, I’ll be glad to do.”
“Well, do you know what a rendezvous is?”
“Gathering of sorts?”
“What I’m talking about is a very big gathering of fur traders, trappers, mountain men and Indians. I usually get to them every spring to buy furs but being laid up I won’t be able to make it this year. I’d like you to go in my place to represent the trading post. Maybe your riverboat friend Frenchy could go with you.”
Two days later Frenchy and I were at the rendezvous grounds. It was full of tents, cook fires. Campers, Indians, trappers and other assortments of men. It was mostly a gathering of men. It was also obvious they were engaged in male amusements, such as wrestling, card playing, and shooting contests. I told Frenchy that we better go easy on drinking if we want to do right by Megan and Gator. I wanted to make some good deals for them.
I’d never seen anything like this gathering. It was a gigantic wild party. I knew these trappers lived alone in the wilderness all winter and worked hard. In the spring they wanted to have fun. Can’t say as I blame them any. Unfortunately they were susceptible to being cheated by sharp traders and alcohol flowed liberally. Not a good time to make business transactions. I understood some trappers gambled away everything they earned all winter. The Indians who had not built up any tolerance for alcohol were especially open to being taken advantage of.
It disturbed me to see some traders selling to Indians who were obviously inebriated and had no business doing business. They were being cheated.
“It’s wrong Frenchy. Some traders are taking advantage.”
Frenchy shrugged. “What can we do?”
Modern trappers Rendevous
I had intended to stick to trading and business, figuring that would be enough to occupy me at a new endeavor. However, I was not able to keep aloof from the activities for very long. We packed in a large supply of basic supplies to trade for furs, such things as knives, muskets, pots, pans, dried food, coffee and such. That’s partly where Frenchy came in. He was more familiar with the worth of the products on the frontier. A pound of coffee or tobacco could be worth a lot more to a trapper than to someone back east.
Oddly in that place, far away from home and pretty far from the trading post as well, the nature of the frontier prevented me from being a complete stranger. French was a river boatman and a friend of the famous Mike Fink who was known up and down the river. People had heard about my involvement with saving the preacher when a tent fell. Frenchy might be guilty of spreading some tall stories as well. I got numerous challenges to participate in the contests. One that looked interesting was throwing a hatchet at a pole. Back in school I had been fairly good at games like darts. Throwing a hatchet was a bit different but they both took a good eye and focus on the target. I asked for a few practice throws to get the heft of it and Frenchy gave me some tips and I soon got a fair feel for it. Although I wasn’t a champion I think I got the respect of some of those who doubted a “city boy” could hit a target.
As Frenchy and I walked back to our tent we passed a group of Indians and traders. They were engaged in some sort of game of chance. The trappers and Indians seemed to be indulging freely of whiskey, but the traders weren’t. One Indian offered me a drink from his cup. To be polite I took a sip. I found a sip was more than enough, spit it out, and warned the men that they were being cheated and maybe poisoned. Something foul was added to the whiskey to make it go farther..
I told Frenchy that the whiskey could probably poison the men. They were probably being cheated at the gambling and on the fur trades as well.
Since there didn’t seem to be much more to do there we turned to walk away. Suddenly I felt a hand on my arm and I was pushed to the ground. As I started to get up, I saw that it was Frenchy that had pushed me down. A hatchet was buried in a tree about where my head was. Frenchy had just saved my life. I pulled the hatchet out of the tree and with what I hoped looked like a casual toss it landed in a large whiskey keg. Walking back to the group I took the hatchet from where it landed after hitting the barrel. This time I deliberately swung it against the end of another barrel. I look at the flowed of liquid.
“This hatchet has a nice heft to it,” I said. Then I threw a dollar on the ground. “I think I’ll buy it. Any objections?”
Nobody said anything and I threw the hatchet at another barrel. It spun twice and hit the end and penetrated enough to just start a steady leak. “You know Frenchy, this hatchet throwing is kind of fun. You think I should sign up for the contest?”
“You do what you like John. I’m going to have some fun myself.” At that he gave what looked like a casual kick to a stand holding another barrel. The stand toppled over and the barrel rolled down the hill and hit the same tree that the hatchet had struck when it was thrown at me.
“You can’t do that. You’re destroying valuable property,” the trader said.
“Valuable? You call the poison whiskey valuable?”
“Don’t matter. It belongs to me and you’re destroying it.’
Now the seminary didn’t teach business subjects but my father did and what he didn’t Megan did. As I recall a contract isn’t legal if it is gotten from someone who is intoxicated and the seller knows that and takes advantage of the intoxicated person. It is worse if the victim was involuntarily intoxicated. What I said to the trader was, “if you want to take me to court, welcome to it... The judge might be interested that you were drugging the trappers and Indians with bad whiskey. I don’t think in American law..this is part of America now, you know.”
The trader was taken aback. He obviously didn’t know the law. But he said. “No court is going to take the word of an Indian over a white man.”
“That might be,” I said. “But it also illegal for you to sell whiskey to the Indians. I got an idea. Why don’t you give these men their money back and I won’t bring the law into it.”
The trader agreed to give money back to the trappers and Indians that he had cheated them out of. Frenchy finished our trading and went back to the trading post. I couldn’t wait to tell Gater and Megan of my idea.
“Let’s sponsor a rendezvous here by the Trading Post next year,” I told them when we got back. I overheard Frenchy groan and say under his breath. “What’s this crazy priest going to do next?”
Copyright 2013 Don Hoglund
© 2013 Don A. Hoglund