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Trading Post Arm Wrestling: on line short story
Gater tells a story
The folks around here generally call me Gater Flint. The Gater part started with Mike Fink who hung it on me when we worked on keelboats together. One of Mike’s brags was that he was “half horse, half alligator.” He said he’d allow that I was all alligator and started calling me Gater . Somehow I married up with a city gal named Megan Cassidy. Together we started this trading post and I reckon we make a good team. I know furs and the people who hunt them. She knows business. Something she learned from her daddy. Together we buy furs from the trappers and sell them supplies, canned foods, sugar, coffee, tobacco, pots and pans along with whatever else comes along. Megan’s brother John is here with us from Baltimore. He was training to be a priest but balked at taking the final step to be ordained. Can’t say as I blame him much. It’s a big step and hard to back out of later. For a guy who spent most of his life in school, he has got into some odd adventures out here. Folks that know us tend to trust him because he is kin but he has also proven himself to be kind impressive on his own. He has his sister’s business sense and helps out in the store a bit. Being there are no real towns nearby, the trading post is the center for anything going on around here. Folks come to visit, put up notices on the doors. They drink at the bar and share a bit of food, although we don’t fix nothing fancy.
Folks along the river is a bit odd by outsider standards. Maybe more odd is that John’s sister Megan and I are somewhat leaders here. That’s because we got the trading post, which just about everybody passes through once in a while. It is the only place within a hundred miles to buy the things they can’t hunt or grow themselves. Sometimes they just hang around for awhile—swapping lies, smoking, playing cards or what not. There were keelboatmen like Frenchy, who dropped in to deliver goods for sale and pick up goods to go back to the big cities. There’s trappers, hunters, friendly Indians and some folks just passing through.
John tends bar
When you run a trading post like ours—out where most folks think you are beyond the borders of civilization. Not very much surprises you. On the other hand, my wife and her brother are both city bred and, for that matter, I din’t grow up in the forest. So there are some interesting contrasts. One day John was helping out in the store which includes a bar where we serve decent whiskey, not like some that is sold by some drummers coming through. John was tending bar for a few trappers. A couple of trappers were getting a bit drunk and John refused to serve them any more. Maybe it’s his Irish blood or maybe it’s his seminary schooling but for him it was fine to drink—up to a point. Maybe he just wanted to avoid trouble later. He even cut off Frenchy, his best friend from the keelboat that he took passage on to get here. Anyhow, the trapper he refused to serve further challenged him to arm wrestle. The trapper was a bit bigger and heavier than John. John was athletic but not too used to the frontier rough and tumble ways. The trapper was also Irish but what they call an Orangeman. That’s a Protestant Irishman. While the Catholics like Megan and John use green as a national color, the Protestant defiantly use orange. When the first round started people started to gather around. Even the circuit rider, Rev. Isaiah Jones was there. Somehow word spread because pretty soon more people were there to watch. The struggle was something to watch. First John’s arm would tighten and he pushed an inch or two toward the table. Then the trapper would push back. Finally the trapper pushed John’s arm to the bar top.
Cheers went up from the trapper’s friends. Rev. Jones moved up closer to look. Now he was a man that preached against drinking and fighting and he always argued with John about the sinfulness of both, but he owed John a debt of gratitude for saving his life once. It looked like the trapper was going to get the best of John again. Then John inhaled, held his breath a minute and thrust his hand against his challenger. The sudden move took the trapper by surprise and John followed up to press his hand to the bar. The trapper’s face showed his surprise and cursed under his breath. Then he said. “You got me on that one Cassidy, but it won’t happen again.”
John just smiled and said, “We’ll see.”
John kept his good humored smile but the muscles in his face showed intensity and concentration if you knew him. Both men braced themselves and leaned into the bar. I could see the strain in John’s muscles, although the trapper looked almost relaxed. Both of them were concentrating on the other searching for a weakness. Slowly John started to push the trappers arm off the center point between their noses. Very slowly he pushed and both men’s arms were trembling with the strain. Then the trappers arm started to gain on John and pushed almost to the center. A look of concentration took over John’s features and he pushed back. As he started to gain momentum his elbow started to slip and it seemed to lose balance. The mountain man was pushing back with a steady deliberate push. The onlookers watched with fascination. The mountain man would gain an inch, and then John would push back and gain a bit.
Both men leaned into the task. I could see sweat running down John face into his eyes. He tried to blink it away. The mountain man was sweating too. He wiped his face with the sleeve of his other arm. For several minutes the contest went from one to the other and back again. Finally, I could see that Johns arm was tiring and he couldn’t muster as much energy as before. His opponent was tiring too and the contest seemed to lose its energy.
I watched and it was my time to hold my breath. Johns’ hand was slowly being pushed to the bar top . The back of his hand touched to the surface and the mountain man won the round. There were signs of disappointment from John’s friends and cheers for the mountain man.
The Reverend Jones shook his hand and said, “for a Papist, you put up a good fight, but drinking is sinful.”
“All things are good in moderation,” John said.
The mountain man took his hand and said, “How about serving me that drink now, Cassidy?”
“Nope, but I’ll buy you a drink tomorrow.”
The mountain man laughed and slapped John on the back almost knocking him over.
Copyright 2013 Don Hoglund
© 2013 Don A. Hoglund