The Adventure, (continued)
Tom claimed to be from New England and was traveling to see the west. He had lost his horse a day or so earlier when they tried to cross the Missouri river, and he was now searching for a town where he could perhaps trade for one. The strangers asked what he had to trade for, but he was weary of their motives so he just shrugged. Finally, they just pointed south and said it was a day’s walk to the outpost of St. Louis. By now it was getting late and they offered to let Tom stay the night. Having no better option, he agreed. They pointed to a pile of animal hides, suggesting Tom use a couple for bedding.
Tom rolled himself up in one that appeared to be from a bison, and was soon asleep. It was a sound sleep thanks to the drink the men had shared. In the morning, he awoke to the smell of coffee and sound of meat frying on the fire. They camp came to life as the group shared breakfast. At its finish, Tom thanked the group for their hospitality and set off to the south. Tom left behind a compass, one of the three he had brought with him, as a thank you.
As the men had said, it was indeed a full day’s walk to reach the outpost. As he reached the top of a hill he could see the small village below. There were tents on the outer perimeter, then log and sod cabins in the center. The air was filled with the smoke of a hundred fires burning, despite the heat of the late afternoon. As he approached the village he asked, in French, directions to somewhere he might find shelter for the night, and perhaps a meal? A burly man of about six-foot pointed towards a large sod covered building with a simple hand-drawn sign in front about 500 meters away. With a word of thanks, Tom set off towards what appeared to be a store of some sort.
As he approached, he saw the emporium was really the be-all for the village. It offered beds to rent, shaves & haircuts, dentistry, medicines, whisky, and hot meals. It also seemed to have horses and equipment to sell. Tom stood in awe for a few minutes as a flurry of fur covered men came and went from this haven of commerce.
Tom had determined he would spend as little time as possible in this place, but it was late, too late to start out so he decided first to seek a meal and shelter for the night. When the crowds thinned a bit he approached the man who seemed to be in charge and asked if there was a bed and a meal to be had, and if so how much? The man looked at Tom, sizing him up, for Tom did not look like his normal clientele. Clean shaven, with only a few days growth of beard, he obviously did not hail from this area, or the wilderness of the plains. His first question of Tom was to ask how he thought he could pay for such luxuries? Not to be put off Tom said he would figure that out once he knew it was worth worrying about. With a loud laugh the man, who Tom would come to know as Fergus, said fair enough. The bed was a shilling, the meal another shilling. Tom agreed, and in the course of the conversation pulled a shilling from his purse saying “one now for the meal, the second if the meal is agreeable and I choose the bed as well.”
Fergus was impressed with his new client. It was not often that real money found its way to this part of the world. He had set the price, assuming there would be some barter and haggling, but this stranger didn’t argue a bit. Clearly a man of some wealth. Fergus invited Tom to join him for dinner and a drink. Tom agreed.
The dinner was a simple affair, a stew made from some kind of meat, a biscuit with some sort of ingredient Tom thought it best not to ask about, and ale made from who knows what. At Tom’s urging Fergus began to talk about himself. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he had signed on with a sailing ship as a cabin boy at 12. He served the ship for two years, and when it arrived in New York harbor in 1780 he jumped ship and set out to make his way in the new world. He traveled first to Philadelphia, where the crowds were too big, and then across Pennsylvania to the Ohio frontier. As civilization closed in he moved further west until he reached the Missouri river where he decided to settle down, take a wife, and put his industrious Scottish heritage to work.
Tom, for his part, listened intently, for while time and space formed different lives, the desire to see the unknown, and find space away from the crowds was a shared feeling. When it came his turn, he spoke of his education in the east, and how he too had grown weary of the crowed cities, although he did not mention the cities were now reaching a couple of hundred million residents each. He said he had set out to find what lay beyond horizons, first through the Ohio territory, then the great plains that stretched before them. Along the way, Tom asked if there was a party traveling west he might join with?
Fergus, passing some more ale, considered the question for a moment and said “aye, there may be a group or two, but you will need supplies and some horses.” Sipping the ale, Tom looked over the rough formed mug and asked, “and do you know where one might find such things?” Fergus laughed loud and long as he knew perfectly well where such things could be had, and it all meant profit for himself.
Tom slid a shilling across the table, as a way of saying the dinner was good, but it was time for sleep. He looked at Fergus and said they would talk in the morning about the cost of the equipment, and the potential for travel. With that Fergus showed Tom a canvas tent in the back of the shop. He could hear the loud snores of already sleeping men, as he made his way first to a crude outhouse and then the tent. Finding an empty pad on the ground he collapsed onto it, and quickly was asleep.