A Red Son: Not Without Honor
Eliezar and Arrow St. Clair have resettled among the Mohawks, but now must confront hostile shamans, a smallpox epidemic—and, of course, the ever-present problems created by the expanding settlements of white Europeans, who bring new technology with them as well as new diseases.
Eliezer and Arrow St. Clair have established a homestead and forge on the Hudson, near West Point. An exiled Mohawk youth, Green-Star-Passes, takes refuge with them, along with his companion Willow Branch, an escaped Susquehannock slave-woman.
The once-distant troubles of the region come home when the nearby Dutch colony of New Amsterdam erupts in a civil war. Eliezer and Arrow decide to resettle in Mohawk country, leaving the forge to Green-Star-Passes and Willow Branch. A grueling boat-trip upstream delivers Eliezer, Arrow, and their three children to Mohawk country, where Eliezer impresses the Mohawks with his metal-working and crossbows,
Then smallpox erupts, and Eliezer and Arrow must fight the growing epidemic in the face of hostility from powerful shamans. Nor is disease the only danger threatening the Iroquois, who must also deal with expanding white settlement and new technology.
Eliezer and Arrow St. Clair have found a home with the Mohawks, but the future remains uncertain for all of them.
1634: Home on the Hudson
How long? How long? The future hung over him like a boulder with gravel crumbling from under its margin. Thank God, it was spring. The leaves were out in the Hudson Valley. The daylight hours grew ever longer. His land, just below the river twist that would someday be West Point (or might never be West Point) was like a freshly killed bear.
He could stand over its body and count a success, but if his family were to eat, he had to skin the bear, gut the bear, hang the meat to dry, cut it up, and cook it. He was waiting for something to happen: something to happen. Nevertheless, in the meantime he had a bear to skin, in the form of a homestead that would require his work, day and night. Land for his home and garden site had to be cleared. He preferred a longhouse to a cabin. He knew how to build a longhouse. Arrow knew how to build a longhouse. In the past, however, each of them it had a village to help to cut and to carry. There’d been plenty of hands to share the work, then.
The frame of peeled saplings had to be lashed together. The bark had to be peeled from large elm trees and soaked in hot water before it could become walls and roof. The nested cooking pots that he’d thought to sacrifice, from very large to skillet to a small pot, were all in use all the time. The biggest one would be used for soaking elm bark sections, rendering, and perhaps soap making.
All the bark sections had to be lashed in place with many ties. His time in Europe had almost ruined him for life as an Indian. He chided himself for falling back on the American word. His family had no tribe, only themselves: Eliezer, Arrow, and their daughter Thunder. Even that would change. Arrow so enjoyed love-making that she was probably already pregnant again: if not now, soon; three plus one; perhaps more later. Children were the bright arrows in a man’s quiver.
He and Arrow would need a sleeping shelf. Thunder, though she was still an infant, would need her own before long. Their many household goods would need shelves as well. Grantville came back to haunt him. Theirs would be the only longhouse with a Smith-St. Clair stove. There’d be no smoky open fires inside. During the time when he’d been possessed by the Grantville library, he’d read that smoky indoor air has probably contributed to the deaths of millions over the centuries. Arrow would also love her stove’s cooking ability.
He didn’t deceive himself. It would be her longhouse, her stove, her storage shelves. An Iroquois woman would accept nothing less. The men of the Five Nations hunted, fished, crafted hardware, and made war. Nevertheless, they only made war with the women’s permission. Women selected the leaders and oversaw torture of enemies. A man owned only his paints, clothing, weapons, and tools.
They’d chosen a flat area with few big trees, back from both the river and a creek that emptied into it. Both their tribes would have struggled to fell those big trees. Flint axes chipped and ruined quickly; hatchets were too small. Trees could only be notched, and then the notch had to be burned out. Wild grapevines would be dragged back and forth on a layer of sand to cut through the porous charcoal and ash. Hatchets would work to deepen the notch, and then all had to be repeated.
Finally, the tree would fall. That represented no final victory, however. A man still faced cutting off the thick trunk to the length that he wanted. Then, he had to split that trunk, after barely notching its end with hatchets. His peoples’ best wedges were hardened hickory. No matter that the wooden wedges came from the hardest tree in the forest, few wedges would survive to see the trunk fully split. Each wedge represented more than an hour’s work to make, and hickory was scarce on the cold Hudson.
Smoothing the halves of the trunk took time and sand. A half could make a child-sized shelf or a storage shelf. Both halves would be needed as a bed for Arrow and himself. The shelf-trees couldn’t be elm; elm doesn’t split. Red oak was best because of its straight grain, but other oaks and maples could be used. The Hudson Valley forest held all the winning positions against any encroaching humans, as long as the humans were armed only with flint, fire, and wood.
To their downfall, the trees at West Point had never met a blacksmith with a steel broad-ax, a saw, a blacksmith’s hammer, and steel wedges. They fought back, but they were up against a relentless foe with better weapons. The uptimers held to the idea that a days work was eight hours, or perhaps ten. Eliezer was again breathing the free forest air. A touch of the sea even crept up the Hudson when an Atlantic storm clawed at the coast. He rose each day before the sun and went to bed in the twilight. He needed no other clock.
What he had, which many an American would have wished he had, was a help-mate who ascertained that Eliezer ate well. She cooked; she fetched wood; she carried a baby on her back as she broke ground for their garden with a heavy hoe that he’d bought in New Amsterdam. Iroquois gardens belonged to Iroquois women, though she would look favorably on any help her husband offered. Hers was a race against the warm days. The Three Sisters – corn, beans, and squash – wanted warm, broken ground. She called potatoes the Fourth Brother. Eliezer had acquired some in New Amsterdam, but they weren’t as common there as they would someday be. Each cut potato had gone into the ground as soon as they had a spot to plant it. Eliezer had talked to German friends in Grantville, though it seemed so long ago, and found out how that they kept potatoes through the winter. It was only a matter of some wrapping insulation, such as the right kind of bark, in a pit below the frost line. Arrow would baby her potatoes more carefully than she did even her favorite crops, because every spud that came out of the ground would be a seed potato for the spring of 1635.
She wove the branches, from the trees that Eliezer had felled, into fish traps. The river and creeks swarmed with an apparently unlimited supply of small fish. The family ate the big fish together, but every four-seeded hill of corn [one for the blackbird; one for the crow; one for the cutworm; and one to grow] would begin over a dead minnow, a fish head, or a handful of fish guts.
Together, they piled dead wood and debris over the stumps blocking the sites of the longhouse and garden. They had no plow, nor an animal to pull one. Eliezer would never be a man who’d walked behind the south end of a horse, plowing his land. From their first meeting, he and the horses had come to a lifelong mutual distrust. You couldn’t convince him that those big, yellow teeth might not be used on something besides grass and grain, such as a careless Pequot.
She tended the fires as he chopped elsewhere. She’d spread the ashes where her crops would grow. Thunder watched her great, new world from Arrow’s back. Babies were so beloved among the Iroquois and the Pequot that children lived secure. Native babies seldom cried.
If full-sized trees couldn’t stand before Eliezer’s axe and saw, saplings had no chance. He harvested them in groups and peeled their trunks. He warped their green lengths into the arcs that would support the walls and roof of the longhouse. They’d be lashed together with green cedar roots, but he planned to invest some of his steel wire at the principal joints.
Every large elm anywhere near their land lost bark as high as he could climb on a homemade ladder. The trees would die from that loss, but he hoped that he might float the peeled elm logs down to New Amsterdam. A sawmill could reluctantly handle elm; its non-splitting nature could be sawed. Given a year to die, dead elm wood would finally split.
Arrow objected to the time he spent building a lean-to outhouse. A privy seemed less than essential, with so much other work before them. After all, the forest was only a few steps away. Eliezer (bravely) withstood her. Their bacteria demons wouldn’t escape to harm others, nor would he position his outhouse in such a way that the unseen disease-makers could seep over into the well that he’d dig over the next years.
The family could wash clothes and bodies in the Hudson or the creek, but too many Dutchmen now lived upstream for the water to be entirely safe for drinking. For the next years, it was a certainty that they’d be carrying water from the spring-fed creek.
No matter how tired they were, Arrow was insistent about love-making. She’d been the sex-slave of many other men, but she was now a free, married woman. She would decide when she wanted sex. As it turned out, she wanted it regularly. They were both young, essentially alone in the wilderness, not long from their first honeymoon blaze. Nightly was satisfying, but when summer rains kept them in their tent, once wasn’t enough.
By the time the garden was ready for planting, she admitted that it was almost certain that she’d conceived again. Her garden might not have been a field so full of crops that it could support a whole village, but it called for its owners to work there daily. Weeds never gave up. Stumps gave up on their own after twenty or thirty years. If you wanted corn or beans, you had to hoe the grass from between the plants. To be rid of a stump, you had to burn it. Then, you had to burn it again. Then, burn it again, and you’d still have a spot of burnt wood you couldn’t plant this year. The garden rows snaked erratically around a field of stumps, still in the process of being eradicated. Planting in rows was a new idea to Arrow.
The longhouse went up slowly, but it did go up. Arrow helped Eliezer assemble their stove. A second person was needed to hold the heavy hammer, whose head would act as an anvil for the smashed rivets. That took a full day, with much grunting and sweating, and occasional threats by the female member of the crew to brain the male member. Even in place, the stove didn’t create its own chimney. At first, they left one end of the longhouse unfinished. The stove, not really needed for heating, could live a while with stovepipe only. The weather was warm now, and a chimney needed mortar for its rocks. He wasn’t yet confident enough to attack the “mortar” problem.
1634: A Day of Rest?
On a bright late-spring morning, Eliezer awoke with a start. Something had been nagging him, but the itching reminder had been calling from the midst of a crowd of yammering priorities. He sat straight up.
“Mmmm,” Arrow said. Thunder didn’t stir in her nighttime crib
“I missed last week. I never even thought about it. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know. I took the time to find out what day it was when we were in New Amsterdam. At sea, Who knew?”
“What are you going on about?” She had a habit of reverting to her native Oneida when half-asleep. She’d been teaching him the Iroquois language; he understood her well enough.
“And you woke me up for that?” Dark, emotional clouds began to form over her head. “What’s that supposed to mean to us?” She switched to English, their original common language.
“The Puritans forbid almost all activity on Sunday. It’s so important they’ll whip people caught working Sunday.”
“So we’re Puritans now?” Arrow wasn’t some wholehearted, baptized convert. She sometimes found her husband religion incomprehensible. “Then, were not allowed to work today?”
“No, we’re not Puritans. They’re like the Pharisees who plotted to kill Jesus. They’re too tied up in the outward commandments to listen to the Spirit. God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh day. The two of us need a day of rest. We’re not God. Sunday is called the ‘Lord’s Day’ over in Revelation. It’s just a good choice for a day for rest.”
“Pah! No work, huh? Just what were you planning to eat today?”
“Oh, we can do lesser things, but a person needs to clear the mind and body once in awhile. I’m going to sit under a tree and peel poles for the longhouse frame. I’ll read my Bible and sharpen my ax, but I’ll hold off any new attack on the forest until tomorrow. The stumps and big rocks are safe today. Rest, Like I said.”
“You’re a moron, like I said! We can’t afford a day of no work. I’m going to take the hoe and work on the bean rows. You, Mr. Sit-in-the-Shade, are going to watch Thunder. When she dirties herself and wets herself, you’re going to clean her up!” She was prepared for a fight, but it just didn’t happen.
“Fine. Should I nurse her when she gets hungry?” Her face turned a darker red as she surged out of the half-completed longhouse. He watched her seize the hoe and stamp toward the beans. She’d batted the bearskin door-flap so hard that it stayed open. Leaning slightly to one side, he watched her. God pity the weed that met an angry Arrow and her hoe. She felt about invading weeds and grass the same way the Oneida felt about a Mohican raiding party on Iroquois hunting grounds.
Soon, a sheen of sweat was reflecting the morning light from her forehead. Her pox-marks were still there, but he’d been looking past them for so long that they could as well have been at the ocean’s bottom. How he loved her! He was always astounded by that. She was like the handcrafted flintlock pistol he’d inherited from Sir Edmond St. Clair: smooth and beautiful; a work of art. Still, you didn’t want to be standing in front of it when the flint sparked the pan. Her red-brown face made European women seem pasty by comparison. She was young and strong. She’d have been near the Iroquois ideal of beauty, had the smallpox not scarred her.
Thunder stirred and whimpered. He hurried to pick her up. He sighed: Cleaning a wet, stinky baby wasn’t his specialty, but he’d agreed to do the job (through self-preserving inertia). He stumbled through the cleanup, but his (male) blacksmith’s hands weren’t really meant for the task. Only the wettest sphagnum moss needed removed from the baby-carrier. She was still fussy; she was hungry. He picked up his daughter.
His daughter had been fathered by an unknown white man, probably an English ship’s doctor. Her half-white features would leave her adrift in society, not just English or Dutch society, but Pequot and Iroquois as well. The only tribe that she’d always be a part of was the three-person tribe at the smithy on the Hudson. Arrow seemed determined to generate her own, larger tribe, anyway. He held the tiny girl gingerly, half-fearful of damaging her with his strength.
He loved her with the same strength of affection that he held for Arrow. He’d read enough of the New Testament to know that the apparent contradiction of full love for one, but also full love for others, was no contradiction at all. Love, like that with which the Son of God was filled, never failed, never got used up, could always stretch even more. Eliezer wouldn’t have hesitated for a second to lay down his life for Arrow or Thunder. He’d finally come to understand the Son’s ultimate sacrifice. He’d died for all three of the St. Clair tribe already. Eliezer knew that he didn’t quite understand the part about a love so great that He could die for sinners and evil men, just as He’d died for good men and good women and little girls.
He carried the baby out to the garden. He and Arrow had been together long enough so that no words need be spoken. Any words spoken might have pulled her trigger, anyway. She dropped the hoe and unlaced her bodice. Thunder began to nurse happily as Arrow walked to a nearby beech tree’s shade, holding the baby-carrier. Shade trees were always close in their new area. Eliezer strolled over to a section of the same shade. He continued to study the pair, shooting love at them like invisible arrows. He wondered what they saw when they looked at him.
Eliezer was tall and muscular, more brown now than red. Some of his blacksmith musculature had faded in Hamburg, aboard ship, and in New Amsterdam. Now, it was all back, and more. His hair was a black thatch. Arrow had cut it short in New Amsterdam, after likening him to a ragged bear on the day after their wedding. His face was neither handsome nor ugly, but it wasn’t scarred. Most of his generation would’ve been marked by war, just as smallpox had marked Arrow.
He watched for a time and then left for a few minutes. He returned with his axe, hatchet, and hunting knife. He made a second trip for a large bundle of green poles. Sitting with a sandstone and his axe, he began to take the nicks and dulled spots out of its edge. Thunder finished her meal. Satisfied, she was ready to stare at her own new-found hands for awhile. Arrow watched her daughter briefly. A firstborn always received more attention. She rose from her shady seat and walked to Eliezer. She presented the baby at him the way she would a nonliving object. He had to drop his axe and sharpening stone because he might have fumbled Thunder. Arrow strode back to her garden and attacked the weeds with the hoe. If a pestiferous plant came within arc of her digger, it ceased to live.
Even that angry aggression did no good. Her heart wasn’t in it. The weeds began to succumb more and more slowly. Finally, she threw her hoe down and marched over to Eliezer. Thunder, out of her carrier, was wriggling and crawling all over her father’s shoulders, smiling.
“She’ll soon be sleepy again. I’ll bring her sleeping-basket. I’ll clean her.” She could create even simple sentences as if the words entered a space where everything was his fault.
“I know what’s happened to you.” He was careful not to gloat.
“Oh, you do, O Mighty Shaman? What has your magic revealed to you?”
“You’ve been remembering.”
“Yes. You’ve been thinking about all the times we sat by that little window in Hamburg. I’d read the Bible to you; you’d sit and sew the clothes for the three of us. Each of those may not have been a whole ‘day of rest,’ but it had the same Spirit.” Perhaps a white woman might have understood him; perhaps not. When a native woman heard about a spirit, she listened. Arrow squirmed.
An up-timer would have shouted, “Gotcha!” Eliezer valued his life too much to be that foolish. Being right during a difference of opinion with Arrow was far more dangerous than being wrong. She folded her arms, but she was trembling. Without warning, she almost bolted into their mostly completed longhouse.
Whatever she was doing took some time. After a delay, she returned with Thunder’s sleeping-basket. Somehow, Eliezer’s King James Bible, a gift from the Baptist Pastor Green, was riding in it. She must have been especially clumsy because the Bible had fallen on top of her bundle of sewing. The mishandling must have upset her, because her eyes were red
“Give me Thunder,” she said, brooking no argument. Eliezer had lived with her during the months of her stormy pregnancy. They’d been married for a few months, from just after their arrival in the New World. He could read his wife as probably no other man alive could. The smart move was to hand the baby over and keep his mouth shut. He’d survived another encounter.
Arrow snorted and set about cleaning the baby to her specifications. Her every choppy move stated, “I’m doing this, but there’s no possible way you could have made me do this.”
Thunder, fine Iroquois baby that she was, fell asleep without preliminary. Arrow glared at him until he moved the Bible and the sewing bundle out of her way. Thunder never stirred in the spotted shade falling on her basket and carrier. He placed the bundle close beside him and began to thumb through his Bible, as she sat down.
She watched him for any sign that he might even be trying to make something of his victory. His thumb continued to roam the pages, but his lips wisely stayed immobile. She had few options. She could return to her hoe, or she could quietly pick up her sewing in the shade. On any day, very little about hoeing weeds was enticing. She sat down and began to work on a set of small moccasins for Thunder, for next winter. He was off the hook.
Ha! He’d relaxed too soon, too confident in his successful restraint.
“Well, are you going to read to me, or not?” He recovered quickly
“Certainly. Let’s start in the Book of John this time. I’ll read you what it says, and you’ll tell me how an Oneida would say that. Then, I’ll give you an easy verse to read, and I’ll try to translate it. I’ll help you with your reading; you’ll help me when I stumble with the Iroquois tongue.
1634: Time Passes; Seasons Turn
The summer moved ahead, with days filled with hard work. Sometimes a boat would come upriver. If the travelers chose to stop, they’d made make the crew a meal in exchange for some news. It was obvious they wouldn’t have many new neighbors. The big push to move upstream from New Amsterdam and resettle around West Point had burned itself out. The official line of the New Amsterdam’s Dutch government was that the French just weren’t interested in them. They had nothing to fear. Kilaen van Renssalaer had gone back to Holland, since the war between the Netherlands and France was officially over. Very few believed that was a lasting condition. Eliezer and Arrow were unworried. Their claim to their property was likely to be rock-solid forever. No one would challenge a deed granted by the great patroon.
Little news came down the river, but there weren’t enough settled people up there to generate a lot of news. Some hinted that the Susquehannock might be on the move, but nobody had any definite information. That tribe lived well to the southwest. The Iroquois would’ve known, because of their mutual hate relationship with the Susquehannock, but any Iroquois canoes on the Hudson must’ve passed without notice. The Five Nations traded in Fort Orange and New Amsterdam. Furs could become muskets and metal goods. It was a long way to Mohawks or Oneida territory. Arrow’s tribal family didn’t yet know about her return or about the couple’s home on the Hudson. The Iroquois knew at least as much as their sharp eyes would have picked out in passing. Expert observers that they were, that was considerable.
With the corn high, Arrow’s perpetual battle with the weeds continued. She had a slight “bump” behind her navel, but the baby would be born during the winter months. For Native Americans and poor Europeans, that was a birthing-time to be feared. Too many diseases lurked indoors during the crowded winter months, and few homes had decent heat or ventilation. Lungs were continually strained by smoke from leaky fireplaces or cook-fires in longhouses. Babies’ still-developing lungs often couldn’t take the stress. A spring or summer baby had a better chance.
However, the longhouse on the Hudson would be warm, warmer than the majority of 1634 homes. Smoke, which belonged outside, would go outside. Before spring, the baby’s exposure to disease would only be those carried by its two healthy parents and its sister. Winter babies that survived were often the strongest and smartest later in life.
The longhouse’s general structure was complete. The end with the stove hadn’t been completely closed in, because the chimney still needed to be built where the stove-pipe ended. The end toward the river was closed, with the doorway covered by a traditional tanned bearskin. Winter would call for a better door.
The time had come at last for Eliezer to begin thinking about a forge. He’d solved the mortar problem. The solution was almost ridiculously easy. He needed clay, sand, and the same kind of moss found in a baby-carrier, to act as a fibrous framework throughout the mortar. He preempted some of the ashes from Arrow’s prize stove, over her objection. All would need to be solidified by plenty of heat. He began hauling rocks, with an eye toward a chimney and the other eye toward a forge. The Dutch mason in New Amsterdam, who’d told him the trick about the mortar, indicated that just a good dead-wood fire would be enough heat to cure it.
He’d also told him the mason’s joke-that-wasn’t-a-joke: “Haul twice as many rocks a you think you’ll need, and then you’ll only have to go back three times.”
He built a canoe. That was one skill he was likely never to forget, since a canoe had almost cost him his life. This one would be larger than his original one-man canoe, because the time would come that it would have to carry a wife and possibly several children. Upstream, where the river was forced to bend near West Point, there were a number of sandbars. He hauled back load after load of sand in the canoe, in Arrow’s biggest cooking pots. The screeching could probably have been heard in West Point. She promised/threatened to make him baskets instead. The sand and rocks made a good test for a heavy human load it might haul later. It also made it plain that he needed a bigger, flat-bottomed boat for bigger loads. He was having to make too many trips for materials. Even with a hard-wood plank solid in the bottom, the canoe was unstable with heavy loads, and he came close to having it roll on him more than once.
Still, he finished the chimney, with mortared rocks on the outside and mortar lining inside, cured by a wood fire and filled with sand to the height of the stove pipe. The base had to be wider, to support the rocks of the chimney top. From the stove-pipe upward, he laid the rocks more carefully and increased the thickness of the mortar lining. Once he had his forge up and running, he’d band the chimney with thin, brass strips. He was planning for that chimney to help heat his longhouse for many, many years.
The forge was like a squat version of the chimney, with a base of big, mortared rocks and a second layer of slightly smaller rocks. The thick mortar lining would be fire-hardened and filled with sand. A wood fire inside cured the mortar. He’d then add more sand. He planned to save his back by building the forge’s top up to waist level. hat way, he’d need less bending. He missed the pile of steel scrap that had been beside the Grantville forge, and when he had time to think about it, he missed his Grantville friends.
The barkless elm he’d been saving would make adequate charcoal, but the smaller pieces took a lot of sawing. Fallen elm trunks would lie until 1635. A year with out live growth would destroy their no-split nature. Arrow didn’t mind burning the smaller pieces in the stove, but they inevitably argued over just what a “smaller” piece was. For charcoal, he needed a piece longer that his arm and about that diameter. Cut in half, those were just the right size for the stove.
The man who’d do the “cutting in half” kept dragging his feet, wanting the longer, unsawn pieces to make charcoal for his developing forge. Once the longhouse was complete, leftover elm bark just needed to dry to go into her fire-box, but it was little more than kindling. With her stove riding on its stone platform, she was now playing the heat like a professional musician played some complex instrument, with just the right heat for just the right time.
The forge was complete. Eliezer had laid his “hot” surface, stone by hammer-shaped stone, not depending of sand or crumbly mortar to hold burning charcoal. No coals would be escaping the stone rim, but the whole was open to the air. In the summer, without much rain, that made no difference, but the winter would come eventually, and the Hudson Valley was hardly rain- or snow-free.
Every project needed to be done right now. He needed charcoal, but he needed a shed to keep the charcoal in, to keep it dry. He had his forge, but it, too, needed to be covered before the colder months arrived. Forges and snow made poor bedfellows. This year, Arrow would the able to store her corn and other vegetables dry, hung from the crossbeams of their longhouse, desiccating in the dry air rising from her stove. Next year kept calling him, though he dodged when he could. Next year, there’d be another baby who needed space. Thunder would constantly grow to need more space, and every home accumulated more things that were just as essential to their life-style as drying vegetables would be. If he tried to stack his sacks of charcoal in Arrow’s longhouse, words would be said.
He needed lumber, but wedging out lumber one plank or beam at a time ate into his own production in other areas. There was lumber to be had in New Amsterdam, and a bigger boat to haul lumber could also be bought there, but in the “civilized” world, the matter of payment would always rear its ugly head. He had some cash left, acquired long ago from the Bank of Grantville, but not that much anymore. He looked for an answer, and he found one, but it wasn’t exactly the answer he’d hoped for.
With Arrow’s help, they assembled another stove, keeping it as covered and dry as possible. The rest of the answer lay in New Amsterdam, and he hated to leave his family and farm. He might’ve hated that, but Arrow utterly refused to travel right then. Kissing her and his daughter goodbye, he headed the canoe downstream.
Perhaps the merchants in New Amsterdam had dealt with Indians during trade before, but Eliezer definitely wasn’t one of those Indians. He knew what things were worth, and it wasn’t the elevated price initially stated by the merchant. He needed lumber, or he needed cash to buy the lumber. Going directly to the source seemed the best idea. He sought out the man with the lumberyard, Simon van Tanken, and began dickering for a boat-load of planks and beams. When they’d grown close in price, he left off and sought out der meesteres van het huis, the mistress of Herr Van Tanken’’s house.
Using the politeness skills that he’d learned in the Mennonite household, he was soon able to wax eloquent about the benefits of a Smith-St. Clair stove. The lumberman’s frugal wife fell in love with the idea of a stove for cooking to replace the wood-eating, smoky fireplace in her home. Poor Van Tanken never had a chance. He ended up trading a boatload of lumber and a small quantity of silver for a stove that he’d never seen.
It was like a great treaty negotiation. Eliezer convinced him to load the lumber aboard a barge, bringing Frau Van Tanken and Eliezer and his canoe along, with the barge to be rented from the extra silver from the trade. When they reached West Point, if the Dutch wife was unsatisfied, the lumber and the barge would go back downstream, with Eliezer paying for the barge’s round trip. On the other hand, if she were satisfied, the lumber would be unloaded and replaced by the stove. Eliezer would ride back aboard the barge to New Amsterdam. While there, he’d negotiate for a boat larger than a canoe that he could pole back upriver himself. That was a separate transaction, that might or might not work out. He might end up walking back to West Point. It was so simple that a child of twelve, who happened to have a degree in economics, could understand it.
Blessedly, Arrow and the Dutch wife hit it off immediately. Few women had been among their rare visitors. Arrow couldn’t wait to show off her daughter and her prize stove, praising all its great features. The lumberman’s wife was entirely pleased, and Eliezer had his load of lumber. They headed back downstream with stove, stove-pipe, and passengers. Unbelievably, Arrow left her garden and house and traveled with them, chatting with the Dutch woman all the way. Perhaps she’d missed female companionship. Perhaps Clara van Tanken, cuddling baby Thunder, missed small children, especially small girl-children. Her two surviving sons were seven and nine.
Eliezer had to tap part of his letter of credit on the Hudson’s Bay Company to purchase a flat-bottomed boat, small enough for he and Arrow to pole back to West Point. It would be heavy and hard work, because he also bought many sacks of raw iron ore. On the next trip, he hoped to see bars of refined iron from the mines and smelters in Newfoundland. He’d also have to watch that his pregnant wife didn’t strain too much.
Wherever they went in New Amsterdam, he listened. The very air vibrated with rumors. Who knew how true they were? Nevertheless, they were exactly the kind of thing that Sir Thomas Roe had asked Eliezer to report to him.