Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dalton's Mountain

Vicar Will had been reciting the wedding vows so often for the new brides and grooms of Camden Corners that he knew what to say without looking at the printed word. This week was no exception. The Crowley boys had been married two days ago and now sitting in his office were Lucinda McCoy and Nick Rossi. They had passed Josie McMillan and Reggie Blackburn on their way into the Vicar's office.
“Seems to be the season for weddings” he said as he looked at the two smiling faces in front of him.
Will and his beloved Kate had been married themselves just a few weeks ago.
Both weddings were very simple, Josie and Reggie were married in the chapel just west of town. Josie wore her sister's gown. A small reception was given at the lake house she and Reggie were still in the process of remodeling.
The following day, Lucinda and Nick were married under the grapevine archway behind the Marino Trattoria. The reception was in the restaurant where Eduardo had prepared all of his specialties for the occasion. Rosa and the entire Marino family were overjoyed with the two additions to the family. Nick rented a small house two doors down from the Bentley house and just south of the Marinos. He was worried that Cassandra would be lonely without her friends close by. Cassandra was just so happy to have Nick in their lives. She told everyone she saw that Nick was now her new papa.
There wasn't much time for adjusting to married life for either couple. Construction on the new hospital was about to begin. Jamison Bentley had drawn up the preliminary plans with the assistance of Doc McMillan, Tom and Julie. Lucinda was more than happy to leave the details to the professionals, however she insisted on only top quality construction material and labor. She didn't believe in cutting corners to save a few dollars.
Reggie was happy to abide by her wishes, it was a pleasure to work with someone who believed in the high standards that he did. His crew was all in place and waiting for the materials to be delivered by train. Reggie assembled the usual men in his crew. He assigned Ernie Black as foreman of the project. Ernie was one of the best men in construction. He was almost as much of a perfectionist as Reggie and was the man Reggie relied on the most. This would be the biggest project either man had ever been involved in and he knew Ernie would do the job well. Ernie voiced concern about one worker who had signed on for the job. Ernie was a good judge of character and felt uncomfortable about the fellow named Dusty Blanchard. Ernie had known Dusty's Paw, Al who died a year or so ago working on a project in Greensboro. Al was a good man. The incident had been ruled accidental but Ernie had never known Al to be careless about his safety or that of the crew. Ernie hired Dusty because of who his father was but he was such a nervous kid he wasn't sure he was up to the pressure of constructing a building of this magnitude. He'd keep his eye on him, maybe the kid just needed a break.
It wasn't too long before the first shipment of lumber arrived. The men loaded it on buckboards and transported the planks of wood to the job site. Ernie came out of the makeshift office to inspect the shipment.
“This can't be our order. The quality is poor. He picked up one plank and there was a knothole almost as wide as the plank itself. Ernie called Reggie over to do his own inspection. At least half of the order had some type of flaw. Something was not right. This lumber had been ordered from the most reputable sawmill he had ever dealt with. It was just a small outfit located at the base of a mountain in Virginia. Ezekiel Dalton owned the mill. He assured Reggie the task would not be more than he could handle.
Reggie explained to Lucinda that this lumber could not be used for the hospital. He personally would travel to the Dalton Mills to speak with Zeke about the order and see what could be done about getting the superior product he had always been able to depend on. The problem was, if he let the crew go, they would most likely finding other jobs. He couldn't expect them to be waiting around without pay. Lucinda didn't blink an eye.
“No, don't let the men go. We can find something around town for them to do. You look into this matter.”
“Thanks Lucinda, I think Josie would like to go with me to Dalton's Mountain. It's beautiful country around there and I know she would enjoy the adventure.”
Reggie was right about Josie wanting to go with him. She loved Camden Corners but was anxious to see more of the country. She was a little nervous when they arrived in West Virginia as to what they would find. They rented a horse and buggy and started the trek through some of the most beautiful territory they had ever seen. The only thing she knew about the Daltons was that Zeke was the head of the household. He lived on his land with his wife and their two sons. Josie had them pictured with corn cob pipes and missing teeth. Mules and critters roaming in and out of their house with no windows or doors. Reggie pulled up to a charming farmhouse.
“Here we are.”
They were greeted by a nice young man who introduced himself as John Dalton. “Please come in the house. You must be exhausted from your long trip. Ma has some fresh lemonade made for you.”
They walked into the warm and welcoming house. Mrs. Dalton greeted her visitors. She was a tiny woman, but Josie had the feeling she could hold her own. She had the most welcoming smile and Josie noticed all of her teeth were intact. Zeke came through the door. A friendly man with a twinkle in his eye. Behind him was another young boy. Zeke introduced him as Benjamin.
Josie liked this family right away. Zeke reminded her of Oscar Crowley although she had never seen Oscar in a pair of overalls.
“Effie, these young folks must be hungry. Let's dish up some stew for them and while you're at it, I'll have some myself”.
“Just about to do that old man”.
Josie had to suppress a giggle the way they spoke to each other. It was done in such a loving way that it didn't sound offensive. She had called him old man and he couldn't have been more than 40. Josie wondered what she will call him when he really is an old man, Methuselah maybe. She didn't dare look at Reggie, she knew she wouldn't be able to keep from chuckling.
Josie was thoroughly enjoying the stew. She had no idea she was eating rabbit which was probably for the best. The fresh baked bread and sliced tomatoes were the best she'd ever tasted. Effie told her they lived mostly from the land up here.
“Our families have lived in these mountains for a century or two.”
“There are Daltons all the way up that mountain there” said Zeke. “We don't see them much. They don't like to come down this far. They live totally off the land and take care of their own. They're not much on having visitors either so we just leave them alone for the most part”.
After dessert of a fresh baked apple pie, the men went out to the sawmill. Reggie felt bad complaining about the lumber received after being treated to a meal but knew it had to be done. He showed Zeke the block of wood he carried with him.
“Where'd you get this? It's from what we call a junk tree. They grow like weeds but you have to pull them up by the roots before they take over all the land.”
“Zeke, this came from the order you sent to Camden Corners.”
“Reggie, we never got any order from you, I know you mentioned it and I have some wood set aside for you but when I didn't hear from you I thought the project had been delayed or abandoned.”
“I don't understand Zeke, I signed off on that order myself. It was to be in three shipments to make it easier for you. Something is not right and I will get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, will you accept my handwritten order and I will wire for your money.”
Josie came out to the mill to see what the operation looked like.
“Josie is one of my best crew workers Zeke. She knows her way around a hammer and nails.”
Zeke loved the idea of a woman working somewhere beside the kitchen.
“My Effie hung the door of this barn” he said proudly.
“Only to hang it back up after it fell down and broke your arm”.
“It only sprained it, old woman” “That was the lightening that we had that day”
“Maybe the lightening helped, but it had more to do with the bolts being too short when someone hung it in the first place.”
John piped in “those two keep Ben and me entertained, it's like watching a Punch and Judy show”.
Reggie did as he said and put an order in writing. Zeke insisted there was no hurry in requisitioning the deposit but Reggie insisted and he and Josie traveled to the general store that also housed the telegraph office. He sent a wire to Lucinda explaining that the lumber received was not sent by Zeke Dalton and he would get to the heart of the matter upon his return. He asked that she speak privately with Ernie but not to let on to the crew what the hold up is.
Reggie thought it best to wait for a reply. He and Josie took a seat at the small table by the window of the store. The store owner, Ike Goolsbee poured them a cup of coffee on the house. It wasn't too often strangers visited his store and he was happy for the company.
While the threesome chatted, a young girl entered the store. She heard them mention the Daltons and a smile came on her face.
“I'm going to marry John Dalton some day and we will have so many children that old farmhouse will be bursting at the seams.”
Ike introduced the girl who couldn't have been more than 13 to the visitors.
“This is Olivia Benson, I think if anyone is capable of snaring young John Dalton it will be Miss Olivia here.”
Josie didn't want to burst the child's bubble but she thought back to the boy she thought she'd marry when she was 13 and shuddered now at the thought.
Before long there was a message on the telegraph machine telling Reggie the deposit was on its way. Ernie was in the office with Lucinda and Jamison and he had some ideas about solving the mystery of where the inferior wood came from.
Josie and Reggie thanked Ike for his hospitality and returned to the Dalton's to bid good bye and assure Zeke that they were back in business.
Effie wouldn't hear of the two young people riding all the way back to the train station that evening. She insisted they stay the night with them. There was plenty of room and they would be able to get a fresh start in the morning.
The next morning Josie tearfully hugged her new friend Effie Dalton goodbye. It was the start of a friendship that lasted through the years. Five years after their first meeting Effie wrote that Olivia Benson was her new daughter-in-law. She and John had been married and moved into the Dalton home. Every year or two after a new arrival was announced until the old Dalton farmhouse was bursting at the seams
Just as Olivia said it would be.

No comments:

Post a Comment