An Honest Man (the Donkey and the Wall) by J. L. Lawson @J_L_Lawson

22 Nov



Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.

–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“It seldom appears to the casual observer that any thing is truly out of the ordinary, save on those rare occasions when the extra-ordinary sneaks into everyday life; then even certain well adapted places aren’t immune from this phenomenon. Take for instance Fred Livingson and his Mercantile store in Tahoe City, California,” the old man began as the young man jotted notes.

“Fred started at the Mercantile when he was ten. A legitimate age for the heir apparent to begin training for his role and purpose in life. His father inherited the shop from his father, and his father from his father who sold mining and panning gear in the 1870s to those daring souls looking to strike it rich in silver and gold out west. Every several years a new demand in the market took hold so that each generation of Livingsons had to meet the cyclical vagaries of supplying needed ‘thingies’ to a ever more fickle public. Gadgets and tools which were essential one year may become useless inventory two years later. The Livingson family motto seemed to be: Never throw anything out; it’ll sell someday. That was the prime reason for the ever growing stockrooms and the every decreasing showroom. From floors to ceilings, on many levels, in many rooms, closets and cupboards, over nearly the entire block were the tools and widgets of Americana spanning a large swath of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A person and a place with a history, indeed.

Fred was at the store each morning at 6:30, save Sunday when he opened for afternoon hours only after church. His routine varied little. The store varied little, but for the aforementioned inventory cycles. The townfolk knew the shelves and stock as well as he himself did so most of his real attention-to-business-time involved special orders and balance sheets, which is what he occupied himself with from 6:30 until he unlocked the door at 8:00. Ordinary days doing ordinary things—so it appeared.” Thus the story began.

“Fred’s Great-great-grandfather sailed into San Francisco harbor as Wang Fu Kong, the youngest son of a Chinese entrepreneur. He inherited a portion of his father’s fortune and in order to avoid losing it, or his life, at the hands of his greedy brothers, he sailed into the sunrise looking to make his fortune in the New World. He promptly adopted the name of George Livingson, a name to which he took a fancy, picked randomly from a handbill in the streets of Chinatown. He made a significant deposit of gold, smuggled in his overcoat lining, into the investment bank of Sutro & Co., one of whose directors was a second generation Cantonese from the British colony in his own Guangdong province.

A bachelor of twenty-two, he quickly found prospects grim for a prosperous future in the city, so he purchased a small stock of durable goods, a small wagon and a horse and headed for the Sierra Nevada to try his hand at prospecting the new Comstock Lode. He made it almost as far as the Great Tahoe Lake when a broken wagon axle stranded him quite a few miles shy of a village with the pretentious epithet: Tahoe City.

His first several weeks in the mountains were fraught with struggle and hardship. His frustrating untutored attempts to pan the local streams were dismal and unrewarding at best. The soil was contemptuous of the seeds he brought for a garden. At least his horse could forage for itself so he was spared the constant and demoralizing threat of dragging another creature into his spiral of failure. Resourceful as he was, he could not command the weather, much to his chagrin. His several initial camp arrangements had been repeatedly modified because of the unpredictably fickle mountain storms.

So finally accepting the verdicts of nature on his attempts to ignore the elemental realities of his situation, he at last decided to surrender his preconceptions and faulty ideas and fall back on his strengths. Relying at last upon his actual experiences as a youth, and the practical knowledge he had acquired over the course of his life, he set about to build a more permanent shelter, now in harmony instead of at odds with the vagaries of the Sierra’s temperamental climate.  He cannibalized the wagon to build a serviceable pavilion fitted with racks and shelves on which to display the remaining supplies he might now vend to whomever might pass by in need of such things. Thus from his makeshift camp store, set up out of necessity as a result of his native talents rather than long and careful planning, he began trading his meager wares and staples. Stocks ran low while demand for his wares grew among the residents of the nearby village, mountain men, wannabe prospectors and the Indians who seasonally traveled through the forested little valley.

George Livingson had also brought with him some stock which could not be purchased in America. Among those special items were a cache of Tonkin cane poles. When split properly, planed, fashioned and glued, the resultant cane rod was lithe as willow and as durable as oak. With rod in hand George was able to keep himself in trout and salmon, and his camp store in dried varieties of same. Each Saturday afternoon he ventured into the hills and mountains, up creeks and streams, returning late in the evening Sunday with enough for himself for the week and more to add to his store’s largess, or trade for other merchandises when the opportunities arose.

These walks into the wilderness gave George the invigoratingly solemn opportunity to see his new world from a perspective only a handful of people of the masses teeming on the face of the planet ever experience. With a bag over his shoulder, his rod and a length of rope, and walking stick in hand he strode into the shadows of Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pines. Jays and squirrels, unheeding of his passage, foraged and cavorted between the floor and canopy of the vast forest. The dews of the early morning gave way to the cooling mists and breezes of afternoon as George plied his rod in the eternal waters of the mountain streams, ever watchful for fellow fishers—the black bear, brown bear, the mountain lion and the wolves. Often during the strolls between fishing spots he would practice his English on the ducks and herons, or else serenade the chipmunks with the English versions of the folk songs from his youth or ballads of his maturity. He felt more at home in this personal wilderness than he ever remembered feeling in the common intercourse of any city.

The summer season was faltering before the chiller airs of early autumn and the evenings arrived sooner and sooner. It was upon one of these abbreviated forays that a serendipitous event unfolded. George had begun to cast up and down the riffles of a wide bend in a stream while unaware of being watched carefully by a silent observer. The watcher moved only to keep the angler in view and made no sound other than frequent silent gasps of surprise and respect for the performance in front of him. When George had landed several good sized trout and prepared to move downstream along the bank a ways, it put him enroute exactly where the observer was positioned. With a moment’s surprise on his part, George met the old man courteously and made to pass on. As he glanced up in greeting he recognized a familiar face; White Feathers, the first of what had became a long procession of Indians who frequented his little camp store.

The old man beamed back in admiration and fell in with George as he trekked to a new patch of the water to fish. They spoke of the other streams, creeks and rivers in the mountains, of the prospects George had for his little store, and of his family back in China. They lingered together chatting like this on the bank as George prepared to begin anew when brilliance touched him. With a flourish of rod and line, he offered for the old man to have a go with the tackle. Delighted, White Feathers held the rod firmly and made a couple false casts to feel in his own hands the gentle power of the cane and line he had so recently witnessed in action.

Then with a few pointers offered by George, he moved into the stream and made an inaugural cast. An hour and a half later, the old man had landed two good sized fish and allowed himself to be coaxed out of the water, grinning like a boy all the while. He wasted no time in trying to discover what would in good trade be acceptable to George to build for him a rod like this one. They wrangled and laughed as they walked, and as they finally neared the camp store, they agreed to terms. George needed some special assistance to more permanently establish his store, and White Feathers, well, he said he only wanted the fishing rod.

True to his good word, White Feathers used his influence to get George something he needed and could not get himself: a courier—in this instance, a mountain man. His name was Bridger, and he set off immediately upon receiving the special request of his long time acquaintance and friend, ready to fulfill the promise to White Feathers, made between them long ago. He arrived at George’s camp store a week or so later prepared for anything. George entrusted to him a letter personally addressed to a Bank Director at Sutro & Co. in San Francisco, which had to be delivered in person. Bridger hadn’t been prepared for this and it took him some few minutes to be sure he had heard correctly. George explained that, through this letter he had instructed the Director to procure certain merchandise, sundries and wares, and to release those goods into the care of the trusted courier, Bridger, for return shipment to himself in Tahoe City. In addition, a second letter attached to the first was to be posted to his only trustworthy Uncle in Haiji County, Guongdong Province, China requesting a shipment from him of a quantity of high quality Tonkin cane. Payment was to be made on terms of his uncle’s own choosing and arranged through the aforementioned Director.

The mountain man made him repeat it once more, not because he hadn’t understood, in fact he memorized everything the first time. He needed this mission to sink in: Escorting settlers, he understood. Guarding gold shipments, he had done. Hunting Buffalo, Bear, Elk, Moose, Wolves, Mountain Lions, Deer, Raccoons, Rabbits, or Squirrels, anything you name, he’d done that. What he’d never done was venture into San Francisco, into a wealthy Bank, as a courier to deliver a letter. That stymied him, but he shrugged and accepted the letter. He’d try anything once, however crazy.

During the months of waiting and worrying over the shipment venture, George built White Feathers his own rod and added an excellent reel at his own expense; not anticipating even once how this tackle would prove so important to the great good fortune of his future. It so happened that the old Indian was very highly regarded by all who knew him, and had earned an excellent reputation with the White authorities in the territory as well as with his own extensive family relations. When he arrived at George’s little camp store one autumn afternoon to receive his treasure, he brought along one of his nieces. It was actually one of her aunts who had herself promised the girl the outing weeks before as repayment for some undisclosed favor the girl had masterfully managed for her—Though it seemed to have been promised without thinking it at all necessary to consult White Feathers at the time! The girl was simply waiting at his door, dressed as if prepared to go off on a shopping trip when he emerged from his home to embark on the short journey. It took him a bit to realize she wasn’t following him toward some common, local destination, but was in fact meaning to be his traveling companion. Really, he only realized it after they stopped for the first night’s camp, and she was still with him. White Feather’s never rushed to judgement about anything. They proceeded on their journey the next morning. White Feathers, now, paid more attention to his great-niece. She was near as tall as himself, ‘statuesque’ he decided; she preferred linen blouses and woolen skirts and dresses to buckskin or beaded doeskin. Her long dark hair was kept up off her neck, and she walked with the poise of a dancer. She easily negotiated the rough country over which they trod with an elegance borne of long experience on the mountain trails and paths.

George had left for an impromptu hunting expedition in search of a break in his diet of fish. So instead of his rod, he carried a bow and a few arrows. The bow was constructed from a slightly curved Tallow branch, which had been cut for this purpose from a grove of the trees discovered on one of his previous forays into the forests. The longish section of wood had been shaped to a suitable form and made the backbone of the bow. He had expertly laminated tapered strips of tonkin cane to the spine, and after glueing and binding the assembly with light tough sinew, he had fashioned a very stiff bow—tall as himself and needing all his formidable strength to draw. The arrows were also split cane, fletched with the pinion feathers of a magpie, and lethally tipped with silver heads. The expedition had been a success, meaning he hadn’t lost an arrow, and he was laden with a grown big horn when he started the trek back to his camp.

When White Feathers and Belle arrived at the deserted camp store, the old man set to searching for his new fishing rod. He came out of George’s tent carrying a leather tube tied with a bit of paper, his own name scribbled thereon. Beaming, he opened the tube and disgorged its contents before the astonished and curious eyes of his niece—Astonished at his brazen behavior, and curious at the package’s contents. The silken bag that issued from the tube contained a rod of exquisite manufacture and White Feathers immediately assembled it and tested its flex. Elated, he attached a borrowed reel already wound with line, selected a few flies, also from George’s collection, and bid his niece a quick instruction to begin a fire for supper; he was off to test his newest treasure.

Belle was left by herself in a stranger’s camp and his little store. Without dwelling upon the oddness of the situation, she set about inventorying her resources for accomplishing the given task. George’s little compound was meticulously organized, as she very soon realized. She had no difficulty finding precisely what she required to ready the evening fire, set water to boil, choose spices and other ingredients for a fish stew, and begin cutting vegetables. In fact, before any time at all she felt quite at home here, perhaps even more than in any of her relatives’ homes. She shortly knew intuitively where every item was to be found, and was continually astonished at the extent of George’s implements, tools, and pantry. While the pot simmered she began exploring the wares of his little store, and after studying its merchandise with a practiced eye to quality, it met with her hearty admiration. Emboldened by her uncle’s own display of audacity and encouraged by her own curiosity, she inspected his private quarters and came away with the same opinion of his adeptness, skill and reasonableness—which she already held for the rest of his compound.

George, meanwhile, was almost within shouting distance of his camp as Belle completed her erstwhile inspection of his world. The first thing that caught his attention was the smoke rising from where his camp should be. He quickened his pace and was soon close enough to sniff aromas of such subtlety and deliciousness he had to wonder at what might be awaiting him. ‘Surely this was no interloper come to ravage my stores,’ he thought. Besides the rich smells, a song of joy was gently mingled with the voices of the breezes and leaves of the woods. A lilting and haunting melody borne by a voice both sweet and strong. If there is such a thing as love at first smell or sound, George had it bad. 

When White Feathers returned to within earshot of his friend’s campground, he heard the voices of Belle and George in pleasant conversation. The subjects of their discourse were of courtesy and pleasantries, but the spirit and tone of the dialog was unmistakable. He smiled to himself and resumed his approach, adding some unnecessary noise to his steps so as to herald his imminent return. The two looked suddenly up at him when he emerged from the path into the compound, and he thought he caught a glimpse of the briefest blush on their cheeks as they smiled back him in welcome.

“I was just about to dress the big horn sheep which I was most fortunate enough to kill today,” said George, and quickly moved off to the carcass hanging over the little creek nearby.

“How was your fishing, Uncle?” asked Belle in a more formal tone of voice than he had just overheard her using.

“Well…” he started to answer when she quickly came closer to him and lowered her voice.

“You must arrange for me to stay with this man,” she pleaded, “I will live here and merely serve him if he will not have me for a wife,” she stated unabashedly.

“Uh…” responded White Feathers with eloquence.

George then rescued him in a loud voice of forced nonchalance from over near the creek, “How did the rod behave for you?”

White Feathers, glad to be interrupted, went to his friend’s side smiling and started to say, “It was a dream to cast. I…” George also interrupted him speaking in a low voice before the old Indian could get out another word.

“I would have your niece for my wife. Whatever it takes, whatever is required of me I will gladly do. Would you speak to her for me… but casually… don’t make a big deal about it. Just find out if she likes me… see if she could consider someone like me as a husband… but don’t make it seem to direct though. Don’t…”

Without trying to respond, White Feathers rolled his eyes and turned on his heel. He had heard enough from both of them. He left George pitifully looking after him as he strode to the fireside and dropped to a seat, slumped forward, and covered his face with his hands.

Belle and George both saw him slump down and heard his sighs. They looked at each other, then to White Feathers, then back to each other. While gazing into each other’s eyes—time stopped.  At the sudden sound of the old man loudly clearing his throat, all the while watching them both carefully, the spell was broken and they each looked away. White Feathers chuckled, then laughed, and soon was doubled over with tears in his eyes and gasping for breath. He peered from time to time at their uncomprehending faces staring back at him. When his fit of hilarity had abated, so that he could once again breathe evenly, he straightened up and in a mock-official-sounding voice said, “George you are permitted to petition this young woman’s family for marriage. The positive response to which, I assure you as the one to whom they shall appeal for approval, will be positively forthcoming. I myself am aware of my niece’s own true wishes in this matter.” He fell back to merely chuckling to himself again and he went about disassembling his new rod and returning the reel and flies to George.

‘The most wonderful meal they had ever eaten’ was how George and Belle always referred to that first supper any time they were coaxed to recount it. Before the sun had set that day, they were hand in hand strolling along the banks of the stream and leaving no footprints because their feet no longer touched the ground.

Fred’s Great-great-grandmother, Belle, was a Shoshone princess. Se came with a substantial dowry, plus her own accomplished skills developed over the span of her brief lifetime. Although her own father was unknown to her, and she never found out from any relatives who he had been; from her mother she had learned more than many her age. Her mother was the eldest of four sisters and had mastered the arts of weaving, pottery, plant lore and leather craft as a girl, excelling the abilities of her younger sisters. All these she taught Belle and she was not a gentle teacher, as Belle’s Aunts found long ago and consoled Belle in sympathy. Though perhaps overly harsh in correction, it was as if she knew her own time with the child was measured, for when not in instruction she was loving to the point of doting. When she died of natural causes Belle made all the arrangements and accoutrements of the ceremonies held for the family. She had a keen eye for quality workmanship and had looked forward to perusing the reputed quality supplies at the Camp Store, and truth be told she was more than a bit curious about “the Livingson” her Uncle had spoken of so often—hence the trip with White Feathers.

The San Francisco arrangements were executed without hitch or hiccup, and the trusted courier was handsomely compensated. George purchased a vacant lot at a crossroads near the edge of the nearby village and after a few short months established Livingson Mercantile. George and Belle took up residence in the rooms attached to the back of the store set aside for that purpose, and went about preparing for a family. The rooms were setup thus: a hallway from the stock room of the store proper led into a little sitting room from which two doors opened. One to the kitchen and one to another hallway, broader than the first. From the wide passage were two rooms used for sleeping, one for the couple and one for the frequent guests—relatives mostly. This hall opened into a large open room furnished with chairs, rugs, stools and two tables. Belle entertained their guests primarily from this room. In a deep alcove at the far end of the room, George setup his work bench and tools. The kitchen was simplicity. There was a wood fired stove and cooking top. An island in the middle of the room offered food preparation and the luxury of a pump and basin. The well was dug on the very spot and access made through the floorboards for maintenance. The storage pantry looked more like a wardrobe than kitchen furniture with the exception that each of its four feet were settled in brass cups kept filled with water to deter six-legged intruders. The remaining room which accessed both the kitchen and great room was a spacious entrance hall leading to the front door opening to the side street of the crossroads. Plain steps led up to a generous porch and lacquered solid cedar door to the residence. The porch stretched round the building to the store front’s covered entry. The scale of the humble establishment belied the depth and richness of its appointments. George was able to turn his hand to carpentry as easily as Belle could weave prize-winning rugs and blankets.

White Feathers came often, and George soon resumed his Sunday fishing trips. Those early months were a honeymoon of sorts with George and Belle finding out about each other’s peccadillos and peeves, preferences and prides. Something that cemented them into one perhaps more than anything else was their true harmony in their respect for the living world around them. Then there were their spiritual pursuits. Probably no two cultures on the planet at that time venerated spirits and ancestors more than the Chinese and the Native American. So from one standpoint it wasn’t too surprising that over time the young couple came to learn and appreciate, even revere and practice the particular aspects of each other’s heritage and customs.

Daily devotions to ancestors in the form of food set aside at meals, to niches devoted to individuals and groups from their combined pasts adorned hallways, corners and prominent shelves in the couples’ frequented spaces. They each might be overheard deferring questions or the everyday dilemmas to the appropriate deceased relation who had some skill or noted affinity for the given poser. Not unlike how any devoted Roman Catholic might defer to the catalog of saints for their present ills. Belle often consulted her Grandmama Lizette Charbonneau—daughter to Sacagewa and niece of the great Shoshone Chief Cameahwait. While George often deferred to his Grandfather. Wang Lung had begun as a poor dirt farmer and through a fortunate series happenstances and shrewd negotiations amassed great wealth in land speculation and rich farmlands only to have his sons leave farming for the more lucrative speculation markets and enterprises of the great Chinese cities. The devotion Belle and her husband evinced to the memories of their respective very accomplished forebears was both genuine and sustaining. It was a harmonious merger of richness, of mystery, and of power.

At the proper time Belle gave birth to a son. George was closing the store for the evening and had just rounded the corner of the hallway into their residence side when he was immediately assailed by first the cry of his newborn son, second the pleased and reassuring voices of midwives and Belle’s sisters, and third a cacophony of triumphant voices speaking rapidly in Shoshone and Cantonese. Unfazed, George went straight to his wife’s bedside. Her proud glowing face reflecting his own joy. The womenfolk cleaned and clucked over the healthy infant, but those other voices just got louder and clearer in obvious jubilation. Belle muttered something in Shoshone, George whispered a non-response in Cantonese and they both stopped suddenly to acknowledge the other in a stunned, but momentary silence.

“What did you say darling,” asked George in his ever-improving English.

“I was just agreeing with my grandmama, that our boy is indeed strong and healthy,” she replied absently.

George stifled a gasp for he had just made a similar response to his own long dead grandfather about the same point. He cautiously ventured a query aloud to his grandfather and the voice came back loud and clear so that both George and Belle heard him distinctly. Startled, Belle did the same with her grandmama and again both clearly heard her crisp response. Meanwhile her sisters and the midwife chatted quietly, oblivious to the bodiless celebrating voices and to George and Belle’s surprised glances to each other, to their company and back to each other. That is the never before told story of Fred’s Great-grandfather’s birthday.

The annual activities of the small mountain village centered around two occasions. One was the Tahoe Fishing Tournament in the spring when the swollen creeks and streams, unlocked from their icy dams, began to spill into the lake. And the other was the summer tourist trade of city folk escaping to the natural beauties of the region which picked up in mid-May and lasted through late August. Livingson Mercantile was a must stop for anyone visiting the area. Not only for the misplaced and forgotten necessities and niceties, but for touring pointers, picnic accessories, fishing and hunting supplies and all the other jetsam of holiday excursions. Business was good. Belle grew more beautiful. Little Harry grew stronger, and George proudly pointed out the same to every customer with a willing ear.

White Feathers spent more and more time in town with his niece and George, often spending long weekends stretching into weeks. He played with little Harry, sat with George in front of the store, or accompanied him on his still weekly fishing trips. George began the construction of a modified sampan to reach some of the more remote fishing spots on the lake.

He had never built a boat before and admitted as much to passersby when asked about his design plans and such, as his work area was in open view of the side road beside the store and house. So it was with some astonishment to those who kept up with his progress to watch his efficiency and skill at shaping and assembling the forms then the skeleton of the craft. What went unnoticed to everyone was the constant instruction George received from his grandfather, great-grandfather and great-uncle. Not so much from his grandfather, as Wang Lung had been a farmer and not so informed of vessel construction. But his Great-Uncle Fong Li was an amazing resource and had been the inspiration for the extra-broad beam and the extended length of the boat so unlike any traditional sampan. George ordered the clearest-grained cedar timber from an acquaintance with a sawmill in exchange for a contract of sharpening services and replacement parts, etc. It was, however, in the execution of the design and the shaping of the planks which amazed the curious.

Each time George was convinced he couldn’t plane the wood any more, Fong Li would whisper, ‘Go around and work from the other side of the grain back this way,’ or, ‘You almost have it, bevel the lower edge a bit more it will mate better.’ Or when fitting the planking over the forms, ‘Wet the plank in the morning and only fit it to one rib a day, you can work both sides at once; it may be slow, but so was growing the tree.’

George was understandably a bit impatient with the rate at which the boat and other projects he had proposed for himself were moving. It was his own experience that when he set himself to a task he considered the requirements and materials, the effort and time required and once satisfied, ‘knocked it out,’ then moved on to the next task. All the while he was engaged in this construction job he maintained his store and tended dutifully to his domestic responsibilities.  His grandfather, sensing his unease, began a tale one evening as George was affixing another plank to the boat.

Once upon a time, there were two mountains that stood right beside each other. They were named, the Yellow Horses. Both were over ten-thousand feet high, and together, they were fifty miles wide. Facing the mountains lived the Old Man, who was over eighty-years-old and also known throughout the county for his foolishness. Every morning, as Old Man walked to the village, his wife would shake her head as she saw him make yet another detour around the two mountains. As the years went by, he found it a great inconvenience to make these daily detours. So one day, Old Man finally decided that the twin mountains would have to be moved.

He then called a family meeting and told his wife, sons, daughters, and their families of his intentions. “I will move these two mountains,” Old Man cried, “and you will all help me do it!” Old Man’s sons and grandsons thought it was a terrific idea. They cheered and gave him their undying support. Old Man’s wife sneered, “You are a foolish old man indeed! Just how would you go about moving two big mountains like the Yellow Horses?” she continued, “never mind two mountains, I do not think you can even move two piles of cow-dung! And even if you could move the mountains, just where would you dispose of the dirt and rocks from the mountains? Huh?!?” she cried.

Old Man thought for a moment, and without backing down answered her, “I will throw out the dirt and rocks into a faraway place. I will throw them into the sea!” Once again, Old Man’s sons and grandsons thought that it was a terrific idea to throw the dirt into the sea. They cheered a second time and pledged to him their undying support. Even the neighboring widow’s son named, Little Turnip Boy, gave the old man his support although he was only eight-years-old.

Off went Old Man, his three sons, his many countless grandsons, and Little Turnip Boy to work on removing the Yellow Horses. It was such grueling work that in a year’s time, Little Turnip Boy was only able to make one trip to the sea to dispose of the dirt and rocks. Nonetheless, no one lost their enthusiasm, as they all held steadfast to Old Man’s dream of having the two mountains removed.

Now on one of their trips to the sea, they met a man who lived along the  Yellow River, who was known throughout the county for his cleverness and his arrogance. The clever man, who lived by the Yellow River mocked Old Man saying, “You foolish old man! I have seen you, your three sons, your many, countless grandsons, and even Little Turnip Boy making trips to the sea to dispose of the dirt and rocks from the mountains. Do you think that you can actually remove two whole mountains? And look at you! You must be over ninety-years-old and closer to the grave as each day passes. How do you expect to move two mountains in your lifetime?”

Old Man looked upon the Yellow River Man with pity. “You are known throughout the entire country as a clever man. Yet, you are a man lacking in vision. Regarding this matter, even Little Turnip Boy has more wisdom than you.” Old Man continued, “You are correct in saying that I am an old man who is closer to the grave as each day passes. But I have three sons, and many, countless grandsons. In time, my grandsons will bear their own children, who, in turn, will bear even more children. So in time, my dream of removing these two mountains will become a reality. As each day passes, my dream can only increase, as these two mountains can only decrease.’

And so it went on, day-to-day, a bit of work in the morning or evening efficiently executed, tending the store during the day and lavishing his every spare moment on Belle and Harry. Since his son’s birth, George was too pleased with his new found assistance in his every endeavor to hazard a question as to how it came about. It felt normal to him, made their lives better, and that was enough.

Belle had a different take on the experience. She had helped in the care of her sisters when they were small, but her ‘training’ took the bulk of her attention, so she was a bit lacking in the particulars of infant care: how to swaddle, when and why, how to supplement her own milk for the baby, with what, when, ad infinitum.

“Isn’t he supposed to poop everyday, he’s not pooping… I think there’s something wrong.” She worrily questioned one late morning while nursing in the big rocker in the great room as was her wont.

Well, to be sure every child is special and unique,’ was her Grandmama Lizette’s start to most answers, ‘though most lil’uns will go a week without more than a bit of pee and some gas. It is nothing to worry over, yet.

“How long before I should start to worry though?” worried Belle in simple practicality.

One of us will let you know what to do, and when, should it come to that. You focus upon his immediate needs, and yours, and your husbands, and we’ll watch the dangers. Alright Princess?’ had been repeated so often in answer to Belle’s anxious questions she almost didn’t listen anymore, but she still asked.


Yes, dear.’

“How is it that I can hear you, and Great-great-aunt Nittca, and Great-great-grandmama sometimes, and Great-great-aunt Umpqua, and sometimes the others? Did you talk to my mother? Did your ancestors talk to you?”

Well, those are very large questions and we have discussed them also; for no, I didn’t hear my grandmama or her sisters, nor did any of us, yet we have always spoken to each other when freed from the flesh and bones of Earth, and at last become the air and sky of the Great Spirit.’ Then her great-great-grandmama responded also, but with this story:

Both the spider and the silk worm spin silk. One day the spider said, "I admit your silk is better than mine, your silk is both yellow and white, dazzling and bright. You use the silk that you spin yourself, to make a beautiful cocoon, then live inside– thinking falsely you are kings.

In your little cocoon you wait until the women come and put you in scalding hot water ,and peel your silk off strand by strand. Then your beautiful cocoons are all gone. What a shame, though you have the ability to create such beauty, you die because of it, is this not stupid?"

The silk worm thinking about what the spider said, answered, "Our actions are actually like suicide, but we spin silk so that people can weave beautiful brocades, giving all the people the ability to look beautiful, can you say, then, that our labor is a waste? Look at you spiders, all that you weave for is to make a trap that will let you eat the cute little bugs that fly into it. You don’t regret it either, but don’t you think that that is a little cruel?" she finished. The story’s last question hung like a caution in the quiet room. ‘You see,’ she explained, ‘like the silk worm…

Belle interjected, “You have left life behind, though your ‘silk’ need not be lost with your flesh and bones. Your wisdom can go on being useful. Not like the spider, whose achievements are for himself alone.”

Lizette said simply, ‘Precisely.’ The room was again calm and silent.

Belle thought more about the story and what her counsellors had said. But then in a moment of weakness, said, “It has all just become so valuable to my husband and me. We would be in very great despair if our dialogs with you should cease.”

Tenderly, like the touch of Belle’s own fingers on her child’s face, ‘It was your mother who placed such fear in your heart. Not her fault you understand, just her nature and destiny.’ Then Lizette intoned,

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.

To win me soon to hell, my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.

And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend

Suspect I may, but not directly tell;

But being both from me, both to each friend,

I guess one angel in another’s hell:

Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,

Till my bad angel fire my good one out.”

she finished.

“That’s lovely,” whispered Belle.

It is as good a description as any, of the struggle in your heart; in the hearts of any person, when they are faced with the despairing fear of loss. It was written for one of our lineage, ‘the dark lady’ of a poet called Shakespeare who loved her very much. He didn’t want to ever lose her and his passion made him a bit crazy.’ explained Lizette. ‘Our folk have long had such power as the dark lady had, and it is our highest responsibility to always use it well.’

The room became a lot brighter of a sudden, as if a scuttling cloud had just passed. The light was made into a voice that seemed to come in through the open window from the lake and mountains. ‘And it shall be this way,’ Great-great-aunt Umpqua began, ‘As each new generation comes of age, they shall  inherit the family work, and upon the birth of the first-born child, they shall be opened to our counsel and succor.’ Her voice trailed off as if it had been an extreme effort of will to put words to the view of life and time from that most lofty vantage point, and she was exhausted at the effort.

Well spoken Auntie,’ said Lizette.

“Thank you each,” Belle answered simply, and shifted little Harry to the other side for the rest of his morning feeding. A smile of confidence and satisfaction rose in her face, and like her husband, no one the wiser for all the extraordinary advice, encouragement, tales and songs they daily received.

An Honest Man

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Genre – Metaphysical/Fantasy/Action Adventure

Rating – G

More details about the author & the book

Connect with J.L. Lawson on Facebook


Weigh Anchor

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Science Fiction/Metaphysical/Adventure

Rating – G

More details about the author & the book

Connect with J.L. Lawson on Facebook


The Elf & Huntress

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Science Fiction/Metaphysical/Adventure

Rating – G

More details about the author & the book

Connect with J.L. Lawson on Facebook



Quality Reads UK Book Club Disclosure: Author interview / guest post has been submitted by the author and previously used on other sites.


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