by Dennis Ruane
© 2006 by Dennis Ruane.
All rights reserved. No part
of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording
or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Dennis Ruane.
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published 2010 by Walnut Creek Press
2970 Walnut Creek Road, Marshall NC, 28753
by the author
Manufactured in the United States of America.
to the woods because
I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau
by Dennis Ruane
Nostalgia and melancholy overcame him that afternoon. Looking beyond books and paper on his desk, Professor Daniel Whaley stared out a window into another Wisconsin winter. Months had passed since this last happened, and he thought the problem had been worked out.
When he resumed a full schedule in December, it was with the confidence that he had moved beyond an embarrassing era along an otherwise stellar career path. Confidence was disappearing like sand sifting through a hole somewhere beneath him, and he was sinking.
The pressure of a headache was building at his forehead, another of those peculiar headaches that had plagued him over the past year. But something was different this time, he was hearing a strange sound, a low-pitched murmur. At first it seemed to be a drumming inside his head, and then it was a vibration, emanating from somewhere outside his body.
A knock sounded on the office door to which he turned but did not respond. The professor saw hesitation behind frosted glass, heard shuffling feet and another knock. Still, he offered no response. He was done with science today. Waiting until the figure faded, he moved to the door, turned the lock, and switched off lights. Returning to his chair, he rolled it to a back corner of the room. With his back to a wall, he turned toward another window.
The professor longed to be home in his study, but he didn’t want to face people right now. In another hour, they would leave the building, and it would be dark. Until then, he could hide here. Behind the Biochemistry building were two enormous elm trees, as old as the University of Wisconsin itself. Daniel Whaley stared through a web of branches into the pale afternoon sky. The weight of years gone by and the burden of love grown cold pressed down upon him.
Tom Reilly stopped sawing when he noticed his dog sit up and stare across the meadow toward Hemlock Road. “What is it, Emma?” he asked, turning to follow her gaze. Tom looked across brown grass accentuated with broad swaths of snow, but he saw no one on the road.
He resumed his sawing, an endless job on a homestead where one is dependent on wood for heating and cooking. Tom did not doubt that someone was coming but knew that they were still beyond his human senses. After a few minutes he looked up again and saw a figure on the road at a great distance. Tom recognized the person from the way they walked, and a smile came to his weathered face.
Tom cut a few minutes longer. The teeth of his buck saw raked across an oak log, and pink dust sprayed to the ground with each forward thrust. Soon he heard the sound of footsteps on the lane. Shaking his head and grinning, he turned. “Hello, Daniel. I wouldn’t have cut all this firewood by myself if I’d known you were coming.”
“Hi Paw,” the boy replied. He stooped to greet Emma who broke from her rigid pose on the porch and sprinted to meet him. Daniel was skinny and almost as tall as Tom. He had brown hair and handsome features that were punctuated by penetrating blue eyes.
“Must be spring if you’re roaming the mountain again. How’s the road?”
“Bad Paw, there are two big trees down across the road and it’s washed out again at the bend.”
“Heh, heh, well, it was a rough winter.”
Daniel thought that Tom almost seemed pleased with this report.
The road, as Tom referred to it, was the section of Hemlock Road that led from the village of Lick Hollow, Pennsylvania, to the summit of Hemlock Knob. He lived at the summit on a one hundred-acre homestead named Mountain Farm. Hemlock Road continued to the east through Forbes State Forest for another three miles and ended at Furnace Road.
Besides Tom’s house, there were only two dwellings on the road. Both were located a mile and a half below on the west face of the mountain. In the winter, the section of road from these homes to the summit was often impassable.
“Come on in the house. You must be hungry after hiking up here. I have some stew on. You still like rabbit?”
The boy nodded and followed Tom up the steps of a two-story log building. Daniel was fourteen years old. Tom Reilly, his great-grandfather, was eighty-four.
Tom was six feet tall with a large, angular frame. He had a lean and rugged build, forged over decades of hard work. A wrinkled, leathery face was highlighted by a wild shock of coarse, white hair. Tom always wore baggy jeans, a tan, long-sleeved shirt, and leather work boots.
Daniel loved Tom’s old log house, strange and mysterious as it was. The house had no electricity or telephone, and water came in by a small hand-pump on the kitchen sink. The spring out back was the reason Tom’s father had built on this particular site one hundred years before. As Tom dipped stew from a pot on the wood stove, the boy peered with obvious curiosity into the corners of the room.
One thing that impressed Daniel about his great-grandfather’s residence was how quiet it was, especially in comparison to his own home. He loved how it smelled, too. A fire had been necessary in the morning, but now, all the windows were open to offset the heat of the stove. The breeze, wafting through the house, blended wood smoke and food aromas with the scent of the new season.
The house was a masterwork of log construction. The structure was built of massive, hand-hewn, hemlock planks. Each plank was eight inches thick and some were as wide as two feet.
They were in the Great Room, as Tom called it, which for its large size served as both the kitchen and living room. Two smaller rooms were on the west side of the house. One was Tom’s bedroom and the other, a food pantry. The rooms upstairs were empty, but Daniel knew that they had once been bedrooms for Tom and his two sisters.
The boy had liked the log building since the first time he stepped inside and wondered why his Grandmother Kelly often spoke of it with disapproval.
Daniel stopped to stare at an odd-shaped piece of wood above the front doorway. It was something he had noticed before, but it never aroused his curiosity until now.
Tom carried two bowls to the table, the smooth handles of some antique silver protruding from each. “That’s a bata, also called a fighting stick. It’s one of the few possessions my father brought with him from Ireland. Pap’s bata is made of blackthorn. It’s a wood cut from the Shillelagh Forest of County Wicklow in Ireland.”
The object above the door was about three feet long, with a crooked handle and an enlarged, gnarled end. To the boy it looked like an ill-shaped wooden sledgehammer.
“Did he fight with it?”
“Not that I know of; it was a ceremonial type thing used at festive occasions such as weddings or wakes.” Tom grinned.
Daniel missed the humor. “Why did he hang it there?”
“My Pap, your great-great-grandfather, fought in a war, the American Civil War and experienced many terrible things. He never would talk about it, not even with me. When he settled here, he made a pledge that he would never fight again. As a sign of that pledge, he hung his bata above the doorway.”
Daniel accepted this explanation without comment and joined his great-grandfather at the table.
Tom smiled, wondering what the boy had garnered from his words. “So Daniel, what news do you bear from down below? How’s your mother?”
“She’s pretty good, I guess. She went back to work at the hospital.”
“Really, that’s good. She has to keep moving. Life goes on. That was a terrible thing, your Dad dying like that, so young and with you kids. He was a good man and a hard worker; a good pap.”
Daniel first visited Hemlock Knob eight years before with his father and his older brother. Allen Whaley, Daniel’s father, had been an industrious man, self-employed at a small retail coal company. Traditional in most ways and conservative in his politics, he was always intrigued by Tom’s opinions on life. Allen never fully understood the rationale behind his living alone on Hemlock Knob, but he liked visiting Tom very much.
Tom came to expect them in early spring, usually on the first Sunday afternoon of fair weather. Three years ago, when they didn’t come, he sensed that something was wrong. A month later, he learned that Allen suffered from a rare vascular disorder and was gravely ill. He died at the end of the summer. The following spring Daniel visited Hemlock Knob alone.
“The best way to deal with death, Daniel, is to concentrate on living, and your mother is doing that.”
Daniel nodded but said nothing. He was concentrating on his food, obviously as hungry as Tom suspected.
Daniel nodded and handed Tom his bowl.
“And how is your grandmother?”
“She’s still in Florida.”
Tom sighed and nodded.
“Oh,” Daniel exclaimed, remembering the news he had for Tom, “President Kennedy was killed.”
Tom looked up and turned his head to one side. “When?”
“He was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald and Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby and then he died too.”
“What, why did Jack Ruby shoot Oswald?”
“I don’t remember. I don’t think they know.”
Tom shook his head and looked at the floor. “My word, and so who is president now, Johnson, I suppose?”
“Yes, Lyndon B. Johnson.”
“Good grief,” Tom exclaimed, and then he stopped talking. They finished their meal and didn’t discuss that news again.
After lunch, Tom and Daniel went to the building that Tom called the woodshed. Located forty yards behind the house, it was the most intriguing part of the homestead to the boy. Thirty-five feet long by thirty feet wide and built of hemlock planks, the woodshed was actually a small, rectangular barn. Just inside the door was a collection of firewood, stacked in neat rows that were as tall as Daniel.
“Remember, Daniel, it takes at least five cords of firewood to get through a Hemlock Knob winter.”
“How much is here Paw?”
“Oh, I guess there are about six.”
“You have more wood here than you need for a whole winter and winter is almost over.”
Tom laughed. “I’m always putting more in behind what I use. That way it’s drying ahead of the need for it. Tom, pointed to a row at the far left. “Over here is wood that’s been in nearly a year now. Over there on the right, that row was finished up last week.” He turned and looked at his great-grandson and in an ominous voice said, “you can never have enough firewood, Daniel. Winter is always coming.”
As he often did after a statement such as this, he cleared his throat and smiled. It was difficult for Daniel to know if his great-grandfather was serious or joking. The truth is, as he often did, Tom was joking about something serious .
As curious as Daniel was concerning the firewood supply, the real draw to the woodshed was Tom’s workshop, which was the opposite end of the building. The dominant feature was a massive workbench constructed of heavy, oak timbers. The bench bore numerous scratches across its surface, and all the edges were rounded smooth from decades of use.
Beyond the workbench, on the back wall, was a collection of woodworking tools either hung on iron pins or arranged along a wide shelf. Daniel had learned the name of each tool. He also knew that most of the tools had been made on Mountain Farm by either Tom or his father.
Daniel’s gazed at the cluster of tools in the center of the wall. The broadaxe, carpenter’s adze, auger bore, draw knife, and froe were the principle tools employed in log building construction, and Tom had instructed his great-grandson in their use. The marks from these tools could be traced on all the buildings at Mountain Farm.
To the right of this was a collection of saws, including crosscut saws, a turning saw, and a dado saw. An empty peg represented the buck saw that Tom was using. Surrounding these were framing chisels, rasps, axes of various shapes and sizes, mallets, mauls, gluts for splitting, spoke shaves, and a large collection of block planes.
The two-man crosscut saw with its six-foot length of jagged teeth and perpendicular handles was the boy’s favorite. With his great-grandfather pulling at the opposite end, Daniel had cut many logs into firewood-length sections with this saw. A few generations before these tools were a necessity on any homestead. The advent of power tools had rendered them not only obsolete but in most settings, unrecognizable.
As he approached the workbench, Daniel noticed a collection of smaller tools that he hadn’t seen before. They looked like wood chisels of various shapes. The collection also contained a wooden mallet, and two oddly shaped stone objects. The tools were arranged in pouches on a piece of canvas.
Daniel moved close to the interesting array of tools until he was hovering over it. In a small open area at one corner were faded words, stitched onto the canvas in a language that he didn’t understand.
Tom observed his great-grandson’s reaction with interest and waited until Daniel looked up before he spoke.
“I never showed you these before because they’ve been tucked behind things in here. Haven’t used them in a while and got them out over the winter to fool with. These are woodcarving tools that belonged to my father. His brother brought them to America from Ireland. Their grandfather was a woodcarver, and when he grew old and couldn’t carve anymore, he wanted Pap to have them.”
“They’re really cool, Paw.”
Tom grinned. “My pap, your great-great-grandfather, was a woodcarver, among other things. He made spoons and bowls and did some real nice carvings of animals and people.”
“Where are they now?”
“Some he sold, some he gave away. They’re scattered wide.”
Daniel rubbed the handle of one of the gouges. “What did you make with them, Paw?”
“Hmm, well now, I made the occasional spoon, but I, uh, never seemed to have the knack for anything too complicated beyond that. These tools were Pap’s prize possession and he gave them to me a few years before he died. I know he hoped I would use them and be a woodcarver like him, but so far it hasn’t happened.”
“How do you use them?”
“Whew, I’m not much help there. I never knew a lot, and I’ve probably forgotten some of what I did know. This one is called a spoon gouge and it’s the tool used for shaping the bowl of a spoon.”
Tom held a gouge that had a crook at the end of the blade. He picked up the mallet and struck the end of the gouge handle, chipping a small piece of wood from the leg of the workbench.
Daniel stared as if it were magic.
“The different gouges and chisels take out different shaped chips,” Tom said as he shrugged. He knew that it was pitiful instruction. “I’ll tell you what my father told me. He said that when the time is right and you’re ready to use these tools, you’ll learn.”
“I’d like to learn to carve, Paw.”
“Ah, well now, that’s good Daniel, I . . .” Tom hesitated and stared at the tools. Then he looked at Daniel and smiled. “Next time you’re up here, I’ll show you what I know; not now though. I want to try carving again, myself, one more time. That reminds me, though, do you have a jackknife?”
Daniel shook his head.
Tom pulled a knife from his right pocket and quickly put it back. “That’s mine.” Reaching into his left pocket, he withdrew another knife that appeared to be newer. “Here it is. I put this in my pocket several days ago, figuring you’d be up this way. Pap made it. He made the best jackknives in the area. He made this one a few years before he died to replace the old wore-out one he had. Poor old guy got sick and never used it. I have my own knife, so I don’t need it.”
Tom handed the knife to his great-grandson.
“Wow Paw, thanks.”
“Well I’ve been saving it for years for sentimental reasons, but I’m of the opinion now that it’s silly to save things for any reason. Besides, you need a knife. I don’t know how a man can make it through a day without a good jackknife in his pocket.” Tom cleared his throat and smiled.
“Play around with it, sharpen some sticks, cut some notches in them. Get a feel for wood and how it cuts. We’ll work with the carving tools another day.”
Daniel took the knife and nodded.
Tom looked out the window and then down at an antique watch he had removed from his pocket. “Say Daniel, since you got out of cutting firewood, would you like to help Emma and I empty the sap buckets?”
“Sure would, Paw.”
This was pleasant work, and Daniel looked forward to it on his early spring visits. In Tom’s ancient pick-up truck they would wobble along the rough dirt road that wove through a grove of maple trees, or the sugar bush, as Tom called it. They stopped often to empty metal buckets that hung from the taps.
In late February or early March the weather was usually right. With nights, during which the temperature dropped below freezing followed by days when the temperature rose above it, pressure built within the maple trees. Sap flowed out the tap hole, a deliberate leak in the system, and collected in the buckets. Each tap yielded about ten gallons of sap over the five-week sugaring season. Tom hung one hundred and ten buckets, usually one or two to a tree.
There was one old matriarch that had stood at the edge of the meadow for more than a hundred years, and around it’s massive girth hung ten buckets. Daniel thought they looked like a string of beads around her rugged neck.
Tom and Daniel poured the sap or sugar water through a screen into a metal trough in the back of the truck. Then it was driven to the boiler shed to be concentrated into syrup.
“Depending on the sweetness of the sap, it can take anywhere from twenty-five to seventy-five gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup,” Tom instructed. “The usual amount is about forty gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup.”
The sale of maple syrup provided Tom with the cash he needed for basic necessities, and so he was meticulous about his business. But it was his great pleasure as well. He worked all year managing the sugar bush, and he was familiar with each maple tree in his grove.
While they collected the sap, Tom talked about matters that were relevant to the management of Mountain Farm. He instructed the boy as if he believed Daniel would manage the farm someday.
Through stories about the Reilly family, Daniel learned the history of the homestead. The boy loved to hear his great-grandfather talk of such things. He listened carefully and remembered all that he was told.
After the sap was collected, they passed another hour walking the property. Tom and Daniel inspected the spring house with its large stoneware crocks sitting in a trough of flowing water. They visited the forge, which was a rough plank building with open spaces between the boards. Finally they made their way to a little cemetery on the slope above the house where their ancestors were buried.
As the afternoon wore on, the boy grew uneasy and inquired about the time. Tom pulled out his pocket watch and grinned.
“Does your mother know you’re up here?”
“Yes, honest, she does. But I can’t be late for supper again, especially today. My Uncle Nolan is coming.”
Tom laughed. “It’s four-thirty, so you better get out of here. I don’t want your mother blaming me. Tell her I’m still alive, and I send my regards. I’ll be down one of these days.”
As Daniel walked along Reilly Lane, he turned and waved to Tom who was beside the saw horse, preparing to cut more firewood. As he turned toward Lick Hollow, the boy saw a deer grazing in the apple orchard. It stopped and raised its head. With twitching ears and erect tail, the animal watched Daniel until he was out of sight.
Daniel wasn’t in a hurry after he left Mountain Farm. He knew that if he took his shortcut, he could make it home for supper with time to spare. He was often late or absent for the evening meal on the days that he journeyed to the mountain. This was never his intention, but the woods had a way of distracting him and distorting his sense of time.
A mile from the Log House, Daniel turned left onto a wide trail that ended at a rock outcrop. The area was located high on the west face of Hemlock Knob and was known as Point Lookout. From the rock outcrop, Daniel had an unobstructed view of the undulating hills of the low country to the west. In the center of his view was Lick Hollow, his hometown. From this height and distance the town looked like a giant relief map that was especially interesting to someone who grew up on Main Street.
Directly ahead was a fifty-foot drop. To continue down the mountain, a person had to angle in a northwesterly direction, following the rock outcropping. This was a shortcut because the rock trail eventually crossed Hemlock Road. Along with the physical challenge this route presented, it lessened the distance between Mountain Farm and Lick Hollow by over a mile
Before he started down, Daniel chose a seat upon the most prominent rock. Whatever uneasiness he felt over time was overcome by a desire to sit at this wonderful spot and examine the jackknife he had just received. He took it from his pocket and carefully pulled out the blade. At his age, he could not appreciate the time and skill that went into creating an instrument such as this, but he was thrilled with the knife all the same. Daniel turned it over and over in his hands, studying the walnut handle and carefully running a finger along the blade.
He pulled a small, gray, piece of oak from the brush and tapered one end, slicing thin shavings from the weathered wood to reveal an almond color below the surface. The knife felt good in his hands; he reveled in the ease with which it shaped the wood.
A small hump on the surface of the oak branch, marked where it had grown over the end of a broken twig. The twisted wood grain in this area stopped the flow of his cutting so abruptly that Daniel lost his hold, and the knife fell from his hand. It slid across the smooth stone surface and disappeared over the cliff.
Daniel froze in disbelief for a few seconds. Then he jumped to his feet and scrambled down the rock trail in desperate haste. When it was possible, he cut back along the base of the cliff toward the area where the knife had fallen. About fifty yards in, he was stopped by mountain laurel so thick and twisted on itself that he couldn’t push through.
He thought of giving up and searching on another day. He had promised his mother that he would be home for dinner. But Paw gave him that knife, and it had been made by his great-great-grandfather. He had to find it.
Daniel discovered that if he got right against the rock wall and crawled, he could work his way into the interior of the laurel. At a spot where he could see the cliff through the leaf canopy, he searched the ground on hands and knees. Twenty frantic minutes passed, and then the knife was spotted on a cluster of laurel leaves at the base of the rock wall. Daniel snatched it up with a whoop of elation.
At that moment he noticed a dark aperture underneath an overhang on the rock wall. It was a cave, so close that he could smell its earthy interior. The opening was about three feet in diameter, and Daniel would never have seen it if he hadn’t been on hands and knees. He folded back the knife blade and returned the tool to his pocket while staring at the opening. Daniel approached the cave and could see that there was a wall a few feet inside. The passage seemed to continue to the right.
He turned to go, realizing that if he didn’t start down the mountain now, it would be impossible to be home in time for supper. But then he turned back, unable to restrain his curiosity. Dozens of small caves could be found along the outcrop. The caves had been created by the prehistoric rock upheaval that formed Hemlock Knob. Daniel was fascinated by them, and while he had explored many of the caves, he had never found one as obscure as this.
For that reason he lingered. A nervous smile crept onto his face as he crawled into the opening. The inside temperature was cool and the stone surface moist to his touch. At the back wall, Daniel turned his head to the right and saw only darkness.
Allen Whaley had a simple rule, that for at least one time each day, for dinner, the entire family be present. Daniel’s mother continued the practice after her husband’s death. With her busy schedule, she appreciated the opportunity to account for her children.
Stephen was easy, an aspiring basketball player, he spent most of his time at the Lick Hollow basketball court that was only a block away. Abigail could go to the back porch and see the running bodies, hear their shouts and eventually spot her son amongst them. If her daughter, Megan, was not in the backyard with her best friend, Karen Neil, she was in Karen’s backyard. Abigail only needed to look to the right of the basketball court to see the Neil residence.
She had to look to the east to search for Daniel this evening, although there was little chance of seeing him. She would only see Hemlock Knob in the distance and know that her son was up there somewhere. For this reason, it was Daniel she most anticipated at the table.
Daniel had been different from other children since he was young. He didn’t play sports or participate in school activities. Daniel possessed a quiet, loner personality that had troubled his sociable father. It seemed to Abigail that after her husband died, these traits became more pronounced.
Although some people considered him sneaky, Abigail thought ‘elusive’ was a better word to describe Daniel’s habit of disappearing. She smiled as she recalled one occasion when he played hide-and-seek with other children in the neighborhood, and later, they complained to her that Daniel hid only once and wasn’t found for the rest of the afternoon.
Her son’s best friend was his eighty-four year old great-grandfather, and Daniel’s favorite activity was to visit him at Mountain Farm. She was fond of her grandfather as well, and had loved Hemlock Knob since her first visit to the Reilly homestead as a child. These were some of the reasons Abigail convinced her husband to raise their children in Lick Hollow. But now she worried that Daniel spent too much of his time on the mountain. She wanted him to participate in activities which were more typical for his age.
Abigail moved from the stove to the kitchen window and gazed up at Hemlock Knob.
Daniel certainly takes after the Reilly side of the family, she thought.
Scratched and disheveled, Daniel burst through the back door of his home and into the kitchen. His mother was there with Daniel’s Uncle Nolan. This was good for Daniel’s sake, because his uncle’s presence might soften the impending reprimand. Daniel had missed dinner. His mother glanced at the clock and then back at him, and he could see that she was angry.
Daniel told his mother and uncle about the visit with his great-grandfather. He explained that the near loss of the jackknife was the reason for his tardiness. Abigail was not impressed because she had heard many adventures such as this. Nolan, who never spent much time in the woods, listened as if it were a tale brought back from the jungles of New Guinea. Both adults were intrigued with the knife, and moved by the story behind it.
“How is Paw?” Abigail asked.
“He’s good. He said to tell you that he’s still alive, and that he’ll be down sometime.”
“Well that’s good news,” she replied, finally smiling. “Fix yourself a plate and take it out on the front porch. Your uncle and I have some things to talk about. And, Daniel, for three weeks, you make no trips to Hemlock Knob.”
Daniel’s expression didn’t change but Abigail could see the effect of her edict in his eyes. Daniel prepared a plate and went out through the living room.
“Don’t look so surprised, Nolan. This is happening far too often with him. I’ve got to start being firm with Daniel.”
“Oh, I wasn’t questioning your judgment, Abby, I’m still thinking about the story of the knife and the cliff.”
Abigail laughed. “Believe me, I’ve heard many stories like that over the years, stories of caves, tree houses, cliffs, bear encounters, not to mention the occasional rattlesnake. There is always some interesting reason for not making it home on time.” Abigail went to the kitchen window as she spoke and looked up at Hemlock Knob.
“It’s hard for me to imagine your grandfather living up there alone.”
She turned to her brother-in-law and nodded. “Paw is an unusual person.”
Nolan hesitated. He was curious to know more about this eccentric man who lived alone on Hemlock Knob, but he didn’t want to cross the line where a polite in-law should stop. He was also aware of how fond Abigail was of her grandfather. Nolan worded his question carefully.
“Abigail, I’ve spoken with Mr. Reilly on several occasions over the years and I think he’s an interesting and charming man, very sociable once he gets talking.”
Abigail smiled and nodded.
“So how did he come to live up there alone? I know some of the story, bits and pieces that Allen told me over the years. Allen was very fond of your grandfather.”
Abigail laughed. “Oh, I know. Wasn’t that an odd pairing, Allen with his conservative views and Catholic faith hobnobbing with the old anti-government, atheist, mountain man on Sunday afternoons? Those two loved to argue with each other.”
They both laughed and then grew silent. Allen Whaley had been a man of simple beliefs and strong convictions. Everybody missed him.
Abigail lifted her head. “Well Nolan, the popular story is that after my grandmother died, Paw turned his back on the world: denouncing his religion, quitting his job at the Fire Department, selling or giving away everything he owned and returning to the old family home on Hemlock Knob. All that is true to some extent, but I believe that my grandmother’s death released him from a life that was contrary to his nature. It was a life that he lived for her and their children.”
“Contrary to his nature?”
“It’s a long story, Nolan, and it begins with Paw’s father, Adam. Adam is the one who chose Hemlock Knob as the site for the family home, and it was Adam that instilled a love of self-sufficiency and independence in his offspring. He was a remarkable man. Even today, Adam Reilly is a legendary figure in this area.”
“I don’t know much about him. ”
“We didn’t visit often while I was growing up. Most of what I know about my great-grandfather, I learned after Allen and I moved to Lick Hollow. I still don’t know all the details of his life, but what I do know would make for a long story. So maybe we should save it for another time.”
“Right, I need to be back in Morgantown this evening. But I do want to learn more about both him and your grandfather, if you don’t mind. Actually, the information would be relevant to my research.”
“Speaking of which, where were we, Nolan?”
“Oh yes, the test results, as I was saying, just before one of the subjects walked in the door, the results of the second test confirm those of the first. There was no mistake. His scores are at a very high level, a genius level.”
Nolan Whaley was working towards a PhD in Psychology at West Virginia University. His current research involved the relationship between intelligence and creativity. With their mother’s permission, he was using Daniel and his brother in the preliminary studies.
Nolan had administered an intelligence test to the boys five weeks before. When the results were assessed, Daniel’s score was so high that Nolan and his colleagues felt there must have been a mistake. So a variation of the test was given to Daniel and this time, the results were slightly higher. Nolan was trying to put the results into perspective for Abigail in a calm manner, but he couldn’t contain his excitement.
“It makes sense to me; he fits the profile in many ways. The story he just told us, for instance. It’s another example of that loner behavior that’s been evident for years.”
“But what does it mean in day-to-day terms?” Since her husband’s death, Abigail had been busy enough raising her children and now she was working full time as a nurse. She would rather not face any new challenges.
“Well, the truth is, most in the field believe it’s better if he’s never told. You might consider getting Daniel into the best school you can. He shouldn’t be steered in any particular direction, but certainly it would be desirable that he be exposed to as many options as possible.”
Abigail turned her head and smiled. “I may be one step ahead of you there. I’ve been considering moving back to Philadelphia, so a change of school would definitely be in the plans.”
“Really, when did this come about?”
“Oh, actually I’ve been considering it since I started back to work. I could get a better-paying job in nursing there, and I’d be closer to my sister and her family. And of course, for at least part of the year, I would be closer to my mother.”
“Sounds good to me,” Nolan said. “I hate to see you move away, but there would be many good schools to choose from in Philadelphia. And your mother will be delighted,” he added with a grin.
“Oh my, yes. She’s wanted me to move back for the last fifteen years, ever since I married Allen and came here. If I move back, then she won’t have to worry about her father turning Daniel into a mountain man.”
Abigail’s mother, Janice Kelly, was a stern and controlling matriarch She was also generous and protective with her children and grandchildren. Daniel had been special to her since he was born. It concerned her that he had come under the influence of her father. Considering that she lived in Philadelphia four months of the year and then in Miami for eight, her elderly father’s life alone on Hemlock Knob seemed nothing less than insanity. She didn’t want that condition handed down to her favorite grandson.
However, Janice’s problem with her father went well beyond a question of his residence. In truth, it would be difficult to imagine a father and daughter more different, politically and philosophically.
When Abigail’s head rested upon her pillow that night, it was stirring with thoughts as a result of the conversation with her brother-in-law. The idea to move to Philadelphia had been in her mind for months, but she kept it to herself until now. Abigail didn’t want to cause her children unnecessary distraction, and she didn’t want her mother involved too soon.
Stephen had always been drawn to crowds and lights and besides, Philadelphia would be a much better basketball environment. He would be fine with this change. Megan was twelve years old. The separation from Karen Neil would be rough for a while, but she would adjust. Daniel was who Abigail worried about, and it was mostly for him that she kept the plans to herself.
In her conversation with Nolan about her son’s genius, she didn’t think it appropriate to bring up the fact that Daniel’s grades had slipped dramatically this year. She didn’t share her mother’s paranoia about Daniel becoming a mountain man, but she had no doubt that his obsession with Hemlock Knob was affecting him academically and socially.
Moving to Philadelphia will be hard on Daniel. But I’ve got to look at the long-term picture, especially after what Nolan told me. I think he needs to get out of the woods, for now. The fact that Daniel missed supper again in spite of his promise to be home is the final straw.
Then she thought of her grandfather. This would be hard on Paw. Abigail couldn’t sleep now. As she lay there in the dark, she rethought her answer to Nolan’s first question. She was a young woman when her grandmother died, but Nolan’s query resurrected memories of that sad event.
Tom and Annie Reilly had lived in a pleasant neighborhood in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a city located ten miles west of Lick Hollow. Their two story brick house stood shoulder to shoulder with other homes built in the early twentieth century by a rising middle class.
Tom and Annie had eloped before they were twenty years old, much to the consternation of their parents. Tom worked at what employment he could find, but the couple was so poor that they lived with Annie’s parents after they were married. Ten months later, Tom was hired as a member of the Uniontown Fire Department. At the time of Annie’s death he had served the department with distinction for forty years.
The evening after the funeral, family and friends crowded the brick house and were loud in the kitchen. Abigail saw her grandfather slip down the hall. She waited a few minutes and then followed him. Windows were open wide to dissipate the summer heat, and Abigail could hear the broadcast of a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game from a distant radio.
When she walked into the living room, her grandfather was beside his own radio, a glass of sherry in hand. Paw smiled, but it looked to her as if he had been crying.
The room served the purpose a den would have for another man since it never became a living room for his family. He was the only one who used it. One reason was because the room was a bit formal in its furnishings and decor, having become a showcase for the finer pieces of furniture the family accumulated as their monetary situation improved. In truth, it never was a comfortable room to live in.
Another reason was the large and inviting kitchen that was the natural place to congregate. There was a congregation there tonight. Laughter and conversation reverberated down the hall.
Abigail remembered that her grandfather began to question her in a teasing way about her new boyfriend, Allen Whaley. He more than anyone found it appropriate that while attending Temple University in Philadelphia, she met a man who was from Uniontown. Tom had been introduced to Allen the day before and liked the young man.
As they talked, Abigail glanced about the room until her gaze stopped at a framed photograph of her Uncle Tom. Tom Reilly Jr. was wearing his uniform and was smiling proudly. She turned to see that her grandfather had followed her gaze. At first, Abigail was at a loss for words, but then asked a question that she thought was appropriate.
“Paw, do you think that Uncle Tom and Grandma are together tonight?”
Her grandfather continued to stare at the photograph as he answered. “No dear, I don’t. My comfort on this day is that your poor grandmother’s suffering is over. She no longer has to bear the pain of her cancer or the grief over the death of her son.”
“Then you don’t believe in a heaven or maybe some sort of an afterlife?”
He sighed and looked at her. “Abigail, I never prayed so hard as I did after my son went off to that damn war. I prayed for his safety; I prayed for his return. Since that awful moment when I learned of Tommy’s death, I’ve never prayed again.”
Lick Hollow seemed smaller then he remembered it. Daniel drove along Main Street in a blue Jeep that was a graduation present from his grandparents. He was meandering toward the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he would begin graduate studies toward a Doctor of Philosophy degree in biochemistry.
Daniel was making the journey itself, a short vacation. He had written to his great-grandfather and told him that the itinerary included a stop at Mountain Farm.
Daniel’s life changed dramatically after his family moved to Philadelphia. Contrary to what he advised, Nolan Whaley told a number of people about Daniel’s extraordinary test scores and so did Daniel’s mother. One of the last to hear, but the one who took the information and acted upon it, was Daniel’s grandmother.
By the time he arrived in Philadelphia, Penn Academy was waiting for him and the academic pace of his life accelerated. Daniel exceeded all expectations while at the Academy and then again at Villanova University.
He graduated with highest honors from Villanova University, his grandfather Kelly’s Alma Mater. Although Janice Kelly was disappointed that her grandson did not pursue a medical career, she was glad that her husband got Daniel into a prestigious graduate program in the field of his choice.
Tom Kelly had a good friend at Villanova, a professor who had done his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin. This friend still had many contacts there, most significantly a former house mate who was now a professor of biochemistry. It only took a half-dozen phone calls back and forth, and Daniel was admitted to the graduate program with a full research assistantship.
Soon Daniel was creeping up Hemlock Road, maneuvering around ruts and washouts, reacquainting himself with the sights and scents of this mountain he once knew so well. After he moved to Philadelphia, Daniel made short visits to Mountain Farm as often as his schedule allowed. The rest of the time it was Tom’s sporadic letters that kept him informed of such matters as the health of the sugar bush, or the condition of the road.
When Daniel’s progress was blocked by a fallen tree, he pulled a new axe from the back seat. He had purchased the tool, hoping for this opportunity. Although he had not swung an axe since his early teens, the competence achieved then soon came back to him. Daniel first sliced off the smaller limbs and then chopped the main trunk into smaller sections that could be rolled out of the way. To his delight, he needed to repeat this operation on another large maple branch before reaching the log house.
As the house came into view, Daniel was not surprised to see his great-grandfather behind the sawhorse. Emma was sitting at attention on the porch. Tom only looked up once as the jeep drove down Reilly Lane, and he didn’t acknowledge his great-grandson’s presence until Daniel stepped from the vehicle. Daniel had let his hair grow long at Villanova and it hung to his shoulders in uneven strands. He was an inch taller than Tom now.
“Don’t they have barber shops in Philadelphia?” Tom asked. He had a playful smile on his face when he looked up. “Come inside and I’ll get you ready for school with my hair shears.”
Daniel laughed. His great-grandfather surprised him with a firm handshake accompanied by a pat on the shoulder. Tom’s wrinkled face bore such a joyful smile that Daniel never felt so welcome anywhere, before or after. Emma was hovering over his feet, and he stooped to pet her. Then Tom touched him on the back and motioned toward the house.
For an hour, they sat on the front porch drinking tea and talking. Just as he always did, Daniel told his great-grandfather about family news and the current events in the world. Afterwards, Tom and his great-grandson went on the typical tour of the homestead with Tom talking and instructing all the while.
Like Lick Hollow, Tom was smaller than Daniel remembered him. His great-grandfather’s health appeared good but, unlike before, Daniel felt uneasy about his aged ancestor living alone on the mountain.
When they passed through the woodshed, Daniel noticed that there were less than five cords of firewood, and autumn was approaching. Later, he convinced Tom that he had been looking forward to cutting firewood as part of his vacation. They passed some mirthful hours at the sawhorse that afternoon. Although Daniel’s shoulders and arms began to ache, he cut until dark.
That night, he slept upstairs in what had been the bedroom of Tom’s sisters, Helen and June. They were born nearly ten years before Tom and were both dead now. Helen, the oldest, married a man from West Virginia. She and her husband raised a large family near Bluefield. Their descendants were still concentrated in that area, but Daniel knew nothing more about them.
June Reilly married Michael Campbell, a man from Lick Hollow. She and her family had lived at the end of Bennington Road, less than a mile from where Daniel grew up. He visited her eight years before with his mother and could still picture her kind face, smiling at him as she patted his hand.
At the time, her husband had been dead for a decade and she had but one year to live. He remembered that June was very feeble, and while she didn’t say much, she seemed delighted that he had come to visit. In a tinny, weak voice she told him that he reminded her of her father.
Daniel welcomed sleep after such a strenuous afternoon of work. He lay in the darkness listening to the curious night noises: chirping frogs, whirring and clicking insects and the thrashing of leaves as they captured the wind. Then came the forlorn warble of a screech owl. A sense of peacefulness and security lulled him to sleep.
The next morning as they ate a breakfast of oatmeal and raisins topped with maple syrup, Tom looked up at Daniel. “You still have that jackknife?”
“Sure do, Paw,” Daniel pulled it from his pocket.
“Let me see it.”
Daniel handed the knife to Tom, and he held it close to the window to examine the blade.
“Pretty nice edge; could take a little honing.”
Tom got up and went to his room. He returned with a canvas roll and placed it on the table in front of his great-grandson.
“Here’s your graduation present.”
Daniel swallowed the oatmeal in his mouth and put his spoon down. Undoing the leather straps, he unrolled the canvas to reveal the woodcarving tools that had belonged to Adam Reilly.
Tom cleared his throat and then spoke in a solemn tone that was unusual for him. “I gave carving one more good try, but I don’t have the patience anymore. I’m ninety now and I think I’ve run out of time. I sometimes feel that I hung on to the tools longer than I should have.
You know, Daniel, of all the things I have, I cherish these tools most. But they were made to be used, to create works of art, not to sit on a shelf. Pap gave them to me hoping I’d use them. I guess it just isn’t in me or I would’ve found the time. So I’m passing them along to you now. I hope that you’ll use them, or at least pass them along into the right hands someday.”
“I, I’ll use them, Paw.”
“Well, I hope so. That’s the best that could come of it.”
“I mean it, Paw. I’m going to use them. I promise.”
Tom nodded and smiled. “You know, Daniel, if you’re ever inclined, my opinion is that making wooden spoons for a livelihood would be a fine profession and could make a man an honest living.”
Daniel expected to hear his great-grandfather clear his throat and smile but he didn’t. “I, I think I’m going to be a scientist, Paw.”
“Well maybe you will be, and maybe you won’t. I thought once that I was a fireman.” Tom leaned forward onto his elbows and was quiet for a moment. Then he looked into Daniel’s eyes and spoke with passion.
“Follow your dreams, Daniel. Find an occupation you enjoy and one you believe in. Everything changes and passes on sooner or later. You can never depend on any person to always be there for you, or any happy era to go on forever. You must have your own plan, one that will keep you moving forward when the trials of life begin.”
Daniel nodded. This made sense to him, but it was unusual to hear such advice from his great-grandfather. He typically offered advice on more concrete subjects, such as the proper length of a red oak shingle or the quantity of sugar water required to produce a gallon of maple syrup.
“Whatever you do, Daniel, never let the pursuit of money distract you from life’s real goals. Money is a necessary commodity in our present state of society, a means to an end. But it’ll distort your judgment and suck the marrow right out of life, if you let it become the end in itself.”
Daniel nodded again.
“Now on the more practical side of the matter, I’ll give you some advice my father gave me. Never get into debt, especially to a friend. And, when you’re able, squirrel away enough cash to see you through at least one year of infirmity or unemployment. And I mean cash that no bank or government is aware of.”
Tom stopped and smiled. He felt that he had said enough.
Daniel watched his great-grandfather stand and search his pockets.
“Here’s something to aid your transport,” Tom said, plopping a wad of bills on the table.
Daniel picked it up and unfolded five one-hundred dollar bills. He looked up. “Paw, I can’t take . . .”
“Oh yes, you can. I’ve got more than I need now. This is my pleasure, to help you a little along your path. Get yourself some clothes, or some good tools, a haircut, whatever you need.”
At midmorning, they returned to the sawhorse and resumed cutting firewood. Several large beech logs lay nearby that Tom had dragged to the spot with his pickup truck. Daniel and his aged relative used the two-man crosscut saw to cut them to firewood-length pieces. With a maul, Daniel split these into wedges of the size he knew his great-grandfather preferred. They didn’t stop working until there were six cords of firewood stacked in the shed. While Tom did not expect this service, he was noticeably grateful.
That afternoon, Daniel took leave of Tom and Mountain Farm. Once again he was rewarded by a handshake and a pat on the shoulder. Old and stiff herself, Emma sat beside her master and watched as the young man drove toward the east. Although Tom warned against it, Daniel was determined to go through to Furnace Road. Tom even pointed out that Wisconsin was in the opposite direction, although he knew that fact was irrelevant to this young man, so happy and full of life.
With his ax beside him and his jeep beneath him, Daniel Whaley was determined to make it through to Furnace Road and out into the world. A hundred yards down the road, he stopped and waved to his great-grandfather.
Tom raised a hand in return. He was confident that he had done the right thing by giving Daniel the woodcarving tools. He also realized that he might never see his great-grandson again.
Daniel was greeted at the apartment door by his wife who was holding their one-year-old son. She kissed him and handed him the baby.
“Please take over while I finish dinner, okay?”
Daniel nodded and smiled as Ken settled into his father’s arms.
“How did it go today?” Debbie asked over her shoulder as she hurried to the kitchen.
“Good, we’re starting to get some interesting results. I talked with Doctor Henry this morning and he seems pleased. He even mentioned that I should start thinking seriously about my PhD proposal.”
“Wow, that’s good news.”
“How was your day?” Daniel asked, moving to the kitchen doorway.
“Great. That job on Gorham Street was a piece of cake, and I picked up another from a neighbor who saw me there.” Debbie looked up and smiled as she chopped a salad. “I grabbed a rotisserie chicken at the store before I picked up Ken, so it won’t be long.”
“Sounds good to me,” Daniel replied, smiling back.
“You know, I’m seriously considering hiring help.”
Daniel raised his eyebrows. “Help with your cleaning?”
“Of course with the cleaning. I think that there’s really a demand in Madison for what I do. Not just cleaning houses, there’s a demand for that everywhere. I mean the way I do it, fast and hard, and on a moment’s notice. And the pay keeps getting better.”
“Then it will be like a real business.”
“Yeah, Dan, like a real business.” She noticed furrows forming on his forehead and chose not to elaborate on her plans. Debbie also decided to wait to tell him that she would not be returning to school. Instead, she changed the subject.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, there’s a letter on the counter from your mother.”
He looked at her for a moment, adjusting to the turn in the conversation. He carried the envelope and Ken into the living room. Daniel placed his son on the floor and piled an assortment of toys around him. It seemed odd that his mother would write to him now, when she was expected for a visit in less than two weeks.
When Debbie entered the room to announce that dinner was ready, she knew that something was wrong.
“What is it, Dan?”
He continued to read.
“Daniel, what is it?” she said, moving her face close to his.
He looked up at her. “Paw died.”
“Paw, my great-grandfather.”
“Oh, oh yes. I’m sorry. How did he die?”
He was engrossed in the letter again and didn’t answer.
“Daniel, how did he die?” This time, when her husband looked up, Debbie saw that his eyes were tearing.
“Old age, I guess. He was ninety-two.”
“Ninety-two,” she repeated in a tone of disbelief. “Well, was your mother there?”
“No, nobody was there,” he said, his voice choking. “They found him by the sawhorse, the spot where he always cut firewood. They guess he died during the winter.”
Debbie’s mouth opened wide, but she said nothing. She knew that her husband was very fond of his great-grandfather. Over the years, she listened to the stories he told with little comment. But having grown up in Chicago, she couldn’t help but share Grandmother Kelly’s opinion of Tom Reilly’s lifestyle.
Daniel got up, went to the hall closet and rummaged through the contents of the upper shelf. He brought down a canvas roll and carried it to the living room. Debbie was puzzled at first but remembered the woodcarving tools when Daniel unrolled the canvas on the coffee table.
“That’s right. Your great-grandfather gave you these.”
Daniel nodded. “I think he wanted to pass them along to the right person in the family, or in my case, maybe the best option. These tools belonged to his father, Adam Reilly, who was a woodcarver. Paw always meant to continue his father’s craft but he didn’t. He felt I might for some reason.”
“Why didn’t he?”
“It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess,” Daniel replied with a shrug. He didn’t want to answer any more questions.
“He was too busy. He had a family and was a fireman for many years.”
“Did you ever use the tools?”
“Ah, no, I never really used them. Not yet. Maybe it isn’t meant to be for me either.”
“When was the last time you saw your great-grandfather?”
“Uh, right before I moved here.” Daniel quickly related additional information from the letter in an attempt to redirect his wife.
“Hey, Mom’s still coming to visit, she and Bob.”
“Really? It’ll be interesting, to meet Bob.”
“Bob’s all right. We’re not much alike, but he’s all right. Hey Deb, I’m not so hungry right now. Go ahead and eat without me.”
“Okay, I’m sorry about Paw.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Debbie took Ken to the kitchen. She knew that her husband wanted to be alone.
Daniel leaned forward with elbows on his knees and stared at the woodcarving tools.
Abigail and Robert Whyel arrived in Madison ten days later. Determined to experience the city from within, they rented a suite at the newly refurbished Washington Hotel, located one block from the State Capital Building. In comparison to Philadelphia, Madison seemed more like a large town than a city. They were soon captivated by it.
The city center is situated on an isthmus between Lake Monona to the south, and the Lake Mendota to the north. The majestic granite Capital Building stands on a hill in the center, and Madison emanates from it in all directions.
The University of Wisconsin bordered Madison near where Abigail and Robert were staying. The campus then spread to the west along Lake Mendota.
For two days the couple explored Madison, toured the university campus, and adjusted their plans around Daniel and Debbie’s busy schedules. On the third afternoon, they wanted to relax and talk before heading west to visit Robert’s son in Arizona.
They strolled down State Street to campus and met Daniel and Debbie on the Memorial Union Terrace. The Terrace overlooked Lake Mendota and was a popular leisure spot on campus.
When Debbie excused herself to pick up Ken at the day care center and Robert went for a cigarette stroll, Abigail and her son were finally alone.
“Did you get a letter from Simon Joseph?”
“No,” Daniel replied, with an apprehensive expression.
Simon Joseph was the family attorney.
“Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. It’s good news. Paw had written a will of sorts. None of us were aware of it. That’s what Simon will be contacting you about.”
“Do you know what’s in the will?”
His mother nodded. “It contained only three requests. First, Paw wanted to be buried in the little family cemetery behind the log house.”
Daniel nodded. He knew that his great-grandfather wanted this.
“Second, he wants the contents of the log house and the other buildings go to your Uncle John.”
This too was not a surprise to Daniel, being well aware that Paw and his great-nephew had been close. John Campbell and his wife, Nora, owned and operated the Lick Hollow Mercantile, a general store located at the eastern end of Lick Hollow. This was where Tom Reilly’s maple syrup was sold, and was where he bought all his supplies.
“How are Uncle John and Aunt Nora?”
“They’re good, Daniel, tough as always. They handled Paw’s death well and made the funeral arrangements. They’re like him in many ways.”
Daniel started to ask another question, but his mother interrupted.
“Wait, Daniel. The last item in Paw’s will is that he leaves the family property on Hemlock Knob to his great-grandson, Daniel Whaley.”
This came as a great surprise to Daniel. Though on a much larger scale, it reminded him of when he was presented with the woodcarving tools. “What about Grandma?”
“Well, your grandmother wasn’t too surprised to be left out, considering the relationship she had with Paw over the years. She wasn’t really counting on Mountain Farm as part of her retirement plan, anyway. She and your grandfather are very well off. Actually it’s the rest of the family, uncles, aunts, and cousins that are grumbling a bit. But the fact is, this wasn’t a last-minute decision. Paw’s will was written up twelve years ago.”
Daniel counted back and realized that this was during the period when he began visiting Mountain Farm alone.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before, Mom?”
Abigail cleared her throat. “I didn’t have a chance to be alone with you. It’s not that I’m trying to be sneaky, but Paw left the property to you and I wanted you to know first. That’s all.”
Daniel didn’t know exactly what this answer meant and left it at that when Bob rejoined them.
“What will I do with Mountain Farm?”
“Just sit on it for now, Dan” Bob interrupted, obviously aware of what they were talking about. “It’s not worth a great deal of money as property goes, especially to people in that area. But there’s money headed that way.”
Robert Whyel was an executive vice president of Milton Bank in Philadelphia, and he freely offered his opinion on financial matters.
“An interstate is in the planning that will connect Pittsburgh to Baltimore and Washington. Hemlock Knob is somewhere in between. People in the cities have always looked for places in the mountains to vacation or to build a second home. They haven’t looked as far as your mountain yet, but with an interstate and easy access, it’s only a matter of time before they do.”
Daniel listened. Sitting on it was easy advice to take, since he would never consider selling his great-grandfather’s home.
“We stopped in Lick Hollow on the way here,” Abigail said. “John Campbell volunteered to look after Mountain Farm until you decide what you want to do. He said that he goes up there often and that he could recruit some of the local hunters to keep an eye on it. I gave him your address and phone number.”
The topic changed when Debbie arrived with Ken. Bob questioned her about the cleaning business and then listened with great interest to her answers, some of which Daniel hadn’t yet heard. Bob was impressed with Debbie’s obvious business acumen.
While Bob and Debbie talked, Abigail turned to her son and spoke softly. “How is your work going? You’ve settled on biochemistry as a major, right?”
Daniel nodded but was still listening to the ongoing conversation.
“Absolutely,” Bob exclaimed. “That’s the key to any business, find a niche where there’s a need and move into it aggressively.”
“You enjoy it, don’t you?” Abigail asked, trying to get her son’s full attention.
The question surprised him. “I don’t enjoy science like I did at Villanova when my studies were more general. The thing is, the further along you go in a particular field, the more specialized it becomes and, well, that’s what’s happening now. But it’s a job too; I have a family to support. When the work starts to get to me, I remind myself of that.”
Abigail paused with this remark. She looked at Debbie and her husband. “Poor Bob, after spending all this time with only me to talk to, he’s starved for some business conversation.”
Daniel grinned while thinking to himself that the same statement could apply to Debbie.
“What about the future? What do you want to do after you get a PhD?”
“I’m fairly certain that I want to stay in academics, but in what capacity, I don’t know at this point.”
“Bob said that there would be a more money working as a scientist for a corporation.” Abigail said this with a mischievous smile.
Daniel smiled back, not the least surprised that Bob would have that opinion. “Well, I like to think that I can apply my knowledge and skills in a direction that will do some good for the world, even if it’s in a small way.”
“Just so you’re happy, Daniel. Time passes quickly, and the pace picks up as you get older. No one can afford to spend too many years doing something they don’t enjoy.”
That night as she lay in bed, Abigail stared out the window. As far as Daniel’s domestic situation was concerned, she liked Debbie but wondered how her son had fallen in love with someone so different from himself. Several years ago when she spoke to her brother-in-law, Nolan, his opinion was that his nephew had been pushed too hard in the direction of a science career.
Abigail sighed. Once her mother got the wheels rolling, it was difficult to slow things down. Daniel seemed so stiff and cautious now. She could hardly imagine that he was the same free-spirited boy who once worried her with his solitary excursions on Hemlock Knob.
The professor awoke to a discordant, metallic, clanging noise. He was not certain how long he had slept, or knew when he had fallen asleep. On a table beside the leather recliner he had been sleeping in was a glass with a thick film at the bottom. Daniel Whaley didn’t feel well and had no desire to get up.
Professor Whaley and his wife, Debbie, lived in a beautiful house on Lake Mendota Drive. Their home was located two miles from the campus of the University of Wisconsin, where he was a Professor of Biochemistry. The Whaley property was a two-acre lot that bordered land owned by the university. This buffer made it an exceptional piece of property in an already exclusive neighborhood.
He heard the noise again and could tell that it was coming from behind the garage. “Damn it,” Daniel muttered, lurching forward out of the recliner. He was wearing a burgundy-colored robe from some Christmas past that covered gray sweat-pants and a white tee shirt. Again came the noise. He guessed what it was now, but couldn’t understand how it was possible that he was hearing it.
As the clanging continued, the professor plodded to the kitchen and threw open a closet door. He put on a green trench coat, wound a scarf around his neck, pulled a stocking hat over his head, and donned a pair of garden boots. Daniel stumbled out into the cold, a picture of dishevelment.
When he glanced to the left and saw his son’s car parked beside the house, his irritation grew. Rounding the corner of the garage, he found Ken slumped inside the raised hood of an old jeep. The vehicle was parked in a cluster of small trees and bushes. Daniel startled him as he stalked up from behind.
“Hey Dad. What’s up?” Ken blurted, looking guilty. Ken was three inches shorter than his father. He was handsome, with pale-green, nervous eyes. His hair was neat and like his clothing, stylish.
“Didn’t expect to see you here in the middle of the day.”
“Yes. Hi, Ken. I, uh, I didn’t go in today. Head’s bothering me. I’ve been having headaches again, I mean.”
Daniel didn’t have to explain. Ken knew that some variation of the problem his father experienced during the past year had reoccurred. Although a headache was only one of the symptoms, ‘headache’ was the term his father always used to describe his ailment.
“That’s too bad, Dad. Say, the reason I . . .”
“No work today, Ken?”
“No, not today or ever again for that idiot. I walked out. He didn’t know what the hell he was doing. I know more about cars than Bill Moore does, and I only worked for him six months. Besides, I was sick of the way he jerked me around with my hours. Nobody jerks me around like that, not anymore.”
Daniel stared in the direction of his son but only half-listened. He had heard variations of this diatribe before.
Recognizing the vacant look on his father’s face, Ken raised his voice and continued. “Listen, Dad, I have a plan now, a good plan. That’s the reason I stopped by. Lenny and I are going into business and . . .”
“Your cousin Leonard?”
Ken shrugged. He knew that his plan lost some credibility with the mention of his partner’s name. “Yeah, yeah, Dad, that Lenny. We’re going to open our own garage, an independent business. We found a building just outside Waunakee. Well, actually, Lenny’s brother-in-law owns it and all we have to do is fix it up a little.”
Daniel no longer listened to his son and his blood pressure was rising. When Ken sensed that he was losing his audience, he moved closer and spoke even louder. “Wait Dad, don’t shut me off, damn it. You never take my ideas seriously.”
Daniel fixed his blue eyes on Ken.
“All I’m asking for is a little help, a small loan, to get the ball rolling, then we’ll be on our own, an independent business, like Mom’s, with no idiots calling the shots.”
“What’s with the jeep?”
“The jeep, uh, this old thing? Well, until we realize a little cash-flow and can buy a wrecker, I thought we could use this to tow. What the hell, it’s better than nothing.”
“Better than nothing, is it?” The mild-mannered, biochemistry professor found himself struggling to control his temper. He looked past his son to the jeep and then spoke in a calm but firm voice. “Well, Ken, I’m not in a position right now to finance your business venture, but I wish you and Leonard the best of luck.”
It was so uncharacteristic of his father to respond this way that Ken didn’t know how to react at first. He hadn’t expected an immediate yes. He figured that it would take a little work, but he fully expected to get the money as well as the jeep. His surprise turned into anger that spawned careless words.
“Well I didn’t expect a loan from you. Mom’s the breadwinner here, isn’t she? She isn’t a professor but she knows business. She lives in the real world, like me.”
“If your mother wants to lend you money, that’s her choice, but I won’t lend you a cent toward this business venture with Leonard. I’ve been through this before with you. And, leave the jeep alone.”
“Well, hell with the jeep; this piece of junk. I thought I’d do you a favor and get this eyesore out of here so Mom doesn’t have to be embarrassed about it anymore.”
Daniel Whaley was a passive man. The temper he inherited from his mother’s side of the family never surfaced in his quiet academic world. This morning his son was pressing him at a bad time and in the wrong way. Daniel was tall with a large frame and was actually quite strong. Yet, standing there in his odd wardrobe, he must have seemed weak to his son.
Ken moved a step closer and began to shout. “I didn’t expect to get a helping hand from my Dad.” He signed air quotation marks with his fingers as he said ‘Dad’.
Daniel hated air quotes.
“I’ll leave your precious jeep alone and you can go back to your cave and sleep for a few more days.”
Ken went too far with that remark. Daniel’s right hand shot out and grabbed his son by the jacket just under the collar. Ken stopped talking. It was then that he realized, as if for the first time, that his father was larger than he. Ken was also aware that the grip that held him was deliberate and powerful.
Daniel pulled Ken forward and spoke with a wavering but terse voice. “I don’t want to hear another word from you.”
Ken was silent as his father held him for a few seconds.
“Not another word,” Daniel repeated and shoved his son backward.
Ken was thunderstruck. His father rarely spoke to him in such a manner and never physically threatened him. After all, Ken had made much more provocative statements over the years and never provoked this reaction. Usually, Daniel stormed away to his study and then didn’t speak to him for two or three weeks. Ken turned from his father’s gaze and walked down the driveway. Beside his car, he pointed a shaking finger at Daniel.
“You’ll see, you’ll see,” he stammered. Ken started to say more, but stopped and got in the car first. As he backed up to turn the vehicle, he rolled down the window. “Alcoholic,” he shouted with a strained grin on his face.
The car raced down the driveway and didn’t stop at the road. With tires squealing, Ken turned right and sped away.
Professor Whaley stood looking after his son, equally surprised at what happened. At age twenty-eight, Ken was a great disappointment to his father. Although regret over his action toward Ken was already seeping into Daniel’s cooling conscience, many events over the last decade had set the stage for this scene.
It was in high school that problems first surfaced. Ken had done well during his early school years. Daniel and Debbie were stunned when informed at the midpoint of their son’s junior year that he was failing several courses. When confronted with this information, Ken assured them that he had only been through a rough spell but now was doing well again.
The Whaleys were stunned all over again when Ken did indeed, fail these courses. He dared try to convince his parents again until they held the grades in his face. Ken became hostile and blamed his failure on them, especially on his father
That incident was over a decade ago. Many others followed as Ken developed a pattern of missteps, lying and belligerence. This particular event would hardly stand out, except for the way it ended. Daniel continued to stand, staring down the driveway, growing cold and listless.
He walked back to look at the jeep that was half-merged into the hedge row. Despite the circumstances, it was good to hear the engine turn over again. This vehicle had transported him to Wisconsin three decades before. Debbie and he went on their first date in the jeep. For several years after they were married, it was the means of transportation for their family.
After they moved to Lake Mendota Drive, Debbie urged him to get rid of it. For some years Daniel demonstrated the jeep’s usefulness in hauling the balled hemlock trees that he planted on their property. When Debbie halted this activity, claiming that she didn’t want their entire acreage turned into a forest, the jeep was idle for long periods of time. She was then able to convince him to at least park it out of sight.
Thereafter, when Daniel had time for a yard project, he would tinker with the engine and rattle and squeak away to the building supply store or garden shop. While Debbie often wished the jeep would die once and for all, she admitted that her husband was happiest after these outings. She joked that it was the hillbilly in him. Daniel had not driven his jeep for two years.
As the sun slid through a billow of clouds, the cold became oppressive. Daniel turned back toward the house.
In his study, Daniel leaned back in the leather chair. He thought about the remarks that Ken had directed at him, particularly the one that referred to the study as a cave. Daniel hadn’t heard that reference made in many years and then, it was in a humorous, teasing way. Dan’s Cave was a nickname Debbie had coined to describe the experience of sitting in the leather recliner in the study while gazing out the windows into the light.
Once again, Professor Whaley did not know how long he had slept. He did know that his head felt thick and his throat was sore. He recalled a dull lunch sometime earlier in the day, followed by brandy.
Memory fragments of something that happened with his son pieced together in his sluggish brain, and Daniel grew warm and uncomfortable as they came together. Detecting the aroma of cigarette smoke, he realized that his wife was home. He also knew that she was aware of the incident with Ken.
Deborah Bradley had been a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, working toward a degree in nutrition, when she met Daniel. He had just entered the PhD program and she was a friend of a technician who worked in his lab. Although one could hardly have imagined a more unlikely couple, their attraction to each other was immediate.
A native of Chicago, Debbie was assertive and gregarious; she loved a party. Daniel grew up in a small town of nine hundred inhabitants and was quiet and conservative. Although known to be polite and friendly, he was uncomfortable in a crowd. She found this amusing and charming in the beginning. He found Debbie to be irresistible.
They rented an apartment together and passed the months laughing at their differences. Daniel did things that he rarely did before such as play softball, go to rock concerts, dance, and make love.
When Debbie became pregnant, it seemed to be only a speed-bump in the fun. The young couple hesitated, talked it over, got married, and named the baby Ken. Debbie withdrew from school at the end of the semester. Her intention was to stay at home with the baby at first and then work part-time to supplement Daniel’s meager graduate student stipend.
When the time came, Debbie created her own job. She cleaned houses. The hours were flexible and the money was good. Dependable and willing to work on short notice, Debbie soon had as many jobs as she could manage.
Meanwhile, Daniel advanced at a rapid pace, setting the upper end of the curve for the rest of the students in his classes. He received his PhD in four years and became an associate professor two years after that. Daniel’s major professor, was soon grooming his student to succeed him.
Debbie never returned to school. She continued cleaning houses and over time, turned the part time work into a sound little business. By the time Ken was in school and her husband had received his PhD, she had hired an employee and owned a second hand van that bore the name Bradley Maid.
Debbie was a natural businesswoman and when she realized the demand for a fast, dependable, cleaning service that would respond on short notice, she moved to answer it. By the time Daniel was a tenured professor his wife had two new vans and five employees.
Daniel stood, palmed his glass, and lumbered down the hall to the kitchen doorway. Debbie sat at the kitchen table, cigarette in hand, poised and waiting. Some years ago, after new evidence of the adverse effects of second-hand smoke was disclosed, Debbie proclaimed that she would no longer smoke in the house. She had abided by that statement ever since. The fact that she ignored it now was the reason Daniel knew that Ken had told her about their altercation.
When Daniel first met Deborah Bradley, she was sitting at a table smoking a cigarette. With her trim figure, pretty face, and long black hair, he thought she looked like a starlet in an old movie. As he stood there in his old robe and sweat pants, with hair protruding from his head in all directions, he still thought that Debbie looked like a movie starlet.
“Well, Professor Whaley, you handled that well.”
“Now Debbie, I . . .”
“Wait,” she interrupted, pointing a finger at him. “Did you actually grab Ken by the throat?”
“No. Of course I didn’t. I grabbed his jacket, near his throat; not his throat. I did it because I had a point to make.”
“I know, that he’s an idiot. Subtle point.”
“No, wait, Deb, I didn’t say that.” Daniel paused, struggling to organize the facts. “I came home early, I had a headache . . .”
“Ah, you and your headaches. I’m sick of your headaches. You’re suffering from some kind of depression. You need help and won’t face up to it.”
“So you think I should’ve gone along with another of Ken’s wild ideas?” Daniel asked, steering the conversation away from the point she was making.
“It’s not a wild idea and you don’t have to go along with it; I’m going to lend him the money.”
At first his expression was of anger. Then it became a vacant stare. She knew the look well and hated it because it signaled the end of their discourse. Daniel never argued about Ken for long before the expression appeared. He didn’t say it this time, but Debbie knew that her husband felt she was responsible for spoiling Ken.
Daniel stopped talking. He walked over to an oak dry sink that served as a liquor cabinet. He had bought it for Debbie on the occasion of her thirtieth birthday.
Daniel knew that his wife felt that he had always expected too much of Ken and couldn’t accept their son for what he was. The professor also knew, too well, that he couldn’t win an argument with Debbie.
He opened the cabinet door and removed a bottle that was more empty than full. Rather than fill his glass, he decided to take the bottle with him. Daniel did not look back as he shuffled down the hall.
“End of discussion, eh Dan?”
Daniel didn’t turn but raised the bottle above his shoulder in an apparent act of affirmation.
Back in the study, he eased himself into the leather chair and filled his glass. Daniel Whaley was suffering from some sort of depression, as his wife had said, and he was somewhat of an alcoholic, as his son had said. He was fifty-five years old and few things in his life had turned out the way he had hoped.
When he was a boy, Daniel would sit at Point Lookout, on the west face of Hemlock Knob, gazing down on his hometown. He often thought about the grand things he might accomplish one day. These were such feats as beating up a bully that was ruining Lick Hollow or of one day becoming so famous that he could share his wealth with everybody in town.
The inability to fulfill these childhood daydreams didn’t trouble him now. Instead he found amusement in remembering them. Rather, it was the failure to realize the typical dreams of adulthood such as a happy marriage, a loving family and a rewarding career that caused him to question the course of his life. That was why Daniel sat alone in his study, drinking brandy and neglecting his academic duties.
Life isn’t fair. Working hard and trying to be a good person doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a happy or a prosperous life. I did what I was supposed to. I did my job well. I wanted to do something good for the world and I tried to do what was right for my family. Look at me now.
For many years, the success of his career buffered him against the domestic shortfalls. As a scientist, he contributed to human knowledge, improved the lot of humankind, changed the world. As he grew older and more cynical, that rationale failed to muster the same charge in him. The fact was, he spent his days taking slow, measured steps toward scientific details, while the world changed rapidly, not affected by or even aware of his efforts.
And what about Dad? He worked so hard at his coal business, supported all of us, went to Mass every Sunday, and then he suffered and died. Life isn’t fair.
Daniel took a long, hard drink. He steered his thoughts in another direction, seeking distraction, trying to find some happy parcel of life to start pinning hope around. Naturally, he thought of his daughter.
Jeannie was born seven years after Ken, much to the surprise of friends and family. They had grown accustomed to the idea that the Whaleys had decided to stop after one child. Both Daniel and Debbie seemed so engrossed in their careers at that point that no one supposed they would make the sacrifice of time that a child demanded.
Even Daniel was surprised by his wife’s decision to have another baby. After Jeannie was born, she was the joy of her father’s life. She was a delightful baby and a happy child. As Jeannie grew to be a young adult, it was obvious that she took after her father in many ways. She did inherit her mother’s attractive features and a measure of assertiveness to compliment a quiet, intellectual personality.
After high school, Jeannie attended the University of California at Berkeley only to withdraw after her freshman year. She remained in Berkeley and worked so that she could travel to Europe the following year. Months later, when Jeannie returned to the United States, she settled in Santa Fe. There she worked in a bookstore for the next six months to raise funds for a trip to Alaska.
A year ago, Jeannie began working toward an art degree at the Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. She fell in love with the city during her travel in the Netherlands. That is where her father corresponded with her. They both preferred handwritten letters and the receiving of hers were scarce bright moments in a dull existence.
For a person whose career began like a well-oiled machine on a track, Daniel never questioned the winding path his daughter traveled. He listened to her stories with pleasure, answered her questions, and helped financially on the rare occasion that she asked. He missed her very much.
“Thank goodness she got away,” Daniel said, raising his glass in a toast.
Another day passed in dull routine: sleeping, drinking, eating and reclining in his study. Professor Whaley drank brandy and purchased it in large bottles. This morning, his stomach was raw, his head had a dense, swollen feeling, and the back of his throat was raw as if he had snored all night.
Daniel was alone. Debbie loved their home and she preferred to work there at least part of each day, but whenever her husband’s illness resurfaced, she planned her schedule to avoid the house.
The professor staggered to the kitchen and heated some coffee that Debbie had left in the pot. He made an effort to keep the memories of the preceding days at a mental distance until he was ready for them. Daniel entertained no thought of going to the Biochemistry Building.
Moments later, as he pulled on a change of clothing, Daniel heard the sound of a vehicle coming up the driveway. He put his robe back on.
Creeping to the kitchen window, he recognized the car of Victor DiAngelo, chairman of the biochemistry department. “Damn it,” he exclaimed, ducking out of sight.
Victor DiAngelo and he were friends. They had entered the biochemistry department at the same time, Daniel as a graduate student and Victor, ten years his senior, as an associate professor. For a few seconds, Daniel considered returning to his study with the hope that Victor would believe he wasn’t at home. But he couldn’t do that to Victor. He didn’t know what he would say to his friend, but he owed him an audience at least.
Daniel opened the door. Victor was wearing only a tweed jacket over a turtleneck shirt against bitter cold. As always, he was smiling. Victor was of average height with a stocky build. He was handsome, dark complected, with brown eyes and a deep dimple on his chin. His curly, silver hair had been tossed in all directions by the wind. Outgoing and charismatic, Professor DiAngelo was popular and well suited to his position as department chairman.
“Morning, Daniel. Can I come in?”
“Sure, sure Victor, I was just, uh . . . Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Hey, that would be great.”
Daniel rattled two mugs from the cabinet and poured a jittery stream of coffee into each.
“Nothing like hot coffee on a morning like this,” Victor exclaimed.
They took sips of coffee in uncomfortable silence until Daniel felt compelled to speak.
“Victor, I know that this is . . .”
Professor DiAngelo held up his hand. “Wait. I didn’t come for an explanation, just to talk. Please let me say something first.”
Daniel nodded and lowered his eyes. He was embarrassed that he put their friendship in this awkward position.
Victor cleared his throat. “I want you to know that I have some insight into what you’re going through right now. It’s because I had a similar experience about ten years ago. It seemed to me that after years of climbing the academic ladder, I was running out of steam and could no longer find a reason to keep going. Fame, duty, the thrill of discovery, none of the old rallying cries could get me on track again. Indifference set in toward my work, and eventually toward life. At the age of fifty-three, I started to question if I had even chosen the right occupation.”
“Victor, I had no idea.”
“Well, you were too young and busy then. Besides, I’m better at hiding things than you are.” Victor grinned.
“You seem to me to be someone who fits their job well. I thought that you were born to be a scientist.”
Victor laughed. “I started out an English major, wanted to be a writer. An undergraduate advisor suggested that I add some science courses to my curriculum to strengthen my resume. I liked them and did well. Forty years later, here I am.”
They both chuckled.
“Let’s save that story for another time, Daniel,” Victor said, becoming serious again
“The point I want to share with you is that when the trouble started, I wouldn’t accept that I had a problem, especially a mental problem. I wouldn’t get help at first. I tried to keep working and thought that I would get through it, but I didn’t. My life eventually came to a grinding halt.”
“You’ve obviously come out of it well, Victor,” Daniel said now very interested in his colleague’s story.
“Well, first and foremost, I got good help, a psychiatrist who listened with an experienced ear. I learned from him that this sort of thing can be a hazard of our profession. John Medford at the Enzyme Institute, a similar case a while back.”
“Really, I never would have guessed that. Professor Medford has always struck me as the epitome of self-confidence and stability.”
“Not always, Daniel, not always. In fact he recommended the doc that finally got me back in gear. Depression, that’s what it is my friend, as simple as that and as devastating as that.”
“Victor, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m certain there’s something else wrong. I have such bad headaches. I can point to the spot where they’re coming from. And now I hear this strange rumbling sound. I hear it inside my head, and other times, it seems to be coming from outside my body. I’m not always sure if it’s a noise or a vibration.”
Victor nodded as if none of this surprised him. “I’ve heard of physical symptoms, too, although different from what you describe. I also experienced bad headaches a while back. I was sure I had a brain tumor and went to see Dr. Barten over at McCardle Labs. You know Willy Barten, don’t you?”
“He ran me through a battery of tests and found nothing.”
Daniel was impressed with what Victor was telling him but not convinced that his own problem was the same.
“Daniel, I didn’t come here to tell you what to do, only to tell you what I did. Think it over. If you want to give him a try, the psychiatrist’s name is Paul Taylor. Number’s in the book. A nice guy, really down to earth.”
“Victor, I never dreamed that something like this would happen to me.”
“Nor did I. But I got through it and Bob Medford got through it and you will too. It’s not easy by any means and will take time, but you’ll get past it. One point that Doctor Taylor suggested was that I take up a hobby, a hands-on activity that was different from my profession, something such as gardening or woodworking or running. Most importantly, an activity that gave steady, measured results.
So, I bought myself some tools and set up a woodworking shop in the basement. I threw myself into furniture making and filled the house with dust much to my wife’s chagrin. It did the trick, though. I started out with simple things, towel racks, bird houses, then moved along to bookshelves and eventually to some pieces of furniture.”
“I had no idea you were a woodworker.”
Victor smiled. “I’m not. I haven’t touched the tools in years now. But that era served its purpose. It was an introspective period during which I realized I’d come to enjoy the administrative side of science as much as the research. I began shifting in that direction, eventually vying for the chairmanship. Had I not gone into science, I think now that politics might have been a possibility.”
They both laughed and then Victor became serious.
“Come in half-days for a while. Take it one step at a time. We do need to talk about academics. There are new graduate students coming and class schedules to decide, etcetera, etcetera. I know you don’t need this right now, but many of these things are out of my hands to control or even slow down for long.”
Daniel nodded. He knew that Victor wanted to help him as a friend and colleague, but as chairman, he had a responsibility to the entire biochemistry department.
“Gotta run,” Victor said, tapping Daniel on the shoulder with a clenched fist. “Come in and talk to me. We’ll work this out.”
As he neared the door, he turned back. “Hey, if you think the furniture-making idea has potential, I’ve got the tools. I’m serious. Besides, my wife would love to get them out of the basement.” He grinned and hurried out the door.
Daniel smiled and stared after his friend. Victor DiAngelo had stood by him throughout this erratic year and did his best to address the critics. He waited, hoping in his optimistic way that the problem would work itself out. The fact that he came here today told Daniel that Victor was running out of room to maneuver.
Professor DiAngelo drove slowly on the way back to campus. He was subdued. What Victor told Daniel concerning his own problems was basically true, but his bout with depression was never as severe as he implied. He talked to Paul Taylor just once. It was the psychiatrist who felt that Victor simply needed to slow down and take a break from science. He suggested taking up a hobby. Victor’s problem with headaches occurred several years before he met Dr. Taylor and was unrelated to his depression.
He exaggerated to convince Daniel that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that the problem could be worked out. Victor felt that his message was well-received, but he was disheartened by his friend’s appearance and demeanor. He noticed the tremor in Daniel’s hand as he poured coffee. Alcohol was never part of the equation in his own case.
Daniel was correct in assuming that Victor was running out of room to maneuver. Some in the Biochemistry Department felt it was time for the chairman to take action regarding Professor Whaley’s errant behavior. One associate professor, who coveted Daniel’s position, was openly stating that it was time for the professor to step down.
Daniel sat in his dim world, sipping brandy and trying to keep the discussion with Victor DiAngelo out of his thoughts. He didn’t want his colleague’s words to apply to his particular case. While recognizing the parallel between Victor’s bout with depression and his own problems, he still felt that what was happening to him was different. As hopeful as Victor’s advice sounded, Daniel wasn’t sure he wanted to make the effort to get back on track.
The alcohol eventually soothed his mental turbulence to the extent that he was able to amuse himself with the thought of his friend’s short woodworking experience. Then he recalled Victor’s offer of the woodworking tools. Since he was a young man, Daniel had thought that furniture-making would be an enjoyable hobby. Borrowing Victor’s tools would make it easy to give it a try, or at least it seemed so at the moment.
With sudden motivation and his glass in hand, Daniel stood, steadied himself, and staggered down the hall to the kitchen. He refreshed his drink and donned his odd assortment of outdoor clothing. Professor Whaley launched himself out the back door in the direction of the garage, the ends of his scarf flapping in the cold breeze.
Once inside the garage, Daniel steadied himself against a wall and assessed the possibilities for workshop space. The building was large and could accommodate two vehicles. His Grand Prix was parked there, but since Debbie never parked her Lexus in the garage, there was room for the woodworking tools.
Daniel fantasized. He imagined the space, warm and well-lit, and himself amidst the woodworking tools, pushing a board of some hardwood along a table saw fence. He would show his critics. He would reveal another dimension of himself, creating fine pieces of furniture, works of art.
Just when it seemed he was down and out, that his career was floundering, he would rise again. Daniel Whaley would be known as the professor-craftsman, scientist by day, artist by night. Debbie would be impressed again, this time with his skill and artistry like she once was with his intellect.
But the vision grew fuzzy. His head drooped. What if he didn’t see it through? What if in the end, he really didn’t like it, which is what happened fifteen years ago when he took up hunting? Or worse, it could end in frustration, as did a more recent attempt at golf. After three years of effort, Daniel gave up golf because he was so inept at the game.
What if instead of the professor-craftsman he was just the same old, stuffy professor off on another tangent? Rather than being impressed with the fine pieces of furniture he was creating, Debbie would be angry with him because he filled the garage with tools and dust. He jerked his head up and shook it from side to side.
“No, damn it. This will work; it has to work.”
Daniel looked toward the ceiling. The garage had another floor, and while not a practical choice for a woodworking shop, it was a much more appealing space. The second floor was accessed by a stairway at the back of the building. The area had been designed to be a guest apartment, but from the first owners to the Whaleys, it had been used for storage.
Daniel hadn’t been up there since the previous summer, and Debbie hadn’t climbed the stairs in over a year. It was this abandonment that made the second floor appealing to him. It could be a secret workshop. With renewed enthusiasm, Daniel exited at the side door and went behind the garage.
As he started up the stairs, he stopped and gazed back along the tree row that bordered the property. Daniel focused his eyes on the vehicle merged with the foliage. The jeep was a sad relic of what had been the happiest era of his life. That was why it was still parked there.
Maybe it would have been better to have gotten rid of it years ago, as Deb wanted me to, he thought. That would’ve at least prevented the latest trouble with Ken.
Daniel stepped to avoid the remnants of ice on the stairs that the sun hadn’t melted. At the top, he entered an unlocked door. Winded and light-headed, the professor sat down on a dusty chair with a back rung broken out. With windows on all sides, the room was well lit.
Daniel gazed upon an assortment of objects: furniture, a baby carriage, two bicycles, books, and cardboard boxes. The room was a family archive of sorts, housing items from past eras. As Daniel stared, nostalgia threatened to distract him from his mission. The brandy was having a sedative effect and his head nodded forward. But he resisted, straightened himself, and forced his eyes open.
The professor’s gaze fell upon a narrow bookshelf in the far right corner of the room. The shelf had been purchased as unfinished pine furniture nearly three decades ago by Daniel and his wife. Along with it, they bought a kit that promised to enable them to turn any piece of furniture into an antique reproduction. The bookshelves were one of the first items to be taken to the garage when they moved to the new house. Over the years it became Daniel’s personal storage area.
He could see the backpack and sleeping bag that he received for Christmas decades ago. On the side of the shelves, hung the canvas hunting jacket that he liked, but had hardly used. The golf clubs leaned against the wall below the jacket. Daniel was captivated now. He struggled to his feet and worked his way across the room for closer inspection.
Daniel stared at a coffee can on the top shelf. He knew that it contained a coin collection from his early graduate student days. In a corner to the right of the shelves was the axe he bought before departing for Wisconsin. On the next shelf was a collection of literature on the subject of homesteading and self-sufficient living. That idea began and ended with the books.
Daniel’s eyes wandered to the bottom shelf, and focused on a wooden box that was locked by a small brass padlock. He pulled the box out, stared for a few seconds, and reached for a key he knew was hanging on the back of the shelves. When he attempted to open the lock, his hands were shaking and he realized he had no feeling in his fingers. Instinct prodded him to return to the house. Daniel held the box against his chest and shivered as he picked his way down the stairs.
Back in the study, he placed the box on his desk and switched on the lamp. In spite of fingers that were tingling as they adjusted to the blunt warmth of the room, Daniel undid the lock. There were several objects inside. One was a three-fifty-seven magnum pistol. He looked at the gun with indifference and placed it on his desk. Daniel’s reaction was the same to a box of cartridges. The last item was the canvas roll that contained his great-great-grandfather’s woodcarving tools. He laid it upon his lap with reverence.
When he unrolled the canvas and saw the old tools, Daniel smiled for the first time in many days. He hadn’t looked at the tools for several years, and his impression now was of how beautiful the collection was. He was captivated by the muted, earthy tones that accentuated the timeworn appearance of the tools. Daniel admired the picturesque arrangement on the canvas roll; it seemed to be a work of art. He rubbed his fingers over the words embroidered in the corner. They were written in Gaelic, the native language of his ancestors.
Daniel could clearly recall the day that his great-grandfather gave him the tools. As he drove away from Mountain Farm, with the canvas roll on the seat beside him, he was glowing with happiness. The fact that his great-grandfather entrusted him with such a prized family heirloom infused Daniel with confidence and self-respect. As Daniel admired the tools, it was hard for him to understand how they had been relegated to a low shelf in the upper floor of a garage.
As his early academic career gained momentum, fueled by awards and degrees, the guilt Daniel felt about his promise to use the woodcarving tools faded. He had his career to attend to and a family to support. Many items that were more relevant to his life, accumulated around the canvas roll until it seemed out of place in his study, a space designed for scientific inquiry. The tools made their way to the family archive about the same time the jeep was backed into the hedge row.
Daniel picked up the mallet and a gouge. He mimicked the motion his great-grandfather had demonstrated thirty years before. The tools felt good in his hands and Daniel had a desire to use them.
He stood up and went to the kitchen. A brandy bottle that was nearly empty was on the counter above the dishwasher. He put it away in the dry sink. The bout with the cold had sobered him somewhat, and he started a pot of coffee to further the cause.
Daniel stood at the counter as coffee brewed. He looked down at a stoneware crock filled with cooking utensils and spotted a wooden spoon that was purchased by Debbie at an art fair. He knew that the wood it was made from was cherry.
Thirty minutes later, Daniel climbed the stairs of the garage dressed in work clothes, a jacket and a stocking cap. A cup of coffee was in his right hand, the tools under his left arm and the cherry spoon in his left hand. His ascent of the stairs was much steadier this time, and he entered the upstairs with new stamina.
Rummaging about, he found an old, electric space heater and plugged it into an outlet next to the door. Coils chattered and then glowed red. The heater gave off a pungent aroma from burning dust that Daniel thought was pleasant. Then he dragged a maple desk across the room and situated it over the heater.
On the desk he unfurled the canvas roll and sat on the chair with the broken rung. He examined the tools. Picking up a gouge that was curved at the tip, he swept it along the bowl of the spoon. This was the spoon gouge that his great-grandfather had shown him many years before. Daniel saw that it was well designed for its purpose.
Now he needed wood. Daniel stood up and glanced across the room. He recalled that there was a table somewhere in the attic that was made of cherry. Upon locating it, he removed books that were stacked on top. It was an antique table that he and Debbie had bought at a yard sale decades ago. Their plan was to refinish it for use in the kitchen, but here the table had stood since the mid-seventies. The drop leaves had been removed and were leaning against the wall behind it.
A light area on top of the table, where some of the varnish had been removed, was evidence that the refinishing had at least begun. Daniel thought it safe to assume that this project would never see completion and, with no sentiment, he carried one of the leaves to the desk.
Grasping the mallet and gouge, Daniel chipped out a divot of wood. The table leaf jumped and slid on impact, prompting him to search for a clamp. When the board was secured to the desk, he traced an oval shape around the indentation he had made, using the cherry spoon as a pattern.
Daniel soon learned that if he gouged out chips from both ends of the tracing, a rough bowl formed. Then, with a coping saw, he cut around the outline. The result was a crude, two-dimensional, spoon-like object. Guided by the model from the kitchen, he employed various gouges, a wood rasp and sandpaper, to sculpt a spoon.
Daniel turned his creation over and over in his hands. He felt a sense of accomplishment that he hadn’t experienced in many years. The spoon was plain and heavy compared to the one he used for a model, but no one would guess that it was the work of a beginner.
Daniel was hungry for a change and went to the house to eat dinner. He made a quick meal of melted cheese on toast and returned to the garage to carve another spoon. By late evening, he had another piece completed. This spoon was lighter and more stylish with the handle curved to one side. Daniel wanted to continue, but it was getting late, and he made himself stop. Earlier in the evening, he decided to talk with Professor DiAngelo the next morning.
After cleaning up wood chips and sawdust, Daniel rolled up the tools and placed the bundle back on the pine shelves. He put the two spoons in an empty shoebox and placed that beside the tools. Daniel approached the house in the dark with the knowledge that Debbie was home. An hour earlier, he had seen the glow from her car headlights shine on the trees behind the garage.
When he entered the kitchen, his wife was sitting at the table doing book work for Bradley Maid. Debbie was startled by Daniel’s back-door appearance. She assumed he was in the study. She knew that there would be no more discussion of the driveway incident with Ken. The stony silence of the past two days would run its course, dissolving with the necessity of basic communication.
“How did your work go today, Debbie?” Daniel asked, surprising her with a direct question, days before protocol would have allowed.
“Ah, good, Dan. Too good in some ways. We’ve picked up more clients and I’m stretched thin again. It’s forced some decisions on me. How was your day?”
“It wasn’t bad, Debbie. I think I’m getting a grip on this problem now. Tomorrow I’m going to have a talk with Victor. Hopefully we can work out some sort of schedule to get me back on track.”
Debbie smiled, but she had a weary and doubtful look on her face.
As courteous as this discourse was, Daniel didn’t linger to continue conversing. He moved in a circle around his wife until he was in the hallway. He paused and looked back with the feeling that he should say more.
Daniel wanted to let her know that in spite of his odd ways and his recent problems, he still liked being with her. He wanted to tell her that he still loved her after all these years. Perhaps he should say he was sorry for the way he interacted with Ken. He might even tell her about what he did this evening.
“Well, I’m certain you will work everything out with your business, Deb.”
Debbie bobbed her head and forced a smile.
Daniel shuffled his feet and stepped toward the study.
Debbie stared after him. She wasn’t optimistic about her husband’s plan to get back to work. She had been around this cycle with him before, and with each relapse his condition worsened. Debbie did notice that Daniel seemed more alert than he had been in many days. His eyes were clear and his face lacked the strange, confused expression that characterized the bad spells.
"So Daniel, sounds like we’re ready to rock and roll again.” Victor was sitting on the corner of his desk with arms crossed. “And you’re making wooden spoons. I can’t wait to see them. Whatever it takes, something totally unrelated to this.” He waved his hand back and forth at the surroundings.
Daniel sat in a chair across the room. He shrugged and nodded. To observe these two men in the same room was a study of contrast. Where Victor was tastefully dressed, neat and casual, Daniel was awkward and uncomfortable in his trademark, blue suit. The chairman was eloquent, charismatic and known for his wit. His colleague was formal, aloof, and known for his seriousness.
Yet these two men had liked each other since their first meeting three decades before. Daniel admired the many social qualities in his friend and respected his leadership ability. From the beginning, Victor knew that Daniel was a good person and a man with integrity. Before long, he recognized that Daniel’s intellect exceeded his own as well as that of any professor in the department.
“Now look, I want you to take it easy. Come up to speed gradually. Just do the necessary paperwork. You’re only scheduled to teach your course on fat-soluble vitamins this spring, and I want you to only take on one new graduate student at the most.”
Daniel agreed to these terms, thanked Victor, and shook his hand.
“I can keep the wolves at bay a bit longer,” the chairman said and winked.
Over the next several weeks, Professor Whaley eased back into his position and by early March had regained his scientific stride. Because of his intellect and phenomenal memory, Daniel’s comments on any biochemistry topic were always respected. With regards to his specialty, vitamin E, his opinion was the final word in any lecture hall. Victor observed his colleague’s progress with satisfaction. He was soon convinced that Daniel had outflanked the crisis that had threatened to scuttle his career.
While Professor Whaley seemed to be back on track, his attitude toward the job had changed. Now, the scientific details of the day and the politics of the department remained at the Biochemistry building. When he left campus, his thoughts were focused on woodcarving. His evenings were passed in the simple workshop above the garage. The shoebox was replaced by a larger wooden box, and this was filling with spoons.
Daniel elaborated on the basic spoon shapes he had started with. The bowls became thinner and lighter while the handles evolved into an artistic array of sweeps and tapers. For a finish, he used a mixture of olive oil and beeswax, heated together and applied while still hot.
He learned of this concoction on the web site of a wooden spoon maker in North Carolina. Daniel found it intriguing that someone could make a living by carving wooden spoons, considering that this was the career that Paw had suggested to him.
The finished spoons now had a smooth, satiny surface, the result of several applications of the North Carolina recipe combined with light sanding between each coating.
“My God, you’re an artist,” Victor proclaimed several weeks later when Daniel took a selection of spoons to show his friend. Victor was studying five cherry spoons that varied in length from nine to thirteen inches. Two were straight and tapered while the others had gentle curves worked into the handles.
“Oh, come on, Victor. They’re just spoons.”
“No, I’m serious. In just a matter of weeks you’ve gone far beyond anything I did in a year of woodworking. I just followed directions, like a technician. You’re creating these with your imagination. That’s art.”
“Is that what art is, Victor?” Daniel asked, smiling.
“Sure, of course it is,” Victor responded, laughing at the rub. He was happy to see his colleague’s sense of humor returning. “You look good, Daniel. I think you’ve gotten past it.”
“Thanks. I feel good. Still the occasional headache, but I ignore them now and keep working.”
“I believe they’ll pass; give it time. The main thing is that you’re back in your groove. When you’re there, my friend, you’re the best.”
Daniel smiled and blushed. He appreciated the support he received from Victor and at the same time, he wondered how he deserved such unconditional loyalty from his friend. Daniel hoped that someday he could repay him for his help.
That evening, Daniel awoke in his chair, with a strange, disjointed dream fresh in his mind. The setting was the log house on Hemlock Knob. His great-great-grandparents were present, along with other people he didn’t recognize. Daniel was in the scene but not seated at the table with the others. He stood near the door, as if he had just entered and remained unnoticed.
Daniel once saw a photograph of Adam and Sadie Reilly and at the time, it was half a century after their deaths. However, his great-great-grandparents were very much alive and animated in his dream.
Daniel knew that it was a celebration, the occasion of Adam’s birthday. Earthenware mugs were filled with apple cider, a potent brew that Adam fermented on the homestead. The crowd seemed to expect a toast from Adam. He acquiesced, slowly standing and raising his mug. Daniel saw that he was a tall man with broad shoulders and a full, brown beard. Adam was humble in appearance, and yet he possessed an air of authority and strength. When he began to speak, the crowd grew quiet.
“To all that is good on this green earth, may we share it in peace,” he proclaimed.
“Here, here,” chanted an appreciative audience. They raised their mugs toward the ceiling, and then took a hearty drink.
A man to Adam’s right stood. “May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”
The crowd yelled and raised their mugs. It was a traditional Irish saying. Daniel had heard it before.
Several more toasts were presented to the mirthful audience. Then Adam looked at his wife and stood once again. He raised his mug. “Art is a good idea,” he shouted.
Sadie laughed and blushed while she nudged Adam in the back. The audience paused at first over this verse that was obviously not in the popular repertoire. But soon, one of the men echoed it, and then all raised their mugs. It was at this point that Daniel awoke.
Art is a good idea; Such a strange dream. Where did that come from?
During the many hours Daniel passed carving wooden spoons, he often reminisced about Mountain Farm. Since he was using his great-great-grandfather woodcarving tools, he thought about Adam Reilly more than he ever had before. Daniel concluded that this was the starting point of the dream.
The final toast puzzled him a while longer, until he recalled his conversation with Victor earlier in the day. Their short exchange about art would seem to be the basis for Adam’s toast. Daniel was content that he had traced the origins of his dream, but that made it no less strange.
Wide awake now, he decided to venture to the garage. The weather had warmed; winter was losing its edge. Daniel took a deep breath as he walked across the lawn and delighted in the spring scents that hung in the cool evening air. The professor felt more invigorated and inspired than he had in many years. Soon he was situated at his workbench, the cranky little heater grinding and clicking beneath him.
Art is a good idea, a funny statement. Ambiguous, but true either way one might take it. It could be a reference to the inspiration behind a single work of art or a statement about art in general.
Daniel felt like working now. He selected a recent spoon he had completed and turned it over in his hand. He studied the handle carefully. His craftsmanship was improving; Debbie’s spoon was mediocre compared to the one in his hand.
Daniel clamped another piece of the cherry table to the workbench and with nonchalant skill, he gouged out the bowl of a spoon. Then with a turning saw, recently purchased from an antique store, he cut a ten-inch spoon from the board. He worked this into the shape of the spoon he had just examined.
Then, using a small, gouge followed by the round edge of a wood rasp, he carved the handle into a gentle spiral. Slow and deliberate sanding revealed the beautiful grain of cherry wood. While still adhering to an ancient, utilitarian design, this wooden spoon was a minor work of art.
Back in his study, Daniel sipped a glass of brandy while he turned the spiraled spoon over and over in his hands. He thought about the dream and smiled. “Art is a good idea,” he said.
The benefit Debbie gained from her husband’s recovery was solitude in her home. Now she could enjoy her coffee and begin the day at her favorite workplace, the kitchen table. This was where her business started, while her professor-husband spent most of his time at the laboratory and she raised the children.
Debbie had grown to like the arrangement. Now of course, with a fleet of vans and a growing army of employees, she needed to be present at the Washington Street office the greater part of each day. But she preferred to reserve these morning hours to work here, alone.
Debbie had loved the house from the time she saw it while on a Sunday drive with Daniel and their infant son. She and Daniel purchased it five years later when he became a full professor. Debbie reworked the inside down to the smallest details, and Daniel agreed with all of her decisions. He especially approved of the idea of converting a central room with large windows that faced the back of the property into his study.
When Daniel was ill, shuffling between his study and the kitchen, drinking too much, looking at her woefully, the ambiance was disrupted, to say the least. When he was down with a headache, she planned her schedule to avoid the house.
If Debbie thought that her husband would recover from his depression this time, she never guessed it would occur so quickly. He seemed to have recovered other times only to relapse with more pronounced symptoms. But she sensed something different this time. It wasn’t Daniel returning to his old self, but a new person emerging from the wreck of the old. It was someone she wasn’t familiar with. He actually seemed cheerful and confident now. Sometimes she wondered if she had ever known what Daniel Whaley was really like.
The thing that puzzled her most was the fact that this man still loved her after all these years. She knew he did now as surely as she knew it when they first met. That this mattered to her would seem to be a contradiction. Although she and Daniel had remained together for thirty years, they were now little more than house mates. It had been more than three years since they shared a bed and three times that number since they made love. But it did matter to her.
Debbie was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin and had only been seeing the tall, bashful graduate student from Pennsylvania for three months when she learned that she was pregnant. Daniel Whaley had known that he wanted to marry Deborah Bradley since they met, and when he learned of her pregnancy, he was only more certain of his desire. Daniel’s intention did not waver despite her honest admission that the child might not be his.
As they raised the baby and took the first steps along their respective careers, it seemed that they had made the right decision. But by the time they observed their fifth wedding anniversary, their personalities were maturing. Debbie’s love of business and her drive toward financial success stood in stark contrast to her husband’s passive, intellectual withdrawal from the world. A persistent respect she felt for him, his undying love for her, and the momentum from the years behind them, kept the marriage moving forward.
Then, Jeannie was born and everything changed. Daniel blossomed in newfound fatherhood. While he and Debbie drifted apart and Ken developed into Ken, Daniel found a new reason to believe in the life he led. There was no doubt that Jeannie was his child. The physical resemblance was noticeable and the similarity in personality was unmistakable.
Debbie sighed, shaking her head. She worried about her husband, but she no longer loved him. When she grew impatient with their domestic arrangement, she wished that he would just leave one day. If not for her love of the house, she would have left years before.
When at home, she focused on her business or watched television in the spacious master bedroom. Daniel passed most of his time in the study and in recent years, even slept there. While not the arrangement a marriage counselor might recommend, they remained together for many years and did so in relative peace.
Debbie stopped working. She thought about the recent change in this routine, especially on weekends. Daniel spent a large amount of time in the garage. She even noticed the upstairs lights on late some evenings.
Occasionally he would go off on a tangent of reorganization, discarding items that were not being used and regrouping what remained according to some new system. This seemed unlikely now, since that activity usually resulted in him becoming irritable over all the things they had accumulated. Daniel was happy these days.
Her curiosity became aroused to the extent that she decided to investigate. Debbie rarely went to the garage and hadn’t been to the upstairs of the building in more than a year. She poured herself another cup of coffee, tightened her robe, and walked across the yard. It was mid April and although cold at this early hour, the morning held all the promise of a wonderful spring day.
As she went around the garage, she looked to her right, across the yard with its handsome stand of hemlock trees. They were thirty feet tall now and formed a lush, green canopy over the clusters of mountain laurel that Daniel had also planted.
Although Debbie often teased her husband about a compulsion to convert their yard into a forest, she had to admit that what he created was beautiful. This was particularly true on a morning such as this with sunlight filtering through the hemlock boughs at a low angle.
The scene was accentuated by fieldstone walls that Daniel had built. One ran along the entire length of their back border and another wall separated the remaining lawn from the hemlock trees. He worked on them for years, scavenging stones from the woods and meticulously placing each one.
Debbie climbed the back stairs of the garage and opened the door. Just inside she came upon the maple desk that was once in Ken’s bedroom. On top of it were several clamps and some sort of saw. There were also scraps of wood and sawdust scattered on the floor.
Most of the contents of the room had been moved toward the back and were covered with sheets. This was apparently for protection from the dust that coated everything. In the center of the room she discovered what appeared to be pieces of a table. Only four disconnected legs and a few boards remained.
Looking back toward the desk she noticed two wooden boxes on the floor. Debbie remembered that Daniel had bought them at a flea-market years ago. At the time, he pointed out to her that they had been made entirely by hand. She was sure that she last saw them in his study.
She opened the larger of them to find it was nearly full of wooden spoons. Turning to look at the table parts in the center of the room, she guessed that the table was the source of wood. In the other box, Debbie found the canvas roll that held the tools that Daniel had shown her years before. She knew they were the woodcarving tools his great-grandfather had given him.
While sitting down to look at the tools, her foot hit the space heater under the table. She recognized it as the one from the apartment Daniel was renting when they first met. Debbie turned away from it, not wanting her thoughts to drift back into that era.
She looked over the tools and then at the spoon she held in her hand.
I don’t believe it, he’s using the tools to make these spoons. That’s what he’s been doing, sitting here and carving wooden spoons.
Debbie seldom cooked anymore, but she was a good cook and could appreciate well-made wooden spoons. Debbie was impressed with her husband’s skill and craftsmanship. Another window into Daniel’s personality opened after all the years.
But why wouldn’t he tell me? Why would he? We never tell each other anything that matters, anymore.
Debbie looked out the window at the tree-covered bank behind the garage. She tried to picture her husband, Professor Daniel Whaley, sitting at this window, carving wooden spoons.
He seems happy again. Maybe this is what he should have done all along, something like this, something simple with his hands, instead of wearing out his brain on science.
Maybe he still can. Why couldn’t he do something like this? We’re in a good position and with my business experience . . .
Debbie stopped as reality seeped back into her thinking. The era when she and Daniel were partners ended long ago and there was no chance of going back.
Besides, there was another reality that was forcing her in the opposite direction, compelling her to end their marriage. She shut her eyes, nested her face in cupped hands and tried to keep from crying. Tears would admit an underlying despair that she didn’t want to acknowledge.
Damn it all. He’s always treated me with respect and been kind to me no matter how bad things got.
When Daniel asked her to marry him, Debbie was flattered and amazed and scared. She knew that it was taking a chance even then, when they were young and in love. She opened her eyes and stared out the window. Once again she imagined her oddball husband sitting here, happily carving wooden spoons, turning an old table into small works of art.
Maybe this is what he should have done, something like this, and maybe I should have just left the poor man alone in the first place.
Debbie began to weep and covered her eyes. I swore that no matter what happened, I would never cheat on him. Damn it all. What am I going to do?
Then she wiped away tears and steadied herself. Debbie was cold, but continued to sit and stare out the window.
“At least I gave him Jeannie,” she whispered.
Victor had been right. Daniel’s new hobby of carving wooden spoons got him back on track again. As it had been for Victor, the recovery period was a time of introspection for Daniel. However, he didn’t come out of it believing that a change in focus for his career was the solution. He came to realize that his career was just that, a career. It wasn’t who he was.
Unlike Victor, he didn’t abandon his hobby when he was well again. In fact, Daniel began to live a double life, dividing his time between science and woodcarving.
Despite this shift in priorities, Daniel was able to fulfill his basic professorial duties. He attended only to the essentials as Victor had directed, and was careful to not allow the details of the profession to monopolize his life again. This lack of intensity did not go unnoticed by his critics. But Daniel was a tenured professor with a prestigious record, and Professor DiAngelo, chairman of the Biochemistry Department, was squarely behind him.
While no one could deny that he was back at his post, it would take time before doubts about Daniel’s mental stability were erased. The course of a semester with its myriad demands and deadlines would be the test.
Five weeks after resuming his position, Daniel sat at his desk, and the office door was open. He was reviewing research data that had been submitted by one of his graduate students. Daniel had capable students under him who, with minimal oversight, were able to proceed with their research projects. Professor Whaley fostered this ethic in all his students from the day they entered his laboratory and it served this particular group well during the previous troublesome year.
Daniel was in a good mood, happy in the conviction that he had struck a balance between science and his personal life. A good illustration of this was the wooden spoon that lay on his desk next to the latest edition of The Journal of Nutrition.
The spoon resulted from a good carving session the previous evening during which he again carved spoons with spiraled handles. This particular spoon was ten inches long and the turn of the spiral was evenly spaced along the handle. It appeared to have been held at both ends and twisted one and a half turns.
Daniel often brought a favorite piece to campus with him as a reminder of his other occupation. A more direct reminder came from an index card that was leaning against a book behind the spoon. On it was printed the phrase ‘art is a good idea’. The toast offered by Adam Reilly in Daniel’s dream had become a slogan of sorts for his great-great-grandson.
He finished his assessment of the data and began to write notes of suggestion, when a knock sounded on the door. Bruce Planter, one of Daniel’s graduate students, stood in the doorway.
“Hello, Doctor Whaley. D-do you have a minute?
“Sure, come in Bruce; have a chair. We haven’t talked in a while.” Daniel leaned back and removed his glasses.
Daniel had liked the young man since Bruce first entered the lab two years before. Bruce Planter was not one of the most ambitious students to come under his professorship. There was no doubt that he was intelligent, but his motivation toward science seemed to change with the seasons.
Yet Daniel appreciated Bruce’s sense of humor and found discussion with this student to be a refreshing break from the usual lab conversation. Bruce’s personality reminded him of his daughter Jeannie, which only added to Daniel’s fondness for the young man. Moreover, Professor Whaley was confident that the motivation Bruce lacked would come, and so he was patient with him.
“Well, Bruce, how’s your work going?”
“Um, ah, Doctor Whaley, that’s sort of why I wanted to talk to you.”
Daniel turned his head, fully expecting discussion of a technical or theoretical science problem.
“Doctor Whaley, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I’ve decided that I don’t want to continue with my graduate work.”
Daniel’s expression changed to one of surprise. He put his glasses back on and leaned forward. “Is it your project? It’s still relatively early, and if you’re not sure of the direction . . .”
“No, it’s not the project, it’s me. I don’t want to continue in this direction as a career.”
It was obvious that the young man was nervous. Daniel leaned across the desk and spoke with a tone of concern. “Is there something wrong Bruce, some problem that I can help with?”
“Oh no. Everything’s fine. I’ve just come to the conclusion that this is the wrong direction for me in life. I tried, but I’m just not a scientist.”
Daniel was silent for a short, uncomfortable moment. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes, very sure.”
Daniel paused again. He wanted to know more but didn’t really know what to ask. He nodded and assumed a professional demeanor.
“Well, if that’s your decision, I’ll get the paperwork started at this end. You’ll need to inform the graduate school office, and they’ll tell you how to proceed with this.”
Bruce Planter liked Daniel. He was flattered by the concern that his professor voiced upon hearing his decision. He was also glad that his withdrawal was accepted without resentment.
Daniel removed his glasses again and leaned back in his chair. “So, Bruce, do you have plans, any other career possibilities in mind.”
“Well, I, no, not really; travel some. That will give me time to think about what I want to do. Uh, you see, I was taking college courses when I was a senior in high school and then I went straight through with my undergraduate work. I even went every summer and graduated in three years. Then I came here without a break, to start all over again at a more intense level.
I thought it was what I wanted, but the old drive just isn’t there any more. I know it’s because I don’t really know what I want to do. I’ve been trying to push myself forward just because I’ve already come this far, not because I want to.”
Daniel listened to the young man’s testimony with more interest than Bruce could have imagined.
“But you’re doing well, Bruce. Not setting any school records, but certainly well enough to get your degree.”
“Well, I think I could get a PhD if I hang around. But why give up any more years just for the sake of a degree, when I could be out there finding out what I really want to do?” Bruce nodded toward the window to emphasize out there, and when he glanced across the desk, his gaze stopped at the wooden spoon.
Daniel was still looking at Bruce, but his thoughts were drifting. He thought back to when he was Bruce’s age, when for him, leaving school was not an option.
“Did you make that, Dr. Whaley?”
“Oh that, yes. Yes I did make that, yesterday evening as a matter of fact.” Daniel picked up the spoon and handed it to his student.
“Where did you learn to do this?”
“Just picked it up as a hobby. It was something to help with the, uh, headache problem I was having.”
“I think this is incredible. I want to try things like this, too.”
“I want you to have it then, Bruce. Consider it a going away present.”
Bruce looked up and began to speak as the phone rang.
“Excuse me,” Daniel said, picking up the receiver. “Hello, yes, hello Will. No, I haven’t forgotten. Well yes, something has come up, but I’m still planning to come over. Uh huh. Is there a chance that we could discuss it over the phone later? No? Okay, I’ll be there, then. Thanks, Will, bye.”
Daniel glanced up at the clock on the wall. “I have to run, Bruce. Another doctor’s appointment, but I think it’s the last.”
“You seem to be doing well, Dr. Whaley.”
“I am well now, just an occasional headache. But when you’re in a social circle that includes so many doctors, no symptom goes unexamined.”
“Thanks for this,” Bruce said, holding up the spoon. “It means a lot to me.”
Daniel shrugged. “It’s not a gold watch. A wooden spoon is the best you get under the circumstances.”
They walked to the door. Daniel shook Bruce’s hand and wished him good luck.
As Daniel shut the office door, his thoughts began to spin. The fact that Bruce Planter came to the conclusion that he wasn’t a scientist bothered Daniel. When he was Bruce’s age, he didn’t allow himself to question his career. He had a family to support for one thing. Eventually the diplomas and awards began to cover the office walls and override the doubts.
Since Jeannie left home, doubts had resurfaced, but he never thought about quitting. In spite of mental problems, alcoholism, and a dreary domestic situation, he never considered a career change. Woodcarving was the new focus in his life, but he couldn’t leave his profession for it. Daniel reasoned that the balance he had struck between his career and his hobby was the only reasonable option.
He looked up at the clock and became agitated. Daniel didn’t want to go to the appointment; he wanted to go home to his study. He felt guilty. As Bruce Planter’s major professor, he had let him down. Perhaps if he had been well this past year, he might have influenced his student to continue toward a PhD.
But underlying this was a greater guilt, the knowledge that he should have questioned his own career when he was Bruce’s age.
Daniel had to go; he was already late. As the professor plodded down halls and stairwells, his head was low, his shoulders sagged and he didn’t make eye contact with people. Daniel had an uncertain and confused expression on his face.
A quarter mile away, on Observatory Hill, Bruce Planter sat in the sun and peered out over Lake Mendota. He was relieved that he finally talked to Professor Whaley. A careless breeze blew across the lake, fluttering the ends of the young man’s hair. He had let it grow long again. Bruce looked down at the wooden spoon in his hand, still surprised to have received such a gift.
He would never say it to this man for whom he held great respect, but his observation of the professor’s headache problem was a major factor in the decision to quit. Bruce knew that science was the wrong career for him. He decided, instead, to wander out into the world to find an occupation that suited him.
Daniel opened his eyes and noticed the sun’s rays were at a shallow angle, and so he knew it was late afternoon. Before dozing off again, he heard the scraping sound of a snow plow accompanied by the chatter of chains. He guessed that there had been a late spring snow.
The next morning the phone rang, and he listened to Victor DiAngelo’s voice as a message was recorded. The day after this, he awoke to noise in the kitchen and the distinct aroma of cigarette smoke. He recognized the voices of his wife and son. The other talker he soon identified as Debbie’s sister, Cathy.
Daniel’s face bore a strange, blank look as he lay back in the recliner. He was motionless, listening to the voices, picturing the faces associated with them. Daniel and Cathy Savage were friendly with each other, but they rarely conversed for long. Since his illness started, he suspected from the way she looked at him, that his sister-in-law thought he was crazy.
Daniel did not want people here now, especially these people. He felt warm and angry. The noise from the kitchen became unbearable and the smoke, suffocating. His impression that this trio had come together to annoy him was true to some extent.
When Debbie realized that Daniel’s illness had returned, she knew that she couldn’t live with him any longer. She and Tom Stringer decided that the time had come to be together on a permanent basis. They would come out in the open with their relationship, face whatever consequence society bestowed upon them, and move on with their lives, together.
It was with this decision in mind that Debbie planned her response to Daniel’s relapse. She invited her sister and Ken over this morning for breakfast in spite of Daniel’s presence. If he was unable to tolerate the intrusion, then he could leave. That would certainly make her life easier. Debbie realized that this plan might provoke an unpleasant scene, so she chose her guests well.
Daniel couldn’t hear their conversation, but he couldn’t block out the sound of their voices either. Most irritating to him was the laughter.
He was wide awake now. Daniel was sick in his stomach. He had an aching head, a sore throat, and an unpleasant dryness to his mouth. On the floor, lying on its side, was an empty brandy bottle. Another half-empty bottle stood on the desk. An empty glass nested on Daniel’s lap in a sticky area of his robe.
Debbie laughed and then made a comment that caused everyone to cackle. They were enjoying this impromptu breakfast. It was a business breakfast of sorts. Recently divorced, Cathy was in the process of moving from Chicago to Madison where she would manage part of her sister’s business.
They were scheduled to meet with the rest of the management team at ten o’clock. Afterwards, Debbie was to accompany Cathy to Chicago to help her pack, visit their parents, and then to keep an important dinner date.
In the gloom of his study, Daniel remained inanimate and not entirely sober. He was struggling to control his temper when he remembered an idea that came to him the day before. He had devised a plan that would solve this immediate problem and all the others. He stood up and put his topcoat on over stale clothes. Daniel opened the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet and removed the three-fifty-seven magnum pistol that had recently been brought in from the garage.
The gun once belonged to his father and was given to Daniel by his mother. Allen Whaley acquired it from a man who owed him money. At first, Allen used it for target practice, but he locked the gun away when his first child was born.
Fifteen years earlier, just before Daniel’s mother moved to Seattle, the gun resurfaced in the course of her packing. Abigail was not fond of guns, and this one had long ago lost what sentimental value it might have held. She was startled that her quiet, scholarly son, received it without hesitation. Daniel disclosed his acquisition to no one and locked the gun in the box with the carving tools.
With trembling hands, Daniel loaded the weapon and nestled it in his coat pocket. He hesitated at the door, listening to the talk and laughter, waiting for his wife’s voice to come around again. Then he thrust himself into the hall to everyone’s surprise.
The kitchen fell silent when Daniel appeared in the doorway. He was unsteady and pale, bearing a cold, indifferent expression. The professor said nothing and looked only at his wife as he crossed the room. His shocking appearance and penetrating gaze caused Debbie to avert her eyes. He stopped when he was next to her and waited for her to look up.
Daniel stared at Debbie as if he wanted to tell her something, but no words were spoken. When her eyes met his, he turned away, walked in a crooked line to the door, and stepped out into the driveway.
Debbie got up and went to the kitchen window. She watched her husband walk with an erratic gait to the back corner of the property. At an opening in the stone wall he stumbled in among the trees. Debbie knew that there was a path through the woods, and it led to a cornfield that belonged to the University of Wisconsin.
Ken broke the silence. “Whew, I think he’s finally gone off the deep end this time.”
“Shut up,” his mother responded without turning.
The look on Daniel’s face troubled Debbie. She knew her husband wanted to tell her something. Cathy began to clear dishes from the table. She and her sister had to be in town soon. Ken decided that this would be a good time for him to leave.
He wasn’t much affected by his mother’s curt response. Ken knew that he must have made a mistake to receive such a rebuke. Besides, he was in no position to be too proud. He had accepted this breakfast invitation partly because he was hoping to borrow money.
The business venture with his cousin went badly when they ignited a gasoline tank while welding a muffler. The ensuing fire destroyed much of their equipment and did considerable damage to the building owned by Lenny’s brother-in-law.
While dragging legal and financial vestiges of this enterprise along with him, Ken’s entrepreneurial spirit remained unflappable. He had a friend who made kayak helmets for a hobby, and now wanted to turn it into a business. Ken leapt at the opportunity to learn the trade and become a partner, but they were short on start-up capital. So Ken could eat a little humble pie with his breakfast.
When Ken left, Cathy approached Debbie. Her sister looked so sad and worried that Cathy became angry with Daniel. “I’ve never seen him this bad. Do you feel safe here with him?”
“Daniel would never hurt me,” Debbie answered still looking at the spot where her husband disappeared. “He would never hurt me no matter how bad I hurt him.”
“Well he scares me.”
Debbie turned toward her. “Something’s changed. I-I don’t know, somehow, the way he looked at me, I think Daniel knows about Tom and I.”
Cathy shrugged. “So what the hell, you want him to know now.”
“Yes, but I should tell him, I owe him that at least. I don’t love him and I can’t live like this anymore, but he’s always respected me and I owe him respect too.”
“But why do you think he knows? He just seems out of it to me. He didn’t say anything.”
“That’s it, because he didn’t say anything and because of that look he gave me. And where’s he going?” She nodded toward the woods.
Cathy knew that her sister was upset, but also realized that they had to depart soon if they were to make the meeting on time. She started to clean up again and Debbie forced herself to help. After the food was put away and some of the dishes removed from the table, she took off her apron and tossed it over a chair.
“Let’s get out of here, Cath.”
Daniel emerged from the trees into a cornfield and turned to the east. The ground was lined with rows of corn stumps and other debris from the autumn harvest. Situated on rolling hills and bordered by trees and brush, the field was part of an old farm that had been absorbed by the University of Wisconsin. Daniel was familiar with this property because of many hours spent walking the family dog here.
The eighty-acre plot was nearly landlocked, with private property surrounding it on all sides. The University accessed it through a drive that passed along the perimeter of the graduate student housing tract. This road was on the side of the field opposite the Whaley residence. For these reasons, it was a private space in a relatively populated area.
At the east end of the field, where it bordered Lake Mendota, stood a cluster of trees that surrounded a large mound of stones. Daniel walked toward the mound. The stones had been piled there as they were removed from the field, and over many decades of farming, the mound grew to its present circumference of one hundred feet.
Its stony presence discouraged plowing, thus permitting seedlings to root at the perimeter. Some of these seedlings eventually grew into the hardy stand of trees that now surrounded the mound. The stones and trees formed a sort of amphitheater that was best appreciated if one stood at the peak of the mound. Daniel had stood there often.
He had admired the collection of stones since first discovering it. Daniel appreciated the fact that the mound represented a time when removing stones from the field simply meant picking them up and piling them on this spot. The pile became so large from this simple, repetitive act that it has never been worth anyone’s time or money since, to move it.
Spring was beginning to take hold so that the professor’s feet would alternately crackle on ice or sink in mud. A crow sounded warning as Daniel approached the stones. Others joined in until the air was filled with their raspy scolding.
Because of the undulation of the land, he could see no houses or roads from the mound. It was isolation on the edge of the city, and it was where he wanted to perform this final act.
Daniel was sick in his stomach, his head ached, and he was scared. He fingered the gun inside his topcoat. He wanted to get to the mound and do this quickly. A nervous smile came to the professor’s face as he thought about the fact that one simple movement of his finger would eliminate all his problems.
Upon reaching the trees, Daniel started up the five-foot mound and stumbled to his knees. Using his hands, he crawled to the top. He stood and turned a slow circle, reacquainting himself with the scenery. It had been two years since he had been in the amphitheater.
Daniel jerked the gun from his robe and pushed the end of the barrel firmly against his right temple. But he couldn’t squeeze the trigger, not yet.
The loneliness of the setting and the fact that his life was about to end caused him to think of Paw and of how he died alone on Hemlock Knob. Not that a direct comparisons could be drawn to his own wretched situation. His great-grandfather died high on a mountain, bravely facing down his own mortality. Daniel would leave life by his own hand, on a rock pile in a cornfield.
Daniel thought about Mountain Farm and recalled the wonderful sight of the log house coming into view as he walked along Hemlock Road. His arm drooped until the gun hung at his side.
The professor felt unsteady on his legs and sagged to his knees. Thoughts of the past could not help now, only distract him. He knew that it was necessary to focus on the present and finish this. Daniel was ashamed of what he was doing, but he had come to the conclusion that suicide was his best option. Tears formed and though he struggled to control himself, he began to sob.
Then Daniel heard that sound again, the low-pitched murmur. At first it seemed to be a drumming inside his head, and then like before, it became a vibration and seemed to emanate up through the stones. He cupped his hands on each side of his head, trying to block it out.
“Damn it,” he shouted. The professor rose to a kneeling position, closed his eyes and placed the gun barrel against his head. Gritting his teeth, he struggled to pull the trigger. Then Daniel heard another sound, an unfamiliar noise that caused him to turn. He expected to see somebody coming from behind but only saw the empty cornfield. The strange noise continued.
He jerked his gaze upward and saw a flock of geese passing over. He often saw Canada Geese flying over but never so low. There were more than forty birds in a V-shaped pattern. The lead bird passed over Daniel, just as he looked up. They were so near that he could see features of individual birds. As the flock passed, the geese made no vocal sounds, yet they were so close he could hear their wings dragging through the morning air.
Such an unexpected and stirring sight caused him to stand. He watched the birds fly away toward the southeast. Daniel stared until the flock disappeared on the distant horizon. He looked down at the revolver hanging at his side. He wasn’t crying anymore. Daniel knew it was time to go.
Debbie drove through evening traffic to the restaurant where she was meeting Tom Stringer. These rendezvous in Chicago began two years before after the couple met in Madison. A diamond wholesaler by profession, Tom was introduced to Debbie by a client of Bradley Maid who owned a chain of motels in the Madison area. At the time, the fact that Tom and she were both from Chicago was all they really had in common. But that was enough.
When Debbie entered the restaurant, she was recognized by the maitre d’ who escorted her to a table in a corner of the main room. It was far from the window where she and Tom usually sat. The man sitting there stood when he saw her and kissed her on the mouth. Debbie sensed that something was wrong.
Tom Stringer was a handsome man. His somewhat boyish features had charmed many throughout his life and had only become more distinguished in his fifties. He had dark brown eyes, a dimple on his chin, and thinning brown hair that was brushed straight back. Always impeccably dressed, Tom had a James Bond aura about him and usually exuded the same sort of confidence. That confidence was not there this evening. He managed a smile as the waiter brought drinks but Debbie thought that he looked sad.
“Tom, what is it?” she asked, putting her hands into his.
He fondled them, and looked into her eyes. “My wife knows about our relationship.” He felt her grasp tighten, but observing no dramatic change in her expression, he continued. “Myra hired a private investigator four months ago, and apparently he’s been watching and documenting our meetings ever since. She also said, quite definitely, that she’s going to contact your husband and share her information with him.”
Debbie felt her face flush and her scalp tingle. “When did this happen?” she asked in a weak voice.
“Then Daniel already knows,” she said, grasping her glass. She was silent while she took sips of her Manhattan.
As usual, Tom had reserved a suite at the Hotel DeWalsh, for the weekend. After another drink they were determined to continue with their plans in spite of the impending changes in their lives. Emboldened by a third Manhattan, they agreed that it was for the better. The disclosure forced their relationship into the open, and in spite of the immediate unpleasantness, they would soon be able to begin their life together.
By the following afternoon, Debbie was driving up Interstate Ninety toward Madison. As the blush of her new freedom faded, she couldn’t ignore her conscience. For all he was not and could never be in her eyes, Daniel was a good man who had treated her well and in his own formal way, he had always loved her.
As much as she wished to end their marriage, she never wanted to hurt him like this. For some reason that Debbie couldn’t understand, she didn’t want Daniel to hate her after all these years. She thought about that last look he gave her and wondered if hate was what she saw in Daniel’s eyes.
Debbie pulled up the drive in darkness. No lights were on in the house, but she never doubted that her husband was home. Debbie had prepared herself for this moment. She intended to apologize to Daniel, and to some extent explain her behavior, but she would press for the dissolution of their marriage regardless of how he reacted.
Debbie forced herself through the door. When she switched on the light, it struck her that the kitchen was just as she and Cathy had left it when they rushed to the meeting. The dishwasher was open and half-loaded, the bread knife was on the cutting board, the sweet rolls were untouched and her apron still hung on the back of the chair. Debbie moved to the hallway and stared at the study door. She couldn’t bring herself to try the knob or knock.
Then she heard the sound of a vehicle moving up the driveway. Debbie moved to the kitchen window, surprised that Daniel had gone out so late. She grew tense, but prepped herself again for what had to be said. Then Ken’s Honda Civic pulled into the glare of the outside lights.
He burst through the door with a grin on his face. “Hey, Mom. Cut your trip short, huh? I was buzzin’ by and saw your car.”
“Hi Ken.” Debbie motioned for him to step back outside the door and closed it behind them. She spoke in a hushed voice. “Have you seen your father lately?”
“Uh, no, not since you left. He’s not in his room?”
“I don’t think so.”
Ken looked puzzled at first, but then guessed that his parents were fighting. He was happy to become involved if this was the case. “I’ll see,” he said and entered the house.
Ken hurried down the hall and wrapped on the study door. “Dad, hey, Dad.” He looked at his mother and shrugged. Ken knocked again before opening the door to a dark room. He switched on a nearby table lamp. The light penetrated the darkness enough to confirm that his father wasn’t there.
“Not here, Mom.”
Debbie had moved to the study doorway.
“Maybe he just went somewhere for a change. Did you check to see if his car was here?”
Debbie shook her head. She had a weary expression on her face. Ken bounded for the door, now absorbed in the hunt for his father. Debbie went to the kitchen door and watched Ken approach the garage. He shouted back that the car was there. She turned and walked back to the study. Leaning against the doorway, she peered into her husband’s little world.
Two high bookcases darkened one side of the room. They were filled with books that Daniel had accumulated over the course of his scientific career. The books were the seeds of his destruction, as far as Debbie was concerned. The most interesting feature of the room was the leather recliner that she had bought her husband shortly after they moved to the house. Daniel liked the chair from the moment he received it. Now he passed a large portion of his life in it.
She thought back to an incident that occurred years ago. She surprised him by bursting into the study and sitting on his lap in that same chair. Ken heard the laughter and toddled into the room. He climbed aboard and they all laughed together like a normal, happy family. That particular event was so prominent in her memory because not too many years passed before such scenes never occurred. Now it was hard even to imagine, since she and her husband never touched and Daniel rarely laughed.
With a growing sense of unease, she moved to the window and looked toward the garage. Debbie saw that Ken had widened his search; the second floor light was on. When she turned from the window, she saw that there were messages on Daniel’s phone. She pushed the play button. It was Victor DiAngelo’s voice.
The first message had been recorded before she left for Chicago and was an inquiry as to Daniel’s whereabouts and health. The second was a plea for Daniel to contact him, stating that they needed to talk immediately. Victor said that he could no longer keep the wolves at bay. The final message featured the most droll incarnation of Victor’s voice that Debbie ever heard. It begged Daniel for contact and then informed him that the faculty oversight committee was convening the next day to discuss his case.
Debbie sat down. She was fatigued and baffled as she leaned back in the recliner. Her eyes wandered over her husband’s desk; she noticed a wooden spoon. The desk top was empty and the spoon was placed in the center atop a folded piece of paper. The spoon was about ten inches long, and its tapered handle was thin and delicate. A heart was carved at the end. When she picked it up, Debbie saw that her name was written on the paper. Upon unfolding it she read a simple message:
By the time you read this I’ll be gone.
I feel this is best for both of us. As always
I wish you the best in life.
Disbelief gave way to tears. Then her eyes opened wide. “My God no, surely not that,” she gasped as his words conjured up the possibility of suicide. Debbie read the note again, her hands trembling. Then she heard the kitchen door slam.
“Mom, hey mom.”
Debbie was frozen with dread. Ken entered the doorway, panting.
“What is it?”
“The jeep’s gone.”
“The jeep, Dad’s old jeep, it’s gone.”
He returned to Mountain Farm from the direction he departed it in the jeep, over thirty years before, that is from the east, off Furnace Road. The jeep experienced mechanical difficulties most of the journey but never failed. Along the road, Daniel met many a mechanic in small garages and gas stations who were sympathetic to his old vehicle.
He traveled minor highways and only by day. Daniel hated interstate highways and disliked traveling at night on any road. This proved to be a prudent plan, for as one mechanic pointed out, the registration and inspection had lapsed three years before, and two back lights were out. Nonetheless, two days after leaving Madison, Daniel approached the summit of Hemlock Knob.
When the flock of geese flew over him in the cornfield, Daniel thought of Hemlock Knob. The emotion that coursed through him was reminiscent of how he was moved by other wild scenes he had witnessed on the mountain. Daniel wanted to see the old home place one last time, and so he decided to postpone his suicide.
The jeep performed well at this juncture, grinding out the last few miles of the journey, negotiating Hemlock Road without hesitation. The vehicle was not so loaded as one might expect for such an exodus. When Daniel returned to the house that morning, he established a simple parameter for packing. He would take nothing that pertained to his life in Madison, a life that, for him, ended in the cornfield. The jeep was the first and easy choice. Next were the woodcarving tools and the spoons he had made. Daniel also took the axe that had accompanied him to Wisconsin three decades before.
As for clothing, Daniel packed work clothes and hunting apparel. A decade before, under the influence of a neighbor, he had taken up pheasant hunting. The sport never did appeal to him as much as the clothing. The blue suits and all vestiges of formality were left behind.
He chose a pair of khaki hunting pants, a flannel shirt, and leather boots for his departure. On his head was an odd-looking hat that he would describe as an English-hunting cap. Debbie referred to it as “Dan’s Sherlock Holmes hat.”
Daniel also packed the three-fifty-seven magnum pistol.
Two days before, as he drove along Lake Mendota Drive for the last time, he was an odd sight to any neighbor who witnessed his passage. But as he drove up Hemlock Road, he didn’t appear so out of place. He had not shaved in a week and his hair was in wild disarray. Daniel’s face was pale and expressionless.
For two days his effort was focused on getting to Mountain Farm. He slept in the jeep when and where it was possible. He ate when he had to and whatever was convenient. As the jeep passed the spot where he had turned and waved goodbye to his great-grandfather thirty-five years ago, Daniel slowed the vehicle to a walking pace. He grew apprehensive now that he was confronted with the reality of being here.
The last time Daniel had been to Mountain Farm was a hasty stop twelve years before when he had been in Pittsburgh for a conference. Since then, communication with John Campbell had dwindled to about a letter or phone call every two years, so he knew little about the condition of Mountain Farm. What he did know gave him reason to expect the worst.
With Daniel’s approval, John had long ago enacted a plan to maintain the farm. He allowed people to live there for low rent, but with the responsibility of taking care of the buildings. This arrangement worked for the first twenty years after Tom Reilly’s death. No great improvements were made on the farm, but the buildings remained intact.
The third decade started with some bad tenants who abused the house for two years until they were ordered to move out. They left, took the wood stove and threatened to file a complaint about the primitive and unsanitary conditions of the rental property. They were followed by two young men who used the log house as a base for their belongings, staying there only during hunting season.
When John learned that during a party, the porch railing was broken apart and burned in a bon fire, he evicted them and decided to lock the house. His hope was that with the help of hunters who utilized the property, he might at least prevent vandalism. John made this effort because of loyalty to his great-uncle, Tom Reilly, not because he felt any obligation to his distant cousin Daniel Whaley. To John, the absentee-owner didn’t seem to care what happened to Mountain Farm.
As he drove down Reilly Lane, Daniel was elated to see that the old log building was still standing, sturdy and proud, in defiance of the years. Trees and brush had encroached from all sides such that the house appeared to have moved closer to the woods.
When he walked up to the building, he could see that it had been well vandalized and anything that could be removed, had been. All the windows were missing or broken and many were boarded over. Daniel was surprised to find the front door locked. Scars from the many hasps that had been replaced on the door were evidence that an effort had been made to keep it that way.
He found the back door wide open with the jamb splintered from a recent invasion. Daniel stepped into the great room. The interior of the house was bare and dark with piles of debris, leaves, beer cans, and furniture parts littering the floor. Damp areas were evidence that the roof was leaking. Daniel was disheartened.
What did I expect, Paw waiting for me with a pot of rabbit stew? It’s my fault. Mountain Farm was given to me, and I let this happen.
His memories of the house enabled him to overlook the conditions and, for the time, put aside his guilt so that he could reacquaint himself with the old building. He explored each room with great interest, picturing them as they once were. In his great grandfather’s room, Daniel pushed some of the debris into piles with his foot and then carried several arm loads out of the house.
Next, Daniel walked to the woodshed. As with the log house, he found the structure intact, but all doors and windows were broken or missing. To his amazement, the massive old workbench was still there, lying on its side. The great weight of the bench had apparently discouraged theft. On close inspection he saw that it was scarred with initials and one leg had been chopped with an ax.
Daniel stooped and fondly ran his hand across the edge. Then he knelt down, gripped the thick planks of the top side and righted the bench.
Winded by this effort, he leaned against the wall. Daniel took deep breaths of the shed’s musty air and lapsed into a daydream.
How nice it would be to see this place as it was, the old tools on the back wall and six cords of firewood stacked by the doorway.
He lingered with that thought a few minutes, and then continued his survey of Mountain Farm.
Daniel visited the forge, the spring house, Tom’s boiler shed, and the outhouse. He found all four buildings to be in a similar state of disrepair and yet, all were standing. Then he climbed the gentle slope behind the house to the cemetery. When the graves of his ancestors came into view amidst foliage that intertwined the fence, guilt started to gnaw at his conscience.
The weeds and brush were thin among the five headstones because of the large maple trees that blocked the sun. Some of the trees were growing there when the first grave was dug in 1871. This was for the first born of Daniel’s great-great-grandparents, Adam and Sadie Reilly. Michael Reilly died at the age of three from cholera. The tombstone was scarcely readable now, but Daniel remembered the oral history of Mountain Farm.
Twenty years later, Daniel’s great-great uncle Jack, younger brother of Adam, was buried on the hill. He lived at Mountain Farm for only a year before he died. Jack had emigrated from Ireland five years after his brother. He was a professional boxer for a number of years with some success in the ring. He worked in the coal mines when his boxing days ended. Jack never married, got sick one day, and turned to his brother when he was down for the count.
Adam and Sadie took Jack into their home and a year later, buried him alongside his nephew. Daniel stared at the weathered headstone and saw that his ancestor was fifty-one years old when he died.
Tom told Daniel that Jack was a nice man who sat by the fire, wrapped in a blanket, smoking his pipe and telling stories. Jack Reilly brought the carving tools to America. They had been in the possession of their grandfather who decided that Adam should have them.
Sadie Reilly died one spring morning at the age of eighty-two. Daniel recalled that she was considered somewhat odd and superstitious. According to the story handed down to Daniel’s mother, Sadie had just informed Adam that she had read the signs and it was time to plant the garden. Then she went out to feed the chickens and suffered a stroke. Sadie died two days later.
Adam was laid beside his wife three years later in 1926. Daniel’s grandmother Kelly said that Adam refused to leave Hemlock Knob in the final year of his life, although he was very ill and in pain.
Daniel recalled a story his great-grandfather told him concerning Adam’s death. Tom helped as much as possible as the end approached, and was at his father’s bedside when he died. Tom said that Adam slipped in and out of consciousness during the final hours. After he was quiet for some time and seemed not to be breathing, Tom thought he was gone.
But Adam called out. “Tommy, Tommy, are you here?”
“Yes, Pap, I’m here,” Tom answered.
“Tommy, is there a doe standing at the edge of the meadow, among the apple trees?”
Tom told Daniel that he looked out the window and there was a deer at the far side of the field, looking towards the house. The deer was in the orchard that Adam had planted decades before.
Tom told him that the doe was there. He said that his father smiled and spoke no more. Adam died within the hour.
The grave of Tom Reilly stood out from the others as a more recent addition, although it was now three decades since it had been filled. It was here that Daniel sat, next to Paw.
He looked down at the little homestead with its sturdy log and stone buildings. From a distance, it appeared much the same as it had three decades ago. It was quiet and still on this spring day, with only the occasional cawing of a crow interrupting the calm. Daniel felt at home in this scene. He felt like he belonged here.
What was it all worth? All those years of work and worry, doing what I was supposed to. What is it all worth now?
Such questions did not ease Daniel’s guilt over the condition of Mountain Farm. Branches cluttered the cemetery, the rusted gate sagged, and the inscriptions on the headstones were fading into obscurity.
Why did Paw trust the care of Mountain Farm to me?
Before he considered the answer to this question, Daniel stood and hurried down the slope to the jeep. He returned with a bottle of brandy and then drank from it with determination. He knew that the brandy would reign in his conscience.
There’s nothing I can do now about the choices I’ve made.
He took another drink and peered over Mountain Farm. Then he looked back at the graves.
What a peaceful place to be buried. Maybe I should request to be buried here in my suicide note.
When he considered this, he shook his head.
I don’t deserve to be buried here with them. I abandoned Mountain Farm. I let this happen to the family home. I let my ancestors down. Paw was wrong about me.
He took another drink.
The least I can do for Paw is to clean up around here a little. Why not? After all, I don’t have anything else to do now.”
Daniel looked into the canopy of maple leaves and sighed at the absurd truth of this statement. Taking another drink, he leaned back against one of the massive old trees, closed his eyes, and allowed his thoughts to drift with the scents and sounds of spring. He soon fell asleep.
An hour passed before Daniel awoke to the sound of an approaching engine. A pick-up truck came into view, moving fast along Hemlock Road. When it reached Reilly Lane, Daniel could hear music and voices. He stood and walked down the hill as the vehicle approached the house.
Coming around the cabin, he encountered three men who appeared to be in their early twenties. They had food and beer with them and apparently planned on spending some time at the log house. They were looking toward the jeep, discussing its presence among themselves when Daniel appeared.
“Can I help you, gentlemen?”
The trio looked back and forth at each other. One of them, a lanky man with short, blond hair, looked at Daniel and responded.
“Well, ah, we were going to hang out here today, that’s all.”
Daniel could not help but be amused by the confusion on their faces. He spoke to them in a calm but definite tone.
“I’d prefer that you didn’t. I’ve just arrived, and I’m tired. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow.”
They stared at this tall disheveled, stranger with doubtful expressions.
“Do you own this property?” their spokesman asked.
“Yes, I do,” Daniel answered.
The young men shuffled back and forth, glancing at each other and then at the jeep. They were certain that this couldn’t be true, but being squatters of a sort, themselves, they were not in a position to argue. They shuffled and glanced a while longer and then turned toward their vehicle. The men made no more eye contact with the stranger and did not speak to him again. When they climbed into the truck, Daniel could see that a very animated conversation ensued.
Daniel awoke on the floor of his great grandfather’s bedroom. He lay on his back, orienting himself to the unfamiliar surroundings. His makeshift bed of blankets and clothing had served him well as he slept soundly through the night.
Upon stepping onto the front porch, Daniel was struck by the dramatic quiet of Mountain Farm. The morning was cool with a heavy, wet fog such that he could see the other buildings and some of the meadow, but beyond that, just a white cloud. The scene had a dreamlike quality that seemed appropriate to his situation.
Along the road he had bought a strange mixture of food, depending on his mood or his location. From this cache, he ate a breakfast of raisins, nuts, and a pepperoni roll. After breakfast, he went to the spring house and with cupped hands, pulled the cold mountain water across his face. The sensation was exhilarating, and he felt more alert and energetic than he had in days. Sun rays were slanting through the mist, and the fog was dispersing. Daniel was anxious to begin.
He started by removing the boards that covered the windows of his great-grandfather’s bedroom. Then he transferred the remainder of his possessions from the jeep to the room and arranged them in an orderly fashion. He passed the rest of the morning opening the other boarded windows and clearing the house of debris.
After a meager lunch, which was similar to his breakfast, Daniel walked up the hill to the cemetery. He stood beside Tom’s grave and gazed down at Mountain Farm.
Daniel had lost no enthusiasm for his plan to clean up the property. On the contrary, his plans had expanded as the day wore on. He now wanted to do some basic repair work on the buildings. He was aware that it would be impossible for him to return the farm to its original condition, but Daniel was determined to accomplish as much as he could for as long as he was here.
Daniel remembered the skills that his great grandfather had taught him and knew how to utilize the forest for raw materials, but he needed tools and some basic items such as glass and hardware. Since he planned to live in the log house, he also wanted some furniture. A trip down to Lick Hollow was necessary. That was something he had not wanted to do, and, in fact, planned the route of his arrival to avoid it. Now his plans had changed and tomorrow he would descend to his hometown. Today, however, he wanted to be alone on the mountain.
The only tool in his possession relevant to his plans was the axe that returned to Mountain Farm with him. Daniel began cutting back the brush and trees that were encroaching on the house. As he worked, he saved whatever was suitable for firewood, bearing in mind his great-grandfather’s guidelines concerning the fuel supply. Daniel realized that he had a tremendous amount of cutting to do if he were to have six cords by winter.
At first, he swung his axe with careful, measured strokes, reacquainting himself with the tool, but before long, he worked like a man possessed, someone making up for lost time. Sometimes he swung wildly, cleaving a sapling with one mighty swipe just for the challenge.
Locust trees had won the competition for the open area around the house. This suited Daniel, because he knew that they yielded excellent firewood. After cutting a tree down, he sliced off the limbs and chopped the main trunk into six-foot logs. He planned to cut these into eighteen-inch firewood lengths after purchasing a saw in Lick Hollow.
Daniel was two hours into his work when he heard a vehicle driving on Hemlock Road. He turned to see a pick-up truck approaching Reilly Lane. During his youthful excursions on the mountain, he encountered few vehicles, and this was already the second in as many days. Despite the fact that he had lived in a city for many years, surrounded by traffic noise, the noise of an engine was an intrusive sound to him here.
As an old blue Ford turned down Reilly Lane, Daniel stopped cutting, leaned on his ax and placed his right foot atop one of the locust logs. The truck jerked to a halt within fifteen feet of him, and Daniel could see the reddened face of an older man. He was wearing a green plastic visor, wire-rimmed glasses, and a scowl. The man got out of the truck and Daniel saw that he was of small stature and was bald. He had a white shirt on and baggy khaki pants that were upheld by blue suspenders.
“Can I help you, fellow? Do you have permission to cut here?” The man spoke with obvious displeasure.
Despite the many years that had passed since he last saw him, Daniel recognized his cousin, John Campbell.
“I think you can help me. I own this property. I inherited it from my great-grandfather, Tom Reilly.”
The man in the visor expected any answer but this one. He stared and struggled to comprehend what he heard.
“Hello John. I’m Daniel Whaley. I drove in yesterday.” Daniel walked toward John with an outstretched hand.
The name was familiar, but this tall man with a scraggly beard and odd hat didn’t match the mental image John carried of his relative, Professor Daniel Whaley. John squinted at Daniel as they shook hands.
“I’m sorry, but you’re the last person I expected.” John’s face began to change as recognition dawned on him. The red faded and the scowl transformed into a smile.
“Pardon me, Daniel. My goodness; I can scarcely believe it. How is it that you suddenly turn up here to hack away at the trees after all these years?”
“That is a long, strange story.”
John nodded. “Well then, may I ask, what are your plans? Are you staying?”
“I’m staying for a while. Can’t really say how long. I’m hoping to stay long enough to fix up the place a little.
“Really? That’s, splendid, splendid. That’s the best news I’ve heard in some time. You’re thinking of living here on Hemlock Knob?”
“Y-yes, while I’m here.”
“That’s splendid. As you can see, I’ve been fighting a losing battle here, trying to maintain the old place.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“Everybody in Lick Hollow knows that you’re up here.”
Daniel was surprised at this remark at first, but then he remembered the young men he had encountered the day before.
“I can’t run up here all the time like I used to, but when I heard there was a stranger with an out-of-state license plate, claiming to own the place, I thought I’d better take a look. As you know, I promised Uncle Tom that I’d look after the farm until you returned.”
“You mean to say that Paw was expecting me to come and live here all along?”
“I don’t know, now. That was the impression I got from him back then. As the years passed, I didn’t know what to think. But keeping an eye on the place wasn’t any bother either. It was sport for me in some ways. It’s just that as time passed and I got older, it got more difficult. I worried that you might never come. I thought that I might have to just give up and let the place go the way of the world.”
Glancing at his watch, John announced that he had to get back down the mountain. “Nora will be fixing lunch and I’m expecting a client at one o’clock. I allowed myself exactly one hour to drive off the squatter and get back down on time. Would you care to join us for lunch?”
“Thank you, but another time. I need a day at least to adjust to the sudden change of scenery. I’ll be down. I’m going to need some things.”
John nodded and turned to go, but then stopped. “Oh, I have the tools, you know, the woodworking tools that belong to the farm here.”
“Oh, yes, I knew that Paw left them to you.”
“Well, that was the most convenient way to handle it at the time. Uncle Tom knew that he would need them right until the end. Afterwards he wanted them to stay together. He asked me to keep them until you needed them. Anyway, gotta go.”
John turned back toward his truck “Stop in. The Mercantile is in the same spot. We’ll be there.” John Campbell climbed into his truck and drove away
The next day dawned clear and cool; Daniel awoke, stiff and sore. As he lay on the floor contemplating the events of the day before, he decided to go down to Lick Hollow that morning. Daniel wanted to buy more substantial food and get the construction materials that he needed. The fact John Campbell offered him the old tools was additional motivation to go.
An hour later he was creeping down Hemlock Road toward the village, excited and apprehensive at the same time. Daniel rolled both windows down so that he could inhale the spring air. Many years had passed since he last traveled this route but it was still familiar to him. The professor relished the scene that unfolded with every turn in the road.
The bend, as it was commonly known, was a ninety-degree turn in the road where it often washed out during heavy rains. Just past the bend on the left, a large, rectangular rock protruded from the bank. About four times the size of the jeep, it was well embedded in mountain laurel.
Daniel stopped the jeep in the middle of the road and got out. He walked up to the rock, placed his hand on it and smiled. Fifty years before, he and his brother had done the same thing. They were on their first hike on Hemlock Knob with their father, and Daniel and his brother were in awe at what was the largest rock they had ever seen.
When he had traveled about a mile, Daniel came upon a house, a structure that had been built since he last came this way. Before he reached the end of Hemlock Road, he saw many unfamiliar houses. This bothered Daniel for some reason.
The Lick Hollow Mercantile was situated on the corner of Main Street and Buttermilk Lane. The building was a one-story frame structure with additions jutting out from two sides. The additions made the building larger than Daniel remembered it.
The Lick Hollow Mercantile had a wood shingle roof and was sided with rough-cut hemlock boards. The gravel parking area was three times the size it had been when Daniel last parked there. The maples that once lined the front were gone, and the building was now flanked by blue spruce trees. The Mercantile was different from his recollection, but Daniel thought the store was still as charming and inviting as always.
John Campbell’s parents had opened the Mercantile eighty years before, and for many decades, it was the principal grocery and supply store in the village. Over time, the business adapted to change, so that by 1965, when John and Nora took over, the Mercantile was catering to a burgeoning tourist trade.
As the Lick Hollow Mercantile entered the twenty-first century, it could be described as a deluxe convenience store with a homespun twist. To the credit of the proprietors, the store had not become a souvenir shop. Although the Lick Hollow Mercantile broadened and modernized its inventory over the years, it remained a general supply store.
John and Nora’s home was located seventy-five yards behind the store, nestled in a hollow that was bounded by forest. Alongside their two-story frame house was a stone spring house and forty yards to the west, stood a small barn. Lick Hollow Creek bisected the property. A stone arch bridge spanned the water and completed the picturesque Campbell homestead. John dealt in antiques and was an avid collector of Americana. It was the barn that housed the business along with his personal collection.
When Daniel walked through the door of the Mercantile, he was greeted by an elderly man who was drinking coffee at a window table.
“Well, hello there, are you Daniel Whaley?”
“Yes, I am.”
The man stood and approached. He was six feet tall with an athletic build, a kind face, and a casual demeanor. He wore blue jeans, a flannel shirt and high leather work boots. A distinguishing feature of his wardrobe was the faded, blue cap that was tilted to one side on his head.
“My name is George Haynes. I knew your father way back when, and I met you when you were but an infant.” George chuckled and shook his head. “Hear you’re fixin’ up the old home place on Hemlock Knob.”
Although that was his intention, it was a surprise for Daniel to hear his plan to work on Mountain Farm described in this way. But he liked the way it sounded and nodded.
“Glad to hear it. Glad to hear it. Say, I know a little bit about everything when it comes to working on places; got lots of old building materials. Let me know if I can help out.”
Daniel was shaking George’s hand and thanking him when John Campbell appeared from a back room. His cousin always walked at a rapid pace, regardless of the task or degree of urgency. John often whistled as he walked and usually at the same tempo as his gait. To Daniel, he looked more comfortable in this setting, wearing a denim apron and a pencil behind his ear.
“Daniel,” he said, as he crossed the room.
John turned toward the sales counter. “Nora, this is Daniel Whaley, our relative and Uncle Tom’s great-grandson.”
Nora Campbell had been standing behind the counter all the while, wiping the glass cases. Like her husband, she was a small person. She had long, coarse, white hair that framed a somewhat mournful face. Nora glanced at Daniel and nodded and then continued to wipe.
George Haynes moved close to Daniel, covered his mouth and whispered. “She doesn’t warm to new people quickly, but when she does, she’ll defend you against an army, and win.”
Daniel smiled, but he didn’t need that explanation. Although he had never met Nora, his mother had told him about her peculiarities.
“Come along, Daniel,” John said. “Let’s go look at those tools. Pull the jeep over the bridge and up to the barn, that’s where they are. I’ll meet you there.”
“Well, I have to be moving along, back to work,” George said. He nodded to John and Nora before turning to Daniel. “Nice to meet you, Daniel. If I can be of any help to you, just let me know.” Daniel shook hands with George Haynes and thanked him again.
The barn was a stately building standing in the open on a neat fieldstone foundation. The structure was sided with hemlock boards, nailed vertically to a log frame. It predated the house by fifty years and was a remnant of the original settlement on the property.
Daniel walked through the barn door into a rustic gallery of antiques. Mostly furniture, the inventory was neatly arranged into groups of related items and divided by narrow lanes.
Daniel inhaled the musty aroma that he associated with old wood “You have an impressive collection here, John.” He turned a circle, shifting his gaze up and down.
John Campbell grinned. “It’s what I do, Daniel; it’s what I do.” John hurried him to the back and into a smaller room that served as an office. Arranged on the far wall were the tools from the Reilly homestead that Daniel remembered so well. He would have been thrilled just to see them again, so it was beyond any expectation that they would be his to use.
John watched as Daniel examined the tools, rubbing the edge of a saw blade or testing the fit of an adze handle. He looked at them differently than anyone had over the many years they decorated the office wall. It was obvious that his relative loved these tools like Tom Reilly once did. He was looking at them with use in mind.
John looked over his shoulder when he heard the sound of footsteps on the show room floor. “Got to go to work, Daniel. Take your time. There are some other items from the log house in that trunk in the corner. Whatever you need. You can pull the jeep through the grass to the back here.” He nodded toward a door to the right of the tools.
After Daniel loaded the tools, John wasn’t in the barn. He pulled the jeep to the front of the store. When he entered, he could hear the sound of voices in the back room. Daniel wandered the aisles, picking up items he needed. He stopped when he saw a wide-brimmed, felt hat. Most of the hats on display were of a western style and didn’t appeal to him, but this hat did. It featured a rounded crown, a down-turned brim, and a narrow leather band. He took off his English hunting cap and tried the hat on. It fit perfectly.
“It’s you, Daniel,” John said, as he emerged from the back. “I’ll sell that to you for half price. That style never did catch on, and we’ve had that last one forever.”
Daniel left it on his head.
“What about furniture?”
“Most of the original furniture from the log house is in the Lick Hollow Folk Museum. Have you ever been there?”
Daniel shook his head.
“Well no, of course not. It’s only been in existence about ten years. The Museum’s located on the second floor of the library. That’s where the furniture is. You should visit the museum. Your great-great grandfather, Adam Reilly, created the finest handmade furniture ever to come out of this area, and his spinning wheels and looms are true works of art. He also did some wonderful woodcarving.”
“Then I want all that to stay there, of course. I just want the basics, something to use temporarily.”
“No problem, then. That’s splendid, splendid. George and I will fix you up. I’ve got pieces here that will never be antiques soon enough to help my cause. George has quite a collection of his own and a good truck for hauling. He’ll get you a wood stove, too. George is a good man. We go way back. Knowing him, he’s probably already gathering your things together.”
After Daniel loaded the final box of supplies into the jeep, he paid Nora with two one-hundred dollar bills that he unwrapped from a roll in his coat pocket.
“Say Daniel, do you still have the old carving tools?” John asked.
Daniel turned to face his relative and nodded.
“Do you use them?”
“I didn’t until recently. Now I carve wooden spoons with them.”
John’s face showed obvious surprise. He shook his head and grinned.
John stood on the porch as the jeep backed away. “Look for George Haynes in two or three days.”
“The museum is located above the library?” Daniel asked through the jeep window.
“Yes, first right as you go in the door and up the stairs. Robert Cranston is the librarian. Tell him who you are.”
As the jeep drove away, Nora came to the door. “He’s a sad man,” she said.”
Daniel was anxious to begin working on Mountain Farm, but he wanted to visit the Lick Hollow Folk Museum and see the work of his great-great-grandfather. He turned west out of the parking lot.
Driving down Main Street, Daniel was not impressed. He saw little of the charm that he remembered. Along with a handful of small-town businesses he saw littered, empty lots, and vacant buildings with sagging signs. Even the hardware store, the restaurant, and gas station appeared run-down and struggling.
Daniel’s impression didn’t improve when he passed the stone building where he had grown up, a structure known as the Martin House. The obvious disrepair was a minor affront compared to the total denuding of the yard. The three grand maple trees that once faced Walnut Road were gone, and so was the tall mulberry hedge his father had cultivated to frame their half-acre yard. A large, sloppy mobile home roosted at the rear of the property and this was flanked by a pair of weather-beaten commercial, outbuildings. Daniel was so distracted that he nearly drove off the road.
The Lick Hollow Library was a two-story brick building located one block off Main street. Built as a private residence at the turn of the nineteenth century, it had been purchased by the town fifty years later. The handsome building was large for a private home but a suitable size for a small town public library. After his disappointing tour of Main Street, Daniel was delighted with the library and its well-tended gardens.
Entering the lobby, Daniel spied a sign at the base of a stairway that read: Lick Hollow Folk Museum. As he turned to begin his ascent, he noticed that a man behind a tall wooden desk in the main room glanced in his direction. Daniel had only reached the landing where the stairs switched back when a voice from behind startled him.
“Can I be of any assistance?” The man from the desk smiled up at him.
“Oh, no, I was just . . . Well, actually, I learned from my cousin, John Campbell, that one of my relatives has some pieces in the folk museum.”
“Really, I can certainly help you then. I’m Robert Cranston, head librarian and curator of the museum.” He extended his hand. “Not to mention head gardener and grounds keeper.”
R. Cranston, as he was commonly known, was a thin, small-framed man of average height. He had an elfish face, thinning black hair that was slicked to one side, and large, heavy-framed glasses. The thick lenses distorted the appearance of his eyes. He wore a white dress shirt, a thin dark tie, and gray pants that were too high above his dark leather loafers.
“Daniel Whaley,” Daniel said, taking his hand.
The librarian turned his head. He recognized the local name but was clueless as to whom this tall, rough-looking stranger might be. “Ah, yes, Whaley. What is the name of the family member whom we represent?”
“Adam Reilly? My goodness, you certainly have come to the right place then. And, if I may ask, how are you related to Adam Reilly?” R. Cranston moved onto the landing.
Daniel found it difficult to discern the man’s age, especially in the dim light of the stairway. He seemed to be anywhere between forty and sixty. R. Cranston walked with a cane that seemed too tall for its purpose, but neither that nor his limp slowed a rapid, excited gait.
“I’m his great-great grandson. I’m originally from Lick Hollow. Tom Reilly was my great-grandfather.”
R. Cranston’s mouth opened with an expression of disbelief when he realized to whom he was speaking “Daniel Whaley, Professor Daniel Whaley? You own the property on Hemlock Knob, right?”
“Y-yes, I do.”
“Well follow me then, Professor Whaley.” R. Cranston ascended the stairs, his cane thumping on each step.
The second floor consisted of one large room with a vaulted ceiling, a space that had once served as a ballroom. The paint was dull and stained near the bottoms of the arched windows, and the room harboured the musty aroma of old wood. R. Cranston led Daniel into the midst of it with pride.
Many objects relevant to the history and culture of Lick Hollow were displayed on tables and shelves or within glass cases. As Daniel listened to the history of the museum, he glanced from object to object with fascination.
The librarian turned and spoke. “There were some members of the community, John Campbell amongst them, who realized that Lick Hollow was rapidly changing. The young people were moving away and leaving an aging population behind. Valuable information was being lost every year to death and senility. Historical artifacts were being casually discarded or hoarded by antique dealers.”
They walked to the far side of the room, and R. Cranston stopped and turned toward Daniel once more. “We were able to procure this space to house the museum, and Mr. Campbell’s pieces became the nucleus of our collection.” He turned and swept his arm across the area behind him. “These are the artifacts from Adam Reilly that I’m honored to show you.”
Daniel moved past the librarian. The piece that caught his attention was a mountain man carved from black walnut. The sculpture was about thirty inches tall and very detailed. Adam Reilly had captured the folds in the clothing, features of the face and even individual fingers on the hands.
Realizing that Daniel might want to be alone, R. Cranston glanced at his watch and grinned. “Oh my, I can get carried away. I must get back down before chaos breaks out on the main floor. Take your time; if you have any questions, feel free to ask.” The librarian hurried away as if he believed chaos might break out on the floor below.
Daniel smiled and listened to the descending thump of the cane. Then he returned his attention to the carving. The man depicted in the woodcarving had a wide-brimmed hat, similar to the one that Daniel now wore. The figure was turned such that he appeared to be looking back at something as he walked away. He had a duffel bag slung by a strap over his right shoulder. Daniel bent down to peer at the face of the man. He saw an expression that reminded him of his own image in the jeep mirror.
Close beside it was a smaller piece carved in cherry. This carving depicted an elderly woman seated in a rocking chair. The figure appeared to be relaxed and Daniel could imagine that the chair was rocking. When he touched the piece, it did rock. He was in awe. His forefather was an accomplished woodcarver well beyond Daniel’s expectations.
On the wall behind these pieces was an assortment of bowls and spoons that were particularly interesting to Daniel because of his own woodcarving efforts. He looked at the pieces, studying the lines and deciding which chisel or gouge had been used to create each of them.
He turned to see two of Adam Reilly’s renowned spinning wheels and a child’s cradle fashioned from walnut. The high level of craftsmanship and the attention to detail made his great-great-grandfather’s work easy to recognize. Daniel was inspired and anxious to carve again.
Twenty minutes later, at the bottom of the stairs, he nodded to R. Cranston who was attending to a woman at the counter. The librarian hesitated, returned the nod, then continued with what he was doing. He wanted to talk more with Adam Reilly’s great-great-grandson, but duty always came first.
When he left the building, Daniel saw a sheriff’s car parked behind the jeep. There was a man sitting in the front seat, reading a newspaper. As Daniel neared the jeep, the sheriff laid down the paper, put on his hat and emerged from the vehicle.
Harry Pinto was a large man, overweight but firm. He had a dark complexion, thick wavy hair, and a weather-beaten face. He always wore sunglasses. Harry was in his sixties and had been a Fayette County sheriff for twenty years. He had some American Indian in him, too, everyone knew that. Harry grew up tough in a tough home and knew he wanted to be sheriff since he was a boy. Harry had worked hard and achieved his dream.
He was proud of his position and took his job as county sheriff very seriously. Harry was slow to anger but if provoked could erupt like a volcano. Sheriff Pinto was a fair and honest man, but he was wary of strangers.
“This your vehicle?” Sheriff Pinto asked.
“Yes it is, officer.”
“Show me your driver’s license, please.”
Daniel fumbled for his wallet, found the license and handed it to the Sheriff.
“Looks good; no problem here. Got problems with the vehicle though. Registration and plates expired three years ago. Were you aware of that?”
Daniel looked at the jeep and then turned back to the Sheriff. “Honestly, yes, I didn’t plan on this trip, officer. I’ve had some problems come my way and I got in the old jeep and drove away from them.”
Harry nodded; he could relate to that. “You’re staying in the old log house on Hemlock Knob, right?”
“That’s right,” Daniel answered. He realized that John Campbell hadn’t exaggerated when he said that everyone in town knew he was on the mountain.
“I inherited Mountain Farm from my great-grandfather, Tom Reilly. I’ve lived in Wisconsin for many years and seldom made it back.”
Harry looked at the driver’s license again. “Whaley, I know Whaleys. You from here?”
“Yes, I grew up on Main Street, in the Martin House,”
“There by the bank?”
“Yes, but the bank wasn’t there then. I saw it for the first time today. It was where Charlie and Mary Dawson lived when I was growing up.”
Harry Pinto almost smiled at that. He remembered Charlie Dawson, the happy old veteran of the coal mines, tough-nut, and die-hard Pittsburgh Pirate fan. He looked at the license again and handed it back. Harry felt no threat from this stranger.
“Well, Mr. Whaley, you seem to be on the up and up, but you got to legitimize this here vehicle. Can’t let you drive around like this. Won’t cost you much. Fill out a few forms. Give you two weeks, uh, or month or so, to get it straightened out. All right?” Harry was rarely so lenient.
Daniel nodded and thanked him.
The sheriff got in his car and drove away.
Harry’s great-grandfather was Dutch; his great-grandmother was Shawnee. The couple struggled to raise five children on a little farm two miles south of Lick Hollow. Their oldest child, Josiah, became Harry’s grandfather. Harry’s conversation with Daniel caused him to recall a story his grandfather told him. It involved Adam Reilly, whom Harry knew was the man who built the house on Hemlock Knob.
In the story, Josiah was a young man and had been sent by his father to buy corn seed at the general store on Main Street. At the time, the store was located across from the Lick Hollow Tavern. He had loaded two sacks of seed onto his mule and would have begun the trek home except that two local men stumbled from the tavern in his direction. They knew who Josiah was and they didn’t like him. Part of the reason was because he was Dutch but it was mostly because he was Indian.
They began by asking him demeaning questions using an exaggerated accent of what they presumed his language might be. One of the men then began to tell a story of how his great-grandfather had once dealt with some troublesome Indians while the other untied the rope that bound the seed bags. They aimed to provoke Josiah into a fight, and when the bags fell to the ground they nearly succeeded.
Harry loved this story as a child and had heard it many times. He could still remember his grandfather’s words:
“Someone shouted, ‘What’s the trouble here?’ A man was coming toward us from across the street. The man was Adam Reilly; I’d heard about him but never met him. The two men from the tavern looked back in surprise.
‘N-no trouble Adam. We’re just getting acquainted with our new neighbor, that’s all,’ one of the men said. Suddenly, this tough man wasn’t so tough. But then the other man, who didn’t know Adam Reilly, said ‘If you ask me, it’s none of your business, mister.’
Adam stepped to within an arms length of the man and spoke. ‘I did not ask you, sir, so I’ll thank you to spare me your opinion.’ It wasn’t so much what he said, as how he said it that scared the man. Adam had a scar that ran across his forehead and it turned red as he stared. The man shifted from one foot to the other but didn’t speak again. Then Adam turned his back on the two men.
‘Adam Reilly,’ he said to me, as he shook my hand. He helped tie the seed bags back on the mule. From that day on, I was never bothered in town again. Nobody in the family was either.”
The Sheriff remembered his grandfather’s description of Adam Reilly. It fit the man he had just spoken to. What goes around, comes around, I guess, thought Harry Pinto.
Daniel maneuvered the jeep up Hemlock Road as he reflected on the events of the morning. What he saw and learned in Lick Hollow bolstered his desire to restore Mountain Farm, and the plans grew loftier with each bend in the road. By the final turn onto Reilly Lane, he had a clear vision of what he wished to accomplish. Daniel wanted the homestead to be like it was when he was a boy. He wanted Mountain Farm to be a place where a person could experience the same sense of wonder he once felt.
Daniel drove past the house, turned, and backed up to the door of the woodshed. For the next hour he returned the tools to their proper places on the back wall. The shelf and the iron pins upon which they originally rested were still in place. He stepped back to view them from a distance. With so much to do on this poor neglected homestead, the woodworking tools, hanging in place again, were an inspiring sight.
Churning with nervous energy, anxious to begin, Daniel made a quick meal at the log house and then hurried to cut firewood. While it would not seem to be the most pressing need, early in the spring, it was, psychologically, the logical start of his venture.
You can never have enough firewood. Winter is always coming. He remembered his great-grandfather’s words and smiled.
Armed with the felling axe and buck saw, the same tools that Tom had used, Daniel quadrupled his fuel supply in a matter of hours. He stacked the wood in the woodshed in a neat row. His confidence grew with each tier he added to the pile. Daniel decided that every day on the mountain would begin with the cutting of firewood. Even if he never got to burn it, the meditative and inspirational value in the effort was reason enough.
Daniel turned his attention to the buildings. Restoration of the outhouse to working order was a priority. Like all the structures on Mountain Farm, it was built square and solid of hemlock logs and stone. The outhouse was a more substantial structure than most people associate with the name. This was no rough plank building with a crescent moon cut into the door.
The two-holed, white oak seat was still in place, but it was rough and cracked from rain that came through the rotted roof. The seat covered a large, rectangular box, built of stone. This was filled to within a foot of the openings with excrement that had long ago neutralized itself.
Daniel was familiar with the building, having used it as a boy. He learned from his great-grandfather that it was built on a mound of earth so that, through the opening at the back, it could be shoveled out when necessary. This obviously had not been done for many years.
Daniel knew that the small hole at the back of the seat was where a venting pipe once exited the stone box. The pipe extended through the roof to dissipate odors. On the south wall was a chimney flue portal. A fire in the wood stove that was once there would heat the building during the day, and the subsequent radiant heat from the log and stone walls would keep the outhouse comfortable through a winter night.
Daniel walked to the woodshed and returned with a spade. Before digging, he surveyed the building for a few minutes. The outhouse was a simple design, built for utility and comfort, but at the same time, it was aesthetically pleasing. It bore the stamp of Adam Reilly’s hand. Daniel decided that any work he did on Mountain Farm must measure up to these same criteria. Then he began to dig with enthusiasm.
The next day, Daniel moved from one building to the next, determining what needed done to render them functional, or at least to protect against further decay.
The homestead spring house was a stone and log structure built into the side of a hill where water emerged from a rock face on the slope behind the house. The water flowed into a stone and concrete box that was four feet long, three feet wide and two feet deep. The remnants of an iron pipe that once directed water to the house, dangled from one side. The box had an indented lip at the opposite end that directed the overflow into a trough that was also made of stone and concrete.
Daniel remembered the mysterious stoneware crocks with slate lids, standing in the trough, half-immersed in cold, flowing spring water. It was in the crocks that his great-grandfather kept perishable food. Daniel would prefer to use similar containers, but for the present, five-gallon plastic buckets with snap-on lids would serve his purpose. Daniel cleared the box and trough of debris, and the spring house was ready for use.
The forge required only a tarp to cover a hole in the roof. It was the most simple of the outbuildings. Three-inch gaps between the hemlock planks were a design to vent heat. The building still held an aroma of smoke, although a fire had not been lit for decades.
Like the forge, the boiler house required no immediate attention. These structures were stone and hemlock shells now, with functions once defined by the equipment they housed. As much as he would like to, Daniel would neither forge iron nor boil sugar water during his stay on the mountain. Daniel had no practical reason to reequip these buildings.
Finally, Daniel turned his attention to the log house. This would be his major project. If he finished nothing else, he wanted to return this building to its original condition. Besides the damage from vandals, the roof leaked. Daniel knew that after fire, water was the most serious threat to a wooden structure. He covered the decayed areas of the roof with tarps and decided to start making wooden shingles that afternoon.
It was while he searched for a suitable red oak tree to begin this project that Daniel noticed a half-fallen tree at the forest edge. Examining its exposed roots, he saw that it had grown over a large rock and never developed a supportive root system. The tree had been doomed to this fate since the time it sprouted. The bark was gone, indicating that the tree had been dead for years.
Daniel was delighted when a swipe of his ax exposed the characteristic grain and pink color of black cherry. The upper limbs of the tree had tangled with other trees as it came down, so the cherry tree never reached the ground. This allowed for a slow drying and prevented decay that would surely have ensued if it had lain upon the forest floor.
As excited as Daniel was about restoring Mountain Farm, he had lost none of his enthusiasm for carving wooden spoons. In fact, after viewing his great-great-grandfather’s work in the museum, he was more inspired to see what he was capable of creating. With the discovery of this tree Daniel had the wood he needed.
With a tire chain that was in the jeep, Daniel managed to fasten a stout root to the front bumper of the jeep. He backed the tree away from the woods until it fell to the ground. Daniel cut off the limbs with the buck saw and used a one-man crosscut saw to cut the tree into thirty-inch sections. These he transported to the woodshed.
As he started to saw the last section of the trunk, Daniel stopped, stepped a few paces away, and studied the log. Something about the sweeping curves in the wood intrigued him. He put the crosscut saw down and paced, studying the log from all angles.
Then, he grabbed one end, squared his shoulders, and stood the log on its other end. Daniel envisioned a human figure in the wood. As he circled, he was inspired to carve the figure.
He pushed the log to the ground. Once more employing the tire chain and jeep, he dragged the log to the woodshed. The large side door of the building hung on a rusted iron track and had been closed for decades. Daniel dug the sod away from the bottom of the door and slid it open. He struggled with the log but was able to move it through the door and onto the floor of the woodshed. Again he heaved it to a vertical position.
Three yards away, the carving tools lay on the workbench. That very morning, Daniel had arranged the tools in the spot where he had first seen them. From the canvas roll he chose the largest gouge and then grasped the mallet with his right hand. Daniel began to chip away at the top of the log, delighted to use the tools on such a large piece of wood. An hour passed before he paused. Wood chips littered the floor, but the log didn’t look much different. Still, Daniel could see something within it, and he was elated with his progress.
He worked another hour and then forced himself to stop. It would be dark soon and he hadn’t finished clearing the brush from behind the house. Daniel was somewhat irritated with himself for becoming distracted so easily. As much as he enjoyed woodcarving, the restoration of the homestead had to come first if he were to have a real chance of achieving his goals.
When Daniel retired to the Log House in the evenings of those first days on the mountain, it was nearly dark. Behind the house, he had constructed a crude fireplace of stone and dirt. He would build a fire and heat water in a five-gallon pot. When it reached a boil, dilution with spring water resulted in a mixture of a suitable temperature for bathing.
Professor Whaley would stand naked near the fire and with a small plastic container, dip water from buckets to pour over himself. He doused thoroughly, lathered with soap, and rinsed with the water that remained. The professor shivered in the cool mountain air as he toweled off.
Then Daniel would settle onto the floor of Paw’s bedroom, wrapped in blankets and propped up by clothes and boxes. With a mug of brandy and burning candles beside him, he ended his day writing in a journal. The journal was something his doctor suggested and was an exercise that Daniel enjoyed. He wrote about the progress of his work on the farm, describing the tools he used and detailing the techniques he employed for specific tasks.
At his doctor’s suggestion, he also wrote about the events and personalities in his life. He wrote about Debbie often. In spite of everything, he missed her and hoped she would forgive him for leaving like he did.
George Haynes lived alone in the last house on Pine Creek Road. With the Forbes State Forest surrounding him on three sides, he had a quiet home life to offset his public gregariousness. For half his life, George lived in Uniontown, a town located ten miles west of Lick Hollow. George had been a jack of all trades his entire working life and a master of each, such that he was never wanting for work or money.
George became familiar with Hemlock Knob through jobs in Lick Hollow, and he decided while still a young man that he wanted to live close to the mountain some day. His was never a smooth marriage and it came to an abrupt end when, at the age of fifty, he announced that he wanted to move to Lick Hollow. After the divorce, George bought an old house at the foot of Hemlock Knob, the sort of place a handyman of his caliber dreams of.
He first did work for the Campbell family half a century before, and so had known John Campbell since they were both in their twenties. After George moved to the neighborhood, they became good friends. John and he soon cornered the growing antique market in the area. They worked customers between each other in a charming way that made them both successful.
Today George was steering his truck up the long winding road toward the summit of Hemlock Knob. He was hauling furniture and a cast-iron wood stove.
He was familiar with the scenery, having driven or walked this route many times over the years. The old pick up lurched along slower than was necessary, so that the driver could peer down every hollow and examine each prominent rock or tree. At the bend he stopped for a break, pouring black coffee from an old, dented thermos. George was never in a hurry while on a job, but he never stopped for long. That was one of his secrets to success.
When George pulled onto Reilly Lane, it was obvious to him that Mountain Farm was inhabited now. The boards were gone from the windows and many of the missing glass panes had been replaced. The claim the forest had been making on the property was being challenged. All the brush and most of the small trees were cut back from the log house. George was delighted to see the old place in the open again.
He knew first-hand the plight of the building, having assisted John Campbell on numerous occasions, repairing damage and replacing locks. George had been a friend of Tom Reilly, and it bothered him to witness the building’s steady decline.
He knocked on the door frame but didn’t really expect an indoor response on such a fine day. He went around the house and walked toward the woodshed. Halfway there, he came upon a red oak tree that was cut into logs about two feet long. Although he had not seen such an operation in many years, George knew that this was the preparation for shingle making. He pushed at one of the logs with his boot and smiled.
Poking his head in the doorway of the woodshed, he noticed that a cord of firewood was stacked in the traditional spot. He chuckled when he saw that the wood was split small, the way Tom Reilly had liked it.
“Hello,” he called. George stepped inside. The obvious change was the magnificent array of tools on the back wall.
This is truly a going concern now. Who would have guessed it? I was beginning to think that the return of Tom’s great grandson was a myth.
He heard the sound of an engine and walked outside. Daniel pulled up in the jeep with a load of firewood.
“Good morning, George.”
“Got you a truck load of goods,” George said as he reached for an arm load of firewood. He and Daniel unloaded the jeep in minutes.
“Old Tom would sure be happy to see those tools back in place.” George walked toward the back wall as he said this. He was amazed at how similar the arrangement was to what he remembered. He was also intrigued with the small logs positioned around the room. Passing the workbench, he glanced down and saw three wooden spoons, cut from cherry wood. “Well, I’ll be. JC said that you were making these.”
Daniel came up behind him. “Those aren’t quite done yet.” He picked up the box that contained the spoons he made in Madison and placed it on the workbench.
When its contents were revealed, George’s eyes opened wide. “I’ll be darned. You’re good, real good. Are you planning to sell these?”
“No. Not really. I just make them to, uh, relax, I guess.”
“You shown JC?”
Daniel shook his head.
“You show him. These’ll sell. You’re good.”
Daniel liked George.
“What’re you cuttin’ there?” George asked, looking at the six-foot log standing on end near the side doors. While it still looked like a log, there was no doubt that some sort of work was underway.
“Hmm, not quite sure, yet. I’m just chipping away at it slowly, waiting for something to emerge,” Daniel answered, a little embarrassed.
George nodded, although he didn’t really understand such an approach to a project.
Back at the log house, they unloaded George’s truck. Daniel was pleased with the selection of furniture. Simple, sturdy pieces, exactly what he had in mind for his stay at Mountain Farm. Then he and George maneuvered the heavy wood stove off the truck and into the house, using thick wooden planks for a ramp. George had brought stove pipe and connected the stove to the opening in the chimney.
“You’ll be needing this sooner than you think,” George said with a grin. “Burn your dead limbs and scraps first and let the bigger stuff keep drying until the serious weather comes.”
They walked back to the truck and George gazed across the homestead, turning in a circle. “Man, what a place. Adam Reilly chose well. You know that the state forest has closed in on Mountain Farm from all sides now. I’m surprised they haven’t been at you about buying this property.”
“Oh, I received a letter from them every few years, but when I did respond, it was a polite no. The fact is, if they had pushed the issue, a while back, I might have sold. Or, I mean, we might have sold. We needed the money then. That is, my wife and I. We . . .” He stopped, his face reddening.
George nodded. He knew what Daniel was trying to say.
“There was another man, a Mr. Nicklow, I’d get a letter from him occasionally.”
“Yes, that’s right. Maurice Nicklow. He’s wanted to purchase the land for about ten years, now.”
“Well, surprise, surprise.”
“You know him?”
“Yeah. Everybody knows him. Maurice Nicklow, the small town lawyer done good, the land developer, the millionaire. Owns half the buildings on Main Street. What did you tell him?”
“I wrote him a letter and said that I wasn’t ready to sell yet. A couple years later, another letter came from him. It asked the same question and never acknowledged my letter. After that, I just tossed them.”
“Well, that’s probably the best thing you could have done. The man buys up every farm, homestead, or any mountain land he can get his hands on, cuts them up into lots and sells them to folks from Pittsburgh. He’s made a bundle. He and his son have a construction business that Maurice started. Most times they get the contracts to build the houses.”
“Sounds like a nice little operation.”
“Yes, sir. And you could guess he would want this property. It’s got everything his customers want: a mountain top with a view and the state forest all around to keep it private. He’s cut up and sold some nice property around here, but nothing like this. My advice to you is to steer clear of those two.”
“They’re trouble, eh?”
“Well, Maurice is pushy and stubborn and usually gets what he wants. But if you stand your ground, he’ll leave you alone in time. He’s no backstabber. He just is what he is, a small town boy who made more money than he ever imagined. Trouble is, all he thinks about now is making more.
Now Donny, his son, that’s another story. He’s just plain trouble, big and loud and mean. Has been ever since he was a kid. When he gets drunk, he’s worse. Been in lots of trouble. Man works hard when he works, got to give him that. But you don’t want to tangle with him”
“The letters I received were professional. I never would’ve guessed what you’re telling me. All I want is to be left alone up here and I have no plans of selling now, so taking your advice is easy.”
George nodded with a look of approval.
“What do I owe you for your trouble, George?”
“No trouble, this is what I do. Comes to four hundred dollars.”
Daniel’s surprise at this low price was obvious.
George chuckled as he reached for the truck door. “JC and I are having our spring clearance sale, so you’re shopping at the right time.” George turned and Daniel approached him with four one-hundred dollar bills in his hand.
“Well, thank you sir. Do you need a receipt?”
“Good luck, Daniel Whaley.” George got in the truck and immediately leaned out the window. “Hey, bring some of those spoons with you next time down.”
"You have a gold mine here,” John Campbell exclaimed as he gazed down at the spoons.
Daniel picked out items he needed from the shelves while he watched John’s reaction.
“You do want to sell them, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t think so. I never really made them to sell, and I don’t need the money. You’re each welcome to have some, if you wish. I’ll probably give them all away eventually.”
John looked at Daniel as if he were speaking a foreign language. John Campbell had worked the Lick Hollow Mercantile for three decades now, and he knew that these wooden spoons, fashioned by this fourth-generation native son, living on Hemlock Knob in the old family home, would spark a frenzy with his clientele. Daniel continued to move along the shelves and John followed, trying to impress upon him the opportunity he was passing by.
John scarcely heard Daniel’s offer, nor did it register with George, who was seated at his usual window table. But Nora slipped from behind the counter and looked over the collection of spoons. She picked one up that had a long, stout handle. She looked toward Daniel and when he smiled, Nora took it with her behind the counter.
George watched the interaction between Daniel and John with amusement. “When do you find the time to make spoons, Daniel? You already got a full-time job up there.”
Daniel turned toward George. “It’s the last thing I do in the evenings. I’m tired, but I enjoy it so much that I can keep working. When the sun goes down, I place a kerosene lamp and candles in a circle around my work area. It’s when I relax and think.”
George nodded and smiled. He might have expected such an answer. Years ago, he learned the practicality of scheduling the most enjoyable task at the end of a long work day.
Moments later, as he was checking out, Daniel noticed two canning jars among his purchases.
“Peppers,” Nora said. “I’ve been needing a long sturdy spoon to work them up with.” She made eye contact with Daniel, and he thought that she might have smiled this time.
While Nora was totaling his bill, he glanced to the right and noticed a coffee can with a slot cut in a plastic lid. On the side of the can was a photograph. Daniel squinted and moved closer. The image was of a man and a woman with a small girl. The man and woman seemed young and had an uncomfortable, uncertain demeanor about them.
Daniel assumed they were married and that the girl was their daughter. The woman was bent down and her arms encircled the child. The man stood behind them with one hand on his wife’s shoulder.
Taped to the can was a handwritten note that explained their situation. It read: Donations for Connie Pavloc’s leukemia treatment. Daniel stared at the picture again; he wanted to learn more from it. When he was a boy, Daniel knew a family whose surname was Pavloc.
“Poor little thing,” Nora said as she arranged his purchases in a cardboard box.
“Do you know them?”
“Oh my yes, we’ve known Johnny and Sue since they were kids. She was a Spaw. Johnny and Sue live out Fairchance Road about a mile. They just found out about the little one’s cancer this spring. They got no health insurance.”
Nora finished packing and looked up.
Daniel was still staring at the photograph on the can, but he had a distant look in his eyes. He turned away from the picture and walked toward John and George who were inspecting the spoons.
“John. I’ve changed my mind. I want to sell the spoons.”
“That’s splendid, Daniel,” John said with surprise. He rubbed his hands together. He did this when he was about to engage in a business transaction.
“I’d like to sell the spoons, but give the money to Connie Pavloc’s family to help pay for her medical bills.”
John stared at him for a moment. Then he pointed in the direction of the coffee can as if to be certain he had heard correctly.
“Well, my goodness. That’s a marvelous idea. Do you know the Pavlocs?”
Daniel nodded again.
“They’ll be grateful. They’re in a bad spot and every bit helps. But are you sure you want to give it all? If you kept half . . .”
“No. I can imagine what they’re going through, and I don’t need the money.”
“Okay then, Daniel, as you wish. We in turn will take no commission.”
“Would you price them for me, John? I really have no idea what . . .”
“Sure can, Daniel. No problem.”
George approached Daniel and extended his hand. “That’s mighty kind of you, Daniel.”
Daniel shook George’s hand, somewhat embarrassed. Not an impulsive person, he was as surprised as they were at this decision.
When the last of the supplies were loaded into the jeep, George followed Daniel out of the building and went to the passenger side of his truck. He removed a brown bag from the seat and transferred it into the jeep through an open window.
Daniel watched him with a puzzled expression.
“I was in Uniontown, the other day, and stopped at the liquor store to see my cousin who works there.”
Daniel still looked puzzled.
“Got you a bottle of brandy.”
Daniel turned his head to one side. “Why?” he asked, smiling.
“I saw the half-empty bottle at the log house,” George said as he walked past Daniel and went up the stairs. “Thought you might need a spare.”
Daniel chuckled. “Thanks, George.”
“Save me some,” George said over his shoulder as he went back into the mercantile.
As the jeep pulled away, John moved to the window. “He’s a funny person, isn’t he?”
“He’s a good person,” Nora answered as she wiped the counter.
“That he is,” George added, putting on his jacket.
“He’s so serious, not much like Uncle Tom,” John said.
“He doesn’t take after his father either,” George added.
“Maybe he takes after Adam,” Nora suggested.
Maurice Nicklow’s car was a common sight in Lick Hollow. His black Cadillac cruised east on Main Street while Maurice scrutinized buildings and pedestrians. He received an occasional nod of recognition from a business associate but rarely saw a spontaneous smile or friendly gesture. Maurice was an attorney who had served Lick Hollow and the surrounding area for forty years.
The attorney owned many buildings on Main Street. As he passed these, his eyes narrowed and the car slowed. All his buildings were in need of repair, and because of the high rent he charged, only half were occupied. This didn’t bother Maurice; he didn’t need to make money on these buildings. They were long-term investments and short-term tax write-offs.
As the car passed the Lick Hollow Tavern, he slowed to see if his son’s truck was in the parking lot. He was relieved that it wasn’t. Further up the road, Maurice did see Donald’s black Dodge parked outside Martin’s Restaurant. He pulled in beside it and got out. Maurice walked past the truck bearing a sour expression. The vehicle was speckled with mud and the right taillight cover was cracked.
Maurice found his son sitting at the counter, leaning on his elbows and holding a cup of coffee with both hands. A cigarette smoldered in a nearby ashtray.
Maurice was six feet tall and weighed just over two hundred pounds. He dressed professionally, always in a suit. He had a big head with large ears and thick, wavy, gray hair that he brushed straight back. Maurice’s face was long and he often held his mouth such that he seemed to be gritting his teeth. At sixty-five years of age, he looked confident and successful.
Donald Nicklow was of a similar build, but was larger than his father. His face resembled Maurice’s, but unless they were side by side, few would guess that they were father and son. Donald’s hair was brown, laced with gray. He wore it long such that when he turned his head, curls brushed his shoulders. He was dressed in a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans, and high leather boots. On the back of his stool was a canvas coat with work gloves protruding from a pocket.
“Donald,” Maurice said as he positioned himself on the stool next to his son.
“Hey Dad, what’s up?”
“How are things going over at the Batey farm?”
“Good, good, right on schedule. Machine broke this morning but nothing serious. I had other business here in town, so I ran for parts. But, yeah, things are looking good. Any takers on those last two lots?”
“One; the other will go quick.”
“Coffee?” a waitress asked. She was already pouring when Maurice looked up and nodded.
Donald winked at her. She smiled at him and turned away.
“Say Don, what do you know about that man, Daniel Whaley, who lives on Hemlock Knob in the old Reilly place?”
“The Professor, you mean? That’s what they call him. You know he was a college teacher, don’t you?”
“Yes, I’m aware of that. But what kind of person is he? Have you ever spoken to him?”
“Nah. See him outside Campbell’s store with JC and George. Drives an old, beat-up jeep; looks pretty wild. Don’t know much more. JC or George Haynes, I’d talk to them. What’s up with him, anyway?”
“He owns a hundred acres on top of Hemlock Knob. Nice piece of real estate. I inquired about buying it before, back when he lived in Wisconsin. I used the standard letter that I’ve sent to property owners for years. He responded only once, if I remember right and said no.
Recently, I’ve been approached by a man from Pittsburgh, a Mr. Tom Arnold. He wants that piece of property in a big way. Apparently he went hunting there with his father when he was a boy and has never gotten over the place.”
“What about some of the other places we have? Some of them are up high with good views.”
“I told him about what we have. He wants that place, and he’s the type of person who gets what he wants. Man has lots of money.”
“Lots of people got lots of money.”
“Not like this guy. From what I know, he could buy and sell most of the people we’ve dealt with so far.”
Donald took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled the smoke in the direction of the ceiling while he tried to imagine how much money that would take.
“Tell me, Dad, how do you figure that after all these years, this Whaley shows up right when this Pittsburgh guy is ready to make a move for the property?”
“Who knows? Happens in business.”
“Too bad,” Donald said, grinning. “If he hadn’t moved in, I could’ve had somebody burn that old log house down. That often helps people let go of the home place.”
Maurice thanked the waitress who was refreshing his coffee and didn’t acknowledge his son’s remark.
“Well, I’m sure the Professor has his price. Hell, there ain’t even power or running water up there. He must be using that old log outhouse. The right amount of money will tempt him off the mountain, or maybe just a new house with a flush toilet.”
Maurice agreed, but he still wanted to gather as much information about Daniel Whaley as possible before he made a move. He took a deliberate drink of his coffee and stood to go.
“Say Dad, does this Arnold want me to do the building?”
“Yes, he wants the complete package with us, from the legal work to the trim on the windows. It’ll be worth a bundle now and if we do it right, we’ll get spin-off business from people like him.”
Donald gulped his coffee and followed his father.
“I think I’ll head up to the Mercantile now to talk to those friends of his.”
“Need some muscle?” Donald asked, grinning
“No,” Maurice answered, frowning. The attorney pointed to the broken taillight as he passed Donald’s truck. “Get this fixed. It’ll get you in trouble.”
Donald shook his head as his father got into the Cadillac. “See ya, Dad,” he said after the door snapped shut.
As Maurice drove up Main Street, he thought that his son looked clear-eyed and steady today. This was a relief to the attorney. Donald’s notorious drinking binges and consequent reckless behavior had been definite stumbling blocks on an otherwise remarkable road to financial success for Nicklow Developers, Inc.
When he was sober, Donald was good at what he did. He worked hard and handled his crew well. Jobs were completed quickly and with quality work down to the details. Donald was forty-two, and his father had hoped for many years that he would turn some corner in life and get his drinking problem under control.
That was much of the reason why the project on Hemlock Knob was important to Maurice. It would keep Donald on a job site. Tom Arnold planned to build a small complex of buildings that included a main house, a guest house, and a stable. This job would keep his son busy and focused for years.
That’s what he needs now, Maurice thought as he pulled into the graveled lot at The Lick Hollow Mercantile. The man needs to focus.
Maurice entered the store, and it seemed nobody was there. The only sound was the churning of boiling water in a kettle on a pot-bellied stove. His eyes wandered until they spied a rack of wooden spoons. A sign above the display read: Hand carved on Hemlock Knob by Daniel Whaley. All proceeds benefit Connie Pavloc.
Maurice was impressed by the spoons, although he tried not to be. Somehow he felt that such an opinion might complicate his business here. Yet, he knew enough about woodworking to appreciate the feat of craftsmanship each of them represented. As he turned a spoon over and over, he could scarcely believe that it had been done entirely by hand.
Maurice understood the last part of the sign when he saw the coffee can with the picture of the Pavloc family. He remembered that his wife had a cousin who was a Pavloc. Maurice looked at the photograph, but did not let it distract him.
“Can I help you?” asked a voice from behind the counter.
Maurice started and turned. Nora Campbell was staring at him The attorney realized that she had been there all along. Maurice quickly regained his professional demeanor.
“Good day to you, Mrs. Campbell. I was hoping to speak with your husband if he is available.”
“He’s not,” Nora answered.
“Well, then perhaps you can help me. I would like to get in touch with the man who makes these wooden spoons, Daniel Whaley. Do you know how I might do that?”
“You can’t get in touch with him.”
“Do you expect him to come here anytime soon?”
“Not really, he just shows up from time to time, delivers spoons and buys supplies. We never know when.”
“I see. Well, he does live on Hemlock Knob, so I guess I could just drive up there.”
“You won’t make it in that,” Nora said, nodding toward the window and Maurice’s Cadillac.
“Of course not, I have another vehicle . . .” Maurice stopped. He realized that this little, white-haired woman was not going to help him.
“If I leave a card, would you be so kind as to ask him to contact me the next time he’s in town.”
Nora took his card and didn’t look at it.
Maurice nodded, thanked her, and walked out. He didn’t particularly want to drive to the top of Hemlock Knob, and he doubted that Daniel Whaley would get his card. After he left the Lick Hollow Mercantile, he drove a short distance on Main Street and turned left into Martin’s Service Station.
Maurice had known Ed Martin since Ed was a boy. He was a quiet and likeable man who enjoyed the career he had been born into.
“Hello, Mr. Nicklow.”
“Ed, how’s business?”
“Been pickin’ up lately. People are starting to move again.”
“They’re good, real good. Thanks for askin’, Mister Nicklow.”
“Say, Ed, do you know the man who lives on Hemlock Knob in the old Reilly place?”
“Know him to see him. Bought gas here once. See him over at the Mercantile, mostly. His jeep’s easy to spot.”
“Well, I need to talk to him. Would you do me a favor and the next time you see him over there, give me a call?” Maurice handed Ed one of his business cards.
“Sure, I can do that for you. What’d he do?”
Maurice grinned. “He didn’t do anything; it’s just business.” Maurice thanked Ed and started to get back into his car, but then stopped.
“Say Ed, how about filling her up?”
Two months had passed since Daniel’s return to Mountain Farm and by August, he had settled into a work routine that focused on restoring the log house. Each task was assigned a level of priority, and time was allocated accordingly. The progress seemed slow to him, although the changes on Mountain farm would be obvious to anyone who was familiar with the property.
Daniel was an unusual looking character these days. He wore a red kerchief over his head to protect the bald spot from the sun. Brown hair protruded from underneath the kerchief, and a course beard was highlighted with gray patches. His meager wardrobe, which he washed by hand and repaired with needle and thread, was rough and simple. The clothes fit his character well. From long hours of work, Daniel had grown firm and muscular and looked more fit than he had in decades.
For the first time in his life, Daniel was alone, and he had grown to like the solitude. He loved the work and enjoyed his life on the mountain. Daniel was thankful that he hadn’t pulled the trigger that day on the rock mound. Now he wished he could stay at Mountain Farm and continue working, even grow old here like Paw did.
As it had been for his great-grandfather, cutting and sawing firewood became Daniel’s favorite activity. He was determined to have six cords in the woodshed before the burning season began, because he now wanted to live on the mountain through the winter at least. On this summer day, two cords of wood were stacked in the woodshed .
In July, Daniel built a sawhorse from small oak logs and placed it on the spot where Tom Reilly’s had been. Today he was cutting small maple logs into eighteen-inch sections, a size which fit well in the stove. Daniel focused on the work, not allowing his thoughts to drift into the past or to ponder the future. The present was his only hope.
When Daniel finished cutting his quota of firewood for the day, he walked to the spring house for a drink. Next he planned to make more shakes for the log house roof. Although there was already a large stack from the previous week’s effort, Daniel calculated that five times this amount were needed to complete the roof.
His great-grandfather had often stressed the importance of maintaining the roofs of the buildings. Tom had warned that once a roof went bad the rest of the building would soon follow. Tom had instructed Daniel in the art of shingle making, from choosing the proper red oak tree to trimming the newly split shakes with a draw knife to make a shingle.
A metal dipper hung from a rafter in the spring house. Daniel dipped it into the water box and took a hearty drink of the cold water. Then he stopped. He heard something moving in the woods below the meadow, some sort of animal. It was a heavier sound than the rustling of a squirrel, but was not the measured thumping of a deer hooves.
He hung the dipper and walked to the edge of the meadow on the west side of the house. Moving as quietly as possible, he stopped at a point where the ground sloped downward into the forest.
Sweeping his vision from right to left, he saw that the source of the disturbance was a dog. The animal was working its way up the hill toward him. It looked from side to side and sniffed the air, as if it were searching for something. The dog had not heard Daniel’s approach but soon caught his scent and finally looked up at him when it was forty yards away. The animal froze and stared with alert eyes, but showed no fear. Daniel stared back.
The dog had a short, heavy coat of a pale-yellow color and a strong wide head with medium-length ears. It was stocky and muscular with a deep chest. Daniel couldn’t decide what breed it was, but he could see that it was an older dog.
Daniel was fond of dogs. The last one he owned was a Black Labrador mix he had claimed on impulse from a litter of puppies put up for adoption in a grocery store parking lot. Debbie and he had just purchased their new home on Lake Mendota Drive and Ken was four years old. Daniel reasoned that it was a natural addition to the family. He named the dog Cody. But Debbie was adamant, Cody couldn’t stay in the house. Daniel placed a kennel beside the garage and built a house for the dog.
He walked Cody every day after returning from campus. The dog lived for those long walks out into the cornfield and up to the interesting rock mound that they had discovered together. He would run circles around his master and romp about the field, too simple and happy to question his living conditions.
Daniel felt guilty over his companion’s confinement, which seemed all the more pathetic as the dog grew old and feeble. When Cody’s debilitation advanced to the point that he could no longer walk, Daniel had him euthanized and didn’t speak to anyone for several days.
Daniel and the dog watched each other for a minute longer without moving. Then he decided to return to work and ignore the animal, reasoning that he shouldn’t encourage it to linger. Even if it was a stray, he had no time for pets now. Besides, that would be unfair to the dog, because it would have to be abandoned in the end.
Daniel started back across the field, but midway to the house, he turned and looked back toward the woods. In spite of his better judgment, he half-hoped the dog would follow him.
Passing through the woodshed, Daniel removed a froe and hickory maul from the back wall and carried them to the red oak tree. He had already cut the log into two-foot sections. The froe is a splitting tool with a long iron blade and a short, round piece of wood attached at a right angle for a handle. It is a tool well designed for its purpose.
Grasping the handle, Daniel placed the blade on the end grain of a section of oak. Striking the back of the blade with the heavy maul, he split off thin boards or shakes. Forty-five minutes later, when he paused for water, he saw the dog sitting on the porch of the log house, watching him. The animal was still there an hour after that when Daniel stopped for lunch.
He cut up some boiled potatoes into small cubes and added them to a wooden bowl along with cheese, basil, and olive oil. Before Daniel ate his simple lunch, he spooned some of it into a smaller bowl. He walked to the porch and placed the bowl near the dog and then moved away. As Daniel ate, he watched the animal walk to the bowl, sniff at the contents cautiously, and then finally eat.
When Daniel approached again, the dog watched him with alert eyes that showed neither fear nor malice. He stroked the back of the animal’s head and noticed that the dog wore no collar.
“Where did you come from, boy?” The dog turned its head at the sound of Daniel’s voice.
After returning to work, Daniel looked toward the porch from time to time, expecting that the dog would leave. He was glad to see him sitting at the same spot each time he turned. The animal would either be watching him or staring across the meadow toward Hemlock Road. That night, when Daniel retired to the house, the dog slept on the porch.
By the next evening Daniel accepted the fact that the dog was staying. He arranged a blanket on the porch for it to sleep on. Over the days that followed, he and the dog were never apart. Daniel named him Cody. This dog was wild and free as he had often wished its namesake could have been. Daniel found the animal’s quiet presence reassuring, somehow making him believe that the lofty goals for Mountain Farm could be achieved.
Days passed, weeks passed, life on the homestead fell into an easy rhythm, only interrupted by the occasional vehicle on the road. Daniel came to realize that he could be aware of the approach of a car or truck by observing his canine companion. Cody would become noticeably alert and stare down Hemlock Road minutes before a vehicle was visible. Thus Daniel came to appreciate the practical basis for the ancient alliance between dogs and humans.
Daniel was ready to begin replacing the roof of the log house, now that he had a pile of shingles large enough to make a good start. At George’s recommendation, the pile was covered with a tarp to slow the drying. He told Daniel that the shingles would nail down much easier while wet and then once fixed in place, they would dry straight.
Daniel needed shingle nails, however, and he wanted to talk to George once more about the process before he started shingling the log house. He also wanted to buy Cody dog food. Another excursion to Lick Hollow was necessary.
The next day at mid morning, Daniel pulled away from the log house with a box containing fifty spoons on the seat beside him. Cody followed Daniel wherever he went on the mountain, but the dog would not get into the jeep. He sat on the porch and watched as the vehicle pulled away. Daniel knew that Cody would be there when he returned. He had grown very fond of this mysterious animal that wandered into his life.
John Campbell was waiting at the door of the Mercantile when Daniel stepped onto the porch.
“Hello John,” he said, entering the door. He tipped his hat to Nora.
She smiled and continued arranging items in a display case.
“I hope you have a delivery for us, Daniel.”
“I do. Fifty this time.”
“Splendid. Splendid. I think you may have your hands full with this spoon business. This is still the slow season, and I can scarcely keep them on the rack. I’ve raised the prices some but that didn’t slow the sales much. The Pavlocs are beside themselves with gratitude. Besides that, word of what you’re doing is spreading around town, and it’s causing people to loosen their purse strings.”
Daniel was impressed with what John told him, particularly by the fact that other people were moved to help.
“Well, that’s good, I’m glad I can help the Pavlocs. That’s a terrible thing they’re going through. And I can bring spoons regularly now that I’m set up and have some good cherry to work with.”
He set the box on a chair and then wandered down an aisle to begin gathering supplies.
Nora walked over as her husband laid out the spoons on a table. Nora and John were impressed with each batch of spoons that arrived, but they were transfixed by what they saw now. Especially with the spoons that had human figures worked into the handles.
George Haynes walked in at this point. After tipping his cap to Daniel at the rear of the store and to Nora as she passed him on her way back to the counter, he joined John at the impromptu spoon display. Looking over the collection that John had arranged on the table, George shook his head in amazement.
“My goodness, JC, these are masterpieces.”
“How much would you have to charge for something like this?” George pointed to a spoon with a handle that gently spiraled from the bowl to within seven inches of the end. On the top of the handle was the stylized figure of a woman in a long garment. The figure had little detail, only the suggestion of folded arms, long hair lightly tossed by the breeze, and a face lost in contemplation. George was not a ready admirer of contemporary art, but he found this small figure very appealing.
“Fifty bucks,” John answered, businesslike. “Not a penny less, and it will sell at that. But considering how this spoon was made, where it was made, and by whom it was made, the price should be much more.” He lifted his head and located Daniel, still selecting merchandise. John looked back at George and in a hushed voice said, “Someday they’re going to sell for a great deal more.”
“Oh boy,” Nora said with obvious irritation in her voice. She was staring out the window.
John and George looked and saw that a black Cadillac had pulled up next to Daniel’s jeep.
George walked back to Daniel and spoke in a hushed voice. “This man coming now, he’s the Maurice Nicklow who wrote to you in the past about buying your property. We didn’t get a chance to tell you, but a couple weeks back, he was asking about you here.”
Nora looked above the Cadillac and focused her eyes on Martin’s service station. She could tell from his stance that it was Ed Martin by the pumps and he seemed to be looking in the direction of the mercantile. She knew why Maurice Nicklow had suddenly appeared, and Ed would hear about it, too.
The screen door creaked open and the attorney stepped in. He greeted John, George, and Nora, and then turned his attention to the tall stranger who had a bag of dog food under his arm. “Hello sir, Daniel Whaley, I presume. I’m Maurice Nicklow, Attorney at Law.” Maurice smiled and extended his hand.
Daniel’s impression of the man was not good. He nodded and returned a weak hello. Daniel didn’t smile or let go of the dog food.
Maurice lowered his hand. He was surprised at Daniel’s appearance. This man neither looked like a disheveled street person that from some descriptions the attorney might have imagined, nor did he look like an eminent university professor, which Maurice knew he had been.
Instead, this man resembled a framed pencil drawing that hung in the attorney’s office. This was a depiction of an early settler of the Allegheny Mountains who also had a beard and wore a wide-brimmed hat. Maurice also saw on Daniel’s face that same grim expression that had always intrigued him about the figure in the drawing.
“My good man, I understand that you own the Reilly property on Hemlock Knob.”
Daniel nodded. He felt warm and uncomfortable.
“I would like to talk with you today about. . . ”
“Look, Mr. Nicklow, I . . .”
“Call me Maurice, please.”
“Mr. Nicklow, I know what you want to discuss. Mountain Farm is my family’s home place, and I have no desire to sell it under any circumstances.” Daniel shrugged as if to signal that the discussion was over.
Maurice’s expression changed, his face reddened, and he remained uncharacteristically silent for a moment. The other occupants of the room didn’t move. The hissing of an iron kettle on the stove seemed to signal rising tension. Attorney Nicklow wasn’t accustomed to being cut short in this manner. He didn’t win every time, but at the least, he always presented his case.
“Now hear me out. I didn’t come here empty-handed. I represent a Mr. Thomas J. Arnold from Pittsburgh and he’s prepared to pay quite handsomely for the acreage on Hemlock Knob.”
“I’m sure your client has good finances, Mr. Nicklow, but money doesn’t matter to me. I have all that I need. I won’t sell Mountain Farm to him for any amount.”
“Hear me out,” Maurice repeated, although he wasn’t sure where his proposal could go after such a rebuttal.
“Mister Nicklow, this discussion is over.” Daniel stepped to the side and moved toward the counter.
The attorney couldn’t allow himself to be dismissed so easily, especially in front of an audience. A compulsion to get the situation under control as soon as possible clouded his judgment. He held his left hand in front of Daniel’s chest to physically block passage and when Daniel turned, Maurice pointed an index finger at his face.
The attorney had a crimson hue about him, and he spoke in an impatient tone, emphasizing each word. “Now see here, friend. I came in good faith to make you an honest proposal. If you ask me, you are reacting rather foolishly in the face of a sound business proposition.”
George thought that Daniel looked different somehow. He seemed to be standing straighter and his face was severe with blue eyes fixed on Maurice in a penetrating stare. The attorney lowered his hand as Daniel took a step toward him.
“I did not ask you, sir, so I’ll thank you to spare me your opinion.”
It wasn’t so much what he said, as how he said it that alarmed Maurice. Daniel turned his back on the attorney and moved to the counter.
The red faded from Maurice’s face. Daniel’s statement wasn’t an open threat, but the attorney felt threatened. He wasn’t one to back down from a confrontation, but he was unnerved by this strange man. Maurice looked at John and George with a stunned expression on his face. They looked back with equal surprise but with no sympathy.
The only sound was the hissing of the kettle until Maurice cleared his throat. The attorney didn’t speak, but walked to the door and then turned toward Daniel. He started to point his finger before he spoke but returned it to his side. He cleared his throat again and spoke in a subdued but professional voice. “You, sir, may hear from me again.” Maurice nodded indifferently to the others and walked out the door.
When the grinding of the Cadillac tires on the gravel lot, faded, George approached Daniel. “Daniel, hey, you okay?”
Daniel looked up at George and nodded. Then he turned to John. “I’m sorry,” he said. Daniel moved his head from side to side, as if he were loosening his neck. There was a sound of weariness in his voice. He nodded toward Hemlock Knob. “I better get back up there.”
George and John exchanged glances. John started to say something, but Nora spoke first.
“Do you have all the supplies you need?”
Daniel shook his head.
John and George tried to realign the morning with bursts of conversation, but Daniel remained distracted.
“I shouldn’t have been so quick to get angry,” Daniel said. “It’s been a problem of mine lately, this temper. It’s just that I’ve put up with people like him my whole life and I can’t tolerate it anymore.”
“Maurice Nicklow is an overbearing, pompous ass,” Nora said.
The men turned to see her angry face behind the counter. John and George nodded in agreement.
“The way you dealt with the man, Daniel, is the way most people have wanted to for years,” John added
Daniel began gathering his purchases, anxious to get back to Mountain Farm. “I really just want to be left alone so that I can fix up the farm for Paw. Hopefully, Nicklow and I will just stay out of each other’s way from now on.”
The other men echoed that wish, but they were doubtful.
John walked back to where the spoons were laid out in an attempt to change the subject. “Daniel, these are magnificent. They’re works of art and I’m going to price them as such.”
Then he moved close to Daniel. Perhaps it was because of the same simple clothes his relative always wore, or the old jeep that sputtered along on borrowed time, that John believed an influx of cash to Daniel’s economy would be welcome.
“Are you sure you don’t want a percentage of the sale price? No one could criticize you for that, considering all the time that’s gone into these.”
Daniel shook his head. “No, I’m sure. I don’t need money, John, just time. That’s all I need now.”
John was startled by the sad, haunted look he saw in his cousin’s eyes.
Daniel went to the counter, paid his bill, and said little more as the men helped him load. John and George watched as he drove away.
“Man’s a puzzle, isn’t he?” George said.
John nodded. “I’ve a feeling there’s a piece of the puzzle he’s holding in his hand.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think there’s something driving Daniel Whaley besides just a desire to restore the old home place.”
November brought considerable rain, but only one snowfall. In Lick Hollow the snow melted soon after it covered the ground. George Haynes was thankful that winter was slow in coming; he wasn’t so fond of the season now that he was approaching his seventieth one. As he nosed his truck up Hemlock Road, George saw snow under rock overhangs and at the base of laurel thickets. Near the summit of Hemlock Knob, snow covered the ground and clung to trees.
Since he last made this trip, the scenery had changed and was interesting in a new way. Without the leaf cover, the contours of distant mountains were visible through a web of limbs. George drove slowly, stopping often to study a familiar landmark in the distance. On the floor of the passenger side of the truck sat a brown paper bag from which came a steady clinking of glass on glass.
Daniel stopped sawing when he heard a vehicle approaching. He was expecting the intrusion. A minute earlier he noticed Cody, sitting perfectly upright, staring towards Hemlock Road.
Hemlock Road is getting to be a damn freeway, Daniel thought. Two other vehicles had driven by the day before. He continued sawing, and even when Daniel heard the driver pull onto Reilly Lane, he didn’t look up. Daniel did look up when he realized that the vehicle had left the roadbed and was coming toward him. It was the sight of George Haynes grinning through the windshield that dispersed Daniel’s irritation.
“Man, you sure can give somebody the ol’ crook eye,” George said, as he eased out of the truck.
“A person shouldn’t sneak up on a helpless homesteader like that.”
“I don’t think you’re so helpless. We were beginning to wonder if you were still around.”
George saw Cody sitting at attention on the porch. The dog was staring at him.
“So this is the dog, huh?” He walked toward the porch.
Cody wasn’t threatening, but he didn’t relax and approach George either. George walked slowly to the dog, talking in a soft voice. “Are you a good dog? Yeah, that’s a good boy. That’s a good boy.” He held out his hand to let the animal sniff. When he saw calm in Cody’s eyes, he rubbed the dog’s head. “Yeah, you’re a good dog.”
“Ain’t seen one of these in a while.”
“A dog?” Daniel asked with a smile.
George looked back at Daniel and grinned. “You might have a little of old Tom in you after all.”
“I see plenty of dogs, but not Mountain Cur anymore.”
“A Mountain Cur, that’s what he is? That’s a breed of dog?”
“Uh huh,” George answered as he rubbed Cody’s head. “They say that curs brought over with the settlers mated with Indian curs. Got a little hound and herder mixed in along the way to being the true Mountain Cur. Used to be common in these parts in the old days; homesteading family wouldn’t be without one. Cur dogs love to please their master and will protect their home to the death.”
Daniel approached and Cody responded by focusing dark, expressive eyes on him.
George continued. “Old-timers used to say that a Mountain Cur will hold its ground against a mountain lion or a bear, fight either one, head-on.”
Daniel looked at his dog with new respect to accompany the affection that he already felt.
“Got some mail for you.” George turned toward his truck. “Seems like folks have come to think of the Mercantile as where you live.”
Daniel followed George and was handed two letters. One looked official and was from a law firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He guessed that it originated from his wife. The second was from his daughter Jeannie.
George leaned back into the truck and reached across to the bag on the floor. “Got some medicine for you too.” He pulled a bottle of brandy from the bag. George also produced two antique brandy snifters, some of his inventory. He tilted the bottle toward Daniel and raised his eyebrows.
Daniel nodded and smiled.
“Whatcha been making, Daniel? Spoons, I hope. JC ran out two days ago. Probably right now he’s pacing the floor and looking up here.”
Daniel chuckled. “Oh, I have a few for him.”
In the house, Daniel poured brandy into the snifters as he watched George. On the table near the front window, the spoons were laid out. George’s mouth opened wide, and he pawed his shirt pocket for eyeglasses.
All of the thirty spoons on display had a human figure on the handle. These weren’t as detailed as the spoons he had seen last at the Mercantile, and yet he found them more interesting and animated. Several were depictions of figures that seemed to be in motion: ballet dancers, a mother with long flowing hair, holding a new baby above her head, and a human figure that appeared to be spinning because of a layer of wood that spiraled around it’s body.
“Man, you sure got some imagination. This is art. Where do you get these ideas?”
Daniel was smiling as he approached George with the half-filled snifters. They both took a drink before he spoke.
“They just seem to be there. I start to carve and an idea develops.” Daniel looked at George with a thoughtful expression. Inspired by the brandy, he chose to elaborate.
“I believe that a work of art is the result of a series of decisions that need to be made once a piece is begun. Should it be tilted this way or that way? Should this be longer or shorter? Does it look better this way or that way? An artist makes the right decisions along the way, or at least the more interesting ones. It’s that simple.”
“Well, I don’t know if I see it as simple. You have to admit you have a gift.”
Daniel took another sip of brandy. He was enjoying this conversation. “The people that we label gifted are individuals who have the genetic predisposition to excel at certain tasks, whether it’s sports, science, landscaping, or art. I believe that most people are gifted to some degree. It comes down to a question of who is fortunate enough to end up in the right position in life, by chance or by design, such that their particular gift can be expressed.”
“If you say so,” George said, tilting his head and smiling.
Daniel smiled back. He was glad that George dropped in on him. He decided to stop his philosophizing.
“What about that cherry log you were working on? Did you make any more decisions about that?” George grinned.
Daniel laughed. He knew that remark was deserved. He nodded as he finished his brandy.
When the glasses were refilled, they walked to the woodshed. The cherry log stood on the spot where George saw it last, but the transformation was remarkable. Only half of the original mass remained. Much of the log was scattered on the floor in the form of small pink chips. Although it was still at a rudimentary stage, it was obviously a human figure.
“My goodness,” George said as he circled the piece. “You did all this with just those carving tools?”
Daniel nodded and smiled.
George circled the piece “It’s a woman.”
Again Daniel nodded.
“A long woman,” George said.
Daniel was flattered by the earnestness with which George examined the piece. The log had indeed been sculpted into the likeness of a woman. The woman’s arms appeared to be folded across her chest and her legs were positioned such that she seemed to be taking a step forward. While the face had no features at this stage, her head was tilted to one side as if she was lost in contemplation. And, as George observed, the woman was tall.
During the preceding month, Daniel became obsessed with the sculpture, often working for hours on end. This creative burst was somewhat to the negligence of his restoration plans.
“Well, this will be something to see when it’s done,” George said. “It’ll be a masterpiece.”
Daniel could not have been more pleased with this first critique of his work. George didn’t ask about the inspiration behind the sculpture, and Daniel decided to leave it at that.
Back at the house, George lifted his glass toward Daniel as if to propose a toast. “Well, my friend, winter is upon us.”
Daniel looked at him, nodded and smiled. He crossed the room and opened the door of the stove. Inside was a uniform bed of orange coals with fairylike blue flames skating across the surface. For a few minutes, the men stared at the fire in silence.
“You ever get lonesome up here?”
Daniel answered while staring at the fire. “No, George, I don’t; I like the solitude.” He hesitated. He wanted to talk but wasn’t sure of how much he wanted to reveal.
“Something has happened that has changed everything for me, changed everything forever. Many of the things I once believed in are of no importance to me now. Some things such as titles, awards, degrees, suits, ties . . . ”
He exhaled a cynical laugh, bowed his head and wagged it from side to side. “Some of the things that I did religiously, now seem downright silly.”
“Man’s gotta believe in something, Daniel.”
Daniel looked up and smiled. “I believe in art, George. Art is one of the good results of civilization.”
George considered this statement and finished his brandy.
When the snifters were refilled, Daniel was feeling good and he raised his glass. “Art is a good idea,” he proclaimed.
George grinned. He looked at Daniel and nodded. “Yes it is, Daniel. Yes it is.”
Then Daniel told George about the dream in which his great-great-grandfather, had proposed that same toast.
“You’re his blood. He was telling you something, Daniel. Fixing up the old place here is a good thing, but you’re an artist. Maybe you should be spending your time doing art. Maybe you should be working on the long woman instead.”
The conversation grew quiet with each man thinking his own thoughts as they studied the fire.
“I better get down out of here,” George said. “I got some trees to plant tomorrow morning if the weather holds. Got to get my beauty sleep, too.”
Moments later as they stood on the porch, Daniel gave George a mischievous look. “You mind those curves on the way down.”
“Don’t you worry about me. My old truck knows the way home.”
George walked over to Cody, who was sitting in the same spot on the porch, and stroked the dog’s head. He ambled down the steps. “Take care, Daniel. When it finally starts, I believe it’s going to be a hard winter this year.”
Daniel returned to the Great Room. He picked up the mail that George had delivered and sat by the fire. The letter from Madison was from Debbie’s attorney. It contained papers for him to sign, finalizing their divorce. When Debbie learned of her husband’s whereabouts, she wasted little time in seeking one. This hastiness surprised Daniel somewhat, but he concluded that he deserved such treatment for leaving in the manner in which he did.
He stunned both Debbie and her attorney by granting the divorce, and offering as well to sign over the house and all their Madison assets. His one stipulation was that she would make no claim on Mountain Farm. Debbie agreed to his terms.
Daniel poured another glass of brandy before he opened the letter from his daughter. He knew that Jeannie would be troubled by some of the things he had told her in their last correspondence. At the same time he trusted that she would understand his decisions. He had presumed correctly on both points.
Jeannie wanted to visit him, and spring was as soon as she could make the trip. Daniel tilted his head back and looked out the window. He wasn’t sure that he would still be at Mountain Farm in the spring.
The winter weather finally came. It started with heavy, wet snow in late November followed by freezing rain and then more snow. Donald Nicklow drank his way through late autumn, cursing the mud. Building homes on mountain sides was a lucrative business in fair weather, but it was shut down during a winter such as this. In mid December, the temperature dropped below freezing, where it would remain for six weeks.
Maurice urged his son to bid on jobs in town. Even if the business broke even it would at least serve to keep his crew together. Maurice knew that with the money Donald made during the construction season, he could afford to sit out every winter, but he was trying to keep him from doing so on a bar stool.
Two days before Christmas, Maurice pulled behind the Lick Hollow Tavern and parked next to his son’s truck. The parking lot was a graveled area located behind an old stone building that had been the town tavern since Lick Hollow was founded. Two ancient maple trees stood in the center of the lot; massive limbs stretched in all directions. The parking area was bordered to the north by Lick Hollow Creek, and the creek bank was lined with trees and shrubs.
Maurice entered the tavern by the back door. Across the room he saw a hazy silhouette of his son. Donald was defined by the afternoon sun, streaming in through the front windows. Corky Teets, the proprietor, nodded a hello.
When Donald saw Maurice, he tilted his head back and blew smoke in the direction of the ceiling, as if he were letting off steam. He knew that his father hadn’t come to have a drink with him.
Maurice skipped any cordiality. “They’re going to add on at Foodland, another ten thousand square feet plus a loading dock. I just talked to Hugh, and . . . ”
“Save it, Dad,” Donald interrupted. He held a lit cigarette between them as if to block Maurice’s voice. With his other hand, he took a drink of beer.
It angered Maurice to be interrupted at any time, by anyone. What bothered him more was to see his son drunk again, especially in the middle of the day.
“No, I don’t have time for that bullshit s-stuff. Those jobs er’ always a pain in yer ass and there’s no god damn money in ‘em.”
On the way to the tavern, Maurice coached himself to remain calm, regardless of how Donald took his advice. But he was tired this afternoon, tired of working so hard every day building his empire and tired of worrying about this wayward son whom he hoped would one day rule it.
Even in the dim light, Maurice could see that Donald looked bad. He was old and worn beyond his years. The cigarette smoke rolled up across Donald’s face and framed dull, half-closed eyes. Maurice knew that he was losing the fight to save his son. Frustration spilled out in sharp words.
“There’s more money in those god damn jobs than there is in sitting here on your drunken ass all day.”
Corky wiped the counter in his usual manner, but his hand moved in circles that led him away from the conversation.
Donald heaved a long sigh and turned toward his father. The aggravation that Maurice was pressing upon him caused the alcohol in his blood to course more rapidly to the brain. It was transforming him into the mean, violent Donald that many people feared. Fortunately, some faint paternal respect lingered, and Maurice would at least not experience the physical basis for their fear.
Donald was silent for a moment. He stared at his father with vacant eyes. When he spoke, he did so in a coarse whisper, emphasizing each word carefully so as not to slur them.
“Go to hell old man.”
Maurice said nothing, but he might as well have received a blow from Donald’s fist. He studied his son’s face for a moment, then he stood up and walked away, touching the walls of the back hallway to steady himself as he went to the door.
Donald snatched his glass and drank it down. He spotted Corky at the far end of the bar. “Fill’er up, boss.”
Corky came for his glass.
“And a shot of Jack Daniels, while you’re at it.”
The back door of the tavern closed behind Maurice.
Ten minutes later, Maurice was leaning back in his office chair, staring at drawn blinds.
“Go to hell, old man,” he whispered.
What hurt Maurice most was the contempt in his son’s voice and the hateful look on his face.
Donald had always been his favorite for some reason. Samuel, the oldest child, was an attorney in a law firm in Pittsburgh. Jenny, the youngest and brightest of his children, lived in San Francisco. She had a good marriage, two children, and a successful career. Donald had been trouble since he was a boy, shoplifting, vandalizing homes, and fighting, always fighting. He began drinking in high school, which compounded the problem.
After a succession of dead-end jobs, Maurice got his son started in the construction business. For a number of years it seemed Donald had finally gotten aligned on a track that suited his nature. It was during this period that he met and married Sandra Bell, a woman from Morgantown, West Virginia.
The couple had two children in four years. Sandra was pretty and intelligent and she had a sense of humor that Maurice liked. When Sandra came to his office one day and removed sunglasses to reveal a dark bruise under her left eye, Maurice wept with her. When he confronted his son, Donald promised to quit drinking, and he did quit for a short while. Four months later, Sandra moved back to Morgantown with the children.
Ten years ago, the terrible accident occurred involving Robert Cranston. The librarian had been an avid walker and hiked to the top of Hemlock Knob and back at least once a week. He was walking home from the library one evening when he was struck from behind by a vehicle that was moving fast down Tuesday Alley. He was nearly killed, and his hiking days ended.
Strong circumstantial evidence pointed to Donald as the driver. When he swore that he didn’t do it, Maurice had no choice but to defend him. He defended well. Donald was acquitted and R. Cranston came away with a limp and a cane.
Maurice suspected that his son was the driver. He often rushed down the back alley on his way home from the bar. Everyone else in Lick Hollow was certain that Donald was guilty. His father knew that a conviction meant prison, and he yielded to paternal instinct rather than a sense of justice.
A year after the trial, Maurice approached R. Cranston and asked if he could be of some help to him, particularly in a monetary way. When the librarian realized what the attorney was asking, he squared his shoulders and said no in a frigid tone of voice. Maurice meant well but shuffled away, embarrassed and ashamed.
The last major incident occurred four years ago. It was an altercation in the town of Connellsville, located twelve miles north of Uniontown. Donald and some of his crew had been at an equipment auction and they stopped for a beer on the way home. Another man of similar disposition sized Donald up for the fighter that he was. It took a several glances, some pointed words, with a few beers thrown into the mix, and they were upon each other.
Although a veteran of many bar fights, Donald realized that he had met a good match. His adversary was younger and determined to defend his territory, but Donald would not go down in front of his crew. He maneuvered himself behind the opponent and scrambled to find a crippling hold. When the younger man countered with forceful elbow strikes to the ribs, Donald grabbed the corners of his adversary’s mouth and pulled.
The shriek of pain silenced the crowd and ended the fight. It was the most mean and dirty fighting that any of the spectators had ever seen. Medics came, police came, and finally, Maurice arrived to try to unravel the mess.
The winters that followed were mild, and Donald worked through them with relative sobriety. Maurice started to believe again. This afternoon, in that dismal setting, when his son turned to him and uttered that simple sentence, Maurice decided that there was nothing more he could do for Donald.
Maurice looked at the clock and saw it was four-thirty. On his phone, he noticed the message light flashing. He pushed the play button and heard Tom Arnold’s voice. The message was similar to others Maurice had received over the past six months except for the ending.
“Now listen,” Tom Arnold said in an irritated tone of voice. “I’m losing my patience. Call me.”
Maurice stared at the phone as his face reddened. He picked up the receiver and speed-dialed Tom Arnold’s office. A secretary answered and informed the attorney that Mr. Arnold was gone for the day.
“Well, yes, then could you give him a message? This is Maurice Nicklow. I am profoundly sorry to have inconvenienced you with my ineptitude, but that will never be a problem again. As of this moment, I will no longer represent your interests in Lick Hollow, Pennsylvania.”
The woman hesitated but remained professional and said she would give Mr. Arnold the message.
Maurice looked at the clock again and stood to put on his coat. He decided to do something that he hadn’t done in many years. He was going home early to ask his wife, Martha, if she would go out to dinner with him.
On Saturday morning near the end of January, Joe Harmon opened the door of the Lick Hollow Mercantile. It seemed deserted, but bright lights and an aroma of coffee welcomed him in. A professional writer from Pittsburgh, he had passed through Lick Hollow on numerous occasions. In spite of his fascination for small towns and the proximity of this one to Pittsburgh, he never stopped before today.
A neighbor prompted him to do so. A neighbor who bought a wooden spoon at the Mercantile and then told him pieces of what the writer suspected was a good story. The winter weather had eased somewhat with temperatures rising above freezing. Joe took the opportunity to get out of Pittsburgh for a day.
In his late fifties, Joe Harmon was an interesting character. He wore his gray hair long such that it protruded from under a wide-brimmed, leather hat and fell across the shoulders of his deerskin jacket. Buck was his nickname, and he liked people to use it. He had a kind face, a red, Irish complexion, and a personality that most people soon appreciated. He and his wife of twenty-five years had divorced four years earlier and Buck was determined to remain single, devoting his life to writing.
He glanced about the room until he saw the rack of spoons. Buck read the sign that explained where the spoons had been made and by whom. These were different from the one his neighbor had shown him. The pieces hanging before him were more artistic, particularly the spoons with human figures worked into the handles.
One in particular sparked his imagination. A slender, androgynous, human figure adorned the handle of this spoon. The figure’s arms were folded, its head tilted back, and wide Martian-like eyes searched the sky. The human had no clothing and yet it didn’t appear to be naked. It was an intriguing work of art on the end of a wooden spoon. Buck decided to buy this one.
“Good morning,” came a voice from behind.
“Why, hello. Good morning,” he answered as he searched for a face. He spotted Nora Campbell’s head just above the counter.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“I think you can. My name is Joe Harmon. People call me Buck. I’m a writer for The Commonwealth. Are you familiar with the magazine?”
Nora shook her head and didn’t introduce herself.
“I’m interested in writing an article about Daniel Whaley and what he’s doing here,” Buck said, turning and pointing at the spoon rack with the spoon he held in his hand.
“I can’t speak for him, but I don’t think he’s much for publicity.”
Buck hesitated, and then smiled. “I can assure you, Ma’am, that my intentions are good. A neighbor of mine bought a spoon last summer and told me the story of Mr. Whaley’s efforts on behalf of the little girl with leukemia. Actually, this is my day off. I want to write about it because I believe it’s a great story, something the public should know.”
Nora sniffed. Actually, she believed the man, but she didn’t know what to tell him. John and George departed half an hour earlier for an estate auction in Ligonier and wouldn’t be back for several hours. She decided that it was probably best to discourage the idea.
“He doesn’t have a phone. I could tell you how to get to his house, but Daniel likes his privacy.”
“I understand fully and I will certainly respect it. If you don’t mind, I could begin by asking you a few questions to gather some background information. Then I’ll leave a note for Mr. Whaley requesting that we meet sometime at his convenience.”
Nora stared. She didn’t like that idea either.
Buck started to speak again, hoping to inspire a bit more enthusiasm for his project but stopped when he heard footsteps on the porch.
The door swung open and Daniel entered the room. His hair and beard were longer and his complexion was darker than when Nora saw him last. Although she would rather have spared Daniel the intrusion of a reporter, Nora was relieved that he appeared. She knew that he was capable of handling the situation.
“Hello, Nora,” Daniel said, smiling and nodding in her direction.
She nodded and then glanced toward Buck.
Daniel turned and nodded.
Buck guessed who he was. “Daniel Whaley? What a welcome coincidence that you should walk in. I’m Joe Harmon.” He crossed the room, extending his hand.
“I’m a writer for The Commonwealth, if you’re familiar with the magazine. Could we talk a moment?”
Daniel shook Buck’s hand. He was wary after the introduction, but something about Buck appealed to him.
“Where did you park?” Nora asked.
“I didn’t park. I walked.”
“Is the jeep broken down?”
“No. It’s a nice day, and my load is light, so I decided to walk. Besides, that way I don’t have to worry about Sheriff Pinto catching me with my illegal plates.”
Nora thought about that a moment, nodded, and returned to her work.
Buck listened to this dialogue with amusement.
Daniel turned toward him. “Mr. Harmon, I uh, I want to say right up front . . .”
“Buck, call me Buck. And let me interrupt here, if I may. I’m here because I think that what you’re doing on behalf of the little girl, is a good story. It’s a story that should be told. Hey, I came to help the cause in whatever way I can, and writing is what I do.”
“What sort of writing do you have in mind?”
“Just the basics, Daniel, Connie Pavloc and her plight, how you’re trying to help. Of course, the more background I have on you, the more interesting the story becomes. But I’m totally and, I might say, uncharacteristically, flexible in this case. I want to help. Can I buy you coffee?”
Daniel hesitated, and then nodded.
Nora grabbed the coffee carafe and poured its contents down the drain. Within seconds she had a fresh pot started.
The two men sat at a table by the window and interviewed each other for a few minutes before they relaxed into conversation. Nora followed their discourse, tuning in when it got interesting. She was glad to see Daniel sit and relax. She warmed to Buck for that reason and courteously brought the men coffee.
“The Commonwealth is a magazine committed to telling the stories of the people of Pennsylvania, to preserve the state’s remarkable history, and last but not least, to suggest wonderful places to visit. That is roughly the mission statement of the magazine and mainly true,” Buck proclaimed.
He sipped his coffee. “Mmm, this is excellent coffee,” he said in a loud voice.
Nora didn’t look up, but she heard him.
“I think the story of Connie Pavloc and the particular way you’re trying to help, with your art, is a perfect fit for our magazine.”
“But, I uh, don’t want publicity. I did this on impulse, this spoon idea. I felt bad; I felt compelled to help. I want to do it in a quiet way. I don’t want attention drawn to me. My primary purpose in staying here is to restore the family home.”
“Then so be it. The story will only go so far as you wish. I don’t even have to mention your name. But I can tell you this, The Commonwealth has more than a hundred thousand subscribers and is read by an estimated half a million people. This is a more proactive, socially conscience audience. If they like the story, and it’s my job to see that they do, the financial concerns of the Pavloc family could end quickly.”
Daniel sipped his coffee and considered this information. “Well, let’s do it, then. Why not?”
Buck raised his mug. “I won’t disappoint you, Daniel. This is truly a good story.”
Having settled that matter, the two men drank their coffee in silence until Buck could no longer contain his curiosity. He guessed that Daniel was about his own age. Having recently gone through some dramatic changes in his life, he wondered what prompted this man, a university professor at the apex of his career, to undertake a project such as restoring the abandoned, family homestead.
“Daniel, speaking strictly off the record, how did you happen to . . . ”
“It’s a long story,” Daniel interrupted, guessing his thoughts. “I was having some problems and they took a turn for the worse. I suddenly wanted to see Mountain Farm one more time.” Daniel gazed out the window as he said this and then turned and looked at Buck. “And away I drove,” he said whimsically.
Buck laughed, delighted that Daniel was willing to talk. “I can understand that. Okay, quid pro quo.”
Buck then told Daniel that five years ago, he was jolted to the reality that his marriage was in trouble, when he came home from a working weekend to find that his wife had packed and gone. Nora’s head was turned to one side with this revelation. Daniel shuffled in his chair, uncomfortable with what he was hearing.
“But I got over it. I got out and I got over it. I threw myself into my work, I traveled. I got over it.”
But he wasn’t over it. Daniel knew that.
“So Daniel, can you tell me about your project on the mountain?”
Nora brought the men more coffee.
Daniel leaned back in his chair. “Well, Nora, where do I begin?”
“Don’t start too far back, or you’ll have him here all day,” she answered on her way back to the counter.
The men smiled at this response, not quite sure how to take it.
Buck reached inside his coat and withdrew a small flask. “Want to sweeten that up a bit? A little Irish cream whiskey is all.”
Daniel shrugged and nodded, which prompted Buck to add a generous dose to each mug.
While they drank, Daniel outlined the history of Mountain Farm down to its current state of repair.
The writer was enthralled. “Are you planning on living there, not returning to Wisconsin?”
“No to both questions. I’m not returning to Madison but I won’t be living on the mountain long. Hopefully long enough to put Mountain Farm back in some sort of order but not another year.” He said this with such a strange, distant expression that Buck decided not to probe further.
Daniel was beginning to feel the effects of the whiskey and he wanted to talk more. But he steered the conversation away from himself.
“You know, Buck, one thing that’s occurred to me as I spend so many hours alone on the farm is just how relaxing and simple life can be, especially in the woods. Mountain Farm represents a lifestyle that is as basic as it gets in these times, and yet I never wish for more convenience or miss modern comforts. I’ve never enjoyed working like I do now and yet I spent most of my life far away, pursuing a career that somebody else designed for me.”
Buck didn’t respond, but it was obvious to Daniel that he was interested.
“And the old tools that I use are slow, but the job gets done, and I’m involved in every step of the process. The act of working is part of the reward. I guess what I’m trying to say is that with all our technology and modern gadgets, maybe we’re rushing ourselves past what is really enjoyable about making a living. It’s occurred to me that this might be one reason why so many people reach our age dissatisfied with their lives. They have a feeling they’ve missed something and they’re right.”
“Do you think that’s why there are so many homes being built in the mountains now? Are people looking for a simpler life?”
Daniel rolled his eyes and sipped from his mug before responding. He knew he was being baited, but still wanted to answer.
“I think that many people delude themselves with the notion that a house on a mountain will automatically balance the grind of their life in the city. In most cases, all they do is drag the city into the woods and pretend they left it behind.
If someone wants a simple life in the mountains, they should build a small cabin that fits the landscape and is easy to maintain. Then work outside with their hands a little. People should experience a mountain on its terms and not try to shape it to theirs.”
“It’s an interesting point of view. I couldn’t agree more. Why not put it in print and pass the idea along to the public?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m no activist, and even if I wanted to be, I don’t have time for it now. Besides, I’ve no room to preach to people about how to live their lives. It’s just an opinion.”
“But I am an activist and I do have time. Over-development of the mountains has long been a sore spot with me. If you’ll give me the green light to tell of your experience on Hemlock Knob, I know I can write a story that will prick at people’s conscience. It’s just a long shot at making any real difference, but if it isn’t taken, there’s no chance.”
Daniel seemed uncertain and he glanced toward the counter. “More coffee, Buck?”
“No, I’m caffeined out for the day.”
“Me too, but I want an excuse for more whiskey.”
“It’s better straight anyway,” Buck said, grinning. He divided the remaining contents of the flask between their mugs.
Daniel took a drink, savoring the taste, letting his mind drift for a moment. He rolled the last bit of whiskey in his glass and sighed. “I don’t want to stir up trouble here. I just want to do one last thing, something good, and then fade away.”
“Well let’s get the ball rolling. You continue to do what you do best, making these works of art behind me, helping Connie Pavloc, restoring Mountain Farm, and I’ll do what I do best. And I’ll be honest with you, fading away, if it’s at the right time, when everyone is watching and listening, might help in the bigger scheme of things.”
“Because nothing stirs the public’s imagination like someone who disappears. You, your work and your ideas will stay in people’s minds for a long time.”
Daniel listened and stared into his mug. He swirled the whiskey several times and took the last drink.
Donald took his father’s advice and inquired at Foodland about the proposed construction. The owner, Hugh Michael, was a longtime friend of Maurice and was happy to see Donald. Paved roads made the job easy for Nicklow Developers Inc and work was underway within a week. While not as profitable as new construction in the mountains, the supermarket enlargement did get Donald out of Lick Hollow Tavern.
He looked up whenever a vehicle drove by at a slow speed, expecting his father to pull into the construction area to see how the job was going. That was the usual pattern when father and son were at odds, no apology and never an admission of a mistake. Donald simply went back to work, and Maurice would eventually come around to the job site, thus reassuring Donald that whatever had happened was forgiven. Until that point came, the family accountant acted as their medium.
The job progressed, ten days went by, and the Cadillac didn’t appear. Donald often thought about the conversation in the tavern, particularly the last sentence. He knew that he’d gone too far this time.
“Well, damn it, I’ll say I’m sorry,” he growled one day over the blue prints. “It was a stupid thing to say, that’s all. Dad knows I say stupid things when I’m drinking.”
An hour later, Donald heard the crunching of icy gravel under the tires of a vehicle that was approaching from behind. He glanced over his shoulder to see a long, dark car. He paused briefly over the blueprints, wondering if an apology would still be necessary, but he turned to see that it wasn’t his father’s car.
A middle-aged man emerged from a charcoal-colored Jaguar. He was dressed in casual, stylish clothing that fit him well.
Donald knew this wasn’t someone looking for a job.
“Donald Nicklow?” the man asked as he approached with his right hand extended.
Donald nodded as he shook the man’s hand.
“Tom Arnold, out of Pittsburgh. I’ve done some business with your father.”
It took a moment, but Donald recalled the conversation he had with his father in Martin’s Restaurant. This was the man who wanted to build on Hemlock Knob. Donald shook Tom’s hand with a nod of recognition but remained silent. He wondered why Tom Arnold was approaching him, especially since he hadn’t spoken to his father in three weeks.
“It seems that Maurice and I have had a communication breakdown of sorts. I was passing through and thought I would air it out with him, face to face. That’s the way I like to do things.”
Donald looked him over. Tom Arnold was a big man, about Donald’s size and though obviously wealthy, his speech and mannerisms were of working class Pittsburgh background. He had big hands that showed some use.
Donald guessed that Tom wasn’t from old money, and this presumption bettered his opinion of the man. In fact, it was Donald’s great ambition, to one day be looked upon as new money.
“But Maurice’s secretary told me that he and your mother took the grandchildren on a cruise.” Tom Arnold smiled and nodded as if to make a point that he thought this was nice.
Donald knew nothing of this trip in spite of the fact that it might involve his own children. This irritated him. “How can I help you, Mr. Arnold?”
“Call me, Tom. I was hoping we might discuss business.” Tom glanced from side to side as if looking for a better location to talk, and then he looked at his watch. “Say, it’s almost lunch time. Want to grab a sandwich and a beer?”
This offer caught Donald off guard, but he liked it.
Moments later, the two men were on bar stools at the Lick Hollow Tavern. Donald noticed that Tom was at ease with the surroundings as well as the common practice of having sandwiches delivered from Martin’s restaurant.
Tom noticed how quickly Donald finished his first two beers. After Donald answered some questions about Lick Hollow and was given a chance to complain about the winter’s effect on business, Tom came to the point of their meeting.
“I want to build on Hemlock Knob in a big way. It’s been my dream for many years and I can’t let it go. When I contacted your father last year and learned the history of the place, about the absentee owner from Wisconsin, I thought it would be no problem. I wanted Maurice to get me the best price possible, but I was prepared to drop whatever money it took. Then after thirty years, this Whaley fellow appears out of the blue to live there.”
Donald nodded as he took another bite of his sandwich. “Yeah, I know about all that,” he said, and then swallowed.
With that revelation, Tom decided to press forward with his proposal. “Well, I know your father has done his best but lately, well, I feel he’s lost his enthusiasm. And, hey, I’m a pain in the ass, I know that.” He patted Donald on the shoulder and laughed. “I’m pushy and loud. That’s just the way I am.” He leaned backwards and threw his hands up. “I am what I am, like Popeye sez.” Then he bounced his fist off the bar and proclaimed, “but, that’s the reason I got what I got.”
Donald laughed. He liked Tom, and now he knew the point of this meeting. “So you want me to get the mountain for you,” he said while pushing his glass forward to get Corky’s attention.
Tom was surprised at this astute statement. When Donald grinned, Tom reached for his own glass and nodded as he finished its contents.
“I’ll be honest with you, my man, I’ve come into money these days that I never would’ve dreamed of. I got big plans for Hemlock Knob. I don’t mean to kick this Whaley fellow out into the cold. He’ll be paid more than well. He’ll be able to go wherever he wants, live better than he ever has. I just think he needs more of a push than your father’s willing to give.”
“Well, I never met him but it sounds like the Professor is a character.”
With that statement, Tom remembered a ploy he planned to use to motivate Donald. “That’s what I hear too. I could hardly believe the way this Whaley fellow treated your father.”
“Your father didn’t tell you about that?”
“Well, Maurice tried to talk to him face to face, which was my suggestion. Whaley apparently got hot and more or less told your father where to go and how to get there.”
“No. Dad told you that?”
“Well, I uh, not in those exact words. I had to read between the lines a little.”
“And the old man took it?”
Tom raised his eyebrows and leaned his head to one side. “Seems that way.”
Donald stared into his beer. “I been thinkin’ the old man’s been losing his punch lately.” His mind worked quickly. Donald saw an opportunity to jump-start the construction season and gain a measure of independence from his father. He took a long drink as he thought about it.
“A million bucks. That’s what I’ll pay.”
Donald nearly inhaled his beer. “Jesus Christ, that’s what, ten thousand an acre?”
“That’s right. I want that property bad. Course you don’t have to play him that high to open, but that’s what you can take to the table.”
Donald was impressed. “Well Tom, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Good, good, hey, this will be big for both of us, believe me. I got lots of ideas and I want you to build them.”
Tom looked at his watch. “Damn, I’m due in Clarksburg at three. Never make it. Gotta run.”
Tom shook Donald’s hand. Then he pulled a money clip from his pocket, fished out a fifty-dollar bill and tossed it on the bar. “Keep in touch. Call me anytime at this number.” He gave Donald a business card as he slapped him on the back. Tom hurried out of the bar.
Donald was pleased with this meeting. He lit a cigarette and grinned. Calculating that the bill on the bar had some distance to go before it approached Corky’s tip, Donald decided to relax and celebrate his turn of fortune.
When Donald awoke, he was hot and uncomfortable. The sun was shining on him through a truck windshield. He had consumed too many beers with lunch, and as a result, he was tired and thick-headed.
Biscuit was driving. Mike Miller was a veteran of the Nicklow Developers crew, yet few of his coworkers knew he had any name other than Biscuit. He wasn’t known as an intellectual, but he was dependable and a hard worker. Biscuit admired Donald’s construction skills and he was loyal to the boss who awoke beside him. Today Biscuit was Donald’s companion on a trip to Frederick, Maryland, for a machinery auction.
They bought no tools in Frederick and Donald was disgruntled. Grumpy and hung over; not a good mix to stew in the afternoon sun. As his head cleared, Donald realized they were on Route 40, passing by the town of Markleysburg, Pennsylvania.
“Hey, sleeping beauty,” Biscuit hollered.
His boss turned and looked at him with bloodshot eyes. “Go to hell, Bis,” he croaked.
Donald peered out across the landscape. He was irritated about the auction and mad about the winter. He needed a break in the weather and he wanted to get back on a big job. There had been no contact with his father.
Donald had a headache and a queasy stomach, but he knew how to remedy both. Opening the glove compartment, he withdrew a flask of bourbon. After taking a quick swallow, he offered it to his companion. Biscuit waved it off, as Donald knew he would.
“Too early for me, boss.”
“Wimp,” Donald said. He took another swallow and thought about the recent discussion with Tom Arnold.
What a damn sweet deal that would be. That’s the kind of work I should be doing, not this odd job crap, enlarging a supermarket.
He looked out the window and thought about Hemlock Knob. That job was something that had to happen, and now. One thing his father impressed upon him over the years was the importance of making the right business moves at the right time.
Ten miles later, Donald sat up straight and pointed to the left. “Turn onto Furnace Road there, Bis.”
“Huh, what, what’s out there?”
Donald turned and looked at him with a grave expression. “Biscuit, yours is not to question why, yours is but to do or die.”
Four miles down Furnace Road, Donald directed him to turn right at the next dirt road.
“Hemlock Road? Can’t always get though from this direction, specially this time of year.”
“We’ll get through.”
“It’s your truck, boss.”
Donald took another drink from the flask. When Mountain Farm came into view, they saw a pick-up truck parked beside Daniel Whaley’s jeep.
“Shit,” Donald muttered.
“That’s George Haynes’ truck,” Biscuit said.
“I know who it is. Pull in,” Donald said, motioning toward Reilly Lane.
Biscuit was surprised that they were stopping here, but he didn’t question why this time. Cody sat on the front porch, staring at the truck.
“That’s an old Cur dog,” Biscuit exclaimed. “Ain’t seen one in a long time. My great-uncle Pete had the last one I knew of.”
Donald nodded without really listening. He was uneasy; this was not the end of the business he was used to. His father always did the negotiating. He took a hearty drink before they pulled up to the house.
Daniel appeared on the porch before the truck stopped. George stood in the doorway. Cody continued to watch but didn’t move. Daniel didn’t know the men, and he assumed they had stopped to ask permission to hunt on his property. George knew them, and the smile on Donald Nicklow’s face worried him.
Donald had coached himself to speak with Daniel Whaley ever since his meeting with Tom Arnold. He had little of the oratory prowess of his father and none of the eloquence. His social skills were better suited to a job site. But he calculated that with the monetary margin that Tom Arnold gave him, he should be able to discuss business with this oddball living alone on top of Hemlock Knob.
“Can I help you, gentlemen?” Daniel asked.
“I hope so,” Donald answered, still smiling. “I’m Donald Nicklow of Nicklow Builders, er uh, Developers. Nicklow Developers, I mean. Uh, this here is Michael J. Miller, known far and wide as Biscuit.”
Donald turned toward George. “George,” Donald said, grinning and nodding.
George nodded but didn’t speak.
Donald turned back to Daniel. “Come to talk business, and I mean big business. Got a man who’s willing to pay half a million bucks for your property here, maybe more.” Donald spoke with a noticeable slur. “We’re talking ten, er I mean, uh, five thousand an acre. Don’t get much better than that around here.”
Daniel recalled what George told him about this man, and so he chose his words well.
“I don’t want to sell. This is my home place, built by my great-great-grandfather. The man you represent has made a . . . ”
“Hey, this man might go as high as eight hundred grand.”
“The money doesn’t really matter to me.”
Donald paused; he was incredulous. He moved closer. “What do you mean, money doesn’t matter to you? It matters to everybody.”
“Not to me. I have everything I need right here.”
Donald took another step and was within a few feet of Daniel. This wasn’t going as planned and Donald was becoming warm and irritated. The bourbon was coursing through his bloodstream, threatening whatever professionalism he had hoped to muster.
“What are you, insane? With that kind of money you could buy a whole god damn mountain and build a home palace. You don’t even have running water here, do ya?”
Daniel didn’t answer. He steadied himself, preparing for what he felt was coming.
“A project like this would mean jobs,” Donald blurted out. He remembered another point he had rehearsed. The argument was worked out one night with nodding heads on nearby bar stools. Here in the open air, with a sober audience, it soon sounded idiotic.
“Boys need work. Been a rough winter. What I’m saying is, this is a big project and a big project means, uh, big jobs. Or what I mean is, more jobs.” Donald opened his mouth as if he might elaborate further. Then he bobbed his head up and down in agreement with himself.
It was obvious now that Donald had been drinking. Daniel’s anxiety level rose and then his temper began to smolder at the thought of this vulgar intrusion.
George watched with alarm. His mind raced to come up with a way to diffuse the situation. “Donald,” he said, “Daniel doesn’t want to sell right now. Maybe another time, he and you and your father can discuss it.”
Unaware of the rift between father and son, and certain that Maurice would never have condoned this, George thought his suggestion would remind Donald that this wasn’t his role. George’s words only incited Donald.
“Back off, George. I’ll handle my business, my old man can handle his, and you mind yours.”
Daniel’s eyes narrowed. “I have no intention of selling this property, and especially not to you,” he said through clenched teeth.
Donald turned to Biscuit with a look of disbelief. “Did you hear that? I have absolutely no intention of selling this property,” he repeated, imitating Daniel’s voice. When he faced Daniel again, it was with an ugly sneer, an expression that seemed more natural on his face. He took another step toward Daniel.
“Well, god damn it, maybe people down in Lick Hollow, people that work, are getting sick of supporting the likes of you with their taxes, professor or not. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”
“Donald,” George shouted.
“Shut up, old man.”
Daniel glared at Donald now. His eyes were ice-blue crystals, sparkling with anger.
George feared that Daniel might be killed. At first he looked for something to hit Donald with should the situation call for it. Then he glanced toward Biscuit. Since he was a child, Mike Miller had known and respected George Haynes. He read the expression correctly and knew that he would have to corral Donald and pull him off if his boss lost control. It was a job he didn’t desire, but because of his size, he was capable of doing it.
Donald took another step and stared like a snake. He pushed Daniel on the chest with the fingers of his right hand. Donald felt some alarm in the fact that the Professor’s expression did not change, and he didn’t move backwards.
Daniel’s demeanor was calm, and his voice was low and defiant. “I’ll tell you plainly, Nicklow, Mountain Farm is my family home, my ancestors are buried on the hill behind me, and I’ll be damned if I’ll turn it over to the likes of you for any reason.” Daniel paused and tilted his head. “And don’t touch me again,” he added.
Donald looked back at Biscuit. “Did you hear that?”
Biscuit looked at his boss with alarm. He knew a fight was imminent, and he wasn’t sure whose side he was on anymore. Donald didn’t really need Biscuit’s support at this point. He turned back and stuck a gnarly finger in Daniel’s face. Donald’s voice was low and vicious, like a growl.
“Now I want you to understand something, you simple ass, you. I ain’t like my old man. I’ve been as nice about this as I’m gonna to be . . .”
He didn’t really know what he was going to say next, but that wasn’t important anymore. Negotiating a deal for Tom Arnold was of no concern now, either. Donald was acting on brute instinct. He needed to put the man in front of him in his place.
But as he jabbed his index finger forward to emphasize each word, it tapped Daniel’s chest. The effect was as if a switch was flipped. Daniel took a half step backwards, squared his shoulders, and raised his fists in a rigid, old-fashioned boxing pose.
George didn’t know what to make of it; he never would have guessed that Daniel could box. Daniel looked different to him again, like the day he engaged Maurice at the Mercantile. His expression was angry and unyielding and his eyes showed cool resolve.
Donald was as surprised as George and for that reason, he hesitated. He stood motionless for several seconds while the Professor pulled back his right fist and punched him on the jaw. Donald was propelled backwards with the force of the blow. He caromed off the porch railing, tumbled down the stairs and floundered to the ground on his back. Pain streaked through his side where his ribs hit the railing. A moment of confusion was followed by an eruption of rage.
Donald struggled to his feet with an assortment of grunts that grew louder until they merged into a roar. He charged up the stairs like an enraged bull. Then he saw the dog coming, teeth bared, head low. The transformation in Cody was remarkable. The quiet, somewhat aloof animal was now a snarling beast. Cody moved toward Donald at a trot.
Donald wasn’t fond of dogs, but he was never intimidated by one either, until now. He was unnerved by the way this dog was approaching him and he froze. Cody stopped two feet from Donald, pacing, barring passage to Daniel. Donald hesitated. His side hurt and was beginning to stiffen. He stood a moment longer and
Biscuit came up behind him.
“Hey boss, why don’t we hit the road?”
“I’m all right, damn it,” Donald said over his shoulder. Then he looked up at Daniel. His jaw hurt and he wanted vengeance. But he saw the same grim resolution on the face of the man and unyielding ferocity in the dog at his feet. Donald knew that he couldn’t win this fight.
“I know you’re all right, but we ought to hit the road now, I think.”
“Okay, Bis, if that’s what you think,” Donald murmured. He turned toward his employee and nodded. Then he looked up at Daniel. “We’re not done,” he said with contempt.
Donald shuffled toward his truck. Biscuit hovered behind, ready to help, but was careful to not imply that his boss needed it. Donald eased himself into the passenger seat. His head hung as the truck drove away.
George laughed, but it was more a sound of nervous relief than of amusement.
Daniel knelt and rubbed Cody’s head . The dog stared after the truck. When the vehicle was out of sight, Daniel looked up at George.
“I can’t tolerate people like him anymore.”
George shook his head and laughed again.
Behind the penmanship of Joe Harmon, Daniel’s effort on behalf of Connie Pavloc did reach a receptive audience. As Buck predicted, the Pavloc’s monetary concerns began to dissipate soon after. Although it wasn’t his desire, Daniel became a minor celebrity. Despite the fact that it was the middle of winter, the remaining spoons at the Mercantile sold out.
Had the public discussion of Daniel remained on Connie Pavloc and the spoon business, there could have been no question of his motives. It was after subsequent articles were published in The Commonwealth that controversy arose.
In an article entitled Life on the Mountain, Buck told the history of Mountain Farm along with Daniel’s description of his restoration project. This was harmless information and was well received by the public. When Buck wove in Daniel’s opinion on the shortcomings inherent to the modern approach to living in the mountains, some readers got uncomfortable.
The author remained true to his word and quoted Daniel carefully. He did, however, add his own opinion that perhaps the very thing that was desirable about living in the mountains was being destroyed by the building of so many large homes on them.
Some readers agreed fully with this point. Many were ambivalent, uncertain about the development of the mountains, but convinced that the area reaped much needed economic benefit in the process. Those people who were involved in the development, particularly those who were making their living by it, became angry.
Controversy is news. The articles in The Commonwealth spawned coverage in other periodicals and the additional press added to Daniel Whaley’s notoriety. His fame eventually extended into the dim interior of the Lick Hollow Tavern.
One Saturday evening, Kent Madison was reading aloud an article from the Morning Herald. The author stated that more tourists were passing through the village of Lick Hollow as a result of the articles about Daniel Whaley in The Commonwealth. Shop owners felt this improved business in the town.
Donald Nicklow was sitting in the stool beside Kent. He was hunched over a beer and a smoldering ashtray. After three weeks, his bruised ribs were healing, but his pride bore a festering wound. Now Daniel Whaley, was attacking him on another front, his livelihood, and becoming famous while doing it.
During convalescence, Donald was particularly disagreeable and belligerent. Biscuit, the most loyal of employees, was driven away. He began taking on small building projects that were independent of Nicklow Developers, Inc.
“Whaley received his PhD at age twenty-four,” Kent read. “Let’s see, at twenty-four, I was still carrying block for old Mike Raffle. Man, he was a slave driver. What about you, Don?”
“Huh, I don’t know. What about me?” He had read the article over breakfast at Martin’s Restaurant and was trying not to pay attention to his bar mate.
“What were you doing at twenty-four?”
“Hey, I don’t know, workin’ or in jail. Drinkin’; I dunno.” He was playing with his lit cigarette, rolling it in the ashtray. The smoke sifted through his fingers and blended into the hazy shroud of the room.
Kent laughed, not realizing that Donald was being truthful. Kent was a big man with a thick mop of black hair and a boyish face. His looks belied the fact that he was actually a year older than Donald. Kent drifted from job to job or into business and out of business, always drinking too much. He was a harmless and likeable man.
Because the Lick Hollow Tavern was the only bar in town, he would associate with Donald when they were both drinking heavily. He knew nothing of Donald’s disastrous stint as a real estate agent on Hemlock Knob, or he wouldn’t have chosen this particular article to read aloud.
“In the end Whaley lives alone on . . .
“Hey, enough. I don’t want to hear about that asshole anymore,” Donald growled. He was gazing at his own image in the mirror behind the bar.
“Wait, just this last sentence. In the end Whaley lives alone on the mountain to follow his dream of restoring the old family home and to have the peace and quiet he needs to pursue his art.”
Donald didn’t respond.
“I think that’s pretty cool, don’t you?”
Donald continued to look at his image in the mirror. He gripped his mug with increasing force. He hated the Professor and wished that he would walk through the door at that moment.
Just then the door did open and two young men entered. Nathan and Edward Redmond had never been in the Lick Hollow Tavern, and everyone in the room knew that at a glance. Their parents had built a house on Chestnut Ridge the previous spring for a holiday and summer alternative to their home in Pittsburgh. More people like them were in the area every year, but rarely did they appear in a bastion of the local culture like the Lick Hollow Tavern.
The Redmond brothers were on Christmas break from college. While their parents vacationed in Buenos Aires, the brothers opted to stay in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. By the second evening on the ridge, they needed more stimulation and ventured into town.
They approached the bar and asked for two draft beers. While they were being poured, Edward nudged Nathan and nodded toward the pool table. The older brother bobbed his head, and Edward went over to set up a game. When Kent saw this, he tapped Donald on the arm and rolled his eyes toward the pool table. Donald glanced over his shoulder through the mirror, and a smirk appeared on his face.
They let the brothers play through most of their game, and then Kent wandered over to put two quarters on the rail of the pool table. When Nathan made eye contact, Kent nodded and smiled.
“Guys want a game?” he asked, nodding toward Donald.
The boys looked at each other, shrugged, and then nodded. When their game was over, Donald approached the table. He was more alert and animated than he had been in weeks.
“Hey, how about ten bucks on the game to make it interesting?”
The brothers agreed.
“I’m in,” Kent said.
He pulled a ten-dollar bill from his wallet and laid it on the rail of the table, placing a piece of cue chalk on top of it. Donald then slid a ten of his own under the chalk. Nathan and Ed realized that they had either misunderstood or been misled. Nathan didn’t change his expression and laid a twenty-dollar bill down.
In their day, the team of Kent Madison and Donald Nicklow rarely lost at this table, and although it was past their day, they could still be a formidable challenge when the mood and blood alcohol content were right. They presumed that they would have no trouble with these greenhorns, but they were wrong.
The Redmond brothers’ father was an accomplished pool player who had competed at a professional level. While his sons never aspired to follow in their father’s footsteps, they grew up playing pool. Donald and Kent realized from the break that they were in a run for the money. The brothers weren’t only good, but had a classy playing style never before seen in the Lick Hollow Tavern.
The game attracted a crowd as the tavern began to fill for the evening. It was a foreign audience to these two young men from Pittsburgh, and they were somewhat unnerved by the noise around the table. They grew less certain of their shots, and an early advantage eroded. Donald and Kent thrived in this arena.
After Nathan executed a difficult bank shot, the game came down to the eight-ball for victory. The young man had a difficult shot, but one he was capable of making. As he moved along the table, considering how to play it, he faced Donald, who was parked against the rail, chalking his cue. Donald gave no indication that he intended to move.
“Don’t shark me, boy,” Donald said in a low, sinister voice as Nathan walked around him. Then Donald circled the table until he was behind the pocket Nathan would be shooting for. He didn’t like this cute boy in fancy clothes with a gold chain around his neck. The sweet-smelling cologne disgusted him. Donald gripped his pool stick firmly and imagined swiping it across his opponent’s face.
That would be a fun way to end the game. Donald laughed aloud.
Nathan Redmond was the more pugnacious of the brothers, especially so after a couple beers. He was determined to defeat these two old rednecks, whatever the consequences. He shot with force, hoping to drive the ball into the pocket to emphasize the victory. He even imagined careening the ball off the big, bloated face that loomed over the pocket.
As well-aimed as the shot was, some law of pool physics acted against it. Nathan shot too hard, resulting in an uneven spin on the eight-ball. When it glanced the left corner of the pocket, the ball didn’t drop as Nathan planned. Instead, it spun to the right and struck the opposite corner of the pocket. Then the ball shot back to the left, rattled back and forth across the mouth of the pocket and drifted harmlessly away.
The cue ball did worse. Nathan’s design was for it to bounce off the distant cushion after hitting the eight and then come back toward him. Instead, it rebounded awkwardly, and edged toward the left side pocket. The ball hovered for a second and dropped in. The game was over. Kent was quick to collect the money, and Ed was quick to collect his brother.
“Let’s go, damn it. Are you trying to get us killed?”
Nathan hesitated, fumbling in his pocket for more quarters.
“Let’s go,” Edward pleaded.
Outside the tavern, as the young men approached their car, they heard footsteps on gravel.
“Hey,” came a voice from behind them. The brothers turned to see a man approaching with a bottle in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.
“Hey, I don’t know you guys, but I just wanted to tell you that, hey, you guys are good, man. You really won that game. Just bad luck on that old table is all it was. I was pullin’ for ya, me and some others in there. We wanted you to beat those old birds in the worst way.”
“I’m Jim Durst,” the stranger said, putting the cigarette in his mouth so that his right hand was free. He gave each brother a firm handshake. Jim was taller than the Redmonds with a muscular build and a powerful grip.
“Hey, you guys are good, man. I mean it. You play like it’s supposed to be played. Don’t let those guys get to you. That’s all I wanted to tell ya.”
The Redmond brothers were so surprised at this encounter that they never said a word.
Jim Durst turned back toward the bar, but turned and faced the brothers again. “Hey, come back around. You guys are good. Those guys,” he said, thumbing over his shoulder, “freakin’ dinosaurs, man.” He tilted his head back and laughed. Nathan and Edward laughed with him.
“Hey, take it easy,” Jim said
“Take it easy, Jim,” the brothers answered simultaneously.
But for tonight, dinosaurs ruled. When Jim entered the bar, Donald and Kent were on their way to defeating the next challengers. Donald was in his groove again, back in the glory days. He soon forgot how close he and Kent had come to defeat.
When they had won the second game, which was never much of a challenge, a shot of whiskey and a beer appeared at Donald’s side. He looked around the room to locate the source of this generosity. He spotted Spike Summer, another old construction veteran, grinning at him from the other side of the bar. Donald lifted the shot glass toward Spike and drank it down.
Kent moved to the jukebox and punched in some songs to celebrate their victory and to inspire his team onward. Donald broke to begin the next game. He was singing along to an old Waylon Jennings song as he ran several balls off the table. He was a winner again. He would show Tom Arnold that he was; he would show his father too. Donald called for another beer and a shot of whiskey.
After they won their fourth game, Donald announced that he and his partner were retiring for the evening as supreme champions. Kent looked up from a bar stool in dumb surprise. Donald brushed past him on the way to the men’s room.
“Meet me out back.”
“Business,” Donald answered, grinning back at him.
Kent hadn’t seen Donald so motivated the entire winter. When he joined him in the parking lot, Donald was standing beside his truck, lighting a cigarette.
“Come on. Let’s go for a ride.”
“To disturb a little peace and quiet.”
Daniel lay on his bed, gazing out the window toward the family cemetery. He didn’t know what time it was, only that it was late. He had experienced an excruciating headache earlier in the day, and although it passed, he was nervous and restless in its wake. For some careless reason, Daniel allowed himself to believe that he would leave this problem in Madison.
For several months after he settled on the mountain, that seemed to be the case. But the headaches began again as he knew they must. Daniel was determined not to yield to them this time but to push forward with his plan in spite of them.
Daniel was chilled and got up to check the fire. In the light of the full moon, shining through the windows, he could see Cody sitting near the wood stove. It was as if the dog had been up and waiting for him. He went over and stooped down. Moonlight was reflected in Cody’s dark, mysterious eyes. Daniel rubbed his knobby head with affection. He wondered about this creature who had wandered into his life at such a strange juncture.
Then Cody’s head turned and tilted. Soon Daniel heard the sound of a motor. Few vehicles came through at any time, so it was odd to hear one so late at night. A truck turned down Reilly lane, and was moving fast.
Inside the truck, Donald turned toward Kent.
“Get me the shotgun there, my man, on the floor behine ya.”
“What? Hey Don, what the hell?”
“Give me the shotgun, damn it. I ain’ gonna shoot the sonova bitch. Juss dissturb his peace and quite.”
Kent didn’t know if he believed him, but he pulled the semi automatic shotgun over the seat. Donald bore down on the house with a wild look on his face. He turned to the right when the truck was forty yards away and stopped. He grabbed the shotgun, stepped from the truck, and fired at the log house. The sound of the blast resounded off the forest as lead shot pummeled the roof.
That was his initial intention, to fire above the house, scare the occupant, and then leave. Donald wanted to give Daniel Whaley a sample of what life on the mountain could be like. He wanted the Professor to know that there was no guarantee on peace and quiet.
As they drove up the mountain, Donald drank liberally from the flask in the glove compartment, adding to an already considerable alcohol intake. The rush of adrenaline, following the gun’s roar, stirred the brew in his blood and conjured up the monster. Donald lowered the barrel and aimed at the dark outline of a window. This time the sound of shattering glass accompanied the roar of the gun.
Daniel had watched the approaching truck from the window of the Great Room and sprawled to the floor with the first shot. The second shot exploded the window above him, and the third shattered his bedroom window. He looked up and saw Cody, pacing in a tight circle by the stove. The dog was staring in the direction of the firing.
“Donny, stop it,” Kent yelled.
“Shut up,” Donald answered without looking at him.
He couldn’t stop. Taking a few steps toward the house, he fired two shots at the door. The first shattered the latch. The impact of the second caused the door to sag open with a groan.
Kent Madison was no hero, and he had been somewhat afraid of Donald Nicklow most of his life. But Kent was not a weakling either. When forced into a fight he was a formidable opponent. He believed that Donald was going kill the Professor and knew that he had to do something.
When Kent moved close, Donald spun around and pointed the gun at his chest. “Back off, coward. I say when the party’s over.”
There was movement at the house. Cody leaped from the porch and raced toward the intruders. Donald turned and fired. The dog didn’t slow down. With the second shot, the animal yelped but kept coming. With the third shot, Cody collapsed and slid to a halt ten yards from the men.
Daniel shouted for his dog as he emerged from the house.
Donald and Kent looked up as the Professor stepped from the porch and paced toward them. Donald raised the gun and fired at the roof, but Daniel kept coming.
“You asshole,” Donald muttered and lowered the barrel. He shot too quickly and was off to the right. Daniel’s left arm flinched, as it was peppered with lead shot, but he didn’t stop. Donald’s face twisted into an ugly sneer, and he aimed for Daniel’s chest.
Suddenly, the barrel was thrust upward and the gun was wrenched from his hands.
“Get in the truck. I’m driving,” Kent yelled. He pushed Donald backward with the gun, almost knocking him to the ground. Donald was stunned, and suddenly, very drunk.
“Get in the truck,” Kent roared, pushing him again. Donald looked toward the man that was stalking toward them and did as his companion ordered. Kent jammed the gun behind the seat. He jerked the truck into gear and they lurched away.
Daniel called to Cody as he approached the dark form lying on the grass. He knelt down and put his hand on the dog’s chest. It was wet and still. He looked up as the truck turned onto Hemlock Road and saw that it had a cracked right taillight. He looked down and saw moonlight reflected in Cody’s lifeless eyes.
On the way down the mountain, Kent drove the truck in silence.
“Juss wanded him to know it’s not alls peace an quite, issall,” Donald muttered.
When they reached the parking lot of the Lick Hollow Tavern, Kent pulled up close to the maple trees and turned the key. He bowed his head and shook it from side to side.
“Shot the man’s dog. Shot the man’s dog, damn it. And you would’ve shot him too, you no-good son of a bitch.”
Donald was barely conscious now.
Kent shook his head again, as if he were trying to dislodge the memory of what had just taken place on the mountain.
“Coward, is that what you called me?” Kent hollered. He grabbed Donald’s shirt at the neck.
Donald didn’t notice. He would soon pass out.
Kent let go in disgust and exited the truck, slamming the door behind him.
Unless there were direct repercussions such as jail time or personal injury, Donald Nicklow was never one to regret his actions. As a result of the shotgun incident on Hemlock Knob, he had suffered neither injury nor was he in jail. In fact, one month later, Donald was happy and optimistic about life. Spring had come and construction would soon begin. The fact that Kent Madison and Biscuit no longer associated with him was their problem as far as he was concerned.
He was at the Lick Hollow Tavern drinking with Spike Summer. Fifteen years before, an argument over a game of horseshoes turned into a vicious fist fight. Both men were drunk, and it was an even match. Sheriff Pinto had to stop the brawl. Donald and Spike were treated at the Uniontown hospital and then housed at the Fayette County jail.
Not only were Donald and Spike drinking together, they were discussing business. They were talking about becoming partners to form a company in the likeness of Nicklow Developers, Inc. The idea originated in the same spot where they talked tonight, so the men were still a long way from starting their first job.
The Lick Hollow Tavern was busier than usual for a Friday night. The crowd was also younger than usual; Donald and Spike were the old men at the bar now. Corky even had a young partner. Donald didn’t like him.
Donald looked across the room at the crowd around the pool table, watching Nathan and Edward Redmond defeat one team after another.
“Sucks, doesn’t it?” Spike said as he peered over his cigarette in the direction of Donald’s gaze.
“Things gotta change, I know, but this used to be a kick-ass bar. I juss hate to see it turn into some yuppie, preppie-type deal, ya know what I mean?”
Donald’s head bobbed. He knew what Spike meant. “Well Spike, my man, all the more reason for you and me to make our millions and get the hell out of Dodge.”
Spike laughed a rough, wheezy, coughing laugh that made him exhale cigarette smoke in short bursts. He was like an old engine with the idle set too low.
“You think I’m bullshittin’, don’t ya?” He said, leaning back on his stool in an attempt to focus his eyes.
“Naw, I’m in. I think it’ll work. With the experience and the equipment we got, it’s a pretty wicked combination.”
“Here, here,” Spike exclaimed, raising his glass.
Donald raised his and they drank them down as if to seal the partnership.
“Say old man, what do you know about that dude over there cheering on the kid brothers?” Donald motioned toward a man standing close to the pool table.
“Jim Durst? Not a whole lot. Been around. Was in the Marines for a while. Heard he did some boxin’ in the service and was pretty good. Why, what’s with him?”
“I got a feeling he’s layin’ for me.”
“It’s the way he looks at me. I know what he’s thinking. He wants to take me down in a bad way.”
“What’s he got against you?”
“Might be cause I knocked around his brother a few years back. Didn’t hurt the guy bad. He got mouthy one night and I let him have it.”
“Well, partner, I suggest you keep your belly up to the bar and forget about it. You’re too old to mix it up with that young buck.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.” Spike had learned to avoid bar fights years ago, and he didn’t want Donald starting something tonight while he was with him. Spike was also being honest in his assessment of the match-up.
“Well, you’re no fun anymore, Spike.”
“Whew, maybe not. But I’m still alive and have most of my teeth.”
“Okay partner, I’ll behave,” Donald said as he stood. “Now if you’ll excuse me, my good man, I must go forth to the gentlemen’s room.” He spoke with a sloppy attempt at an English accent.
“By all means, sir knight,” Spike responded. He pointed to the empty glasses and raised his eyebrows.
Donald stared and tilted his head to demonstrate his surprise that Spike would even ask such a question.
Chuck, the new bartender, approached the empty glasses. “Two more, sir?” he asked.
Spike was caught off guard by the rush of enthusiasm and looked over his shoulder at the word ‘sir’. He nodded.
“And?” Chuck pointed to the shot glasses.
“Coming right up,” the bartender said as he rushed away.
“What the hell?” Spike said, to a man on the stool next to him. “I might just get used to this, after all these years with that old curmudgeon Corky.”
As Donald ambled down the hallway to the restrooms, a woman burst from the ladies room and almost ran into him.
“Ma’am,” he said, stopping in his tracks and bowing.
She was young and pretty with curly black hair that hung down her back. The woman looked up at him with only slight acknowledgment of his presence. She moved close to the opposite wall and hurried by.
Donald laughed and shrugged it off. “You don’t know what your missing, baby,” he said over his shoulder.
When he tried the doorknob of the men’s room, the door was locked. Donald drummed his knuckles on the door to alert the occupant that a line was forming. It was only recently that the practice of locking the door began.
The men’s room at the Lick Hollow Tavern was a dingy, ancient facility, and its contents were revealed whenever the door swung open. This was never a problem in the preceding decades, but with a growing clientele, privacy was becoming more of an issue. Corky and his partner had plans to expand out the back of the building and add modern restrooms. Donald thought about this as he waited. He was sure he would miss the current arrangement. He didn’t like the way the Lick Hollow Tavern was changing.
Donald became impatient, rattled the knob and stepped out the back door. He walked in a meandering line through parked vehicles to the far end of the lot. Lick Hollow Creek was running high and fast as a result of spring rain and melting snow in the mountains. Donald pulled up to a well-used opening in the trees that lined the stream. As he relieved himself, he tossed his head back and breathed in the cool night air.
Who would have thought it, Spike Summer and me, partners? Wait’ll the old man hears this. He’ll have a damn coronary.
Donald’s mind drifted back into the bar and he thought about Jim Durst. He couldn’t accept Spike’s advice.
That dude’s layin’ for me. Why the hell else would he be sucking up to those pups, riding my table if it wasn’t to piss me off? I’ll just challenge one of those boys to a game and insist they play one on one, man to man. If GI Joe gets cute, I’ll break his nose so fast, he won’t have time to do any of his fancy punching.
Donald’s mind worked as it often had in the past, setting the stage for a fight. Adrenalin flowed. He felt a twisted, nervous excitement, the thrill of violence that he was addicted to.
When he finished relieving himself, he sensed that someone was standing close beside him. As Donald squinted into the dark, he was struck in the stomach with a blunt object. Doubling over, he staggered to the edge of the water. Coughing and vomiting, gasping for air, he looked for whoever had hit him.
Donald forced himself to stand only to be struck again, this time in the face. The blow was accompanied by a sickening thud, like the sound of a jack-o’-lantern being hit with a baseball bat. The blow propelled Donald backward into the swollen stream and he was swept away.
In late February, there was a break in the weather. Daniel sat astride a shingle horse, shaving rough shakes that had been split from the red oak log.
The shingle horse is a combination vise and bench, upon which a shake is firmly mounted by foot pressure. One end of the shake is then thinned with a draw knife to produce a smooth surface and a slight taper. This results in what is known as a shingle.
Once the basic technique is mastered, shingle-making is a simple task, repetitive and relaxing. Daniel had become quite skilled at it. The shingle horse that Daniel used was hauled to Mountain Farm by George Haynes on an early visit. George purchased it at an estate auction for twenty-five dollars. Daniel had hoped to shingle all the buildings, but he knew now that it was impossible. He would do well if he finished the log house.
A headache was threatening to ruin this spring-like day for Daniel. Since Cody’s death they seemed to come more often and to emanate from a specific location. He focused on his task, hoping that the pain would fade. He was determined to make shingles in spite of it.
Daniel heard a scuffling sound on the road and looked up to see that a man was walking on Reilly Lane. Without the keen senses of his lost companion, Daniel had been unaware of his approach. The visitor wore a white ball cap, sunglasses, and casual outdoor clothing. His hiking boots were new and a camera hung from his neck.
“Now what?” Daniel muttered as he placed another shake under the clamp. He was going to keep working until he had to deal with this visitor.
Buck did his best to remind the public that Daniel needed privacy. The majority could understand this and contained their curiosity to Lick Hollow. But a determined minority had to meet this man of so much discussion. The greatest bother came from those who felt that Daniel had discovered some universal truth about life. They lingered the longest and were determined to have him impart it to them.
However, some came because they believed in Daniel’s cause and wanted to help. Buck was a member of this group. He would come to talk to his friend and to gain more information for his writing, but he always came to work, too. Buck seemed to enjoy whatever task was placed before him and worked at it as if the restoration of Mountain Farm was his dream as well.
No person was more welcome on the homestead than George Haynes. Along with his vast knowledge of construction and his desire to help, he brought a charming philosophy of work and life that aided Daniel’s cause in immeasurable ways. More than anyone Daniel had met, George reminded him of his great-grandfather. Daniel would forsake all activities to sit by the wood stove to discuss the curiosities of life with George.
But this was neither George nor Buck coming. When Daniel finally turned, he saw that the man was grinning and tilting his head in a familiar way.
“Daniel, is that you?”
Daniel was startled by the voice but said nothing. A few steps closer, sunglasses off, a face so extraordinarily out of context, finally registered.
The man laughed and walked up to him.
“Victor, I don’t believe it.”
“Hey, if I can believe that you are you, than surely you can believe that I am I. If the kind folks in Lick Hollow hadn’t described you to me, I’m sure I would have walked right past. In fact, I might have run past.”
Daniel laughed. The two friends clasped hands. They stared at each other for a moment without speaking, each man trying to adjust to the sight of the other in this new setting.
“Victor, I know you must have come here to see me, but how in the world did you happen to walk down my lane today?”
“That is a bit of a story, friend.”
“Mmm, yes, that would be great.”
“Have to be black.”
“That’s okay, I can rough it, too.”
Daniel smiled and motioned toward the cabin. Victor followed. Professor DiAngelo maintained his casual demeanor, but he was obviously astounded. It was all so foreign to the life he lived. The interior of the cabin enveloped him in mystery. He turned a slow circle in the center of the Great Room and was silent. Daniel prepared the coffee and watched his friend with interest.
He placed the percolator on the wood stove after filling it with boiling water from the kettle. Coffee was brewing within a minute.
“Victor, why aren’t you lecturing in Biochemistry 301 this afternoon?”
“I’m in the process of retiring, Daniel. I’m sixty-seven now, I’ve paid my scientific dues. Blanche and I are en route to Florida to explore the possibility of relocating there. Not interested in the beach, just a quiet little town where it’s warm in the winter. You know I love Madison, but winter up there is cold on these old bones.
You had a lot to do with the decision. Your departure made all of us old-timers pause and think. Besides, I’ve always wanted to give writing a try. Now I’m going to do it.”
“Really? You mean the great-American-novel type writing?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
When Daniel answered Victor’s questions about the log house, they made their way to the woodshed. Once again, Victor was turning circles, examining the firewood and then admiring the tools on the back wall. He stopped when he saw the large cherry sculpture. The piece had recently been completed, and Daniel was nervous as his friend moved toward the sculpture.
It was obvious to Victor that it was a woman, and though the sculpture lacked detail, he thought she was sensuous and beautiful. A simple female form that was separated into facets that represented anatomy. Ridges and indentations suggested musculature and facial features.
“My goodness, Daniel, this is wonderful.”
“What have you titled it?”
Victor nodded. He liked the sculpture, and felt that the title fit well. He guessed that it was Debbie, and Daniel seemed to expect this interpretation.
“Victor, what do you hear of Debbie? Do you ever see her?”
Victor looked at the sculpture as he spoke. “Only once since you left, and that was months ago. We didn’t talk long. It was on the Union Terrace. We practically walked right into each other. She was friendly but seemed uneasy. I hear bits and pieces. I, uh, she remarried, you know?”
“No,” Daniel said, shaking his head. His shoulders sagged and he looked toward the ground. “When did this happen?”
“Late December, I think it was.”
“That was right after the divorce was final. That must be why her attorney pushed me. After all the years we were together, how could she have met someone so soon and married him?”
Just as Victor suspected, Daniel knew nothing of the two-year affair between his wife and Tom Stringer. He had left Madison two days before the storm broke. Myra Stringer called Victor when she couldn’t reach Daniel.
An uncomfortable silence ensued. When Victor tried to say something, Daniel interrupted and changed the subject. “Let’s talk more about this book you’re going to write, Victor. I’d think that writing fiction would be difficult after so many years of thinking science.” Daniel straightened up, and his voice was calm again. He motioned toward the door.
They walked in the direction of the house as Victor explained.
“Yes, but for two decades now, I’ve been a part-time scientist and part-time administrator. I’ve had ample opportunity to observe people and no shortage of problems to deal with. That’s the stuff of novels, people and problems.
What if I were to write a novel about something as far-fetched as an eminent professor of biochemistry who walked away from his career. This professor turns his back on civilization, so that he can devote his life to carving wooden spoons on top of a mountain?”
“That would indeed, be fiction. Victor, there’s something you need to know now, something that I should have already told you. Despite what you said about your experience with headaches, I had some tests run by Willy Barton. One day when I ran into Willy, I mentioned that I was doing fine but couldn’t seem to shake the headaches. You know how he is. He insisted that I come in for tests that day.”
Daniel paused and took a deep breath before he started to speak again. “Later, he called me and insisted that I come to his office to discuss the results. That should have told me the story right then. What Willy told me is that . . .”
“You needn’t go on, Daniel. I know what he said. Willy came to me not long after you left and told me about the results. He didn’t want to. He said that he promised you he wouldn’t tell anyone, but he was worried by the time he came to me. Willy heard about your disappearance. He expected you back to discuss treatment options with him.
Daniel, he told me that without treatment, you would only live another six months, a year at the most.”
“That’s right. He told me that, too. And with treatment I might live a little longer.” He shrugged. “I nearly ended it right then. I literally had a gun to my head. Then, I got the notion that I wanted to see this wonderful place one more time.”
“I understand what you’ve said, but you have to be practical about this. Are you aware of the scenario you face?”
“Yes, I am.” Daniel stopped near the sawhorse and placed his right foot on a short sycamore log. The felling axe was leaning against the log and he placed his right hand on the end of the handle.
Victor positioned himself about six feet away. “You can’t just stay up here and die alone,” he said with a quiet, pleading voice.
Daniel took a deep breath. During the months of solitude he’d worked through the rationale behind his decision.
“In the end, Victor, we all face death alone, whether it’s here, on a mountain or in a room crowded with people. It took me thirty years to get back here where I belong. I won’t leave Hemlock Knob again for any reason.”
“Daniel, you have so little time left,” Victor said with a sigh. He spoke almost as if he were thinking out loud.
“None of us has much time left. I’m at least using each day to do something that I believe in. It’s a wonderful feeling. That’s all we can ask for in life, just a little time to do something good. Whenever our time runs out, tomorrow or fifty years from now, we can only hope to go with a measure of dignity and perhaps, good thoughts of what we’ve accomplished.”
Victor felt that he should try to change Daniel’s mind, but this time, he’d run out of words. No verbal maneuvering could sidestep the cold logic in front of him.
“It’ll be okay, Victor. I have a plan right up until the end.”
When Victor did speak, his voice was choking. “C-Could I take a picture of you, Daniel, a picture right here? I want to remember you as you are right now and not from some photograph in a faculty catalogue.”
Daniel nodded. “Sure, Victor, I don’t mind. Would you send a copy of the photograph to Jeannie? I’d like her to remember me this way too.”
“Certainly, Daniel, certainly.”
As he photographed his friend, Victor felt that he was only now seeing what Daniel Whaley really looked like. The low afternoon sun highlighted the gray in long brown hair. The wide brim of his hat cast a shadow over swarthy features, framed by a rugged beard. Victor looked into clear blue eyes in which he saw neither despair nor resignation.
The plain, worn clothing completed the picture of a man who was a natural part of his surroundings. It was hard to imagine that he ever walked the halls of the biochemistry building in an ill-fitting blue suit. Victor thought that Daniel looked magnificent. He looked like he belonged here, like he had always been here.
It was late afternoon and Victor still had a hike ahead of him. He didn’t want to leave his friend, and yet it seemed appropriate at this point. His eyes were tearing as he approached Daniel and clasped his hand.
“Good bye, Daniel. I should be heading back down.”
It troubled Daniel to see Victor so uncertain and sad. “You’ve got about an hour of daylight left and a bit longer in walking time before you make the hard road,” Daniel said ominously.
Victor looked up the lane and back at Daniel as if an alarm had gone off.
“You have time, Victor. I’m just being mean. You’ll have no problem.”
At that, Victor smiled. He held Daniel’s hand a moment longer, knowing that when he let go, it was forever. “Goodbye, my friend.”
“Good bye, Victor. Thanks for everything and good luck with your novel.
Victor smiled and nodded, and then turned toward the road.
Near the end of March, Daniel awoke to the sound of rain pelting the newly-shingled roof of the log house. He sat up in bed when he realized that he had no feeling on the left side of his face. It was happening, just as Dr. Barton said it would. Daniel was scared.
I’ve waited too long. Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed here this long.
The room was cold. The weather had been mild; a fire throughout the night wasn’t necessary. But this morning, cold rain was falling and a gray day dawned. Spring’s claim to the season was being challenged.
Daniel shuddered as he lit a fire, but he was quite adept at it now and soon had a crackling blaze. Sitting near the stove, he rubbed the side of his face as if it was frostbite he was afflicted with and the fire would alleviate it. The heat did serve to calm his fear.
After Will Barton’s somber diagnosis that afternoon in Madison, Daniel didn’t hear much of the doctor’s advice. As he struggled now to remember it, he thought of the journal. That was the doctor’s suggestion, for him to keep a journal that could be used as a tool when his memory began to fail. At the time Daniel found the idea depressing, but he had written in this journal every day since leaving Madison. Writing became an outlet for the swirl of emotions that were stirred up by the upheaval in his life.
The room was warming as he crossed to the table where the journal lay. Opening the book, he was alarmed to find the most recent entries disconnected and nonsensical. With some effort, he could recall what he meant to write, but what he saw were just bizarre collections of words.
This is it, then. This is the end.
Somehow, in this new setting, in this new life, he entertained hope that the prognosis was incorrect. He rubbed the side of his face and it felt to him as if there was a slab of rubber being pushed from side to side against his jaw. Daniel had no doubt about his fate now.
Life isn’t fair. I don’t deserve this.
Daniel gave in to self-pity for a moment and hung his head. But then he straightened up.
No. I’ve thought this through. I knew this was coming. There’s no time for crying. I’ve got to do this one last thing.
He paged through the journal until he found the plan he had worked out for when he knew the end was near. Daniel read it with interest, almost as if it had been written by someone else. The words encouraged him to be strong at the end and to actively deal with the unfolding situation. He tore the page out and carried it with him. Will Barton was right, the journal proved to be a useful tool.
Daniel cleared the table of everything but his journal. From it he removed a note for Nora, John and George that he had written several months before. From the bedroom, he retrieved his father’s gun and a leather pouch. Daniel placed the pouch on the table alongside the journal. He loaded the three-fifty-seven magnum and tucked it inside his coat pocket. The woodcarving tools were to be placed on the table as well. Daniel welcomed the opportunity to visit the woodshed one last time to get them.
He opened the door of the woodshed and inhaled the intoxicating aroma of musty planks and freshly cut firewood. Five cords of wood were stacked inside. They would not be burned by him. Daniel walked toward the tools and steadied himself against the workbench He examined the display on the wall. He knew the tools well, the feel of the handles and the pitch of each blade. Now they would pass into other hands.
Daniel turned toward Long Woman. He worked many hours on this sculpture, and his goals for restoring Mountain Farm were compromised as a result. He felt no guilt on this account. Daniel now knew that he had to create this piece, that it was part of his destiny. Months before, R. Cranston had accepted Daniel’s offer to donate the sculpture to the Folk Museum, in spite of the fact that the librarian had never seen it. Knowing that it would reside among his family’s artifacts was a great comfort to Daniel.
His eyes studied the form and lines of Long Woman. This work of art represented memories of an era and a woman who altered the course of his life. While he worked on the piece, he thought about Debbie. Daniel tried to focus on the good memories, but recollection of what was bad in their relationship was unavoidable. His thoughts influenced the decisions he made with mallet and gouge, and this was subtly etched into the finished sculpture.
Daniel knew that he should go, but he continued to stare. He didn’t want to leave her yet.
“It was all worth it. You were worth it,” he whispered. “I loved you at first sight and I still love you. It was worth it, all the years and all the pain, if only for that wonderful time when you loved me, too.”
Daniel turned, walked to the workbench and arranged the carving tools in the canvas roll. He tucked the roll inside his coat to protect it from the rain. At the door he turned and looked around the woodshed one last time.
I did it. I came back here and lived and worked, just like I always wanted to, just like Paw did.
As he crossed the yard, the scenery seemed different to him. Daniel felt as if he was observing it from a distance and no longer part of it. He noticed a deer standing at the edge of the meadow, among the apple trees. The animal was staring at him as if it was waiting for him.
Then he heard the sound again, that resonant vibration. When he learned of his illness, he assumed it was a side effect, pressure affecting his brain. But now he knew better. He felt it from without and all around, from somewhere beneath him. Closing his eyes, Daniel turned a slow circle, listening, feeling. Perhaps it was some deep tectonic grinding. Now he knew, it was the mountain, itself, calling him.
That night, rain fell in heavy droplets. An arctic front moved down from Canada, and droplets crystallized into large wet snowflakes. Soon Mountain Farm was covered with a thick white blanket. It clung to the trees and before long, branches were breaking and falling to the ground. As the storm intensified, there came a great cracking and booming as massive limbs broke off, and whole trees split under irresistible weight.
The weather was less severe at lower altitudes, but Lick Hollow was given a fair sample of what was taking place on the mountain. Power lines came down and darkness engulfed the village. Those who ventured out looked toward the mountain with unease. They heard eerie popping and cracking noises reverberating into the hollows. Some said it reminded them of sporadic gunfire. They said it sounded as if a ghostly military skirmish had broken out on Hemlock Knob.
The storm was winter’s parting blow. The following day, the sky cleared and mild temperatures erased the snow from Lick Hollow. The effects of the storm didn’t dissipate so easily. Crews worked until afternoon before electrical power was restored to the village, and it would be several days before the secondary roads were passable. The whine of chain saws sounded throughout the area, like a giant, robotic, bee swarm.
During a coffee break at the Lick Hollow Mercantile, members of the cleanup crew shook their heads and made comparisons to the great spring snows of the past.
“Never seen anything like it for the volume of timber that’s down,” claimed Roy Teets. He leaned back in his chair, the brim of a well-worn hat pulled low over his eyes. No man was working harder to restore the town to normalcy, but Roy lived for these challenges that nature threw at civilization.
“Been a while,” George Haynes said. He was twenty years Roy’s senior.
“Trees got used to it and spread too far. That’s why it’s so bad this time,” Tom Lowry explained.
The men nodded.
“Say men, how far have you moved up Hemlock Road?” George asked.
“Not far,” Ben Hillen answered from behind George. “Hope to reach the first houses this afternoon. Be another few days at least, before we reach the last.”
George knew that Ben wasn’t referring to the log house at Mountain Farm when he said the last.
Roy Teets was the municipal engineer of Lick Hollow and was overseeing the cleanup. He realized George’s concern.
“Can’t spare the men to clear the road to the top, George. You know how that goes. But when we get close, I’ll send one of the boys up on a four-wheeler to make sure the Professor’s okay.”
George smiled and nodded.
One week later, a Ford truck ground its way through mud and snow toward the summit of Hemlock Knob. Mike Miller’s new truck bore the name ‘Biscuit’ on the front plate. Beside him sat his new partner, Chuck Madison, Kent’s younger brother.
After parting ways with Nicklow Developers, Biscuit found his niche in the construction business. He was the first in the area to specialize in the renovation of buildings in town. Many thought he was foolish to stray from the proven formula of building new homes up high, but Biscuit enjoyed the challenge of this sort of work. Time would prove the wisdom of his inclination.
The two men had talked business nonstop since the truck left Lick Hollow. They were recruited for this expedition by two members of their grandparents’ generation, George Haynes and John Campbell. The older men sat in the back, bearing somber expressions.
John spoke to George, and the occupants of the front seat stopped talking. “When do you figure is the last time anyone saw him?”
“Late February, if I remember right,” George answered. “That was the fella from Wisconsin, his friend who walked up to see him during the break in the weather.”
“That’s right, that’s right. It’s been about five weeks, then,” John said, shaking his head and turning back to the window.
The four men were making this drive because Ben Hillen hadn’t seen smoke coming from the chimney of the log house when he circled it on the county all terrain vehicle. He also reported that no signs of human activity were evident in the snow. Most notably, there were no tracks to the woodshed or to the outhouse. The jeep was there and hadn’t been moved since before the storm.
“He wouldn’t leave the mountain without telling us,” John stated.
George shifted his gaze from the passing landscape, but his expression didn’t change. He shook his head in agreement.
Just past the bend, they stopped before a large oak tree that lay across the road.
“Here we go,” Biscuit crowed.
He got out and went to the bed of the truck to get his chain saw. After several pulls on the starter rope, the engine coughed into a roar. Biscuit trimmed his way through the tangle of branches while Chuck thrust them down the slope and off the road.
The butt log of this forest giant was forty inches in diameter. The tree had sprouted more than one hundred and fifty years before it’s catastrophic end. It was a sapling when a horse-drawn wagon rolled by, bearing Adam and Sadie Reilly to the summit of Hemlock Knob.
The teeth of the chain saw quickly cut through moist wood, and the trunk was soon reduced to small logs that the men could roll off the road.
After another roadblock of a similar magnitude and a dozen lesser challenges, they reached Mountain Farm. Wet, heavy snow covered Reilly Lane. Tire tracks from Ben Hillen’s survey were still evident. Halfway down Reilly Lane, the truck tires started to lose traction.
“She’s boggin’ down,” Biscuit announced. “I’m in four-wheel, too.” He put the truck into reverse and eased into shallow snow.
“Let’s not mess with it, Mike. We’ll walk in from here,” John said, taking charge of the expedition.
Biscuit and Chuck trudged through the wet snow while John and George followed in the path they created.
On the porch, John fumbled for the key. He was anxious to get inside but afraid of what they would find. The setting and the mood brought back the memory of his great-uncle’s death.
Why does the Reilly side of the family insist on living up here alone, anyway, he thought as he fit the key in the lock.
John unlocked the door and the men entered. The temperature in the house was colder than outside. Their breath came out white and hung in the sunlight that slanted through the windows. Eyes adjusted to the dimness and then glanced around the Great Room. Daniel Whaley was not there.
George went to the bedroom and the skin on his neck prickled when he saw a human-like form on the bed. But when he walked closer, George found that it was a trick of shadow and imagination. The shape was caused by a fold in the blanket and some clothes. He was relieved, but emerged from the room with no answers.
“Everything’s here except Daniel,” he said.
Biscuit and Chuck came down the stairs with a similar report.
John looked up at George from across the room. He was bent over a collection of items stacked on the table. John had a puzzled look on his face and shook his head. “Maybe you should check the other buildings.”
George hesitated. It was obvious to him that John planned to stay in the house. When John continued to stare at him, he did as suggested.
“Let’s check the woodshed, men,” George said with a sense of urgency.
Biscuit and Chuck jumped at his command.
When they trudged to the woodshed and opened the door, the intrigue only deepened. As with the log house, everything was in place, even the firewood. Moments later, John joined them They divided up to widen their search to the other buildings. They found no evidence of Daniel’s presence.
John took George aside. “George, I think we should quit for now and try again with more help.”
“Are you sure?”
Yes, Daniel left us a note. He assumed that we would be the first to enter the log house. The items on the table were put there for us to find. I’ll explain when we get down. I don’t want anyone else to know anything until we talk.”
As they drove down Hemlock Road, the younger men talked about what a wider search might entail and recalled other cases of people who went missing on the mountain. The older men nodded when it was appropriate, but didn’t join the talk. Before long, the discussion in the front seat drifted back to the construction business, and John and George watched the passing scene in silence.
From the porch of the Lick Hollow Mercantile, John and George thanked their companions.
“They’re good boys,” George said as the vehicle rolled across the gravel toward Main Street.
John nodded. “Let’s go inside and pull up a seat near the stove. I need some nerve tonic, and then I have something to show you.”
Once inside, John went to the back room and returned with a bottle of bourbon and two glasses. A day in the cold mountain air, a seat near a hot wood stove, and then a drink of whiskey, made them glow with warmth.
“What is it John? What is it you have to show me?”
John cleared his throat. “It seems that Daniel has gone away.”
John handed George the note. George put on his glasses and held it with two hands as he read.
My Good Friends,
Thank you for all your help with my project.
I have no choice but to stop now. Mountain Farm
has been sold to the State of Pennsylvania and will
become part of the Forbes State Forest. The deed
specifies that the buildings must be preserved
and that Mountain Farm remain intact.
Could I trouble you to send the carving tools
to my daughter Jeannie and the journal to my
friend, Victor DiAngelo?
Their addresses are in the journal.
Good luck with all you do in life and goodbye.
George was dumfounded. “Well, maybe he was planning to go, but something happened. Daniel wouldn’t just walk away and leave everything he owns.”
“He did it before.”
“Maybe he did, but I don’t think so this time. I think something happened to him, maybe in that storm.”
John picked up the leather pouch and handed it to George. “Go ahead, open it. I’ve already seen what’s inside.”
George undid the zipper. Inside were two stacks of one hundred dollar bills. The bills were bound with rubber bands. He turned them over and over before he spoke.
“Jesus, there are thousands of dollars here.”
“I’m sure Daniel meant for us to deal with this money however we see fit.”
“But he didn’t say anything about that in the note.”
“If he had, then it would be on record,” John said with a smile.
“I’ll be damned, JC, just like old Tom would’ve done.”
Sheriff Pinto was informed of Daniel disappearance the next day, and with reluctance that was obvious, he committed to organizing a search party. After making some phone calls, Harry learned that Mountain Farm had, in fact, been sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the previous November. Along with the provisions outlined for the buildings, the deed stipulated that Daniel could live at the farm for at least one more year.
It was two days later, on a beautiful Saturday morning, that Harry Pinto and twenty-four volunteers gathered at Mountain Farm. The sheriff noted with some suspicion that half of them were newcomers. There were women too; that was a first for Harry.
“Hello, Harry,” George said as he entered the log house through the back door.
The sheriff was staring at Adam Reilly’s fighting stick above the front door. He moved away from it when George spoke.
“George,” he growled. “Considering the fact that all of Whaley’s possessions seem to be intact and after studying the note that you and JC found, it could be that he was planning to go and got hurt or else killed. I don’t know. Can’t rule out suicide either.”
“I don’t like any of those, choices, Harry.”
“Me neither, but there they are. We have the personnel, so we’ll give it a look.”
Outside, Sheriff Pinto directed the volunteers to form a circle around the house and then to expand outward as they searched. He instructed them to walk through any snow of significant depth, to look under the buildings, and to push through all thick foliage.
“Don’t have a person in mind so much as clothing, that’s what will stand out in the brush,” Harry droned. He wanted to put the searchers in the right frame of mind.
The Sheriff didn’t participate in the search. He lingered at the house as the team fanned out. The sheriff wandered from room to room, lost in thought, and then he stopped to scrutinize the fighting stick again. Soon he retired to his truck and the ever-present newspaper. Jim Durst was one of the volunteers, and Harry had put him in charge of the field operation.
When they stopped for lunch, the search team had covered over half of Mountain Farm, and no sign of Daniel had been discovered. Harry simply bobbed his head as Jim informed him of this. By early afternoon, the entire farm had been covered with the same result. With several hours of daylight remaining, they expanded their search into the state forest and along both sides of Hemlock Road. Still, they found nothing.
Tired and annoyed, Harry assembled the volunteers. He cleared his throat before he spoke. “First of all, thank you for your help. Now folks, considering the evidence, I think it’s safe to say that the man we’re looking for has been gone for a while, since before the storm at least. It’s not hard to figure that if he’s out here somewhere, we can’t help him now. Anyone is welcome to continue searching, it’ll be much appreciated, but I’m officially calling it off.” Harry cleared his throat again, nodded and turned toward his truck.
The searchers looked at each other with surprise, and at least one of them was upset. George Haynes followed the sheriff.
Harry knew whose footsteps he heard before turning.
Over the years, Harry Pinto and George Haynes had always respected each other. This made it all the more difficult for the sheriff when he turned and saw the look of disbelief on the older man’s face. Harry raised both hands as if to block George’s words so that he could speak first.
“Now George, if it were you or Nora or, uh, Ed Martin over there we’d search till you was found. We know you and we’d know for certain that something was wrong. But, I’m sorry, this Whaley fellow, he appears one day out of nowhere and then one day he disappears into nowhere. I’m supposed to tie all these people up for days on the chance that he’s out here, or the even lesser chance that we can help him if he is?”
“But don’t you think it’s funny that a man would leave all his possessions behind like this?”
“It’s not like he left a pot of gold, George. Is it more strange than parking your vehicle and walking, instead of just transferring your damn license to another state?”
George was silent. Harry had a point.
“George, I’ve seen cases like this before. Well, I take that back, nothing exactly like this. People missing in the woods, I mean. If he’s up here, which I’m not so sure of, then he’s not alive. The cabin’s been empty for weeks, you can see that. The body will be found, if not sooner, than by hunters later in the year.”
Sheriff Pinto opened the door of his truck and worked his way in. He had put on weight over the winter, and his hip was bothering him again. “Best I can do, George. I know it sounds cold, but that’s the way I’m gettin’ in my old age.”
Harry rumbled down Hemlock Knob Road, alone with his conscience. He was getting older, and his hip bothered him most days now. Although he hadn’t announced it, Sheriff Pinto wasn’t planning to run for reelection in the fall. Harry wanted to spend time with his grandchildren, and his wife wanted to travel.
He was backing Jim Durst for his replacement. Harry thought that Jim was tough and smart at the same time. Besides, he was good with newcomers. The sheriff believed that Jim was a man who could deal with the changes that were coming.
Daniel Whaley had been a great mystery to the sheriff since the day he first heard there was a man living in the old Reilly place. Regardless of what he just said at Mountain Farm, he believed that the Professor had gone away. The sheriff wanted to close the matter, and let the man go. In so doing, he felt the Pinto family would return the favor received from the Reilly family many years ago.
Kent Madison came to Harry a few weeks before, upset and scared. He had known Kent since he was a boy and a playmate of Harry’s own son. Kent told the sheriff about the incident on Hemlock Knob involving Donald and the shotgun. He said that he didn’t care about the trouble he might be in, but his conscience would no longer let him stay quiet. Harry asked Kent to not tell anyone else about what happened.
The sheriff pushed him on the shoulder like a father would his own son. He told him to let it go for now, and said that the matter would be looked into. Harry did advise Kent, as he had on other occasions, to stay away from Donald Nicklow.
Sheriff Pinto decided to approach Daniel about the incident the next time he saw him. That’s when he learned that the Professor had started walking to town through the forest on unmarked paths. Harry hadn’t yet spotted him when Donald Nicklow disappeared.
When Sheriff Pinto examined Donald’s bloated body after it was pulled from Lick Hollow Creek, he took note of the profound indentation of his face. He reasoned that this could result from the body being driven into a blunt object by the force of the water. Harry wanted to agree with the majority opinion, that Donald Nicklow stumbled out the back of the tavern to urinate, and was so drunk that he fell into Lick Hollow Creek.
What changed his opinion was the story his niece, Penny, told him several days after the body was found. She worked at the Mount Laurel Rest Home, which was located several blocks from the Lick Hollow Tavern. The night Donald Nicklow disappeared, she was making her rounds and looked into the room of Ray Seiler. At ninety-seven years of age, Ray Seiler was the oldest living inhabitant of Lick Hollow. A docile man, Ray rarely spoke and passed most of his time, day or night, sitting in his wheel chair. He often stared out the window toward Tuesday Alley.
According to Penny, when she entered the room, his chair was pressed against the wall and he was leaning forward, nearly touching the window pane.
“Mr. Seiler, what’s wrong? she asked.” Penny rushed to reposition him.
Ray Seiler was breathing hard as he spoke. “I saw the ghost of Adam Reilly.”
“The ghost of Adam Reilly?” Penny was surprised that he had spoken at all.
Ray nodded. “Yes, Adam Reilly. I saw him. He was marching up the alley and, by God, he’s carrying his fighting stick again.”
Harry didn’t believe in ghosts.
People continued to search on the days that followed, and except for George Haynes, they were all newcomers at that point. The number of volunteers doubled by the time a week had passed. They were people who had read about Daniel Whaley in The Commonwealth or heard his story from someone else. They were a merry group for the most part, and it did George good to circulate among them. He shared his knowledge of the man they sought.
Some were there because they were curious and others, for the adventure. Many came because they believed in what Daniel Whaley had been doing and wanted to pay this tribute to him. But despite their efforts, Daniel was not found that spring, or that summer, or even that fall during the hunting season.
In the months that followed, word of Daniel’s mysterious disappearance spread beyond Lick Hollow. After Long Woman was placed on display in the Lick Hollow Folk Museum, local newspapers picked up the story. Soon there was coverage in the Pittsburgh Press.
Journalists converged on Lick Hollow and the story soon became newsworthy for national media. By year’s end, the trickle of people that came to Lick Hollow because of Daniel Whaley had become a flood.
During the decade that followed Professor Daniel Whaley’s tenure at Mountain Farm, no trace of him was found. Many people shared Harry Pinto’s belief that he had gone away for some private reason. Others say that he died by accident or was murdered and his body simply had not been discovered. Some, however, believe that Daniel Whaley never lived on Hemlock Knob. The story is told that it was Adam Reilly himself who came out of the grave to save his home.
The State Forest assumed ownership of Mountain Farm after Daniel’s disappearance and moved quickly to control the onslaught of people that began to ascend to it. Through a volunteer program, the restoration of the homestead continued. Throughout this process, historical architects were consulted, old photographs were studied, and testimony was taken from people who had seen Mountain Farm before its decline. Beyond restoration, the goal was to develop the homestead into a living exhibit of pioneer life in the Allegheny Mountains.
The Lick Hollow Folk Museum received many generous donations as a result of the now famous Reilly family artifacts, and the grand new centerpiece, Long Woman. The sculpture had been viewed by thousands of people and photographs of it circulated around the world.
Long Woman evoked a spectrum of emotions from viewers. At one end of the spectrum were those who felt a sense of exhilaration, and at the other were those who felt such sadness that they were moved to tears. Regardless of where people found themselves emotionally, most believed they were in the presence of a masterpiece.
Six years before, a new building was proposed to house the museum. In time, these plans expanded into an art and historical museum along with a new library. The result was the Allegheny Art and Cultural Center.
People from all over the United States followed Daniel’s effort to help Connie Pavloc, contributing enough money to cover all her medical expenses. So much money accumulated that a foundation was established to help all children in the Allegheny Mountain region with cancer-related illnesses.
Daniel’s story and his unexplained disappearance intrigued the world. People from all directions planned Lick Hollow into their travels. The village adapted and was soon making its own reputation as an eclectic blend of shops, restaurants, galleries, and artisan studios.
The Lick Hollow Association was formed to guide the transformation of the village. While property owners were encouraged to renovate buildings for the sake of historical preservation, the plan for the town was not mere restoration. The goal was to weave traditional with contemporary, to preserve the past while looking toward the future.
An abstract metal sculpture was showcased in a small public park between two buildings that were built in the early nineteenth century. The architectural firm that designed the Allegheny Art and Cultural Center, was selected on the basis of its contemporary and innovative portfolio.
When it was proposed that the village sponsor a spring festival, commemorating Daniel Whaley, R. Cranston, a founding member of the Lick Hollow Association, opposed it. He feared that such an event would merely capitalize on Daniel’s fame and overshadow the simple ideals that his life on the mountain represented. After he was approached by another board member, Martha Nicklow, he was convinced that it could be a meaningful occasion if planned properly. Martha Nicklow and R. Cranston were chosen to co-chair the festival.
When Donald Nicklow’s body was found in Lick Hollow Creek, his parents were shattered as their worst fear for their rogue son came to pass. The punch that Donald once suspected his father was losing, was lost, never to return. Maurice phased himself out of his law practice and sold the construction business.
He retired to the large stone house on the south edge of Lick Hollow that he and Martha had built thirty years before. The property had spacious grounds of nearly ten acres with a pond and numerous gardens. It was here Maurice passed his time, tending the gardens. He was rarely seen in public, and then only when he went to dinner with his wife. On these occasions it was noted that the attorney was congenial and smiled, but spoke little.
Martha moved away from the tragedy in a different direction. She chose to concentrate on living. Lick Hollow was her hometown, and she wanted to be part of the change that was unfolding.
Never fully aware of the extent of her husband’s business holdings, she was surprised and embarrassed to learn how many buildings were owned by Nicklow Developers, Inc. Martha and her accountant devised a plan to release the Main Street buildings in a way that would facilitate the plan of the Lick Hollow Association.
Martha Nicklow and Robert Cranston meshed into a perfect team. They developed the spring festival into a class event that was both enjoyable and educational. At their suggestion, it was simply titled the Wooden Spoon Festival.
The tenth year after Daniel Whaley’s disappearance, marked the third annual Wooden Spoon Festival.
One of the highlights of this year’s event was the dedication of a new metal sculpture, The Spoonmaker. The sculpture had recently been installed on the public green. The piece was commissioned by the Lick Hollow Association from blacksmiths Dane and Becky Allen. The Allens bought George Haynes’ house at the end of Pine Creek Road three years before. The couple were part of a general migration of artisans into the area.
As she strolled along Main Street, weaving with the flow of the crowd, Jeannie Whaley was amazed at the vibrancy of this little town in the Allegheny Mountains. She wanted to meet all the personalities her father had described in his letters, but for now she wished to remain anonymous.
Jeannie was thirty years old and had experienced a measure of success with her painting, including several one-woman shows at galleries in Amsterdam. In recent years, the bohemian life had lost its charm and she grew weary of her location. After a long-term relationship sputtered out, Jeannie decided to return to the United States. Her plan was to buy a little house and transform it into her dream studio. The money from the sale of Mountain Farm that her father sent her a decade ago was the means to achieving this.
She was tall like her father and pretty like her mother. Jeannie had short brown hair, classical, sharp features, and dark eyes. In her pleated tan pants and white safari shirt, she stood out in this crowd even if it wasn’t her intention.
Jeannie stopped at a booth, bought a bag of roasted peanuts and picked up a festival brochure from the counter. She leafed through it as she turned the corner onto Bennington Road. On the back cover was a picture which caused her to stop. At first, she thought it was her father, but she saw that it was a reproduction of an old photograph. She read the inscription: Adam Reilly, circa 1895.
Jeannie was stunned by the similarity between this picture and the one of her father that Professor DiAngelo had sent her ten years ago. Adam Reilly was standing in the same location, in front of the log house on Hemlock Knob. As in the photograph of her father, he had one foot on a piece of wood and his right hand on the end of an ax handle.
The only obvious difference between the images was the dog on the porch in the old photograph. The dog had short, light-colored fur and a wide head. Jeannie couldn’t decide what breed it was, but she could see that it was an older animal. The dog was sitting at attention behind Adam and was staring intently at the photographer.
Folding the program under her arm, Jeannie continued along the street until she was drawn toward a stone building. A wooden sign identified it as The Village Pottery. Inside, a crowd surrounded a man at a pottery wheel who was throwing mugs and talking. She guessed that the potter was about her age. He had long hair, pulled back into a thick ponytail, and he sported a full beard. She thought he was handsome in a rugged way.
Jeannie watched as perfectly shaped vessels seemed to appear from small lumps of clay as if it were a magic trick. Working by feel, the potter looked up from his work to answer questions.
“Are you from this area?”
The potter looked at the man who asked the question and shook his head. “No, actually, I’m from the Midwest. Kansas. I moved around some and came here five years ago when I learned that . . .” The potter’s eyes had moved to Jeannie and he stopped talking. He tilted his head with such a look of surprise that the crowd turned to follow the direction of his gaze. Jeannie was startled by the sudden attention. She looked from side to side, and turned to see if this concerned someone behind her.
“Uh, I, uh moved when I learned what was happening here in Lick Hollow,” the potter said, regaining the interest of the audience.
Jeannie nodded to the people who were still looking at her and backed toward the door. She had no idea what had taken place. She crossed the porch, hurried down the steps and entered the crowd.
Someone called her name from behind.
She turned to see the potter coming toward her. He had something in his hand.
She nodded as he came up to her. He was carrying a wooden spoon.
“I’m Bruce Planter. I was a graduate student in the Biochemistry Department in Madison ten years ago.”
She smiled but struggled for recognition.
“I was one of your father’s graduate students.
Then Jeannie remembered. She was a senior in high school when Bruce entered her father’s lab. She recalled that he always spoke politely to her when she passed through the lab to see her father. She thought then that he seemed out of place in the biochemistry department. He didn’t seem out of place here.
“Yes, I do remember you. Pardon my surprise. I would’ve sooner guessed you were a fourth generation potter from the Allegheny Mountains rather than someone I used to see in the Biochemistry building in Madison.”
Bruce laughed. “I take that as a compliment. Your father gave me this when I left the department.” Bruce held up the wooden spoon with the spiraled handle.
“How nice; my father sent me a spoon just like that many years ago.”
Bruce smiled. “Uh, Jeannie, I really should get back to the wheel.”
“Oh, okay. I understand, I have to run, too. I want to attend the dedication of the statue in the park.”
“Want to meet later for something to eat?”
“Sure, sounds good. That would be fun.”
“Meet me here around six?”
Jeannie smiled and nodded
“I wish I could go to the ceremony, too. Don’t miss George Haynes’ talk. He’s a great guy and he and your father were good friends.”
“I’ll be sure to see him, and I’ll see you later.”
They shook hands nervously and hurried away in opposite directions.
When Jeannie arrived at the park, a crowd was gathered around the podium. An, attractive, elderly woman introduced herself as Martha Nicklow and welcomed the audience.
The Spoonmaker stood to the left of the podium. The sculpture was contemporary for this small town in the Allegheny Mountains. The sculpture was of a male and he leaned as if facing into the wind. The figure wore a long coat, a wide-brimmed hat, and had some sort of bag over his shoulder. It was a fleeting, stylized image; not a definite shape. The more Jeannie looked at it, the more she liked it, and the more appropriate it seemed to the subject.
“It is my pleasure to introduce one of the cornerstones of our town, George Haynes. He was a friend of Daniel Whaley and will share some of his memories of their time together.”
A thin, elderly man approached the podium to applause and cheers from the audience.
George smiled and nodded to the crowd. When they quieted, he began to speak
“It’s one of the pleasures of my life to be here to speak to you fine folks today. I was an acquaintance of Daniel Whaley when he lived on Hemlock Knob.”
The crowd quieted and turned toward him. George looked good for his eighty years. His unofficial business partner, John Campbell, died three years earlier. John was found in his office chair inside the little barn. He had his green visor on and was going over the Antique Quarterly in the end. Two upcoming estate auctions had been circled.
The following year, George worked out an arrangement with Nora. After building himself a small apartment in the barn, he relocated there to carry on the antique business. He also served as resident handyman on the Mercantile property. Nora was still going strong at eighty-two years of age. She excused herself from today’s ceremony because she had to mind the store.
George began his talk in an interesting way. “Daniel Whaley lived his first fifteen years in that stone house over yonder.” He pointed across Main Street to the Martin House. “That’s where the story begins.”
The crowd turned.
“One fine afternoon while Daniel and I were sitting by his wood stove, sipping brandy, he told me of what he thought was his earliest memory. He wasn’t yet two years old, and he was on the back porch of that house with his great-grandfather, Tom Reilly. Tom picked him up and pointed up at the mountain. ‘That’s Hemlock Knob, Danny, my boy,’ Tom said to him. Daniel told me that he always remembered that moment because of the wonderful smile on his great-grandfather’s face.” George looked toward the mountain after he said this.
The crowd gazed toward Hemlock Knob. For all the changes that had occurred in the area, the mountain appeared the same as it did sixty years ago when Tom Reilly brought it to his great-grandson’s attention. It appeared much the same ninety years before that when Adam and Sadie Reilly made their way up Hemlock Road to build their home on its summit. The image was stamped on every native child’s memory. Now that Hemlock Knob was part of the State Forest System, the vision would remain for future generations to see.
The public can follow Adam and Sadie Reilly’s tracks up Hemlock Road to a place where they might imagine a simple and independent life on top of a mountain.
A child can sit on the rock outcrop named Point Lookout to gaze at a distant horizon and dream of the future. Someday, if the need should arise, that child might be the one to beat up a bully that was ruining Lick Hollow or perhaps become so famous that they could share their wealth with everybody in town.
George continued. “The gray patches near the top are the rocks that make up what is called Point Lookout. About a half mile beyond that is Mountain Farm.”
Jeannie remembered the name ‘Point Lookout’. The memory took her back to a conversation she had with her father when she was young. That day, Jeannie’s Aunt Cathy was visiting with her three children, two girls and a boy who were about Jeannie’s age. Her cousins were tough and loud; Jeannie was quiet and timid. She never enjoyed playing with them for long and they seemed to sense this. They often made her the point of their jokes.
She was sitting on her father’s lap and crying. Her father was comforting her. He explained that her cousins did like her but were from a big city and different than her.
Jeannie’s mother opened the study door. Debbie and Cathy sensed that there had been trouble. “Here she is, in Daniel’s cave,” she called back over her shoulder. The women laughed. Debbie leaned into the room. “Is everything okay?”
“We’re fine,” her father answered
Her mother and Aunt Cathy went back to the patio.
Jeannie’s father leaned back into the big chair and smiled.
“I actually have my own secret cave, Jeannie.”
“Your own cave?” Jeannie wiped her eyes with her hands.
“Yes, I’ve never told anyone. When I was young, I found a secret cave. It was at the base of a rock cliff on Hemlock Knob, at a place called Point Lookout. I found it by accident while looking for a jackknife that fell over the cliff. I’ve never told anyone where it is.”
“Because I often thought that someday when I finally had enough of people, when I want to get away from everybody, I’ll hide in it. I’ll go to my secret cave and just stay there.”
“Somebody will find you, Daddy. You couldn’t hide there forever.”
“Oh yes I could, too. My cave is hard to find. The laurel grows so thick and gnarled that it’s impossible to walk through. You have to get down low and crawl along the base of the cliff to get inside the thicket. Even then, the entrance is underneath a rock overhang and not easy to see.”
As she remembered what was said next, Jeannie felt a tingle on the back of her neck. She shuddered as it pulsed across her shoulders.
“But it’s not a secret cave anymore, Daddy, because I know about it now.”
“You’re right, Jeannie, you know my secret. Now, if I ever decide to hide from everybody once and for all, you’ll be the only one in the whole world who knows where I am.”
The broadaxe looks like a weapon from the Middle Ages, but it’s a woodsman’s tool that’s used to hew rough logs into building timbers. Adam Reilly swung a broadaxe with precision that was unmatched in any age. He had to square another half dozen logs and the frame for a forge would be ready. The logs were cut from the hemlock trees that grew on Hemlock Knob.
Adam worked with dogged resolution. Since he and his wife, Sadie, moved to the mountain, he had built a two-story log house and several outbuildings. Adam and Sadie named their homestead Mountain Farm.
Pausing to refresh himself in the cool mountain air, Adam peered across lush, green meadows, looking for deer that often fed there. He was a tall man with a lean, sinewy frame. Well defined cheekbones and chiseled features were hidden behind a full beard. His hair hung from under the wide brim of his hat and touched his shoulders.
He peered over a two acre vegetable garden. The harvest from this garden, along with meat from hunting, fed his family. Adam loved his home on Hemlock Knob and in all outward respects seemed to be a man at peace with himself.
But his thoughts were often clouded with images of other fields where, by his own admission, he once did the devil’s work. Adam once viewed gentle meadows such as these that were covered with dead and dying men.
Fifteen years had passed since those desperate battles, but Adam still remembered the agony of the wounded and the vacant stares of the dead. Worst of all, he recalled the pitiful cries of the men who died by his own hand.
Adam and Sadie emigrated from Ireland in 1860, settling in Philadelphia with her relatives. Adam found that America was not the land of opportunity he had dreamed of. He also learned that citizenship did not readily gain him acceptance. His hope had been to attend art school in Philadelphia and to earn a living as a painter. Instead, his time was consumed by rough and menial jobs with no sympathy for a young Irishman’s dreams.
As the threat of civil war loomed over his adopted country, Adam enlisted in the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. The unit was composed of Irishmen from Philadelphia. Like many of his fellow soldiers, Adam joined the Army with a desire to prove himself worthy of opportunity. The Regiment became part of the New York Irish Brigade at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. In 1862, it was assigned to General Edwin V. Sumner’s Division, Army of the Potomac.
Throughout the war, the Irish Brigade was always at the foremost position in major battles and suffered high casualties. Two years into the war, at he Battle of Chancellorsville, a musket ball tore through Adam’s calf, nicking the femur as it passed. Another ball plowed a quarter inch furrow across his forehead before he collapsed to the ground among his fallen countrymen.
When Adam returned from the war, he suggested to his wife that they move to the west, away from cities and politicians. Sadie began packing that day. The young couple traveled by horse and wagon to the mountains of western Pennsylvania. After searching to the ends of the available roads, they bought land on Hemlock Knob. Here they hoped to build a home and raise their family without further molestation from the governments of the world.
Adam wielded his broadaxe again. He had learned that focusing on simple, repetitive tasks such as hewing a log into a beam, diverted his thoughts from the haunting memories of the war. After settling on Hemlock Knob, Adam swore an oath that he would never again raise his hand against another man unless Mountain Farm was attacked. As a sign of his oath he hung his bata, his fighting stick, above the front door of the log house.
Adam could smell the aroma of food from the house. Sadie was preparing their evening meal. Sadie Reilly had developed a similar philosophy about the benefits of simple tasks. She lost a brother to the Bloody Lane at the battle of Antietam and a cousin at Gettysburg. She was consumed with worry while the men were gone, and as the war dragged on, her grip on reality loosened. Once Sadie moved to Hemlock Knob, she left it less than a dozen times during the remainder of her life.
Over the years, Sadie grew superstitious. She developed a repertoire of rituals and sayings to ward off bad luck or else to bring good fortune. It was after she and Adam’s first child died of cholera that Sadie became preoccupied with the afterlife. She believed that the dead could influence their living descendants.
When Adam came to dinner this evening, it was the occasion of his fortieth birthday. After the meal, while he sipped a glass of cider, Sadie approached him with a surprise.
“I wanted to give this to you before our guests arrive and you men get lost in your toasting and laughing,” she teased.
She set before him a package wrapped in brown paper and bound with twine. Adam opened it to find a crisp, new canvas roll tied with leather straps. Tears came to his eyes when he undid the bindings and saw the present that Sadie had made for him.
The canvas roll contained the woodcarving tools that were given to him by his grandfather. The collection was a family heirloom, originating from an ancient relative who was a woodcarver by trade. The tools had been passed down ever since to whomever showed artistic promise.
Sadie designed the roll around the tools. Along one side of the roll, each of the twelve chisels and gouges were protected in its own pouch. An oak mallet, sharpening stones, and carving knives balanced the array on the opposite side. In a small space that remained was embroidered a sentence in Sadie’s neat penmanship.
“This is for my husband, a great artist,” Sadie said, placing her hands on his shoulders.
“Thank you, my dear wife. This is a most wonderful gift,” Adam replied, taking one of her hands. “But you flatter me. I know now that I am not the artist that my grandfather hoped I would be. A skilled craftsman, yes, a good woodcarver, perhaps, but not an artist.
To be an artist requires a rare spark of imagination, the genius to look at the world in a way that nobody has before. It is not in me. I can follow a plan or copy from nature, but the genius is not there.”
When Sadie protested, he shook his head and smiled. “It’s all right, my dear, I am content with that. I do my best, and my effort is its own reward. Someday though, I hope these fine tools will serve a great artist. I believe that good tools that are well made and cared for will eventually come into the right hands. The genius will emerge someday, and a masterpiece will come.”
He looked over his shoulder at an infant in a walnut cradle. “Perhaps little Tommy here,” he said with a grin.
Adam looked back at the tools. “So what does this mean?” He pointed to the words embroidered on the corner of the canvas.”
“You can read it, Adam, try.”
“Hmm, you wrote it in the old language.”
“It’s not the old language. It’s our language and you mustn’t let it die in you.”
“No, no, you’re right, I mustn’t. But you see, it’s just that I don’t have my spectacles on and I’m too weary, after a long day’s toil, to walk the distance to the bedroom.”
She looked at him with one side of her mouth turned up and then smiled. “All right. It is your birthday, after all.”
Sadie pointed to each word and read at a measured pace as if it were a school lesson. “Art is a good idea.”
“Art is a good idea, what made you think of that?”
“It is from listening to you talk. It is from things you say at times, but you use more words. I only had a small space, so I shortened it. This saying will bring you good luck while you work. Perhaps it will bring forth the genius.”
Adam chuckled and took Sadie’s other hand. “Art is a good idea,” he repeated.
“Do you think it is silly?”
“Not at all,” he answered, looking up at her. “I think you have said it just right.”