by Jim Paw-Paw Wilson
Illustrated by Jock Dempsey
|Recently my wife and I purchased an old farm house just outside of town. While exploring in the attic, I found an old trunk. It had a name carved in the top, "Will". It was much too heavy to be empty, and the latch was locked. We had no key of course, and I tried for some time to pick the lock before finally prying it open in disgust.|
The lid opened fairly easily then and we looked inside. Much to my surprise, there was a small, blocky looking anvil, some blacksmiths hammers, and some beautiful flowers apparently made from iron. The anvil was small, only about fifty pounds. And the hammers were not large. One was a cross peen of about two pounds, and another was a straight peen of about the same weight. Curiously, each was branded on the end of the handle with a double letter "DD,"
There were two other hammers as well. Both were cross peen hammers, about four pounds in weight. One was branded with a "JS" and the other with "WD." All of the hammers except for the one branded JS were deeply stamped on the head with a WD surrounded by a diamond.
In addition, there were several old books filled with spidery handwriting. On the front page of the first book I opened, it said,
William E. Dunagen
Blacksmith and Revolutionary
Parts of it were very hard to read, but on the first couple of pages I read that the entries had been made by Will (as he was called) shortly after the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. Will was 19 years old when the journal started, and apprenticed to a Master Smith, named John (or possibly Johan) Reuter Schmidt. Master John's wife was named Prudence, although Will always called her Mistress. The Schmidts had a daughter named Dorothea, a pert, red headed lass of 16 years.
On the next page I read the beginning of a story that needs to be told.
Here it is.
It has been so long since I have entered anything in my journal that I am not sure where to start.
When I last wrote, we had just heard that General Thomas Gage was planning to send British troops to Lexington and Concord. He wanted to seize the powder and ball that the Minute men had stored. Fortunately, patriots had learned of his plans, and moved most of the supplies before the troops arrived. However, as the troops were returning to Boston, fighting broke out between the Minutemen and the red-coats. The patriots fought as the Indian fights, shooting from behind stone walls and wooded areas. The British casualties were terrible.
The day before yesterday, the local militia had a meeting of the leaders of our regiment. They asked the master to attend. Before he left, he gave me a list of several items to make. When he returned home that afternoon, he was very solemn. He spent almost an hour and a half with Mistress Prudence before he returned to the shop. When he came to the shop, he asked if I had completed the work. I told him that yes, I had finished the hinges and the latch that he had told me to make. Since I had finished early, I had made about two hundred nails, and had cleaned and straightened the shop as well.
"Well done, Will! You never fail to do more than I ask you to do. Let us close the shop and go to the house. We have much to discuss and I have some news for you."
That surprised me, for it was not yet dark. But close the shop we did and returned to the house. After washing at the back door, he asked me to join him in the kitchen. We sat at the small table where he and the Mistress usually sit in the mornings. Master John called Dorothea to the kitchen and asked her to make tea for us. I was shocked to see that Dorothea had been weeping. Then Mistress Prudence came into the kitchen and SHE had been weeping!
Master John spoke quietly to me as the Mistress and Dorothea were bustling about at the fireplace. "Will, we have been drilling with the militia, for almost six months now. And we still have over six months to serve before our enlistment's end. The news from Boston is bad. They have called out our regiment. But we are going to have to make some changes. I must stay behind, to forge musket barrels and bayonets for the army. Our troops are poorly equipped, as you know. This must be corrected if we are to prevail.
"The Colonel asked me if you are qualified to serve as the Regimental Blacksmith. I was happy to tell him that I think you are WELL qualified to serve in that post. Tomorrow morning, we will go before the Magistrate and I will sign your Journeyman's papers. It is almost six months before your normal time as an apprentice would be completed. But you have worked hard, and learned our trade well. I wish that I had been as well qualified as you are when I was your age.
"Mistress Prudence and I will miss you very much! I ask you to be always careful and to keep yourself safe. We have no son, so when your enlistment is finished, we ask you to return to us. I will take you into the shop as my journeyman, and when I am ready to lay my hammer down, the shop will be yours."
My eyes filled with tears at his words. I have been happy with Master John. When my parents had died, he and Mistress Prudence were very kind. I have always been treated well. My apprenticeship papers required Master John to feed and board me. And he was supposed to supply me with a new set of clothing each year. But it seemed as if the Mistress was always making me another shirt, or another pair of pants. And several times I had seen her teaching Dorothea how to sew by having her work on clothing for me. Last Christmas, I made small gifts for Mistress and for Dorothea. I had hidden them until Christmas morn. Much to my surprise, Dorothea had given me a new shirt to wear to church that morning. I had always been treated as a member of the family rather than an apprentice. From talks with other apprentices about town, I knew how fortunate I was.
When Master John had finished, I could hardly speak for my emotions. But finally I was able to tell him, "Master John, you and Mistress Prudence have been like parents to me. I would rather work for you than anything of which I can think. When my enlistment is over, I will come back, and when I do, I will be coming home to stay!"
Just then Dorothea came to the table with our tea. "Father, may I speak with Will for a time?" she asked. That surprised me, for Dorothea had ever been shy.
"Yes, daughter, you may" replied Master John, and he left the table. He also left the room, as did Mistress Prudence.
Dorothea sat across the table from me and for a moment said nothing. When she did speak, she was blushing! "Will, I heard what you and father were talking about. And mother had already told me what is happening. It is terribly forward of me, but I must know. How do you think of me?"
"I have always thought of you as the Master's daughter. I would like to think of you as more than that, but as an apprentice it would not be proper for me to do so."
"O bother proper! You are going to war, Will. Father has asked you to return to us. I tell you now that, if you wish, you may return to wife and family!" And with that she stormed from the table and left the room.
I sat at the table in shock! For a minute or two, I could not think, I was so stunned! Then I realized what she had said. Well, master always taught that we must strike while the iron is hot, so I followed her!
"Dorothea, wait!" She was at the wood pile, and as I approached I saw that she was crying. "Why are you crying?" I asked.
"Because you are leaving, you big ninny! And I fear that you will not return!" I but touched her arm to reassure her, and suddenly her hands were on my shoulders. "Will, promise you will come back to me!"
"I will, Dorothea, but are you sure?"
"I would have waited for you to speak first, Will. But with you leaving I dare not wait."
"Then I must go and speak to Master John, and if he gives me permission, I will return to you."
I started to return to the house, but she stopped me. As I turned back to her, she kissed me and whispered, "Let me go in first. I will go to the parlor to wait."
As she left, I picked up an armload of wood for the fireplace. I returned to the kitchen with the wood, to find Master John sitting at the table. And grinning!
"Lad, you have no more chance than a mouse! She is her mother's daughter! Irish red hair and all!"
"You, know?" I asked in surprise.
"I suspected how she felt, but did not know for certain. Mistress told me while you were outside," he answered with a smile.
"Then, when I return, may I pay court to your daughter?"
"Certainly, you may! And you need not wait till you return, either. Her mother and I could not be happier! I must warn you though, she will pester you endlessly with questions about the work. She has ever wanted to `help' me in the shop, but I did not feel that she should be there. Most of the apprentices I have had over the years were not the gentlemen that you are. "She has ever wanted to 'help' me in the shop, but I did not feel that she should be there."
Master left the room, and I started for the parlor door to see if Dorothea was still waiting there. But the door opened before I could reach it and suddenly I had my arms full! The little minx had been listening at the keyhole!
"Dorothea! It is not seemly for us to embrace! We are not yet betrothed and the banns have not been posted!"
"I donít care! I want to be in your arms before you leave!"
Gently I pushed her away and said. "Time enough for that when I return, Dorothea. We should not rush into things until we are sure."
"Very well, then. Be the gentleman that you are. Iíll wager I can wear your resistance down!"
"You probably can daughter, but fortunately for YOU, Will is a gentleman! You mother would like to speak with you!"
With a slightly crestfallen air, and a face as red as her hair, my little lady left the room.
"Thank you, Will! I knew I could trust you!"
"Aye Master, you can! But it is perhaps a good thing that Iím leaving as soon as I am, or youíd be needing to post the first banns next Sunday!"
"Would you like for me to have the Regiment leave without you?" Master asked with a grin.
"Unfair, Master! I never knew you for a cruel man!" And I returned his grin. "So itís off to a lonely bed for me!"
"Best latch your door!" Was the Masterís parting shot.
"That was yesterday. First thing this morning, we went to the Magistrate's office. I was surprised to see the Master Carpenter and his son Robert, there. Master John signed my papers and declared me qualified as a Journeyman Smith! And Master Carpenter declared Robert to be a Journeyman Carpenter. The Magistrate then signed our papers on behalf of the colony, recognizing us as Journeymen!
Yesterday, everyone just called me Will. Now that I'm a journeyman, they call me Master Dunagen. That feels a little strange. But Master John says I'll get used to it. When he called me Master Dunagen the first time, I didn't know that he was talking to me! When he said it again, I realized who he was talking to. I asked him to just call me Will, as he always has. He said he would, if I would call him John. I said I would try, but I don't think I'll ever be able to do it. He will always be Master John to me!
The regiment has purchased a team and wagon for my use. I must supply all of my own tools. Master John will donate a small quantity of iron. Probably only one merchant bar, and I will have to cut that in half so I can carry it in the wagon. That should be plenty. I will not need to carry much new iron since most of my work will be repairing damaged goods. And I can't carry much anyway, because of its weight. Even a single, six foot bar weighs over forty pounds. The horses can only haul so much!
We spent the morning building a clay forge in the back of the wagon and mounting the small bellows. We were able to make the spare tuyer that Master John always keeps work quite well. And Master John GAVE me the small anvil. He says it will be large enough for most everything I will need, and will be easier to load and unload. We repaired the old post vice that has been laying in the corner of the shop for so long. I made a hinged bracket so that I can just swing it over the side of the wagon. The leg will sit on a block of wood on the ground to make it solid.
We had asked Robert, the Journeyman carpenter to build a box for my tools. He and his father arrived about noon to install it in the wagon. We mounted it so that it can be opened from the near side of the wagon. Once they had finished that, they both pitched in to help with the rest of the work on the wagon. Robert is a hard worker and of a congenial nature. If we both ride and work from the wagon, it will save the expense of a second wagon and we will be able to help each other. During the meeting, Master John spoke with the colonel. and they agreed that this will be an ideal arrangement.
My tool chest contains my small cross peen hammer, and my small straight peen hammer. My working cross peen hammer will fit and so will my small ball peen hammer. I will only carry a few pair of my tongs. How thankful I am that these were the first tools that Master John had me make. I am well used to their feel in my hand, and that makes the work go better.
All of my tools are marked with my touchmark. It is a WD in a diamond, and it is now registered at the Magistrate's office. Perhaps some day it will be my son's touchmark. My large sledge hammer is fastened in brackets on the side of the box. My hot cut hardie, my nail, rivet, and bolt headers are all in the box. The tool box still has room for all of my other small hand tools. There is even a tray with compartments where some of the small tools can be kept separate from each other. I will have to think of something to do for Robert, for he obviously took extra care in building my tool box. He even carved my name in the lid! Maybe I'll have time to make a couple of small locks for us, to keep our tools safe.
There is a place next to the forge for my anvil and a block of wood to set the anvil on. And finally there is a bin for a small amount of charcoal. We will gather charcoal from the camp fires wherever we find it. If needs must, we can even make some ourselves, though it is a slow and dirty job!
Robert says we may need a third horse! He did not realize just how heavy black smithing tools are. I laughed when he had to use two hands to pick up my sledge hammer, for it only weighs 16 pounds! Building the forge, and all of the accessories on the wagon took most of the day. When we had finished, Robert returned home and Master John and I did the same. We washed up from our days labor, and finished just in time for dinner.
Dinner was different tonight. I have always eaten in the kitchen except on holidays, while Master John, Mistress Prudence, and Dorothea ate in the dining room. Tonight when I went to the kitchen there was no place set for me. I was wondering what to do when I heard Dorothea giggle behind me.
I turned to see what she was laughing at and she said, "In here, silly!" and held the dining room door open.
I looked at the table and there were four places set. One place was obviously mine, for the cup that Master and Mistress had given me the first Christmas after my father died was there.
Master John held the chair for Mistress Prudence, so I held Dorothea's chair for her. She looked up at me and said "Thank you!" in a tone of voice that actually embarrassed me!
There was not much talk during dinner, but after the dishes were cleared, we sat drinking a cup of tea. I asked Master John if he had seen the new broadside that Robert had mentioned during the day. He had not and I said that I might walk down town and see what it said. Dorothea asked if she might go with me, and Mistress Prudence suggested that we might all go. Master John said the walk would help to settle dinner, so we all went.
Master John and Mistress Prudence walked faster than Dorothea and I. At one point, Dorothea giggled and whispered, "Look! Mother and father are holding hands!" Then I felt a small warm hand nestling in mine!
When we arrived at the print shop, we read the broadside. It was all about the siege of Boston. It announced that Congress had named General George Washington commander in Chief of the continental Army. He is well known and respected throughout the colonies for his service during the French and Indian War. Master John was proud that he had served with the General. We deem him a man of honor and a wise choice.
As we were returning to the house, some younger apprentices started to laugh. One of them pointed at us, but a sharp look from me soon stopped that! Of course, Master John had looked in their direction, too! When we got home, we talked for a while in the kitchen. Dorothea asked, "Will, what caused that white streak in your hair?"
I told her that I didn't know, it had always been there. My father had it too, and I remember him saying that both his father and brother had it. So it must be a family trait of some kind.
When I went to bed I thought I would have a hard time going to sleep. I did lay awake for a little while, thinking over all that has happened, and trying to plan for tomorrow. I will have to pack my clothing and buy some bedding. I hope that it is not too dear, for I only have a few pounds. I don't know what we will do about food. Cooking and eating utensils I can make easily enough.
Robert and I have agreed that we want to have everything ready to leave by tomorrow evening, if possible. That will be one day before the muster, but that way we can spend our last day with our families.
I'm not really looking forward to that. Saying goodbye to Master and Mistress is going to be difficult enough, but saying goodbye to Dorothea seems impossible. I must keep my emotions under control and be strong for her. But I must be sure that she knows that I'm very fond of her. Maybe if I can make time tomorrow I can make a quick set of kitchen tools for her hope chest. I can make heart-shaped handles and that way I won't have to say that she is my sweetheart. No, I can do it that way, but I'd better tell her, too. Otherwise, there's no knowing how that little red head will surprise me!
I awoke very early this morning. From the sounds I could tell that no one was up yet. So I slipped quietly from my bed, dressed and went down to the kitchen. The fire on the hearth was nearly out. Mistress must have banked it in a hurry last night. I built up the fire with fresh wood and filled the teapot with water. While I was working, Dorothea came into the kitchen looking sleepy. I told her, "I'm sorry, I was trying to be quiet so I wouldn't wake anyone."
She answered, "You didn't wake me, Will. I did not sleep well last night. I spent most of the night worrying about what is going to happen."
"There's no need to worry, nothing is going to happen. I will be gone for a while, it's true. But I'm fairly strong, I can take care of myself."
The water was boiling, so I spooned tea into our cups and added the water. When it had steeped long enough, I carried the cups to the table. I turned back to fill the tea pot and hang it back over the fire so the water would be hot for Master and Mistress. As I came back to the table, I saw Dorothea spooning honey into both our cups to sweeten the tea. I watched her silently. When she looked up and saw me watching her, she asked, "What are you looking at?"
I just smiled and answered, "You."
Then she asked, "What do you see?"
I stumbled for a minute, not really knowing how to say what I was feeling. "A very beautiful, red headed young lady. Watching you, I realize how much I want to see you every morning of my life."
Her eyes got very soft and imitating the brogue that she has teased me about for years she said, "Sit ye doon, lad! Your tea will chill!"
The Irish brogue sounded strangely sweet as she spoke. In some ways, her voice reminded me of my dear mother. I said something about that and her eyes got an almost naughty twinkle in them.
She grinned and said, "Dinna fash yourself, lad! I'm no your mither and comes the day, I'll prove that to you!" When she realized what she had said, she blushed rosy red!